Mobile World Congress 2009 resulted in a deluge of news, from a plethora of app stores being announced, to buzz around the Android operating system and the Symbian Foundation, to social networking themes, plus more handset releases and new manufacturing companies entering the market place than seems sensible given today’s economy. Here, Heather McLean provides a run down on what stood out in Barcelona for her.

If you have never attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, it can be

hard to get your head round the sheer size of the show. The GSMA reported that this year’s four day event was attended by a total of 47,000 visitors, exhibitors and press. Many of the world’s mobile reporters were there to cover the event, with around 2,400 journalists in attendance – including me.

Hot topics

Three main themes struck me at this year’s Mobile World Congress. These were the idea of social networking on the handset; everyone, including O2, the Symbian Foundation, Sony Ericsson, INQ, RIM and Shazam mentioned this aspect in one way or another.

The second theme was open source, again with the Symbian Foundation, plus LiMo and most obsessively, Android, being the hottest topic.

And finally, application stores; there were announcements from everyone and conversations going on everywhere about up and coming or recently launched app stores, including from RIM, Nokia, O2, Microsoft and Orange. Even though Apple didn’t bother to make an appearance at the show, it has certainly shaken things up and led the way. Now, however, the iPhone is looking a little passé compared to the huge number of high quality, innovative handsets launched in Barcelona.


New manufacturers

Undaunted by the news that there’s officially a recession going on, Mobile World Congress saw several new mobile handset manufacturers announcing new ranges.

The one that really caught my eye was the Garmin-Asus collaboration. There were two good quality devices on show that both felt good in the hand and showed simple and intuitive usability, plus with the focus on navigation, something unique that will help them stand out in the marketplace.

The first device, the Linux-based G60, was built by Garmin itself prior to getting in bed with Asus. Its release date is still under wraps. The second device, shown for the first time at the show, the nüvifone M20 which runs on Windows Mobile 6.1, will be out later.

Hyundai Mobile made a strong bid for attention at the show with a wide range of feature phones designed for the very low end of the market, through to the top of the range with the new Dolphin device. This company made an impression partly because of its well known brand, so it was interesting to take a look and see what was on show and have a good chat with the charismatic Graham Jelfs.

On Monday evening at the show I attended the launch of Acer into the smartphone market at the stunning Casa Batlló, by Gaudi. The night started off brilliantly with a packed crowd, flowing cava, and interesting canapés. The evening took a turn for the worst when the bar shut and a two hour presentation commenced, focusing on Acer in the netbook and laptop business. Not very cunning when all the waiting journalists wanted to see was the new range. However, the five handsets look and feel quite nice. It will be interesting to see how, indeed if, this company manages to compete against the extremely strong competition in this space.

Also present was GSmart, with its brand of Windows devices, manufactured by Giga-Byte in Taiwan. The company, which is distributed in the UK by Stytec Distribution, launched the GSmart S1200 Windows Mobile powered device at the show, but its message was somewhat lost in the deluge of other handset news.


Handset city

There were many green topics of conversation, including a debut of LG’s first solar powered handset, as yet un-named and unavailable, to accompany the company’s HSB500 solar powered Bluetooth car kit that is out and available. And there was also Samsung’s version with a solar panel being displayed, alongside a number of announcements from the company including an exciting new version of the Omnia, the Omnia HD, which is Samsung’s first Symbian full touch handset.

Sony Ericsson announced Entertainment Unlimited, which, over a conversation with new managing director for the company in UK and Ireland, Nathan Vautier, I learnt all about. With its Cybershot and Walkman ranges doing really well, the company has created Entertainment Unlimited as a third range that will combine the best elements of both of the former ranges, while increasing aspects such as social networking and networking in general, focusing on letting the mobile work with other products such as PS3’s and high-fi’s. This will launch towards the end of 2009 on new handset, the Idou. In the meantime, we can play with the genetic link between the existing ranges and the Idou, the Walkman W995, to be released in June.

Vodafone stated it would be releasing its own brand range for the first time, from a 3G range with the Vodafone 835, a consumer 3G mobile phone with builtin GPS made specifically for the Vodafone Find and Go navigation application, down to the 2G candy bar style Vodafone 135. The whole range will be out later this Spring.


Open source

Creating a huge buzz of excitement was Vodafone again, when it announced it and HTC would be launching the HTC Magic, the second Android phone to come to market. We can expect it in stores towards the end of Spring. More Android-based handsets were expected in the run up to the show, but when it came to the crunch this device was the only one to make an appearance. All the more publicity for HTC, as this is a lovely looking device.

The LiMo Foundation, an industry consortium, announced its open source platform would be making an appearance on some handsets coming out, showcasing several on its stand at the show, including some from LG and Samsung. Another handful from NEC and Panasonic will be for sale in the Japanese market rather than over here.

Talking of open source, the Symbian Foundation made its public debut with a funky new brand and an update on where it’s at so far. The Foundation is currently recruiting staff and is already pulling together the Symbian code lines to be made available to members on Symbian Day One, due in Q2. After that, it intends to take over the world; better let Android and Microsoft know…

Also, the Foundation gained one unusual member in the form of Qualcomm (Nokia owns Symbian which is now the Symbian Foundation, and Nokia has been the arch enemy of Qualcomm for some time). Strange but true. Also for Qualcomm, maybe the most interesting piece of news in the whole show. After years of spats and lawsuits over intellectual property with Nokia, the pair shook hands and are now officially friends. Not only that, they are working together to create advanced 3G and 4G devices, based on Symbian S60 and Qualcomm’s chips, aimed initially at the US for release in mid 2010. This means Nokia will be able to provide HSPA and LTE on the same chipset.

So, it was a busy and tiring but extremely valuable show to attend. Can’t wait till next year!

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