iPhone

Google’s latest hardware innovation: Price

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, apple inc, Assistant, computing, electronics, Gadgets, Google, Google Hardware Event 2018, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Microsoft, oled, PIXEL, RAM, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, Sony, tablet computers, technology, video conferencing | No Comments

With its latest consumer hardware products, Google’s prices are undercutting Apple, Samsung and Amazon. The search giant just unveiled its latest flagship smartphone, tablet and smart home device, all available at prices well below their direct competitors. Where Apple and Samsung are pushing prices of its latest products even higher, Google is seemingly happy to keep prices low, and this is creating a distinct advantage for the company’s products.

Google, like Amazon and nearly Apple, is a services company that happens to sell hardware. It needs to acquire users through multiple verticals, including hardware. Somewhere, deep in the Googleplex, a team of number-crunchers decided it made more sense to make its hardware prices dramatically lower than competitors. If Google is taking a loss on the hardware, it is likely making it back through services.

Amazon does this with Kindle devices. Microsoft and Sony do it with game consoles. This is a proven strategy to increase market share where the revenue generated on the back end recovers the revenue lost on selling hardware with slim or negative margins.

Look at the Pixel 3. The base 64GB model is available for $799, while the base 64GB iPhone XS is $999. Want a bigger screen? The 64GB Pixel 3 XL is $899, and the 64GB iPhone XS Max is $1,099. Regarding the specs, both phones offer OLED displays and amazing cameras. There are likely pros and cons regarding the speed of the SoC, amount of RAM and wireless capabilities. Will consumers care that the screen and camera are so similar? Probably not.

Google also announced the Home Hub today. Like the Echo Show, it’s designed to be the central part of a smart home. It puts Google Assistant on a fixed screen where users can ask it questions and control a smart home. It’s $149. That’s $80 less than the Echo Show, though the Google version lacks video conferencing and a dedicated smart home hub — the Google Home Hub requires extra hardware for some smart home objects. Still, even with fewer features, the Home Hub is compelling because of its drastically lower price. For just a few dollars more than an Echo Show, a buyer could get a Home Hub and two Home Minis.

The Google Pixel Slate is Google’s answer to the iPad Pro. From everything we’ve seen, it appears to lack a lot of the processing power found in Apple’s top tablet. It doesn’t seem as refined or capable of specific tasks. But for view media, creating content and playing games, it feels just fine. It even has a Pixelbook Pen and a great keyboard that shows Google is positioning this against the iPad Pro. And the 12.3-inch Pixel Slate is available for $599, where the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is $799.

The upfront price is just part of the equation. When considering the resale value of these devices, a different conclusion can be reached. Apple products consistently resale for more money than Google products. On Gazelle.com, a company that buys used smartphones, a used iPhone X is worth $425, whereas a used Pixel 2 is $195. A used iPhone 8, a phone that sold for a price closer to the Pixel 2, is worth $240.

In the end, Google likely doesn’t expect to make money off the hardware it sells. It needs users to buy into its services. The best way to do that is to make the ecosystem competitive though perhaps not investing the capital to make it the best. It needs to be just good enough, and that’s how I would describe these devices. Good enough to be competitive on a spec-to-spec basis while available for much less.

more Google Event 2018 coverage

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Most iOS devices now run iOS 12 according to Mixpanel’s data

Posted by | Apple, iOS, iPhone, Mobile | No Comments

Analytics company Mixpanel is currently tracking the install base of iOS 12. And the latest version of iOS is quite popular, as it’s already installed on roughly 47.6 percent of all iOS devices; 45.6 percent of devices still run iOS 11, and 6.9 percent of iOS users run an older version.

Adoption rate is an important metric for app developers. With major iOS releases, Apple also releases new frameworks. But developers still need to support old versions of iOS for a little bit before moving entirely to newer frameworks and dropping support for old iOS versions.

But it’s interesting to see that you can already drop support for iOS 10 without losing too many customers. Chances are that users who don’t update their version of iOS don’t really care about having the latest version of your app anyway.

With iOS 11, it took much longer to reach that level. Last year, Apple announced on November 6th that iOS 11 was more popular than iOS 10. Sure, Mixpanel and Apple don’t have the exact same numbers, but you can already see that the trend is different this year.

iOS 12 focuses on performance. Apple has optimized this major release for older devices, such as the iPhone 6. All devices that run iOS 11 can update to iOS 12 as well. Basically, if you want a faster phone, you should update to iOS 12.

This is a bit counterintuitive, as previous iOS releases had rendered older devices much slower. But based on the adoption rate, it sounds like iOS users got the message.

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Opera Touch is a solid alternative to Safari on the iPhone

Posted by | Android, Apple, Apps, Dolphin Browser, freeware, Google, iOS, iPhone, Opera, safari, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Browser company Opera is back doing what it does best, offering you beautifully designed alternatives to the stock browsers from the likes of Google and Apple . This week the company brought its ‘Opera Touch’ browser to iOS to give iPhone owners a different option to the basic Safari browser.

The app was first launched for Android in April and, as we noted at the time, it reinvents a lot of the established paradigms to work well on mobile and particularly large screens that don’t have a home button — which is steadily becoming every premium devices on the market today.

Touch for iOS — which you can download here — will be particularly of interest to owners of the iPhone X or Apple’s newest iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and (upcoming) iPhone XR devices since it is optimized for one-handed use. That’s to say it employs the same nifty user interface seen on the Android app (see below), which lets you open or close tabs, switch to search, go back or forward using a menu bar located at the bottom of the screen. One thing it is missing, for now, is more comprehensive management of bookmarks.

The app also includes Opera’s ‘Flow’ technology which lets a user pass links, images and notes from their phone to an Opera browser on their computer using a “secure and private” connection.

As ever, the Opera browser comes with ad blocking built-in and there’s the company’s usual protection from cryptojacking — that’s the process of being hacked and having your CPU used to mine crypto for someone else.

All in all, the browser is worth taking for a spin if you have Apple’s new home buttonless devices and seek an alternative to the pre-loaded Safari browser. Other options might include Google Chrome, recently given a redesign for its tenth anniversary, as well as Mozilla, UC Web, Dolphin and Brave.

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See the new iPhone’s ‘focus pixels’ up close

Posted by | cameras, Gadgets, hardware, iPhone, iPhone XS, iPhone Xs Max, Mobile, Photography | No Comments

The new iPhones have excellent cameras, to be sure. But it’s always good to verify Apple’s breathless onstage claims with first-hand reports. We have our own review of the phones and their photography systems, but teardowns provide the invaluable service of letting you see the biggest changes with your own eyes — augmented, of course, by a high-powered microscope.

We’ve already seen iFixit’s solid-as-always disassembly of the phone, but TechInsights gets a lot closer to the device’s components — including the improved camera of the iPhone XS and XS Max.

Although the optics of the new camera are as far as we can tell unchanged since the X, the sensor is a new one and is worth looking closely at.

Microphotography of the sensor die show that Apple’s claims are borne out and then some. The sensor size has increased from 32.8mm2 to 40.6mm2 — a huge difference despite the small units. Every tiny bit counts at this scale. (For comparison, the Galaxy S9 is 45mm2, and the soon-to-be-replaced Pixel 2 is 25mm2.)

The pixels themselves also, as advertised, grew from 1.22 microns (micrometers) across to 1.4 microns — which should help with image quality across the board. But there’s an interesting, subtler development that has continually but quietly changed ever since its introduction: the “focus pixels.”

That’s Apple’s brand name for phase detection autofocus (PDAF) points, found in plenty of other devices. The basic idea is that you mask off half a sub-pixel every once in a while (which I guess makes it a sub-sub-pixel), and by observing how light enters these half-covered detectors you can tell whether something is in focus or not.

Of course, you need a bunch of them to sense the image patterns with high fidelity, but you have to strike a balance: losing half a pixel may not sound like much, but if you do it a million times, that’s half a megapixel effectively down the drain. Wondering why all the PDAF points are green? Many camera sensors use an “RGBG” sub-pixel pattern, meaning there are two green sub-pixels for each red and blue one — it’s complicated why. But there are twice as many green sub-pixels and therefore the green channel is more robust to losing a bit of information.Apple introduced PDAF in the iPhone 6, but as you can see in TechInsights’ great diagram, the points are pretty scarce. There’s one for maybe every 64 sub-pixels, and not only that, they’re all masked off in the same orientation: either the left or right half gone.

The 6S and 7 Pluses saw the number double to one PDAF point per 32 sub-pixels. And in the 8 Plus, the number is improved to one per 20 — but there’s another addition: now the phase detection masks are on the tops and bottoms of the sub-pixels as well. As you can imagine, doing phase detection in multiple directions is a more sophisticated proposal, but it could also significantly improve the accuracy of the process. Autofocus systems all have their weaknesses, and this may have addressed one Apple regretted in earlier iterations.

Which brings us to the XS (and Max, of course), in which the PDAF points are now one per 16 sub-pixels, having increased the frequency of the vertical phase detection points so that they’re equal in number to the horizontal one. Clearly the experiment paid off and any consequent light loss has been mitigated or accounted for.

I’m curious how the sub-pixel patterns of Samsung, Huawei and Google phones compare, and I’m looking into it. But I wanted to highlight this interesting little evolution. It’s an interesting example of the kind of changes that are hard to understand when explained in simple number form — we’ve doubled this, or there are a million more of that — but which make sense when you see them in physical form.

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Happy 10th anniversary, Android

Posted by | Amazon, Android, andy rubin, Angry Birds, Apple, artificial intelligence, AT&T, China, computing, consumer electronics, digital media, Facebook, Gadgets, Google, google nexus, hardware, HTC, HTC Dream, HTC EVO 4G smartphone, huawei, india, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, LG, lists, Mobile, Motorola, motorola droid, motorola xoom, Nexus One, oled, operating system, operating systems, phablet, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, Sony, sprint, T-Mobile, TC, TechCrunch, United States, Verizon, xperia | No Comments

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5X and Huawei 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Google Pixel (2016)

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

The rise and fall of the Essential phone

In 2017 Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, debuted the first fruits of his new hardware startup studio, Digital Playground, with the launch of Essential (and its first phone). The company had raised $300 million to bring the phone to market, and — as the first hardware device to come to market from Android’s creator — it was being heralded as the next new thing in hardware.

Here at TechCrunch, the phone received mixed reviews. Some on staff hailed the phone as the achievement of Essential’s stated vision — to create a “lovemark” for Android smartphones, while others on staff found the device… inessential.

Ultimately, the market seemed to agree. Four months ago plans for a second Essential phone were put on hold, while the company explored a sale and pursued other projects. There’s been little update since.

A Cambrian explosion in hardware

In the ten years since its launch, Android has become the most widely used operating system for hardware. Some version of its software can be found in roughly 2.3 billion devices around the world and its powering a technology revolution in countries like India and China — where mobile operating systems and access are the default. As it enters its second decade, there’s no sign that anything is going to slow its growth (or dominance) as the operating system for much of the world.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

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The iPhone SE was the best phone Apple ever made, and now it’s dead

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, hardware, iPhone, iPhone SE, Mobile, Opinion | No Comments

I only wanted one thing out of 2018’s iPhone event: a new iPhone SE. In failing to provide it Apple seems to have quietly put the model out to pasture — and for this I curse them eternally. Because it was the best phone the company ever made.

If you were one of the many who passed over the SE back in 2015, when it made its debut, that’s understandable. The iPhone 6S was the latest and greatest, and of course fixed a few of the problems Apple had kindly introduced with the entirely new design of the 6. But for me the SE was a perfect match.

See, I’ve always loved the iPhone design that began with the 4. That storied phone is perhaps best remembered for being left in a bar ahead of release and leaked by Gizmodo — which is too bad, because for once the product was worthy of the lavish unveiling Apple now bestows on every device it puts out.

The 4 established an entirely new industrial design aesthetic that was at once instantly recognizable and highly practical. Gone were the smooth, rounded edges and back of the stainless original iPhone (probably the second-best phone Apple made) and the jellybean-esque 3G and 3GS.

In the place of those soft curves were hard lines and uncompromising geometry: a belt of metal running around the edge, set off from the glass sides by the slightest of steps. It highlighted and set off the black glass of the screen and bezel, producing a of specular outline from any angle.

The camera was flush and the home button (RIP) sub-flush, entirely contained within the body, making the device perfectly flat both front and back. Meanwhile the side buttons boldly stood out. Volume in bold, etched circles; the mute switch easy to find but impossible to accidentally activate; the power button perfectly placed for a reaching index finger. Note that all these features are directly pointed at usability: making things easier, better, more accessible, while also being attractive and cohesive as parts of a single object.

Compared to the iPhone 4, every single other phone, including Samsung’s new “iPhone killer” Galaxy S, was a cheap-looking mess of plastic, incoherently designed or at best workmanlike. And don’t think I’m speaking as an Apple fanboy; I was not an iPhone user at the time. In fact, I was probably still using my beloved G1 — talk about beauty and the beast!

The design was strong enough that it survived the initially awkward transition to a longer screen in the 5, and with that generation it also gained the improved rear side that alleviated the phone’s unfortunate tendency towards… well, shattering.

The two-tone grey iPhone 5S, however, essentially left no room for improvement. And after 4 years, it was admittedly perhaps time to freshen things up a bit. Unfortunately, what Apple ended up doing was subtracting all personality from the device while adding nothing but screen space.

The 6 was, to me, simply ugly. It was reminiscent of the plethora of boring Android phones at the time — merely higher quality than them, not different. The 6S was similarly ugly, and the 7 through 8 somehow further banished any design that set themselves apart, while reversing course on some practical measures in allowing an increasingly large camera bump and losing the headphone jack. The X, at least, looked a bit different.

But to return to the topic at hand, it was after the 6S that Apple had introduced the SE. Although it nominally stood for “Special Edition,” the name was also a nod to the Macintosh SE. Ironically given the original meaning of “System Expansion,” the new SE was the opposite: essentially an iPhone 6S in the body of a 5S, complete with improved camera, Touch ID sensor, and processor. The move was likely intended as a sort of lifeboat for users who still couldn’t bring themselves to switch to the drastically redesigned, and considerably larger, new model.

It would take time, Apple seems to have reasoned, to convert these people, the types who rarely buy first generation Apple products and cherish usability over novelty. So why not coddle them a bit through this difficult transition?

The SE appealed not just to the nostalgic and neophobic, but simply people who prefer a smaller phone. I don’t have particularly large or small hands, but I preferred this highly pocketable, proven design to the new one for a number of reasons.

Flush camera so it doesn’t get scratched up? Check. Normal, pressable home button? Check. Flat, symmetrical design? Check. Actual edges to hold onto? Check. Thousands of cases already available? Check — although I didn’t use one for a long time. The SE is best without one.

At the time, the iPhone SE was more compact and better looking than anything Apple offered, while making almost no compromises at all in terms of functionality. The only possible objection was its size, and that was (and is) a matter of taste.

It was the best object Apple ever designed, filled with the best tech it had ever developed. It was the best phone it ever made.

And the best phone it’s made since then, too, if you ask me. Ever since the 6, it seems to me that Apple has only drifted, casting about for something to captivate its users the way the iPhone 4’s design and new graphical capabilities did, all the way back in 2010. It honed that design to a cutting edge and then, when everyone expected the company to leap forward, it tiptoed instead, perhaps afraid to spook the golden goose.

To me the SE was Apple allowing itself one last victory lap on the back of a design it would never surpass. It’s understandable that it would not want to admit, this many years on, that anyone could possibly prefer something it created nearly a decade ago to its thousand-dollar flagship — a device, I feel I must add, that not only compromises visibly in its design (I’ll never own a notched phone if I can help it) but backpedals on practical features used by millions, like Touch ID and a 3.5mm headphone jack. This is in keeping with similarly user-unfriendly choices made elsewhere in its lineup.

So while I am disappointed in Apple, I’m not surprised. After all, it’s disappointed me for years. But I still have my SE, and I intend to keep it for as long as possible. Because it’s the best thing the company ever made, and it’s still a hell of a phone.

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The 7 most egregious fibs Apple told about the iPhone XS camera today

Posted by | Apple, Apple Hardware Event 2018, Gadgets, hardware, iPhone, iPhone XS, Photography | No Comments

Apple always drops a few whoppers at its events, and the iPhone XS announcement today was no exception. And nowhere were they more blatant than in the introduction of the devices’ “new” camera features. No one doubts that iPhones take great pictures, so why bother lying about it? My guess is they can’t help themselves.

To be clear, I have no doubt they made some great updates to make a good camera better. But whatever those improvements are, they were overshadowed today by the breathless hype that was frequently questionable and occasionally just plain wrong. Now, to fill this article out I had to get a bit pedantic, but honestly, some of these are pretty egregious.

“The world’s most popular camera”

There are a lot of iPhones out there, to be sure. But defining the iPhone as some sort of decade-long continuous camera, which Apple seems to be doing, is sort of a disingenuous way to do it. By that standard, Samsung would almost certainly be ahead, since it would be allowed to count all its Galaxy phones going back a decade as well, and they’ve definitely outsold Apple in that time. Going further, if you were to say that a basic off-the-shelf camera stack and common Sony or Samsung sensor was a “camera,” iPhone would probably be outnumbered 10:1 by Android phones.

Is the iPhone one of the world’s most popular cameras? To be sure. Is it the world’s most popular camera? You’d have to slice it pretty thin and say that this or that year and this or that model was more numerous than any other single model. The point is this is a very squishy metric and one many could lay claim to depending on how they pick or interpret the numbers. As usual, Apple didn’t show their work here, so we may as well coin a term and call this an educated bluff.

“Remarkable new dual camera system”

As Phil would explain later, a lot of the newness comes from improvements to the sensor and image processor. But as he said that the system was new while backed by an exploded view of the camera hardware, we may consider him as referring to that as well.

It’s not actually clear what in the hardware is different from the iPhone X. Certainly if you look at the specs, they’re nearly identical:

If I said these were different cameras, would you believe me? Same F numbers, no reason to think the image stabilization is different or better, and so on. It would not be unreasonable to guess that these are, as far as optics, the same cameras as before. Again, not that there was anything wrong with them — they’re fabulous optics. But showing components that are in fact the same and saying it’s different is misleading.

Given Apple’s style, if there were any actual changes to the lenses or OIS, they’d have said something. It’s not trivial to improve those things and they’d take credit if they had done so.

The sensor of course is extremely important, and it is improved: the 1.4-micrometer pixel pitch on the wide-angle main camera is larger than the 1.22-micrometer pitch on the X. Since the megapixels are similar we can probably surmise that the “larger” sensor is a consequence of this different pixel pitch, not any kind of real form factor change. It’s certainly larger, but the wider pixel pitch, which helps with sensitivity, is what’s actually improved, and the increased dimensions are just a consequence of that.

We’ll look at the image processor claims below.

“2x faster sensor… for better image quality”

It’s not really clear what is meant when he says this. “To take advantage of all this technology.” Is it the readout rate? Is it the processor that’s faster, since that’s what would probably produce better image quality (more horsepower to calculate colors, encode better, and so on)? “Fast” also refers to light-gathering — is that faster?

I don’t think it’s accidental that this was just sort of thrown out there and not specified. Apple likes big simple numbers and doesn’t want to play the spec game the same way as the others. But this in my opinion crosses the line from simplifying to misleading. This at least Apple or some detailed third party testing can clear up.

“What it does that is entirely new is connect together the ISP with that neural engine, to use them together.”

Now, this was a bit of sleight of hand on Phil’s part. Presumably what’s new is that Apple has better integrated the image processing pathway between the traditional image processor, which is doing the workhorse stuff like autofocus and color, and the “neural engine,” which is doing face detection.

It may be new for Apple, but this kind of thing has been standard in many cameras for years. Both phones and interchangeable-lens systems like DSLRs use face and eye detection, some using neural-type models, to guide autofocus or exposure. This (and the problems that come with it) go back years and years. I remember point-and-shoots that had it, but unfortunately failed to detect people who had dark skin or were frowning.

It’s gotten a lot better (Apple’s depth-detecting units probably help a lot), but the idea of tying a face-tracking system, whatever fancy name you call it, in to the image-capture process is old hat. What’s in the XS may be the best, but it’s probably not “entirely new” even for Apple, let alone the rest of photography.

“We have a brand new feature we call smart HDR.”

Apple’s brand new feature has been on Google’s Pixel phones for a while now. A lot of cameras now keep a frame buffer going, essentially snapping pictures in the background while the app is open, then using the latest one when you hit the button. And Google, among others, had the idea that you could use these unseen pictures as raw material for an HDR shot.

Probably Apple’s method is a different, and it may even be better, but fundamentally it’s the same thing. Again, “brand new” to iPhone users, but well known among Android flagship devices.

“This is what you’re not supposed to do, right, shooting a photo into the sun, because you’re gonna blow out the exposure.”

I’m not saying you should shoot directly into the sun, but it’s really not uncommon to include the sun in your shot. In the corner like that it can make for some cool lens flares, for instance. It won’t blow out these days because almost every camera’s auto-exposure algorithms are either center-weighted or intelligently shift around — to find faces, for instance.

When the sun is in your shot, your problem isn’t blown out highlights but a lack of dynamic range caused by a large difference between the exposure needed to capture the sun-lit background and the shadowed foreground. This is, of course, as Phil says, one of the best applications of HDR — a well-bracketed exposure can make sure you have shadow details while also keeping the bright ones.

Funnily enough, in the picture he chose here, the shadow details are mostly lost — you just see a bunch of noise there. You don’t need HDR to get those water droplets — that’s a shutter speed thing, really. It’s still a great shot, by the way, I just don’t think it’s illustrative of what Phil is talking about.

“You can adjust the depth of field… this has not been possible in photography of any type of camera.”

This just isn’t true. You can do this on the Galaxy S9, and it’s being rolled out in Google Photos as well. Lytro was doing something like it years and years ago, if we’re including “any type of camera.” Will this be better? Probably – looks great to me. Has it never been possible ever? Not even close. I feel kind of bad that no one told Phil. He’s out here without the facts.

Well, that’s all the big ones. There were plenty more, shall we say, embellishments at the event, but that’s par for the course at any big company’s launch. I just felt like these ones couldn’t go unanswered. I have nothing against the iPhone camera — I use one myself. But boy are they going wild with these claims. Somebody’s got to say it, since clearly no one inside Apple is.

Check out the rest of our Apple event coverage here:

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XS, XR, XS Max? The difference between the new iPhones

Posted by | Apple, Apple Hardware Event 2018, Apple Hardware Event 2018 - iPhone, Gadgets, hardware, iPhone, Mobile, TC | No Comments

XS is the normal one. XR is the cheap one. XS Max is the big one. That’s a good start to understanding Apple’s confusing naming scheme for its new line of iPhones. Apparently jealous of Android’s fragmentation, Apple decided it needed three different models, three different storage sizes and nine different colors.

You can think of the XS as the updated iPhone X, the Max as the new Plus and the XR as a revival of the great-for-kids budget iPhone SE. Here’s a comparison of their features, prices, options and release dates.

The iPhone XS — standard, smaller, sooner

Apple’s new flagship phone is the iPhone XS. If you want the best Apple has to offer that will still fit in your pocket, this is the one for you.

It’s got a 5.8-inch diagonal OLED “Super Retina” HDR screen with 458 pixels per inch, which is actually taller than the old 8 Plus’s 5.5-inch screen, but it’s a little thinner, so it has less total screen volume. Dual 12 megapixel cameras offer stabilization and 2X optical zoom, plus the new depth control Portrait mode feature. It’s $999 for the 64GB, $1,149 for the 256GB, or $1,349 for the 512GB.

It comes in silver, gold and space gray, all in stainless steel that’s waterproof to two meters. Pre-orders start Friday, September 14th, and they ship and hit stores on September 21st.

The iPhone XS Max — bigger screen, bigger price

If you love watching movies, browsing photos and shooting videos on your phone, you’ll want the iPhone XS Max.

The 6.5-inch OLED “Super Retina” HDR screen is the biggest ever on an iPhone, dwarfing the 8 Plus’s screen, yet with a similar device size since the XS Max takes up more of the phone’s face. The twin 12 megapixel lenses stabilize your images and offer 2X optical zoom, as well as Portrait mode depth control.

It also comes in stainless steel silver, gold and space gray that are all waterproof to two meters, and costs $100 more than the XS at $1,099 for 64GB, $1,249 for 256GB or a whopping $1,449 for 512GB. As with the XS, pre-orders start Friday, September 14th, and you can get it in your hands on September 21st.

The iPhone XR — colorful, cheaper, duller

Don’t need the sharpest or biggest new screen and want to save some cash? Grab an iPhone XR. Its size comes in between the XS and XS Max, with a 6.1-inch diagonal LCD “Liquid Retina” screen with 326 pixels per square inch.

Fewer pixels and no HDR display means the XR won’t look quite as brilliant as the XS models. The XR also only has one 12 megapixel camera lens, so it doesn’t offer stabilization or 2X optical zoom like its XS siblings, but it still gets the cool Bokeh-changing Portrait mode depth control.

The XR is only waterproof to one meter instead of two like its expensive sisters, and lacks 3D Touch for quick access to deeper features.

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As a bonus with the XR, you do get 1.5 hours of additional battery life and six color options in the aluminum (“aloominium” if you’re Jonny Ive) finish: white, black, blue, yellow, coral and red. And it’s cheaper at $749 for 64GB, with $799 for 128GB and $899 for 256GB.

If that’s not cheap enough, you can now get the iPhone 7 for $449 and the iPhone 8 costs $599 — though there are no more iPhones with headphone jacks now that the 6S and SE are getting retired. In hopes that you’ll buy a pricier one, the XR arrives a month later than the XS models, with pre-orders on October 19th and shipping October 26th.

Apple may find this level of customization lets everyone find the right iPhone for them, though it could simultaneously produce decision paralysis in buyers who aren’t confident enough to pay. While it’s a headache at first, you’ll end up with a phone fit for your style and budget. Though without a ton of improvements over the iPhone X, you might not need an “iPhone Excess.”

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Huawei bags Apple’s 2nd place spot in global smartphone sales: Gartner

Posted by | Android, Apple, Asia, gartner, huawei, iOS, iPhone, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones, Xiaomi | No Comments

Another analyst has Huawei overtaking Apple in the global smartphone rankings for the second quarter this year. The latest figures from Gartner put Huawei ahead on sales to end users in Q2.

Overall, Gartner says sales of smartphones to end users grew 2% in the quarter, to reach 374 million units.

The analyst pegs the Chinese smartphone maker with a 13.3% marketshare, saying it sold ~49.8M devices in the quarter, up from 9.8% in the year before quarter — ahead of Apple, which it calculates took an 11.9% marketshare (down from 12.1% in Q2 2017), selling ~44.7M iPhones.

According to Gartner’s figures, Samsung also lost share year-over-year — declining 12.7% in the quarter.

The Galaxy smartphone maker retained its no.1 spot in the rankings, with 19.3% in Q2 (vs 22.6% in the equivalent quarter last year) and ~72.3M devices sold. Though Gartner notes it’s being squeezed by “ever-growing competition from Chinese manufacturers”, while slowing demand for its flagships are squeezing its profitability. Not a happy combination.

In recent years Huawei has been one of a handful of Chinese OEMs bucking the trend of a slowing global smartphone market. And Gartner’s data suggests Huawei’s smartphone sales grew 38.6 per cent in the second quarter.

As we noted earlier this month, when other analysts reported Huawei outstripping Apple on smartphone shipments in Q2, the handset maker has built momentum for its mid-range Honor handset brand while performing solidly at the premium end too, with devices such as the P20 Pro (albeit while copypasting Apple’s iPhone X ‘notch’ screen design in that instance.)

“Huawei continues to bring innovative features into its smartphones and expand its smartphone portfolio to cover larger consumer segments,” said research director Anshul Gupta in a statement. “Its investment into channels, brand building and positioning of the Honor devices helped drive sales. Huawei is shipping its Honor smartphones into 70 markets worldwide and is emerging as Huawei’s key growth driver.”

For Apple the quarter was a flat one (0.9% growth), though that’s to be expected given Cupertino structures its mobile release cycle around a big-bang annual smartphone refresh in the fall, ahead of the holiday quarter, rather than releasing devices throughout the year.

Even so, Gupta noted that Apple is also facing growing competition from Chinese brands, which in turn is amping up pressure on the company to innovate its handsets to keep increasingly demanding consumers happy by delivering “enhanced value” in exchange for the iPhone’s premium price.

And recent reports have suggested Apple is prepping a number of iPhone design changes for fall, including a splash of color.

“Demand for the iPhone X has started to slow down much earlier than when other new models were introduced,” he added, sounding another note of concern for Apple.

Fourth placed Chinese OEM Xiaomi is one device maker putting pressure on longer term players in the smartphone market. In Q2 Gartner reckons the company sold ~32.8M devices, carving itself an 8.8% marketshare — up from 5.8% in the year ago quarter.

The analyst’s data also shows Google’s Android operating system further extending its lead over Apple’s iOS in Q2, securing 88% market share vs 11.9% for iOS.

While the smartphone market is no longer a simple duopoly on the device maker front, with Huawei elbowing past Apple to bag the second spot in the global rankings, it remains very much the opposite story where smartphone operating systems are concerned.

And Gartner’s data now records the ‘other’ category of smartphone OSes at a 0.0% marketshare, down from 0.1% in the year ago quarter…

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iOS beta hints at dual SIM iPhone

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, iPhone, rumor | No Comments

Apple released the fifth beta of iOS 12 a few days ago. 9to5mac discovered strings in configuration files that reference dual SIM devices. You should expect at least one new iPhone model with two SIM trays.

Apple is said to unveil three new iPhone models in September. In addition to an updated iPhone X, the company should announce a bigger second generation “iPhone X Plus”.

Apple also plans to bring the notch to more devices with a replacement to the iPhone 8. This iPhone will feature a 6.1-inch LCD display with a notch as well as a single camera on the back of the device. It should be as expensive as the iPhone 8 today.

There have been rumors in the past that Apple was looking at selling iPhones with two SIM cards. It was unclear if Apple wanted to put a normal SIM tray and a second e-SIM card like on the Apple Watch.

But according to these configuration files, this model will let you add two physical SIM cards — there are references to “second SIM status” and “second SIM tray status”.

Apple could limit dual SIM support to some models in particular. For instance, it could be limited to the rumored iPhone X Plus, or maybe the high-end OLED models.

Many users don’t need two SIM slots. But it’s an essential feature for some countries. For instance, in India, cell carriers are regional companies. If you travel back and forth between Delhi and Mumbai, you need two SIM cards and two plans.

Frequent travelers could also use a second SIM slot to avoid expensive roaming fees. It’s usually cheaper to buy a local SIM card. By using two SIM cards, you get the best of both worlds because you can still receive two-factor text messages, keep your phone number for iMessage and more.

isDualSimDevice 😏https://t.co/FdACoaDbpO pic.twitter.com/CP4anunomf

— Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) July 31, 2018

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