Google's Android pins and custom water bottles are driving attendees at MWC crazy

As the trade show draws its curtains closed, showgoers are still trying to get their hands on the final elusive gold Android pin, while others are spending hours in line to get an Android water bottle.

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Pin collectors gather at the Google booth to try to complete their collection in order to earn the reward pins.

Photo by Aloysius Low/CNET

Five days at a trade show, away from home and family and stuck in a giant brightly lit hangar, will make anyone crazy. But add a free collectible and social norms go out the window.

Making a return this year to the Mobile World Congress show is Google's Android pin collection. Getting all your pins is always a matter of frenzied activity on the last day of the show here, but this time, there's a twist. Google has added three new pins that you can only get if you make the effort to collect them all -- Pokemon-style -- from select booths located all over the eight halls of Barcelona's Fira conference centre.

With a total of 203,000 pins in 87 designs to be given out -- the odd 3,000 are the bronze, silver and gold reward pins that collectors are given when they present a completed collection at the Google booth -- there was a good chance that many would have been able to complete their collection, but this didn't seem to be the case.

According to Google, only 136 gold pins had been given out when we checked in at noon on Thursday, and collectors near its booth who were trading for missing pins told me that they weren't feeling too optimistic about completing their collection.

Pins have gone out of stock at some booths since the third day of the show, and without the stickers that came with the pins, these collectors would not be able to fill up the Android pin book to claim their reward.

This isn't the first time Google has turned attendees at MWC into pin-collecting maniacs. Back in 2011, Google first started its pin game at the trade show with 86 different designs, and complete sets from the first collection were even sold for $1,000 (about £715 or AU$1,390) on eBay. The company continued giving out pins in 2012, but the idea took a two-year hiatus before making a return last year with 124 new designs and a total of 155,000 to give away. When word got out, attendees went nuts.

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A handful of Google's Android pins.

Photo by Aloysius Low/CNET

For Google, the pin system has turned into a great way to showcase its partners, although there are fewer pin designs this year because there are fewer partners exhibiting at the show compared with the previous year. And if you're wondering if the beautiful pin designs were outsourced to an external agency, the answer is no.

"All the pins are designed internally by Google," said Carlos Rodriguez Flores, who works on Google's marketing team. "We then let our partners pick the designs which are in tune with their brands."

In between the excitement of the pin collection, however, came complaints that some vendors had hoops for collectors to jump through. While most vendors handed out pins like Halloween candy, some required visitors to "like" their Facebook page, while others made attendees sit through a long demo before giving one out. When asked, Google said it was unaware of the restrictions made by its partners.

Pins aside, there were more from Google's MWC booth that made showgoers excited. Visitors could drink free smoothies and create their own Android designs on a sticker. And for those willing to suffer the long lines, you could get a customised water bottle based on your own Android design.

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The lines on the last day ended with only 400 bottles being made.

Photo by Aloysius Low/CNET

A total of 5,000 bottles were given out during the course of the show, with queue times often stretching over an hour at least. On the last day, demand from the previous day had all but wiped out stock, and with 400 bottles remaining, some attendees were left disappointed.

According to Google, the success of the pins meant that a new collection would be up for grabs next year, and those with a competitive streak will be pleased to know that the gamification system will be here to stay.

"We're probably sticking with the format next year," said Lily Lin, Google's director for global communications and public affairs. "It's driven by how people were behaving over the pins."

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5,000 of these water bottles were given out to attendees who were willing to queue.

Photo by Aloysius Low/CNET
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