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Moto Mods: towards the next big thing

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Motorola, the name that kicked off the mobile revolution, arrives back in South Africa this week – with more than just a smartphone, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

South Africans associate two brands with the dawn of the mobile revolution: Motorola, which started it all, and Nokia, which practically owned the phone world for a decade. It’s one of the serial ironies of the mobile industry that Nokia killed off Motorola in this market, only to be killed off in turn by BlackBerry, which was then all but destroyed by Apple and Samsung.

Meanwhile, Motorola stayed alive through various incarnations, including a resuscitation attempt by Google. Now, under the stewardship of Lenovo, it is taking another shot at redemption.

And what a shot it is. This week, it will announce the arrival in South Africa of the Moto Z smartphone, a handset that redefines what smartphones can do. At a time when it is conventional wisdom that we can only expect incremental advances in smartphone technology, this may seem absurd.

Moto Z Force Droid Edition product photography

However, it is an absurdity four months in the making. The Moto Z was unveiled in San Francisco in June, along with four add-on devices called Mods. Short for modifications, they take the functionality of smartphones to a new level.

To start with, the Moto Z itself is a revelation. The 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED display puts it on a par with anything on the market: a resolution of 2560×1440 and a pixel density of 535 ppi makes for dazzling images and video. Despite these heavy specs, it lies a mere 5.19mm deep, earning the title of the thinnest flagship smartphone in the world. It harks back to the second generation Razr, which itself seemed impossibly thin, at 7.1mm, so many years ago back in 2011.

Some argue that mere mortals wouldn’t notice whether a handset is 5mm or 7mm thick. They’ll notice with this one. The real difference emerges when one attaches an additional device to the back of the handset, and it still fits into a pocket.

The rear of the phone is distinctive for two features: a protruding camera lens, and an array of metal connectors. Both combine to allow easy and instant clipping on of the Mods. A round hole in each of the add-ons aligns instantly with the protruding lens, and the connectors latch onto the magnetic rear of the Mods.

These, in turn, extend the phone’s functionality, in various directions.

Along with the Z’s slightly bulkier sibling, the Moto Z Play, Lenovo has released four Mods. The most exciting is called the Moto Insta-Share, a somewhat retro name for a device that points the way to the future. It is a mini-projector, which projects the phone interface onto any surface. It’s 11mm thick and weighs 125g, about the same as a light smartphone, and attaching the Moto Z seems like adding only a thin layer.

It projects a sharp image at up to 70 inches, which translates into a large TV display. In other words, one can use it to view ShowMax, Netflix or any other videos streamed or stored via the phone. With an adjustable fold-out kickstand, it also makes for a great presentation device. The one drawback is that it requires a fairly dark environment for optimal viewing, meaning it can’t replace TV sets in all conditions. Yet.

While it can use the phone’s power supply, the Insta-Share also houses an 1100 mAh battery, which allows for around an hour of additional viewing. The Moto Z’s own 2600 mAh battery provides the phone with up to 30 hours of mixed use.

The Insta-Share points to a future where a phone’s interface will be displayed or used on any surface, and will make the specs of the handset irrelevant, as the user will only interact with the display. The phone and its projector may as well be housed in a necklace or ring. But that is still a few generations away.

A Mod that generated similar levels of enthusiasm at the launch, the Hasselblad True Zoom, turns the phone into something closer to a DSLR camera.

The camera on the Moto Z itself is not too slack: at 13MP with f/1.8 aperture and dual LED flash, it compares well with the market-leading Samsung S7 edge. It captures video in full HD as well as 4K.

So far so great. Now add the Hasselblad. Photographers will appreciate the specs: a 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS sensor, focal length of 4.5-45 mm, equivalent to 25-250mm on a 35mm camera, 10x optical and 4x digital zoom, with macro zoom of 5cm @1x to 1.5m @10x. A wheel next to the shutter button controls the zoom function, with the lens protruding or retracting accordingly.

The strategy is to adapt the phone for any number of special interests. The JBL Soundboost mod turns it into a boombox, while the Incipio Offgrid power pack is a 2200 mAh add-on battery, for another 22 hours of usage.

Lenovo has issued a challenge – with $1-million in funding – for the best prototypes of third party mods. If the challenge turns into a viable and sustainable build-out of a new ecosystem around the Moto Z, the Motorola brand will be propelled far beyond its nostalgia value.

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  • 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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The PC is back!

… and 2020 will be its big year, writes CHRIS BUCHANAN, client solutions director at Dell Technologies

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Concept Ori

It turns out the PC’s death has been exaggerated. PC sales grew between 1.1% and 1.5% in the last few quarters of the year, according to Gartner. While those don’t sound like massive leaps, they represent a large market that has been declining for several years. Windows 10 is credited for this surge, especially as Windows 7 is leading towards its end of life (EOL).

But I don’t think that is the entire picture. Windows 10 upgrades have been taking place for several years, and the market has also gotten savvier about managing EOL. Other factors are driving the adoption of PCs.

A specific one is how much closer the PC now sits to smartphones. I recently watched some youngsters work with laptops that had touchscreens. They hardly ever touched the keyboard, instead tapping and swiping on the screen. Yet they were still working on a laptop, not a smartphone. Certain things are much easier to do on a PC than a phone, and users are realising this. They aren’t relinquishing the convenience of their smartphones but applications are now available on PC’s and often easier to use.

Convertible or 2-in-1 machines have closed the gap between the two device types. This is in contrast to tablets. If you observe how people sit with tablets, it’s the opposite of smartphones or laptops. With the latter, we sit forward, attentive and focused. But tablets often prompt people to recline. It’s just a casual observation, yet I believe that PCs and smartphones have much more overlap with each other than pure tablet devices. Additionally, the convertible laptop has become the new tablet.

Chris Buchanan

Why does this bode well for PCs in 2020? 2-in-1 machines break down the barriers between the utility of a PC and collaborative culture of a smartphone. You can now flip a laptop into tent mode and use it as an interactive presentation screen on a boardroom table, or cradle it like a clipboard you jot on with a digital pen.

In the next year, we’ll see more of the market responding to this trend. Premium 2-in-1 devices have a stable and growing audience of users who are now going into their second, third and even fourth generations of devices. Mid-range and entry-level laptops are also starting to adopt touchscreens and flip displays.

2-in-1 devices are also pushing innovation, such as the emergence of dual-screen systems. Dell revealed two such concept devices at CES this year: Project Duet, a dual screen laptop, and Project Ori (for origami), a more compact approach to foldable devices. We also unveiled Project UFO, a prototype Alienware device that puts triple-A PC gaming into a handheld device. All of these reflect the desire for touch-enabled devices that are portable without sacrificing performance or excellence. They definitely point us to the future.

Convertible devices are not a new form factor. I can recall the first flip-over touchscreen designs appearing 15 years ago. Back then they were exotic and the standard laptop ruled the roost. But today, the habits and expectations of users are driving a change decisively towards convertible devices.

Desktop PCs are meanwhile becoming more specialised, yet also more widely appreciated for their versatility. Specialist non-Windows PCs, such as those used by designers, are being replaced by Windows PCs, often for lower costs. Integrated discrete graphics chips and other advancements add a lot of value to modern desktops. The smartphone overlap also appears here: many people use services such as Whatsapp Web on their PCs, and Dell customers use the Dell Mobile Connect app to show their smartphone screen on their PC display.

There is a new synergy between the PC and smartphone, created by users who find the two complement each other. Not everyone has realised this yet, but in 2020 that will be the resounding message. The PC is back and 2020 will be its year.

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Jaguar designs ‘seat of the future’

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Jaguar Land Rover is developing the seat of the future – a pioneering shape-shifting system designed to improve customer wellbeing by tackling the health risks of sitting down for too long.

The ‘morphable’ seat, being trialled by Jaguar Land Rover’s Body Interiors Research division, uses a series of actuators in the seat foam to create constant micro-adjustments that make your brain think you’re walking, and could be individually tailored to each driver and passenger.

More than a quarter of people worldwide – 1.4 billion – are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles, which can shorten muscles in the legs, hips and gluteals causing back pain. The weakened muscles also mean you are more likely to injure yourself from falls or strains. 

By simulating the rhythm of walking, a movement known as pelvic oscillation, the technology can help mitigate against the health risks of sitting down for too long on extended journeys with some drivers doing hundreds of kilometres per week. 

Dr Steve Iley, Jaguar Land Rover Chief Medical Officer, said: “The wellbeing of our customers and employees is at the heart of all our technological research projects. We are using our engineering expertise to develop the seat of the future using innovative technologies not seen before in the automotive industry to help tackle an issue that affects people across the globe.”

Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles already feature the latest in ergonomic seat design, with multi-directional adjustments, massage functions and climate control fitted across the range. Dr Iley has also issued advice on how to adjust your seat to ensure the perfect driving position, from removing bulky items in your pocket, to shoulder positioning and from ensuring your spine and pelvis are straight to supporting your thighs to reduce pressure points. View the video here.

The research is part of Jaguar Land Rover’s commitment to continually improving customer wellbeing through technological innovation. Previous projects have included research to reduce the effects of motion sickness and the implementation of ultraviolet light technology to stop the spread of colds and flu. 

Together, these efforts are driving towards Destination Zero; Jaguar Land Rover’s ambition to make societies safer and healthier, and the environment cleaner – a responsible future for our workers, customers and communities around us. Through relentless innovation, Jaguar Land Rover is adapting product and services to meet the rapidly-changing world.

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