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No technical reason to exclude Huawei as 5G supplier, says UK committee

Posted by | 5g, Asia, Australia, China, cyber security, Ericsson, Europe, huawei, human rights, Ian Levy, Internet of Things, jeremy wright, Mobile, National Cyber Security Centre, national security, Nokia, privacy, Security, TC, telecommunications, United Kingdom, United States, zte | No Comments

A UK parliamentary committee has concluded there are no technical grounds for excluding Chinese network kit vendor Huawei from the country’s 5G networks.

In a letter from the chair of the Science & Technology Committee to the UK’s digital minister Jeremy Wright, the committee says: “We have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response to the potential security threat posed by foreign suppliers.”

Though the committee does go on to recommend the government mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of 5G networks, noting that UK mobile network operators have “mostly” done so already — but on a voluntary basis.

If it places a formal requirement on operators not to use Huawei for core supply the committee urges the government to provide “clear criteria” for the exclusion so that it could be applied to other suppliers in future.

Reached for a response to the recommendations, a government spokesperson told us: “The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.”

The spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport added: “The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course. We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the Government’s decision.”

In recent years the US administration has been putting pressure on allies around the world to entirely exclude Huawei from 5G networks — claiming the Chinese company poses a national security risk.

Australia announced it was banning Huawei and another Chinese vendor ZTE from providing kit for its 5G networks last year. Though in Europe there has not been a rush to follow the US lead and slam the door on Chinese tech giants.

In April leaked information from a UK Cabinet meeting suggested the government had settled on a policy of granting Huawei access as a supplier for some non-core parts of domestic 5G networks, while requiring they be excluded from supplying components for use in network cores.

On this somewhat fuzzy issue of delineating core vs non-core elements of 5G networks, the committee writes that it “heard unanimously and clearly” from witnesses that there will still be a distinction between the two in the next-gen networks.

It also cites testimony by the technical director of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Dr Ian Levy, who told it “geography matters in 5G”, and pointed out Australia and the UK have very different “laydowns” — meaning “we may have exactly the same technical understanding, but come to very different conclusions”.

In a response statement to the committee’s letter, Huawei SVP Victor Zhang welcomed the committee’s “key conclusion” before going on to take a thinly veiled swiped at the US — writing: “We are reassured that the UK, unlike others, is taking an evidence based approach to network security. Huawei complies with the laws and regulations in all the markets where we operate.”

The committee’s assessment is not all comfortable reading for Huawei, though, with the letter also flagging the damning conclusions of the most recent Huawei Oversight Board report which found “serious and systematic defects” in its software engineering and cyber security competence — and urging the government to monitor Huawei’s response to the raised security concerns, and to “be prepared to act to restrict the use of Huawei equipment if progress is unsatisfactory”.

Huawei has previously pledged to spend $2BN addressing security shortcomings related to its UK business — a figure it was forced to qualify as an “initial budget” after that same Oversight Board report.

“It is clear that Huawei must improve the standard of its cybersecurity,” the committee warns.

It also suggests the government consults on whether telecoms regulator Ofcom needs stronger powers to be able to force network suppliers to clean up their security act, writing that: “While it is reassuring to hear that network operators share this point of view and are ready to use commercial pressure to encourage this, there is currently limited regulatory power to enforce this.”

Another committee recommendation is for the NCSC to be consulted on whether similar security evaluation mechanisms should be established for other 5G vendors — such as Ericsson and Nokia: Two European based kit vendors which, unlike Huawei, are expected to be supplying core 5G.

“It is worth noting that an assurance system comparable to the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre does not exist for other vendors. The shortcomings in Huawei’s cyber security reported by the Centre cannot therefore be directly compared to the cyber security of other vendors,” it notes.

On the issue of 5G security generally the committee dubs this “critical”, adding that “all steps must be taken to ensure that the risks are as low as reasonably possible”.

Where “essential services” that make use of 5G networks are concerned, the committee says witnesses were clear such services must be able to continue to operate safely even if the network connection is disrupted. Government must ensure measures are put in place to safeguard operation in the event of cyber attacks, floods, power cuts and other comparable events, it adds. 

While the committee concludes there is no technical reason to limit Huawei’s access to UK 5G, the letter does make a point of highlighting other considerations, most notably human rights abuses, emphasizing its conclusion does not factor them in at all — and pointing out: “There may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds… to enact a ban on Huawei’s equipment”.

It adds that Huawei’s global cyber security and privacy officer, John Suffolk, confirmed that a third party had supplied Huawei services to Xinjiang’s Public Security Bureau, despite Huawei forbidding its own employees from misusing IT and comms tech to carry out surveillance of users.

The committee suggests Huawei technology may therefore be being used to “permit the appalling treatment of Muslims in Western China”.

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Huawei says two-thirds of 5G networks outside China now use its gear

Posted by | 5g, Alphabet, Android, Asia, carrier, ceo, China, Companies, finland, hardware, huawei, india, Nokia, operating system, president, Rajeev Suri, Ren Zhengfei, shenzhen, smartphone, south korea, spokesperson, switzerland, telecommunications, Trump administration, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

As 5G networks begin rolling out and commercializing around the world, telecoms vendors are rushing to get a headstart. Huawei equipment is now behind two-thirds of the commercially launched 5G networks outside China, said president of Huawei’s carrier business group Ryan Ding on Tuesday at an industry conference.

Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecoms gear, has nabbed 50 commercial 5G contracts outside its home base from countries including South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Finland and more. In all, the Shenzhen-based firm has shipped more than 150,000 base stations, according to Ding.

It’s worth noting that network carriers can work with more than one providers to deploy different parts of their 5G base stations. Huawei offers what it calls an end-to-end network solution or a full system of hardware, but whether a carrier plans to buy from multiple suppliers is contingent on their needs and local regulations, a Huawei spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In China, for instance, both Ericsson and Nokia have secured 5G contracts from state-run carrier China Mobile (although Nokia’s Chinese entity, a joint venture with Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, is directly controlled by China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission).

Huawei’s handsome number of deals came despite the U.S’s ongoing effort to lobby its allies against using its equipment. In May, the Trump administration put Huawei on a trade blacklist over concerns around the firm’s spying capabilities, a move that has effectively banned U.S. companies from doing businesses with the Shenzhen-based giant.

Huawei’s overall share in the U.S. telecoms market has so far been negligible, but many rural carriers have long depended on its high-performing, cost-saving hardware. That might soon end as the U.S. pressures small-town network operators to quit buying from Huawei, Reuters reported this week.

To appease potential clients, Huawei has gone around the world offering no-backdoors pacts to local governments of the U.K. and most recently India.

Huawei is in a neck and neck fight with rivals Nokia and Ericsson. In early June, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri said in an interview with Bloomberg that the firm had won “two-thirds of the time” in bidding contracts against Ericcson and competed “quite favorably with Huawei.” Nokia at the time landed 42 5G contracts, while Huawei numbered 40 and Ericsson scored 19.

Huawei’s challenges go well beyond the realm of its carrier business. Its fast-growing smartphone unit is also getting the heat as the U.S. ban threatens to cut it off from Alphabet, whose Android operating system is used in Huawei phone, as well as a range of big chip suppliers.

Huawei CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei noted that trade restrictions may compromise the firm’s output in the short term. Total revenues are expected to dip $30 billion below estimates over the next two years, and overseas smartphone shipment faces a 40% plunge. Ren, however, is bullish that the firm’s sales would bounce back after a temporary period of adjustment while it works towards self-dependence by developing its own OS, chips and other core technologies.

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Trump’s Huawei ban also causing tech shocks in Europe

Posted by | Android, China, Europe, european commission, finland, Google, Google Play, Government, huawei, Jolla, Mobile, Nokia, play store, Qwant, Sami Pienimäki, search engine, smartphone, smartphones, stmicroelectronics, Trade war, trump, United States | No Comments

The escalating U.S.-China trade war that’s seen Chinese tech giant Huawei slapped on a U.S. trade blacklist is causing ripples of shock across Europe too, as restrictions imposed on U.S. companies hit regional suppliers concerned they could face U.S. restrictions if they don’t ditch Huawei.

Reuters reports shares fell sharply today in three European chipmakers — Infineon Technologies, AMS and STMicroelectronics — after reports suggested some already had, or were about to, halt shipments to Huawei following the executive order barring U.S. firms from trading with the Chinese tech giant.

The interconnectedness of high-tech supply chains coupled with U.S. dominance of the sector and Huawei’s strong regional position as a supplier of cellular, IT and network kit in Europe suddenly makes political risk a fast-accelerating threat for EU technology companies, large and small.

On the small side is French startup Qwant, which competes with Google by offering a pro-privacy search engine. In recent months it has been hoping to leverage a European antitrust decision against Google  Android last year to get smartphones to market in Europe that preload its search engine, not Google’s.

Huawei was its intended first major partner for such devices. Though, prior to recent trade war developments, it was already facing difficulties related to price incentives Google included in reworked EU Android licensing terms.

Still, the U.S.-China trade war threatens to throw a far more existential spanner in European Commission efforts to reset the competitive planning field for smartphone services — certainly if Google’s response to Huawei’s blacklisting is to torch its supply of almost all Android-related services, per Reuters.

A key aim of the EU antitrust decision was intended to support the unbundling of popular Google services from Android so that device makers can try selling combinations that aren’t entirely Google-flavored — while still being able to offer enough “Google” to excite consumers (such as preloading the Play Store but with a different search and browser bundle instead of the usual Google + Chrome combo).

Yet if Google intends to limit Huawei’s access to such key services, there’s little chance of that.

(In a statement responding to the Reuters report Google suggested it’s still deciding how to proceed, with a spokesperson writing: “We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications. For users of our services, Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices.”)

Going on Google’s initial response, Qwant co-founder and CEO Eric Léandri told us he thinks Google has overreacted — even as he dubbed the U.S.-China trade war “world war III — economical war but it’s a world war for sure.”

“I really need to see exactly what President Trump has said about Huawei and how to work with them. Because I think maybe Google has overreacted. Because I haven’t [interpreted it] that way so I’m very surprised,” he told TechCrunch.

“If Huawei can be [blacklisted] what about the others?,” he added. “Because I would say 60% of the cell phone sales in Europe today are coming from China. Huawei or ZTE, OnePlus and the others — they are all under the same kind of risk.

“Even some of our European brands who are very small like Nokia… all of them are made in China, usually with partnership with these big cell phone manufacturers. So that means several things but one thing that I’m sure is we should not rely on one OS. It would be difficult to explain how the Play Store is not as important as the search in Android.”

Léandri also questioned whether Google’s response to the blacklisting will include instructing Huawei not to even use its search engine — a move that could impact its share of the smartphone search market.

“At the end of the day there is just one thing I can say because I’m just a search engine and a European one — I haven’t seen Google asking to not be by default in Huawei as search engine. If they can be in the Huawei by default as a search engine so I presume that everyone else can be there.”

Léandri said Qwant will be watching to see what Huawei’s next steps will be — such as whether it will decide to try offering devices with its own store baked in in Europe.

And indeed how China will react.

“We have to understand the result politically, globally, the European consequences. The European attitude. It’s not only American and China — the rest of the world exists,” he said.

“I have plan b, plan c, plan d, plan f. To be clear we are a startup — so we can have tonnes of plans, The only thing is right now is it’s too enormous.

“I know that they are the two giants in the tech field… but the rest of the world have some words today and let’s see how the European Commission will react, my government will react and some of us will react because it’s not only a small commercial problem right now. It’s a real political power demonstration and it’s global so I will not be more — I am nobody in all this. I do my job and I do my job well and I will use the maximum opportunity that I can find on the market.”

We’ve reached out to the Commission to ask how it intends to respond to escalating risks for European tech firms as Trump’s trade war steps up.

Also today, Reuters reports that the German Economy Minister is examining the impact of U.S. sanctions against Huawei on local companies.

But while a startup like Qwant waits to see what the next few months will bring — and how the landscape of the smartphone market might radically reconfigure in the face of sharply spiking political risk, a different European startup is hoping to catch some uplift: Finland-based Jolla steers development of a made-in-Europe Android alternative, called Sailfish OS.

It’s a very tiny player in a Google-dominated smartphone world. Yet could be positioned to make gains amid U.S. and Chinese tech clashes — which in turn risk making major platform pieces feel a whole lot less stable.

A made-in-Europe non-Google-led OS might gain more ground among risk averse governments and enterprises — as a sensible hedge against Trump-fueled global uncertainty.

“Sailfish OS, as a non-American, open-source based, secure mobile OS platform, is naturally an interesting option for different players — currently the interest is stronger among corporate and governmental customers and partners, as our product offering is clearly focused on this segment,” says Jolla co-founder and CEO Sami Pienimäki .

“Overall, there definitely has been increased interest towards Sailfish OS as a mobile OS platform in different parts of the world, partly triggered by the on-going political activity in many locations. We have also had clearly more discussions with e.g. Chinese device manufacturers, and Jolla has also recently started new corporate and governmental customer projects in Europe.”

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Light is expanding from smartphone cameras to self-driving cars

Posted by | hardware, hmd, Light, Mobile, mwc 2019, Nokia, Sony, Xiaomi | No Comments

This year’s MWC has been very much the beginning of a new phase for Light. Until now, the Palo Alto startup has been best known for its 16-lens DSLR competitor, an utterly fascinating, if not particularly practical device.

At this week’s show, however, we’re seeing a wholly different side of the company, one focused on partnerships. The event has seen the company announce three big alliances — Nokia device maker HMD, Chinese handset company Xiaomi and Sony, whose component manufacturing division will be teaming with Light to develop advanced modules for its near-near-ubiquitous camera hardware.

It’s a promising new start for the five-year-old company, and one that could help Light become a major player for mobile cameras going forward. In an interview, CEO Dave Grannan told TechCrunch that the trio of deals are just the beginning, with more partnerships planned for a 2019 announcement.

The Nokia 9 is the first product of these deals. Announced at the show this week, the five-camera limited-edition flagship is the product of a module that appeared last year, utilizing the array to create complex composite image similar to the sorts of RAW shots one takes with an SLR. It’s one of a number of different arrays that can utilize Light’s technology to build a better mobile multi-camera system.

“When we started Light five years ago, it wasn’t obvious that we would build a dedicated camera to begin with,” Grannan tells TechCrunch. “We realized that we really needed to build a reference device. Something to show the world what could be done. The idea from the first days was to prove to the world that it could be done and then start licensing our technology into other verticals starting with mobile phones.”

The proof-of-concept 16-camera system was always meant to be a limited-edition product, according to the executive, and it ultimately sold out of its initial run. That number was in the tens of thousands, according to Grannan, though he won’t go into any more detail beyond that.

He was happy to discuss the startup’s future, however. In July, Light raised a whopping $121 million, led by SoftBank, bringing its total funding up to $181 million. It was the CEO Masayoshi Son who suggested the next step in the company’s evolution, moving to autonomous vehicles. While Light would be a new entrant in a field that already involves dozens of focused startups, Grannan believes it can offer imaging systems at a fraction of the cost of current LIDAR rigs — at around $5,000 apiece.

Light also plans to expand into security cameras, helping systems better process the information they collect. For now, however, it’s focused on mobile. And in spite of a push toward a more software-focused approached to mobile camera improvement, Grannan believes that phone camera arrays will continue to expand — though perhaps not quite to the 16-camera level Light implemented on its own devices. Currently the company is working on a nine-camera module.

“Within a couple of years, three cameras will seem quaint,” Grannan says. “People are going to need this approach because it’s never good enough with imaging.”

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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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Need cameras? The Nokia 9 PureView has lots

Posted by | hardware, hmd, Mobile, mwc 2019, Nokia | No Comments

You want camera? The Nokia 9 PureView has them — more than you could ever possibly need, really. The latest premium device from HMD sports a five camera hexagonal array, along with the flash and color sensors. The two front-facing cameras, meanwhile, bring the total up to seven.

Overkill? Yeah, probably. But the device certainly maintains the Nokia brand’s legacy of pushing mobile imaging to its limits. What’s most interesting here, is how it all works. Rather than, say, switching between different focal points, the device takes shots on all five at once, fusing them together into one big picture.

Working in tandem, the cameras capture more than 60-megapixels worth of data. The system builds on the expertise of Light (the name of the even more silly nine-camera array) and Qualcomm to process the information into one complex photo that allows for tremendous editing leeway and deep depth maps. Users can shoot in RAW format and edit those images with the mobile version of Lightroom, made available through a partnership with Adobe.

The phone’s design is nice — certainly one of the newly reborn Nokia brand’s nicer to date. Though the rest of the aspects are fairly middling, including a 5.99 inch POLED display and a Snapdragon 845 chipset.

The price is right. At $699, it’s a decent mid-range phone with a heck of a gimmick. HMD, however, seems to be keenly aware that this one will have a relatively niche appeal. The company says it’s a limited edition device with a “defined production run.” No word what that means in terms of numbers, and it seems pretty reasonable to expect HMD to make this manner of device more widely available should it sell.

No word on timing, but HMD says we should expect the product to be available in the States.

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HMD keeps feature phones and Snake alive with the Nokia 210

Posted by | hardware, hmd, Mobile, mwc 2019, Nokia | No Comments

HMD was something of an instant success when it launched at Mobile World Congress two years back. That rapid rise owed to a few key things: price, familiar branding and its predecessor’s long time commitment to the feature phone.

Those who’ve been following the industry for some time will recall that the original Nokia mobile wasn’t particularly quick to adopt the smartphone lifestyle, but the company maintained marketshare by catering to the low end of the market. HMD has continued to embrace the category by re-releasing some familiar designs and creating altogether new non-smart phones.

While it shares a number with the QWERTY-sporting Asha, the Nokia 210 is more burner than BlackBerry. The Palm-sized handset sports a small screen, surrounded by thick casing and some big buttons. The handset can access the internet via Opera mini, so users can do some light social network.

And yes, it runs Snake.

HMD promises an impressive month of battery life, packed into a handset that should run around €30 ($34).

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HMD Nokia phones are coming to Verizon, Cricket and Rogers

Posted by | cricket, hardware, hmd, Mobile, Nokia, Verizon | No Comments

The North American market can be a tough one to crack for a number of reasons, not the least of which is consumers’ continued reliance on carriers. Without their distribution channels, most handset makers just can’t get a foothold here. In a meeting earlier this week, HMD told me that North America is going to be its primary focus for 2019, a push that starts with a trio of carrier deals.

This morning, the Finnish smartphone maker announced that it will be bringing its Nokia-branded Android handsets to a trio of key carriers — Verizon and Cricket in the U.S. and Rogers in Canada. The U.S. devices are arriving this month, with Rogers’ arriving “very soon” through its Chatr brand.

Cricket users will get access to the Nokia 3.1 Plus, which focuses primarily on its 3,500mAh battery, which the company optimistically puts at two days of life. It’s a budget device, of course, priced at $160, sporting a 5.99-inch screen, a middling Snapdragon 439 and dual rear-facing cameras.

Verizon users will get access to the Nokia 2 V, which sports an even larger 4,000mAh battery and a 5.5-inch screen. That one will be available through Verizon stores on January 30. Rogers, meanwhile, will be getting the Nokia 2.1.

HMD’s already had pretty solid growth in its first few years of existence, bucking the trend of an otherwise stagnate mobile market. That growth comes thanks in part to its out of the gate brand recognition from acquiring Nokia IP, some buzzy early retro handsets, a focus on budget devices and its continued commitment to the oft-neglected feature phone market.

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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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Light is building a smartphone with five to nine cameras

Posted by | Camera phone, camera+, consumer electronics, equipment, Gadgets, huawei, iPhone, Light, Microsoft, Mobile, mobile phones, Nokia, Nokia Lumia, Pureview, smartphone, smartphones, The Washington Post | No Comments

Light, the company behind the wild L16 camera, is building a smartphone equipped with multiple cameras. According to The Washington Post, the company is prototyping a smartphone with five to nine cameras that’s capable of capturing a 64 megapixel shot.

The entire package is not much thicker than an iPhone X, the Post reports. The additional sensors are said to increase the phone’s low-light performance and depth effects and uses internal processing to stick the image together.

This is the logical end-point for Light. The company introduced the $1,950 L16 camera back in 2015 and starting shipping it in 2017. The camera uses 16 lenses to capture 52 megapixel imagery. The results are impressive, especially when the size of the camera is considered. It’s truly pocketable. Yet in the end, consumers want the convenience of a phone with the power of a dedicated camera.

Light is not alone in building a super cameraphone. Camera maker RED is nearing the release of its smartphone that rocks a modular lens system and can be used as a viewfinder for RED’s cinema cameras. Huawei also just released the P21 Pro that uses three lenses to give the user the best possible option for color, monochrome and zoom. Years ago, Nokia played with high megapixel phones, stuffing a 41 MP sensor in the Lumia 1020 and PureView 808.

Unfortunately, additional details about the Light phone are unavailable. It’s unclear when this phone will be released. We reached out to Light for comment and will update this report with its response.

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