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Samsung, HTC, Sony and others debut brand new smartphones at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

Best at MWC 2015
Samsung, HTC, Sony, Microsoft and others are using the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona to debut their latest smartphones and other gear. Here’s a look at the new Android and Windows devices.

Samsung Galaxy S6
The latest Galaxy Android phone swaps out its plastic frame for one made of metal and glass. The 5.1-inch screen size hasn’t changed since the S5, but resolution has been improved to 1440×2560. Other features: 5mp camera on front, 16mp camera on back; Samsung octo-core processor; 32/64/128GB storage options; 3GB RAM; integrated wireless charging. Missing: water resistance, microSD card slot and user-replaceable battery. Available globally April 10. Pricing hasn’t been disclosed.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
This premium edition of the S6 has most of the same specs as the regular S6, but sports a screen that curves around its left and right sides.

HTC One M9
The company’s flagship Android 5.0 phone is based on a Snapdragon 810 processor running at 2GHz, includes 3GB of RAM and boasts a 5-inch screen. It features a 20mp front camera and 4pm rear one. HTC has partnered with Dolby to provide great sound. Best Buy lists a 32GB version for use on AT&T’s LTE network in the US for $650.

Silent Circle Blackphone 2
The Swiss company’s privacy-focused device will be targeted at enterprise customers in July, probably for about $630. The phone will have an 8-core processor, 32GB of memory and a 5-inch screen. What separates it from other phones is a hardened Android-based operating system dubbed PrivatOS as well as Silent Meeting, a secure conference-calling system, and a company-vetted app store. A new Blackphone+ tablet is on the way as well

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua
This waterproof device is a midrange Android offering that will cost about $335 when it launches in Q2. It has a 5-inch, 720×1280 pixel screen, a Snapdragon 615 octa-core processor and integrated support for LTE. The phone has a 13mp camera on the back and a 5mp camera on the front. Sony boasts of a two-day long battery life, but didn’t get into anymore specifics.

Acer Liquid M220
Acer says its new phone will come with Windows Phone 8.1, but will be upgradeable to Windows 10 when the operating system is released later this year. This $89 phone has a 4-inch screen, dual-core processor, 4GB of storage, 512MB of RAM, two SIM slots, and 5mp rear camera and 2mp front camera. It comes chock full of Microsoft apps like Cortana and OneDrive. It does not support LTE.

ZTE Grand S3
The unique thing about this phone is its biometric authentication system, which enables users to log in via eye scanning using EyeVerify technology. Down the road, the feature could work with apps. The smartphone runs Android 4.4, has a 5.5-inch screen, a Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage that can be expanded to 64GB via a microSD card. The back camera is 16mp and the front one is 8mp. The phone is initially available in China for about $480.

Microsoft Lumia 640 and 640 XL
These midrange Windows phones have 5- and 5.7-inch screens, respectively, and are upgradeable to Windows 10 when it is released later this year. Other specs: 1GB of memory, a quad-core Snapdragon processor running at 1.2GHz, an 8mp camera on the 640 and 13mp camera on the 640 XL. LTE support available on dual-SIM models. The 640 rolls out in April, the XL – a small phablet — in March. Pricing is expected to be in the $300 range for both.

LG Magna
LG revealed this new phone ahead of MWC, but gave people a first chance to play with it at the show. This Android smartphone has a 5-inch, 720×1280 pixel screen and 1.2GHz or 1.3GHz quad-core processor. It has an 8mp front camera and 5mp back one, plus 1GB of RAM and 8GB of integrated storage. Extended battery life and support for LTE are also touted by LG, which is expected to price the phone no higher than $250.

Lenovo A7000
This Android 5.0 smartphone has a 5.5-inch display, plus Dolby Atmos technology for audio. Powered by a MediaTek True8Core processor and supporting LTE, the phone has a dual SIM card slot for allowing use of separate phone numbers. The A7000 goes on sale in the US in March for $169.

Lenovo VIBE Shot
This is a camera-first Android phone that includes a 16mp rear camera with a six-piece modular lens and superfast shutter speed, as well as an 8mp selfie camera. Powered by a Snapdragon processor, the phone has 32GB of storage expandable to 128GB. It will sell for $350 when it becomes available in June.


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hone 6, iPad Air, Samsung Galaxy gear and big cheap TVs among the hottest electronic deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2014.

Black Friday is upon us
Word is that more retailers will relent to public pressure – I mean do the right thing for their employees – and close on Thanksgiving Day this year. But that won’t prevent them from going all out online, where much is automated and the workers are less prominent. Here are some of the best deals on network and technology offerings for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and in between. (Compare with last year’s deals)

Dell: Inspiron 15-inch laptop
Powered by an Intel Celeron processor and running Windows 8.1, this system boasts 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. Dell’s special pricing for those getting through online beginning at 12 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 28, is $190, a $110 discount off what Dells calls the “market price” (though Dell appears to regularly sell the laptop for $250.

Target: Apple TV
Like other retailers, Target has a number of deals on Apple products. Among them: $11 off an Apple TV device, which you can get for $89 on Black Friday.

Target: iPhones, iPads and gift cards
Apple gives retailers little leeway in terms of discounting its products, so Target and others often resort to selling the Apple products for the regular price, but bundling the with gift cards. Target is offering a $100 Target gift card with an iPad Air 16GB WiFi tablet ($400), iPad mini 3 16GB WiFi tablet ($400) or iPad mini 2 16GB WiFi Tablet ($300).

Best Buy: Samsung Gear Fit Fitness watch with heart rate monitor
Best Buy is slashing the price on this gadget, which comes in black, from $150 to $100. Count your steps taken and calories burned in style, with this device, which syncs up with various Android phones. Best Buy’s online sales will run Thursday/Friday, with stores opening at 5 pm on Thanksgiving Day where allowed, and again at 8 am on Friday.

Best Buy: Surface Pro 3
The retailer is cutting $50 to $150 off the price of Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablets with 128GB of storage or more (they start at $1,000 before the discount). Note that this does not include the keyboard for the flexible 12-inch touchscreen device.

Best Buy: Panasonic 50-inch LED TV doorbuster
This 33-pound Panasonic TV, which serves up a 1080p and 60Hz HDTV picture, usually costs $550. The pre-Black Friday price is down to $500, but will go for just $200 in this in-store-only deal on Thanksgiving/Black Friday.

Microsoft: Tablets and games
The Microsoft Store lists a slew of deals, some for which you need to wait until Thanksgiving or Black Friday, and others that you can snag ahead of time. Among the early bird specials is a Lumia 635 phone for 1 cent with a new service contract. The phone has a 4.5-inch screen, runs Windows 8.1 and has 8GB of storage. Microsoft also has lots of Xbox and game deals available in its store this holiday shopping season.

Staples: Asus x205-TA Laptop computer
This bare-bones Windows 8.1 machine, with a 32GB hard drive and 2GB of RAM, normally goes for $250. It’s already been marked down to $200, and for Black Friday, Staples is cutting that price in half. The laptop, featuring 802.11abgn WiFi, is powered by an Intel Atom processor and has an 11.6-inch screen.

Staples: JLab Pro-7 Tablet
OK, can’t say we know this brand either, but for $40, it could be worth a shot if you just want to play around with a small Android tablet. The device usually sells for $70. It only packs 8GB or storage, but has a MicroSD slot for adding up to 32GB more.

RadioShack: RC Surveyor Drone
Satisfy your drone curiosity and freak out your neighbors with this 2.4GHz quadcopter that’s been marked down from $70 to $35 for Black Friday. This lightweight flyer comes with a built-in 1080×720 camera, can be controlled up to 65 feet away and can even do stunts. RadioShack will be opening on Thanksgiving morning, again late in the afternoon, and then at 6 am on Black Friday.

Costco: HP Envy 15.6-inch TouchSmart Laptop
This computer is powered by an Intel 4th generation Core i7 processor, runs Windows 8, features Beats audio and a 1TB hard drive. Costco, which is tossing in a second-year warranty, is slashing its $800 warehouse price by $150 for Black Friday shoppers who come into the store.

Office Depot/Officemax: Samsung Galaxy Tab 4
The price on this 10.1-inch Android tablet has been axed to $250, which is $100 off the usual price. Yes, this isn’t Samsung’s latest model, but it only came out in April. The device features a 1.2GHz quad core processor, and 16GB of storage, expandable to 64GB.

Meijer: Samsung Galaxy Tablet Lite
This 7-inch, 8GB tablet will run you $99 on Black Friday, which is $40 off the regular price. Plus, you’ll get a $20 coupon for your next shopping trip. The touchscreen tablet boasts a 1.2Ghz dual-core processor.

Sears: 55-inch Samsung LED TV
This 1080p Smart HD-TV, usually priced at $1,400, is available for $800 starting on Thanksgiving night (though note that Sears already lists TV for $1,000, not $1,400). It comes integrated with services such as Netflix and Pandora.

Belk: iLive Bluetooth Soundbar
This 32-inch black bar will enable you to wireless boom your tunes for $70 — $30 off the usual price. Works with iOS gadgets and most Android and BlackBerry devices. Can also sync up with your TV, game systems and more. This is an online deal.

Shopko: Kindle Fire HD tablet
This lightweight 7-inch WiFi tablet (with 8GB of storage, 1GB of which is internal memory) will have its price shaved by $20, so you pay $80. The retailer’s Black Friday deals start at 6 pm on Thanksgiving Day, though look for additional doorbusters as early as Wednesday.

Various retailers: Record Store Day specials
Got an MP3 hater in your life who prefers to spin big ol’ discs? Record Store Day, an annual April event designed to accommodate record lovers, expands for a Black Friday event that will feature limited-edition offerings from a variety of singers and bands, including The Afghan Whigs, The Beatles and Chvrches.

Walmart: iPhone 6
The monster retailer, which has said it will match Amazon prices in all its stores to kick off the holiday shopping season, has a pretty fine deal on the iPhone 6, which will cost $179 for a 16GB model with a two-year contract (typically $199). What’s more, you’ll get a $75 Walmart gift card, plus another $200 gift card for a smartphone trade-in. (Some industry watchers have warned about whether the 16GB size will only lead to frustration for iPhone 6 users…)

Walmart: iPhone 6
The monster retailer, which has said it will match Amazon prices in all its stores to kick off the holiday shopping season, has a pretty fine deal on the iPhone 6, which will cost $179 for a 16GB model with a two-year contract (typically $199). What’s more, you’ll get a $75 Walmart gift card, plus another $200 gift card for a smartphone trade-in. (Some industry watchers have warned about whether the 16GB size will only lead to frustration for iPhone 6 users…)

Walmart: 65-inch Vizio LED TV
This behemoth set will go for $648 this Black Friday, a savings of $350. Walmart says a 60-incher last holiday season went at $688, so you can see where pricing for big TVs is going…

Walmart: Xbox One Assassin’s Creed Unity Bundle
This package, including the Microsoft game console, the new edition of Assassin’s Creed and Version IV: Black Flag, will be available for $329 starting on Thanksgiving Day at Walmart. That’s down from the usual price of $400, though actually that price has already been marked down to $349.

Toys R Us: 5th generation iPod touch
You don’t hear about these much anymore, but it makes sense that Toys R Us would sell this Apple mainstay. The 16GB model is selling on Black Friday for $150 — $50 off the usual price. It comes in many pretty colors, too!

Kohl’s: Innovative Technology portable power bank
Kohl’s isn’t the first retailer we think of for tech products, but we did come across this possible stocking stuff: a Justin 2200mAh Power Stick Portable Power Bank for $10, which is $15 off the regular price. USB-pluggable, works with most smartphones to keep you from running out of juice when not able to plug in.

Hhgregg: LG 50-inch smart LED TV
The electronics retailer has a ton of TVs on sale, with many prices slashed by $100 or more. One example: The LG 1080p 120Hz LED WebOS Smart HDTV, which will go for $658, down from $800. You get a free 6-month Spotify subscription to boot.

eBay: LG 60-inch Plasma Smart TV
The online auction site is offering this big HDTV, with two pairs of 3D glasses, for $750 starting at midnight EST on Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 26.

Newegg: CyberpowerPC Gamer Xtreme H710 Desktop PC
This machine, boasts an Intel Core i7 4790K (4.0GHz) processor, 8GB DDR3 and 2TB of storage, and runs Windows 8.1 64-bit. The price has been slashed from $1,100 to $800.

Newegg: Asus 13.3-inch Chromebook
The online retailer is knocking $50 off a $250 Asus 13.3-inch Chromebook with Intel Celeron N2830 (2.16GHz) processor, 2GB of DDR3 memory and 16GB SSD.

Amazon: HP Chromebook
Amazon’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday lines are blurred big time, with the online retailer rolling out deals early and often. Among them: This 11.6-inch Chromebook with 2GB of SDRAM and a 16GB solid state drive for $150 — $130 off the regular price.

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iPhone big screen or big screens, curvaceous, and pressured

Fortunately for the iOSphere, Bloomberg found a “person familiar with Apple’s plans” to spill the beans and provide a week’s worth of rumor cud-chewing over the iPhone 6 display.

While many iOSpherians are convinced that the iPhone 6 will have a bigger display and a curved display, there is Deep Uncertainty about how big, or which way the curve will, you know, curve.

But let’s not quibble. This one source, in a story written by two reporters, was also familiar with Apple’s plans to introduce not one but two Bigger Screened iPhone 6 handsets. Thanksgiving Day has come early this year.

You read it here second.

“I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Apple is investigating curved displays… That doesn’t mean, however, that just because Apple looked at something that they’re going to release it.”

Avi Greengart, analyst, Current Analysis

“Analyst Debunks Curved Display On iPhone 6 Release Date”

Kristin Dian Mariano, International Business Times, with the iOSpherian translation of Greengart’s commonsense observation.

iPhone 6 will have two screen sizes, curved “glass,” and maybe pressure sensors

Talk about a cornucopia of Innovation, eh? This abundance of information overflows from a Bloomberg story, “Apple Said Developing Curved iPhone Screens, New Sensors,” by Tim Culpan and Adam Satariano.

And where did it come from you ask? From “a person familiar with the plans.” Or, as experienced iOSpherians like to say, a PFWP.

Maybe they caught Tim Cook or Phil Schiller when he was in a chatty mood in an elevator. Or maybe they talked to the drycleaner of the next door neighbor of the best friend of a coworker who has a cousin who plays online games with an engineer who overheard an Apple designer talking to someone before the subway door closed. But somebody who’s not just anybody.

“Two models planned for release in the second half of next year would feature larger displays with glass that curves downward at the edges, said the person, declining to be identified because the details aren’t public. Sensors that can distinguish heavy or light touches on the screen may be incorporated into subsequent models, the person said.

BGR’s Zach Epstein argues in his post on the Bloomberg story that the phrasing “with glass that curves downward at the edges” is not a reference to a curved displays “but rather that the glass covering the panels will be curved.” Which doesn’t clarify much: does he mean the display is flat but it’s covered with a convex glass cover? Or that the glass cover is flat but it curves down over the edge of the phone?

Curved screens – both convex and concave – have been an obsession with the iOSphere for months, even years, though with little analysis on how or why curving the screen, or the “glass,” actually improves the phone. The obsession has been intensified by Samsung’s Galaxy Round smartphone, which curves upward from the two sides, and the just-announced LG G Flex, which curves upward from the top and bottom.

The latter design at least has the sense to mimic traditional wired handset designs going back 70 years, as shown in this Wikipedia image of a rotary phone from the 1940s.

The Bloomberg reporters suggest that perhaps it’s a curved BIG screen that’s vital to Apple’s future, because the Galaxy Round is Samsung’s “latest phone in an array of sizes and price points that’s helping keep Samsung ahead of Apple in global market share.” The PFWP says the screens will measure 4.7 and 5.5 inches, which would make them, as Culpan and Satariano astutely point out, “Apple’s largest iPhones,” since the current 5S and 5C measure just 4.0 inches.

It “seems rather curious that Apple would introduce two new displays sizes at the same time,” posted a skeptical John Gruber at his DaringFireball blog. “Apple has only introduced one new iPhone display size since 2007, but they’re going to introduce two at the same time next year? That smells fishy to me.”

Bloomberg’s PFWP didn’t have much to say about the new pressure sensors, which apparently are intended to detect how firmly someone is pressing on the screen and then do…well something very cool and magical as a result.

The PFWP did add “that the company probably would release [the new phones] in the third quarter of next year.” A person familiar not only with plans but probabilities.

iPhone 6 won’t have a curved display

Or maybe it won’t not have one. It’s hard to tell from reading

The headline of Kristin Dian Mariano’s post is emphatically assertive: “Analyst Debunks Curved Display On iPhone 6 Release Date”

Yet the post’s first sentence changes that completely: “Apple may not show off a curved display on iPhone 6 release date, according to an analyst.”

The analyst is Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, who is simply making the utterly common sense observation that Apple, like other companies, creates a whole bunch of ideas, tests many of them out, throws most of them out, and finally eventually comes up with improved or new products.

“I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Apple is investigating curved displays and any other component coming on to the scenes. That’s what Apple does. Apple tests things out internally to see if they make sense,” Greengart is quote in Mariano’s post. “That doesn’t mean, however, that just because Apple looked at something that they’re going to release it. They probably have watches, glasses, hover boards, and who knows what else just to see what it’s like.”

In short, he’s admitting “I have no idea whether they’re planning to have a curved display on iPhone 6.” In Mariano’s skilled hands this becomes “analyst debunks curved display on iPhone 6.”

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As the first device designed after Google’s acquisition of Motorola, the Moto X is a good combination of both companies’ services.

Moto X is the first completely new smartphone project that was launched after Google acquired Motorola Mobility. As such, it fully integrates the technology assets of both companies. It is a carefully designed, customizable mass-market consumer device with much embedded Google technology: speech recognition, contextual awareness, and personalized search. It’s available in 18 colors with 7 accent colors. The specifications are adequate for a high-end smartphone and meet or exceed most of the iPhone 5 specifications.

At the announcement in New York yesterday, Motorola Senior VP of Product Management Rick Osterloh introduced the Moto X with a personal demonstration. Rather than one big Apple or Samsung-like announcement with hundreds of people, Motorola held four personalized sessions for approximately 50 journalists at a time, allowing interactive questions.
Image Alt Text

Osterloh led with “Touchless Control.” Motorola adapted Google Now to utilize a proprietary always-on speech recognition function. It’s based on the Motorola X8 Computing System that combines a standard Qualcomm Snap Dragon S4 Pro dual-core CPU and quad-core GPU with two proprietary cores, one for natural language and the other for contextual computing.

The Moto X uses the natural language processor to monitor local sound sources at low power for the words “OK Google Now,” that when detected takes the smartphone out of a low-power state and turns the speech stream over to Google Now for recognition and a response through Google services, such as search and navigation. Osterloh said the Moto X is not listening to every word – it’s just listening for the signature of “OK Google Now” to awaken the smartphone. If Google Now’s speech recognition were constantly monitoring for this cue using ordinary hardware, the battery would quickly become drained.

The user can train the Moto X to recognize his or her voice. It’s not completely foolproof, as someone with a similar voice can prompt the Moto X to awaken. This was shown when an attendee at the event shouted “OK Google Now” and briefly took control of the device. The user can choose to add a password or PIN code to protect the device from unauthorized access, and a Bluetooth device, such as an in-car hands-free system, can be configured as a trusted command device, eliminating the need for password or code entry. Touchless Control was demonstrated to work at cocktail-party levels of ambient noise, and at a distance of up to eight or 10 feet.

Motorola’s researchers learned that the average person activates his or her smartphone 60 times a day, to check the time or respond to notifications. The Moto X uses the contextual processor to operate its “Active Display” to present time of day, missed calls, and notifications at low power without taking the smartphone out of sleep mode. Only a minimum number of pixels are illuminated, saving power by leaving the rest of the OLED display dark. The contextual processor recognizes if the smartphone is face down or in a pocket and does not illuminate the Active Display.

The 10-megapixel camera has three improvements. A twist of the wrist launches the camera without entering a password or PIN. The UI is simplified, moving most camera controls to a panel that can be exposed with a left-to-right swipe. This UI makes it possible to take a photo by touching any part of the screen, replacing the small blue icon that requires concentrated fine motor control to press. The camera is easier to focus and produces better images with an RGBC camera sensor that captures up to 75% more light when the picture is taken.

Most interesting is the user customization. The image at the beginning of this report gives one a sense of the many choices the consumer has to personalize the Moto X with a color scheme. The consumer can choose from two bezel colors, 18 back-plate covers, and seven accent colors, for a total of 252 unique combinations. The user can also add personalized text to the back of the Moto X, such as a name or email address that a good Samaritan might use to contact the owner if the smartphone is lost.

Motorola has created a web service called “Moto Maker” for consumers to use in visually sampling and choosing colors, accent colors and personalized text inscriptions. The suggested price is $199 with a carrier contract. Those interested in buying one can visit a carrier and purchase the Moto X at a contract price, where they will be given a voucher that includes a PIN number to enter into the Moto Maker web service to order the Moto X. Motorola said that it has organized its supply chain to assemble the Moto X in Fort Worth, Texas, with a four-day turnaround from order to shipping to customer. Consumers can also use Moto Maker to purchase directly from Motorola online.

Recognizing speech, understanding the meaning of speech and executing specific commands are priorities for Google. To this point, Google recently hired artificial intelligence expert Ray Kurzweil to lead engineering advances in speech technologies. Motorola may be pushing present-day speech technology to its limits. Moto X’s Touchless Control appears to have made at least an incremental improvement over Google Now and Apple Siri. Even if the incremental improvement in speech is not large, the combination of Touchless Control, Active Display, colorful customizability, and buying experience will drive consumer adoption. Google takes risks and innovates at a scale of many millions and billions. Whether the Moto X achieves Google scale remains to be seen.

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Time to eat crow about the Firefox OS, which I mocked when it was first announced.

here are a few Linux-based Phone operating systems out there working hard toward an eventual release – and, hopefully, some actual phone hardware that they’ll ship with. Sailfish, Tizen, Ubuntu Touch…they’re all looking to snag a piece of the smartphone pie.

But Firefox OS…that little beauty is actually shipping. Like right now. From actual phone carriers. Really-real (technical term) carriers.

Okay, sure. You need to live in Spain or Poland to buy one (either the “ZTE Open” from Telefonica or the “Alcatel One Touch Fire” from Deutsche Telekom). But still. Shipping! And they’re pretty doggone cheap too; the “Open” is running for roughly $89 USD, and the “One Touch” for about 30 cents).

RELATED: Ubuntu Touch: First look at the Linux smartphone OS

These aren’t developer units. There isn’t an image that can be flashed onto a pre-existing unlocked phone that originally shipped with a different OS. But a phone pre-loaded with Firefox OS. This is a pretty major milestone – one that the Firefox OS crew should be quite proud of.

And there are more releases on the way across a number of countries (including Germany, Brazil and Venezuela). No word on a U.S. release of a phone shipping with Mozilla’s little Linux-powered beauty, so those of you in Spain or Poland get out there and buy – that way it’s enough of a success to give us yanks across the pond (that’s a phrase, right?) a chance to buy one of these bad boys.

Truth be told: I’m impressed. When I first heard about FirefoxOS, I made fun of it. I mean, who needs another Open Source, 100% web-based phone Operating System? Didn’t we get enough of that with WebOS?

Jump forward to today and I really need to eat my shoe. The team has delivered a quality, gorgeous-looking phone experience. And its “app” ecosystem is already starting to gain serious momentum (thanks, in large part, to their usage of/dependence on HTML5/JS as the primary software development stack). The Firefox Marketplace is already up to 1,260 apps available.

Even if you consider only 1 percent of those apps to be of a good quality, that’s still a lot of apps for such a young platform.

Impressive. Damned impressive.

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Why the new ‘superphones’ really are super
The word ‘superphone’ is an old marketing and headline gimmick, but this year’s lineup of extreme phones has earned that moniker.

The word superphone has been used by marketers and journalists since the 1990s to convey the idea of a phone that far outshines the competition.

More than 10 years ago, for example, the Nokia 9210 was widely hailed as a superphone because it was more like a laptop than other phones. It was a clamshell device, opening up to reveal a keyboard and a color screen that were much bigger than those on other phones but much smaller than the ones on actual laptops.

Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone
With its 41-megapixel camera, the Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone falls into the category of “superphone,” says Mike Elgan.

Since the ’90s, the superphone label has been used by marketers trying to set their products apart from the competition and by journalists grasping for a colorful word to express their excitement about a new phone or a new feature.

In other words, the word superphone never really meant anything. It was a word without a clear definition. As a result, it hasn’t been taken up by the public.

The time has come for that to change. A new crop of phones really should be described as “superphones,” and I’ll tell you why.
A new definition for ‘superphone’

We have come to accept that phones have features and functions that are inferior to other devices. Their processors are weaker than PC processors. Their camera electronics are inferior to the technology in real cameras. And their usage models are based on the idea that people will use them to do limited, scaled-down versions of what is possible on other devices.

We love our phones because they’re mobile and multipurpose, not because they’re more powerful or do something better than anything else out there.

But it may be that our understanding of the term super, as applied to phones, is flawed and should change.

Supercomputers are super not because they are pretty good for room-size machines, but because they can do things only supercomputers can do — like predict future global weather patterns or beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy.

Superman is “super” not because his powers are pretty good for an alien, but because they exceed those of any human, alien or other superhero.

In order to qualify as a superphone, a smartphone should have key features that radically exceed not only those of other phones but also those of other consumer devices. It should be able to do things that even our PCs, laptops, digital cameras and other things can’t do.

Meet the new superphones

New superphones are being announced and coming on the market that do super things. They have fundamental abilities you can find only on these phones.
Super cameras

A new category of superphone has cameras capable of using more pixels than even high-end prosumer digital cameras.

Nokia this week announced its Lumia 1020 superphone, which is super because it has a 41-megapixel digital camera inside. (My high-end prosumer Canon EOS 7D camera has an 18-megapixel CCD.)

While the best use of all those megapixels will be for digital zoom and “oversampling,” which means removing digital noise by giving a 5-megapixel image multiple choices for each pixel, the phone will also be capable of taking 38-megapixel photos — far more than prosumer digital cameras can.

Other superphones in this category are Nokia’s older Symbian-powered PureView 808 (also 41 pixels) and the upcoming Sony Honami i1 (expected to have a 20-megapixel camera).
Super smarts

Describing Siri and Google Now as “artificial intelligence” is controversial, but I’ve heard leading AI experts do it.

The ability to understand what you say in everyday language and then talk back — plus the ability to learn, do things for you and make decisions about whether to interrupt you — are AI-like features that consumers can get only from a small number of phones.

For example, iOS phones like the Apple iPhone have hardware inside designed to optimize the use of Siri. This experience is not available on laptops or desktops or anywhere beyond the hardware-optimized iOS devices it runs on. That exclusivity makes the iPhone a superphone.

Likewise, the small number of phones specifically optimized at the hardware level for Google Now are also superphones, according to my definition. The Nexus 4, co-designed by Google and made by LG, probably fits into this category, and the upcoming Nexus 5 (rumored to become available in October) almost certainly will.

Google has teased but not announced the specifics of its upcoming Moto X phone. Some pundits have suggested that this phone may have hardware optimizations for Google Now as well, since Motorola is owned by Google.

By my definition, any phone hardware-optimized for artificial intelligence capability that’s unavailable on desktop computers is a real superphone.
Other super capabilities

The coming age of wearable computer products, like Google Glass devices and smartwatches, means smartphones will increasingly serve as the hubs of wireless personal area networks.

When smartphones are specifically hardware-optimized to boost the capabilities of wearable devices, they will become super, as long as those hub functions are unavailable on other devices.

These are just examples. I think we’re going to see a rise in the availability of superphones that will be not only better than other phones, but also better than any other device at fundamental tasks important to users.

The superphone label is finally meaningful, and it has become meaningful because we’re in the midst of a shift from a world in which phones do limited, stripped-down versions of what other devices can do to a new world where phones can do things no other consumer device can do.

And that’s going to be super cool.

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An IDG News Service investigation finds guns and knives are used in a quarter of all robberies of cellphones in San Francisco

On Feb. 27th in the middle of the afternoon, a 16-year-old girl was walking through San Francisco’s Mission district when she was ordered at gun point to hand over her cellphone. The robbery was one of 10 serious crimes in the city that day, and they all involved cellphones. Three were stolen at gun point, three at knife point and four through brute force.

Incidents of cellphone theft have been rising for several years and are fast becoming an epidemic. IDG News Service collected data on serious crimes in San Francisco from November to April and recorded 579 thefts of cellphones or tablets, accounting for 41 percent of all serious crime. On several days, like Feb. 27, the only serious crimes reported in the daily police log were cellphone thefts.

In just over half the incidents, victims were punched, kicked or otherwise physically intimidated for their phones, and in a quarter of robberies, users were threatened with guns or knives.

(An interactive map showing six months of cellphone and tablet thefts in San Francisco can be viewed here)

This isn’t just happing in tech-loving San Francisco, either. The picture is similar across the United States.

In Washington, D.C., cellphone thefts account for 40 percent of robberies, while in New York City they make up more than half of all street crime. There are no hard numbers on which phones are most popular, but those most in demand by thieves appear to be those most in demand by users: iPhones.

It’s easy to see why the thefts are so rampant. Criminals can quickly turn stolen phones into several hundred dollars in cash, and phone users are often easy targets as they walk down the street engrossed in the screen and oblivious to their surroundings.

It shouldn’t be this way. With built-in satellite positioning and reliance on a network connection, it should be easier to track them down. So why is theft still such a problem?

A big reason is that, until recently, there had been little to stop someone using a stolen cellphone. Carriers quickly suspend phone lines to avoid thieves running up high charges, but the handset itself could be resold and reused. It’s made easier by modern smartphones that accept SIM cards, which were introduced to allow legitimate users to switch phones easily.

Reacting to pressure from law enforcement and regulators, the U.S.’s largest cellphone carriers agreed early last year to establish a database of stolen cellphones. The database blocks the IMEI (international mobile equipment identity) number, a unique ID in the cellphone akin to a car’s VIN (vehicle identification number). The number is transmitted to the cellular network when the phone connects and remains with the phone no matter what SIM card is inserted.

In theory, once added to the list, a phone cannot be activated on any U.S. carrier network. But the system is not perfect. For it to work, phone users must notify their carrier of the theft and in some cases provide the IMEI themselves. There are also limitations to its scope.

“The blacklist is good, but one of the easiest things we can do to make it more effective is more worldwide data sharing,” said Kevin Mahaffey, CTO of mobile security company Lookout. “There is some sharing in different parts of the world, but not all operators share their lists.”

In the U.S., that’s beginning to happen, said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at the CTIA. AT&T and T-Mobile, which share a common network technology, have a common database and all U.S. carriers plan to have a single database up and running by November that covers phones based on the new LTE cellular technology.

U.S. carriers have also begun supplying information to an international database that covers 43 countries, and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been talking to Canada, Mexico and some South American countries about getting on board, said Guttman-McCabe.

So now, the main push is to educate users about the existence of the block list and get them to secure their phones with a password, screen lock and software that can remotely track or wipe a stolen handset. Smartphone makers committed to include this information with new handsets sold from the beginning of this year.

Even if universal, a global blocklist still would have shortcomings. While technically difficult, it’s possible in some phones to rewrite the IMEI number, providing them with a new identity and bypassing the network lockout.

In an attempt to combat this, Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, introduced a bill into the U.S. Congress last year (S.3186) that sought a five-year jail sentence for anyone who rewrites an IMEI number. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee but died when the congressional session came to a close.

“To me, while well-intended, that’s not necessarily where the solution is,” said George GascA3n, San Francisco’s district attorney, in an interview. “We already have way too many people in prison, we have enough laws on the books, and the last thing we want to do is continue to take young people and put them in prison for long periods of time.”

“What we need to do is remove the marketability of these items,” he said.

GascA3n, who has become one of the most outspoken members of the law enforcement community on the issue, is proposing the electronic equivalent of a self-destruct command.

“What we need is a technical solution, we need a kill switch that when a phone gets reported stolen the manufacturer or the carrier or a combination of both are going to render that phone inoperable anywhere,” he said.

To work, it would have to rewrite the phone’s basic software so the device becomes completely useless and cannot be restored, even if it was later recovered.

GascA3n says his message has not been received well by the carriers.

“I started last year by meeting with one of the carriers,” he said. “They seemed to be genuinely concerned and wanted to set up a follow-up meeting.”

The second meeting, between GascA3n, representatives of the four major carriers, and the CTIA, a Washington-based lobbying group for the telecommunications industry, didn’t get far.

“It became very clear to me from the beginning, as the lobbying group took the lead on this, that they felt they had done all they were going to do,” he said.

The CTIA disagrees with his assertion.

“I really think it’s important for people to know that we recognize this is important for law enforcement,” said Guttman-McCabe. But he doesn’t support the idea of an electronic kill switch.

“Think of all the times people lose their phone and then find it, and imagine how consumer-unfriendly it would be if the carrier hit a kill switch,” he said. “All of a sudden, you have a high-end smartphone that’s useless and you have to buy an unsubsidized phone.”

For now, the CTIA is sticking to its stolen phone database plan and isn’t looking at other possible solutions.

The kill switch wanted by GascA3n would probably not be perfect, but it could help, said Lookout’s Mahaffey.

“It would be very difficult to build anything that is impossible to take off a device,” he said. “You can make it so difficult that all but the most sophisticated thieves can get around it. As we’ve seen with jailbreaking, no matter how much effort Apple put in, there will always be a way around it.”

For now, the best thing phone users can do is try to avoid having their phones snatched in the first place.

“If you need to talk on your phone, we ask that you just step to the side of a building, put your back against the building, make your phone call or make your text, but then also be aware of what’s going on around you. That makes a huge difference,” said Officer Dennis Toomer of the San Francisco Police Department. He said most thefts occur because people are texting or talking on phones while walking and not paying attention to their surroundings.

“Day or night, you should always be aware of what’s going on around you,” he said.

In Washington, D.C., a series of crime-prevention posters show photographs of people using cellphones in public. In the pictures, the cellphones are overlayed with an image of a hundred-dollar bill and the tag line “This is how thieves see you on the street.”

Phone users are also encouraged to install tracking software in their handsets. Apple has the Find My iPhone feature, and a number of applications exist for other phones that allow users to remotely track a phone’s position and delete data stored on the device. They require the phone to be switched on and connected to a network, but often thieves don’t immediately switch off stolen phones.

If a phone is promptly reported stolen, police can sometimes locate the device and the thieves using such applications.

“As with any security, there is no silver bullet, there’s no one thing you can do,” said Mahaffey. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, we should continue to find better ways to solve these problems.”

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Call them the epic fails of technology. In 2013, a few technologies will fade into an abyss, swirling around and clinging for a last gasp of air before eventually dying. For IT executives looking to make contingency plans and approve budgets, these are the technologies to avoid.

Top network and IT industry stories of 2012

1. Legacy Applications
Report: Gartner Says SaaS Now Replacing, Extending Legacy Apps

That means not having to run-or maintain-legacy apps in a data center. While you might still depend on legacy apps, you won’t run them the same way or manage them in your own data centers.

2. Mobile Applications
The brightest thinkers in technology have predicted the demise of apps for some time. Doug Pepper with InterWest Partners, venture capital firm, says apps will transform into intelligent agents that know about our preferences, location-even the time of day and our schedule.

Analysis: Mobile App Standoff: Web App vs. Native App

We won’t need a weather app anymore, or even a widget. Instead, the phone will customize the home screen to feed only the data we need based on our own customizations. That means not having to manage hundreds of apps.

3. Traditional Desktops
This is an interesting paradigm shift that might require some adjustment in our thinking. Today, your desktop is the place you store apps and picture of your kids. Over the past few years, though, thin-computing devices such as the Google Chromebox have shown how old-fashioned a desktop is. (The Chromebox has only a browser. There is no desktop.)

News: Windows 8 Brings Zero ‘Pop’ to Consumer PC Sales

ScienceLogic’s Piriano says the desktop will die in 2013 as more companies move to a virtual desktop in the cloud-benefiting from centralized control in the process.

4. BlackBerry Smartphones
Predications of the impending doom of the BlackBerry smartphone have swirled for more than a year. Constant delays in new operating system upgrades, misfires with tablets and new form-factors (anyone like a touchscreen phone with a thumbpad?) and management turnover are only part of the problem.

Analysis: New BlackBerry 10 Devices Impress, But Can They Save RIM?

The real issue: Employees want a consumer phone they can use at work. We’re connected 24×7 now, so having a dedicate business phone that won’t play Angry Birds doesn’t make sense any more.

5. Windows Phones
Android and the iPhone have won, and in 2013, Microsoft will finally decide to give up on the Windows phone. As much as the platform matches up with Windows 8 and the Surface tablets, consumer interest is not nearly as fanatical. Analyst firm IDC expects Windows Phone to land an 11 percent market share by 2016, while Ovum suggests a 13 percent share by 2017, but there’s little sign that Android and iPhone users are ready to switch.

Blog: Windows Phone to Pass BlackBerry, but Does It Matter?

Of the 40 people I met at a recent tech conference, a few had an Android, the rest had an iPhone, and not one person had a Windows phone. If early adopters skip the platform, who will stick around?

6. Private Branch Exchange (PBX) Systems
The desktop phone in your cubicle might be on its last leg. Adam Hartung with consultancy Spark Partners says the big technology fail of 2013 will be the traditional corporate PBX system-those desk phones that tie into a corporate data center.

Case Study: Implementing VoIP: Lessons Learned Killing PBX

The problem is that escalating costs and maintenance fees look less and less attractive to companies, especially when employees have started bringing their own gadgets to work and using them exclusively. “Employees are happy to bring their own phone,” Hartung says. “Companies only need to know how to collect and manage the connections.”

7. Fax Machines
The fax machine will finally sputter out and die next year, says Keval Desai, a partner at InterWest Partners. We all know faxing is a sign of another age when our data flowed over standard phone lines. New services such as Adobe EchoSign offer a way for lawyers, insurance agents and your real estate agent to obtain a verifiable digital signature and transmit legal contracts with full authentication.

Related: Fax Machine Among Obsolete Technology to Kill-in 2010


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The ubiquitous productivity suite must get stronger in tablets and smartphones, and embrace the BYOD trend

IDG News Service – Office has been a wildly successful product for Microsoft, but its continued dominance is far from assured as software moves to the cloud and employees bring their own tablets and smartphones into work.

On Monday, when Microsoft is expected to unwrap the next version of Office at a press event headlined by CEO Steve Ballmer, it will become clearer whether the company is propelling the suite forward for continued success or setting it up for failure.

The impact of the latter on Microsoft as a whole would be catastrophic, since the ubiquitous suite of productivity applications is one the biggest profit engines for the company.

To beat back competitors like Google Apps, Office must evolve into an easier to use, tablet- and smartphone-friendly product, and one that doesn’t penalize customers who access it via the cloud with big feature gaps and complicated setups.

Specifically, Microsoft must overcome its reticence to make an Office version for iPads and Android tablets. And it must beef up Office 365, its year-old cloud suite that includes online versions of Office, Lync, SharePoint and Exchange.

These aren’t easy moves for Microsoft, in part because they risk affecting the sales and margins of what has been a cash cow product.

However, Microsoft has indicated that it intends to be bold with this new version of the suite, which will be called Office 2013, according to people familiar with the plans.

When it announced a limited “Technology Preview” of the new version in January, under the code-name Office 15, Microsoft said the upgrade would evolve not only the suite’s productivity applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but also Office 365 and the on-premise versions of collaboration and communications products like Exchange, Lync and SharePoint. The refresh would extend not only to PC interfaces, but also to tablets and smartphones.

Above all, Microsoft must emphasize ease of use and avoid the shock many long-time users got when Office 2010 came out and they found that the placement of menus and commands had been significantly altered.

“In the last version of Office, Microsoft swapped the gas pedal and the break pedal,” said analyst Rebecca Wettemann of Nucleus Research.

It now has an opportunity to organize the suite’s myriad functions in the user interface in a way that is friendlier to users.

“For a long time, with each new version, Microsoft has focused on giving Office a gazillion new features, which helps with completeness but not usability,” said Guy Creese, a Gartner analyst.

“Microsoft doesn’t need to remove features, nor dumb down the product — just don’t assault users with all these features as it has historically done,” he said.

Also critical and long overdue is a version of Office for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.

In particular, an Office version for the iPad can’t wait, because the tablet has become a workplace tool for many people who bought it initially for personal use and ended up bringing it to the office as well. “Microsoft needs to do this,” said industry analyst Michael Osterman, from Osterman Research.

Osterman said he wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft continued to balk at porting Office to iOS, especially now that it plans to release its own tablet, called Surface, which will run its new Windows 8 operating system with its new Metro interface designed for touch devices like tablets. However, this would be a costly mistake, he said.

The “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend is sweeping enterprises, and end users are clamoring for the ability to use products like Office and SharePoint from their mobile device of choice, Creese said.

“If Microsoft pooh-poohs that reality and says it’ll only put Office on Windows 8 tablets, that means they just don’t get it,” Creese said.

How Microsoft optimizes its applications for the various mobile devices is a tall order that will involve re-thinking their purpose and use in smartphones, touch-only tablets and hybrid devices that have both touch screens and mice/keyboards.

It might mean offering some applications via mobile browsers that support HTML5, while delivering others as platform-specific apps.

“The form factor influences what you can and expect to do with the applications,” said Philipp Karcher, a Forrester Research analyst.

Microsoft needs to be careful in this process, because a half-baked offer could harm the Office brand and fail to live up to the expectations people have for the suite, he said.

And Microsoft needs to figure that out quickly, because users want the option to employ the applications on a variety of devices today, Creese said.

“The ‘Windows first’ days, especially in mobile devices, are absolutely over,” he said. “Microsoft may wish it otherwise, but that’s not how people are working.”

Karcher concurs. “There’s no question that mobile devices are exploding in adoption and people want to see what is Microsoft’s story for getting Office on those devices,” he said.

Another priority should be to beef up the features in Office 365, so users don’t feel that to take advantage of the cloud model they have to compromise on functionality.

Full parity between the on-premise versions of Office, Lync, SharePoint and Exchange and their online counterparts may not be possible, but there is an opportunity to narrow the functionality gap that exists today, Osterman said.

“Microsoft should align both more closely,” he said.

The company can also do more to simplify life for IT administrators who have to manage users on both Office 365 and the on-premise versions of its components, Karcher said.

“I’m sure Microsoft will make the management of that deployment easier for IT,” he said.

Ultimately, the question will be whether Office 2013 offers consumers and enterprises enough compelling reasons to expend the effort and money on upgrading.

“If they don’t get this right and people skip this new version of Office, that’s going to mean a lot of lost revenue for Microsoft,” Osterman said.

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