Mobile World Congress 2011 Scorecard: Handsets

Whose profile is rising? Dual-core processors

The winner among handsets at Mobile World Congress could not be easily discerned by the casual viewer strolling handset makers' booths. In fact, it wasn't even really visible to the naked eye--rather it was buried beneath device screens: dual-core processors.

Click here for a slideshow of all the notable handset announcements at MWC.Just as 1 GHz processors became standard fare for high-end smartphones in 2010, it appears dual-core processors will claim that mantle in 2011. The bevy of multi-core chipset and product announcements at this year's MWC confirmed that the trend toward more robust processors is accelerating.

Samsung's two high-profile device announcements at MWC this year--the Galaxy S II and the GalaxyTab 10.1 Android "Honeycomb" tablet--are both dual-core devices. The smartphone runs on a dual-core Samsung chipset and the tablet, like all first-generation Honeycomb tablets, sports Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 processor. Separately, LG's splashy Optimus 3D smartphone and OptimusPad tablet were also dual-core: The Optimus 3D runs a dual-core OMAP 4 chipset from Texas Instruments and the tablet runs Nvidia's chip.

Not surprisingly, chipmakers themselves made news at the show. Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) unveiled the next generation of its flagship Snapdragon application processor, and said its new chipset family, codenamed Krait, will include multiple levels of performance and will be targeted at different market segments. The new family includes single-core, dual-core and even quad-core variants. Separately, the week before MWC, Texas Instruments announced its OMAP 5 processor, which has dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 processors capable of running up to 2 GHz. Not to be outdone, Nvidia revealed that its new quad-core processor, dubbed "Kal-El" (Superman's Kryptonian name, for comic book fans out there), will be shipping in a tablet by August and a smartphone by the end of the year.

Why the rush to dual-core and beyond? Device makers and application designers are continually pushing the boundaries of what users can do on mobile devices. The ability to support applications like 3D gaming, cloud computing and HD video streaming while other applications are running in the background is going to become a necessity in the months and years ahead. Chipmakers and handset vendors are in essence trying to future-proof their designs as much as possible to stay ahead of the curve. Alex Katouzian, vice president of product management for Qualcomm's CDMA Technologies unit, said that right now there's little need for dual-core power--but that will change, and Qualcomm wants to be ready for it.

Whose profile is falling? Innovative handsets

Unfortunately, the world's handset makers didn't blow the doors off of Mobile World Congress. Many of the segment's high-profile announcements were sequels to earlier phones with slightly better specifications.

Indeed, the global tech industry already had one major event this year, the Consumer Electronics Show, where for example Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) introduced its Xoom tablet and Atrix 4G smartphone. Further, other companies held their own events: Hewlett-Packard unveiled its slick new webOS devices at a separate event ahead of MWC, as did Kyocera with the release of its dual-screen Echo Android phone for Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S).

What was left for MWC? Samsung's Galaxy S II had beefier specs than the original, but beyond NFC capabilities did not offer much that was new. HTC's Flyer tablet was intriguing, especially with its pen accessory for note-taking, but did not wow. HTC's two Facebook-integrated phones seemed more gimmicky than revolutionary, and the company's new Android phones were faster, slimmer versions of 2010 models. And LG's Optimus 3D handset? It sported a flashy, glasses-free implementation of 3D images, but how many people are clamoring to watch 3D content on their phone?

Sony Ericsson did offer something fresh with its Xperia Play smartphone geared toward mobile gaming. However, pictures, videos and specs of device were leaked ahead of the show, thus blunting the impact of the company's official unveiling.

Mobile World Congress 2011 Scorecard: Handsets