What to expect from Mobile World Congress 2019

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 2019 just might be the year that smartphones get fun again. After years of similar form factors and slight upgrades, the mobile industry’s back is against the wall.

For the first time ever, sales are down, owning to economic factors and slower upgrade cycles. Most people who want good phones have had access to them for a while, and smartphone makers are providing fewer compelling reasons to buy new ones.

With their backs against the wall, handset makers are getting creative. We’ve already seen some early fruits from companies late last year and last month at CES. But MWC is really going to be their time to shine. It’s a much larger mobile show, and all parties know that everyone’s bringing the big guns.

Here’s what we expect to see in Barcelona February 24-28.

Huawei: The company looks to have a lot on tap for the event — in part because the North America-based CES is kind of a non-starter. CEO Richard Yu has hinted at a foldable and a 5G handset — which could well be the same phone. More mainstream are the P30 and P30 Pro. The company’s done a good job keeping it under wraps, but rumors about three or four rear-lenses have made the rounds.

LG: As is its move, LG has already announced the G8 ThinQ. We know that the new flagship will feature a front-facing camera with Time of Flight sensor that brings potential tricks like face unlock, along with AR applications. The V50 is also reportedly on tap, potentially bringing 5G along for the ride.

Microsoft: A surprise addition to this year’s show, Microsoft’s already announced an event for February 24, where we expect the company will show off the HoloLens 2. The next-gen version of the headset will arrive as the rest of the hardware and software world is finally ready to embrace augmented reality in earnest.

Motorola: The recent launch of the G7 may have taken the wind out of MWC’s sails, but rumors of a foldable Razr reboot are making the rounds.

OnePlus: We know that a 5G handset and the OnePlus 7 are both in the pipeline — and, perhaps, one and the same? There’s also tell of a closed-door event at the show, but most aren’t expecting any big unveils from the company.

Samsung: Don’t expect a ton out of Samsung this year. The company (inconveniently) is holding its big event a mere days before. Expect the S10 and all its iterations to get a big unveil that week in San Francisco, along with a preview of the company’s upcoming foldable. That doesn’t leave a heck of a lot for MWC, but perhaps we’ll get a peek into the world of wearables or PCs.

Sony: While Xperia phones have long felt like a bit of a loss leader, the electronics giant has always made a big show of launching flagship devices. Those, in turn, have long been a launchpad for some exciting camera tricks. This year, the Xperia XZ4 appears to be on tap for the event. The handset looks to be an interesting one, with a reported 21:9 aspect ratio display and a beefy 4,400 mAh battery.

Melonee Wise and Anca Dragan will be speaking at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI April 18 at UC Berkeley

Hard to believe, but we’re only a few months out from the next TC Sessions: Robotics. As we get ready for our third year, take a trip down robotic memory lane with these highlights from last year’s big event.

We’ll be returning to UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in April, this time with an added focus on artificial intelligence. Last week we announced that computer science professor Hany Farid and VC/Playground global co-founder Peter Barrett will be joining us at the event, and now we’ve got a couple more big names to share with you.

Melonee Wise is the CEO of collaborative warehouse robotics company Fetch. She previously worked at influential Bay Area robotics startup Willow Garage, where she helped develop the ROS (Robotic Operating System), the PR2 and TurtleBot. Wise has received numerous awards, including MIT Technology Review’s TR35, and was named a 2018 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.

Anca Dragan is an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s EECS (Electric Engineering and Computer Sciences) department, with a focus on human-robotic interaction. Her team explores the fields of autonomous vehicles, manufacturing and assistive robotics. Dragan is a co-founder of the Berkeley AI Research Lab and has received a Sloan Fellowship, MIT TR35, Okawa and NSF CAREER awards.

Grab your Early-Bird tickets today and save more than $100 before prices go up. Students, grab your tickets for just $45 here.

Reserve your demo table today for the TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize

There are just three short weeks until Silicon Valley’s startup community takes a night off to relax, connect and get down at the 2nd Annual TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize. It’s not just an opportunity to have a great time — although you will. It’s also the chance for promising early-stage startups to strut their stuff. We have a handful of demo tables available, but they won’t last long. Why not book a demo table today? You never know who might attend the party and facilitate your big break.

Here’s one legendary example. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington used to hold these parties in his back yard. And that’s where Box founders Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith met one of their first investors, DFJ. Demo your early-stage startup at our Winter Party, and you just might start your own legend.

What can you expect at our Winter fete? Great food, delicious libations and outstanding company for starters. Last year, nearly 1,000 of the early-stage startup community — movers, shakers and star-makers — attended. Join us for a great night of community, networking and fun.

Here’s the lowdown on the particulars:

  • When: Friday, February 8, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Where: Galvanize, 44 Tehama St., San Francisco, CA 94105
  • Tickets: $85
  • Demo table: $1,500 (includes three attendee tickets)

Demo tables are open to early-stage startups with $3 million or less in funding.

Along with conversation and networking, every TechCrunch bash includes plenty of games, activities, photo ops, swag and giveaways. Who wants free tickets to Disrupt 2019? You do! So, book your demo table now, before they’re gone. Come party with your people on February 8 and show us your stuff!

New tickets available for TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize

If you haven’t snagged a ticket to the 2nd Annual TechCrunch Winter Party on February 8, listen up and listen good. We just released the third round of our first-come-first-serve tickets, and the first two batches sold like proverbial hotcakes. Buy your ticket while you still can, because you don’t want to miss out on a ton of fun and opportunity.

The festivities take place at Galvanize in San Francisco, a multi-level venue that’s roomy enough for nearly 1,000 of the Valley’s finest founders, investors, developers, marketers and makers to get comfy and celebrate the spirit of this remarkable startup community. Plus, you’ll nosh on plenty of yummy appetizers and enjoy top-notch cocktails.

It’s a convivial environment to talk, network and connect — or reconnect — with like-minded people. You never know who you’ll meet and what opportunities a chance encounter might produce.

It’s also an opportunity to check out interesting early-stage startups showing their stuff at the demo tables. Hold on a minute — you might own an early-stage startup, so why not buy a demo table and place your baby smack dab in front of a highly influential audience? Genius! The $1,500 price tag buys your table and three tickets to the party.

Here’s the lowdown on logistics:

  • When: Friday, February 8, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Where: Galvanize, 44 Tehama St., San Francisco, CA 94105
  • Ticket price: $85

TechCrunch parties always include a big dose of fun, games and prizes. Who doesn’t love prizes? Along with spectacularly sweet swag, you might win tickets to Disrupt San Francisco 2019.

Tickets to the TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize are available right now, but who knows for how long? Go buy a ticket now and join us at Galvanize for a night of fabulous fun and awesome opportunity.

What to expect from CES 2019

The timing is… less than ideal. Just as the industry is recovering from a holiday-induced hangover, we’re thrust into the country’s largest consumer electronics show. The timing, of course, is not coincidental. The show is intended to offer a preview for the tech year to come.

Many companies thrive on CES’s pace. It’s a five-day deluge of tech news, and, for many, it’s the largest platform they’ll get all year. The show is fairly unique in its ability to juggle announcements from all sizes of companies, from Samsung to startup, all vying for a little mindshare.

In recent years, its focus has shifted. Many larger companies have opted to make announcements on their own stages — and their own terms. CES, meanwhile, has changed accordingly, offering smaller companies a platform through showcases like Eureka Park, while making automotive and transportation a more essential plank of the show.

We’re about a week out from CES really kicking off in earnest, so it’s time to take a look at some of the trends that are beginning to emerge in the lead-up to the big show.

5G beyond the phone

5g illustration taken during the inauguration of the Media group Altice' s Campus in Paris on October 9, 2018.

5G illustration, taken during the inauguration of the Media group Altice’ s Campus in Paris on October 9, 2018. (Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP)

The big tech story of the year will no doubt also be the centerpiece of CES. The major U.S. carriers have already committed to rolling out 5G in 2019, so the show marks a perfect opportunity for hardware companies to get in on the action, as well.

Expect to see a lot of news out of component makers on this front, Intel especially. Qualcomm mostly showcased its 2019 offerings at its summit earlier this month, but the company will no doubt drill down on specifics, including the ways in which next-gen wireless will push IoT, automotive and other devices beyond the smartphone (more on that below).

In fact, I anticipate that’s going to be the big story here: 5G’s role beyond mobile. The big carriers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint — are intent on demonstrating how the faster technology will keep us gulp more connected than ever. That’s going to apply to everything from enterprise products to health-monitoring wearables and smart home devices.

It’s a future where everything is always-on — and tapped directly into your bank account.

AR/VR

Barring any unforeseen trends, VR’s going to mostly have to sit this one out. We’ll likely see a trend toward cheaper, standalone headsets à la the Oculus Go, but most companies are currently a lot more interested in what augmented reality holds in the short-term.

AR’s immediate future is two-pronged. Most developers are focused on leveraging existing devices like smartphones and tablets, using ARKit/ARCore. But a number of headsets/glasses have already begun to pop up on the periphery. Expect plenty of these to be on display at the show as startups attempt to convince us that it’s an experience we need to bring directly to our collective faces.

Automotive

As noted, automotive/transportation has become an increasingly important presence at CES over the past several years. Car stuff now comprises a full hall and several of the keynotes, as automakers invested more in tech breakthroughs and the consumer electronics side of things.

A number of key trends are already starting to emerge ahead of the event. As in past years, expect to see a focus on on-site demos of EV and self-driving technologies. Augmented reality — including head’s up displays  — will be a big part of the showcase, as will smaller transport products, including delivery robots.

Smart Home

The smart home ruled last year’s show. 5G is expected to take the title in 2019, but connected home products won’t give up without a fight. They’re going to be EVERYWHERE. From door locks to cameras to microwave to wall clocks — if you can name it, there will be a smart version at CES this year.

It’s the one category that practically every company both large and small will have a hand in. That said, two big names with an increased presence are going to drive much of the conversation. Since bringing the Echo and Home to market, CES has become an increasingly important show for both Amazon and Google. Expect Alexa and Assistant on everything at CES.

Smartphones

Much of this has, admittedly, already been detailed in my recent “Top smartphones trends to watch in 2019” post. Of course, what actually gets announced at CES is a different conversation altogether. For one thing, more companies are opting to make big announcements at their own events. For another, Mobile World Congress is just over a month away, and it’s been known to take plenty of smartphone wind out of CES’s sails.

That said, I’d expect to see a handful of 5G handsets on display at the show. And while CES 2019 probably won’t be a watershed moment for the future of foldable smartphones, we’re going to get a closer look at the final version of Royole’s handset. I would also anticipate seeing plenty of foldable concepts hinted at, even as the final product will still be a ways away.

2018 was the toughest year for smartphones in recent memory. As such, a lot of companies are feeling the pressure to do some soul-searching and go back to the drawing board. If nothing else, at least we’ll get some interesting concepts out of the deal.

TVs

Another year, another K. This year, 8K will very much be the thing. It’s like 4K, but with more Ks. Is it a gimmick? Kind of. Is it cool? Sure. Mostly, however, it’s the latest reason to get you to upgrade that three-year-old TV that cost you three months’ rent.

Companies have been showing off 8K sets for half a decade now. This is the year manufacturers will really get serious about the technology — though the same probably can’t be said for content.

Buy your tickets to the 2nd Annual TechCrunch Winter Party

We love parties almost as much as we love startups, but we go absolutely bonkers for a hot startup-party mashup. That’s why we’re returning to host our 2nd Annual TechCrunch Winter Party in San Francisco on Friday, February 8. Even better news, party-goers — the first batch of coveted tickets to this wild winter romp are available now. Better get your tickets while you can.

Last year’s inaugural event was a huge success as nearly 1,000 of Silicon Valley’s brightest minds came to relax, connect and celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of the startup community — and cast a keen eye over some promising startups.

This year’s soiree takes place at Galvanize and features tasty libations, delicious hors d’oeuvres and engaging conversation. That sounds so very civilized, right? Well, don’t dry clean your stuffed shirt just yet, because we’ll have plenty of party games and activities, giveaways and fun surprises. And, of course, plenty of photo ops, baby!

Galvanize may be a multi-level venue, but the space is still limited — as are the tickets. We’re rolling them out in batches over the next few weeks, so keep checking back if you can’t snag a ticket. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter (if you don’t already) to stay up to date on the next release.

Here are the pertinent Winter Party details.

  • When: Friday, February 8, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Where: Galvanize, 44 Tehama St., San Francisco, CA 94105
  • Ticket price: $85

Here’s another great idea. Why just mingle and schmooze when you can mingle, schmooze and demo your early-stage startup in front of hundreds of the Valley’s top star-makers? Buy a demo table for $1,500 (the price also includes three attendee tickets). Demo tables are limited, so act now before other founders snatch ’em up.

Of course, no TechCrunch party is complete without plenty of awesome prizes, including TC swag and tickets to Disrupt San Francisco 2019, which takes place this October. Come on out for a great midwinter’s night of relaxed connection, fun and opportunity. Get your tickets to the 2nd Annual TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize today.

Here’s what you missed at Startup Battlefield Lagos

Yesterday TechCrunch held its first-ever event in Nigeria — our second in Sub-Saharan Africa. The day was packed with Battlefield presentations from 15 different startups from across the region, along with panels featuring some of Africa’s best known tech entrepreneurs and executives.

It was an incredible day and offered a fascinating peak into an absolutely vibrant tech community. For those unable to make the trek through the standstill Lagos traffic, have no fear. We’ve included footage from the day’s event below. And for those who were lucky enough to join, you can relive the highlights right here.

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Expats, Repats and Africans

Kwame Acheampong (Mall for Africa), Eleni Gabre-Madhin (blueMoon) and Lexi Novitske (Singularity Investments) discuss the ups and downs of the influence repatriates and outside investors exert on the African startup community

Fireside Chat with Funke Opeke

Main Street Technologies founder and Main One Cable Company CEO Funke Opeke has led the charge to bring broadband internet to West Africa. She discusses the role of entrepreneurship in helping to scale business.

Investing in African Startups

Kola Aina and other area investors discuss the lessons that can be learned from Silicon Valley VC and which aspects of the model don’t apply to the African tech ecosystem.

Blockchain’s Potential in Africa

Olugbenga Agboola (Flutterwave), Omolara Awoyemi (SureGroup) and Nichole Yembra (Greenhouse Capital) and Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi (SureRemit) discuss the impact crypto has had on the African tech community and the different ways blockchain technology can help build a broad cross section of different categories.

The Winner of Startup Battlefield

The winner of the event was M-SCAN from Uganda, which develops portable mobile ultrasound devices (Ultrasonic probes) that are laptop, tablet and mobile phone compatible. The judges were impressed with its scalability potential to make many other medical access devices affordable for Africa, where mother and infant mortality is unforgivably high.

Announcing the final batch of judges for Startup Battlefield Africa

Startup Battlefield Africa in Lagos, Nigeria, is coming up fast. As usual, we have a great lineup of panels that will include investors and founders discussing issues such as blockchain, raising venture capital on the continent and beyond and more.

And of course companies will compete in Startup Battlefield, our premier startup competition. Startup Battlefield consists of 15 teams competing in three preliminary rounds — five startups per round — which have only six minutes to pitch and present a live demo to a panel of expert technologists and VC investors. Five of the original 15 startups will be chosen to pitch a second time to a fresh set of judges. One startup will emerge the winner and receive a US$25,000 no-equity cash prize and win a trip for two to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time). The event is now sold out, but keep your eyes on TechCrunch for video of all the panels and the Battlefield competition.

And now to announce our next batch of judges who will be grilling the startups after their pitches. See you next week!


Jason Njoku, Iroko

Jason Njoku is the founder and CEO of Iroko, the home of Nollywood content. He has pioneered the African digital content market by bringing Nollywood (Nigerian cinema) to a global audience, and in the process has raised more than $40 million in investment from international VCs, including Tiger Global, Kinnevik, RISE Capital and Canal+.

In 2013, Njoku was crowned as the CNBC Africa West Africa Young Business Leader, and in 2014, he was recognized as one of Fast Company’s Top 1000 most Creative People in Business.

Dapo Olagunju, J.P. Morgan

Dapo Olagunju is head of West Africa at J.P. Morgan. In this capacity, he represents J.P. Morgan’s global platform to clients, regulators and other stakeholders in the region.

Prior to joining J.P. Morgan, he was a general manager at Access Bank Plc where he oversaw the financial markets division of the bank. He was a member of the bank’s Digital Council, which had overall responsibility for the bank’s digital strategy, approved partnership with fintech companies and monitored the implementation of digital initiatives. He was, at different times, a consultant on peacekeeping financing at the United Nations in New York and chief dealer at Investment Banking & Trust Company Limited (now Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, a member of the Standard Bank Group). He was also co-founder of 234Give.com — an online fundraising platform.

Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook

Konstantinos Papamiltiadis is the director of developer platforms and programs for Facebook, supporting the company’s product and platform strategy through partnerships with technology companies and programs for startups.

Prior to that he supervised product and engineering at Taptu (sold to Mediafed) a Cambridge, U.K.-based startup. Prior to Taptu, he led the Yahoo EMEA mobile product team. His team supervised the development and launch of mobile sites for Search, Mail and IM across Europe, as well as News, Sports and Finance for iPhone and Blackberry apps. Before joining Yahoo he was a product manager at Skype and Vodafone R&D.

Bosun Tijani, Co-Creation Hub

Bosun Tijani is the co-founder and CEO of Co-Creation Hub, a social innovation center based in Nigeria dedicated to accelerating the application of social capital and technology for economic prosperity. In pursuit of an active lifestyle, he also founded and serves as the CEO and founder of Truppr, an emerging fitness brand in Africa that connects users to fitness events across the world. In addition, he is a partner at Growth Capital, Nigeria’s first social innovation fund for high-potential, early-stage businesses.

He has more than 15 years of experience across public and private corporations, including Pera Innovation Network (U.K.), Hewlett Packard (EMEA) and International Trade Centre (UNCTAD/WTO), both in Geneva, Switzerland.

Fintech investors and founders to judge Startup Battlefield Africa

TechCrunch will soon be returning to Africa to hold its Startup Battlefield competition dedicated to the African continent.

The event, in Lagos, Nigeria, on December 11, will showcase the launch of 15 of the hottest startups in Africa onstage for the first time. We’ll also be joined by some of the leading investment firms in the region. The event is now sold out, but keep your eyes on TechCrunch for video of all the panels and the Battlefield competition.

Here are just some of the investors and founders who will be judging the startups competing for US$25,000.


Olugbenga Agboola, Flutterwave

Olugbenga Agboola is the CEO of Flutterwave, a payments technology company headquartered in San Francisco with operations and offices across Africa and Europe. Prior to co-founding Flutterwave, Olugbenga contributed to the development of fintech solutions at several tech companies and financial institutions such as PayPal and Standard Bank, among others. He is a serial entrepreneur with two successful exits under his belt. He is a software engineer with a Master’s Degree in Information Technology Security and Behavioral Engineering, as well as an MBA.

Barbara Iyayi, Element

Barbara Iyayi is the chief growth officer and managing director of Africa for Element, which deploys AI-powered mobile biometrics software to develop digital platforms globally. Barbara was part of the founding team of Atlas Mara, a London stock exchange-listed company, co-founded by Bob Diamond, ex-CEO of Barclays Bank, which was the first-ever entity to raise more than $1 billion to invest in, operate and manage financial institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. As the Regional Lead for M&A and Investments, she led investments into banks and developed the banking platform’s entry into seven countries in Africa. Notably, she led the acquisition and first-ever merger of two banks in Rwanda, to be the leading innovative retail bank — Banque Populaire du Rwanda — and led a $250 million equity investment in Union Bank of Nigeria.

Aaron Fu, MEST Africa

Aaron is an early-stage investor, entrepreneur and strategic advisor to both startups as they scale and corporates as they transform to gain agility for disruptive innovation. Over the last five years he has specifically focused on innovation in Africa, working with global brands and entrepreneurs across diverse industries, from financial services to health to mobile to agriculture.

As managing director at MEST, he is dedicated to training, investing in and incubating the next generation of global software entrepreneurs in Africa. He manages a portfolio of 30-plus startups spanning fintech, media, e-commerce and agritech. 

Sam Gichuru, Nailab

Sam Gichuru is founder and CEO of Nailab, one of Kenya’ s leading business incubators. His contribution in establishing the startup business ecosystem in Kenya, through Nailab, has been significant, and as a result was invited as a key speaker during the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, held in Nairobi and officiated by then U.S. President Barack Obama.

Sam has been instrumental in propagating the development of a strong and vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem, and it’s through this engagement that he was most recently selected by Jack Ma to lead, through Nailab, the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative, a $10 million Initiative that seeks to discover, spotlight and support 10 African entrepreneurs every year for the next 10 years.

Olufunbi Falayi, Savannah Fund


Olufunbi Falayi  is a partner at Passion Incubator, an early-stage technology incubator and accelerator that invests in early-stage startups. He co-led investment in 12 startups, including Riby, BeatDrone, AdsDirect, TradeBuza and Waracake. Olufunbi also a principal at Savannah Fund, driving investment in West Africa.

Want a free ticket to Startup Battlefield Africa 2018?

We’re entering the final days leading up to Startup Battlefield Africa 2018, which takes place on 11 December. We have our passports, we’re packing our bags and we can’t wait to arrive in Lagos, Nigeria to watch 15 of the continent’s best startups launch to the world.

Will you be there cheering the competitors and celebrating the richness of Africa’s growing startup scene? We’ve sold out of tickets to the day-long event, but — and this is great news — we set aside a limited quantity of tickets that we’re giving away for free. If you want one, act now and apply for a free ticket before they disappear.

Center stage of this day-long, action-packed event is, of course, our renowned pitch competition, Startup Battlefield. Out of hundreds of applications, we winnowed the field to 15 remarkable early-stage startups across Africa. Startup Battlefield consists of three preliminary rounds — five teams per round — followed by a final round.

Teams have only six minutes to pitch and demo their product to a panel of expert judges. After each pitch, the judges run the presenting founders through a gauntlet of tough questions. Up to five teams will move on to the finals to pitch and answer questions again.

One team will claim the Startup Battlefield Cup, along with US$25,000 in no-equity cash. Plus, the winning founders also win a trip for two and the opportunity to compete in Startup Battlefield at a TechCrunch Disrupt in 2019.

Between rounds, we have a slew of outstanding presentations and panelists scheduled to discuss the most pressing issues facing early-stage startups in the region. Check out the conference agenda, but some of the people you’ll hear and learn from include:

  • Omobola Johnson, a senior partner at TLcom Capital, is the former minister of communication technology for Nigeria. Her 25-year tenure at Accenture — as managing director — informs her expansive knowledge of startup investing.
  • Lexi Novitske, the principal investment officer for Singularity Investments, manages the firm’s Africa portfolio. She’s a proponent of understanding local complexities, modifying Western business attitudes and working with companies to ensure desired results.
  • Marième Diop, an investor at Orange Digital Ventures Africa, focuses on early-stage African startups, and she’ll be talking all about venture capital.
  • Shikoh Gitau, the head of product at Safaricom’s Alpha incubator, will share her perspective on the talent and innovation within Africa’s expanding startup landscape. She’ll also talk about repatriating entrepreneurs.

Come and join us in Lagos on 11 December. Experience Startup Battlefield Africa 2018, engage in world-class networking and spend a full day celebrating the awesome talent of the region’s startup community. All you need to do is apply for your free ticket right here.