Mobile World Congress 2012: 8 key tablet trends, questions, and predictions

February 21, 2012

Tablets have only recently come into the spotlight at the European show, which prior to 2010, more often glued its eyes on smartphone devices and applications. However, tablet should once again have a leading role this year, with Ice Cream Sandwich and Windows 8 tablets to feature at some point over the four-day event.

Let's take a look at what to expect…

Consumerization comes into the spotlight at Mobile World Congress

While this mobile and tablet frenzy tends to focus on the consumer’s needs, two new topics—consumerization and BYOD—will hold some significance in Barcelona this year. Tablet manufacturers seem to be pushing more enterprise-grade features on their devices, and there are a couple of interesting talks we'll be attending.  

The Mobile Security Forum, taking place on Wednesday, February 29th, has a theme of 'Consumer Mobile Technology in the Enterprise: a Leap of Faith?', while a separate event, 'Mobile Enterprise: Maximising Workforce Productivity in the Age of Consumerisation', has a number of influential speakers from RIM, Quickoffice and VMWare.

“Consumerization is definitely a big trend, and certainly the trend of BYOD is absolutely crucial at the moment,” said Gartner analyst and research CP Carolina Milanesi. “But will it be in Barcelona? You’ll probably see it more in the management side, the management of the device and the apps. In that respect, you’ll see carriers talk about it, plus the likes of Box.net."

Windows 8 tablets will make a big splash at MWC

As with CES, don’t expect a raft of manufacturers to be demoing Windows 8 tablets extensively. That said, you may still spot the odd one on display. There have been rumors that ViewSonic would be showing one.

The big news is that Microsoft will be showing the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 at MWC on 29th February. Indeed, Gartner remains convinced that the popularity of Windows 8 is hindering tablet innovation at present, certainly when it comes to Android.

“Windows 8 is so close right now, so maybe vendors are waiting for that", said Milanesi. "The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is probably one of the biggest things at the show. I do wonder if people are waiting to see what iPad 3 and Windows 8 are like before jumping onto Ice Cream Sandwich.”

The 'personal' cloud is more important than ever before

Prior to the show, TabTimes received countless number of invites to see unknown companies promoting their cloud solutions. These invited varied from the likes of Blaast; a cloud-based app service provider, and Wyse; a self-proclaimed leader in cloud computing and desktop virtualization, to the more familiar names of LogMeIn and Kaspersky Labs.

Furthermore, there’s a cloud-based session at the Mobile Cloud Forum which takes place on the 29th. Gartner puts the 'personal cloud' as one of the most important topics at the show, right after Windows 8.

Apple will probably overshadow Mobile World Congress – again

Apple, which is never big on large third-party exhibitions, will still dominate the headlines. If rumors are to be believed, the company looks set to announce the iPad 3 a week after MWC has finished up.

With the ever-increasing number of new – or rehashed – rumors, there’s a good chance Apple’s next tablet will dominate the chin-wagging among professionals and consumers in Barcelona.

Samsung could become the benchmark for tablet displays, Androids in enterprise

Amazon’s Kindle Fire may have lit up (to a varying degree) tablet sales in North America, but the fact that the tablet has yet to travel across to European retailers represents a massive opportunity for Samsung to reaffirm itself as the second biggest tablet player, after Apple.

The firm needs to convince consumers that they they should pay for a Samsung tablet. However, the manufacturer could actually usurp Apple if, as expected, it unveils a 10-inch 2560 x 1600 display at the show. Especially if Apple is once again having display issues with the iPad 3, as indicated by DisplayMate’s Ray Soneira.

Away from the hardware side of things, Samsung also appears to be addressing the enterprise needs of tablet users. TabTimes has a joint-meeting with SAP and Samsung at the show in Barcelona, and there are rumors emanating from Bloomberg that the two companies will announce they are working together on making Android suitable for enterprise, by developing email encryption and device management systems.

Are the tides beginning to turn at RIM?

RIM has probably already cast away its diary from 2011. That said, 2012 is shaping up to be slightly better, what with the change in management, new products apparently on the way, and the eventual release of the PlayBook OS 2.0 for its much-maligned PlayBook tablet.

We said much the same at CES, where RIM’s massive booth managed to attract a lot of visitors, but MWC would genuinely seem to represent another opportunity for RIM to haul itself back as a serious competitor in the tablet and mobile markets.

Motorola needs some good news and quickly

Motorola’s plight in the tablet space is intriguing. Having debuted with the original Xoom at CES of last year, the firm was billed as a genuine Apple contender, and its new Android tablet (the first to run tablet-optimized software) was the first to be labeled with the unfortunate and somewhat weighty tag of 'iPad killer'.

Motorola has since kind of dropped off the tablet market radar. Sure, it launched the well-rated Xyboard tablets (Xoom 2 and Xoom Media Editions if you’re in the UK) late last year, and looks set to be acquired by Google at some point in the first half of the year, but nothing can hide the fact that it is struggling for tablet sales.

Google needs to give Motorola some much-needed impetus on completion of the buyout, or it could be dealing with an empty vessel. For those wanting to keep an eye out for Motorola announcements at MWC, the firm appears to be part of Nvidia's press conference at the show.

The birth of the 'phablet', and an increasing number of 7-inch tablets

Following up on the launch of the Galaxy Note, Samsung rivals LG have entered with the 5-inch Vue, a sort of a cross between a tablet and a smartphone, while Asus may debut its much-anticipated hybrid device, the Padfone, in Barcelona.

Some industry observers are marking this new form factor as the ‘phablet’ and although some researchers, like Gartner, are not overly convinced with the size, they appear to have a part to play in the tablet market.

Also, it is also worth keeping an eye out with the increasing number of 7-inch tablets. With Apple reported to be testing its own 7-inch or 8-inch ‘iPad Mini’ at present, other manufacturers may also show an array of smaller tablets. Asus, for example, is believed to be showing its Memo 370T, while ViewSonic is reported to be launching the G70, a 7-inch tablet with Android 4.0.

Don’t be surprised, then, if you see a whole host of new 7-inch tablets. We expect the majority of these to sit within the budget Android tablet category.

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