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Solving the Case of the Grumpy Smartphone

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We all wrestle with the frustration of love affairs with fresh new phones that end in frustration as they become ageing grumps. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK looks at reasons and solutions.

When that fresh new smartphone enters our lives, it often matches both our budgets and our lifestyles. It’s an expression of ourselves and of the hope that, this time, it’s going to be a long-term relationship.

A year later, it’s just like all the rest of them. Slow, cantankerous, temperamental, and prone to shut down on you just when you need a meaningful conversation.

Are phones designed to become ageing grumps? Is this a form of planned obsolescence that guarantees the manufacturers will keep selling new, improved devices as we become more addicted to the faster, better and – the real hope – fresher?

Well, yes. If phone makers didn’t keep making better phones, they would go out of business. But the truth is, they can’t help it. The technology going into the phones that are made today is simply not advanced enough to cope with the demands that we all make of the devices tomorrow.

As new apps emerge that give us new capacity and capability in our work, social, and entertainment lives, we push last year’s phone to the limit and are surprised that it groans under the weight of our expectations.

It’s not just that new apps are ahead of their time. In most cases, they could work on phones made six years ago or more. It’s that there are just so many of them. This is the main clue to The Case of the Grumpy Smartphone.

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The core reason why smartphones were so much faster than humans is that they are not smart enough to clean up after themselves.

There are a number of specific reasons. These include two major slowdown factors:

1. Most apps run in the background on the phone, even when you’re not using them. As you install more apps, more apps are running in the background, using more data, more battery power and more system memory. This gradually slows down the phone, even in the absence of any use of these apps. Because they are also constantly draining the battery, they reduce the life of the battery.

2. As your storage fills up with saved files (photos, videos, documents), as well as cached files from websites you visit or attachments to your chats and received emails, each new file is stored in small chunks of data spread across the phone’s drive – the storage that lies within the device. As more chunks of data are spread more widely, it makes retrieval of the files slower, but also slows down the storage of new files.

You would think that deleting a file or app would solve the problem, but it does such a messy job, it’s almost as bad as spilling coffee on the handset. As one does. When you delete files, the freed up space is spread out across the drive, and new files have to find enough space in all these new holes to fit in comfortably. All of this results in the phone becoming less efficient over time.

There are many workarounds to clean up the mess, but none of them represent a real solution.

The first smartphone to address the problem directly, the Huawei Mate 9, was launched in November 2016. It introduced machine learning algorithms that monitor the user’s behaviour, shuts down unused apps, optimises processor use for the tasks at hand, and prevents fragmentation of files.

In short, it cleans up after the user, using artificial intelligence (AI). Not the kind that will graduallly develop self-awareness and take over the world, but rather the kind that has context awareness and keeps doing one job better as it learns.

At the launch, Huawei claimed that, over an 18 month period, you would end up with a more efficient, better performing phone.

We’re now at the halfway mark in testing Huawei’s claim, so the phone still has 9 month to prove itself. If it performs as advertised, “machine learning” may well be the next standard feature in smartphones.

“In future we will introduce more AI fucntions, like components in charge of different aspects of the phone’s performance,” says Likun Zhao, GM of Huawei Consumer Business Group in South Africa. He feels strongly that the evolution of the handset is about to enter a third era, following the early feature phones as the first and the basic touchscreen smartphone, pioneered by Apple, as the second.

“We think the big change from version two to version three is AI. The smartphone plus AI equals the intelligent phone.”

Huawei, he says , defines the intelligent phone according to three key features: “First, intelligent interaction, which is very simple: the phone will be like your eyes, your ears, nose, tongue and brain; the smartphone can listen, hear, taste, and feel.

“Second, is borderless display. Today it all depends on the screen, text, and voice, but we think in future it will also be based on the actions of users, behaviour of users, and even proactive perception, like tracking your eyes automatically. This means the screen is no longer the border; it extends to your body.

“Third is proactive, intelligent services, starting with machine learning, but with AI becoming like the brain, where the phone can think, and can study behaviour.”

At that point, the phone begins to refresh itself, which means it is also likely to start treating its users better. But this could be anything from two to 10 years away, so what do you do in the meantime?

First, on most Android phones, there is a maintenance option. On the latest Samsung S8 devices, it’s labelled Device Maintenance, and allows the user to optimise the phone’s “maintenance status”. With one click, you can close apps running in the background, free up storage from temporary files, identify apps that are making abnormal use of the battery and shut those down, and clean up apps that are vulnerable to malware, which can infect and damage the phone’s software.

The function also balances battery life and screen resolution for everyday use, or enhances specific functions for games, entertainment or other forms of high performance. Most Samsung and Huawei smartphones have similar functions.

If the function is not available on your phone, or it does not offer a powerful enough set of maintenance tools, many apps perform a similar role.  For example, AVG Cleaner conducts an analysis, doing a particularly good job of identifying content that has been cached and can be deleted if not needed on the phone. Its only drawback is that it demands payment for a Pro version that allows automatic cleaning and to optimise battery use.

It’s worth shopping around in your app store to find equivalent phone maintenance apps that don’t demand payment for every additional function. However, it may also be worthwhile forking out a few rands or dollars to protect your investment in a device that cost hundreds or thousands when you were first persuaded to enter a relationship.

  • 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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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • 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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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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