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Big comeback day for Samsung

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On the day Samsung launched its new flagship product in South Africa, it also announced a return to its profitable ways, echoing news from its greatest rival, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It was a coincidence that Samsung Electronics announced an expected surge in profits the day it launched a new flagship device in South Africa. Nevertheless, it will have done wonders for confidence in the company as it brings to market a device that is notable for its incremental improvements rather than startling innovation.

The Samsung Galaxy Note5, now in stores, will go head-to-head with the Apple iPhone 6Ss Plus, which arrives in the country a week later. Again, both the similarity in model numbers and in release dates locally are coincidental.

However, it is no coincidence that neither company is wasting time alerting the market to the fact that it is riding high. A week earlier, Apple had announced it had sold more than 13 million new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models, which it described as “a new record, just three days after launch”.

“Sales for iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus have been phenomenal, blowing past any previous first weekend sales results in Apple’s history,” said CEO Tim Cook.

Samsung meanwhile forecast its first increase in quarterly profits in two years, saying it estimated its profit for the July-September quarter would leap 80 per cent to $6.3-billion.

Not that it was selling more phones, however. According to Reuters, “favourable currency rates and robust component sales appeared have to offset weakness in smartphones”. In fact, Samsung had lost market share to Apple at the high end and to Chinese rival Xiaomi at the low end of the smartphone market.

Analyst Lee Seung-woo told Reuters: “There were worries that overall earnings will continue falling as mobile profits declined, but now the numbers make the case that Samsung has the capacity to withstand weakness from the mobile business.”

The number of phone sold will be revealed when quarterly results are released later this month, and may put a damper on investor sentiment. However, that will mask the extent to which Samsung benefits from the surge in sales by smaller rivals: it supplies the computer chips that many manufacturers use in other smartphones, and even the display screens used by the likes of Huawei.

Of course, it would still like to sell more of its own handsets, and the Note5 is likely to build on the dominant position Samsung holds in the market for “phablets” – handsets with 5.5-inch and larger displays.

As reported in this column when the device was unveiled in New York in August, the default phablet size has steadily crept upward. The original Note, released in 2011, carried a mere 5,3-inch display. That is small by today’s standards, yet at the time was laughed off by many because of its “absurd” size. When Samsung went on to sell 10-million units in less than twelve months, a new industry category was born.

Apple’s 6s Plus is in a sense a descendant of that Note, in terms of Apple being forced to join the phablet revolution. In the same way that many of Apple’s rivals were forced to eat their words after initially dismissing the iPhone’s touchscreen as irrelevant, Apple has had to eat humble pie following its loud and derisive dismissal of anything bigger than a 4-inch screen.

The Galaxy Note eventually grew to 5.7-inches, and the new Note5 takes full advantage of the added real estate. As stated in August, however, the battle is now one for differentiation rather than format.

The Note aims at professional users who have probably already discovered the productivity benefits of a larger handset and the S-Pen stylus. Again, this is an area where Samsung led the way, after Steve Jobs’ infamous comment in 2010: “If you need a stylus, you’ve already failed.”

In 2015, Apple announced the Apple Pencil, a stylus for the new iPad Pro. The American technology media have bent over backwards to explain why the Pencil is not really a stylus, and why Steve Jobs meant something else altogether, proving that the great man’s so-called “reality distortion field” survives long after his passing.

However, change a few brand names, and he would probably not have disagreed with the comments made by Samsung president and CEO JK Shin at the Note5 launch: “The Pen is to the Note what the mouse is to the PC.”

The improved split-screen functionality of the Note5 takes it to a higher multitasking level, enhancing another user need that Apple has yet to acknowledge – but there is little doubt it will eventually have to follow in Samsung’s wake here, too.

So, while Samsung may not be able to match Apple’s sales figures for single devices, it is abundantly clear that it is also not skulking in the American company’s shadows.

* 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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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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