3 demos that truly impressed at Mobile World Congress

Updated. Most demos at mobile trade shows are little more than PowerPoint presentations or app walk-throughs, but occasionally one does come along that really makes me stop and stare. Here are three I saw at Mobile World Congress last week that caught my eye:


This small Israeli startup is taking an emerging mobile technology — augmented reality — and applying it to an established mobile service: vehicle navigation.  iOnRoad doesn’t just want drivers to look at their smartphones while driving; it wants them to look through the lens of their devices, seeing an enhanced view of the road ahead of them.
Its Android(s goog) app (soon to be available for the iPhone(s aapl)) calculates the speed and direction the user’s vehicle is moving, using the phone’s accelerometer and digital compass, and then uses visual cues from the imaging data collected through phone’s camera to determine which lane the vehicle is in and its distance from other vehicles. For example, if you get too close to the car in front of you, of if the app detects brake lights beaming in the distance, or if you start veering out of your lane, the app emits a visual and audio warning.
CEO and founder Alon Atsmon said iOnRoad hopes to integrate the software with other vehicle navigation apps, which would take augmented driving to the next level. Rather than only know what lane you’re in, iOnRoad could then know what lane you’re supposed to be in.


Dunking ‘waterproof’ phones in buckets of water takes the cake when it comes to cheesy demos, but nano-coating company P2i isn’t messing about with phones. In Barcelona, it submerged paper napkins treated with its polymer; they emerged from the water without a spec of moisture, as dry as when they first left their packaging.

P2i CTO Stephen Coulson developed the technology under contract with the U.S. Department of  Defense U.K. Government’s Defence Science & Technology Laboratory as a means of creating water-resistant military fatigues. Coulson has since expanded its uses to consumer and industrial electronics, applying a molecule-thick coating to every internal and external component of the device within the controlled confines of a plasma chamber. The result is a device that you can accidentally drop in the toilet, sink or in a puddle of water. Motorola(s mmi) is already using the technology, calling it SplashGuard, in its newer smartphones and tablets.
So why doesn’t P2i dunk phones at its demo? P2i is upfront about the fact that the phones it treats aren’t waterproof – you can’t take them scuba diving. There are truly waterproof phones on the market, but they have pressure seals and gaskets that add a lot of cost to the device. P2i’s goal is protect against one of the most common accidents afflicting consumer electronics while adding only incremental cost to the device.

Nokia’s PureView

Nokia(s nok) took a bit of a beating in Barcelona for making its news a Symbian device, not one using the Windows Phone(s msft) platform to which Nokia’s star is now tied. But the PureView camera technology embedded within the modest 4-inch-screened, Belle OS-driven Nokia 808 was mind-blowing stuff.

The PureView sensor embedded in the Nokia 808

We always talk here of how the camera phone is replacing the digital camera, but I think that talk is overblown. Yes, it’s true that more people are reaching for their phones rather than a point-and-shoot, but we’re also winding up with a lot of really crappy photos. PureView may bridge that disconnect between hardware and convenience.
The 41-megapixel camera produced poster-sized pictures of incredible color and depth with no visible distortion or artifacts whatsoever. Impressive, but most people don’t want to shoot posters — they want 3x5s. That’s exactly where the over-the-top pixel depth comes in handy, Nokia officials claimed. The standard picture setting is just a mere 5 MP, but PureView oversamples every shot, selects the best image information available and then discards the extra pixels. The result is incredibly detailed and rich photos at standard resolutions.
Like many people, I’m a bit leery of buying a Symbian device, considering its limited life span, but once this technology makes it into other devices, it will be a huge selling point for anyone who wants to discard stand-alone digital cameras entirely.