Any visitor to CES in the last two years can attest to the Chinese manufacturer’s intent on making a huge splash at the conference. Their gigantic booth seems engineered to cause the uninitiated to ask: “What is this company I’ve never heard of? And how did they get a booth as big as Samsung’s?”
With that experience in mind, I was surprised to see their comparatively pint-sized set up at Mobile World Congress (pictured above). Competitor Huawei, by contrast, had a large presence and sponsored the conference badges which featured its logo prominently.
When I walked up to the booth attendant to sincerely ask if this was “the main Highsense booth,” his answer was as direct as it was disarming: “Yeah. We can make the stands as big as you like, but we’ve only got 12 phones.” Fair enough.
UK’s RealVNC do a very simple thing that is set to revolutionize the connected car: they mirror the screen on your phone on a touch screen in your car. Their technology, on display at MWC 2014, also powers “MirrorLink”– a platform being rolled out by the Car Connectivity Consortium, which included members like Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Samsung, LG, Sony, HTC, VW, Hyundai, Fiat, and Renault.
For years RealVNC has focused on PC to PC linking products that have been used by millions, but it’s put a strong emphasis on the mobile automotive space in the last 2 years. It sells its technology to a variety of car manufacturers, and counts itself among the members of the Car Connectivity Consortium.
The Consortium’s goal is to make it easier for developers to create apps for the connected car by letting automobiles access apps downloaded to your phone. They also will be enforcing safety standards for those apps to make sure that drivers only utilize apps safe for use on the road. With a large booth in the walkway between halls at MWC, the consortium was able to draw significant attention at the conference.
MirrorLink uses a simple USB cable to connect your phone to your car, and it will be available in certain vehicle models this year including the VW Gulf. HTC will have it pre-installed in certain phones, and had a Gulf on display at its MWC booth with a few MirrorLink apps users can download in the Google Play store. Once the devices are linked, all actions you take on the car’s touch screen are mirrored on the phone in real time– including calls you make.
See the photo below of MirrorLink in action in the VW Gulf.
Check out SAP’s futuristic vending machine in the video below, on display at Mobile World Congress. It slickly implements pretty much every innovative technology you could ask for including an iBeacon, NFC reader, facial detection (powered by Intel), social media integration and more.
SAP envisions people signing up for loyalty programs tied to a network of these machines, allowing you to earn rewards, pull up your favorite selections on any device, and even buy and send gifts to friends in the program directly from the machine. I was given $10 an a free account, and as you can see from the video the machine addressed me by name when I swiped in via NFC. If were using an iPhone, the iBeacon could push me an offer or message once I was withing range.
There are about 1,000 of these vending machines in the US now. SAP is also improving the supply chain side of the equation but collecting data on which sodas are most popular on each individual machine to ensure that companies don’t miss out on sales by running out of product, or carrying the wrong product. Customers can even request that new beverages be added to the machine in the future if they don’t see what they want.
Sign me up.
Japanese messaging app LINE continues to show a knack for strategic alliances. After making a splash at CES with its LG integration allowing you to chat with appliances, the company has an installation at Samsung’s developers pavilion at this year’s Mobile Wold Congress to display special features developed for Samsung mobile phones.
Watch a video of the Galaxy 3 Note demo below where users can split the screen and have LINE on the top half and a browser on the bottom half. You can then drag content from the browser directly into chat messages, or do the same with photos from your gallery. Although the implementation is quite different, it has some similarity to Kik’s new URL browser, which allows you to find and share content from the mobile web.
While MWC remains an Apple-free zone, this year’s show features a plethora of retail beacon technologies looking to capitalize on Apple’s recent iBeacon launch. Japan’s DNP (Dai Nippon Printing Co) is displaying a templatized white label app solution for retailers looking to integrate iBeacons into the in-store experience.
DNP says the first iteration of its platform is aimed at the Japanese market where consumers prefer an emotional connection with a brand. Coming into proximity with the iBeacon triggers a question on your phone simply asking how you’re doing and an offer to send someone to help with anything you need. Coupons are also readily integrated into the platform for stores looking to make offers available to consumers.
DNP’s solutions on display this year are split 50 /50 between NFC and beacon technology, a telling sign of the current state of the industry. Having had more time to develop for the NFC world, their offerings there include quantified self integrations with hardware partners like Triplesense — an instore skincare device and sales aid that measures how dry your skin is. Once the analysis is complete, sales associates tap their phones against the device to get skin care product suggestions for the consumer.
The highlight of my first day at MWC was the Sony booth where the company (an IPG client, in full disclosure) rolled out a Lifelog app companion to its new SmartBand as part of an all-encompassing approach to quantified self. Sony’s goal is to capture not only your fitness and sleep activity, but also location and all your mobile phone activity like time spent on chat apps, Facebook, Twitter, and listening to music.
All that information is plotted on a scrollable timeline that lets you see what you did hour by hour, or week be week, and the UX is top notch. The backdrop image even changes to reflect the actual weather conditions at every point on the timeline, and you can access a host of charts to get a better look at how you’ve spent your time.
The SmartBand integrates with your phone and other device in a few novel ways. For example you can control the music playing on your phone by tapping the band– one tap to skip to the next song and two to go back a song. You can even sync the wristband with your boardroom presentation and tap to scroll to the next slide– a feature compatible with any device running Android 4.4.
Lifelog comes pre-installed on the new Xperia Z2, and other Android phones can communicate with the SmartBand via either Bluetooth or NFC.
Docomo, one of several companies jumping on the smart glasses bandwagon, is a testament to the potential of wearable computing but also the difficulty in perfecting it for eye-wear. Its Mobile World Congress demo is a prototype with no street date set, and it illustrates that while no one has caught up to Google glass yet, there’s a wave of smaller companies with great ideas exploring what’s possible. This concept demo caught the attention of a few blog recently, and I was excited to give it a test spin.
Docomo’s “vision” for the future has a tinge of Terminator to it– with an opt-in twist and less violence. They integrate facial recognition into the glasses so that when you look at someone the screen tells you who they are, and where and when you saw them last (something that could come in handy for people like me who aren’t great with names and faces). Their pitch is that in the future people will opt into a social network optimized for smart glasses, which accesses our photos and personal info to connect us with other people. It would take time to get there, but the premise seems reasonable.
The company, based in Tokyo, also has an impressive language translation demo where you look at a menu written in Japanese and it automatically overlays English translations next to each menu item. It’s a feature I’d happily use at the Barcelono restaurant where I’m writing this blog.
The snag in all of this is that while the technology technically works, the user experience is strained and uncomfortable on every level. The text is incredibly small, you’re constantly fidgeting to get the screen in a comfortable place, and the resolution is lackluster. That said Docomo gets major points for imagination, and with the right execution their vision for wearable computing may become reality in the years to come.
Only six months after announcing one of the only true competitors to the Pebble, Samsung is back at it again, launching the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo at this year’s Mobile World Congress. The new models maintain the original’s look, but under the hood there are some substantial changes. Primarily, the Android operating system has been replaced by Tizen – thus it is unclear whether backwards compatibility between first and second gen platforms will function. The new watch offers a heart-rate monitor for increasingly popular fitness tracking apps that will now, ideally, be native to the watch. The camera now moves to the watch-face itself, allowing for interchangeable bands for the first time – an important consideration given that watches are still inherently a fashion item – and the Gear 2 Neo eschews the camera entirely. It’s further evidence that companies are buying into the wearables trend wholeheartedly, and that smartwatches are here for the foreseeable future.
Fresh off its debut at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Mozilla’s mobile FirefoxOS now has perhaps its biggest early adopter: Twitter. Engineer Manuel Deschamps says Twitter for FirefoxOS will be available in the app store from the first day the devices begin to ship. The app mirrors the layout on other mobile operating systems, with the same Home, Connect, Discover, and me tabs. It will also support Firefox’s unique Web Activities feature, which will allow users to tweet a photo from any app that also suports Web Activities, which includes the built-in photos app.