Anticipated Features of MWC 2024

Sans investigating any leaks or rumors, I’d wager that you could likely outline most of the phones speculated to be launching at Mobile World Congress next week. Throughout the years, smartphones have settled on a relatively consistent design formula of large rectangular touchscreens, tiny selfie camera cutouts, app-based interfaces, and substantial camera protrusions with an assortment of different lenses. However, more than a decade and a half into the smartphone era, I’m becoming increasingly curious about what will come next and why existing endeavors to revamp smartphones like foldables have failed to gain popularity.

In my opinion, a significant part of the solution relates to applications. We hardly consider them because it’s so easy to take for granted that all your third-party software will function on your next phone, but you’d never contemplate purchasing a device that can’t run your banking app or ridehailing service of choice. Just observe Huawei, which transitioned from challenging Apple to be the world’s second-biggest smartphone manufacturer to having its Android license revoked and falling out of the top five entirely. First-party apps are the cornerstone of a smartphone, but it’s the third-party software that gives it the feeling of being your personalized instrument.

Applications are important! But applications also shoulder a lot of the blame for why phones look uniform now and why any effort to shift away from the traditional slab form factor and interface encounters a challenging situation.

It’s evidently feasible to modify a smartphone’s form factor without disrupting third-party applications. However, literally millions of applications are optimized to function with screens of approximately the same size and aspect ratios. And that weakens the argument for, for example, a costly new foldable when many of your most frequently used apps don’t make the most of its larger screen and instead awkwardly stretch to fill the additional space or even display with black bars on either side. Resourceful software workarounds and support for multitasking help, but it diminishes the excitement of investing in a significant 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 stir things up? The more conventional approach is one of diplomacy, of persuading third-party developers into backing your new initiative. (Just observe Nothing releasing an SDK for its phones’ flashing Glyph interface.) However, more recently, we’re witnessing next-generation devices that are attempting to eliminate apps from the equation completely. At CES in January, we saw Rabbit introduce the R1, a new $199 gadget that pledges to utilize AI to streamline the process of accessing existing apps. And at MWC, AI startup Brain.ai says it intends to display a so-called “app-less phone” concept in partnership with Deutsche Telekom.

The ambitious pledge for Brain.ai’s concept device is that it’ll feature “an app-free interface that predicts and generates the next interface contextually, flowing with your thoughts.” It appears that 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 resembles a more visual version of Google Assistant or Siri, responding to spoken or written prompts with an interface of its own rather than 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 believe it’s much too premature to say whether these untested AI-powered devices have any chance of displacing the traditional smartphone as our primary personal and portable computing devices. And it’s evident that there’ll be no lack of more conventional launches at this year’s MWC:

  • Xiaomi is presenting the presently China-exclusive Xiaomi 14 globally, where it seems likely to be accompanied by the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, the company’s latest handset with a large one-inch-type camera sensor.
  • HMD, which hitherto exclusively produced Nokia-branded phones, revealed last year that it intends to launch devices under its brand for the first time. Could we witness the first of these announced at MWC?
  • Honor seems set to reveal pricing for its new Porsche-themed special edition of its Magic V2 foldable. Its Magic 6 Pro is also being introduced internationally, subsequent to its unveiling in China in January.
  • Three years after the launch of its initial smartwatch, OnePlus is unveiling the OnePlus Watch 2 with a pledged 100 hours of battery life.

Alongside these commercial launches, it seems probable that we’ll also witness some more exploratory concept devices exhibited. There have been several leaks pointing toward a transparent laptop from Lenovo, and I suppose we’ll see its subsidiary Motorola introduce the bendable smartphone concept it flaunted last October. That would align with the company’s approach at last year’s MWC, when it showcased rollable laptop and smartphone concepts. It’s self-evident that third-party app support is a significantly less urgent issue with concept devices like these that are improbable to be commercially released in the near future.

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 Blass / Lenovo

Refinement, that endless process of tweaking and smoothing down rough edges to make existing smartphone designs better, is never a bad thing. But if manufacturers want to move on from selling increasingly capable black rectangles, they’ll be facing an uphill battle unless they can work in lockstep with the millions of third-party apps that have gone through their own process of refinement for over a decade.

It’s too early to say if AI-powered devices like the Rabbit R1 or Brain.ai and Deutsche Telekom’s “app-less” smartphone concept are the answer. But they’re a recognition that whatever comes after today’s smartphones needs to either build on top of our formidable app ecosystems or else be very creative in working around them.

Leave a Reply

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