New launches come as global smartphone sales drop for the first time
Samsung Galaxy S9 launch to kick off annual mobile jamboree in Barcelona
Samsung, the world's biggest smartphone maker, is set to unveil its new flagship Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, on Sunday evening ahead of the opening of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the industry's largest trade show, amid signs global demand for smartphones may have finally peaked.
The Galaxy S9 - reported to include an upgraded variable aperture camera and improved iris scanner – is the most anticipated new smartphone launch timed to coincide with the telecom industry’s annual gathering, which is set to attract over 108,000 attendees and over 2,300 exhibitors from across the telecom and technology ecosystem.
Updated device releases are also expected from manufacturers including Sony, LG and HMD - the owner of the Nokia smartphone brand. Huawei, the world’s third largest smartphone manufacturer behind Samsung and Apple, has teased product launches for Sunday, although its new flagship, the P20, is likely to launch next month instead of in Barcelona.
Such new launches however come following dwindling global demand for newer smartphones; industry analysts Gartner reported last week that global device sales fell year-on-year for the first time ever in the fourth quarter of the year, dropping 5.6 per cent to 408 million during the three months to the end of December. Samsung sold 86 million phones in the fourth quarter of 2017 with the year-on-year sales declining of 3.6 per cent in the period.
Gartner blamed the drop in sales on slowing upgrades from feature phones due to a dearth of ultra-low cost quality smartphones, combined with longer upgrade cycles at the high end, with customers unpersuaded by incremental technology updates in newer devices.
Gartner’s figures follow reports earlier this month from research company IDC that China’s annual smartphone sales fell 4.9 per cent in 2017, as consumers in the world’s most populous nation wait longer to upgrade their devices.
Apple – the second largest smartphone manufacturer behind Samsung - earlier this month announced an unexpected 1 per cent drop in iPhone sales for the three months to end December, in spite the launch of its new iPhone 8 and iPhone X models.
The rise of AI technology across the mobile ecosystem – exemplified by voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant – and the upcoming launch of 5G networks - which may offer download speeds of up to 50 times quicker than existing 4G networks – are set to be key topics of discussion at this year’s Mobile World Congress.
Keynote speakers at the event, which runs from Monday until Thursday, include Softbank Vision Fund CEO Rajeev Misra, who will discuss investment trends in AI and cryptocurrencies, Ajit Pai, chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, and World Bank president Dr Jim Kong Ying, who will both discuss regulatory challenges for the industry.