As we’re heading into a well deserved week-end, we would like to look back at last week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) – the world’s biggest wireless tradeshow. It has been the busiest one that we’ve seen, and one of the most interesting as well. The synergy between handset makers and chip makers has never been so strong and we can tell that the industry is reaching a comfortable cruise speed when it comes to smartphone innovation. Samsung, NVIDIA, LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Qualcomm, Palm, Microsoft, Blackberry, Intel, Nokia, HTC and Google were remarkable, here’s why.
Samsung: Samsung has truly become a force in the mobile world, especially in the Android landscape. The Korean giant has announced the Samsung Galaxy S 2, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1, along with an upcoming “super phone” powered by Tegra 2. The takeaway is that Samsung is a leading hardware maker with key technologies like AMOLED and its own application processor chips, but it is also increasingly good at providing software and services to its customers. Samsung was also discretely showing the Galaxy S WiFi 5.0 and 4.0.
NVIDIA: the chipmaker has stunned Mobile World Congress attendees by showing a working next-gen quad-core Tegra chip named KAL-EL (also referred to unofficially as Tegra 3). You can check our KAL-EL preview to get the details, but the takeaway is that it is a very fast chip – about 5X the performance of today’s Tegra 2 according to NVIDIA (and from what we’ve seen, this is the right ballpark). But that’s not it, NVIDIA has announced a 2014 roadmap that shows a 100X increase in computing within 3 years.
LG: LG is making a great come back in the smartphone space, thanks to a mix of judicious component choice, build quality and display technology. Their LCD IPS and NOVA displays do look very good and provide accurate color rendering. NOVA has been designed to work well in direct sunlight, which is a challenging environment for very display today. LG Also things that 8.9” is the “perfect” form factor for tablets: it is easy to type when held vertically, and fits movie content when used horizontally – but is that the usage real pattern? Sales will tell a more complete story.
Sony Ericsson: Sony Ericsson got a loud round of applause at the end of its press conference at MWC when they closed the event with the highly anticipated Xperia Play aka “the PlayStation Phone”. The smartphone is good looking and features the Sony PlayStation game controller. At launch in Spring, the manufacturer expects to have a mix of native Android games and games ported from the PSP with an access to the PlayStation store, which is the real competitive advantage of the phone. The company claims that the Xperia Play features leading-edge graphics performance, thanks to the Adreno 205 graphics processor (GPU), which is part of the SnapDragon system on a chip (SoC). Other phones run on the same chip and it might not be faster than Tegra 2 in terms of graphics, we can’t wait to benchmark it. We saw the Xperia Arc that was announced at CES, I (Eliane) personally like the thin and elegant design of the Arc, in case you need to choose from a zillion of android smartphones with big screens, it could be a good choice. We can’t say about the phone’s performance as we did not put it through in depth testing (yet) but we do know that the camera is excellent in low light, thanks to the Sony Exmor R sensor (we tested it against other phones). The Xperia Pro was demoed as well during the event, its “smart keyboard” feature seemed to help the user’s productivity.
Motorola: Although Motorola had pretty much announced everything at CES, they still commanded a significant mindshare at Mobile World Congress, and Europeans are very excited about the Atrix and the Xoom. We are playing with the devices and taking notes for the upcoming reviews, but both are significant milestones for Motorola and its partners Google and NVIDIA. As the iPad 2 will be revealed next Wednesday, we will see how the new generation of Android tablets really stack up against Apple’s latest.
Qualcomm: the company behind the Snapdragon family of processors, has announced Krait, its next generation of system on a chip built on a new design that can accommodate up to four [general purpose processing] cores. The two core version will come out first, and the 4-core one will be “sampling” (produced in very limited quantities for testing and partners) in late 2011 or early 2012. Qualcomm has said that its architecture can be pushed to 2.5GHz – a measure of the internal pulse of the chip, which is one of the [many] components of the overall computational performance equation. Most smartphones run at 1GHz today. Qualcomm has also announced a 84Mbps HSPA+ chip.
HP/Palm: Palm hasn’t announced much at Mobile World Congress, but the company has shown its new line of phones and its TouchPad tablet. Units were also shows in Barcelona, but Palm was not quite ready to let people play with the new devices yet (except for the Veer). Most people liked the demonstration of WebOS on the TouchPad, and it will be interesting to see if Palm will transform this positive feedback into sales. We’re looking forward to trying it in the field.
Microsoft: obviously, the most important news Microsoft had to share at MWC was its alliance with Nokia. The keynote closed with Stephen Elsop, the CEO of Nokia, who explained how wonderful the recently announced partnership with Microsoft is. At Ubergizmo, one of us is a big fan of the WP7 user interface, and it is obvious that given the Nokia’s track record in this area (in recent years), they needed a serious software partner to replace Symbian in their smartphones.
On the product news side, Steve Ballmer and his team did not have that much to share: just a few new features that will be included in the next Windows Phone 7 release: the Twitter integration in the OS, just like the current Facebook one, the Skydrive cloud service accessible within the Office application, with folder sharing and collaboration capabilities, IE9 (rendering engine) support for WP7, multitasking, and the ability for Windows Phone 7 to work as a companion for Kinect, for more details read our article.
BlackBerry: RIM did not have any big news to announce at MWC 2011, except for two new Blackberry Playbook models supporting 4G LTE and HSPA+ in addition to the one launching with Sprint’s 4G (Wimax) network this summer. The demo that I saw at MWC 2011 was pretty much the same than the one shown at CES except for the two EA games that were announced at MWC. The Playbook user interface is one of my favorite tablet interfaces, despite the fact that many people call me (Eliane) crazy since RIM’s Tablet OS might not have a lot of interesting apps. For more details and a short video of the car game running on the Blackberry Playbook, check our article.
Intel: Although Intel is not yet a handset player, it intends to make inroads in the near future (hear: next *few* years). So far, things have been a bit bumpy, but Intel’s CEO has confirmed that the first Intel-powered smartphones will arrive this year thanks to a new lower-power processor. We can only speculate that this will rather happen late this year, but there is no official information yet, as Intel can’t pre-announce products on behalf of its customers. Many people are skeptical about Intel’s capability to enter that market, but it would be a mistake to underestimate that company. It might take a while, but once Intel has set clear goal for its engineers, the Intel “execution machine” can be very efficient.
Nokia: Obviously, the big news of the week was Nokia’s alliance with Microsoft: Nokia switches to Windows Phone 7 and will even be allowed small modifications in the user interface. It’s been discussed to death and the question is whether or not Nokia “made a mistake” as Google’s CEO suggests (Google proposed to Nokia to switch to Android) – in the end, Microsoft simply paid more, which dampens the short-term risk for Nokia. It’s too early to tell but frankly, even if you’re not a fan of WP7, it’s admittedly much better than Symbian. Without an infusion of OS and user interface, Nokia would have a very tough time to hang on as it loses market share at an alarming rate. The WP7 Nokia concepts look very interesting, so all that’s left is to see how good they will be and how well they’ll sell.
HTC: HTC has released 6 new devices at Mobile World Congress. The HTC Flyer tablet has a very interesting physical design (cute!) and the HTC Sense software for tablets looks good too. However, the internal hardware platform and OS (Android 2.4) for the Flyer make people scratch their heads. The display is also extremely shiny: keep that in mind if you want to use it outdoors. Overall, many people call it “HTC’s Galaxy Tab” – and that’s not really a compliment. Can it sell mainly based on good looks? We’ll see. The Facebook-friendly phone and the Facebook button is a mix of hot and cold: the hot part is the phone design. We like the keyboard very much and it reminds me of the HTC Dash, a Windows CE phone that was loved (at least for a couple of weeks). The cold is the Facebook button – it’s rather ridiculous.
Google: it had one of the busiest booth of the show, despite being located in the corner. Google had gathered a tremendous mindshare as the most popular Smartphone OS in the world (if you consider that Symbian is out of the game at this point). Google had setup a place for developers to show their work and that proved to be very popular. Of course, the smoothies and other drinks did help, but overall, attendees were overwhelmingly smiling at the Google booth.
Of course, Mobile World Congress covers more than this, as carriers, app developers and infrastructure companies also have an important role there. However, from a consumer technology perspective, this was what caught our eyes and ears.