Five top trends at MWC 2015

Barcelona - Chinese-made smart watches, abundant smartphone choices and virtual reality headsets are just some trends that have grabbed attention at Mobile World Congress 2015.

Barcelona’s reputation for warmer European weather helped showcase the world’s hottest new mobile devices and technologies this week.

Big global phone makers like Samsung, LG and HTC have unveiled new devices while top players from the technology ecosystem, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, made a showing as well.

An estimated 90,000 attendees also hit the MWC hallways to catch a glimpse of what’s in store for 2015.

Fin24 also had an opportunity to attend this year’s event, and here is our technology editor Gareth van Zyl’s list of MWC’s top five trends.

China enters the smart watch wars

Smartphone players such as South Korea’s Samsung have previously launched smart watches, without much success. Next week, US tech giant Apple will also have a ‘mystery unveiling’ of a device that pundits forecast will be its smart watch.

But a pleasant surprise this week at MWC was a watch from Chinese phone maker Huawei.

Huawei is known for selling affordable but decent smartphones such as the P7 and P9 handsets.

So, when the company announced the launch of its first Huawei Watch, the tech world sat up and took notice.

Powered by Android Wear, the circular watch features a 1.4-inch touch-sensitive AMOLED display, scratch-proof sapphire crystal lens, a stainless steel frame, comes with a built-in heart rate monitor and 6-Axis motion sensors.

Other features include more than 40 unique available watch faces, an accompanying magnetic charging station, a Qualcomm 1.2GHz processor, 4GB of storage, 512MB of RAM and Bluetooth 4.1.

What is surprising about the Huawei Watch is its simplicity and traditional design.

Huawei, meanwhile, plans to launch the device in Europe, Asia and the US later this year.

Details regarding pricing still have to be released. But reports already suggest that the watch could cost a hefty $1 000.

If this is the case, it could mark Huawei’s dramatic entry into the tier one smart device category, which Apple and Samsung have come to dominate.

Smartphone market desperately needs innovation

As Huawei’s smart watch grabbed attention this week, the range of new smartphone launches have failed to inspire excitement.

Looking around the MWC 2015 smartphone stands, I couldn’t help but think that all handsets, from all brands look and feel more or less the same.

Whether it be Samsung, Acer, Asus, Huawei or LG, there’s little in the way of real innovation at the moment.

Sony smartphones on show at MWC 2015. (Gareth van Zyl)

Yes, the phones are getting thinner, screen sizes are pushing out further to the edges and the software and processors are annually becoming faster. But the category is still stuck on looking similar to Steve Jobs' first unveiling of the Apple iPhone.

On the other hand, consumers have never had more choice. If you’re in need of a smartphone upgrade, you’re in a buyers market.

Virtual reality headsets are not just gimmicky

After testing out Samsung’s virtual reality headset, I’m convinced that this is a ‘thing’ that could take off.

The graphics flow is seamless, albeit basic. But more importantly, it is incredibly addictive and entertaining.

Samsung entered the virtual reality space last year after it announced a partnership with the Oculus Rift team, which is owned by social media giant Facebook.

Few would have thought then that Samsung would push on to launch a virtual reality headset that accompanies its latest S6 device as well.

And it’s not just Samsung pursuing virtual reality. HTC’s has also unveiled its Vive headset this week.

Are virtual reality headsets here to stay? (Gareth van Zyl)

The opportunities with virtual reality headsets are potentially endless, spanning from entertainment to gaming and social networking.

This is definitely a trend to watch and it will be interesting to see how it affects the smart TV sphere.

Android is unshakeable despite competition

Smartphones powered by operating systems from web browser Firefox and Mark Shuttleworth’s Ubuntu are interesting but not a threat to Google’s Android operating system.

This is because the overwhelming number of smart device makers at MWC (including even Nokia with its N1 tablet) are using Android and increasingly switching to version 5 of the software dubbed ‘Lollipop’.

Having tried out the likes of Alcatel’s range of Firefox phones at MWC, I was impressed with how an HTML5 operating system can have a slick user interface.

These phones are no doubt interesting, but their lack of apps means they won’t be viable competitors just yet.

Firefox, in particular, is teaming up with telecom operators such as Orange to roll out low cost phones in parts of Africa. But considering Africa’s economic rise, it will only be a matter of time before even these consumers switch to higher spec Android smartphones.

First adopters and geeky tech heads might be tempted by Firefox and Ubuntu phones, but Android is here to stay.

BlackBerry phones die hard

Canadian smartphone maker BlackBerry didn’t have a stand at MWC this year, something which would have been unthinkable just five years ago.

But that didn’t stop the brand from announcing the launch of its Leap phone this week along the sidelines of the conference.

The mid-range Leap is among three other phones that BlackBerry plans to launch this year.

However, even BlackBerry has started to get the message that its future doesn’t lie in phones but in software.

CEO John Chen said that "we are committed to making software as a business”.

"We are going to evolve," he said.

And so they should.

BlackBerry have a great reputation with developing secure, enterprise software. That was previously the company’s strong point.

Chen is smart to finally limit the company’s smartphone launches because BlackBerry just can’t compete in that space anymore.

Click here to view our photo gallery of MWC 2015.

Fin24 is hosted by Lenovo at the Mobile World Congress 2015.

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