The Pixel 4a is putting Google in an unwinnable war — with itself

I don’t think it meant to, but Google has backed itself into a corner with the anticipated Pixel 4a. The previous Pixel 3a was a smash-hit of a phone, doubling the company’s phone sales amid some serious troubles. The 3a was so great it even earned our 2019 Smartphone of the Year accolade over the company’s “flagship” Pixel 4 series. But based on what we’ve heard so far, I think the upcoming Pixel 4a could be a disaster for Google.

The news to date

Details regarding the anticipated Pixel 4a are sparse. We’ve seen what it might look like in some CAD-based renders, hole-punch front-facing camera and all. Physically, it’s a lot like the previous 3a, but with a more modern screen and a square camera bump more reminiscent of the Pixel 4 — though still housing just one camera.

One rumor from YouTuber Dave Lee claims the Pixel 4a, unlike the previous 3a and 3a XL, will only come in a single size. That’s a claim, we should note, that 9to5Google disagrees with based on information from its own sources.

Most recently, potential specs for a handful of “codename” devices have leaked thanks to our friends at XDA Developers. If you aren’t familiar with the practice, Google tends to develop software to support specific hardware platforms identified by codenames. Some of these just end up being reference boards, but many of the fishier-sounding names ultimately manifest as Pixel devices, and three such names were just spotted.

Limited space for improvement

Based on what we know now, and comparing our expectations with the previous Pixel 3a and 3a XL, there’s one basic question we have to ask: Realistically speaking, what can Google do to the Pixel 4a to make it better than the 3a? Unless it plans on increasing prices, there isn’t a whole lot.

Most of the truly consequential improvements would hike the price too much

Don’t get me wrong, the 3a wasn’t a feature-complete device. There are a lot of individual things it was missing, but many of those omissions aren’t the sort of thing that can be included at a mid-range price point. Benefits like wireless charging, better haptics, faster storage, an IP rating, a better quality/more uniform screen, and a higher-end chipset would all place it firmly in flagship or at least budget flagship territory — with a price to match.

Unfortunately, most of the truly consequential improvements would hike the price too much (and undermine the Pixel 4, more on that later). We know, based on the leaked renders, that the 4a isn’t getting a telephoto camera. It probably won’t have face unlock or Soli gestures. And the sort of “hidden” changes we wouldn’t see based on leaks so far are likely to be too expensive outside minor tweaks. Google can’t just toss in an 800-series Snapdragon without eliminating the price advantage — which, let’s be honest, was the whole point of the a series.

The siren song of 5G

There is one way that Google could make the 4a a marketable improvement, even with a small price hike, and that’s thanks to the apparent marketing magic of 5G.

Unless you’re a follower of anti-vax-level pseudoscience, the allure of yet another G gets your city-congested, streaming-service-watching, IoT-connected blood pumping. Real-life mobile benefits are unlikely to be the life-changing experience for us all that 4G was, but it’s all about marketing. Your old, pedestrian, 4G phone just doesn’t compare anymore, or so the obsession with 5G would have you believe.

And 5G has been speculated to be a possibility for the 4a, based on some specs revealed by XDA Developers in their recent search through the AOSP (read: Android’s public code). I can’t overemphasize how much this is all still speculation at this point, but a device running a 5G-compatible chipset was spotted, and the timing is just about right for some Pixel 4a connections to be drawn.

If the Pixel 4a lands in a 5G variety, that might result in a price hike. Although Qualcomm is rumored to be drastically cutting prices on its 5G-integrated Snapdragon 765 to keep MediaTek at bay, it’s unlikely that smartphone manufacturers won’t see the extra feature as an opportunity to bump prices at least a little bit — also placing it in competition with the OnePlus 8, at that point. But with the actual benefits of 5G right now being few and far between, paired with the limited rollout of 5G networks here in the US, a 5G Pixel 4a would probably just be a gimmick at this point.

“Competing” with the flagship Pixel 4

By far, the biggest problem Google faces is cannibalizing its own sales. Any improvement over the existing 3a is going to place it in even more direct competition with the Pixel 4, and short of folks sold on the idea of face recognition and hand-waving music controls, I think it’s a comparison the Pixel 4 is likely to lose. Worse, if the price for any of the 4a models rises (as 9to5 has speculated could happen), then it would place the 4a in direct competition not just in terms of features, but in price. That could result in disaster for both phones.

Any increase in price would pit it more directly against the company’s ostensibly higher-end efforts

The Pixel 4 has been available at or below $600 pretty often, and with last year’s 3a XL hitting $480, any increase in price would pit it more directly against the company’s ostensibly higher-end efforts — not to mention the upcoming OnePlus 8. I’m not sure if the anticipated distinctions between the Pixel 4 and 4a (primarily the telephoto camera, facial recognition, 90Hz display, and a spec bump) will be enough to justify the difference in most consumers’ minds.

A rising price for the 4a would also eliminate the a series’ most significant advantage, and one of the reasons the phone is so frequently recommended: It’s good, but it’s cheap. In the case of the smaller Pixel 3a, for just $400 (often discounted to $300, and just $340 right now) you can get the Pixel’s high-end software experience, plus all the vaguely magical Pixel-exclusive Assistant features like spam-fighting (optionally automatic) call screenLive Caption, and transcribing Recorder. Will we feel the same at a higher price point? I doubt it.

When it comes to the Pixel 4a, Google has a hard fight ahead of it. Following up on the success of a genuinely good phone can be hard, and it’s something Google had struggled with even with its flagship series, where money isn’t a concern. With the Pixel 4a depending even more on price, I’m not sure that Google’s often myopic vision can spot the route to a successful sequel.

Image credit: www.androidpolice.com

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The 25 Best Products of CES

CES, the annual tech confab in the heart of Las Vegas, showcases the latest and greatest in technology and consumer gadgets. There truly is something for everyone, from new and improved products and services announced by major corporations to truly innovative ideas made real by entrepreneurial spirits.

Still, it’s difficult to figure out what’s worth one’s time and what products and services are simply a flash in the pan, never to be seen again. So we did the hard work for you to find the most intriguing and exciting gadgets of CES, from accessories you can buy right now to concept devices charting the future of the industry. Without further ado, here is TIME’s Best of CES 2020.

Samsung Ballie

Samsung’s Ballie is an interesting combination between smart home device and robotic companion. The ball-shaped gadget, equipped with cameras and sensors used to follow you around, can control various smart home features, take photos, send you updates about your home when you’re away, and even function as a fitness assistant. Designed to be an “all-around life companion,” Ballie might be cute enough give your pup a run for its money.

BMW i3 Urban Suite

BMW’s trying to rethink the rideshare experience by adding a bit more class (and removing a few seats). The BMW i3 Urban Suite is a modified BMW i3 made for a more luxurious rideshare experience, one that includes perks like a hanger for coats, heated cupholders, and a literal desk lamp. There are also some pleasant privacy-centric features like simulated acoustic sealing and a display that supports smartphone mirroring when you need a second screen. Think of it as the next evolution of the limo, if a limo only fit one passenger.

Dell Alienware Concept UFO

Dell showed off an interesting concept when it comes to PC gaming on the go with the Intel-powered Alienware Concept UFO. The portable Windows PC, which mirrors the form factor of the Nintendo Switch, features an 8-inch display, kickstand, detachable controllers, and support for external devices like displays or a keyboard and mouse. Sure, it’s still a concept device, and Dell is mum on specifics, but a more portable PC gaming experience that doesn’t require a laptop might be just what many gamers need to enjoy their favorite titles on the go.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

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Rumors of the DSLR’s demise have been greatly exaggerated based on Canon’s update to its beloved — and expensive — EOS-1D X lineup. The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III boasts improvements like the faster Digic X processor, burst shooting at 16 frames per second, and face and head-tracking thanks to improved computer vision tech. It also shoots 5.5K RAW video and 4K video at 60 frames per second.

Segway S-Pod

Professor Xavier cosplayers, rejoice! Segway’s S-Pod is, essentially, a two-wheeled self-balancing stroller that can hit speeds of up to 24 miles per hour. Unlike other Segway products, you control the S-Pod with a joystick instead of your body, making for a more relaxing jaunt around town. The S-Pod is outfitted with smart safety features, too, like automatic braking on turns and exterior lights that double as turn signals.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold

Foldable displays are the new hotness, and Lenovo’s showing off its take on the trend with the ThinkPad X1 Fold. The Windows 10 device is more laptop than tablet, despite the tablet-like design. That foldable 13.3-inch display supports stylus input and Windows Ink for more intuitive pen-based operation. Want to get some actual typing done? Just pop the magnetic keyboard on the bottom half of the X1 Fold and type away, or just leave it there, close it up like a normal laptop, and get on with your day.

Samsung Odyssey G9 Monitor

Curved monitors are great for PC gaming, and Samsung’s 49-inch Odyssey G9 monitor is a particularly impressive display to see in action. Aside from the huge screen, the QLED monitor has a 1440p resolution, a 1 millisecond response time, and supports refresh rates up to 240Hz. Since it’s for gaming, the Odyssey G9 also supports AMD’s FreeSync 2 and Nvidia’s G-Sync for smoother gameplay with less tearing or framerate loss.

Dimension Robotics Dr. CaRo

Dimension Robotics’ Dr. CaRo is designed to restore mobility to stroke victims without prohibitively expensive physical therapy sessions. The device, a motorized handle-equipped robotic arm attached to a 23-inch display, is meant to aid in rebuilding neural connections to a patient’s limbs with entertaining training exercises. For patients looking to strengthen atrophied muscles, Dr. CaRo can switch between assistive and resistive modes to accommodate patients looking to regain strength and dexterity in their limbs.

Fisker Ocean

Electric vehicle maker Fisker is using its luxury SUV, the Ocean, to show the competition how to make eco-friendly vehicles. Fisker claims the Ocean is the world’s “most sustainable vehicle,” supposedly due to its all-electric drivetrain, vegan leather interior, and use of recycled materials like nylon and polyester. The Ocean also features a slick solar panel roof for passive battery charging, as well as a cool “California Mode” that rolls down every window for an open-air feeling without compromising safety.

Core Meditation Trainer

Meditating is a tough habit to build, and even more difficult practice to maintain. If you need an extra hand, or just a little tap on the shoulder to get you back into the zone, look at Core. The handheld meditation trainer uses tech like vibration and biofeedback, along with an app that offers both metrics on your health and and on-demand meditation classes, to help you focus on relaxation, breathing techniques, or mindfulness.

Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel

Acer’s ConceptD 7 Ezel is a laptop doubling as an artist’s easel, and doing it with style. Its 15.6-inch 4K display has multiple configurations, meaning you can prop the display over the keyboard to show off some work, use it like a traditional laptop, or fold the screen flat against the rest of the laptop for some serious sketching work. Built for artists and creators, the ConceptD 7 Ezel supports the full Adobe RGB color gamut and features Nvidia graphics to keep your apps running smoothly when your work gets more complex.

Come Play Petl

Sex tech is making a big splash at this year’s CES. Sexual wellness company Come Play, for instance, is trying to help women share their toys with their partners with its couple-friendly Petl vibrator, designed for clitoral stimulation during intercourse and meant to stay secure in a variety of positions.

Image credit: https://time.com

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This Is Amazon’s New Hexagonal Drone

Amazon has revealed a new drone design for its Prime Air delivery program. The shopping behemoth used its re:MARS Conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space) in Las Vegas to debut the hexagonal drone, which it says in a press statement can “fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes.”

The company calls the drone a “hybrid design,” capable of both vertical takeoffs and landings, “like a helicopter.” Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer division, says he hopes to be using the drones “within months.”

Amazon began drone deliveries in England in 2016. Although it has not announced where these drones will be flying, it’s safe to assume they won’t take to the skies in America, where regulations are still onerous. Since 2012, Amazon says it has deployed 200,000 robotic drive units in its operations.

The drone appears to be built for customers with ample backyards. Amazon says it needs “a small area around the delivery location that is clear of people, animals, or obstacles,” which likely eliminates many crowded urban areas. But backyards present their own challenges, which the company says it has dealt with. “A customer’s yard may have clotheslines, telephone wires, or electrical wires. Wire detection is one of the hardest challenges for low-altitude flights,” says the company’s press statement. “Through the use of computer-vision techniques we’ve invented, our drones can recognize and avoid wires as they descend into, and ascend out of, a customer’s yard.”

Wherever the drones are used, they will reduce deliveries. And Amazon is quick to note the green implications of the drones: They will “help achieve Shipment Zero, the company’s vision to make all Amazon shipments net zero carbon, with 50% of all shipments net zero by 2030.” However, the company doesn’t mention if the drones will affect any of its legions of drivers.

Image credit: www.popularmechanics.com

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The Magic Behind Scoble’s Prediction of an All Glass, Transparent iPhone 8

Robert Scoble made a major meme with his claim that the iPhone 8 was all glass and you could see right through it. And how great it would be for AR. It certainly blew my mind when he first told me about it. A transparent iPhone? WTF?!

I literally couldn’t believe it. I thought it was impossible to create using today’s electronic components. Impossible!

Robert’s see-though iPhone 8 claim went viral spawning many long discussion threads debating the possibility of this amazing dream coming true. It’s the 10th anniversary of the iPhone and everyone expects Apple to mark it by introducing a truly innovative phone (for a change).

The press quickly grabbed hold of this monster meme and almost every article about the upcoming iPhone 8 included Robert’s claim that it was made of glass and that you could see right through it.

Robert’s insistence created a puzzle I just had to solve.

Finally, I think I have. Oh the joy of solving a puzzle! Well, more precisely, I think I have. I definitely don’t mind being proven wrong… that’s what a hypothesis is all about! So here goes…

Robert was right, that the iPhone 8 will be made of glass. It just isn’t transparent glass, it’s an all-new glass casing design that connects the glass on the back of the phone to the front display. Cool design (even if it looks a bit fragile). Yes, the iPhone 8 is made of glass.

And guess what? You can see right through it! Yes, you can!

But it’s really a magic trick.

The iPhone 8 concept design that I think is most accurate shows a beautiful display that covers the entire front of the phone… edge to edge, top to bottom.

Nice! Apple is taking more cues from Android and has finally dropped the stupid physical home button that squeezed the display into a much smaller frame. And based on the designs I’ve seen it looks like they’ve done a better job than any Android phone I’ve seen so far in terms of maximum display coverage.

Now, here comes the magic. Take that fantastic edge to edge screen, and connect it to what everyone expects will be more than one advanced and innovative camera. The software running the cameras understands the geometry of the surface of the iPhone 8, the display characteristics, the fixed positions of its display, the exact specs for the cameras, and the lenses being used.

This allows the iPhone 8 to pull off a very impressive illusion.

The iPhone 8’s precise knowledge of the cameras and phone (and perhaps a spatial map of what’s in front of it) all collude to make the image displayed on the screen to look exactly like what you would see if the phone was pointed at something.

Abracadabra! The camera magic allows the iPhone 8 to be pointed at almost anything, and have it look like it’s practically invisible. It’s a small rectangular portal to an AR view of the world around you.

Can the AR-focused iPhone 8 compete with dedicated AR glasses? What other magic does 2017 have hidden up its sleeves?

“Everything in this world is magic, except to the magician.” –Westworld

Ban the Ban on Glass!

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I don’t like places that are starting to ban Glass. My Glass is permanently attached to my face, I don’t think I could remove it if I was told to 😉

More importantly, I think this is just plain wrong, and feels like a violation of my rights on a number of levels. First off, since I’m a journalist (among other things) this seems like a clear violation of the First Amendment, yes the very first, that protects freedom of speech and freedom of the the press.

Only if I ALWAYS wear Glass can I be assured of using Glass to capture and share media events as they happen. And also perform real-time research using the powerful “OK, Glass, Google” feature. Preventing that clearly seems like a restriction on the media (press).

But not everyone’s a media person… or are they? You are the new media brand when you post to social networks. Does that count in this new socially mediated world where the consumer is now a content creator and distributor (publisher)?

I think there should be no issue about me capturing my life for myself in any manner that I feel helps make my life better. I think there is a very important distinction between capturing and sharing that has become lost in the debate… I think for most people the issues are about sharing that content without the subject’s permission. I’m concerned about that, too!OK, screw the First Amendment and it’s freedom of speech and of the press. What about my rights as an individual? In this not-so-brave new world personal data capture seems like a basic right.

But guess what? There are already laws to prevent publication of people’s images without their permission… I would need a release for from you before I would be able to publish it. I don’t see why those same laws wouldn’t apply to personal publishing as well. I know posting/publishing without releases has become rampant, but maybe a combination of lawsuits and respect for other people will help stem that.

What’s mine is mine, and I should be able to experience life with whatever technological enhancements I decide are helpful to more fully experience the world and the people around me. This is my life, and I’ll digitize it if I want to!

I guess this makes me a total glasshole, but I think we should fight for our right to wear Glass!