Tag Archives: mobile world congress

Your favourite article on The Register, and what that says about technology and the media

I’m at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and meeting people new to me who say, “who do you write for”? I’ve been struck by several separate occasions when people say, after I mention The Register, “Oh yes, I loved that Apple article”.

The piece they mean (not one of mine), is this one by Kieren McCarthy. It recounts the Reg’s efforts to attend the iPhone 7 launch; or more precisely, efforts to get Apple PR to admit that the Reg is on a “don’t invite” list and would not be able to attend.


Why does everyone remember this piece? In short, because it is a breath of reality in a world of hype.

The piece also exposes hidden pressures that influence tech media. There are more people working in PR than in journalism, as I recall, and it is their job to attempt to manage media coverage in order to get it to reflect as closely as possible the messaging that that their customers, the tech companies, wish to put out.

Small tech companies and start-ups struggle to get any coverage and welcome almost any press interest. The giants though are in a more privileged position, none more so than Apple, for whom public interest in its news is intense. This means it can select who gets to attend its events and naturally chooses those it thinks will give the most on-message coverage.

I do not mean to imply that those favoured journalists are biased. I believe most people write what they really think. Still, consciously or unconsciously they know that if they drift too far from the vendor’s preferred account they might not get invited next time round, which is probably a bad career move.

Apple is in a class of its own, but you see similar pressures to a lesser extent with other big companies.

Another thing I’ve noticed over years of attending technology events is that the opportunities for open questioning of the most senior executives have diminished. They would rather have communication specialists answer the questions, and stay behind closed doors or give scripted presentations from a stage.

Here in Barcelona I’ve discovered the Placa de George Orwell for the first time:


Orwell knew as well as anyone the power of the media, even though he almost certainly did not say what is now often attributed to him, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

Still, as I move into a series of carefully-crafted presentations it is a thought worth keeping in front of mind.

Finally, let me note that I have never worked full-time for The Register though I have written a fair amount there over the years (the headlines by the way are usually not written by me). The more scurrilous aspect of some Reg pieces is not really me, but I absolutely identify with The Register’s willingness to allow writers to say what they think without worrying about what the vendor will think. 

Blackberry KEYone launches: but we have moved on from keyboard phones

First up at Mobile World Congress is the launch of TCL’s Blackberry smartphone. TCL is a Chinese manufacturer with headquarters in Hong Kong, and has licensed the Blackberry brand. TCL also markets smartphones under its own name and as Alcatel OneTouch.


The KEYone runs Android 7.1 “Nougat” but with a couple of distinctive features. The most obvious is the full QWERTY keyboard, though this one has extra features including gesture support, flick typing (suggested words appear as you type with one-key shortcuts), and the ability to make up to 52 keyboard shortcuts to launch applications. The spacebar doubles as a fingerprint sensor.

The other special feature is hardware-based security, based on Blackberry root of trust technology. There is also a DTEK app which monitors security and adds malware protection.

TCL says it is “the world’s most secure Android experience” though note that alternatives like Samsung’s Knox technology are also hardware based.

None of the other mainstream smartphones have physical QWERTY keyboards though. However there may be a good reason for that. I am a fan of keyboards; I am a touch typist and the keyboard is one of the things which ties me to laptops or external keyboards; I can do without a mouse, but a keyboard is hard to live without.

That said, thumb-size QWERTY keyboards miss the point somewhat, in that you cannot touch type. I suggest also that the advent of swipe-style predictive keyboards has largely removed whatever advantage these little keyboards once had. Swiping only works on a touch keyboard, and is now very effective.

The downside of a real keyboard is that you get a smaller screen.

Still, there will be some users who find a physical keyboard reassuringly familiar and the shortcut feature could be useful.

The KEYone will be available from April 2017 at around €599/£499/$549.

Quick hardware specs:

  • 4.5-inch display (1620×1080 resolution/434 PPI )
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chipset with Adreno 506 GPU.
  • 3505 mAh battery
  • 12MP rear camera with Sony IMX378 sensor.
  • 8MP front camera with fixed focus and 84-degree wide angle lens.
  • 3GB RAM and 32GB storage
  • Micro SD slot

More information here.

Wearables or swearables? Mobile World Congress panel raises the questions but not the answers

An event called Wearable Wednesday, which took place last night at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, promised to explain the “State of the Wearable Economy”; but anyone hoping to better understand the economics of wearables after the event would have been largely disappointed – the closest it came was a statement by an Intel spokesperson that the number of connected devices is growing by 300% per year – but it was a fun and thought-provoking event nevertheless.


The event was organized by Redg Snodgrass of Wearable World and featured some product pitches and a panel discussion. 

Raimo Van der Klein from GlassEffect, which offers apps and services for Google Glass, talked about contactless payments using Glass and showed a video in which a payment (using Bitcoin) is confirmed with a nod of the head. It sounds dangerously easy, but he went on to explain that you also have to read a QR code and make a voice command: still hands-free, but veering towards being too complex.

Despite wearable technology being cutting-edge and with obvious huge potential, the panel discussion was somewhat downbeat. Wearable technology lacks a killer app, we heard. Sonny Vu, founder of Misfit, emphasised that wearable technology has to be “either beautiful or invisible”, with both characteristics rare today. Wearables look like they are designed by engineers for engineers, he said.

That is a fair description of Google Glass, which seems to me more of a prototype than a product, fascinating though it is. One speaker declared that his wife will not let him wear Google Glass “because you look really stupid”. Add to that the unsettling “you are spying on me” effect that Glass has on others, and you get something that is less than attractive to most people.

Other issues discussed were power, with agreement that having to charge a device every few days is hopeless for something you are expected to wear all the time,  and fragmentation; there is no standard wearable platform.

Journalist Ina Fried who moderated the panel posed the question: is the future of wearables in low-power sensors, which talk to your smartphone where the intelligence resides,  or smart devices (some with displays) that do more but suffer from high power requirements?

In discussion with Vu afterwards he observed that the wearable technology that is already proven to be big business is the watch. Watches are proven and attractive devices that we use constantly. Someone asked me, why bother with a watch when you have a smartphone; but there are good reasons we still wear watches, including hands-free access, security (much harder to grab a watch than a phone) and instant results.

You can therefore see the logic behind smart watches: take something we use already and extend it. Unfortunately it is easy to make the watch concept worse rather than better, by adding complexity or the burden of constant recharging.

Another big theme is fitness sensors, and here at Mobile World Congress they are everywhere (Sony’s SmartBand and Samsung’s Gear Fit are two examples from big players). Is the public as fitness-obsessed as these companies hope? That is unknown, but it seems likely that health monitoring via wearable sensors will only increase. Questions raised include who owns the resulting data, how we can prevent it being used in ways we dislike (such as raising health insurance premiums if you have “bad” results), and whether it will breed hypochondria. Doctor, my heart rate is up a bit …

Privacy tends not to be a theme at this kind of event. “In a couple of years you will have the camera on continuously” enthused Snodgrass. As ever, the technology is there before we have learned what is appropriate usage or how it should be regulated, if at all.

Farewell to Mobile World Congress at the Fira Montjuïc Barcelona

Mobile World Congress 2012 is over, and while the event will remain in Barcelona next year and for the foreseeable future, this was the last to take place at the Fira Montjuic in the centre of the city. Next year’s event will be at the Fira Gran Via, a modern venue with 240,000 m2 of floor space, four times more space that at Montjuic. 

It is needed; this year’s MWC was over-crowded, with every inch of the site taken up by stands and so many people that it was difficult to get from one hall to another. Nevertheless I am sorry it is moving, since the Fira Montjuic is a romantic venue that pleasantly contrasted the technical content.



That said, no doubt many unofficial events will still take place in the old part of Barcelona, like Huawei’s Device Night, spotted on the way back from another event. I have no idea why these people are in costume, or what Huawei mobile devices have to do with the Passion of Sailing.


Images from Mobile World Congress – Huawei’s SmartPhone horse, a Lego robot that collects trash

There are some striking artifacts at Mobile World Congress this year. One is Huawei’s winged horse which stands proudly above one of the fountains.


It is made of smartphones, as this close up of a leg shows.


Impressive, though it is an expensive way to make a statue and I cannot help being reminded of the anti-capitalist protestors at the gate. Perhaps these are factory rejects.

Another amusing piece is this Lego robot which collects trash and drops it in the bin.


Unfortunately I cannot remember what this is promoting!

The mobile app ecosystem before Apple – was it really this bad?

For some time I have been meaning to post about a talk I heard at Mobile World Congress, by Rovio (Angry Birds) CEO Mikael Hed. What interested me about this talk was not so much the Angry Birds app itself – now downloaded over 75 million times – but rather Hed’s thoughtful perspective on what it is like to be a software company in the App era. “It’s been a year of transformation not only for us but for the whole industry,” he told us.


Hed started his talk by describing life as a mobile games developer before Apple launched the iPhone in 2007. Rovio was founded in 2003, and did 51 titles before Angry Birds, encompassing “every type of game,” he said.

Before the iPhone came along we were on feature phones only. That market was completely different from the iPhone market today. Looking back on it, it’s a small miracle that there were any game companies in that ecosystem.

Why? Several reasons.

In order to have a game commercially available on a feature phone, you would have to make that game, and make probably nine other strong games in order to be interesting to the carriers. And the carriers would only take your game if you could support all the handsets that their customers had. That meant hundreds of handsets.

Dealing with the carriers was a huge headache.

You would have to make an agreement with each carrier in each country, and you had to have an all-day sales team working for you to do any business at all. It was really expensive.

After all that, the revenue share and payment system was loaded against you.

All operators would take more than half of the revenue that you would make, and then pay you a long time after your game is out. They would report quarterly, and once you get the report you send them an invoice, then they have ninety days to pay. So if by some miracle you manage to get your game onto their devices , the earliest time you would see your money would be six months later.

The system was poor for consumers too.

It was also very difficult for consumers to find these games. It varied a lot across the different carriers, how you find the games. You might have to send an SMS somewhere and get a link back, click on that, download the game, and then hope that the game would actually run on your device; and probably at the end even if you had the latest and greatest phone it was made for the lowest common denominator so it would not use any of the nice features of your phone. So you would get a poor experience, if it worked at all. That was the past ecosystem.

Ouch. Was it really that bad?

The immediate conclusion is that while Apple’s closed and dictatorial iOS ecosystem has drawbacks, it is at least one that works, whereas what existed before was badly broken.

So how are things for app developers now, in the Apple era? Look out for a follow-up post soon. And by the way, it is still by no means easy.

The LG Optimus 3D is amazing

Today I got to see the LG Optimus 3D here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I was impressed. Of course I cannot really capture it in a pic; but here it is anyway.


It really is 3D, which is amazing after a lifetime of 2D screens, and with no spectacles required.

The trick is that there are two screen images. When you look at the screen, your right eye gets a slightly different angle on the screen than your left eye. The technology uses that different angle to deliver a different image to each eye. At least, this is how it was explained to me.

There is also a dual-lens camera so you can take your own 3D pics and videos. The Optimus 3D has a 1GHz OMAP4 dual-core processor, and HDMI output for connection to high resolution external displays.

3D is cool and makes for some immersive games. But how much extra will customers be willing to pay for 3D on a Smartphone? Interesting question.

HTC’s new Android tablet has a stylus

A big surprise here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona: HTC’s new tablet, the HTC Flyer, comes with a stylus. “People can rediscover the natural act of writing,” says the press release.

My first reaction is that this a mistake. I have had tablets with pens before, and while I like the ability to take notes, I also find the pen a nuisance. They are awkward in confined spaces like an economy seat in an aeroplane, and expensive to lose. HTC’s pen is battery powered, so I suppose you could also have the annoyance of a pen that runs out of juice. HTC’s stylus does not clip into a bay on the device, but does have a dedicated pocket in the case.


On the plus side, you can write, draw and annotate content using the pen, which has a variety of settings for colour and tip. For some tasks, a pen is the ideal implement.


The device does have other attractions. The pre-release devices have Android 2.4, but HTC says it may well run Android 3.0 “Honeycomb”, which is designed for tablets, by the time it is launched in Q2 2011 or soon after. It has a 1.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset; 7” screen; 1024 x 600 resolution; 1GB RAM and 32GB storage, expandable with micro SD cards. Battery is said provide 4 hours of video playback, which sounds less than ideal. HTC will also offer a video download service “HTC Watch”.

A feature which will be familiar to OneNote users is called Timemark. This lets you take notes which synch to an audio recording, so tapping a word in your notes takes you to that point in the audio. Notes also synchronize with Evernote, a cloud-based note synchronization service.

Nokia’s Elop fears mobile duopoly, but it is already here

It is day two of Mobile World Congress here in Barcelona; and everyone is pondering the implications of Nokia’s Windows Phone partnership with Microsoft. It is a pivotal moment for the industry, but not necessarily in the sense that the two partners hope.

Let me state the obvious for a moment. This is not good for Nokia, though it might be “the least bad of all the poor choices facing Nokia”, as Mikael Hed of Rovio (Angry Birds) put it yesterday. Nokia has huge market share, but it was already falling sharply, as these figures from late last year illustrate. Nokia’s total market share declined from 36.7% in Q3 2009 to 28.2% in Q3 2010; and its Smartphone (Symbian) share from 44.6% to 36.6%. These are still big numbers, but will inevitably decline further.

Following last week’s announcement, though, Nokia will transition from a company which formerly commanded its own destiny with Symbian, to one that is an OEM for Microsoft. The savings will be substantial, as CEO Stephen Elop noted at the press event here on Sunday evening, but it is a lesser role.

Why has Nokia turned to Microsoft? It is not a matter of Microsoft planting its own man in Nokia in a desperate effort to win market share. On Sunday Elop said he was no trojan horse, and also laid to rest rumours that he is conflicted thanks to a large Microsoft shareholding; he is selling as fast as the law allows, he said, and his shareholding was nowhere close to what was alleged in any case.

Rather, the Nokia board brought Elop in specifically to make tough decisions and likely form an alliance with either Google or Microsoft. I am not sure that former Nokia exec Tomi Ahonen is the best source of commentary – he is unremittingly negative about the alliance – but I like his piece on the choices facing the board last year, when it must have decided that MeeGo, the mobile Linux co-sponsored by Intel, could not deliver what was needed.

Elop chose Microsoft, his argument being that the choice was between Android and Windows, and that going Android would have created a duopoly that was good for Google but bad for the industry. By going Windows Phone “we have created a three horse race,” he said.

It is a fair point as far as it goes – though maybe he takes too little account of RIM, especially in the enterprise market – but whether Nokia can really break that duopoly is an open question. It is not a question of how the duopoly can be avoided: it already exists.


Given the absence of Apple, this Mobile World Congress could almost be called the Android World Congress, such is the dominance of Google’s mobile OS. It works, it is well-known, it is freely customisable by manufacturers and operators. Android is not perfect, but it is a de facto standard which nicely meets the needs of the non-Apple mobile industry.

This morning three significant far Eastern manufacturers announced new Android devices; none announced Windows Phone devices. The three are HTC, Alcatel Onetouch (which claims to be the fastest-growing handset provider in the world), and Huawei. At the Alcatel Onetouch press conference I asked CEO George Guo why his company was focused on Android:

Why Android? Android is a phenomena. It is what every operator wants and also what the consumer is looking for. The iPhone is great but just has one type, and also it is highly priced. People want something different so are looking for variety. Android-based phones provide that opportunity. With Android phones you can range from $100 up to several hundred. Also we can make customisations based on the Android system. We can fit different kinds of customers’ needs. That’s why, from the whole ecosystem point of view, because recently (laughs) people talk about this a lot, we think that Android does provide quite an ecosystem.

Note how Guo (unprompted) makes reference both to the other member of the duopoly, Apple, and the new pretender, Microsoft/Nokia.

However good their products, rivals such as RIM with its new QNX-based OS and HP with WebOS will struggle to compete for developer and public attention.

Does Windows Phone have better chances? If Nokia could easily translate its Symbian sales last year to Windows Phone sales next year, then sure, but that would take a miracle that beleaguered Nokia is unlikely to deliver. Windows Phone 7, launched last year, demonstrates that despite its desktop dominance Microsoft cannot easily win mobile market share, and that partners such as HTC, Samsung and LG are focused elsewhere. Nokia’s commitment will greatly boost Microsoft’s market share in mobile, but to what percentage is frankly hard to guess.

There are a couple of other unanswered questions. One is about differentiation. In order to compete with Apple, Microsoft has made a point of locking down the Windows Phone 7 specification, despite its multiple manufacturers, requiring Qualcomm Snapdragon for the chipset, specific hardware features, and a relatively unmolested GUI. If Microsoft continues along these lines, it will be hard for Nokia to be truly distinctive. On the other hand, if it abandons them, then it risks spoiling the consistency of the platform.

Another big question relates to tablets. Microsoft has no announced tablet strategy, except insofar as it is not using the Windows Phone 7 OS for tablets and has hinted that the next full version of Windows  will be tablet-optimized. By contrast, both Apple and Google support both smartphones and tablets with a single OS; indeed, it is hard to define the difference between a small tablet and a smartphone. Here at Mobile World Congress, Viewsonic told me that a 4” screen defines it: less than that, it’s a smartphone; more than that, it’s a tablet.

What are Nokia’s tablet plans? Will it change Microsoft’s mind, or wait for Windows 8 following meekly in Redmond’s footsteps, or do something with MeeGo?

Elop has also in my view made a mistake in shattering Nokia’s Qt-based developer community. Qt was the unifying platform between Symbian and MeeGo, and could have been the same for Windows Phone 7. Why? Here’s what Elop told us on Sunday:

What is happening to Qt: “Will Nokia put Qt on Windows Phone? No that’s not the plan. Here is the reason. If we, on the Windows Phone platform, encourage a forking between what natively is provided on the Windows Phone platform and Qt, then we create an environment where potentially we could confuse the developers, confuse the consumers, and even create an environment where Windows Phone could advance slower than the competition because we are carrying two principal development platforms.

I respect Elop; but I think he has been sold a line here. Developers are not easily confused – how patronising – and Windows Phone already has a native code SDK, available to operators and manufacturers. Many of Microsoft’s own applications for the phone are native rather than Silverlight or XNA. In principle, there is no reason why consumers would be able to tell the difference. I think Microsoft is protecting its own development stack and sacrificing Nokia’s developer community in the process.

On a more positive note, I do not forget that Elop is a software guy. I think he recognises that unless you are Apple, hardware commoditisation is inevitable whatever OS you choose. Asked about Windows Phone, the Huawei exec at this morning’s briefing said his company would consider it when the next version comes out. What he means is: if the demand is there, they will make it. If they make it, then Nokia is competing with the same economies of scale and labour that apply to Android.

Elop sees an answer in apps, ads and services: the ecosystem about which he constantly reminds us. On Sunday he noted that the partnership with Microsoft includes an advertising platform, and that this is potentially a significant source of future revenue. The new Nokia may be a lesser company than the old, but one that is better able to survive the challenge of making money from handsets.