10 things we noticed at Mobile World Congress 2014

Wednesday 26 February 2014 21.04

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By Will Goodbody, Science & Technology Correspondent in Barcelona

@willgoodbody

After three brain frying, feet swelling, mind boggling days in Barcelona, our coverage of Mobile World Congress is coming to an end. We’ve reported extensively on the big announcements and the Irish angles. But here’s 10 less talked about devices, trends and issues that we noticed during our marathon trek around the vast complex of booths and stands:

1. I’M TRACER

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Are you prone to losing your kids? Or indeed your pets for that matter? Well if the answer is yes, maybe this would help. The Italian made I’m Tracer is a wrist worn GPS tracker built inside colourful waterproof and shock proof cases. It has a SIM card inside, and works on a combined system of GSM and GPS. On sale from the summer, it will cost around €180 and a monthly subscription of €6.

2. ALTERNATIVE POWER SOURCES

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There were a number of innovative mobile charging gizmos on show, including this rechargeable Powerocks device which holds enough juice to recharge a device four times and costs €80.

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But more attention was being paid to the UK designed Upp hydrogen fuel cell. It consists of a charging unit with USB port, powered by fuel cells which will be purchasable online and in retail stores when the product goes on sale at the end of March. The unit will cost $199 to buy, with refilled fuel cartridges costing $5 a pop. A cell will typically give four to five recharges of a smartphone. Hydrogen refuelling hasn’t exactly taken off yet. But mainstream applications like this will certainly help.

3. PRIVACY

Privacy is increasingly an issue for mobile device users. More and more device manufacturers are turning to biometrics as a way of securing hardware, the Samsung Galaxy S5 being the latest example. But Macau based FingerQ make a nice looking range of external biometric security units for handsets and other mobile devices.

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And for those who are concerned about who may be listening to and tracking their data, a new handset unveiled at MWC may provide the answer. The Blackphone from Swiss manufacturer Geeksphone runs its own version of Android which allows you to keep your data safe from spooks, spies ands other online nasties, by operating under the radar.

4. FUTURE GAZING

There was lots of looking to the future at this year’s show, some of it more practical than others. Accenture Labs were showcasing a nifty RFID based smart fitting room, which detects the garments being brought in to try on. It then brings information on them up on a touch screen inside the fitting room, along with interactive data about sizes, prices and alternatives. There’s even an touch button to summon a sales assistant to get the other size or alternative garment you want to try.

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While Italian company Kyocera had a whole section of its stand dedicated to future concepts. Like tablets and phones that are so flexible they can be folded into different shapes and even into wearable devices. It may sound far fetched, but probably not for long.

5. OPERATING SYSTEMS

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Android may remain the world’s most dominant operating system. But there are certainly plenty of wannabes out there looking to grab a bit of the market. The Samsung and Intel sponsored Tizen grabbed headlines with its use on the two new Galaxy Gear smart watches. But Firefox too was getting in on the action, with ZTE among the manufacturers launching devices running the budding OS.

6. 5G

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We may be a long way from having 4G fully rolled out in Ireland. But that doesn’t mean network providers and operators aren’t already looking to the next generation of next generation networks. It is a good distance off mind you. But that didn’t stop those interested in the topic from talking about it at MWC this week.

7. DEATH OF THE PERSONAL GAMING DEVICE?

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Mobile smartphone and tablet gaming is huge business. And growing all the time. But until recently the big downside of playing games on your touchscreen mobile device, particularly action games, was the absence of a decent controller. But with devices now available from Samsung (S Console) and Sony (Dual Shock 3 wireless controller) which can connect with related devices, it seems possible that the death of personal gaming devices like the Nintendo DS and PSP could be nigh.

8. THE ABSENCE OF GOOGLE AND APPLE

No obvious sign of either Google or Apple. That’s nothing unusual as far as Apple is concerned and fair enough I suppose if they have nothing new to announce. Self belief is a wonderful thing though.

9. THE SMALL NUMBERS OF WOMEN

It’s well documented and discussed that women are under represented in the technology industry, particularly at the top. And the mobile segment of the market is no different, if MWC is any reflection. It’s disappointing and needs to change.

10. THE LACK OF A BIG GAME CHANGER

We searched high and low on your behalf and while we came across plenty of nifty stuff, there was nothing on show this year that could be classed as a game changer or breakthrough. Most of the new devices unveiled were improved versions of existing products. That said, we are undoubtedly entering a very interesting phase in the development of wearable technology.

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