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What to look for at the Mobile World Congress

February 15, 2009 |  1:41 pm
Mobile_world
Last year's Mobile World Congress. Credit: ya po guille via Flickr.

Get ready for a week of phone porn, filled with talk about LTE, femtocells and MVNOs. The Mobile World Congress, the cellphone industry's version of the Consumer Electronics Show, kicks off in Barcelona on Monday.

Thousands of mobile industry professionals will converge on the Spanish city to show off their new gear, announce previously secretive products and try to convince one another that the industry will weather the economic downturn. Research group Strategy Analytics predicted last month that the global mobile phone market would shrink 9% in 2009.

Even if you don't know what those terms above mean (here's a cheat sheet), there's a lot for the casual phone nerd to be excited about, including solar-powered phones, a Nokia app store and "Opera Turbo," which, sadly, is not an opera performed on motorbikes but a mobile Web browser. In case you aren't traveling to Barcelona, here are some things ...

... to look out for from the comfort of your home:

On Monday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will introduce Microsoft's new mobile strategy to the crowd (hopefully his presentation will not contain mosquitoes like Bill Gates' TED one did). Ballmer is expected to unveil an application store for Microsoft-powered handsets (the iPhone App Store's success has everyone scrambling to catch up) and a service called My Phone that allows people to sync their photos, contacts, videos and other files to a personalized website they can access from anywhere. He's also expected to announce Windows Mobile 6.5, an updated version of the company's operating system for handsets.

Nokia is expected to unveil its new app store, which it announced in December, at the conference. The Finnish company may also show off a new model of its E75 phone, which has a slide-out full keyboard and will go on sale for 390 pounds (about $564) in Britain next month.

Garmin will allow attendees to play with its Nuviphone, a phone that uses the Cayman Islands company's GPS technology to help people figure out where they're going. Samsung will unveil a gadgety phone, the Memoir, which has an 8-megapixel camera and the endorsement of Danish model-photographer Helena Christensen. Adobe says it will make announcements about its Flash animation and video software for mobile phones, although the much-anticipated Flash Player for iPhones isn't quite ready.

Samsung and LG, two big Korean manufacturers, are expected to show handsets that can be recharged by sunlight. Nokia probably won't, because there's not much sun in Finland right now. Expect too the new browser from Opera, which is trying to make mobile Web surfing faster.

The rapidly growing field of mobile advertising will probably be front and center this week as well. Quattro Wireless, a Waltham, Mass., company, will make an announcement about its ad network for cellphones, and other young players also will enter the field.

The big mysteries of the week: Will Dell introduce a new smart phone at the conference? Will BlackBerry maker Research In Motion have anything new to say? Is Samsung really delaying the release of its phone that runs Android, Google's mobile operating system? Palm hopes so; its shares jumped to a 52-week high last week in the hopes that the Android would stay away, if just for a little while.

-- Alana Semuels

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