Artificial Intelligence and DaaS Technologies

The Rundown on AI Phones and Devices at MWC24

The Latest in AI-Driven Mobile and PC Innovations
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There should be no surprise that there were plenty of device-related announcements at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, with this year’s AI buzzword featured prominently across them. For those who weren’t able to attend or just need a quick summary, here is a quick catchup, particularly on the phone side:

  • Vendors like Honor and Xiaomi showed off their flagship phones, complete with a 7B parameter on-device LLM and eye-tracking in the case of the former and AI-enhanced photography in the case of the latter.
  • Silicon providers Qualcomm and MediaTek were in the same hall, similarly showcasing on-device AI with the former announcing its AI Hub with 75 models for partners to use, while the latter demonstrated an impressive SDXL Turbo image creation on-device.
  • Industry heavyweights Samsung and Google were there too. Even though they had already made their announcements in the weeks prior for a head start on the industry, the event still provided good hands-on time for attendees to try features like Circle to Search and Live Translate.

On-device AI is obviously still a very emerging development whose use cases still need to be solidified, but we nonetheless expect 15% of the total smartphone market to be AI-enabled this year, even if most of those phones will probably sell more on the premise that they are simply flagship phones. Either way, vendors like Samsung in particular will likely keep a strong position in the market given its established presence and brand name.

PCs usually aren’t the center of attention at MWC, especially given the opportunity to showcase them at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas the month prior. But this is a critical year for the PC industry as it also talks up the idea of AI PCs. Intel used this moment to introduce its commercially-focused vPro versions of its Core Ultra chips, complete with design wins from Lenovo and Dell. Even phone vendors were in play: Honor rolled out its MagicBook Pro 16 while China’s Transsion showed off a Core Ultra-based notebook under its Tecno brand name, complete with a gigantic 99.99Wh battery. IDC expects 20% of PCs this year to be AI-enabled.

A notable – if longer-term – narrative that emerged was the idea of abstracting away from apps so that users interact with a goal-driven AI layer of Large Action Models without having to manually go in and out of apps to get tasks done. Deutsche Telekom worked with Brain Technologies on its Concept AI Phone, while Honor and ZTE also talked it up under their respective Magic Portal “intent-based UI” and NebulaOS names. This can be very theoretical with lots of work needed in the years ahead, but it is an intriguing concept that could spur unconventional hardware like the Humane AI Pin and Rabbit R1, not to mention where Meizu seems to be pivoting to. Rabbit and Meizu were not present at the event, but Humane got plenty of attention through demos at the Qualcomm booth.

AI wasn’t the entire story though. For good measure, here are a few other eye-catching items for us:

  • Lenovo showed off its ThinkBook Transparent Display as well as Motorola’s bendable Adaptive Display, both of which were just concepts. Samsung finally showed off its Galaxy Ring hardware; it was encased in glass but still drew crowds.
  • Transsion had not just a large Tecno booth and launch, but also a small offsite media event for Infinix where it showed off technologies like wireless charging. ZTE unveiled a range of devices including an aggressively priced US$599 Nubia Flip as well as a Nubia Music phone featuring a large speaker that caters to common use cases in developing markets. Qualcomm also mentioned a plan for $99 gigabit 5G phones but withheld more details until later in the year.
  • A number of offsite vendors used the week to introduce their latest efforts, including HMD’s Barbie co-branding, OnePlus’ Watch 2 with dual OS’es and chipsets for long battery life, and OPPO’s improved Air Glass 3. Nothing provided a glimpse of its upcoming Phone (2a), which uses a custom processor developed through MediaTek’s DORA program.

Bryan Ma is Vice President of Client Devices research, covering mobile phones, tablets, PCs, AR/VR headsets, wearables, thin clients, and monitors across Asia as well as worldwide. Based in Singapore, Bryan provides insights and advisory services for both vendors and users, and coordinates his team of analysts in building IDC's core market data, analysis, and forecasts in these sectors.