Report: ‘Matter’ Standard Has ‘Undeniable Momentum’

The Verge reports “undeniable momentum” for Matter, the royalty-free interoperability standard that “allows smart home devices from any manufacturer to talk to other devices directly and locally with no need to use the cloud.”

“Matter was the buzzword throughout CES 2023 this year, with most companies even remotely connected to the smart home loudly discussing their Matter plans.”

The new smart home standard was featured in several keynotes and displayed prominently in smart home device makers’ booths as well as in Google, Amazon, and Samsung’s big, showy displays. More importantly, dozens of companies and manufacturers announced specific plans. Several companies said they would update entire product lines, while others announced new ones, sometimes with actual dates and prices. And Matter controllers have become a major thing, with at least four brand-new ones debuting at CES. Interestingly, nearly all of them have a dual or triple function, helping banish the specter of seemingly pointless white hubs stuck in your router closet….

Matter works over the protocols Thread, Wi-Fi, and ethernet and has been jointly developed by Apple, Google, Samsung, Amazon, and pretty much every other smart home brand you can name, big or small. If a device supports Matter, it will work locally with Amazon Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, Apple Home, Google Home, and any other smart home platform that supports Matter. It will also be controllable by any of the four voice assistants….

The big four have turned on Matter support on their platforms, but Amazon’s approach has been piecemeal, and aside from Apple, nobody supports onboarding devices to Matter on iOS yet.

However, that is shifting: at CES, Amazon announced a full rollout by spring, and Samsung’s Jaeyeon Jung told The Verge that Matter support is coming to its iOS app this month. There’s still no news on Matter support in Google Home’s iOS app. Then there’s the whole competing Thread network issue, although that sounds like it will be resolved sooner rather than later….

The Matter device drought should be over soon — although, judging by most of these ship dates, not until at least the second half of 2023.
“It’s also likely we’ll see dedicated bridges coming out that can bring Z-Wave and other products with proprietary protocols into Matter….”

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Asus Brings Glasses-Free 3D To OLED Laptops

During the CES 2023 in Las Vegas today, Asus announced an upcoming feature that allows users to view and work with content in 3D without wearing 3D glasses. Ars Technica reports: Similar technology has been used in a small number of laptops and displays before, but Asus is incorporating the feature for the first time in OLED laptop screens. Combined with high refresh rates, unique input methods like an integrated dial, and the latest CPUs and laptop GPUs, the company is touting the laptops with the Asus Spatial Vision feature as powerful, niche options for creative professionals looking for new ways to work.

Asus’ Spatial Vision 3D tech is debuting on two laptops in Q2 this year: the ProArt Studiobook 16 3D OLED (H7604) and Vivobook Pro 16 3D OLED (K6604). The laptops each feature a 16-inch, 3200×2000 OLED panel with a 120 Hz refresh rate. The OLED panel is topped with a layer of optical resin, a glass panel, and a lenticular lens layer. The lenticular lens works with a pair of eye-tracking cameras to render real-time images for each eye that adjust with your physical movements. In a press briefing, an Asus spokesperson said that because the OLED screens claim a low gray-to-gray response time of 0.2 ms, as well as the extremely high contrast that comes with OLED, there’s no crosstalk between the left and right eye’s image, ensuring more realistic looking content. However, Asus’ product pages for the laptops acknowledge that experiences may vary, and some may still suffer from “dizziness or crosstalk due to other reasons, and this varies according to the individual.” Asus said it’s looking to offer demos to users, which would be worth trying out before committing to this unique feature.

On top of the lenticular lens is a 2D/3D liquid crystal switching layer, which is topped with a glass front panel with an anti-reflective coating. According to Asus, it’ll be easy to switch from 2D mode to 3D and back again. When the laptops aren’t in 3D mode, their display will appear as a highly specced OLED screen, Asus claimed. The laptops can apply a 3D effect to any game, movie, or content that supports 3D. However, content not designed for 3D display may appear more “stuttery,” per a demo The Verge saw. The laptops are primarily for workers working with and creating 3D models and content, such as designers and architects. The two laptops will ship with Spatial Vision Hub software. It includes a Model Viewer, Player for movies and videos, Photo Viewer for transforming side-by-side photos shot with a 180-degree camera into one stereoscopic 3D image, and Connector, a plug-in that Asus’ product page says is compatible with “various apps and tools, so you can easily view any project in 3D.”

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Lenovo Announces Consumer AR Glasses That Can Tether To iPhones

Lenovo is finally selling AR glasses for consumers with the recently-announced Lenovo Glasses T1, which Ars Technica’s Scharon Harding got to demo. Here’s an excerpt from her report: With their Micro OLED displays and required tether to Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS devices, they bring some notable features to a space that has piqued industry-wide interest but is still likely far from becoming ubiquitous. The early version of the T1 I tried had limited features; I was mostly only able to view a homepage with basic menu options and a desktop with icons for apps, like web browsing. Although the glasses weren’t ready for me to watch a movie or hop around apps, I was impressed at how clear text and menu items were. This was in a sunny room with exceedingly tall windows. Even when facing sunlight, the few colors on display seemed vibrant and the text legible.

Lenovo specs the displays with 10,000:1 contrast and 1920×1080 pixels per eye. The glasses are also TUV-certified for low blue light and flicker reduction, according to Lenovo. Much more time is needed to explore and challenge the Micro OLED displays before I pass final judgment. But the combination of smaller pixels and, from what I saw thus far, strong colors, should accommodate screens so close to the eyes. More broadly speaking, brightness can be a concern with OLED technologies, but the small demo I saw fared well in a sun-flushed room.

I used the Glasses T1 while it was connected to an Android smartphone via its USB-C cable, but it’s also supposed to work with PCs, macOS devices, and, via an adapter sold separately, iPhones. […] With no processor or battery, it’s easier for the glasses to stay trim. There are also no sensors or cameras like the Lenovo ThinkReality A3, announced last year, has. Other T1 features include a pair of speakers (one near each temple) and the ability to add prescription lenses. […] The Glasses T1 are expected to be available in select markets in 2023 after debuting in China (as the Lenovo Yoga Glasses) this year. Lenovo didn’t set a price, but I was told it’s hoping to keep the glasses under $500.

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iFixit On Right To Repair’s Remaining Obstacles, Hope

iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens sat down with Ars Technica to discuss the fight for the right to repair. Here’s an excerpt from their report: Tech repairs got complicated in 1998 when Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [PDF]. Section 1201 of the copyright law essentially made it illegal to distribute tools for, or to break encryption on, manufactured products. Created with DVD piracy in mind, it made fixing things like computers and tractors significantly harder, if not illegal, without manufacturer permission. It also represented “a total sea change from what historic property rights have been,” Wiens said. This makes Washington, DC, the primary battleground for the fight for the right to repair. “Because this law was passed at the federal level, the states can’t preempt. Congress at the federal level reset copyright policy. This fix has to happen at the US federal level,” Wiens told Ars Technica during the Road to Frontiers talk.

The good news is that every three years, the US Copyright Office holds hearings to discuss potential exemptions. Right to repair advocates are hoping Congress will schedule this year’s hearing soon. Wiens also highlighted the passing of the Freedom to Repair Act [PDF] introduced earlier this year as critical for addressing Section 1201 and creating a permanent exemption for repairing tech products.

Apple’s self-service repair program launched last month marked a huge step forward for the right to repair initiated by a company that has shown long-standing resistance. Wiens applauded the program, which provides repair manuals for the iPhone 12, 13, and newest SE and will eventually extend to computers. He emphasized how hard it is for iFixit to reverse-engineer such products to determine important repair details, like whether a specific screw is 1 or 1.1 mm. […]

Wiens envisioned a world where gadgets not only last longer but where you may also build relationships with local businesses to keep your products functioning. He lamented the loss of businesses like local camera and TV repair shops extinguished by vendors no longer supplying parts and tools. […] He also discussed the idea of giving gadgets second and even third lives: An aged smartphone could become a baby monitor or a smart thermostat. “I think we should be talking about lifespans of smartphones in terms of 20, 25 years,” Wiens said.
The livestream of the discussion can be viewed here.

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Dell Defends Its Controversial New Laptop Memory

After Dell’s new Compression Attached Memory Module (CAMM) leaked out last week, several tech sites led many to believe that the company was taking a path to “lock out users upgrades.” However, according to PCWorld citing both the person who designed and patented the CAMM standard, as well as the product manager of the first Dell Precision laptop to feature it, “the intent of the new memory module standard is to head-off looming bandwidth ceilings in the current SO-DIMM designs.” They claim that CAMM could increase performance, improve reliability, aid user upgrades, and eventually lower costs too. From the report: Most of the internet hot takes last week, however, reacted to CAMM being proprietary, which is typically viewed as a method to lock people into buying upgrades only from one company. Dell officials, however, insist that’s not the case at all. “One of the tenants of the PC industry is standards,” said Dell’s Tom Schnell, the Senior Distinguished Engineer who designed much of it. “We believe in that; we put standards into our products. We’re not keeping it to ourselves, we hope it becomes the next industry standard.”

Schnell said that Dell isn’t making the modules and has worked with memory companies as well as Intel on this. In the future, a person with a CAMM-equipped laptop will be able to buy RAM from any third party and install it in the laptop. Yes, initially, Dell will likely be the only place to get CAMM upgrades, but that should change as the standard scales up and is adopted by other PC makers. The new memory modules are also built using commodity DRAMs just like conventional SO-DIMMs.

In fact, Dell points out, it’s not even “proprietary” on its own laptops. The first Precision workstations that come with CAMM will also eventually be offered with conventional SO-DIMMs using an interposer. Mano Gialusis, product manager for Precision workstations, said the interposer option goes into the same CAMM mount, too. With CAMM now a reality, Dell’s next step is to get it in front of JEDEC, the memory standards organization, to make it available to others, he said. Why not create a standard from scratch? Schnell said its far easier to get a standard minted once it’s proven to work rather than trying to simply create something anew every time. The report goes on to say that Dell does hold patents on the CAMM design “and there will be royalties,” but “no standard can go forward through JEDEC unless the licensing is not anti-competitive, is reasonably priced, and cannot discriminate against a company.”

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Manufacturers Have Less Than Five Days’ Supply of Some Computer Chips, Commerce Department Says

Manufacturers and other buyers of computer chips had less than five days’ supply of some chips on hand late last year, leaving them vulnerable to any disruptions in deliveries, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday as it pushed Congress to endorse federal aid for chip makers. The Washington Post reports: Manufacturers’ median chip inventory levels have plummeted from about 40 days’ supply in 2019 to less than five days, according to a survey of 150 companies worldwide that the Commerce Department conducted in September. “This means a disruption overseas, which might shut down a semiconductor plant for 2-3 weeks, has the potential to disable a manufacturing facility and furlough workers in the United States if that facility only has 3-5 days of inventory,” the Commerce Department concluded in a six-page summary of its findings.

The lack of chip inventory leaves auto manufacturers and other chip users with “no room for error,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Tuesday as she presented the findings. “A covid outbreak, a storm, a natural disaster, political instability, problem with equipment — really anything that disrupts a [chip-making] facility anywhere in the world, we will feel the ramifications here in the United States of America,” she said. “A covid outbreak in Malaysia has the potential to shut down a manufacturing facility in America.”

“The reality is Congress must act,” Raimondo added, urging lawmakers to pass a proposal for $52 billion in federal subsidies to incentivize construction of chip factories. “Every day we wait, we fall further behind.” The Senate passed the measure last year. The legislation has been tied up for months in the House, though House Democrats are expected to introduce their version of the legislation as soon as this week. Industry executives say federal funding is likely to create more long-term supply of chips but not to alleviate the short-term shortages because chip factories take years to build.

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This 22-Year-Old Builds Semiconductors in His Parents Garage

Wired reports on 22-year-old Sam Zeloof, who builds semiconductors in his family’s New Jersey garage, “about 30 miles from where the first transistor was made at Bell Labs in 1947.”

With a collection of salvaged and homemade equipment, Zeloof produced a chip with 1,200 transistors. He had sliced up wafers of silicon, patterned them with microscopic designs using ultraviolet light, and dunked them in acid by hand, documenting the process on YouTube and his blog. “Maybe it’s overconfidence, but I have a mentality that another human figured it out, so I can too, even if maybe it takes me longer,” he says… His chips lag Intel’s by technological eons, but Zeloof argues only half-jokingly that he’s making faster progress than the semiconductor industry did in its early days. His second chip has 200 times as many transistors as his first, a growth rate outpacing Moore’s law, the rule of thumb coined by an Intel cofounder that says the number of transistors on a chip doubles roughly every two years.

Zeloof now hopes to match the scale of Intel’s breakthrough 4004 chip from 1971, the first commercial microprocessor, which had 2,300 transistors and was used in calculators and other business machines. In December, he started work on an interim circuit design that can perform simple addition….

Garage-built chips aren’t about to power your PlayStation, but Zeloof says his unusual hobby has convinced him that society would benefit from chipmaking being more accessible to inventors without multimillion-dollar budgets. “That really high barrier to entry will make you super risk-averse, and that’s bad for innovation,” Zeloof says.

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