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MWC: Smartphones will never be the same again

Column Massively screened tablet phones might have changed the industry
Fri Mar 01 2013, 14:19

THIS YEAR'S Mobile World Congress (MWC) will be called a bit of a flop by some, given the relatively few high-profile announcements, but the Barcelona mobile technology show might have changed the mobile industry.

At last year's MWC we saw the HTC One X, Nokia 808 Pureview and the LG Optimus 4X HD announced, as phone makers fought to release the smartphone with the most impressive specifications sheet. However, at this year's MWC we saw Asus and Samsung fight it out to see who could release the biggest smartphone.

Of course, when we say smartphone, we mean tablet. At least we think we do. This was a recurring issue we faced at MWC this year, and we consistently found ourselves scratching our heads as to whether we should refer to certain devices as smartphones or tablets. Sure, we could have opted for the word 'phablet', but that word should be banned. Maybe the term 'tablet phone' will work.

Among these devices was the Asus Padfone, the perfect example of a device that confused journalists and attendees alike with its tablet-sized screen and call making capability. Yes, that's right - the Padfone features a 7in HD touchscreen like that found on the Google Nexus 7 tablet - along with mobile phone calling functionality.

Samsung too, took the wraps off a mammoth smartphone or tablet (we've given up), the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. Samsung took the race one inch further than its rival Asus though, as its latest Galaxy Note device - as its name suggests - features a larger 8in screen.

We'll be honest, we didn't want to like the devices. When Asus took the wraps off the 7in Padfone at its glitzy, bizarre press event on Monday, our head almost fell into our hands. A 7in device isn't a smartphone, we thought to ourselves, but having had a play with the device we're kind of warming to the idea.

Although you're unlikely to see many people walking around with a 7in or 8in device held to their head - or so we hope at least - such devices are blurring the line between smartphones and tablets, removing the need for consumers to fork out two rounds of £500 to get their mitts on both devices.

This development places a lot of strain on mobile device makers that aren't so keen on the idea of releasing a big screen device with phone calling functionality.

People might shun buying an Apple iPhone or iPad, for example, in favour of a cheaper device capable of fulfilling their desires for both a smartphone and a tablet - and given Apple's product announcement cycle, it's unlikely to release a tablet phone of its own any time soon.

I know what you're thinking, and I don't fancy calling anyone with a 7in device held up to my face either, but I can't remember the last time I held my 4in iPhone up to my face either. I simply plug in my headphones and use the built-in mic, yet another small but important reason why this massive phone trend could really take off.

The fact that Samsung is pushing the emerging device category means that it's unlikely to fail. If Huawei and ZTE announced these tablets, we might not be so excited about the whole thing. But Samsung knows what it's doing, as evidenced by the success of the Galaxy S3, and was arguably the biggest manufacturer at this year's show. If it was not the largest, at least it was the one with the biggest stand.

So while this year's MWC might not have been all that exciting, it might have changed the mobile industry. µ


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