Edgy Phones Bring Hope At MWC2019

MWC2019 is over, and before we start thinking about the next show that will pull us all away from our offices, it’s time to do a quick recap of what we saw. The inevitable big theme of the show was, of course, 5G. Some carriers talked about 5G network rollouts. Sprint, for example, talked the 5G talk to show that any potential merger with T-Mobile is not slowing it down, all the while taking shots at AT&T for its “5GE” marketing ploy (conveniently forgetting that it employed a similar marketing strategy once upon a time when it labeled WiMAX as “4G”).

Infrastructure providers, such as Ericsson, highlighted the benefits of 5G’s lower latency, with a clever demo that involved live music in two locations across the show, synced together through 5G with an almost seamless result. Not that live music across multiple locations will be a killer use case for 5G, but it did a great job of turning “low latency” into a live use case.

And, of course, VR had a major presence at the show, but many of the use cases were to highlight the benefits of live-streaming 360-degree images from sporting events, ranging from baseball to Formula One racing. The key here was less the “VR” capability and more so the low latency (see a theme here?) benefits of 5G streaming to provide a more immersive entertainment experience.

For me though, the highlight of the show was a broader variety in handsets compared to previous years. Some were borderline silly, such as Energizer’s ultra-thick phone, but others were far more interesting. Foldables dominated the show, with Samsung and Huawei out in full force with their new products. Not that most show visitors got to play with the devices: rather, they were behind protective glass with security on hand to stop any overly-eager mobile fans from getting too close. That suggests, possibly, that the products are not quite ready for launch yet. Or perhaps simply the reality that too many people rough-housing with the foldable would inevitably lead to a damaged device on display… a kiss of death from a marketing perspective.

It was also interesting to see other companies trying to break free of the mold of a standard form factor. LG showed off a two-screen device – the V50 – which was a brave choice when its closest competitors had a foldable on display. But the price tag is sure to be far less and will potentially be useful for multitaskers. LG also stepped out with gesture control. Again, it’s of questionable value in a world that is rapidly evolving towards a voice-centric control, but you have to give them kudos for thinking outside the norm.

This brings us to Sony. The company launched the Xperia X1, which has the rather unique aspect ratio of 21:9 – in other words, a tall, skinny looking device. I suspect people will love or hate it for that form factor, but at least it is different and it reminds me of the old Sony that looked to differentiate through design. It also helps that the phone has a 4K OLED screen that is incredible and stronger camera technology leveraged from Sony’s movie business. Will it be a mainstream product? Probably not, but it could be of interest to YouTubers and other budding filmmakers.

Mainstream or not, some of the concepts we saw brought hope that the mobile market will evolve beyond the plain-vanilla phones of the past few years and that will make the mobile industry a more interesting market. And you never know – it may convince consumers to start buying phones again.