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Concept cars and concept foldables betray a lack of confidence – The Verge

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Today, CES officially opens. Yesterday was “Press Day” at CES, otherwise known as “Day Zero” (not to be confused with Zero Day hacks). So many companies announced so much stuff that it’s impossible to synthesize it all. I’ll link you out to a bunch of videos to watch and some of the larger pieces of news just to keep you caught up, but it’s too much for one newsletter. So later in the week expect me to hone in more on specific categories. In the meanwhile, if you want the firehose, we have a storystream of everything at CES 2020 right here.

Let’s talk about Day Zero for a moment, though, because as I scan over everything we saw today I am struck by how many of the splashiest announcements weren’t products, they were concepts — and I strongly suspect more are on the way today and through the week.

I think that reveals a few things about the state of the consumer electronics industry. Especially when you look at the specific kinds of concepts that are being shown off: foldable screens and cars.

Concept foldables

We knew that we’d see a lot of folding screens this year at CES, but what we didn’t fully expect is just how few of them would come with proposed ship dates. Dell’s Concept Ori and Intel’s Horseshoe Bend concepts are just concepts, tech demos that prove that, yes, these companies are working on devices like this. But Intel wouldn’t let anybody fold its folding laptop, which seems problematic.

TCL also made a folding screen prototype, but as with the above it didn’t say that what it was showing was even representative of a future product. Lenovo, meanwhile, gets credit for actually attaching a price and a possible release window for its ThinkPad X1 Fold, but the hardware we saw this week was so little improved compared to an earlier look that it’s hard to give Lenovo a ton of credit.

So why all the concept foldables instead of real products? I can think of a bunch of reasons, but they all boil down to one thing: a lack of confidence.

I don’t mean that these companies are all a bunch of yellow-bellied chickens. It’s not as if sheer chutzpah would make any of these products viable for release. Plus, there’s a very high profile example of a company confidently pushing a folding device out the door, and we all know what happened with that first Galaxy Fold.

Caution is warranted, in other words. I think that these companies lack confidence that these screens will be durable enough and good enough to really sell to a lot of consumers. I’ve sat in many briefings about folding devices with product managers from big companies and invariably they’ll gaze wistfully into the distance and say that the thing we really need is bendable glass.

It’s happened often enough that I am beginning to suspect it’s not just idle wishing, but fond remembrances of how much better the device in the lab is than the device in my hand in the briefing room. Corning has been talking about it and even told Wired this past March that it would be a matter of a couple of years.

Set aside durability. I also think these companies can’t confidently predict whether or not consumers really want folding devices. And even if a company believed there was demand for folding screens, there’s no way any company can truly be confident that they know what kind of folding screen will ultimately be successful.

Folding devices are fun to play with because they introduce a new opportunity for device makers to play around with form factors. Should the screen be on the inside or outside, fold on the long side or the short side, be a phone that turns into a tablet, or a tablet that turns into a laptop or something else entirely?

The only good way to answer those questions is to get lots of different kinds of devices into the market and see what sells. But they’re still so expensive that the risk isn’t worth it, I suspect. Better to let somebody else take a flyer.

I also hope that these companies lack confidence in one more thing: the software. Nothing I have seen to date feels right on folding screens. Windows 10X may help, but we’ve not seen nearly enough to even speculate. Think about how many years it took Apple to get the iPad to a place where it didn’t feel like a big iPhone. With foldables, the rest of the industry has barely started trying to solve the much harder problem of folding screen interfaces.

If anybody tells you they know the right way to make a computer interface for a folding gadget, they’re lying.

And so: concepts. They’re a way to test the waters and hopefully impart a sense of vague innovation that might add some shine to the brand. Which brings me to the other category: concept cars.

Concept cars

For a minute yesterday it seemed like the biggest news to come out of Sony’s keynote would be a first look at the PlayStation 5…’s new logo. But a new car drove out on to the stage — an electric concept car called the Vision-S designed by Sony itself.

It was a surprise, to say the least. Who expected Sony, of all the companies you could name, to produce a car? Why did it get made? Sony’s answer was telling: “This prototype embodies our contribution to the future of mobility,” Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said.

If you watch a lot of tech keynotes, you get used to these sorts of generic, platitude-y visions of the future. Usually, though, it’s in the form of a soft-focus video running you through the day of some young business professional ten years in the future. That’s what LG did this year. Sony, though, it elucidated that vision by making a damn car.

At least Sony did some work making a real thing, though. It worked with partners to build some of the pieces you’d expect in a hyper-connected electric car:

In fact, the Vision-S features 33 different sensors inside and outside of the car, multiple widescreen displays, 360 audio, and always-on connectivity, with some pieces coming from industry players like BlackBerry and Bosch. It’s also powered by a “newly-designed EV platform” — which appears to have been engineered by automotive supplier Magna — that Sony says will be able to power other vehicle types, like SUVs.

But the truth is that Sony didn’t actually provide all that much detail and left everybody with way more questions than answers. Our transportation reporter Sean O’Kane is going to try to answer as many of those questions as possible, but the truth is that the answers might be simple.

It might just be a concept car that makes people sit up and pay attention to Sony’s brand instead of paying attention to Sony’s products — which at CES this year were not especially great.

CES is about spectacle, you see. And when it comes to spectacle, even Sony has to cede the crown to Mercedes-Benz. It unveiled an Avatar-themed concept car with scales. When you click through that link — and you absolutely must — you will find that every sentence is more bonkers than the one that precedes it.

Those scales are there to convey empathy to people outside the car. James Cameron came on stage. The wheels are designed to be gentle on forest floors and also let the car drive sideways. Drivers are meant to enter into a symbiotic relationship with the car just like the Na’vi. No, really:

To that end, Mercedes-Benz likens this — seriously — to how the Na’vi physically connect with their banshees in the 2009 movie Avatar. And once passengers start moving in the AVTR car, the sweeping display in front of them can light up with 3D graphics of Pandora, the fictional world from the 2009 film Avatar. After Cameron joined Källenius on stage, he agreed with the chairman’s claim. “We will merge,” Cameron said.

As wackadoo as the AVTR car is, it nevertheless shares the same purpose as the Sony Vision-S. It’s an attention getter and reader, it worked. But when a magician draws your attention in one direction, it usually means some sleight-of-hand is happening where you’re not looking.

As with foldables, I detect a distinct lack of confidence. Ironically, the thing these companies don’t have enough confidence in is the very thing these cars are supposed to represent: a vision of the future. It’s as though these companies don’t have the confidence to decide on what their next big technology bets should be, so they just present the idea that they’re going to enable all of them someday.

I would be happy to be proven wrong, to see some of the ideas in Sony and Mercedes-Benz’s cars turn into tangible technology products in the near future. I just don’t know which of them are more real than the others, which is root of my distrust of them.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a concept and a con.


Catch up on CES 2020 videos

The big keynotes

Samsung CES 2020 keynote in under 6 minutes

Sony at CES 2020 in under 6 minutes

LG at CES 2020 in under 12 minutes

Folding screens

Dell’s new foldable laptops are all screens

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold hands-on

TCL also made a folding phone concept with no screen on the outside

Hands-on videos

Galaxy S10 Lite and Note 10 Lite hands-on: but why?

Samsung’s new 8K bezel-less and rotating TVs at CES 2020

Impossible Foods Pork first taste at CES 2020

Alienware turned a gaming PC into a Nintendo Switch

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook hands-on: ultra premium and super red

PC and Laptop news

AMD’s 7nm Ryzen 4000 CPUs are here to take on Intel’s 10nm Ice Lake laptop chips

Keep an eye on the first laptop reviews with these chips. If AMD achieved what it claims here, we could have a good old fashioned processor fight again. It’s been awhile!

With the new Ryzen 4000 chips, AMD hopes to not only catch up but actually take the lead against Intel when it comes to performance and battery life.

AMD and Intel’s new chips go head-to-head inside Acer’s Swift 3

Heck, maybe that fight is already begun!

Lenovo’s new AMD Ryzen 4000-powered Yoga starts $360 cheaper than its Intel version

Lenovo’s ThinkBook Plus has a giant E Ink screen on the lid

The only thing about that appeals to me is the idea that you could take notes on it with the stylus. But kudos to Lenovo for making a product it will actually ship instead of just another concept.

Asus’ ROG Zephyrus G14 has a hidden LED dot-matrix display on the lid

I like this idea better than the e-ink laptop. It’s less practical but really is the point of the back of your laptop screen practicality?

Lenovo’s Yoga 5G is the first ARM-powered Windows laptop with 5G

More TV News

TCL will enable variable refresh rates for some TVs later this year

On the spectrum of “TV Gimmicks that CES tries to make you care about,” where 0 is an absolute fail and 10 makes you want to upgrade within the next year or two, I submit the following ratings, in chronological order:

  • The first HD TV flat panels: 9
  • 3D TVs: 2
  • Curved TVs: 1
  • 4K TVs: 5 at launch, 7 two years later
  • HDR: 6 at launch, 7 two years later
  • 8K: currently 4
  • Variable refresh rates: currently 6.5

I’m giving variable refresh rates on TVs a higher score than I expected to because some are going to be landing alongside next-gen consoles later this year, which could create (oh god I’m going to use this phrase) synergies.

Variable refresh rate gets a higher score than 8K because I suspect there’ll be more content for it than 8K. Plus, nailing refresh rates change the viewing experience in a way that’s hard to quantify but definitively improves the quality of the experience — which was exactly the story with HDR. Finally, I think that the industry has figured this tech out and so it will become common on lots of TVs in the coming years.

LG’s roll-up TV is shipping this year and could cost $60,000

Amazon’s Fire TV soundbars will get Dolby Atmos, HDMI switching, and more later this year

More CES News

The sex toy banned from CES last year is unlike anything we’ve ever seen

Worth the click just for the Gif.

Ring adds privacy dashboard to app in response to security concerns

Bluetooth will support hearing aids, sharing, and a better audio codec

Samsung’s new Ballie robot is like a real-life mini BB-8

Samsung plans to launch its Galaxy Home Mini smart speaker early this year

So is the original, bigger one cancelled or what? Why won’t Samsung just fess up and say one way or the other.

The headless robot cat company has made a headless robot kitten

I unironically love this.

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Enter the Zuckerverse? Social media churns with new names for Facebook

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Zuckerverse. Timesuck. Faceplant.

They’re just a few of the suggestions being bandied around online following reports that Facebook plans to rebrand itself with a new group name. The company refused to comment on rumor or speculation, of course, but the Twitterati had no problem.

The debate careered from sensible to screwball to strange.

“Meta” was one of the more sober trending suggestions, referring to Facebook’s reported desire to assume a name that focuses on the metaverse, a virtual environment where users can hang out.

Bookface, Facegram, Facetagram, FreeFace, FreeTalk, World Changer.

On the wilder side, Twitter user Dave Pell drew a comparison with musician Kanye West who recently changed his name to “Ye”.

“It would be awesome if Facebook changes its name to  Ye,” he said.

Several humorous suggestions reflected online speculation that the alleged rebrand was driven by founder Mark Zuckerberg’s yearning to make Facebook “cool” once more.

The platform has been deserted by many younger users who have moved to apps like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, and has become increasingly populated by older people.

“Teenage Wasteland”, one wit suggested.

“The Old People’s App because that’s what us younger people call it,” college student Vittoria Esteves told Reuters in Rome.

“Boomerville”, suggested Marco, referring to so-called baby boomers born in the years following World War II.

‘STREISAND EFFECT’

The online naming feast was sparked by a report on the Verge tech site that a newly named group would act as a parent for all the company’s brands, including Facebook itself, Instagram and WhatsApp, and reflect a focus on virtual and augmented reality.

An announcement is expected next week, according to the report.

Many suggestions however reflected the public’s concern about how the company handles user safety and hate speech. Internal documents leaked by a whistleblower formed the basis for a U.S. Senate hearing last week.

“Fakebook”, for example. Tracebook.

Other people were sceptical whether a name change would be enough to detract from the growing legal and regulatory scrutiny that has tarnished the company’s reputation.

“It’s going to be the Barbra Streisand effect thing going on,” said 20-year old Glasgow student Thomas van der Hoven, referring to the phenomenon where seeking to suppress something inadvertently turbo-charges popular interest in it.

“So they’re going to try and change it, and then that’s just going to put the spotlight on the fact that they’re changing it. Why are they changing this?” he added. “So it’s probably going to spit back in their face at some point.”

 

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu and Antonio Denti; Additional reporting by Reuters newsrooms; Writing by Josephine Mason; Editing by Pravin Char)

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Tesla says new factories will need time to ramp up, posts record revenue

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Tesla Inc said on Wednesday its upcoming factories and supply-chain headwinds would put pressure on its margins after it beat Wall Street expectations for third-quarter revenue on the back of record deliveries.

The world’s most valuable automaker has weathered the pandemic and the global supply-chain crisis better than rivals, posting record revenue for the fifth consecutive quarter in the July-to-September period, fueled by a production build-up at its Chinese factory.

But the company led by billionaire Elon Musk faces challenges growing earnings in coming quarters due to supply chain disruptions and the time required to ramp up production at new factories in Berlin and Texas.

“There’s quite an execution journey ahead of us,” Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said, referring to the new factories.

Price fluctuations of raw materials such as nickel and aluminum had created an “uncertain environment with respect to cost structure”, he added.

Even so, he said Tesla was “quite a bit ahead” of its plan to increase deliveries by 50% this year.

“Q4 production will depend heavily on availability of parts, but we are driving for continued growth,” he said.

Tesla shares, up about 23% this year, were down about 0.6% in extended trade late on Wednesday.

Musk himself was not present on the quarterly earnings call for the first time, a development that may have disappointed those investors keen to hear the celebrity CEO’s latest thoughts.

Third-quarter revenue rose to $13.76 billion from $8.77 billion a year earlier, slightly beating analyst expectations according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Tesla’s automotive gross margin, excluding environmental credits, rose to 28.8%, from 25.8% the previous quarter.

Tesla’s overall average price fell as it sold more lower-priced Model 3 and Model Y cars, but it raised prices in the United States.

The company posted robust sales in China, where its low-cost Shanghai factory has surpassed the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, in terms of production.

Tesla also said it intended to use lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry, which is cheaper than traditional batteries but offers lower range, in entry-level models sold outside China. Analysts said this would help keep costs down and address shortages.

It expected the first vehicles equipped with its own 4680, bigger battery cells to be delivered early next year, although it did not say which model would be fitted with them. Musk said in September last year that using its own cells would let Tesla offer a $25,000 car in three years.

In the third quarter, Tesla posted $279 million in revenue from sales of environmental credits, the lowest level in nearly two years. The company sells its excess environmental credits to other automakers that are trying to comply with regulations in California and elsewhere.

 

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

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Samsungs Galaxy Z Flip 3 Bespoke Edition lets users customize their phone – MobileSyrup

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Samsung is letting customers customize their handsets with a new ‘Bespoke Edition’ of the foldable Galaxy Z Flip 3.

The Bespoke Edition lets users configure the foldable smartphone with one or two frame colours (black or silver) and five-panel colours, including ‘Black,’ ‘White,’ ‘Yellow,’ ‘Pink’ and ‘Blue.’

The Bespoke Edition will be available starting October 20th for $1,399.99 CAD.

Samsung says altogether this gives users 49 different colour combinations.

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Additionally, the South Korean company will let users change their device’s colours after purchasing the smartphones with ‘Bespoke Upgrade Care.’

There will also be the Galaxy Watch 4 Bespoke Studio wearables that let users customize their smartwatch before purchasing. It seems like the Z Fold 3 isn’t getting a Bespoke Edition, which is odd considering it was possible to change the frame of the Z Fold 2.

The Bespoke Studio starts at $329.99 for the 40mm variant and the $459.99 for the 42mm version.

Samsung also announced a collaboration with the designer brand Maison Kitsuné that includes special brand editions of the Galaxy Buds 2 and Galaxy Watch 4. The special edition designs include cute fox branding on both the watch and buds.

The Maison Kitsuné 40mm Galaxy Watch costs $529.99. And the Maison Kitsuné Edition Galaxy Buds 2 costs $349.99.

The South Korean tech giant is also releasing a Galaxy Watch 4 update that lets users customize their watch faces and the mix and match complications. This update brings gesture controls and the ability to activate an app with a knock-knock motion on your wrist.

To learn more about the Galaxy Z Flip 3, check out my review of the foldable smartphone.

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