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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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Smash hits the Nintendo Switch

Super Smash Bros. delivers what the fans wanted in the latest “Ultimate” instalment, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest addition to the popular Nintendo Smash series, has landed on the Nintendo Switch with a bang, selling 5-million copies in the first week of its release. The game has been long-anticipated since the console’s release, as many fans consider iy to be a Nintendo staple. And the wait was well worth it.

It features 74 playable fighters, 108 stages, almost 1300 Spirit characters to collect while playing, and a single-player Adventure mode that took about three days (or 28 hours) of gameplay to complete. The game offers far more gameplay than its predecessors, making it the Smash game that gives its players the best bang for their buck.

For those new to the game, the goal is to fight opponents and build up their damage score (draining their health) to knock them off the stage eventually. This makes the game seem chaotic, as many players jump around the platforms as if they were on quicksand, in order to avoid being hit by the other players.

It also services two kinds of players: the competitive and the casual.

Competitive players can be matched on the online service by skill ranking to enjoy playing with similarly high-skilled opponents. This is especially important in e-sports training for the game, and for players wanting to master combos against other human players. The casual gamer is also catered for, with eight-player chaos and button-mashing to see who comes out luckiest. This segment is also important for those wanting to learn how to play.

Training mode is also a place to go for those learning to play. It offers “CPU” players that are graded by intensity to train as a single player to learn a character’s moves, combos and general fighting style. More challenging CPU players can also be used by competitive players to train when there isn’t a Wi-Fi connection available.

Direct Play features in this game, allowing two players with two Switch consoles to play against each other over a direct connection – no Wi-Fi needed. This is especially useful to those who want to have a social gaming element on the go, similar to that of the cable connector of the Gameboy.

Click here to read Bryan Turner review of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

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Win Funko Fortnite in Vinyl

Gadget and Gammatek have nine Funko Fortnite figurines to give away.

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A Funko Pop figurine based on a character set is indicative of reaching the heights of pop culture. It is no surprise, then, that the world’s biggest online game, Fortnite, has its own line of Funko Pop figurines. The Funkos are modeled on the characters in game, including Drift, Ragnarok, Dark Vanguard, Volar, Tracera Ops, and Sparkle Specialist.

Now, local Funko distributor Gammatek has released the Fortnite figurines in South Africa. To celebrate, Gadget and Gammatek are giving away a set of three Funko Fortnite figurines to each of three readers (9 figurines in total). To enter, first click on your favourite Funko Pop on the next page and post the Tweet that appears. Then, follow Gadget on Twitter.

You can put the tweet in your own words, but entries must have the competition’s hashtag (#FunkoFortnite) and mention @GadgetZA to be considered valid.

Click here to select the Funko Fortnite character you want to tweet.

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