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Larger, faster, smarter devices to steal show

BARCELONA, Spain (Yonhap News) ― Larger, faster and smarter smartphones and tablets are expected to steal the show this week at the wireless industry’s biggest trade show in Spain, signaling a new round of competition among vendors in the sector’s fastest growing and the most vibrant segments.

Among the mobile devices and wireless technologies that will be on display by some 1,360 companies at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, the most talked-about product will likely be the tablet computer, the newest high-end device in the wireless market.

The four-day trade show, slated to start on Monday, will serve as the first venue to introduce the public to a slew of new tablets powered by “Honeycomb.”

The latest generation of Google Inc.’s Android software is customized for large screens of tablet computers, which may soon rival personal computers.

Google’s major hardware partners ― Samsung Electronics Co., LG Electronics Inc., HTC Corp. and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. ― are beefing up efforts with the new software from Google that is seen as a fresh challenge to Apple Inc.’s tight grip on the tablet market. Apple sold 14.8 million units of the iPad last year after releasing it in April.

In a bid to stand out among a panoply of new tablets running on identical Android software, companies will try to impress consumers with new features, such as 3-D screens and faster processors, and to differentiate their products with a variety of sizes or shapes, analysts said.

“2011 is set to be a highly competitive year with vendors looking to use new technology, such as dual-core processors, NFC and 3-D displays, to differentiate their products and maintain value,” Chris Jones, the vice president of research firm Canalys, said in a statement.

NFC, or near field communication, is a mobile payment technology that many vendors said they will adopt starting this year.

Samsung Electronics announced a bigger tablet computer and a new flagship smartphone for this year on the eve of the show. The new Honeycomb tablet will be powered by a 1-gigahertz dual core processor and feature a 10.1-inch screen, larger than the company’s seven-inch Galaxy Tab.

While there is speculation that the forthcoming tablet will be a second generation of the Galaxy Tab, Samsung officials denied this.

“It is not fitting to call the upcoming 10.1-inch tablet the second generation of the Galaxy Tab, as we plan to release tablets in many different sizes (this year),” Lee Young-hee, senior vice president of Samsung’s mobile business, told Yonhap News Agency.

Another company official said that Samsung’s 10.1-inch tablet will target an upper price range of the Galaxy Tab with the latest software and features.

Samsung’s 2011 flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S2, will be announced on the same evening, which will be larger but thinner and lighter than the first version of the Galaxy S, the company said.

LG Electronics Inc., the world’s No. 3 cell phone maker, which is struggling to turn around its loss-making mobile business, will showcase the Optimus Pad, hoping to make a nimble move in the tablet market by joining the early group of Honeycomb-savvy companies.

The 8.9-inch tablet, larger than the Galaxy Tab but smaller than the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen, will feature a 3-D display screen that does not require a pair of special glasses, a 3-D camera that shoots movies and software that allows 3-D movie editing, LG said in a statement.

LG offered a glimpse into its tablet last month during a tech show in Las Vegas, announcing its March release via T-Mobile USA branded as the G-Slate. It will also announce new smartphones with 3-D capability.

Taiwan’s HTC Corp., which recently surrendered its No. 4 position in the smartphone market to Korea’s Samsung, is also disclosing a tablet computer, the latest model in its highly popular Desire series, as well as some social media-oriented smartphones, its official said.

Motorola, which last month announced the “Xoom,” the world’s first Honeycomb tablet, is counting that its wide 10.1-inch screen, a dual-core processor and a high-resolution screen will enchant onlookers at the show.

The stakes are high for these companies with the tablet market expected to multiply to 57 million units this year and to 171 million in 2014, according to market researcher iSuppli.

By the end of the four-day trade show, some of them may rise as promising competitors against the iPad, which has cracked opened a new market with its easy user interface and Apple’s vibrant content distribution store.

And despite the conspicuous and perennial absence of Apple in Barcelona ― the maker of the iconic iPhone and the iPad stages its own show for new products ― its presence will be palpable in the Spanish coastal city as companies strive to replicate its success.

A developer conference for Apple’s iOS software will be held for the first time during this year’s MWC, a nod to the U.S. maker’s impact in the industry.

In the meantime, trouble-ridden Nokia Corp., the world’s largest phone maker by shipments, announced Friday that it will make its primary smartphone with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 7 software, as the two giants are struggling to reclaim ground lost to Google and Apple.

It remains to be seen whether the alliance, announced three days before the MWC’s start, could shake up the Android-Apple binary in the global smartphone market.

Shipments of Android-running phones skyrocketed seven-fold from a year ago to 33.3 percent of the global smartphone market in the fourth quarter, toppling Nokia’s Symbian platform, which claimed 31 percent, market researcher Canalys said. Apple had a 16.2 percent share, and Microsoft had a mere 3.1 percent.

“It is a critical moment for these powerhouses of the past.

They know they have to do something,” said Jeong Ji-hoon, director of the IT Convergence Center at Korea’s Kwandong University. “It is a make-or-break moment.”