05:00 AM

Mobile World Congress - Smartphones Or Pocket Minicomputers?

By Intel FreePress

As the tech world's attention turns toward Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain from Feb. 14-17, the annual "who's who" in the mobile phone industry is about to take deeper dive into ... the world of computing.

We've already seen a lot of speculation and pre-announcements from various companies hoping to get out ahead of the noise. Broadcom announced a new baseband chip for Android devices, HP showed off a new touchpad tablet and Qualcomm touted its new dual core Snapdragon that's powering it. Sony Ericsson is expected to show off a new PlayStation device with phone capability, LG is going 3-D, and Nokia shook things up by announcing a new strategic partnership with Microsoft just as Android is growing by "leaps and bounds," according to IDC.

Ironically, today's phones are becoming more like mini-computers that fit in your pocket that happen to have voice capability. Packed with more and more processing and graphics power, Internet functionality, applications, games and cameras, these new devices are taking the world by storm. Processing power is taking center stage too, with some phones such as the HTC Evo advertising a "1 GHz Snapdragon processor" at the top of a list of features, and many companies now talking about dual-core or even quad core processors in the very near future.

The mobile Internet is clearly the next big thing -- the new computing growth driver according to many analysts. Everybody wants a piece of the pie and it is far more than just smart cell phones driving the growth. It's the iPad, and the tablets that are chasing it, its cell phones, car electronics, games, home entertainment and more.

Aside from the devices, the convergence of computing and communications will be evident at Mobile World Congress just by looking at the list of CEOs and companies in attendance. Amid all the usual suspects from leading mobile phone manufacturers and wireless companies such as TI, Qualcomm, RIM and AT&T are Internet and computing companies that include Google, Intel, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo!

In addition to phones, many of these companies will talk about how they can do tablets, too, and expect a lot of new innovation, partnerships, deals and speculation coming on winners and losers. Samsung is widely expected to talk more about the iPad's chief marketplace alternative, the Galaxy Tab, with new dual-core versions coming.

But to be clear, this show is mostly about the explosive growth in smart phones. In a milestone that was recently reported without much fanfare, IDCstated that Smartphone makers shipped 100.9 million devices in the fourth quarter of 2010, outpacing PC sales for the first time ever. IDC also said in December that the mobile application business would grow from 10.9 billion downloads to 76.9 billion in 2014 and a commensurate 60 percent per year increase in mobile application revenue.

Connected Planet, which closely watches the telecommunications industry, recently reported that 'within the next five years, 80 to 90 percent of US consumers will carry a Smartphone, up from around 25 percent today."

Globally, "smartphones will represent greater than 50 percent of mobile phone shipments, more than 75 percent of mobile phone industry revenues and around 90 percent of mobile phone manufacturer gross margins," they said.

All of these devices are causing a massive surge in mobile data traffic worldwide, which researchers at Intel, Cisco and several universities are trying to get ahead of now. According to Cisco's latest Visual Networking Index Forecast, mobile data traffic is expected to grow 26 times over the next 4 years. But that isn't slowing the march to smarter, more intuitive computing devices that fit in your pocket.

People are using their mobile devices more than ever to get stuff done on the Internet, like email, managing online accounts and sharing photos -- things that they typically did on Internet-connected laptops. Computing and communications functions are now being combined in new ways, with geo location, gaming, cameras, live video and more. And like everything else, social networking is having a significant impact.

As Slashgear reported this week, Mary Meeker and Matt Murphy from Kleiner Perkins did a presentation on mobile computing trends at Google's thinkmobile conference. In addition to highlighting the rapid growth of Android devices, now outpacing iPhone sales, the two said mobile platforms have hit critical mass and have gone global (but not all platforms are created equal). They also noted that social networking is accelerating the growth, and change will accelerate with new players emerging rapidly.

Expect to see elements of all these trends play out at Mobile World Congress as new partnerships emerge and devices increasingly take on the look and feel of computers.