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Coronavirus outbreak might ruin the biggest smartphone show of 2020

Published Feb 5th, 2020 9:26AM EST
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Image: Chris Smith, BGR

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As hard as they might fight it, Chinese authorities have yet to put a stop to the coronavirus epidemic. The virus first appeared in late December and needed only a month to infect more than 24,500 people from around the world, although only a couple of hundred cases have been registered outside of China. The disease, whose symptoms mimic the common flu, has killed nearly 500 patients so far, of which two deaths were registered outside of China. Researchers estimate that the disease is spreading at a much faster pace than previously believed and that there may be tens of thousands of infected people who are yet to be diagnosed.

The good news is that most people will recover following the infection, and a vaccine might prevent the future spread of the 2019-nCoV virus. However, it will take months to get us there, and the coronavirus won’t stop spreading in the meantime. In the process, the virus might ruin the world’s biggest mobile show, which is now less than three weeks away.

That’s the Mobile World Congress (MWC), which takes place in late February every year in Barcelona, Spain. Tens of thousands of officials from the leading companies in mobile storm Barcelona each year to unveil some of their latest products. MWC has been the traditional home of the Galaxy S series in the last few years, although Samsung will unveil the Galaxy S20 nearly two weeks before the event, just as it did with the Galaxy S10 last year. That’s because MWC can be that competitive. The Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Fold may have been announced a few days before MWC 2019 kicked off, but the Mate X foldable phone from Huawei was the talk of the town. 5G was also one of the stars of last year’s show, with various companies launching or demoing their first 5G devices.

Previous years brought us various other innovations that we take for granted on mobile phones these days, including the first all-screen phones, batteries that recharge super fast, mobile cameras that take awesome low-light photos, and camera tech capable of delivering massive optical zoom. Go further back in time and you’ll see the first 4G LTE phones in Barcelona, Spain. Or Samsung’s long-forgotten 5-inch iPod touch rival that foreshadowed the arrival of the Galaxy Note.

This year’s MWC edition might be significantly impacted by the coronavirus, however. In a matter of hours, two major smartphone makers confirmed they will not attend the show, including Chinese smartphone maker ZTE and Samsung’s biggest rival in Korea, LG. ZTE’s absence at MWC might be easily overlooked by some consumers, but LG’s decision is certainly surprising.

“With the safety of its employees and general public foremost in mind, LG has decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating in MWC 2020 later this month in Barcelona, Spain. This decision will prevent needlessly exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel, which most health experts have advised,” LG said in a press release. LG will hold separate events to unveil its 2020 products, the company said, without committing to any dates.

That said, it’s not as if we were expecting any big announcements from LG, considering the lack of leaks detailing LG’s future mobile devices. While LG might not even have a booth at the show, ZTE will have one.

China’s largest smartphone maker, meanwhile, will unveil the P40 flagship series in Paris, France this coming March, just like it did in previous years. The decision doesn’t have anything to do with the coronavirus, as Huawei confirmed it well before the virus became a global threat. However, Huawei is expected to unveil its next foldable phone at MWC, as well as other new devices. The company confirmed to Reuters that its MWC plans are still on, but things are “changing constantly.”

Separately, MWC organizer GSMA said on Tuesday that it has no plans to cancel the event even though LG pulled out of the congress. “We have spoken to LG and regret not to see them at this year’s MWC20 Barcelona,” a GSMA spokesperson told the same Reuters.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.