Two of the main topics of the MWC Barcelona this year are undoubtedly 5G and foldable cards. While Samsung has chosen to give up MWC this year to hold its own launch event including a 5G phone and a new device with a foldable form factor (which also offers a 5G variant), other manufacturers have chosen the event annual technology to present their 5G and foldable products. Smarts.
Huawei unveiled Sunday the foldable Mate X of $ 2,600, while fellow smartphone compatriot, Xiaomi, unveiled its first 5G phone, the Mi Mix 3 5G, which was certainly not collapsible. Then came the Xiaomi Mi 9, which had its own impressive specifications, but – alas – there was no crease in sight. The "last thing" at the end of his speech sparked a chorus of enthusiasm around the auditorium, before Xiaomi unveiled the Mi LED smart bulb. And that was it.
For context, Xiaomi's president and co-founder, Lin Bin, recently released a video of himself using a foldable device, which partly explains why all eyes were turned to the company's speech at the MWC. But that was not the case. As a result of the event, VentureBeat sits with Donovan Sung, Xiaomi Global Spokesperson and Product Management Director, to discuss his efforts in the 5G field and why he decided to stop on his foldable file at MWC.
In the mix
Although Xiaomi was not the first company to unveil a 5G phone, it was the first to announce a prize. At $ 680, the Mi Mix 3 5G is only $ 50 more than the 4G edition and, for many, it was a reasonable price for a technology that has been touted as a game changer.
"We really wanted to make it as affordable as possible, because our philosophy is to always try to sell products at the most competitive price possible, and also as close to cost as possible," said Sung.
It should be noted that 5G devices must be configured to become 5G – they require radio chips, modems, processors, and so on. Similar. And this ultimately requires more space, which causes businesses to make key design decisions with respect to features to include, items to omit, and items to move.
Now, if a company launches a brand new 5G phone, it probably has a more creative license in terms of specifications, but in the case of the Mi Mix 3 5G, people will naturally compare it to the Mi Mix 3 4G – they are intended to be the same phone, with the exception of their network compatibility.
"We wanted to preserve many of the key elements of the mix 3 that people liked, so we do not want to change it into a brand new phone," Sung said.
Are there any major differences between the two Mi Mix 3 devices in terms of size?
"It's about the same; it's not much bigger or thicker, "said Sung, although the company has not yet disclosed the exact dimensions of the device. "We had to add some new components compared to the normal Mix 3: we installed a new processor and, of course, we had to install the X50 5G modem. We also have a bigger battery. "
Indeed, the Mi Mix 3 5G has a battery of 3800 mAh, against 3200 mAh for the embodied 4G. It probably means that the device is a little beefier and maybe even thicker. But this decision was necessary, since 5G networks would likely cause more power losses on phones.
"We just want to make sure the whole phone is running at peak efficiency," said Sung. "We want a bigger battery so that the overall performance is as powerful as possible."
In digging the details, we discover at least one area in which Xiaomi has sought to save some space for larger components: the Mi Mix 3 5G do not a dual SIM phone.
"Because it was mainly a 5G phone and we had to save space, it's a SIM phone," Sung confirmed.
The Mi Mix 3 5G is expected to arrive this summer in a "subset" of Xiaomi's existing markets, and we know this will include Western Europe. But can we expect Xiaomi to bring his phones to the US anytime soon? According to a report last year, Xiaomi's chairman, Lei Jun, said that he was turning towards the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019, but it seems like such plans are pending for the moment. Something could still happen sometime in the next year or so.
"I think this is another thing we will continue to focus on for 2019 and 2020," Sung said. "We are present in more than 80 markets around the world. We already sell ecosystem products, IoT products in the US, through Amazon and Walmart, and through various [other] canals. In terms of smartphones, we do not have an update [on a U.S. launch] At this point."
Thus, the main goal of Xiaomi in the coming months will be to prepare its 5G phone for a public launch, which should take place in May.
Change of stage
Many people have argued that 5G would have a smaller impact on smartphones than on smart cities, connected cars and the wider IoT sphere. But as someone who has already managed products for Microsoft, Spotify and Google – including YouTube – Sung, Sung is adamant: 5G could revolutionize the use of apps for smartphones.
"We believe that 5G will certainly be a very big and radical change for smartphones and the smartphone industry in general," he said. "For example, the shift from 3G to 4G – perhaps some applications that would be very difficult for 3G have become much more popular on 4G, such as carpooling applications. And even using Google Maps – it would have been a lot harder in the 3G era. Previously, I worked at YouTube, and honestly, it would be very difficult to watch YouTube permanently on a 3G network. Even using Instagram on 3G would have been more difficult. "
Thus, 4G has helped some services to flourish on the mobile, and we can probably say the same for 5G – high definition cloud games (HD) and 4K streaming video playback are just two examples of this. that the 5G will allow. But in the end, we do not really know what kind of elements the developers will propose to take advantage of these new networks.
"There are just a lot of applications that we can not even think about now," Sung said.
The foldable elephant in the room
After Xiaomi's speech at the MWC: "Where is the foldable Xiaomi that everyone was waiting for?
"As for the timing of the launch of this project, I think we would like to wait until it is more mature before announcing it. But rest assured, we are trying different collapsible concepts, "Sung said.
And it may be a telling sign of the general state of folding phones. Three MWC companies exhibited foldable phones and all kept their devices in display cases.
It seems that this technology is still a little half-cooked, and Samsung, Huawei, et al. do not want the public to form a negative opinion for the moment. But with launch dates expected in just two months, keeping collapsible items in glass cases does not inspire much confidence in their availability.
On Sunday, the Chinese smart phone company Oppo also criticized a foldable device, without announcing specific plans in this regard. And this is the approach that Xiaomi adopts: rather than launching a product on the market that is not yet ready, it is still on fire. And in truth, it's probably the best shot; inserting something into the sphere of consumption that is not ready for prime time could delay the foldable movement.
"I think that's really part of our overall philosophy of really wanting to be at the cutting edge of technology," Sung said. "This video [of Xiaomi president Lin Bin using a foldable] were we trying to demonstrate that we are trying new form factors. And we have also made decent progress in this regard, so that we feel comfortable sharing this concept video.
But decent progress is different from the market, so we still do not know when Xiaomi will bring a collapsible product to the market. But at least we now know why – it's just not ready.