Edge of Innovation

Mobile World Congress 2016: 5 things you might have missed

A busy Mobile World Congress 2016 (MWC 2016) not only gave us the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. It gave us Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg evangelising about virtual reality, the good-looking LG G5 and Sony Xperia X handsets, plus the Xiomi Mi 5, a CAT phone with a built-in FLIR thermal camera and a $799 price tag for HTC’s Vive VR goggles.

While it’s easy to be seduced by new smartphones and the prospect of an era of affordable VR entertainment, it’s important to realise that some of the newest technologies on show at MWC 2016 will shape the development of future mobile devices.

Always-on displays

Take the Galaxy S7 and LG G5. Both smartphones feature an ‘always-on’ display, so no more pressing the power button to view the time, calendar or notifications.

MWC Samsung Galaxy S7
The Samsung Galaxy S7 features an always-on display capable of showing the time and calendar info at a glance.

Instead, these two next-gen mobiles are designed to show that information constantly without fully powering up their HD screens. While you might think this approach would waste battery power, it could actually help you save it by keeping the phones in low-power states.

Modular smartphones

The LG G5 doesn’t just offer an always on screen. It points the way to a future where our phones might be modular and upgradeable, their core features augmented with plug-in accessories. LG calls these accessories ‘Friends’.

MWC LG-G5
The LG G5 takes a modular approach to smartphone design and comes with a range of plug-in accessories.

The LG CAM Plus Friend, for example, makes the G5 a better camera, providing a chunky grip with physical buttons for power, shutter, record and zoom, plus extra battery power. While the LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O PLAY Friend adds a Hi-Fi DAC audio player supporting 32-bit 384KHz high-definition audio playback. An ideal upgrade for audiophiles.

Cheap VR goggles

The G5 can also be plugged into a VR headset, the LG 360 VR. It’s part of a growing trend that involves using smartphones to power budget VR experiences.

Samsung Gear VR at MWC 2016
The audience at the Samsung press conference experienced some of it via Samsung’s Gear VR goggles.

Samsung’s Galaxy phones can be plugged into its Gear VR goggles, while the Alcatel Idol 4S comes in a plastic box that doubles up as a Google Cardboard-certified VR visor.

Personal digital assistants

Elsewhere, Sony has started dabbling with virtual personal assistant technology. Its Xperia Ear device is reminiscent of Motorola’s Hint, a voice-activated earbud that you can speak to to make a call and search the web, or have calendar, weather events or the latest news stories read to you by Sony’s voice technology.

The Sony Xperia Ear at MWC 2016
The Xperia Ear aims to provide a hands-free, voice-controlled interface for Sony’s Xperia smartphones.

Its part of a new range of Xperia smart products, which will also include the Xperia Projector (which turns any flat surface into a touch screen) and the Xperia Agent (Sony’s vision for an Amazon Echo-style ‘assistant’ that will respond to voice and gestures – “providing you with useful information, communication assistance and home appliance controls.”)

Hydrogen fuel cells in your pocket

Last but by no means least, the MyFC Jaq claims to be the “world’s smallest pocket sized fuel cell charger”, capable of juicing up a smartphone or tablet via a power card filled with salty water. Plug in the Jaq via USB and, one chemical reaction later, you get a 1,800mAh burst of clean, hydrogen-powered energy. Perfect for charging mobile devices when you have no access to mains electricity.

It’s an exciting time for consumer technology. Roll on Mobile World Congress 2017. — Dean Evans (@evansdp)

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