Opinion: At MWC 2024, bring on the weird and wonderful gadgets

MWC used to be (amongst many others) the place where big phone launches happened. That’s largely fallen by the wayside in favour of concept devices.

The last time I was at Mobile World Congress was pre-pandemic, in an era where it was becoming entirely evident that a lot of the major phone manufacturers were scaling back their efforts to use MWC as a launching pad for new premium devices. The photo above is from 2018, by the way; I’m not in Barcelona right now to be clear.

Over the years at MWC, I’ve attended launches for shiny new phones from the likes of Samsung, LG (back when they did phones), HTC (back when they did phones that sold in Australia), Sony (ditto) to name but a few. With disclaimers in mind, that was mostly travel as a guest of various phone manufacturers at the time.

Most of those names will have a presence at MWC this year but a lot more of what I’m seeing coming out of the show in terms of consumer-specific products are more in the realm of quite out-there gadgets and concept devices.

That’s all but certainly a marketing decision: why spend up big for a hyped phone launch in a competitive space where you can own the news headlines for a day or two by holding your own launch instead?

Of course, MWC also has enterprise and telco strands and a lot of very serious business is done there by people in quite expensive suits. The official agenda for today, for example, lists “6G HORIZON: BRIDGING PERSPECTIVES FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE – A TRANSFORMATIVE CONVERSATION ON 6G” as a scheduled conference session, to name but one, and while that’s a lot of capitalised shouting, it’s probably quite germane to your business if you’re a telco. If you’re a consumer, you probably care more about whether your phone service works… but I digress.

While there have been some phone launches from some of the Chinese phone brands that we’re less-than likely to see on Australian shores any time soon, like the Honor Magic 6 Pro or Nubia Flip, a lot more of the focus from brands that do have presence here has been on concept devices.

Sure, they’re somewhat on the show floor to generate headlines and buzz, because there’s not a particular suggestion from the firms showing them off that you’re going to be buying any of them this year either.

Still, it’s interesting to see firms like Samsung and Motorola seemingly go head-to-head with curved “wearable” phone concepts. Here’s CNET’s take on the Motorola rollable phone concept:

Samsung apparently also has a rollable phone concept on its stand, though as yet I can’t see anyone shooting video with it — so presumably they’re keeping that one under tighter wraps.

What’s the point here? Outside of that headline and buzz generation, it’s not necessarily about what can be done this year, or even within this particular form factor. While there’d be a somewhat cool/mind-boggling factor to being in public and suddenly cracking your phone onto your wrist like it was a slap band, that’s a thrill that would likely fade quite quickly — and that’s without getting into issues around durability for such rollable displays on smartphones. Methinks you really, truly wouldn’t want to trip over while wearing one.

However, looking at them, I’m drawn back to a prototype that I was shown about 20 years ago for a rollable display concept.

This one was from a completely different manufacturer (there was an NDA in play, so I can’t say who, not that it matters that much), and non-functional at the time, but it bore a lot of mechanical similarities to what Motorola and Samsung have managed here.

For literal decades, I’ve been waiting for something to emerge where I could see the DNA of that early prototype come to a consumer-level product. Progress was clearly slow for such smaller devices, if one leaves out systems like LG’s impressive rollable TVs, so it’s good to see that the progress in both rollable and foldable phone technology is improving at a pace.

The point here isn’t really whether you want one of these devices. It’s that the R&D is accumulative; maybe these phones will never see light of day, but in a year or two the way that they keep the backs of the phones strong can be be incorporated in the next Galaxy Fold or RAZR to hit market, leading to a better device that consumers can actually buy.

Samsung of course also showed off its Galaxy Ring to hand-picked journalists (that’s always the way). This one interests me, not that wearable fitness rings are an entirely new market.

Oura is probably the best known brand, but approximately 5 seconds of lazy search work reveals many others, including (gulp) one I could buy through Temu.

I think I’ll pass on that one, thanks.

Smart Rings are yet to really hit the mainstream, despite having been a category for some time. I’m somewhat reminded of Pebble (RIP) bringing out smartwatches that worked very well, only to be absolutely surpassed by the likes of Apple, and indeed Samsung with its Galaxy Watch devices.

The Galaxy Ring certainly looks like a nicely designed device:

And with reports indicating that Apple’s at least prototyping smart rings, we could be about to see a big push for that category.

Here though I think there’s a bigger challenge on a couple of fronts. I can totally see how wearing a single ring is less intrusive than a fitness band or smart watch, but it’s also by definition a more limited device in what it’s likely to do, and one where price is going to truly be key.

For sure, that cheap Temu smart ring that I buy would probably give me a metal rash within minutes of unpacking the box — possibly even before I’d put it on my finger — but it’s cheap, cheap, cheap. Convincing consumers to part with significant sums for a ring that’s less functional than a smartwatch might be a hard sell. I’m also someone who basically never takes off his wedding ring (many days I couldn’t without seriously greasing up my ring finger), so I’m also left wondering about charging systems and levels. Not sure I’d want to sleep with my finger locked into a charger, for example.

My final thought here is around HMD Global/Nokia. I recently wrote about how I figure HMD Global could step past the Nokia brand for its smartphones.

That’s not entirely the story this year, it seems, with HMD Global announcing that… it’ll announce a new Nokia phone later this year.

Though I will note that it’s talking about “the return of an iconic Nokia device”, which does rather strongly point to a phone more in the feature space, a la the Nokia 2660 Flip.

It also reaffirmed its intention to continue down the repairable phone route, a la the Nokia G22, though it’s notable there that it’s leaning more on the HMD brand name than saying that new repairable phones will be Nokia-branded per se.

But that’s not the wacky gadget side of matters here. That’s the Barbie phone, which (so far) HMD Global hasn’t really shown off… maybe. OK, there’s a deliberately blurry shot of its upcoming phone lineup as a teaser:

Are these phones pixellated because they’re deeply pornographic? Probably not.
Were these images captured on a Nokia 3310? Possibly. (Image: HMD Global)


The only other image is one of Barbie holding a tiny flip phone, and HMD Global has indicated that it’ll be a retro throwback phone… sorry, “super stylish device for real-world adventures” as per HMD Global.

I’m left wondering if the whole Barbie mania thing isn’t more of a 2023 vibe, but I guess there I’ll have to wait and see what the actual phone is like — and at least that one will release somewhere on the planet this year.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top