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Bend it, shape it, this is the future of smartphones

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In San Francisco last week, Lenovo unveiled what may well be the future of smartphones, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

“Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me,” went the silly Sixties pop song. And now the gadgets industry is going the same way.

The fully bendable phone and the foldable tablet screen are finally on the way. Modular phones – as with Lego, you just attach the functionality you want – have made a big arrival in 2016. So, just when you thought that every possible improvement to the smartphone had been made, someone goes a step further.

“Innovation never stands still – I can’t remember a time when there has been more innovation in this space,” said Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel Corporation, during a keynote address at the Lenovo Tech World conference in San Francisco last week.

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Ashton Kutcher with the Lenovo CEO, Yuanqing Yang.

Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang – or YY, as he is nicknamed – used the event to announce the latest smartphones and concept phones from Lenovo and its 2013 acquisition Motorola. And he made an even bolder statement: “We will show you something that will change the industry and your life.”

Before unveiling the real new products, however, Lenovo teased the audience with two working prototypes that are still some years from hitting the shelves: the Cplus, a bendable phone that wraps around the wrist, and the Folio, a foldable tablet where the screen itself folds in half to become a standard smartphone display. Both were working devices, rather than artists’ concepts.

“We are turning this vision into reality step by step,” said YY. “You will see a whole new species of device from Lenovo. This year we will launch two revolutionary products.”

With that, he unveiled the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, the first phone to embrace Google’s Project Tango, a technology platform that allows a mobile device to detect its position relative to itse environment without external connections or signals. That makes the phone a platform for both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications.

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As YY put it, the Phab 2 Pro has more sensors and cameras than any other phone: “It understands its environment and augments your experience. It lets you place virtual objects into a real living room.”

It helps that the phone is a huge 6.4” phablet with 4050mAh battery, to support both the visuals and the demands on power made by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 chip.

The phone has no less than three rear cameras: a 16 Megapixel main camera, a depth camera, and a motion-tracking camera, to “enable the magic of Tango functionality”. It is also the first smartphone device to feature Dolby 5.1 audio capture, which records more true-to-life sound, along with Dolby Atmos sound output.”

Due out in the USA in September at a recommended retail price of $499, it is expected to reach South Africa shortly after that.

moto z

The Moto Z happens to be the thinnest smartphone in the world, at an absurdly slim 5.2mm, despite a 5.5” display and 2600mAh battery.

The virtual reality feature builds a “point cloud” of space around the user, and transforms it into a fully virtual space, taking into account real objects in the area. The user can then start exploring and shaping the virtual world through the screen. The application allows one not only to build virtual furniture, for example, but also to generate blueprints that can be taken to manufacturer.

YY kept the biggest unveil for last, declaring: “This is definitely a game-changing product.”

Actor and high-tech investor Ashton Kutcher joined him on state to announce a new family of devices bearing the Motorola logo. Two new Moto phones, the Z and the Z force, were just the starting point. The real news came with the unveiling of Moto Mods – an “ecosystem with two flagship smartphones and a collection of interchangeable backs that transform your mobile experience into exactly what you need, exactly when you need it – a battery powerhouse, a big screen projector or a boombox”.

Unlike the LG G5 announced at Mobile World Congress, with a slide-out bottom that allows components to be swapped, the Moto Mods are magnetic snap-on backs for the Moto Z phones.

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With Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor and Moto TurboPower charging, the Moto Z and Z Force area powerful handsets in their own right.  The Z Force introduces Moto Shattershield, guaranteeing the screen won’t crack even If dropped on concrete from a dew metres. The Z, on the other hand, happens to be the thinnest smartphone in the world, at an absurdly slim 5.2mm, despite a 5.5” display and 2600mAh battery.

And therein lies the real potential of the device. Because it is so thin, snapping a magnetized module onto the back does not make it unduly bulky. That means a Power Pack can double usage time, the Insta-Share Projector can be fitted to create a 70” interactive virtual screen on any surface, and the JBL SoundBoost speaker module can be added to turn the phone into a boombox.

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The bendable concept tablet, the Folio

The Mods are open to third party developers, and Kutcher also helped announce a $1-million prize for the best Mod prototype created by an individual or company in the next nine months.

It was difficult not to take YY seriously when he declared: “This will create a new era for the smartphone and for Lenovo.”

* 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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News fatigue shifts Google searches in SA

Google search trends in South Africa reveal a startling insight into news appetite, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The big searches of the year no longer track the biggest news stories of the year, suggesting a strong dose of news fatigue among South Africans.

“People ask, why are the Guptas not on the list of Google’s top searches?, says Mich Atagana, head of communications and public affairs at Google South Africa, “The Guptas are not on the list because South Africans are not actually that interested. South Africans are looking for things they don’t know. From a Gupta point of view, we’ve been exhausted by the news and we know exactly what is going on.”

Google South Africa announced the results of its 2018 Year in Search, offering a unique perspective on the year’s major moments.

“Four years ago, there were almost no South Africans on the personalities list,” says Atagana. “Over the years, South Africans have gotten more interested in South Africa, in searching on Google.”

That isn’t to say that international searches – like Meghan Markle – are not heavily searched by South Africans. But  they feature lower down on the lists.

From the World Cup to listeriosis, Zuma and Global Citizen, South Africans use search to find the things they really need to know.

These are the main trends revealed  by Google this week:

Top trending South African searches

  1. World Cup fixtures
  2. Load shedding
  3. Global Citizen
  4. Zuma
  5. Winnie Mandela
  6. HHP
  7. Listeriosis
  8. Black Panther
  9. Meghan Markle
  10. Mac Miller

Trending personalities

  1.    Jacob Zuma
  2. Cyril Ramaphosa
  3. Sbahle Mpisane
  4. Kevin Anderson
  5. Malusi Gigaba
  6. Ashwin Willemse
  7. Patrice Motsepe
  8. Cheryl Zondi
  9. Shamila Batohi
  10. Mlindo the Vocalist

Top Questions

  1. How did Avicii die?
  2. How old is Pharrell Williams?
  3. What is listeriosis?
  4. What is black data?
  5. How old is Prince Harry?
  6. How much are Global Citizen tickets?
  7. How to get pregnant?
  8. What time is the royal wedding?
  9. What happened to HHP?
  10. How old is Meghan Markle?

Top ‘near me’ searches

  1. Jobs near me
  2. Nandos near me
  3. Dischem near me
  4. McDonalds near me
  5. Guest house near me
  6. Postnet near me
  7. Steers near me
  8. Spar near me
  9. Debonairs near me
  10. Spur near me

Top women

  1. Winnie Mandela
  2. Meghan Markle
  3. Sbahle Mpisane
  4. Aretha Franklin
  5. Khloe Kardashian
  6. Sophie Ndaba
  7. Cheryl Zondi
  8. Demi Lovato
  9. Lerato Sengadi
  10. Siam Lee

The Year In Search 2018 minisite can be found here.

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Smartphones dip in 2018

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to decline by 3% in 2018 before returning to low single-digit growth in 2019 and through 2022.

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While the on-going U.S.-China trade war has the industry on edge, IDC still believes that continued developments from emerging markets, mixed with potential around 5G and new product form factors, will bring the smartphone market back to positive growth.

Smartphone shipments are expected to drop to 1.42 billion units in 2018, down from 1.47 billion in 2017. However, IDC expects year-over-year shipment growth of 2.6% in 2019. Over the long-term, smartphone shipments are forecast to reach 1.57 billion units in 2022. From a geographic perspective, the China market, which represented 30% of total smartphone shipments in 2017, is finally showing signs of recovery. While the world’s largest market is still forecast to be down 8.8% in 2018 (worse than the 2017 downturn), IDC anticipates a flat 2019, then back to positive territory through 2022. The U.S. is also forecast to return to positive growth in 2019 (up 2.1% year over year) after experiencing a decline in 2018.

The slow revival of China was one of the reasons for low growth in Q3 2018 and this slowdown will persist into Q1 2019 as the market is expected to drop by 3% in Q4 2018. Furthermore, the recently lifted U.S. ban on ZTE had an impact on shipments in Q3 2018 and created a sizable gap that is yet to be filled heading into 2019.

“With many of the large global companies focusing on high-end product launches, hoping to draw in consumers looking to upgrade based on specifications and premium devices, we can expect head-to-head competition within this segment during the holiday quarter and into 2019 to be exceptionally high,” said Sangeetika Srivastava, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers.

Though 2018 has fallen below expectations so far, the worldwide smartphone market is set to pick up on the shift toward larger screens and ultra-high-end devices. All the big players have further built out their portfolios with bigger screens and higher-end smartphones, including Apple’s new launch in September. In Q3 2018, the 6-inch to less than 7-inch screen size band became the most prominent band for the first time with more than four times year-over-year growth. IDC believes that larger-screen smartphones (5.5 inches and above) will lead the charge with volumes of 947.1 million in 2018, accounting for 66.7% of all smartphones, up from 623.3 million units and 42.5% share in 2017. By 2022, shipments of these larger-screen smartphones will move up to 1.38 billion units or 87.7% of overall shipment volume.

“What we consider a so-called normal size smartphone has shifted dramatically in a few short years and while we are stretching the limits with bezel-less devices, the next big switch to flexible screens will test our imaginations even further,” said Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “While this category of device is still nascent and won’t see major adoption in the year ahead, it’s exciting to see changes to the standard monoblock we are all so used to carrying.”

Platform Highlights

Android: Android’s smartphone share will remain stable at 85% throughout the forecast. Volumes are expected to grow at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.7% with shipments approaching 1.36 billion in 2022. Android is still the choice of the masses with no shift expected. Android average selling prices (ASPs) are estimated to grow by 9.6% in 2018 to US$258, up from US$235 in 2017. IDC expects this upward trajectory to continue through the forecast, but at a softened rate from 2019 and beyond. Not only are market players pushing upgraded specs and materials to offset decreasing replacement rates, but they are also serving the evolving consumer needs for better performance.

iOS: iOS smartphones are forecast to drop by 2.5% in 2018 to 210.4 million. The launch of expensive and bigger screen iOS smartphones in Q3 2018 helped Apple to raise its ASP, simultaneously making it somewhat difficult to increase shipments in the current market slump. IDC is forecasting iPhone shipments to grow at a five-year CAGR of 0.1%, reaching volumes of 217.3 million in 2022. Despite the challenges, there is no ambiguity that Apple will continue to lead the global premium market segment.

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