Filling the cracks

THE Mobile World Congress is the biggest industry event of its kind. Hordes converge on the Fira in Barcelona every year, to show or see the latest and greatest mobile offerings. The big guys - Ericsson, Nokia, Microsoft, Google, etc - pull out all the stops to capture attention. But it's the small players who are generating excitement this year.

Don't get me wrong - the big guys have got the goods, and while these are relevant for the most part, they're pretty predictable overall. Nokia announced a partnership with Intel for a new mobile platform with a silly name (MeeGo) and Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone Series 7, insisting that it's totally different from other mobile operating systems (it isn't).

Others are tackling more pressing issues. Ericsson showed off a variety of things, including its green network infrastructure which utilises diesel, wind and solar to power cellular towers that can operate off the grid.

The Swedish company is focused on the growth of mobile data usage and has interesting things to say about how this will shape the industry in the future. It is being honest about the status quo, which has seen a cutback on spending and threatened profits of late.

But a good deal of the attention this year is going to smaller niche companies taking care of specific needs. Their products are focused on the gaps that exist in portable computing, and innovation is a core requirement if they plan to occupy any share of the market.

Plantronics is a company known for its high quality computer headsets. This year the company is talking about an augmented reality application that helps people find places with free WiFi to work at. The application is called Work Snug and uses your cellphone to direct you to the nearest coffee shop or restaurant with gratis internet access.

Powermat is a company that makes wireless charging devices for mobile gadgets. I'm testing one for the iPhone - simply slip the cover on your device and place it on a mat plugged into the wall and it will charge inductively, without cables. They also have a BlackBerry solution that replaces the battery in the Bold, enabling it for wireless charging.

And INQ is a new kid on the manufacturing block with affordable smartphones built for social networking integration.

There are many of these smaller guys at this year's Mobile World Congress. From Waze - free GPS software for your phone with maps built by its users - to Bitstream that makes a mobile browser called Bolt, which renders web pages in the cloud instead of on your cellphone.

Some don't have a snowball's chance in hell, like the slew of new security providers that all offer the same thing. Others leave you wondering why nobody had thought of this stuff before, like applications that merge your social networks with your address book.

While the big guys conduct billion-dollar oneupmanship and go to great lengths to catch and contain the press in their dedicated areas in Barcelona, the smaller ones focus on finding unexplored niches where cellphones can make a difference, or supplement their usage everywhere from lounges to hospitals.

But whether you're taken with the big announcements or fixated on the small, one thing is sure - the 50 000-strong crowd in Barcelona has put the downturn behind it and is geared for a leaner, meaner future in the mobile industry, where gimmicks aren't enough to move your products off shelves.

People want to know what you've got, why they should care and how you plan to sustain yourself. And it's that last category of questioning that leave you wondering how many of the smaller guys will be around when Mobile World Congress 2011 rolls around. For now, however, the flurry of innovation is worth celebrating.


Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo
Company Snapshot
Voting Booth
Do you think it was a good idea for the government to approach the IMF for a $4.3 billion loan to fight Covid-19?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes. We need the money.
11% - 1339 votes
It depends on how the funds are used.
73% - 8747 votes
No. We should have gotten the loan elsewhere.
16% - 1928 votes