Big smartphone vendors such as High Tech Computer (HTC) and LG Electronics are trying to get their mojo back after some challenging times, and they hope to do so by putting quad-core processors and big, high-definition screens in the products on show at Mobile World Congress.
Here are five of the major hardware trends at this year's show:
1 Quad-core processors
If you want to be a contender in the high-end Android smartphone game in 2012 it seems a quad-core processor has become a must. Last week LG launched the Optimus 4X HD, which is on display in Barcelona. On Sunday it was HTC's turn, with the One X, and on Monday ZTE revealed its Era: all three devices use the Nvidia Tegra 3 processor.
Huawei Technologies has developed its own quad-core processor, the K3V2, for use in its Ascend D Quad and Ascend D Quad XL phones, which the company hopes will help it compete at the high end of the market.
While the use of quad-core processors will result in better performance on computing-intensive tasks such as full-motion video games, the power is not always needed, so there are also low-power modes to increase battery life. For example, the Tegra 3 has an extra processor that is used for simpler tasks such as calls, emails and music playback to increase battery life, LG said.
2 Big, high-definition screens
Alongside a powerful processor, a big screen also seems a must-have, to judge by the high-end devices that were announced at Mobile World Congress. The LG Optimus 4X HD and the HTC One X both have 4.7-inch screens with a resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels.
Huawei decided to go with a slightly smaller screen for the Ascend D Quad and Ascend D Quad XL, which both have a 4.5-inch screen, but the resolution is still 1280 by 720 pixels.
The additional width of the One X's screen is not enough, though, to explain why the phone is 70 millimeters wide compared to the Ascend D Quad's 64 millimeters wide.
Besides the traditional smartphones, a growing number vendors are also testing the waters to see if there is consumer interest for products that have still larger screens. At Mobile World Congress, LG is showing the Optimus Vu, which has a 5-inch screen in the 4:3 format.
For mobile payments using NFC (Near-Field Communications) to become a hit, consumers must be able to choose between a large number of compatible phones, and they are slowly starting to become available. At Mobile World Congress, Acer, Huawei, LG, Nokia, Orange, Samsung and ZTE all announced smartphones that can come with NFC.
The availability of more phones will help drive NFC applications, first non-payment and simple apps including marketing, advertising, coupons, then payment, according to Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner. The biggest hurdle to NFC payments is to change user behavior, which takes much longer than deploying the infrastructure or devices, she said.
Just like NFC, smartphones with LTE (Long Term Evolution) are becoming much more common. New products include two phones from ZTE, the N910 and the PF200, and two from LG, the Optimus Vu and the Optimus LTE Tag. LG's goal is to have the widest variety of LTE smartphones in the industry in 2012, it said.
However, LTE is not even an option on some smartphones, because of the processor they use. For example, smartphones based on Nvidia's Tegra3 quad-core processor will at first not get LTE. As a result of this, the U.S. version of the HTC One X will have a dual-core processor. But Nvidia has announced partnerships with modem chip makers GCT Semiconductor and Renesas Mobile to change that.
While LTE has become a must-have in the U.S., Europe is still lagging behind, and vendors are less interested in launching phones in the few markets where commercial service is available. But as more countries get on board, interest will grow. LG said it will launch smartphones with LTE in Europe during 2012.
5 Cheap smartphones
While the expensive smartphones get most of the attention, there is also a big battle over buyers that can't afford or don't want a quad-core processor and a 4.7-inch screen.
At Mobile World Congress, Nokia announced the Windows Phone-based Lumia 610, which will cost €189 (US$254) and be available in the second quarter. Nokia will have to compete with the ZTE Orbit, which will also be a cheap alternative for users that want a Windows Phone.
Intel is also interested in getting a piece of the action, and announced the 1GHz Z2000 processor. The first smartphones based on the processor will start shipping in the beginning of 2013, and should cost less than US$150 without subsidies, according to Intel's CEO Paul Otellini.