Most of the world's major mobile industry players arrived in Barcelona this week with one thing on their minds: to make something that competes with the iPhone. A procession of product launches in recent days has shown off a series of large, touch-screen devices running advanced new mobile operating systems. Microsoft put up the strongest challenge, showing the latest version of its Windows Mobile 7 operating system for handsets. Unlike previous failed attempts by the company to produce a modern, user-friendly phone interface, the new software was roundly praised by onlookers for its clean, modern design and innovative ways of navigating through the system.
Also exhibiting was HTC, the Taiwanese handset maker that has been overshadowed recently by its high-profile partnership with Google. That partnership yielded the Nexus One, the Google device that is considered by the industry to be the best attempt yet to compete with the iPhone. But HTC has stepped out on its own to launch the Desire, a device based on the same hardware as the Nexus One but with some custom tweaks.
Unlike the Nexus One, which is being sold only by Google through its website, HTC will distribute the Desire itself from April. But most surprising was the launch by Samsung, the number two handset maker, of a new iPhone impersonator running an entirely new mobile operating system that was developed in-house by the company. The Samsung Wave is based on bada, a mobile operating system Samsung began discussing publicly last year.
"We are committed to making the smartphone experience a truly democratic one," said JK Shin, the head of Samsungs's mobile communications division, while launching the Wave. Nokia, the world's largest maker of mobile phones, announced that its Maemo operating system, which powers its top-of-the-line N900 smartphone, will be merged with a similar system being developed by Intel, the chip maker. Both systems, based on the Linux open-source operating system, are considered by the companies as a future standard for mobile computing.
The merged operating system, named MeeGo, will have major investment from two of the world's biggest and most influential technology businesses. The first phones running the new system will be launched in the second half of the year, joining a rush of would-be challengers to Apple's dominance of the market for high-end smartphones. So far, the only noticeable absence from the show this year has been Apple, which has made no new announcements about handheld devices. But then again, it doesn't really need to.