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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26 April 2016 ~ 6 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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09 January 2016 ~ 2 Comments

Apple Dominates UK Sales in 2015

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The bestselling smartphone in 2015 is the 2014 iPhone 6 16GB, followed closely by the 2013 iPhone 5S with the 64GB iPhone 6 in the third position. The newer, but pricier, iPhone 6, the 6S 16GB, is the fourth best seller of the year. That the latest iPhone 6S managed to get a 4th place is particularly impressive since the phone was only released in September. The iPhone 6 has topped the global charts since September 2014 and is a worldwide favourite. Samsung only managed a lowly 5th spot with their top offering, the Galaxy S6 32GB.

Remarkably, next in the list the iPhone returns with phones in 6th and 7th position. Budget conscious buyers have been pushing up sales of the now discontinued 5C to 6th place followed by the 64GB iPhone 6S. Samsung manages to secure the final top ten positions with the Galaxy S6 Edge 32GB, followed by the Note 4. Coming in at the 10th position is the Galaxy S5.

Rob Kerr, the mobiles expert at uSwitch.com, said, “Apple’s authority in the UK mobile market is unrivalled. It’s the only manufacturer that can still attract queues days ahead of its major launches. It even makes Samsung look like a perennial underachiever.”

What is interesting is that the large screen iPhone 6S Plus does not make it into the list, which seems to indicate that the market is happier with the smaller form Apple handset tarher than the phablet. This may be a sign that users want a phone which is light, high tech and still slips easily into the pocket. And of course, it still has that distinctive Apple logo on the back which is arguable one of the main reasons for buying an iPhone.

What was your last phone? And would you always choose an Apple iPhone over another phone from a different brand?

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