BARCELONA, Spain The Mobile World Congress brought the cellphone industry together this week to show off the latest and greatest phones.
The focus, as in years past, was on the hardware — sleek phones that flip, twist and reconfigure themselves like a child's Transformers toy. But software is growing in importance as smartphones, capable of accessing the Web, become more popular.
But the gathering also revealed a cellphone industry rift between the telecommunications experts and the Internet pros — each saying quietly that the other doesn't get it.
Rich Miner, group manager of mobile platforms at Google and a phone industry veteran, said, “Let's face it, mobile software is just not as rich as the hardware. Something like 80 per cent of phones have cameras in them, and I wouldn't be surprised if less than 1 per cent of users have ever done anything with a photo on their phone.”
So it was no surprise that many of the phones were iPhone clones — with touch screens, sleek flat shapes and spare software interfaces. Apple was able to make a phone that paid equal attention to the software and the hardware. And the rest of the industry was following suit here.
Of course, the cellphone makers were quick to point out their improvements and nuanced differences. Here are several devices that the makers are hoping will have an impact in the United States in the coming months. Prices and availability for most of the devices have not been determined.
Sony Ericsson X1: Sony Ericsson has made a comeback in Europe and Asia by merging powerful Sony brand names into its multimedia phones. The London-based company slapped the Cybershot brand of Sony's popular cameras on camera-phones that take good pictures. It applied the popular Walkman brand on phones that double as music players.
But as it tries to build a name in the United States, the London-based joint venture has not carried the Sony brand name across the ocean until now. It is creating its new line of phones under the Xperia brand, and the first model, the top of that line, will be called the X1.
Sony Ericsson gave the smartphone a keyboard and Windows software, it said, to bring Americans on board. And, of course, a touch screen. When the Qwerty keyboard slides out, the X1 turns from a flat phone into an ever-so-slightly curved one with a 3-inch screen. The caller can use a finger or a stylus to customize or manipulate a desktop of panels — pagelike icons representing different applications.
The X1 will also feature GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a 3.2-megapixel camera. Sony Ericsson did not disclose a price; the phone will be available in the second half of the year.
Sony Ericsson W980: Even with the addition of the Xperia line, Sony Ericsson isn't neglecting its heritage. The W980 is this season's Walkman phone. It is a touch-screen clamshell-style handset, with the music controls on the outside so the user need not open the phone to play tunes. If that's not convenient enough, shake it to change tracks.
The device is more MP3 player than phone. It has 8 gigabytes of memory that will hold about 8,000 songs; a voice recorder; TrackID for playing name that tune; external speakers, wireless headphones and Bluetooth stereo; an FM radio and an FM transmitter that lets you send whatever you are playing to other FM receivers, like a car radio or a friend's music player.
It is a smartphone, too, with Web access and personal-organizer features. The phone is expected in the United States in the third quarter and will be renamed the 980i.
Nokia N96: Is it a mobile phone, or as Nokia insists, a multimedia computer? To fans of last year's Nokia's N95 — and they are legion — it will not matter what you call the N95's successor, which comes with the same generous 16 gigabytes of memory the new iPhone has. With a slot for a microSD card to add more memory, you'll have plenty when you want to watch videos on its 2.8-inch screen.
The European model will also receive TV. Nokia added a small kickstand that will let the phone sit upright on a desk or table to watch videos, a reason it might be thought of as a multimedia computer. (It has built-in speakers.) The phone comes with a 5-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi and GPS. Nokia said it would initially ship in Europe and Asia at a price of about 550 euros ($800), but it would not specify when it would be available in the United States.
Nokia 6210 Navigator: Satellite maps and graphical directions on mobile phones are still new enough to be head-turners. But how about a compass? The 6210 has one built in, and it works with the Nokia Maps software to point you in the right direction. An accelerometer inside tells the phone when you've turned.
It also can show you where you have been, tags its 3.2-megapixel photos by location and offers voice navigation. Even the camera, which has 4x digital zoom, is intended for people who have a thing for geography. It comes with a panorama mode.
The 6210 also has what have become more conventional cellphone features: MP3 player, video recording and playback, FM radio, push-to-talk calling and a memory-card slot.
Samsung Soul: Samsung says its new handset is called Soul because it is “the Spirit of Ultra.” The marketing may be clumsy, but the company has nevertheless created a style-conscious line of phones. Clad in stainless steel, the Soul is slim, light and has a 5-megapixel camera. Its top slides up to show a keypad underneath. But in normal position, when the keypad is hidden, the Soul has a touch-activated five-way navigation pad underneath the phone display.
Although Samsung calls the Soul its flagship product of 2008, it is not expected to appear in North America anytime soon. Samsung indicated it would bring Soul's siblings to the CTIA Wireless show in Las Vegas in April, where phones for the American market will be displayed.
LG-KT610: The phone is stylish enough, but it is a flat candy bar of a cellphone, with the typical layout of a small screen over a numeric keypad. When you get close, you realize that it flips open from the side to bare a full keyboard and 2.4-inch screen inside. The KT610 also has a 2-megapixel camera, GPS, Bluetooth and high-speed data connectivity. LG Electronics is using the KT610 as its introduction to Nokia's smartphone software, called Symbian Series 60.
Motorola Mobile TV DH01n: The American maker at the show, Motorola, displayed a device with a split personality. But it wasn't a phone. The Mobile TV DH01n doubles as a personal media player that can record, pause and play back live broadcast TV on a 4.3-inch screen and a personal navigator, with 2-and 3-dimensional GPS mapping and voice-activated directions. It is small enough to slip into a pants pocket, which luckily leaves your other pocket for one of these other phones.