The Big Debate: Is MWC A Better Event Without Samsung?

Welcome to The Big Debate.

In this series we look to provide different perspectives on some of the more interesting (and at times, controversial) technology talking points. This is not meant to lead the discussion in any way or to suggest one side is truer than the other. The object here is to simply open the discussion by providing insight from the editing team on a given topic.

Below you will find perspectives to the question posed from all the editors and in alphabetical order – again to avoid the suggestion of leading the narrative. Each editor has their own perspective, experience, and knowledge of the topic and has provided their insight without seeing the insights from the other editors. So whether right or wrong, whether you agree or not, it is their opinion on the debate. Nothing more, nothing less. With the exception of minor edits (a comma here, a full stop there) the words of each editor are their own. After the individual opinions, you will see a brief and rudimentary ‘wrap up’ which will look to sum up whether the majority of the editors swung one way or whether it proved to be a more balanced outcome. Again, this summary is not designed to answer the question but just to provide an overview of the collective thoughts. After which, feel free to add your own comments and insights by joining the debate.

Is MWC A Better Event Without Samsung?

Background: While MWC is largely considered to be the ‘smartphone event’ of the year it would be easy to also consider it a ‘Samsung event’ when the company is in attendance. As this year's event saw Samsung reveals its latest Galaxy S device - the Galaxy S9 and sibling device, the Galaxy S9 Plus. While this is great for the mobile-based event, it did seem to have resulted in other smartphone makers choosing to hold off announcing their main smartphones at the event. So the question is whether this is good for the industry or whether MWC is a better show without its star attraction?

Alex Maxham: (@alexmaxham) Samsung doesn’t need Mobile World Congress for a successful launch. It has shown that it is able to do events about a month after the biggest mobile trade show of the year, with the Galaxy S8 and even the Galaxy S5 a few years earlier. So that begs the question of whether Mobile World Congress needs Samsung to put on a good show, and the short answer is no.

Samsung is a huge player in the smartphone world, in fact it is the largest smartphone manufacturer right now. But that also means that it commands a lot of attention when it is announcing a new smartphone. That also means that it is taking attention away from other smartphone launches at Mobile World Congress, and we could see that this year with many other companies opting to put out very small upgrades, or not even announcing a smartphone at all. This is because they all know that Samsung is going to overshadow them, and grab all of the attention. Take for example, LG. Now there’s more to it than this, but LG did not announce the G7 this year at Mobile World Congress, instead announcing a very minimal upgrade to the LG V30 in the V30S ThinQ. Typically, LG announces its Spring flagship at the tradeshow, and that was not the case this year, partly due to the Galaxy S9 being announced, but also due to the fact that it recently got a new president for its mobile division and things changed rather quickly there.

Mobile World Congress is already a big show, and that is partly due to Samsung. With Samsung being in Barcelona, it means that there are more eyes on the show, solely because of Samsung. But that also means that Mobile World Congress is no longer the home for all of the big smartphone announcements, since everyone is opting to do their own event later on - where they can get more attention. It is a bit odd for Samsung to do its Galaxy S launch at Mobile World Congress and its Galaxy Note launch ahead of IFA (which is the big fall trade show). Though the main reason there is to get the Galaxy Note out before the new iPhones are announced or available. But without Samsung at Mobile World Congress, it would likely become a better, and more exciting tradeshow. In recent years, you would find just about all of the big smartphones announced at this show, but in 2018, you really only saw the Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus and then a slew of smartphones from Nokia/HMD Global. If Samsung were to do its big Unpacked event outside of Mobile World Congress, around April as it has done before, then Mobile World Congress would go back to being the biggest mobile show of the year.

Dominik Bosnjak (@dddominikk) Samsung has long been the king of mobile devices, even if it remains envious about Apple's profit margins to this day. So, the world's largest smartphone manufacturer being the star of the world's largest mobile trade show makes sense, right? Sure it does, but it doesn't make it good for the industry. Samsung's dominance in the segment is best illustrated by the fact that its phones are now criticized if they don't debut a major, ultra-premium redesign every single year, even if they improve on their predecessors in almost every other way, which is what's currently happening with the Galaxy S9 series. Given that state of affairs, I think it's fair to say Samsung is already a big boy who can host standalone Unpacked events instead of attaching them to MWC like mistletoes leech off of trees.

Samsung's Android flagships missed last year's MWC because they kind of had to and they still easily outsold all of their (Android) rivals, so the company's (lack of) presence in Barcelona apparently impacts other manufacturers more than it affects its own products that will sell no matter what so long as Seoul keeps pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into marketing every year. Sure, you could argue other phone makers should just do better but there's simply no outshining Samsung at MWC. Case in point: the Vivo APEX FullView, which is as innovative as handsets go yet passed through Fira Gran Via without gathering much attention. Then there's Sony's Xperia XZ2 Compact, a device that's bezel-less, high-powered, and has an extremely small physical footprint, thus offering an unprecedented combination of features. None of that helped it grab many headlines at MWC and while that isn't to say Sony would have a best-seller on its hands if Samsung didn't launch the Galaxy S9 in Barcelona, the Korean tech giant certainly managed to suppress every other thing its competitors did better. Due to that state of affairs, you probably aren't aware that the Xperia XZ2 supports 4K HDR recording which Samsung is ignoring, presumably due to the inability of its Exynos 9810 to follow suit with the Snapdragon 845 in that department. Likewise, the media's oversaturation with Galaxy S9-related content led it to glance over the fact that the camera software of the LG V30S ThinQ appears to be miles ahead of Samsung's own solution, both in terms of manual controls and AI-powered automation.

While Samsung certainly doesn't need MWC and is harming the rest of the industry looking for any semblance of a spotlight in Barcelona, it definitely isn't obliged to do its rivals any favors and hence shouldn't be expected to stop dominating the annual trade show because that's the "right thing to do." At the end of the day, I think everyone should just be happy Apple's marketing people haven't decided they also want a piece of the MWC pie yet.

John Anon (@dardawks) This is a difficult question. What is clear is that without Samsung MWC is a very different event altogether. As once Samsung does take to the stage and unveils its latest Galaxy S smartphone, the event changes. From then on the company remains in the spotlight with a wealth of after the fact news coming through. Likewise, any other smartphone announcements are usually the subject of direct comparison to the just-announced Samsung device. So without the company at the event, the event itself would dramatically and fundamentally change from a news standpoint. Not just in terms of what is announced, but also how those announcements are digested and fed to the public by the media. This is the 'Samsung effect.'

What has become increasingly clear though is with Samsung at any event, a number of other companies - while present - are now opting to forgo making any major announcements and this certainly was the case with MWC 2018. This is never a good thing for any industry as it does effectively result in the stifling of innovation with major products either taking longer to arrive, or worse still, being rushed to market ahead of an event as an attempt to garner early interest and attention. So there is a very clear benefit to not having Samsung at MWC - or any event for that matter - as it would then be more open and inviting to the rest of the Android OEM community, affording those other OEMs an opportunity to steal the show's limelight.

Speaking of which, manufacturers really only have themselves to blame when it comes to Samsung and MWC 2018 as there was nothing stopping other OEMs from making their impact felt. The proof is always in the product and if a smartphone arrived which could prove to be an actual contender to the Galaxy S line then it would arguably have gained even more attention - as it would then be ‘the phone that outdid the latest Galaxy S phone at MWC.’ Though, that has not been the case for the last few years with the likes of HTC, LG and Motorola, either no-shows or launching devices that have simply not competed with Samsung’s latest. If Apple was there for example, all of the focus would no longer solely be on Samsung and then there would genuinely be a battle for the perceived ‘event crown.’ So while Samsung did prove to be a bit of a disruption to the event this year, the onus should be, and is, on the others to actually compete in the first place, and not just attend like the rest of us.

Justin Diaz (@GeneralPleb85) Samsung is good for a great many things, from providing consumers with quality products across a variety of industries to leading the way in innovative features in most of if not all of its offerings, which other manufacturers can end up implementing in their own way. What it’s not good for is Mobile World Congress. Yes, Samsung being at Mobile World Congress means there is generally an earlier announcement for its early-year flagship, the Galaxy S lineup, which is great for loyal Samsung fans and those who prefer to go for the Samsung Galaxy S devices every year or every other year. On the other side of things, though, it also causes just about every other manufacturer to hold off on announcing their flagship devices until later, which in turn means delayed launch dates, and that means delayed consumer purchases, which ultimately leads to less consumer choice.

Sony announced its flagship Xperia XZ2 at the event, but that was it. Huawei, Motorola, LG, all larger companies in the Android space and all of them have held off announcing anything major at the event, Granted, Motorola tends not to announce its flagships at Mobile World Congress anyway, but both Huawei and LG do. In 2017, Huawei announced it P10 and P10 Plus and LG announced the G6. This year, no announcements were made from either company likely because they refused to be overshadowed by the gargantuan behemoth of a smartphone brand that is Samsung.

Keeping that in mind, LG’s announcement for the G7 Neo as it’s currently being referred is still unknown, and Huawei isn’t going to be announcing the P20, P20 Lite, and P20 Pro until the end of March as opposed to the end of February. Last year Samsung held its announcement of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus a month later than Mobile World Congress, and it still ended up having some of the best-selling phones of the year, and consumers had the capability to pick up the LG and Huawei devices in addition to those from Sony all around the same time or just before. Samsung holding its announcement later didn’t really hurt its bottom line and it gave other manufacturers a chance to have some of the spotlight and showcase their devices, but with Samsung overshadowing every other brand, because let’s face it, it does when it comes to top-tier smartphones, consumers are unlikely to pay attention to little else. This really only benefits Samsung and the consumers which will without fail go for a Samsung device, but it doesn’t benefit the majority of consumers as a whole. That said, Samsung already owns a massive share of the smartphone market, let alone the Android smartphone market, so how much of a difference does it really make? That’s hard to answer, but it’s better for consumers to have more options earlier on in the year than one major option at the start and then a few other less popular options a month or two later. Regardless, Samsung is a huge brand and it will announce its phones when it sees fit and when it feels the time is best-suited for its own success, and this year just so happened to be at Mobile World Congress, but that also doesn’t mean that it will be a continuing trend.

Kristijan Lučić (@MrKrisWhyNot) Samsung is the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, and unlike last year, the company decided to announce its S-series flagships at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 in Barcelona. That move, seemingly, scared off some other companies, in a sense that they skipped announcing their own products at MWC because Samsung has a tendency to steal the show. That may as well be true, as very few companies can compete with Samsung in that regard, if any, so the question remains, does MWC benefit from Samsung’s high-profile announcements, or would it be better if the South Korean giant wasn’t there, or at least if the company skipped high-profile product announcements?

I, personally, cannot really give a straight answer to that question, as I agree with both standpoints, pretty much. Samsung brings a certain appeal to MWC, especially when it announces products like the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus, its premium offerings. On the other hand, we’d probably see a lot more high-profile products announced at MWC 2018 if Samsung wasn’t there, or at least that’s what most people think would happen. HMD did announce a slew of Nokia-branded smartphones at MWC 2018, Sony also announced its two new flagships, but we did not see anything out of Xiaomi, for example, while Huawei introduced a couple of tablets only. LG did announce an improved version of its LG V30 handset, but it did not reveal its G7 flagship. If Samsung opted not to participate, or at least not to announce its flagships, who knows, maybe Huawei, LG, Xiaomi, and a number of other companies would present their flagships during the tradeshow, which would have increased the sheer amount of quality products.

On one hand, avoiding spotlight-stealing companies like Samsung may be a good business call, on the other hand, Samsung can be outshined, at least to a degree. Releasing innovative gadgets will always attract a ton of attention, which Vivo proved at MWC 2018 by showing off the Vivo Apex. Companies like Huawei and LG have even more credibility on a global scale than Vivo, so if they actually came up with something truly unique, it may be possible to steal Samsung’s spotlight, at least to a degree.

Nick Sutrich (@gwanatu): Mobile World Congress 2018 has come and gone, and this year we saw the resurgence of Samsung’s presence at the biggest mobile trade show of the year. While they don’t always join the festivities in Barcelona, Samsung always headlines the shows they do attend, and this year was no different. Samsung has risen to the top of the top, easily eclipsing everyone on the market, including Apple, as the largest provider of mobile phones in the world; typically around 20% of all shipped, versus around 10% from their nearest Android-based competitor. Samsung’s win in branding has given them a unique position that often allows them to win by brand name alone, even if their product may not live up to the competition in one way or another. This leads one to wonder: should Samsung continue to steal the limelight at MWC, or should it allow smaller players to utilize the stage for new and different ideas?

Last year we saw Samsung graduate from the need to be attached to a large trade show, as it launched the Galaxy S8 line just a few weeks after MWC 2017 had taken place. Given the success of the Galaxy S8 as a whole, and that fact that Samsung hasn’t launched a Galaxy Note phone at the IFA show at the end of Summer in a few years now, it’s clear that Samsung doesn’t need these shows going forward. So why did it change direction this year? We saw LG launch its latest G-series device at last year’s MWC, but even launching before Samsung didn’t result in a positive sales increase for LG, and only Nokia and Huawei came away with any sort of real success from Samsung’s absence last MWC.

This year we saw new players make headlines; Vivo in particular with its in-glass fingerprint scanner really made waves, and shows that other players can make the most of a show, even with Samsung in attendance. Should we see Samsung leave these shows and never return? I’m all for it, especially since it gives Samsung time to be in the spotlight all by itself, which really should be the focus anyway. Trade shows are generally a good place for newcomers to shine and bring their products to the limelight, a way to get noticed when they might not otherwise get the attention. Samsung’s presence at these shows stifles excitement for other companies, and while it’s of course in Samsung’s best interest to keep its products in the spotlight above, it makes little sense to share that spotlight with others when you already know your products are going to eclipse theirs in media coverage alone. Do your own thing, Samsung, it’s in everyone’s best interests.

Wrap-up – by John

As to be expected, there is no overwhelming and clear answer here. All editors felt that at some level, Samsung’s attendance at the event has a negative impact. Even if that impact is only on the other manufacturers’ confidence to showcase their premium smartphones. Though, a common thread in these comments is how Samsung is only in-part to blame as some of the blame inevitably has to be leveled at the other OEMs. While it is difficult for some of them to really push their latest flagship to the front of the news when there is a new high-profile smartphone from Samsung being announced, choosing not to showcase premium options only shines the light brighter on Samsung. Not to mention, whether HTC, LG, Motorola, or anyone else, holds back by a month, two months, or longer, they will still have to deal with the very real issue of competing with Samsung’s latest on sales.

Vote and leave a comment below with your thoughts and opinions, #JoinTheDebate on social media or use one of the @ links above to directly connect and comment on points made by a specific editor. What do you think of Samsung at MWC? Is MWC a better event without Samsung?

 

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About the Author
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John Anon

Editor-in-Chief
John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]