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Samsung’s 5G phone hits Verizon, Sprint getting two 5G devices this month

Posted by | hardware, HTC, LG, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones, sprint, TC, Verizon | No Comments

With 5G, when it rains, it pours. A few hours after Verizon officially started selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Sprint announced that it will be offering two 5G devices for its network by the end of the month.

For now, it still feels like manufacturers are putting the cart before the horse here. There’s little question that 5G will become ubiquitous in the next few years, but actual opportunities to access the technology are still pretty scarce.

Among U.S. carriers, Verizon (our parent company’s parent company) has been the most aggressive. Fitting then, that the company is first to market with the Galaxy S10 5G. Of course, all of these devices will default to 4G when there’s no 5G to be found, which is going to be the case more often than not for a while.

Verizon’s 5G is currently available in select markets, including Chicago and Minneapolis. That number is set to balloon to 20 locales before year’s end, including, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Washington, DC.

Sprint, meanwhile, has promised to flip on 5G in nine markets “in the coming weeks.” The list includes parts of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City, and then locations in Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

To celebrate, the network will be offering two 5G devices this month. The LG V50 ThinQ and HTC 5G Hub will hit Sprint stores on May 31.

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Once a major name in smartphones, LG Mobile is now irrelevant — and still losing money

Posted by | Asia, Earnings, Facebook, G7, LG, LG Electronics, Mobile, Motorola, smartphone, smartphones, technology | No Comments

LG was once a stalwart of the smartphone industry — remember its collaboration with Facebook back in the day? — but today the company is swiftly descending into irrelevance.

The latest proof is LG’s Q1 financials, released this week, which show that its mobile division grossed just KRW 1.51 trillion ($1.34 billion) in sales for the quarter. That’s down 30% year-on-year and the lowest income for LG Mobile for at least the last eight years. We searched back eight years to Q1 2011 — before that LG was hit and miss with releasing specific financial figures for its divisions.

To give an indication of its decline, LG shipped more than 15 million phones in Q4 2015 when its revenue was 3.78 trillion RKW, or $3.26 billion. That’s 2.5 times higher than this recent Q1 2019 period.

Regular readers will be aware that LG mobile is a loss-making division. That’s the reason its activities — and consequently sales — have scaled down in recent years. But the losses are still coming.

LG put Brian Kwon, who leads its lucrative Home Entertainment business, in charge of its mobile division last November and his task remains ongoing, it appears.

LG Mobile recorded a loss of 203.5 billion KRW ($181.05 million) for Q1 which it described as “narrowed.”

It is true that LG Mobile’s Q1 loss is lower than the 322.3 billion KRW ($289.8 million) loss it carded in the previous quarter, but it is wider than one year previous. Indeed, the mobile division lost 136.1 billion KRW ($126.85 million) in Q1 2018.

LG said Mr. Kwon is presiding over “a revised smartphone launch strategy,” which is why the numbers are changing so drastically. Going forward, it said that the launch of its G7 ThinQ flagship phone and a new upgrade center — first announced last year — are in the immediate pipeline, but it is hard to see how any of this will reverse the downward trend.

LG Mobile is increasingly problematic because the parent company is seeing success in other areas, but that’s being countered by a poor-performing smartphone business. Last quarter, mobile dragged LG to its first quarterly loss in two years, for example.

Just looking at the Q1 numbers, LG’s overall profit was 900.6 billion KRW ($801.25 million) thanks to its home appliance business ($647.3 million profit) and that home entertainment business, which had a profit of $308.27 million. Its automotive business — which is, among other things, focused on EVs — did bite into the profits, but that is at least a business that is going places.

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Razer hooks up with Tencent to focus on mobile gaming

Posted by | airasia, Android, Asia, ceo, Companies, computing, consumer electronics, Consumer Electronics Show, Earnings, Gaming, HTC, LG, malaysia, Meituan, Min-Liang Tan, mobile phones, mol, Razer, razer phone, Singapore, smartphone, smartphones, Southeast Asia, TC, Tencent, Xiaomi | No Comments

Razer is summoning a big gun as it bids to develop its mobile gaming strategy. The Hong Kong-listed company — which sells laptops, smartphones and gaming peripherals — said today it is working with Tencent on a raft of initiatives related to smartphone-based games.

The collaboration will cover hardware, software and services. Some of the objectives include optimizing Tencent games — which include megahit PUBG and Fortnite — for Razer’s smartphones, mobile controllers and its Cortex Android launcher app. The duo also said they may “explore additional monetization opportunities for mobile gaming,” which could see Tencent integrate Razer’s services, which include a rewards/loyalty program, in some areas.

The news comes on the same day as Razer’s latest earnings, which saw annual revenue grow 38 percent to reach $712.4 million. Razer recorded a net loss of $97 million for the year, down from $164 million in 2017.

The big-name partnership announcement comes at an opportune time for Razer, which has struggled to convince investors of its business. The company was among a wave of much-championed tech companies to go public in Hong Kong — Razer’s listing raised more than $500 million in late 2017 — but its share price has struggled. Razer currently trades at HK$1.44, which is some way down from a HK$3.88 list price and HK$4.58 at the end of its trading day debut. Razer CEO Min Liang Tan has previously lamented a lack of tech savviness within Hong Kong’s public markets despite a flurry of IPOs, which have included names like local services giant Meituan.

Nabbing Tencent, which is one of (if not the) biggest games companies in the world, is a PR coup, but it remains to be seen just what impact the relationship will have at this stage. Subsequent tie-ins, and potentially an investor, would be notable developments and perhaps positive signals that the market is seeking.

Still, Razer CEO Min Liang Tan is bullish about the company’s prospects on mobile.

The company’s Razer smartphones were never designed to be “iPhone-killers” that sold on volume, but there’s still uncertainty around the unit with recent reports suggesting the third-generation phone may have been canceled following some layoffs. (Tan declined to comment on that.)

Mobile is tough — just ask past giants like LG and HTC about that… and Razer’s phone and gaming-focus was quickly copied by others, including a fairly brazen clone effort from Xiaomi, to make sales particularly challenging. But Liang maintains that, in doing so, Razer created a mobile gaming phone market that didn’t exist before, and ultimately that is more important than shifting its own smartphones.

“Nobody was talking about gaming smartphones [before the Razer phone], without us doing that, the genre would still be perceived as casual gaming,” Tan told TechCrunch in an interview. “Even from day one, it was about creating this new category… we don’t see others as competition.”

With that in mind, he said that this year is about focusing on the software side of Razer’s mobile gaming business.

Tan said Razer “will never” publish games as Tencent and others do, instead, he said that the focus is on helping discovery, creating a more immersive experience and tying in other services, which include its Razer Gold loyalty points.

Outside of gaming, Razer is also making a push into payments through a service that operates in Southeast Asia. Fueled by the acquisition of MOL one year ago, Razer has moved from allowing people to buy credit over-the-counter to launch an e-wallet in two countries, Malaysia and Singapore, as it goes after a slice of Southeast Asia’s fintech boom, which has attracted non-traditional players that include AirAsia, Grab and Go-Jek, among others.

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5G phones are here but there’s no rush to upgrade

Posted by | 5g, Android, Apple, Asia, barcelona, broadband, Caching, China, deutsche telekom, donovan sung, Europe, european commission, european union, huawei, Intel, Internet of Things, iPhone, LG, Mobile, mwc 2019, Qualcomm, Samsung, singtel, smartphone, smartphones, south korea, TC, telecommunications, Xiaomi | No Comments

This year’s Mobile World Congress — the CES for Android device makers — was awash with 5G handsets.

The world’s No.1 smartphone seller by marketshare, Samsung, got out ahead with a standalone launch event in San Francisco, showing off two 5G devices, just before fast-following Android rivals popped out their own 5G phones at launch events across Barcelona this week.

We’ve rounded up all these 5G handset launches here. Prices range from an eye-popping $2,600 for Huawei’s foldable phabet-to-tablet Mate X — and an equally eye-watering $1,980 for Samsung’s Galaxy Fold; another 5G handset that bends — to a rather more reasonable $680 for Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 5G, albeit the device is otherwise mid-tier. Other prices for 5G phones announced this week remain tbc.

Android OEMs are clearly hoping the hype around next-gen mobile networks can work a little marketing magic and kick-start stalled smartphone growth. Especially with reports suggesting Apple won’t launch a 5G iPhone until at least next year. So 5G is a space Android OEMs alone get to own for a while.

Chipmaker Qualcomm, which is embroiled in a bitter patent battle with Apple, was also on stage in Barcelona to support Xiaomi’s 5G phone launch — loudly claiming the next-gen tech is coming fast and will enhance “everything”.

“We like to work with companies like Xiaomi to take risks,” lavished Qualcomm’s president Cristiano Amon upon his hosts, using 5G uptake to jibe at Apple by implication. “When we look at the opportunity ahead of us for 5G we see an opportunity to create winners.”

Despite the heavy hype, Xiaomi’s on stage demo — which it claimed was the first live 5G video call outside China — seemed oddly staged and was not exactly lacking in latency.

“Real 5G — not fake 5G!” finished Donovan Sung, the Chinese OEM’s director of product management. As a 5G sales pitch it was all very underwhelming. Much more ‘so what’ than ‘must have’.

Whether 5G marketing hype alone will convince consumers it’s past time to upgrade seems highly unlikely.

Phones sell on features rather than connectivity per se, and — whatever Qualcomm claims — 5G is being soft-launched into the market by cash-constrained carriers whose boom times lie behind them, i.e. before over-the-top players had gobbled their messaging revenues and monopolized consumer eyeballs.

All of which makes 5G an incremental consumer upgrade proposition in the near to medium term.

Use-cases for the next-gen network tech, which is touted as able to support speeds up to 100x faster than LTE and deliver latency of just a few milliseconds (as well as connecting many more devices per cell site), are also still being formulated, let alone apps and services created to leverage 5G.

But selling a network upgrade to consumers by claiming the killer apps are going to be amazing but you just can’t show them any yet is as tough as trying to make theatre out of a marginally less janky video call.

“5G could potentially help [spark smartphone growth] in a couple of years as price points lower, and availability expands, but even that might not see growth rates similar to the transition to 3G and 4G,” suggests Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, writing in a blog post discussing Samsung’s strategy with its latest device launches.

“This is not because 5G is not important, but because it is incremental when it comes to phones and it will be other devices that will deliver on experiences, we did not even think were possible. Consumers might end up, therefore, sharing their budget more than they did during the rise of smartphones.”

The ‘problem’ for 5G — if we can call it that — is that 4G/LTE networks are capably delivering all the stuff consumers love right now: Games, apps and video. Which means that for the vast majority of consumers there’s simply no reason to rush to shell out for a ‘5G-ready’ handset. Not if 5G is all the innovation it’s got going for it.

LG V50 ThinQ 5G with a dual screen accessory for gaming

Use cases such as better AR/VR are also a tough sell given how weak consumer demand has generally been on those fronts (with the odd branded exception).

The barebones reality is that commercial 5G networks are as rare as hen’s teeth right now, outside a few limited geographical locations in the U.S. and Asia. And 5G will remain a very patchy patchwork for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, it may take a very long time indeed to achieve nationwide coverage in many countries, if 5G even ends up stretching right to all those edges. (Alternative technologies do also exist which could help fill in gaps where the ROI just isn’t there for 5G.)

So again consumers buying phones with the puffed up idea of being able to tap into 5G right here, right now (Qualcomm claimed 2019 is going to be “the year of 5G!”) will find themselves limited to just a handful of urban locations around the world.

Analysts are clear that 5G rollouts, while coming, are going to be measured and targeted as carriers approach what’s touted as a multi-industry-transforming wireless technology cautiously, with an eye on their capex and while simultaneously trying to figure out how best to restructure their businesses to engage with all the partners they’ll need to forge business relations with, across industries, in order to successfully sell 5G’s transformative potential to all sorts of enterprises — and lock onto “the sweep spot where 5G makes sense”.

Enterprise rollouts therefore look likely to be prioritized over consumer 5G — as was the case for 5G launches in South Korea at the back end of last year.

“4G was a lot more driven by the consumer side and there was an understanding that you were going for national coverage that was never really a question and you were delivering on the data promise that 3G never really delivered… so there was a gap of technology that needed to be filled. With 5G it’s much less clear,” says Gartner’s Sylvain Fabre, discussing the tech’s hype and the reality with TechCrunch ahead of MWC.

“4G’s very good, you have multiple networks that are Gbps or more and that’s continuing to increase on the downlink with multiple carrier aggregation… and other densification schemes. So 5G doesn’t… have as gap as big to fill. It’s great but again it’s applicability of where it’s uniquely positioned is kind of like a very narrow niche at the moment.”

“It’s such a step change that the real power of 5G is actually in creating new business models using network slicing — allocation of particular aspects of the network to a particular use-case,” Forrester analyst Dan Bieler also tells us. “All of this requires some rethinking of what connectivity means for an enterprise customer or for the consumer.

“And telco sales people, the telco go-to-market approach is not based on selling use-cases, mostly — it’s selling technologies. So this is a significant shift for the average telco distribution channel to go through. And I would believe this will hold back a lot of the 5G ambitions for the medium term.”

To be clear, carriers are now actively kicking the tyres of 5G, after years of lead-in hype, and grappling with technical challenges around how best to upgrade their existing networks to add in and build out 5G.

Many are running pilots and testing what works and what doesn’t, such as where to place antennas to get the most reliable signal and so on. And a few have put a toe in the water with commercial launches (globally there are 23 networks with “some form of live 5G in their commercial networks” at this point, according to Fabre.)

But at the same time 5G network standards are yet to be fully finalized so the core technology is not 100% fully baked. And with it being early days “there’s still a long way to go before we have a real significant impact of 5G type of services”, as Bieler puts it. 

There’s also spectrum availability to factor in and the cost of acquiring the necessary spectrum. As well as the time required to clear and prepare it for commercial use. (On spectrum, government policy is critical to making things happen quickly (or not). So that’s yet another factor moderating how quickly 5G networks can be built out.)

And despite some wishful thinking industry noises at MWC this week — calling for governments to ‘support digitization at scale’ by handing out spectrum for free (uhhhh, yeah right) — that’s really just whistling into the wind.

Rolling out 5G networks is undoubtedly going to be very expensive, at a time when carriers’ businesses are already faced with rising costs (from increasing data consumption) and subdued revenue growth forecasts.

“The world now works on data” and telcos are “at core of this change”, as one carrier CEO — Singtel’s Chua Sock Koong — put it in an MWC keynote in which she delved into the opportunities and challenges for operators “as we go from traditional connectivity to a new age of intelligent connectivity”.

Chua argued it will be difficult for carriers to compete “on the basis of connectivity alone” — suggesting operators will have to pivot their businesses to build out standalone business offerings selling all sorts of b2b services to support the digital transformations of other industries as part of the 5G promise — and that’s clearly going to suck up a lot of their time and mind for the foreseeable future.

In Europe alone estimates for the cost of rolling out 5G range between €300BN and €500BN (~$340BN-$570BN), according to Bieler. Figures that underline why 5G is going to grow slowly, and networks be built out thoughtfully; in the b2b space this means essentially on a case-by-case basis.

Simply put carriers must make the economics stack up. Which means no “huge enormous gambles with 5G”. And omnipresent ROI pressure pushing them to try to eke out a premium.

“A lot of the network equipment vendors have turned down the hype quite a bit,” Bieler continues. “If you compare this to the hype around 3G many years ago or 4G a couple of years ago 5G definitely comes across as a soft launch. Sort of an evolutionary type of technology. I have not come across a network equipment vendors these days who will say there will be a complete change in everything by 2020.”

On the consumer pricing front, carriers have also only just started to grapple with 5G business models. One early example is TC parent Verizon’s 5G home service — which positions the next-gen wireless tech as an alternative to fixed line broadband with discounts if you opt for a wireless smartphone data plan as well as 5G broadband.

From the consumer point of view, the carrier 5G business model conundrum boils down to: What is my carrier going to charge me for 5G? And early adopters of any technology tend to get stung on that front.

Although, in mobile, price premiums rarely stick around for long as carriers inexorably find they must ditch premiums to unlock scale — via consumer-friendly ‘all you can eat’ price plans.

Still, in the short term, carriers look likely to experiment with 5G pricing and bundles — basically seeing what they can make early adopters pay. But it’s still far from clear that people will pay a premium for better connectivity alone. And that again necessitates caution. 

5G bundled with exclusive content might be one way carriers try to extract a premium from consumers. But without huge and/or compelling branded content inventory that risks being a too niche proposition too. And the more carriers split their 5G offers the more consumers might feel they don’t need to bother, and end up sticking with 4G for longer.

It’ll also clearly take time for a 5G ‘killer app’ to emerge in the consumer space. And such an app would likely need to still be able to fallback on 4G, again to ensure scale. So the 5G experience will really need to be compellingly different in order for the tech to sell itself.

On the handset side, 5G chipset hardware is also still in its first wave. At MWC this week Qualcomm announced a next-gen 5G modem, stepping up from last year’s Snapdragon 855 chipset — which it heavily touted as architected for 5G (though it doesn’t natively support 5G).

If you’re intending to buy and hold on to a 5G handset for a few years there’s thus a risk of early adopter burn at the chipset level — i.e. if you end up with a device with a suckier battery life vs later iterations of 5G hardware where more performance kinks have been ironed out.

Intel has warned its 5G modems won’t be in phones until next year — so, again, that suggests no 5G iPhones before 2020. And Apple is of course a great bellwether for mainstream consumer tech; the company only jumps in when it believes a technology is ready for prime time, rarely sooner. And if Cupertino feels 5G can wait, that’s going to be equally true for most consumers.

Zooming out, the specter of network security (and potential regulation) now looms very large indeed where 5G is concerned, thanks to East-West trade tensions injecting a strange new world of geopolitical uncertainty into an industry that’s never really had to grapple with this kind of business risk before.

Chinese kit maker Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, used the opportunity of an MWC keynote to defend the company and its 5G solutions against U.S. claims its network tech could be repurposed by the Chinese state as a high tech conduit to spy on the West — literally telling delegates: “We don’t do bad things” and appealing to them to plainly to: “Please choose Huawei!”

Huawei rotating resident, Guo Ping, defends the security of its network kit on stage at MWC 2019

When established technology vendors are having to use a high profile industry conference to plead for trust it’s strange and uncertain times indeed.

In Europe it’s possible carriers’ 5G network kit choices could soon be regulated as a result of security concerns attached to Chinese suppliers. The European Commission suggested as much this week, saying in another MWC keynote that it’s preparing to step in try to prevent security concerns at the EU Member State level from fragmenting 5G rollouts across the bloc.

In an on stage Q&A Orange’s chairman and CEO, Stéphane Richard, couched the risk of destabilization of the 5G global supply chain as a “big concern”, adding: “It’s the first time we have such an important risk in our industry.”

Geopolitical security is thus another issue carriers are having to factor in as they make decisions about how quickly to make the leap to 5G. And holding off on upgrades, while regulators and other standards bodies try to figure out a trusted way forward, might seem the more sensible thing to do — potentially stalling 5G upgrades in the meanwhile.

Given all the uncertainties there’s certainly no reason for consumers to rush in.

Smartphone upgrade cycles have slowed globally for a reason. Mobile hardware is mature because it’s serving consumers very well. Handsets are both powerful and capable enough to last for years.

And while there’s no doubt 5G will change things radically in future, including for consumers — enabling many more devices to be connected and feeding back data, with the potential to deliver on the (much hyped but also still pretty nascent) ‘smart home’ concept — the early 5G sales pitch for consumers essentially boils down to more of the same.

“Over the next ten years 4G will phase out. The question is how fast that happens in the meantime and again I think that will happen slower than in early times because [with 5G] you don’t come into a vacuum, you don’t fill a big gap,” suggests Gartner’s Fabre. “4G’s great, it’s getting better, wi’fi’s getting better… The story of let’s build a big national network to do 5G at scale [for all] that’s just not happening.”

“I think we’ll start very, very simple,” he adds of the 5G consumer proposition. “Things like caching data or simply doing more broadband faster. So more of the same.

“It’ll be great though. But you’ll still be watching Netflix and maybe there’ll be a couple of apps that come up… Maybe some more interactive collaboration or what have you. But we know these things are being used today by enterprises and consumers and they’ll continue to be used.”

So — in sum — the 5G mantra for the sensible consumer is really ‘wait and see’.

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Here are all the 5G phones announced at MWC

Posted by | huawei, LG, Mobile, mwc 2019, Samsung, TC, Xiaomi, zte | No Comments

Mobile World Congress is underway, which means there are a handful of brand spankin’ new 5G phones hitting the market soon.

How ever will you decide?

Here’s a look at all the 5G phones announced thus far:

Huawei Mate X

The Mate X is a foldable 5G phone with one 4.6-inch screen, another 6.6-inch 2480×1148 screen and (when unfolded) an 8-inch 2200×2480 display.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Kirin 980
  • Battery: 4,5000mAh
  • Memory: 8GB RAM, 512GB internal
  • Price: $2,600
  • Size: 11mm folded, 5.4mm unfolded

LG V50 ThinQ 5G

Aside from its unbearably long name, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G’s claim to fame is a new biometric security measure called Hand ID, which reads the veins in your hand to authenticate your identity. Plus, the new LG flagship has a dual-screen case, which effectively turns the phone into a foldable.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Memory: 6GB RAM, 128GB internal
  • Price: Unknown

Samsung Galaxy Fold

The Galaxy Fold is likely to be the most talked-about phone out of MWC because 1) it folds and 2) it’s made by the biggest phone maker in the world. The handset, with a 7.3-inch 1536×2152 Super AMOLED unfolded display and a 4.6-inch cover display, will be available April 26.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 4,380mAh
  • Memory: 12GB RAM, 512GB internal
  • Price: $1,980
  • Size: 17mm folded

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G

The Samsung S10 5G is exactly what you would expect it to be. It’s packed with all the bells and whistles that might appeal to the customer who wants the top of the line phone regardless of price. It sports a 6.7-inch 1440×3040 AMOLED display.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Memory: 8GB RAM, 256GB internal
  • Price: Unknown

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

Interestingly, Xiaomi opted to leave 5G out of its flagship phone for the year, the Mi 9. That said, the 5G Mi Mix 3 has a handful of its own interesting features, including a sliding front-facing camera that results in a 93.4 percent screen-to-body ratio. It also has a dual-camera system that offers the ability to shoot slow-mo videos at 960 frames per second.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 3,800mAh
  • Memory: 6GB RAM, 64GB/128GB internal
  • Price: $680

ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G

The Axon 10 Pro 5G doesn’t have many tricks, like a folding display, but it does come with a triple-camera system and what appears to be an in-display fingerprint reader. It also sports a 6.7-inch 1080p display. The phone will definitely launch in Europe and China, but no word on whether it will make its way stateside.

Some other specs:

  • Processor: Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Memory: 6GB RAM, 128GB internal
  • Price: Unknown

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The Google Assistant gets a button

Posted by | Android, Assistant, Google Assistant, LG, Nokia, operating systems, PIXEL, Samsung, smartphones, TC, Xiaomi | No Comments

Traditionally, the Google Assistant always lived under the home button on Android phones, but as the company announced at MWC today, LG, Nokia, Xiaomi, TCL and Vivo are about to launch phones with dedicated assistant buttons, similar to what Samsung has long done with its Bixby assistant.

The new phones with the button that are launching this week are the LG G8 ThinQ and K40 and the Nokia 3.2 and 4.2. The upcoming Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G and Mi 9, as well as new phones from Vivo (including the Vivo V15 Pro) and TCL will also feature a dedicated Assistant button. With this, Google expects that over 100 million devices will soon offer this feature.

With a dedicated button, Google can also build a few new features into the Android OS, too, that’ll make it easier to bring up some Assistant features that were traditionally always a few taps away.

As expected, a single tap on the button will bring up the Assistant, just like a long tap on your phone does today. A double tap will bring up the Assistant’s visual snapshot feature that provides you with contextual information about your day and location (similar to the sorely missed Google Now of days gone by). A long press activates what Google calls a “walkie talkie feature.” This ensures that the Assistant listens to longer queries, which Google says is “perfect for emails or long text message.”

It’s interesting to see that the Android ecosystem is now building these buttons into phones (and we can probably assume that Google’s own next-gen Pixel devices or the fabled low-end Pixel 3 will have one, too). They will make it easier to discover the Assistant, of course, and maybe get people to use it more often, too — and that’s surely what Google is hoping for.

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What to expect from Mobile World Congress 2019

Posted by | 5g, events, foldables, hardware, LG, Mobile, mwc, mwc 2019, OnePlus, Samsung, Sony | No Comments

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 2019 just might be the year that smartphones get fun again. After years of similar form factors and slight upgrades, the mobile industry’s back is against the wall.

For the first time ever, sales are down, owning to economic factors and slower upgrade cycles. Most people who want good phones have had access to them for a while, and smartphone makers are providing fewer compelling reasons to buy new ones.

With their backs against the wall, handset makers are getting creative. We’ve already seen some early fruits from companies late last year and last month at CES. But MWC is really going to be their time to shine. It’s a much larger mobile show, and all parties know that everyone’s bringing the big guns.

Here’s what we expect to see in Barcelona February 24-28.

Huawei: The company looks to have a lot on tap for the event — in part because the North America-based CES is kind of a non-starter. CEO Richard Yu has hinted at a foldable and a 5G handset — which could well be the same phone. More mainstream are the P30 and P30 Pro. The company’s done a good job keeping it under wraps, but rumors about three or four rear-lenses have made the rounds.

LG: As is its move, LG has already announced the G8 ThinQ. We know that the new flagship will feature a front-facing camera with Time of Flight sensor that brings potential tricks like face unlock, along with AR applications. The V50 is also reportedly on tap, potentially bringing 5G along for the ride.

Microsoft: A surprise addition to this year’s show, Microsoft’s already announced an event for February 24, where we expect the company will show off the HoloLens 2. The next-gen version of the headset will arrive as the rest of the hardware and software world is finally ready to embrace augmented reality in earnest.

Motorola: The recent launch of the G7 may have taken the wind out of MWC’s sails, but rumors of a foldable Razr reboot are making the rounds.

OnePlus: We know that a 5G handset and the OnePlus 7 are both in the pipeline — and, perhaps, one and the same? There’s also tell of a closed-door event at the show, but most aren’t expecting any big unveils from the company.

Samsung: Don’t expect a ton out of Samsung this year. The company (inconveniently) is holding its big event a mere days before. Expect the S10 and all its iterations to get a big unveil that week in San Francisco, along with a preview of the company’s upcoming foldable. That doesn’t leave a heck of a lot for MWC, but perhaps we’ll get a peek into the world of wearables or PCs.

Sony: While Xperia phones have long felt like a bit of a loss leader, the electronics giant has always made a big show of launching flagship devices. Those, in turn, have long been a launchpad for some exciting camera tricks. This year, the Xperia XZ4 appears to be on tap for the event. The handset looks to be an interesting one, with a reported 21:9 aspect ratio display and a beefy 4,400 mAh battery.

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Poor smartphones sales drag LG to first quarterly loss in 2 years

Posted by | Android, Asia, Companies, HTC, LG, LG Electronics, Mobile, smartphone, smartphones | No Comments

We’ve written extensively about LG’s struggling mobile business, which has suffered at the hands of aggressive Chinese Android makers, and now that unit has dragged its parent company into posting its first quarterly loss for two years.

The Korean electronics giant is generally in good health — it posted a $2.4 billion profit for 2018 — but its smartphone business’s failings saw it post a loss in Q4 2018, its first quarterly negative since Q4 2016.

Overall, the company posted a KRW 75.7 billion ($67.1 million) operating loss as revenue slid seven percent year-on-year to KRW 15.77 trillion ($13.99 billion). LG said the change was “primarily due to lower sales of mobile products.”

We’ve known for some time that LG’s mobile business is strugglingthe division got another new head last November — but things went from bad to worse in Q4. LG Mobile saw revenue fall by 42 percent to reach KRW 1.71 trillion, $1.51 billion. The operating loss for the period grew to KRW 322.3 billion, or $289.8 million, from KRW 216.3 billion, $194 million, one year previous.

Over the full year, LG Mobile posted a $700 million loss (KRW 790.1 billion) but the company claimed things are improving thanks to “better material cost controls and overhead efficiencies based on the company’s platform modularization strategy.”

LG used CES to showcase a range of home entertainment products — that division is doing far better than mobile, with a record annual profit of $1.35 billion in 2018 — so we’ll have to wait until Mobile World Congress in February to see exactly what LG has in mind. Already, though, we have a suggestion, and it isn’t exactly set-the-world-on-fire stuff.

“LG’s mobile division will push 5G products and smartphones featuring different form factors while focusing on key markets where the LG brand remains strong,” the company said in a statement.

It will certainly take something very special to turn things around. It seems more likely that LG Mobile head Brian Kwon — who also heads up that hugely profitable home entertainment business — will focus on cutting costs and squeezing out the few sweet spots left. Continued losses, particularly against success from other units, might eventually see LG shutter its mobile business.

Still, things could be worse for LG — it could be HTC.

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LG hints at gesture interface for smartphone flagship next month

Posted by | Android, barcelona, gesture interface, hardware, leap motion, LG, LG Premiere, Mobile, mwc, MWC2019, Samsung, smartphone, smartphone hardware, smartphones, TC, touchscreen | No Comments

LG has put out a gesture-heavy hint ahead of the annual unveiling of new smartphone hardware at the world’s biggest mobile confab, Mobile World Congress, which kicks off in a month’s time.

The brief video teaser for its forthcoming MWC press event in Barcelona, which was shared today via LG’s social media channels, shows a man’s hand swiping to change on-screen content, including the message “goodbye touch.”

The title of LG’s teaser video includes the name “LG Premiere,” which could be the name of the forthcoming flagship — albeit that would be confusingly similar to the mid-tier LG Premier of yore. So, hopefully the company is going to make that last ‘e’ really count.

Beyond some very unsubtle magic wand sound effects to draw extra attention to the contactless gestures, the video offers very little to go on. But we’re pretty sure LG is not about to pivot away from touchscreens entirely.

Rather, we’re betting on some sort of Leap Motion -style gesture control interface being added to the front of the handset, using sensors to detect a hovering hand, for example — probably accompanied by heavy marketing about how filthy-with-germs phone screens are so it’s totally better you don’t actually touch them.

Safe to say, the idea looks terribly gimmicky. Or, well, just terrible. This kind of stuff has been tried (and failed to stick) plenty of times before — as long ago as a decade, in the now no longer mobile-maker Sony Ericcson’s case.

Samsung also added a gesture feature, called Air Gesture, to some of its handsets more than five years old — which lets smartphone users do things like wave to answer a call or swipe through air to scroll up. Some of its smartphones also offer hands-free scrolling via facial tracking.

Yet smartphone users everywhere still seem as hooked as ever on actually fingering their touchscreens. And gesture-based interfaces have, fittingly enough, largely failed to stick.

Although you could view Apple’s Face ID technology as a form of non-touch gesture control, as my TC colleague Ingrid Lunden suggests. Albeit the primary point in that case is security/authentication, so it’s more than just a frictionless way to interact with a device without touching it.

Smartphone makers — and Android OEMs especially — are under acute pressure to stand out in a fiercely competitive and growth-stalled market. So despite a flighty history for gesture interfaces on mobile, a bunch of hardware experiments look to be in play, such as whatever LG’s cooking.

And that includes — as we noted earlier today — what’s now open flirtation with foldable tablet smartphones (see: Xiaomi teased a double folder phone.)

We’ll be on the ground in Barcelona to bring you news of all the major hardware releases next month — including keeping an eye on whatever LG is preparing to unbox (but not actually touch) on February 24. So stay tuned.

We just hope that another detail in LG’s description for the teaser video, in which it asks its followers whether they’re “prepared to get stunned by the LG Premiere,” does not augur a highly potent new form of contactless haptic feedback.

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The top smartphone trends to watch in 2019

Posted by | 2018 Roundup, 5g, 5g network, Android, Apple, artificial intelligence, AT&T, Google, HTC, huawei, LG, Mobile, mobile phones, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics, smartphone, smartphones, sprint, TC, Verizon | No Comments

This was a bad year for the smartphone. For the first time, its seemingly unstoppable growth began to slow.

Things started off on a bad note in February, when Gartner recorded its first year-over-year decline since it began tracking the category. Not even the mighty Apple was immune from the trend. Last week, stocks took a hit as influential analyst Ming-Chi Kuo downgraded sales expectations for 2019.

People simply aren’t upgrading as fast as they used to. This is due in part to the fact that flagship phones are pretty good across the board. Manufacturers have painted themselves into a corner as they’ve battled it out over specs. There just aren’t as many compelling reasons to continually upgrade.

Of course, that’s not going to stop them from trying. Along with the standard upgrades to things like cameras, you can expect some radical rethinks of smartphone form factors, along with the first few pushes into 5G in the next calendar year.

If we’re lucky, there will be a few surprises along the way as well, but the following trends all look like no-brainers for 2019.

5G

Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – DECEMBER 06: Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. The three-day conference opened on Thursday, with the theme of 5G network. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? It’s a bit tricky — after all, plenty of publications are going to claim 2019 as “The Year of 5G,” but they’re all jumping the gun. It’s true that we’re going to see the first wave of 5G handsets appearing next year.

OnePlus and LG have committed to a handset and Samsung, being Samsung, has since committed to two. We’ve also seen promises of a Verizon 5G MiFi and whatever the hell this thing is from HTC and Sprint.

Others, most notably Apple, are absent from the list. The company is not expected to release a 5G handset until 2020. While that’s going to put it behind the curve, the truth of the matter is that 5G will arrive into this world as a marketing gimmick. When it does fully roll out, 5G has the potential to be a great, gaming-changing technology for smartphones and beyond. And while carriers have promised to begin rolling out the technology in the States early next year (AT&T even got a jump start), the fact of the matter is that your handset will likely spend a lot more time using 4G.

That is to say, until 5G becomes more ubiquitous, you’re going to be paying a hefty premium for a feature you barely use. Of course, that’s not going to stop hardware makers, component manufacturers and their carrier partners from rushing these devices to market as quickly as possible. Just be aware of your chosen carrier’s coverage map before shelling out that extra cash.

Foldables

We’ve already seen two — well, one-and-a-half, really. And you can be sure we’ll see even more as smartphone manufacturers scramble to figure out the next big thing. After years of waiting, we’ve been pretty unimpressed with the foldable smartphone we’ve seen so far.

The Royole is fascinating, but its execution leaves something to be desired. Samsung’s prototype, meanwhile, is just that. The company made it the centerpiece of its recent developer conference, but didn’t really step out of the shadows with the product — almost certainly because they’re not ready to show off the full product.

Now that the long-promised technology is ready in consumer form, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing a number of companies exploring the form factor. That will no doubt be helped along by the fact that Google partnered with Samsung to create a version of Android tailored to the form factor — similar to its embrace of the top notch with Android Pie.

Of course, like 5G, these designs are going to come at a major premium. Once the initial novelty has worn off, the hardest task of all will be convincing consumers they need one in their life.

Pinholes

Bezels be damned. For better or worse, the notch has been a mainstay of flagship smartphones. Practically everyone (save for Samsung) has embraced the cutout in an attempt to go edge to edge. Even Google made it a part of Android (while giving the world a notch you can see from space with the Pixel 3 XL).

We’ve already seen (and will continue to see) a number of clever workarounds like Oppo’s pop-up. The pin hole/hole punch design found on the Huawei Nova 4 seems like a more reasonable route for a majority of camera manufacturers.

Embedded Fingerprint Readers

The flip side of the race to infinite displays is what to do with the fingerprint reader. Some moved it to the rear, while others, like Apple, did away with it in favor of face scanning. Of course, for those unable to register a full 3D face scan, that tech is pretty easy to spoof. For that reason, fingerprint scanners aren’t going away any time soon.

OnePlus’ 6T was among the first to bring the in-display fingerprint scanner to market, and it works like a charm. Here’s how the tech works (quoting from my own writeup from a few months ago):

When the screen is locked, a fingerprint icon pops up, showing you where to press. When the finger is in the right spot, the AMOLED display flashes a bright light to capture a scan of the surface from the reflected light. The company says it takes around a third of a second, though in my own testing, that number was closer to one second or sometimes longer as I negotiated my thumb into the right spot.

Samsung’s S10 is expected to bring that technology when it arrives around the February time frame, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of other manufacturers follow suit.

Cameras, cameras, cameras (also, cameras)

What’s the reasonable limit for rear-facing cameras? Two? Three? What about the five cameras on that leaked Nokia from a few months back? When does it stop being a phone back and start being a camera front? These are the sorts of existential crises we’ll have to grapple with as manufacturers continue to attempt differentiation through imagining.

Smartphone cameras are pretty good across the board these days, so one of the simple solutions has been simply adding more to the equation. LG’s latest offers a pretty reasonable example of how this will play out for many. The V40 ThinQ has two front and three rear-facing cameras. The three on the back are standard, super wide-angle and 2x optical zoom, offering a way to capture different types of images when a smartphone camera isn’t really capable of that kind of optical zoom in a thin form factor.

On the flip side, companies will also be investing a fair deal in software to help bring better shots to existing components. Apple and Google both demonstrated how a little AI and ML can go a long way toward improving image capture on their last handsets. Expect much of that to be focused on ultra-low light and zoom.

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