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Samsung takes challenge back to Apple

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Samsung has made a startling comeback to the smartphone market, sending the innovation ball soaring back into Apple’s court, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Mere days before last week’s New York launch of the new Samsung S8 smartphone, the rumour mill had “confirmed” the specs of the next Apple iPhone, due out in September. It is ironic, then, that Samsung unveiled a device that featured almost every innovation that Apple is expected to introduce six months from now.

The result is that the Galaxy S8 not only occupies the high ground of smartphone innovation, but places huge pressure on Apple to come up with surprises in the iPhone 8. In recent years, however, the capacity to surprise has tended to elude Apple.

The key elements of the S8 already set it apart from all other handsets on the market. Both the standard S8 and the larger S8+ carry the curve on the edge that made the S6 and S7 Edge phones a huge success. However, they have refined the curves slightly to provide a more comfortable grip.

The standout aspect of the displays now is that they run from one side to the other, with no bezel or edge frame as is found on most other phones. From top to bottom, they also occupy a greater proportion of the front of the phone than almost any other phone on the market. Samsung has achieved this through an old iPhone technique – not having a logo on the front – and a seemingly revolutionary new idea: having the home button hidden invisibly under the surface of the display.

Because the screen is pressure sensitive, when the finger rests on the area where the home button would usually be placed, it activates the functions of that button without taking away from display space.

It is precisely this neat little trick that Apple is expected to announce when it unveils the iPhone 8 in September. In the past, Apple evangelists would have accused rivals of copying Apple. The best they can claim now – unconvincingly – is that Samsung has anticipated Apple’s virtual home button.

Since a flagship smartphone is usually a few years in the making, and the next model is already on the drawing board when the previous one is released, it is clear that the leading manufacturers all have access to similar technology, and twist it in the direction where they believe they can achieve both the best user experience and the best differentiation.

So, for example, Apple is expected to announce later this year that the iPhone 8 will abandon the Lightning connector that caused massive consternation when it replaced the dock connector five years ago. Instead, it will switch to the new standard USB-C connector that is already in use in the new Apple MacBook – and on numerous rival smartphones. It will be near unthinkable for Apple to adopt an industry-standard connector, but it will also mollify users who have to carry a bag full of adapters to make up for the absence of a headphone jack on the last version.

Not at all surprisingly, the new Samsung S8 has introduced the USB-C connector to the Galaxy range for the first time.

The real challenge for Apple will be competing with screen size. It is still a source of wounded pride that Samsung led the market into large-screen formats with the introduction of the Note series six years ago. Apple scoffed at the size of these devices for some years before it succumbed to market pressure and went beyond the 4.5-inch format that Steve Jobs had felt represented the perfect handset display size.

With 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch options for the S7 and S7 Plus, it made up lost ground. However, the S8 and S8+ take the fight to a new level. Due to the ultra-efficient use of the front of the phone, the S8 is now a 5.8-inch phone, despite being slightly narrower than the S7. The S8+ is a 6.2-inch behemoth, and yet remains comfortable in the hand.

It’s unlikely Apple marketing will carry jokes about size this time round. Instead, it is expected to release several size options, ranging from 4.7-inches to 5.8-inches. The new devices are also expected, for the first time, to introduce wireless charging, long a feature of the Samsung flagship phones. Samsung has taken this feature a step further, with charging pods that enable the phone to stand upright and remain viewable and usable while being charged.

The Apple rumour mill also includes a waterproof and dustproof phone, iris and facial recognition, a minimum of 64GB storage, and even a curved display. It ‘s almost as if the Apple clairvoyants were channelling the S8, a few weeks before its launch.

 

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

Available in SA on 5 May

The Samsung S8 and S8+ will be released on South Africa on 5 May 2017, and can be pre-ordered now. For pre-orders, Vodacom is offering a wireless charger and screen protector, while MTN will provide a battery pack and screen protector. Samsung is considering direct deliveries to these customers before the official launch, if it receives stock in time. The Galaxy S8 has a recommended retail price of R15 499, and the Galaxy S8+ a RRP of R17499, similar to current models.

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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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