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

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.”

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Software Developer

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

    Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

    £35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

    Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

    Senior Change Engineer (Windows, Linux, VMWare) - London £35k

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album