The case against Huawei, explained

Russell Brandom, writing for The Verge:

This morning, ARM announced that it was cutting ties with Huawei, in the interest of “complying with all of the latest regulations set forth by the U.S. government.” It’s a catastrophe for Huawei’s device business, halting its access to current and future chip designs and coming on the heels of similar breaks from Google and Microsoft. Huawei is in deep, deep trouble, and we still don’t have a clear picture of why.

Security experts have been warning about Huawei for more than a year, but it’s only in the last week that those warnings have escalated into an all-out trade blockade on the company’s US partners. There’s never been a full accounting of why the US government believes Huawei is such a threat, in large part because of national security interests, which means much of the evidence remains secret. But it’s worth tracing out exactly where the concerns are coming from and where they could go from here.

Google Pixel 3A

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

I am going to break an unwritten rule of tech reviews and tell you the ending right at the top: if you want to buy a new smartphone that costs between $300 and $500, you should buy a Pixel 3A or Pixel 3A XL. It is the best phone in that price range, and it’s actually competitive with more expensive phones in one very important way: the Pixel 3A has a great camera.

For the past few years, buying a new smartphone meant following a nigh-unbreakable rule: if you wanted a good camera, you needed to spend at least 600 bucks. That, or you needed to find an older iPhone or take a shot on something used or refurbished. On the flip side, less expensive Android phones have become remarkably good recently, but they still followed the rule because their cameras are almost universally mediocre.

The $399 Pixel 3A ($479 for the larger 3A XL) doesn’t follow that rule. While it has many of the same compromises you usually make when you buy a cheap phone, the photos it takes are nearly indistinguishable from what comes out of a Pixel 3. Depending on where and when you buy it, the Pixel 3 can cost $200 or $300 more.

In 15 years of reviewing phones, I am not sure if I’ve ever been able to write the following sentence: a $400 phone has a camera that’s among the best you can get on any smartphone.

The rest of the Pixel 3A may not blow you away, but it ain’t bad, either.

iFixit pulls Galaxy Fold teardown

From the IFixit blog:

After two days of intense public interest, iFixit has removed our teardown of Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. That analysis supported our suspicions that the device provided insufficient protection from debris damaging the screen.

We were provided our Galaxy Fold unit by a trusted partner. Samsung has requested, through that partner, that iFixit remove its teardown. We are under no obligation to remove our analysis, legal or otherwise. But out of respect for this partner, whom we consider an ally in making devices more repairable, we are choosing to withdraw our story until we can purchase a Galaxy Fold at retail.

Our team appreciated the chance to look inside this ambitious device. All new products face challenges—this one perhaps more than most. We’re grateful to have shared a glimpse of how Samsung’s engineers addressed some of those challenges, and we look forward to sharing more as soon as possible.

Chances are good that the partner who provided iFixit with the Galaxy Fold review unit is in hot water over this from Samsung.


Some highlights of the teardown before they pulled it included:

Well, we’ve finally got the Samsung Galaxy Fold on our teardown table. This is, without question, an ambitious first-generation device—the idea of having both a smartphone and a tablet in your pocket at all times is pretty exciting!

That said, a number of early reviewers had some durability issues with their review units, ultimately leading to a launch postponement. Are these temporary setbacks? Or are we headed for a full-blown AirPower-style product cancellation?

[…]

Unlike the dull slabs of glass we’re used to, this smartphone/tablet hybrid has lots of potential entry points—and not the good kind.

To achieve the fold, the thin bezel that surrounds (and protects) the screen leaves a gap where the two halves meet.

[…]

This 7 mm gap doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but it leaves the display exposed—so should something accidentally enter, it’s curtains for the screen.

[…]

When closed, the screen is protected—but the spine is flanked by massive gaps that our opening picks hop right into. These gaps are less likely to cause immediate screen damage, but will definitely attract dirt.

Samsung delays Galaxy Fold launch after early display issues

Tom Warren, for The Verge:

Samsung is delaying the release of its first foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Fold. The Wall Street Journal reports that Samsung won’t release the Galaxy Fold until “at least next month” due to issues with review units that technology reporters have revealed.


string of reviewers found problems with the display, with it failing for a number of reasons.

The Verge’s own review unit failed due to what appeared to be debris caught between the hinge and the display. Samsung previously said it intends to “thoroughly inspect [the review] units in person,” and was originally planning to continue to release the Galaxy Fold on Friday. Over the weekend, the company postponed launch events in China, and it looked increasingly likely that the device would not go on sale on Friday.


Given the multiple reports of screen failure, some due to reviewers attempting to peel off a protective plastic layer, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold launch delay feels like the best option for the company. While Samsung is aiming to be first to the market with its $1,980 foldable phone, these are critical hardware problems that the company will need to investigate fully.

Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker First trailer

December 20, 2019… That’s when we’ll see the final film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Episode IX has been name “The Rise of Skywalker” and the first trailer has just come out .

Directed by J.J. Abrams, who directed The Force Awakens back in 2015. According to Abrams, the new installment takes place sometime after Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, in which Leia Organa’s Resistance movement was forced on the run and battered by the First Order.

Foxconn is confusing Wisconsin

Josh Dzieza, writing for The Verge:

Starting last June, officials with the Taiwanese tech manufacturing giant began popping up in all corners of the state and announcing new projects. It had been almost a year since then-Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) offered the company a subsidy package that came to total $4.5 billion. Both Walker, who was in the midst of a reelection campaign, and Foxconn, which had just confirmed that it would build a far smaller factory than it had initially promised, seemed eager to make a good impression. 

First, there was Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, announcing a new headquarters and “innovation center” in Milwaukee. Days later, Gou was standing in a field 40 minutes south in Mount Pleasant, digging gold shovels into the dirt with Walker, Paul Ryan, and President Trump, who declared Foxconn’s factory the “eighth wonder of the world.” Then it was off to Green Bay, where Foxconn announced another innovation center, and then Eau Claire, where Foxconn announced two more — a full “technology hub.” 

Next came a $100 million gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a venture fund, and competitions to design the innovation centers, with fast turnarounds — just two weeks to submit proposals — and plans to open in just months. As summer turned to fall, Foxconn kept going: an innovation center for Racine, and another groundbreaking, for a Foxconn expansion at a nearby technical college. More branded ball caps, more gold shovels. One observer quipped that Foxconn had created jobs in the Wisconsin events business, at least. 

Then the announcements stopped. 

In January, work at the Mount Pleasant factory came to a halt, and Foxconn officials began to publicly waffle about their plans. In the span of a single week, Woo said that the company wouldn’t build a factory, then that whatever Foxconn was building “cannot be simply described as a factory,” then, after a call with Trump, that Foxconn would build a factory after all. 

Throughout its gyrations, Foxconn maintained that it would create 13,000 jobs, though what those 13,000 people would be doing shifted gradually from manufacturing to research into what Foxconn calls its “AI 8K+5G ecosystem.” Other than buzzwords for high-resolution screens and high-speed cell networks, what this ecosystem is has never been fully explained. In February, a Foxconn executive cheerfully likened the company’s vague, morphing plans to designing and building an airplane midflight. 

Such statements have not been particularly reassuring to residents of Wisconsin, where state and local governments have already taken very concrete actions to prepare the way for what was supposed to be an enormous manufacturing facility. Taxpayers have already spent more than $300 million on roadwork, infrastructure, and land acquisition related to the project. In August, Moody’s downgraded Mount Pleasant’s credit rating over the extreme levels of debt it took on for the area’s $763 million incentive package, costs that have since grown closer to a billion, in part because it had to take out higher interest long-term loans after Foxconn’s plans changed. Dozens of residents have been relocated, some under threat of eminent domain.

Adding to the confusion is the comical level of secrecy that’s shrouding the Foxconn project. The company almost never grants interviews. Even Mount Pleasant’s Village Board is supposed to route all Foxconn-related questions through a public relations firm. Getting answers is so difficult that a local TV reporter recently drove to the house of village president Dave DeGroot, who, hiding behind his half-closed door, told the reporter to go away. 

Mount Pleasant residents engage in Kremlinology based on overheard conversations at local bars and which contractors are seen coming and going from the site, which is heavily patrolled by private security. Even then, appearances can be misleading. Most of the construction that was visible from the roads in Mount Pleasant this winter wasn’t being done by Foxconn, but by government contractors building roads and utilities. 

As for the innovation centers announced across the state, Foxconn has bought property, but beyond that, much is unclear, including what an “innovation center” actually is. 

By mid-March, it had been weeks without any update on the project, and the state officials I had been talking to were mystified as to what was happening. I decided to go to Wisconsin to see how things were going. After so many events in half a dozen cities, surely I would find Foxconn somewhere?

Josh’s article is pretty in-depth on where Foxconn currently stands in their Wisconsin expansion, it’s definitely worth a read, maybe even a couple reads to catch details you might miss the first time.

Apple officially kills AirPower

Matthew Panzarino reporting that Apple has confirmed that AirPower, the wireless charger with support for multiple devices first announced in September 2017, has been cancelled (to the surprise of nobody at this point).

“After much effort, we’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project. We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward,” said Dan Riccio, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Engineering in an emailed statement today.

The AirPower was originally teased back in September 12, 2017, when Apple unveiled the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, Apple Watch Series 3, Apple TV 4K, and related OS updates.

Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, presented a sneak peek of a new wireless charging mat Apple was developing, named AirPower, which could charge an iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods simultaneously. At the time, Apple said the AirPower charger would be available in 2018

And today, after numerous delays, it’s official that it will never go beyond that tease.

John Gruber’s Very Brief Thoughts and Observations on Apple’s Show Time Event

John Gruber:

APPLE CARD: Sounds good, but “low interest rate” is just words. I’d like to see the actual numbers. Kind of interesting that you get 2% cash back on Apple Pay purchases and only 1% when you use the actual card. 

[…]

APPLE NEWS PLUS: Are magazines still a thing? Didn’t Apple go down this same path with Newsstand back when the iPad first launched?

[…]

APPLE ARCADE: This was the most cohesive announcement of the day. Easy to understand what it is, why you’d want it, and what the value proposition is. It looks like Apple is spending a fortune funding these exclusive games. I think this is going to be a big hit, and it makes Google’s “we’ve got games running on our servers” thing from last week look a bit silly. Most interesting to me is how much Apple emphasized the Mac and Apple TV. But why not tell us the price?

John has a few good points, I don’t necessarily agree with what he thinks of Google’s Stadia Service compared to Apple Arcade, but time will tell which comes out on top.

While similar, both services have their good features so it’ll be a toss up here.

APPLE TV CHANNELS AND TV PLUS: This whole thing was… weird. I get what Channels is — the infamous “skinny bundle” that Eddy Cue has been trying to put together for years. Paying only for the channels you want is the right way to do this, but obviously a nightmare to negotiate with the actual networks and channels. It’s also coming to Roku and Amazon FireTV, which I understand but feels so strange.

This one, I have to agree with John on entirely. This has been something Apple has wanted to do for a while now and launching on other platforms makes sense while seeming like a strange move for Apple. Google and Amazon launch their apps on Apple but when has Apple launched an app on another service before?

Roku and FireTV are also interesting choices, I can’t help but notice they’ve left out an Android app for android devices such as the nvidia shield, if they specifically wanted it TV only, it wouldn’t be hard to make it compatible only for Android TV devices rather than all devices, but this is definitely a stab at Android, and given their market share for TV streaming is hard to miss.

Google’s Stadia cloud gaming service

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

Google is launching its Stadia cloud gaming service at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who says he plays FIFA 19 “quite a bit,” introduced the Stadia service during a special keynote at GDC this morning. Describing it as a platform for everyone, Pichai talked up Google’s ambitions to stream games to all types of devices.

Phil Harrison, a former Sony and Microsoft executive, joined Pichai onstage to fully unveil Stadia in his role at Google. Harrison says Google will amplify this game streaming service by using YouTube and the many creators that already create game clips on the service. Google previously tested this service as Project Stream in recent months, allowing Chrome users to stream games in their browser. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was the first and only game to be tested publicly using Google’s service, and the public tests finished in January.

Of course, Google won’t limit Stadia to just one game. Google demonstrated a new feature in YouTube that lets you view a game clip from a creator and then hit “play now” to instantly stream the title. “Stadia offers instant access to play,” says Harrison, without the need to download or install any games. At launch, games will be streamable across laptops, desktops, TVs, tablets, and phones.

Google demonstrated moving gameplay seamlessly from a phone to a tablet and then to a TV, all using Google-powered devices. While existing USB controllers will work on a laptop or PC, Google is also launching a new Stadia Controller that will power the game streaming service. It looks like a cross between an Xbox and PS4 controller, and it will work with the Stadia service by connecting directly through Wi-Fi to link it to a game session in the cloud. This will presumably help with latency and moving a game from one device to another. You can also use a button to capture and share clips straight to YouTube, or use another button to access the Google Assistant.

To power all of this cloud streaming, Google is leveraging its global infrastructure of data centers to ensure servers are as close to players around the world as possible. That’s a key part of Stadia, as lower latency is a necessity to stream games effectively across the internet. Google will support up to 4K at 60 fps at launch, and it’s planning to support up to 8K resolutions and 120 fps in the future.

The nvidia shield does a similar service with Steam and it works pretty decently. It should be interesting to see Google’s take on this.

Apple Announces New iPad Air and iPad Mini

Apple press release:

Apple today introduced the all-new iPad Air in an ultra-thin 10.5-inch design, offering the latest innovations including Apple Pencil support and high-end performance at a breakthrough price. With the A12 Bionic chip with Apple’s Neural Engine, the new iPad Air delivers a 70 percent boost in performance and twice the graphics capability, and the advanced Retina display with True Tone technology is nearly 20 percent larger with over half a million more pixels.

Apple today also introduced the new 7.9-inch iPad mini, a major upgrade for iPad mini fans who love a compact, ultra-portable design packed with the latest technology. With the A12 Bionic chip, the new iPad mini is a powerful multi-tasking machine, delivering three times the performance and nine times faster graphics. The advanced Retina display with True Tone technology and wide color support is 25 percent brighter and has the highest pixel density of any iPad, delivering an immersive visual experience in any setting. And with Apple Pencil support, the new iPad mini is the perfect take-anywhere notepad for sketching and jotting down thoughts on the go.