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Apple goes back to its old future

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Last week Apple went back to its old future, with a 4” iPhone that looks like a 5s but with 6s insides. Confused? So is Apple, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When marketing hype for a new product emphasises adjectives over facts and benefits, it’s usually a sign that its creators may be running out of ideas.

Last week’s unveiling of the new iPhone SE with 4-inch screen coincided with World Poetry Day, which seemed to be the cue to wax lyrical. The official announcement made less of the phone’s features than of the “beloved compact aluminium design that has been updated with matte-chamfered edges, a colour-matched stainless steel Apple logo, and four gorgeous metallic finishes, including rose gold”.

The facts are that the phone looks similar to the iPhone 5c released in 2013 with a 4” screen, but with iPhone 6s insides. From a 12MP camera (compared to 8MP on the 5s) and 2GB RAM (vs 1GB) to Apple A9 processor (vs A7) and 14 hours talk-time (vs 10 hours), it is clearly a far more powerful device. But then, it should be, given a 30-month period since the 5c release, in which time smartphone performance has been dramatically ramped up by most manufacturers.

Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, called the iPhone SE “an exciting new idea”, justifying this puzzling statement by saying Apple “started with a beloved, iconic design and reinvented it from the inside out”.

“The result,” he said, “is the most beautiful and powerful phone with a four-inch display in the world.” By now, the official Apple line trotted out with each new iPhone release – “the most powerful iPhone ever”, “the best iPhone ever” – is wearing thin. If each new release were NOT the best or fastest yet, THAT would be news.

There is one claim made by Schiller that we can swallow more easily: “Everyone who wants a smaller phone is going to love iPhone SE.”

But therein lies the real problem for Apple. It held off global demand for bigger screens for several years after Samsung began leading the market into larger displays with the Galaxy S3 in 2012. It only gave in with the iPhone 6 in late 2014, by which time it had lost massive market share to the South Korean manufacturer.

It also produced a large-format version, the 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus, which was positioned precisely to compete with Samsung’s 5.7” Note “phablet” format. There it jostles for attention with numerous players in the phablet space, from the LG G4 to the Huawei Ascend Mate S to the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium. Low-cost players like Xiaomi, Alcatel also compete vigorously in this format, and we even have a homegrown manufacturer, Mint, that is beginning to pick up significant market share with larger displays.

It is ironic, then, that Apple is not trying to differentiate itself by going in the opossite direction, producing a phone that is smaller than almost anything in the mid-market. For some time, Samsung and Sony have appeared to be giving users an equivalent to the 4” iPhone, with their Mini and Compact ranges, but with slightly bigger screens at 4.5” and 4.6”.

Even more ironic,  the entry-level smartphone market is beginning a transition from 3.5” to 4.5” phones. There are three reasons for this: as volume of production rises, the cost of the larger display is coming down in price rapidly, to the extent that it will soon be more conomical to produce larger screens; an increasing use of video and images on phones and in apps makes larger screens more comofrtable and appropriate; and larger phones ha e higher perceived value.

The most unlikely reason for the new device is the argument by some that, because a large proportion of iPhone users still have 4” devices and have not yet upgraded, they are clearly waiting for new, more powerful 4” model. That is no doubt Apple’s fondest hope, but it appears unlikely. Again, given the rise of video as a primary content platform on phones, users are not only upgrading for the sake of hardware, but also for a better software and content experience.
That said, the new device has given fans of the 4” format a significant boost in power and quality. It shoots HD video with support for 4K, with a resolution of 3840 x 2160. Video capture goes up to 60fps for 1080p video and 240fps for slo-mo, and includes time-lapse with video stabilisation.

A Retina Flash is claimed to make the display three times brighter with True Tone lighting technology, and the phone includes the iPhone 6s camera features, like panorama photos up to 63MP in size.

All of which supports the argument that this is the most powerful 4” phone in the world. The competition is hardly formidable, though: low-end devices from Sony, Samsung, LG, Huawei, Lenovo and ZTE, and entry-level phones from numerous no-name brands.

However, in its price range – it retails at $399 in the USA, meaning It will cost somewhere between R7 000 and R10 000 in South Africa – it may well be the only 4” premium phone in the world.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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