I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I’m actually genuinely excited for Mobile World Congress 2019 — I think you should be too.
It’s no secret, despite increasing attendance numbers, the biggest event in the mobile industry calendar has become a shell of its former self, at least in terms of marquee, industry-shaping announcements and product reveals.
In place of flashy new product lines and OEMs competing tooth and nail for the limelight, we’ve instead sat through the tiresome bezel wars, been mildly distracted by nostalgia-baiting retro phones you don’t actually need, and suffered through bloated reveals of vaguely dissimilar glass/metal slabs, each with a handful of incremental upgrades and a new number or letter slapped on the end accompanied by meaningless promises that “the future of mobile is finally here — for real this time folks, we swear.”
There have been a few bright sparks in the abyss, of course, but MWC has mostly been mired in the doldrums for years, crippled by the same smartphone fatigue hitting the industry’s giants and stifled by an overall lack of innovation in the mobile space.
Even if you count keynotes technically held away from the Barcelona show (which surely we can all agree still fall under the MWC banner by proxy), what was once the must-see event in the world of mobile has lost a lot of its luster.
This culminated in MWC 2018 where we saw the Samsung Galaxy S9, a neat concept phone and, well, that’s about it.
Something feels different this year, though.
Looking across the teasers, leaks, and pre-show hype, there’s a growing glimmer of hope that MWC 2019 will be the kind of exhilarating showcase the mobile industry and consumers deserve.
Foldable future, today
It looks like we’ll finally at least catch a glimpse at the first wave of foldable phones with flexible displays at MWC 2019.
The smartphone design template has been crying out for a fresh form factor for what feels like forever. Plenty of OEMs — including Android’s top two, Samsung and Huawei — consider foldable phones as the next true evolution of smartphone design.
We’ve seen experimental form factors like the dual-screen Axon M, phones with modular elements from Motorola, LG, and Essential, bizarre concept devices with screens on the rear, and now we’re even seeing ridiculous phones with no buttons at all, but they’ve all failed to catch on.
Related: Five ways foldable phones could change the game
Meanwhile, Samsung, LG, and other leading display makers have prepped for a foldable future for a while. Samsung first teased the technology and how it could change the way we interact with smartphones as far back as 2013.
This slow-burn approach — not to mention Google’s decision to natively support foldable designs within Android — suggests we’re not just looking at another flash-in-the-pan novelty.
While we’ve technically already seen the first folding phone from Chinese OEM Royole, the world is still waiting to see what Android’s elite has in store. Samsung and Huawei are both expected to expand upon their plans for foldable devices in Barcelona.
5G is really here this time
If you attended MWC in person in recent years, you’ll remember phrases like “5G is here” or “5G has arrived” misleadingly emblazoned all over placards on telecom giants’ various stands.
Turns out it hadn’t arrived then, but it will this year.
It’ll still be a while before we’re enjoying lightning fast download speeds and buttery-smooth 4K streaming on the go, but the major U.S. carriers have committed to turning on their nascent fifth-generation networks in some capacity in 2019.
The first batch of 5G phones, on which those networks will depend, looks set to break cover at MWC 2019.
The most likely candidates at this stage appear to be Samsung, Oppo, Huawei, and Xiaomi. OnePlus already confirmed it’ll have a 5G phone prototype on display.
Sure, a 5G phone isn’t as immediately exciting as a device that folds out into a tablet, but 5G could usher in an Internet of Things revolution, and become the lynchpin of smart cities. It could act as a gateway to VR, AR, and XR experiences on mobile that change the way we play, shop, and generally engage with our handsets. That all sounds pretty exciting to me.
Xiaomi (re)takes the stage
Xiaomi had an incredible 2018 with continued success in emerging markets, massive growth in the West, (mostly) successful launches in new regions across Europe, and an overall increase in smartphone shipments and strong sales for its IoT and lifestyle products.00
Now it wants to carry that momentum forward at MWC 2019 by returning to the Gran Fira Via in earnest after two years away. While Xiaomi technically showed up last year, you have to go back to 2016 to the muted reveal of the Mi 5 series for its last major product announcement.
Regardless of what Xiaomi has to show, it’ll be fascinating to hear what it has to say.
Emboldened by its rapid growth on a global scale (and with U.S. market plans still apparently in the pipeline), Xiaomi’s media briefing will be a statement of intent as it looks to topple some of its flagging rivals and establish itself as one of the world’s leading Android brands.
The company is apparently readying a 5G variant of its Mi Mix 3 slider phone for the showcase, but there’s increasing speculation it might also introduce the Mi 9 series. We might even get an official look at Xiaomi’s awesome-looking folding phone.
A proper Nokia flagship
HMD Global has done an incredible job reviving the Nokia brand since it debuted at MWC 2017. The once great name of Nokia — bolstered by Google’s Android One software — now finally means something again after the pitch-black darkness of the Microsoft/Lumia era.
We’ve seen HMD craft competitive, affordable phones for almost every price bracket that have mostly earned rave reviews and helped the brand gradually claw back a modest chunk of market share in various regions. Well, almost every price bracket, at least.
While the Nokia 8 and Nokia 7 series have both delivered phones approaching top-end specs, we haven’t seen a true, balls-to-the-wall Nokia-branded flagship since the Lumia 930 back in 2014.
Related: 4 reasons why HMD Global is a spiritual successor to Nokia, not just a brand licensee
That looks almost certain to change at MWC 2019 with the arrival of the Nokia 9.
The long-rumored and heavily-leaked phone could feature all the trimmings you’d expect from a truly high-end phone with a premium design — OLED display, flagship internals, and a crazy penta-lens camera and accompanying sensors that look like a trypophobe’s nightmare (don’t Google that).
It’s slightly disappointing to hear the phone may well be powered by the Snapdragon 845 when Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipset is ready for primetime, but if HMD can once again keep the price down the Nokia 9 could be the phone Nokia fans have been waiting for.
The Samsung Galaxy S10
It’s an obvious one, but Samsung’s Unpacked event on Feb. 20 just a few days prior to MWC’s official start isn’t just business as usual for the world’s most successful smartphone maker.
The Galaxy S10 series is a momentous launch for the South Korean giant for many reasons, not least because it represents the tenth anniversary of the Galaxy brand. Do you really think Samsung won’t want to outdo the iPhone’s recent tenth birthday celebrations?
There are also more serious factors at play. In the face of declining sales, Samsung wants the S10’s launch to prove to any challengers (read: Huawei) it still has an iron grip on the industry.
To do so, Samsung is all-but-certain to reveal at least three new phones — the Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, and S10e. The first two represent significant upgrades over the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus you’d expect, with punch-hole displays, in-display fingerprint sensors, killer specs, and triple-lens rear cameras with 3D sensors.
The more affordable, lower spec Galaxy S10e, meanwhile, is Samsung’s answer to the iPhone XR.
Samsung is under real pressure to deliver in a big way at MWC 2019.
More recently, Samsung started teasing its foldable phone — rumored to be called the Galaxy F — will appear in some capacity at the show. There’s also speculation an ultra-premium version of the Galaxy S10 with 5G support could make an appearance.
While there are still question marks over what exactly Samsung will unveil, this is the first year in quite some time where the electronics behemoth is under real pressure to deliver. Whether it manages to hit those expectations or not, you should keep your eyes glued to the Unpacked livestream in just over a week’s time.
Those are just a few reasons why I think this year’s MWC 2019 could finally buck the trend of dull, predictable announcements and set the stage for a landmark year for the mobile industry. Be sure to let us know your thoughts on the upcoming show and all the potential announcements in the comments!
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