BreakingModern — When MWC 2015 opens its doors, showgoers in Barcelona and remote onlookers throughout the world will be hit with the usual huge barrage of announcements about everything from mobile devices to management middleware and large-network routers. But to help you cut right to the chase, here are tips from three leading analysts about what to look for this year in smartphones, tablets and wearables — those three gadgets that undoubtedly matter to you most.
1. Lollipops from Everyone
Android 5.0 (Lollipop) didn’t show up on Google’s monthly update of market share of Android versions until February. Then it registered a measly 1.6 percent share in comparison to 44.5 percent for Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) and 38.7 percent for Android 4.4 (KitKat).
But that kind of lopsided ratio is about to change, and virtually every future smartphone shown in Barcelona will be running Lollipop.
Analysts agree that Lollipop isn’t merely the latest version of Android, but also by far the greatest. “Lollipop has gotten widespread critical acclaim,” maintained Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, in a pre-show interview with BreakingModern.
“At this point, introducing phones with some older OS would be silly,” pointed out Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, in an email to BreakingModern. “The biggest consumer-facing feature of Lollipop is the user interface; of course, many vendors cover that up with their own overlays, so the actual user experience may not change all that much. However, under the hood, there are a lot of performance and developer improvements which enable new and better apps,” according to Greengart, who is the research director for consumer devices and services at the company.
Specific niceties, for instance, include features for predicting battery life, putting the phone into “battery saving” mode when battery juice is running out and setting a “do not disturb” sign for notifications.
Some Lollipop-enabled phones were pre-announced even before MWC. While keeping the specs of its forthcoming G4 flagship phone concealed until some unknown time in the future, LG issued press releases toward the end of February making it clear that four new midrange phones — the Magna, Spirit, Leon and Joy — will all be outfitted with Lollipop.
During the same time frame, Motorola unveiled the 2015 edition of its budget-friendly Moto E, citing improvements that include Lollipop, 4G support and a larger screen.
On its web site, BQ — the Spanish company that unveiled initial plans for the Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition phone at MWC last year — has been previewing three new phones for the 2015 show, each running Android Lollipop.
Meanwhile, with a new member of the HTC One family reportedly on tap for MWC 2015, HTC has been rolling out Lollipop updates for the existing HTC One (M8) and (M7).
Samsung, about to launch the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, has been delivering Lollipop updates for the Galaxy S5.
But not all of the Android phones will make it to the United States, analysts said.
“Mobile World Congress tends to be more Europe- and Asia-centric than some other events, so many of the phones launched next week in Barcelona will not be coming to the U.S. The flagship phones expected from Samsung and HTC are the exceptions — those will definitely be coming stateside,” Greengart predicted.
2. Microsoft Windows 10 in the Air
Although hardware vendors like HTC and Samsung will throw press events on Sunday, March 1, Microsoft will hold off until Monday, March 2 for its Windows 10 press gala.
Featuring a picture of a hot air balloon up in the clouds, the press invitation to Microsoft’s event urges journalists to “come along for the ride.”
With Windows 10, Microsoft skips the number 9 and goes straight from 8.1. It also drops the separate “Windows Phone” designation for the phone OS. “This will be Microsoft’s first consolidated platform,” Enderle said.
In mid-February, four months after the initial launch of Windows 10 Technical Preview, Microsoft issued a pre-release edition of Windows 10 for phones, available only to owners of specified low-end and mid-range Lumia devices who agree to join the Windows Insider program.
More details about Windows 10 will follow, of course, at the MWC event — and given Microsoft’s announcement pattern ever since Windows 8, even more details will trickle out in dribs and drabs until the final release.
In a recent report on the worldwide phone market issued by IDC, Windows Phone took only a 2.7 percent market share, in contrast to 81.5 percent for Android, 14.8 percent for iOS and 0.4 percent for BlackBerry.
As some analysts see it, Windows 10 will help give Microsoft a boost against the stunning competition.
“Windows 10 is a nice OS. I think that Windows 10 phones will get a halo effect from Windows 10 PCs and tablets. Also, a number of apps have been developed [for previous versions of the OS] already,” said Bob O’Donnell, president, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis, in an interview with BreakingModern.
Enderle, though, said he doubts whether Microsoft can ever surpass Apple in the phone market. “That would require Apple to stumble, as well as Microsoft to show a level of execution that seems right now to be beyond them,” elaborated the analyst.
3. A Smattering of Other Mobile OS
“Alternative OS,” such as Tizen, Firefox OS, WebOS, Sailfish, Foxfire OS and Ubuntu have been trying to make inroads at MWC for at least a couple years.
At MWC 2014, for example, Mozilla made big news by launching $25 smartphones based on Firefox OS, targeting these low-cost devices at emerging markets like India. There’ll be some more noise about these lower-end products at this year’s show, too. “Samung will be there with Tizen,” Enderle observed.
Meanwhile, in its booth, Canonical will show off two Ubuntu phones: the Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition, now commercially available, and the Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition.
Jolla will be holding meetings about Sailfish at MWC, according to another source. The Scandinavian company has been seeking crowdfunding for a new 64GB variant of its Sailfish OS tablet.
Yet, all combined, these alternative systems don’t amount to as much as a three percent market share, according to number crunchng by Technalysis.
Also at MWC, BlackBerry will talk up its latest smartphone models, the Classic and the Passport. But O’Donnell doesn’t believe that these two enterprise-oriented phones will have a significant impact on BlackBerry’s market share, currently pegged by Techanalysis at under 1 percent.
4. Some Intriguing Device Designs
BlackBerry deserves praise, however, for the Passport’s innovative design, according to O’Donnell. The design features a very bright, square-shaped 4.5×4.5-inch IPS screen and a touch sensitive physical keyboard. “The Passport is very different. I don’t think BlackBerry is getting enough credit for that,” O’Donnell told me.
MWC 2015 is also bound to see some other interesting phone designs. Leaked photos purportedly taken of the forthcoming Samsung S6 Edge depict a curved screen design along the same lines – but maybe not as curvy — as the Samsung Note Edge.
Google is expected to show a prototype of Project Ara, an emerging “modular phone” platform aimed at letting users mix-and-match components to create phones that suit their own fancy.
Enderle told me that he’s heard a rumor about a “spectacular” joint hardware announcement that might be forthcoming from Microsoft and Intel.
But then again, all sorts of rumors have been flying around.
Many other phones these days are ho-hum, O’Donnell suggested. For the most part, there isn’t much differentiation. “This is a problem. A lot of the designs are all the same,” he said.
Innovation in the tablet market is even harder to find, according to the analyst. Creation of new tablet designs is falling behind with the increasing adoption of phablet models, which provide larger screens to smartphone users and avoid the need for carrying two different devices.
5. More (and More) Wearables Everywhere
In sharp contrast, the emerging wearables market is all about differentiation. A couple of months ago, for instance, CES saw the rollout of wearables, ranging from Belty, a belt that changes size in accordance with your waistline, to Melomind, a nerdy-looking headset aimed at monitoring your brain to achieve a relaxing state.
With the Apple Watch expected to hit market later in March, the smartwatch scene will be particularly active at MWC. “A lot of people are jumping in, and there’ll be a lot of variations,” O’Donnell remarked.
Some of the watches are low-cost devices geared towards basic connectivity, while some are more about jewelry fashion, he noted. Still others, such as certain fitness bands, are “very good at doing one particular thing,” he told me.
Even before CES 2015, LG took the wraps off the Watch Urbane LTE, a 4G-enabled update to the stylish-looking watch with capabilities such as making calls, sending messages and performing push-to-talk-walkie-talkie-type functions.
MWC 2015 commences in a few short days, so stay tuned for updates.