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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.

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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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Deezer to host Hotstix’s Mandela tribute playlist

Deezer is celebrating Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birthday by hosting a tribute playlist created by music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.  

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Mabuse, a legendary figure in African music, first rose to prominence in the 1970s with his band Harari and later developed a name for himself as a solo artist. One of his best known songs was the global hit BurnOut in the 1980s.

The playlist takes the listener on a captivating musical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela.  It was compiled by Mabuse, who consulted with Mandela’s family and friends to ensure that the music would be relevant and accurate. The playlist also features commentary by Mabuse, which was recorded in his Soweto home.  

“I have tried to tell the story of the music that Madiba loved,” says Mabuse. “The Playlist excludes the time in prison obviously, as Madiba would not have had exposure to music in that time.  We have focused on the music we know he loved before and after that period. This recording was really an emotional journey for me, but an incredible opportunity to document these memories.”

The playlist features the music the young Mandela loved, such as The Manhattan Brothers, Solomon Linda, Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba.  It includes struggle songs from Chicco, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.  The playlist also includes Mandela by Zahara, one of the younger artists who caught Madiba’s ear.

Mabuse also offers stories of his own songs, such as Shikisha, a song greatly beloved by the former President.

“I was delighted to share my thoughts and hope the listeners enjoyed the musical journey,” says Mabuse. “Madiba did enjoy music immensely and we all have a purpose wherever we are in the world to celebrate culture and to learn from different cultures and music forms and styles.”

This playlist was inspired by the Nelson Mandela 100 campaign, calling on corporates and individuals to act as sources of inspiration and engage in conversation and action.

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Sports streaming takes off

Live streaming of sports is coming of age as a mainstream method of viewing big games, as the latest FIFA World Cup figures from the UK show. Africa isn’t yet at the same level when it comes to the adoption of sports streaming, but usage is clearly moving in the right direction.

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England’s World Cup quarter-final against Sweden was watched by just under 20 million viewers in the UK via BBC One. While this traditional broadcast audience was huge, it was streaming that broke records: the game was the BBC’s most popular online-viewed live programme ever, with 3.8 million views. In Africa, the absolute numbers are lower but the trend towards streaming major sports events on the continent is also well under way.

According to DStv, live streaming of sports dominates the usage figures for its live and recorded TV streaming app, DStv Now. The number of people using the app in June was five times higher than a year ago, with concurrent views peaking during major football and rugby games.

Since the start of the World Cup, average weekday usage of DStv Now is up 60%. The absolute peak in concurrent usage for one event was reached on 26 June, during the Nigeria vs Argentina game. The app’s biggest ever test was on 16 June with both Springbok Rugby and World Cup Football under way at the same time, resulting in concurrent in-app views seven times higher than the peaks seen in June last year.

The World Cup has also been a major reason for new users to download and try out the app. First-time app user volumes have tripled on Android and doubled on iOS since the start of the tournament.

“While we expected live sports streaming to take off, it’s also been pleasing to see that the app is really popular for watching shows on Catch Up,” says MultiChoice South Africa Chief Operating Officer Mark Rayner. “Interestingly, some of the most popular Catch Up shows are local, with Isibaya, Binnelanders, The Queen and The River all getting a significant number of views.”

With respect to app usage, the web and Android apps are the most popular way to watch DStv Now, with Android outpacing iOS by a factor of 2:1.

“We’re continuing to develop DStv Now, with 4k streaming in testing and smart TV and Apple TV apps on their way shortly,” says Rayner. “The other key priority for us is working with the telcos to deliver mobile data propositions that make watching online painless and worry-free for our customers.”

The DStv Now app is free to all 10 million DStv customers in Africa. The app streams DStv live channels as well as supplying an extended Catch Up library. Two separate streams can be watched on different devices simultaneously, and content can also be downloaded to smartphones and tablets. The content available on the app varies according to the DStv package subscribed to.

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