Tech and health companies including Microsoft and Salesforce team up on digital COVID-19 vaccination records

A new cross-industry initiative is seeking to establish a standard for digital vaccination records that can be used universally to identify COVID-19 vaccination status for individuals, in a way that can be both secure via encryption and traceable and verifiable for trustworthiness regarding their contents. The so-called ‘Vaccination Credential Initiative’ includes a range of big-name companies from both the healthcare and the tech industry, including Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and Epic, as well as the Mayo Clinic, Safe Health, Change Healthcare and the CARIN Alliance to name a few.

The effort is beginning with existing, recognized standards already in use in digital healthcare programs, like the SMART Health Cards specification, which adheres to HL7 FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) which is a standard created for use in digital health records to make them interoperable between providers. The final product that the initiative aims to establish is an “encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet of their choice,” with a backup available as a printed QR code that includes W3C-standards verifiable credentials for individuals who don’t own or prefer not to use smartphones.

Vaccination credentials aren’t a new thing – they’ve existed in some form or another since the 1700s. But their use and history is also mired in controversy and accusations of inequity, since this is human beings we’re dealing with. And already with COVID-19, there efforts underway to make access to certain geographies dependent upon negative COVID-19 test results (though such results don’t actually guarantee that an individual doesn’t actually have COVID-19 or won’t transfer it to others).

A recent initiative by LA County specifically also is already providing digital immunization records to individuals via a partnership with Healthvana, facilitated by Apple’s Wallet technology. But Healthvana’s CEO and founder was explicit in telling me that that isn’t about providing a proof of immunity for use in deterring an individual’s social or geographic access. Instead, it’s about informing and supporting patients for optimal care outcomes.

It sounds like this initiative is much more about using a COVID-19 immunization record as a literal passport of sorts. It’s right in the name of the initiative, for once (‘Credential’ is pretty explicit). The companies involved also at least seem cognizant of the potential pitfalls of such a program, as MITRE’s chief digital health physician Dr. Brian Anderson said that “we are working to ensure that underserved populations have access to this verification,” and added that “just as COVID-19 does not discriminate based on socio-economic status, we must ensure that convenient access to records crosses the digital divide.”

Other quotes from Oracle and Salesforce, and additional member leaders confirm that the effort is focused on fostering a reopening of social and ecomicn activity, including “resuming travel,” get[ting] back to public life,” and “get[ting] concerts and sporting events going again.” Safe Health also says that they’ll help facility a “privacy-preserving health status verification” solution that is at least in part “blockchain-enabled.”

Given the urgency of solutions that can lead to a safe re-opening, and a way to keep tabs on the massive, global vaccination program that’s already underway, it makes sense that a modern approach would include a digital version of historic vaccination record systems. But such an approach, while it leverages new conveniences and modes made possible by smartphones and the internet, also opens itself up to new potential pitfalls and risks that will no doubt be highly scrutinized, particularly by public interest groups focused on privacy and equitable treatment.

TrendForce expects the smartphone market to slowly recover in 2021, but Huawei won’t benefit

After a dismal year, the global smartphone market will slowly start recovering in 2021, predicts TrendForce. But Huawei won’t benefit and, in fact, will fall out of the research firm’s list of the world’s top six smartphone makers.

In 2020, global smartphone production dropped 11% year-over-year to 1.25 billion units. This year, TrendForce expects it to increase by 9% to 1.36 million units, as people replace old devices and demand grows in emerging markets. But even that slight recovery is contingent on how the pandemic continues to impact the economy and the global chip shortage that is currently causing production delays across almost the entire electronics industry.

In 2020, the top six smartphone brands in order of production volume were Samsung, Apple, Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo. But this year TrendForce expects Huawei to slip out of that ranking, with the new top-six list comprising of Samsung, Apple, Xiaomi, OPPO, Vivo and Transsion.

Those six companies are expected to account for 80% of the global smartphone market in 2021, while Huawei will come in at seventh place.

The main reason for Huawei’s drop is the divestment of its budget smartphone brand, Honor. Huawei confirmed in November that it is selling Honor to a consortium of companies to save the division’s supply chain from the impact of United States government trade restrictions.

The spin-out was meant to shield Honor from the sanctions that have hurt Huawei’s business. But “it remains to be seen whether the ‘new’ Honor can capture consumers’ attention without the support from Huawei. Also, Huawei and the new Honor will be directly competing against each other in the future, especially if the former is somehow freed from the U.S. trade sanctions at a later time,” said TrendForce’s report.

In a previous report published shortly after Honor’s sale was announced, TrendForce predicted that the deal, along with the global chip shortage, meant Huawei would take just 4% of the market in 2021, compared to the 17% it held in 2019, and estimated 14% in 2020. Apple is expected to take away some market share from Huawei’s high-end smartphones, while Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo will also benefit. TrendForce expects the newly spun-out Honor to take 2% market share in 2021.

OnePlus’ latest concept phone changes color to ‘breathe’ with the user

Back in January, OnePlus showed off its first concept phone. The aptly (if plainly) named Concept One sported color-shifting glass, giving the effect of an “invisible camera” on the rear of the device. The concept wasn’t particularly useful — if anything it was a fun diversion from boring old phone updates.

From that standpoint, the OnePlus 8T Concept is more of the same. It’s not particularly useful as far as smartphone updates go — and more to the point, there’s absolutely zero guarantee this technology will ever make it onto an actual phone. Once again, the headlining technology has more to do with how the phone looks than how it actually functions.

The big thing here is something called ECMF, or Electronic Color, Material and Finish. Basically it’s a color-changing film that coats the phone. It has metal oxide, which activates when voltage is applied, changing the glass from dark blue to light silver.

Image Credits: OnePlus

OnePlus says, “Our designers took inspiration for these colors from the multi-hued flowing water in the hot springs of Pamukkale, Turkey. Nature has perfected many designs, and by drawing inspiration from Pamukkale and other natural elements, we can craft new interaction experiences that are more natural, intuitive, and effortless.”

As for the utility of such technologies, OnePlus suggests a coat that changes color to notify the user of incoming calls. Weirder still is a future that uses mmWave technology to capture a user’s breathing pattern, “enabling the color to change in sync and effectively making the phone a biofeedback device.”

As far as new phone features, this one is firmly in the “why not” column.

Qualcomm’s new chipset for wireless earbuds promises improved noise cancellation and all-day battery life

There are now so many wireless earbuds, it’s hard to keep track, but one of the reasons why we’ve seen this explosion in new and existing manufacturers entering this business is the availability of Bluetooth Audio SoCs from Qualcomm, including the QCC5100 and QCC30xx series. Today, the company is launching the latest chipset in its wireless portfolio, the QCC305x.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a more powerful chip, with four more powerful cores compared to the three cores of its 304x predecessor. But the real promise here is that this additional processing power will now enable earbud makers to offer features like adaptive active noise cancellation and support for using wake words to active Alexa or the Google Assistant.

The new chipset now also supports Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive with an audio resolution of up to 96kHz and aptX Voice for 3-microphone echo canceling and noise suppression for clearer calls while you are on the go (or on a Zoom call, which is more likely these days). And despite the increased power, Qualcomm promises all-day battery life, too, though, at the end of the day, it’s up to the individual manufacturer to tune their gadgets accordingly.

Image Credits: Qualcomm

The new chipset has also been designed to support the upcoming Bluetooth LE Audio standard. This new standard hasn’t been finalized just yet, but it promises features like multi-stream for multiple synchronized audio streams from a single device — useful for wireless earbuds — and support for personal audio sharing, so that you can share your music from your smartphones with our people around you. There’s also location-based sharing to allow public venues like airports and gyms to share Bluetooth audio with their visitors.

It’s still early days for Bluetooth LE Audio, but during a press conference ahead of today’s announcement, Qualcomm continuously stressed that its new chips will be ready for it once the standard is ratified.

“Not only do our QCC305x SoCs bring many of our latest-and-greatest audio features to our mid-range truly wireless earbud portfolio, they are also designed to be developer-ready for the upcoming Bluetooth LE Audio standard,” James Chapman, vice president, and general manager, Voice, Music, and Wearables at Qualcomm, said in the announcement. “We believe this combination gives our customers great flexibility to innovate at a range of price points and helps them meet the needs of today’s audio consumers, many of whom now rely on their truly wireless earbuds for all sorts of entertainment and productivity activities.”

Image Credits: Qualcomm

COVID-19 made our tech addiction worse: It’s time to do something about it 

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated America’s addiction to technology, and it’s making us sad, anxious and unproductive.

Companies like Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat earn more advertising revenue the more frequently we use their products. These firms use push notifications and personalized feeds to capture our attention, manipulate our emotions and influence our actions.

Business is good. Americans now spend more than five hours each day on their devices.

So what? As discussed in Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma,” tech firms will continue to follow their profit motive to capture our attention. Governments are no more likely to help manage unhealthy tech consumption than consumption of sugar or illegal drugs. We need to take control.

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated America’s addiction to technology, and it’s making us sad, anxious and unproductive.

My perspective is as a former tech CEO and technology addict. The marketing platform I founded raised over $100 million, grew to 350 employees and sold to a private equity firm last year. Along the way I picked up some terrible tech habits; I checked email constantly and allowed push notifications to interrupt every in-person interaction.

My tech use hit rock bottom last year on a visit with family. I resolved to put down my phone and garden with my mom, who has advanced Parkinson’s and moves slowly and with intention.

I felt like an addict in withdrawal. My phone was like a magnet pulling me to check for missed work emails or breaking news. Tech overuse had rewired my brain, lowered the quality of everyday consciousness and prevented me from being present.

I stepped down as CEO of my company earlier this year. I’ve spent my time off learning about mindfulness, neuroplasticity and technology addiction. Most importantly, I developed a strategy for managing my tech use that’s made me happier and more productive.

Here’s what I learned.

Tech firms exploit our brains to capture our attention

In their quest for our attention, some tech firms target the oldest parts of our brain, what UCLA psychiatrist Daniel Siegel calls the downstairs brain. The downstairs brain includes your brainstem and limbic regions, which control innate reactions and impulses (fight or flight) and strong emotion (like anger and fear). In contrast, your upstairs brain, including your cerebral cortex, is where intricate mental processes take place, like thinking, imagining and planning.

The downstairs brain is reactive. It’s designed to protect us in emergencies; it can make quick judgements, hijack our consciousness and drive action through strong emotion. The downstairs brain is what is targeted by attention-seeking products. Headlines that make us feel outraged and TikTok notifications that make us feel reactive appeal to our downstairs brain.

Spending time in a reactive state rewires our brains

Our brains change with training. Research has shown that our brains are reprogrammed with the firing patterns of neurons. Our nervous system can be rewired and transformed through repetitive, focused attention or activity in a process called neuroplasticity.

Repetitive device usage is a perfect example of neuroplasticity at work. The more time we spend responding to push notifications, watching videos in infinite scroll or looking for social validation from social media, the more our brains will rewire to want the same.

Our addiction will get worse as firms get better at capturing attention

While many tech firms acknowledge problems from overusing their products, none will make radical changes needed to decrease their share of the attention profit pool. If they did, someone else would eat their lunch.

These firms are selling us sugary drinks. The taste is improving exponentially and the sweetest drinks haven’t been invented yet. The more we drink, the harder it gets to stop. We need to take control of our consumption and habits — we need to follow a technology diet — or we will suffer the mental equivalent of morbid obesity.

We can can rewire our brains to be more productive and happier by changing our habits

If we think of technology consumption as an analog to food consumption, tech products fall into four food groups based on the quality of information and method of delivery. Content quality is important: Some content is valuable (e.g., MIT’s online courseware) or critical (work email), while most is not useful (TikTok).

The delivery model is also important. Healthy platforms give agency to the user and allow us to pull content that’s useful when we need it. Conversely, harmful platforms often rely on push, sending us information that’s often not useful at a time when we’re doing something else. Based on my experience, here are three steps we can take to implement a tech diet:

1. Eliminate products that reinforce your downstairs brain (low-quality content pushed to you)

Willpower is finite. If we don’t want sugary drinks, don’t keep them in the house. We keep the most distracting applications ever developed within arms reach at all times. These applications prey on our downstairs brain, which hijacks our better intentions and delivers negative value for most people. I believe our best defense is abstinence; we shouldn’t use these apps.

Tip: I use Apple’s Content Restrictions on the iPhone and MacBook. I added the obvious offenders: TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and some specific to me, which includes Zillow, StreetEasy and NYPost. My spouse has the override code. I can break it if needed, but the process is hard enough that it doesn’t enter everyday consciousness.

2. Consume more products that reinforce your upstairs brain (high-quality content that’s available when we need it)

Good content expands our knowledge and skills and may contribute to rewiring our upstairs brain in a way that adds to our empathy, imagination and mindfulness.

Consuming good content is rewarding but effortful. It requires uninterrupted focus. Unlike sugary beverages, which we’re wired to consume subconsciously, leafy greens have to be consumed intentionally.

Tip: Make a list of your favorite leafy greens. For me, this includes Kindle, Feedly, tech periodicals and my favorite curation platforms: HackerNews and Product Hunt. Calm, one of several booming mindfulness apps, also makes the list. These are the only apps on my home screen, which encourages me to use them more often. Like a food diet, I set attainable goals for “good” consumption and monitor my progress.

I recommend fasting on technology periodically; I leave my phone at home for walks with my son and dinner with friends. I also recommend nontech activities that promote upstairs brain rewiring like an outdoor hike or learning to play an instrument.

3. Redesign consumption patterns for productivity tools

Email is required for most people. It has the potential to make us productive. But the average message quality is low, and the always-on, high frequency, push-by-default design prevents us from doing our best work.

Tip: I’ve turned off notifications on everything that’s not meant for urgent or timely messages (e.g., texts, Lyft, Tovala oven). Boomerang’s Chrome Extension can be set up to deliver all of your emails every hour on the hour. Batch processing email every hour dramatically reduces the volume of interruption without impacting my responsiveness.

We live in relative abundance, with food, goods and security that would make even our recent ancestors envious. But abundance doesn’t make us happy; we’re the least happy on record. We seem to be living in a collective state of downstairs brain, a continuous adult temper tantrum focused on strong feelings, emotion and impulsiveness.

But there’s hope.

As individuals, I found that even a few months of technology dieting helped me become less impulsive and more mindful. As employees, we can stop working for companies that profit from the attention economy. As managers, we can insist that our teams turn off their devices at night, turn off their Slack notifications and take real vacations. As parents, we can help our children develop healthy consumption patterns.

Collective action — and rewiring of our brains — could change the course of our politics and our ability to collaborate and solve the most important challenges of the 21st century.

American innovation dominates the attention economy. It’s time for American innovation to dominate the way we use technology.

The mikme pocket is a fantastic mobile audio solution for podcasters, reporters and creators

Portable audio recording solutions abound, and many recently released devices have done a lot to improve the convenience and quality of sound recording devices you can carry in your pocket – spurred in part by smartphones and their constant improvement in video recording capabilities. A new device from Austria’s mikme, the mikme pocket (€369.00 or just under $450 USD), offers a tremendous amount of flexibility and quality in a very portable package, delivering what might just be the ultimate pocket sound solution for reporters, podcasters, video creators and more.

The basics

mikme pocket is small – about half the size of a smartphone, but square and probably twice as thick. It’s not as compact as something like the Rode Wireless GO, but it contains onboard memory and a Bluetooth antenna, making it possible to both record locally and transmit audio directly to a connected smartphone from up to three mikme pockets at once.

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The mikme pocket features a single button for control, as well as dedicated volume buttons, a 3.5mm headphone jack for monitoring audio, a micro-USB port for charging and for offloading files via physical connection, and Bluetooth pairing and power buttons. It has an integrated belt clip, as well as a 3/8″ thread mount for mic stands, with an adapter included for mounting to 1/4″ standard camera tripod connections.

In the box, mikme has also included a lavalier microphone with a mini XLR connector (which is the interface the pocket uses) and a clip and two windscreens for the mic. They also offer a ‘pro’ lavalier mic as a separate, add-on purchase (€149.00 or around $180 USD), which offers improved performance vs. the included lav in terms of audio quality and dynamic range.

Image Credits: mikme

The internal battery for the mikme pocket lasts up to 3.5 hours of recording time, and it can last for more than six months in standby mode between recordings, too.

Design and performance

The mikme pocket is a pretty unadorned black block, but its unassuming design is one of its strengths. It has a textured matte feel which helps with grittiness, and it’s easy to hide in dark clothing, plus the integrated belt clip works exactly as desired ensuring the pack is easy secured to anyone you’re trying to wire for sound. It features a single large button for simplified control, which also easily shows you its connectivity status using an LED backlight.

Controls for more advanced functions like Bluetooth connectivity, as well as the micro-USB port, are located on the bottom where they’re unlikely to be pressed accidentally by anyone during recording. The mini XLR interface for microphones means that once a mic is plugged it, it’s also securely locked in place and won’t be jostled out during sessions.

You can use the mikme pocket on its own, thanks to its 16GB of built-in local storage, but it really shines when used in tandem with the smartphone app. The app allows you to connect up to three pockets simultaneously, and provides a built-in video recorder so you can take full advantage of the recording capabilities of modern devices like the iPhone 12 to capture real-time synced audio while you film effortlessly. The mikme pocket and app also have a failsafe built in for filling in any gaps that might arise from any connection dropouts thanks to the local recording backup.

In terms of audio quality, the sound without adjusting any settings is excellent. Like all lavalier mics, you’ll get better results the closer you can place the actually mic capsule itself to a speaker’s mouth, but the mikme pocket produced exceptional clean-sounding, high-quality audio right out of the box – in environments that weren’t particularly sound isolated or devoid of background noise.

The included mini XLR lav mic is probably good enough for the needs of most amateur and enthusiast users, while the lavalier pro is a great upgrade option for anyone looking to make the absolute most of their recordings, especially with post-processing via desktop audio editing software. The mikme app has built-in audio tweaking controls with a great visual interface that allows you to hear the effects of processing tweaks in real-time, which is great for maximizing sound quality on the go before sharing clips and videos directly from your device to social networks or publishing platforms.

Bottom line

From on-phone shotgun mics, to handheld recorders and much more, there are plenty of options out there for capturing audio on-the-go, but the mikme pocket is the one that offers the best balance of very high-quality sound that’s essentially immediately ready to publish, in a package that’s both extremely easy to carry anywhere with you, and that offers durability and user-friendliness to suit newcomers and experts alike.

Gartner: Q3 smartphone sales down 5.7% to 366M, slicing Covid-19 declines in Q1, Q2

We are now into the all-important holiday sales period, and new numbers from Gartner point to some recovery underway for the smartphone market as vendors roll out a raft of new 5G handsets.

Q3 smartphone figures from the analysts published today showed that smartphone unit sales were 366 million units, a decline of 5.7% globally compared to the same period last year. Yes, it’s a drop; but it is still a clear improvement on the first half of this year, when sales slumped by 20% in each quarter, due largely to the effects of Covid-19 on spending and consumer confidence overall.

That confidence is being further bolstered by some other signals. We are coming out of a relatively strong string of sales days over the Thanksgiving weekend, traditionally the “opening” of the holiday sales cycle. While sales on Thursday and Black Friday were at the lower end of predicted estimates, they still set records over previous years. With a lot of tech like smartphones often bought online, this could point to stronger numbers for smartphone sales as well.

On top of that, last week IDC — which also tracks and analyses smartphones sales — published a report predicting that sales would grow 2.4% in Q4 compared to 2019’s Q4. Its take is that while 5G smartphones will drive buying, prices still need to come down on these newer generation handsets to really see them hit with wider audiences. The average selling price for a 5G-enabled smartphone in 2020 is $611, said IDC, but it thinkgs that by 2024 that will come down to $453, likely driven by Android-powered handsets, which have collectively dominated smartphone sales for years.

Indeed, in terms of brands, Samsung, with its Android devices, continued to lead the pack in terms of overall units, with 80.8 million units, and a 22% market share. In fact, the Korean handset maker and China’s Xiaomi were the only two in the top five to see growth in their sales in the quarter, respectively at 2.2% and 34.9%. Xiaomi’s numbers were strong enough to see it overtake Apple for the quarter to become the number-three slot in terms of overall sales rankings. Huawei just about held on to number two. See the full chart further down in this story with more detail.

Also worth noting: overall mobile sales — a figure that includes both smartphones and feature phones — were down 8.7% 401 million units. That underscores not just how few feature phones are selling at the moment (smartphones can often even be cheaper to buy, depending on the brands involved or the carrier bundles), but also that those less sophisticated devices are seeing even more sales pressure than more advanced models.

Smartphone slump: it’s not just Covid-19

It’s worth remembering that even before the global health pandemic, smartphone sales were facing slowing growth. The reasons: after a period of huge enthusiasm from consumers to pick up devices, many countries reached market penetration. And then, the latest features were too incremental to spur people to sell up and pay a premium on newer models.

In that context, the big hope from the industry has been 5G, which has been marketed by both carriers and handset makers as having more data efficiency and speed than older technologies. Yet when you look at the wider roadmap for 5G, rollout has remained patchy, and consumers by and large are still not fully convinced they need it.

Notably, in this past quarter, there is still some evidence that emerging/developing markets continue to have an impact on growth — in contrast to new features being drivers in penetrated markets.

“Early signs of recovery can be seen in a few markets, including parts of mature Asia/Pacific and Latin America. Near normal conditions in China improved smartphone production to fill in the supply gap in the third quarter which benefited sales to some extent,” said Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner, in a statement. “For the first time this year, smartphone sales to end users in three of the top five markets i.e., India, Indonesia and Brazil increased, growing 9.3%, 8.5% and 3.3%, respectively.”

The more positive Q3 figures coincide with a period this summer that saw new Covid-19 cases slowing down in many places and the relaxation of many restrictions, so now all eyes are on this coming holiday period, at a time when Covid-19 cases have picked up with a vengeance, and with no rollout (yet) of large-scale vaccination or therapeutic programs. That is having an inevitable drag on the economy.

“Consumers are limiting their discretionary spend even as some lockdown conditions have started to improve,” said Gupta of the Q3 numbers. “Global smartphone sales experienced moderate growth from the second quarter of 2020 to the third quarter. This was due to pent-up demand from previous quarters.”

Digging into the numbers, Samsung has held on to its top spot, although its growth was significantly less strong in the quarter. Even with that slump, Samsung is still a long way ahead.

That is in part because number-two Huawei, with 51.8 million units sold, was down by more than 21% since last year. It has been having a hard time in the wake of a public relations crisis after sanctions in the US and UK, due to accusations that its equipment is used by China for spying. (Those UK sanctions, indeed, have been brought up in timing, just as of last night.)

That also led Huawei earlier this month to confirm the long-rumored plan to sell off its Honor smartphone division. That deal will involve selling the division, reportedly valued at around $15 billion, to a consortium of companies.

It will be interesting to see how Apple’s small decline of 0.6% to 40.6 million units to Xiaomi’s 44.4 million, will shift in the next quarter, on the back of the company launching a new raft of iPhone 12 devices.

“Apple sold 40.5 million units in the third quarter of 2020, a decline of 0.6% as compared to 2019,” said Annette Zimmermann, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement. “The slight decrease was mainly due to Apple’s delayed shipment start of its new 2020 iPhone generation, which in previous years would always start mid/end September. This year, the launch event and shipment start began 4 weeks later than usual.”

Oppo, which is still not available through carriers or retail partners in the US, rounded out the top five sellers with just under 30 million phones sold. The fact that it and Xiaomi do so well despite not really having a phone presence in the US is an interesting testament to what kind of role the US plays in the global smartphone market: huge in terms of perception, but perhaps less so when the chips are down.

“Others” — that category that can take in the long tail of players who make phones, continues to be a huge force, accounting for more sales than any one of the top five. That underscores the fragmentation in the Android-based smartphone industry, but all the same, its collective numbers were in decline, a sign that consumers are indeed slowly continuing to consolidate around a smaller group of trusted brands.

 

Vendor 3Q20

Units

3Q20 Market Share (%) 3Q19

Units

3Q19 Market Share (%) 3Q20-3Q19 Growth (%)
Samsung 80,816.0 22.0 79,056.7 20.3 2.2
Huawei 51,830.9 14.1 65,822.0 16.9 -21.3
Xiaomi 44,405.4 12.1 32,927.9 8.5 34.9
Apple 40,598.4 11.1 40,833.0 10.5 -0.6
OPPO 29,890.4 8.2 30,581.4 7.9 -2.3
Others 119,117.4 32.5 139,586.7 35.9 -14.7
Total 366,658.6 100.0 388,807.7 100.0 -5.7

Source: Gartner (November 2020)

 

 

Google brings ‘The Mandalorian’ to AR in its new app

Google has teamed up with Disney and Lucasfilm to bring the Star Wars streaming series “The Mandalorian” to augmented reality. The company announced this morning the launch of a new Android AR app,  “The Mandalorian” AR Experience, which will display iconic moments from the first season of the show in AR, allowing fans to retrace the Mandalorian’s steps, find the Child, harness the Force, and more, according to the app’s Play Store description.

In the app, users will be able to follow the trail of Mando, Din Djarin and the Child, interact with the characters, and create scenes that can be shared with friends.

New AR content will be released for the app on Mondays, starting today Nov. 23 and continuing for nearly a year to wrap on Oct. 31, 2021. That makes this a longer-term promotion than some of the other Star Wars experiences Google has offered in the past.

Image Credits: Google/Lucasfilm

Meanwhile, the app itself takes advantage of Google’s developer platform for building augmented reality experiences, ARCore, in order to create scenes that interact with the user’s surroundings. This more immersive design means fans will be able to unlock additional effects based on their actions. The app also leverages Google’s new ARCore Depth API, which allows the app to enable occlusion. This makes the AR scenes blend more naturally with the environment that’s seen through the smartphone’s camera.

However, because the app is a showcase for Google’s latest AR technologies, it won’t work with all Android devices.

Google says the app will only support “compatible 5G Android devices,” which includes its 5G Google Pixel smartphones and other select 5G Android phones that have the Google Play Services for AR updated. You can check to see if your Android phone is supported on a list provided on the Google Developers website. Other phones may be supported in the future, the company also notes.

Image Credits:

While the experience requires a 5G-capable Android device, Google says that you don’t have to be on an active 5G connection to use the app. Instead, the requirement is more about the technologies these devices include and not the signal itself.

Google has teamed up with Lucasfilm many times over the past several years for promotional marketing campaigns. These are not typically considered ads, because they give both companies the opportunity to showcase their services or technologies. For example, Google allowed users to give its apps a Star Wars-themed makeover back in 2015, which benefited its own services like Gmail, Maps, YouTube, Chrome and others. It has also introduced both AR and VR experiences featuring Star Wars content over the past several years.

The  “The Mandalorian” AR Experience” is a free download on the Play Store.

Why Apple’s Q4 earnings look different this year

On Thursday, Apple delivered a Q4 earnings beat but the stock slid anyway as wary investors saw worse than expected iPhone revenues. At the time of writing, stock was down around 5% in after-hours trading.

It was a mild beat, with Apple posting $64.7 billion compared to the $63.70 billion Wall Street was expecting and $0.73 earnings per share versus an estimated $0.70. While Apple showcased all-time-highs in Services and Mac divisions, iPhone revenues were down 20 percent year-over-year.

Generally, Apple’s Q4 earnings feature a bit of a bump from the first few days of sales of the new iPhones, but with Apple running a few weeks behind this year, their launches have missed the window to be included on Q4 and will instead all be bundled into the Q1 holiday quarter.

The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro dropped on September 20 of last year, while this year’s iPhone 12 was released more than a month later on October 23, while the iPhone 12 Pro has still yet to launch but will be available November 13.

The bigger question is how this delay might affect the company’s entire product release schedule. Will the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro see a shorter life cycle than previous models or will October/November be the new launch timeline for the company’s smartphones going forward?

Updating

Jackery’s solar generator system helps you collect and store more than enough juice for off-grid essentials

Portable power is a very convenient thing to have on hand, as proven by the popularity of pocket power banks for providing backup energy for smartphones and tablets. Jackery’s lineup of battery backups offer an entirely different, much greater level of portable energy storage, and when combined with the company’s durable and portable solar panels, they add up to an impressive mobile solar power generation solution that can offer a little piece of mind at home for when the power goes out, or a lot of flexibility on the road for day trips, camping excursions and more.

The basics

Jackery sells the Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station and SolarSaga 100W Solar Panels I reviewed separately, but it also bundles them together in a pack ($1,599.97) with the power station and two of the panels in a Solar Generator combo, which is what I tested. The Portable Power Station retails for $999.99, though it’s the top of the line offering and there are more affordable models with less capacity. The station itself offers a 1002Wh internal lithium battery, and 1000W rated power with 2000W surge power rating. IT has two USB-C outputs, one standard USB, one DC port like you’d find in your car dash, and three standard AC outlets. It has an integrated handle, a tough plastic exterior and a built-in LCD display for information including battery charge status and output info.

The Explorer 1000, on a full charge, can provide up to 100 charges for your standard iPhone, or up to eight charges of a MacBook Pro. It can power an electric grill for 50 minutes, or a mini fridge for up to 66 hours. It can be recharged via a wall outlet (fully charges in seven hours) or a car outlet (14 hours), but it can also be paired up with the 2x SolarSaga panels for a full recharge in around eight hours of direct sun exposure — almost as fast as you’d charge it plugging it into an outlet at home (it takes double the time, or around 17 hours, when using just one).

As for the solar panels, they each retail for $299.99, and fold in half for greater portability, and feature integrated pockets and stands for cable storage and easy setup anywhere. Each ways less than 10 lbs, and they offer both USB-C and USB-A direct output for charging up devices without any battery or power station required. It’s worth noting that they’re not waterproof, however, so you should exercise some caution when using them in inclement weather.

Image Credits: Jackery

Design and features

The Jackery Portable Power Station is a perfect blend of portability, practicality and durability. Its internal powerhouse will keep you going for days in terms of mobile device power, and it weighs only a relatively portable 22 lbs, despite packing in a massive battery. The range of output options built-in mean you can connect to just about any electronically-powered device you can think of, and three AC outlets mean you can power multiple appliances at once if you want to spend your juice on running a lightweight outdoor kitchen — albeit not for a super long time at that kind of power draw.

Jackery’s Explorer series features durable and attractive (insofar as any utility device is ever that attractive) exterior impact-resistant plastic housings, and they definitely feel like they don’t need to be treated with kid gloves. The display is legible and clear, and provides all the info you need at a glance in terms of reserve power, and power expenditure for connected devices, as well as charging info when plugged in.

The many charging options are also super convenient, and that’s where the SolarSaga 100W panes come in. These fold up to roughly the size of a folding camp side table, and have integrated handles for even easier carrying. They’re also protected outside by a tough polycarbonate shell, and the panels are resistant to high temperatures for max durability. They come with included output converter cables for connecting to USB A and USB C devices, and can be used with the adapter included with the Power Station to charge that either in tandem with one another, or on their own.

Around back you’ll find adjustable kickstands, which allow you to angle the panels towards the sun across a range of positions for maximum energy absorption. Between these and the Explorer Power Station you have everything you need to set up your own fully mobile solar energy power generation station in just a few minutes and with minimal effort.

Image Credits: Jackery

Bottom line

In actual use, the Jackery Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station provides so much backup power that it was hard to expend it all through general testing. You really do have to plug appliances like my Blendtec blender in to make a dent, and even then I got roughly 12 hours of usage or more out of it. This is a great solution for taking some selective on-grid equipment off-grid while on camping trips, like a TV, small fridge or a projector, and it’s an amazing thing to have at home just in case of power outages, where having your own backup options can make the difference between getting through a productive workday or staying in touch with family.

The SolarSaga panels are an amazing complement to the Explorer, and truly turn this into your own mini green energy power generation station. Even if you’re not convinced on the expense and necessity of converting your home to solar power, using something like Tesla’s Powerwall, for instance, this is a nice way to power a cooler in the backyard effectively for “free” when it comes to energy costs, or to extend the useful life of the Explorer on trips when you’re away from the grid over the course of multiple days.