A trove of new but unexciting Android smartphones to debut at MWC

Older brands like BlackBerry and Nokia to reappear with new devices, as Chinese manufacturers show their updates

Several new high-profile Android smartphones are expected to launch this weekend in advance of Mobile World Congress, which opens Monday in Barcelona.

Analysts and published reports have said these new Android smartphones will include the BlackBerry Dtek 70 (through a license with TCL), the LG G6, Lenovo’s Moto G5Nokia 8/P1 (HMD holds the Nokia brand), the Sony Xperia X2, the Huawei P10, and at least one model from HTC.

By announcing new smartphones, Lenovo and Huawei will again demonstrate the growing influence of Chinese smartphone manufacturers, which now number in the dozens. Other Chinese smartphone makers, including Oppo and Gionee, are also expected to announce new smartphones.

HTC, based in Taiwan, competes with these Chinese firms and released the HTC 10 early last year.

Meanwhile, Samsung, the global smartphone leader, will not unveil the Galaxy S8 at MWC, but it will show new tablets and other devices, the company said last month. Samsung is still managing customer expectations after a disastrous problem with exploding batteries in its Note 7. The S8 is widely expected to be launched on March 29 in New York City.

Analysts tamped down expectations of any groundbreaking smartphone features at MWC. “There will certainly be some new phones at MWC, but I’m not really expecting anything dramatically different,” said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at Technalysis Research.

“I am not expecting anything amazingly new. We’ll see better cameras, [artificial intelligence] in some shape or form, and better screens,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies. Still, “everybody but Samsung, Apple, and Google will have new devices.”

Ovum analyst Ronan de Renesse noted the comeback of older smartphone brands BlackBerry and Nokia, but also noted in the report, “this will be nowhere near their former glory of ten years ago, but rather [they] will focus on specific niche products with limited market impact.”

AI in smartphones

AI-powered digital assistants could be a differentiator for some of the new smartphones. De Renesse said Huawei—now the third-largest smartphone maker globally—may extend Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to the P10 smartphone, after announcing it in the Mate 9 at CES in January.

He said HTC’s Sense Companion AI appeared in the HTC U Play and Ultra smartphones in January and is likely to be extended to whatever new smartphones HTC announces at MWC.

Google Assistant is also reported to be available in the LG G6, de Renesse said. LG has also hinted the smartphone will be waterproof and come with an improved camera.

Smartphone app usage drops

Although new Android and iOS smartphone innovations continue to captivate many technophiles and visitors to MWC, there is a growing recognition that the U.S. smartphone market is saturated and basically flat. This trend—now several years in the making—has led smartphone manufacturers to focus heavily on emerging markets such as China, India, and Brazil.

Even the use of smartphone apps in the U.S. is declining, some analysts said, which will push websites and developers to find ways to introduce software and services to keep interest in smartphones high. “It doesn’t surprise me that there’s a decrease in smartphone usage of smartphone apps,” said Technalysis’s O’Donnell.

Some analysts say that AI may help increase interest by providing users with a way to easily access apps and websites through their smartphones with simple voice commands.

“Americans may be downloading fewer apps, but their spending on in-app purchases is growing,” Creative Strategies’ Milanesi said. “I do not foresee [U.S.] consumers using smartphones less.”

This story, "A trove of new but unexciting Android smartphones to debut at MWC" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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