MWC: What weird and wonderful mobile sights caught our eye in Barcelona this year?
More than 60,000 delegates from 200 countries took in the sights at this year's Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona - a record number of attendees, according to event organiser the GSMA. When not attending keynotes, meetings or pressing each others' flesh, the 30,000-plus C-level executives in attendance could be seen strolling around La Fira: 58,600 net square metres of exhibition and business meeting space given over to all things mobile for four days in February.
On the conference floor, booths for network infrastructure giants rubbed shoulders with familiar brands in the mobile gadget field: HTC, LG, Motorola, RIM, Samsung, to name a few. But dig a little deeper and all manner of weird and wonderful mobile kit was on show - from 3D haptics and wooden smartphones to liquid-repellent nano-coating and an Android invasion. Click through the following pages to check out some of the things silicon.com encountered at this year's show.
LG was the first mobile maker to pick up the 3D gauntlet, unveiling what it described as the world's first 3D smartphone, the LG Optimus 3D which, despite the glasses on the table above, does not require the user to don eyewear to view the 3D effect. But LG wasn't the only company with 3D screen kit on show in Barcelona...
Japanese mobile operator NTT Docomo was showing a prototype device containing an embedded camera to demonstrate what it described as "touchable 3D". A user interacts with the digital chameleon by using the pen, as shown above. The lizard appears to track the position of the pen before shooting its tongue out towards the tip - causing the person holding the pen to feel a sudden jolt.
The sensation is created by an electric current being sent to a coil behind the 3D display which interacts with a magnet in the tip of the pen.
While the tech is not in any phones yet, NTT Docomo said it is aiming to use the screen tech in future kit.
From a magnetic pen to a tablet-stylus combo - HTC's first tablet, the Flyer, which was unveiled at MWC, also asks users to grip a pen-like object. In this case, the battery-operated stylus, pictured above right, is designed to be used in addition to fingers to interact with the Flyer's screen - which is both a capacitive and digitised display.
HTC's name for this digital doodling kit is Scribe - offering mobile users a new old way to interact with tablet tech.
Another tablet with a twist that caught our eye is ViewSonic's ViewPad 10 Pro slate, pictured above. The Windows logo may loom large but look closely and you'll also see an Android icon sitting in the start menu.
The device runs Android 2.2 as a virtualisation on top of Windows 7, so users can switch between Microsoft's OS and Google's mobile platform without having to reboot the slate. ViewSonic plans to update the WinDroid slate to Honeycomb - Android 3.0 - in future, according to a spokesman.
Is it a laptop? Is it a smartphone? Both, kind of...
Say hello to the dual-core Motorola Atrix. Slot the dual-core smartphone in the back of the laptop dock, pictured above, and the phone switches from Motorola's Motoblur UI, running atop Android 2.2, to offer a desktop PC-like experience via a desktop-style UI called Webtop - running on the dock's larger screen and full-sized keyboard. Convergence anyone?
From a laptop that's actually a phone, to an oversized phone that's pretending to be a laptop. The Acer Iconia Smart, pictured above, packs a whopping 4.8-inch widescreen display, running at a resolution of 1024 x 480 pixels, to enable full web page viewing in landscape mode.
And from a smartphone with a widescreen, to a mini-smartphone with just 2.6 inches of screen real estate. The HP Veer, pictured above, may be small - measuring just 54.5mm x 84mm x 15.1mm and weighing a mere 103g - but it still packs a punch, with an 800MHz processor, support for Adobe Flash 10.1 and 8GB of internal storage. The Veer runs HP's webOS 2.0.
Smooth edges have been sanded to perfection on this smartphone with a real wooden backplate. The Sharp SH-08C Touchwood, pictured above, was on NTT Docomo's stand. The wooden portion of the device is made from trees that have been cut during forest-thinning operations, so the operator touted it as an eco-friendly option.
From smooth to simple, mobile maker Doro was demonstrating its range of phones for older people, which are designed without lots of bells and whistles, to make calling and texting easy.
Another bit of kit on show at MWC11 was this Powermat wireless charging prototype for in-car charging. The wireless charging system does away with power leads and plugs but does require a receiver to be attached to the phone - usually in the form of a case.
Once the receiver is attached, the phone can be charged simply by placing it on the wireless charging mat - here built into a Chevrolet's centre console. The car maker will launch a car with wireless charging built into the interior this year, according to a Powermat spokeswoman.
Powermat was also showing off a prototype of the wireless system built into the base of this desk lamp. The system can also be incorporated into the surface of the desk itself, said the spokeswoman.
From wireless charging to nano-tech. P2i was showing off its nano-coating liquid-repellent Aridion technology, by dipping treated tissues in this bowl of coloured water.
Instead of absorbing the liquid and becoming soaked, the tissues stayed bone dry - with water droplets beading on the surface and running off when shaken. The nano-tech coating has already been used commercially on walking shoes but a P2i spokesman said the company is also aiming it at mobile phones. So in future, dropping your phone in a puddle - or worse - may not be such a tragedy.
Talking of paper, Google chairman Eric Schmidt could be seen clutching a sheaf of tree pulp during his MWC keynote. Schmidt talked about a mobile-enabled future - likely decades out - where no one would ever be lost in space again, lost for ideas, or lost for friends.
"We can help figure out what you should be spending your time on. We can give you a priority list that's tailored to you. You're not lost [because of GPS and location tech in your phone]... you can talk to whoever you want to and, even better, you're never lonely - there are always people around you. And if you're not physically with people, they're certainly online with you 24 hours a day," Schmidt said.
"You're never bored because not only are there things to do but we can suggest people new things to do - so a life-long life of entertainment and knowledge is possible. And you're never out of ideas because we can always suggest new ideas, what you can do next, what's important. Imagine a calendar of all the world's events, all of the interesting things that are going on. All of a sudden it's a potpourri for all of us to choose from, all because of the ability to understand what you care about, get that to you in real time on these new mobile devices and use the supercomputers that are in the cloud to properly sort them so you're not completely overwhelmed."
It was not lost on silicon.com that the Google exec was leaning on old-tech paper for this future-gazing keynote.
Another massive visage from the world of software loomed large at MWC. Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire 20-something founder of Facebook popped up in a recorded video message during HTC's press conference. The mobile maker unveiled a pair of Facebook phones but Zuckerberg told delegates to expect dozens of such handsets this year.
From Facebook to Foursquare. Dennis Crowley, co-founder of the location check-in service, checked in to MWC for a mini keynote. Crowley talked about how location software has the power to change people's "real-world behaviour" - showing off these heat-maps of New York which indicate where the most check-ins occur.
"Imagine if you could do this in real time," he said, adding that for some businesses Foursquare check-ins are replacing traditional loyalty programmes, and noting how game mechanics are helping to drive custom to venues. The company offers retailers a stats dashboard which Crowley likened to Google Analytics.
"More check-ins drive more stats, more stats drive more information about your customers, more information about your customers combined with the new tools that we're building - which we'll be rolling out at the end of this quarter - allows you to build customer affinity and loyalty and retention programmes, as well as programmes to drive new customer acquisition," he said.
Foursquare grew 3,400 per cent last year, according to Crowley, growth he described as "crazy - getting crazier".
Another kind of data visualisation was on show at MWC. Network kit maker Ericsson built this scaffolding installation to illustrate "the networked society". The metaphor may or may not have intended to include this man carrying a laptop and struggling to walk through the web of connections.
Events going on in the world outside filtered into La Fira. Here, two telecoms execs from the Egypt On Pavilion celebrate the fall of Hosni Mubarak and urge delegates to visit their stand with a sign that reads: "We did it, Egypt is free".
It wouldn't be a tech trade show without hired female help being used to try and make something dull look interesting - in this case, the women in question are dressed like extras from an episode of Flash Gordon.
Another costume-wearer garnering eyeballs at the show was Mozilla's Firefox - looking very out of place amid the suits and lanyards.
From a cuddly fox to Angry Birds - the Rovio invasion was also in evidence at MWC.
But it was Androids that were everywhere at MWC11 - the first year Google had its own presence. Collectible pin badges and plastic figurines, shown above, of Google's Android emblem could be found scattered around the Fira at various booths, encouraging delegates to visit the different stands - truly gamification in action.
Google's MWC stand was more like a camp. Android-land took over a large portion of the main hall of the Fira. The display space included a conveyor belt of various Android smartphones, developer pods for app makers to show their wares, a giant Android slide and a free smoothie bar, pictured above. If the photos don't do it justice, check out our video of Android fever at MWC..