Fresh ideas in mobiles fuelled by high demand

Influence of emerging markets clear as big names put their latest products on show

Barcelona

The world's leading mobile phone-makers yesterday began unveiling their latest smartphones and tablets in Barcelona ahead of today's official opening of Mobile World Congress,the industry's most important annual trade fair.

The event kicked off with HTC of Taiwan introducing its latest top-of-the-range smartphone, the HTC One X, which allows users to pay for goods through a "mobile wallet" instead of using cash.

France's Orange also unveiled its latest own-brand smartphone, the Santa Clara, in partnership with Intel, as it tries to persuade mobile-users who cannot afford a premium phone to upgrade.

All eyes this morning will be on Nokia's chief executive, Stephen Elop. The once-mighty, now ailing Finnish mobile giant received glowing reviews for its Nokia 900 device, unveiled at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Mr Elop is planning a "significant" announcement about a new device tomorrow morning.

Virtually every leading mobile network, manufacturer, supplier and app firm is represented among the 60,000 delegates who are attending MWC, which runs until Thursday. Notable speakers include Facebook's chief technology officer, Bret Taylor, today, and Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, tomorrow.

Mr Taylor's speech will be keenly watched because Facebook carries little mobile advertising at present and needs to impress investors ahead of its stock market float later this year.

Paul Lee, Deloitte's global director of research for technology, media and telecoms, who is also speaking at MWC, said the rise of emerging markets was a key trend. "A lot of the fastest-growing mobile operators are based in developing countries," said Mr Lee, pointing to China Mobile, Russia's Vimpelcom and Bhati and Reliance of India.

"The Chinese influence is incredible," he added. Chinese phone-makers Huawei and ZTE also have a big presence at MWC.

Juan Lopez-Valcarcel, senior vice-president of future technologies at Pearson, which owns Penguin Books and the Financial Times, said that soaring demand from emerging markets meant it was in the interest of mobile firms to push down prices.

"Hardware and data plans will continue to fall in price, making mass-market adoption of tablets possible in many countries," he said. "Indian Android tablets at $50 are just the beginning in this unstoppable trend."

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