The Mobile World Congress is where the industry gathers to show off the latest innovations in tech, and while this year’s edition lacked the revolutionary implications of some past editions, it still told us plenty about where mobile is heading. While A.I., iPhone X clones and the imminent arrival of 5G grabbed headlines, from our perspective wireless charging was the biggest story at MWC 2018. Marquee phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9/9+, Nokia 8 Sirocco and Sony Xperia XZ2 all support wireless charging. As we noted in our post about future-proofing your smartphones, not every manufacturer agrees on whether wireless technology has reached maturity, but the Mobile World Congress unveilings suggest opinions may be changing.
Let’s check out the biggest news from Barcelona.
Wireless Charging: Cutting the (USB) Cord
Back in September we published our Quick Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Wireless Charging Pads, and if you want the full skinny on the tech, you should make that your first stop. The short version is that wireless chargers work on a principle not unlike a Tesla coil: by sending an alternating current between a pair of coils, an electromagnetic field is created within the pad which can then be transferred by physical contact to compatible batteries. In the near future, smart furniture will have wireless charging built in, meaning you can just leave your device on your desk or night table and it will charge automatically. Wireless charging has also been found to be safer than standard outlets, which always run the risk of sparks and fires.
Although USB-based charging remains faster for now, the fact that Samsung and other giants have chosen to include wireless charging support represents an important cosign on the technology. There will always be a core of proud early adopters who can’t wait to flaunt the newest phones, but most of us want to feel as though we got our money’s worth from our purchase. Paying four figures for a device you only use for a year isn’t exactly a savvy investment for most customers. Manufacturers recognize that sooner or later USB outlets will go the way of headphone jacks, and they want to make sure their devices are still relevant in two years’ time when most customers start considering replacements.
A.I. vs. “A.I.”
Elsewhere at the Mobile World Congress, A.I. was a hot topic at usual. Whereas a term like “wireless charging” is fairly specific, what manufacturers mean by “A.I.” varies pretty widely. On one hand you have a second-tier manufacturer like Asus, which uses the A.I. label to describe a variety of automated functions like charging and color temperature control that are already present in rival products like the iPhone X. When reached for comment by The Verge, a representative admitted the company was “adopting a broad definition of AI.”
Meanwhile, Huawei announced that its Mate 10 Pro will include a true A.I. chip with astonishing implications. The chip’s built in functionality allows it to recognize objects through its camera and adjust accordingly, with examples such as adjusting its shutter speed to make it easier to snap photos of an energetic puppy or a ball in motion. But, as AdAge notes, software developers have already managed to turn the device into a remote control capable of driving a Porsche. (Whether you would want to let your Porsche be driven via a cell phone is a different matter.)
The convention also included plenty of companies eager to show off VR- and AR-enabled mobile products. However, observers felt that this tech wasn’t nearly as close to reality (pun semi-intended) as more pragmatic innovations like wireless charging. 5G is the future of mobile, and it’s also a basic requirement for delivering the kind of resource-intensive experiences immersive VR demands. Until 5G is more widely available, mobile VR won’t be more than a novelty—which is a tough pill to swallow for companies that have bet their futures on its eventual profitability.
The products showcased in Barcelona will soon be making their way to store shelves. It’s a good bet that next year’s lineup will be dominated by A.I.- and 5G-related developments. By and large this was a year for incremental improvements on existing models, and confirmation that the moves we’ve seen in recent years (wireless charging, disappearing bezels and headphone jacks) are the new normal.