Five Firms to Watch at Mobile World Congress

Our Pick of Selected UK Innovators in the Run-Up to Barcelona

Last week I spent an enjoyable afternoon in London at a pre-Mobile World Congress event hosted by UK Trade & Investment. The format was quite simple: 19 companies gave a one-minute pitch detailing what they will show in Barcelona next month and attendees were then able to spend time talking to the companies they were most interested in. Here are my top five picks from the event, chosen for their focus on the mobile world and their engaging offerings.

Parcel Genie is an instant gift-messaging service that enables you to send a real present using a simple iPhone app. Items typically cost less than £10 delivered, such as a bar of chocolate, a key ring or a badge personalised with a photo from the phone. You select a gift and write a short greeting, and a personalised text message is sent to your friend telling them they have been sent a gift. All they need to do is enter their postal address details and the next day the gift arrives by post nicely wrapped with the message enclosed. Having used the service a couple of times, I can say it definitely works well. If the company gets a lucky break and news of the service spreads, it could have an interesting year ahead.

Blippar is a free application for Android and iOS that offers augmented reality advertising. It uses the camera on your smartphone to recognise things in the real world, such as a product package, poster or logo, and provide digital connections, information or interactive entertainment on your screen. You hold your phone up while in the Blippar app and you see a response in the form of a Web link, video, coupon or an augmented reality game. This is a fun piece of software, but productive at the same time and I can see it being used on advertisements in a range of places – particularly given the ever-growing use of smartphones.

P2i is a company that provides nano-coating technology that can be applied to various products and materials, making them repel liquids. In a demo, the presenter dipped a treated tissue into a bowl of water and it remained completely dry. The technology is branded as Aridion and is currently on 8 million devices worldwide. Apparently these include Motorola’s Droid Razr and Xoom 2 tablet. At this year’s CES, waterproofing was an emerging theme from a number of manufacturers, and anything that protects a product from accidental water damage can only be a positive for consumers. I predict you’re going to see a lot more nano-coated water-resistant products this year, starting at Mobile World Congress.

DataWind showed us the Ubislate, the world’s cheapest tablet at the eye-wateringly low price of $35. It’s a seven-inch Android device aimed bring phone functionality and fast Internet access to developing countries. The product itself reflects the price, but there are improvements in the pipeline, including a faster processor and better-quality hardware. The main aim of the company is to tackle the “digital divide”. In 2011 it launched the Aakash tablet in India. It is aimed at students and DataWind hopes to distribute 10 million of them over the next few years.

Apical is a company that integrates “assertive display technology” into hardware devices. It uses digital imaging processing and adaptive screen brightness control to provide high-quality multimedia experiences in high levels of ambient light while reducing power consumption by up to 50%. A demonstration on an iPad 2 was impressive: the technology provided bright, clear playback of a movie even after the backlight was turned all the way down. This is one of very few significant technologies to tackle the issue of battery life on devices and I think it’ll find its way onto major products in the future.

The purpose of the event was to show that the UK does have talent and innovative businesses in abundance, and in my opinion, not just these five but all 19 companies proved this. The companies mentioned above have all had a degree of success to date and I think they certainly represent the future of the industry. Some will take longer to establish themselves and some will be embedded in the mobile world for a long time. It’s a testament to the industry in general that someone is always willing to capitalise on gaps in the market and come to prominence thanks to the sheer growth and movement of this vibrant sector.