Competing with the iPhone

Unlike last year's show, which took place a few short weeks after Apple unveiled the iPhone, all is quiet on the handset front leading into the Mobile World Congress. While Motorola mulls whether it should spin off its beleaguered handset business, other phone makers wonder how they can begin to top last year's showstopper.

"One of the lessons of last year learned from iPhone is that there is a new bar for how loud you have to be to cut through the clutter," Compete's wireless research director Miro Kazakoff said. "If there were any likely hit phones coming out at the show this year, the industry would have heard something by now."

The only high-profile launch slated for the show is Nokia's S60 Touch UI, which the company will be demonstrating at its booth. Rumor has it that Nokia will be making use of accelerometers for the user interface--those are the same type of sensors that Apple uses in the iPhone to automatically adjust the screen display from normal to landscape mode. The S60 Touch UI is a testament to the growing number of touch sensitive phones on the market. The feature is close to becoming a requirement on high- end feature phones that look to compete with the iPhone.

Rumors of a Google-powered handset made by Dell have circulated recently, but many industry pundits have thrown cold water on the prospect of such a deal. Others, however, claim that Google will launch its Android operating system at the Mobile World Congress on a phone made by Dell.

Few phone launches have turned heads lately, but one exception was Garmin's GPS-based smart phone, the nuvifone, which the company unveiled last week. While the handset boasts an MP3 player, video functionality and other multimedia features, its core is GPS and location based services. Perhaps its most compelling feature is an application that lets users geo-tag photos to easily pass along directions to other nuvifone owners.

"As phones get more powerful and given the inherent nature of how hard it is to pack more functionality into one phone elegantly, we are going to see a lot more targeted devices and segmentation," Kazakoff noted. "It's not completely clear what form factors and functionality will go into each of these categories, but we are going to see a market where phones are built for and marketed to specific groups and various types of users." --Brian