5 ways Apple will rule Mobile World Congress (without even showing up)


Everyone who is anyone in mobile (except Apple) will be at Mobile World Congress 2018.
Everyone who is anyone in mobile (except Apple) will be there.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Mobile World Congress 2018 When the entire mobile phone industry heads to Barcelona next week for Mobile World Congress 2018, there will be one notable absence: Apple.

Cupertino doesn’t do trade shows. Not even really big ones like MWC. Yet, despite its absence from the massive Spanish trade show, Apple’s influence will loom large over Barcelona’s beautiful horizons.

Here are five things Apple fans should look out for at MWC next week.

Mobile World Congress 2018 trends

Cupertino guzzled up more than half of the mobile industry’s revenue last year, so most of the Mobile World Congress exhibitors will be trying to either compete or collaborate with the iPhone-maker. That means there should be plenty of Apple-related news.

Samsung punks Apple by building a temporary store right in front of Apple's flagship Spanish store.
Samsung punks Apple by building a temporary store right in front of Apple’s flagship Spanish store.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

1. Wannabe iPhone X killers and zombie phones

MWC starts Monday, February 26, but the really big announcements usually happen the day before the conference kicks off. That’s when Samsung promises to unveil its Galaxy S9 smartphone.

You’d think Samsung would appreciate Apple’s absence and make the most of its moment alone in the spotlight. Not so. The South Korean conglomerate remains so obsessed with its U.S. rival that it built a pop-up Samsung store opposite the flagship Apple Store on Plaça de Catalunya, in the center of town. It’s like Samsung is shadowboxing against an opponent who didn’t even bother to show up for the fight.

Samsung will be hoping to land a few blows on Cupertino with the launch of its new Galaxy S9 handset. Rumors suggest it won’t look that different from last year’s S8 model. Instead, the South Korean handset-maker is focusing on its upgraded camera with an adjustable aperture.

As usual, the Android-maker is expected to be cribbing from Apple’s playbook. Leaked mockups show the camera on the back in a vertical rather than a horizontal configuration. The front-facing camera reportedly will support the ability to send Animoji-like messages. Plus, an eye-watering price-hike is supposedly in the cards. Sound familiar?

Fortunately, it seems Samsung will not be copying iPhone X’s controversial notch.

Motorola, Sony and Asus are also expected to launch new handsets. Plus, MWC is developing a reputation for resurrecting phones from the dead. Last year, Nokia’s venerable feature phone the 3310 came back from the grave. This year, BlackBerry is rumored to be attempting yet another handset relaunch. Awkward.

2. Virtual assistants everywhere

These days, MWC isn’t just be about phones. The variety of products on show gets more diverse every year, encompassing any wireless internet-connected devices. And thanks to the internet of things trend, that means pretty much all gadgets.

Despite all this diversity, some common themes tend to emerge, as manufacturers grapple with the question of what benefit internet connectivity can add to their devices. The most popular answer is virtual assistants.

Siri’s buddies — Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant — are all likely to make their voices heard on the show floor, with gadget-makers wracking their brains to come up with compelling reasons why we might want their products to talk. And Siri should get in on the action, too, thanks to a new crop of products supporting HomeKit and SiriKit. I’m looking forward to telling Siri to make a coffee, boil some eggs, brush my teeth and flush the toilet.

3. Augmented reality finally gets real

A couple of years back, virtual reality was all the rage at MWC. This year, thanks to Apple’s ARKit (and Google’s hasty response, ARCore), the focus is likely to shift to augmented reality.

The first crop of AR-enabled iPhone apps has been a little disappointing. Catching Pokémon and finding just the right spot for an Ikea sofa is all well and good. And while walking around like Godzilla using the new AR view in Apple Maps proved fun for a while, once the initial novelty wore off, I haven’t found much use for AR apps.

Hopefully, we’ll see more innovation in this area. Plenty of handset-makers will show off AR on their devices. Mixed reality, which combines virtual 3D elements with your real-world vision using smart glasses, could help take AR to the next level. While Apple is being its usual secretive self about its plans for smart glasses, other companies, like startup Magic Leap, are already demoing prototypes. Magic Leap promises it will partner with a smartphone-maker later this year. Hopefully, we’ll get news on that at MWC. And an Israeli mixed-reality startup called InfinityAR will exhibit something as well. That company promises to make giant holographic goldfish swim around your apartment. (I am so up for that.)

Who knows, maybe some startup will combine the virtual assistant and AR trends to give us Ryan Gosling’s virtual girlfriend Joi from Blade Runner 2049.

4 Will Apple still wear the wearable crown?

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently bragged that Cupertino’s wearable business alone is now almost the size of a Fortune 300 company. The Series 3 Apple Watch became a smash hit. And wherever you go these days, you see folks wandering around with little white AirPods pointing out of their ears.

But the picture has not been so rosy for other wearable-makers. TomTom scrapped its GPS running watch; FitBit killed the Pebble smartwatch; and Doppler Labs, maker of the Here One smart earbuds, closed down. Nokia, which spent a fortune buying its way into the fitness tech business with its purchase of Withings, looks set to exit the wearable market. Even Google seems to have gone a bit luke-warm on its smartwatch platform, removing the Android Wear section from its store.

But these events did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of other wearable-makers, who enviously eye Apple’s profits and hope to carve out a chunk of the sector for themselves. A huge wearables pavilion is planned for MWC. Real-time translation, fitness tracking, health monitoring and over-the-counter hearing aids likely will dominate this year’s announcements. We can expect to see new smartwatch models from the likes of Samsung, Huawei and LG.

Last year, Cook got spotted wandering around Apple’s campus wearing a special Apple Watch that tracked blood sugar levels, but there is no word as to if and when this might turn into an actual product. In the meantime, Sony and Ericsson might beat Apple to it, with their own wristband for diabetics that monitors glucose levels, expected to make an appearance at MWC next week.

Apple’s success with AirPods invigorated the emerging “hearables” sector. A lot of innovation in this area focuses on the convergence of wireless earbuds and hearing aid technology (as I predicted two years ago). One notable example is Sony’s Xperia Open Ear, which might finally find its way into our ear canals in Barcelona.

5. The color purple: Could it be the new rose gold?

In the past, Android-makers tended to glean their color inspiration from Apple. Like when Samsung launched its “Pink Gold” Galaxy S7, that totally wasn’t a ripoff of Apple’s Rose Gold iPhone 6s.

Apple’s understated color palette will still set the standard at MWC 2018 when it comes to tasteful design. However, it seems that both Samsung and LG might be ignoring the carefully curated hues of Cupertino’s colorologists. Instead, it seems they are heeding the advice of the color specialists at Pantone, who predict that purple will be big this year.

Samsung posted a big purple numeral 9 on its homepage, while the leaked S9 mockups show a “lilac purple” option. Meanwhile, LG will show off phones in hues dubbed “moroccan blue,” “lavender violet” and “raspberry rose,” which all look kind of purple to me.

I doubt that Apple design chief Jony Ive will rush to introduce a purple iPhone X anytime soon, but I do expect to see plenty more purple handsets and accessories on show in Barcelona.