Now that CES 2014 has come and gone, it's time to gear up for the next major annual tech industry event: Mobile World Congress. While CES is no longer known as a venue for unveiling the year's flagship smartphones, the Barcelona-based Mobile World Congress is expected to usher in a slew of new handsets from the likes of Samsung, Nokia and LG. Here's a look at what we expect to see at one of the biggest mobile tech shows of the year, from brand new smartphones to fresh takes on the operating systems and apps we use on those devices.
Although Samsung, Nokia, LG and HTC all decided to hold their own flagship launch events in 2013, there's a strong chance we'll see new smartphones debut at this year's show. Samsung recently sent out invitations for its Feb. 24 Unpacked event in Barcelona, which features the subscript 5 after its name hinting that the Galaxy S5 will make its first appearance. This invitation was sent after rumors suggested that Samsung will release a new flagship device with a QHD display at Mobile World Congress, which was believed to be the S5. In addition to a 2560 x 1600 5.25-inch display, we're expecting to see Samsung's next big thing debut with iris scanning technology, a revamped TouchWiz UI with a flatter design, a 64-bit processor and an improved 16MP camera.
We also wouldn't be surprised to see Samsung's recently announced Galaxy Note 3 Neo, which comes in two flavors. The high-end version runs on a hexacore processor comprised of two 1.7GHz Cortex-A15 cores and four 1.3GHz Cortex-A7 cores.The lower end 3G version will be powered by a 1.6-GHz quad-core processor. Toting 5.5-inch displays, both handsets are a slightly smaller version of the Galaxy Note 3 which sports a roomier 5.7-inch screen.
LG recently revealed the G Pro 2, the successor to its Optimus G Pro phablet, in Korea earlier this week. The device comes equipped with a massive 5.9-inch 1080p display, a 2.26-GHz Snapdragon 800 processor and a 13MP camera. LG is touting the device's ability to record 4K footage and slow motion as its primary new features. We're expecting to get some hands-on time with the device in Barcelona following LG's press event.
Just because Nokia has cemented itself as the poster child for Windows Phone handsets, that doesn't mean it's excluding other options. Despite Microsoft owning Nokia's mobile division, rumors have persistently suggested that the Finnish-based smartphone maker will announce an Android device at Mobile World Congress. Believed to be codenamed Normandy, the phone is expected to fall into the budget category similar to Nokia's Asha handsets. Rumors have suggested that the Normandy will come with low end specs including a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 512MB of RAM, 8GB of onboard storage and a 3MP main camera.
While it may be too early to see a successor to the flagship HTC One, the Taiwan-based gadget maker could reveal a new mid-range device. The HTC Desire 8, which was reportedly leaked earlier this week, is rumored to sport a phablet-sized 5.5-inch display, a 13MP main camera, 5MP front shooter and a clean white buttonless design.
Mobile World Congress may not herald as many wearable gadgets as CES 2014, but that doesn't mean we won't see some wrist-worn tech. Samsung is rumored to introduce a successor to its Galaxy Gear, according to The New York Times. Back in September, Korean media sources also reported that the next-gen Gear could come with a GPS tracker and better battery life than the current watch. It's also expected to be compatible with a wider range of Android devices.
HTC and Huawei are also believed to be working on their own respective smartwatches. HTC's Cher Wang recently told Bloomberg that the company has had a wrist-worn gadget in the works for quite some time, although it's unclear if we'll hear any news about it at MWC 2014. It's much more likely that we'll see a smartwatch from Huawei, however, since the company revealed such plans to The Wall Street Journal.
Sony may not reveal any new wearable devices, but we're expecting to learn more about its SmartBand and LifeLog app.
This year's CES played host to a slew of new wearable displays, from Epson's Movea BT-200 to GlassUp. We haven't heard too much on the heads-up display front concerning Mobile World Congress, but augmented reality software maker Metaio is establishing a presence at the show. It's unclear if Metaio will be showcasing AR apps for smartphones or wearable devices, but we'll be sure to swing by their booth on the showroom floor.
Alternate Smartphone Operating Systems
Mozilla's Firefox OS and Canonical's Ubuntu OS were among the highlights of last year's Mobile World Congress, but this year they'll face some increased competition. Samsung is holding a developer event in Barcelona to flaunt its "newest Tizen devices," according to the invitation. At the same time, a set of recently leaked screenshots that claim to be from the Galaxy S5 hint that a major TouchWiz design overhaul is underway.
We're definitely expecting to see the S5 run on Android when it launches, but the reported screencaps serve as an indicator that Samsung could be building its own OS. Samsung also recently published a teaser for its Unpacked event that provides a sneak preview at this revamped interface, showing round icons that bear some similarity to those in reportedly leaked Tizen screenshots.
At the same time, Jolla will be attending Mobile World Congress to make some announcements concerning its Sailfish OS. Both Canonical and Mozilla will be holding press events in Barcelona, so we can expect to hear more about Firefox OS and Ubuntu as well.
Chat and Virtual Assistant Apps
A mobile platform is only as good as the apps available for it, which is why we're banking on seeing new apps debut at Mobile World Congress. Gartner predicts that chat and IM apps similar to WeChat and WhatsApp will be a trend at this year's show. Virtual assistant apps, such as to-do list and calendar organizers like Tempo and Emu, will be a theme at Mobile World Congress as well.
As was the case with CES, we can also expect to see home automation apps similar to SmartThings and Revolv, according to the research firm's projections. We'll be sure to explore the convention center's App Planet during the show in less than two weeks.
Beacon Apps to Replace NFC for Mobile Payments
Given the popularity of mobile payment platforms such as Square, it's no surprise that credit card companies are delving into the mobile commerce space. Both Visa and Mastercard will be making announcements at Mobile World Congress 2014. However, that doesn't mean we should expect to see NFC solutions such as Google Wallet or ISIS.
"The slow progress of NFC-based mobile proximity payments is sparking strong interest in alternatives," Eden Zoller, principal analyst for Ovum, said in the research firm's prediction report for Mobile World Congress 2014. "And with this in mind, we expect to see interesting developments around Bluetooth low energy beacon applications."
It's unclear exactly what we'll see at this year's Mobile World Congress, but we'll be on site in less than two weeks to bring you our coverage and impressions.