Mobile World Congress Puts an Emphasis on Video Streaming

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Mobile World Congress, the GSMA's annual mobile device confab wrapping up today in Barcelona, Spain, was the scene for several announcements revolving around streaming, with the focus on new mobile chipsets sporting WebM support, HTML5 growth, and the ongoing rivalry between sometimes partners Apple and Samsung.

The mood in Barcelona has, for the past three years, been excitement tempered with anticipation of what one famous non-attendee -- Apple -- plans to launch in the weeks after MWC. The company didn't disappoint, waiting until the last day of MWC, when the buzz on a number of different devices showcased at MWC had already passed, to announce an iPad event to be held on March 7.

The show, at least from a smartphone and tablet perspective, really has boiled down to a battle between Samsung, with its huge booth presence and new product showcase, and Apple, which occupies significant mind-share for MWC attendees without ever manning a booth.

For instance, in 2011, the most talked-about handset was the Samsung Galaxy S II, a unit that looked remarkably like the iPhone 4, which Apple had launched almost a year earlier in mid-2010. The Galaxy S II was similar enough to Apple's iPhone 4 -- at least in Apple's eyes -- that its introduction warranted a lawsuit by the iPhone and iPad maker, with lawsuits occurring simultaneously in Australia, Germany, the United States, and several other countries.

This year, Apple and Samsung were forced to share accolades for two of their most popular devices: at today's Global Mobile Awards, held in conjunction with MWC for the seventeenth year, the Samsung Galaxy S II handset earned the company the Manufacturer of the Year award, perhaps because it seems the only Android-based smartphone that can unseat the perennial best-selling iPhone. For its part, Apple won the Tablet of the Year award for the iPad 2, on the same day that the company sent out invitations for an iPad event that may yield 1080p-capable video capture and playback functionality in the form of a "Retina Display" iPad 3.

Google has the booth with the most fun per square meter, with a giant slide and free ice cream sandwiches, shaped like the Android mascot, to drive home the point of just what the Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" operating system can do. On the streaming front, what it can do is handle Apple HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) natively, although the company continues to push its H.264-killing WebM codec that doesn't yet have an adaptive bitrate option akin to HLS.

Speaking of WebM, the fine Texans at Texas Instruments (TI) showcased their next-generation OMAP chips, which run in everything from mobile phones and handsets to set-top boxes. TI of late has been touting OMAP 5, which contains built-in-silicon support for the WebM video codec-a key element we've pointed out before that's lacking in Google's quest to supplant H.264 dominance in mobile and set-top box video delivery. 

Along with the native H.264 support, TI's move to support WebM will help push more HTML5 delivery to native devices, perhaps supplanting Flash Player for Mobile, which Adobe discontinued in late 2011. We also took a look at one of the last major developers of Flash Player for Mobile -- the code-source partner Research in Motion -- and its new version 2.0 operating system for the PlayBook, which seems to have implemented a few HTML5 features from the WebKit-based browser. We'll have a more detailed report on that tomorrow.

Finally, kudos go to Barcelona, the host city, which couldn't seem to catch a break this week: from the potential of train and bus worker strikes -- timed for maximum impact on what is arguably the largest event held in the Fira de Montjic -- to student demonstrations that shut down metro and regional train access to attendees in the Placa de Espanya, the city and the GMSA handled it all with copious amounts of information -- and a few strategic webcams to keep us all informed.

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