The convention has ended, the tapas have been eaten, the Estrella has been drunken: It’s time to hand out some awards!
Mobile World Congress, the mammoth annual tech conference here in Barcelona, ended on Thursday. Our team saw thousands of gadgets, gizmos, whatsits, and doohickeys, as well as hundreds of smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality helmets, and, yes, several weirdo inventions from the fringes.
But here we’re focusing on quality. These are the 6 most important announcements of MWC this year, the products you need to know about. You might not buy any of these things, but these are the products we are predicting will have an impact –– either on the company that makes them, or on the industry they’re disrupting.
Ready? Here’s the best:
1. The Samsung Galaxy S6
In a sea of smartphones –– there were thousands, easy –– Samsung’s new Galaxy S6 rose higher than all the others. Samsung has greatly improved the design, opting for glass and metal over its traditional plastic backing; it has simplified the operating system, getting rid of the annoying pop-ups that clutter its old phones; and it unveiled Samsung Pay, an ingenious method of paying for a purchase by swiping your smartphone over a normal credit card reader. This phone appears to be the complete package; if the camera works as well as Samsung executives say, it’s a surefire winner.
We already knew that Samsung would sell the Galaxy S6 by the millions, just like they have their previous Galaxy S phones. This time around, however, it certainly looks like they’ll deserve those sales.
2. The HTC Vive
With Samsung, Microsoft, and Facebook all pitching their own virtual reality headsets to future-oriented gamers, how could HTC possibly make itself stand out?
By letting you stand –– and walk. The headset is the first by a major corporation (HTC, in partnership with popular game developer Valve) that lets you move around a room while you wear a helmet and have that movement translated in to the game. You see every step you take in front of you on a high-def screen inside the headset; two handheld controllers let you move your hands and then see your hands move on the screen. Our Daniel Howley was blown away, as was basically every other journalist here at the conference; a Business Insider roundup found that “everyone is losing their minds” over the Vive. For HTC, the Vive was the Headset That Crushed at MWC.
3. The LG Urbane LTE
One of the key trends at this year’s Mobile World Congress was the beautification of smartwatches, and no watch seemed more beautified than the LG Urbane LTE. The watch comes with its own data plan –– meaning it does not need to Bluetooth tether to a smartphone to work –– and can make calls, receive messages, and make mobile payments via NFC.
The real reason the Urbane could be an Ur-pain to other watchmakers, however, is how it looks. As Daniel Howley wrote, the Urbane is “an absolute stunner.” Now if it only shot lasers, we’d really be living in the future.
4. The Xiaomi Yi Action Camera
You might know Xiaomi as either the best-selling smartphone maker in China, or the company that stole the previous spokesman for Android away from Google, or as a shameless Apple design copycat; in its biggest impact at MWC it acted as a GoPro saboteur. Xiaomi introduced the Yi Action Camera, a competitor to GoPro’s entry-level Hero camera. The Yi Action Camera has similar or better filming and durability specifications; it looks great; and, most importantly, it costs just $64 (cat not included). Cat or no cat, that price compares favorably to the Hero’s $130 starting price. Like, half-off favorably.
The Yi Action Camera will be available first in China. GoPro is probably hoping Xiaomi doesn’t expand internationally. Action camera hunters looking for a great deal, however, might want to start a petition.
5. Samsung Pay
We’re giving Samsung Pay its own slot because of its potential importance, separate from the Galaxy S6 as a device. Using technology acquired when Samsung bought Boston-based LoopPay, Samsung Pay could open up the world of mobile payments to far more people, at far more locations. Again, you don’t need to install a special stand for Samsung Pay; it can “spoof” a normal credit card swipe, convincing the credit card reader that a card has been run when really you’ve just held your phone aloft and pressed a button. The implications could be huge: A Samsung representative said that you would immediately be able to use Samsung Pay at about 90 percent of retailers in the United States, versus a current 10 percent for Apple Pay.
One lingering question: Will the carriers allow it? My colleague Aaron Pressman has doubts, writing that the four major carriers in the U.S. likely won’t let the Samsung Pay app come pre-installed on phones so that the carriers can push their own apps.
6. Ikea’s Wireless Charging Furniture
The idea of wireless charging has been around for years now; actual wireless charging, as seen in the wild, remains rare. That might change with IKEA, who somehow made one of the biggest announcements at a show generally reserved for tech heavyweights. The DIY furniture company announced that it would soon sell several pieces with wireless charging stations built in, allowing those with compatible devices to simply drop them on the HEMNES or LACK and get some power, no plugs required.
This could be the boost wireless charging needed to hit the mainstream. Who would have bet that boost would come from IKEA?