Mobile World Congress: Everyone’s got iPhone and Android envy

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from Network World. Visit Network World’s Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing page for more coverage.

Two notable trends emerged from this week’s Mobile World Congress 2008 show in Barcelona (no, I didn’t get to go). First, manufacturers are coming out with iPhone-like touch-screen devices, and second, everyone is eager to see what the Android phones will look like.

The latest entrant in the “we’re just like an iPhone” game is a partnership between Sony Ericsson and Microsoft with its Xperia X1 device, which runs the Windows Mobile operating system and features advanced mobile Web connectivity (it supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the advanced HSDPA/HSUPA wireless networks). The 3-inch-wide touch screen has VGA resolution, a 3.2-megapixel digital camera, music player, FM radio and a full keyboard that slides out in an arc from underneath the display. Sony Ericsson said the phone would be available in the second half of 2008.

Other touch-screen models from Sony Ericsson included the G700 and G900 models, which aim to bring touch-screen devices to the mainstream. The G700 includes touch-controlled Notes applications that allow users to write and draw memos with their fingers, a 2.4-inch display and 3.2-megapixel digital camera. The G900 includes a 5-megapixel digital camera, 2.4-inch screen, embedded Wi-Fi for Internet access and touch-enabled media player. The phones support the UMTS 2100 networks, and will be available in selected markets (European first, most likely) in the second quarter.

Another impressive cell phone model was Samsung Electronics’ Soul phone, the latest model in its Ultra edition series. The Soul is a slider-type handset with a touch panel under the display. The panel shows navigation icons that can change according to the current application running on the handset. For instance, when in camera mode the phone displays zoom and brightness icons, with music-player icons appearing when the phone is in music mode. The GSM-based handset operates over HSDPA, features Bluetooth 2.0, has a 5-megapixel digital camera, FM radio and Radio Data System support. The phone is being marketed toward European customers for availability in April.

While there weren’t any official phones with the Google Android software platform, several chip manufacturers were showing off prototypes and proof-of-concept phones at the show. Freescale, Marvell, NEC Electronics, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments were showing off various devices with what an Android phone might look like later this year.

Since Texas Instruments only makes chips, representatives were insisting that their prototype would just be an example of what a finished Android phone could look like, leaving development of the hardware and software interface up to others.

One final note: The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced it was developing “an innovative method of radio substitution” that would allow Bluetooth protocols, profiles, security and pairing to be used in devices while getting faster throughput from temporary use of a secondary radio already present in the device (such as Wi-Fi). The Alternate MAC/PHY architecture will take a two-phased approach as Bluetooth SIG members drive the specification forward, the SIG said. The goal would be faster transfer of large-format data, such as music, video and photos, over the faster connection but still utilizing the Bluetooth protocols.

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