Samsung unveils world’s first solar-powered phone

Samsung unveiled the world’s first solar-powered cellphone at an industry show in Barcelona on Monday where the sector is showcasing the new technology it hopes will drive demand through the economic crisis.

The South Korean manufacturer put its “Blue Earth” phone on display in front of curious crowds at Mobile World Congress, with industry insiders keen to see its mini solar panels located on the back of the phone.

“This type of device would be ideal for developing markets where workers have long hours and don’t have access to electricity,” commented Nick Lane, chief researcher at consultancy Direct2 Mobile.

“It would also interest consumers with an eye on the ‘green’ aspects, or companies and their CSR [corporate social responsibility] programmes.”

The device is to be launched initially in Europe in the second half of 2009 and is likely to be out of the price range of a worker in the developing world. A Samsung representative said it would be a mid- to high-end handset.

A full charge taking 10 to 14 hours in the sun would offer about four hours of talk time. The phone can also be charged normally via a plug, with the solar panels used to top up the battery to extend its power.

Fellow South Korean manufacturer LG Electronics also put a prototype solar-powered phone on display here, but the company has no launch date or name for the device.

The Mobile World Congress, which runs from Monday to Thursday, is the world’s biggest cellphone show and is set to bring together 60 000 industry insiders from 1 200 companies, according to the organisers, the GSM Association.

All the major network operators such as Vodafone, MTN and China Mobile are present, as well as the major handset makers including new entrant Acer, a computer manufacturer from Taiwan.

Acer unveiled its first range of high-end phones, with the first four models set to go on sale in March or April and another six handsets to follow, marketing manager Sylvia Pan told AFP.

The touch-screen phones, demonstrated here mostly in black with a design that resembles the top-selling Apple iPhone, will connect to the internet via a wifi connection and a high-speed mobile network.

The move illustrates two trends in the cellphone industry: the growing attractiveness of the high-end market for “smart phones” and the arrival of traditional laptop computer makers in this segment.

Laptop maker Toshiba already manufactures handsets and rumours abound that United States rival Dell is preparing to launch a range of sophisticated smart phones enabling users to surf the internet, send emails or watch videos.

Sales of cellphones are set to fall this year for the first time according to market research group Gartner, but demand for high-end phones is set to increase.

As well as the launches and new industry initiatives, the economic crisis is set to cast a pall over the gathering with cost-cutting and survival the new concerns of an industry that has become accustomed to constant growth.

In other news on Monday, Chinese manufacturer Huawei revealed only the second cellphone to integrate an operating system called Android, which has been developed by Internet giant Google.

“We’re going to launch the phone at the end of the year, mainly in Europe,” said Meddy Lu, a press officier for the group, who declined to give any more details on the handset.

Rival developers are battling to create the dominant operating system for cellphones, with Google competing with software giant Microsoft, handset maker Nokia and an open-source Linux-based project.

The first phone to use Android was launched last year in October, the G1, made by Taiwan-based group HTC in partnership with German network operator T-Mobile.

The GSM Association is set to announce a series of industry-wide initiatives to improve standardisation and develop new projects.

It said on Monday that 60 cellphone operators had linked up to develop new “chat” functionality for subscribers.

The aim is to enable phone users to see which of the contacts in their address book is available and then allow them to start instant messaging with a system that would also transfer photos and video.

Chat programmes are available for cellphones, but so far are not synchronised with the address book of a user. The first versions are set to go live in the second half of this year. — AFP

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