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Mobile World Congress 2017: Capitalism on Parade
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Mobile World Congress 2017: Capitalism on Parade

While conservatives and news hawks were busy watching and listening to a small army of speakers at CPAC last week praise the hypothetical virtues and theoretical strengths of free-market capitalism, there was another gathering halfway across the world demonstrating how beautifully the cherished global market works in real life.

The 2017 Mobile World Congress (MWC) – the world’s largest annual exhibition of mobile electronics manufacturers, operators, and vendors – convened the same day as CPAC and ended March 2 in Barcelona, Spain.

This year’s theme, “Mobile is Everything,” drew an estimated 100,000 attendees from around the globe. Though many technology writers have complained in recent years about the stagnation of cellphone and tablet technology – most “cutting edge” phones and tablets from 2016 were not very significantly different from flagship products three or four years before – this year’s gathering revealed several important new advances now being made available to the buying public which promise to transform the electronics we hold in our hands in the future.

Not everything revealed in Barcelona had a completely innovative and futuristic feel to it, however. Nokia (If your crush doesn’t remember Nokia, s/he’s too young for you) was the first to grab headlines by bringing back the famed Nokia 3310 from 2000. It even features the classic Snake game. The internal specs are spectacular only in their austerity, with a total memory capacity of 16 MB and only one (front-facing) camera at 2 MP. However, like the original, it carries Nokia’s reputation for being nearly indestructible, as well as promising up to 30 days’ battery life.

BlackBerry is also taking the tech world back to the future, debuting its BlackBerry Mercury which features both a 4.5″ Full HD touchscreen display as well as BlackBerry’s signature physical keyboard. While the processor and internal specs appear on paper to be a notch below the fastest and most expensive on the market, BlackBerry in its latest reincarnation is stressing their new devices will be the most secure smartphones available. In addition to providing security updates to the Android operating system, these BlackBerry phones will come with their own set of security software installed as well.

Sony, on the other hand, redefined the limits of cellular video capture technology at their MWC press conference by introducing the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, a phone capable of shooting slow-motion video at an amazing 960fps. While their market presence in their native Japan is formidable, Sony’s presence in North America is still emerging from an identity crisis. Their decision to push only “unlocked” phones, that is, cellular devices not programmed exclusively for any one carrier network, has made them the friend of no one where massive advertising budgets from networks like Verizon and AT&T are concerned, which are a major driver of phone sales in North America.

As a result, Sony’s cellphone market share here in the U.S. is only 1%. I can speak to this from personal experience: as the happy owner of a Sony Xperia XA Ultra (2016), I have yet to see another Sony phone since I bought mine in December. Still, with features found nowhere else like the XZ Premium’s slo-mo video shooting or the Xperia XA1 Ultra‘s massive, edgeless 6″ Full HD screen, Sony is apparently finding niche areas of the buyer’s market untouched by their more established competitors.

LG, meanwhile, will be pushing limits of their own with their newly-revealed 2017 flagship, the G6. Sadly, the name apparently has nothing to do with everyone’s favorite Obama-era hip hop song by Far East Movement. In any case, the G6 will be the first ever phone to sport an 18:9 screen ratio. With apologies to high school algebra teachers screaming at me that 18:9 is the same as 2:1, it is important because almost all phones currently have a shorter 16:9 ratio. An 18:9 aspect will enable video and gaming features not available on today’s traditional 16:9 devices.

While Samsung’s much-anticipated (and yet-to-be-revealed) Galaxy S8 later this year will also have an 18:9 screen, LG crucially has beaten their fellow South Korean electronics giant to the punch by getting their own market leader on store shelves months ahead of the competition.

Speaking of Samsung, the world’s largest cellphone and tablet manufacturer was noticeable at MWC 2017 largely because of their absence from making any major announcements. They did introduce the sleek Galaxy Tab S3 with an about 10″ display, but the newest rival to the iPad runs on a version of Android already going on 2 years old.

Like Samsung, Chinese cellphone giant ZTE only teased their latest showstopper rather than actually showing it off. While no photos or concept models were available, ZTE hyped the upcoming release of its so-called Gigabit Phone, which it claims will feature ZTE’s own new hardware enabling data download speeds of 1 gigabit/second, which is essentially 5G speed and three to six times faster than anything currently available on major North American networks.

The 2017 Mobile World Congress demonstrated once again the amazing array of technology that can be produced in a relatively unfettered market where innovators are free both to compete and collaborate with one another.

While their ideas may not have yet come to complete fruition, it was a striking display of how capitalism is and must be the way to the future in our world where ideas were meant to be shared.


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