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A 5G iPhone? Why Apple's in no rush to sell you one

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Virtually all of the major players in the wireless industry are scrambling to tie their fortunes to 5G. Verizon will launch its 5G Home wireless broadband service next month. Sprint and LG want to bring out the first smartphone using the next-generation technology.

One company is unmoved by the hype: Apple.

It’s a good bet that the consumer electronics titan, which on Wednesday unveiled three new iPhones and a new Apple Watch, will opt out of putting 5G into its next iPhone. And it’s still a question as to whether the cellular tech may show up in an iPhone by 2020.


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Apple likes to wait to get the kinks out of emerging technologies before committing them to its products. It lagged well behind its Android counterparts in adopting mobile payments and wireless charging, and it was at least a generation behind in adopting 3G and 4G LTE cellular capabilities. Most industry analysts expect the same lag with 5G, even as the technology races toward reality.

“5G is arriving a little quicker than everyone expected,” said Ian Fogg, an analyst for OpenSignal, which collects and analyzes data from mobile networks.

If Apple does take the slow road, it would stand as one of the few companies that isn’t immediately embracing 5G, the next generation of wireless technology poised to change the world. There’s been a lot of hype and bluster around 5G, but its enhanced speed, responsiveness and ability to handle multiple devices beyond your phone could change the way we live.

Given the excitement over 5G, it’s easy to see why other companies, from wireless carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile to telecom equipment makers like Nokia and phone makers like Samsung are jumping in — this is another potential feature to crow about.

That Apple has shied away from 5G is further evidence that the company doesn’t need any help generating its own hype, as if this week’s launch of new, pricier iPhones wasn’t reminder enough.

The company wasn’t available to provide a comment.

Slow follower

A decade ago, the original iPhone marked a huge leap for smartphones. Its touchscreen interface and full browser capability, among other features, revolutionized what a smartphone could be.

Except for that slow, slow cellular connection. As we sit upon the cusp of a 5G world, it’s easy to forget that the original iPhone had a 2G radio. You felt the network schlepping along as a website loaded bit by bit.

At the time, other phones had already moved to the faster 3G network. Apple didn’t include the capability until a year later with the second-generation iPhone 3G. Likewise, the first iPhone with a 4G LTE connection was 2013’s iPhone 5, more than two years after Verizon unveiled its first batch of 4G smartphones.

Last year, when Android smartphones were going supersonic with Gigabit LTE speeds, Apple stayed mum on that technology as it introduced the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

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Apple’s just talking about Gigabit LTE. Android smartphones have had it for more than a year. 


James Martin/CNET

It wasn’t until this year’s iPhone XS, XS Max and XR that Apple cozied up to Gigabit LTE. (Want to know more about the network technology? Check out this Gigabit LTE explainer.) The company has adopted to double down on access to new LTE technology, banking on the mature 4G network over the promise of 5G. 

“I don’t think they’re in a rush,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst for Creative Strategies. 

Why the slow adoption? Apple has to consider what it’s packing into a smartphone and just how many people will be able to take advantage of each feature. Gigabit LTE only saw adoption in select markets around the world, which likely didn’t justify the move there.

“Smartphone design is all about the trade-offs,” Fogg said in a report. “It’s impossible to fit everything into a small handheld device.”

Competitive hype

But the public’s awareness of cellular technology, and the need for a speedy connection, is far more prevalent than when those 3G and 4G networks emerged. So when competitors start talking about 5G, it may be a message that Apple won’t be able to ignore because consumers more fully understand the advantage.

Apple’s only benefit is that 5G deployments will be limited at first, even in the US, where the carriers are aggressively promising multiple cities with the next-generation service. Experts see more broad adoption by 2020 or beyond. 

Not that Apple could jump into 5G early if it wanted to. Qualcomm is supplying the modems that will go into early 5G smartphones, slated to arrive in the first half of 2019. Apple ceased using Qualcomm modems because of a legal dispute over the terms of its former relationship. Instead, it uses Intel modems.

“What complicates things is the current dispute with Qualcomm,” said Ross Rubin, an analyst for Reticle Research.

Intel, which supplies modems for the iPhone, says its 5G modem will be ready for commercial devices in the second half of 2019, with broader deployment in 2020. The company, however, declined to talk about specific customers.

Qualcomm_HQ01a_-_Patents.JPGQualcomm_HQ01a_-_Patents.JPG

Qualcomm is supplying most of the 5G modems going into smartphones in the first half of next year. 


Roger Cheng/CNET

With 5G networks launching throughout the US, Korea and China over the next several months, those carriers are going to need compatible smartphones to talk about. Apple may be facing a situation in which key global competitors like Samsung and Huawei loudly tout the benefits of 5G along their carrier partners, giving them an advantage. Huawei has already knocked Apple off as the world’s second-largest phone maker

Still, that doesn’t have too many analysts concerned.

“I don’t think there’s any need for a 5G phone,” said Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research, adding that she sees Apple going to 5G in 2020 at the earliest.

Apple going at it alone?

The other option is Apple taking advantage of the generational shift in network technology and bringing the modem in-house.

It’s not a ridiculous notion.

Apple already designs its own processor, the latest being the A12 Bionic chip powering the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR. It has its own custom Bluetooth chip for a speedier connection to its AirPods and Beats headphones. When Apple took a firmer hold of camera technology back in 2011, it went from a mediocre experience to one of the premiere smartphone cameras in the industry, Fogg said.

apple-event-091218-iphone-xs-iphone-xs-max-stats-0284apple-event-091218-iphone-xs-iphone-xs-max-stats-0284

Apple has brought the development of a lot of its technology in house. So why not the modem?


James Martin/CNET

Building a modem is hard. Qualcomm has spent decades perfecting the craft, and there’s a reason Intel struggled for years before winning Apple’s business. But Apple has the resources to pour into this area, and a deep dive would allow it to craft a modem well tuned to its products.

“It gives them the ability to innovate on their own schedule and do things differently,” he said.

Just don’t hold your breath for that 5G modem to show up anytime soon. 

The story originally published on Sept. 14 at 5 a.m. PT.

Update, Sept. 15 at 7 a.m. PT: To include additional background and analyst comment. 

Everything Apple announced at its Sept. 12 event: Our exhaustive roundup. 

iPhone XR, XS, XS Max: Apple’s three new iPhones start at $749.

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Apple redesigns MacBook Pro keyboard

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Apple is finally introducing a replacement to its butterfly keyboard after years of customer complaints.

The company announced on Wednesday a large, expensive MacBook Pro with a keyboard that has been redesigned for the first time in four years.

The computer, which is intended for power users, professionals or anyone who needs a lot of screen space, features a 16-inch retina display, replacing its 15-inch MacBook Pro. It starts at $2,399, but can go all the way up to $6,099 when you tack on additional storage and processing power. The 13-inch entry-level MacBook Pro, which came out earlier this year, starts at $1,299.

The new MacBook Pro promises better battery life, a new Intel Core processor, an updated cooling system and advanced speakers. But the most significant change is the keyboard.

Apple has long faced complaints over broken and sticky keys in its butterfly keyboards — a design with a mechanism under the keys that expands like wings, opening itself up to dust and other debris. The concept allowed Apple to create a slimmer keyboard design, but some tech reviewers have called it Apple’s worst invention of all time.

Now, it’s reverted back to a traditional scissor-style mechanism that most laptops use. The company says the keyboard will have a stable feel and be responsive.

The MacBook Pro comes with many familiar features, including its signature Touch Bar, a fingerprint sensor and Mac apps, but it now offers double the default storage and pricey upgrade options, up to eight terabytes of storage. (This may appeal to people who have large files and wallets.)

The MacBook Pro is available for purchase online Wednesday in space gray or silver colors. It hits stores later this week.

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Apple thinks glasses will replace smartphones

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Apple is planning to launch its first augmented reality (AR) product sometime in 2022. According to a report from The Information, citing sources attending an internal Apple presentation, Cupertino wants to release an augmented reality headset in 2022 and a pair of AR glasses by 2023. These “Apple Glasses” have popped up in previous rumors with an earlier launch date in 2020, but this new report reveals a far more concrete plan than previous accounts.

Product details are thin on the ground, but a few design points pop up in the report. The products will be designed with gaming, video, and virtual meetings in mind, according to Bloomberg. The Apple Glasses AR capabilities hinge on a new 3D sensor system, developed in-house at Apple over several years. Apparently, this is a more advanced form of FaceID technology used in modern iPhones. Apple is allegedly working on lenses that darken when the wearer is using AR. This is to let others know the user is not necessarily paying attention to them.

Apple has about 1,000 engineers working on the AR and VR initiative. CEO Tim Cook has been hot on the idea of AR for a number of years now. The report also mentions plans to begin attracting developers to the platform in 2021. Clearly, this is a major business commitment, not a small side project.

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Apple Glasses to replace the iPhone

Perhaps the most interesting part of the report states that Apple believes augmented reality glasses will eventually replace smartphones. This will occur “in roughly a decade,” according to executives at the presentation. By 2030, Apple expects that the iPhone, and by extension Android phones too, will be obsolete — at least in high-end Western markets.

That’s no easy task. Current AR glasses pair up to a smartphone, which provides the data connectivity, storage, and bulk of the processing capabilities required by AR apps. Moving this entirely into a set of sleek, lightweight glasses will require a number of engineering breakthroughs. Apple’s first-generation AR products certainly won’t offer fully standalone capabilities. You’ll still need a phone in your pocket. Instead, the company is reportedly working on a new operating system, dubbed rOS, to enable existing devices to work with future headsets and glasses.

Barring the technological hurdles, there’s little reason to believe AR glasses can’t replace most of our smartphone needs. Messaging and calls are certainly possible, as is watching video and navigating with real-world map directions. The other hurdle is solving user interaction, something that advances in voice recognition and 3D object detection technology will likely be key to solving.

Augmented reality is already here, but new form factors will enhance the experience.

It’s easy to imagine the possibilities with AR, as some examples have already proven immensely popular. 2016’s Pokémon Go phenomenon was likely many people’s first foray into the world of AR. Today, consumers are using AR for Snapchat filters, real-time text translation, viewing the stars, and kitting our apartments. AR is already useful on smartphones, but AR glasses open up new possibilities for even more useful and engrossing experiences — ranging from in-world games to real-time contextual information on everything from directions to people.

Haven’t we been here before?

Apple certainly isn’t the first company to believe in AR as a future consumer product. Microsoft has been developing HoloLens for years and has just launched HoloLens 2 for businesses with an eye-watering $3,500 price tag. There’s also Google Glass, which was hounded out of the market by privacy advocates in its prototype launch period, although it remains in development for enterprise users. A number of other companies are working on the idea, including Epson, Toshiba, and Vuzix, among others. However, the majority fall under enterprise and specialist products.

Apple is banking on consumer appeal, but that’s a big ask. It is possible Apple Glasses will receive a warmer reception than Google Glass, given the US media’s often more sympathetic coverage of Cupertino over Mountain View. Its launch may also be more prime time ready, providing a robust developer platform and app ecosystem are ready to go at launch. However, consumer privacy concerns regarding camera and video recording, consent, and data collection will be a sticking point.

Privacy concerns and recording consent issues don’t disappear just because it’s Apple.

There’s no getting around the fact that AR glasses will fundamentally change the way we interact with the world and each other, but also the way in which technology interacts with us. Dedicated AR devices, like glasses, will consume even more data about our surroundings, taking in audio and visual cues from our lives to provide and contextualize content. Furthermore, we will likely wear glass throughout even more intimate aspects of our lives than a phone witnesses in our pocket. Having said that, consumers don’t seem too alarmed at the privacy implications of smart home products.

AR and the future of personal computing

Using Google Lens to identify a bunch of bananas as seen on the camera of the OnePlus 7 Pro.

Augmented reality is the inevitable next step in personal and enterprise computing. Its uses are bound to range from the essentials through to entertainment and the mundane. AR is clearly central to Apple’s future product plans, but it’s far from the only company working on the technology. Expect augmented reality to become increasingly popular in smartphones at all price points over the coming years. The next few years in mobile will lay down the building blocks for future AR-first products like Apple Glasses.

We’ll have to see whether wearable products like the Apple Glasses are the form factor that AR inevitably settles in. Perhaps phones will remain the preferred option for their flexibility if nothing else. Predicting the death of the smartphone within a decade is a bold move by Apple, but inevitably the tech world will move on. AR is as likely as any other to be that next big leap.

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Samsung Galaxy S11 hole-punch camera will be tiny – Pocket-lint

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The latest rumour regarding the Samsung Galaxy S11 suggests that the front facing camera will be placed within an even smaller hole-punch cutout than the Note 10.

It’s a relatively minor point on a smartphone that’s likely to be one of 2020’s most impressive devices, but it will mean an improved experience of the screen.

It goes without saying that having a smaller cutout for the camera means that it becomes less intrusive, and won’t block as much of what you have being displayed.

This information comes via @UniverseIce on Twitter, a leaker with a reliable track record in the mobile world.

We’ve already heard that the S11 will come in three different sizes, similar to the Galaxy S10, and that it will have a bigger battery than the S10.

Of course, hole-punch camera cutouts are a temporary measure until mainstream phone manufacturers figure out a way to implement an in-display selfie camera hidden beneath the display panel.

The aim from most of the smartphone makers is to create an edge-to-edge screen with no intrusion at all. It’s why some – like OnePlus and Oppo – have gone for a pop-up camera mechanism rather than have a notch or hole-punch camera at all.

Samsung’s next flagship is expected to launch around its usual timeframe in Spring 2020, kicking off next year’s new wave of high end smartphones.

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