The biggest cell phone trade show of the year has come and gone, but it's really only the beginning for a 2008 destined to be full of new products and new developments in the mobile phone industry. Readers in the U.S. should really be looking towards the first week of April for more mobile news, as CTIA in Las Vegas kicks off on the first and is basically a US-centric show (where MWC focuses more on the European and Asian markets).
MWC wrapped up in Barcelona and much of the buzz surrounded Sony Ericsson's offerings, Motorola's lack of offerings, and the high-speed future of WiMAX and LTE. By way of bullet points, my thoughts on the show:
The focus of MWC seemed to be on user experience as much as on handset specs. Sony Ericsson's new Xperia line (see below), Samsung's Croix UI, LG's KF700, and a preview of Nokia's S60 Touch UI all follow the current trend of marrying hi-tech touchscreen displays to refined user interfaces in order to make mobile handsets uber-powerful and easy to use. Call it the iPhone effect if you want, but it's clear that giant touch-capable displays combined with smart software are where it's at right now.
Sony Ericsson made the biggest splash at MWC with seven new handsets (and a few PC cards) highlighted by the Xperia X1 smartphone. Xperia is SE's brand new line focused on a premium user experience, and the X1 is their first ever Windows Mobile handset. This doesn't mean that they're abandoning the Symbian UIQ platform that SE fans have come to love, but rather that SE is diversifying their offerings with at least something of an eye towards North America, where WinMo rules. Combined with their CES showings in January, SE has unleashed no fewer than ten new handsets already this year, with plenty more planned for the coming months.
Motorola was almost a no-show at MWC, and the company is plagued by troubles all around. Though they did show the impressive Z10 and ROKR E8 at CES, MOTO had only two low-end handsets and a minor upgrade to the Z6 on display in Barcelona, even after a "leaked" PR video the week before the show teased at much more. MOTO CEO Greg Brown said he's fully committed to the company's mobile phone division, and it looks like the E8 is headed to T-Mobile here in the states, but the future is certainly uncertain for the one-time king of handsets.
There were a few successful trials of "4G" LTE technology and talk of the soft launch of Sprint's XOHM WiMAX network still being on track here in the States. LTE is the next step in the GSM -> EDGE -> HSPA evolution, promising even faster wireless data speeds, and also potentially spelling the death of CDMA. Verizon looks to be headed in the LTE direction while Sprint of course is still planning to roll out XOHM in some capacity this year. A three-market soft launch for this Spring was confirmed by Sprint execs at WMC, but the budget for nationwide deployment isn't yet finalized. Meantime, T-Mobile says they're (finally) going to roll out 3G to US customers by Summer.
Several companies showed working prototypes running Google's Android platform, though nobody's ready to ship product just yet. Meantime, Google released a new Android SDK that looks slicker and tighter than anything they've previously shown.
Upstarts Neo and Modu and gadget maker iRiver all showed innovative handsets meant to shake up the all-too-often staid cell phone industry. Modu's modular phone lineup looks really interesting but is destined to be one of those "great ideas that consumers reject," if you ask me.
And finally Apple continued their trend of impacting the industry without attending any trade shows by unveiling a memory-upgraded iPhone. It's not so much that an iPhone with 16GB of flash memory is any great shakes as that it fueled continued speculation as to when (and if?) a 3G iPhone will at long last be unveiled. Apple also long ago promised an iPhone SDK this February and has yet to deliver.