Google boss mugged in Barca

Michael Carroll
18 Feb 2010

Eric Schmidt probably wishes he’d brought a couple of doormen to the Mobile World Congress rather than a pair of software engineers, as the audience at his keynote speech turned hostile during the Q&A.

The Google boss was grilled about the search firm’s relationship with operators during his first ever visit to the event, with one consultant accusing the firm of seeking to turn carriers into dumb pipes.

Schmidt denied that but disagreed with the argument that carriers must be allowed to become intelligent pipes in order to fund future network developments. Instead, he believes cloud-based services are the way forward, noting that with businesses like eBay getting into the cloud, it will become “the backbone of everything you do.”

Nevertheless, the Google chief executive seemed wrong-footed by the tough crowd.

Delegates were held back at the door to the venue and only allowed to enter in small batches, resulting in a large crowd forming outside the venue. In the midst of that, journalists were granted access to the hallowed ground of the upper balcony – a spot reserved solely for photographers during this year’s congress.

However, any journalist who took advantage of the upper deck was effectively taken out of the Q&A loop, as microphones were only available on the ground floor.

If it were a ploy to keep journalists at bay, it clearly didn’t work as Schmidt was pressed on Google’s involvement in the US 700MHz spectrum auction a couple of years ago, which was taken as evidence of the firm’s scant regard for carriers.

Earlier, Vodafone’s CEO Vittorio Collao used his keynote address to criticize Google’s dominance of mobile advertising

The tough questions were a contrast to the rounds of applause that peppered Schmidt’s speech; he sparked whoops of approval for simply pulling a Nexus One out of his pocket.

Demonstrations of new services by two Google software engineers were similarly well received, though the hall fell silent when one engineer tried to demonstrate the handset playing a video embedded in the New York Times homepage. It didn’t play, and the engineer reverted to a pre-saved movie trailer to prove the phone can play videos.

That demo was meant to show off Google’s use of Flash in the Nexus One, which it is pitching as a competitive edge over rival devices, like the Flash-less iPhone.

A text translation service based on Google’s Goggle service, however, did work. The service lets users photograph a block of text, which is then translated automatically. In this case a German dinner menu was used to highlight the service.

The services are available on a growing number of Android devices. Schmidt says 20 different models of Android phone are on the market, and some 60,000 devices are shipping each day.

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