Mobile World Congress: Wear it, drive it, see through it - the ‘internet of things’ is almost here

Gideon Spanier see the potential for mobile technology on display at a trade show in Barcelona

Forget the launch of yet more smartphones and tablets. This is the year that everything is going mobile as wireless technology connects everyday objects and appliances to the web. The so-called “internet of things” has been talked about for years but finally it is going mainstream, judging by a visit to this week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade fair in Barcelona.

Cars, clothing, watches, toothbrushes, doorbells, thermostats, heart monitors, vending machines, the retail shop floor – if there is a gadget or a place where it’s possible to put a mobile-connected chip, someone is doing it. Big names are involved: from Procter & Gamble, maker of Oral-B toothbrushes, to Tesla, designer of swish electric cars.

Ronan Dunne, UK chief executive of the mobile network O2, talks about “bringing technology to life”. What that means, he says, is looking at “solutions beyond connectivity” – beyond the mere fact that the mobile internet exists and thinking about how it can improve our lives in practical ways. “The pace of change in the technology sector has out-paced the behavioural pace of change,” he says.

Dramatic improvements in technology and internet bandwidth, along with a plunge in costs, mean we are on the cusp of a new mobile revolution. “The capability and requirements of the technology are going up and up and up,” said Sir Hossein Yassaie, the chief executive of the FTSE 250 firm Imagination Technologies, which designs graphic chips for Apple devices.

Imagination is creating low-powered chips that can be used inside everyday devices at low cost. Then these can connect to the web and harness what Sir Hossein calls “the massive computational capability in the cloud”.

MWC was brimming over with companies showing off such ideas – even if it is not clear how popular they will be. “Wearables” was a major trend, with China’s Huawei and South Korea’s Samsung among the companies to produce “smart” watches. Huawei’s Talkband B1 not only connects wirelessly with the phone in your pocket to offer useful information including personal fitness levels on the tiny screen, but also the “face” of the watch detaches and becomes a tiny Bluetooth-style earpiece to take a call.

Similarly, Oral B’s toothbrush connects to a phone to show how long and how gently you should brush and in which part of your mouth. A user can change the timings – for example, for a child – and it keeps a daily record.

Clothing offers more possibilities: the French tech firm Cityzen Sciences showed off a sports shirt embedded with multiple sensors that can monitor a player’s heart rate and physical positioning around the pitch or field. That means the team coach can check every player during a game in real time, as a group of basketball players demonstrated on a mini-court.

Motoring is also a huge opportunity, with more car firms than ever displaying vehicles at MWC. Tesla’s Model S sedan car has a huge, mobile-connected TV screen that measures roughly 40cm high and 25cm wide, powered by Telefonica, Spanish parent company of O2. The screen gives the driver access not only to maps and the web but also entertainment apps and detailed information about the car’s performance. It means Tesla can help to diagnose problems remotely and “push” technology updates such as a new version of the music app Spotify to the car.

Connecting the retail environment at the “point of sale” is another boom area. The Spanish company Nostrum Empresa launched a vending machine that allows a customer to buy goods using a phone app or voice command (using Google Glass connected spectacles), without having to key anything into the machine or insert cash.

Meanwhile, the US tech firm Qualcomm’s subsidiary, Vuforia, has used augmented reality so a shopper can visualise how a piece of furniture would look in their home – just by pointing a tablet at that area and clicking a button. The technology, allowing 360-degree viewing, is already used by the London furniture company made.com.

Paul Lee, the head of research for technology, media and telecoms at the consulting firm Deloitte, says it is unlikely that 2014 will be a watershed. “What I like seeing is the incremental progress,” says Mr Lee, explaining how technology can be around for many years until it makes an impact. “Suddenly it will hit an inflection point when a need is met.”

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
News
people
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a Web Developer looking...

    Ashdown Group: Moodle Developer (PHP ,Linux, Apache, MySQL, Moodle)

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Moodle Developer (PHP ,Linux, Apache...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior .NET Web Developer - Winform / MVC

    £21000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Award-winning pharma softw...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced