Tech Tent: Meeting the mobile world

Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent
@BBCRoryCJon Twitter


This week's programme is all about the mobile phone industry and its restless hunt for innovative ideas to keep its customers spending. At a record-breaking Mobile World Congress, where over 100,000 visitors brought gridlock to Barcelona, we find one firm looking to its glorious past to spark interest in its future.

Image caption,
An updated version of the iconic phone was shown off at the mobile show

We hear some reasons to be excited about the next wave of mobile networks, and we meet the man behind the biggest craze ever seen in the mobile gaming world.

Nokia goes back to the future

When rumours first emerged that the Nokia 3310 might be coming back, I was sceptical. Having met the HMD Global team now attempting to reignite interest in the brand I couldn't believe they would want to make consumers look back rather than forwards.

And indeed their press conference in Barcelona was all about the new Android phones they were launching - until the very last minute when Arto Nummela, prompted by a choir singing "haven't you forgotten something", pulled the new 3310 device out of his pocket.

I'm still not convinced that a cheap phone that can't tweet or take a photo will revive Nokia - but I must now concede that it was a brilliant publicity stunt. It created a huge buzz around the press conference - especially for those of us who'd just drowsed through a Huawei event largely devoted to explaining why the green version of their new phone was "symbolic of new beginnings".

In terms of media coverage, it was by far the biggest story to come out of Mobile World Congress - now all Nokia's owners need to do is remind consumers that they have some new phones as well as an old one. Getting that message out could be hard after a week which must have left many thinking the Nokia 3310 rather than the Nokia 6 is the company's new flagship.

Image source, turk_stock_photographer
Image caption,
Futuristic phone technologies may not make mobile browsing faster, warn experts

5G hopes and fears

As I wrote earlier this week, the focus at this year's event was not really on phones but on the next phase of mobile networks. We discuss the potential of 5G with Intel's Aicha Evans who paints a picture of a connected world where driverless cars, connected homes and smart cities all rely on a superfast high capacity network. She reckons if all of those machines and objects tried to connect to 4G, the network would collapse - hence the need to move to the next generation.

On Tech Tent a few weeks ago we heard a rather different view from William Webb, an engineer and telecoms consultant who's written a book called the 5G Myth. He doesn't believe that there will be the huge flood of data from the Internet of Things which 5G backers are predicting - and he questions whether mobile operators will be keen to invest in the new networks.

That was also a view I heard expressed forcefully in Barcelona - although not in public where belief in 5G has now become an article of faith.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Pokemon Go was a huge hit in the weeks following its release

Meeting Mr Pokemon Go

I'd almost forgotten about Pokemon Go, the craze that swept the world last year. But I prepared for my interview with its creator John Hanke by hunting down a few Pokemon around the Mobile World Congress - and remembered what fun it had been.

I put it to Mr Hanke, whose software firm Niantic licensed the Pokemon characters from Nintendo, that the craze had faded. He agreed that it was no longer a subject that dominated social media but said the game was still doing very well.

What's more he believes it's changed our view of AR - augmented reality - where virtual objects are seen in the real world. We'd both tried an earlier example of AR in Google Glass - and agreed that it made you look a bit daft, setting the image of the technology back.

But using your smartphone camera to get a different view of the world seems a better bet.

Niantic is betting that AR is the next big thing for mobile technology, and will make a bigger impact in the short term than virtual reality.

Certainly there seemed to be fewer VR headsets at Mobile World Congress this year - perhaps that hype cycle has peaked, and another one is about to start.

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