What can you expect from MWC 2024?

Without looking up leaks or rumors, I’m willing to bet you can probably make a sketch of most of the phones rumored to be launching at Mobile World Congress next week. Over the years, smartphones have opted for a relatively consistent design formula of large rectangular touchscreens, small selfie camera cutouts, app-based interfaces and large camera bumps with an array of different lenses. But now that we’re more than a decade and a half into the smartphone era, I’m becoming increasingly curious about what will happen next and why existing attempts to reinvent smartphones like foldables are struggling to go mainstream.

In my opinion, a big part of the answer comes back to apps. We hardly think about it because it’s so easy to take for granted that all your third-party software will work on your next phone, but you would never consider buying a device that can’t run your banking app or ride-hailing service of choice . Just look at Huawei, which challenged Apple to become the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer, only to have its Android license revoked and drop out of the top five altogether. First-party apps are the foundation of a smartphone, but it’s the third-party software that makes it feel like your personal tool.

Apps are important! But apps also bear a large share of the blame for why phones now look the same and why any attempt to move away from the traditional slab form factor and interface is an uphill battle.

It is of course possible to change the form factor of a smartphone without breaking third-party apps. But literally millions of apps are optimized to work with screens of approximately the same size and aspect ratios. And that makes the argument for, say, an expensive new foldable phone a lot weaker when many of your most-used apps don’t make the most of the larger screen and instead awkwardly stretch to fill the extra space or even display both with black bars pointing downwards. sides. Smart software solutions and multitasking support help, but it makes it less exciting to invest in a major change.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Image: Deutsche Telekom

So what can a manufacturer do if it wants to shake things up? The more traditional approach is one of diplomacy, of persuading third-party developers to support your new initiative. (Just look at Nothing releasing an SDK for its phones’ flashing Glyph interface.) But recently we’re seeing next-generation devices that try to take apps out of the equation entirely. At CES in January we saw Rabbit introduce the R1, a new $199 gadget that promises to use AI to streamline the process of accessing existing apps. And at MWC, AI startup Brain.ai says it plans to show off a so-called “app-less phone” concept in partnership with Deutsche Telekom.

The lofty promise for Brain.ai’s concept device is that it will have “an app-free interface that contextually predicts and generates the next interface, flowing with your thoughts.” It appears the concept device will be based on Deutsche Telekom’s existing T Phone, but with an interface based on Brain.ai’s Natural iOS app. The software looks like a more visual version of Google Assistant or Siri, responding to spoken or written prompts with its own interface instead of directing you to an app.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Image: Rabbit CES 2024 presentation (YouTube)

I think it’s far too early to tell whether these unproven AI-powered devices have any hope of dethroning the traditional smartphone as our primary personal and wearable computing device. And it’s clear there will be no shortage of more traditional launches at this year’s MWC:

  • Xiaomi is giving the currently China-exclusive Xiaomi 14 a global launch, where it will likely be joined by the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, the company’s latest device with a large one-inch camera sensor.
  • HMD, which until now exclusively made Nokia brand phones, announced last year that it would be releasing devices under its own name for the first time. Could we see the first of these announced at MWC?
  • Honor looks set to announce pricing for its new Porsche-themed special edition of its foldable Magic V2. The Magic 6 Pro is also launching internationally, following its debut in China in January.
  • Three years after the release of its first smartwatch, OnePlus launches the OnePlus Watch 2 with a promised battery life of 100 hours.

In addition to these commercial launches, it seems likely that we’ll also see some more experimental concept devices showing off. There have been several leaks pointing to a transparent laptop from Lenovo, and I suspect that subsidiary Motorola will see the bendable smartphone concept it showed off last October. That would be in line with the company’s approach at last year’s MWC, when it demonstrated rollable laptop and smartphone concepts. It goes without saying that third-party app support is a much less pressing issue with concept devices like these, which aren’t likely to see commercial release anytime soon.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Image: Evan Blas /Lenovo

Refinement, that endless process of tweaking and smoothing out rough edges to make existing smartphone designs better, is never a bad thing. But if manufacturers want to stop selling increasingly capable black rectangles, they will face an uphill battle unless they can work with the millions of third-party apps that have been going through their own process of refinement for more than a decade.

It’s still too early to say whether AI-powered devices like the Rabbit R1 or Brain.ai and Deutsche Telekom’s app-less smartphone concept are the answer. But they are a recognition that what comes after today’s smartphones will either have to build on our formidable app ecosystems or be very creative in circumventing them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *