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MWC: Smartphones highlight mobile’s biggest trends

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It is not surprising that Mobile World Congress, the year’s biggest wireless show, is also the most popular global stage to unveil the latest and greatest in smartphones. While Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 7 Series and BlackBerry’s new browser attracted the lion’s share of attention on the software side, there was no shortage of new and innovative hardware unveiled as well. New models were introduced by big players Samsung, LG, Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Sony Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE and HTC; relatively new entrants Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN)-Asus, Acer, Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Toshiba; small vendors Sagem and Sonim; and even shoemaker Puma.

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More important than the phones themselves, however, was that they represented a few key trends in wireless that will surely define the next year for manufacturers, mobile operators, software providers, app developers and consumers alike.

Smartphones are just app-delivery vehicles: MWC was all about the apps this year and handsets were just a way to download more apps. New phones, including the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 and the Samsung Wave, showed they could be just as viable as the iPhone and Android in augmenting the app experience. But most notable was the mobile operators’ show of support for the app ecosystem (or their desire to take a bigger chunk of it). The big four U.S. carriers along with 20 other global operators jointly formed the Wholesale Applications Community to create a common app development platform for true write-once, read-everywhere app development.

Operating systems (OSs) are no less important: As new hardware looks increasingly alike, software is becoming all the more important. The wireless industry didn’t need another wireless operating system, but a couple existing ones got much needed makeovers. Handset-makers drew their line in the sand, too. LG said it has no plans to release its own smartphone OS, a stark contrast to competitor Samsung’ s approach with its proprietary bada OS, set to debut in March on the Wave. The number of players may inevitability lead to confusion and fragmentation, but the user experience just keeps getting better in the meantime.

Social networking is best served on the go: Outside of apps, adding social to smart was a key element of many handset-makers’ plans. Perhaps most explicit is Motorola with its MotoBlur service, which the new Backflip on AT&T will showcase. Similar to Sony Ericsson’s social-slanted bada and HTC’s Sense, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 Series also included a “people hub” in its six key areas of the new OS. While enterprise is still important, it appears the mobile phone is truly becoming a lifestyle device. Social elements — often coupled with location — are becoming table stakes.

User interface is the killer app: The UI, and subsequent user experience, trumped all the other features on new handsets introduced at MWC. Simplicity, ease of use, prominence of the app store, multitouch and multitasking were all features that captured attention, even more so than fancy features like the GPS and camera and definitely more so than any mobile entertainment features.

Android, Android, Android: Undisputedly, Google’s open-source OS got the most traction at MWC, with phones launched that span all the aforementioned trends. The OS has a way to go to close the gap with Apple, but it’s off to a great start.

Connected Planet Senior Editor Kevin Fitchard was on site this week in Barcelona and chronicled the show’s biggest news announcements and trends. Be sure to check out our Mobile World Congress page for the highlights.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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