Архив рубрики: Hardware

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ZTE is being investigated over possible bribery

ZTE’s struggles with the U.S. government generally haven’t been as high-profile as fellow Chinese mobile giant Huawei, but the company has still had its share of issues in recent years. The latest wrinkle, first reported by NBC and later confirmed by The Wall Street Journal, finds it under investigation over bribery charges.
The issues stem from a 2017 settlement with the U.S. government, which found ZTE pleading guilty of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. The company was hit with a hefty $892 million fine over accusations of shipping millions of dollars’ worth of equipment to the country over the course of around six years.
TechCrunch reached out to the Justice Department, which ultimately declined to comment. We’re still waiting for an official response from ZTE on this one. The company did, however issue a pretty generic statement to NBC, noting:

ZTE is fully committed to meeting its legal and compliance obligations. The top priority of the company’s leadership team is making ZTE a trusted and reliable business partner in the global marketplace, and the company is proud of the enormous progress it has made. Beyond this, it would not be appropriate for ZTE to comment.

Fair enough, I guess. The details of the deals being investigated are not yet clear, nor is the timeline. Though ZTE’s fine does not preclude the manufacturer from further investigation by the U.S. government, regardless of whether the actions took place before or after.

ZTE is being investigated over possible bribery

5G devices were less than 1% of US smartphone purchases in 2019

No surprise, really, that 5G smartphone sales are on the way up. Frankly, there’s really no other way to go, according to the latest numbers from NPD’s Mobile Phone Tracking. The firm noted that 5G handsets accounted for less than 1% of total sales in the U.S.
The hurdles are also what you’d expect: namely, pricing and the lack of 5G availability. There’s also the fact that for much of 2019, there simply weren’t that many phones to purchase. When the devices did start arriving from companies like LG, Samsung and OnePlus, the numbers started trending upward, with an increase of roughly 9x from the first to the second half of the year.
Awareness, too, increased notably. Some nine in 10 surveyed consumers in the U.S. had some familiarity with 5G in the second half of the year, up from 73% in the first half. Meanwhile, 65% expressed “interest” in purchasing the tech. How that translates to actual sales, however, is another question entirely.
That should improve as the price of manufacturing these devices comes down, thanks to lower-cost components from companies like Qualcomm. And in markets like the U.S., 5G coverage will be greatly expanded by year’s end, making it a much more appealing purchase. And, of course, never underestimate the impact of Apple’s first 5G iPhone.
Smartphone manufacturers have very much been banking on the increased interest in 5G to help correct the larger trend of flagging sales.
Of course, it remains to be seen how COVID-19 will impact sales. It seems safe to assume that, like every aspect of our lives, there will be a notable impact on the number of people buying expensive smartphones. Certainly things like smartphone purchases tend to lessen in importance in the face of something like a global pandemic.

5G devices were less than 1% of US smartphone purchases in 2019

Immutouch wristband buzzes to stop you touching your face

In the age of coronavirus, we all have to resist the urge to touch our faces. It’s how the virus can travel from doorknobs or other objects to your mucus membranes and get you sick. Luckily, a startup called Slightly Robot had already developed a wristband to stop another type of harmful touching — trichotillomania, a disorder that compels people to pull out their hair.
So over the last week, Slightly Robot redesigned their wearable as the Immutouch, a wristband that vibrates if you touch your face. Its accelerometer senses your hand movement 10 times per second. Based on calibrations the Immutouch takes when you set it up, it then buzzes when you touch or come close to touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. A companion app helps you track your progress as you try to keep your dirty mitts down.

The goal is to develop a Pavlovian response whereby when you get the urge to touch your face, you don’t in order to avoid the buzzing sensation. Your brain internalizes the negative feedback of the vibration, training you with aversive conditioning to ignore the desire to scratch yourself.
“A problem the size of COVID-19 requires everyone to do their part, large or small,” says Slightly Robot co-founder Matthew Toles. “The three of us happened to be uniquely well equipped to tackle this one task and felt it was our duty to at least try.”
The Immutouch wristbands go on sale today for $50 each and they’re ready for immediate shipping. You can wear it on your dominant hand that you’re more likely to touch your face with, or get one for each arm to maximize the deterrent.
“We’re not looking to make money on this. We are selling each unit nearly at cost, accounting for cost of materials, fabrication, assembly, and handling” co-founder Justin Ith insists. Unlike a venture-backed startup beholden to generating returns for investors, Slightly Robot was funded through a small grant from the University of Washington in 2016 and bootstrapped since.
Slightly Robot and Immutouch co-founders (from left): Joseph Toles, Justin Ith, and Matthew Toles
“We built Immutouch because we knew we could do it quickly, therefore we had the obligation to. We all live in Seattle and we see our communities reacting to this outbreak with deep concern and fear” Slightly Robot co-founder Justin Ith tells me. “My father has an autoimmune disease that requires him to take immunosuppressant medication. Being in his late 60’s with a compromised immune system, I’m trying my best to keep the communities around him and my family clean and safe.”
How to calibrate the Immutouch wristband
Based on a study using wearable warning devices to deter sufferers of trichotillomania from ripping out their hair, Immutouch could potentially be effective. University Of Michigan researchers found the vibrations reduced long and short-term hair pulling. Ith admits you have to actually heed the warnings and not itch to instill the right habit, and it doesn’t work while you’re lying down. The Immutouch stops short of electrically shocking you like the older gadget called Pavlok that’s designed to help people quit smoking or opening Facebook.
Perhaps smartwatch makers like Apple could develop cheap or free apps to let users train themselves using hardware they already own. But until then, Ith hopes that Immutouch can gain some initial traction so “we can order larger quantities, reduce the price, and make it more accessible.”
Modern technologies like Twitter for rapidly sharing information could encourage people to take the right cautionary measures like 20-second handwashing to slow the spread of coronavirus. But having phones we constantly touch — before, during, and after we use the restroom — and then press against our faces could create a vector for infection absent from pandemics of past centuries. That’s why everyone needs to do their part to smooth out the spike of sickness so our health systems aren’t overrun.
Ith concludes, “Outbreaks like this remind us how we each individually affect the broader community and have a responsibility to not be carriers.” 

Immutouch wristband buzzes to stop you touching your face

Apple agrees to settlement of up to $500 million from lawsuit alleging it throttled older phones

Apple Inc. has agreed to pay a settlement of up to $500 million, following a lawsuit accusing the company of intentionally slowing down the performance of older phones to encourage customers to buy newer models or fresh batteries.
The preliminary proposed class action lawsuit was disclosed Friday night and would see Apple pay consumers $25 per phone, as reported by Reuters.
Any settlement needs to be approved by U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, who oversaw the case brought in San Jose, Calif.
For consumers, the $25 payout may seem a little low, as a new iPhone can cost anywhere from $649 to $849 (for a lower-end model). The cost may be varied depending on how many people sue, and the company is set to pay at least $310 million under the terms of the settlement.
For its part, Apple is denying wrongdoing in the case and said it was only agreeing to avoid the cost and burden associated with the lawsuit.
Any U.S. owner of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7 Plus or SE that ran on iOS 10.2.1 or any of the later operating systems are covered by the settlement. Users of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus which ran iOS 11.2 or later before Dec. 21, 2017 are also covered by the settlement.
Apple customers said their phone performance slowed down after they installed Apple software updates. The customers contend that Apple’s software updates intentionally degraded the performance of older models to encourage customers to unnecessarily upgrade to newer models or install new batteries.
Lawyers for Apple said that the problems were mainly due to high usage, temperature changes and other issues and that its engineers tried to address the problems as quickly as possible.
In February, Apple was fined $27 million by the French government for the same issue.
As we reported at the time:
A couple of years ago, Apple  released an iOS update (10.2.1 and 11.2) that introduced a new feature for older devices. If your battery is getting old, iOS would cap peak performances as your battery might not be able to handle quick peaks of power draw. The result of those peaks is that your iPhone might shut down abruptly.
While that feature is technically fine, Apple failed to inform users that it was capping performances on some devices. The company apologized and introduced a new software feature called “Battery Health,” which lets you check the maximum capacity of your battery and if your iPhone can reach peak performance.
And that’s the issue here. Many users may have noticed that their phone would get slower when they play a game, for instance. But they didn’t know that replacing the battery would fix that. Some users may have bought new phones even though their existing phone was working fine.
Shares of Apple were up more than 9% today in a general market rally.

Apple agrees to settlement of up to $500 million from lawsuit alleging it throttled older phones

One year later, the future of foldables remains uncertain

Yesterday, Samsung announced that the Galaxy Flip Z sold out online. What, precisely, that means, is hard to say, of course, without specific numbers from the company. But it’s probably enough to make the company bullish about its latest wade into the foldable waters, in the wake of last year’s Fold — let’s just say “troubles.”
Response to the device has been positive. I wrote mostly nice things about the Flip, with the caveat that the company only loaned out the product for 24 hours (I won’t complain here about heading into the city on a Saturday in 20-degree weather to return the device. I’m mostly not that petty).
Heck, the product even scored a (slightly) better score on iFixit’s repairability meter than the Razr. Keep in mind, it got a 2/10 to Motorola’s 1/10 (the lowest score), but in 2020, we’re all taking victories where we can get them.
There’s been some negative coverage mixed in, as well, of course; iFixit noted that the Flip could have some potential long-term dusty problems due to its hinge, writing, “it seems like dust might be this phone’s Kryptonite.” Also, the $1,400 phone’s new, improved folding glass has proven to be vulnerable to fingernails, of all things — a definite downside if you have, you know, fingers.

Living with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Reports of cracked screens have also begun to surface, owing, perhaps, to cold weather. It’s still hard to say how widespread these concerns are. Samsung’s saving grace, however, could well be the Razr. First the device made it through a fraction of the folds of Samsung’s first-gen product. Then reviewers and users alike complained of a noisy fold mechanism and build quality that might be…lacking.
A review at Input had some major issues with a screen that appeared to fall apart at the seams (again, perhaps due to cold weather). Motorola went on the defensive, issuing the following statement:

We have full confidence in razr’s display, and do not expect consumers to experience display peeling as a result of normal use. As part of its development process, razr underwent extreme temperature testing. As with any mobile phone, Motorola recommends not storing (e.g., in a car) your phone in temperatures below -4 degrees Fahrenheit and above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If consumers experience device failure related to weather during normal use, and not as a result of abuse or misuse, it will be covered under our standard warranty.

Consensus among reviews is to wait. The Flip is certainly a strong indication that the category is heading in the right direction. And Samsung is licensing its folding glass technology, which should help competitors get a bit of a jump start and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls of the first-gen Fold and Razr.
A new survey from PCMag shows that 82% of consumers don’t plan to purchase such a device, with things like snapping hinges, fragile screens and creases populating the list of concerns. Which, honestly, fair enough on all accounts.
The rush to get to market has surely done the category a disservice. Those who consider themselves early adopters are exactly the people who regularly read tech reviews, and widespread issues are likely enough to make many reconsider pulling the trigger on a $1,500-$2,000 device. Even early adopters are thrilled about the idea of beta testing for that much money.
Two steps forward, one step back, perhaps? Let’s check back in a generation or two from now and talk.

One year later, the future of foldables remains uncertain