You might think of Barcelona as an enchanted, historic European city. This week, it's home to a massive tech gathering: the Mobile World Congress. Tens of thousands of people from every corner of the earth are there — many showcasing the novel ways they're connecting citizen-consumers to the Internet. I took a tour of Innovation City and here are a few of my most memorable stops.
A Well-Connected Bike
The smart car by Jaguar — it didn't really impress me. Yeah, it's cool you can be in Jakarta and, with a phone app, unlock the doors to your SUV over in Johannesburg. But a bunch of carmakers are doing this.
What I've never seen before is a bike-maker doing it. And here it is: from a distance, just something that looks like a standard commuter bike, but step up closer and you realize it's the Tesla of bikes. Not that it's electric, but like the luxury car, it's powered by software and connected to the Internet.
The bike has sensors embedded in the handles and a computer mounted in between. You download an app on your smartphone to control the bike's features, for instance programming a desired workout, for distance or heart rate, or streaming music while you ride. It's equipped with a GoPro camera, which is controlled by a big button that makes it easy to start the video as it is to brake — essential features for the modern cyclist.
For now, this decked-out bike is a only offered in China, but the partnership behind it — manufacturing by China's Letv, connectivity through the China Unicom mobile network and software management by Silicon Valley-based Jasper — plans to go global. The price is estimated to start at $600.
The bike's systems take 6 hours to fully charge and the charge lasts 3 days, says Theresa Bui with Jasper. And if a thief manages to steal the bike, just like the "Find my iPhone" feature for lost iPhones, the app can locate the missing bike.
The tech industry is always looking for the next big hit. And to Bui, the answer is not the smartwatch or virtual reality headsets, but these bikes.
Smartphone Case: Forget Bling, Here's Bang
In the acres upon acres of expo floor, I spot in the distance a peculiar smartphone case — one with little electrodes on the upper right hand corner.
"It comes with a stun gun," says Jamie Park, who's showing it to me.
I'm sorry, what?
"It's a bundle," says Park, who's with the Korean company 247 Inc. that makes this security package.
OK, so some phone cases have bling; this one has bang. It works with an app called Volt, which activates the stun weapon while also switching on the camera to start recording what's going on around you and playing a siren to make it sound like help is on the way.
Plus, once the app goes live in June, Park says, it would be able to alert your personal list of emergency contacts as well as notify local police of your coordinates and send them your camera feed.
Not Quite Amazon.com
On my way to the cafeteria, I run into a strange grocery store. It's a big flat-screen TV, with pictures of food on rotating shelves.
This is a virtual mall by UAE-based Etisalat. According to Tish Alexander, a conference spokeswoman, about 19 of these malls are in trams and metro stations around Dubai.
Etisalat is a mobile operator, like Verizon, but it's got a partnership with a local grocery chain to sell mushrooms, red peppers, tea, mosquito repellent — your local needs.
When I note it's not a particularly private shopping experience, Alexander says, "Yeah, (it's) like being at the market. Everyone can see what you buy then as well."
Delivery right to your doorstep is as fast as 2 hours, she says. Beat that, Amazon.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Now to Barcelona, which has been taken over by tech companies showing off their latest gadgets. The massive tech trade show the Mobile World Congress runs through tomorrow. NPR's Aarti Shahani is there and toured the exhibition floor.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: The smart car by Jaguar - it didn't really impress me. Yeah, it's cool. You can be in Jakarta and with a phone app, unlock the doors to your SUV over in Johannesburg, but a bunch of carmakers are doing that. What I've never seen before - what I'm seeing for the first time here in Innovation City, as it's called - is a bike-maker doing it.
THERESA BUI: This bike right now is only offered in China.
SHAHANI: Theresa Bui is with a company called Jasper. She says you just have to log on.
BUI: Download an app, and now I pair my phone with this bike.
SHAHANI: From a distance, it looks like a standard commuter bike. Stand up closer and realize this is the Tesla of bikes. There are sensors embedded in the handles, a computer mounted in between. You can program your desired workout for distance or heart rate.
BUI: I can stream my music live over this bike. It's equipped with a GoPro camera.
SHAHANI: There's a big button making it as easy to click as it is to break - essential features for the modern cyclist. The bike takes six hours to fully charge and, Bui says, it lasts three days. If a thief manages to steal it...
BUI: Instead of an - Find My iPhone, the app will turn on to find my bike.
SHAHANI: The tech industry is looking for the next big hit. After the smartphone, will it be the smart watch, the virtual reality headset? Bui says these bikes will be big.
BUI: They're doing a test - a small rollout in China of 500,000 bikes this year, and then they plan to go globally.
SHAHANI: In the acres upon acres of expo floor, I spot in the distance a peculiar smartphone case.
JAMIE PARK: It comes with a stun gun as a phone case...
SHAHANI: I'm sorry - a stun gun?
PARK: Yeah, it's a bundle.
SHAHANI: Jamie Park with 247 Inc. based in Seoul, Korea, shows me a case with little electrodes in the upper right-hand corner.
That's the sound of electric shocks. Some cases have bling. This has bang. This is smartphone security. Say you're walking and feel threatened by someone or fall prey to crime. You activate an app on the phone called Volt. It unlocks this weapon, and it turns on your camera to start recording the entire scene for whatever police investigation may follow. It also plays a siren to make it sound like help is on the way. On my way to the cafeteria, I run into a strange grocery store. It's a big flat-screen TV with pictures of food on rotating shelves.
TISH ALEXANDER: This is Etisalat's virtual mall.
SHAHANI: Spokeswoman Tish Alexander.
ALEXANDER: It's available in Dubai and UAE. There's about 19 of these in trams and metro stations.
SHAHANI: Etisalat is a mobile operator like Verizon, only it's got this unusual partnership with a local grocery chain to sell mushrooms, red peppers, Twinings tea - all your local needs.
It's like being at the market.
ALEXANDER: Yeah, like being in the market. Everyone can see what you buy then as well (laughter).
SHAHANI: Delivery to your doorstep in as fast as two hours, she says. Beat that, Amazon. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, Barcelona. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.