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Mobile World Congress: A Week of Intense Wrist Action
Source: totaltele.com
Source Date: Friday, February 28, 2014
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Internet Governance
Created: Mar 04, 2014

Smartwatches, wristbands, and even a pen up the sleeve, plus amazing invisibility tricks all made for a barnstorming show.

Forget the phone in your pocket, the tablet in your bag and the phablet in your, err, giant pocket or small bag, at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona it was all about what you wear on your wrist.

By "what", we are of course referring to "what is that monstrosity you've got on your wrist? Oh, you can't show me because the battery has run out already", otherwise known as the smartwatch or smart wristband depending on the type of strap it comes with and whether or not you're in a gym.

It seems we've all been crying out for these things – probably in our sleep because I can't say with any certainty I've heard anyone crying out for them – because the world's device makers this week answered our secret, silent, possibly non-existent prayers with a frankly bland array of wrist-wear.

They have all been variously pitched as life companions to help the lucky wearer know when they have a text or email, track how far they walk and how fast their heart is beating, and even how well they are sleeping. In the case of Congress attendees, the answers to those questions, in order, are "every two seconds", "too far and not quickly enough", "erratically", and "not very". And I didn't even need a smartwatch to tell me that.

Huawei kicked off proceedings on Sunday afternoon by showing off the TalkBand, which when you say it out loud sounds a bit like "talk banned", which really is flying in the face of convention at a telecoms networking event the size of MWC.

Sony Mobile went for SmartBand as the name for its smart wristband, which is waterproof in case the owner is so overcome with emotion that they cry all over it. It also doesn't have a screen; information it collects is instead sent to an app on the user's smartphone.

World-leader Samsung didn't go for the 'band' naming convention, instead opting to call its version the Gear Fit. Either way, it looked pretty much the same as Huawei's and Sony's efforts: a small module full of sensors with a battery life approximately 1,495 days shorter than a normal watch, that comes with a removable rubber strap.

Samsung also updated its Galaxy Gear smartwatch range with two new models, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, which look less like wristbands and more like watches, but in essence offer a similar experience.

Motorola pulled a late, albeit invisible, surprise out of the bag on Tuesday when it announced plans to launch a smartwatch later this year. It promised its offering would be less "ugly" than those produced by its rivals. Motorola has a strong tradition of delivering good looking devices, however, it also has a recent tradition of being acquired, not doing much, then being sold again, so we won't hold our breath.

Speaking of invisible, some of the regular big names were conspicuously absent from the Mobile World Congress agenda this year.

It was refreshing to hear from the likes of America Movil CEO Daniel Hajj, new GSMA chairman Jon Fredrik Baksaas, and Etisalat chief Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar about the challenges facing the industry, but attendees have grown accustomed to also listening to the thoughts of Vodafone's Vittorio Colao, AT&T's Randall Stephenson, and China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua (or his predecessor), among others, as well.

We were reliably informed that Colao and Stephenson were in Barcelona this week; maybe they were discussing a potential merger for when the six-month offer embargo enforced by the U.K. Takeover Code comes to an end? Or maybe they were just eating tapas and comparing smartwatches, who knows?

One executive I did meet during the week, Telekom Austria CTO Günther Ottendorfer, was not only visible, he was also wearing the only smartwatch currently worth having, in this hack's opinion: the Pebble.

Like Amazon's kindle e-reader it uses an E Ink display, meaning longer battery life. Its design is understated, it costs about $100 less than Samsung's first Galaxy Gear watch (pricing details for Samsung's new models have not been announced yet), and it can do cool stuff like be used to remotely take pictures, meaning an end to arm's-length selfies, or selfies taken in front of a mirror, if you're that way inclined.

Unlike Samsung's efforts, the Pebble works on iOS and Android, since it is an independent company born from the most successful crowd-funded Kickstarter project in history – after setting an initial target of $100,000 it eventually raised $10.2 million.

So maybe there is demand for smartwatches/wristbands after all. Just a certain type of smartwatch/wristband.

As for me, during this year's show I devised an ingenious way to avoid rummaging around in my bag for a pen at the start of every briefing: clipping it onto my watchstrap and hiding it up my sleeve (see picture below). Incredibly smart, until I discovered that the action of putting a jacket on resulted in me flinging a pen out of my sleeve and halfway across the press room. Hmm, maybe I'll get a Pebble instead...

 (By Nick Wood)

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