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18 May 2016 ~ 3 Comments

Microsoft proposes a Phone which could predict touch

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Touch screens have been around for a long time. Initial examples were not very sophisticated and expensive to manufacture. Elographics built the first touch screen with a translucent surface in 1974. The first computer with touch screen elements was the HP-150 in 1983, but it was not a success. In 1993, Apple released the Newton PDA and IBM the smartphone called Simon with limited touchscreen features.

The major breakthrough came from Apple when they released their new touch screen smartphone called the iPhone on June 29, 2007. Today pretty much every phone manufacturer delivers a touch screen phone and the next development in touchscreen technology seemed to be Apple with its ForceTouch which measures the pressure applied on the screen.

Microsoft has stirred the market with a research project announced in April called Pre-Touch Sensing for Mobile Interaction. Ken Hinckley, a principal researcher at Microsoft who led the project, said the research is based on a whole different philosophy of interaction design. The research uses the phone’s ability to sense how you are gripping the device as well as when and where the fingers are approaching it.

Pre-touch sensing effectively allows the smartphone interface to be turned off until it detects a finger approaching the screen. The term used for this action is called a “nick of time” user interface which could, for example, hide the player controls on a video until they are needed. The technology starts approaching artificial intelligence when you realise that because the smartphone can detect how it is being held, it could also determine which hand a particular finger belongs to. So, if you were using the phone one-handed, pre-touch sensing could deliver a different interface than if you were holding it with two hands—allowing you to easily scrub through a video with just your thumb, or offering a different keyboard depending on what fingers you have available.

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The technology offers many possible improvements to the way we use our mobile devices. It should be possible to have much better precision when tapping small on-screen elements. For example, if you’re reading a webpage in your mobile browser, the UI could highlight the link you’re trying to tap before you even tap it. It would also give mobile users the equivalent of a right-click. You could tap a file or icon with one finger, then hover your thumb over the screen to select between options in a contextual menu.

Although this development is still at the research stage, it offers very exciting possibilities for innovative development if existing technologies. But like all of Microsoft Research’s projects, there’s no telling whether or not a smartphone with pre-touch sensing will ever come out of the prototype phase—especially as Microsoft winds down its Nokia smartphone business.

How innovative do you think this technology is? And will it change the way we interact with our phones forever?

09 May 2016 ~ 3 Comments

LG introduces new modular smartphone

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LG’s newest release is the first smartphone released this year with some truly innovative features. Instead of concentrating on camera wizardry, or high-performance specifications, LG are offering a new way of looking at the modern smartphone. The new LG G5 allows the user to customise their phone to suit their needs.

Clad in an attractive anodised aluminium case, it is an elegant and classy phone without the cheap looking-plastic bits some manufacturers seem so fond of using in their premium smartphones. The handset is a competitive 159g in a slim 7.7mm package. Screen size is 5.3 inches, which seems to work well without making the phone too bulky to handle easily. It’s an excellent compromise between big-screen readability and a manageable size which fits easily into a pocket.

The distinctive feature of this phone is its modular approach, which reveals itself with a pin-line seam that runs across the rear bottom end, of the phone. Push this and the LG G5’s expansion module disengages from the rest of the handset so that it can be extracted from the phone, complete with a removable battery. The modular design means that additional camera or music modules can easily be added to the phone to extend its features and customise the phone to meet its owner’s needs. The most obvious downside of the modular construction is that the phone is not water or dust proof.

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Initially, the phone is being offered with two expansion modules, but others will be launched in the future. The first module is a camera extension called the CAM Plus. This adds a comfortable grip and DSLR-like controls to the phone with dedicated buttons for power, shutter, zoom and movie recording. Significantly it also adds an extra 1,200mAh battery which will increase photographic and recording time.

The second module is focused on people who desire improved audio from their mobile device. It is called the B&O Play module and was jointly developed with high-end audio specialists Bang & Olufsen. This delivers high-resolution audio playback which can be used with the phone or as a standalone DAC attached to your hi-fi or PC.

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The LG G5’s camera is its other innovation. It is a two camera setup with one camera using a standard lens and the other a wide-angle lens. The standard camera has a resolution of 16-megapixel with a 75-degree field of view and a bright f/1.8 aperture, laser autofocus and a three-axis optical image stabilisation for excellent photographs in low light. The secondary camera has a 135-degree wide-angle lens with an eight-megapixel resolution and an aperture of f/2.4. It captures a broad view of a scene giving you the choice of a standard or wide-angle shot every time you take a photograph.

The LG G5 is a very interesting and attractive smartphone with great features. An unlocked G5 is available at the moment from just £460.

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03 May 2016 ~ 1 Comment

Huawei takes on Apple and Samsung with release of P9 Plus

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Top smartphone manufacturers are being forced to deliver increasingly unique and exciting features in order to differentiate their premium offerings. For example, the Galaxy Edge has a wrap-around screen and the iPhone has a reputation for delivering stunning photographs but the differences are becoming blurred as the phones are all offering very similar features. Huawei are now boldly delivering the new P9 – a phone which is definitely distinctive and completely different. With an innovative twin camera from Leica, one of the world’s best camera makers, they have created a lot of positive feedback from critics and users alike.

What makes the new offering from Huawei so unique is the setup of the dual cameras. Other manufacturers such as LG also offer a dual camera setup, but the P9 is different since it combines the data from both its rear sensors to create its 12 megapixel photographs. One camera shoots in colour while the other is designed solely for black and white pictures.

Michael Sykes, senior European product manager for Huawei, said: “If you let in more light you have better low-light capability, but you also get higher contrast ratios in black and white photography, so you can have really sharp and crisp black and white photos, and you can add depth information”.

The phone is also very attractive with a 5.2” 1080p display which runs almost to the edge of the phone. In spite of the large screen, the P9 is still thinner than the iPhone 6S. With 3GB of RAM and an 8-core processor, the phone has enough performance to meet most needs. The P9 comes in 32 and 64GB versions but includes a microSD slot so it is possible to add an extra 128GB of storage.

The ground-breaking design of the twin camera and the collaboration with German camera-maker Leica is seen by many analysts as an excellent strategic initiative by Huawei which could see the company establish itself as a premium brand and a serious player in the smartphone market. Huawei has shown significant growth in the last year giving it third place in terms of market share and the fastest rise in sales of any of the major brands.

If you are in the market for a premium smartphone, and you want the best camera phone currently available, then the P9 is probably your best choice at the moment. The P9 is expected to sell for around £450 in the UK.

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