Next week, Mobile World Congress returns to Barcelona, two years after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the world’s largest mobile phone show, and a year after the show went ahead without the presence of many of its biggest exhibitors. Not everyone is returning to this year’s in-person event (Sony, Lenovo, and select media outlets including The edge are not present) but it almost feels like the show is back in full force.
But it’s also an event that will show exactly how much the smartphone industry has changed in recent years. As it stands, all of the show’s biggest hardware announcements seem to come from Chinese brands like Oppo, Honor, TCL, Xiaomi sub-brand Poco, and Huawei, rather than brands from Europe. America or even from another Asian country like South Korea. .
Honor, for example, plans to announce the Magic 4 series at the show, marking its first Western flagship smartphone launch since its split from former parent company Huawei. Although the company launched the mid-range Honor 50 globally last year, the Magic 4 is said to use Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, making it a direct (and likely affordable) competitor to the Galaxy S22. from Samsung or OnePlus. ten.
Meanwhile, Oppo announced plans to announce “several high-end flagships” alongside augmented reality and 5G “R&D achievements” at this year’s MWC. The company just announced its latest flagship smartphone, the Find X5 Pro, last Thursday, but still intends to use this year’s show to make some major announcements.
Or what about TCL, which says it plans to reveal more entries in its 30 series of smartphones after announcing the first two entries, the 30 XE 5G and 30 V5G, at CES earlier this year. . Or Poco, the Xiaomi sub-brand that plans to announce the Poco X4 Pro 5G and Poco M4 Pro at an event on February 28. Oppo’s spin-off Realme promises to announce the “the world’s fastest smartphone charging technologyat this year’s show, which for those keeping track should be faster than the 125W UltraDart technology announced a few years ago.
In contrast, major phone brands outside of China have rarely shown much interest in using MWC for major consumer-facing announcements. Google has never launched a smartphone at MWC, and Apple takes the show as seriously as it takes every other major trade show, which is to say “not very.” But even Samsung, which used MWC to announce its flagship Galaxy S smartphone as recently as 2018, seems to be focusing its MWC launches this year on a humble laptop. Only HMD, the Finland-based company that now produces Nokia-branded smartphones, regularly timed its major product announcements with the Barcelona show.
MWC’s growing focus on Chinese companies doesn’t mean it’s losing relevance, as these phones are more popular than ever with customers around the world. As of last year, IDC reports that three of the world’s five most popular smartphone brands – Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo – are headquartered in China, with the top and two spots taken by Samsung and Apple. It’s a similar situation in Europe in particular, where Counterpoint Research reports that seven of the ten most popular smartphone brands are headquartered in China.
Instead, I think the trend is an interesting demonstration of who has the most to gain from having a big announcement coincide with a crowded trade show. It’s not companies like Samsung and Apple, which have the kind of global physical presence that allows them to hold big launches separately from big trade shows. But for a company like Honor or TCL, a show like MWC seems like an invaluable way to gather lots of press in one place to show off your wares.
News around MWC 2022 will almost certainly be dominated by Chinese tech brands, who are doing their best to keep the buzz going around Europe’s biggest mobile show. But the more you look at it, it starts to look like good logistics.