Unlike yesteryears, the three big tech events of the year—CES, MWC and IFA—have in the recent past failed to introduce ground-breaking technology. However, the 2019 edition of MWC might be different, even if only slightly.
The two big trends of the MWC 2019 are expected to be 5G and foldable phones. MWC is not only an event for the telecom industry, it has also been one of the best places for consumer technology firms to launch new devices.
While Samsung made the official announcement for its foldable phones on Wednesday, the exhibition would give the tech community at large a closer look at the device. China’s Huawei is also rumoured to be readying a foldable smartphone for the event.
While foldable phones may not fundamentally change the smartphone industry, they signal a new era in the pocket computers we carry. It’s worth noting though that while 2019 may see more than one foldable phone come to the mainstream market, it might be at least a year before we see these phones truly become relevant.
As far as the smartphone market is concerned, the top trends revolve around multiple cameras, nearly edge-less screens and more. Foldable phones bring forth a new form factor, and could theoretically solve one of the industry’s biggest design problems—how to deliver big screens without making every phone the same brick-like device as the last.
That said, any new form factor isn’t complete without software support. So, while companies like Samsung, Huawei and others may make initial changes to their software, the real use cases will come in when developers take interest. That, traditionally happens when products start attracting enough users, and that takes time. Similarly, Google will have to fundamentally change the Android operating system to take advantage of such screens as well.
“It is likely that top smartphone brands will claim to have reinvented smartphone design because of foldable phones and screens. However, it will take longer for these foldable screens to reinvent the smartphone category and deliver differentiated experiences. In the long run, though, it is likely that foldable screens will accelerate the convergence between smartphones, tablets and laptops, progressively unleashing a new form factor," wrote Thomas Husson, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, in a 14 February blog post about his expectations from MWC.
While foldable phones cover the consumer side of things, the industry side is covered by the introduction of the first 5G-capable devices. It’s not that such devices don’t exist already, but with phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G (announced on Wednesday) , the big guns are readying themselves for 2020, which is when 5G connectivity is expected to flow into the market.
The leader of India’s premium smartphone market, OnePlus, has already confirmed that it will be showcasing a 5G prototype device at MWC. The same is expected from other big players.
However, Husson warned that “the reality is that it will take another five to seven years before it (5G) reaches critical mass among consumers in most countries."