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MWC 2014: Three things you need to know

Posted: 28 Feb 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wearable devices? Android? smartphones? 64bit? octa-core?

Handset makers have had their eye on developing markets for quite a while now. This year at the Mobile World Congress, they got really serious in getting their devices in the hands of first-time smartphone users. Mobile operators, on the other hand, are looking to wearable devices as an additional revenue stream.

Low-cost smartphones

This week at the Mobile World Congress marked a significant shift in the industry as top brands focused more on entry-level smartphones rather than pricey, high-end models. Device differentiation has become difficult even for major players like Apple. Analysts see sharp dips this year in smartphone shipments worldwide as demand pours in from China and other emerging markets.

This trend has led mobile phone makers to release models that retail below $100 but still has some of the features offered by premium smartphones. Although Sony and Samsung rolled out devices aimed at power users and wealthy markets, Nokia and Firefox targeted cost-conscious consumers.

Spreadtrum Communications and Mozilla took the stage in Barcelona to announce that the integration of Firefox OS with several of Spreadtrum's WCDMA and EDGE smartphone chipsets is now complete (see Spreadtrum, Mozilla to roll out $25 Firefox smartphone). Nokia's marketing thrust for its X Series Android phones is "connecting the next billion to the Internet." The Nokia X, Nokia X+, and Nokia XL retail between $122 and $150, which is still quite costly compared to what Firefox offers (see Nokia debuts Android mobile handsets). Microsoft is also in the fray, turning to inexpensive chipsets and easing restrictions on how its Windows Phone OS is utilised in a bid to drive higher OEM adoption.

Wearables: Variety over cutting edge tech

The wearable devices market is a growing sector shifting from mostly niche products and interesting concepts to more broad market appeal and substantial commercial products. Junko Yoshida of EE Times identified the best wearables for 'navel gazers' which includes Sony's SmartBand and Huawe's TalkBand (see Innovative smart watches, bands at MWC). Samsung unveiled Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, both running on Tizen, the company's open-source OS (see Samsung smart watches upstage other wearables).

A wide cross-section of players such as traditional tech companies serving the mobile and PC markets, fitness companies, and fashion companies are converging to develop wearables.

Octa-core SoCs, 64bit mobile chips rush in full swing

While there's no proof that mobile devices are ready for 64bit code, the launch of iPhone 5S with the A7 processor kicked off a number of 64bit chip announcements before and throughout the MWC. MediaTek announced its entry into the 64bit fray with the MT6732 quad core smartphone processor with integrated LTE modem. Nvidia demoed its chip, a variant of the Tegra K1, at CES last month. Qualcomm also added to its 64bit product line with the Snapdragon 610 and 615 processors. Despite the flurry, native 64bit OS support in mobile devices has yet to catch on.

Another popular segment is octa-core SoCs with several semiconductor companies introducing their ARM-based 8-core chips in Barcelona. Allwinner, MediaTek, and Qualcomm join MediaTek and Samsung in their octa-core offerings. However, just like the 64bit conundrum, jury is still out as to how well 8-core performs on mobile devices.

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