The February GSMA Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona combines the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry with a series of meetings, lectures, and panel groups that bring together prominent leaders and personalities from mobile phone, mobile computing, Internet, and entertainment world. Several iPhone software developers attended the conference and were displaying their apps. In addition, there were a number of iPhone accessory vendors on the exhibition floor.
Thanks to the App Store business model and the gaming-friendly features of the iPhone, games are one of the most popular categories in the App Store. A number of the game developers were present at MWC, including Gameloft (gameloft.com), one of the biggest players in the iPhone game development industry. Gameloft has 30 titles in the App Store, including Asphalt4, Guitar Rock Tour, Real Football 2009, CSI:NY, and more.
They were showcasing their recently released 2D shooter called Wild West Guns and a yet-to-be-released golf game called Let’s Golf! (The golf game should be available in the App Store in early March.) I got to play with Let’s Golf a bit: it’s fast and nice (non-repetitive) stereo music plays during the game.
You can also use your iPhone to remotely access and control a desktop computer. This can come in handy, for example, if you want to access data you left on your home or office computer when you’re not there. There are a number of remote control solutions already available, but I saw a new one at MWC.
LogMeIn Ignition (secure.logmein.com) is similar to other solutions in terms of what it can do, but it is built on the LogMeIn framework, which has some advantages over VNC, RDP, and other methods. For example, you can use LogMeIn to gain access to any desktop computer, even through firewalls, without having to remember the Internet address of your computer. This is particularly useful when a dynamically changing address is being used. The UI is simple and easy to use, but file transfer and some other things are missing from the current version.
One of the biggest problems with the iPhone’s Safari Web browser is that it doesn’t support Flash media. Last November, Adobe (adobe.com) announced that it had developed an iPhone version of their Flash Player and were waiting for App Store approval. That approval has yet to come, and at MWC Adobe announced Flash support for Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Android devices. Many believe that the announcement Adobe’s way of telling Apple that it’s not happy with the delay and that they should hurry up and approve the Flash client for the App Store.
Viigo (viigo.com) is one of the better RSS readers and podcast aggregators (i.e. “podcatchers”). The BlackBerry version of Viigo has recently received a major update, and it was announced that Viigo will also be ported to the iPhone.
Yahoo also announced that they will release their Yahoo Mobile app for the iPhone later this spring. Once installed, it will let the iPhone user access Yahoo Mail and other Yahoo features. Because you will no longer have to go through a Web interface with this app, it promises to greatly speed up access to many Yahoo features.
Streaming video and TV
Streaming video from broadcast TV and cable channels has become popular, but the iPhone and iPod touch are not well suited to playing it. Fortunately, some recently announced solutions may help fix this.
PacketVideo (packetvideo.com) and similar companies were at MWC mainly to try and cut deals with mobile operators, but they were also showing off some apps and accessories that they may released to end users.
First, they were showing a product called Telly, which was a small device that receives and translates digital TV broadcasts, and then transferring them via Wi-Fi to the iPhone, iPod Touch, and other devices. Currently, Telly only supports DVB-H/T transmission, which is seldom found inside the U.S. Hopefully, if PacketVideo releases this to customers, they will also offer a version for American users.
They also offer a complete TV transcoding solution to mobile operators, which allow them to provide iPhone-compatible versions of TV programs to their customers. What really makes this solution interesting is that PacketVideo has managed to implement a WMV decoder for the iPhone. This has the potential of opening up the huge inventory of existing TV streams to iPhone users. Currently, few TV stations offer iPhone-compatible streams. This could be an important development.
Qualcomm (qualcomm.com) is the main company behind MediaFLO, the de facto standard in the U.S. for digital video broadcasts for mobile handhelds. They were showcasing the initial design of a MediaFLO receiver and transmitter based on their chipset. It also uses Wi-Fi to broadcast its transcoded contents, and is compatible with the iPhone and other Wi-Fi equipped mobile devices.
Parrot (parrot.com) has come out with some new designs for controlling, docking, and recharging the iPhone in your vehicle: the MKi9100 and the MKi9200. Parrot was also showing off its new Zikmu wireless speakers. Designed by Philippe Starck and slated for release this spring, these decently designed black speakers include a dock for the iPhone or iPod touch.
FreePlay (freeplayenergy.com) was one of the companies displaying chargers for the iPhone. They specialize in solar chargers and quick-to-recharge external chargers.
FreePlay was also demonstrating two digital radios and a stereo, battery-operated portable speaker for the iPhone.
Audio enhancement, A2DP
The biggest omissions on the iPhone 3G are its lack of A2DP high-quality Bluetooth audio transfer and AVRCP remote multimedia playback control. A2DP capability would allow you to use high-quality stereo headsets with your iPhone, and AVRCP would give you better control of the playback of your media. There are two ways of correcting this omission.
The easiest is to get an A2DP-compliant Bluetooth adapter that plugs into the iPhone’s audio socket. This will let you listen to stereo music through A2DP headphones. Interestingly, the recently released Altech 906 not only gives you astonishingly high-quality sound, it comes with the aforementioned Bluetooth. You’ll be able to listen to iPhone/iPod touch music, but will not be able to remotely control the music. To actually control the music from the headphone buttons you’ll need another adapter. (For more on this, read the online version of the article. The link to it is at the beginning of this article.)
Competition for the iPhone
Some remarkable, multimedia-capable phones were on display at MWC, in addition to the iPhone.
The Toshiba TG01 runs the latest version of the Windows Mobile OS and sports a WVGA (800x480 pixel) touch screen. It has a 3D graphics accelerator built into it and is powered by a new-generation 1 GHz processor. It’s thinner than the iPhone, but otherwise larger and heavier. Also, Toshiba has a pretty bad record for timely updates and bug fixes. Finally, the TG01 is missing a Start button.
On the Symbian side of things, Samsung’s Omnia HD is the new device that is most worth mentioning. It has an OLED screen capable of rendering colors far better than traditional handsets (including the iPhone), a high-resolution touchscreen, and an excellent camera able to capture 8 megapixel images 1280x720 pixel videos. It allows playback of the high-resolution videos you capture, and has pair of stereo speakers built in for music playback.