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The end of the small screen

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The new Samsung Note 8 launched in New York last week heralds the end of the small screen, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It’s hard to believe that, just six years ago, Apple was mocking smartphone makers who produced handsets with 4-inch displays or larger. At a press conference at the time, Steve Jobs ripped into manufacturers who built phones “you can’t get your hand around”, adding “no one’s going to buy that”.

By 2012, Apple was mocking smartphone makers who produced handsets with 5-inch displays. It’s really easy to make a bigger phone, said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, adding: “The challenge is to make it better and smaller.”

In 2013, new CEO Tim Cook defended the size of the iPhone 5, saying that its 4-inch display “provides a larger screen size for iPhone customers without sacrificing the one-handed ease-of-use that our customers love. So, we put a lot of thinking into screen size and believe we’ve picked the right one.”

Finally, a year later – just three years ago next month – Apple succumbed.  The iPhone 6 emerged with a 4.7-inch display, and its big brother, the 6 Plus, with a “massive” 5.5-inch display.

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It was a given at the time that Apple was responding to the rise of large-screen Android smartphones. But there was one device in particular that had woken it from its slumber: the Samsung Note.

The first version, released in October 2011, really was massive for its time: all of 5.3-inches. It was roundly mocked by Apple as well as other rivals. But it sold a million units in the first 30 days, and 10-million over the next 10 months. The large screen was here for good.

However, it has taken six models, gradually expanding from the initial 5.3-inches to 6.3-inches with the latest iteration, for the small screen to be banished for good.

Last week’s unveiling of the Samsung Note 8 was astonishing for two reasons.

Firstly, coming a year after the disastrous Note 7, which began exploding or catching fire around the world, it represented a complete turnaround from marketing disaster to public relations triumph. Critics and commentators were almost unanimous that this was the best smartphone produced so far in 2017.

Secondly, and more significantly for potential sales, it represented a massive increase in display size without an equivalent increase in phone size. The body is about the same size as that of the iPhone 7 Plus which, like the 6 Plus, carries a 5.5-inch screen. However, the Note 8 fits a 6.3-inch display into that body, thanks to more efficient use of the front of the phone, and what is now an iconic curved screen on high-end Samsung handsets.

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Equally remarkably, the phone feels as comfortable in the hand as any 5.5-inch device, if not more so.

“We’ve succeeded in creating a large-screen phone with a comfortable grip,” says Craige Fleischer, head of mobile at Samsung in Southern Africa. “The curved edge has a sharper drop-off than the previous screens so there is more flat surface.”

The so-called “infinity display” of edge-to-edge screen is expected to become a standard feature in both high-end and mid-range phones. However, the innovative design is geared towards a greater purpose than size for its own sake.

Most obviously, it speaks to the rapid growth of streaming video on the smartphone.  But there is a second factor, as the smartphone becomes the default computer for the average user.

“Millions of people have recognised that the Note was much more than a new smartphone, but a platform for productivity,” said DJ Koh, president of Mobile Communications of Samsung Electronics, at the launch of the Note 8 in New York last week.

The Note has long defined productivity on a smartphone, thanks to the S Pen, an interactive stylus that slides into the phone when not in use. The stylus evolves in tandem with the Note, and can now be used independently from the handset, on other compatible devices.

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The sub-brand has also also pioneered multi-tasking on smartphones, not only opening two apps on the same screen, but now also, with one click, simultaneously opening two apps that are regularly used together. The bigger the screen, the more useful such functions become.

And, of course, the more useful the functions become, the more dependent users will become on large screens.

Already, 2013 in smartphone years looks like the previous century. Another three years from now, it will seem normal that people prefer their smartphones to computers or TV sets for their entertainment and work lives.

  • 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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Samsung unfolds the future

At the #Unpacked launch, Samsung delivered the world’s first foldable phone from a major brand. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK tried it out.

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Everything that could be known about the new Samsung Galaxy S10 range, launched on Wednesday in San Francisco, seems to have been known before the event.

Most predictions were spot-on, including those in Gadget (see our preview here), thanks to a series of leaks so large, they competed with the hole an iceberg made in the Titanic.

The big surprise was that there was a big surprise. While it was widely expected that Samsung would announce a foldable phone, few predicted what would emerge from that announcement. About the only thing that was guessed right was the name: Galaxy Fold.

The real surprise was the versatility of the foldable phone, and the fact that units were available at the launch. During the Johannesburg event, at which the San Francisco launch was streamed live, small groups of media took turns to enter a private Fold viewing area where photos were banned, personal phones had to be handed in, and the Fold could be tried out under close supervision.

The first impression is of a compact smartphone with a relatively small screen on the front – it measures 4.6-inches – and a second layer of phone at the back. With a click of a button, the phone folds out to reveal a 7.3-inch inside screen – the equivalent of a mini tablet.

The fold itself is based on a sophisticated hinge design that probably took more engineering than the foldable display. The result is a large screen with no visible seam.

The device introduces the concept of “app continuity”, which means an app can be opened on the front and, in mid-use, if the handset is folded open, continue on the inside from where the user left off on the front. The difference is that the app will the have far more space for viewing or other activity.

Click here to read about the app experience on the inside of the Fold.

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Password managers don’t protect you from hackers

Using a password manager to protect yourself online? Research reveals serious weaknesses…

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Top password manager products have fundamental flaws that expose the data they are designed to protect, rendering them no more secure than saving passwords in a text file, according to a new study by researchers at Independent Security Evaluators (ISE).

“100 percent of the products that ISE analyzed failed to provide the security to safeguard a user’s passwords as advertised,” says ISE CEO Stephen Bono. “Although password managers provide some utility for storing login/passwords and limit password reuse, these applications are a vulnerable target for the mass collection of this data through malicious hacking campaigns.”

In the new report titled “Under the Hood of Secrets Management,” ISE researchers revealed serious weaknesses with top password managers: 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass and LastPass.  ISE examined the underlying functionality of these products on Windows 10 to understand how users’ secrets are stored even when the password manager is locked. More than 60 million individuals 93,000 businesses worldwide rely on password managers. Click here for a copy of the report.

Password managers are marketed as a solution to eliminate the security risks of storing passwords or secrets for applications and browsers in plain text documents. Having previously examined these and other password managers, ISE researchers expected an improved level of security standards preventing malicious credential extraction. Instead ISE found just the opposite. 

Click here to read the findings from the report.

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