Amid the expected developments in AI, 5G, VR/AR and the IoT, there is also nostalgia-tinged anticipation for new handsets from some old favourites.
Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, virtual/augmented reality, and the ultrafast networks that underpin all these technologies are heralding the fourth industrial revolution.
More importantly though, for attendees at next week’s Mobile World Congress it seems, some fondly-remembered old phone makers are going to unveil some new handsets.
You can keep your self-aware, self-driving, self-percolating, self-fulfilling watchamacallit: speculation is rife that Finland’s HMD Global, which has the rights to use the Nokia devices brand, is expected to show off a new N series phone.
The N series was Nokia’s flagship consumer smartphone portfolio. It included the N95, the launch of which is generally regarded as ‘peak Nokia’, as far as the brand’s popularity goes. By the time the N96 and N97 came out, Samsung and Apple were the new darlings of the device market and Nokia’s star was falling.
With that seemingly in mind, multiple reports claim that the new, Android-powered Nokia will hark back to the glory days and revive the N95 name.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Nokia also enjoyed great success back in 2000 with the 3310. A sleeker-looking update to the popular 3210, the 3310 was sturdy and reliable, with excellent battery life, and came with a new version of Snake, Snake 2: The re-Snakening. OK, it was just called Snake 2. I should have been in marketing…
Anyway, VentureBeat reported earlier this month that HMD plans to launch a new, low-cost Nokia 3310 at Mobile World Congress. Hopefully it will be just as indestructible and charismatic as its namesake.
Nokia isn’t the only phone brand hoping to reach out and tug a few heartstrings during MWC.
Blackberry, which outsourced its hardware development to third parties in September last year, has one more design up its sleeve, and it comes with a portrait QWERTY keyboard.
Called the Mercury, it features some modern twists: according to Crackberry, the space bar doubles up as a fingerprint sensor. Mercury was unveiled at CES, but its official introduction, when the full specification is announced, will take place tomorrow, two days before Congress kicks off.
Powered by Android but oozing classic Blackberry (or should that be Blackberry Classic) lines, it will no doubt have people harking back to the days when their sleep would be disturbed by that twinkling notification light. Good times.
One interesting point to consider with the Mercury: it has a portrait QWERTY keyboard, but a lot of time is spent these days holding a phone in a landscape orientation, and so I wonder how that might affect the user experience, or whether the clever clogs at Blackberry have figured out a way of using this now somewhat antiquated design feature to their advantage. We shall see.
All these Blackberry and Nokia rumours sparked a wave of rose-tinted nostalgia for a simpler time, before apps, location-based services, biometric sensors, and voice-activated digital assistants showed up and made everything so much more clinical. When phones were phones; when videos were watched on small TVs at home; and when portable games were played on Game Boys.
That smartphones today are now effectively sensor-packed, thin clients used to access – via high-speed networks – a world of entertainment and cloud-based services powered by exciting new technology such as AI, shows just how far this industry has advanced since the 3310’s heyday.
As well as allowing for some fond reminiscing about old phones, this year’s Mobile World Congress will once again point to where this industry is headed, which – in possibly the world’s smallest nutshell – is approximately in this direction: making ever more use of cloud-based services, accessed via high-speed networks, to process an ever deeper mine of information gathered by myriad sensors deployed almost everywhere and in everything, thereby unlocking new capabilities and business opportunities in every industry sector and aspect of life you care to mention.
Fairly straight forward, really.
On the show floor and during the conference sessions, I expect to see progress not just on the practicalities of building this new world, but also a more solid idea about what this all means for things like privacy, security, regulation, and how everyone fits on the value chain – and who is in danger of slipping off it altogether.
I have a sneaking feeling that talk of partnerships and collaboration will crop up regularly again next week.
Amid all this high-level discussing, I expect the Fira Gran Via to be awash with new virtual reality headsets and accompanying software, cameras that capture 360-degree video, smartphones of course, cars galore, ludicrously big 4K screens, wearables of all shapes and sizes, and drones. Lots of drones.
See you out there!