MWC not so Hot?

This week, I spent a number of days at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The event is currently the hot event for the world of mobile phone operators and makers, so much so that the exhibitors charge €750 just for the right to walk around the show floor – and I won’t bore you with the hoops that we had to go through to convince them that we are really press. This barrier was put up even though we were able to send them the reports we had printed in the last two years. Apparently, running a newsletter called “Mobile Display Report” and producing 50 issues per year is not enough!

Anyway, I eventually registered as press and my colleague, Norbert, was helped by a friendly exhibitor.

In some ways, the show was something of a disappointment. The Galaxy S6 launch did produce a big launch of an important product for a major brand, but there was relatively little in the way of really interesting display developments, although that phone has a very nice 4 megapixel display. One of the problems is that, frankly, the quality of the displays on the best mobile devices is quite fantastic, if we think what they were like just a few years ago and that makes it hard for new devices to be really impressive.

The new resolution does highlight that the best phones now have more pixels than 98% of the users of new desktop monitors bought in Europe this year! Having said that, we found plenty of stories to write about.

I was particularly impressed by the developments in GPUs – several companies had demonstrations of the Unreal 4 game engine running on their mobile chip architectures with very high quality and performance. It was also interesting that Nvidia, one of the best GPU creators of the last twenty or so years, only had a tiny meeting room as it is “not in mobile any more”. It’s a hard battle (and a different world to the PC domain) when companies such as Intel and Nvidia struggle to gain traction. Microsoft was talking about Windows 10, but really had little to show.

There was lots of talk about 5G but it increasingly looks as though future developments are about integrating all the different wireless technologies so that whatever is available can be aggregated to give the best possible performance and bandwidth – getting the best out of the combination of Wi-fi and cellular radio. There was lots of talk about multicast and broadcast of video over cellular technologies and we had some good discussions about Wi-fi 802.11ad and how it will work alongside 802.11ac, rather than simply replacing it.

HEVC was a hot topic as the improvement in efficiency helps with delivering video over mobile networks.

I was particularly looking at component makers, while Norbert was mainly looking at devices. There were only a couple of display makers on the show floor – Samsung had a private room, but was only showing the same as it had at CES, and Tianma was showing some good looking OLEDs and LCDs in a meeting room.

There was little revolutionary in devices, I thought, although a lot of companies are still playing around with ideas for smartwatches. I looked briefly at a lot of them. I tend to be an early adopter, so would normally expect myself to be keen on trying one, but I just can’t get excited about them. They are just too chunky (and clunky) to me. The nearest to a design that I thought I might buy was from Asus (and I couldn’t remember when I last came away from a trade show thinking that a Taiwanese product was the most attractive!), but it was still a little big for my taste. My watch is the simplest, thinnest, lightest titanium model I could find – I have never liked the “Rolex” look.

We saw lots of demos of VR, but I remain a little sceptical of mass adoption. On the other hand, all the VR demos had long queues, as they had at CES, so maybe I’m wrong on this. There was less “augmented reality” than I expected (either glasses or using tablets and phones). In many products, it was the camera features that were being really highlighted.

I wanted to take some videos, but in the end, only an “MHL notebook dock” and a demonstration of low cost eye tracking seemed worth the effort. These are both topics I have cared about for some time and neither was really completely new, although I hadn’t seen a Smart TV operated by gaze before and the MHL dock is at the right price point now for some good sales.

Anyway, the full report will be next week in the Mobile Display Monitor.