Lenovo’s Rollable Laptop and Smartphone Are a Compelling, Unfinished Pitch For the Future

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Lenovo demoed a laptop and smartphone with rollable screens that “can gradually expand to offer more screen real-estate, rather than needing to be completely unfolded like books,” writes Jon Porter from The Verge. These are early proof of concept devices that don’t have any public release dates as of yet. From the report: Before we get into the concept laptop’s signature feature, it’s worth pointing out just how unassuming the device looks before its screen unrolls. Lenovo had the device sitting alongside its other laptops in a conference suite, and not a single one of the dozen-or-so journalists in attendance clocked that it was anything other than a standard ThinkPad. In its unextended form, it’s got a regular looking 12.7-inch display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That all changes with a flip of a small switch on the right of the chassis, at which point you can hear some motors whirring and the screen extends upwards. That switch causes a couple of motors in the laptop to spring into action, pulling the screen out from underneath the laptop’s keyboard to hoist it up more or less vertically in front of you. It’s an admittedly slow process on this concept device (from our footage it seems to take a little over ten seconds to fully extend) but eventually you’re left with an almost square 15.3-inch display with an 8:9 aspect ratio. The device brings to mind LG’s fancy (and eye-wateringly expensive) rollable TV that’s designed to roll away when you’re not using it. Only in Lenovo’s case the screen is rolling down into the laptop’s keyboard rather than a small box, and it also can’t roll away entirely. Once fully extended, Lenovo’s laptop screen has a small crease where its screen originally bent underneath the keyboard. But again — it’s a prototype.

Lenovo’s other rollable device it’s demoing at MWC is a Motorola smartphone. We’ve seen numerous companies including Samsung Display, Oppo, TCL, and even LG (RIP) show off rollable concept devices in various stages of development over the years, but we’re yet to see the technology break through in a consumer device. Like a foldable, the idea is that a rollable smartphone can be small when you need it to be portable, and big when you need more screen to get the job at hand done. Lenovo’s phone — which it’s calling the Motorola rollable smartphone concept — is all about taking a small square of a display and making it longer. It’s almost like a foldable flip phone, but without a secondary cover display because it’s the same screen the entire time. When all neatly rolled up, Lenovo’s Motorola rollable offers a 5-inch display with a 15:9 aspect ratio. Then, with a small double tap of a side button, the screen unfurls to give you a remarkably tall 6.5-inch display with a 22:9 aspect ratio. […] “In 2019, it seemed like foldable phones were about to become the next big thing in the world of smartphones,” writes Porter, in closing. “But four years later, it feels like we’re still waiting for this future to become a mainstream reality. Lenovo would be the first to admit that its rollable concept devices are far from ready for prime time, but they offer a compelling argument for an alternative, rollable future.”

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Q4 2022 Was a Disaster For Smartphone Sales, Sees the Largest-Ever Drop

The International Data Corporation has the latest numbers for worldwide smartphone sales in Q4 2022, and it’s a disaster. Shipments declined 18.3 percent year-over-year, making for the largest-ever decline in a single quarter and dragging the year down to an 11.3 percent decline. With overall shipments of 1.21 billion phones for the year, the IDC says this is the lowest annual shipment total since 2013. Ars Technica reports: In the top five for Q4 2022 — in order, they were Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo — Apple was, of course, the least affected, but not by much. Apple saw a year-over-year drop of 14.9 percent for Q4 2022, Samsung was down 15.6 percent, and the big loser, Xiaomi, dropped 26.5 percent. For the year, Samsung still took the No. 1 spot with 21.6 percent market share, Apple was No. 2 with 18.8 percent, and Xiaomi took third place at 12.7 percent.

The IDC also notes consumers are keeping smartphones longer than ever now, with “refresh rates” or the time that passes before people buy a new phone ‘climb[ing] past 40 months in most major markets.’ The report closes saying: “2023 is set up to be a year of caution as vendors will rethink their portfolio of devices while channels will think twice before taking on excess inventory. However, on a positive note, consumers may find even more generous trade-in offers and promotions continuing well into 2023 as the market will think of new methods to drive upgrades and sell more devices, specifically high-end models.”

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Do Screens Before Bedtime Actually Improve Your Sleep?

Having trouble falling asleep, a writer for Vulture pondered a study from February in the Journal of Sleep Research that “runs refreshingly counter to common sleep-and-screens wisdom.”

For years, science and conventional wisdom have stated unequivocally that looking at a device — like a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or television — before bed is akin to lighting years of your natural life on fire, then letting the flames consume your children, your community, and the very concept of human progress….

Specifically interested in the use of “entertainment media” (streaming services, video games, podcasts) before bed, [the new February study’s] researchers asked a group of 58 adults to keep a sleep diary and found that, if participants consumed entertainment media in the hour before bed, the habit was associated with an earlier bedtime as well as more sleep overall (though the benefits diminished if participants binged for longer than an hour or multitasked on their phones). Essentially, these researchers explored screen use before bed as a form of relaxation rather than a form of self-harm, which is exactly how I and probably 5 billion other people use it — as a way of distracting our minds from the onslaught of material reality just before we drift off to temporary oblivion.

Vulture’s writer interviews Dr. Morgan Ellithorpe, one of the authors of the Journal of Sleep Research study and an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Delaware who specializes in media psychology.

Dr. Ellithorpe is a proponent of intentional media use as a way to relieve stress, but she tells me that, in her research, she’s found that the worst types of media to absorb before bed are those that have no “stopping point” — Instagram, TikTok, shows designed to be binge-watched. If you intend to binge a show, that might be fine: “Making a plan and sticking to it seems to matter,” she says. We agree that humans are famously bad at that, and that’s where the problems begin. The solution, Dr. Ellithorpe says, is figuring out why we’re on our screens and if that reason is “meaningful.” Are we turning to a screen in order to recover from an eventful day? Because we want something to talk about with our friends? Because we’re seeking, as she puts it, a moment of “hedonic enjoyment”? The key is that you must be able to recognize when that need is fulfilled. Then “you’re likely to have a good experience, and you won’t need to force yourself to stop. But it takes practice.”

Dr. Ellithorpe cites several studies for me to review — on gratification, mood-management theory, selective exposure, and self-determination theory — all of which, to various extents, grapple with the notion that human beings can make decisions to use media for purposeful things. “There’s this push now to realize that people aren’t a monolith, and media uses that seem bad for some people can actually be really good for other people.” Although many researchers like Dr. Ellithorpe and her cohort are onboard with this push, she admits that “the movement has not filtered out to the public yet. So the public is still on this kick of ‘Oh, media’s bad.'”

And that’s a huge part of the issue. “We sabotage ourselves when it comes to benefiting from media because we’ve been taught in our society to feel guilty for spending leisure time with media,” Dr. Ellithorpe says. “The research in this area suggests that people who want to use media to recover from stress, if they then feel bad about doing so, they don’t actually get the benefit from the media use.”

But even Dr. Ellithorpe is prone to unintentional sleep moralizing, saying she is often “bad” and “on her phone two seconds before I turn off the light.” She recommends watching a “low-challenge show” before bed and, like Dr. Kennedy, cites Stranger Things specifically as a dangerous pre-bed content choice because “you have to keep track of all the characters, remember what happened three seasons ago, and it’s emotionally charged. It might be difficult afterward to come down from that and go to bed.” In the end, she suggests watching whatever you want as long as it doesn’t delay your bedtime.

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Visitors of Qatar World Cup Need To Install Spyware On Their Phone

“Everyone visiting Qatar for the World Cup needs to install spyware on their phone,” writes security researcher Bruce Schneier. His comments are in response to an article from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), reporting: Everyone traveling to Qatar during the football World Cup will be asked to download two apps called Ehteraz and Hayya. Briefly, Ehteraz is an covid-19 tracking app, while Hayya is an official World Cup app used to keep track of match tickets and to access the free Metro in Qatar. In particular, the covid-19 app Ehteraz asks for access to several rights on your mobile., like access to read, delete or change all content on the phone, as well as access to connect to WiFi and Bluetooth, override other apps and prevent the phone from switching off to sleep mode.

The Ehteraz app, which everyone over 18 coming to Qatar must download, also gets a number of other accesses such as an overview of your exact location, the ability to make direct calls via your phone and the ability to disable your screen lock. The Hayya app does not ask for as much, but also has a number of critical aspects. Among other things, the app asks for access to share your personal information with almost no restrictions. In addition, the Hayya app provides access to determine the phone’s exact location, prevent the device from going into sleep mode, and view the phone’s network connections. It remains to be seen whether Qatar will strictly enforce the installation of these apps. “I know people who visited Saudi Arabia when that country had a similarly sketchy app requirement,” says Schneier. “Some of them just didn’t bother downloading the apps, and were never asked about it at the border.”

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A Text Alert May Have Saved California From Power Blackouts

A timely mobile alert may have prevented hundreds of thousands of Californians from being plunged into darkness in the middle of a heat wave Tuesday night. Bloomberg reports: Just before 5:30 p.m. local time, California’s grid operator ordered its highest level of emergency, warning that blackouts were imminent. Then, at 5:48 p.m., the state’s Office of Emergency Services sent out a text alert to people in targeted counties, asking them to conserve power if they could. Within five minutes the grid emergency was all but over. Power demand plunged by 1.2 gigawatts between 5:50 and 5:55 p.m., and would continue to drop in the hours after that, according to data from the California Independent System Operator. A gigawatt is enough to power about 750,000 Californian homes.

But while the state’s grid operator said California had avoided rolling blackouts Tuesday, some cities apparently didn’t get the message. Officials in three San Francisco Bay area cities — Alameda, Healdsburg and Palo Alto — reported on social media that power shutdowns were underway that evening, which also could have contributed to the sharp decline in demand. By 8 p.m., the grid operator canceled the highest level of emergency without calling for power cuts. More than 500,000 homes and businesses had been warned earlier in the day that they might lose service.

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EU Wants Smartphones, Tablets To Be Repairable For At Least 5 Years

The European Commission is advocating new rules for mobile phone and tablet repairability. PC Magazine reports: Draft proposals published this week would require manufacturers to make at least 15 components available to professional repairers for up to five years after releasing a new phone in the European Union (EU). That means customers would get guaranteed access to replacement batteries, back covers, front- and rear-facing cameras, audio connectors, charging ports, microphones and speakers, SIM and memory card trays, and more.

“The steep increase in the demand for smartphones and tablets, combined [with] their increased functionality, has resulted in increased demand for energy and materials needed to manufacture these devices on the EU market, accompanied by an increase in their associated environmental impacts,” Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen wrote in the proposal. “In addition, devices are often replaced prematurely by users and are, at the end of their useful life, not sufficiently reused or recycled, leading to a waste of resources.”

If adopted, the initiative would also usher in a new energy label for phones and tablets — similar to the ones already in place across Europe for TVs and large household items. The labels would indicate an expected battery life, and include details on water and dust protection, and rate the device’s resistance to drops and scratches. Those manufacturers, meanwhile, that can’t (or won’t) supply batteries for five years must instead meet a set of battery endurance tests that certify devices achieve 80% of a rated capacity after 1,000 full-charge cycles. They’ll also need to ensure software updates never negatively impact battery life.

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Erik Prince Wants To Sell You a ‘Secure’ Smartphone That’s Too Good To Be True

MIT Technology Review obtained Prince’s investor presentation for the “RedPill Phone,” which promises more than it could possibly deliver. From the report: Erik Prince’s pitch to investors was simple — but certainly ambitious: pay just 5 million euros and cure the biggest cybersecurity and privacy plagues of our day. The American billionaire — best known for founding the notorious private military firm Blackwater, which became globally infamous for killing Iraqi civilians and threatening US government investigators — was pushing Unplugged, a smartphone startup promising “free speech, privacy, and security” untethered from dominant tech giants like Apple and Google. In June, Prince publicly revealed the new phone, priced at $850. But before that, beginning in 2021, he was privately hawking the device to investors — using a previously unreported pitch deck that has been obtained by MIT Technology Review. It boldly claims that the phone and its operating system are “impenetrable” to surveillance, interception, and tampering, and its messenger service is marketed as “impossible to intercept or decrypt.”

Boasting falsely that Unplugged has built “the first operating system free of big tech monetization and analytics,” Prince bragged that the device is protected by “government-grade encryption.” Better yet, the pitch added, Unplugged is to be hosted on a global array of server farms so that it “can never be taken offline.” One option is said to be a server farm “on a vessel” located in an “undisclosed location on international waters, connected via satellite to Elon Musk’s StarLink.” An Unplugged spokesperson explained that “they benefit in having servers not be subject to any governmental law.” The Unplugged investor pitch deck is a messy mix of these impossible claims, meaningless buzzwords, and outright fiction. While none of the experts I spoke with had yet been able to test the phone or read its code, because the company hasn’t provided access, the evidence available suggests Unplugged will fall wildly short of what’s promised.

[…] The UP Phone’s operating system, called LibertOS, is a proprietary version of Google’s Android, according to an Unplugged spokesperson. It’s running on an unclear mix of hardware that a company spokesperson says they’ve designed on their own. Even just maintaining a unique Android “fork” — a version of the operating system that departs from the original, like a fork in the road — is a difficult endeavor that can cost massive money and resources, experts warn. For a small startup, that can be an insurmountable challenge. […] Another key issue is life span. Apple’s iPhones are considered the most secure consumer device on the market due in part to the fact that the company offers security updates to some of its older phones for six years, longer than virtually all competitors. When support for a phone ends, security vulnerabilities go unaddressed, and the phone is no longer secure. There is no information available on how long UP Phones will receive security support. “There are two things happening here,” says Allan Liska, a cyberintelligence analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future. “There are the actual attempts to make real secure phones, and then there is the marketing BS. Distinguishing between those two can be really hard.”

“When I worked in US intelligence, we [penetrated] a number of phone companies overseas,” says Liska. “We were inside those phone companies. We could easily track people based on where they connected to the towers. So when you talk about being impenetrable, that’s wrong. This is a phone, and the way that phones work is they triangulate to cell towers, and there is always latitude and longitude for exactly where you’re sitting,” he adds. “Nothing you do to the phone is going to change that.”

The UP Phone is due out in November 2022.

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Are Lock Screens About to Change?

“The lock screen is about to change,” writes CNET — both for iOS and Android devices.

Apple’s iOS 16 update, which launched in public beta on Monday, will bring more customization options and new widgets to the iPhone’s lock screen when it arrives this fall. You’ll be able to see more information quickly and apply stylistic effects to lock screen photos similar to the iPhone’s Portrait Mode photography feature…. Like the Apple Watch, the new lock screen should make it easier to see crucial pieces of information without having to dig into apps or even unlock your phone.

And for Android phones:
Glance, a Google-backed subsidiary of mobile ad tech company InMobi, also reiterated its plans to bring its lock screen platform to the U.S. [though the company also says there’s “no definitive timeline.”] And Google is reportedly planning to incorporate more bits of information into its own lock screen widget for Pixel phones…. Glance’s lock screen will appear in the form of what it calls “spaces,” which are essentially curated lock screens designed to fit specific themes. A fitness-oriented lock screen, for example, would show statistics such as calories burned and exercise goals alongside a music player. A news “space” would show headlines and the weather, while a music version could surface live concerts….

The TechCrunch report about Glance’s US arrival sparked concerns that advertisements would be coming to the lock screen, too. Glance’s business page shows examples of advertisers that have used its platform to reach potential customers on the very first screen they see when picking up their phone. Intel, Zomato and Garnier are among the listed case studies. But Rohan Choudhary, vice president and general manager of the Glance feed, told CNET the US version would be ad-free. “We are very clear that in the US, we will not have ads on the lock screen at all,” he said….
The company says it plans to monetize its service through news subscriptions and commerce links from shopping platforms that are surfaced through Glance.
Glance’s motto? “Transforming lock screens into smart surfaces.”

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Samsung To Provide Smartphone Parts, Tools, and Repair Guides Starting This Summer

Starting this summer, Samsung says it will sell genuine parts and tools to customers needed to repair its Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S21 smartphones, along with its Galaxy Tab S7+ tablet. Fast Company reports: The company, which is partnering with device repair resource iFixit on the initiative, will also provide access to step-by-step repair guides, and it plans to support more devices and repairs over time. The program is similar to one that Apple announced last fall, allowing users to repair the display, battery, and camera on their iPhones. Samsung says it’s launching the program to “promote a circular economy and minimize e-waste,” though it’s just as likely responding to regulatory pressure. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said it would crack down on illegal repair restrictions, and iFixit expects dozens of states to introduce right-to-repair laws this year. […]

But while phone makers may now feel compelled to supply repair parts and guides to consumers, that doesn’t mean the repairs themselves will be any easier. According to iFixit’s Galaxy S21 teardown, some repairs involve work that’s “unnecessarily sticky and complicated,” requiring a heat gun to pry open the display panel and an isopropyl alcohol bath to loosen the “tar pit” around the battery. At least customers brave enough to make those repairs won’t have any trouble getting the parts and tools they need.

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