Monday, February 27, 2012

Phones poised to replace the money in your pocket

Barcelona, Spain (CNN) -- This is the fourth time I've covered Mobile World Congress and every year I arrive expecting to be unimpressed, thinking "surely, this year there's nothing new left to show" and every year I leave realizing the pace of change is just accelerating.
This year is no different: from smartphones with specs to rival advanced DLSR cameras to devices that are more powerful than a home PC in your pocket, Mobile World Congress has been impressive once more.
It's easy to talk about the headline devices, such as the Nokia 808 Pureview: a 41 megapixel camera stuffed into a phone. That's right: forty one megapixels in a phone -- imagine saying that just a couple of years ago.
The fact it's running Nokia's older Symbian OS isn't really relevant (although disappointing) because if you're that into the technology you'll be happy with whichever operating system you get -- but it seems similar camera phone tech will be stuffed into Windows Phone devices in the near future too anyway.
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Another key theme this year has been the battle of the quad core phones: Samsung was noticeable for its lack of press conference, as it's saving its headline device for a standalone event. This means the likes of HTC, LG and new boys Huawei have managed to steal some of the thunder from the top Korean manufacturer, all pushing the boundaries of smartphone speed seemingly beyond breaking point by packing four chipsets into one device.
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But there are several more stories underneath that point the way to an interesting future for the phone in your pocket, beyond today's identikit black touchscreen slabs -- such as Samsung's new Galaxy Beam smartphone, which packs a projector into a device that's just over one centimeter thick.
It might seem pointless, but presentations on the go just became a reality for salespeople the world over, and it's a decent smarpthone to boot.
Then there's the idea of durability -- I've counted more than five companies all stating they're in talks with major manufacturers to not only make your phone shockproof, but make it water repellent as well. That means the days where dropping your phone in the toilet equals instant phone death will soon be over; the water will just roll off and your handset will keep on chugging (although you'll probably want to clean it first).
But to me, the most exciting thing is the way contactless technology is becoming reality: Near field communication has been around for a while in our handsets, but this year we're going to see it finally come to most new handsets and with it a whole host of new opportunities for users and networks alike.
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You'll start seeing a lot more information around paying for items with your phone soon; a number of retail outlets are upgrading their pay points to accommodate payment simply by tapping your phone on a hotspot, and you'll be able to keep up to date with all your spending through a specific (and secure) app soon.
But it's beyond the cash that gets me excited: touching phones together to exchange business cards will soon be a regular occurrence, or connecting to Wi-Fi routers or Bluetooth speakers with a simple tap of the phone. A number of the top-end manufacturers have confirmed to me that this is the year they'll start integrating such tech in their devices, and that's something that users can really get involved with.
It's left me feeling like there's literally nowhere for mobile phones to go now -- but this time next year, when we're looking at phones capable of projecting 3D holograms with 16 chips and 100 megapixel cameras, I'm sure I'll change my mind!

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