The year’s biggest phone expo is about to kick off in Barcelona, Spain. The Mobile World Congress always seems to have an unofficial theme. Last year it was non-Apple tablets and bad 3-D. In 2010 it was Windows Phone 7.
This year? This year looks set to be all about the Phablets. And Cult of Mac is going to be there first-hand to laugh at report on them.
Phablets is the hilarious new term for the new phone/tablet hybrids like Samsung’s Galaxy Note: too big to be a cellphone, too small to be a tablet. The Note is the most famous of these so far, but HTC might be getting into the game with the rumored 4.7-inch, 720p Endeavor, a phablet with a quad-core processor.
Then there’s the LG Optimus View (above), a 1024×768, 4:3 aspect ratio five-inched screened “phone” that is so square it looks like the fat-nano of the oversized Android world.
Asus takes a different approach. Its Padfonecombines a tablet and a smartphone — literally. You get two devices, and the tablet has a hatch in the back that lets the phone dock like some kind of 3G-sharing, plastic homunculus. This does at least have the advantage of requiring a single data plan for both devices. It also means that if you lose or break your phone, the tablet is also out of action.
Ubuntu for Android
Another thing to look out for is Ubuntu on Android, which turns your phone into a pocket desktop computer. This actually looks very neat. Alone, your phone acts like a phone. When docked and hooked up to an external display, your quad-core Android device powers a full desktop environment. Given how awful have been all the Android devices I have tried over the years, I’m excited to check this one out. It doesn’t hurt that I’m already a fan of desktop Ubuntu.
From an Apple user’s perspective, most of these products seem ridiculous. After all, Apple makes a great phone and a great tablet, covering almost every base. But it’s a measure of the desperation of these manufacturers to break the iPad/iPhone stranglehold on the mobile computing market that they try ever odder niches.
Two years ago, Microsoft stole the show with Windows 7 Phone Series. Journalists universally loved it, but Microsoft failed to sell the phones in meaningful numbers. Last year almost the same OS was shown, warmed over and with a slightly less messy name.
This year will bring Windows 8, the grand unifying OS that will run everywhere, from desktops to tablets to smartphones. This could be genius or disaster.
The phones should escape unscathed, left with the excellent Metro UI. The tablets will be mostly Metro, but with the ability to drop into aspects of desktop Windows. These will be re-jigged for the low-powered tablets, but as Microsoft has essentially been shoehorning Windows into tablet computers from back when tablet computers used x86 architecture, I don’t hold out much hope.
Most schizophrenic will be the desktop Windows 8, which will seemingly switch between modes, with Metro as an option. Again, this could be smart or stupid. We’ll find out at the launch on Wednesday afternoon.
Also expect to see a strong showing of yet more Android tablets, 3-D phones and — if the company is true to form — a bunch of weird widgets on the LG stand. Last year we saw eyeball controlled cellphones, and other LG oddities include bone-conduction headsets.
And finally, we’ll probably hear a lot about LTE, but won’t see much movement in the real world. This happened with 3G: the Mobile World Congress buzzed with 3G news year after year but it took much longer to actually penetrate the market in a widespread way.
Mobile World Congress 2012 coverage starts Monday, February 27th. We’ll be there alongside Cult of Android, reporting from the showfloor. Whether out of hubris or out of genuine interest, we hope you’ll follow all the breaking Mobile World Congress with us.