As the year winds down it’s a great time to reflect on the top stories of the past 12 months. This is the first of four installments where we look at the stories that shaped this year.
The first quarter of the year is a very important one. It hosts the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where we usually see a lot of the flagship phones that will shape the mobile landscape until the summer.
But this year we got more than the usual square slabs of premium tech. MWC gave us our much-anticipated glimpse of the first foldable phones!
Samsung and Huawei showed off, initially at a distance, the Galaxy Fold and the Mate X. We were present at both events and came away giddy with excitement – something of a rarity for seasoned techies such as ourselves.
Samsung had the upper hand on Huawei as it was able to release units to the press for preliminary reviews. However those promptly uncovered a few hardware issues – the hinge behind the folding screen would accumulate dirt and debris, which would ultimately destroy the device. There was a thin film over the display, which some mistook for a screen protector and attempted to peel it off, resulting in damage to the screen.
This led to Samsung recalling all Galaxy Fold devices in the field and cancelling all pre-orders of the device. At the time it wasn’t clear if and when Samsung would resolve the issues, but we now know that it took it months to do so. Samsung officially re-launched the Galaxy Fold in September with a number of improvements and seemingly no critical flaws.
Meanwhile Huawei’s Mate X wasn’t ready for release until late November but it only got a limited release due to Huawei’s issues with the US goverment.
Some of the most important devices of early 2018 was the Galaxy S10 lineup (consisting of vanilla, plus, e and 5G models). There were a number of high-profile leaks before the Galaxy S10 quartet eventually arrived on February 20.
We learned most of the specs through a leak, which we ourselves delivered first. The 12GB/1TB variant of the Galaxy S10+ leaked and we learned that the Galaxy S10e won’t be called Galaxy S10 Lite.
When Samsung announced its Galaxy S10 lineup it brought the first HDR10+ screens, first ultrasonic under-display scanners, a new triple camera among other things.
Another big MWC announcement was the Nokia 9 PureView. The penta-cam phone was long in the making and captured the attention of everyone.
It promised to deliver the ultimate dynamic range on a smartphone camera but it failed to win the fans over. It lacked an ultrawide or telephoto camera, nor did it have great battery life and was already behind the curve with its Snapdraon 845 chipset. But it did impress us with its incredible bokeh rendition in macro and portrait photos.
Another big announcement during the MWC was the Sony Xperia 1. Initially rumored as the Xperia XZ4, the Xperia 1 redefined Sony’s flagship and brought another name change.
But the Xperia 1 was much more than just a name. It’s the only flagship with a 21:9 4K OLED screen on the market and its 12MP regular + 12MP tele + 12MP ultrawide camera combo proved to be among the best in the market.
In March Huawei unveiled its P30 and P30 Pro to compete with Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and S10+ head on. The Huawei P30 Pro’s secret weapon was the 5x periscope telephoto camera. It wasn’t great for video and it was subpar in low light but damn that baby could zoom.
Samsung’s new Galaxy M series launched at the end of January and proved quite popular. The Galaxy M10 and M20 were aggressively priced and brought dual cameras, Infinity-V displays and capable Exynos chips. The Galaxy M20 had a 5,000mAh with 15W charging.
Xiaomi showed off a foldable design but it failed to materialize into a device in 2019. However the company released one of the most popular phones of the year in the Redmi Note 7. It brought the right blend of great price and good specs. This was one of the first 48MP cameras on the market and non-coincidentally one of the most successful phones of the year.
And Xiaomi’s novel ad campaign which saw the Redmi Note 7 mash watermelons, smashing walnuts and being used as a cutting board was quite enjoyable.
Meizu unveiled the Zero prototype with no physical buttons and not even a speaker or charging port. It was an interesting concept but remained just that – a concept. Meizu couldn’t pull off the crowdfunding needed to take the Zero off the ground.
And while we’re on that sentiment, Windows Phone received its official final call in January 2018. Microsoft will continue to support Windows Phone until the January 2020, but then it’s officially dead.
That’s it for our Q1 recap. Stay tuned for Q2.
Xiaomi’s interesting ad campaign, showcasing the durability of the new affordable device continues with even more silly videos.
The 6.47″ AMOLED screen gets next-gen in-display FP reader as well as acoustic display tech. Kirin 980 and 40W charging round off this flagship.
The first-ever smartphone penta-camera is also the first smartphone camera to use the Light computational photography system.
The wide notch of the original was not everyone’s favorite feature, so what if it’s replaced by a more palatable waterdrop notch?
Dynamic AMOLED replaces Super AMOLED. The S10 phones also feature faster wireless charging and PowerShare.
It has a 4.6″ phone screen, 7.3″ tablet screen and six cameras dotted all over. The Fold will be available on April 26.
The Nokia 9 PureView could potentially have the best scene depth-sensing around as our first camera samples show.
HMD has brought us a true PureView successor – the Nokia 9 with its five 12MP snappers and a ToF camera at the back.
This is the “Beyond 1″, aka the 6.1” curved screen model. The S10 series will not have gradient color paint jobs, says another rumor.
This is the end of a beloved smartphone platform as Microsoft shifts efforts to support its services on the two majority platforms.
Facebook ‘planning to rebrand company’ with new name – Al Jazeera English
CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about the name change at its annual conference on October 28, but it could be sooner.
Social media giant Facebook Inc is planning to rebrand itself with a new name next week, American technology blog the Verge reported on Tuesday, citing a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about the name change at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28, but it could be unveiled sooner, the Verge reported.
In response, Facebook said it does not comment on “rumour or speculation”.
The news comes at a time when the company is facing increasing government scrutiny in the United States over its business practices.
Legislators from both parties have excoriated the company, illustrating the rising anger in Congress with Facebook.
‘A metaverse company’
The rebranding would position Facebook’s social media app as one of many products under a parent company, which will also oversee groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus and more, the Verge report added.
It is not uncommon in Silicon Valley for companies to change their names as they bid to expand their services.
Google established Alphabet Inc as a holding company in 2015 to expand beyond its search and advertising businesses, to oversee various other ventures ranging from its autonomous vehicle unit and health technology to providing internet services in remote areas.
The move to rebrand will also reflect Facebook’s focus on building the so-called metaverse, an online world where people can use different devices to move and communicate in a virtual environment, according to the report.
Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and intends to connect its nearly three billion users through several devices and apps. On Tuesday, the company announced plans to create 10,000 jobs in the European Union over the next five years to help build the metaverse.
Zuckerberg has been talking up metaverse since July when he said that the key to Facebook’s future lies with the metaverse concept – the idea that users will live, work and exercise inside a virtual universe. The company’s Oculus virtual reality headsets and service are an instrumental part of realizing that vision.
“In the coming years, I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a metaverse company,” Zuckerberg said at the time. “In many ways, the metaverse is the ultimate expression of social technology.”
The buzzy word, first coined in a dystopian novel three decades earlier, has been referenced by other tech firms such as Microsoft.
The Verge report said a possible name for the company could have something to do with Horizon. Recently, Facebook renamed its in-development VR gaming platform named ‘Horizon’’to “Horizon Worlds”.
Apple's voice-only Music subscription could boost Siri's accent understanding – TechCrunch
Apple had a slew of interesting announcements at its event on Monday. But one that stood out to me — and I feel didn’t get as much attention — is the new pricing tier of Apple Music. A new “Voice” tier will offer the entire Apple Music library to subscribers at a reduced rate of just $5 per month: The catch is you have to use Siri to access it, eschewing the standard Apple Music visual and typing-friendly in-app user interface.
Apple didn’t share why it is launching this plan, but I think it’s reasonable to speculate that the iPhone-maker is lowering the price barrier and persuading more people to use Siri because it wants to gather more voice data to train and improve its voice assistant.
“We’re excited that even more people will be able to enjoy Apple Music simply with their voice,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said at the event.
I can’t imagine any other compelling reason why the Apple Music Voice plan exists, especially since Apple is likely offering the new service with much lower margins than the standard plan, as the licensing agreements with labels remain the same to offer up the entire Apple Music catalog.
Again, this is just speculation, but I think given the stiff competition between Apple and Spotify, if the Swedish firm could offer its streaming service at $7-8 a month to beat Apple Music at price, it would. And Apple is taking some loss with the new subscription tier because it really wants to gather vast amounts of data. When I tweeted this theory, my colleague Alex wondered aloud why wouldn’t Apple just make the subscription free? I suppose Apple, a $2.5 trillion company, can technically swallow that much of a hit on the balance sheet, but it doesn’t want to attract more criticism from standalone music streaming firms such as Spotify. It’s already facing scrutiny for anti-competitive behavior on a number of fronts.
Tech firms feed their AI models with vast amounts of data to improve the services’ capabilities. Even as Siri has considerably improved over the years, the general consensus among many people who work in tech and the masses alike is that Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are far superior.
It’s likely that Apple has already been gleaning such voice data from existing Apple Music users, but as a friend suggested, “the point is this — this feature always existed. It’s just that they’d put a high paywall. They’ve lowered that wall now.” In addition to lowering the barrier to entry, making Music voice-only via the new plan means people have to engage with Siri to make use of it; Siri is a feature for standard Apple Music subscribers, but it’s highly likely that most users primarily or exclusively access the content via the app’s UI.
If you want an example of what can happen to voice-powered assistants when you require that users treat it as a voice-first or voice-only service, look at Amazon’s Alexa. Out of the gate, Alexa had to be accessed by voice. This allowed Amazon to not only collect massive amounts of training data for its Alexa algorithms, but also helped train users about how to use it to maximum effect.
Understanding accents and dialects
Another reason why I think my theory works is the markets where Apple plans to offer this new subscription tier first: Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Having India, Spain, Ireland and France in the first wave of nations suggests that Apple is looking to amass a wide-range of dialects and accents from across the globe. On a side note, voice search is very popular in many markets, including developing nations such as India, and in markets like China and Japan where text input can sometimes be unnecessarily complex versus spoken word. (A Google executive told me once that the surprising mass adoption of voice searches in India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market and where Android commands about 98% of the pie, helped the company improve Google Assistant and prompted more aggressive approach to innovate on the voice front.)
Siri is often framed as a bit of a laggard in terms of its competence versus the rest of the voice assistant competition, and Apple’s latest move in services could be an attempt to help it close the perceived gap, while offering customers a discounted way to onboard to its music streaming service.
PSA: the MacBook Pro 14-inch’s $20 power brick upsell is probably worth it – The Verge
If you’re looking at buying the $1,999 base model MacBook Pro 14-inch, there’s one upgrade that you may really want to make — the $20 one that gets you the 96W power adapter instead of the 67W included power adapter. That’s because, according to some wording on Apple’s MacBook Pro configuration page (spotted by MacRumors), you’ll need the more powerful charger if you want to take advantage of the computer’s fast charging feature, which can charge the laptop up to 50 percent in half an hour.
Is it ridiculous that Apple is basically taxing the people who want to buy its least expensive (but still very pricey!) new MacBook Pro? Yes, absolutely — but you should still probably pay it if you want to charge your laptop up quickly. The exception is if you already have a charging brick capable of 100W USB-PD power delivery: Apple tells The Verge that you can fast charge via Thunderbolt as long as your power brick provides enough power. If you already have a beefy power brick, you can skip the upsell.
I know it probably doesn’t feel great to encourage Apple’s nickel-and-diming, but if you want fast charging, this will likely be the best way to get it. There may be, somewhere in the world, a 100W USB-PD charging brick that sells for $20, but there’s no way I would trust it enough to charge a very expensive computer. (If it was $20, I might not even trust it not to burn down my house). I’d pick the upsell.
The one silver lining is that this is only a problem on the base 8 CPU core / 14 GPU core model — if you do any processor upgrades, you’ll get the 96W brick for “free.” Please note, though, that upgrading just the RAM and/or storage on the base MacBook Pro won’t get you that upgrade, but if you’re in the configuration screen anyways, you should absolutely check that box unless you hate fast charging.
NHL great Mike Bossy reveals lung cancer diagnosis – CTV News
Oil dips as China considers intervention to ease coal crunch – CNBC
Senior leader at Thunder Bay, Ont., hospital removed after Nazi imagery discovered on his social media – CBC.ca
Silver investment demand jumped 12% in 2019
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