Author(s): Ben Wood
Geoff Blaber, George Jijiashvili, Kester Mann
Welcome to the first in a series of Daily Insights from Mobile World Congress, which takes place in Barcelona from 26 February to 1 March.
Today's highlights come from the announcements made on Sunday, the day before the show officially opens.
CCS Insight will publish several more-comprehensive reports in the days after the show closes.
Samsung Reveals Galaxy S9
Even though extensive leaks meant many of the Galaxy S9's details were already known, Samsung drew an impressive crowd to its Unpacked event. The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus offer incremental improvements over their immediate predecessors, notably the camera, which received particular attention during the launch. This is a potentially tough sell for the Korean smartphone maker, but the real goal of the new models is making an already good product even better as Samsung takes the fight to Apple.
Despite the striking similarities between the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S9, it's worth remembering that most people buying this device will be upgrading from a two- or three-year-old phone. For them it will be a significant upgrade, a fact underlined by the Galaxy S9's £739/$720 price tag.
Samsung's battle with the new phone goes beyond the device itself. It's all about the marketing, the pricing and the package being offered to consumers.
Telefonica Launches Aura Assistant in Six Markets
Having unveiled the artificial intelligence-powered Aura voice assistant at Mobile World Congress in 2017, Telefonica confirmed its launch in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Spain and the UK. Significantly, Aura is being made available on different platforms as well as Telefonica's own, starting with Facebook Messenger in Germany and Chile. In the coming months, it will be integrated with Google Assistant and by 2019 will also work with Microsoft's Cortana. Telefonica additionally said that Aura will power Movistar Home, a hub that connects and manages multiple devices in the home. The product will initially launch in Spain in autumn 2018.
Intel Allies with NTT DoCoMo for 2020 Olympic Games
At a press conference hosted by CCS Insight CEO Shaun Collins, Intel unveiled a collaboration with the Japanese operator to support its 5G network services. It pointed to applications such as 360-degree 8K video streams to showcase real-time action; smart city sensors and connected cars to assist spectators; and data, analytics, wearables and virtual reality solutions to help athletes train and compete. The event also showcased applications from the recent PyeongChang Winter Olympics, at which Intel partnered with local operator KT. Intel said that at the games the company had 10 sites, 22 5G links and delivered 3,800TB of network capacity.
Alcatel Expands Range with Well-Specified Devices
TCL's Alcatel brand has unveiled a slew of competitively priced mid- and low-tier Android smartphones costing from €90 to €230.
The devices offer features previously seen on flagship products, such as fingerprint sensors, face unlocking and 18:9 displays, which are being manufactured in-house by TCL. The company also revealed that it has been working closely with Google to reduce the memory requirements of the Android operating system and apps, and now supports the Android Go edition on its smartphones.
We believe TCL's global scale and in-house component and manufacturing capability is a major factor in its ability to compete in the cutthroat low-cost Android device market.
Alcatel also announced two new Android tablets, the seven-inch 1T 7 at €70 and the 10-inch 1T 10 at €100, and two LTE mobile broadband hot spot devices, the Linkzone Cat7 and Linkzone Cat12.
Nokia Unveils Android Devices and Another Retro Phone
HMD Global announced a broad update to its Nokia-branded mobile phone range. The Nokia One (€85) is an entry-level Android phone that plays strongly to Nokia's brand heritage of delivering affordable, reliable devices. The new Nokia 6 (€279) and Nokia 7 Plus (€399) are logical updates to the existing portfolio, and the Nokia 8 Sirocco adds a smartly designed flagship device that ought to provide a "halo" for the entire range.
There was also a new 4G-capable Nokia 8110. This €79 device joins the rebooted Nokia 3110, which was an unexpected hit in 2017 and helped return the Nokia brand to prominence in a spectacular manner. The Nokia 8110 is another fondly remembered phone, partly thanks to its appearance in The Matrix film. HMD Global will be hoping the new version will have a similarly positive effect on awareness of Nokia-branded phones.
Huawei Shows Off New Tablets and Laptop
Huawei announced no new smartphones, but unveiled two new Android tablets and the Windows-powered MateBook X Pro laptop.
It is hard to understand why Huawei thought it worth the expense of big launch event in Barcelona for a new Windows computer and two Android tablets. Even more curious is the decision to forgo an LTE-capable version of the MateBook X Pro, given Huawei's expertise in cellular devices. The device's arrival comes in the context of a clear trend toward always-connected notebooks, such as a recent flurry of Windows-on-Snapdragon products from Asus, HP and Lenovo.
The success of the MateBook X Pro will largely depend on its pricing, which at €1,500 to €1,900 is broadly in line with similar products from rivals.
The new MediaPad 8.4-inch and 10.8-inch Android tablets are nicely design but the addressable market for mid- and high-range Android tablets is limited. Apple has a firm grip on the market for premium tablets and Amazon dominates the low end. Furthermore, Android apps optimised for tablet usage have seen little love in recent years, meaning the "app gap" from the iPad is wider than ever for consumers.
Vodafone and Samsung Debut Smart Home Services
V-Home by Vodafone brings together the operator's V by Vodafone consumer Internet of things system and Samsung's SmartThings platform. It will launch in Spain and Germany in the second quarter of 2018, arriving in other markets later in the year. Initially, the service is heavily focussed on security, with products including cameras, sensors and monitors. Vodafone was later than some of its rivals with a consumer offering in the Internet of things, launching V by Vodafone in November 2017 (see Finding Fido). We expect the service to form one of Vodafone's most prominent messages at this year's Mobile World Congress.
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