Google’s new voice recognition system works instantly and offline (if you have a Pixel)

Google’s new voice recognition system works instantly and offline (if you have a Pixel)

2:56pm, 12th March, 2019
Voice recognition is a standard part of the smartphone package these days, and a corresponding part is the delay while you wait for Siri, Alexa or to return your query, either correctly interpreted or horribly mangled. Google’s latest speech recognition , eliminating that delay altogether — though of course mangling is still an option. The delay occurs because your voice, or some data derived from it anyway, has to travel from your phone to the servers of whoever operates the service, where it is analyzed and sent back a short time later. This can take anywhere from a handful of milliseconds to multiple entire seconds (what a nightmare!), or longer if your packets get lost in the ether. Why not just do the voice recognition on the device? There’s nothing these companies would like more, but turning voice into text on the order of milliseconds takes quite a bit of computing power. It’s not just about hearing a sound and writing a word — understanding what someone is saying word by word involves a whole lot of context about language and intention. Your phone could do it, for sure, but it wouldn’t be much faster than sending it off to the cloud, and it would eat up your battery. But steady advancements in the field have made it plausible to do so, and Google’s latest product makes it available to anyone with a Pixel. Google’s work on the topic, , built on previous advances to create a model small and efficient enough to fit on a phone (it’s 80 megabytes, if you’re curious), but capable of hearing and transcribing speech as you say it. No need to wait until you’ve finished a sentence to think whether you meant “their” or “there” — it figures it out on the fly. So what’s the catch? Well, it only works in Gboard, Google’s keyboard app, and it only works on Pixels, and it only works in American English. So in a way this is just kind of a stress test for the real thing. “Given the trends in the industry, with the convergence of specialized hardware and algorithmic improvements, we are hopeful that the techniques presented here can soon be adopted in more languages and across broader domains of application,” writes Google, as if it is the trends that need to do the hard work of localization. Making speech recognition more responsive, and to have it work offline, is a nice development. But it’s sort of funny considering hardly any of Google’s other products work offline. Are you going to dictate into a shared document while you’re offline? Write an email? Ask for a conversion between liters and cups? You’re going to need a connection for that! Of course this will also be better on slow and spotty connections, but you have to admit it’s a little ironic.
Niantic’s Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a sorcerous smorgasbord for the Pokémon GO generation

Niantic’s Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a sorcerous smorgasbord for the Pokémon GO generation

10:46am, 11th March, 2019
follow-up to the absurdly popular Pokémon GO, the long-awaited Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, has one major drawback: unlike its predecessor, you can’t explain it in a single sentence. There’s so much to do in this game that it may repel some casual players — but while its depths of systems and collectibles may be nigh endless, don’t worry: you still basically just walk around doing wizard and witch stuff. I got to spend a short time playing the game at Niantic’s office in San Francisco, and while they didn’t reveal all their secrets, I saw enough to convince me that HP:WU (I await a catchier nickname, like PoGO) will be a huge time sink for any Harry Potter fan and will probably convert or cannibalize many players from GO. If you were worried this would be a slapdash cash-in effort like some of the HP tie-ins we’ve seen… don’t be. This is legit. Rowling isn’t involved, and the voice actors are sound-alikes, but still legit. And just to get some of the major facts out of the way before we move on: it’s coming out sometime in 2019 (I’d guess before Summer but they wouldn’t say), in 17 languages (listed at bottom; actual countries where it’ll be offered unknown), there’s no wand accessory yet (I asked and they all looked nervous), minimum specs are reasonable and AR is optional, and it’s free but there are in-app purchases. So what is this game? While it would be misleading to say it’s just HP:GO, the similarities are deep. But there’s a lot more going on. Perhaps I’d best summarize it in bullet point form before I embark on the many details. In HP:WU you: Walk around a wizarding-themed version of the real world looking for locations at which to resupply and “foundables” to encounter Dispel, battle, or otherwise deal with the “confoundable” associated with these Earn reward items from encounters and for entering foundables in your registry Use reward items to level up in various professions, brew potions, and battle alongside others at “fortresses” Find rare foundables that advance the overall plot of why this is all happening anyway So let’s take that piece by piece. (By the way: The few images I have here were provided by Niantic and Portkey Games, the studio under WB Games who co-developed the game; I actually saw much more than what the shots show, so if something I describe isn’t illustrated directly, don’t worry — it’s in there.) Walkable Wizarding World Yes, this was the only image of the map we got. “For Harry Potter fans, the line between the real world and the wizarding world is paper thin,” said WB Games’s Jonathan Knight. So they wanted to make it seem like, as with the pervasive hidden nooks and secrets of the HP world, “magic is all around you.” The plot that enables all this is that, in a post-Deathly Hallows HP world, a macguffin event has caused magical items and creatures to appear all over the muggle world, threatening to expose the existence of magic; Witches and wizards are being recruited to track these things down and deal with them. Conveniently, the event snatched these things and people from all throughout history and the world, laying them down willy-nilly — so you’re just as likely to find Fleur Delacoeur as Hermione Granger, or a young Dumbledore as an old one. As a member of the SOS squad (enforcing the “Statute Of Secrecy” mandating separation between the magic and muggle worlds, you know), you’re tasked with tracking down these various things wherever they appear and reporting back to the ministry. The map is, like in Pokémon GO, where you’ll be spending most of your time. As before, it reflects the streets and features nearby: streets, parks, landmarks, and so on. It’s decidedly busier this time, however, both with gameplay elements and set dressing. Brooms and owls zip overhead, potion ingredients clutter the ground around you, and locations to visit sprinkle every block. (Although I’d hoped they’d use the Marauder’s Map aesthetic, they were probably right not to: it would probably get old fast.) You interact with these locations as you would spin Pokéstops in GO, with “inns” and “greenhouses” giving you a semi-randomized reward every time (and starting a 5-minute cooldown). Encounters and ingredients pop up like Pokémon did, appearing semi-randomly but with some tendencies or affinities — for example, you’re more likely to find school-related foundables by actual schools, and so on. These places are helpfully noted by a little flag that highlights the affected area, such as: “Golden Gate Park – you’ll encounter more magical creatures here.” The equivalent to lures are “dark detectors,” which will cause encounters to pop up with more frequency around the location you attach it to — and you can stack them! These will no doubt be a popular purchase. One nice touch: when you move quickly, your character flies on a broom. No more “running” along the highway. That always did bug me. Of course you’ll also be able to customize your appearance, and you even get to make a (non-public) “wizarding passport” complete with a moving photo you can outfit with various AR props. Your Hogwarts house is just something you select and which has no gameplay effect — for now. Swish and flick When you tap an encounter, you enter an AR minigame where you may, for instance, have to cast a spell to free Buckbeak the gryphon from a magical ball and chain, or defeat a monster threatening a character from the books. You do this generally by tracing a shape with your finger on the screen to cast a spell. You don’t get to choose the spell, unfortunately, it’s built into the encounter. The more accurate and quick your trace is, the better the power of the spell — a bit like throw quality in Pokémon. It’s similar in combat except you’ll also have to quickly cast protego when the enemy attacks you. That’s right, there are hostiles in this game! And although you can’t “die,” running out of stamina will fail the encounter or mission. More combat options open up later, though, as you’ll see. Encounters also vary in difficulty, which can be determined from the map or within the encounter — you may find some foes or rescues are beyond your power until you pump up a bit (or quaff a potion). There are other little twists on the formula, though — the team said they have over 100 unique encounters, all fully realized in AR. And although you can only interact with them from a sweet spot that appears on the ground in AR, you can take your time to walk around or closely inspect the scene. Foundables and confoundables and the other 20 things There are a ton of these little pages. Everything you’ll encounter is a foundable, and falls under one of numerous categories: magic zoology, dark arts, oddities, magical games and sports, Hogwarts, and so on. And every foundable is listed in a sort of sticker book you’ll fill in bit by bit as you encounter them. Free Buckbeak however many times and it’ll be fully filled in, giving you various bonuses and, perhaps more importantly, the ability to take AR photos with the creature or character in question. The creatures and characters range from common to very rare, of course, and you’ll need to get dozens of the former to fill in the book, but only one or a handful for certain plot-related items. They only shared the bare bones of the story, which will be revealed through in-game text and events, but a “deep, multi-year narrative arc” is promised. You can probably expect new foundables and ingredients and such to be added regularly. One detail I found highly compelling was that weather, time of day, and even astral phenomena like moon phase will affect what you encounter. So for instance, werewolves may only come out on the full moon, while certain potion ingredients only appear (or appear more) when it’s raining, or in the evening. This kind of real-world involvement is something I’ve always appreciated and one that Niantic’s games are uniquely suited to take advantage of. Potions will be necessary for healing and buffing yourself and others, so you’ll want to collect ingredients all the time; you mix them in a sub-screen, and can follow recipes or try your luck making something new. One very cool thing they showed off that doesn’t really show well in images is a Portkey — you know, the objects in HP that transport you from here to there. It’s not exactly a canon treatment in the game, as they create portals instead, but it makes for a great AR experience. You put the portal down and literally step through it, then look around at a new scene (for instance, Ollivander’s shop or Dumbledore’s office) in which you can find items or presumably encounter monsters and other stuff. Portkey “Portmanteaus” are a bit like egg incubators in that you charge them up by walking, and can find or buy more powerful ones. Min-maxing managed What perhaps surprised me most in the team’s presentation of the various systems of the game was the extent of the stats and professions. There are three “professions,” they explained: auror, magical zoologist, and professor (“if you’re a bit of a goody-goody” — I resent that). I figured these would be a bit like a play style bonus — one gives you more combat prowess, another is better for taming creatures, and so on. Boy, is there a lot more to it than that! First of all, you should know that you have stats in this game. And not weird hidden ones or a relatively meaningless one like your trainer level in Pokémon GO. No, you have a straight-up stat screen filled with all kinds of stuff. And your profession isn’t just a bonus or special ability — it’s a whole skill tree, and one to rival those of many a “serious” RPG. As in many other games, some nodes are simple things like an increase in stamina or spell power — some you can even upgrade several times to increase the effect. But others are entirely new abilities you’ll be able to use in various circumstances. I probed through a bunch in my limited time and found things that, for instance, healed allies, debuffed enemies, improved potion effectiveness, etc. These are definitely going to have a significant effect on gameplay. You can advance in any of the professions you want, however you want, though of course the further you progress down a tree, the more powerful abilities you unlock. You do this with tokens you earn from encounters, leveling, and challenges, so you get a steady trickle. It should take a good while to fill these out, though no doubt we’ll have some real tiresome types who’ll do it in a week. Fortress of Jollitude (It’s a portmanteau of solitude and jolly cooperation, because this is the teamplay part… let me have my fun.) The last major aspect of the game is Fortresses. These are a bit like Gyms from Pokémon GO, in that they are multiplayer focused, but for now they’re strictly player vs enemy. Fortresses are large, obvious locations on the map where you and up to four other players can join battle against a host of enemies in order to receive rare foundables and other rewards. How it works is that you and whoever else wants to play get within range of the Fortress and tap it. (They didn’t provide any images of one, inside or out, but you can see the roof of one just at the top left of the paw circle in the map image above.) You’ll then have a chance to join up with others by presenting a special item called a runestone. You’ll be getting these from normal encounters now and then or a few other sources, and there are 10 different kinds with multiple rarities — and depending on which you use, or which combination your team presents, the Fortress will have any of a variety of challenges and encounter types. (I only saw combat.) This is where the combat complexity comes in, because all the enemies are presented to all the players at once, and you can take on whichever you choose. Have you leveled your magical creature taming? You better take on that hippogriff. Do extra damage against human foes? You’re on Death Eater duty. Stocked up on spells that hinder opponents or heal allies? You can use them from the select screen in real time, for instance if your friend is about to be knocked flat by a high-level Dementor and needs a hand. I only got to test a small amount of this, but the possibilities for actual strategy and team synergy were very exciting, especially compared to the extended slugfests of Pokémon GO raids. “Your forever Harry Potter game” That’s how the team described Wizards Unite, and although a small-screen experience will never equal the immersion or magic (so to speak) of the cinema or the richness of the books, this does look like a dandy game and it will certainly be a heck of a time sink for countless players worldwide. I only got to see a few minutes of the game in person, so there are parts I missed and parts that weren’t being shown; for instance, your Hogwarts house will likely figure later in multiplayer games, and more abilities are on the way. I worry a bit that the simplicity and casual serendipity that defined Pokémon GO have been abandoned for a level of complexity that may be daunting for some. Yet at the same time I worry that the grind of collecting however many Buckbeaks you need to complete a page of the registry isn’t as satisfying as catching (and grinding up) a dozen Charmanders to power up your favorite ‘mon. And the AR experiences so far exhibit much visual variety but (that I saw) didn’t differ much from one another except in the trace you had to draw. But there’s a great deal here and a great deal to like. It’s new, it’s fun, and it’s HP. I know I’m going to be playing. (Lastly, the game will be released in the following languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Brazilian and European Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Danish, Turkish, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Japenese, Korean, and Latin American Spanish.)
Zortrax makes high resolution 3D printing easier and cheaper

Zortrax makes high resolution 3D printing easier and cheaper

8:36am, 11th March, 2019
3D printers have come a long way since the early days of RepRap and DIY hacker culture. First they flew to great heights with companies like Makerbot and Formlabs who aimed to create a prosumer product for designers, educators, and makers and then they fell to the doldrums when they became commodity hardware. Many people believed the space was dead. Now, however, the Polish 3D printing company, Zortrax, has released their , a $2,000 SLA printer that offers the speed and quality of resin-based printers with the fit and finish of a carefully-designed piece of hardware. The Inkspire works by shooting a bright blast of UV light through photosensitive resin. The printer creates object layer by layer at a resolution and quality that you’d never achieve with traditional extrusion printers. The Inkspire is so precise it can print a 50x50x25 micro cube yet it can also build larger objects that look completely smooth. [gallery ids="1795401,1795402,1795403,1795404,1795405,1795406,1795407"] Like other so-called stereo lithographic (SLA) printers, the resin is tricky to work with. The printer works with nearly any resin that cures under 405 nm wavelength length light so you don’t have to use Zortrax’s products. That said, the objects that come out of this printer are fairly difficult to “finish,” primarily because they stay sticky for a while until they finish curing in direct sunlight. The uncured resin itself is also quite sticky and messy so this printer definitely requires some sort of separate workshop with a slop sink and room for the printer and ultrasonic cleaner. You can use this in a home office or other enclosed space but you’ll want to keep the windows open and gloves on your hands. That said, once the items are washed, cured, and dry they are almost indistinguishable from injection-molded parts. The $2,000 printer comes with the print bed, a UV shield, and an optional ultrasonic cleaner – essentially an off-the-shelf ultrasonic cleaning vat that vibrates the objects in order to scrub them. Zortrax also includes their very powerful Z-Suite software. The software will automatically generate and slice the 3D objects, preparing them for printing. Because it prints in-reverse – the object grows out of the resin and hangs off of the build plate like a bat – each object requires a set of specialized supports that are easy to remove. Zotrax’s solution is quite elegant. Because their resin is fairly innocuous it doesn’t require dangerous chemicals to finish and the curing process is quick and painless. The entire product is nicely packaged and the maximum build size is 2.9 x 5.2 x 6.9 inches. This 3D printer is also much faster than you would expect, shooting out most smaller parts in less than an hour. Because the printer is so precise you can easily print multiple copies of the same object, creating a mini assembly line. You can also print large, solid objects that can stand up to much more abuse than FDM-printed objects. Again, the Inkspire isn’t for the casual 3D printer user. Because the resin can get messy and the entire package requires good ventilation and access to water, this thing would work best in a design studio or workshop. That said, this is a desktop printer and you can easily leave it in an undisturbed corner and carefully take the finished build plate to a nearby water source for cleaning. It’s just a little bit harder. SLA printers are powerful and Zortrax has made a truly usable and useful one. It’s fast, compact, and easy to use and it shows just how far the prosumer 3D printing market has come in a few short years.
Over a quarter of US adults now own a smart speaker, typically an Amazon Echo

Over a quarter of US adults now own a smart speaker, typically an Amazon Echo

3:40pm, 8th March, 2019
U.S. smart speaker owners grew 40 percent over 2018 to now reach 66.4 million — or 26.2 percent of the U.S. adult population — according to released this week, which detailed adoption patterns and device market share. The report also reconfirmed Amazon Echo’s lead, noting the Alexa-powered smart speaker grew to a 61 percent market share by the end of last year — well above Google Home’s 24 percent share. These findings fall roughly in line with other analysts’ reports on smart speaker market share in the U.S. However, because of varying methodology, they don’t all come back with the exact same numbers. For example, in December 2018, the Echo had accounted for nearly 67 percent of all U.S. smart speaker sales in 2018. Meanwhile, , with a 70 percent share of the installed base in the U.S. Though the percentages differ, the overall trend is that Amazon Echo remains the smart speaker to beat. While on the face of things this appears to be great news for Amazon, did note that Google Home has been closing the gap with Echo in recent months. Amazon Echo’s share dropped nearly 11 percent over 2018, while Google Home made up for just over half that decline with a 5.5 percent gain, and “other” devices making up the rest. This latter category, which includes devices like Apple’s HomePod and Sonos One, grew last year to now account for 15 percent of the market. That said, the has Alexa built-in, so it may not be as bad for Amazon as the numbers alone seem to indicate. After all, Amazon is selling its Echo devices at cost or even a loss to snag more market share. The real value over time will be in controlling the ecosystem. The growth in smart speakers is part of a larger trend toward voice computing and smart voice assistants — like Siri, Bixby and Google Assistant — which are often accessed on smartphones. A related report from Juniper Research last month estimated there will be , up from the 2.5 billion in use at the end of 2018. This is due to the increased use of smartphone assistants as well as the smart speaker trend, the firm said. Voicebot’s report also saw how being able to access voice assistance on multiple platforms was helping to boost usage numbers. It found that smart speaker owners used their smartphone’s voice assistant more than those who didn’t have a smart speaker in their home. It seems consumers get used to being able to access their voice assistants across platforms — now that Siri has made the jump to speakers and Alexa to phones, for instance. The full report is available on Voicebot.ai’s website .
SpaceX makes history by completing first private crew capsule mission

SpaceX makes history by completing first private crew capsule mission

1:30pm, 8th March, 2019
Crew Dragon capsule has safely splashed down in the Atlantic, making it the first privately built crew-capable spacecraft ever to complete a mission to the International Space Station. It’s one of several firsts SpaceX plans this year, but Boeing is hot on its heels with a crew demonstrator of its own — and of course the real test is doing the same thing with astronauts aboard. This mission, Demo-1, had SpaceX showing that its Crew Dragon capsule, an evolution of the cargo-bearing Dragon that has made numerous deliveries, was complete and ready to take on its eponymous crew. It took off early in the morning of March 2 (still March 1 on the West coast), circled the Earth 18 times, and eventually came to a stop (relatively speaking, of course) adjacent to the ISS, after which it approached and docked with the new International Docking Adapter. The 400 pounds of supplies were emptied, but the “anthropomorphic test device” known as Ripley — basically a space crash test dummy — stayed in her seat on board. (It’s also worth noting that the Falcon 9 first stage that took the capsule to the edge of the atmosphere landed autonomously on a drone ship.) Five days later — very early this morning — the craft disengaged from the ISS and began the process of deorbiting. It landed on schedule at about 8:45 in the morning Eastern time. It’s a huge validation of Commercial Crew Program, and of course a triumph for SpaceX, which not only made and launched a functioning crew spacecraft, but did so before its rival Boeing. That said, it isn’t winner take all — the two spacecraft could very well exist in healthy competition as crewed missions to space become more and more common. Expect to see a report on the mission soon after SpaceX and NASA have had time to debrief and examine the craft (and Ripley).
Leica’s Q2 is a beautiful camera that I want and will never have

Leica’s Q2 is a beautiful camera that I want and will never have

8:12pm, 7th March, 2019
is a brand I respect and appreciate but don’t support. Or rather, can’t, because I’m not fabulously rich. But if I did have $5,000 to spend on a fixed-lens camera, I’d probably get, a significant improvement over 2015’s Q — which tempted me back then. The Q2 keeps much of what made the Q great: a full-frame sensor, a fabulous 28mm F/1.7 Summilux lens, and straightforward operation focused on getting the shot. But it also makes some major changes that make the Q2 a far more competitive camera. The sensor has jumped from 24 to 47 megapixels, and while we’re well out of the megapixel race, that creates the opportunity for a very useful cropped shooting mode that lets you shoot at 35, 50, and 75mm equivalents while still capturing huge pixel counts. It keeps the full frame exposure as well so you can tweak the crop later. The new sensor also has a super low native ISO of 50, which should help with dynamic range and in certain exposure conditions. Autofocus has been redone as well (as you might expect with a new sensor) and it should be quicker and more accurate now. Ther’s also an optical stabilization mode that kicks in when you are shooting at under 1/60s. Both features that need a little testing to verify they’re as good as they sound, but I don’t expect they’re fraudulent or anything. The body, already a handsome minimal design in keeping with Leica’s impeccable (if expensive) taste, is now weather sealed, making this a viable walk-around camera in all conditions. Imagine paying five grand for a camera and being afraid to take it out in the rain! Well, many people did that and perhaps will feel foolish now that the Q2 has arrived. Inside is an electronic viewfinder, but the 2015 Q had a sequential-field display — meaning it flashes rapidly through the red, green, and blue components of the image — which made it prone to color artifacts in high-motion scenes or when panning. The Q2, however, has a shiny new OLED display with the same resolution but better performance. OLEDs are great for EVFs for a lot of reasons, but I like that you get really nice blacks, like in an optical viewfinder. The button layout has been simplified as well (or rather synchronized with the CL, another Leica model), with a new customizable button on the top plate, reflecting the trend of personalization we’ve seen in high-end cameras. A considerably larger battery and redesigned battery and card door rounds out the new features. , the Q2 is significantly heavier than the high-end fixed-lens competition (namely the Sony RX1R II and Fuji X100F, both excellent cameras), and also significantly more expensive. But unlike many Leica offerings, it actually outperforms them in important ways: the lens, the weather sealing, the burst speed — it may be expensive, but you actually get something for your money. That can’t always be said of this brand. The Leica Q2 typifies the type of camera I’d like to own: no real accessories, nothing to swap in or out, great image quality and straightforward operation. I’m far more likely to get an X100F (and even then it’d be a huge splurge) but all that time I’ll be looking at the Q2 with envious eyes. Maybe I’ll get to touch one some day.
Sonos refreshes Sonos One with better components

Sonos refreshes Sonos One with better components

4:04pm, 6th March, 2019
is launching the most minor of minor updates. The company is launching a revision to its flagship speaker, the One. Sonos is calling this new speaker the Sonos One Gen 2, and it is nearly identical to existing Sonos One. When it comes to sound and design, the second generation looks just like the first one. You’ll have to tear down the speaker to spot the differences. Sonos is upgrading the internals of the device with a more powerful processor and increased memory. It should perform slightly better, especially with big files on slow networks. But if you’re mostly using Sonos with a streaming service on a good Wi-Fi network, you likely won’t notice the difference. Interestingly, Sonos is also adding Bluetooth Low Energy to the device. The company doesn’t plan to use Bluetooth Low Energy to stream music. But it should make the pairing process with your Wi-Fi network much easier. After that, Sonos speakers rely on your Wi-Fi network just like before. It sounds like Sonos wanted to quietly warn geeks that there will be different versions of the Sonos One starting tomorrow. The Sonos One Gen 2 will cost $199 and some retailers will keep selling the first generation for $179 (a $20 discount). Sonos plans to support both generations of the Sonos One with software updates.
IDC: Apple led wearables market in 2018, with 46.2M of the total 172.2M devices shipped

IDC: Apple led wearables market in 2018, with 46.2M of the total 172.2M devices shipped

2:06pm, 5th March, 2019
Apple devices continue to lead the wearables market, according to a out today, which claimed the Cupertino-based company shipped a total of 46.2 million wearables for the year. The firm also reported the worldwide market for wearable devices grew 31.4 percent during the fourth quarter of 2018, to reach 59.3 million units shipped, while shipments for the year grew 27.5 percent for a total of 172.2 million. Apple retained its No. 1 position in wearables again in Q4, with 16.2 million wearables shipped — 10.4 million of which were Apple Watches, the report said. Smartwatches together grew 54.3 percent in 2018, and accounted for 29.8 percent of all wearables. Apple Watches accounted for nearly half that market, the report said. IDC forecasts that Apple’s growth in wearables will continue, thanks to a strong start for the newer Apple Watch Series 4. In addition, IDC noted it recently revised its “ear-worn” category of wearables to include wireless headphones that allow users to call upon a smart assistant through either a touch of a button or hot-word detection. That means devices like Apple’s AirPods, Google’s Pixel Buds, Bose’s QC35II and others are now being counted among the wearables category. Much of the growth in wearables was also attributed to the increasing number of these sorts of ear-worn devices, like Apple AirPods. In Q4, for example, ear-worn devices grew 66.4 percent from the year-ago quarter to capture at 21.9 percent market share. The firm said the growth was due to a combination of factors, including the increasing popularity of smart assistants and the ditching of the smartphone’s headphone jack, led by Apple. “The market for ear-worn wearables has grown substantially this past year and we expect this to continue in the years to come,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, in a statement. “It is the next battleground for companies as these types of headphones become a necessity for many given the exclusion of headphone jacks from modern devices. Add to that the rise of smart assistants and in-ear biometrics and companies have the perfect formula to sell consumers on a device that’s complimentary to the device ecosystem that lives on their wrist and in their pocket,” he added. Meanwhile, smartwatches grew 55.2 percent to capture a 34.3 percent share. Wristbands reached a 30 percent market share, thanks to launches from Xiaomi, Huawei and Fitbit. Xiaomi was in second place for the quarter, behind Apple, with a 12.6 percent market share compared with Apple’s 27.4 percent. The company remains strong in its home country of China, but sales of its Mi Band 3 have also done well. Of note, its Mi Band 3 accounted for more than 30 percent of all wristbands shipped during Q4. Behind Xiaomi was Huawei, which grew by a sizable 248.5 percent thanks to Huawei and Honor phones being bundled with wearables, along with other product launches. Fitbit and Samsung rounded out the top 5, with the former returning to growth thanks to the Charge 3 and promotions around its Versa, and the latter also by bundling wearables with its smartphones. Samsung shipped 4 million wearables in Q4, compared with Apple’s 16.2 million.
Galaxy S10 takes the ‘best smartphone display’ crown

Galaxy S10 takes the ‘best smartphone display’ crown

2:18pm, 4th March, 2019
As you may have gathered from , it’s a very solid phone with lots of advanced features. But one thing that’s especially difficult to test is the absolute quality of the displaymate — which is why we leave that part to the experts. And this expert says the S10’s screen is . Ray Soneira has tested every major phone, tablet, and laptop series for many a year, using all the cool color calibration, reflectance and brightness measurement, and other gear that goes with the job. So when he says the S10’s display is “absolutely stunning and Beautiful,” with a capital B at that, it’s worth taking note. OLED technology has advanced a great deal since the first one I encountered, on the Zune HD — which still works and looks great, by the way, thank you. But originally it had quite a few trade-offs compared with LCD panels, such as weird color casts or pixel layout issues. Samsung has progressed well beyond that and OLED has come into its own with a vengeance. As Ray puts it: The Absolute Color Accuracy on the Galaxy S10 is the Most Color Accurate Display we have ever measured. It is Visually Indistinguishable From Perfect, and almost certainly considerably better than your existing Smartphone, living room HDTV, Tablet, Laptop, and computer monitor, as demonstrated in our extensive Absolute Color Accuracy Lab Measurements. The very challenging set of DisplayMate Test and Calibration Photos that we use to evaluate picture quality looked absolutely stunning and Beautiful, even to my experienced hyper-critical eyes. Make sure you switch the phone’s display to “natural mode,” which makes subtle changes to the color space depending on the content and ambient light. And although he has enthused many times before about the quality of various displays and the advances they made over their predecessors, the above is certainly very different language from, for example, how he described the reigning champ until today — : Apple has produced an impressive Smartphone display with excellent performance and accuracy, which we cover in extensive detail below. What makes the iPhone X the Best Smartphone Display is the impressive Precision Display Calibration Apple developed, which transforms the OLED hardware into a superbly accurate, high performance, and gorgeous display, with close to Text Book Perfect Calibration and Performance!! High praise, but not quite falling all over himself, as he did with the S10. As you can see I rate smartphone displays chiefly by the emotional response they evoke from Ray Soneira. At this point, naturally, the gains from improving displays are fairly few, since to be honest, not many people care or can even tell today’s flagship displays apart. But little touches like front and back sensors for ambient light detection, automatic calibration and brightness that take user preferences into account — these also improve the experience, and phone makers have been adding them on at a good clip as well. No matter what flagship phone you buy today, it’s going to have a fantastic camera and screen — but if you like to see it all in black and white, read through the review and you’ll find your hopes justified.
With USB 4, Thunderbolt and USB will converge

With USB 4, Thunderbolt and USB will converge

12:08pm, 4th March, 2019
Your cable nightmare might soon be over. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) has unveiled the specifications of USB 4.0, as Engadget . And USB 4.0 looks a lot like Thunderbolt 3. While specifications won’t be finalized until later this year, USB 4 should support speeds of 40 Gbps. The USB-IF is using 3 as the foundation for USB 4. Intel originally developed the interface with Apple back in 2011. It was supposed to be a faster and more versatile interface that supports multiple protocols. For instance, you can use Thunderbolt cables and devices to connect displays and hard drives. You can daisy-chain your peripherals, which can be useful for external graphics cards, for instance. With Thunderbolt 3, Intel added USB 3.1 Gen 2 support, which means that you can plug a USB device to a Thunderbolt port. And Intel adopted the USB-C port. In other words, Thunderbolt ports became USB ports with Thunderbolt capabilities on top. It means that any USB device can be used with a Thunderbolt port. If you’re using a MacBook Pro, you’ve probably taken advantage of that feature. But USB devices plugged into Thunderbolt ports don’t magically become Thunderbolt devices. If you plug an external USB 3.0 hard drive in a Thunderbolt port, you’re limited to USB 3.0 speeds. Even though Thunderbolt is technically superior, it hasn’t been as popular as USB devices. Device manufacturers had to pay royalty fees to Intel (Correction: Thunderbolt 3 has always been royalty-free, but specifications weren’t public). Making a Thunderbolt device is also more expensive in general. A couple of years ago, Intel that it would make Thunderbolt available to everyone without any royalty fee. So the USB-IF is taking advantage of that by integrating Thunderbolt 3 specifications into USB 4. USB 4.0 will support charging speeds of 100W of power, transfer speeds of 40 Gbps and enough video bandwidth for two 4K displays or one 5K display. USB 4 should also be backward-compatible with USB 3.x, 2.x and 1.x devices. If you have a USB 3.x cable with Type-C connectors, you may have to upgrade to USB 4 cables. But Thunderbolt 3 should work fine, as they’re essentially the same thing as USB 4 cables. I hope there will be a way to distinguish USB 3.x ports from USB 4 ports though. Intel won’t drop the Thunderbolt name altogether. Thunderbolt devices are certified by Intel, while you don’t need any certification to release a USB device. USB 4 sounds like a great way to start from a clean slate. One port and one cable type to rule them all. But let’s hope manufacturers follow the official specifications and don’t try to cut corners.
Koala-sensing drone helps keep tabs on drop bear numbers

Koala-sensing drone helps keep tabs on drop bear numbers

9:24pm, 1st March, 2019
It’s obviously important to Australians to make sure their koala population is closely tracked — but how can you do so when the suckers live in forests and climb trees all the time? With drones and AI, of course. A new project from Queensland University of Technology combines some well-known techniques in a new way to help keep an eye on wild populations of the famous and soft marsupials. They used a drone equipped with a heat-sensing camera, then ran the footage through a deep learning model trained to look for koala-like heat signatures. It’s similar in some ways to an earlier project from QUT in which were counted along the shore via aerial imagery and machine learning. But this is considerably harder. A koala “A seal on a beach is a very different thing to a koala in a tree,” , perhaps choosing not to use dugongs as an example because comparatively few know what one is. “The complexity is part of the science here, which is really exciting,” he continued. “This is not just somebody counting animals with a drone, we’ve managed to do it in a very complex environment.” The team sent their drone out in the early morning, when they expected to see the greatest contrast between the temperature of the air (cool) and tree-bound koalas (warm and furry). It traveled as if it was a lawnmower trimming the tops of the trees, collecting data from a large area. Infrared image, left, and output of the neural network highlighting areas of interest This footage was then put through a deep learning system trained to recognize the size and intensity of the heat put out by a koala, while ignoring other objects and animals like cars and kangaroos. For these initial tests, the accuracy of the system was checked by comparing the inferred koala locations with ground truth measurements provided by GPS units on some animals and radio tags on others. Turns out the system found about 86 percent of the koalas in a given area, considerably better than an “expert koala spotter,” who rates about a 70. Not only that, but it’s a whole lot quicker. “We cover in a couple of hours what it would take a human all day to do,” Hamilton said. But it won’t replace human spotters or ground teams. “There are places that people can’t go and there are places that drones can’t go. There are advantages and downsides to each one of these techniques, and we need to figure out the best way to put them all together. Koalas are facing extinction in large areas, and so are many other species, and there is no silver bullet.” Having tested the system in one area of Queensland, the team is now going to head out and try it in other areas of the coast. Other classifiers are planned to be added as well, so other endangered or invasive species can be identified with similar ease. .
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon makes its first orbital launch tonight

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon makes its first orbital launch tonight

2:54pm, 1st March, 2019
After years of development and delays, Crew Dragon is ready to launch into orbit. It’s the first commercially built and operated crewed spacecraft ever to do so, and represents in many ways the public-private partnership that could define the future of spaceflight. for just before midnight Pacific time — 2:49 Eastern time in Cape Canaveral, from where the Falcon 9 carrying the Crew Dragon capsule will take off. It’s using Launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, which previously hosted Apollo missions and more recently SpaceX’s momentous Falcon Heavy launch. Feel free to relive that moment with us, while you’re here: The capsule has been the work of many years and billions of dollars: an adaptation of the company’s Dragon capsule, but with much of its cargo space converted to a spacious crew compartment. It can seat seven if necessary, but given the actual needs of the International Space Station, it is more likely to carry two or three people and a load of supplies. Of course it had to meet extremely stringent safety requirements, with an emergency escape system, redundant thrusters and parachutes, newly designed spacesuits, more intuitive and modern control methods and so on. Crew Dragon interior, with “Ripley” It’s a huge technological jump over the Russian Soyuz capsule that has been the only method to get humans to space for the last eight years, since the Shuttle program was grounded for good. But one thing Dragon doesn’t have is the Soyuz’s exemplary flight record. The latter may look like an aircraft cockpit shrunk down to induce claustrophobia, but it has proven itself over and over for decades. The shock produced by a recent aborted launch and the quickness with which the Soyuz resumed service are testament to the confidence it has engendered in its users. But for a number of reasons the U.S. can’t stay beholden to Russia for access to space, and at any rate the commercial spaceflight companies were going to send people up there anyway. So dedicated a major portion of its budget to funding a new crew capsule, pitting SpaceX and Boeing against one another. SpaceX has had the best of Boeing for the most part, progressing through numerous tests and milestones, not exactly quickly, but with fewer delays than its competitor. Test flights originally scheduled for 2016 are only . Boeing’s Starliner doesn’t have a launch date yet, but it’s expected to be this summer. Tonight’s test (“Demo-1”) is the first time the Crew Dragon will fly to space; suborbital flights and have already taken place, but this is a dry run of the real thing. Well, not completely dry: the capsule is carrying 400 pounds of supplies to the station and will return with some science experiments on board. After launch, it should take about 11 minutes for the capsule to detach from the first and second stages of the Falcon 9 rocket. It docks about 27 hours later, early Sunday morning, and the crew will be able to get at the goodies just in time for brunch, if for some reason they’re operating on East Coast time. SpaceX will be live streaming the launch as usual starting shortly before takeoff; you can watch it right here:
Amazon stops selling stick-on Dash buttons

Amazon stops selling stick-on Dash buttons

6:15am, 1st March, 2019
has confirmed it’s retired physical stick-on buttons from sale — in favor of that let Prime Members tap a digital button to reorder a staple product. It also points to its — which offers an API for device makers wanting to build Internet connected appliances that can automatically reorder the products they need to function — be it cat food, batteries or washing power — as another reason why physical Dash buttons, which launched (costing $5 a pop), are past their sell by date. Amazon says “hundreds” of IoT devices capable of self-ordering on Amazon have been launched globally to date by brands including Beko, Epson, illy, Samsung and Whirlpool, to name a few. So why press a physical button when a digital one will do? Or, indeed, why not do away with the need to push a button all and just let your gadgets rack up your grocery bill all by themselves while you get on with the importance business of consuming all the stuff they’re ordering? You can see where Amazon wants to get to with its “so customers don’t have to think at all about restocking” line. Consumption that entirely removes the consumer’s decision making process from the transactional loop is quite the capitalist wet dream. Though the company does need to be careful about consumer protection rules as it seeks to excise friction from the buying process. The ecommerce behemoth also claims customers are “increasingly” using its Alexa voice assistant to reorder staples, such as via the voice shopping app (Amazon calls it ‘hands free shopping’) that lets people inform the machine about a purchase intent and it will suggest items to buy based on their Amazon order history. Albeit, it offers no actual usage metrics for Alexa Shopping. So that’s meaningless PR. A less flashy but perhaps more popular option than ‘hands free shopping’, which Amazon also says has contributed to making physical Dash buttons redundant, is its program. This “lets customers automatically receive their favourite items every month”, as Amazon puts it. It offers an added incentive of discounts that kick in if the user signs up to buy five or more products per month. But the mainstay of the sales pitch is convenience with Amazon touting time saved by subscribing to ‘essentials’ — and time saved from compiling boring shopping lists once again means more time to consume the stuff being bought on Amazon… In a statement about retiring physical Dash buttons from global sale on February 28, Amazon also confirmed it will continue to support existing Dash owners — presumably until their buttons wear down to the bare circuit board from repeat use. “Existing Dash customers can continue to use their Dash Button devices,” it writes. “We look forward to continuing support for our customers’ shopping needs, including growing our Dash Replenishment product line-up and expanding availability of virtual Dash Buttons.” So farewell then clunky Dash buttons. Another physical push-button . Though plastic-y Dash were quite unlike the classic iPhone home button — always seeming temporary and experimental rather than slick and coolly reassuring. Even so, the end of both buttons points to the need for tech businesses to tool up for the next wave of contextually savvy connected devices. More smarts, and more controllable smarts is key. Amazon’s statement about ‘shifting focus’ for Dash does not mention potential legal risks around the buttons related to consumer rights challenges — but that’s another angle here. In a court in Germany ruled Dash buttons breached local ecommerce rules, following a challenge by a regional consumer watchdog that raised concerns about T&Cs which allow Amazon to substitute a product of a higher price or even a different product entirely than what the consumer had originally selected. The watchdog argued consumers should be provided with more information about price and product before taking the order — and the judges agreed. Though Amazon said it would seek to appeal. While it’s not clear whether or not that legal challenge contributed to Amazon’s decision to shutter Dash, it’s clear that virtual Dash buttons offer more opportunities for displaying additional information prior to a purchase than a screen-less physical Dash button. So are more easily adaptable to any tightening legal requirements across different markets. The demise of the physical Dash was reported earlier by .
OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites are safely in orbit

OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites are safely in orbit

7:38pm, 27th February, 2019
Update: Launch and deployment successful! After four years and more than $2 billion in funding, OneWeb is ready to launch the first six satellites out of a planned constellation of 650 with which it plans to blanket the world in broadband. The Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket will take off at 1:37 Pacific time from Guiana Space Center. . is one of several companies that aims to connect the world with a few hundred or thousand satellites, and certainly the most well-funded — SoftBank is the biggest investor, but Virgin Group, Coca-Cola, Bharti Group, Qualcomm and Airbus have all chipped in. The company’s plan is to launch a total of 900 (650 at first) satellites to about a 1,100-kilometer low Earth orbit, from which it says it will be able to provide broadband to practically anywhere on Earth — anywhere you can put a base station, anyway. Much cheaper and better than existing satellite connectivity, which is expensive and slow. Sound familiar? Of course, SpaceX’s side project, Starlink, has similar ambitions, with an planned, and is aiming for a smaller constellation of smaller satellites for low-cost access. And Ubiquitilink just announced this week that its unique technology will remove the need for base stations and . And they’ve all launched satellites already! The launch vehicle fueling today at GSC. OneWeb has faced numerous delays; the whole constellation was originally planned to be in place by the end of 2019, which is impossible at this point. But delays are the name of the game in ambitious space-based businesses, and OneWeb hasn’t been just procrastinating — it has been girding itself for mass production, raising funds to set up launch contracts and improving the satellites themselves. Its updated schedule, as it states in the mission summary: “OneWeb will begin customer demos in 2020 and provide global, 24-hour coverage to customers in 2021.” At a reported cost of about a million dollars per satellite — twice the projected cost in 2015 — just building and testing the constellation will likely rub up against a billion dollars, and that’s not counting launch costs. But no one ever said it would be cheap. In fact, they probably said it would be unbelievably expensive. That’s why and the other investors are “committing to a lot more capital,” as CEO Adrián Steckel last month. The company also announced its first big deal with a telecom; Talia, which provides connectivity in Africa and the Middle East, signed on to use OneWeb’s services starting in 2021. Soyuz launches could carry more than 30 of these satellites each, meaning it would take at least 20 to put the whole constellation in orbit. This first launch, however, only has six aboard; the other spots on board the mass launch system have dummy payloads to simulate how it should be going forward. A OneWeb representative told me that this launch is meant to “verify the satellite design and validate the end to end system,” which is probably a good idea before sending up 600 more. That means OneWeb will be testing and tracking these six birds for the next few months and making sure the connection with ground stations and other aspects of the whole system are functioning properly. Full payloads will start in the fall, after OneWeb opens its (much-delayed) production facility just outside Kennedy Space Center in Florida. .
Watch OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites launch today

Watch OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites launch today

3:19pm, 27th February, 2019
After four years and more than $2 billion in funding, is ready to launch the first six satellites out of a planned constellation of 650 with which it plans to blanket the world in broadband. The Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket will take off at 1:37 Pacific time from Guiana Space Center. . OneWeb is one of several companies that aims to connect the world with a few hundred or thousand satellites, and certainly the most well-funded — is the biggest investor, but Virgin Group, Coca Cola, Bharti Group, Qualcomm, and Airbus have all chipped in. The company’s plan is to launch a total of 900 (650 at first) satellites to about a 1,100-kilometer low Earth orbit, from which it says it will be able to provide broadband to practically anywhere on Earth — anywhere you can put a base station, anyway. Much cheaper and better than existing satellite connectivity, which is expensive and slow. Sound familiar? Of course SpaceX’s side project Starlink has similar ambitions, with an planned, and is aiming for a smaller constellation of smaller satellites for low-cost access. And Ubiquitilink just announced this week that its unique technology will remove the need for base stations and . And they’ve all launched satellites already! The launch vehicle fueling today at GSC. OneWeb has faced numerous delays; the whole constellation was originally planned to be in place by the end of 2019, which is impossible at this point. But delays are the name of the game in ambitious space-based businesses, and OneWeb hasn’t been just procrastinating; it’s been girding itself for mass production, raising funds to set up launch contracts, and improving the satellites themselves. Its updated schedule, as it states in the mission summary: “OneWeb will begin customer demos in 2020 and provide global, 24-hour coverage to customers in 2021.” At a reported cost of about a million dollars per satellite — twice the projected cost in 2015 — just building and testing the constellation will likely rub up against a billion dollars, and that’s not counting launch costs. But no one ever said it would be cheap. In fact, they probably said it would be unbelievably expensive. That’s why SoftBank and the other investors are “committing to a lot more capital,” as CEO Adrián Steckel last month. The company also announced its first big deal with a telecom; Talia, which provides connectivity in Africa and the Middle East, signed on to use OneWeb’s services starting in 2021. Soyuz launches could carry more than 30 of these satellites each, meaning it would take at least 20 to put the whole constellation in orbit. This first launch, however, only has six aboard; the other spots on board the mass launch system have dummy payloads to simulate how it should be going forward. A OneWeb representative told me that this launch is meant to “verify the satellite design and validate the end to end system,” which is probably a good idea before sending up 600 more. That means OneWeb will be testing and tracking these six birds for the next few months and making sure the connection with ground stations and other aspects of the whole system are functioning properly. Full payloads will start in the fall, after OneWeb opens its (much-delayed) production facility just outside Kennedy Space Center in Florida. .
Pokémon Sword and Shield to land on Nintendo Switch this year

Pokémon Sword and Shield to land on Nintendo Switch this year

11:00am, 27th February, 2019
Nintendo and The Pokémon Company have unveiled the next Pokémon game in the main series. The new game will come in two variants later this year — Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. Nintendo announced the new game in a live stream. And if you’ve been playing Pokémon in the past, you’ll feel right at home. The design of the world and the characters look just like Pokémon Let’s Go on the Nintendo Switch, but with more details. There will be a new region called Galar and it vaguely looks like the U.K. In addition to cities, you’ll be walking around mountains, caverns and woods. And of course, there will be new monsters, new gym leaders, new fights and a blank Pokédex to fill. Seeing this brand new world feels surreal when you think about the GameBoy days. Nintendo is probably going to sell a ton of games to new players and older players who still have fond memories of the early days of the franchise. The new starting roster is made of three different monsters — Grookey, Scorbunny and Sobble. You’ll have plenty of time to think about your pick as the game should hit the stores at the end of 2019.
Prototype prosthesis proffers proper proprioceptive properties

Prototype prosthesis proffers proper proprioceptive properties

7:51pm, 26th February, 2019
Researchers have created a prosthetic hand that offers its users the ability to feel where it is and how the fingers are positioned — a sense known as proprioception. The headline may be in jest, but the advance is real and may help amputees more effectively and naturally use their prostheses. Prosthesis rejection is a real problem for amputees, and many choose to simply live without these devices, electronic or mechanical, since they can complicate as much as they simplify. Part of that is the simple fact that, unlike their natural limbs, artificial ones have no real sensation — or if there is any, it’s nowhere near the level someone had before. Touch and temperature detection are important, of course, but what’s even more critical to ordinary use is simply knowing where your limb is and what it’s doing. If you close your eyes, you can tell where each digit is, how many you’re holding up, whether they’re gripping a small or large object, and so on. That’s currently impossible with a prosthesis, even one that’s been integrated with the nervous system to provide feedback — meaning users have to watch what they’re doing at all times. (That is, if the arm isn’t .) This prosthesis, built by Swiss, Italian, and German neurologists and engineers, is described in . It takes the existing concept of sending touch information to the brain through electrodes patched into the nerves of the arm, and adapts it to provide real-time proprioceptive feedback. “Our study shows that sensory substitution based on intraneural stimulation can deliver both position feedback and tactile feedback simultaneously and in real time. The brain has no problem combining this information, and patients can process both types in real time with excellent results,” explained Silvestro Micera, of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, . It’s been the work of a decade to engineer and demonstrate this possibility, which could be of enormous benefit. Having a natural, intuitive understanding of the position of your hand, arm, or leg would likely make prostheses much more useful and comfortable for their users. Essentially the robotic hand relays its telemetry to the brain through the nerve pathways that would normally be bringing touch to that area. Unfortunately it’s rather difficult to actually recreate the proprioceptive pathways, so the team used what’s called sensory substitution instead. This uses other pathways, like ordinary touch, as ways to present different sense modalities. (Diagram modified from original to better fit, and to remove some rather bloody imagery.) A simple example would be a machine that touched your arm in a different location depending on where your hand is. In the case of this research it’s much finer, but still essentially presenting position data as touch data. It sounds weird, but our brains are actually really good at adapting to this kind of thing. As evidence witness that after some training two amputees using the system were able to tell the difference between four differently shaped objects being grasped, with their eyes closed, with 75 percent accuracy. Chance would be 25 percent, of course, meaning the sensation of holding objects of different sizes came through loud and clear — clear enough for a prototype, anyway. Amazingly, the team was able to add actual touch feedback to the existing pathways and the users were not overly confused by it. So there’s precedent now for multi-modal sensory feedback from an artificial limb. The study has well-defined limitations, such as the number and type of fingers it was able to relay information from, and the granularity and type of that data. And the “installation” process is still very invasive. But it’s pioneering work nevertheless: this type of research is very iterative and global, progressing by small steps until, all of a sudden, prosthetics as a science has made huge strides. And the people who use prosthetic limbs will be making strides as well.
OnePlus, EE and Qualcomm start a contest for 5G apps

OnePlus, EE and Qualcomm start a contest for 5G apps

1:22pm, 26th February, 2019
Today at MWC Barcelona CEO Pete Lau to spur apps for 5G networks. The timing is right, too. With 5G launching around the world this year, carriers, phone makers and consumers alike have yet to develop a killer app for the massive increase of speed provided by 5G. Basically, OnePlus is asking for help developing uses for 5G. OnePlus sees a lacking of imagination around 5G in the long term. Speaking on a panel, CEO stated he does not believe people have thought enough about how 5G can change lives in the long term. This contest will select 20 finalists, who will get OnePlus devices. The winners will get a trip to OnePlus HQ and access to 5G testing labs, and support from Oneplus and EE. Such contest were common around the launch of 4G as mobile device makers were attempting to bolster app marketplaces. But 5G apps, could look much different from 4G apps as much of the processing is offloaded to a central data center instead of happening on the device. The promise of 5G is nearly here, but it will take initiatives and programs like this one from OnePlus to help make the possibilities clear to consumers. Earlier this week OnePlus,, .
OnePlus, EE and Qualcomm starts a contest for 5G apps

OnePlus, EE and Qualcomm starts a contest for 5G apps

11:12am, 26th February, 2019
Today at MWC Barcelona CEO Pete Lau to spur apps for 5G networks. The timing is right, too. With 5G launching around the world this year, carriers, phone makers and consumers alike have yet to develop a killer app for the massive increase of speed provided by 5G. Basically, OnePlus is asking for help developing uses for 5G. OnePlus sees a lacking of imagination around 5G in the long term. Speaking on a panel, CEO stated he does not believe people have thought enough about how 5G can change lives in the long term. This contest will select 20 finalists, who will get OnePlus devices. The winners will get a trip to OnePlus HQ and access to 5G testing labs, and support from Oneplus and EE. Such contest were common around the launch of 4G as mobile device makers were attempting to bolster app marketplaces. But 5G apps, could look much different from 4G apps as much of the processing is offloaded to a central data center instead of happening on the device. The promise of 5G is nearly here, but it will take initiatives and programs like this one from OnePlus to help make the possibilities clear to consumers. Earlier this week OnePlus,, .
Ubiquitilink advance means every phone is now a satellite phone

Ubiquitilink advance means every phone is now a satellite phone

3:43pm, 25th February, 2019
Last month I wrote about , which promised, through undisclosed means, it was on the verge of providing a sort of global satellite-based roaming service. But how, I asked? (Wait, they told me.) Turns out our phones are capable of a lot more than we think: they can reach satellites acting as cell towers in orbit just fine, and the company just proved it. Utilizing a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit, Ubiquitilink claimed during a briefing at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that pretty much any phone from the last decade should be able to text and do other low-bandwidth tasks from anywhere, even in the middle of the ocean or deep in the Himalayas. Literally (though eventually) anywhere and any time. Surely not, I hear you saying. My phone, that can barely get a signal on some blocks of my neighborhood, or in that one corner of the living room, can’t possibly send and receive data from space… can it? “That’s the great thing — everybody’s instinct indicates that’s the case,” said Ubiquitilink founder Charles Miller. “But if you look at the fundamentals of the RF [radio frequency] link, it’s easier than you think.” The issue, he explained, isn’t really that the phone lacks power. The limits of reception and wireless networks are defined much more by architecture and geology than plain physics. When an RF transmitter, even a small one, has a clear shot straight up, it can travel very far indeed. Space towers It’s not quite as easy as that, however; there are changes that need to be made, just not anything complex or expensive like special satellite antennas or base stations. If you know that modifying the phone is a non-starter, you have to work with the hardware you’ve got. But everything else can be shaped accordingly, Miller said – three things in particular. Lower the orbit. There are limits to what’s practical as far as the distance involved and the complications it brings. The orbit neds to be under 500 kilometers, or about 310 miles. That’s definitely low — geosynchronous is ten times higher — but it’s not crazy either. Some of SpaceX’s Starlink communications satellites . Narrow the beam. The low orbit and other limitations mean that a given satellite can only cover a small area at a time. This isn’t just blasting out data like a GPS satellite, or communicating with a specialized ground system like a dish that can reorient itself. So on the ground you’ll be looking at a 45 degree arc, meaning you can use a satellite that’s within a 45-degree-wide cone above you. Lengthen the wavelength. Here simple physics come into play: generally, the shorter the wavelength, the less transparent the atmosphere is to it. So you want to use bands on the long (lower Hz) side of the radio spectrum to make sure you maximize propagation. Having adjusted for these things, an ordinary phone can contact and trade information with a satellite with its standard wireless chip and power budget. But there’s one more obstacle, one Ubiquitilink spent a great deal of time figuring out. Although a phone and satellite can reach one another reliably, a delay and doppler shift in the signal due to the speeds and distances involved are inescapable. Turns out the software that runs towers and wireless chips isn’t suited for this; the timings built into the code assume the distance will be less than 30 km, since the curvature of the Earth generally prevents transmitting further than that. So Ubiquitilink modified the standard wireless stacks to account for this, something Miller said no one else had done. “After my guys came back and told me they’d done this, I said, well let’s go validate it,” he told me. “We went to NASA and JPL and asked what they thought. Everybody’s gut reaction was ‘well, this won’t work,’ but then afterwards they just said ‘well, it works.’ ” The theory became a reality earlier this year after Ubiquitilink launched their prototype satellites. They successfully made a two-way 2G connection between an ordinary ground device and the satellite, proving that the signal not only gets there and back, but that its doppler and delay distortions can be rectified on the fly. “Our first tests demonstrated that we offset the doppler shift and time delay. Everything else is leveraging commercial software,” Miller said, though he quickly added: “To be clear, there’s plenty more work to be done, but it isn’t anything that’s new technology. It’s good solid hardcore engineering, building nanosats and that sort of thing.” Since his previous company was and he’s been in the business for decades, he’s qualified to be confident on this part. It’ll be a lot of work and a lot of money, but they should be launching their first real satellites this summer. (And it’s all patented, he noted.) Global roaming The way the business will work is remarkably simple given the complexity of the product. Because the satellites operate on modified but mostly ordinary off-the-shelf software and connect to phones with no modifications necessary, Ubiquitilink will essentially work as a worldwide roaming operator that mobile networks will pay for access to. (Disclosure: Verizon, obviously a mobile network, owns TechCrunch, and for all I know will use this tech eventually. It’s not involved with any editorial decisions.) Normally, if you’re a subscriber of network X, and you’re visiting a country where X has no coverage, X will have an agreement with network Y, which connects you for a fee. There are hundreds of these deals in play at any given time, and Ubiquitilink would just be one more — except its coverage will eventually be global. Maybe you can’t reach X or Y, you’ll always be able to reach U. The speeds and services available will depend on what mobile networks want. Not everyone wants or needs the same thing, of course, and a 3G fallback might be practical where an LTE connection is less so. But the common denominator will be data enough to send and receive text at the least. It’s worth noting also that this connection will be in some crucial ways indistinguishable from other connections: it won’t affect encryption, for instance. This will of course necessitate at least a thousand satellites, by Miller’s count. But in the meantime limited service will also be available in the form of timed passes — you’ll have no signal for 55 minutes, then signal for five, during which you can send and receive what may be a critical text or location. This is envisioned as a specialty service at first, then as more satellites join the constellation, that window expands until it’s 24/7 and across the whole face of the planet, and it becomes a normal consumer good. Emergency fallback While your network provider will probably charge you the usual arm and leg for global roaming on demand (it’s their prerogative), there are some services Ubiquitilink will provide for free; the value of a global communication system is not lost on Miller. “Nobody should ever die because the phone in their pocket doesn’t have signal,” he said. “If you break down in the middle of Death Valley you should be able to text 911. Our vision is this is a universal service for emergency responders and global E-911 texting. We’re not going to charge for that.” An emergency broadcast system when networks are down is also being planned — power outages following disasters are times when people are likely to panic or be struck by a follow-up disaster like a tsunami or flooding, and reliable communications at those times could save thousands and vastly improve recovery efforts. “We don’t want to make money off saving people’s lives, that’s just a benefit of implementing this system, and the way it should be,” Miller said. It’s a whole lot of promises, but the team and the tech seem capable of backing them up. Initial testing is complete and birds are in the air — now it’s a matter of launching the next thousand or so.