mobile Tag

Strap In: Smartwatch and Virtual Reality Wars About To Kick Off, Will Either Succeed?


As this year’s Mobile World Congress draws to a close, the big takeaways from Barcelona’s annual tech-fest are:

  • smartphones have all gotten a little better, again
  • smartwatches are landing in a big way this summer
  • VR is going to be mainstream by Spring 2016

Whilst the likes of Samsung – with the slick new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge – and HTC with their One M9 have done a decent job of bringing improved phones to the market, mainstream wearable tech – products that the majority will actually buy – is what’s getting everyone inside Fira Gran Via really excited.

The smartwatch going mainstream is largely due to Apple’s Watch hitting the market this April. As with any technology, Apple getting involved adds instant legitimacy and vastly raises the prospect of mainstream adoption due to their superior design of hardware and software, launched with seductively-crafted marketing. But can the smartwatch become more than just a notification platform for your phone, with some health tracking thrown in? To really break smartwatches Apple needs to:

  • give developers a platform to do more than add notifications to existing services or apps
  • look beyond health, which is only of interest to health geeks for now at least
  • have battery life that doesn’t pale in comparison to Pebble’s 10 days
  • create a watch that feels as good to wear as a luxury watch, after all $350 is a lot for a poorly put together accessory
  • make Siri work for his/her money – the wrist could be where Siri becomes truly useful and widely adopted by the majority, so Apple must nail the integration

Unfortunately, there are still way more reasons for Apple Watch and the whole smartwatch category to ultimately fail. The most challenging one is that even the cult of Cupertino will struggle to convince the average smartphone user they need a fancy watch. Smartphones and tablets play movies, TV, games and offer a full internet experience. We were doing all that stuff when those new touchscreen devices came along so were happy to sate our existing appetite on a high quality, portable platform. The smartwatch however requires us to adopt totally new behaviours, and history shows we’re not so great at that. It will take a killer app or piece of functionality to compel the masses to buy one, and what that is is anyone’s guess right now.

Virtual Reality

Like smartwatches, VR headsets are coming to the market heavily tied to specific platforms. The main players are the Vive by HTC and Valve, Samsung’s Gear VR, Project Morpheus for Sony Playstation and of course the Oculus Rift, the crowdfunded headset now owned by Facebook that got us interested in VR all over again. Then there is a second tier of highly affordable headsets into which you simply slot your phone and run compatible apps, a category not to be dismissed due to its accessibility and backing by Google. Their Cardboard prototype has inspired a slew of similar products including its own collaboration with Mattel to create the retro View-Master, a 21st century redux of the popular 3D slide-viewer we loved as kids.

Whilst comparisons with 3D TV are probably unfair – VR clearly has more consumer and industrial uses – the big question that will always hang over any new technology is why? Why do I need to spend money to get this? Why do I need to change the way I do stuff? Why should I convince all my friends this is the best thing ever so they get on board and share the benefits with me? So many questions, but think about how easily the iPhone answered all those and ushered in the smartphone era, and then think how impossible it is to find an answer when they are asked of 3D or curved TV. Can VR answer these? Quite possibly, and the winner of the battle for VR supremacy is likely to be one who is already in our home, delivering content we love. That’s why it may well be Sony Playstation who have the most users of VR by Christmas 2016, with the rest battling it out for PC gamers’ hard-earned cash, likely a larger but more fragmented and competitive market.


Samsung Galaxy S5, Gear 2 and Gear Fit Hands-On

I’ve been at Mobile World Congress 2014 with Samsung, where all the latest technology and mobile innovations are announced. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to play with the Galaxy S5 smartphone, the Gear 2 smart watch and Gear Fit sports band.

Find out more about the new products over at Samsung’s site

This was actually really hard with my brand new skinny jeans on


Mobile World Congress: 5 Things We Learnt About The Future

Now that the dust has settled and everyone has returned to Asia and Scandinavia with their red lanyards no doubt still swinging round their necks it’s a good time to look back, take stock and reflect on the big takeaways from Mobile World Congress 2011:

  1. Phones don’t have features, operating systems do
    If you were bored within an hour of looking round the conference I’m sure you weren’t alone. The phones were almost all the same i.e. iPhone clones with a full-span touchscreen and between one and five physical ‘home’ buttons at the base of the unit’s front, with of course the obligatory volume buttons on the right-hand side, data, audio and power ports. It’s actually a massive relief that software interface design has been taken from the hands of those who have seldom mastered it and been put in the hands of Google, whose Android platform was ubiquitous at this years #MWC11.

    There were a few nice original touches such as a few phones with HDMI-out like LG’s fast-as-hell Optimus 2X which outputs games, videos and screen mirroring in full HD.

    LG Optimus 2X Shrek Kart on LG Optimus 2X [via HDMI]

    LG also captured a lot of the column inches last week with their Optimus 3D phone which boasts a glasses-free 3D screen and a dual-lens camera which shoots 3D video which can be viewed and shared on YouTube (which is now 3D compatible). They also have a tablet which sports the 3D camera and I think I was the first person ever to publicly upload 3D footage on it (#geekwin):

  2. Which ‘cloud’ your stuff is in really matters
    I really started to feel that this year a lot of us have started living out of the cloud as opposed to our hard drives. Maybe it’s just me but all my documents and files for both work and personal use are in my Dropbox, which via apps makes all my stuff accessible on any device (and even their website). My collaborative documents with various clients/colleagues are on Google Docs, my email and calendars are in Google and Apple’s servers, my music projects are all synced through Gobbler, the list goes on and on and what matters now when choosing a phone is how easily I can get to all that stuff sat on servers somewhere in California. With Google being an increasingly big player in the cloud storage space (with rumours of more stuff coming) and being the developer of what is now the biggest mobile operating system it can only mean good things for Android and the phones who run the OS.
  3. Mobile internet and voice quality is about to get a big upgrade
    4G is already being rolled out in major US cities by Sprint and has been tested in the UK by O2. Your average consumer can expect to start enjoying home broadband speeds on their mobile as early as next year which will open the door to previously home-only activities such as IP voice/video calls (via Skype etc), multiplayer gaming, hi-def content streaming and file-sharing.
    Orange also confirmed the rumour that they’re about to trial HD voice calls in the UK, which will give calls the audio quality of music mp3s. Great news for those who are regularly kept on hold I guess.
  4. Tablet computers are here to stay
    “iFad” I heard you scream when Jobs unveiled the device that’s ‘just a big iPhone’ back in January 2010. Well, taking a look round the stands at Mobile World Congress this year put the clear message out that there is a big demand for touchscreen devices between five and ten inches big and everyone from Blackberry to LG wants in on this burgeoning market. As with the phones they started to all merge into the same Android device after a while though the differences in size, weight and speed were more noticeable with the pads. Here are a couple of key players compared with my iPad:

    Samsung Galaxy Tab vs Apple iPad
    Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 with Android Honeycomb was noticeably light and very portable. Ran Android beautifully.

    iPad vs LG Optimus Pad
    LG’s Optimus Pad sacrificed width for a more portable feel without the loss of screen real estate when playing widescreen media. Also felt very fast, responsive and of course has that 3D camera.

    Confused by the middle ground between phone and netbook? Samsung’s Galaxy Wifi 5.0 will really blow your mind:

    Samsung Galaxy Wifi 5.0 vs Apple iPhone 4

    There it is next to my iPhone 4. Samsung have filled yet another gap we didn’t know existed with this phone-less bit of hardware that runs Android 2.2 and puzzled many people who wondered whether it was a big media player or small tablet. You decide.

    Ultimately, if – and only if – these tablets are released with a much lower price tag than the iPad they may gain ground with the masses, particularly with heavy Google users such as myself and many of my fellow iPad-carriers. Android has matured into a serious contender to Apple’s crown and it’ll be interesting to see how Apple parry the blow on 2nd March 2011 with the big iPad 2 announcement.

  5. Google are pretty serious about this stuff
    I think I’ve used the G-word in this post enough times for us to realise that Google aren’t just speculatively throwing their hat into the ring on this one, they aim to completely take over mobile, kinda like they completely took over Mobile World Congress 2011 with an amazing stand:

    The Android Booth

    This stand had… a slide which made you a free physical photo of your trip down it, a smoothy bar, free drinks upstairs, a chilled seating area, an ‘Androidify Yourself’ free sticker-making station, free collectible pin-badges, free collectible Android figurines and loads more stuff. I mean it was totally mental, like so much more big and fun than any other stand, but not only that, they reached out to all corners of the event with an Android welcoming you to most other stands too:

    The sweet-giving Android   Android is everywhere!

    The Androids were giving out green sweets and collectible pin badges which @alicam did a fine job of collecting:

    @alicam and his collection of Android pin badges

    For a more extensive account with photos of Android’s domination of MWC11 visit @alicam’s blog –

All in all it was a fun(ish) and interesting conference. I learned a lot about mobile and got to see Barcelona too, which is a great city despite my vegetarianism eliciting the kind of face I imagine people would make if you asked to see intimate photos of their wife. Anyway, some pretty photos of Barcelona here.


Mobile World Congress 2011 So Far

I’m here at Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, Spain for the mobile communications industry’s big annual bash. It’s a time for phone manufacturers, app developers, accessories makers and anyone else who gains in any way from people using mobile phones and computers to show off their latest innovations and forthcoming product launches. It’s also a place for the big personalities in technology, like the CEOs of Google, Twitter and Microsoft et al, to take the stage in front of a key group of people (ie people in suits who make lots of money out of our obsession with mobile).

Yesterday was fun. We attended LG’s press conference where they unveiled the world’s first glasses-free 3D phone and tablet computer. We got plenty of time to try these out and play with the other devices and I even managed to get the first 3D video created with the LG Optimus Pad uploaded to YouTube 😉 Out of all the devices the one I genuinely want to own is the Pad. If I didn’t have an Apple iPad already I’d be very tempted by this.

Photography with the LG Optimus Pad

Today (Tuesday) is our second day at the conference and whilst the big announcements at press conferences have blown over, there’s still lots of buzz round the various booths with people playing with the latest handsets and chatting about MOBILE!!

I took the time to play with the two other LG phones (the ones without any 3D stuff going on) and one particularly took my fancy, more so even than the 3D phone – LG’s Optimus 2X. It’s a good solid Android phone and under the hood has a dual processor, dual memory and is basically very fast. Also loved playing it plugged into a HDTV via HDMI for full 1080p games, videos, photos, internet etc as evidenced by my Shrek Kart session below:

I’m here courtesy of LG Mobile – @LGmobileMWC on Twitter – hence my focus up to now on LG’s products. I’m with two other bloggers – @alicam from Melbourne and @mayhemstudios from Los Angeles. I’ll be roving round the other big booths tomorrow and looking at what other companies have up their sleeves so stay tuned at 🙂


Mobile World Congress: Top Things To Get Excited About

Mobile Phones

This Monday, 14th February, will see 50,000 people descend on Fira de Barcelona in the centre of the Catalonian capital to gather at Mobile World Congress, the biggest date in the mobile communications industry’s calendar. It is typically where the big players like LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Samsung et al announce new technology, phones, tablets and gadgets. LG are kindly whisking myself, @alicam and @mayhemstudios out there to witness their product unveilings, which include the much-hyped first ever 3D phone! So in anticipation of this almighty tech-fest, here’s a quick look at what I’m most excited about seeing next week:

LG Optimus 3D

OK, so LG are the reason I’m out there. But seriously, a phone with 3D screen and camera? I need to see that. The grass is always greener on the other side and having had an iPhone for so long I could very easily be tempted to switch over to Android by this phone which is rumoured to have a dual-core 1GHz processor, an 8 megapixel camera and ‘multi-channel RAM’. I’ll publish full details as we get them at MWC, but in the meantime here’s a teaser trailer LG just released:

The ‘Playstation Phone’

I love my Playstation 3 and for a long time loved my (cracked) PSP, but the poor old handheld has been gathering dust since 2008 when the iPhone 3G gave us decent games, with internet, email, a phone and all your digital media thrown in too. So it would be cool to see Sony bring the goods with its ‘Xperia Play’. The Android phone/console hybrid will run Playstation One games though we don’t know what games will be available until MWC, and that ultimately will determine this device’s success.

Interestingly, by the end of 2011 Sony plans to have allowed other mobile and tablet manufacturers to adapt their Android OS to run Playstation games and have access to the forthcoming Playstation app store. Details are scant until the press conference on Sunday. Until then here’s the creepy ad Sony ran during Super Bowl to officially announce the phone:


Let’s face it, it will be years until someone other than Apple beats the iPad at the tablet game so I, like many, will be looking on in amusement and curiosity at the tablet launches at MWC to see what lengths manufacturers have gone to to try and tempt those considering Apple’s ‘magical and revolutionary’ device away from the easy choice.

Samsung’s Galaxy has been on of the more successful underdogs and it’s successor will be unveiled on Sunday night. Rumours are also circulating that the Samsung Galaxy’s successor will be announced and that HTC are preparing their first tablet to be unveiled. LG are also said to be launching a larger version of their Optimus 3D phone, a tablet with rear-facing stereoscopic camera and glasses-free 3D screen.


Whilst the gallery of speakers at MWC 2011 looks like the members book of a white supremacist chess club, there are a few heavyweight keynotes at MWC 2011 that I’ll be making an effort to see.

Eric Schmidt should be interesting because of Google’s burgeoning stake in the mobile OS market and how advertising might develop in mobile.

Steve Ballmer because I kinda hope he’ll go a bit mental… again.

Jack Dorsey because since co-founding Twitter he’s set up Square, a revolutionary product that is as beautifully simple and useful as his first famous venture. I’ll be interested to hear where he plans to take it and which industries they’re focussing their marketing efforts on (do market traders generally have iPhones?).

Dick Costolo because he’s CEO of my favourite social website – Twitter – and I’ll be keen to hear how things are going back at HQ and where they plan to take the business. He’s also an interesting figure in the start-up world having founded Feedburner and invested in several start-ups including Twitter back in 2007. I’m sure I’ll happen across other speakers and be pleasantly surprised, which I’ll report back on right here.

So stay tuned as I post videos, photos and new product specs as they’re announced. You can also follow the #MWC11 hashtag on Twitter, and also me – @willfrancis@LGmobileMWC@alicam and @mayhemstudios to see what we’re up to!


iPhone 4: One Week Later [REVIEW]

After queuing last week at UK mobile phone carrier O2’s store on London’s Oxford Street for over 2 hours, I actually came away feeling a bit silly. As I weaved between the tourists, pigeons and ‘Golf Sale’ guys clutching my prize I thought to myself “I’ve just queued for 2 hours… for a mobile phone… have I gone crazy? Is my life so empty that I needed so badly to upgrade to the iPhone 4 today?”. Well yeah, it was. The internet was alight with debate around Apple’s new device so I couldn’t possibly miss out, the curve might get ahead of me!

So after over a week in possession of the latest shiny object to drop out of Cupertino, here’s how I got on with iPhone 4:


I upgraded from a two-year-old, jailbroken iPhone 3G so I was always going to be blown away by the speed. Nevertheless, it is impressive wherever you’re coming from. The speed has changed the way I rely on it (ie. even more). For instance I can open ‘Maps’, search a street and pinpoint where it is within a few seconds. No delay in opening the app, typing or locating me. This could take a whole minute on the 3G, now I can do it in just a few paces.

With Apple’s A4 processor and 512MB of memory it’s no surprise that this thing never stutters. Multitasking seems smooth and I’m yet to crash or freeze an app.


Amazing. When they made a song and dance about the screen at WWDC 2010, where the launch of iPhone 4 was announced, it seemed like a fairly trivial point to drive home. Apple call it ‘retina display’, which basically means that the pixels are so small and numerous that the eye can’t detect that your text and images are in fact made up of little blocks of colour. In practice this is a really important feature. It removes another barrier to the phone, making it easier on the eye, more readable and just looks gorgeous. Apps are starting to update to make use of the higher resolution (old apps look really pixelly on iPhone 4). Notable updates so far include Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Twitter.

One big ‘problem’ this brilliant display poses is that if you’re an iPad owner, your ‘revolutionary and magical’ device will start to feel a bit old-fashioned. The display is of course bigger but I started to notice that it was made up of pixels. I found the same thing when opening my MacBook Pro. This really highlights what a step-change Apple have brought about with retina display and we the consumer will no doubt start to demand imperceptibly high resolution from all our devices very soon.


The accelerometer has always been more than satisfactory for me in terms of detecting movement on the iPhone, largely for the purpose of games, but Apple have fitted iPhone 4 with ‘Gyroscope’, an enhancement in tilt detection. This means incredibly accurate pinpointing of exactly how the iPhone is oriented in relation to the earth. This can be seen in updated shooter game ‘Gun Range’ which isn’t the best game in the world but demonstrates just how accurate the gyroscope is by relying on it to aim your weapon (instead of the old method of tapping the screen where you wish to shoot). Check out the game here.


This isn’t good news for my compact digital camera (a Canon Ixus 870 IS since you ask, and it takes nice shots for a compact). The iPhone 4 not only has a 5 megapixel sensor but the lens itself is bigger, taking richer-looking shots and working much better in low light. Throw in 720p video, iMovie (which is £2.99 in the app store and offers basic but decent editing functionality) and I think you really can leave that proper camera at home… unless you’re going out on a photography field trip.
The iPhone has also grown a second, front-facing camera which whilst not the same quality as the back camera is perfect for Apple’s new video-calling service FaceTime. To maintain a high-quality experience, Apple has restricted use of FaceTime to wifi connections, and having made Skype video calls through a tethered iPhone 3G I’m down with that. Until our mobile data networks can handle higher up and down speeds video calling will always produce Monet-esque results.

The Antenna Issue

There are enough column inches… and pixels written about the iPhone 4’s antenna problems. Suffice it to say that I find in strong reception areas it doesn’t matter how I hold the phone, but in weaker signal areas covering the bottom-left corner with my hand does make two or three bars disappear from the signal indicator. I love Apple (can you tell?) but some things they do royally piss me off. Like releasing new products and constantly being out of stock. Like rejecting perfectly good apps from the App Store whilst allowing that same store to be flooded with a long tail of dross. And like charging £25 (around $37) for a rubber band to put round your iPhone 4, which apparently helps with what is ultimately quite a big product fault. I can’t actually believe people are really buying them.


The new operating system is awesome, offering a long line of small but welcome tweaks such as a new iPod interface, better typing correction, smoother GUI animations and many more. Probably most significant is multi-tasking which allows you to access an app menu and open a new app whilst already having an app open and seems to work well, though with the speed of the new iPhone, opening and closing apps is pretty swift anyway.
The great letdown with iOS4 is simply that it’s not available for the iPad until ‘fall 2010’. Like many people I’m using my iPad as a replacement for lugging my MacBook Pro around town (nothing could replace it at home of course). But using the iPad as a business machine could really do with multitasking. Along with the relatively low-res screen this is another reason my iPad feels a bit ’09 now.

In short and sweet conclusion, this is the iPhone you need to have. If you’re still clinging onto that Blackberry or Android, this is the mobile that I guarantee will make you forget all about your old brick. In my opinion this is the first iPhone that really lives up to the hype and now that we have a mature and thriving app store plus tons of websites optimised for it, the iPhone 4 really does stand clear above any other mobile phone, mp3 player or PDA. Just pack a fold-up chair and some lunch when you go to buy one 🙂


Tech Disappointments of 2010

OK, so here we are, well into 2010. A well-used date in the science fiction of the mid twentieth century, by which time we would be zipping between space ports, taking one-second ion showers in the morning and generally looking pretty sodding slick. It didn’t turn out quite how we expected, and we’ve seen it coming a long time.

Different versions of the future down the ages have always fascinated me (that’s a whole other blog post). It’s interesting that since the 1980s science fiction has started to be a lot more realistic with its timelines, placing plots 300 or 3,000 years hence, not 30 years ahead as in Back To The Future II which depicted people going about on hover-skateboards and wearing shit baseball caps made out of hologram-foil:

I guess they kinda got that last bit right…

This realism was no doubt due to the space race cooling off and the harsh realisation that space travel is actually quite hard and even getting someone to Mars would be a bit of a ballache. Whilst coming to terms with our unstellar, essentially-medieval-but-cleaner present and future existence we’ve made some truly amazing advances in more useful, mundane technology which allows us to make telephone calls on the move and listen to any music in the world from the comfort of home. There are however some aspects of consumer technology that really need to pull their socks up:

Video connections – should it still be this hard to send and receive moving images with sound, in the same room? We still have no standard, other than HDMI which is still far from universal. The DVI out on my MacBook Pro has to be converted into VGA and I still have to pipe the audio out from my headphone socket into the TV or a hi-fi. Too many cables and hassle. We really should have a wireless, lossless video transmission protocol which is adopted by all TVs, DVD players, computers etc.
ETA: Development is slow and offices the world over seem happy with a VGA cable limply hanging out from a flatscreen TV for those who dare to risk looking like they can’t operate their own laptop. I’m setting the flux capacitor to 2015 on this one.

Internet connectivity – use a laptop? Who doesn’t? And yet it’s still a stroke of luck if you manage to get wifi anywhere. I rely on my jailbroken iPhone and an app that lets me turn it into a wifi hotspot for internet on the move. It seems crazy that modern laptops don’t come with 3G as standard, and that 3G isn’t quite a bit faster.
ETA: The iPad will put the pressure on laptop manufacturers and 3G (or even forthcoming 4G) will become standard in 2012

File-sharing – use a shared drive at work? Crap, isn’t it? Ideally we should all be working in ‘the cloud’, perhaps on Google, though even Google Docs is a tad hokey. It really feels that by now we should have full Microsoft Office-level publishing software that allows seamless collaboration and publication.
ETA: Feels close, with the likes of Dropbox and Google, not to mention Microsoft Office Live, I expect us all to be working nebulously by next year.

Mobile internet – thank the Lord for the iPhone. Without Apple’s groundbreaking dog-and-bone we’d still be struggling with mashed up, half-loaded webpages on screens the size of postage stamps. But it feels we’re still a long way off the dream of mobile internet access being anything other than a crippled ‘lite’ version of the real www. And then there’s document management. We need to be able to make PowerPoint presentations, images and webpages on the move. Maybe the iPad will resolve this but it remains to be seen how portable we’ll feel Jobs’ latest creation to be.
ETA: Another job for iPad. Expect mobile devices and networks to step up their game this year. We could be living the dream of a full web experience on mobile by next summer.

Media-sharing – remember when Bluetooth came out? Suddenly the future of effortlessly swooshing files between devices wherever you were started to look like a reality. Not quite… it’s slow and still not universal. And the marriage of TV and internet has hardly been idyllic. We all access an increasing amount of music and video online and yet we will always, even in 2510, want to just sit back from time to time with a box of Tunnocks teacakes and a cup of Lady Grey on a welcoming, tattered sofa and just watch. No interactivity, no options, certainly no plugging in DVI cables, audio cables, transferring files to/from games consoles etc. Apple TV was supposed to address this but has too many restrictions and is far from widely adopted. Recent Boxee integration might help.
ETA: Getting better, and with an increasing amount of new TVs coming with net connections this could be two or three years away.

Video game purchases – most home connections can download 3GB in an hour (if from a fast server). I guarantee that on average people spend longer than that travelling to and from physical retail stores to obtain video games in plastic boxes. It’s frankly madness that I can’t just buy and download any game through the Playstation Store or Xbox Live. If anyone can explain the business sense of this to me please do in the comments below.
ETA: Plastic boxes will start to die out in the next 12 months. Expect digital game releases to dominate by Christmas 2011. This is admittedly optimism on my part!

In writing this I’ve been pondering why these gaps (and others, please discuss them in the comments) even exist. I think a large part of it is the lack of standardisation. In some ways standardisation isn’t good for the tech industry as it often relates to monopolisation and the lack of competition can leave development stagnating. It can however be great for the consumer as advances in functionality and usability can be concentrated on widely adopted products and formats instead of spread thinly amongst millions of them. An example of this could be on the horizon in the form of the proposed universal mobile phone charger which some major mobile manufacturers have agreed to conform to. As well as making consumers’ life a lot easier this initiative will inevitably cut down on waste, which is another great reason for widespread standardisation.

I guess it’s a delicate balance to strike between a free marketplace that fosters innovation and one which provides individuals what they need to innovate but in controlled parameters. A bit like liberals vs socialists then. Which makes me a technology commy. Does that make Steve Jobs the tech equivalent of Lenin? He’s certainly getting the look.