What to expect at Mobile World Congress 2013

Devices and apps for keeping you fit and healthy. Cars equipped with the latest in mobile technology. Oh, and new smartphones and tablets in a wide enough range of styles and capabilities to satisfy any mobile user. All of that is on tap at the latest edition of the Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile trade show, which gets underway next week.

The curtain on the 2013 edition of MWC won’t rise until Monday (though plenty of companies will be making product announcements over the weekend). But our mobile team is already gearing up to check out the sights, sounds, and gadgets on the Barcelona show floor. Here's a look at what you can expect from this year’s Mobile World Congress.

More health and fitness tech

Gadgets aimed at helping users get in shape were a significant product category at CES 2013 last month in Las Vegas. Look for that trend to continue in Barcelona, where one of the pavilions at MWC will be dedicated to mobile health, as app and gadget makers continue to focus on integrating fitness and health with technology.

The Mobile World Congress kicks off next week at the Gran Vin Exhibition Centre at the Fira de Barcelona in Spain.

Many hardware and software vendors will be on hand at MWC, as will business-facing companies interested in helping the health industry find new ways to use technology. For example, conferences subjects at MWC will include how mobile communications can help provide health services during disasters and how mobile technology can help prevent diseases such as diabetes. Vendors plan to demonstrate health-focused smartphone add-ons such as body fat analyzers, smartphone breathalyzers, and mobile sleep-therapy devices.

Apps for every occasion

Because MWC is usually a major launchpad for hot new hardware, many app developers view the gathering as an opportunity to show off their latest mobile wares. Apps for all sorts of mobile devices—Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8, and for other mobile operating systems—will be everywhere at MWC, but especially in the categories of entertainment, security, and connected apps that enable mobile devices to remotely control other gadgets.

This model of GSMA’s Connected City shows a city street where mobile apps connect everything. It’s one of the most anticipated features of this year’s Mobile World Congress.

App vendors will be eager to demonstrate how their apps can work with various devices to create a completely connected environment. One of the most buzzed-about attractions of this year's MWC is GSMA’s Connected City—a real city street with a car showroom, office, town hall, department story, mobile shop, electronics store, hotel, and café. All of the pieces of this block of buildings are connected via mobile apps that residents can access, and the components work together as a single “smart” unit. GSMA believes that a fully integrated mobile city will give the people who live there better public transit and easier access to city info.

On the mobile entertainment front, we expect a ton of new second-screen apps that either let users stream content directly to mobile devices or provide supplementary content beyond what you watch on your main TV. Especially intriguing is an augmented-reality app from SPB TV. When viewers launch this app while watching mobile streaming content, the app interactively provides additional information about the shows they're watching.

We’ll also see a lot of apps linked to home appliances and security devices, including apps for arming or disarming your home security system remotely, apps connected to home security cameras for viewing footage on your phone or tablet while you’re away, and apps for controlling your home thermostat to promote energy efficiency.

Automobiles at a mobile show?

Slowly but surely, cars have been making inroads into tech trade shows around the world. At CES 2013, for example, we saw two major automakers open their in-vehicle infotainment systems to third-party app developers. At MWC next week, we’ll see how the mobile world is handling the challenge of getting apps into cars. At least two companies plan to announce ways for third-party developers to get their apps into cars not made by Ford or GM. The Car Connectivity Consortium will host its first MirrorLink DevCon—a full-day program where app-makers can learn about connecting their apps to cars equipped with MirrorLink, a technology that replicates a smartphone screen on a vehicle’s head unit.

GM
Carmakers are looking to follow GM’s lead at CES by finding a way to build additional mobile device connectivity into automobiles.

We’ll also see other ways to use phones and mobile devices in vehicles. For example, manufacturers will introduce at least one new car (hopefully a less pricey vehicle than the 2013 Toyota Avalon) with built-in wireless charging. Also, Metaio has developed an augmented-reality app that helps you learn about your car (if it happens to be an Audi A1). Basically, automakers, OEM developers, and aftermarket vendors are finally waking up to the fact that people are going to use mobile devices in their cars, no matter what—the question is how, not whether.

Tons of tablets and some phones, too

The Sony Xperia Z made its debut at CES. Rumor has it an Xperia tablet could follow in the smartphone’s footsteps at MWC.

It wouldn’t be Mobile World Congress without the unveiling of a staggering number of smartphones and tablets. Whereas CES was a letdown for smartphone fans, companies from LG to Sony will try to make a splash in Barcelona next week. LG is expected to have its 5.5-inch Optimus G Pro smartphone on display, and Sony is likely to announce its new Xperia tablet as a follow-on its recently announced Xperia Z smartphone.

Samsung will show...something. Rumors are that Samsung will hold a separate event in March to launch the Galaxy S IV, so don’t expect that model to make a surprise appearance in Spain. But the company is likely to launch a handful of smartphones running the Tizen OS and—if the blogosphere is correct—a smaller version of the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet.

Android phones and tablets won't monopolize the show, however: Huawei, Nokia, and ZTE are expected to announce various devices running Microsoft’s latest mobile operating system. A Huawei designed Windows Phone has been rumored for some time now, and ZTE has launched Windows Phone 7 handsets in the past (albeit in Asia and Europe), so either (or both) may show off a phone or two running Windows Phone 8. Nokia will undoubtedly have a successor to its Lumia 920; some observers predict that the new model will sport a mind-bending 41-megapixel PureView camera. Though we remain skeptical about the phone’s camera specs, a newer, thinner version of the handset might silence critics who judged the original phone to be a bit heavy.

Regardless of what is or isn’t announced, we’ll bring you all of the latest news straight from Barcelona, so stayed tuned to TechHive for extensive Mobile World Congress coverage.

Amber Bouman, Sarah Jacobsson Purewal, Armando Rodriguez, and Leah Yamshon contributed to this report.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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