Report: Samsung will soon stop making traditional LCD panels

The regional headquarters of technology company Samsung in Mountain View, California

Enlarge / The regional headquarters of technology company Samsung in Mountain View, California (credit: Getty Images/Smith Collection)

Samsung will stop producing LCD panels as soon as next month, according to industry insiders cited by The Korea Times.

In 1991, a business unit called Samsung Display was formed to produce the panels used in products made by its parent company, Samsung Electronics. Afterward, it was a leading supplier of LCD panels not just for Samsung Electronics but for other companies in the industry as well.

But fierce competition from other suppliers like China’s BOE heavily impacted Samsung Display’s business. Once the world’s leading LCD panel manufacturer, Samsung Display’s market share has dropped to just 2 percent.

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#lcd-panels, #samsung, #samsung-display, #tech

Samsung launches a lower-powered, cheaper Galaxy Chromebook 2-in-1

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 360

Enlarge / Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 360. (credit: Samsung)

Samsung released its latest Chrome OS device today, the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 360. While some Samsung Chromebooks occupy the upper echelon of Chromebooks in terms of prices and specs, its newest offering is a step down.

The Galaxy Chromebook 2 360’s nomenclature may be a bit confusing. The Galaxy Chromebook 2, which is currently available with a starting MSRP of $550, also has a 360-degree hinge, despite lacking “360” in its name. But the Galaxy Chromebook 2 360 starts at the lower price of $430, making it a more attainable option for students or for those looking for a secondary device.

The most obvious difference is the display size. The new Chromebook has a smaller 12.4-inch LED panel, while the older Galaxy Chromebook 2 uses a 13.3-inch QLED panel, which applies quantum dots to bring a large color coverage claim of 100 percent DCI-P3. Samsung hasn’t made any specific color claims for its latest Chromebook.

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#ars-shopping, #chromebook, #laptops, #samsung, #tech

Vivo X Fold turns up the heat on Samsung’s foldables line

Vivo X Fold turns up the heat on Samsung’s foldables line

Enlarge (credit: Vivo)

The latest foldable smartphone hitting China is the Vivo X Fold. This is the first foldable you could call a 2022 flagship, with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC. The phone retails in China for 8,999 yen, or about $1,400.

This device looks as good as a Galaxy Z Fold 3, with an 8-inch, 120 Hz, 2160×1916 OLED as the main interior display and a 6.53-inch, 120 Hz, 2520×1080 OLED display on the outside. Besides the new Qualcomm chip, it has 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, an Android 12 build, and a 4,600 mAh battery.

For most of our non-Chinese readers, the most interesting thing about Vivo making a foldable is that it’s a BBK Electronics company, along with Oppo, OnePlus, Realme, and iQoo. BBK companies all share the same parts and engineering, so the hope is that OnePlus will someday pick through the BBK parts bin and bring a foldable to a wider audience. Oppo already took a swing at the foldables market with the Find N in December, and both that phone and the Vivo X Fold show how close China is to catching up with Samsung’s foldable lead.

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#foldable-phones, #samsung, #tech, #vivo

Someone made an Android phone with a Lightning port for some reason

A Lightning port on a Samsung Android phone... if you're into that.

Enlarge / A Lightning port on a Samsung Android phone… if you’re into that. (credit: Exploring the Simulation (Kenny Pi) on YouTube)

We’re not sure why you’d want such a thing, but someone modified an Android phone to use Apple’s Lightning port instead of the industry-standard USB-C connection.

The modification was undertaken by Ken Pillonel, who previously made waves across the Internet for a much more sensible project: bringing USB-C to an iPhone.

Pillonel’s video announcing the Lightning Android phone was published on April 1, but while that tongue-in-cheek date was a conscious choice, the modification is real. Pillonel said he wanted to “balance the chaos” stirred by his unveiling of a USB-C iPhone.

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#apple, #engadget, #ken-pillonel, #lightning, #modifications, #samsung, #samsung-galaxy, #samsung-galaxy-a51, #tech, #usb-c

Samsung’s new 4K smart monitor has a magnetic wireless webcam

Samsung M8 mnonitor in

Enlarge / Samsung is selling the monitor in (clockwise from top-left): Sunset Pink, Warm White, Spring Green, and Daylight Blue. (credit: Samsung)

Samsung’s M8 monitor, announced today, is being positioned to replace your USB webcam and smart TV. The 32-inch 4K smart monitor has a wireless webcam that you can remove and attach via magnets, as also features built-in apps, including TV-streaming ones like Netflix and Hulu, that work without a PC connection.

The M8’s 1080p webcam attaches to a holster in the camera via a 4-pin connector, a Samsung rep told Ars Technica. The holster is connected to a port on the monitor, giving the camera power and connecting it to the PC. As such, it appears the camera won’t work with another monitor. Once in place, you can tilt the camera or remove it for privacy when it’s not in use.

This differs from a magnetic, wireless webcam prototype Dell showed us in December. Dell’s concept cam detached from the monitor so you could place it in the ideal location, such as the center of the monitor, for the perfect angle. Samsung’s magnetic webcam attempts to help you find the perfect angle through face tracking and auto-zoom.

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#ars-shopping, #monitors, #samsung, #tech

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: The slab phone retirement plan

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.

Enlarge / The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Is there anything left to do in the slab phone market?

Samsung’s launch of the Galaxy S22 feels like a retirement plan for the company’s slab line. After killing the Galaxy Note line and skipping a 2021 release, Samsung is merging the S-Pen-equipped Note line and the Galaxy S line, cutting the slab phone flagships down to a single yearly release.

Look at the Galaxy Note 10 from 2019 and you’ll see that Samsung has essentially been recycling its design for three years now. It feels like Samsung is standing still, as if the plan is to have slab phones slowly ride off into the sunset while the company directs resources toward a future in foldables.

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#android, #ars-shopping, #gadgetology, #galaxy-s22, #samsung, #tech

Samsung’s QD-OLED TV challenges premium OLEDs with $2,200 starting price 

Samsung OLED (S95B)

Enlarge / Samsung OLED (S95B) TV. (credit: Samsung)

Samsung revealed new details for its highly anticipated QD-OLED TV on Thursday. The company’s first OLED TV in a decade costs $2,200 for the 54.6-inch model and $3,000 for the 64.5-inch model.

Samsung hadn’t released an OLED TV since 2012, but in January, the company announced its reentrance into the market. Samsung is getting around LG Display’s hold on OLED panels by going with a proprietary OLED technology called QD-OLED. QD-OLED applies quantum dots to OLED to deliver greater color coverage that is more consistent across brightness levels, as well as more detailed highlights and improved shadows.

The Samsung OLED (S95B) series, as it’s now called, costs more than many OLED TVs, putting it in line with LG’s high-end G-series of (non-QD) OLED TVs. LG hasn’t revealed pricing for its 2022 G2 TVs in the US, but in Europe, the 55- and 65-inchers have been announced at 2,500 euros (about $2,758) and 3,600 euros (about $3970), respectively. The LG G1 55-inch model debuted at $2,000, with the 65-inch coming in at $2,800. LG’s flagship C-series, meanwhile, costs $1,250 for 55 inches.

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#oled, #samsung, #tech, #tvs

Intel, AMD, and other industry heavyweights create a new standard for chiplets

A sample chiplet design, with the CPU dies made with a more advanced manufacturing process and the chipset and some other functions made on older, cheaper processes.

Enlarge / A sample chiplet design, with the CPU dies made with a more advanced manufacturing process and the chipset and some other functions made on older, cheaper processes. (credit: Universal Chipset Interconnect Express)

Some of the CPU industry’s heaviest hitters—including Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, Arm, TSMC, and Samsung—are banding together to define a new standard for chiplet-based processor designs. Dubbed Universal Chiplet Interconnect Express (UCIe for short), the new standard seeks to define an open, interoperable standard for combining multiple silicon dies (or chiplets) into a single package.

Intel, AMD, and others are already designing or selling chiplet-based processors in some form—most of AMD’s Ryzen CPUs use chiplets, and Intel’s upcoming Sapphire Rapids Xeon processors will, too. But these chips all use different interconnects to enable communication between chiplets. The UCIe standard, if it succeeds, will replace those with a single standard, in theory making it much easier for smaller companies to take advantage of chiplet-based designs or for one company to include another company’s silicon in its own products.

Chiplet-based designs are advantageous when making large chips on cutting-edge manufacturing nodes partly because they cut down on the amount of silicon manufacturers need to throw out. If a manufacturing defect affects one CPU core, tossing (or binning) a single 8-core chiplet is a whole lot cheaper than having to toss a huge 16- or 32-core processor die. Chiplet designs also let you mix-and-match chips and manufacturing processes. You could, for example, use an older, cheaper process for your chipset and a newer, cutting-edge process for your processor cores and cache. Or you could put an AMD GPU on the same package as an Intel CPU.

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#amd, #chiplets, #intel, #qualcomm, #samsung, #tech, #tsmc, #ucie

Intel Arc GPU squeezes into Samsung’s lightweight Galaxy Book2 Pro

Samsung's Galaxy Book2 series of laptops

Enlarge / Samsung’s Galaxy Book2 series of laptops. (credit: Samsung)

Samsung will refresh its Galaxy Book line of thin-and-light laptops with the help of Intel’s long-awaited Arc graphics, the company announced this week. It’ll join the likes of Acer, whose Swift X laptop is one of the first to use the Arc mobile GPU.

We’re still waiting to hear more about Arc, but this month, Team Blue promised to ship its GPUs in Q1 of this year, with desktop Arc graphics cards to ship in Q2 and workstation GPUs in Q3.

That puts Samsung’s newly announced 15.6-inch Galaxy Book2 Pro right on schedule and should make it one of the first Arc-based laptops when it comes out on April 1. This is a thin-and-light laptop, not a gaming one, measuring just 0.52 inches thick and weighing 2.58 pounds, so we wouldn’t expect it to show the full capabilities of Intel’s Alchemist architecture.

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#laptops, #samsung, #tech

Alienware QD-OLED monitor reveals high price of Samsung’s new tech

Alienware AW3423DW.

Enlarge / Alienware AW3423DW. (credit: Scharon Harding)

We now have an idea of how much QD-OLED screens will run you compared to the OLED panels we know today.

OLED is already an expensive, high-end display technology, but Samsung’s QD-OLED puts a quantum-dot spin on the tech, promising image enhancement and improved color coverage. We’re still waiting to learn how much QD-OLED TVs will cost, but the first PC monitor with the tech, coming this spring, will be $1,300.

Samsung Display announced QD-OLED, or Quantum Dot-Organic Light Emitting Diode, last month, with TVs and monitors expected this year. The new type of OLED panel is supposed to provide the same deep blacks and rich contrast that make OLED popular among HDR users, gamers, and anyone who wants a crisp image. The difference is that the new tech uses a blue OLED material that goes through a layer of quantum dots. This setup is supposed to ensure vivid color regardless of the screen’s brightness setting, plus more detail in highlighted areas. (For an in-depth look, check out our story explaining what QD-OLED is.)

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#alienware, #monitors, #samsung, #tech

Samsung no-showed on its major Exynos 2200 launch and won’t say why

Photoshopped question marks surround a smart device that displays the words Samsung Exynos.

Enlarge (credit: Samsung / Ron Amadeo)

So here’s a crazy story. Samsung was supposed to have a big SoC launch today, but that launch did not happen. Samsung didn’t cancel or delay the event. The January 11 date was announced, and we even wrote about it, but when the time for the event came, nothing happened! Samsung pulled a no-call no-show for a major product launch. It’s the end of the day now, and the company has yet to respond to what must be hundreds of press inquiries that are no-doubt flooding its email inbox, including ours! Samsung stood up the entire tech industry, and now it won’t say why. Nobody knows what is going on.

Samsung's promotional tweet.

Samsung’s promotional tweet. (credit: Samsung)

The Exynos 2200 was (?) shaping up to be a major launch for Samsung. It is, after all, the first Samsung SoC with the headline-grabbing feature of having an AMD GPU. The two companies announced this deal a year ago, and we’ve been giddy about it ever since. The Exynos 2200 is (or was) going to debut in the Galaxy S22. That launch event is currently scheduled for February 8, assuming Samsung doesn’t ghost everyone again.

Samsung announced the Exynos 2200 event just 12 days ago, saying, “Stay tuned for the next Exynos with the new GPU born from RDNA 2. January 11, 2022.” (RDNA 2 is an AMD GPU architecture). In addition to a tweet from the official, verified, @SamsungExynos account, the company also cut a promo video ending with the January 11 2022 date. You can still watch it at archive.org. The closest thing Samsung has done to communicate about the status of the Exynos 2200 is to delete its tweets promoting the show.

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#exynos, #samsung, #tech

Samsung shows off foldable laptop, tablet, and smartphone concepts at CES

Samsung has been leading the charge toward foldable smartphones for almost three years now, but the future of the company’s foldable ambitions have always been on display at trade shows, going all the way back to 2008. With three versions of the Galaxy Z Fold (and two smaller Z Flips) under the conglomerate’s belt, Samsung’s Display division has shown up to CES with a plethora of prototypes detailing what it thinks the future of foldables will look like. For whatever reason, Samsung produced official hands-on videos of these devices but isn’t hosting them anywhere, but there are some mirrors on YouTube from Abhijeet Mishra (1, 2, 3, 4).

These aren’t from the “Galaxy” division (that would be Samsung Mobile), and they aren’t fully featured devices. But Samsung Display’s technology has been a driving enabler behind the Galaxy Fold line of devices. Now, the display division wants to tackle even bigger and more complicated form factors.

The tri-fold “Flex S” and “Flex G” concepts

If one fold works on the Galaxy Z Fold, then surely two folds will be even better. The first concept, the “Flex S,” folds up in an “S” shape (It’s more like a “Z” but “S” has way better Samsung branding synergy). This gives you a visible front display when the device is closed and a wide aspect ratio when open. The Flex S comes in phone and tablet versions. The commercial Galaxy Fold needs a totally separate screen to have a front display, while the Flex S only needs a single screen. The Huawei Mate X tried a single-screen design with only one fold, but that meant the entire device was a display when closed, and there was no “safe” side to place on the table. The Flex S works around that problem with the second fold.

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#ces-2022, #galaxy-fold, #samsung, #tech

Explaining QD-OLED, Samsung’s display tech that is wowing CES

Promotional image of cutting-edge flatscreen TV.

Samsung’s 65-inch QD-OLED TV should be available this year. (credit: Samsung/CES)

The Consumer Electronics Show, the country’s largest tech exhibition, is always filled with exciting new products and concepts. But one of my favorite things about the show is the spotlight it puts on the emerging technologies driving these product launches. One piece of next-generation tech generating buzz at this year’s CES is QD-OLED. A variation of OLED from Samsung Display, it has made a splash through big TV and PC monitor reveals.

But what exactly is QD-OLED, how different is it from regular OLED, and do we really need another acronym?

What is QD-OLED?

QD-OLED stands for “quantum dot organic light-emitting diode.” The technology comes from Samsung Display, which started teasing it in 2019 and is rumored to have started mass production in November. You may also see Samsung refer to QD-OLED as “QD-Display.”

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#alienware, #ces-2022, #lg, #monitors, #oled, #samsung, #tech, #tvs

Samsung’s 2022 TVs get 144 Hz support and a built-in NFT marketplace

Promotional image of high-end TV set.

Enlarge / Here’s the first publicly released render of Samsung’s new Mini LED TV. (credit: Samsung)

It’s that time of year again: The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is upon us, and companies like Samsung are announcing the first details of their 2022 product refreshes. That includes Samsung’s flagship TV lineup, which will this year see an iterative step over last year’s models.

The company’s line of popular, high-end Mini LED 4K and 8K TVs (which it calls its “Neo QLED” line) isn’t seeing any radical changes this year. Rather, the line will get small improvements to picture and sound quality.

First off, these TVs now support 4K input at 144 Hz in addition to 120 Hz. Unless you’re using your TV as a computer monitor for high-skill, pro or semi-pro esports on a high-end gaming PC, the bump from 120 Hz support to 144 Hz isn’t going to mean much. And even then, it’s still not significant. Samsung is just looking for a place to one-up competitors on specs any way it can.

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#120hz, #144hz, #4k, #8k, #hdr, #micro-led, #mini-led, #nft, #samsung, #samsung-neo-qled, #tech, #tv

Samsung brings 240 Hz refresh rates to 4K monitors

Samsung Odyssey Neo G8

(credit: Samsung)

4K has saturated the TV market, but the sharpest mainstream display resolution is not as common in PC monitors, due to price and limitations. PC gamers specifically opt for PC monitors because they can generally hit higher refresh rates than TVs, which are typically at 60 Hz or 120 Hz, making fast-paced gaming action look smoother. But refresh rates higher than 144 Hz usually require sticking to QHD resolution or lower. Samsung’s introduction today of a 4K monitor that can hit 240 Hz changes that.

Samsung told me it will announce the price and release date for the monitor, part of the brand’s announcements for CES 2022, “later this year.” If it arrives in 2022, it should be the fastest 4K monitor on the market—assuming another brand doesn’t announce a similar screen (who knows what else we’ll hear about at CES; the tech show doesn’t even officially start until Wednesday).

4K at 240 Hz

The Odyssey Neo G8 has a 1 ms GTG response time and is able to refresh 8,294,400 pixels 240 times per second. When asked, Samsung didn’t specify if the monitor uses compression to do so, but it apparently does because its port selection is comprised of two HDMI 2.1 and one DisplayPort 1.4.

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#ces-2022, #gaming-monitors, #pc-monitors, #samsung, #tech

Components shortage sends smartphone market into decline

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G standing folded on table

Enlarge / Foldable devices like the Galaxy Z Fold3 5G (above) helped Samsung keep its top spot. (credit: Samsung)

Component shortages have been wreaking havoc on the tech industry since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and smartphones are no outlier. Decelerated production schedules have given way to smaller stock and delayed launches. All of this has resulted in a decline in smartphone sales in Q3 of 2021 compared to Q3 2020, Gartner reported today.

According to numbers the research firm shared today, sales to consumers dropped 6.8 percent. A deficit in parts like integrated circuits for power management and radio frequency has hurt smartphone production worldwide.

“Despite strong consumer demand, smartphone sales declined due to delayed product launches, longer delivery schedule, and insufficient inventory at the channel,” Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner, said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

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#apple, #foldable-smartphones, #samsung, #smartphones, #tech

No end in sight for chip shortage as supply chain problems pile up

An out-of-focus face examines a computer component.

Enlarge / A woman examines a mask—a part used in wafer conception—at a show room of the United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) factory in Tainan, southern Taiwan. (credit: Sam Yeh | Getty)

Earlier this year, the chip shortage seemed like it might ease sometime in 2022. Now, that forecast appears to have been optimistic.

“The shortages are going to continue indefinitely,” Brandon Kulik, head of Deloitte’s semiconductor industry practice, told Ars. “Maybe that doesn’t mean 10 years, but certainly we’re not talking about quarters. We’re talking about years.”

It is becoming clear that snarls in the semiconductor supply chain are weighing on economic growth. Yesterday, both GM and Ford said that missing chips led to slashed profits for the third quarter, and Apple is rumored to be cutting this year’s production targets for its iPhone lineup, the company’s cash cow. Chip woes have become so widespread that a division of Wells Fargo thinks the pressures will curtail US GDP growth by 0.7 percent.

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#chip-fab, #chip-shortage, #intel, #samsung, #semiconductors, #supply-chains, #tech, #tsmc

Samsung adds Windows 11, 5G, and OLED to Galaxy Book laptop lineup

Samsung Galaxy Pro 360 5G.

Enlarge / Samsung Galaxy Pro 360 5G. (credit: Samsung)

With Windows 11 out, PC makers have an excuse to update their lineups, and Samsung is hoping that consumers pick up one of its three new Galaxy laptops announced this week to try out the latest operating system. The company is offering a few buzzy features to help entice customers.

The Samsung Galaxy Pro 360 5G and Samsung Galaxy Book Odyssey will release on November 11, with identical starting price tags of $1,400. The Samsung Galaxy Book is out now and starts at $750.

The 5G tax

Samsung already makes a Galaxy Pro 360 two-in-1 with an AMOLED screen, and you can even get it preloaded with Windows 11. But the upcoming Galaxy Pro 360 5G adds—you guessed it—5G.

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#5g, #amoled, #ars-shopping, #oled, #samsung, #samsung-galaxy, #tech, #windows-11-laptops, #windows-11-pcs

Samsung’s forgotten web browser now runs on the latest Galaxy smartwatches

samsung's new galaxy watch 4

Enlarge / Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic. (credit: Samsung)

Everyone has a favorite Internet browser, right? Google Chrome and Safari are staples, Firefox is still kicking, and Microsoft Edge has somehow established itself as a beloved underdog. But when it comes to surfing the web on your smartwatch, options are understandably more limited. By bringing its own browser to its latest smartwatches, Samsung may make things simpler for smartwatch wearers while also reminding people of the browser’s existence.

As spotted by 9to5Google, the Samsung Internet Browser is now available on the Google Play Store for Samsung smartwatches using Wear OS, namely the Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic. The browser is already available for the company’s older Tizen-powered watches, such as the Galaxy Watch Active 2, and Samsung’s web surfer is also available on its phones and tablets. In fact, Samsung devices are often preloaded with the app, but since many also run Android, and thus come with Google Chrome, Samsung’s alternative frequently goes unused—or even unnoticed.

But the needs for watch-based web surfing are a bit different, and as detailed by 9to5Google, exploring the Internet on your wrist may be easier than you’d think with the Samsung Internet Browser. For example, you can swipe diagonally left or right to grab a webpage. Swiping up reveals handy features like bookmarking, zooming, or the ability to send a webpage to your phone. The search button on Samsung’s Internet Browser lets you access your favorite search engine, whether it’s Google, DuckDuckGo, or Bing.

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#samsung, #samsung-galaxy, #smartwatch, #tech, #wear-os, #web-browser

Chromebook demand is plummeting as the pandemic eases

The 2020 Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, which had a 4K OLED display.

Enlarge / The 2020 Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, which had a 4K OLED display. (credit: Samsung)

A global deceleration of laptop sales is being linked in a new report from market research firm Trendforce to increasing vaccination rates and a corresponding decrease in remote work and remote learning. According to the findings, demand for Chromebooks slid by over 50 percent during one month since July. And notebook shipments for the remainder of the year are expected to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shifting demand from businesses.

Trendforce said that interest for ChromeOS-powered laptops within the last year had primarily been driven by remote learning. The analyst pointed to rising vaccination rates in North America, Europe, and Japan throughout the second half of 2021 as recently slowing demand for Chromebooks.

After being a “primary driver” of overall laptop shipments in the first half of 2021, Chromebook shipments dropped by over 50 percent during one month in the second half of the year. And because Chromebooks represent a “relatively high share” of HP’s and Samsung’s overall laptop shipments, the OEMs’ shipments are predicted to fall by 10 to 20 percent from the first half of the year to the second half.

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#chromebook, #hp, #laptops, #samsung, #tech

The iPhone 13 Pro goes to Disneyland

This year’s iPhone review goes back to Disneyland for the first time in a couple of years for, uh, obvious reasons. I’m happy to report that the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 performed extremely well and the limited testing I was able to do on the iPhone mini and iPhone 13 Pro Max showed that for the first time you’re able to make a pretty easy choice based on size once you’ve decided you’re ok without telephoto.

One of the major reasons I keep bringing these iPhones back to Disneyland is that it’s pretty much the perfect place to test the improvements Apple claims it is making in an intense real-world setting. It’s typically hot, the network environment is atrocious, you have to use your phone for almost everything these days from pictures to ticket scanning to food ordering and you’re usually there as long as you can to get the most out of your buck. It’s the ideal stress test that doesn’t involve artificial battery rundowns or controlled photo environments. 

In my testing, most of Apple’s improvements actually had a visible impact on the quality of life of my trip, though in some cases not massive. Screen brightness, the longer telephoto and battery life were all bright spots.

Performance and battery

The battery of the iPhone 13 Pro hit just over the 13 hour mark in the parks for me running it right to the dregs. Since there was so much video testing this year, the camera app did stay on screen longer than usual at just over 1hr of active ‘on screen’ usage which does put a bit of a strain on the system. I’d say that in real-world standard use you’ll probably get a bit more than that out of it so I’m comfortable saying that Apple’s estimate of an hour or more longer video playback time from the iPhone 12 Pro is probably pretty accurate. 

Though it was hard to get the same level of stress on the iPhone 13 Pro Max during my tests, I’d say you can expect even more battery life out of it, given the surplus it still had when my iPhone 13 Pro needed charging. Bigger battery, more battery life, not a big shock.

If you’re using it in the parks and doing the rope drop I’d say I would plan on taking it off the charger at 6am or so and plan to have a charger handy by about 4pm so you don’t go dead. That’s not a bad run overall for an iPhone in challenging conditions and with heavy camera use. 

Apple’s new ProMotion display was a nice upgrade as well, and I did notice the increased screen brightness. Typically the bump in brightness was only truly noticeable side-by-side with an iPhone 12 Pro with high-key content displayed on the screen. Popping open the Disneyland app for the barcode meant a bit better consistency in scanning (though that’s pretty hard to say for sure) and a visual increase in overall brightness in direct sun. Out of the Sun I’d say you’d be hard pressed to tell.

The variable refresh rate of the ProMotion screen cranking all the way up to 120hz while scrolling Safari is a really nice quality of life improvement. I’m unfortunately a bit jaded in this department because I’ve done a ton of my computing on the iPad Pro for the past couple of years, but it’s going to be an amazing bump for iPhone users that haven’t experienced it. Because Apple’s system is not locked at 120hz, it allows them to conserve battery life by slowing down the screen’s refresh rate when viewing static content like photos or text when not scrolling. I’m happy to say that I did not see any significant ramping while scrolling, so it’s really responsive and seamless in its handling of this variability.

The new A15 chip is, yes, more powerful than last year. Here’s some numbers if that’s your sort of thing:

Impressive as hell, especially for more battery life not less. The power-per-watt performance of Apple’s devices continues to be the (relatively) un-sung victory of its chips department. It’s not just that this year’s iPhones or the M1 laptops are crazy fast, it’s that they’re also actually usable for enormous amounts of time not connected to a charger. For those curious, the iPhone 12 Pro appears to have 6GB of RAM. 

Design

The design of the iPhone continues to be driven by the camera and radio. Whatever is necessary to support the sensors and lenses of the camera package and whatever is necessary to ensure that the antennas can accommodate 5G are in control of the wheel at this point in the iPhone’s life, and that’s pretty natural. 

The camera array on the back of the iPhone 13 Pro is bigger and taller in order to accommodate the three new cameras Apple has installed here. And I do mean bigger, like 40% bigger overall with taller arrays. Apple’s new cases now have a very noticeable raised ridge that exists to protect the lenses when you’re setting the case down on a surface. 

Everything else is sort of built around the camera and the need for wireless charging and radio performance. But Apple’s frosted glass and steel rim look retains its jewel-like quality this year and they’re still really good looking phones. I doubt the vast majority of people will see them long without a case but while you do they’re nice looking phones.

The front notch has been pared down slightly due to improvements in camera packaging, which leaves a tiny bit more screen real-estate for things like videos, but we’ll have to wait to see if developers find clever ways to use the extra pixels. 

Now, on to the cameras.

Cameras

It seems impossible that Apple continues to make year-over-year improvements that genuinely improve your optionality and quality of images that are enough to matter. And yet. The camera quality and features are a very real jump from the iPhone 11 Pro across the board and still a noticeable improvement from the iPhone 12 Pro for you early adopters. Anything older and you’re going to get a blast of quality right to the face that you’re going to love. 

The camera packaging and feature set is also more uniform across the lineup than ever before with Apple’s IBIS in camera sensor shift stabilization system appearing in every model — even the iPhone 13 mini which is a crazy achievement given the overall package size of this sensor array.

In my experience in the parks this year, Apple’s improvements to cameras made for a material difference no matter which lens I chose. From low light to long zoom, there’s something to love here for every avid photographer. Oh, and that Cinematic Mode, we’ll talk about that too. 

Telephoto

Of all of the lenses I expected improvement from, the telephoto was actually not that high on my list. But I was pleasantly surprised by the increased range and utility of this lens. I am an admitted telephoto addict, with some 60% of my photos on iPhone 12 Pro taken with the tele lens over the wide. I just prefer the ability to pick and choose my framing more closely without having to crop after the fact. 

Having Night Mode on the telephoto now means that it doesn’t fall back to the wide lens with crop in dark conditions as it used to. Now you get that native telephoto optics plus the Night Mode magic. This means much better black points and great overall exposure even hand held at zoom — something that felt just completely out of reach a couple of years ago.

With the higher zoom level, portraits are cropped tighter, with better organic non-portrait-mode bokeh which is lovely. With this new lens you’re going to be able to shoot better looking images of people, period.

If you’re a camera person, the 3x reminds me a lot of my favorite 105mm fixed portrait lens. It’s got the crop, it’s got the nice background separation and the optical quality is very, very good on this lens package. Apple knocked it out of the park on the tele this time around. 

The longer optical range was also very handy in a Disneyland world where performers are often kept separate from guests — sometimes for effect but mostly because of pandemic precautions. Being able to reach out and get that shot of Kylo Ren hyping up the crowd was a fun thing to be enabled to do.

Wide

Apple’s wide lens gets the biggest overall jump in sensor technology. A larger ƒ/1.5 aperture and new 1.9µm pixels roughly doubles the light gathering — and it shows. Images at night and inside ride buildings had a marked improvement in overall quality due to deeper blacks and better dynamic range. 

With Night Mode enabled, the deeper light gathering range and improved Smart HDR 4 makes for deeper blacks and a less washed out appearance. If I had to characterize it, it would be ‘more natural’ overall — a theme I’ve seen play out across the iPhone cameras this time around. 

Without Night Mode enabled, the raw improvement in image quality due to more light being captured is immediately evident. Though I think there are few situations where you need to turn off Night Mode any more, subjects in motion in low light are one of those and you’ll get a few inches extra of wiggle room with this new sensor and lens combo in those instances. 

Having sensor shift OIS come to the wide on the iPhone 13 across the range is a huge godsend to both still shots and video. Though I’m spoiled having been able to play with the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s stabilization, if you haven’t shot with it before you’re going to be incredibly happy with the additional levels of sharpness it brings.

Ultra Wide

Apple’s ultra wide camera has been in need of some love for a while. Though it offered a nice additional perspective, it has suffered from a lack of auto-focus and sub-par light gathering ability since its release. This time around it gets both a larger ƒ/1.8 aperture and autofocus. Apple claims 92% more light gathering and my testing in pretty rough lighting conditions shows a massive improvement across the board. 

Typically at Disneyland I like to shoot the wide in one of two ways: up close to create a fisheye-type perspective for portraits or to snag a vista when the lighting or scene setting is especially good. Having auto focus available improves the first a ton and the wider aperture gives the second a big boost too. 

Check out these shots of a moonlit Trader Sam’s, a snap that you might grab because the lighting and scenery are just right. The iPhone 12 Pro isn’t bad at all here but there is an actually quite clear difference between the two in exposure. Both of these were taken with Night Mode disabled in order to compare the raw improvement in aperture.

The delta is clear, and I’m pretty impressed in general with how much Apple keeps improving this ultra wide camera, though it seems clear at this point that we’re hitting the upper limits of what a 12MP sensor at this size can bring to a lens with such a wide POV. 

The new ISP also improves Night Mode shooting here too — and with a bit more raw range to work with given the wider aperture, your night mode shots lose even more of that bright candy-like look and get a deeper and more organic feeling. 

Macro photos and video

Another new shooting possibility presented by the iPhone 13 Pro is a pretty impressive macro mode that can shoot as close as 2cm. It’s really, really well done given that it’s being implemented in a super wide lens on a smartphone. 

I was able to shoot incredibly detailed snaps very, very close-up. We’re talking ‘the surface texture of objects’ close; ‘pollen hanging off a bee’s thorax’ close; dew…well you get the idea. It’s close, and it’s a nice tool to have without having to carry a macro attachment with you. 

I found the sharpness and clarity of the macro images I captured to be excellent within the rough 40% area that comprised the center of the capture area. Due to the fact that the macro mode is on the ultra wide, there is a significant amount of comatic aberration around the edges of the image. Basically, the lens is so curved you get a bit of separation between wavelengths of light coming in at oblique angles, leading to a rainbow effect. This is only truly visible at very close distances at the minimum of the focal range. If you’re a few cm away you’ll notice and you’ll probably crop it out or live with it. If you’re further away getting a ‘medium macro’ at 10cm or whatever you’ll likely not notice it much.

This is a separate factor from the extremely slim field-of-focus that is absolutely standard with all macro lenses. You’re going to have to be precise at maximum macro, basically, but that’s nothing new.

Given how large scale Disneyland is I actually had to actively seek out ways to use the macro, though I’d imagine it would be useful in more ways in other venues. But I still got cool shots of textures in the bottles in Radiator Springs and some faux fungi at Galaxy’s Edge. 

Macro video is similarly fun but requires extremely stable hands or a tripod to really take advantage of given that the slightest movement of your hands is going to move the camera a massive amount of distance proportional to the focal area. Basically, tiny hand moves, big camera moves in this mode. But it’s a super fun tool to add to your arsenal and I had fun chasing bugs around some flower petals in the garden of the Grand Californian hotel with it.

As a way to go from world scale down to fine detail it’s a great way to mix up your shots.

One interesting quirk of the ultra wide camera being the home of macro on iPhone 13 Pro is that there is a noticeable transition between the wide and ultra-wide cameras as you move into macro range. This presents as a quick-shift image transition where you can see one camera clicking off and the other one turning on — something that was pretty much never obvious in other scenarios even though the cameras switch all the time depending on lighting conditions and imaging judgement calls made by the iPhone’s camera stack. 

Users typically never notice this at all, but given that there is now an official macro camera available when you swoop in close to an object while you’re on 1x then it’s going to flip over to the .5x mode in order to let you shoot super close. This is all totally fine, by the way, but can result in a bit of flutter if you’re moving in and out of range with the cameras continuously switching as you enter and exit ‘macro distance’ (around 10-15cm). 

When I queried about this camera switching behavior, Apple said that “a new setting will be added in a software update this fall to turn off automatic camera switching when shooting at close distances for macro photography and video.”

This should solve this relatively small quirk for people who want to work specifically at the macro range. 

Photographic Styles and Smart HDR 4

One of the constant tensions with Apple’s approach to computational photography has been its general leaning towards the conservative when it comes to highly processed images. Simply put, Apple likes its images to look ‘natural’, where other similar systems from competitors like Google or Samsung have made different choices in order to differentiate and create ‘punchier’ and sometimes just generally brighter images. 

I did some comparisons of these approaches back when Apple introduced Night Mode two years ago.  

The general idea hasn’t changed much even with Apple’s new launches this year, they’re still hewing to nature as a guiding principle. But now they’ve introduced Photographic Styles in order to give you the option of cranking two controls they’re calling Tone and Warmth. These are basically vibrance and color temperature (but only generally). You can choose from 5 presets including no adjustments or you can adjust the two settings on any of the presets on a scale of -100 to +100. 

I would assume that long term people will play with these and recommendations will get passed around on how to get a certain look. My general favorite of these is vibrant because I like the open shadows and mid-tone pop. Though I would assume a lot of folks will gravitate towards Rich Contrast because more contrast is generally more pleasing to the human eye. 

In this shot of some kid-sized speeders, you can see the effects on the shadows and midtones as well as the overall color temperature. Rather than being a situational filter, I view this as a deep ‘camera setting’ feature, much like choosing the type of film that you wanted to roll with in a film camera. For more contrast you might choose a Kodak Ektachrome, for cooler-to-neutral colors perhaps a Fuji, for warm skin tones perhaps a Kodak Portra and for boosted color maybe an Ultramax. 

This setting gives you the option to set up your camera the way you want the color to sit in a similar way. The setting is then retained when you close camera.app. This way when you open it, it’s set to shoot the way you want it to. This goes for the vast majority of camera settings now under iOS 15, which is a nice quality of life improvement over the old days when the iPhone camera reset itself every time you opened it. 

It’s worth noting that these color settings are ‘imbedded’ in the image, which means they are not adjustable afterwards like Portrait Mode’s lighting scenarios. They are also not enabled during RAW — which makes sense.

Smart HDR4 also deserves a mention here because it’s now doing an additional bit of smart segmentation based on subjects in the frame. In a situation with a backlit group of people, for instance, the new ISP is going to segment out each of those subjects individually and apply color profiles, exposure, white balance and other adjustments to them — all in real time. This makes for a marked improvement in dark-to-light scenarios like shooting out of windows and shooting into the sun. 

I would not expect much improvement out of the selfie camera this year, it’s just much the same as normal. Though you can use Cinematic Mode on it which is fun if not that useful in selfie modes.

Cinematic Mode

This is an experimental mode that has been shipped live to the public. That’s the best way to set the scene for those folks looking to dive into it. Contrary to Apple’s general marketing, this won’t yet replace any real camera rack focus setup on a film set, but it does open up a huge toolset for budding filmmakers and casual users that was previously locked behind a lot of doors made up of cameras, lenses and equipment. 

Cinematic Mode uses the camera’s depth information, the accelerometer and other signals to craft a video that injects synthetic bokeh (blur) and tracks subjects in the frame to intelligently ‘rack’ focus between them depending on what it thinks you want. There is also some impressive focus tracking features built in that allow you to lock onto a subject and follow them in a ‘tracking shot’ which can keep them in focus through obstacles like crowds, railings and water. I found all of these depth-leveraging features that did tracking to be incredibly impressive in my early testing, but they were often let down a bit by the segmentation masking that struggled to define crisp, clear borders around subjects to separate them from the background. It turns out that doing what portrait mode does with a still image is just insanely hard to do 30 times a second with complex, confusing backgrounds. 

The feature is locked to 1080p/30fps which says a lot about its intended use. This is for family shots presented on the device, AirPlayed to your TV or posted on the web. I’d imagine that this will actually get huge uptake with the TikTok filmmaker crowd who will do cool stuff with the new storytelling tools of selective focus.

I did some test shooting with my kids walking through crowds and riding on carousels that was genuinely, shockingly good. It really does provide a filmic, dreamy quality to the video that I was previously only able to get with quick and continuous focus adjustments on an SLR shooting video with a manually focused lens. 

That, I think, is the major key to understanding Cinematic Mode. Despite the marketing, this mode is intended to unlock new creative possibilities for the vast majority of iPhone users who have no idea how to set focal distances, bend their knees to stabilize and crouch-walk-rack-focus their way to these kinds of tracking shots. It really does open up a big bucket that was just inaccessible before. And in many cases I think that those willing to experiment and deal with its near-term foibles will be rewarded with some great looking shots to add to their iPhone memories widget.

I’ll be writing more about this feature later this week so stay tuned. For now, what you need to know is that an average person can whip this out in bright light and get some pretty fun and impressive results, but it is not a serious professional tool, yet. And even if you miss focus on a particular subject you are able to adjust that in post with a quick tap of the edit button and a tap on a subject — as long as it’s within the focal range of the lens.

As a filmmaking tool for the run and gun generation it’s a pretty compelling concept. The fact is that it allows people to spend less time and less technical energy on the mechanics of filmmaking and more time on the storytelling part. Moviemaking has always been an art that is intertwined with technology — and one of the true exemplars of the ideal that artists are always the first to adopt new technology and push it to its early limits.

Just as Apple’s portrait mode has improved massively over the past 6 years, I expect Cinematic Mode to keep growing and improving. The relatively sketchy performance in low light and the locked zoom are high on my list to see bumps next year, as is improved segmentation. It’s an impressive technical feat that Apple is able to deliver this kind of slicing and adjustment not only in real-time preview but also in post-shooting editing modes, and I’m looking forward to seeing it evolve. 

Assessment

This is a great update that improves user experience in every way, even during an intense day-long Disneyland outing. The improved brightness and screen refresh means easier navigation of park systems and better visibility in daylight for directions and wait times and more. The better cameras mean you’re getting improved shots in dark-to-light situations like waiting in lines or shooting from under overhangs. The nice new telephoto lets you shoot close-up shots of cast members who are now often separated from the crowds by large distances, which is cool — and as a bonus acts as a really lovely portrait lens even while not in Portrait mode.

Overall this was one of the best experiences I’ve had testing a phone at the parks, with a continuous series of ‘wow’ moments with the cameras that sort of made me question my confirmation bias. I ended up with a lot of shots like the night mode wide angle and telephoto ones I shared above that impressed me so much I ended up doing a lot of gut checking asking other people in blind tests what they thought of the two images. Each time I did so the clear winner was the iPhone 13 — it really is just a clear cut improvement in image making across the board.

The rest of the package is pretty well turned out here too, with massive performance gains in the A15 Bionic with not only no discernable impact on battery life but a good extra hour to boot. The performance chart above may give the wow factor but that performance charted on the power usage of the chip across a day is what continues to be the most impressive feat of Apple’s chip teams. 

The iPhones 13 are an impressive field this year, providing a solid moat of image quality, battery life and now, thankfully, screen improvements that should serve Apple well over the next 12 months.

#apple, #apple-inc, #computing, #disneyland, #food, #google, #imaging, #ios, #ios-11, #ipad, #iphone, #iphone-7, #isp, #kodak, #mobile-phones, #ram, #sam, #samsung, #smartphone, #steel, #tc

Alphabet X’s exosuit

Last week, Kathryn Zealand shared some insight on the eve of Women’s Equality Day. The post highlighted an issue that’s been apparent to everyone in and around the robotics industry: there’s a massive gender gap. It’s something we try to be mindful of, particularly when programming events like TC Sessions: Robotics. Zealand cites some pretty staggering figures in the piece.

According to the stats, around 9% of robotics engineers are female. That’s bad. That’s, like, bad even by the standards of STEM fields in general — which is to say, it’s really, really bad. (The ethnic disparities in the same source are worth drawing attention to, as well.)

Zealand’s piece was published on LinkedIn — fitting, given that the overarching focus here is on hiring. Well worth your time, if you’re involved in the hiring process at a robotics firm and are concerned about broader diversity issues (which hopefully go hand in hand for most orgs). Zealand offers some outside of the box thinking in terms of what, precisely, it means to be a roboticist, writing:

We have a huge opportunity here! Women and other under-represented groups are untapped pools of talented people who, despite not thinking of themselves as “roboticists,” could be vital members of a world-changing robotics team.

I’m going to be real with you for a minute, and note what really caught my eye was that above image. See, Zealand is a Project Lead at Alphabet X. And what you have there is a robotic brace — or, rather, what appears to be a component of a soft exosuit.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Exosuits/exoskeletons are a booming category for robotics right now that really run the gamut from Sarcos’ giant James Cameron-esque suit to far subtler, fabric-based systems. Some key names in the space include Ekso Bionics, ReWalk and SuitX. Heck, even Samsung has shown off a solution as part of a robotics department that appears to be largely ornamental at the moment.

Image Credits: Harvard Biodesign Lab

Most of these systems aim to tackle one of two issues: 1) Augmenting workers to assist with difficult or repetitive tasks for work and 2) Provide assistance to those with impaired mobility. Many companies have offers for both. Here’s what Harvard’s Biodesign Lab has to say on the matter:

As compared to a traditional exoskeleton, these systems have several advantages: the wearer’s joints are unconstrained by external rigid structures, and the worn part of the suit is extremely light. These properties minimize the suit’s unintentional interference with the body’s natural biomechanics and allow for more synergistic interaction with the wearer.

Alphabet loves to give the occasional behind-the-scenes peak at some of its X projects, and it turns out we’ve had a couple of glimpses of the Smarty Pants project. Zealand and Smarty Pants make a cameo in a Wired UK piece that ran early last year about the 10th anniversary of Google/Alphabet X. The piece notes that that the project was inspired by her experience with her 92-year-old grandmother’s mobility issues.

Image Credits: Alphabet X

The piece highlights a very early Raspberry Pi-controlled setup created by a team that includes costume designers and deep learning specialists (getting back to that earlier discussion about outside the box thinking when it comes to what constitutes a roboticist). The system is using sensors in an attempt to effectively predict movement in order to anticipate where force needs to be applied for tasks like walking up stairs. The piece ends on a fittingly somber note, “Fewer than half of X’s investigations become Projects. By the time this story is published it will probably have been killed.”

My suspicion is that the team is looking to differentiate itself from other exosuit projects by leveraging Google’s knowledge base of deep learning and AI to build out those predictive algorithms.

Alphabet declined to offer additional information on the project, noting that it likes to give its moonshot teams, “time to learn and iterate out of the spotlight.” But last October, we got what is probably our best look at Smarty Pants, in the form of a video highlighting Design Kitchen, Alphabet X’s lab/design studio.

Image Credits: Alphabet X

The Wired piece mentions a “pearlescent bumbag,” holding the aforementioned Raspberry Pi and additional components. For you yanks, that’s a fanny pack, which are not referred to as such in the U.K., owing to certain regional slang. Said fanny pack also makes an appearance in the video, providing, honestly, a very clever solution to the issue of hanging wires for an early-stage wearable prototype.

“One of the things that’s really helped the team is being really focused on a problem. Even if you spent months on something, if it’s not actually going to achieve that goal, then sometimes you honor the work that’s been done and say, ‘we’ve learned a ton of things during the process, but this is not the one that’s actually going to solve that problem.’ ”

The most notable takeaway from the video is some additional footage of prototypes. One imagines that, by the time Alphabet feels confident sharing that sort of stuff with the world, the team has moved well beyond it. “It doesn’t matter how janky and cardboard-and-duct-tape it is, as long as it helps you learn — and everyone can prototype, even while working from home,” the X team writes in an associated blog post.

The one other bit of information we have at the moment is a granted patent application from last year, which comes with all of the standard patent warnings. Seeing a patent come to fruition is often even more of a longshot (read: moonshot) than betting on an Alphabet X project to graduate. But they can offer some insight into where a team is headed — or at least some of the avenues it has considered.

Image Credits: Alphabet X

The patent highlights similar attempts to anticipate movement as those highlighted above. It effectively uses sensors and machine learning to adjust the tension on regions of the garments designed to assist the wearer.

Image Credits: Alphabet X

The proposed methods and systems provide adaptive support and assistance to users by performing intelligent dynamic adjustment of tension and stiffness in specific areas of fabric or by applying forces to non-stretch elements within a garment that is comfortable enough to be suitable for frequent, everyday usage. The methods include detecting movement of a particular part of a user’s body enclosed within the garment, determining an activity classification for that movement, identifying a support configuration for the garment tailored to the activity classification, and dynamically adjusting a tension and/or a stiffness of one or more controllable regions of the garment or applying force to non-stretch fabric elements in the garment to provide customized support and assistance for the user and the activity the user is performing.

It’s nice seeing Alphabet take a more organic approach to developing robotics startups in-house, rather than the acquisitions and consolidations that occurred several years back that ultimately found Boston Dynamics briefly living under the Google umbrella. Of course, we saw the recent graduation of the Wendy Tan White-led Intrinsic, which builds software for industrial robotics.

All right, so there’s a whole bunch of words about a project we know next to nothing about! Gotta love the startup space, where we’re definitely not spinning wild speculation based on a thin trail of breadcrumbs.

I will say for sure that I definitely know more about Agility Robotics than I did this time last week, after speaking with the Oregon-based company’s CEO and CTO. The conversation was ostensibly about a new video the team released showcasing Digit doing some menial tasks in a warehouse/fulfillment setting.

Some key things I learned:

  1. Agility sold a dozen Cassie robots, largely to researchers.
  2. It’s already sold “substantially more” Digits.
  3. The team includes 56 people, primarily in Oregon (makes sense, as an OSU spinout), with plans to expand operations into Pittsburgh, everyone’s favorite rustbelt robotics hub.
  4. Agility is consulting with “major logistics companies.”
  5. In addition to the Ford delivery deal, the company has its sights set on warehouse tasks in hopes of offering a more adaptable solution than ground-up warehouse automation companies like Berkshire Gray.

Image Credits: Agility Robotics

Oh, and a good quote about job loss from CEO Damion Shelton:

The conversation around automation has shifted a bit. It’s viewed as an enabling technology to allow you to keep the workforce that you have. There are a lot of conversations around the risks of automation and job loss, but the job loss is actually occurring now, in advance of the automated solutions.

Agility hopes to start rolling out its robots to locations in the next year. More immediate than that, however, is this deal between Simbe Robotics and midwestern grocery chain, Schnuks. The food giant will be bringing Simbe’s inventor robots to all of its 111 stores, four years after it began piloting the tech.

Schnuck Markets deploys Tally robot by Simbe Robotics to its stores – bringing shelf insights for better shopping experience. Photographed on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, in Des Peres, Mo.

Simbe says its Tally robot can reduce out of stock items by 20-30% and detect 14x more missing inventor than standard human scanning.

Carbon Robotics (not to be confused with the prosthetic company of the same name that made it onto our Hardware Battlefield a few years back) just raised $27 million. The Series B brings its total funding to around $36 million. The Seattle-based firm builds autonomous robots that zap weeds with lasers. We highlighted their most recent robot in this column back in April.

And seeing how we recently updated you on iRobot’s continued indefinite delay for the Terra, here’s a new robotic mower from Segway-Ninebot.

Image Credits: Segway-Ninebot

Segway’s first robotic lawnmower is designed for a lawn area of up to 3,000 square meters, has several features of a smart helper in the garden and is the quietest mower on the market with only 54 dB. The Frequent Soft Cut System (FSCS) ensures that the lawn is cut from above and the desired height is reached gradually. Offset blades allow cutting as close as possible to edges and corners.

That’s it for the week. Don’t forget to sign up to get the upcoming free newsletter version of Actuator delivered to your inbox.

#actuator, #agility-robotics, #boston-dynamics, #hardware, #industrial-robot, #machine-learning, #ninebot, #robotics, #samsung, #segway, #simbe

Samsung seemingly caught swapping components in its 970 Evo Plus SSDs

You can't see the part number which distinguishes the newer, slower drive from the older, faster one on the box—you need to check the PN field in the top center of the label on the drive itself.

Enlarge / You can’t see the part number which distinguishes the newer, slower drive from the older, faster one on the box—you need to check the PN field in the top center of the label on the drive itself. (credit: Jim Salter)

Recently, major SSD vendors Crucial and Western Digital have both been caught swapping out TLC NAND in their consumer SSDs for cheaper but much lower-performance, lower-endurance QLC NAND. Samsung appears to be joining them in the part-swapping corner of shame today, thanks to Chinese Youtuber 潮玩客, who documented a new version of the Samsung 970 Evo Plus using an inferior drive controller.

Although the consumer-facing model number of the drives did not change—it was a 970 Evo Plus last year, and it’s still a 970 Evo Plus now—the manufacturer part number did. Unfortunately, the manufacturer part number isn’t visible on the box the SSD comes in—as far as we’ve been able to determine, it’s only shown on a small label on the drive itself.

Falling off the write cliff

We tested the 970 Evo Plus (alongside the 980, and the older 970 Pro) in March, clocking it at write speeds of 1,600+ MiB/sec on 1MiB workloads. Our benchmarking was done with he old version, part number MZVLB1T0HBLR. The newer version—part number MZVL21T0HBLU—is considerably slower. According to 潮玩客’s test results, the newer version only manages 830MiB/sec—half the performance of the original.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#crucial, #pandemic, #parts-swap, #samsung, #ssd, #supply-chain, #tech, #western-digital

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the foldable to beat

I took a long walk on Saturday. It’s become a routine during the pandemic, a chance to unwind after too many hours indoors, while seeing parts of the city that would otherwise be lost to subway rides in normal years. Saturday was more purpose-driven, heading to a newly opened Trader Joe’s before Henri unleashed itself on the Eastern Seaboard.

Taking respite from the early rain, I found a food court in Long Island City, ordered a shawarma and pulled the Galaxy Z Flip from my pocket. I unfolded the phone, popped the new Galaxy Buds in my ears and watched a baseball game on the MLB.TV app. The Flip really made sense in that moment, open in landscape mode at a 135-degree angle to keep the 6.7-inch screen upright. When the game ended (spoiler, it didn’t end well), I snapped the phone shut, stuck it in my pocket and went on my way.

It doesn’t always come with a piece of new technology, but sometimes you get lucky and have an experience where it just clicks. There were plenty of jokes about the long-ago death of the clamshell when the first Flip arrived. Those won’t be going away anytime soon, of course, but the phone also offered the first sense for many that maybe Samsung was heading in the right direction with its foldable ambitions.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Setting aside the early flaws with the first Galaxy Fold (we’ve covered them ad nauseum elsewhere), the device is also unwieldy. While it’s true the foldable screen affords you the ability to carry around a screen that might otherwise be impossible, it’s a large device when folded, and the opportunities to unfold don’t readily present themselves. The Flip splits the difference nicely between screen size and portability. In terms of display size, it’s effectively a Galaxy Note that snaps in two and fits nicely in your pocket.

Most of the talk of Samsung mainstreaming foldables has centered on the Galaxy Z Fold — mostly from the company itself. Samsung has made a big to-do about positioning the Fold as its latest flagship — augmenting or, perhaps replacing, the Note in its lineup. The Fold 3 certainly blurs the lines with the addition of S Pen functionality, but the Flip is the much clearer bridge between Samsung’s existing flagships and the foldable future it envisions.

Mainstreaming foldables was always going to be a tricky proposition. Right out of the gate, they were hit with negative coverage over production issues and prices; $2,000 is a lot to pay for a product you essentially have to handle with kid gloves. You shouldn’t have to worry about accidentally damaging your daily driver through normal use. The Flip benefits from the mistakes of earlier fold generations, getting a more robust design and water resistance as a result.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, is pricing. The Galaxy Z Flip is Samsung’s first foldable under $1,000. Now, granted, it’s literally one penny under that threshold — a price point that puts it in line with expensive premium phones from the likes of Samsung and Apple. But in the world of foldables, that’s a really big win. The first couple of generations could — to some degree — survive on novelty alone.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

As more of these devices make their way into the world, utility supersedes novelty. But growing popularity also means scale — and, as a result, price drops. For the first time, buying a Samsung foldable is not the financial equivalent of buying two phones. That’s a much more significant threshold than the Galaxy Fold dropping $200 over its previous generation.

The company noted this week, that “in just 10 days since announcement pre-orders for the Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 have already surpassed total global Samsung foldables sales in all of 2021, also making it the strongest pre-order for Samsung foldables ever.” There are a lot of factors here, including a lower price, more robust design, the absence of a new Note and an aggressive push to get consumers to preorder. But it’s safe to say the line is, at the very least, trending the right way.

Expectedly, the company’s numbers don’t break down sales in terms of Fold versus Flip. Admittedly, the Fold is more fully featured, and 7.6 inches of screen is better than 6.7 inches of screen, when it comes, to, say, watching a full movie. But for most people in most instances, the Galaxy Flip is a better choice. I can say with no hesitation: The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is the most mainstream foldable on the market.

If you’re not sold on the importance of foldables, such a statement understandably doesn’t mean much. But for a vast majority of people looking to make the leap to what is increasingly looking like a key part of the mobile future, the Flip is an obvious choice. And while it’s easy to make fun of the clamshell design as a relic of a bygone era, there’s a reason phones went that way in the first place. One assumes a big part of the reason they largely went away is that — until now — smartphones weren’t foldable.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Samsung gets the design language right here. The Flip 3 is easily the company’s best-looking foldable to date. The dual-color shell is striking. The company sent along a cream color, which I’m not particularly fond of, but the green, lavender and even plain black or white are quite striking. It pairs well with the strip of black that houses the exterior display, which has been bumped from 1.1 to 1.9 inches. It doesn’t sound like a lot, sure, but that’s a healthy increase on a screen this size.

Of course, you’re losing the full exterior screen functionality you get on the Fold. The Flip’s display is effectively a quick-glance secondary screen for notifications. Pull it out, and it shows you the time, date and how much battery you’ve got left. Swipe right and you’ll see your notifications.

Swipe left and you get an alarm or timer, with the option of adding more widgets to the screen, including weather, media playback (effectively audio play/pause) and Samsung Health Metrics. It’s a small list, but one that will no doubt increase if more people pick up the Flip. Swipe down for some quick settings and Swipe up for Samsung Pause.

In a time when many of us are trying to make a concerted effort to minimize our phone use, I appreciate the dichotomy between the two screens. It’s a much clearer line in the sand than the one separating the Fold’s 6.2- and 7.6-inch screens. Phone closed = checking my notifications. Phone open = engagement. When the time comes to open the phone, the Flip is a much easier proposition than the phones. I haven’t quite mastered the art of the one-handed open just yet, but it’s much easier to execute on the fly than the Fold, which is effectively like opening a book. The biggest downside to the form factor in terms of speed is there’s no quick way to fire off a photo.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Taking photos is far more deliberate, requiring one to open the phone to see the internal view finder. You can, however, snap off some selfies by double-pressing the power button, with the small front-facing screen doubling as a small viewfinder. Swiping to the left toggles between still, while swiping up and down changes the level of zoom. It’s a bit awkward and clunky, but the pair of 12-megapixel cameras (wide and ultra-wide) will get you a much better selfie than most pinhole cameras (including the Flip’s 10 megapixel lens).

Like the Fold, the rear cameras (which are also the front-facing cameras, depending on how you look at it) are largely unchanged since the Flip 2. A dual-camera system can feel almost antiquated in 2021, but for most intents and purposes, they do the trick, coupled with Samsung’s many years of camera software experience. The 22:9 aspect ratio means more than a quarter of the screen is occupied by the controls out of necessity.

The aspect ratio in general merits comment. It’s, like, really, really tall when open. It’s a nice amount of real estate to have when, say, scrolling through Gmail or Twitter. But when watching video, you’ll often encounter pillarboxing — letterboxing on the sides of the screen. The video world simply isn’t ready for 22:9, and quite frankly, it probably won’t ever be.

And then, of course, there’s the seam. It’s right there in the center of the lovely 2640 x 1080, 425 ppi screen. And barring some unforeseen breakthrough in foldable tech, I frankly don’t see it disappearing any time soon. I understand why that might be a deal breaker, though I’ve largely gotten used to it after spending time with these devices.

Like the Fold, the Flip runs on the Snapdragon 888 processor. Predictably, the lower cost comes with less in the way of RAM and storage, at 8 and 128GB on the Flip, to the Fold’s 12 and 256GB. Another $150 will upgrade the storage 256GB here. While Samsung mostly hasn’t skimped much on the internals, the 3,300 mAh battery does fall short.

Battery life is an issue with the Fold and an even bigger problem on the Flip — in fact, it’s the biggest complaint here. Moderate to heavy use is going to require getting near a charging cable before the day is over. Maybe not a huge deal in these pandemic days, but something to consider as we re-enter the world. Certainly long, unplugged plane rides are out of the question.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Again, I can totally sympathize with that being a deal breaker. You pay $1,000 for a phone, you want a battery that’s going to get you through a day of use, worry-free. And certainly it’s something for Samsung to focus on in gen four.

As it stands, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 has the benefit of previous generations, with a stronger aluminum frame, improved screen protector and IPX8 water resistance (no dust resistance rating, for reasons outlined in the Fold review). It’s not a perfect phone, but it’s a strong sign of how far Samsung’s foldables have come in three generations, coupled with a sub-$1,000 price point.

The device is likely to be second fiddle as the company continues to push the Fold as its flagship foldable. But for most people looking to enter the world of foldable phones, the Flip is the easy choice.

#foldables, #galaxy-flip, #hardware, #mobile, #reviews, #samsung, #samsung-galaxy-z-flip-3

Samsung’s refined Galaxy Fold

Samsung wasn’t quite ready to declare the Galaxy Note dead. Not just yet. When we put the question to the company again after this month’s Unpacked event, a rep told us:

Samsung is constantly evaluating its product lineup to ensure we meet the needs of consumers, while introducing technology that enhances users’ mobile experiences. We will not be launching new Galaxy Note devices in 2021. Instead, Samsung plans to continue to expand the Note experience and bring many of its popular productivity and creativity features, including the S Pen, across our Galaxy ecosystem with products like the Galaxy S21 Ultra and including to other categories like tablets and laptops. We will share more details on our future portfolio once we’re ready to announce.

It’s not an answer, exactly, so much as a reiteration of its earlier announcement that there will be no new Note for 2021. Asked whether it was simply a matter of chip shortages, Samsung sent us a similarly non-committal response:

The current volatility of the semiconductor market is being felt across the entire technology industry and beyond. At Samsung, we are making our best efforts to mitigate the impact, and will continue to work diligently with our partners to overcome supply challenges.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It’s too early to declare the Galaxy Fold 3 the heir to the Note’s decade-long phablet throne. What is for certain, however, is that new features introduced for the Galaxy S line and the company’s high-end foldable have rendered the device fairly redundant. What seems most likely, meanwhile, is Samsung’s wait and see approach. A good selling Fold 3 is as compelling an argument for the Note’s redundancy as any. But that continues to be a big “if.”

Samsung was smart to position early Folds as exciting experiments. It’s never easy to be among the first to market with a new technology, especially with the sorts of scales Samsung tends to trade in. The original Fold brought with it some major questions, both in terms of reliability and adoption. Without retreading the former too much here (we’ve written plenty about it), let’s just say the company went back to the drawing board a couple of times with that first round.

As for the latter, the company revealed back in 2019 that it sold one million units that first year. It was a surprising — and impressive — figure. Obviously it can’t hold a candle to the sorts of numbers the company puts up with the S and Note Series, but for an unproven $2,000 device a few months after launch, it was certainly a positive sign that — at the very least — early adopters were along for the ride.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The Fold 2 found the company more directly addressing some of the biggest issues that arrived with its predecessor, making for a more robust and well-rounded device. The Fold 3 isn’t a radical departure by any stretch, but there are some key updates and refinements on board here. Top-level, here’s what’s new:

  • S-Pen support
  • IPX8 water resistance
  • Slightly larger external display
  • Under-display camera
  • Strengthened interior screen protector, frame and front glass

So what, precisely, does all of that add up to? For Samsung, the answer is simple: a new flagship. It’s one of those words in the mobile world with a bit of a floating definition. Samsung, after all, previously had two flagships, in the form of the S and Note series. Whether this a tech passing moment for the Note or a declaration of a third flagship for the Galaxy line is dependent on the words written above. What it does signal, however, is Samsung’s stated confidence that this is the moment its high-end foldable goes mainstream.

The first step toward mainstreaming the product is a no brainer. Price. The Fold 3 is still not, by any stretch of the imagination, an affordable device. At $1,800, it’s fittingly still the price of two flagship phones put together. But a $200 drop from its predecessor marks a considerable step in the right direction. One imagines/hopes things will continue to go down as Samsung is able to scale the tech further. Those seeking an “affordable” foldable should be taking a closer look at the new Flip, which actually ducks below the $1,000 price point. More on that in a later review.

There are bound to be issues with any new form factor — even one from a company with Samsung’s know how. I have this visceral memory of walking around gingerly with the original Fold for fear of breaking the thing. There’s a certain expectation of usage during the review process — that you’ll effectively treat the device as you would your own, but the earliest Fold didn’t afford that opportunity, leaving me a bit tense throughout that I might inadvertently damage the $2,000 phone.

And, well, I did. And I certainly wasn’t the first. There were enough issues to warrant reinforcing the device before sending it out into the broader world. It was the right move, to be sure. I don’t think anyone was expecting the Fold would be indestructible, but, again, there’s that expectation of standard usage that the earliest unit didn’t live up to.

The primary fix was two-fold: extending the protective film to the edges after the first looked far too similar to the removable screen protectors Samsung (and other) phones ship with, and second, the company added a brush mechanism to the interior of the hinge mechanism that would still allow some debris in, but would sweep it away through the process of opening the product. That would remove it before it had an opportunity to damage the screen.

The second generation upgraded to a more durable foldable glass. The new version extends those protections further. It is, notably, the first version of the Fold that doesn’t greet you with a laundry list of restrictions the moment you open the box. That’s a good sign. As a rule, I’d say users should probably adhere to a similar “normal usage.” And probably invest in one of those cases. It’s an $1,800 phone, after all.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The most notable addition on the durability front is the IPX8 rating. That’s water resistance for up to 1.5 meters for as long as 30 minutes. The company’s foldables line was a little slow on the uptake in terms of the sort of waterproofing/water resistance that has become nearly standard for premium phones — and understandably so, given the complex mechanisms required. The “X” in the rating, however, indicates that there’s no dustproofing here, for the simple reason that the hinge is actually designed to let particles in (as noted above).

The front and back of the device are now covered with Gorilla Glass Victus — Corning’s latest. Per Corning, “In our lab tests, Gorilla Glass Victus survived drops onto hard, rough surfaces from up to 2 meters. Competitive aluminosilicate glasses, from other manufacturers, typically fail when dropped from 0.8 meters. Additionally, the scratch resistance of Gorilla Glass Victus is up to 4x better than competitive aluminosilicate.” The phone’s body and hinge, meanwhile, are built out of alloy Samsung calls “Armor aluminum, which it claims is “the strongest aluminum used in modern smartphones.”

Perhaps most important of all is the inclusion of a stronger reinforced screen protector that extends further to the sides, making it a lot more difficult and less tempting to try to peel it off. The added protection is necessary both for standard usage (you really don’t want a phone that’s going to get damaged from too much tapping) and opens it up for S Pen functionality. The company now has three lines that utilize its stylus and all of the productivity features contained therein.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

In addition to the S Pen Pro, the company introduced a Fold-specific model. The $50 stylus is smaller and features a retractable tip, specifically designed to lessen the pressure on the screen. I played around with both styli and didn’t notice a dramatic difference between the two, and while Samsung doesn’t explicitly warn against using the Pro, I’d go for the Fold Edition out of an abundance of caution. (The system also issues a warning if you attempt to use an older version of the S-Pen.)

The company offered TechCrunch the following statement on stylus compatibility:

Only the latest S Pen Fold Edition and S Pen Pro are compatible as they are set to a different frequency than standard S Pens. However, S Pen Pro is compatible with other S Pen-enabled devices—such as Samsung Galaxy tablets, Chromebooks, and smartphones. Users can switch the frequency of the S Pen Pro using the switch at the top.

The 7.6-inch canvas lends itself well to S-Pen functionality. Of course, the Fold — like other foldables — still has a visible crease in the center. That takes some getting used to, compared to the Note. But if you’re a stylus devotee, the functionality fits in well with a growing suite of productivity tools like multiple active windows and app split view. Samsung has compiled quite a productivity workhouse here.

Of course, unlike the Note (and like the S line), the Fold doesn’t feature a built-in slot for the S Pen. It seems likely there may have been some structural integrity issues barring its inclusion — or, at the very least, it probably would have added even more thickness to what is already a fairly thin device when folded up. Samsung does offer up an S Pen case for those serious about taking their stylus with them — and are otherwise worried about losing it.

The primary display hasn’t changed much since last year. It’s still 7.6 inches with a 120Hz refresh rate and a 2208 x 1768 resolution, with support for HDR10+. The 6.2-inch front screen doesn’t have the high dynamic range format, though it has been bumped up to 120Hz from 60Hz. The Fold 2 upgraded the exterior screen size last year, and it makes a big difference. There are plenty of times you just don’t want to deal with unfolding the thing. The aspect ratio is still much to skinny to rely on it most of the time, but App Continuity is a nice feature that lets you seamlessly jump between screens on enabled apps.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The biggest addition on the screen front is more of a subtraction, really. The pinhole camera is gone from the main screen. In its place is an under-display camera — the first on a Samsung device. The technology has been a longstanding holy grail for companies. Samsung’s not the first to offer the feature — companies like Oppo and ZTE have sported the feature for a little while now. The Fold uses similar technology, applying a thin layer of pixels above the hole punch. The spot is still visible, particularly when there’s a white image on the screen, but at first blush, it does offer something more contiguous.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

If you follow the space at all, you know that the image performance of these cameras have been less than ideal thus far. And Samsung suffers the same fate. The above shots were taken on the front 10-megapixel and under-display four-megapixels cameras respectively. There’s a haze or blur on the under-screen camera — really not up to the standards we expect from a premium smartphone in 2021.

In an earlier conversation with Samsung, the company was pretty candid about this — and the reason the Fold is the first of its phones to sport the tech. It’s here because you’ve got the additional option of the front-facing camera for selfies, so you’re not reliant on a, frankly, subpar camera. Certainly I wouldn’t rely on it for shooting photos — which is already admittedly awkward with the large form factor. I suppose it can work for teleconferencing in a pinch, but even then, you’re probably better off with the front one. File it as something Samsung can improve on in future updates, as the underlying tech improves.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The main camera system, meanwhile, is largely unchanged since the last version at:

  • 12MP Ultra Wide. F2.2, Pixel size: 1.12μm, FOV: 123-degree
  • 12MP Wide-angle. Dual Pixel AF, OIS, F1.8, Pixel size: 1.8μm, FOV: 83-degree
  • 12MP Telephoto. PDAF, F2.4, OIS, Pixel size: 1.0μm, FOV: 45-degree

It’s a great camera setup that shoots excellent photos, with the added bonus of being able to switch between a 7.6 and 6.2 inch viewfinder (honestly, again, the full screen is kind of awkward for shooting in most scenarios, so I largely stuck with the smaller one).

The battery meanwhile, takes a small hit, down from 4,500mAh to 4,400mAh, split between two modules behind the display halves. It’s a step in the wrong direction, if only a small one. A big device like this tends to be power hungry. Depending on your usage, you should be able to get through a day. That’s not going to be huge problem so long as many of us are still largely stuck at home, but probably not something you’re going to sit around and binge videos on all day without plugging it in.

Naturally, the Fold sports the latest Snapdragon — the 888. That’s coupled with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage on the model Samsung sent us. Doubling the storage will bring the price tag up to $1,900.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It’s been impressive to watch Samsung take the Fold from troubled early adopter tech to something far more stable in the course of two generations. But while the company is ready to toss around words like mainstream in the context of its foldables, it’s hard to shake the feeling that such goals are still a long ways away.

The price is heading in the right direction, but the product is still prohibitively expensive for most. I certainly can’t answer the question of why you need such a product, though the advantages of a larger screen make themselves known pretty quickly. In many instances, the form factor is still a bit cumbersome.

If the Galaxy Note is suddenly redundant, the fault lays more with the Galaxy S series than the Fold. And if Samsung is looking for a truly mainstream foldable experience, it may want to take a longer look at the Galaxy Z Flip. In terms of size, price, flexibility and good looks, that’s looking like the one to beat. Review coming soon.

#foldables, #galaxy-fold, #hardware, #reviews, #samsung, #samsung-galaxy-z-fold-3

This Week in Apps: OnlyFans bans sexual content, SharePlay delayed, TikTok questioned over biometric data collection

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

OnlyFans to ban sexually explicit content

OnlyFans logo displayed on a phone screen and a website

(Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Creator platform OnlyFans is getting out of the porn business. The company announced this week it will begin to prohibit any “sexually explicit” content starting on October 1, 2021 — a decision it claimed would ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform. The news angered a number of impacted creators who weren’t notified ahead of time and who’ve come to rely on OnlyFans as their main source of income.

However, word is that OnlyFans was struggling to find outside investors, despite its sizable user base, due to the adult content it hosts. Some VC firms are prohibited from investing in adult content businesses, while others may be concerned over other matters — like how NSFW content could have limited interest from advertisers and brand partners. They may have also worried about OnlyFans’ ability to successfully restrict minors from using the app, in light of what appears to be soon-to-come increased regulations for online businesses. Plus, porn companies face a number of other issues, too. They have to continually ensure they’re not hosting illegal content like child sex abuse material, revenge porn or content from sex trafficking victims — the latter which has led to lawsuits at other large porn companies.

The news followed a big marketing push for OnlyFans’ porn-free (SFW) app, OFTV, which circulated alongside reports that the company was looking to raise funds at a $1 billion+ valuation. OnlyFans may not have technically needed the funding to operate its current business — it handled more than $2 billion in sales in 2020 and keeps 20%. Rather, the company may have seen there’s more opportunity to cater to the “SFW” creator community, now that it has big names like Bella Thorne, Cardi B, Tyga, Tyler Posey, Blac Chyna, Bhad Bhabie and others on board.

U.S. lawmakers demand info on TikTok’s plans for biometric data collection

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max. Image Credits: Nur Photo/Getty Images

U.S. lawmakers are challenging TikTok on its plans to collect biometric data from its users. TechCrunch first reported on TikTok’s updated privacy policy in June, where the company gave itself permission to collect biometric data in the U.S., including users’ “faceprints and voiceprints.” When reached for comment, TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users, but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.

Earlier this month, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, which said they were “alarmed” by the change, and demanded to know what information TikTok will be collecting and what it plans to do with the data. This wouldn’t be the first time TikTok got in trouble for excessive data collection. Earlier this year, the company paid out $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed TikTok had unlawfully collected users’ biometric data and shared it with third parties.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Image Credits: Apple

  • ⭐ Apple told developers that some of the features it announced as coming in iOS 15 won’t be available at launch. This includes one of the highlights of the new OS, SharePlay, a feature that lets people share music, videos and their screen over FaceTime calls. Other features that will come in later releases include Wallet’s support for ID cards, the App Privacy report and others that have yet to make it to beta releases.
  • Apple walked back its controversial Safari changes with the iOS 15 beta 6 update. Apple’s original redesign had shown the address bar at the bottom of the screen, floating atop the page’s content. Now the tab bar will appear below the page’s content, offering access to its usual set of buttons as when it was at the top. Users can also turn off the bottom tab bar now and revert to the old, Single Tab option that puts the address bar back at the top as before.
  • In response to criticism over its new CSAM detection technology, Apple said the version of NeuralHash that was reverse-engineered by a developer, Asuhariet Ygvar, was a generic version, and not the complete version that will roll out later this year.
  • The Verge dug through over 800 documents from the Apple-Epic trial to find the best emails, which included dirt on a number of other companies like Netflix, Hulu, Sony, Google, Nintendo, Valve, Microsoft, Amazon and more. These offered details on things like Netflix’s secret arrangement to pay only 15% of revenue, how Microsoft also quietly offers a way for some companies to bypass its full cut, how Apple initially saw the Amazon Appstore as a threat and more.

Platforms: Google

  • A beta version of the Android Accessibility Suite app (12.0.0) which rolled out with the fourth Android beta release added something called “Camera Switches” to Switch Access, a toolset that lets you interact with your device without using the touchscreen. Camera Switches allows users to navigate their phone and use its features by making face gestures, like a smile, open mouth, raised eyebrows and more.
  • Google announced its Pixel 5a with 5G, the latest A-series Pixel phone, will arrive on August 27, offering IP67 water resistance, long-lasting Adaptive Battery, Pixel’s dual-camera system and more, for $449. The phone makes Google’s default Android experience available at a lower price point than the soon to arrive Pixel 6.
  • An unredacted complaint from the Apple-Epic trial revealed that Google had quietly paid developers hundreds of millions of dollars via a program known as “Project Hug,” (later “Apps and Games Velocity Program”) to keep their games on the Play Store. Epic alleges Google launched the program to keep developers from following its lead by moving their games outside the store.

Augmented Reality

  • Snap on Thursday announced it hired its first VP of Platform Partnerships to lead AR, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis (“KP”). The new exec will lead Snap’s efforts to onboard partners, including individual AR creators building via Lens Studio as well as large companies that incorporate Snapchat’s camera and AR technology (Camera Kit) into their apps. KP will join in September, and report to Ben Schwerin, SVP of Content and Partnerships.

Fintech

  • Crypto exchange Coinbase will enter the Japanese market through a new partnership with Japanese financial giant Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). The company said it plans to launch other localized versions of its existing global services in the future.

Social

Image Credits: Facebook

  • Facebook launched a “test” of Facebook Reels in the U.S. on iOS and Android. The new feature brings the Reels experience to Facebook, allowing users to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. Instagram Reels creators can also now opt in to have their Reels featured on users’ News Feed. The company is heavily investing its its battle with TikTok, even pledging that some portion of its $1 billion creator fund will go toward Facebook Reels.
  • Twitter’s redesign of its website and app was met with a lot of backlash from users and accessibility experts alike. The company choices add more visual contrast between various elements and may have helped those with low vision. But for others, the contrast is causing strain and headaches. Experts believe accessibility isn’t a one-size fits all situation, and Twitter should have introduced tools that allowed people to adjust their settings to their own needs.
  • The pro-Trump Twitter alternative Gettr’s lack of moderation has allowed users to share child exploitation images, according to research from the Stanford Internet Observatory’s Cyber Policy Center.
  • Pinterest rolled out a new set of more inclusive search filters that allow people to find styles for different types of hair textures — like coily, curly, wavy, straight, as well as shaved or bald and protective styles. 

Photos

  • Photoshop for iPad gained new image correction tools, including the Healing Brush and Magic Wand, and added support for connecting an iPad to external monitors via HDMI or USB-C. The company also launched a Photoshop Beta program on the desktop.

Messaging

  • WhatsApp is being adopted by the Taliban to spread its message across Afghanistan, despite being on Facebook’s list of banned organizations. The company says it’s proactively removing Taliban content — but that may be difficult to do since WhatsApp’s E2E encryption means it can’t read people’s texts. This week, Facebook shut down a Taliban helpline in Kabul, which allowed civilians to report violence and looting, but some critics said this wasn’t actually helping local Afghans, as the group was now in effect governing the region.
  • WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that will show a large preview when sharing links, which some suspect may launch around the time when the app adds the ability to have the same account running on multiple devices.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Netflix announced it’s adding spatial audio support on iPhone and iPad on iOS 14, joining other streamers like HBO Max, Disney+ and Peacock that have already pledged to support the new technology. The feature will be available to toggle on and off in the Control Center, when it arrives.
  • Blockchain-powered streaming music service Audius partnered with TikTok to allow artists to upload their songs using TikTok’s new SoundKit in just one click.
  • YouTube’s mobile app added new functionality that allows users to browse a video’s chapters, and jump into the chapter they want directly from the search page.
  • Spotify’s Anchor app now allows users in global markets to record “Music + Talk” podcasts, where users can combine spoken word recordings with any track from Spotify’s library of 70 million songs for a radio DJ-like experience.
  • Podcasters are complaining that Apple’s revamped Podcasts platform is not working well, reports The Verge. Podcasts Connect has been buggy, and sports a confusing interface that has led to serious user errors (like entire shows being archived). And listeners have complained about syncing problems and podcasts they already heard flooding their libraries.

Dating

  • Tinder announced a new feature that will allow users to voluntarily verify their identity on the platform, which will allow the company to cross-reference sex offender registry data. Previously, Tinder would only check this database when a user signed up for a paid subscription with a credit card.

Gaming

Image Source: The Pokémon Company

  • Pokémon Unite will come to iOS and Android on September 22, The Pokémon Company announced during a livestream this week. The strategic battle game first launched on Nintendo Switch in late July.
  • Developer Konami announced a new game, Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, which will come exclusively to Apple Arcade. The game is described as a “full-fledged side-scrolling action game,” featuring a roster of iconic characters from the classic game series. The company last year released another version of Castelvania on the App Store and Google Play.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle has now surpassed $3 billion in player spending since its 2015 debut, reported Sensor Tower. The game from Bandai Namco took 20 months to reach the figure after hitting the $2 billion milestone in 2019. The new landmark sees the game joining other top-grossers, including Clash Royale, Lineage M and others.
  • Sensor Tower’s mobile gaming advertising report revealed data on top ad networks in the mobile gaming market, and their market share. It also found puzzle games were among the top advertisers on gaming-focused networks like Chartboost, Unity, IronSource and Vungle. On less game-focused networks, mid-core games were top titles, like Call of Duty: Mobile and Top War. 

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Health & Fitness

  • Apple is reportedly scaling back HealthHabit, an internal app for Apple employees that allowed them to track fitness goals, talk to clinicians and coaches at AC Wellness (a doctors’ group Apple works with) and manage hypertension. According to Insider, 50 employees had been tasked to work on the project.
  • Samsung launched a new product for Galaxy smartphones in partnership with healthcare nonprofit The Commons Project, that allows U.S. users to save a verifiable copy of their vaccination card in the Samsung Pay digital wallet.

Image Credits: Samsung

Adtech

Government & Policy

  • China cited 43 apps, including Tencent’s WeChat and an e-reader from Alibaba, for illegally transferring user data. The regulator said the apps had transferred users location data and contact list and harassed them with pop-up windows. The apps have until August 25 to make changes before being punished.

Security & Privacy

  • A VICE report reveals a fascinating story about a jailbreaking community member who had served as a double agent by spying for Apple’s security team. Andrey Shumeyko, whose online handles included JVHResearch and YRH04E, would advertise leaked apps, manuals and stolen devices on Twitter and Discord. He would then tell Apple things like which Apple employees were leaking confidential info, which reporters would talk to leakers, who sold stolen iPhone prototypes and more. Shumeyko decided to share his story because he felt Apple took advantage of him and didn’t compensate him for the work.

Funding and M&A

? South Korea’s GS Retail Co. Ltd will buy Delivery Hero’s food delivery app Yogiyo in a deal valued at 800 billion won ($685 million USD). Yogiyo is the second-largest food delivery app in South Korea, with a 25% market share.

? Gaming platform Roblox acquired a Discord rival, Guilded, which allows users to have text and voice conversations, organize communities around events and calendars and more. Deal terms were not disclosed. Guilded raised $10.2 million in venture funding. Roblox’s stock fell by 7% after the company reported earnings this week, after failing to meet Wall Street expectations.

? Travel app Hopper raised $175 million in a Series G round of funding led by GPI Capital, valuing the business at over $3.5 billion. The company raised a similar amount just last year, but is now benefiting from renewed growth in travel following COVID-19 vaccinations and lifting restrictions.

? Indian quiz app maker Zupee raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding led by Silicon Valley-based WestCap Group and Tomales Bay Capital. The round values the company at $500 million, up 5x from last year.

? Danggeun Market, the publisher of South Korea’s hyperlocal community app Karrot, raised $162 million in a Series D round of funding led by DST Global. The round values the business at $2.7 billion and will be used to help the company launch its own payments platform, Karrot Pay.

? Bangalore-based fintech app Smallcase raised $40 million in Series C funding round led by Faering Capital and Premji Invest, with participation from existing investors, as well as Amazon. The Robinhood-like app has over 3 million users who are transacting about $2.5 billion per year.

? Social listening app Earbuds raised $3 million in Series A funding led by Ecliptic Capital. Founded by NFL star Jason Fox, the app lets anyone share their favorite playlists, livestream music like a DJ or comment on others’ music picks.

? U.S. neobank app One raised $40 million in Series B funding led by Progressive Investment Company (the insurance giant’s investment arm), bringing its total raise to date to $66 million. The app offers all-in-one banking services and budgeting tools aimed at middle-income households who manage their finances on a weekly basis.

Public Markets

?Indian travel booking app ixigo is looking to raise Rs 1,600 crore in its initial public offering, The Economic Times reported this week.

?Trading app Robinhood disappointed in its first quarterly earnings as a publicly traded company, when it posted a net loss of $502 million, or $2.16 per share, larger than Wall Street forecasts. This overshadowed its beat on revenue ($565 million versus $521.8 million expected) and its more than doubling of MAUs to 21.3 million in Q2.  Also of note, the company said dogecoin made up 62% of its crypto revenue in Q2.

Downloads

Polycam (update)

Image Credits: Polycam

3D scanning software maker Polycam launched a new 3D capture tool, Photo Mode, that allows iPhone and iPad users to capture professional-quality 3D models with just an iPhone. While the app’s scanner before had required the use of the lidar sensor built into newer devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models, the new Photo Mode feature uses just an iPhone’s camera. The resulting 3D assets are ready to use in a variety of applications, including 3D art, gaming, AR/VR and e-commerce. Data export is available in over a dozen file formats, including .obj, .gtlf, .usdz and others. The app is a free download on the App Store, with in-app purchases available.

Jiobit (update)

Jiobit, the tracking dongle acquired by family safety and communication app Life360, this week partnered with emergency response service Noonlight to offer Jiobit Protect, a premium add-on that offers Jiobit users access to an SOS Mode and Alert Button that work with the Jiobit mobile app. SOS Mode can be triggered by a child’s caregiver when they detect — through notifications from the Jiobit app — that a loved one may be in danger. They can then reach Noonlight’s dispatcher who can facilitate a call to 911 and provide the exact location of the person wearing the Jiobit device, as well as share other details, like allergies or special needs, for example.

Tweets

When your app redesign goes wrong…

Image Credits: Twitter.com

Prominent App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou shut down his FlickType iOS app this week after too many frustrations with App Review. He cited rejections that incorrectly argued that his app required more access than it did — something he had successfully appealed and overturned years ago. Attempted follow-ups with Apple were ignored, he said. 

Image Credits: Twitter.com

Anyone have app ideas?

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