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Best of MWC shows way to 5G future

In the first part of his selection of stand-out new tech from Mobile World Congress, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK finds 5G rules.

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When the curtain came down on Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona last Thursday, it marked the end of five of the most intense days yet in mobile technology. Not only did the next generation of wireless broadband, 5G, finally prove itself as a revolutionary technology that will change the way the world communicates, but the next wave of innovation in gadgetry also came into focus.

This selection of the best of MWC 2019 excludes the obvious stand-out: the foldable Huawei Mate X smartphone and tablet, which earned a solo spotlight in the previous edition of this column.

The impact of the Mate X, which will initially be priced out of reach of most consumers, had one unfortunate consequence: it overshadowed the vast amount of new technology that will land in ordinary people’s hands. 

One thing it did not dampen was the massive hype around 5G, the next generation of communications technology that will allow mobile download speeds of well over 1 Gigabit per second. We’ve seen this hype before, at both MWC and CES in Las Vegas. But this time it seemed real: 5G enabled products were the order of the day, and will come into their own when mobile networks upgrade to the new standard.

Here are some of the products launched at MWC 2019 launces that will resonate far beyond Barcelona:

Best new smartphone: Nokia 9 Pureview

Image result for nokia 9 pureview

Aside from the Huawei Mate X, the handset that grabbed the most attention was the Nokia 9 Pureview, the first truly high-end Android smartphones from the resurrected Nokia brand under HMD Global, the new custodians of the handset brand. It has a dazzling array of five cameras on the back, with two colour sensors and three monochrome lenses working together to collect up to 10 times more light than a single colour lens of similar specs. More important, it will probably be priced at around R10 000, less than half the cost of flagship phones from other major brands.

Best new feature phone

KaiOS “smart feature phones” build smart functionality into feature phones, working with the likes of phone brands Nokia and Bullitt – makers of CAT and Land Rover phones – to provide a low-demand operating system that can also run apps like Facebook and Google Maps. KaiOS has its own app store, carrying the most popular apps that are usually available only to smartphone users. The KaiOS-powered phone being brought into South Africa by MTN was also on display, along with a wide range of other configurations. The best versions were the iconic Nokia 3310 and 8810 feature phones, optimised for the KaiOS app store.

Click here to read about the best new smartphone software, best new smartphone accessory, among other best technologies.

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Huge appetite for foldable phones – when prices fall

Samsung, Huawei and Motorola have all shown their cards, but consumers are concerned about durability, size, and enhanced use cases, according to Strategy Analytics

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Foldable devices are a long-awaited disrupter in the smartphone market, exciting leading-edge early adopters keen for a bold new type of device. But the acceptance of foldable devices by mainstream segments will depend on the extent to which the current barriers to adoption are addressed.

Major brands have been throwing their foldable bets into the hat to see what the market wants from a foldable, namely how big the screens should be and how the devices should fold. Samsung and Huawei have both designed devices that unfold from smartphones to tablets, each with their own method of how the devices go about folding. Motorola has recently designed a smartphone that folds in half, and it resembles a flip phone.

Assessing consumer desire for foldable smartphones, a new report from the User Experience Strategies group at Strategy Analytics has found that the perceived value of the foldable form does not outweigh the added cost.

Key report findings include:

  • The idea of having a larger-displayed smartphone in a portable size is perceived as valuable to the vast majority of consumers in the UK and the US. But, willingness to pay extra for a foldable device does not align with the desire to purchase one. Manufacturers must understand that there will be low sell-through until costs come down.
  • But as the acceptance for traditional smartphone display sizes continues to increase, so does the imposed friction of trying to use them one-handed. Unless a foldable phone has a wider folded state, entering text when closed is too cumbersome, forcing users to utilize two hands to enter text, when in the opened state.
  • Use cases need to be adequately demonstrated for consumers to fully understand and appreciate the potential for a foldable phone, though their priorities seemed fixed on promoting ‘two devices in one’ equaling a better video viewing experience. Identification and promotion of meaningful new use cases will be vital to success.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXIP and report author said: “As multitasking will look to be a core selling point for foldable phones, it is imperative that the execution be simplified and intuitive. Our data suggests there are a lot of uncertainties that come with foldable phone ownership, stemming mainly from concerns with durability and size, in addition to concerns over enhanced use cases.

“But our data also shows that when the consumers are able to use a foldable phone in hand, there is a solid reduction of doubt and concern about the concept. This means that the in-store experience may more important than ever in driving awareness, capabilities, and potential use cases.”

Said Paul Brown, Director, UXIP: “The big question is whether the perceived value will outweigh the added cost; and the initial response from consumers is ‘no.’ The ability for foldable displays to resolve real consumer pain-points is, in our view critical to whether these devices will become a niche segment of the smartphone market or the dominant form-factor of the future. Until costs come down, these devices will not take off.”

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New exploit exposes credit cards on mobile phones

Check Point Security has found that handsets using Qualcomm chipsets that hold credit and debit card credentials are at risk of a new exploit.

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Now it’s more important than ever to update your phone.
Check Point security has found a vulnerability in mobile devices that run Android, which allows credit card details to be accessed by hackers.

Mobile operating systems like Android offer a Rich Execution Environment (REE), providing a hugely extensive and versatile runtime environment, which allows apps to run on the device. However, while bringing flexibility and capability, REE leaves devices vulnerable to a wide range of security threats. A Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is designed to reside alongside the REE and provide a safe area on the device to protect assets and to execute trusted code. Qualcomm makes use of a secure virtual processor, which is often referred to as the “secure world”, in comparison to the “non-secure world”, where REE resides. 

But Check Point “fuzzed” a “hole” into this secure world 

In a 4-month research project, Check Point researchers attempted and succeeded to reverse Qualcomm’s “Secure World” operating system. Check Point researchers leveraged a “fuzzing” technique to expose the hole. Fuzz testing (fuzzing) is a quality assurance technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks. It involves inputting massive amounts of random data, called fuzz, to the test subject in an attempt to make it crash.

Check Point implemented a custom-made fuzzing tool, which tested trusted code on Samsung, LG, and Motorola devices. Through fuzzing, Check Point found 4 vulnerabilities in trusted code implemented by Samsung (including S10), 1 in Motorola, 1 in LG, but all code sourced by Qualcomm itself. To address the vulnerability, the runtime of Android needs to be protected from both attackers and users. This is typically achieved by moving the secure storage software to a hardware-supported TEE.

Check Point Research disclosed its findings directly to the companies and gave them time to patch vulnerabilities. Samsung patched three vulnerabilities and LG patched one. Motorola and Qualcomm responded, but have yet to provide a patch, and there is no confirmation of a release date yet.

Check Point Research has urged mobile phone users to stay vigilant and check their credit and debit card providers for any unusual activity. In the meantime, they are working with the vendors mentioned to issue patches.

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