Best of the buzz

Best of the buzz
 

Best of the buzz

This year’s Mobile World Congress in February saw the industry making up for time lost over the previous two years of recession and doubt. The show was alive and kicking, with a great energy and a lot of news in all areas. Heather McLean went to Barcelona to report from the show floor, and this is a selection of the show highlights.

Mobile World Congress was buzzing this year, with device releases, growth in the nuts and bolts technologies holding up the networks, plus alliances, joint ventures and deals being announced left, right and centre.

On the device side of things, HTC had a frenzy of announcements. It débuted its first tablet, the HTC Flyer, plus five new smartphones and some new tricks for HTC Sense. The manufacturer announced the HTC Desire S, Wildfire S and Incredible S, plus two phones with Facebook integrated tightly with HTC Sense, the HTC ChaCha and Salsa, as well as the new Flyer.

Peter Chou, CEO at HTC, stated: “2010 was an amazing year for HTC and smartphone users around the world. In 2010 we sold 25 million handsets, our best year ever and more than double the previous year. We experienced 93% revenue growth and our brand awareness grew to 50%, when a year earlier it was 13%. That’s grown an incredible four times over the last 18 months. 2011 is also going to be an amazing year for HTC.”

 

Tablet time

Flyer, the first tablet with HTC Sense, has a seven inch screen, and sports a 1.5 gighertz processor, the fastest available in the world today. It weighs in neatly at 415g, less than an average paperback book, and has a not too bad six hour battery life. Flyer also has a 3D homescreen and supports high speed HSPA+ wireless capabilities, and web browsing with Flash 10 and HTML 5.

Flyer additionally comes with some interesting digital ink innovations, with a pen that uses touch interaction to enable writing on the screen, named HTC Scribe Technology. HTC Scribe Technology elevates regular notes taking into smart note making, by integrating into a new feature called Timemark which enables uses to capture the audio of a meeting along with written notes and pictures, so tapping on a word in saved notes instantly takes the user also to the audio recording of the meeting. Notes are also integrated with the calendar.

Alongside the announcement of Flyer, HTC released new updates for HTC Sense. HTC Watch is a new connected video service that will debut on Flyer, and the firm will collaborate with OnLive, to launch the first cloud-based mobile gaming service on a tablet. HTC Flyer will be available to customers globally during Q2 2011.

Research In Motion (RIM) was also in on the tablet action. It announced plans to launch two additional BlackBerry 4G PlayBook tablets during the second half of 2011, featuring support for LTE and HSPA+ high speed wide area wireless networks.

“The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is already being widely recognised for its superior performance, rich web experience, enterprise readiness and deep support for web standards and open development tools. We are now building on the BlackBerry PlayBook’s many advantages with support for additional 4G networks that will allow enhanced business opportunities for carriers and developers and unparalleled mobile experiences for users,” said Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO at RIM.

RIM’s family of upcoming BlackBerry 4G PlayBook tablets will deliver professional grade, consumer friendly experiences that redefine the possibilities of mobile computing. These tablets will each provide users with an ultra-portable design featuring industry leading performance with real time multitasking and symmetrical multiprocessing, high fidelity web browsing including support for Adobe Flash and stunning HD multimedia, as well as advanced security features and out-of-the-box enterprise support.

Orange also announced the launch of a tablet, under its own brand. The seven inch Android device is now available in four markets – Spain, Poland, Slovakia and Romania – and is aimed at lowering the entry level cost for tablet computing. Orange also stated the device is broadening its portfolio of tablet devices, which currently includes Apple’s iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

With Android 2.1 and 3G plus Edge connectivity, the Orange tablet offers portable, touchscreen computing at a competitive price, the company claimed.

Yves Maitre, senior vice president, group devices and mobile multimedia for Orange, said: “Tablet computing is an extremely popular and growing segment of the consumer technology market and we want to offer our customers the best possible choice of device to suit all budgets and requirements. By providing the widest choice of seven and ten inch touchscreen tablets, Orange is providing new ways to access the content and services our customers want. We will continue to expand our tablet and smartphone portfolio throughout 2011.”

 
Phones
 

Phones, phones and more phones

Chinese manufacturer, ZTE, unveiled its flagship Android smartphone and also spoke about its new strategy that it reckons will help drive its smartphone shipments to around 10 million units in 2011, from two million in 2010. The ZTE Skate is the latest smartphone in ZTE’s Android range and is based on version 2.3 of the mobile OS. It is expected to be available in most global markets in May 2011.

And Samsung announced the Samsung Wave 578 at the show. The new bada handset is equipped with near field communications (NFC) connectivity, sleek, user friendly design, and runs on bada, Samsung’s own smartphone platform.

Simon Stanford, managing director, mobile, Samsung UK and Ireland said: “The Samsung Wave 578 handset combines sleek design with fantastic features, including super quick WiFi connectivity and NFC, on a really user friendly device. This handset enhances our expanding bada platform portfolio.”

Samsung Wave 578 features NFC, a technology that makes many innovative services possible such as mobile payment at shops, paying transport fares, reading tags and getting mobile coupons, direct on the handset. The

Samsung Wave 578 also has the fast connectivity around with WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, and USB 2.0, for fast data rates and easy information sharing.

 

App before the network?

This year App World took up an entire, very packed, hall. This was balanced out by a huge number of conversation taking place about the evolving networks, the arrival of LTE, the need for more femtocells to support that evolution, and the problems and complications that the whole shebang brings with it.

Steve Gleave, VP marketing at Metaswitch Networks, which enables operators to protect revenues in the face of over the top (OTT) competition, said: “Mobile World Congress is very exciting this year, showing that the industry-wide migration to LTE mobile networks is already underway and set to create SIP-based infrastructures at ten times the scale and complexity of anything currently in operation.

“Obviously a lot of buzz at the event is around apps, which could be a missed opportunity for operators who believe their future is simply in selling data bandwidth to facilitate those apps. Continual incursions from OTT players have seen mobile operators lose out on revenue, margins and mindshare. We believe operators can better empower themselves, and use the power of their networks to better effect. Ultimately, that means planning for new revenue generating applications that add a different dimension to the enterprise and consumer voice call experience.”

While Andrew Mennie, general manager of eGain EMEA, a provider of customer service and contact centre software, commented: “The importance of the customer experience has risen through the ranks of mobile operator priorities this year. So, it’s no surprise that the customer, and their demand for quality mobile experiences, has been prominent across every corner of MWC.

Mennie added: “However, all these apps designed to make life easier, more enjoyable and more connected for the consumer and the countless smartphone and tablet launches, all have to be supported by the operator, and all add complexity to the service operations of telcos today.”

 

Mobile money

Talking of NFC, there was a lot of interest around mobile payments, from using simple barcodes on the mobile for new ticketing solutions, as demonstrated by Masabi, which builds secure, user friendly mobile ticketing software for everyday mobile phones with itsTicket Machine in your Pocket app that allows travellers to select, purchase and display tickets for transport on their mobile phone, to NFC.

From what was said at the show, NFC is one of those high end technologies that needs a bit more work on the business case before it can really stretch its legs in the marketplace, even though there have been several announcements of it being embedded in handsets, such as Samsung’s Wave 578 and rumours of it getting onto the next iPhone due out this summer.

Research was released at the show by Accenture, showing that no matter what technology was behind a mobile payment service, there is already rising interest to use mobile payments from the early user, high end consumer. The research stated that nearly half (45%) of the most active mobile device users would welcome the opportunity to pay for goods and services using their mobile phone, despite the fact that 73% expressed significant privacy and identity theft concerns.

Altogether, 70% said that mobile phone payments increase the risk of identity theft and fraud. Regardless of these concerns, 62% of consumers surveyed who typically use a credit card for non-telco-related monthly payments said they would use their mobile phone to pay their bill, if they were to receive a 20% discount.

Consumers in Asia were the most enthusiastic about mobile commerce. Overall, 69% of survey respondents in Asia indicated they favoured using mobile phones for most payments, led by Chinese consumers (76%) and India (75%, followed by Korea (56%) and Japan (47%).

Outside of Asia, the next highest positive response was in Brazil, where 70% of consumers favoured using mobile phones for most payments. In the US and Europe, combined, however, only 26% of respondents were interested in using mobile phones for most payments.

When survey participants were asked if they had used a mobile phone to make purchases in the past six months, nearly half (47%) of tech forward consumers in China indicated they had, followed by Korea (42%) and Japan (33%).

Depending on the geographic region, tech forwards are also in the early stages of using barcode or NFC technology to interact with their shopping environment. In Asia, 38% of consumers surveyed had scanned a product’s barcode while shopping to get additional information; 36% had displayed a digital ticket for admission to an event or to board a flight; and 31% had purchased an item or received a coupon from a ‘smart poster’ containing an electronic tag or barcode.

 

Getting energized

Avenir was present at the show, the only representative of the UK mobile distributors. The company had a several announcements, including a new range of accessories called ‘Rebecca Bonbon’ designed by the woman behind Hello Kitty, Yuko Shimizu, with a cute French Bulldog character.

Avenir’s major announcement focused on a new range of High Tech Energizer chargers for mobile devices. At 40% smaller than the current range, the new Energizer High Tech variety includes a assortment of styles including a charger that can be used in a cigarette lighter plug-in, a 2 in 1 USB for tablets, mobile phones, GPS, MP3s and game consoles and a 3 in 1 charger + USB cable + car charger pack.

It also added new Energizer laptop chargers to the existing range that measure only 16mm deep, making them easy to transport, and announced that its BeeWi Mini Cooper S toy controlled by your Android phone, which was announced last year, is now compatible with iPhone the range will soon include a helicopter. BeeWi also presented a wider range of headsets and Bluetooth stereo speakers including the new BBH210 foldable headphones.

Stuart Balaam, Avenir’s sales director for accessories, commented: “There is a buzz about the place this year, it’s exciting. We have created a unique place for ourselves in the marketplace with accessories, which gives us a point of differentiation. There’s obviously a major benefit to us being the only UK mobile distie out here; it makes us a focal point and gives us added credibility. UK retailers are starting to understand who Avenir is, whereas before maybe they didn’t know we were part of such a large group.”

 

Much to write, little time

In summary, this year’s show was so packed with news, I would need weeks to write up the stories, meetings, conversations and ideas I have seen and heard over the four days of the event. Overall, based on the vibe in Barcelona, I can say that 2011 is going to be a great, very exciting year for the mobile industry and all that work within this massive ecosystem. After two quietish years, the show is definitely back on the road, all systems are go, and money is changing hands to make it all work. Hold on tight!
 
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