Cell Phones May Get More Interesting, Maybe

March 05, 2015
By: Doug Mohney

Buried among the onslaught of news from Mobile World Congress (News - Alert) (MWC) 2015 are hints that handsets may get more interesting over the next year—maybe.  Kyocera, Microsoft, Samsung and others all have shown or hinted at devices that could stir up the current Android/iPhone (News - Alert) duopoly a bit from the current flat screen/big screen model.

Kyocera has been among the most forward looking when it comes to making more rugged and durable devices.  Since 2008, the company has shown off phones that can be dropped and dunked in water that still keep going.  The Kyocera (News - Alert) Torque is the latest evolution for rugged handsets, meeting U.S. military standards (MIL-STD) for water immersion, dust, shock, salt fog and humidity, with bonus features including the ability to operate the phone's touchscreen when wet or with standard gloves.

Wireless charging is all the rage, but Kyocera has gone one better with demonstrating a phone with a built-in solar panel.  The Wysips Crystal technology turns any surface into a solar panel, so a touch screen can become a power screen.   Power charge rates aren't that great right now, so Kyocrea and its solar partner are working at ways to increase the output.   Design headaches to make this work effectively will include how to get light to both sides of the phone when it is on a surface – think about it, one side is typically face down.

Microsoft had a couple of interesting tidbits this week. It's worked out a deal with Samsung (News - Alert) to preload a folder with Microsoft Apps on the Galaxy S6. Users get Skype, OneDrive, and OneNote preinstalled, with users also getting 100 GB OneDrive extra storage for two years.  

The bigger statement from Microsoft (News - Alert) is the appearance of a flagship Lumina phone with Windows 10 this fall. A Windows 10 phone should seamlessly deliver the same experience as you get with a tablet or laptop, including full-featured mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  Speech-to-text will also be a standard feature in new Windows phone, available for any application that needs text input.  There are also hints that the new Lumina may be as slick in terms of hardware finish and feel as the Surface family of tablets.

Samsung literally extended the edge of the touchscreen with the Galaxy S6 Edge, making the two longer sides of the screen "curve."  The extra real estate enables Samsung to put in little tricks like putting an alarm clock display on the side of the phone and add a specific color to your most frequent contacts.   If someone calls, you can see the color from the side of the screen and know who is calling.

Opinions are split on the S6 Edge between "This will revolutionize cell phones" to "What a dumb idea." I think it's going to take a while for consumers to pick a winner between the two.  Big screen phones also generate strong opinions, so it will take at least one or two generations of buyers before curved screens are a commercial success or bust.

Enterprise customers may be more impressed with Samsung bundling the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge with Knox, its hardened version of Android. Knox keeps work apps and services separate from personal information.  A number of third-parties rolled out Knox-based apps at MWC this week, continuing to build a case for Samsung's being the pick in the enterprise, especially for BYOD policies.