Tag: smartphone

Under-display fingerprint reader arrives on ‘major’ phone in January

Under-the-screen fingerprint readers won't just be reserved for rough prototypes in the near future. Synaptics has sent word that a "major" smartphone manufacturer in the "top five" will unveil a phone using its Clear ID sensor at CES in January. It's not offering any clues as to who the mystery early adopter might be, although Vivo was the first to show it off. We wouldn't be surprised if one of Vivo's sibling brands (such as Oppo) had the honors, although we certainly wouldn't rule out competition like Huawei or Xiaomi.

These under-display sensors aren't flawless, as there tends to be a delay compared to a reader that's in direct contact with your digits. Synaptics isn't bothered by that, though -- it claims that Clear ID is "twice as fast" as 3D face recognition (i.e. Face ID on the iPhone X) and that it's more flexible, since you don't need to be within visual range of your phone.

As it is, the technology might be vital if it's widely adopted. Now that tall-screened phones are practically de rigeur, phone makers have usually had little choice but to move the reader (typically to the back) or else use another biometric sign-in method. Clear ID theoretically lets phone brands avoid that choice. They can put the reader where it's most convenient without giving up that all-important eye-catching display.

Source: Synaptics

Facebook Messenger adds Snapchat-style AR objects

Facebook clearly doesn't want any significant Snapchat feature to go unanswered. It's adding World Effects to Messenger's camera that, to no one's surprise, serve as direct parallels to Snapchat's augmented reality objects. You can float an arrow in the world to point to a landmark, put word bubbles like "bae" or "miss you" over your head, or throw in a "celebratory" robot... because robots, that's why.

These are "early versions" of World Effects, so you can expect some refinement over time. However, Facebook's determination to get them by the end of 2017 in shows just how important it sees augmented reality. While it's still something of a novelty, it's crucial enough that the social network sees it as a competitive advantage -- even if it's just to add a little extra pizzazz to your holiday chats.

Source: Messenger (Facebook)

Google app experiments push the limits of phone photography

Google doesn't want to limit its photographic prowess to its own phones -- it just released an initial batch of "appsperiments" that use the company's knack for computer vision and other technologies to test the boundaries of phone photography. Storyboard for Android is arguably the highlight. The app uses object recognition and style algorithms to automatically grab interesting frames from a video and drop them into comic-style layouts with appropriate filters. You could summarize an event just by recording one video, rather than remembering to take gobs of photos.

The other experiments could be convenient, too. Selfissimo! for Android and iOS automatically snaps photos whenever you stop moving, letting you take a ton of selfies without having to press the shutter every time you strike a pose. The iOS-only Scrubbies app, meanwhile, creates video loops whose speed and direction you can 'remix' like a DJ at the turntables.

Are these apps particularly useful by themselves? Not really -- in many ways, they're the novelty features that you see phone makers trot out at launch events and never mention again. As experiments, though, they could be very helpful. Google is asking users for feedback and ideas, so you could see more practical adaptations of these apps down the line. As it is, they say a lot about Google's thinking. It wants to put AI to work in virtually every facet of photography, not just obvious areas like image quality and portrait effects.

Source: Google Research Blog

Andy Rubin returns to Essential amid questions over his past

Android mastermind Andy Rubin is back at the helm of Essential after his surprise personal leave... although you could argue that he never really left. Recode has learned that Rubin is back "less than two weeks" after the company announced that he'd taken a break. Neither Essential nor Rubin was willing to comment, but insiders claimed that he technically didn't have to leave the building -- he continued to work with his venture capital company Playground Global, which shares the same office spaces.

The end to the partial leave comes as questions linger over revelations that Rubin's departure from Google came after an investigation ruled that he's been involved in an "inappropriate" relationship with a subordinate. Rubin's spokesperson has maintained that it was a consensual relationship and nothing wrong took place, but the woman had filed a complaint with human resources that led to the investigation. There's no evidence linking Rubin's recent leave to the Google story, although the timing has certainly raised eyebrows.

Without details of what the complaint entailed, it's difficult to know just how much of a cloud this casts over Rubin's work at Essential. You can safely presume that concerns over the relationship aren't what the company at large wants, however. While Rubin's return will reassure backers worried that Essential would face a leadership crisis, it's having enough trouble getting people to buy its first smartphone -- the conduct of its founder doesn't help matters.

Source: Recode

Qualcomm has a new 4K HDR feature, but which devices support it?

There was a moment of confusion after Qualcomm announced that the new Snapdragon 845 chipset would enable mobile cameras to record videos in 4K HDR. The promise of smartphone videos with more colors, depth and greater dynamic range was tantalizing, but the question on everyone's minds was obvious: Which screens are capable of rendering such content? This would be useless if no one could see all the extra information being captured. But Qualcomm didn't have a clear answer for the audience.

To be fair, the answer is somewhat complicated, and has more to do with the way HDR video and displays are defined rather than the lack of capable screens.

While HDR photography has a clear-cut specification, when it comes to video the term 'HDR' serves as a sort of catch-all for various standards, according to Qualcomm's marketing manager for camera and computer vision PJ Jacobowitz. "It's understandable that consumers are confused," he told Engadget.

What people want is a standard that lets them know which devices will work with the content, whether they be smartphones or giant TVs. It's like when you see a gadget with the Bluetooth logo on it -- you know it will pair with other Bluetooth devices.

In the high-res HDR space, though, there are myriad competing standards. There's HDR10, which is a common, open specification, along with Dolby Vision, which is proprietary. Before I go into HDR10's requirements, you need to understand what the Snapdragon 845 records. It uses the Rec 2020 color space, which has 70 percent more colors than the typical Rec 709 profile (which is similar to the sRGB gamut). The 845 also captures 10-bit footage (deeper colors than the usual 8-bit quality), as well as luminance (that's the brightness of each hue) of up to 10,000 nits.

For a device to display HDR10 content, it'll need to use the Rec 2020 color space and a bit-depth of 10 bits. But HDR10 doesn't consider resolution, which is where other standards come in.

You'll see logos from the UHD Alliance certifying devices as compatible with "Ultra HD Premium" or "Mobile HDR Premium," which add resolution requirements to color profile criteria.

Devices certified as "Ultra HD Premium" compatible have to reproduce more than 90 percent of the P3 color space, which has a wider gamut than Rec 709 but smaller than Rec 2020. Candidates will also need to support at least 10-bit color depth, have a display resolution of at least 3,840 x 2,160 and brightness of between 540 and 1,000 nits, depending on their black levels.

Any device that bears either of the UHD Alliance logos will be able to display the 4K HDR content recorded on Snapdragon 845 devices. The caveat is that the Mobile HDR Premium standard, which was released earlier this year for things like smartphones and tablets, has a lower resolution requirement than bigger screens like TVs. So devices in this category may not render in 4K -- they'll most likely do so at 2K resolution instead. Still, you'll see the increased colors on these panels.

If only it were as simple as looking for these two logos to determine if your phone, tablet or TV can display 4K HDR. But it isn't. Not all companies with perfectly capable devices choose to get certified with the UHD Alliance, for a variety of reasons like preference for a different standard or desire to protect proprietary technology. Plus, most of the information you'll need isn't usually listed on a specs sheet on the product's webpage. For example, the Apple TV and Sony Xperia XZ Premium can render 4K HDR, but it's not clear from publicly available specs whether either meets all the requirements.

In the absence of a logo, one roundabout way you can check for compatibility is by seeing if your phone is on the Vimeo HDR list, which shows (mostly Apple) devices that meet the video network's requirements. Vimeo has similar criteria to the UHD Alliance, so it provides a good test.

Until the industry agrees on a single, unified standard for high-res HDR video, it will be difficult to keep track of the recording and display devices that are compatible with this new, rich content. So while you may soon be able to record extremely colorful videos in future, finding a canvas to show it off might be a frustrating task. That doesn't mean you should hold off on buying new TVs or displays altogether -- you just have to scrutinize the specs to make sure what you're getting supports the latest standards.

Images: Vimeo (Color space spectrum), UHD Alliance (logos)

Plex on Android now works more like a ‘real’ DVR

Plex recently turned your devices into virtual DVRs through its live TV update, but there have been limitations: you couldn't timeshift to replay an important moment, and watching a show while it recorded required a second TV tuner. Not much of a replacement for a real DVR, is it? The situation just got much better, however, as Plex has updated its Android app with support for both timeshifting and, as you might expect, watching a live show while in mid-recording. If you missed a crucial play in the big game or just want to repeat what someone said, you can skip back just like you would with a conventional DVR.

The feature is available right now on Android mobile devices and Android TV, although you'll need a Plex Pass subscription to use it. Amazon-made hardware is coming soon. And while it's still slightly odd to pay for the privilege of controlling free TV, look at it this way: it's still considerably less expensive than a traditional TV subscription or buying a dedicated over-the-air DVR box.

Via: Android Police

Source: Plex

Essential Phone sends 360-degree live video to Facebook and YouTube

Essential has been racing to improve the (frankly lackluster) camera software on its phone ever since launch, and now those upgrades are showering affection on the handset's signature 360 Camera attachment. Andy Rubin's outfit is delivering an update that adds streaming live 360-degree video to both Facebook Live and YouTube Live. In other words, that add-on just became much more useful -- you can broadcast your adventures in a VR-friendly format just by clipping a camera to your phone.

The addition could make this one of the better bargains for 360-degree livestreaming, at least if you're looking for a higher-end phone. Now that the price of the Essential Phone itself has dropped to $499, you're looking at less than $700 for a complete streaming setup. Is there a huge audience for this? Probably not, but it helps the phone stand out in a field where having an all-screen design is no longer a novelty.

Source: Essential (Twitter)

Google puts celebrities to work answering your search questions

It's easy to find celebrity info if you're determined to look for it, but wouldn't you rather hear it straight from the source? You just might. Google is adding a feature to mobile searches in the US that has celebrities answering questions in selfie-style videos. If you want to know Gina Rodriguez's favorite movie or whether Will Ferrell can play the drums, you'll see a video that can take over the full screen.

Other celebrities answering questions on launch include Nick Jonas, Priyanka Chopra, James Franco, Tracee Ellis Ross and Seth MacFarlane, among others. That's definitely not a comprehensive celeb list, but Google is promising more videos from both up-and-coming and well-known stars in the "next few months." There's no mention of international availability.

The feature is intended to offer a "surprise" to searchers. At the same time, it's also a slight competitive edge for Google. If you're a Nick Jonas devotee, wouldn't you rather hear answers from him on Google instead of reading text on Bing? So long as you like the videos in the first place, this could keep you coming back just in case your favorite star has a custom Google answer.

Source: Google

Android 8.1 starts rolling out to Nexus and Pixel devices

As promised, Android 8.1 is ready to reach the masses. Google has started pushing the new mobile operating system to Nexus and Pixel devices, and expects to complete the rollout over the next week. Naturally, it's also posting the source code. The biggest tangible improvement should be for low-cost Android Go phones aimed at developing markets, but there are plenty of important improvements -- particularly if you have a Pixel 2.

If you have one of Google's latest handsets, 8.1 unlocks the Pixel Visual Core chip so that third-party apps can take advantage of the Pixel 2's AI-powered photography. In theory, any app that uses the standard Android camera platform can take richer photos and spare you from having to switch apps.

You don't need one of the newer phones to see the other benefits. Android 8.1 includes a neural network toolkit that lets apps run TensorFlow Lite and other AI frameworks on-device, instead of leaning on a distant server. Apps can make better use of autofill forms, and there's an obligatory round of bug fixes.

When other devices get Android 8.1 is up in the air. Many major Android phone makers are only just testing 8.0 updates, and they might not want to delay things further by evaluating 8.1. In some cases, you may stand a better chance of getting 8.1 through a brand new device.

Source: Android Developers Blog

GM thinks you’ll buy stuff through your car’s dashboard

As more cars roll off production lines with WiFi and LTE capabilities as standard, brands are falling over themselves to find ways to monetize this connectivity. Jaguar and Shell have partnered for in-car fuel payments, while BMW and Ford are bringing Alexa to your dashboard. Now, General Motors (GM) has unveiled a new on-board marketplace where drivers can buy coffee and gas, and make restaurant and hotel reservations, without getting out of their car.

The GM Marketplace will be automatically uploaded to around 1.9 million 2017-and-later models immediately, with four million vehicles across the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands getting it by the end of 2018. GM stands to get an "undisclosed" amount of revenue from merchants on the marketplace, which include the likes of Starbucks, TGI Fridays, ExxonMobil, Parkopedia and Priceline.com.

GM's vision, presumably, is that people will use their car dashboards, rather than their smartphones, for "on the road" transactions. But commuters still need to wait in a drive-thru to pick up their morning coffee, whether they purchase it with their phone, car or by shouting their request into a speaker. Ditto gas. You'll still have to line up and pump the gas yourself, however it's been purchased.

And while the company says the platform has been designed with driving safety guidelines in mind, your eyes are still off the road whether you're putting your coffee order into your phone (which you're probably more familiar with and offers access to more apps) or your car's infotainment system. So it's hard to see what value the marketplace brings to the table at this stage. But in-car connectivity like this represents a fledgling -- and potentially hugely lucrative -- market, so we can expect similar efforts from other manufacturers looking to get in on the action too, even if it's not yet clear exactly what that action is.

Via: The Verge

Source: Reuters