News is flooding out of the annual World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
Here is the latest of Facebook’s global Internet effort, virtual reality coming to smartphones, and Ford’s exploration of autonomous cars and ride sharing.
- Facebook global Internet
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likes to boast that his 3-year-old effort to bring the developing world online has reached millions of people in some of the world’s poorest nations.
But a central element of his Internet.org campaign was controversial even before it was shut down in a key market this month. Indian regulators banned one of the pillars of the campaign, a service known as Free Basics, because it provided access only to certain pre-approved services — including Facebook — rather than the full Internet.
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That leaves the social media mogul at a crossroads. Though he has vowed not to give up, Zuckerberg hasn’t said whether he’ll alter his approach. Facebook declined to make executives available for comment. Zuckerberg could shed light on his plans when he speaks Monday at Mobile World Congress, an annual industry event in Barcelona, Spain, where he has touted Internet.org in previous years.
“Everyone in the world should have access to the Internet,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook this month, arguing that online connections can improve lives and fuel economic development.
To achieve that goal, Zuckerberg has high-flying dreams for someday providing Internet connections through a network of drones, satellites and lasers. But his near-term plan is simpler: Facebook works with wireless carriers in poorer nations to let people use streamlined versions of Facebook and certain other online services, without paying data charges.
While the drones may someday connect people in areas too remote for cables or cell towers, Free Basics is intended for people who live in areas with Internet service but still can’t afford it.
- Virtual reality coming to smartphones
To revive interest in smartphones, Samsung and LG are improving their cameras and embracing the nascent world of virtual reality.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg joined Samsung at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Spain, to announce that their companies are teaming up to push VR in mobile phones and social networking.
Virtual reality “is now mainly used for gaming, but that is quickly changing,” Zuckerberg said. “That is why Facebook is investing so much in VR, so we can deliver these social experiences.”
Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge promise better photos under low-light conditions, in part with sensors that capture more light. Both will work with the $100 Gear VR headset that Samsung released last fall. And Samsung will now make a 360-degree camera for everyday folks to capture and share VR images.
VR is still in its early days, with much of the interest coming from hard-core gamers and tech pioneers. Samsung wants to make it easier for everyday people to create VR videos — so that friends will buy VR headsets to view them.
LG will also have its own VR headset and 360-degree camera, while the main camera on its upcoming G5 smartphone will have two lenses — one for standard shots, and another with a wider angle to capture more of what’s in front of you.
Sunday’s announcements at the Barcelona show come as worldwide smartphone growth has slowed, particularly for high-end devices such as Samsung’s S and LG’s G series. Many consumers have turned to lower-cost Android devices that sport features considered top of the line just a few years ago.
- Ford eyes new markets
Ford CEO Mark Fields says the 112-year-old company is tripling its investment in new technologies that will ultimately lead to self-driving vehicles — but will make sure to keep making cars for drivers who want to keep their hands on the wheel.
Fields said it was no coincidence that Ford chose the Mobile World Congress, a massive technology trade show in Barcelona, to unveil its new Kuga SUV, which features its latest connectivity and driver-assisted technology.
“We are really emphasizing our transition from an auto company to an auto and mobility company,” Fields told The Associated Press in an interview Monday at Ford’s stand, which stood out in a sea of smartphone and gadget makers.
“This is a really good audience to reach some new folks.”
The Kuga includes the latest version of Ford’s connectivity technology, SYNC 3, which the company says includes improved voice commands and makes it easier to access applications on a driver’s smartphone. It has a new 1.5-liter diesel engine, among other features.
Fields said that over the next five years investment will increase threefold in autonomous driving technologies, such as one-button parking assistance and guidance to keep a car in its lane and help braking in heavy traffic, with the ultimate goal of a fully autonomous car. He declined to provide financial figures.
Don Butler, Ford’s executive director of connected vehicle and services, told the AP “we like to think about it as the transition from just a hardware company to a software and mobility services company as well.”