30 things we learned at 3GSM 2007

3GSM 2007, Mobile phones, Top stories

3gsm-crowd.jpgPhew. As ever, 3GSM was tiring both physically and mentally, with a barrage of new products and companies, plus an enormous venue to walk around. Honestly, if we believed in wearing pedometers, they’d have exploded by Tuesday.

So now the Shiny team is back in Blighty, what did we learn from this year’s 3GSM? It’s a chance to spot the hottest new mobile phones and technology, as well as suss out the most important mobile trends for the next 12 months. Here’s our main thoughts.

1. There was no big theme this year

3GSM 2006 saw immense hype around mobile TV, with companies queuing up to proclaim it the Next Big Thing in mobile entertainment. The fact that it’s since disappointed means that the lack of a single big hype this year isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There was lots of buzz, but spread around a bunch of subjects, which is a healthier state of affairs.

2. Mobile social networking is a hot topic

There were lots of companies – many of them startups – promising to create MySpace-like communities for mobile. Meanwhile, the big players – the actual MySpaces, Bebos and so on – were undoubtedly at 3GSM, even if they weren’t talking about their plans.

From our chats with companies like Cerkle, FunkySexyCool, Clicmobile and others, it’s clear how new an area this is. People aren’t sure if mobile-only social networks will succeed, for example, or whether mobile is just an add-on to existing web communities. 2007 should give some clues.

lgprada-3gsm.jpg3. LG’s Prada phone is better than you’d think

Don’t take this the wrong way. We weren’t expecting the Prada phone (right) to be awful. Just a bit gimmicky. Yet as Susi’s video verdict makes clear, it looks and feels like Prada’s been involved from the start. And that touch-screen is mighty purdy.

4. Mobile music is a bit rubbish

It seems us mobile users aren’t as keen on downloading full tracks to our phones as the music industry would like us to be. Warner Music head honcho Edgar Bronfman Jr told 3GSM attendees that “it’s expensive, it’s complicated and it’s slow”, saying the iPhone will hopefully force operators and manufacturers to up their game.

Meanwhile, mobile firm Omnifone was trying to do just that, unveiling what it reckons is a truly mobile iTunes-beater, which it’ll be running for operators around the world.

Meanwhile, the music industry continues to rumble about whether it should scrap copyright protection for digital music – if it does, it would certainly have a positive impact on the number of people downloading tunes directly to their phones.

5. Cool new handset designs

Motorola’s new Z8 phone has a ‘kick slider’ design, which is the first handset type to sound like it should be a trick in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. We’re looking forward to Nokia launching a triple-back-kick olley grinder phone at 3GSM 2008…

6. Bring on the five-megapixel camera phones

By and large, we tried to steer clear of the really techy companies at 3GSM. After all, the chips and servers they make are only interesting to the likes of us once they’re actually in products we can buy.

But a firm called OmniVision announced a five-megapixel auto-focus camera module, which it’ll be flogging to handset manufacturers, and which it says is affordable enough to be put into mass-market mobile phones. We can’t wait.

readius.jpg7. Don’t hold your breath for a roll-up mobile display that can play video

Philips spin-off Polymer Vision got plenty of deserved buzz at 3GSM for its Readius roll-up display for reading e-books and RSS feeds (left). Both Susi (video) and I (interview) were impressed, although the company’s goal of putting one in every mobile phone seems ambitious, given they’re not expecting the screens to be capable of video for a good five years.

8. We should start getting a bit worried about mobile viruses

Worried you’ll look like a n00b if your phone gets hax0red? You should be. Bubbling under the surface at 3GSM was growing concern about the possible impact of viruses in the mobile space – even if some of it was fuelled by the companies looking to flog technology to protect against them.

McAfee claimed at the show that there are now around 350 mobile viruses, worms or other malware, and also said that 83% of mobile operators have been hit by mobile infections.

9. Next-generation phone interfaces will look amazing

We swung by the NVIDIA stand to check out some of the demos running on the company’s new mobile chipsets, which will be making their way into millions of handsets in the next couple of years.

One demo featured a user interface for phones that included multi-tasking windows, a 3D interface with snazzy transition effects, and ‘fully accelerated translucent window compositing’. Want to know what that is? Watch our video.

10. The operators need to sort out their data-tariffs

If we’re all going to be downloading music, video and games onto our phones from sources other than the operator’s own portals, we don’t want to be paying through the nose in data charges. Yet although T-Mobile and 3 have launched ‘flat-rate’ tariffs in the shape of Web’n’Walk and X-Series, the other operators are dragging their heels a bit.

Who wants to download a music track if it’s going to cost you an extra £3 in data charges? Or, as Yospace CTO David Springall pointed out to us, who’s going to upload their cool cameraphone video to YouTube if it costs them £12 to do it? Even Nokia and Sony Ericsson united to criticise the operators’ complex tariffs at 3GSM this year.

optimus.jpg11. Transformers RAWK!

The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift might be the best mobile game of 2006, according to 3GSM’s Global Mobile Awards judges, but I’m more excited about the chance to play as Optimus Prime in the upcoming Transformers mobile game. Even if it is a bit unwise to turn into a truck midway through a platform game.

Mobile games were a bit quiet at 3GSM, with only a few publishers booking their own stands to show off new stuff. However, there’s a quiet momentum building behind smartphone games – for example with a new Symbian version of Project Gotham Racing.

12. We still can’t tell the difference between all the mobile VoIP companies

There are loads of startups aiming to be the mobile Skype. And speaking as a consumer, it’s hard to a.) tell them apart, and b.) figure out why we shouldn’t just wait for Skype to roll out a mobile application that provides ALL the features you get on the desktop version.

Rest assured, Tech Digest is going to be looking at this whole area very soon, to figure out who’s who and what it’s all about. For now, we remain confused. Which is why we haven’t raced to sign up to any service.

13. Mobile TV is still underwhelming

Research firm M:Metrics surveyed 22,000 European mobile users before the show, and found that former mobile TV viewers now outnumber current mobile TV users. 45% of the people who’ve turned off say pricing issues were a factor, while 24% cite concerns over service quality and reliability.

From the technical demos we saw at 3GSM, mobile TV will be great. One day. But for now, it’s provoking a lot of people who are interested in watching programmes on their phones to switch off.

14. Mobile blogging is growing, with photos and videos the focus

The problem with moblogging was always the assumption that people would type posts on their mobile keypad to upload. However ninja your texting skills are, it’s not very appealing.

However, talking to a couple of blogging tech providers at 3GSM (including Motorola), people have twigged that moblogging is more about instant posting of photos and videos as (or just after) you capture them. Which when you think about it, makes way more sense.

That said, the Shiny massive are also converts to SpinVox’s Spin-my-Blog technology, which converts your voice blatherings into proper text posts. So wordy moblogging could make a comeback soon.

motoq-3gsm.jpg15. If you want a phone with a full keyboard, you’re spoilt for choice

All the manufacturers had the QWERTY bug at this year’s 3GSM, including the usual suspecs (HTC), but also the likes of Nokia, Motorola and Toshiba. We blame the rise of mobile email.

16. It’s quite seedy to hang around a stand leching on Russian booth babes

Although, yes, it’s probably even worse to film them. Sorry about that.

17. YouTube and MySpace have work to do on mobile

The two biggest Web 2.0 brands clearly see mobile as an important part of their future, but mobile types aren’t convinced they’ve got their strategy right just yet. YouTube has signed deals with Nokia and Vodafone, but mobile video-sharing site Yospace reckons it still sees mobile as simply a case of shoving its web vids onto phones.

Meanwhile, social networking firm Clicmobile warned MySpace that it needs to get mobile right, or it could die! The fact that these two companies’ are in some form rivals to MySpace and YouTube doesn’t mean their views should be written off, either. Figuring out what will make a great MySpace or YouTube mobile service will be one of the biggest challenges in 2007. We’re sure it’s possible.

18. Don’t spunk all your new product announcements the week before 3GSM.

It might mean Susi can shoot videos on your stand without being jostled by 717 men in suits, but it doesn’t give her much to talk about…

u100-3gsm.jpg19. Thin is in

The fashion industry may be (reluctantly) booting underweight models off the catwalk, but Size Zero phones go from strength to strength. Top dog at 3GSM in the ‘looks really cool even though you have a nagging suspicion you might end up accidentally snapping it in your back pocket’ stakes was Samsung’s U100 (left).

20. Us Brits like a night at the movies

And we use our phones to do it too. M-Spatial chose 3GSM to release its latest research on what local services UK mobile users search for using their phones. Cinema was the most popular category, followed by Fast Food, Drinking and Taxi. No, Museums, Opera and Bowling Greens didn’t make the Top 10…

21. Mobile GPS navigation is buzzing

Also in evidence at the show was mobile navigation technology, whether applications for phones from the likes of Telmap, TeleNav and ALK Technologies, or GPS-enabled devices from Garmin, BlackBerry and Nokia.

Right now, it’s mainly about providing the sort of turn-by-turn driving directions that you’d get in a regular satnav device, but the real potential is in using your mobile’s data connection to provide live traffic info and updates, or at some point in the future, tying into mobile social networks (companies like Clicmobile and CityNeo are already looking to do this).

22. Techy mobile companies have a keen sense of irony

At least, I hope that’s the case. How they come up with stand slogans like ‘Shattering Tomorrow’s Boundaries of Mobile Antenna Specification Solutions, Today!’ if they’re not having a laugh is beyond me.

htcs710.jpg23. Windows Mobile is gearing up for another big push

Microsoft launched Windows Mobile 6.0 at 3GSM, with all manner of on-stand demos showing off its new features, which we’ll be looking at in more detail in the weeks ahead.

But equally importantly, Microsoft has signed up the likes of LG, Toshiba and HP to make Windows Mobile phones, with the first handsets using the new OS set to appear in the second half of this year, including some from previous licensors like HTC.

24. Creating your own mobile TV channel is more fun than watching what the operators are serving up

If mobile is such a personal device, why do I have to just watch simulcasts of terrestrial or digital channels, hmm? Some companies are exploring DIY TV, where you create a channel of video content to watch on your phone. One example is Vpod.tv, who’ll have an interview going up on Tech Digest early next week.

Meanwhile, Dutch firm TNO unveiled a new tech called Farcast which works the other way around, taking video from your phone and turning it into a web-based TV channel.

25. DVB-H mobile TV is still frustratingly far away in the UK

We want it. We want it now. But despite the announcement of cool DVB-H handsets like Nokia’s N77, don’t expect to see them on sale here unless the powers-that-be in the UK broadcasting and mobile industries figure out how and when to roll the technology out here. Bah.

26. You can finally get Flash Lite content on your phone

You know Flash – it’s ubiquitous on the Web. Adobe has had the Flash Lite tool for mobile phones for some time, which can be used for rich games and applications. Trouble was, nobody was really selling them, so you had to frequent developer forums to find stuff to actually put on your phone.

That’s changing. At 3GSM, Adobe signed a deal with website Handango, which will be one of the first to sell Flash Lite content to mobile users. Hopefully more will follow.

film_still_dog.jpg27. Short films on your phone are cool

At 3GSM, the people behind the Sundance Film Festival unveiled five short films shot especially for mobile, which were immediately made available for download to mobile users.

You can have a gander by texting FILM to 07624 807 811, to get sent a link to their WAP site. Better still, you can freely share them with friends via Bluetooth. The idea of sitting down for three hours to watch King Kong on a phone is horrendous, but short, arty movies like this should find a healthy audience.

28. We quite fancy a simple mobile phone

All these cutting-edge whizzy multimedia handsets can get a bit much at times. Remember the old days, when your phone could make voice calls, send texts and.. well, that was it. Those days don’t have to be in the past.

The mobile industry is putting lots of effort into low-cost handsets too, albeit mainly for countries such as India and China, which are expected to provide explosive mobile growth in the coming years. Motorola’s F3 won an award at the show for being the ‘Best Ultra Low Cost Handset’, for example.

If you’re thinking of going retro, Tech Digest’s recommendation is the newly-announced Nokia 3110 Classic, which is a replacement for the classic 6310i. Ashley liked the big buttons. “If your dad wants a phone…”

29. Touch-screen phones are easy to use

Not sure about how you’d get on without a keypad? Soon you’ll have the opportunity to find out. Besides the LG Prada phone, and of course Apple’s iPhone, 3GSM also saw the debut of Samsung’s F700, which admittedly also has a slide-out keyboard for messaging. But it’s the screen that caught Ashley’s attention, even from behind a glass screen.

Touch-screen phones aren’t just about slinkiness. As mobiles try to be all things to all people – music player, TV, web surfing device etc – the traditional keypad interface is struggling to keep up. Touch-screens mean more flexible user interfaces able to adapt to whatever you’re doing on the phone at the time.

30. Everyone thinks mobile advertising will be big. Nobody knows quite how it’ll work

The advertising industry loves the thought of putting ads on phones. Not least because the young cool hipsters it likes to target aren’t as susceptible to TV and print ads. Along with online advertising, mobile is the new buzz area. Trouble is, nobody’s quite sure what kind of mobile advertising will work well, and what us users will put up with.

The mobile phone’s a personal device, so any unwanted ads will feel doubly intrusive. Yet at the same time, the mobile industry sees adverts as a way to make mobile entertainment cheaper – or even free – to make more of us use it. Which would certainly solve those worries over mobile TV pricing (see earlier).

At 3GSM, there was lots of talk about mobile ads, but not that much action yet. 2007 will see a big growth in the sector though, whether it’s free mobile games with ads on the loading screens, banner ads on your operator portal, or the Crazy Frog bursting into your voice calls every three minutes singing his latest ringtone. Okay, not that last one. Well, I hope not…

Stuart Dredge
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