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Samsung flips its lid

With the launch of the new Samsung S20 range and Flip handsets today, the Korean market leader firms its grip on market leadership, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Finally, foldables. Yes, we saw the first folding smartphone screens in 2019, but those will be remembered mainly for their stop-start production hiccups. Huawei had to delay the Mate X launch by months and still hasn’t got out of the starting blocks outside China. Samsung had to go back to the drawing board when its Fold screen peeled off and dust got into the hinge. And Motorola is doing flip-flops after a test by CNET damaged the hinge, which supposedly would not happen in regular usage.

Last night, Samsung unveiled foldable phone generation 2. Or rather, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. While the launch in San Francisco came too late, South African time, to report on the event itself, enough detail was leaked in advance to offer a full unpacking.

The initial unveil in fact came on Sunday night, when Samsung aired a TV ad for the device during the Oscar ceremony. It revealed the phone as a vertical handset that flips closed, much like the new Moto Razr, the competing foldable from Motorola, which drew on a design legacy that goes back to the beginning of the century.

The Z Flip was shown being used with screens at a 90-degree angle, with an adapted user interface that allows users to interact with it in this unusual way. In other words, it can be used as a folded, flat or half-folded device, with buttons shifting accordingly.

Samsung quickly addressed the elephant in the foldable room or, rather, the most visible effect on the screen of being unfolded: the crease.

“You may notice a small crease in the centre of the main screen, which is a natural characteristic of the screen,” ran the ad. Consumers are unlikely to settle for this new “natural”, especially given that Apple has filed a patent in the United States for a foldable screen design that will prevent a crease.

There are no plans from Apple to release a foldable phone though, so, for now, we can expect the crease to be touted as a feature rather than a defect, much as Microsoft did with early, bug-ridden software.

The main benefit of the Z Flip design is that it has a small, secondary “notification” screen on the front, which will show caller ID and other selected notifications before the user has to flip the device open. The front display will also be a touch screen, so one will be able to reject calls without opening the device.

It’s likely the device will be released with the Snapdragon 855+ processor, an older chip first released in late 2018, which means it will add less cost to the foldable than current chips. That tends to be the approach with most foldables, in which the screen itself is the biggest cost, and manufacturers look to other components to shave the price. The Flip will have a 3,300 mAh battery – again, smaller to reduce cost of components – and two primary cameras.

The foldable race may look like a race for novelty, but early indications are that this will be a booming market segment, just as large-screen handsets pioneered by the Samsung Note series defied expectations to become a massive hit category.

Samsung reported last month that it had sold 400,000 units of the Fold, while Huawei has revealed it has sold 200,000 Mate X foldable devices. Given that they cost the equivalent of R40,000 up, those are startling figures.

According to new research from global consulting firm Strategy Analytics, worldwide foldable smartphone shipments will grow from under 1-million units in 2019 to 100-million by 2025, with Samsung, Huawei and others leading the way. 

“High pricing, low display-yields and questionable durability are holding back the foldables market today, but those problems will be solved in the long-term,” it reported this week.

Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, offered several reasons for the expected demand: “Foldables pack a big screen into a small design. Consumers can surf rich content, like video, on a large display, and then fold the device away neatly into a pocket or bag.”

Ken Hyers, director at the firm, pointed to a rapidly widening market: “Samsung was the world’s number one foldable smartphone vendor in 2019, followed by Huawei in second place. Samsung is top in Western regions, like the US, while Huawei is focusing on its home market of China. Rival brands, such as Motorola and TCL, will deliver their own new models in 2020 and look to grab a slice of the foldables pie. By 2025, every major player should have a foldables portfolio, including Apple.”

If the Flip performs anything like the Note in the market, it will give Samsung an additional area of leadership. Since Huawei will not be at liberty to use Android, Samsung will solidify its position as Android leader. In foldables specifically, it will have at least a year’s head-start over Apple, giving it another category of dominance over its arch-rival.

The Galaxy Z Flip will be available in South Africa from R29999.

  • 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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Alexa can now read all messages

For the first time, an Alexa skill is available that makes it possible to listen to any kind of message while driving

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For the first time, Alexa users can now hear all their messages and email read aloud.

Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name. The world’s most popular virtual assistant is getting smarter every day and now, with Amazon Echo Auto, it’s in cars too. 

“In today’s highly connected world, messaging in the form of emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and work channels like Slack, are integral to our daily routine,” says Barrie Arnold, chief revenue officer at ping. “However, distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of preventable fatalities every year.” 

ping, a specialist in voice technology founded by Arnold and South African Garin Toren, has developed a new Alexa skill as a companion to its patented smartphone app, that enables any message type to be read aloud. Designed for safety, productivity and convenience, “pingloud” is the first skill of its kind for keeping users connected when they need a hand or an extra pair of eyes.

“The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.” says Toren, ping CEO. 

Opening up Alexa to developers has resulted in an explosion of new skills available either for free or for a fee that unlocks premium services or features. These tools magnify the usefulness of Alexa devices beyond common tasks like asking for the weather, playing music or requesting help on a homework assignment. According to App Annie, the most downloaded apps in 2019 were Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s main app and WhatsApp, highlighting the importance of messaging. 

“The ping Android app is available worldwide from the Google Pay Store, reading all messages out loud in 30 languages,” says Toren. “The iOS version is in global beta testing with the US launch coming very soon.” 

Once you’ve signed up for ping, it takes a few seconds to link with Alexa, enabling all messages and emails to be read aloud by a smart speaker or Echo Auto device. Simply say, “Hey Alexa, open pingloud.” ping links an account to a voice profile so unauthorised users with access to the same Alexa cannot ask for the authorised user’s messages.

All major message types are supported, including Texts/SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Telegram, Twitter DM’s, Instagram, and all email types. Promotional and social emails are not read by default.

*For more information, visit www.pingloud.com

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Coronavirus to hit 5G

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Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 199 million units in 2020, after disruption caused by the coronavirus scare put a cap on sales forecasts, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global 5G smartphone shipments will grow more than tenfold from 19 million units in 2019 to 199 million in 2020. The 5G segment will be the fastest-growing part of the worldwide smartphone industry this year. Consumers want faster 5G smartphones to surf richer content, such as video or games. We forecast 5G penetration to rise from 1 percent of all smartphones shipped globally in 2019 to 15 percent of total in 2020.”

Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “China, United States, South Korea, Japan and Germany are by far the largest 5G smartphone markets this year. The big-five countries together will make up 9 in 10 of all 5G smartphones sold worldwide in 2020. However, other important regions, like India and Indonesia, are lagging way behind and will not be offering mass-market 5G for at least another year or two.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The global 5G smartphone industry is growing quickly, but the ongoing coronavirus scare and subsequent economic slowdown will put a cap on overall 5G demand this year. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China. The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

Exhibit 1: Global 5G Smartphone Shipments Forecast in 2020 1

Global Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units)20192020
5G19199
Rest of Market13941165
Total14131364
 
Global Smartphone Shipments (% of Total)20192020
5G1%15%
Rest of Market99%85%
Total100%100%

Source: Strategy Analytics

The full report, Global Handset Sales for 88 Countries & 19 Technologies, is published by the Strategy Analytics Emerging Device Technologies (EDT) service, details of which can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/wep83gc.

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