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What’s new in the mobile market?

By Alberto Font and AFP

The Mobile World Congress (MWC), held Feb. 25-28 in Barcelona, Spain, is the mecca for mobile phone companies and tech fans. At last year’s event, some 1,500 exhibitors showcased new gadgets to 67,000 people. 

The trade fair is symbolic of the growing industry, which offers cutting-edge technology to drive smartphone and tablet sales and is changing the way we communicate. 

Samsung and Apple are the industry giants, pursued by other competitors, including Nokia, Huawei and Alcatel, among others. 

Nokia showcased its Lumia 520 and 720 smartphones, which are similar to more expensive brands and offer built-in cameras, GPS and other features at half the price of industry leaders ($183 and $327, respectively). 

China’s Huawei, the world’s No. 3 smartphone company with 5.3 percent of the global market, launched its Ascend P2, marketed as the fastest Internet phone. The new P2 will cost $526, much lower than the $892 iPhone 5 and the $853 Samsung Galaxy III, which hit stores last year and are the top-two selling smartphones. 

With 29 percent of global smartphone sales, Samsung launched its mini-tablet Galaxy Note 8.0, hoping to take a share of the market from Apple’s iPad.

Other brands compete by being innovative. Chinese company ZTE showcased its “phablet” this week, a model that is half telephone and half tablet with a 5.7-inch screen and 13-megapixel camera. 

“ZTE continues broadening horizons by offering customers that latest in mobile technology,” ZTE’s Mobile Sales Director He Shiyou said. 

According to consulting firm Deloitte, global smartphone sales could reach two billion units by 2014, potentially cutting into laptops’ and personal computers’ share of the market. 

However, Deloitte said that despite the growth in the mobile market, personal computers will continue to be used for 80 percent of Internet traffic, as computers have faster processors, bigger monitors and better keyboards. 

Although smartphone and tablet sales are growing at a faster pace than personal computers, pc sales are growing, too. 

Companies like microchip manufacturer Intel, whose primary market is personal computers, are reacting to more competition from the mobile market. According to Karla Blanco, Intel Costa Rica’s director of corporate affairs, Intel manufactures the microchip processors for smartphones like the Motorola Razr i and tablets by Dell, Acer and HP.

“Intel is investing in research and development for new technologies in order to continue providing innovative solutions,” Blanco said. 

While Intel’s profits were down in 2012 compared the previous year, Blanco said that could be attributed to the company’s investment in R&D. 

Large financial companies also participated in MWC, including PayPal, which hopes to adapt its online payment system to the mobile phone environment. 

“In spite of being a trade show dedicated to the mobile telephone industry, it has broad implications for the entire global economy,” said Ian Fogg, an analyst at the firm IHS.

“Today, mobile represents what the Internet represented in 1999. Everyone should have a mobile strategy,” he added.

There are changes in store this year for apps, too. According to Deloitte, up to 100 mobile operators will offer “all-you-can-eat” services with unlimited access to certain applications with the payment of a monthly subscription.

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