Once again, I’m in jail and it’s all InfoWorld's fault. If only my editor had forked for my freight to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress 2015, I could've avoided the four-layover, 44-hour itinerary, capped off by a brawl at baggage claim.
But it’s Spain, so not only are they serving tapas and rioja in jail, they also gave me a Wi-Fi password because they feel sorry for the old hombre. And since I managed to get one full day at MWC before the local authorities woke up from their siesta and decided to act on the arrest warrant, I can let you know what’s going on. Hold on to your hats.
First, the crucial news you need to absolutely know right now about MWC is that little crucial news is coming out of MWC. I haven’t seen this many fluff upgrades since Windows ME.
There’s an ocean of mobility ebbing to and fro here in Spain, and every sparkling new rectangle sports a long list of technical descriptions assuring you, the discerning mobile technophile, that its screen is a little brighter, its camera a little sharper, its shape one iota more curved (maybe), and its app selection several generations more superficial than that of the lusterless, gray, droopy rectangle you have in your pocket right now. Oh, and if you’re a level 10 wizard with a working knowledge of nanotechnology and psychiatry by mycology, you can legally unlock it in New York state every Sunday from 2 to 2:15 a.m.
Dark skies over Blackphone and BlackBerry
Yes, meaningful headlines are scarce here. Witness: One of the leading Twitter-titters here is Silent Circle’s ultrasecure Blackphone 2, which almost impressed me till I saw that every demo unit has a small “NSA Approved” sticker on the back.
Then there's the tidal wave of news made by BlackBerry CEO John Chen, who is thinking about throwing his almost 1 percent market share behind a true innovation: a new tablet. To be precise, the company didn’t actually use MWC to announce the product; it merely let us in on the must-know news that tablets are definitely on Chen’s mind, along with what I assume must be several fistfuls of barbiturates. With all these front-page tsunamis swirling, I was so stunned I almost couldn’t take another drink. But I’m dedicated and professional, so I managed.
Ford Motors' mobile maneuvers
Right after that drink, its 11 siblings, and what seemed like several stumbling miles of show floor, I managed to find two interesting products. First, Ford Motors sent over its head of mobility (that’s an actual title in a car company) from Germany, Erica Klampfl, to debut the company’s new MoDe:Me and MoDe:Pro, which are bicycles … kind of. They run on a combination of pedals and electricity, the latter giving them new communicative capabilities revolving mainly around various degrees of vibration.
For example, if you’re pedaling a MoDe in New York City and a cabbie is coming up too fast from behind, the bike will sense it and vibrate to warn you before you’re pancaked against a light pole. For his part, the cabbie will see the MoDe flash its warning lights, giving him something to aim at. Everybody wins.
Why bring this to MWC? First, it’s mobile, and second, it’s compatible with (gasp) an iPhone 6. Get ready to get crushed while mulling over Jony Ive's genius.
In plain sight
My favorite item of MWC by far is AVG’s prototype invisibility glasses. I love these things. Put them on, and to the naked eye you’ll be about as invisible as the sun because they look like they might have been made for Liberace had he been less conservative. Fortunately, vanishing from human eyes is not their purpose. These things are meant for electronic eyes and to them they will render you not in-visible, but uselessly visible.
Via almost unnoticeable yet screamingly obvious infrared LEDs, AVG’s specs spew light around your skull that’s invisible to the naked eye but devastating to a camera lens and hopelessly confusing to facial recognition software -- unless you’re being photographed by any of the million cellphones here at MWC, most of which have infrared filters strong enough to compensate. Even if that’s the case, there’s the retro-reflective material making up the frames. This stuff will reflect the light from a photo flash back at the camera and confuse facial recognition software -- unless the camera doesn’t use flash, like most surveillance cams on this planet.
To sum up: The Cringely MWC 2015 show winner is the invisibility glasses that render you visible to the naked eye and to nonflash surveillance cameras with infrared filters. They won't give the NSA much pause, but at least you’ll still look hideous and send women sprinting for the geek riding the MoDe.