I wrote a little bit last week about how it was going to be a weird MWC. By “weird” I mean beyond the usual way that everything is weird all the time now. Besides being the second time the show has been held amid a global pandemic, the smartphone industry has gone through some major changes.

Here’s a quick rundown of bullet points from the last article:

• People upgrade their devices less often / spend money elsewhere
• Supply chain problems and chip shortages are not helping
• LG and HTC have respectively stopped making phones and have been drastically phased out – although the latter is at least ready to jump from one buzzword (blockchain) to another (metaverse)
• Huawei has been sidelined by sanctions
• Companies like Samsung and Apple now rely on their own events
• That in turn opened up the Chinese market for Xiaomi and a lot of BBK companies
• Qualcomm unveiled its big Snapdragon chip, making companies race to have the first device with the technology

Most of these things feel like headwinds for an event that had become the de facto smartphone show. I had suggested that MWC seemed destined to return to its default status as a B2B/network/carrier show, and things seem to have largely turned out this way in Barcelona this week.

It doesn’t bode well for the level of excitement around what has ostensibly become a smartphone show, while the two biggest consumer news items – the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 Pro and Lenovo ThinkPad X13s – are both laptops. Huawei also managed to make a bit of a splash with its own pair of #notphones, in the form of the MatePad Paper e-reader/tablet and MateBook X Pro #notaMacbook.

Immediately after the show, I asked Huawei CTO Paul Scanlan some questions about the company’s plans to straighten out after US sanctions that have hampered consumer efforts by cutting off access to giants like Google and Qualcomm. His response:

We try to differentiate ourselves through the other things we do, which are power management, batteries, and some software on the HarmonyOS layer. We’ve also tried to differentiate Harmony from things like an Apple or Google ecosystem by presenting it as something that connects to industrial components: connected treadmill, connected, bicycle, connected TV, connected speakers, connected air conditioners, connected heart rate monitors.

[…]In China itself, the market share is still good. As for the overseas market, where you may need the differentiated capabilities of GMS (Google Mobile Services) or iOS ecosystems, that’s of course difficult for us. That’s why we expanded the consumer business group to include a lot of other different devices, not just smartphones. We had a hit of $30 billion over the year for the smartphones.

The company declined to comment on its place in the Russian market following the recent invasion of Ukraine.

A number of other major Chinese manufacturers led the way in the actual device announcements. TCL has added a number of models to its 30 line, including the TCL 30 5G – the only model of the bunch to support the aforementioned wireless technology. The company also showed a new folding one that is still in the concept phase. Former Huawei-branded Honor showed off its 6.8-inch flagship Magic4, while former Xiaomi-branded Poco debuted the 6.7-inch X4 Pro 5G. OnePlus, for its part, offered additional details about the 10 Pro device it unveiled at CES.

You’d be forgiven for missing any of this earth-shattering news in the past week.

For my money, the most exciting smartphone news of the week happened off-show. We are about to see the entry of two brand new players into the category, both with solid pedigrees. For reasons I discussed above, this present moment is both an extremely challenging and potentially rewarding time to enter space. The category is well established, but who knows, maybe people are waiting for a new player to shake things up?

First is nothing. The hardware startup is preparing to follow in the footsteps of founder Carl Pei’s first company, OnePlus, with the launch of a new handset. A source told TechCrunch that Nothing plans to announce its first phone next month. The device was put on display in the back rooms of the show in Barcelona. We know it will have transparent elements in line with the company’s first product, Ear(1), but beyond that it gets blurry.

OSOM, which rose from the ashes of Essential’s spectacular implosion, initially planned to use MWC as the launch pad for its first device, the OV1. In the end, however, Qualcomm made the company an offer it couldn’t refuse, so the company pushed back the release of the device from Q3 to Q4.

“They love that we are local. We have a long history with the team of working directly with them,” Founder and CEO Jason Keats told TechCrunch. “One of our partners is big enough that Qualcomm said, ‘Holy shit, do you work with them? We also want to be more involved in what you do.’ They came back and said that OSOM has the opportunity to do something new, exciting. To change how this all works. And I think part of that is that we’re not a huge company, so if their revenue isn’t huge, they don’t have to worry about me getting five million chips in a month.”

The company also offered some specs to help us out, showing off a smart USB-C connector with a switch that allows you to switch between data transfer and regular charging. It’s one of those things that I’m honestly surprised more companies haven’t tried.

I’m not giving up MWC as the main smartphone show just yet, although things have largely turned out as we expected. It was another weird year full of unique challenges for the industry and the world as a whole. Whatever remains of people’s attention spans is understandably elsewhere at this point.

Learn more about MWC 2022 on TechCrunch

This post A staid MWC wraps itself in a hush in mobile excitement – TechCrunch

was original published at “https://techcrunch.com/2022/03/03/a-staid-mwc-wraps-up-amid-a-lull-in-mobile-excitement/”