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.
Telecom company has shared some of its plans when it comes to 5G service in the U.S. The company announced at MWC in Barcelona that mobile customers in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City can expect 5G service as soon as May 2019. If you don’t live in one of those cities, maybe you live in Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix or Washington D.C. Sprint also promises 5G coverage in those cities soon after the initial launch, at some point before the end of June 2019. Overall, Sprint expects to cover 1,000 square miles in nine cities by the end of the first half of 2019. It’s going to take years to roll out 5G coverage across the U.S. When it comes to devices, Sprint will sell smartphones that are compatible with its 5G network. The first one will be the . The company will also sell the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G at some point this summer. Sprint is also partnering with Google so that Google Fi customers can take advantage of Sprint’s 5G network if they have a compatible device. And that’s about all there’s to know. It’s still unclear whether 5G plans are going to cost more. Disclosure: Sprint competitor Verizon owns TechCrunch
Today MWC Barcelona the SD Association unveiled microSD Express that will allow future mobile devices to consume and create content at even faster speeds. This new microSD card platform boosts incredible transfer speeds while consuming less energy used by previous formats. The new format will be available in the flavors of microSDHC Express, microSDXC Express and microSDUC Express. Like SD Express, microSD Express taps the PCIe interface to hit a maximum data transfer rate of 985 megabytes per second (MB/s). This is possible through the PCIe 3.1 and NVMe v1.3 specifications that live on a second row of pins. The SD Association expects the faster cards to consume less energy than traditional memory cards while still being backwards compatible. The fast data speeds could lead mobile device makers to rethink how they equip devices. Read and write speeds have long been a limiting factor for expandable memory, but with this new format, that’s backwards compatible, the data transfer happens nearly as quick as built-in memory. With 5G data and cameras pumping out huge files, expandable memory could make a comeback. Want more technical information about ? Learn more in our newest whitepaper: — SD Association (@SD_Association)
today announced new 4g and 5g chipsets for connected vehicles. The chip maker sees the advanced communication platforms powering the next wave of in-vehicle experiences and telematics features including advanced automotive safety features and self-driving cars. Qualcomm says vehicles equipped with these chipsets are planned for production in 2021. The Qualcomm Snapdragon Automotive 4G and Qualcomm Snapdragon Automotive 5G Platform feature C-V2X direct communications, high-precision multi-frequency global navigation satellite system (HP-GNSS) and RF Front-End (RFFE) functionalities — basically, the chipsets will give vehicles next level positioning capabilities.Along with improved positioning, vehicles equipped with these Snapdragon platforms gain vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. The Snapdragon Automotive 5G chipset is the first in the industry announced with support for dual SIM dual active — or DSDA, for short. Qualcomm says it intends to give automakers the ability to test the platforms with a reference design kit in the second half of 2019. It’s through chipsets like these that vehicles will gain autonomous driving capabilities. Without advanced, reliable connectivity, vehicles will not have access to the data needed to navigate across the ever-evolving urban landscape. While current systems are being used to some level of success, improved connectivity is ultimately needed to make good on the promise of self-driving cars.
the latest version of its ‘mixed reality’ headset at MWC Barcelona today. The new HoloLens 2 features a significantly larger field of view, higher resolution and a device that’s more comfortable to wear. Indeed, Microsoft says the device is three times as comfortable to wear (though it’s unclear how Microsoft measured this). Later this year, HoloLens 2 will be available in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand for $3,500. One of the knocks against the original HoloLens was its limited field of view. When whatever you wanted to look at was small and straight ahead of you, the effect was striking. But when you moved your head a little bit or looked at a larger object, it suddenly felt like you were looking through a stamp-sized screen. HoloLens 2 features a field of view that’s twice as large as the original. “Kinect was the first intelligent device to enter our homes,” HoloLens chief Alex Kipman said in today’s keynote, looking back the the device’s history. “It drove us to create Microsoft HoloLens. […] Over the last few years, individual developers, large enterprises, brand new startup have been dreaming up beautiful things, helpful things.” The HoloLens was always just as much about the software as the hardware, though. For HoloLens, Microsoft developed a special version of Windows, together with a new way of interacting with the AR objects through gestures like . In this new version, the interaction is far more natural and lets you tap objects. The device also tracks your gaze more accurately to allow the software to adjust to where you are looking. “HoloLens 2 adapts to you,” Kipman stressed. “HoloLens 2 evolves the interaction model by significantly advancing how people engage with holograms.” In its demos, the company clearly emphasized how much faster and fluid the interaction with HoloLens applications becomes when you can use slides, for example, by simply grabbing the slider and moving it, or by tapping on a button with either a finger or two or with your full hand. Microsoft event built a virtual piano that you can play with ten fingers to show off how well the HoloLens can track movement. The company calls this ‘instinctual interaction.’ Microsoft first unveiled the HoloLens concept at a surprise event on its Redmond campus back . After a limited, invite-only release that started days after the end of MWC 2016, the device went on sale to in August 2016. Four years is a long time between hardware releases, but the company clearly wanted to seed the market and give developer a chance to build the first set of HoloLens applications on a stable platform. To support developers, Microsoft is also launching a number of Azure services for HoloLens today. These include spatial anchors and remote rendering to help developers stream high-polygon content to HoloLens. It’s worth noting that Microsoft never positioned the device as consumer hardware. I may have shown off the occasional game, but its focus was always on business applications, with a bit of educational applications thrown in, too. That trend continued today. Microsoft showed off the ability to have multiple people collaborate around a single hologram, for example. That’s not new, of course, but goes to show how Microsoft is positioning this technology. For these enterprises, Microsoft will also offer the ability to customize the device. “When you change the way you see the world, you change the world you see,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, repeating a line from the company’s first HoloLens announcement four years ago. He noted that he believes that connecting the physical world with the virtual world will transform the way we will work.
Today at MWC Barcelona Huawei announced it will bring 5G to its flagship phone, the Mate 20 X. This marks the first 5G phone from the Chinese mobile giant. Huawei joins a growing list of companies introducing their first 5G phone in early 2019. In the past week, , , and announced 5G versions of their flagship phones. The company failed revealed any more details about the upcoming handset including price and availability. Chances are the Mate 20 X will feature a version of its do-it-all Balong 5000 chipset, the company’s latest 5G chip announced a few weeks ago. Huawei’s Balong 5000 brings added connectivity options over the company’s previous 5G chipsets. Huawei claims the Balong 5000 is the first chip that supports both standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) network architectures for 5G allowing it connect to existing supercharged 4G networks as well as future 5G networks. This is key as carriers worldwide are looking to sell consumers on the benefits of 5G built on the networks of existing 4G networks. The Mate 20 X is widely seen as one of the best phones available with an amazing camera, in-screen fingerprint reader, and a large, beautiful screen. Price and market availability
doesn’t want to miss the 5G bandwagon — the company just unveiled its first smartphone that comes with a 5G modem at a press conference in Barcelona. The Mi Mix 3 5G is a new variant of the Mi Mix 3, a phone that Xiaomi originally released in . The company is trying to create a bezel-less phone with the Mi Mix line. Instead of a notch or a punch-hole display, Xiaomi has opted for a sliding front-facing camera. The result is a 93.4 percent screen-to-body ratio. You can find two cameras on the back of the device, which give you the ability to shoot slow-motion videos at 960 frames per second. The handset body is made of ceramic. There are a few changes in the new device. First, Xiaomi has swapped the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 system-on-a-chip with a Snapdragon 855 system-on-a-chip — the same chipset you can find on the Samsung Galaxy S10. When it comes to the modem, the company is using Qualcomm’s X50 5G modem. It’s always hard to grasp the advantages of 5G. That’s why Xiaomi’s Director of Product Management Donovan Sung started a video call with one of its telecom partner, Orange Spain. There was some latency and it wasn’t that convincing. At launch, Xiaomi is partnering with Orange, 3, Sunrise, Telefonica, Tim and Vodafone. The device will be available in May for €599 ($680) in two colors — Onyx Black and Sapphire Blue. Let’s see if any 5G network will be ready by then. Chipmaker Qualcomm’s president, Cristiano Amon, stole a little of Xiaomi’s thunder by naming the Mi Mix 3 5G first during a turn on stage at the press conference as a Xiaomi partner. Amon took the opportunity to give a muscular sales pitch for 5G, claiming the next-gen cellular tech would come faster than the transition from 3G to 4G/LTE and bring transformative benefits for consumers — touting the likes of premium gaming on mobile to replace game consoles. That’s because 5G should greatly lower latency and improve online gaming. “5G is here. Not in 2020, not in late 2020 – it’s here right now in 2019. 2019 is the year of 5G,” he claimed, suggesting 5G device launches would be fast-followed by commercial 5G services as early as the second half of this year. On device AI will also get a boost from 5G, Amon suggested, arguing that “every” app will be able to leverage machine learning thanks to reduced latency. “You can unleash the power of the cloud for every app and service,” he said. “5G will improve substantially how we think about our phones,” he added. “Everything will get better.” Xiaomi also used its first MWC new product launch event opportunity to announce the Mi 9 once again. The company has already unveiled its new flagship device . It’s a more traditional phone with a waterdrop-shaped notch, a Snapdragon 855 chipset and a triple camera system. You can find a 48-megapixel camera, a 16-megapixel wide-angle camera and a 12-megapixel telephoto camera on the back of the device. The Mi 9 will be priced at €449 ($510) for 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, €499 ($565) for 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Pre-orders start from today in select European markets — devices should ship by February 28. There are now 224 million monthly active Xiaomi smartphone users globally. While Xiaomi phones aren’t available in the U.S., you can now buy Xiaomi phones in Spain, the U.K., France and Italy in addition to many Asian markets. Xiaomi also talked up its wider product portfolio, saying it has more than 2,000 Xiaomi-branded products in all, working with more than 200 partners. The company reiterated that it’s committed to having a dual strategy of smartphones plus A-IoT It singled out electric scooters to say it’s shipped more than 560,000 Mi scooters to date. The Mi scooter was “probably the best selling personal transportation device in the world in 2018”, it added. At the event it also announced the launch of another new product: The Mi LED Smart Bulb — a connected light bulb that lets users control light color and brightness via their phone. It’s priced at €19.90. The company tried to demo its smart home ecosystem but failed to turn off the air purifier using Google Assistant. Xiaomi didn’t say a word on its foldable smartphone. It looks like there’s still some more work to do on the device.
is set to announce a brand new hardware device at MWC in Barcelona — the new HoloLens headset. The conference starts at 6:00 PM CET (5:00 AM GMT, 12:00 PM ET, 9:00 AM PT). If you’ve ever tried the HoloLens, you know that this it is a magical device. But Microsoft quickly realized that it had more potential for industrial use cases. It is now positioned as a B2B device. Let’s see what Microsoft has in mind with the second-generation HoloLens. The company is also going to talk about its mobile strategy when it comes to apps and services on iOS and Android. You can check it out live via Microsoft’s official stream above, and stay tuned on TechCrunch.com for ongoing coverage of .
makes a fantastic screen time management tool and today the company announced a round of funding to help fuel its growth. The $20 million series B included participation from Netgear and T-Mobile, along with Third Kind Venture Capital and follow-on investments from Relay Ventures and other Series A participants. With this round of funding, has raised over $30 million to date including . , Circle intends to use the funds to expand its product offering and form new partnerships with hardware makers and mobile carriers. The timing is perfect. Parents are increasingly looking at ways to make sure children and teenagers do not become addicted to screens. Circle works different from other solutions attempting to limit screen time. It’s hardware based and sits plugged into a home’s network. It allows an administrator, like a parent, to easily restrict the amount of time a device, such as an iPhone owned by a child, is able to access the local network. It’s easy and that’s the point. Circle sits in a small, but growing field of services attempting to give parents the ability to limit their child’s screen time. Some of these solutions, like Apple’s, and thought works well, is limited to iOS and Mac OS devices. Others, like those on Netgear’s Orbi products, offer a similar network-wide net, but is much harder to use than Circle. In my household we use tools like Circle. The lure of the screen is just too great and these solutions, when used in combination with traditional parenting, ensure my children stare into the real world — at least for a few minutes a day.
According to a new report from , Apple and Goldman Sachs are partnering on a different kind of products for both companies — a credit card. The Mastercard-based card would be focused on Pay and feature some deep integrations in iOS. This card could launch later this year in the U.S., which would coincide with the next iPhone. An Apple credit card would be a good way to take a bigger cut on transactions. Instead of splitting fees between the card issuer, the card network and Apple, Apple would get a portion of the fees for the card issuer. It could also be a way to evangelize Apple Pay. While most cards are now compatible with Apple Pay in the U.S., many people still don’t think about paying with their iPhone or Apple Watch. This is also uncharted territory for . According to the WSJ, the new card would represent Goldman’s first card. The company could be investing as much as $200 million to build a support team and the IT infrastructure to handle payments. You could expect a cash back on some purchases. More interestingly, Apple could also be working on an Apple Wallet overhaul for this credit card. You would be able to set up spending goals (like the rings in the Activity app), get notifications about your spending habits (like Screen Time) and track your rewards. It’s unclear if Apple plans to open up those new features to other banks. By partnering with Apple, Goldman Sachs would get a great distribution channel. And by launching a card, Apple would prove once again that, given enough time, all companies eventually become banks.
smartphone marketshare data for the just gone holiday quarter highlights the challenge for device makers going into the which kicks off in Barcelona next week: The analyst’s data shows global smartphone sales stalled in Q4 2018, with growth of just 0.1 per cent over 2017’s holiday quarter, and 408.4 million units shipped. tl;dr: high end handset buyers decided not to bother upgrading their shiny slabs of touch-sensitive glass. Gartner says recorded its worst quarterly decline (11.8 per cent) since Q1 2016, though the iPhone maker retained its second place position with 15.8 per cent marketshare behind market leader Samsung (17.3 per cent). Last month the company to expect reduced revenue for its fiscal Q1 — and went on to report year over year. The South Korean mobile maker also lost share year over year (declining around 5 per cent), with Gartner noting that high end devices such as the , and struggled to drive growth, even as Chinese rivals ate into its mid-tier share. Huawei was one of the rivals causing a headache for Samsung. It bucked the declining share trend of major vendors to close the gap on Apple from its third placed slot — selling more than 60 million smartphones in the holiday quarter and expanding its share from 10.8 per cent in Q4 2017 to 14.8 per cent. Gartner has dubbed 2018 “the year of Huawei”, saying it achieved the top growth of the top five global smartphone vendors and grew throughout the year. This growth was not just in Huawei “strongholds” of China and Europe but also in Asia/Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East, via continued investment in those regions, the analyst noted. While its expanded mid-tier Honor series helped the company exploit growth opportunities in the second half of the year “especially in emerging markets”. By contrast Apple’s double-digit decline made it the worst performer of the holiday quarter among the top five global smartphone vendors, with Gartner saying iPhone demand weakened in most regions, except North America and mature Asia/Pacific. It said iPhone sales declined most in Greater China, where it found Apple’s market share dropped to 8.8 percent in Q4 (down from 14.6 percent in the corresponding quarter of 2017). For 2018 as a whole iPhone sales were down 2.7 percent, to just over 209 million units, it added. “Apple has to deal not only with buyers delaying upgrades as they wait for more innovative smartphones. It also continues to face compelling high-price and midprice smartphone alternatives from Chinese vendors. Both these challenges limit Apple’s unit sales growth prospects,” said Gartner’s Anshul Gupta, senior research director, in a statement. “Demand for entry-level and midprice smartphones remained strong across markets, but demand for high-end smartphones continued to slow in the fourth quarter of 2018. Slowing incremental innovation at the high end, coupled with price increases, deterred replacement decisions for high-end smartphones,” he added. Further down the smartphone leaderboard, Chinese OEM, Oppo, grew its global smartphone market share in Q4 to bump Chinese upstart, and bag fourth place — taking 7.7 per cent vs Xiaomi’s 6.8 per cent for the holiday quarter. The latter had a generally flat Q4, with just a slight decline in units shipped, according to Gartner’s data — underlining Xiaomi’s motivations for . Because, well, with eye-catching innovation stalled among the usual suspects (who’re nontheless raising high end handset prices), there’s at least an opportunity for buccaneering underdogs to smash through, grab attention and poach bored consumers. Or that’s the theory. Consumer interest in ‘foldables’ very much remains to be tested. In 2018 as a whole, the analyst says global sales of smartphones to end users grew by 1.2 percent year over year, with 1.6 billion units shipped. The worst declines of the year were in North America, mature Asia/Pacific and Greater China (6.8 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively), it added. “In mature markets, demand for smartphones largely relies on the appeal of flagship smartphones from the top three brands — Samsung, Apple and Huawei — and two of them recorded declines in 2018,” noted Gupta. Overall, smartphone market leader Samsung took 19.0 percent marketshare in 2018, down from 20.9 per cent in 2017; second placed Apple took 13.4 per cent (down from 14.0 per cent in 2017); third placed Huawei took 13.0 per cent (up from 9.8 per cent the year before); while Xiaomi, in fourth, took a 7.9 per cent share (up from 5.8 per cent); and Oppo came in fifth with 7.6 per cent (up from 7.3 per cent).
The planned Robot Science Museum in Seoul will have a humdinger of a first exhibition: its own robotic construction. It’s very much a publicity stunt, though a fun one — but who knows? Perhaps robots putting buildings together won’t be so uncommon in the next few years, in which case Korea will just be an early adopter. The idea for robotic construction comes from Melike Altinisik Architects, the Turkish firm that won a competition to design the museum. Their proposal took the form of an egg-like shape covered in panels that can be lifted into place by robotic arms. “From design, manufacturing to construction and services robots will be in charge,” wrote the firm in the . Now, let’s be honest: this is obviously an exaggeration. The building has clearly been designed by the talented humans at MAA, albeit with a great deal of help from computers. But it has been designed with robots in mind, and they will be integral to its creation.The parts will all be designed digitally, and robots will “mold, assemble, weld and polish” the plates for the outside, , after which of course they will also be put in place by robots. The base and surrounds will be produced by an immense 3D printer laying down concrete. So while much of the project will unfortunately have to be done by people, it will certainly serve as a demonstration of those processes that can be accomplished by robots and computers. Construction is set to begin in 2020, with the building opening its (likely human-installed) doors in 2022 as a branch of the Seoul Metropolitan Museum. Though my instincts tell me that this kind of unprecedented combination of processes is more likely than not to produce significant delays. Here’s hoping the robots cooperate.
If you’re doing ordinary photography and videography, there’s rarely any need to go beyond extreme wide-angle lenses — but why be ordinary? This absurd custom fisheye lens has a 270-degree field of view, meaning it can see behind the camera it’s mounted on — or rather the camera mounted on it. It’s certainly a bit of fun from Lens Rentals, the outfit that put it together, but it’s definitely real and might even be useful. is fascinating (at least I found it so) and gives an idea of how complex lens assemblies can be. Of course, this one’s not exactly standard, but still. The C-4 Optics 4.9mm f/3.5 Hyperfisheye Prototype, as they call it (hereafter “the lens”) first appeared as what seemed at the time to be , at best half-serious. “The Flying Saucer,” as they called it, AKA the Light Bender, AKA the Mother of all Fisheye Lenses, included a vaguely plausible optical diagram showing the path of light traveling from the far edge of its view, from about 45 degrees rearward of the camera. Sure, why not? Because it’s ridiculous, that’s why not! But the beautiful bastards did it anyway, and the results are as ridiculous as you’d imagine. There are lenses out there that produce past-180-degree images, but 270 is really quite beyond them. Here’s what the output looks like, raw on top and corrected below: Naturally you wouldn’t want this for snapshots. It would be for very specific shots in high resolution that you would massage to get back to something resembling an ordinary field of view, or somehow incorporate into a VR or AR experience. The camera has to mount in between the legs that support the lens, which is probably a rather fiddly process to undertake. The enormous lens cap, or “lens helmet,” doubles as an upside-down stand to ease the task. It’s a fun project and adds one more weird thing (two, technically, since they built a second) to the world, so I support it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately because it’s a “passion project” it won’t be available for rent, so you’ll be stuck with something like the Nikon 6mm f/2.8, with its paltry 220-degree field of view. What’s even the point?
Reports of the headphone jack’s death are greatly exaggerated. Or more accurately, premature. are equipped with a 3.5mm port, bucking the trend set by Apple and followed by Google. While the headphone jack might eventually die, right now, in 2019, it’s alive and could be a major selling point for the four versions of the Samsung Galaxy S10. Apple ditched the 3.5mm jack back in 2016 with the introduction of the iPhone 7 and some of us still haven’t gotten over it. The port has been around for generations. The 3.5mm audio jack is universal and handy, allowing someone to grab a set of headphones, any headphones costing between $10 and $1,000, and connect it to their phone. But alas, Apple removed the port from the iPhone and several manufacturers including Google followed. But not Samsung. While the rest of the industry turned its back on the 3.5mm jack, Samsung kept including it on its latest smartphones and started using it as an advertised feature. What was once standard to every phone, became a selling point for Samsung. This isn’t the first time Samsung bucked trends and kept around legacy features to entice buyers. Smartphones used to have expandable memory, but as flash storage size increases, manufacturers stopped including MicroSD card slots on its phones. Not Samsung. Expandable memory remains an option in the S10 announced today. There’s a reason Samsung is the top smartphone maker in the world: It listens to its customers and clearly its customers want the versatility of a 3.5mm headphone jack. I do. Alas, the 3.5mm jack will not live forever. Eventually the industry will move past the analog connection once there’s a better solution. But that’s not right now. Today, in 2019, the headphone jack has a friend in Samsung.
Samsung’s features a whopping four models, the S10e, the S10, the S10+ and the S10 5G. Unsurprisingly, one of the features that differentiates these models is the camera system. Gone are the days, after all, where one camera would suffice. Now, all the S10 models, except for the budget S10e, feature at least three rear cameras and the high-end 5G model even goes for four — and all of them promise more AI smarts and better video stabilization. All models get at least a standard 12MP read wide-angle camera with a 77-degree field of view, a 16MP ultra-wide-angle camera for 123-degree shots, and a 10MP selfie camera. The standard S10 then adds a 12MP telephoto lens to the rear camera setup and then S10+ gets an 8MP RGB depth camera. The high-end S10 5G adds a hQVGA 3D depth camera to both the front and rear setup. The ultra-wide lens is a first for Samsung’s flagship S10 series, though it’s a bit late to the game here given that others have already offered these kind of lenses on their phones before. Still, if you are planning on getting an S10, this new lens will come in handy for large group shots and landscape photos. On the video front, Samsung promises better stabilization, UHD quality for both the rear and front cameras and HDR10+ support for the rear camera. These days, though, it’s all about computational photography and like its competitors, Samsung promises that its new cameras are also significantly smarter than its predecessors. Specifically, the company is pointing to its new scene optimizer for the S10 line which uses the phone’s neural processing unit to recognize and process up to 30 different scenes and also offer shot suggestions to help you better frame the scene. Since we haven’t actually used the phones yet, though, it’s hard to say how much a difference those AI smarts really make in day-to-day use.
The UK’s Department for Transport has that an expansion of drone ‘no-fly’ zones to 5km around airport runways will come into force on March 13. Anyone caught and convicted of flying a drone inside the restricted zones could face a fine and years in prison. the government said it would tighten restrictions on drones flights around airports, after the existing 1km limit was criticized for being inadequate — saying it believes expanded no-fly zones will help protect airports from drone misuse. The 1km drone exclusion zone around airports, and a 400ft drone flight height restriction rule, only came into force last . But ministers came in for sharp criticism following the when a spate of drone sightings near the UK’s second busiest airport caused a temporary shutdown of the runway and travel disruption for thousands of people right before Christmas. Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, also after further sightings of drones last month. “The law is clear that flying a drone near an airport is a serious criminal act. We’re now going even further and extending the no-fly zone to help keep our airports secure and our skies safe,” said transport secretary, Chris Grayling, in a statement today. “We are also working to raise awareness of the rules in place. Anyone flying their drone within the vicinity of an airport should know they are not only acting irresponsibly, but criminally, and could face imprisonment.” The government and the Civil Aviation Authority have announced a partnership with online retailer Jessops to help raise public awareness about the new drone rules — and encourage what they dub “responsible drone use” — as part of a national awareness campaign. The government also said work is continuing on a new Drones Bill. Although the planned legislation is already almost a year behind schedule — and is still only slated for introduction “in due course”. The bill will give police officers powers to stop and search people suspected of using drones maliciously above when the drone bill was first floated by the government. It re-announced its intention to beef up police powers to tackle drone misuse following the Gatwick fiasco. The government added today that the Home Office is still reviewing the UK’s approach to countering the malicious use of drones, writing that it will “consider how best to protect the full range of the , drone maker DJI announced upgrades to its geofencing systems across Europe — applying stricter and more detailed restrictions around airports and other sensitive sites after switching its mapping data provider from US based AirMap to UK based Altitude Angel.
iOS 12, latest mobile software for iPhone and iPad, is . The new software packs in a bunch of you’ve probably already heard about. Here’s what you need to do to take advantage of the new settings and lock down your device. 1. Turn on USB Restricted Mode to make hacking more difficult This difficult-to-find new feature prevents any accessories from connecting to your device — like USB cables and headphones — when your iPhone or iPad has been locked for more than an hour. That prevents police and hackers alike from using tools to passcode and get your data. Go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode and type in your passcode. Then, scroll down and ensure that USB Accessories are not permitted on the lock screen, so make sure the setting is Off. (On an iPhone X, check your Face ID settings instead.) 2. Make sure automatic iOS updates are turned on Every time your iPhone or iPad updates, it comes with a slew of security patches to prevent crashes or data theft. Yet, how often do you update your phone? Most don’t bother unless it’s a major update. Now, iOS 12 will update your device behind the scenes, saving you downtime. Just make sure you switch it on. Go to Settings > General > Software Update and turn on automatic updates. 3. Set a stronger device passcode iOS has gotten better in recent years with passcodes. For years, it was a four-digit code by default, and now it’s six-digits. That makes it far more difficult to run through every combination — known as brute-forcing. But did you know that you can set a number-only code of any length? Eight-digits, twelve — even more — and it keeps the number keypad on the lock screen so you don’t have to fiddle around with the keyboard. Go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode and enter your passcode. Then, go to Change password and, from the options, set a Custom Numeric Code. 4. Now, switch on two-factor authentication Two-factor is one of the best ways to keep your account safe. If someone steals your password, they still need your phone to break into your account. For years, two-factor has been cumbersome and annoying. Now, iOS 12 has a new feature that auto-fills the code, so it takes the frustration step out of the equation — so you have no excuse. You may be asked to switch on two-factor when you set up your phone. You can also go to Settings and tap your name, then go to Password & Security. Just tap Turn on Two-Factor Authentication and follow the prompts. 5. While you’re here… change your reused passwords iOS 12’s password manager has a new feature: password auditing. If it finds you’ve used the same password on multiple sites, it will warn you and advise you to change those passwords. It prevents password reuse attacks (known as ““) that hackers use to break into multiple sites and services using the same username and password. Go to Settings > Passwords & Accounts > Website & App Passwords and enter your passcode. You’ll see a small warning symbol next to each account that recognizes a reused password. One tap of the Change Password on Website button and you’re done.
For the first time later this week, a privately developed moon lander will launch aboard a privately built rocket, organized by a private launch coordinator. It’s an historic moment in space and the Israeli mission stands to make history again if it touches down on the Moon’s surface as planned on April 11. The Beresheet (“Genesis”) program was originally conceived as an entry into the ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful Google Lunar Xprize in 2010, which challenged people to accomplish a lunar landing, with $30 million in prizes as the incentive. The prize closed last year with no winner but as these Xprize competitions aim to do, it had already spurred great interest and investment in a private moon mission. and Israel Aerospace Industries worked together on the mission, which will bring cameras, a magnetometer, and a capsule filled with items from the country to, hopefully, a safe rest on the lunar surface. The Beresheet lander ahead of packaging for launch. The launch plan as of now (these things do change with weather, technical delays, and so on) is for takeoff at 5:45 Pacific time on Thursday — 8:45 PM in Cape Canaveral — aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A live stream should be available shortly before, which I’ll add here later or in a new post. 30 minutes after takeoff the payload will detach and make contact with mission control, then begin the process of closing the distance to the Moon, during which time it will circle the Earth six times. Russia, China, and of course the U.S. are the only ones ever to successfully land on the Moon; was the first to soft-land (as opposed to impact) the “dark” (though really only far — it’s often light) side and is currently functional. But although there has been one successful private lunar flyby mission (the Manfred Memorial probe) no one but a major country has ever touched down. If Beresheet is a success it would be both the first Israeli moon mission and the first private mission to do so. It would also be the first lunar landing to be accomplished with a privately built rocket, and the lightest spacecraft on the Moon, and at around $100M in costs, the cheapest as well. Landing on the Moon is, of course, terribly difficult. Just as geosynchronous orbit is far more difficult than low Earth orbit, a lunar insertion orbit is even harder, a stable such orbit even harder, and accomplishing a controlled landing on target even harder than that. The only thing more difficult would be to take off again and return to Earth, as Apollo 11 did in 1969 and other missions several times after. Kind of amazing when you think about it. Seattle’s Spaceflight coordinated the launch, and technically Beresheet is the secondary payload; the primary is the Air Force Research Labs’ S5 experimental satellite, which the launch vehicle will take to geosynchronous orbit after the lunar module detaches. Although Beresheet may very well be the first, it will likely be the first of many: other contenders in the Lunar Xprize, as well as companies funded or partnering with NASA and other space agencies, will soon be making their own attempts at making tracks in the regolith.
If you think you knew there’s to know about the Samsung Galaxy S10, the company’s Norwegian ad has now leaked . The Verge the ad — a Verge reader was watching TV and it accidentally aired on commercial TV. It matches up with devices that have already leaked over the past couple of months. But there are some additional features that haven’t been discussed yet. The most glaring change is that Samsung is opting for a pinhole cutout in the corner of the screen instead of an iPhone-style notch. The S10 will have a rounded hole while the S10+ will get an oblong hole punch with a couple of front-facing camera sensors. As you can see in the ad, Samsung has integrated the fingerprint sensor in the display. It’s still unclear whether you’ll be able to touch any part of the screen, but the ad shows that you’ll be able to put your finger right above the USB-C connector to unlock your phone. The photo gallery app will get a new tab for stories. It sounds like you’ll be able to create stories using the default camera app without having to use Instagram or Snapchat. In addition to wireless charging, the S10 will be able to act as a wireless charger. For instance, you’ll be able to recharge the company’s AirPods-like earbuds using your phone. Rumor has it that Samsung will also release a third device this year. In addition to the usual S10 (6.1-inch display), the S10+ (6.4-inch display), there could be a cheaper 5.8-inch phone. This variant could feature an LCD display, and two cameras on the back instead of three. And yet, the ad only shows two phones. It’s unclear whether Samsung will run separate advertising campaigns or launch that cheaper phone at a later date.
Some interesting M&A is afoot in the world of hardware and software that’s aiming to improve the quality of audio and video communications over digital networks. — the Danish company that broke new ground in mobile when it inked deals first with and then to stream audio from their phones directly to smart, connected hearing aids — is expanding from audio to video, and from Europe to Silicon Valley. Today, the company announced that it would acquire Altia Systems, a startup out of Cupertino that makes a “surround” videoconferencing device and software called the PanaCast (we reviewed it ) designed to replicate the panoramic, immersive experience of vision that we have as humans. GN is paying $125 million for the startup. For some context, this price represents a decent return: according to , Altia was last valued at around $78 million with investors including Intel Capital and others. Intel’s investment was one of several strategic partnerships that Altia had inked over the years. (Another was with Zoom to provide a .) The Intel partnership, for one, will continue post-acquisition. “Intel invested in Altia Systems to bring an industry leading immersive, Panoramic-4K camera experience to business video collaboration,” said Dave Flanagan, Vice President of Intel Corporation and Senior Managing Director of Intel Capital, in a statement. “Over the past few years, Altia Systems has collaborated with Intel to use AI and to deliver more intelligent conference rooms and business meetings. This helps customers make better decisions, automate workflows and improve business efficiency. We are excited to work with GN to further scale this technology on a global basis.” We have seen a lot of applications of AI in just about every area of technology, but one of the less talked about, but very interesting, areas has been in how it’s being used to enhance audio in digital network. , as one example, is creating and tracking “audio fingerprints” for security applications, specifically fraud prevention (to authenticate users and to help weed out imposters based not just on the actual voice but on all the other aural cues we may not pick up as humans but can help build a picture of a caller’s location and so on). GN, meanwhile, has been building AI-based algorithms to help those who cannot hear as well, or who simply needs to hear better, be able to listen to calls on digital networks and make out what’s being said. This not only requires technology to optimise the audio quality, but also algorithms that can help tailor that quality to the specific person’s own unique hearing needs. One of the more obvious applications of services like these are for those who are hard of hearing and use hearing aids (which can be awful or impossible to use with mobile phones), another is in call centers, and this appears to be the area where GN is hoping to address with the Altia acquisition. GN already offers two products for call centre workers, Jabra and BlueParrot — headsets and speakerphones with their own proprietary software that it claims makes workers more efficient and productive just by making it easier to understand what callers are saying. Altia will be integrated into that solution to expand it to include videoconferencing around unified communications solutions, creating more natural experiences for those who are not actually in physical rooms together. “Combining GN Audio’s sound expertise, partner eco-system and global channel access with the video technology from Altia Systems, we will take the experience of conference calls to a completely new level,” said René Svendsen-Tune, President and CEO of GN Audio, in a statement. What’s notable is that GN is a vertically-integrated company, building not just hardware but software to run on it. The AI engine underpinning some of its software development will be getting a vast new trove of data fed into it now by way of the PanaCast solution: not jut in terms of video, but the large amount of audio that will naturally come along with it. “Combining PanaCast’s immersive, intelligent video with GN Audio’s intelligent audio solutions will enable us to deliver a whole new class of collaboration products for our customers,” said Aurangzeb Khan, President and CEO of Altia Systems, in a statement. “PanaCast’s solutions enable companies to improve meeting participants’ experience, automate workflows, and enhance business efficiency and real estate utilization with data lakes of valid information.” Given GN’s work with Android and iOS devices, it will be interesting to see how and if these video solutions make their way to those platforms as well, either by way of solutions that work on their phones or perhaps more native integrations down the line. Regardless of how that develops, what’s clear is that there remains a market not just for basic tools to get work done, but technology to improve the quality of those tools, and that’s where GN hopes it will resonate with this deal.