Business people need them and consumers love them -- the many new smart wireless devices that are making work and play a whole lot more productive and entertaining. Expect to find a truckload of cool gadgets at the Cebit trade show, which begins next week in Hanover, Germany.
Competition is the driving force: It's why manufacturers are tripping over each other to put more pixels into phone cameras, zap more bits over the airwaves and even beam TV to small screens. And it's why a sizeable chunk of the Cebit fairgrounds is now dedicated to companies operating in the innovative wireless space.
What to expect this year? Smart phones with plenty of new features using a mix of operating systems.
While Microsoft Windows Mobile and Symbian hammer away at each other for market share, Linux is quietly sneaking in the back door. Even PalmSource, which offers a rival operating system, sees a bright future for Linux. The company has decided to base its new Cobalt smart phone operating system on the Linux kernel.
Arguably, the big buzzword in applications this year is mobile TV, a technology that generated a lot of hype at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes last month. And even though some market research groups, such as Gartner, warn of the hype, the industry is roaring ahead.
Mobile TV service has two primary and potentially competing distribution channels. With one, mobile phones receive regular TV broadcasts using special antennas. With the other, the signal is transmitted over the mobile network as a stream of video data. The big difference between the two is broadcast's one-to-many relationship versus mobile's one-to-one.
Vodafone D2 GmbH, the German subsidiary of Vodafone, will give visitors an opportunity to view several live broadcasts on a prototype mobile TV device developed by Siemens. The phone is equipped with a special antenna based on the DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld) standard.
The DVB-H standard, approved by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute in November, was successfully tested last year in a pilot in Berlin. Vodafone participated in the pilot, together with Nokia, Koninklijke Philips Electronics and Universal Studios Networks Deutschland GmbH.
Several other manufacturers, including Nokia and Sanyo, plan to show their mobile TV-enabled phones.
Music, too, is catching on with vendors. After having virtually handed the market for personal MP3 players to Apple Computer on a plate, several vendors now see an obvious niche for a combined mobile phone and music player.
And guess who's trying to grab a lead in this market? Hint: the company is jointly owned by the inventor of the Walkman portable CD player and a telecoms equipment manufacturer that has been at the forefront of mobile phone technology. Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications will show its new W800, the first Walkman branded mobile phone. The company, which announced the new phone last month in Cannes, plans to start shipping it in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, rumors are afoot that German mobile phone operator T-Mobile International will launch its own-branded music player at Cebit. Although Motorola announced its music phone at the 3GSM World Congress, the company plans a U.S. launch in the coming weeks.
What Motorola will show at Cebit -- among many other products -- is its range of push-to-talk over cellular (POC) phones, which offer a walkie-talkie function in addition to normal mobile phone telephony service. Numerous operators across Europe and Asia are now rolling out POC services, similar to the walkie talkie-type service pioneered by Nextel Communications in the U.S. Nokia will also be touting its push-to-talk products in Hanover.
Speaking of push services, LG Electronics plans to show its new push-to-view (PTV) service. Evolved from push-to-talk voice service, PTV allows multiple users to share live video in real time.
And speaking of viewing, allow a few words about the pixel race. As cameras become a standard feature of mobile phones and vendors need to position these products more competitively, expect the number of pixels to increase -- in much the same way processing speeds in PC chips have. To differentiate their products, phone manufacturers are now racing to deliver higher and higher megapixel camera phones, just as PC makers have been pushing the speeds of their megahertz machines.
If the camera phones announced at last year's Cebit were slightly over 1 megapixel, 2 megapixel and higher will dominate the list of new camera phones at this year's event. And experts are talking about 5 megapixel in the not-too-distant future.
Also worth checking out at Cebit are a new generation of phones that integrate both cellular and Wi-Fi technologies, and a system, called HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access ), which will provide initial throughput rates of between 400K bps (bits per second) and 600K bps, with a peak rate of 14.4M bps. T-Mobile plans to demonstrate the new high speed technology in a moving vehicle.
So, if you're wondering what's still missing in mobile phones, the answer is: not much. They can be used to make calls, send messages, organize addresses and appointments, take and send pictures, listen to music, play games and soon watch TV.
How about scanning? Believe it or not, that application is coming, too. Realeyes3D has developed technology that enables camera phones to be used to scan and send a copy of any document to a fax machine or email account. The company demonstrated the technology, Digitzer3, at Cannes but will not be exhibiting in Hanover.
Maybe the cost of renting a booth was too high. Or maybe cool, damp Hanover wasn't as enticing as sunny Cannes on the Mediterranean.