A trove of new Android smartphones to debut at MWC

Older brands like BlackBerry, Nokia and Motorola to reappear with new devices

Several new high-profile Android smartphones are expected to launch this weekend in advance of Mobile World Congress, which opens Monday in Barcelona.

Analysts and published reports have said these new Android smartphones will include: the BlackBerry DTEK70 (through a license with TCL); the LG G6; Moto G5 (the Motorola brand is owned by Lenovo); Nokia 8/P1 ( HMD holds the Nokia brand); Sony Xperia X2; the Huawei P10; and at least one model from HTC.

By announcing new phones, Lenovo and Huawei will again demonstrate the growing influence of Chinese smartphone manufacturers, which now number in the dozens. Other Chinese phone makers, including Oppo and Gionee, are also expected to announce new smartphones.

HTC, based in Taiwan, competes in similar markets as those Chinese competitors and released the HTC 10 early last year.

Meanwhile, Samsung, the global smartphone leader, will not unveil the Galaxy S8 at MWC, but will show new tablets and other devices, the company said last month. Samsung is still managing customer expectations after a disastrous problem with exploding batteries in its Note7.

The S8 is widely expected to be launched on March 29 in New York City.

Analysts tamped down expectations of any groundbreaking smartphone features at MWC.

"I am not expecting anything amazingly new. We'll see better cameras, [artificial intelligence] in some shape or form, and better screens," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies. "Everybody but Samsung, Apple and Google will have new devices."

Even with so many phone announcements, MWC has become less of a stage for new smartphone launches. The trade show is now much larger in scope, with a heavy focus this year on internet content producers and providers, including traditional wireless carriers.

"As each year passes, the conference feels less like a mobile communications congress and more like an event geared toward the internet and its emerging technologies," Ovum analysts wrote in a market trends report.

Ovum analyst Ronan de Renesse noted the comeback of older smartphone brands BlackBerry, Motorola and Nokia, but also noted in the report, "this will be nowhere near their former glory of 10 years ago, but rather [they] will focus on specific niche products with limited market impact."

A.I. in smartphones

A.I.-powered digital assistants could be a differentiator for some of the new phones. De Renesse said Huawei -- now the third-largest smartphone maker globally -- may extend Amazon's Alexa voice assistant to the P10 smartphone, after announcing it in the Mate 9 at CES in January.

He said HTC's Sense Companion A.I. appeared in the HTC U Play and Ultra smartphones in January and is likely to be extended to whatever new phones HTC announces at MWC.

Google Assistant is also reported to be available in the LG G6, de Renesse said. LG has also hinted the smartphone will be waterproof and come with an improved camera.

De Renesse said cheaper Android smartphones offered mainly by Chinese makers will vie for attention at MWC and throughout 2017 as alternatives to market leaders Apple and Samsung.

Apple, as usual, won't be announcing a smartphone at MWC. Interest has surged lately in whether its next phone, the iPhone 8, will include wireless charging when it's announced this fall.

Despite having a strong fourth quarter in 2016, Apple shipments of phones finished down by 7% for the full calendar year, according to market research firm IDC.

While new Android and iOS smartphone innovations continue to captivate many technophiles and visitors to MWC, there is a growing recognition that the U.S. smartphone market is saturated and basically flat. This trend — now several years in the making — has led smartphone manufacturers to focus heavily on emerging markets, such as China, India and Brazil.

Smartphone app usage drops

Even the use of smartphone apps in the U.S. is declining, some analysts said, which will push websites and developers to find ways to introduce software and services to keep interest in smartphones high.

Some analysts say that A.I. may help increase interest by providing users with a way to easily access apps and websites through their smartphones with simple voice commands.

"There will certainly be some new phones at MWC, but I'm not really expecting anything dramatically different," said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at Technalysis Research. "It doesn't surprise me that there's a decrease in smartphone usage of smartphone apps."

Adobe is expected to report on findings related to global smartphone usage patterns next week.

"Americans may be downloading fewer apps, but their spending on in-app purchases is growing," Milanesi said. "I do not foresee [U.S.] consumers using smartphones less."

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