18 May 2016 ~ 4 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?

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03 May 2016 ~ 3 Comments

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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26 April 2016 ~ 3 Comments

iPhone SE – New Old iPhone

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Apple just announced the iPhone SE and is billing it as the most powerful four-inch phone ever. Using the four-inch display and aluminium casing similar to the 2013 iPhone 5S, the company claims it took a “beloved design, then reinvented it from the inside out”.

The new phone is very similar to the 5S, but it has the power and performance of the new 6 series which makes for a very attractive overall package. Technical specifications are very similar to the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus with a 64-bit A9 chip and an M9 motion co-processor which should give the same processing and graphics performance found in the flagship models. Photographic specifications are also the same with a 12 megapixel iSight camera capable of capturing 4K video. Live Photos is included in the SE package, which brings your still photos to life with sound and movement.

The new phones all share improved wireless specifications which give faster LTE and Wi-Fi. It is now possible to browse the web, download apps, and games, and stream video over 802.11ac Wi-Fi and LTE at higher speeds than on the iPhone 5S.

Techradar describes the iPhone SE in a review as “a simply brilliant palm-friendly phone”. It really is a very good phone, especially if you like a smaller and more manageable phone which sits comfortably in your hand (and even more so if you have a small hand, which can often struggle with the larger smartphones). And of course, the low price makes it the most affordable iPhone in the market.

The iPhone SE is a bold step by Apple to target a market niche ignored by Samsung, LG, and other Android smartphone manufacturers. Apple is offering consumers a premium small screen smartphone with the features and technical specifications found in its top models. The compact Android smartphones, by comparison, are all offered with downgraded features and low specifications. It’s a shame that, until now, there hasn’t been as much choice.

This might also have been somewhat shortsighted from the Android manufacturers; Apple confirms that the “compact” smartphone market is still very strong, particularly in China. More than thirty million four inch phones were sold by Apple last year which probably accounts for Apple’s reasoning behind the production of the iPhone SE. It is a well calculated gamble which we expect to pay large dividends for the company.

With a starting price of just £359, the new iPhone SE should prove to be another winner for Apple. What do you reckon?

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