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MWC 2019 Device Blog: Day 4 Looking Past the Hype at MWC 2019

by Ville-Petteri Ukonaho | Feb 26, 2019

Mobile World Congress (MWC 2019) - the largest and arguably the most important mobile industry event – is taking place in Barcelona, Spain, from Feb 25 to Feb 28, exhibiting plethora of new devices and setting the hottest trends in 2019.

As usual, Strategy Analytics will have a large team of analysts across Smartphones, Drones, Robots, Tablets, Wearables, Components, Smart Home and Connected Cars in attendance.

Please click here to meet our DEVICES analysts at the show.

Although the event is set to officially kick off on Feb 26 (Monday) vendors were eager to showcase their new devices in advance.

MWC 2019 Device Blog: Day 1: Smartphones is available here
MWC 2019 Device Blog: Day 2: Smartphones is available here
MWC 2019 Device Blog: Day 3 Unfolding Innovation is available here

On day 4 we focus on looking past the hype of the technology on display at MWC 2019.

FOLDABLES are a proof that innovation has not died in the smartphone market. Successful new foldable display design concepts will make the general public sit up and take notice of smartphones again. These devices will surely drive traffic to stores and towards vendors, but the harsh reality is that we will not see many of these new foldable display smartphones in the hands of many people anytime soon. The take-off of foldables will be slow; here are few reasons why:

Price: The first foldables are extremely expensive as evident with the launches of Huawei's and Samsung's foldables. When retail prices are close to or over US$2000, we are entering into a whole new super-premium price class that few can afford. This is not a real issue in 2019 as production numbers for foldables will be limited and for vendors these devices should be though of primarily as commercialised proof of concept devices, allowing them to show off their technological capabilities. Realistically foldables in 2019 are about building interest, and better designs and lower pricing will come in 2020 and beyond. 

Manufacturing such devices is expensive and the yields of the displays and hinges that can be used in foldables is still relatively low, which makes the devices expensive; naturally this will be reflected in their retail prices. On the upside, limited availability will drive up the desirability of the devices making them aspirational luxury items. Speaking for ourselves, we can’t wait to get our hands on them!

Availability: Due the issues with production and pricing, availability will be limited. Just like vendors have done with other industry changing devices when first introduced, such as LTE or LTE-A or Phablets, device will initially be available in just a few countries only. Eventually, when yields and prices come down they will become more widely available but it will take another 2-3 years before foldables are truly mass market ready.

Lack of compatible apps: Another aspect that must be looked at when talking about foldables is the software and application ecosystem. Despite Google helping out by providing inbuilt tools in Android to handle foldable device display transitions etc., the reality is that there are only few apps in the entire appstore that will behave correctly in foldable devices. 

Similar problems appeared when the first phablets with higher resolution came out. Suddenly the screensize and resolution was different, forcing apps to stretch across the display, which did not work well for most apps in the beginning. Since the first phablets appeared the number of apps has increased by an order of magnitude, which means an even lower percentage of apps will play well with the first foldables. Despite the hype around foldables, it is clear that there are several issues to overcome before the category can truly take off.



5G phones were highly hyped before the MWC. If we look past the 5G hype cycle, as we’ve been advising clients for some time, it’s apparent that for 5G too much was promised too soon. The reality is that despite vendors trying to push out 5G phones, the networks just aren't there for a fast take-off. One of the most telling things in the 5G hype is that only a very few vendors have actually disclosed the prices or availability of their 5G phones at MWC 2019. 

5G is coming, there is no question about that, it just isn't taking off as fast as some expected at first. Consumers will not be ready to pay extra for a 5G phone that they can only use in very small areas in larger cities. Eventually when infrastructure is more mature in 2-3 years we shall see 5G really taking off. For more info see: 5G Handset Forecast. Even when 5G coverage increases, use 5G use cases that are relevant to consumers need to develop – a “build it and they will come” 5G strategy is not a valid business strategy.

Sub-6 Ghz: The prime band group in 5G will be 1Ghz-6Ghz.  Although there are a few devices supporting mmWave e.g. Verizon variants, most of the devices are readying to support the mid-band only. This is totally in line what our Emerging Device Technologies practice has been forecasting.  We believe mmWave will only come to selected larger cities and without wider reach it will remain niche. Also We believe that failure to support sub-1 Ghz will kneecap a number of devices in certain markets.

Foldables and 5G are among the top product categories that will drive the mobile device industry forward over the next few years. Foldable devices and the technological innovations that are required in making such devices will drive the development of other device categories such as multi-fold wrap-around or even rollable phones. Whereas 5G will be driving the service ecosystem forward with lower latencies and better reliability, but it has not yet been proven that they will drive benefits to the end user’s phone. If we look past the hype we see that it will take more time before either of the technologies really take off in a big way.


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