Photos expose cellphone biz's steamy underbelly
The World Congress Diary
3GSM Every February the mobile phone world holds its own Comdex in Cannes, on the French Riveria, and it's almost as big as Comdex itself. Unlike Comdex, however, it's in no danger of going bust, even though many of the participants are vendors with more debts than you can reasonably count. You're talking red ink with lots of zeros, here.
But they keep on coming, in fact, everyone keeps coming, and this year we took a camera along with us. Most of them enlarge to a VGA-sized image if you click.
This is Cannes harbor, and after two weeks in the gloom of Northern France and England, you're struck by how beautiful is the light on the Cote'd Azur really is. Fortunately, I'd packed my thermal underwear, as it was actually freezing cold. Damart proved to be the big technology winner for me, here.
And this is the quintessential GSM World Congress scene. Men in suits doing business, on their mobile phone, on what little beach space there is outside the exhibition halls.
Here's Juha Christensen, speaking for the dark side. In common with many Microsoft staff stateside, Juha's business card doesn't have a cellphone number. This is worth noting as Juha is one of the most important people in the cellphone industry, by dint of his present position (being Microsoft's youngest ever and first external VP hire) and past form (as an architect of the Symbian alliance).
Now when you meet Nokia staff, their cellphone number is the most prominent on the card, and a few folk I've noticed, such as the VP of software I met this week, don't have a landline number listed at all. Juha's absence of cellphone is a puzzle.
So text it me, Juha! [report link below].
And this jolly fellow is Johan Sandeberg, whose business card describes him as "CEO of UIQ". UIQ is the user interface for the Sony Ericsson P800 smartphone, the Motorola Paragon phone and anyone else who wants to license it. So really, he heads the Symbian lab in Ronneby, Sweden where UIQ (formerly "Quartz") is developed.
He looked particularly happy, I guess, because I won't be writing any leakware about the P800 now that the phone is finally available. He did tell me that themes would be coming in a future version of UIQ.
We met on the Symbian yacht. All the evening business at Cannes is conducted on yachts which are hired out to vendors at World Congress and other shows. In winter, one boat owner told me, they're hauled into dry dock for maintenance.
So you jump from yacht to yacht, over a rather precarious gangway. The busiest yacht of all was hired out to a venture capitalist, Atlas. That was so busy the party spilled out onto the quay, because of safety limits.
This, I thought, was a good indicator of the respective health of the European and US wireless economies. (But when you see what kind of Einsteins US VCs employ as their wireless experts, that isn't too surprising.)
Some companies had bigger ambitions...
Rather mysteriously, Siemens sponsored this ancient cruise ship in the middle of the bay, painted it corporate yellow, and it dominated the horizon.
For many people, cruise ships are associated with electric shock-inducing nylon carpets and singalong bingo, so this ancient hulk was a curious choice of advertising vehicle for a company that wants to reinvent itself as the most fashion conscious handset vendor. Siemens other presentation and product material was amazing - graphic design of the first order. And it launched its Xelebri series - quite the most outré range of phones yet seen - at London Fashion Week. "People will have many of these," predicted Siemens' Rudy Lamprecht .
And it also launched an unusual but very stylish phone the SX1 [report] based on Nokia/Symbian Series 60, that relegates the buttons to the outer limits of the device. So few phone numbers are manually punched in now that de-emphasizing the keys is an understandable idea. But it begs one question: how do you compose text messages on this? You don't have the traditional ABC reminders to prompt you.
But good luck to Siemens with its designer-led Apple strategy. It's decided that handsets are already a commodity, will leave the R&D to others (such as Nokia/Symbian and Infineon who make the guts of the phones) and differentiate itself on design. Why not? For a second tier vendor with single digit market share it has nothing to lose and already the strategy is paying off. No other handset manufacturer has got four paragraphs in this round up!
And here's OpenWave's technical lead, or distinguished fellow, or head of R&D - neither of us was sure which, but you get the idea - Benoit Schillings. Better known to some of you for his astronomy pictures, and to others for his work at Be Inc, where he designed the frameworks, Benoit has starred in The Register before, talking about file systems and databases with Dominic Giampaulo. In that photo, Benoit was demonstrating his stationary gravity accelerator, so we felt we owed him a decent photo this time. You also get to see the OpenWave software, in its alpha-blended glory.
Qualcomm spends much time and money dissing UMTS (the European-Japanese flavor of 3G) but as we've pointed out before and as this advert shows, they're a far more pragmatic company than many people appreciate. They know where the money is.
Quite by chance, Qualcomm's director of engineering was in front of me at one of the X-Ray checks at Charles De Gaulle Airport on the return flight to San Francisco. He'd set off the metal detector, and he'd been asked to remove his shoes, which had to go through the X-Ray machine again only without a Director of Engineering attached.
On a side note, the French evidently take terrorism far more seriously than in the USA. At least when it comes to baggage.
I inadvertently managed to carry a small pair of scissors through the X-Ray machine at San Francisco airport in a washbag as hand luggage. But I had no less than separate three X-Rays inspections at CDG. However, you'll know that after 9/11, the airline security companies in the US successfully lobbied to keep the inspection staff unregulated, ie so they could keep an untrained staff free from meddlesome federal regulation in low paying jobs.
So France not only rejects McDonalds, but McJob-style security staff. I certainly felt safer on the return leg than on the outbound leg. Interesting, no?
Anyway, I joked with Mr Director of Engineering if this was just another example of the Europeans unduly causing grief for Qualcomm.
"No, my shoes always set off airport metal detectors," he told me.
And do you know what? When I saw the X-Ray, I could see why. The shoes did indeed have long thin metal strips running from the heel almost to the toe.
What could this be?
Perhaps it they were concealed weapons, as demonstrated by Bond villain Lotte Lenya in From Russia With Love? But Mr Director of Engineering didn't look the type to kick me to death. He might even be the first Qualcomm employee not to want to kick me to death.
Possibly those metal strips were a cunning way of improving CDMA signal quality.
But given past form, they were probably a sophisticated surveillance device, I concluded. ®
3GSM World Congress - Our Incomparable Full Coverage
Nokia on Linux, Symbian and NGage
Whatever didn't happen to Microsoft's Marc Brown?
OpenWave phone suite challenges S60, Symbian
fastmobile turns phones into walkie-talkies
Microsoft explains (inaudible) phone behavior
Symbian takes charge at Symbian
Intel takes Manitoba phone chip to 3GSM
Samsung takes 5% stake in Symbian
TTPCom pitches 'sub-$200' platform for mobile gaming
Siemens demos Series 60 phone, open sources Symbian