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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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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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By 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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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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