What Does Mobile World Congress 2013 Mean For The iPhone? [MWC 2013 Preview]

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At long last, the Mobile World Congress is leaving the confines of Plaça de Espanya for a new out-of-town venue.

On Sunday, Cult of Mac and Cult of Android will be kicking off our Mobile World Congress 2013 coverage.

The Android side of the Mobile World Congress will be — as ever — an orgy of new handsets and tablets of every conceivable screen size. Apple stuff will be limited to accessories and apps, and Killian Bell will be covering that for us over at Cult of Android.

But what is there to get excited about for Apple fans? I’ll be looking for Mac and iPhone-related news, and I wonder what the hell there’s going to be this year.

Since nobody wants to know what I think is coming next week in the world of iPad cases, lets take a look instead at how the rest of the mobile world could (or might not) predict the features of future iDevices.

NFC

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A chip. Photo Sho Hashimoto/Flickr

Ugh. It seems like NFC has been on the cards since forever. The promise is instant wireless communication between devices with no pairing required. Mobile payments are the usual use-case, but you could really use NFC for anything. You could even use it to help pair a device via Bluetooth.

Tricks like instant swapping of “business cards,” or putting your phone on top of a speaker to play music via Bluetooth join the usual wallet-replacement fantasies.

If you bet on Apple to add NFC payments to the iPhone anytime soon, you’ll lose your money

But if you bet on Apple to add NFC payments to the iPhone anytime soon, I reckon you’d lose your money. Apple might add NFC, but only when there’s a neat new feature that it can tout. And there’s strong evidence that instead of NFC, Apple might just use Bluetooth 4.0.

Clearly, I have no idea what Apple might have planned for NFC, if anything, but you can be sure it won’t be called NFC, any more than Bonjour (née Rendezvous) is called ZeroConf, or Thunderbolt is called Light Peak.

And of course, when (and if) NFC is included in your iDevices, then third-party app and accessory makers will go crazy coming up with all kinds of cool toys.

Bigger Screens

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My God! Look at the size of that thing! Photo Vladimir Fedotov/Flickr

The iPhone has — with the exception of the newer! taller! iPhone 5 — resolutely kept its 3.5-inch screen size. Is it possible that the iPhone 5 was in some ways an experiment to see what the world would make of a different-sized screen?

I’m the last person to say that Apple will follow the likes of Samsung or LG, and make different-sized iPhones just because the “market” “demands” it. But let’s play “what if.”

Now that the iPad mini has shipped, maybe it’s time for the iPhone to do the same. I don’t see an iPhone mini anywhere in the future. But an iPhone maxi (note: this will definitely not be its real name.)

Perhaps people like the idea of an iPad mini, but don’t want to carry a second device. Or maybe the mini is still too big? Or consider this:

A bigger iPhone would be cheaper to produce. More space for components, more space for battery. Don’t believe me? Then how does the iPad mini manage to cost half the price of an iPhone 5?

A bigger iPhone would be cheaper to produce. Don’t believe me? Then how does the iPad mini manage to cost half the price of an iPhone 5?

A bigger iPhone would also still be an iPhone. It would therefore be sold by carriers with a contract and a subsidy. All those people who want an iPad mini but won’t pay $300+ for it could at least get something close.

I don’t know, but it does seem likely that the iPhone might soon break away from the single-model, uh, model. Or maybe not. After all, the iPhone 5 is the world’s best selling smartphone these days.

Fancy Cameras

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This is unlikely to be the iPhone 6 camera.

One place where Apple does like to play around is with the iPhone’s camera. This is probably the area where we’ll get the most practical idea of what Apple has up its sleeves this year.

There are all kinds of clever new technologies which are being invented, and which Apple could easily sell as features. Meniscus lenses (fastest focussing ever!), Lytro-like technology (like a time machine for your pictures!) or some kind of amazing low-light tech which could stop your night photos looking like either a pointillist closeup or a flash-lit, pale-faced nightmare (natural pictures, just like you saw with your own eyes!)

Again, who knows? But given that the camera has been an area of focus (ha!) for the iPhone engineering team, I figure that the hits will keep on coming, if only to keep it ahead of the competition.

Bluetooth 4 Gadgets

Years ago, there was no Bluetooth. And then, for (literally) years, there were news stories and prototypes and speculation about it. What I’m saying is, seeing Bluetooth come of age and actually appear in products was like (ha! again) pulling teeth. And so it seems with Bluetooth 4.

Bluetooth 4 sips power (a button cell can keep a device running for months) and connects way faster after sleep. And it has been in Apple’s devices since the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. And yet we have seen only a handful of accessories — a few speakers and a single bike computer.

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This is all you’ll need to power future Bluetooth gadgets. Photo Warren Rohner/ Flickr

But clearly it is the future. We can look forward to keyboards that can run off a tiny solar cell, heart-rate monitors which talk direct to the iPhone, wireless headphones that don’t need to be recharged every two hours, and maybe even iPad cases with e-ink readouts on the front cover for notifications (hey, I can dream, right?)

In short, pretty much anything can now be connected to an iPhone with no significant battery cost. Who knows what clever and crazy accessories the world will come up with? One note: Bluetooth 4 lightbulbs make a lot more sense than Wi-Fi ones. Just sayin’.

Screen Tech

With the announcement of HTC’s One and its crazy hi-res screen, I wonder what Apple will do?

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OLPCs were one of the first products with transmissive screens. Photo: Novica Nakov/Flickr

I know what it won’t do: Start upping resolution. There’s a lot of room to improve Retina displays, but not without hurting battery life, so until a real leap can be made in this direction (600 dpi with almost no power-drain, for instance) then existing Retina is what we’ll get.

Watch out for IGZO screens, which uses less power and can offer smaller pixels and a faster response time that current-gen LCDs. These are probably what will make a Retina iPad mini possible without requiring a huge battery to power the screen.

But what about more left-field screen tech? I’d love to see a transmissive screen on the iPad, something that would be as readable in the sun as the Kindle, yet as bright and colorful as the Retina iPad is when indoors. It’s be a boon for battery life, too: after all, the screen backlight uses a lot of juice.

Conclusion

The best thing about covering Mobile World Congress for Cult of Mac instead of Cult of Android is that I get to explore the smaller parts of the show. Instead of an onslaught of all-but-identical Android handsets, we’ll be hunting down the coolest new mobile accessories and apps. And don’t forget — last year’s show debuted Photoshop on the iPad, back before it had a Retina screen. Since then we’ve seen not one but three new iPads from Apple.

Amazing.

About the author

Charlie Sorrel Charlie Sorrel is the Reviews Editor here on Cult of Mac. Follow Charlie  on Twitter at @mistercharlie.

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