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When the invisible is the most revealing

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The standardised physical appearance of new devices showcased at the IFA expo in Berlin this week belies the innovation lurking ‘under the hood’, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

The annual IFA expo in Berlin, drawing to a close this week, has always been Europe’s poor relation to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Where CES kicks off the year by playing host to the biggest array of product announcements at any technology event in the world, IFA tends to wrap up the year by bringing many of those same products to market.

The result is that many observers tend to yawn about the seen-it-all-before sense they get from IFA.  However, there is a vast difference between what is seen and what is experienced. Many of the products on display may look like variations on what has gone before, but their capability or functionality has advanced dramatically.

In other cases, new technology is not of the dazzling, stand-out variety, but seamlessly and surreptitiously integrated with existing technology.

The best example is the smartphone, which offers little room for superficial innovation. The last big shift in format came 18 months ago, when Samsung introduced the curved screen to its Edge devices.

This year LG launched a “modular” phone with a slide-out bottom to allow the battery to be replaced by the likes of camera and sound modules. Lenovo followed up with a razor-thin Motorola Moto Z handset that allows sound, battery and projector “Mods” to be clamped to the rear.

However, the emphasis on the physical shape of the devices – and the recent absence of format innovation from a market leader like Apple – has meant that the innovation happening under the hood has largely gone unnoticed.

The best case in point from IFA 2016 was the new flagship smartphone from Sony, the Xperia XZ with 5.2” screen. Along with Huawei and Alcatel, Sony was one of the few manufacturers to use IFA for the launch of a major new smartphone.

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Predictably, casual visitors to the Sony stand primarily saw a more sleek design and little else. Those who picked it up and played with it may well have got a sense of the fast and dazzling clarity provided by the phone’s camera. This is made possible by a 23MP rear camera and a dedicated shutter release button, which means going “from standby to capture in 0.6 seconds”, as Sony put it.

The electronics giant rightly claims that its new new models, including a 4.6” trimmed down version of the flagship called the Xperia X Compact, feature “one of the most advanced cameras in a smartphone”. Along with an already powerful image sensor, it includes two additional assisting sensors that add up to what Sony labels “triple image sensing technology”.

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“This allows you to capture beautiful images in motion with true to life colours in virtually any conditions,” according to the company’s announcement of the new phone.  “The technology is comprised of Sony’s original Exmor RS for mobile image sensor, which provides a powerful blend of high quality image and autofocus (AF) speed, combined with Predictive Hybrid AF to intelligently predict and track subjects in motion for blur-free results.

“Added to this is the Laser AF sensor with distance sensing technology, which captures beautiful blur-free photos in challenging low light conditions. And …  true to life colours thanks to the RGBC-IR sensor with colour sensing technology which accurately adjusts the white balance based on the light source in the environment.”

That combination of technical and marketing speak does add up to one truth: this is probably the most complex camera system yet built into a smartphone. Manual settings for shutter speed and focus control add to the sense of this being a photographer’s phone.

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But an even more remarkable innovation is built into the handset. Drawing on a legacy of image stabilisation developed for Sony’s Handycam camcorders under the SteadyShot brand, the technology has been enhanced on the XZ with “five-axis stabilisation”. This means it compensates for movement in any direction, allowing for smoother videos when filming while walking. Video can also be shot in 4K – currently the highest resolution that can be displayed on any but the most advanced displays in the world.

The front camera is also one of the best in the smartphone market, with a 13MP and 22mm wide angle lens. High light-sensitivity up to ISO 6400 allows for exceptional low-light performance.

For Sony – and many other smartphone manufacturers – the real problem with such innovation in the mechanics of a device is that it has to be experienced to be believed. The device has to prove itself in the field rather than in the showcase.

When word of mouth eventually kicks in and the world wakes up to inner beauty, such invisible innovation will come into its own.

 

  • 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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As selfie cameras rise, so must selfie etiquette

Selfies were once a sign of narcissism or self-obsession. Now they are the new normal, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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You can blame Oxford Dictionaries for making the “selfie” respectable. After all, being named Word of the Year, as it was in 2013, does tend to soften some of the self-consciousness in this most self-conscious of actions.

Once seen as a symbol of narcissism and self-obsession, it is now the new normal, to the extent that most smartphones are sold on the basis of the front camera. Or, as that feature is now almost universally named by manufacturers, the “selfie camera”.

I was one of the hold-outs, having a near-allergy to the selfie. I still resist, but succumb more often than I would like. The reason for continued resistance is that it remains a big leap from the word becoming respectable to the action itself shedding its narcissistic image. 

For most, it’s already happened, and for that you can blame Ellen DeGeneres. She  choreographed the most famous group selfie yet at the 2014 Oscars, when she roped a bunch of actors into a group selfie, using the then-new Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone. Her tweet of the photo became what was then the most retweeted posting ever on Twitter, and was estimated to have been worth a million dollars in marketing value to Samsung.

Ironically, it was Samsung’s up-and-coming challenger, Huawei, that came up with a new word for this type of selfie: the “groufie”. Thanks to an 8 Megapixel front camera on the new Huawei Ascend P7 camera that year which took the highest quality selfies – and groufies – possible on a smartphone at the time.

It didn’t end there, and selfies and groufies have morphed into variations like selfscapes (selfie in a landscape), skyfies (selfies from the air, using remote controlled devices) and jerkies (selfies to make an idiot out of yourself). I invented all of those on the fly, so it’s easy to imagine a new word emerging for every type of selfie.

Continue reading about selfie improvements through the years.

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Mickey’s 90th for SA

Disney Africa announced the local launch of the Mickey the True Original campaign, joining the global festivities honouring 9 decades of Mickey Mouse, his heritage, personality and status as a pop-culture icon.

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As 18 November 2018 marks 90 years since his first appearance in Steamboat Willie in November 1928, a series of world-wide celebrations will be taking place this year and South Africa is no different.

The campaign will come to life with engaging content and events that embrace Mickey’s impact on the past, present and future. The local festivities kick off in earnest this month, leading up to Mickey’s 90th anniversary on 18 November 2018 and beyond:

  • An exclusive local design project where ten highly talented South African artists will apply their own inspiration and artistic interpretation on 6-foot Mickey Mouse statues.
  • Once revealed to the public, the statues will form part of the Mickey the True Original South African Exhibition, inspired by Mickey’s status as a ‘true original’ and his global impact on popular culture. The exhibition will travel to 3 cities and delight fans and families alike as they journey with Mickey over the years. Featuring 4 sections highlighting Mickey’s innovation, his evolution, influence on fashion and also pop culture, the exhibition is in collaboration with Samsung and Edgars, and will visit:

o   Sandton City, Centre Court: 28 September – 14 October

o   Gateway Theatre of Shopping, Expo Explore Court: 19 October – 11 November

o   Canal Walk Shopping Centre. Centre Court: 16 November – 26 November

  • Samsung continues their collaboration with Disney as they honour Mickey’s 90th anniversary nationally at all Samsung and Edgars Stores. Entitled Unlocking the Imagination, fans are encouraged to visit these stores, take a selfie with a giant Mickey plush toy using their Samsung Galaxy Note9 and stand a chance to win not only a giant Mickey plush, but also an international family trip. Visit www.Samsung.com for more information
  • Mickey’s 90th Spectacular, a two-hour prime-time special, will be screened on M-Net 101 later this year. The elegant affair will feature star-studded musical performances, moving tributes and never-before-seen short films. Superstars from music, film and television will join the birthday fun for the internationally beloved character.
  • In addition, look out for special programming on Mickey’s birthday (18 November) across Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303), Disney XD (DStv, Channel 304) and Disney Junior (DStv, Channel 309).
  • In retailers, Edgars will be stocking a complete collection of trendy fashion, accessories and footwear for the whole family, inspired entirely by Mickey Mouse.
  • Mickey will be the central theme of an in-store campaign nationwide this November and December, with brand new products, apparel, toys, as well as titles from Disney Publishing Worldwide, including books, arts & crafts and comics
  • Discovery Vitality and Disney are celebrating healthy, happy families this festive season by offering helpful and exciting tips and tricks on how to eat nutritious, yet delicious, foods, all inspired by Mickey. There’s also a trip to Disneyland Paris up for grabs. Log on to www.discovery.co.za/vitality for information.
  • And much more – check the press for updates

“Binding generations together more than any other animated character, Mickey Mouse is the “True Original” who reminds people of all ages of the benefits of laughter, optimism and hope,” says Christine Service, Senior Vice President and Country Manager of The Walt Disney Company Africa. “With his universal appeal and ability to emotionally connect with generations all over the world, no other character quite occupies a similar space in the hearts and minds of a global fan base and we are thrilled to be sharing these local festivities.”

Mickey’s birthday is celebrated in honour of the release of his first theatrical film, Steamboat Willie, on 18th November 1928, at the Colony Theatre in New York City. Since then, he has starred in more than 100 cartoons and can currently be seen on Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303) in the Mickey Mouse cartoon series and on Disney Junior (DStv, Channel 309) in Mickey and the Roadster Racers.

South African fans are encouraged to share their Mickey Mouse moments on social media using the hashtag#Mickey90Africa.

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