BARCELONA, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Everybody at this week's
Mobile World Congress in Barcelona wanted to be the new best
friend of the social networks.
From the world's biggest phone maker, Nokia, to tiny Irish
semiconductor start-up Movidia, delegates to the wireless
industry's biggest annual gathering couldn't stop talking about
Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.
The majority of visits to such online communities are still
made by people sitting at a computer telling their friends where
they are and how they are feeling, exchanging opinions on their
favourite movies and music or uploading videos.
But the spontaneous and personal nature of much of that
communication lends itself perfectly to the mobile phone.
The top executive at MySpace, owned by News Corp, said
members reaching the network from mobile phones had quadrupled
in the last year to 20 million, out of 135 million unique
visitors in total, and Facebook has seen a similar leap.
"This is really just the start of where we're going with
this," MySpace Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe told Reuters.
MySpace announced deals at the fair with Nokia and Palm, who
will adapt some of their phones to make uploading pictures or
video to the social network a matter of a single push of a
The company is confident that most smartphone makers will
feature MySpace in the coming year.
The so-called Facebook phone or Social Mobile made by INQ, a
spin-off of Hutchison Whampoa's 3, won handset of the year award
from the show's hosts, the GSM Association -- and everyone
involved was eager to claim a share of the credit.
"Qualcomm's integrated chipset technology and BREW software
have enabled INQ... to realise the potential in mobile social
networking," gushed Enrico Salvatori, the head of chipmaker
Qualcomm's operations in Europe.
Behind the buzz is a telecoms industry that has finally
brought together the network speed and capacity and the gadgets
to make capturing and sharing pictures or video on the run a fun
thing to do rather than a tedious and frustrating experience.
Apple's iPhone, first announced two years ago and updated in
mid-2008, gave the industry a jolt and still sets a benchmark,
although imitators and challengers abound.
Korea's LG Electronics has also struck out with bold designs
and models made for capturing and sharing media, and has been
marketing features like a single button for publishing video to
Google's YouTube for over a year.
Sony Ericsson made headlines at the mobile fair with plans
to bring a 12-megapixel camera to market in the second half of
this year, and Samsung unveiled an phone with built-in
Components suppliers and carriers are also playing their
part -- and everyone hopes to profit from the trend.
Texas Instruments is making what it calls "material" shifts
in investments to give higher priority to chip products that
make possible the richer multi-media content crucial to drive
more mobile social networking.
Movidia, armed with $14 million of venture capital funding,
has built a processor that allows users to do sophisticated
video post-production on their phones, which it will soon
release to phone makers for testing.
Chief Executive Sean Mitchell said in an interview the
company had attracted much interest from Japanese and Korean
phone makers at the show, and handsets containing such
processors could be out in time for Christmas next year.
Mobile carrier Orange, the main brand of France Telecom, is
tempting customers with special pricing that offers unlimited
access to sites such as Facebook and MySpace -- but meters all
other data use.
And of course MySpace itself -- created to sell advertising,
not just for fun -- is confident of profiting from new
opportunities to sell ads based on features unique to mobile,
like knowing where members are, if they choose to opt in.
"That will take you into a whole new realm," DeWolfe said.
"We are focused on creating a large, profitable business."
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