bbc.co.uk Navigation

Rory Cellan-Jones

Going mobile in Barcelona

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 16 Feb 09, 09:02 GMT

mobile phonesIf you fancy a couple of days in Barcelona right now, my advice is to forget it. The flights are full, a hotel room will cost you a fortune, and the place is full of geeky types talking a strange language - LTE, MVNO, HSPA - and pointing excitedly at the tiny screens in their hands.

This is the week the Mobile World Congress comes to town, and the thousands gathered here are even less interested than normal in the glories of Gaudi, or a ramble down the Ramblas. For only the second time in its history the mobile industry is bracing itself for a year of contraction, with handsets sales forecast to drop.

But that doesn't mean that innovation has come to a halt - quite the opposite, with everyone even more desperate to prove that their handset or service can really bring something new to the table. So what are we hoping to see? Here's what's on my list:

Handsets

It seems using a mobile just to make a call is now very old hat, so expect more all-singing all-dancing phones-that-think-they're-computers. Sony Ericsson jumped the gun last night, with a phone combining a Walkman with an 8.1-megapixel camera, but Samsung may trump that with a phone which shoots video in HD (er, why?). There will be yet more touchscreen iPhone lookalikes - I'm interested in getting a look at Nokia's N97 and the Palm Pre which I've heard are the best efforts yet at knocking Apple from its smartphone perch. Energy efficiency is another theme, with a couple of solar-powered handsets on display. And at long last we may see a second Android phone based on Google's software platform - T-Mobile's G1 has had the field to itself so far. At the other end of the complexity spectrum, there is even wild talk of a Lego phone, which must be some kind of retro joke aimed at the yuppies who wielded those "brick" phones in the '80s.

Software

Now that just about every phone is a smartphone, it is the software that is becoming the differentiating factor. I spent yesterday evening at a preview event for some of the smaller exhibitors and just about every one seemed to be in software, not hardware. Turning voice messages into text may be one theme - Britain's Spinvox may see itself undercut by others doing a similar job at a lower price. Location-based services are another - but then again, the mobile industry has been selling the idea of arranging your social life via a mobile Google map for years, and I've sill not met anyone who does it.

As the High Street closes down, a whole new range of shops is opening up in the internet cloud, with Microsoft and others rushing to imitate Apple's iPhone Apps Store. Expect a flood of hopeful developers promising to turn your Nokia or your Windows Mobile into a musical instrument or a games arcade.

Mobile Money

No, not just the outlandish amounts of cash your operator charges you to surf the web whenever you leave the country, but the use of mobiles as "digital wallets", allowing users to pay for small items without cash. This has been a long time coming, but as we report elsewhere on this site, the convergence of two technologies - contactless cards and advanced mobile phones - could now spark a revolution in the way we pay. It's already happening in developing countries, where many people without bank accounts are now using phones to transfer money - I'll be looking out for more signs of the spread of mobile money.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Mobile Broadband

If 2008 was the year of the dongle, expect a whole lot more progress on the mobile broadband front this year. I've already met one firm selling a device which takes a 3g signal and turns it into a portable wi-fi hotspot that you can share amongst a number of users in the home, the office - even in the car. But we're now moving beyond 3g to much faster networks, and Barcelona will be the scene for a battle between two rival technologies - LTE and WiMax - the backers of which believe that they provide the answer to the wireless broadband future.

There - in just one sentence I've used enough mobile industry jargon to convince anyone to steer clear of Barcelona this week. But I will try to decipher what they're talking about in the halls of the Mobile World Congress and pass on a translation to you.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Just watched your filmed report. So... running applications on a smartphone is thanks to Apple and the iPhone? That's a very interesting re-writing of history. I must be imagining all those apps I've been running on Nokia, Sendo, and Ericsson handsets for YEARS.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    yep, lets be honest, the majority of apps available for the iphone are gimmicky novelty use for a week and forget programs.

    similar to the iphone itself, really......

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    @ greenstarthree:

    well said

  • Comment number 6.

    Whilst I'm not a luddite when it comes to mobiles, I hope that mobile manufacturers (and software providers) don't forget the key thing -- it's useless if it doesn't work or keeps crashing!

    As most phones in the market have everything I want, I base my choice on which mobile model to get on the number of complaints of problems that users report on various sites.

  • Comment number 7.

    Did any of the manufacturers market any of their new phones on their stability and reliability? I guess not. Whilst we shouldn't live in a world where that needs to be taken into account (i.e. that almost all models were reliable) the sad truth is that it's now the exception rather than the rule.

  • Comment number 8.

    Apple are responsible for developing the centralised handset accessible consumer marketplace. No-one can deny that.

    However, as others have pointed out, applications have been available for years on smartphones and Nokia have had Download! and N-Gage integrated for quite some time. It was also inevitable that Nokia, MS and others would add this service as it's clearly the most effective distribution model.

    I guess sites like Handango are facing a fairly grim outlook because of this.

  • Comment number 9.

    others may have had applications for years but the iphone made them easy to access to those, like me, who are not digital natives.

  • Comment number 10.

    I am not sure what is special about "a device which takes a 3g signal and turns it into a portable wi-fi hotspot". I've had one since mid-2007: the D-Link DIR-451 router takes a Sierra Wireless 3G card, and delivers 802.11G, 4 LAN ports, and even a printer port.. It takes 12-24VDC, and so can be used on a power supply as well as in a vehicle.

  • Comment number 11.

    http://www.three.co.uk/Mobile_Broadband/Huawei_D100_Router

    Re: 'I've already met one firm selling a device which takes a 3g signal and turns it into a portable wi-fi hotspot that you can share amongst a number of users'

  • Comment number 12.

    I was interested in your comments about Spinvox may see itself being undercut by other companies doing a similar job as there already is a company in the UK doing just that called VoxSciences.

  • Comment number 13.

    I just saw the report.

    On the one hand i'm rather disappointed that the report overlooked the fact that branhds like Nokia, Sony Ericsson and others have been offering application downloads on their smartphones for years.

    However, on the other hand it is perhaps a true representative of the view of the average users of smartphones today. The fact that they are not aware of downloadable applications on mobile phones before the iPhone, shows the faliure of the giants like Nokia and Micorsoft in making the common user aware of the true power of the smartphones they have been buying all these years. It is a failure on their part to take advantage of the head-start they had in this area, which they have now foregone to Apple.

    At the same time it shows the true genius of Apple for making the common user aware of downloadable applications on the iPhone, and making it one of the 'killer apps' of the iPhone.

  • Comment number 14.

    re: HD video cameras on mobiles. I original thought - that's bonkers, but I have a prototype on my desk that plays back HD video direct to a TV. And it looks great.

    I can play back video recorded by the camera, or downloaded to memory card (e.g. Movies). via the HDMI connector or on the phones LCD (and remember that current->next gen phone LCDs are greater resolution that SD tv already).

    Great fun. I would expect all major phone manufacturers to have HD record/output within the next 12 months.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

BBC.co.uk