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Huawei leads the charge to next generation phones

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At this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, upstart brand Huawei reinforced its claims to the top table of smartphone makers, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It would have been unthinkable just four years ago. The brand that no one outside China had heard of, Huawei, has become the flavour of the moment. At this week’s Mobile World Congress, which turns Barcelona into the epicentre of the mobile industry for four days at the end of February every year, the upstart led a mass charge of new phone launches.

Its new Huawei P10 and P10+ handsets drew more than a thousand journalists to a launch event, reminiscent of the jostling crowds at previous Samsung flagship phone launches in the city. Samsung opted for a more low-key tablet launch, having delayed the unveiling of its new Galaxy S8 by a month. That left the field open to the likes of Huawei, LG and Sony to play catch-up or even leapfrog. Even the venerable old names like Nokia, BlackBerry and Motorola – under Lenovo ownership with the Moto brand – were able to make an impact.

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Nokia was Huawei’s biggest challenger for attention, thanks to the hype around the relaunched 3310, the best seller from the year 2000. Targeted back then at teenagers and young adults, it sold 126-million units, and was known for its week-long battery life, exceptional durability and – most significantly – allowing text messages more than double the length of traditional SMS.

That made it a youth favourite, and those youths are now in their 30s and 40s. Aside from having more disposable income, it is also the generation that now dominates the media. It was a stroke of marketing genius, then, to reincarnate that particular phone. Even if the new Nokia licensee, HMD Global, does not sell a single unit of the “reimagined” 3310, it has everyone in the industry talking about the brand, and most old fans will now know that Nokia is back. That gives it the runway from which it hopes a new range of Android smartphones will take off.

Despite the operating system remaining fairly faithful to the old Symbian OS created for Nokia feature phones, the new 3310 in bright plastic casings looks more like a toy than a serious device. On the other hand, the Android insides and quality bodies of the Nokia 3, 5 and 6 should give it some traction among more demanding users.

It will not, however, represent serious competition to Huawei. The latter first gave notice of its intentions to move from copycat to challenger less than four years ago, when it launched the P6 as the thinnest smartphone in the world. By the time it got to the P9 last year, consumers had almost figured out how to pronounce its name.

The premium version of that handset, the P9 Plus, was one of the best phones of 2016. It helped create a halo effect that took the full Huawei range to third place in worldwide smartphone sales. Only Samsung and Apple remained ahead.

Both were absent from the smartphone action at MWC, making Huawei the de facto thought leader of the event. As a result, when the Samsung Galaxy S8 is launched at the end of March, it will probably be the first time in five years that the South Korean company will be playing catch up instead of leading the way.

The P10 and P10+ build on the advanced camera technology of the previous edition. Once again, they feature dual rear cameras co-engineered with Leica. For the first time, their front cameras also offer near-professional quality, thanks to incorporating a Leica lens.

The power lies as much in the software, with a Portrait mode that includes 3D facial detection technology and ”professional studio-like effects”, such as re-lighting and a Hybrid Zoom feature that allows one to focus on specific areas of an image.

That is not necessarily what will turn heads, though. The physical design of the phone reveals an ever-evolving metal craftsmanship, as the company calls it. Rounded curves, a “hyper diamond-cut” finish and a fresh suite of colour options set it apart. Huawei collaborated with the Pantone Color Institute, the global colour specailists, to introduce new colours not seen before on phones.

Pantone Greenery, named the official Pantone Colour of the Year for 2017, is applied to a handset with a sandblast finish, giving it a clean look that reflects the eco-friendly symbolism of green. A new deep blue shade named Dazzling Blue, added to the diamond-cut finish, delivers a subtle glow effect that will probably make it the most popular shade.

It is rare that colour options are stand-out features for phones, but Huawei pulls it off with its refreshed palate. It includes Ceramic White, Dazzling Gold, Prestige Gold, Graphite Black, Rose Gold and Mystic Silver.

“With consumers increasingly comfortable using colour as a form of expression, we are seeing more experimentation and creative uses of colour,” said Laurie Pressman, VP of Pantone Color Institute, t the launch. “Colour is truly a medium through which individuals can express themselves to the world around them.”

The Huawei P10 and P10+ phones are expected to be available in South Africa in April 2017.

  • 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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