smartphones

MicroEJ is taking over IoT on Earth and beyond

Posted by | Android, Developer, esa, European Space Agency, Flash, Google, Internet of Things, IoT, Iridium, Java, satellite communications, smartphone, smartphones, Space, TC | No Comments

The internet of things (IoT) market is expanding at a rate where distinguishing it as a separate category is beginning to seem a bit absurd. Increasingly, new products — and updates of existing ones — are smart and/or connected. One company is changing the fundamental calculus behind this shift by lowering the barrier considerably when it comes to what it costs to make something ‘smart,’ both in terms of the upfront bill of materials, along with subsequent support and development costs.

MicroEJ CEO Fred Rivard took me through his company’s history from its founding in 2004 until now. Much of those earlier years were spent in development, but since around 2012 or so, the French company has been deploying for IoT devices what Android is to smartphones — a flexible, extensible platform that can operate on a wide range of hardware profiles while being relatively easy to target for application and feature developers. MicroEJ takes the ‘code once, deploy anywhere’ maxim to the extreme, since its platform is designed from the ground up to be incredibly conservative when it comes to resource consumption, meaning it can run on hardware with as little as one-tenth or more the bill of materials cost of running more complex operating platforms — like Android Things, for instance.

“We take category of device where currently, Android is too big,” Rivard said. “So it doesn’t fit, even though you would like to have the capability to add software easily devices, but you can’t because Android is too big. The cost of entry is roughly $10 to $15 per unit in hardware and bill of material — that’s the cost of Android […] So it would be great to be able to run an Android layer, but you can’t just because of the cost. So we managed to reduce that cost, and to basically design a very small layer that’s1000 times smarter than Android.”

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Have we hit peak smartphone?

Posted by | 5g, Apple, AT&T, Google, hardware, huawei, Mobile, Qualcomm, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, smartphones, T-Mobile, TC, telecommunications, Verizon Communications | No Comments

Last Halloween, we broke down some “good news” from a Canalys report: the smartphone industry saw one-percent year-over-year growth — not exactly the sort of thing that sparks strong consumer confidence.

In short, 2019 sucked for smartphones, as did the year before. After what was nearly an ascendant decade, sales petered off globally with few exceptions. Honestly, there’s no need to cherrypick this stuff; the numbers this year have been lackluster at best for a majority of companies in a majority of markets.

For just the most recent example, let’s turn to a report from Gartner that dropped late last month. The numbers focus specifically on the third quarter, but they’re pretty indicative of what we’ve been seeing from the industry of late, with a 0.4 percent drop in sales. It’s a fairly consistent story, quarter after quarter for a couple of years now.

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DuckDuckGo still critical of Google’s EU Android choice screen auction, after wining a universal slot

Posted by | Android, antitrust, competition law, DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, eu commission, Europe, european commission, european union, Google, google search, Info.com, Microsoft, privacy, Qwant, search engine, search engines, smartphones, Yandex | No Comments

Google has announced which search engines have won an auction process it has devised for an Android “choice screen” — as its response to an antitrust intervention by the region’s competition regulator.

The prompt is shown to users of Android smartphones in the European Union as they set up a device, asking them to choose a search engine from a list of four that always includes Google’s own search engine.

In mid-2018 the European Commission fined Google $5 billion for antitrust violations attached to how it operates the Android platform, including related to how it bundles its own services with the dominant smartphone OS, and ordered it to remedy the infringements — while leaving it up to the tech giant to devise a fix.

Google responded by creating a choice screen for Android users to pick a search engine from a short list — with the initial choices seemingly based on local market share. But last summer it announced it would move to auctioning slots on the screen via a fixed sealed-bid auction process.

The big winners of the initial auction, for the period March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020, are pro-privacy search engine DuckDuckGo — which gets one of three paid-for slots in all 31 European markets — and a product called Info.com, which will also be shown as an option in all those markets. (Per Wikipedia, the latter is a veteran metasearch engine that provides results from multiple search engines and directories, including Google.)

French pro-privacy search engine Qwant will be shown as an option to Android users in eight European markets. While Russia’s Yandex will appear as an option in five markets in the east of the region.

Other search engines that will appear as choices in a minority of European markets are GMX, Seznam, Givero and PrivacyWall.

At a glance the big loser looks to be Microsoft’s Bing search engine — which will only appear as an option on the choice screen shown in the U.K.

Tree-planting search engine Ecosia does not appear anywhere on the list at all, despite appearing on some initial Android choice screens — having taken the decision to boycott the auction because it objects to Google’s “pay-to-play” approach.

“We believe this auction is at odds with the spirit of the July 2018 EU Commission ruling,” Ecosia CEO Christian Kroll told the BBC. “Internet users deserve a free choice over which search engine they use and the response of Google with this auction is an affront to our right to a free, open and federated internet. Why is Google able to pick and choose who gets default status on Android?”

It’s not the only search engine critical of Google’s move, with Qwant and DuckDuckGo both raising concerns immediately after Google announced it would shift to a paid auction last year.

Despite participating in the process — and winning a universal slot — DuckDuckGo told us it still does not agree with the pay-to-play approach.

“We believe a search preference menu is an excellent way to meaningfully increase consumer choice if designed properly. Our own research has reinforced this point and we look forward to the day when Android users in Europe will have the opportunity to easily make DuckDuckGo their default search engine while setting up their phones. However, we still believe a pay-to-play auction with only 4 slots isn’t right because it means consumers won’t get all the choices they deserve and Google will profit at the expense of the competition,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Qwant also told us: “Qwant has repeatedly called for all competitors to be granted access to the mobile market in an open manner, with the same chances for all to be chosen by users as their default search engine. We don’t believe it is fair from Google to require competing search engines to pay them for the chance to be offered as an alternative to Google, when Google was found to abuse its dominant position through its Android mobile system. Nevertheless, given the importance of the mobile market for any ambitious search engine, we had to participate in this first bidding process and are relieved that users finally have the possibility to choose Qwant as their default search engine on Android devices in some countries. We wished it was the case in all countries and that our competitors had all the same opportunity, since search engines should compete on their merits and not on their capability to pay Google for a slot in a choice screen.”

This report was updated with additional comment from Qwant 

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Samsung’s Lite devices bring the headphone jack to flagship design (sort of)

Posted by | CES 2020, hardware, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones | No Comments

Some devices need no explanation. The Galaxy S10 Lite and Note 10 Lite are no such devices. They’re more nebulous, walking an interesting line, between premium and mid-range. They’re a clear attempt by Samsung to change with a smartphone-buying public that has balked at the idea of $1,000+ devices.

On that front, they make plenty of sense. Things are, however, not so cut and dry. This is probably no better exemplified by the headphone jack situation. One (the Note 10) has one. One (the S10) doesn’t. It’s a bit of a one foot in, one foot out approach to the technology that Samsung, admittedly, has always been more cautious about abandoning than most.

The pragmatic reason for the decision, I think, is that the Note 10 Lite is the thicker of the two devices. Both feel like solid, flagship devices. The build quality is terrific on both. The Note, however, is noticeably chunkier, owing to the inclusion of the S Pen and a different screen technology. So Samsung saw an opportunity to have it both ways, plopping a headphone jack on the bottom.

The timing is interesting, as well. The company snuck out an announcement just ahead of CES. That both firmly missed the holiday season, while arriving about a month and a half ahead of its latest big phone reveal (the invitations for Unpacked went out the following day). There was also no pricing — and there still isn’t here in the States. That leaves open the question of where they slot in.

Are we talking slightly below the flagship tier? Or is this Samsung’s new vision for mid-tier? European pricing gives us a hint. At €599, that’s pretty significantly below the lowest-tier version of its flagship counterparts. It’s also a pretty decent direction below the Galaxy S10e. It will be interesting to see if that model sticks around for the S11.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

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Samsung shipped more than 6.7 million Galaxy 5G smartphones in 2019

Posted by | 5g, hardware, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Samsung Electronics announced today that it shipped more than 6.7 million Galaxy 5G smartphones in 2019, surpassing expectations set by the company earlier.

During remarks at IFA in September, Samsung Electronics vice president JuneHee Lee suggested that more than two million Samsung 5G smartphones had already been sold, and that the company expected to double that number by the end of the year.

The company also said today that its devices made up 53.9% of the global 5G smartphone market, according to a report by Counterpoint Research. It will release its next 5G device, the Galaxy Tab S6 5G, in South Korea during the first quarter of 2020.

The company is expected to launch Galaxy S11 models with 5G in February. While no iPhones currently have 5G support, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo forecast in July that all three versions of the device expected to be unveiled by Apple this year will support 5G. The release of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 and 765 means more manufacturers will be able to offer mid- and high-tier smartphones with 5G support this year, and that may help revive sluggish sales.

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Google Pixel 4a renders include a headphone jack and hole-punch display

Posted by | Android, Google, Google Pixel, Google Pixel 4A, hardware, headphone jack, Mobile, smartphones | No Comments

It’s the slowest week of the year for gadget news. Christmas is in the rearview, and it’s a few days until the new year. After that, it’s a straight shot to CES and then MWC. Meantime, best we’ve got going for us are a handful of rumors, including a peek at what Google’s next budget handset might could potentially possibly conceivably look like.

Per renders from OnLeaks and 91Mobiles, a vision of the Pixel 4a has appeared — or, a render, rather. The handset will no doubt be an important one for Google. After all, the 3a (pictured at top) helped the company recover from some lackluster sales last year. A couple of pieces jump out at first glance. The display appears to finally buck the company’s longtime notch dependency, in favor of a hole punch camera on the front.

Perhaps even more compelling, the device seems to hold the torch for the headphone jack. In 2020, that could well be a standout feature even among mid-range handsets. As the company eloquently put it around the time of the 3a’s release, “a lot of people have headphones.”

And here comes my last late #Christmas gift in form of your very first and early look at the #Google #Pixel4a!
360° video + gorgeous 5K renders + dimensions, on behalf of my Friends over @91mobiles -> https://t.co/rsvRkjVOln pic.twitter.com/sqG6J5knSR

— Steve H.McFly (@OnLeaks) December 28, 2019

Other notable features on the forthcoming device includes the addition of the squircle phone bump on the rear, a design element borrowed from the Pixel 4. Likely the handset will stick to a single camera, instead of adopting the flagship’s truly excellent dual-camera setup. Even so, Google’s been able to accomplish some solid imaging technology with just the one sensor, courtesy of clever ML software.

The display, too, will be slightly larger than its predecessor, bumping up one or two tenths of an inch. The handset is reportedly dropping around May, probably just in time for I/O 2020.

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Whatever happened to the Next Big Things?

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Apple, articles, artificial intelligence, blockchain, chatbot, computing, Elon Musk, Emerging-Technologies, Ford, Internet of Things, machine learning, Magic Leap, Microsoft, Opinion, phoenix, Prime Air, self-driving car, smartphone, smartphones, Symbian, TC, technology, waymo | No Comments

In tech, this was the smartphone decade. In 2009, Symbian was still the dominant ‘smartphone’ OS, but 2010 saw the launch of the iPhone 4, the Samsung Galaxy S, and the Nexus One, and today Android and iOS boast four billion combined active devices. Today, smartphones and their apps are a mature market, not a disruptive new platform. So what’s next?

The question presupposes that something has to be next, that this is a law of nature. It’s easy to see why it might seem that way. Over the last thirty-plus years we’ve lived through three massive, overlapping, world-changing technology platform shifts: computers, the Internet, and smartphones. It seems inevitable that a fourth must be on the horizon.

There have certainly been no shortage of nominees over the last few years. AR/VR; blockchains; chatbots; the Internet of Things; drones; self-driving cars. (Yes, self-driving cars would be a platform, in that whole new sub-industries would erupt around them.) And yet one can’t help but notice that every single one of those has fallen far short of optimistic predictions. What is going on?

You may recall that the growth of PCs, the Internet, and smartphones did not ever look wobbly or faltering. Here’s a list of Internet users over time: from 16 million in 1995 to 147 million in 1998. Here’s a list of smartphone sales since 2009: Android went from sub-1-million units to over 80 million in just three years. That’s what a major platform shift looks like.

Let’s compare each of the above, shall we? I don’t think it’s an unfair comparison. Each has had champions arguing it will, in fact, be That Big, and even people with more measured expectations have predicted growth will at least follow the trajectory of smartphones or the Internet, albeit maybe to a lesser peak. But in fact…

AR/VR: Way back in 2015 I spoke to a very well known VC who confidently predicted a floor of 10 million devices per year well before the end of this decade. What did we get? 3.7M to 4.7M to 6M, 2017 through 2019, while Oculus keeps getting reorg’ed. A 27% annual growth rate is OK, sure, but a consistent 27% growth rate is more than a little worrying for an alleged next big thing; it’s a long, long way from “10xing in three years.” Many people also predicted that by the end of this decade Magic Leap would look like something other than an utter shambles. Welp. As for other AR/VR startups, their state is best described as “sorry.”

Blockchains: I mean, Bitcoin’s doing just fine, sure, and is easily the weirdest and most interesting thing to have happened to tech in the 2010s; but the entire rest of the space? I’m broadly a believer in cryptocurrencies, but if you were to have suggested in mid-2017 to a true believer that, by the end of 2019, enterprise blockchains would essentially be dead, decentralized app usage would still be measured in the low thousands, and no real new use cases would have arisen other than collateralized lending for a tiny coterie — I mean, they would have been outraged. And yet, here we are.

Chatbots: No, seriously, chatbots were celebrated as the platform of the future not so long ago. (Alexa, about which more in a bit, is not a chatbot.) “The world is about to be re-written, and bots are going to be a big part of the future” was an actual quote. Facebook M was the future. It no longer exists. Microsoft’s Tay was the future. It really no longer exists. It was replaced by Zo. Did you know that? I didn’t. Zo also no longer exists.

The Internet of Things: let’s look at a few recent headlines, shall we? “Why IoT Has Consistently Fallen Short of Predictions.” “Is IoT Dead?” “IoT: Yesterday’s Predictions vs. Today’s Reality.” Spoiler: that last one does not discuss how reality has blown previous predictions out of the water. Rather, “The reality turned out to be far less rosy.”

Drones: now, a lot of really cool things are happening in the drone space, I’ll be the first to aver. But we’re a long way away from physical packet-switched networks. Amazon teased Prime Air delivery way back in 2015 and made its first drone delivery way back in 2016, which is also when it patented its blimp mother ship. People expected great things. People still expect great things. But I think it’s fair to say they expected … a bit more … by now.

Self-driving cars: We were promised so much more, and I’m not even talking about Elon Musk’s hyperbole. From 2016: “10 million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020.” “True self-driving cars will arrive in 5 years, says Ford“. We do technically have a few, running in a closed pilot project in Phoenix, courtesy of Waymo, but that’s not what Ford was talking about: “Self-driving Fords that have no steering wheels, brake or gas pedals will be in mass production within five years.” So, 18 months from now, then. 12 months left for that “10 million” prediction. You’ll forgive a certain skepticism on my part.

The above doesn’t mean we haven’t seen any successes, of course. A lot of new kinds of products have been interesting hits: AirPods, the Apple Watch, the Amazon Echo family. All three are more new interfaces than whole new major platforms, though; not so much a gold rush as a single vein of silver.

You may notice I left machine learning / AI off the list. This is in part because it definitely has seen real qualitative leaps, but a) there seems to be a general concern that we may have entered the flattening of an S-curve there, rather than continued hypergrowth, b) either way, it’s not a platform. Moreover, the wall that both drones and self-driving cars have hit is labelled General Purpose Autonomy … in other words, it is an AI wall. AI does many amazing things, but when people predicted 10M self-driving cars on the roads next year, it means they predicted AI would be good enough to drive them. In fact it’s getting there a lot slower than we expected.

Any one of these technologies could define the next decade. But another possibility, which we have to at least consider, is that none of them might. It is not an irrefutable law of nature that just as one major tech platform begins to mature another must inevitably start its rise. We may well see a lengthy gap before the next Next Big Thing. Then we may see two or three rise simultaneously. But if your avowed plan is that this time you’re totally going to get in on the ground floor — well, I’m here to warn you, you may have a long wait in store.

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Apple reportedly working on satellite technology for direct wireless iPhone data transmission

Posted by | aerospace, Apple, apple inc, Gadgets, Google, hardware, imessage, iOS, iPhone, iTunes, location services, satellite, skybox imaging, smartphones, TC, technology, telecommunications, wireless networking | No Comments

Apple is said to be working on satellite technology, having hired a number of aerospace engineers to form a team along with satellite and antenna designers, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The report notes that this is an early-stage secret project that could still be scrapped, but that the purpose of the team and its work is to potentially develop communications satellite technology that can send and receive data directly to user devices, including the iPhone, in a bid to make it possible to connect Apple devices without the need of a third-party network.

Bloomberg says that Apple won’t necessarily be building its own satellite hardware — it could instead be developing just the transmission devices or ground-based equipment to make use of data transmissions for orbital communications equipment. The tech could be used for actually delivering data directly to Apple devices, or it could just connect them to each other independent of a cellphone carrier data network. It also could be used to provide more accurate location services for better maps and guidance, the report says.

Apple is said to have hired both executives and engineers from the aerospace and satellite industry, including Skybox Imaging alumni Michael Trela and John Fenwick, who are leading the team. These two formerly headed up Google’s satellite and spacecraft division. New hires include former Aerospace Corporation executive Ashley Moore Williams, as well as key personnel from the wireless networking and content-delivery network industries.

The idea of providing a data network from space direct to devices seems preposterous on its face — most data communications satellites require communication with ground stations that then relay information with end-point devices. But it’s not an unheard-of concept, and in fact we wrote earlier this year about Ubiquitilink (now Lynk), a company that’s focused on building a new kind of low Earth orbit communications satellite constellation that can communicate directly with phones.

Lynk’s initial goals spell out what a supplemental direct satellite communication network could provide on top of regular iPhone carrier service: The startup company hopes to essentially provide global roaming with a connection level that probably isn’t anywhere near as fast as you’d get from a ground-based network, but is usable for communication at least — and not dependent on local infrastructure. It also could act as a redundant fallback that ensures no matter what your main network status, you’ll always be able to do less data-intensive operations, like texting and calling.

While there’s obviously a lot of unknowns remaining in what Apple is working on or what it will eventually amount to, if anything, it’s very interesting to consider the possibility that it could offer a level of always-on connectivity that’s bundled with iPhones and available even when your primary network is not, that offers persistent access to features like iMessage, voice calls and navigation — leaving streaming and other data-intensive applications to your standard carrier rate plan.

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BMW says ‘ja’ to Android Auto

Posted by | Alexa, Android, Android Auto, artificial intelligence, Assistant, automotive, BMW, business model, CarPlay, computing, Cortana, Dieter May, digital services, Google, Microsoft, Mobile, operating systems, smartphones | No Comments

BMW today announced that it is finally bringing Android Auto to its vehicles, starting in July 2020. With that, it will join Apple’s CarPlay in the company’s vehicles.

The first live demo of Android Auto in a BMW will happen at CES 2020 next month. After that, it will become available as an update to drivers in 20 countries with cars that feature the BMW OS 7.0. BMW will support Android Auto over a wireless connection, though, which somewhat limits its comparability.

Only two years ago, the company said that it wasn’t interested in supporting Android Auto. At the time, Dieter May, who was then the senior VP for Digital Services and Business Model, explicitly told me that the company wanted to focus on its first-party apps in order to retain full control over the in-car interface and that he wasn’t interested in seeing Android Auto in BMWs. May has since left the company, though it’s also worth noting that Android Auto itself has become significantly more polished over the course of the last two years.

“The Google Assistant on Android Auto makes it easy to get directions, keep in touch and stay productive. Many of our customers have pointed out the importance to them of having Android Auto inside a BMW for using a number of familiar Android smartphone features safely without being distracted from the road, in addition to BMW’s own functions and services,” said Peter Henrich, senior vice president Product Management BMW, in today’s announcement.

With this, BMW will also finally offer support for the Google Assistant after early bets on Alexa, Cortana and the BMW Assistant (which itself is built on top of Microsoft’s AI stack). The company has long said it wants to offer support for all popular digital assistants. For the Google Assistant, the only way to make that work, at least for the time being, is Android Auto.

In BMWs, Android Auto will see integrations into the car’s digital cockpit, in addition to BMW’s Info Display and the heads-up display (for directions). That’s a pretty deep integration, which goes beyond what most car manufacturers feature today.

“We are excited to work with BMW to bring wireless Android Auto to their customers worldwide next year,” said Patrick Brady, vice president of engineering at Google. “The seamless connection from Android smartphones to BMW vehicles allows customers to hit the road faster while maintaining access to all of their favorite apps and services in a safer experience.”

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The vast majority of US consumers aren’t spending $1,000+ on phones

Posted by | hardware, Mobile, npd, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Pricing in the smartphone wars has taken a sharp turn in recent years on the premium end of the spectrum. Ever since the arrival of the iPhone X, flagship devices have often arrived in excess of $1,000, as companies push toward more premium components in order to remain competitive.

Likely surprising no one, most consumers aren’t spending that much on devices. According to numbers from NPD’s latest Mobile Phone Tracking study, however, the numbers are pretty stark. Less than 10% of U.S. consumers are spending that much on devices. That could foretell some bleak numbers for 5G sales, as early units routinely run around $1,200.

Not an encouraging sign as many manufacturers look toward 5G as the next major driver amid flagging global sales. One thing to consider here is that most phones are good at this point. Even mid-tier smartphones are pretty solid. While the devices have become a commodity, few if any users truly need to spend that much on a product. There’s a reason Samsung, Google and even Apple have been focused on lower-cost alternatives of late.

There are, however, reasons for manufacturers to be hopeful. For one thing, the arrival of 5G is often cited as one of the primary sources of slowed sales. Many premium users are likely waiting for more network coverage and devices before purchasing their next phone. NPD says that nearly three-fourths of consumers are at least aware that 5G is a thing.

Also notable is Qualcomm’s recent 765 announcement, which should help make 5G devices accessible for consumers at a lower price point in the coming year. 

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