Over the past four years or so, HMD has carved out a nice little niche for itself with its Nokia-branded handsets. The instant name recognition of a legacy brand was a nice little perch on which to gain some footing in an overcrowded market.
Pricing has long been a key to its appeal, as well, and that’s on display with the arrival of the company’s first 5G-enabled handset. The Nokia 8.5 5G runs $699 and goes up for pre-order today in the U.S. It will also be hitting Amazon in the coming weeks. It’s not cheap by the company’s standards, but it’s definitely among the more competitively priced 5G handsets around.
The phone is also set to make an appearance in the upcoming Bond film. It features four rear-facing cameras, including a 64-megapixel lens and a macro — an uncommon but increasingly popular alternative on the latest batch of smartphones. The screen is a massive 6.81 inches, and the device is — unsurprisingly — powered by Qualcomm’s mid-tier Snapdragon 765G.
Today’s announcement also finds Nokia bringing its fully wireless earbuds stateside. No specific time frame was given for the Power Earbuds, but they’ll be priced at a reasonable $99. There’s stiff competition in the market, these days — especially in the low end of the market — but the buds have been getting a pretty positive reaction for their price point, thanks to a comfortable design and a ridiculous 150 hours of battery courtesy of their massive charging case.
A good brand is hard to kill. Over the past several years, the smartphone space has seen a resurgence of once-mighty mobile brands making a comeback with various degrees of success. HMD’s Nokia phones are probably the best and most successful example, but even Palm had a brief moment in the sun.
And then there’s the case of BlackBerry. TCL surprised the mobile world by bringing the brand raring back with an Android handset that re-embraced the QWERTY keyboard. That, in and of itself, wasn’t enough, of course. But TCL has the chops to deliver quality hardware, and certainly did so with the KeyOne. I know I was surprised the first time I saw one in person behind the scenes at CES a few years back.
Early this year, TCL announced the end of the partnership, noting, “We… regret to share… that as of August 31, 2020, TCL Communication will no longer be selling BlackBerry-branded mobile devices.” From its phrasing, it seemed like a less than amicable end for the deal. But TCL has already moved on to producing devices under its own brand name after years of subsidiaries and branded deals.
All of which brings us to this week’s announcement that a company you’ve never heard of, called OnwardMobility, is bringing the BlackBerry name to hardware for North America and Europe (other branding deals have existed in other markets). It’s a strange deal for starters, due to the fact that OnwardMobility is hardly a household name. It’s based in Austin, Texas, has fewer than 50 employees and was founded in March of last year, perhaps with such a partnership in mind.
After all, while a branding deal is far from a guaranteed recipe for success, it is, at least, a way of getting that first foot through the door. I’m not really sure I would be writing anything about OnwardMobility for TechCrunch dot com at the moment, were it not for the promise of reviving the BlackBerry name yet again. So that’s something. The company’s staff also notably involves some former TCL folk, as well as people involved with the BlackBerry software side of things. Another name that pops up a lot is Sonim Technologies, another Austin-based company that is a subsidiary of a Shenzhen-based brand of the same name. They largely specialize in rugged devices for first responders.
CEO Peter Franklin has both Microsoft and Zynga on his resume, and produced this fairly low-fi YouTube video to explain the company’s mission:
OnwardMobility says it’s a standalone startup. No word yet on investments or investors, though it will certainly be interesting to find out who’s backing this latest push to make the BlackBerry name relevant again. Notably, the company’s not sharing renders yet, either, but says it’s bringing a 5G device to market in 2021, with a physical keyboard and the focus on security that’s long been a key differentiator for the BlackBerry brand.
BlackBerry (the software company) certainly seems to be on board with its new partner here. CEO John Chen had this to say about the deal:
BlackBerry is thrilled OnwardMobility will deliver a BlackBerry 5G smartphone device with physical keyboard leveraging our high standards of trust and security synonymous with our brand. We are excited that customers will experience the enterprise and government level security and mobile productivity the new BlackBerry 5G smartphone will offer.
More or less what you’d anticipate on that front. For now, the news is basically OnwardMobility’s entry onto the scene and announcement of its BlackBerry licensing deal. I’m honestly not sure how much clout the BlackBerry name holds in 2020 — nor do I necessarily believe there’s a critical mass of consumers clamoring to return to the physical keyboard. So OnwardMobility has a lot to prove in an extremely crowded mobile market. I guess we’ll see what it has to offer next year. Stay tuned.
Samsung’s first virtual Unpacked ranked somewhere between Microsoft and Apple’s recent events in terms of overall presentation and general awkwardness. The show kicked off seven minutes late, and a number of on-screen presenters certainly tended toward the more…awkward side of things, but overall, it was a decent first virtual event as the company embraces what it’s branded as “The Next Normal.”
Toward the end of the show, mobile head TM Roh noted, “Going forward, 5G and foldable will be the major pillars of Samsung’s future.” 5G is certainly a no-brainer. The event saw the company taking a step toward standardizing the next-gen wireless technology across its flagship mobile devices — as well as making its first appearance on the company’s tablets.
Image Credits: Samsung
As expected, the big news is the latest version of Samsung’s perennial favorite phablet line. The Note 20 gets 5G for both models and now comes in 6.7 and 6.9-inch models. The Ultra version gets a 120Hz refresh rate along with a hybridized 50x super zoom, using the same technology introduced with the Galaxy S20 earlier this year.
The most unsung addition might be UWB (ultra-wideband), which will enable a number of new features, including close proximity file sharing, a future unlock feature (with partner Assa Abloy) and a find my phone-style feature with an AR element. Xbox head Phil Spencer also made a brief remote cameo to announce Game Pass access, bringing more than 100 streaming titles to the device.
The models start at $1,000 and $1,300, respectively. They’ll start shipping August 21.
New to the 5G game is the Galaxy Tab series. Samsung says the line includes “the first tablets that support 5G available in the United States.” The S7 and S7+ sport an 11 and 12.4-inch display, respectively, and start at $650 and $850, respectively. No word yet on pricing for the 5G versions.
Image Credits: Samsung
The event included a pair of new wearables. The more exciting of the two is probably the Galaxy Buds Live. Samsung has made consistently solid wireless earbuds, and the latest version finally introduce active noise canceling, along with some cool features like the ability to double as a mic for a connected Note device. The bean Buds are available today for $170.
Image Credits: Samsung
I’d be lying if I said the most exciting part of the Galaxy Watch 3 wasn’t the return of the physical bezel — long the best thing about Samsung’s smartwatches. Also notable is the addition of improved sleep and fitness tracking, along with an ECG monitor, which Samsung announced has just received FDA clearance. The Galaxy Watch 3 runs $400 and $430 for the 41mm and 45mm, respectively. There will also be LTE models, priced at $50 more.
Image Credits: Samsung
As for the foldable side of things, the event also found Samsung announcing its latest foldable, the Galaxy Z Fold 2, with help from superstar boy band, BTS. The focus on the new version mostly revolves around fixing the numerous problems surrounding its predecessor. That includes a new glass reinforcement for the screen and a hinge that sweeps away debris that can fall in and break the screen in the process. More information on the foldable will be announced September 1.
Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and even China-headquartered TikTok said last week they would no longer respond to demands for user data from Hong Kong law enforcement — read: Chinese authorities — citing the new unilaterally imposed Beijing national security law. Critics say the law, ratified on June 30, effectively kills China’s “one country, two systems” policy allowing Hong Kong to maintain its freedoms and some autonomy after the British handed over control of the city-state back to Beijing in 1997.
Noticeably absent from the list of tech giants pulling cooperation was Apple, which said it was still “assessing the new law.” What’s left to assess remains unclear, given the new powers explicitly allow warrantless searches of data, intercept and restrict internet data, and censor information online, things that Apple has historically opposed if not in so many words.
Facebook, Google and Twitter can live without China. They already do — both Facebook and Twitter are banned on the mainland, and Google pulled out after it accused Beijing of cyberattacks. But Apple cannot. China is at the heart of its iPhone and Mac manufacturing pipeline, and accounts for over 16% of its revenue — some $9 billion last quarter alone. Pulling out of China would be catastrophic for Apple’s finances and market position.
The move by Silicon Valley to cut off Hong Kong authorities from their vast pools of data may be a largely symbolic move, given any overseas data demands are first screened by the Justice Department in a laborious and frequently lengthy legal process. But by holding out, Apple is also sending its own message: Its ardent commitment to human rights — privacy and free speech — stops at the border of Hong Kong.
Here’s what else is in this week’s Decrypted.
THE BIG PICTURE
Police used Twitter-backed Dataminr to snoop on protests
A day after formally completing the sale of Boost, Virgin and other Sprint prepaid networks to Dish, T-Mobile is pulling the plug on Sprint 5G. The move is one in a long list of issues that need sorting out in the wake of April’s $26.5 billion merger. And like a number of other moves, it’s set to leave some customers in the lurch.
The end of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz 5G comes as T-Mobile opts to focus on its own network. T-Mobile already started the process in New York City, a few weeks after the merger and has since completed it in a handful of other cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
As CNET notes, while most of the Sprint 5G handsets won’t be able to make the transition, Samsung Galaxy S20 5G users are in the clear here. For everyone else, T-Mobile is offering up credits on leases for new 5G handsets.
T-Mobile told TechCrunch in a statement, “We are working to quickly re-deploy, optimize and test the 2.5GHz spectrum before lighting it up on the T-Mobile network.”
Along with the sale of Boost, 5G was a big selling point for T-Mobile’s Sprint acquisition. The carriers argued that the deal was necessary to keep them competitive with first and second place carriers AT&T and Verizon when it came to the next-generation wireless technology.
At the time FCC chairman Ajit Pai agreed stating, “This transaction will provide New T-Mobile with the scale and spectrum resources necessary to deploy a robust 5G network across the United States.”
Earlier this week, OpenSignal awarded T-Mobile the top spot in availability, noting, “In the U.S., T-Mobile won the 5G Availability award by a large margin with Sprint and AT&T trailing with scores of 14.1% and 10.3%, respectively.”
Update: The language of the post has been updated to reflect the impact on specific unsupported devices, rather than user base figures.
How will the IoT support sustainability and a circular economy? Perhaps we might want to first ask ourselves are these all just buzzwords in a long list of words? Or are businesses, governments, and citizens truly stepping up and making significant commitments to use technology to change their wasteful behaviors? Before we can answer these questions, we might need to properly define these terms.
Sustainability is about finding ways to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. With that in mind, we should note that depending on who you ask, everyone has their own perspective about the world and how they perceive it differently from others. In the enterprise, sustainability programs and strategies direct businesses in these directions.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is considered an authority, so let’s work off its definition to explain it. The circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, in contrast to the “take-make-waste” linear model.
In a circular economy, economic activity builds and rebuilds overall system health. A circular economy is sustainable, because resources are used and reused and reused again. There are three principles as part of a circular economy: designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.
Consider the first principle (designing out waste and pollution), which removes negative impacts of economic activity, such as the release of greenhouse gases and other types of pollution.
In a circular economy, we’re keeping products and materials in use. It’s a circular track instead of a one-way road to a landfill, basically. Reuse requires design that prioritizes durability and remanufacturing or recycling. By avoiding non-renewable resources like fossil fuels, a circular economy also helps regenerate natural systems by using renewable energy sources or returning nutrients back to where they came from after use.
This is very different from the more linear economic model we typically follow today, which is: use, discard, repeat, repeat, repeat.
In fact, gadgets and connected devices have been a huge culprit in undermining a more circular economy. Cellphones, for instance, use precious metals in their construction, but, for the most part, these devices aren’t recovered for future use. We all know that better, faster smartphones are always on the horizon. As consumers there is no question most of us will take the bait and replace our phones within the next couple of years whether our “old” phones are truly at the end of their lives or not.
Consider this: if the manufacturer of new devices is using non-renewable resources, and we’re not reusing these devices, but rather using them and discarding them, then how long will it be until the resources we need to build these devices are exhausted?
The resources themselves will be trapped in the discarded devices sitting in some landfill somewhere. They are not helpful to consumers anymore at that point. They are no longer supporting the economy. Based on the point discussed so far, it’s not a sustainable model at all to think that as an industry or consumers we can continue to use resources in devices without designing in the ability for reuse and/or recycling.
So how can the IoT (Internet of Things) help support a more circular economy? One way is by making products easier to maintain and repair. By adding intelligence to a product or device, the Internet of Things technologies can create an asset that can signal problems, determine when it needs to be repaired, and schedule its own maintenance.
This helps ensure that the product or device is kept in working condition for longer and needs to be replaced less frequently. Another way the IoT can contribute to a circular economy is by enabling a shared-use model.
To date, companies like Uber and Airbnb have exploded in popularity in the past decade, because temporarily using other people’s cars and holiday homes for a fee makes so much more sense in some cases than the alternatives.
This begs the question why can’t consumers and businesses start to think about all the things that are owned that are rarely used and have a shared-use scenario? Consider things like camping equipment you only use once a year? How about tools?
Automobiles have proven to be the biggest offender of the circular economy. Most of the time, our personal vehicles are just sitting there, taking up space. In order to manufacture those cars, we had to use resources, and those resources won’t get recycled back into the economy as long as your car is “in use,” which actually means just waiting around in parking lots and garages waiting to be driven.
And while most suburbanites fully appreciate the convenience of owning a personal vehicle, (I personally live in the suburbs myself), many families own vehicles, one can’t help but realize that this is a pretty flawed system overall. Perhaps that’s why the current generation doesn’t want to get a driver’s license at the age of 16, much like previous generations couldn’t wait to do. So today, there are plenty of car-share apps and companies out there to help address this conundrum.
But in terms of smaller items, like tools or gear or appliances, IoT sensors can turn a product into a sharable asset.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation provides a great example of a drill. Do we consume a drill or use it? Most people use it, of course. It’s a distinction that raises the question of owning things that we use versus things we consume.
If you only use a drill once a year to hang something on the wall, do you need to own it? How many fewer drills would the world need if everyone approached it this way?
So this begs the question, should more companies be providing trade-in programs and recycling programs to decrease the impact on the environment and allow used devices to return value back into to the economy?
This only leaves the question, how does all this fit into the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals? In fact, if you look around you will see hundreds of companies actively seeking to meet the UN’s sustainability goals.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include things like achieving clean energy, creating sustainable cities and communities, and pursuing responsible consumption and production as we have been talking about for months. This is all part of the same bigger sustainability picture.
A circular economy is one that uses clean energy and pursues responsible consumption and production to ultimately create a more sustainable earth. It’s all connected, in a world that’s highly connected, and very wasteful.
Connected World’s Peggy Smedley recently sat down for a webcast with Eddy Van Steyvoort, VP, business line automotive and on-road, IGW/VCST, which is a part of BMT Group, Kevin Wrenn, EVP, products, PTC, and Filip Bossuyt, CEO, Ad Ultima, for a discussion about innovating in a time of COVID-19, a story of collaboration.
Van Steyvoort shares the smart factory project, which started in 2017, in silos and realized quickly that it needed to think in an end-to-end scenario. He says it recognizes it had to change its systems, the organization, and its way of thinking to a more end-to-end focus to improve efficiency, reliability, quality, and the way it supports customers. The question became how does it change; and which tools to use? It decided to go to PTC and Ad Ultima to help support it.
“PTC’s PLM Software was known already in the BMT Group and that was a very, very, very strong asset and also a very strong signal from the beginning that we had already the relation, which was already there,” Van Steyvoort says. “We could build on that relation. That was the reason why we established a total plan as partners, and not let’s say as a customer supplier, but as partners,” he adds.
Then the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic hit. Van Steyvoort opines the automotive industry has been shook by coronavirus, but it didn’t want to stop the strong drive on the project and decided not to change the long-term strategy.
He insists it now knows what AR (augmented reality) is and what it can bring during COVID-19, explaining that it can support people locally from a global perspective to show them how to do things. This is one of the lessons learned during this time—that it needs to invest even more in augmented reality tools.
Ad Ultima’s Bossuyt adds it is helping VCST to think end-to-end and to realize its digital transformation. “Becoming digital is a challenge today because you have to do it end-to-end. You cannot do it for only a part of your business.”
Adding to the conversation, PTC’s Wrenn says PTC can help with openness. “We are open on multiple dimensions. Our technology is open. It enables people to do digital transformation, as Eddy was talking about, connections all the way from engineering, all the way to the factory floor, and even out to their customers. Wwe are also open from a partnership standpoint. Ad Ultima is a really important partner of PTC’s and likewise of VCST. So we are used to working in these environments both from a technology standpoint and a partnership standpoint.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, PTC’s first response was to reach out to its customers and partners to make sure they could work from home. Wrenn says the technology is made to work from home and not have to be physically on site to be able to operate the technology. “It was much more important for us to figure out how our customers could create business continuity, and at the same time we were doing it for ourselves.”
In all of this, each individual learned something very important. Van Steyvoort says it is important to create a very strong sense of urgency from the very start and keep communicating this through the whole organization that it is a future-based strategy. “Instead of focusing on the change, focus on the alternative of doing nothing, because doing nothing that means you will lose the game.” Also, don’t be afraid to express the hopes and fears.
Ad Ultima’s Bossuyt notes the most important thing is the power of the network and working together with different partners where there is a lot of trust and all the stakeholders are aligned, which has created very good results. PTC’s Wrenn adds the new normal after COVID-19 is it will make people think about the kind of projects because digitalization is going to be a requirement in the new normal.
Going forward, the next steps for VCST is to link the CAD (computer-aided design) information to the PLM (product lifecycle management), that it goes through visualization in ThingWorx, and that the whole picture will be a completely integrated solution for the future. As Van Steyvoort says, “The sky is the limit. The technology is not the limit anymore.”
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Amid the pandemic, many are wondering if the use of technology is going to continue to rise. In many instances, the answer is yes. Such is the case with smart homes.
A new report points to the importance of incorporating smart-home technology. LexisNexis Risk Solutions released an insurance claims study revealing that in-line water shutoff systems correlate with a decrease in water claims events by 96%.
The study measured the changes in the number and severity of water-related home insurance claims with the Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff device against an uninstalled control group of homes in the same geolocation one year before and after installation.
Here is what it found: Prior to installation, 2,306 Flow homes had an average claims severity far greater than the control group two years prior to the installation of the device. The study also found a corresponding 72% decrease in claims severity one year after installation of the device, indicating that smart water shutoff systems are working.
The key takeaway here is that water leak mitigation and the time and money saved could help drive adoption of these smart home devices, ultimately reducing loss costs, improving the customer experience, and more.
This is in line with other reports that the smart homes market, in general, is on the rise. Mordor Intelligence says the market was valued at $64.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $246.42 billion by 2025, a forecasted 25% growth rate, even amid a pandemic. The research shows there is a greater need for security and wireless controls. Further advancements in the IoT (Internet of Things) have resulted in price drops of sensors and processors, which are expected to fuel automation in the home.
While there is much to consider when it comes to smart-home technologies, research points to a continued rise in the years to come.
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Conservative members of the United Kingdom’s government have pushed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to draw up plans to remove telecom equipment made by the Chinese manufacturer Huawei from the nation’s 5G networks by 2023, according to multiple reports.
The decision by Johnson, who wanted Huawei’s market share in the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure capped at 35 percent, brings the UK back into alignment with the position Australia and the United States have taken on Huawei’s involvement in national communications networks, according to both The Guardian and The Telegraph.
Originally, the UK had intended to allow Huawei to maintain a foothold in the nation’s telecom infrastructure in a plan that had received the approval of Britain’s intelligence agencies in January.
“This is very good news and I hope and believe it will be the start of a complete and thorough review of our dangerous dependency on China,” conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Guardian when informed of the Prime Minister’s reversal.
As TechCrunch had previously reported, the Australian government and the U.S. both have significant concerns about Huawei’s ability to act independently of the interests of the Chinese national government.
“The fundamental issue is one of trust between nations in cyberspace,” wrote Simeon Gilding, until recently the head of the Australian Signals Directorate’s signals intelligence and offensive cyber missions. “It’s simply not reasonable to expect that Huawei would refuse a direction from the Chinese Communist Party.”
Given the current tensions between the U.S. and China, allies like the UK and Australia would be better served not exposing themselves to any risks from having the foreign telecommunications company’s technology in their networks, some security policy analysts have warned.
“It’s not hard to imagine a time when the U.S. and China end up in some sort of conflict,” Tom Uren of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) told TechCrunch. “If there was a shooting war, it is almost inevitable that the U.S. would ask Australia for assistance and then we’d be in this uncomfortable situation if we had Huawei in our networks that our critical telecommunicationsnetworks would literally be run by an adversary we were at war with.”
U.S. officials are bound to be delighted with the decision. They’ve been putting pressure on European countries for months to limit Huawei’s presence in their telecom networks.
“If countries choose to go the Huawei route it could well jeopardize all the information sharing and intelligence sharing we have been talking about, and that could undermine the alliance, or at least our relationship with that country,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, according to a report in The New York Times.
In recent months the U.S. government has stepped up its assault against the technology giant on multiple fronts. Earlier in May, the U.S. issued new restrictions on the use of American software and hardware in certain strategic semiconductor processes. The rules would affect all foundries using U.S. technologies, including those located abroad, some of which are Huawei’s key suppliers.
At a conference earlier this week, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping admitted that while the firm is able to design some semiconductor parts such as integrated circuits (IC), it remains “incapable of doing a lot of other things.”
“Survival is the keyword for us at present,” he said.
Huawei has challenged the ban, saying that it would damage the international technology ecosystem that has developed to manufacture the hardware that powers the entire industry.
“In the long run, [the U.S. ban] will damage the trust and collaboration within the global semiconductor industry which many industries depend on, increasing conflict and loss within these industries.”
Huawei is facing an uphill challenge in the overseas market as its upcoming devices lack the full set of Google apps and services. That leaves ample room for its Chinese rivals to chase after foreign consumers.
That includes Oppo, the sister brand of Vivo under Dongguan-based electronics holding company BBK. In an announcement on Monday, the Chinese firm announced a partnership with Vodafone to bring its smartphones to the mobile carrier’s European markets. The deal kicks off in May and will sell Oppo’s portfolio of advanced 5G handsets as well as value-for-money models into the U.K, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Turkey.
While Vodafone pulled Huawei phones from its U.K. 5G network last year following the U.S. export ban that stripped Huawei models of certain Android services, the British operator can now tap Oppo’s wide range of mobile products in a heated race to sign up 5G customers. The partners will jointly explore online sales channels as many parts of Europe’s physical premises remain closed due to the COVID-19.
Oppo, currently the second-largest smartphone vendor in its home country after Huawei, has seen a spike in sales across Europe since entering the market in mid-2018. The company was one of the first to launch commercially available 5G phones in Europe last year and now ranks fifth on the continent with a 2% share, according to a survey from research firm Canalys.
“Oppo has a product range that can hit many of the same segments as Huawei, enabling it to gain market share at the expense of Huawei,” Peter Richardson, research director at Counterpoint Research, explained to TechCrunch. “Oppo has always used quite a European flavour in its product design. This extends to things like colour choice, packaging, and advertising materials. This makes it acceptable to European consumers.”
Interestingly, Richardson pointed out that Oppo, which has a less “Chinese sounding” name than its domestic rivals Xiaomi and Huawei, will help it circumvent some of the “negative media surrounding China just now – first Huawei’s difficulties around security threats and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic.”