HTC and Samsung Electronics impressed Mobile World Congress attendees with new high-end smartphones, but they won’t be the only game in town for long: LG Electronics and Huawei Technologies are gearing up to announce new devices next month.
The shortage of new flagship smartphones at the show was a bit of a disappointment. But for those who weren’t entirely convinced by the HTC One M9, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 or the Galaxy S6 edge, more devices are on the way for buyers who aren’t afraid of pricier products.
The most highly anticipated is the successor to the LG G3, which unsurprisingly is expected to be called the G4. LG has so far kept quiet on when the smartphone will be unveiled, but an event is expected to take place in April. To steal some of Samsung’s thunder, the company would do well to at least start posting teasers before April 10, which is when the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge go on sale.
In light of the growing focus on design at Mobile World Congress, it wouldn’t be surprising if LG uses better materials for the G4 than it did for the G3. But don’t necessarily bet on a nice high-end, all-metal design or a metal frame combined with a glass back (which the Galaxy S6 has).
The G3 might be made of plastic but it looked much better than the Galaxy S5. So, LG isn’t under as much pressure as Samsung was to update the looks of its flagship. Also, sticking with plastic allows the company to keep the price down.
The specifications for LG’s new smartphone are the subject of multiple rumors, and include a screen with a 1620 x 2880 pixel resolution. But I am keeping my fingers crossed for a 5.3-inch screen that keeps the G3′s 1440 by 2560 pixel resolution.
That would mean shrinking the screen size from 5.5 to 5.3 inches, which might seem like a strange move, but to me the G3 feels a bit too wide. Also, LG has shown it isn’t averse to the concept: the G Flex2 has a 5.5-inch screen instead of the 6-inch screen on the G Flex.
While LG is quiet on its plans for the G4 launch, Huawei has started to post teasers for an event on April 8. The date likely isn’t a random pick, since the company is expected to present the P8. It also comes before the Samsung ship date.
All those people you see charging their phones at airports, coffee shops and other public places are a testament to how often batteries die out during the day. So while engineers are fighting against basic chemistry and physics to improve current Lithium Ion cells, is there a better way to recharge?
One answer might be fuel cells, which generate electricity through a chemical reaction and provide instant power anywhere. Unlike portable battery packs, they don’t need to be charged in advance. You just need a fuel cell cartridge.
The promise has been there for some time. A few years ago, electronics companies tried to popularize fuel cells based on methanol but they failed to take off. This time around, the focus is on hydrogen.
As hydrogen gas enters the fuel cell through a membrane, the electrons are stripped off and travel through an external circuit — that’s the flow of electricity. Upon exiting the fuel cell, the electrons are recombined with the ionized hydrogen and oxygen from the air, so the only by-product is water.
There’s already one hydrogen fuel cell on the market, with another promised for this year. Both were on show at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The main difference between them is in how the hydrogen is packaged so it’s safe to handle.
Intelligent Energy’s Upp stores it in a metal hydride compound that’s contained in a cartridge that snaps onto the fuel cell with magnets. Each cartridge is good for about 5 recharges of a smartphone and once exhausted should be returned to an exchange station for a fresh one.
The fuel cell, which is already on sale at Apple Stores in the U.K., costs £149 (US$228) and each cartridge is £6 (US$9). One downside: its heavy. The fuel cell and cartridges weigh 620 grams (1.3 pounds), and that’s not something you want to carry in your bag all the time.
The watch is designed to replace car keys and the clumsy, large fobs that are now used in many vehicles, Cook told the newspaper.
Its battery will last the whole day, and will not take as long to charge as an iPhone, the report quoted Cook as saying.
Apple Watch will also work as a credit card through Apple Pay, Cook told the paper, but did not mention how user verification will work with the watch.
The rollout of the watch might pose a challenge for Apple’s stores, which may involve “tweaking the experience in the store,” the Telegraph said, citing Cook’s conversation with the staff at Apple’s Covent Garden store in London.
Last March, Apple unveiled CarPlay, which lets drivers access contacts on their iPhones, make calls or listen to voicemails without taking their hands off the steering wheel.
Earlier this month, Reuters reported that the iPhone maker is looking at making a self-driving electric car, and is talking to experts at carmakers and automotive suppliers.
In the interview, Cook said that the Apple Watch will operate a special rewards system, track the user’s activity and “be correct to 50 milliseconds”.
Apple was not immediately available for comment.
The company has scheduled a special event on March 9, where it is expected to showcase Apple Watch, which will be launched in April.
Security vendor AVG has spotted a malicious program that fakes the sequence a user sees when they shut off their phone, giving it freedom to move around on the device and steal data.
When someone presses the power button on a device, a fake dialog box is shown. The malware then mimics the shutdown animation and appears to be off, AVG’s mobile malware research team said in a blog post.
“Although the screen is black, it is still on,” they said. “While the phone is in this state, the malware can make outgoing calls, take pictures and perform many other tasks without notifying the user.”
The malware requires an Android device to be “rooted,” or modified to allow deep access to its software. That may eliminate a lot of Android owners who don’t modify their phones.
But some vendors of Android phones ship their devices with that level of access, potentially making it easier for the malware to get onto a device.
This malware is unlikely to show up in Google’s Play Store, since Google tries to block applications that have malicious functions. But it could be a candidate for one of the many third-party app stores with looser restrictions.
A year and a half ago, Apple Inc applied for eight patents related to car batteries. Recently, it has added a slew of engineers, just one of whom had already filed for 17 in his former career, according to a Thomson Reuters.
The recent spate of hires and patent filings shows that Apple is fast building its industrial lithium-ion battery capabilities, adding to evidence the iPhone maker may be developing a car.
Quiet, clean electric cars are viewed in Silicon Valley and elsewhere as a promising technology for the future, but high costs and “range anxiety”, the concern that batteries will run out of power and cannot be recharged quickly, remain obstacles. Those challenges could also be seen as opportunities to find solutions to take the technology mainstream.
The number of auto-related patents filed by Apple, Google Inc, Korea’s Samsung, electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc and ride-sharing startup Uber tripled from 2011 to 2014, according to an analysis by Thomson Reuters IP & Science of public patent filings.
Apple has filed far fewer of these patents than rivals, perhaps adding impetus to its recent hiring binge as it seeks to get up to speed in battery technologies and other car-building related expertise.
As of 18 months ago, Apple had filed for 290 such patents. By contrast, Samsung, which has been providing electric vehicle batteries for some years, had close to 900 filings involving auto battery technology alone.
The U.S. government makes patent applications public only after 18 months, so the figures do not reflect any patents filed in 2014.
Earlier this month, battery maker A123 Systems sued Apple for poaching five top engineers. A search of LinkedIn profiles indicates Apple has hired at least another seven A123 employees and at least 18 employees from Tesla since 2012.
The former A123 employees have expertise primarily in battery cell design, materials development and manufacturing engineering, according to the LinkedIn profiles and an analysis of patent applications.
A123, which filed for bankruptcy in 2012 but has since reorganized, supplied batteries for Fisker Automotive’s now-discontinued hybrid electric car.
“Looking at the people Apple is hiring from A123 and their backgrounds, it is hard not to assume they’re working on an electric car,” said Tom Gage, Chief Executive of EV Grid and a longtime expert in batteries and battery technology.
Apple is building its own battery division, according to the A123 lawsuit. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Internet of Things is can’t operate without plugs and/or batteries. But it’s possible to build a sensor network that uses harvested energy that comes from changes in temperature, vibrations, wind and light, as Texas Instruments (TI) will demonstrate at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
The idea of harvesting power has a long history and there are many applications of it today. However, big solar panels or large sensors that can capture energy from vibrations, heat and light are impractical in many Internet of Things sensor applications, which are tiny in size.
TI said it has developed electronics capable of taking small amounts of power generated by harvested sources and turning them into a useful power source. This means that the sensors used to collect the energy can be small as well.
All these ambient energy sources, such as the difference in temperature in a pipe carrying hot water and the outside air, can generate 300 to 400 millivolts, which isn’t enough to power anything. TI has built an “ultra-low powered” DC-to-DC switching converter that can boost this power to 3 to 5 volts, which is sufficient to charge a battery, according to Niranjan Pathare, senior marketing development manager at TI.
To power wearables, the company has demonstrated drawing energy from the human body by using harvesters the size of wristwatch straps, Pathare said. It has worked with vibration collectors, for instance, about the same size as a key.
It’s possible that a smartwatch could use two harvested power sources, light and heat, from the body. These sources may not gather enough power to keep a smartwatch continuously operating without action by the user to charge it, but it may give the user’s device a lot more battery life.
“Obviously, the longer you can make that [battery] last the happier the consumer is going to be with its performance,” said William Cooper, a TI product marketing engineer.
The technology has many applications in industrial and home environments. If a device or sensor isn’t connected to a power network, it will need a battery. Vendors will say that these batteries have the potential of lasting for years since they are only transmitting small amounts of data. But, still, who wants to worry about a battery?
Of the work done by Texas Instruments, Steve Ohr, an analyst at Gartner, said, “they have the parts that will take this micro-power input and actually make some useful voltage and current that could power something.”
Ohr said there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before this technology finds its way to the market in uses such as powering a smartwatch, specifically in improving the sensors that collect energy.
An Israeli firm claims it has developed technology that can charge a mobile phone in a few seconds and an electric car in minutes, advances that could transform two of the world’s most dynamic consumer industries.
Using nano-technology to synthesize artificial molecules, Tel Aviv-based StoreDot says it has developed a battery that can store a much higher charge more quickly, in effect acting like a super-dense sponge to soak up power and retain it.
While the prototype is currently far too bulky for a mobile phone, the company believes it will be ready by 2016 to market a slim battery that can absorb and deliver a day’s power for a smartphone in just 30 seconds.
“These are new materials, they have never been developed before,” said Doron Myersdorf, the founder and chief executive of StoreDot, whose investors include Russian billionaire and Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich.
The innovation is based around the creation of “nanodots”, which StoreDot describes as bio-organic peptide molecules. Nanodots alter the way a battery behaves to allow the rapid absorption and, critically, the retention of power.
The company has raised $48 million from two rounds of funding, including backing from a leading mobile phone maker. Myersdorf declined to name the company, but said it was Asian.
With the number of smartphone users forecast to reach 1.75 billion this year, StoreDot sees a big market, and some experts think that — with more work — it could be on to a winner.
“We live in a power hungry world … people are constantly chasing a power outlet. StoreDot has the potential to solve this real big problem,” said Zack Weisfeld, who has worked with and evaluated ventures in the mobile phone sector globally.
“They still have some way to go, to deal with size of battery and power cycle rounds, but if solvable, it’s a very big breakthrough,” he told Reuters. A power cycle round refers to the number of times a battery can be re-charged in its lifetime.
Myersdorf said a fast-charge phone would cost $100-$150 more than current models and would ultimately be able to handle 1,500 recharge/discharge cycles, giving it about three years of life.
The electronics maker on Friday announced a “pin-shaped” lithium-ion battery that’s 20 millimeters (.03 inches) long with a diameter of 3.5 mm, about one-twentieth the size of AAA batteries. Panasonic said it’s the smallest in the industry in terms of capacity by volume.
The CG-320 battery has a nominal capacity of 13 mAh and voltage of 3.75 V, which allows for Bluetooth and NFC (near-field communication) links with smartphones.
Its compact form factor and low weight make it ideal for wearable devices such as smart glasses, fitness bands and hearing aids as well as electronic pens, according to Panasonic.
While compact batteries could shrink the overall size of wearables, usability and interfaces help determine how big they are.
“The size, which is the smallest of its kind in the industry, can allow more flexible product design, and high strength and stability of form delivers high reliability,” a spokeswoman for Panasonic wrote in an email.
The battery could also help reduce the size and weight of wearables, she said, adding that the Internet of Things (IoT) is another possible application.
The CG-320′s capacity is lower than that of a wearable battery such as the Jawbone UP24 activity monitor’s 32 mAh lithium-ion polymer battery, but the latter is larger.
Panasonic is developing two more pin-shaped batteries with capacities of 30 mAh and 50 mAh. They’re slightly larger and heavier than the CG-320.
Battery size and power are a key aspect of wearable devices that has been putting a damper on wider-scale development and popularization. The Apple Watch, for instance, will likely require a daily recharge. That can be seen as a big hassle for a device that’s relatively small.
A number of attempts to innovate on materials and control systems for wearable batteries are being pursued.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has tested a prototype battery based on the lithium carbon fluoride (CFx) chemical formula that could go for 10 years or more without a recharge.
Jawbone, meanwhile, doubled the battery charge of the UP24 to two weeks through a firmware update with enhanced algorithms.
Panasonic’s battery is similar to conventional cylindrical lithium-ion batteries. It has negative and positive electrode sheets wrapped around each other inside a small stainless steel tube.
The company plans to mass-produce the battery, with monthly production of 100,000 units and shipping to begin in February.
They may not be as fast or efficient as airport sniffer dogs, but robots are gearing up to take the fight against drug smuggling underwater. Researchers at MIT are working on submersible machines that could use ultrasound to find drugs hidden on ships.
Their prototype, which looks like a bowling ball, is designed to move along the hulls of ships. It could use ultrasound scanning to detect hollow spaces in false hulls and propeller shafts where drugs might be stashed.
Developed by grad student Sampriti Bhattacharyya and Harry Asada, a professor of engineering at MIT, the robot is divided into two halves, one waterproof and the other water-permeable.
The former houses a rechargeable lithium battery and electronics, while the latter contains six pumps that force water out through tubes, driving the bot forward.
The robot can move between 0.5 and 1 meter per second while pressed against the hull of a ship, and its battery charge lasts about 40 minutes.
The submersible was made using 3D-printed structural elements, meaning it could be manufactured for as little as US$600. That’s cheap enough to allow a swarm robot approach, with dozens of machines working in unison to ferret out contraband.
“It’s very expensive for port security to use traditional robots for every small boat coming into the port,” Bhattacharyya was quoted as saying in an MIT News article.
The prototype was recently presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) in Chicago, but tests so far have focused on whether it can travel in a straight line and stay in contact with an underwater surface. It still has to be equipped with an ultrasound sensor.
The researchers hope to add improvements such as batteries that can recharge wirelessly and changes to the propulsion system that would extend operating time to 100 minutes per charge. Performing ultrasound scans without being in contact with a hull is another possible enhancement, since ships can be fouled with barnacles that would hamper the bots.
The anti-smuggling robot follows an effort by consulting company Boston Engineering and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop a tuna-shaped underwater vehicle called BIOSwimmer. That vehicle is designed to inspect flooded bilges and tanks of ships and to use a camera and sonar to detect hull anomalies that might signal the presence of drugs.
Apple has agreed to replace some iPhone 5 batteries free of charge, claiming that “a very small percentage” of the smartphones needed to be charged more often and that those charges were quickly exhausted.
The program, which was announced last week, only in a support document published on Apple’s website, offered free battery replacements for iPhone 5 devices that “suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently.”
According to Apple, the affected phones were sold between September 2012 and January 2013, and “fall within a limited serial number range.” The Cupertino, Calif. company also said that only “a very small percentage” of iPhone 5 devices were impacted.
Computerworld‘s experience was different. Out of an admittedly small sample — three iPhone 5 phones bought during the stretch in question, each several weeks apart — two were eligible for the battery replacement. Neither of the two that qualified, however, had required more charging than was normal for a nearly-two-year-old iPhone, nor did their batteries drain any faster than the third, ineligible, device.
Apple started selling the iPhone 5 on Sept. 21, 2012. It retired the model last year when it was replaced by the iPhone 5S and 5C.
This was not the first time that Apple has dealt with iPhone battery issues. In October 2013, the company confirmed that it was contacting a “very limited” number of iPhone 5S owners and offering them a replacement phone.
In both 2009 and 2011, iPhone users also reported battery-draining problems with their iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4S devices, respectively.
Customers can check their iPhone 5 for battery replacement eligibility onApple’s website by entering their device’s serial number. That can be found under Settings/General/About.
Until Friday, Aug. 29, the replacement deal will be available only in the U.S. and China; on that date, other countries will come online.
SMS Audio’s BioSport In-Ear Headphones, announced at an event will tell you. The headphones are good for people who work out as well as those who just want to check their heart rate, said Brian Nohe, president of SMS Audio, which was founded by rapper 50 Cent, who is the majority owner.
50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, wanted headphones with top-quality audio, fit, form and functionality, Nohe said. The rapper, along with New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who is the minority owner of SMS, were scheduled to appear at the event.
The headphones have sensors to measure the heart rate of users, drawing power from a smartphone through an audio jack. No batteries are required. SMS Audio is using technology from Intel in the headphones.
“Open the box, plug it into your smartphone device and it works,” Nohe said.
The earphones will ship worldwide in the fourth quarter this year. The price will be announced later.
The headphones will work with RunKeeper, a popular Android and iOS fitness application that assembles and tracks fitness data.
“The general marketplace is ripe for having more products in this area,” Nohe said. “We understood what was happening with wearable technology and what was going on with biometrics.”
The engineering challenge for Intel was how to draw power and transfer data through an audio jack. Intel also had to figure out the frequencies at which to handle data transfers. The goal was to deliver accurate heart-rate readings.
“It’s a seemingly easy thing to explain, but hard to implement,” said Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of the New Devices Group at Intel.
Intel didn’t want to use Bluetooth or other wireless technologies to transfer data, Bell said. Those technologies would require batteries and not fit well within the small size of headphones.
“The best technology is invisible. It’s as much form as it is function,” Bell said. “That’s the road we’re going down.”
Beyond tracking heart rate, headphones could also be enabled to capture more health information, the executives said. Other opportunities are being explored by SMS Audio and Intel.
“You don’t start a strategic alliance and become a one-trick pony,” Nohe said.
The headphone space has gotten attention lately because of Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats Audio, founded by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.
“Final production of the current Reader model, PRS-T3, was made at the end of May,” a spokeswoman for Sony in Tokyo wrote in an email Wednesday. “The product will continue to be available until inventory supplies last, which differs by country.”
There are no plans for a successor to the device, she added.
The PRS-T3 was launched last year in 20 countries including Japan, Canada and European states, but was not released in the U.S.
Weighing 200 grams, it has a 6-inch E-ink touchscreen display, an optional night light, Wi-Fi and a battery life of six to eight weeks.
While it’s still available on Sony’s UK site for 99 pounds (US$166), it’s out of stock at Sony’s sites for France and Canada. The PRS-T3 will continue to be sold for the time being in Japan, where Sony maintains its Reader Store.
The company said earlier this year it is closing down its e-book business in North America, Europe and Australia and that users would be transferred to Kobo, owned by Japanese online shopping giant Rakuten.
Sony helped pioneer e-readers with a product it launched in Japan 10 years ago, the Librie. Developed with Philips, it was billed as the first commercial device of its kind to use E-ink’s electronic paper display technology.
Beginning with the PRS-500 Portable Reader System in 2006, Sony marketed a series of e-readers that were well received, though some reviewscomplained about its price compared to the features of cheaper rivals.
Sony Reader shipments had exceeded 800,000 units for 2010, according to IDC. But the product was never as popular as competitors from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Kobo. By late 2012, Amazon’s Kindle reader was used by over 50 percent of e-book buyers, according to Publishers Weekly.
The market for e-readers peaked in 2011 at 26.4 million units, IDC noted last year, adding it expects only modest growth in 2014 after a period of decline. The category was expected to begin a gradual, permanent decline in 2015.
Sony also shed its Vaio PC business this year as it continues to struggle with restructuring efforts.
The portable antenna connects to a smartphone via a Bluetooth Low Energy link. Once connected, users with either an iOS or Android app can then send text messages through the antenna. (The recipient must also have a goTenna, and consequently the product is sold in pairs.)
The device uses the 151MHz-154MHz frequencies, with range depending on location. In a densely populated place like Manhattan, that range could be less than a mile. In more open spaces, up to 50 miles is possible. The antenna, which takes a USB-delivered charge, will store messages and hold them until a connection can be made.
Businesses employ a range of backup communications technologies, including long-range satellite phones and ham radios, as well as shorter range walkie-talkies. The goTenna could serve as an alternative to a walkie-talkie — and even offers some advantages over other options. For example, its messages are encrypted and private, a separate device isn’t needed, and people can use the goTenna system with their smartphone interface.
The goTenna also has the ability to “shout” a message by delivering it to all goTenna users who have opted in to receive a broadcast.
“That fact that we are totally decentralized means that in many ways it can be a backup to your backup,” said goTenna CEO Daniela Perdomo, who co-founded the company with her brother, Jorge Perdomo, goTenna’s CTO.
In addition to using goTenna as an emergency tool, Perdomo said people could use the technology as a means of communicating while they’re traveling, when they’re taking part in outdoor recreation activities, or when they’re involved in any type of situation that requires private communication. The antenna uses a Lithium-ion battery and is estimated to last two to three days with normal use, or as long as 30 hours if it’s on continuously.
Perdomo said the outages created by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 prompted her to imagine ways smartphones could be made to directly communicate with other phones.
The goTenna will ship in late fall, but a pair of the devices can be preordered for $149.99.
The company plans to unveil a 7.5-watt, highly resonant charging system for thin-form devices, such as smartphones and phablets, that can also be expanded to 15 watts for tablets.
Previously, PowerbyProxi’s wireless charging devices offered 3.5-to-5 watts of power.
PowerbyProxi is a component company, so the wireless chargers it plans to demonstrate are proofs of concept. The company has partnerships with companies such as Samsung, Texas Instruments (TI) and Linear who choose to build the technology based on the working prototypes.
The new system – a bowl and an updated box into which enabled mobile devices can be placed — is designed to deliver up to 15W of power to a single tablet, or multiple smartphones and phablets. Ultimately this will be backwards compatible with the Wireless Power Consortium’s (WPC) Qi (pronounced “chee”) standard and forward compatible to resonant v1.2.
“We continue to drive advances in wireless charging technology,” Greg Cross, CEO of PowerbyProxi, said in a statement. “Our contributions to the future specification of the Qi 1.2 standard, will enable better performance and more convenient solutions for consumers.”
For the first time, PowerbyProxi will also demonstrate a wireless charging pad for mobile devices that enables vertical height charging of up to about one and a quarter inches.
Cross said the added distance will enable charging capabilities to be integrated into public locations like restaurants and hotels, as well as furniture and countertops. Charging can occur through materials including wood, plastic and composites, along with the ability to charge multiple devices within a designated area.
PowerbyProxi’s new wireless charging bowl transmitter is designed to charge smaller, personal devices — including wearables — and devices using AA batteries that can receive a wireless charge. Devices can be placed in any position or orientation, even on top of each other. The bowl, which measures about 4-in. in diameter, offers a sleek design and comes in several colors.
The Iconia Tab 8, announced on Friday, features 1920 by 1200 pixel resolution and an Intel Atom quad-core Z3745 processor code-named “Bay Trail.” It follows Acer’s announcement of two smaller 7-inch tablets, the Iconia One 7 and Iconia Tab 7, a month ago.
Both those tablets have a screen resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels, and were meant to target lower-end consumers. In the case of the Iconia One 7, the device uses an older Intel “Clover Trail” processor, and has a starting price of $129.99.
The pricing for the Iconia Tab 8 was not disclosed, but Acer wants to build affordable tablets with great value, said Maverick Shih, president of the company’s tablet business, last Thursday.
“We want everyone to be able to enjoy the features you can find in high-end products,” he added in an interview.
The Iconia Tab 8 weighs 360 grams and has a metallic back cover along with anti-fingerprint coating on its display. The tablet runs Android 4.4 and promises 7.5 hours of battery life when watching videos.
Acer made no mention of its memory features, but the device has a microSD card slot to add more storage. The PC maker also declined to name which markets the product will be available in. But Acer’s Shih said mainland China has become a big focus for its tablet business.
“Before, we didn’t really value the Chinese market enough,” he said. To change that, the company has started a new China-based team focused on tablets, he added.