Ina Fried

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Mobile World Congress Notebook: Battle of the Behemoth Booths

For those who have never been to Mobile World Congress, it is hard to fully describe the scale of Barcelona’s giant cellphone convention.

While the Consumer Electronics Show and other big events feature acres of tiny booths crammed one against another, Mobile World Congress features a different kind of bigness. The show is spread out over eight big buildings in a historic area of town. Every couple of buildings are set several flights of stairs up from the last one, with the final two buildings just a stone’s throw from the grand National Palace.

Connecting the buildings and lining the promenade between them are various smaller trailers and bungalows.

Unlike the cramped booths at CES, the spread-out nature of Mobile World Congress allows even moderate-size companies a good amount of space to show their wares. Even those with bungalows outside a main hall stand a good chance of attracting visitors. Companies that went with that approach included Acer and INQ Mobile, which was touting its new Android phone with quick access to Facebook and Spotify.

That said, some folks’ presence at Mobile World Congress is clearly bigger than others.

One booth that stands out is Google’s first-ever Android booth, tucked in the corner of Hall 8, just inside the entrance.

The two-story pavilion features many of Google’s partners showing Android applications, as well as a place to create one’s own Android mini-me, plus a sushi-bar-style conveyor belt featuring the many phone and tablet designs based on the Google operating system. Among the designs that scrolled by while I was standing there were well-known names such as Samsung and HTC, as well as less-familiar brands such as China’s ZTE and Alcatel, which is new to Android.

Perhaps the pièce de résistance of the booth is a slide that allows children of all chronological ages to relive their youth and glide down from the top floor back to the bottom. The most popular thing, though, was a series of collectible pins being passed out throughout Mobile World Congress by various Android partners. They were a hot commodity, and by Tuesday afternoon most booths were completely out of their supply of pins, placing green candy inside the dishes instead.

While impressive, the Android booth was not the largest by any stretch. One of the more massive setups I saw was the Ericsson booth, which occupied nearly all of Hall 6. A small Sony Ericsson booth was open to the public. Behind a security gate, though, was a massive spread for the many partners of both Ericsson and Sony Ericsson. It featured two bars and two kiosks serving various tapas.

There were meeting rooms and patio tables for more-casual interactions. On display were all kinds of Ericsson technologies ranging from its core infrastructure gear to all kinds of other products and research projects.

A few caught my eye, including a mobile payment section that featured a “Museum of Money” talking about days gone by when people used paper currency with all its flaws. Under glass were such relics as money, piggy banks and counterfeit-detection pens, while Ericsson showed off its many payment technologies.

In another corner, Ericsson was showing off a vending machine that is paid, not with cash or credit card, but via SMS message. Ericsson has a unit that serves as an intermediary between the vendor and the carrier to manage the transaction.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus