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MWC 2012: Phones of the future

Published: February 25, 2012 | 10:11 am
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A new generation of mobile phones is set to be unveiled in Barcelona this week – Matt Warman previews what’s in store

From maps to books, the mobile phone is replacing more objects than ever. This week, the industry behind these tiny supercomputers meets in Barcelona, and the world’s biggest manufacturers unveil their latest devices. It will see another assault on computers, laptops and satnavs as the mobile phone and the tablet becomes ever more capable.
Indeed, according to Strand Consulting, “This year’s Mobile World Congress will have a wider focus than we have seen previously”, and will cover both how the mobile networks of the future will evolve, as well as how phones will change too.
That means an increasing emphasis on so-called Near-Field Communications, which is the technology mobile phone companies are hoping will help to turn your phone into your wallet. O2, Vodafone, Orange and others are looking closely at what the service could mean for them, and that’s in large part because it may provide another source of income.
When it comes to the devices themselves, however, phones are increasingly more purse-size than wallet. The Samsung Galaxy Note and the Galaxy Nexus have done well at sizes at least an inch bigger than the iPhone, and a number of 5” screens are set to be marketed as phones rather than tablets – if your mobile is to stay in your pocket, you might need bigger pockets.
And deeper pockets could come in handy too: mid-priced smartphones are apparently now less profitable than any other type, which means it’s more cost-effective for a network to sell you an upgrade either to something very expensive, such as an iPhone, or something very cheap and out of date, rather than anything in between.

That means consumers are likely to be besieged by ever more marketing trying to persuade them that a superphone is really worth having. HTC, for instance, after a couple of years in the doldrums, is now expected to unveil a comprehensive new range, while Nokia and Microsoft will keep banging the drum, at enormous advertising cost, for phones based on the well-received but resolutely unpopular Windows Phone platform.
Among the other manufacturers, including a slew of Asian newcomers, Asus is set to announce the launch of its ‘Padfone’ which sees a mobile literally slot inside a larger screen – it’s another response to the challenge of smaller devices now being able to stream and play media that looks equally at home on the giant screen. The mobile market may not be profitable, but it’s expanding 47 per cent year on year.
Inside your mobile phone, there are big changes too: chip maker Intel is finally beginning to gets its products where previously only those made by British firm Arm were to be found. The claim is that Intel can achieve ultra-modern performance with one “core” processors where others require four. That might herald a new age of better battery life and enhanced performance. It remains to be seen, but the first phones are likely to be mass-market rather than iPhone-rivals.
And indeed it’s that one Apple product that will be like an elephant in every one of the dozen barn-like conference halls devoted to mobile phones in Barcelona. Apple does not go to MWC, and now even Samsung has said its most prestigious launch will take place at another, later event it will host itself. But these are the two companies pushing innovation faster than any other – it remains to be seen whether this enormous tech show can produce anything to challenge their dominance.


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