Out of the dozens of smartphones announced at Mobile World Congress every year, the only ones that have historically mattered were Samsung’s flagship Galaxy phones.
In years past, the Korean electronics giant uses MWC in Barcelona as a global stage to launch new Galaxy S phones.
This year, however, was different. Following the disastrous Galaxy Note7 launch that saw the phones explode due to faulty batteries (and eventually led to two global recalls and the phone’s discontinuation), Samsung faced a tough call.
It could have stuck to its schedule and announced the Galaxy S8 at MWC this year, and risked looking like it was rushing a new device out the door in a push to get everyone to forget about the Note7. Or it could’ve delayed the Galaxy S8, to give consumers more time to forgive and forget, giving itself more time to ensure its batteries are 100 percent safe and won’t explode.
As you probably already know by now, Samsung chose to delay the Galaxy S8, since it was a no-show at MWC. Instead, the company turned its attention to its new tablets—the Tab S3 and Galaxy Book.
The new tablets are nice, but they aren’t nearly as exciting as an Galaxy S8 unveil would have been. (The 30-second teaser that reveals absolutely nothing except a March 29 announcement date doesn’t count.)
Samsung’s shrunken presence at MWC this year, however, was a big chance for other phone makers to shine—and not be overshadowed by the Goliath of phones.
Sure enough, the unlikeliest of phones did just that.
You could’ve maybe expected LG to step up with the G6 to fill the Galaxy S8’s huge hole, and while it’s a sleek Android phone that’s miles better than the failed modular G5, it doesn’t really offer any surprises.
The G6’s features are par for the course. For the most part, features like a higher-capacity battery, improved smartphone cameras, metal design, water and dust-resistance, and wireless charging are just catchup to the Galaxy S7. And sure, the G6 has a larger 5.7-inch 18:9 “FullVision” screen in a 5.2-inch phone body that’s easier to use with one hand than other phablets with 5.5-inch screens, but the Galaxy S8 is rumored to have even larger 18:9 displays on the way.
Same goes for Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium. The phone sports an evolutionary design and doesn’t stray too far from previous Xperia phones. In Sony’s defense, that’s a look it’s intentionally evolving for its phones. For consumers, it just looks like the same phone.
That said, Sony, who’s got an even smaller slice of the mobile market than LG, does bring some interesting features to the Xperia XZ Premium. They’re still the only company to sell a phone with a 4K-resolution screen, and now it’s even HDR-ready. It’s also the world’s first phone with a camera that captures super-slow motion, at 960 frames per second.
Had the Galaxy S8 been introduced, trust that Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium would have flown under the radar with a collective meh (even though the 4K HDR screen is spectacular, and the super-slow motion recording is mighty impressive).
The biggest phone makers to benefit from the Galaxy S8’s no-show, however, were two iconic brands that once dominated the mobile landscape pre-iPhone, but are now basically considered “losers”.
BlackBerry, to everyone’s shock, actually announced a phone that’s not total garbage. Though it technically didn’t design or build the KEYone (TCT is now in charge of that), the phone’s generated quite the excitement, and most people I spoke to about it are genuinely pumped for the return of the QWERTY keyboard, and the fact that it runs Android 7.0 Nougat.
With zero percent of the global mobile market, according to the most recent Gartner report, the BlackBerry KEYone should have been one of the most boring phone announcements at MWC, but against all odds it became one of the most talked-about phones in the world over the weekend.
It’s still too early to know whether the buzz will translate to sales, but TCT and BlackBerry should be pretty satisfied that anyone still cares about BlackBerry at all.
Nokia’s the other legend that made a huge splash at MWC. After it sold its mobile division to Microsoft and bet the farm on Windows Phone, the brand basically basically ate the iPhone and Android’s dust.
If you told anyone Nokia-branded phones would attempt a triumphant return last year, they would have laughed at you. And if you told them it’d make such attempt with a dumbphone that’s based off the classic Nokia 3310, and be successful, they would’ve fallen out of their chairs from laughing too hard.
But here we are in 2017, and HMD’s done the unthinkable: Figured out a way to get people stoked for a dumbphone that plays Snake.
It’s arguable whether people would have cared as much about the new updated Nokia 3310 if the Galaxy S8 was announced. Yes, the new 3310 is an update of one of the most popular and icon cellphones ever created, but it’s still a dumbphone in a smartphone world. Plenty of people will take the Galaxy S8’s rumored curved display that almost stretches across the entire front over some kid phone (because that’s really what the Nokia 3310 is) any day.
That said, if there’s one thing the Galaxy S8’s absence teaches us, it’s that Samsung’s shadow is huge, and looms over the entire mobile industry. And it’s just as noticeable in the moments it’s not there as the moments when it is.
The two companies that dominate smartphones and set the trends for all other phone makers to follow are still Apple and Samsung, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
Phone makers like LG, Sony, BlackBerry and Nokia that make up the lowest share of the mobile market finally got their fifteen minutes of fame, but it’ll be over before they know it.
Because Samsung will announce the Galaxy S8 on March 29. Then, it’s back to bench for these other guys.