It’s Monday morning, and we’re at the end of the week that included Mobile World Congress 2016. It’s Ausdroid’s second year in attendance, and our sixth year covering announcements from the event, and we’ve seen an awful lot in that time. We’ve seen the rise of brands still with us today, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S line, and we’ve seen the end of other lines such as the Xperia Z range. Also, too, without exception there have been weird but wonderful product announcements, and the evolution of new product lines which stretch our imaginations.
Rather than do a top five, we thought we’d take a look at some highlights from different segments.
Best New Category – 360º cameras
If 2015 was the year of the wearable (particularly, smartwatches) then I think 2016 could be the year that 360 video becomes something a bit more mainstream. For now, it’s really quite niche. The hardware to capture 360º is relatively uncommon, and what there is of it is rather expensive and not exactly user friendly.
Google showed off the 360º video concept with a GoPro camera rig, something that probably does a good job, but is well beyond the purchasing power of just about everyone except the most hard-core of enthusiasts.
With Samsung and LG both leaping into this space with the LG 360 CAM and Samsung’s Gear 360, I think we might start to see a lot more 360º videos this year. Will they become consumer favourites? I’ll come out early and say no, they won’t, because even with accessible hardware (it’s hard to imagine either company’s solution coming in at more than a few hundred dollars) they’re still kind of like a GoPro. Quite a number of people have them, but very few people use them for actually exciting, engaging content.
What I’d like to see with 360º cameras this year is new, unique experiences which can be enjoyed by people at home with appropriate VR gear (ala Cardboard, LG 360 VR, Samsung Gear, or others). Imagine watching the Dakar Rally in 360? What about sky diving? Playing football?
The possibilities are endless. That said, we might not actually see these examples this year — both companies have been fairly clear that they don’t see their products as action cameras, and they’re not really designed for those use cases, but nonetheless we do hope to see something like this coming, whether it’s in 2016 or 2017.
Best New Phone — LG G5 for enthusiasts, Samsung Galaxy S7 for everyone else
We saw quite a number of new phones announced at Mobile World this year. We saw Samsung and LG go head to head with the Galaxy S7 line and LG G5. We saw the Chinese brands Alcatel and ZTE powering towards flagship status with some powerful new super-mid range handsets too. While I have little doubt that these, and other, companies will find quite a measure of success in the smartphone market this year, I think this year the real showdown is between the two Korean brands, Samsung and LG.
Last year, there was a three-way flagship battle with HTC, LG and Samsung all announcing at (or shortly after) MWC, and in some years past, Sony was a part of that race too. However, in 2016, HTC had no flagship announcement, instead focusing on some mid-range devices for specific markets. Sony, too, has (arguably) dropped out of the flagship race, retiring their established Xperia Z branding for a new Xperia X range that won’t become available until mid year.
Looking purely at specifications, there’s not an awful lot between these two titans this year. Both feature the same CPU (Snapdragon 820, though Samsung will roll with the Exynos in some markets), same RAM (4GB as standard), same storage options (starting at 32GB), same Android (Marshmallow, with each manufacturer’s respective UX on top), and virtually the same screen sizes (all 5.1″ to 5.5″ give or take).
The features that split the phones fall into two categories — those which might matter to most consumers, and those that won’t. Battery capacity differs, though not all that significantly, and it probably won’t be a decision factor for most. So too does connectivity, with LG opting for USB-C, and Samsung sticking with Micro-USB, but consumers — again — probably won’t care too much.
LG have truly innovated this year with their modular phone concept, allowing users to swap out batteries, add extra camera and audio features, and potentially more down the track. However, there is some doubt amongst pundits and others alike as to whether this will translate to sales success. LG are probably considered the underdog in smartphone stakes; their G-line is younger than Samsung’s Galaxy S-line, and in years past, Samsung have easily been the bigger seller.
For enthusiasts and those who really like a hook with their mobile choice, the LG G5 is my choice on this alone. The LG CAM Plus accessory is a must-have, and while the audio-dongle is probably not going to be a big seller, the other entrants in LG’s “Friends” range are equally enticing; LG’s 360 CAM and 360 VR are two great accessories, and the Rolling Bot — while probably useless for many — is a rather unique idea on what a mobile accessory could be.
Having said that, Samsung have continued the evolution we’ve come to expect from the Galaxy S-line. Gone from the Unpacked event were mentions of everything including the kitchen sink. S Health? Not mentioned. S Planner? Nary a word. The focus? A great phone, a big(ger) battery, a stunning camera, and a 360º camera accessory that looks (and seemingly is) amazing. Samsung have eschewed some of the things that LG has moved into — there’s no Samsung Friends, nor is there the resurgence of removable battery — but they have listened to consumers and brought a few other things back. The MicroSD is back (which LG retains from prior years), and there’s even some suggestion the S7-range might even come in a multi-SIM variant.
With full credit to what LG have done this year, I think Samsung’s Galaxy S7 probably has the edge in terms of consumer appeal.
As for my personal choice? Having only spent a brief time with each, it’s too early to say. LG’s G4 was my favourite of the two Korean flagships last year, and so I have big expectations of the LG G5. With this in mind, I think the LG G5 remains my personal choice to beat, though Samsung might possibly have done it.
Best New Concept — The ever-present assistant
This is a tough one, because if there’s one thing that a conference like MWC has in spades, it’s concepts both new and exciting. In fact, once you get past the glamour of new product announcements, the biggest thing at MWC are the concepts that people have for products they’d like to announce at some stage in the future.
I saw a lot of these. Many of which I can’t even remember now, because as concepts, they seemed so ridiculous as to not pay an awful lot of attention to. There’s also a lot of conceptual development going on in networks and infrastructure, which, while interesting, probably don’t have the mindshare of the more consumer facing ideas.
Without a doubt, the concept that had my jaw drop was what Sony envisaged to help us in our connected lives. Telling us that we spend too much time looking at our phones, Hiroki Totoki (President and CEO, Sony Mobile Communications) shared with us his vision for a range of products that would help us do more while looking at our phones less.
Some of these concepts weren’t especially new or unique; Sony’s Agent was reminiscent of Amazon’s Echo (with Alexa behind it), and though it seemed cool, I couldn’t fairly call it a concept, because there’s a product doing that on the market already. Equally, Sony’s Projector and Eye concepts are interesting, but mobile projectors and body cameras have been done before in a fashion.
It was Sony’s Ear that struck me as perhaps the best concept, in that it wasn’t just fanciful; it was something that could undoubtedly be done, and if done well, it could be amazing. The idea of a Bluetooth earpiece isn’t new, and speaking commands and getting feedback not exactly new either (Google Now has done it for a couple of years now). However, the concept of a Bluetooth earpiece so insignificant that you could comfortably wear it all day, and interact with it using voice alone, sounded appealing.
There is the risk, though, of looking like a “Bluetooth douche” — no one wants to be that guy walking around all day talking to his bluetooth earpiece. It just doesn’t look cool. However, if this device were unobtrusive enough not to be easily noticed, and it could whisper notifications to me throughout the day, and respond to my voice when I was alone, I can see a real use case.
As a product, it’s far from ready. The conceptual units demonstrated to us (and shown above) were way too big, and perhaps even ugly. If the final product looks like these, I won’t be buying one, regardless of what features it offers.
Honourable mentions (i.e. the other cool stuff)
While these might not have been the best in a particular category, they were nonetheless interesting products, and those which I suspect we will see more of.
It’s true to say that Huawei’s Matebook isn’t a new kind of product, but it did have some unique hooks. Superficially you could compare it to a Microsoft Surface, or even Lenovo Yoga, but it is a bit different; I think I would describe the Matebook as a tablet first, that can convert to as much of a laptop as the Surface can. While it’s the thinnest tablet/laptop convertible, and it looks (and feels) amazing, I think that Huawei needs to look at the marketing and packaging here; with the keyboard and dock as accessories, and seemingly not in the box with the Matebook itself, the Matebook is a tablet first and might struggle to find a foothold in a segment with a dominant incumbent. I still want to play with one, though.
Alcatel’s Idol range and ZTE’s Blade have new entrants this year, and while they’re not (intended to be) flagship killers, they are unique and worthy in their own right, and I think they will both do well to increase their company’s respective market share in Australia. There’s a definite demand for super-midrange devices that can deliver a flagship experience at a lesser cost, and Alcatel and ZTE’s new products definitely fulfil. Of course, we will see some more phone releases yet, from Huawei’s P9 to Sony’s mid-year Xperia X range, and they too will undoubtedly do well internationally and in Australia.
There’s many other highlights from the show, but these are the standouts that really caught our eyes.
What took your fancy?