2017 phones: Better tech but where's the innovation?

Visitors test various LG devices at company's booth during the Mobile World Congress on the first day of the MWC in Barcelona, on Feb 27, 2017.
Visitors test various LG devices at company's booth during the Mobile World Congress on the first day of the MWC in Barcelona, on Feb 27, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
An attendee holds the Blackberry Keyone smartphone, during its launch event ahead of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 25, 2017.
An attendee holds the Blackberry Keyone smartphone, during its launch event ahead of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 25, 2017. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Chinese multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company Huawei's CEO Richard Yu presents the new phone Huawei's P10 during a press conference on Feb 26, 2017, the eve of the start of the Mobile World Congress.
Chinese multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company Huawei's CEO Richard Yu presents the new phone Huawei's P10 during a press conference on Feb 26, 2017, the eve of the start of the Mobile World Congress. PHOTO: AFP
Visitors discuss the new device behind the new smartphone LG G6 during its presentaton on the eve of the opening of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, northeastern Spain, on 26 Feb 2017.
Visitors discuss the new device behind the new smartphone LG G6 during its presentaton on the eve of the opening of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, northeastern Spain, on 26 Feb 2017. PHOTO: EPA
A Sony Corp. executive holds a Sony Corp. Xperia XZ Premium smartphone on display following its launch on the opening day of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 27, 2017.
A Sony Corp. executive holds a Sony Corp. Xperia XZ Premium smartphone on display following its launch on the opening day of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 27, 2017. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
A Nokia 3310 device is displayed after its presentation ceremony at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 26, 2017.
A Nokia 3310 device is displayed after its presentation ceremony at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 26, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
HMD global Chief product Officer Juho Sarvikas presents his company's new phone "Nokia 6" during a press conference in Barcelona on Feb 26, 2017, the eve of the start of the Mobile World Congress.
HMD global Chief product Officer Juho Sarvikas presents his company's new phone "Nokia 6" during a press conference in Barcelona on Feb 26, 2017, the eve of the start of the Mobile World Congress. PHOTO: AFP

New models unveiled at trade show lack game-changing features, say analysts; BlackBerry makes a comeback

Consumers buying smartphones this year can expect sharper cameras, better screens and faster processors, but those holding out for game-changing innovations will likely be disappointed.

Such phones were the main hallmark of this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC), an annual mobile trade show held in Barcelona, Spain, where new handsets for the year are announced.

Major manufacturers like BlackBerry, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Nokia and Sony announced their premium and mid-range offerings at the show.

NEW PHONES

BlackBerry marked its return with the KeyOne, manufactured by Chinese smartphone maker TCL Communication. The phone, which features a traditional BlackBerry physical keyboard, runs the Android 7.1 mobile operating system and is priced at €599 (S$891).

Chinese company Huawei, the world's third-largest phone maker, after Samsung and Apple, announced its follow-up to last year's flagship P9 smartphone, the P10.

Coming in two sizes - the 5.1-inch P10 and 5.5-inch P10+ - the phones start from €649 and are expected to launch in Asia come April.

Korean firm LG killed off the modular concept found in its previous flagship, the G5, with the announcement of he G6 smartphone.

A modular smartphone is a device made of different components that can be independently upgraded or replaced.

The G6 retains a traditional flagship look and feel, with no components that can be upgraded on the fly. It sports a 5.7-inch screen, which supports playback of videos four times sharper than full high-definition clips, as well as two 13-megapixel rear cameras.

But the modular dream lives on in Motorola's offerings. The Lenovo-owned brand announced six new Moto mods that can be attached to compatible phones, like the Moto Z, to provide additional functions.

The Alexa mod brings Amazon's virtual assistant to the phone, while the Gamepad Moto Mod acts like a gamepad for users to game on their phones.

Motorola also revealed two new smartphones, the Moto G5 and G5 Plus, which start from €199.

Nokia stole the show, however, by announcing a relaunch of its popular 3310, which was originally launched almost two decades ago. But the Finnish firm also had standard offerings with a line-up of three new smartphones - the Nokia 3, 5, and 6, starting from €139, aimed at the mid-range market.

Sony bombarded the show with four new phones. The new flagship XZ Xperia Premium has the world's first 4K high dynamic range 5.5-inch display, while the XZs is a smaller flagship with a 5.2-inch full HD display.

The Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra bump Sony's mid-range smartphones to near premium-level specifications, with similar features to last year's premium Xperia XZ.

There was no sign of Samsung's latest Galaxy flagship phone, which observers have dubbed the S8. The Korean firm said it will reveal the phone at its own launch event on March 29 in New York.

INNOVATION STANDSTILL

Analysts said that while this year's smartphone offerings cater to consumers looking to upgrade their phones for a better user experience, there was no real innovation and new tech at this year's show.

"It feels like innovation has come to a standstill," said IDC Asia-Pacific senior market analyst Kiranjeet Kaur. "There are no new dimensions to the way the smartphones are used nowadays.

"With all these new tech developments and innovations, the user experience is constantly improving but not changing. Consumer expectation is also at an all-time high, but there are no game changers in the market yet."

But Gartner analyst Roberta Cozza, a research director from the personal technologies team, said it is the changing user experience of mobile phones that will lead to future innovation.

"Innovations are incremental and the value will continue to come from a new role that smartphones are carving out in new digital and device mesh scenarios, like connected homes or connected cars. It is no longer about the technology, but it is about experiences."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline '2017 phones: Better tech but where's the innovation?'. Print Edition | Subscribe