Meh-bile World Congress: MWC 2014 Views

There was a time when I was enamored by MWC. Back in 2011, I was a mobile tech virgin, a newbie who quickly fell in love with the hallowed event held in Barcelona, a gathering of every major OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer, the ones who make phones) present there to announce their new devices and their roadmap for the future. These days however, with leaks, an overabundance of tech reporters and the understandable plateauing of hardware specifications, in 2014 it doesn’t seem to be too enticing to me. 

It wasn’t all that bad however, so here’s a look at all the interesting and not so interesting things at the recently concluded MWC 2014. 

1. Blackphone

I’m going to start off by talking about an interesting concept called Blackphone- a joint venture by Spanish manufacturer Geeksphone and the security company Silent Circle. This is a smartphone running a modified build of Android, tweaked to provide better security by ironing out some security flaws. Called PrivatOS, this security oriented android build is totally compatible with all other versions and does not create any fragmentation. It apparently uses better crypto engines and will get direct and frequent updates from the company itself. 

The feature set includes secure phone calls and messaging using a secure network provided by Silent Circle. It also provides a remote wipe feature in case of misplacement or theft, which does not involve any third party companies or cloud services, and a host of other features like a VPN service without the advertisements and resulting overheads and slowdowns. 

The million dollar question here is, how secure is this device, really? In the wake of the NSA revelations and the heightened awareness (or hype) surrounding data privacy, will the Blackphone concept really keep data away from the prying eyes of the Governments and corporations of the world? 

The security features that the Blackphone project aims to provide, act at the application level. This means that although these features give users the appearance or at times the illusion of privacy, there might be some undiscovered vulnerabilities that a hacker worth his/her salt will be able to exploit. Application level security solutions do not have access to low level hardware or resources such as a phone’s radios and the baseband and if someone really wanted to access your data, that’s probably what they would use to get to it. 

Such security feature packed devices bring with them a totally new problem- a false sense of security. 

2. Yotaphone 2014

By far one of the coolest things at MWC, the new Yotaphone brings the dual-screen aesthetic with the latest in terms of hardware under the hood. A Snapdragon 800 processor powering a 5 inch 1080p primary display and an 8 megapixel camera amongst the usual things that make for a flagship or thereabouts device today. What’s interesting about it though, it’s what’s at the back. A curved, full touch, electronic paper display, (or e-ink display). E-ink displays are found in eBook readers like the kindle, and use very little power. The yotaphone has a monochrome e-ink display at the back, and the ability to display information or updates like scores or fitness stats. Developers can use the Yotaphone API and take advantage of the e-ink display. This secondary display can come in handy in situations like navigation, where if your phone’s running out of juice you can simply switch over to the display at the back, which can also store a screenshot of what’s going on at the front. 

The only issues with this device are availability and pricing. By the time this releases the specs won’t really be flagship, and if you’re a spec junkie that’s a bit of a problem for you. Also the pricing.

3. The Rest

The rest was the usual fare from the heavyweights- Samsung launched the Galaxy S5 at the unpacked event, and although it’s a good device with top of the line specifications in and of itself it’s exactly what everyone had come to expect from it. A slight refresh, with the fingerprint scanner, the bigger camera, and updated internals. What I found peculiar about the S5 was the inclusion of a heart rate monitor at the back. The new galaxy gear lineup has heart rate monitors included and that seems to be a much more intuituve usage scenario.

Sony announced the Xperia Z2, the Tablet Z2 and a mid range phone. Same old sandwiched glass, same IP fifty-something dust and water resistance, etc. 

LG announced a host of new devices.

In conclusion, the Mobile World Congress wasn’t too exciting for me, because

  • Everything was leaked and known to everyone beforehand
  • The spec war is reaching its long and drawn out conclusion, the next frontier of battle for the OEMs to slug it out is hopefully software
  • Did you see the amount of reporting that went on?   


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