The biggest trade show in the mobile computing industry, Mobile World Congress, wrapped up today in Barcelona. The event is about far more than just mobile phones, a fact underscored by the prominence of virtual reality headsets and health-oriented wearables at this year’s event. Here are three of the major talking points from this year’s event.
The growing ambitions of Huawei and Xiaomi
The Chinese smartphone manufacturers have quickly been gaining market share in mobile phones, appealing mainly to members of their own country’s rising middle class. The two now think the time is right to expand into new markets, in terms of both product and geography. Huawei announced its Watch at MWC to high praise from design oriented onlookers. The unveiling comes a week before Apple is set to reveal the final details of its highly anticipated Apple Watch. If price rumors of up to $1000 per watch are any indication, Huawei is looking to go head to head with Apple’s high-end demographic. “We’re trying to make Huawei a more fashionable brand,” said Richard Yu, CEO of the company’s consumer products division. “We’re trying to change our image.” Xiaomi, meanwhile, is staying true to its roots as a provider of quality yet budget-oriented technology. Its Redmi 2, the latest version of its popular selling smartphone, was being passed around at MWC. It retails for around $110, and will be rolled out in Singapore, Malaysia, India, and other Asian markets in the upcoming weeks. CEO Lei Jun expects smartphone shipments to increase by over 30% in the year head, with overall sales topping $16 million, largely thanks to greater traction in these new markets.
Highly secure mobile devices
Amidst growing privacy concerns, MWC featured several highly secure mobile operating systems. The first, PrivatOS, is an Android-based operating system that can encrypt all of the outgoing data on a mobile device, including video and voice calls. It is being used in Silent Circle’s Blackphone 2 smartphone, a follow up to the original Blackphone that debuted at MWC 2014, and in the company’s new Blackphone+ tablet. Silent Circle has raised $80 million in just over two years, and counts Electronic Data System founder and two-time U.S. presidential candidate Ross Perot as an investor. Also on display was Sailfish, the secure operating system from the Finnish mobile development company Jolla. Sailfish is being used to power Jolla’s new tablet, a product that has raised $2.2 million from over 18,500 backers on Indiegogo.
Google’s wireless ambitions
For weeks talk of Google’s plans of becoming a wireless service provider have fueled speculation that the search giant is eventually planning on challenging AT&T and Verizon with a network of its own. Not quite, according to Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior VP of Products. “We don’t intend to be a carrier at scale,” he said Monday at MWC, “we’re working with existing partners.” Instead, the initiative figures to look more like Google’s Fiber program, its low-cost, high-speed broadband Internet and TV service that is being rolled out slowly in select locations throughout the United States. The goal for the wireless network is to enable phones to move more seamlessly between cellular and Wi-Fi networks, and the company is expected to lease excess spectrum capacity from bigger carriers to experiment with ways of achieving this. In this way, it separates itself from its other high profile projects, Loon and Titan, which are looking to use balloons and drones respectively to bring Wi-Fi access to remote parts of the world.