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Lightroom photo editing gets more competition from Darkroom, Luminar

The Darkroom photo editor for iOS now is tailored to work on Apple
The Darkroom photo editor for iOS now is tailored to work on Apple

Two software tools, Bergen’s Darkroom and Skylum’s Luminar, just got a bit better at challenging Adobe’s dominant Lightroom software for editing and cataloging photos.

Darkroom, an iOS app, now has a version just for iPads for a better look at the photos you’re editing, more room for catalog operations and support for external keyboards to speed things up. And Luminar, for MacOS or Windows machines, added a library feature that makes it more adept at organizing photos, not just editing them. The updates arrived this week.

It’ll be hard to woo photographers who are deeply embedded in the world of Lightroom. You can’t just move your photos from one app to another because nondestructive editing is a proprietary process. But Lightroom isn’t cheap — it starts at 20 per year — and new photographers might opt for more affordable alternatives, particularly those with a one-time price instead of a recurring subscription.

Phones come with photo tools like Apple Photos and Google Photos, but a lot of enthusiasts want more for their digital photography. Lightroom is still a strong contender for those with a photo budget: Adobe is well known, the software works on Android, iOS, Windows and MacOS, and the internet is awash with YouTube tips and plug-ins to help people get more out of it.

Darkroom, integrated with iCloud-synced photos instead of using a separate library, is a relatively small step for photographers who have iPhones and iPads. It’s free but charges for various updates to improve its abilities. Don’t expect an Android version anytime soon.

Luminar’s libraries improve photo organization and also make it possible to synchronize edits from one shot to others, Skylum said. It’s not as fleshed-out as Lightroom’s catalog, but Skylum is working on improvements for its 9 tool.

On the Luminar roadmap: the ability to create virtual copies, a Lightroom feature that lets you apply a different set of edits to the same original photo; library search tools; the ability to edit metadata such as copyright information that accompanies photos; and a migration tool to help Lightroom photographers make the switch.

Another older contender just got an upgrade too: Phase One released Capture One Pro 12 in November. Other alternatives include DxO PhotoLab, Corel After Shot Pro and ON1 Photo Raw.

Adobe says it’s happy to have the challenge.

‘Competition is great for the industry,’ said Tom Hogarty, director of photo-related product management at Adobe. ‘When photographers have options, the choices they make put pressure on software developers to listen more closely to the customer and the industry.’

 

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FCC’s Ajit Pai plans to free up spectrum for 5G, Wi-Fi coverage

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The Federal Communications Commission is trying to pave a smoother road to our 5G future. 

The government agency plans to consider freeing up more radio airwaves for use in 5G networks in its next monthly meeting, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. The commission will look to the 3.5 gigahertz spectrum band as a potential source of radio airwaves. While not the super high-frequency spectrum commonly talked about when looking at 5G networks, 3.5 Ghz has the potential to carry more capacity and speed than lower frequency spectrum used in many of today’s networks. 

The agency will also look at freeing up the use of 6 Ghz band of unlicensed spectrum for use to bolster Wi-Fi coverage. Wi-Fi runs on two existing frequecies, 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz, and adding a new band could alleviate congestion. 

Pai said the agency would also look at removing regulations on rural carriers, which he said would let them invest in their networks. 

Improving coverage across the country, whether through 5G or better Wi-Fi, has been a priority for the agency and one of the few issues that most people can agree on. 

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Facebook reportedly asked by US government to help wiretap Messenger

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The US government has reportedly asked Facebook to help wiretap its Messenger chat app to listen to a suspect’s conversations in a criminal investigation, according to a report Friday by Reuters. That would involve breaking the encryption on the app, which is used by more than a billion people a month.

The probe is related to the MS-13 gang in Fresno, California, according to Reuters, which cited unnamed sources. The case is under seal in a federal court in California, so no public filings are available.

But Reuters said the US government argued before a judge Tuesday to hold Facebook in contempt of court for refusing to cooperate.

The case reportedly has to do with voice calls on Facebook Messenger, which the company says are encrypted end-to-end. That means the conversations are not decipherable to the company, and Facebook has argued that ‘it can only comply with the government’s request if it rewrites the code relied upon by all its users to remove encryption,’ the Reuters report says.

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The Department of Justice didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Facebook declined to comment.

The probe comes as Silicon Valley giants grapple with the bounds of data collection and surveillance. In 2016, Apple was embroiled in a high-profile battle with the FBI after refusing to break into the iPhone of a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California.

More broadly, Facebook still faces distrust from users over its stewardship of the personal information of the 2 billion people who use the platform monthly. The company is reeling from a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a digital consultancy that misused the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users. 

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FTC, Qualcomm give closing arguments in trial over mobile chip licenses

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The US Federal Trade Commission’s case against Qualcomm is now in the hands of a judge. 

On Tuesday the two sides presented their hour-long closing arguments in a case that could have big implications for the technology world. The FTC has accused Qualcomm of operating a monopoly in the mobile chip market, which hurt rivals and caused handset makers to raise their prices. 

For the FTC to win the case, it has the burden of showing that Qualcomm had a monopoly, that it had market power and that it used that power in negotiations with handset makers to command high royalties. The FTC also has to show that Qualcomm’s conduct hurt competitors and that the anticompetitive actions continue or will start again in the future. 

FTC attorney Jennifer Milici kicked things off Tuesday afternoon by detailing how Qualcomm used its power in the 3G and 4G chip market to force handset makers like Apple to sign licensing agreements with excessively high royalties. If Qualcomm isn’t stopped, she said, it’ll do the same thing in the 5G market.

Qualcomm ‘acquired monopoly power in the modem chip market and instead of simply competing on its merits’ put up ‘roadblocks’ that hurt rivals, Milici said. ‘It’s beyond dispute the conduct is ongoing.’

Qualcomm attorney Robert Van Nest of law firm Keker, Van Nest & Peters, argued during his closing that the FTC didn’t meet its burden in the case and that Qualcomm won business ‘through superior innovation and better products.’

‘High royalties alone is not the basis for their complaint of harm,’ Van Nest said. ‘They have to show harm to competition.’ But he said such harm hasn’t occurred: Intel now supplies all modems for Apple’s iPhones, MediaTek is the world’s second biggest wireless chipmaker, and Samsung and Huawei have developed their own modems. 

‘If the task is to decide whether Qualcomm maintained its position through innovation, skill, technology or through licensing practices, it’s a lay-down hand,’ Van Nest said. The FTC hasn’t ‘proven anything with respect to licensing practices that had impact on advancement of this technology.’

Qualcomm has been battling the FTC in a San Jose, California, courtroom since Jan. 4. The FTC wrapped up its antitrust case against the company on Jan. 15, and Qualcomm rested its defense Friday. The trial has revealed the inner workings of tech’s most important business, smartphones, showing how suppliers wrestle for dominance and profit. 

Judge Lucy Koh will now decide the outcome of the case. She noted earlier in the trial that she likely won’t be issuing her normal speedy decision, as she has a lot of evidence, testimony and case law to consider. Still, the FTC on Tuesday asked for a possible timeline for the decision. It’s facing another government shutdown in mid-February and would have to justify keeping lawyers on the clock if a verdict was impending.

Koh said she didn’t know how long it would take but asked the FTC to check in again before a potential shutdown. 

‘I’m generally fairly fast,’ Koh said. ‘[But] something of this magnitude is going to take longer’ than other average motions.

Qualcomm is the world’s biggest provider of mobile chips, and it created technology that’s essential for connecting phones to cellular networks. The company derives a significant portion of its revenue from licensing those inventions to hundreds of device makers, with the fee based on the value of the phone, not the components.

Because Qualcomm owns patents related to 3G, 4G and 5G networking technology, as well as other features like software, all handset makers building a device that connects to cellular networks have to pay it a licensing fee, even if they don’t use Qualcomm’s chips.

But the FTC lawsuit could break that model. The US government has accused Qualcomm of operating a monopoly in wireless chips, forcing customers like Apple to work with Qualcomm exclusively and charging ‘excessive’ licensing fees for its technology, in part by wielding its ‘no license, no chips’ policy. Qualcomm’s practices prevented rivals from entering the market, drove up the cost of phones and in turn hurt consumers, who faced higher handset prices, the FTC said. 

Qualcomm says the FTC’s lawsuit is based on ‘flawed legal theory.’ It’s also says customers choose its chips because they’re the best and that it’s never stopped providing processors to customers, even when they’re battling over licenses.

‘The FTC hasn’t come close to meeting its burden of proof in this case,’ Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel of Qualcomm, said in a statement Tuesday following closing arguments. ‘All real-world evidence presented at trial showed how Qualcomm’s years of R&D and innovation fostered competition, and growth for the entire mobile economy to the benefit of consumers around the world. Our licensing rates — which were set long before we had a chip business, and revalidated time and again — fairly and accurately reflect the value of our patent portfolio. Qualcomm’s technology has been the foundation of a thriving, competitive industry.’

No license, no chips

During the trial, the FTC called witnesses from companies like Apple, Samsung, Intel and Huawei and had experts testify about the alleged harm Qualcomm’s licensing practices have caused the mobile industry. 

Qualcomm, meanwhile, called company executives, representatives from handset makers and chip rivals, and economics experts to dispute the FTC’s allegations in the case. The company sought to show that competition is healthy in the mobile chip market and that Qualcomm hasn’t hampered the industry. 

The company has argued that its broad patent portfolio and innovations justify its fees. CEO Steve Mollenkopf, who took the stand early in the trial, defended the company’s licensing practices, saying the way his company sells chips to smartphone makers is best for everybody involved and is the simplest way to license the technology. 

The heart of the FTC’s case against Qualcomm is a so-called ‘no license, no chips policy.’ Qualcomm sells processors that connect phones to cellular networks, but it also licenses its broad portfolio as a group. For a set fee — based on the selling price of the end device, typically a phone — the manufacturer gets to use all of Qualcomm’s technology. It’s phone makers that pay the licensing fee, not chipmakers. 

To get access to Qualcomm’s chips, which are broadly considered to be on the bleeding edge of wireless innovation, a phone maker first has to sign a patent licensing contract with Qualcomm. The company has long been the leader in 4G LTE, and it’s ahead of rivals in the nascent 5G market. The highest-end phones, like those from Samsung, have tended to use its modems. But the FTC argues such a requirement hurts competition and cements Qualcomm’s monopoly power.

Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams testified that his company felt it had to sign contracts for amounts it thought too high — a royalty of .50 per iPhone — to maintain access to Qualcomm’s chips.

‘We were staring at an increase of over billion per year in licensing, so we had a gun to our head,’ Williams said as he explained why Apple signed another licensing agreement in 2013, despite being unhappy with the terms. He added that Apple has wanted to use Qualcomm’s chips for its newer devices, but Qualcomm refused to sell processors for the iPhone. 

Other companies, like Huawei and Lenovo, made similar comments during their testimony. And during the trial, the FTC has pointed to communication from a former Qualcomm licensing executive, Eric Reifschneider, to mobile chip customers like Motorola and Sony Mobile as evidence of threats to cut off supply. 

In one instance, Reifschneider wrote in an email to a Sony Mobile executive that ‘QCT (Qualcomm’s chip business) has been shipping chips to SMC (Sony Mobile) for almost three weeks now without a license in place. It will not be possible for that to continue.’ 

But Qualcomm and executives from some companies have testified that Qualcomm has never cut off chip supply during contract negotiations. Some of those executives have said in live testimony and video depositions presented by Qualcomm that its rivals didn’t have the technology required for their devices. 

Matthias Sauer, an Apple executive and a witness called by Qualcomm, testified earlier in January that Intel’s modems didn’t meet the technical standards required for the company’s iPhones in 2014. Though Intel also couldn’t meet Apple’s chip requirements for the iPad, it would’ve used them anyway, he said, had Qualcomm not offered incentives to stay with its chips. His remarks echoed comments from colleague Tony Blevins early in the trial.

Qualcomm, meanwhile, has said it had legitimate business reasons for having strict contracts with Apple, including how expensive it is to design modems specifically for Apple. 

Sparring during closing arguments

On Tuesday, FTC attorney Milici argued that the no license, no chips policy ‘put up roadblocks for competitors.’ She said there was ‘consistent’ testimony from handset makers such as Apple, Samsung, Lenovo, Motorola and LG that they worried they’d lose access to Qualcomm’s modems if they didn’t sign licenses under terms they didn’t like. 

‘Qualcomm has stated unambiguously that it has never threatened chip supply,’ Milici said. ‘This is just a semantic trick.’ In ‘example after example,’ she said, Qualcomm demanded tough terms, the customer resisted, then Qualcomm said if the two sides didn’t reach agreement, the customer wouldn’t be able to buy chips anymore.

‘Customers who heard these statements certainly viewed them as threats,’ she said. ‘Internal Qualcomm documents show Qualcomm executives knew their comments would be taken as threats, and they were intended to be taken that way.’ 

Milici added that ‘the fact they didn’t have to cut off chip supply is proof of market power.’ Customers had no other viable modem options, so they had to sign licensing deals with Qualcomm to get its chips. 

‘We don’t know and can’t know what the market would look like without’ Qualcomm’s licensing practices hurting rivals, Milici said. She said there’s no way to know if Qualcomm would’ve been first in LTE had it not thrown up obstacles for chip competitors. ‘The entire market was affected by roadblocks,’ she said. ‘We don’t know how successful [Qualcomm’s rivals] would have been.’

Qualcomm attorney Van Nest, meanwhile, said during his closing arguments that the companies that testified did so because they want to pay lower licensing rates. 

‘They’re all big sophisticated companies with their own leverage,’ he said. ‘Their testimony was, ‘Oh yeah, we felt threatened and had to do what we did.’ I would say this testimony was presented to this court in a very misleading fashion.’

Van Nest noted that the FTC presented video testimony from companies like BlackBerry and Lenovo, where executives said they felt threatened by Qualcomm. But Qualcomm couldn’t present contradictory testimony — where the executives said they never actually received threats or had their chip supply cut off — until it was its turn to present its defense.

He also said the FTC failed to show that Qualcomm had any market power after 2016. That September was the first time Apple used Intel chips in the iPhone. And competition in mobile chips has only gotten more fierce since then, with Qualcomm losing share in that market and MediaTek and Intel saying they’ll soon have 5G chips available. 

‘We know 5G is going to be competitive,’ Van Nest said. ‘There is no evidence of plausible chip leverage.’

‘Heavy hammer’

Both sides presented economics experts throughout the course of the trial to back up their arguments. 

In the case of the FTC, Carl Shapiro, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, provided the key testimony about Qualcomm’s impact on the mobile market. His testimony sought to show that Qualcomm’s ‘unusually high’ royalty rates hurt competitors, handset makers and consumers.

Shapiro initially took the stand two weeks ago, detailing how Qualcomm continues to hurt the mobile chip market. He testified again Monday as the FTC’s key rebuttal witness. 

Losing access to Qualcomm’s modems would impose costs on handset makers, including not being able to supply to consumers, Shapiro said in his initial testimony. 

‘That’s a very heavy hammer that Qualcomm is bringing down, at least as a threat, in those negotiations,’ Shapiro said. 

As part of its defense, Qualcomm last week called three economics experts to rebut Shapiro’s claims. They testified that Shapiro’s methodology was flawed and that he didn’t consider what was happening in the real world. 

Dueling experts

Aviv Nevo, a University of Pennsylvania economics and marketing professor, on Friday called into question Shapiro’s use of theory to determine the damage allegedly caused by Qualcomm’s licensing practices. Instead, Nevo said he examined the ‘real-world’ agreements Qualcomm had with companies to determine that the rates weren’t excessive. 

Nevo testified that the FTC’s theory that Qualcomm uses its power in the chip market to charge excessive royalty rates ‘is just not born out of actual market data.’ He said ‘there’s no support for the theory in the data.’ Nevo also testified that the mobile industry is strong. 

‘At a high level, this is a thriving industry,’ Nevo said. ‘Prices are declining. Quantities are skyrocketing.’

Nevo also said there were legitimate business reasons for Qualcomm’s licensing policies. ‘One is reduction in transaction cost,’ he said. ‘The other is allowing rival chipmakers to operate freely with access to tech without a need for a license.’

Shapiro on Monday said some of Nevo’s methodology, conclusions and assumptions were ‘fabricated,’ ‘outrageous’ and ‘all messed up.‘ He noted that Nevo’s methodology had ‘measurement problems.’ He also said that Nevo fell short by not doing a test to determine when Qualcomm had market power.

Last Tuesday, Edward Snyder, dean of the Yale School of Management and a professor of economics and management, criticized Shapiro’s methodology and said the problems Qualcomm’s rivals had were due to choices they made that had nothing to do with Qualcomm. 

He noted that three factors explain a company’s success or failure: foresight, investment and execution. Snyder evaluated Intel, MediaTek, Broadcom and others to examine their position in the market and how they performed based on those three factors.

Intel, for one, ‘exhibited … poor foresight about the industry. They invested inefficiently, and they encountered execution problems,’ said Snyder, who at one time worked for the Justice Department’s antitrust division. MediaTek had good foresight and investment, but it had some execution problems, Snyder said. It has now resolved those, helping it become the No. 2 modem supplier in the world. Broadcom, for its part, failed on all three, Snyder said, causing it to leave the modem industry. 

And Tasneem Chipty, a specialist in competition policy and antitrust economics from consultancy Matrix Economics, attacked Shapiro’s definition of the market and of market power. 

She accused Shapiro of taking a ‘shortcut’ when evaluating whether the mobile chip market was competitive and said he ‘has overstated Qualcomm’s market power.’ She said there’s no ‘evidence of consistent and unconstrained market power of the type’ that would hurt competition or ‘coerce OEMs [handset makers] into onerous business terms that would rob them of billions of dollars.’

Licensing rivals?

The FTC has said Qualcomm’s refusal to give licenses to its chip rivals is part of its efforts to maintain its monopoly. Judge Koh in November agreed and ruled that Qualcomm has to license its wireless chip patents to its chip competitors like Intel.

But Dirk Weiler, head of standards policy at Nokia, testified last week that it has long been industry standard to license technology to handset makers, not chipmakers. Along with his role at Nokia, Weiler also serves as chairman of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. The nonprofit standards body’s Intellectual Property Rights Policy requires companies to give licenses for equipment.  

‘What is my understanding of the industry practice is in the case of the cellular business, this means these companies license, for example, the handset and not any subpart of the handset,’ Weiler said. 

And Nevo on Friday said if Qualcomm doesn’t license at the device level anymore, things could get complicated fast. If the company switched to simply licensing at the chip level, it would need to offer multiple tiers, because some of the technology would apply to an overall phone and not just the processor. 

‘The number of license agreements would be large,’ Nevo said. But the real issue ‘is the fact each negotiation now will become a lot more complex. Parties, chipmakers and OEMs, would have incentives to point to the other party as the one actually practicing on the license.’ 

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Get up to speed on Huawei P30 Pro’s new camera tech

The Huawei P30 Pro

 

The Huawei P30 Pro has four rear-facing cameras.

Periscopes? RYYB sensors? There’s enough new camera tech packed into the Huawei P30 Pro that you might be baffled by the new terminology.

Mostly all you need to know is that the flagship smartphone’s camera is versatile, outdoing competitors in some key areas like zoom and nighttime shots. But Huawei’s technology could well spread farther across the industry, so it’s worth understanding what makes the phone’s four cameras tick.

Expect even more changes with smartphone photography from other players as new software and hardware arrives. Today’s phones have phenomenal cameras compared with models just a few years ago, but they still have a long way to catch up to dedicated cameras — the kinds with no phones attached, if you remember those.

There are many avenues of improvement. Google’s computational photography is impressive; Apple could get dramatically improved image sensor technology from its acquisition of InVisage; and merely having two main cameras is starting to look like skimping as phones sprout multiple cameras.

P30 Pro photo trick No. 1: periscope lens

The P30 Pro is designed to address a big shortcoming of phones compared with traditional cameras: weak zoom. Phones are wide-angle affairs — even the 2X zoom cameras on Apple iPhones are telephoto only by comparison with the main camera. So it’s hard to photograph a bird, a child dancing on the stage or soccer player running down the field.

The Huawei P30 Pro has a

The problem is that telephoto lenses are big because of optical physics, and nobody wants a camera bulge on a sleek smartphone.

The Chinese phone maker’s answer is to turn the camera sideways so its bulk is tucked away. A prism bounces light 90 degrees into the interior of the phone where there’s room for a longer optical pathway that ends in an 8-megapixel sensor. This periscope camera approach is what Oppo promised with its upcoming 5G-capable phone.

The result is a camera that can zoom in 5X compared with the main camera — the equivalent of 125mm in old-style 35mm-format camera terms. That doubles to 10X when combined with some digital zoom processing. It’s not going to match superzoom cameras or big telephoto lenses on DSLRs, but my colleague Andrew Hoyle calls the zoom ‘genuinely impressive.’

And for those interior architecture shots and nature panoramas, the P30 Pro comes with another separate camera with a 20-megapixel ultrawide lens.

P30 Pro photo trick No. 2: SuperSpectrum sensor

Smartphone camera technology moves fast enough that it’s surprising to realize one key component called the Bayer filter dates back to the 1970s. Huawei wants to change this basic aspect of digital photography.

Image sensors detect only the brightness of light. So to capture color, an array of tiny filters controls the light frequencies that reach each photosite on the sensor. When you take a typical digital photo today, raw sensor data for each pixel stores information for only one color — red, green or blue — the three colors human color vision detect. The Bayer filter pattern is a sort of checkerboard with two green pixels for every one blue and one red pixel, which is why you’ll sometimes see Bayer sensors described as RGGB.

The Huawei P30 Pro’s main 40-megapixel camera, though, substitutes yellow for green with a technology it calls SuperSpectrum. You’ll sometimes see this approach called RYYB.

The Huawei P30 Pro

Why bother? Because there’s more yellow light around, giving 40 percent boost and letting the camera work better in dim conditions. Huawei’s maximum ISO sensitivity setting is a whopping 409,600, up from ISO 102,400 in last year’s P20 Pro camera. Take those numbers with a grain of salt, but they do signal improved low-light performance.

Again, Huawei isn’t the only one to try breaking free of the Bayer history. Fujifilm’s X-Trans sensors capture red, green and blue but in a different pattern to try to improve overall results. Kodak has touted technology that swaps out a green pixel for a transparent pixel. And image sensor maker ON Semiconductor has technology called Clarity+ that uses two transparent pixels and doubles low-light performance.

Why have Bayer filters lasted?

Better low-light performance is a big problem for people taking pictures at restaurants and other dim locations, so SuperSpectrum solves a real problem. But there are downsides.

For one thing, color handling is different. Yellow is much closer to red on the color spectrum than green is, so reconstructing all three red, green and blue color values for each pixel requires heavier math. Huawei has earned respect for its cameras and likely didn’t embrace RYYB lightly, but the Bayer-pattern sensors are simpler and well understood in the industry.

Another complication: you shouldn’t expect to be able to shoot raw photos with the P30 Pro’s main camera — something that’s common with enthusiasts with higher-end cameras and increasingly beneficial on smartphones. That’s because you’ll need software like Adobe Lightroom to process the raw data into an ordinary image, and that process, called demosaicking, isn’t supported at least yet for the P30 Pro’s SuperSpectrum sensors.

‘Adobe can add direct support for any new non-Bayer mosaic filter array, but it takes significant time and effort,’ the company said in a statement. ‘On an easy-normal-hard difficulty scale for camera support, a new mosaic filter array counts as extra hard.’

P30 Pro photo trick No. 3: TOF sensor

The P30 Pro has a time-of-flight (TOF) sensor that might be new to you. Its purpose isn’t to take a photo but instead to augment other photos by gathering 3D scene data called a depth map.

Depth maps add a new dimension to photos — literally — which can be very useful. For example, a camera can figure out that it should expose a photo for a shadowed person in the foreground, not a bright landscape behind. Depth maps also help with AI tasks like recognizing faces and running augmented reality (AR) apps.

And most important, depth maps let you blur backgrounds to focus attention on the subject of a photo.

There are other photo features in the P30 Pro, too, including a better, AI-boosted night mode for very dark situations, silk water effects that simulate long exposures the way mobile apps like Spectre and Lightroom can; and ‘AI HDR+,’ which takes advantage of depth information to expose foregrounds and backgrounds properly.

Together, it’s one of the highest-profile examples of how crucial photography is to smartphones. Huawei pulled out all the stops for its new flagship phone. Just don’t expect this to be the last phone to advance the state of the art.

Huawei isn’t well known in the US — except perhaps for recent political troubles involving mobile network equipment it sells to carriers — but they’re a powerful force in phones.

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A foldable iPhone: Will Apple bend to the trend?

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In this week’s Apple Core rundown, we’ll take a look at how Apple fits into the foldable phone trend, the hurdles it has to clear to make an iPhone bend, and how soon the company could release a competitor to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. We’ll also learn about the latest health feature rumored to be coming to the Apple Watch, the latest non-Apple product that could be getting Apple Music support, and the 10 winning pics from Apple’s Shot on iPhone Challenge photography contest have been revealed.

Will Apple launch a foldable iPhone?

The foldable phone trend has taken 2019 by storm, with companies such as Samsung, Huawei and FlexPai unveiling the bendable devices that will soon be in consumers’ hands. The verdict is still out on whether these foldables represent the future of smartphones, but if it is, a flexible iPhone can’t be too far behind.

There’s been plenty of evidence that Apple is interested in making a foldable phone. The company has foldable phone patents that date back to 2011, with blueprints for a hinged phone that can bend in half similar to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. Apple even got its first patent for a foldable device approved in 2014, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This year Apple registered what seems to be an extension of those original designs, with more details that show the device folding out as well as in. But Apple may choose to take it a step further. Another patent discovered by My Smart Price shows a flexible device with a wraparound display that can take different shapes. And in case you’re having a hard time picturing a bendable iPhone, Dutch industrial designer Roy Gilsing created some pretty realistic renders published in Foldable.News that show what this could look like.

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Still, there are a few hurdles the company has to clear before a foldable iPhone becomes a reality.

The first and perhaps the most important one is Apple’s screen issue. It’s no secret that Apple relies on Samsung for some of the OLED screens for its newer iPhones. According to Goldman Sachs analysts cited in Business Insider, Samsung is not willing to share its foldable screen tech just yet, especially not with its biggest rival.

In the meantime, Apple has reportedly chosen LG as a secondary screen manufacturer, a company that has also been experimenting with foldable screen technology for TVs, but it may be a few years behind Samsung when it comes to phones.

Then there’s the issue with materials. Most of the foldables phones announced so far use some kind of polymer blend to cover their screens, aka plastic. But given Apple’s long-standing relationship with glass-maker Corning, it’s doubtful the company would cover its screens with plastic, even if it means waiting until the company can develop a bendable glass solution to fit their needs. Based on our recent trip to Corning’s HQ, we know the company has already developed bendable glass, but it still cant fold completely in half like the plastic on some of these other devices coming to the market.

And lastly, there’s the user experience. It’s unlikely Apple would choose to launch a foldable iPhone unless the software was in place to support it. This means the company would first have to open up the platform to developers to start envisioning what this foldable experience would look like on an iPhone.

All this to say, we’re not getting a foldable iPhone in 2019. Some say 2020 could be an option, but even that seems like a stretch given these limitations. Apple will inevitably be late to the bendable phone game, but it may not be that bad. Our own Roger Cheng pointed out in his commentary that foldable phones right now are a bit of a tease, with hefty price tags, limited availability and potentially buggy software.

The Apple Watch will soon track sleep

The next Apple Watch may finally be going to bed with you. Apple is rumored to be testing out its new sleep-tracking features in secret sites around its Cupertino HQ, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

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But don’t expect to see overnight results. The report says also says that these sleep feature may not come until 2020. Before launching any new health feature, Apple is known to put it through rigorous laboratory testing, which could take a while. Plus the company would still have to figure out a way to extend the battery life on the Apple Watch to accommodate 24-hour tracking. The current Apple Watches can barely make it a full 24 hours between top-ups, and still require overnight charging while other competitors with similar sleep-tracking features can go up to one week on a charge. Samsung, Garmin and Fitbit have had a sleep-tracking features that measure both the quantity and quality of your sleep in their wearable devices for years now, but the only way to analyze your zzz’s on the Apple Watch has been with third-party apps.

Will Apple Music get a new Home?

For a very brief moment in time, Google Home users could have caught a glimpse of Apple Music on the Google Home mobile app. And though the button to link the account didn’t actually work, it got everyone thinking that maybe Apple Music would be coming to the Google Home. Shortly after the news broke, though, Google dismissed that idea in a statement to Bloomberg, saying it was all due to a software bug and that the company had nothing to announce. In an earlier statement, Google mentioned that Apple Music is currently only available for Google Assistant users on mobile phones.

Either way, Apple Music on the Google Home wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, as Apple continues to grow its services business beyond Apple products. Android users have been able to download the Apple Music app for a while, and it recently became available on the Amazon Echo. This year Apple also announced that new Samsung Smart TVs will be getting access to iTunes, and Airplay 2 will become available in other smart TVs in 2019.

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Results from the Shot on iPhone competition

Ten lucky iPhone users will soon have their pictures displayed on billboards and in Apple stores all over the world. This week Apple published the results of its #ShotOniPhone photography competition, where regular users were invited to submit their best shots.

The group of winners came from different countries including Germany, Israel, Singapore, Belarus and the US, and not all were photographers by trade. The shots ranged from black-and-white landscapes to colorful close-ups of water drops on glass, and not all of them came from the latest iPhone model. Two were shot on the iPhone 7, and one was shot on the iPhone 8 Plus.  

After a bit of controversy over the fact that the competition didn’t mention compensating the artist, Apple said the winners will receive a licensing fee for their work, but didn’t reveal the exact amount. 

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Snapcrap lets you take pictures of poop on sidewalks and report it to the city

Snapcrap
Snapcrap

A new app called Snapcrap lets users take pictures of human poop on San Francisco’s sidewalks or streets and send them to the city’s Public Works Department to initiate a cleanup. 

Snapcrap, which launched on iOS last week and on Android on Tuesday, uses your phone’s GPS to determine the exact location of the feces. You can also track recent tickets to make sure the issue is resolved. The app borrows from Snapchat’s imagery, replacing the ghost logo with one of poop. 

‘See something gross? Just snap a photo and press submit,’ Snapcrap’s App Store description reads. It sends a report to San Francisco’s 311 hotline

San Francisco is working to deal with its dirty streets as it struggles with issues of homelessness. To help combat the problem, it established a ‘Poop Patrol‘ in August, made up of five public works employees who patrol the streets and steam-clean dirty areas. The city also has a 311 app where people can report feces, as well as other things like graffiti or the need for streetlight repairs or tree maintenance. 

San Francisco Public Works didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Snapcrap.

Snapcrap creator Sean Miller told the Los Angeles Times he was inspired to create the app after moving from Vermont to San Francisco and discovering he had to frequently step over human and animal poop. 

‘Pretty much everyone who lives here is pretty well accustomed to seeing this stuff when you’re walking down the street in every neighborhood,’ Miller told the publication. ‘It’s very frustrating. You should be able to pull out your phone, take a photo and send it to the city to have it cleaned up.’

Miller told CNET that there are around 200 to 300 new Snapcrap users each day.

The app could prove to be helpful. But it might not be very pleasant for the city employees who’ll be receiving all these poop pictures. 

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YouTube reportedly fighting Captain Marvel trolls in search results

Julia Alexander tweet

 

Brie Larson

YouTube has reportedly tweaked its algorithm to deter Captain Marvel haters. Over the weekend, the video platform tagged results for Captain Marvel star ‘Brie Larson’ as news. The change elevated more authoritative new sources.

Twitter user Julia Alexander spotted the difference in search results. In a Twitter thread, Alexander suggested the change may have been to push down trolling videos that focus on boycotting the film or how Larson was allegedly ‘ruining Marvel.’

Julia Alexander tweet

Ahead of its release, users began ‘review bombing’ the film. Despite the attempt the flood of negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, as of Monday, Captain Marvel sits at 80 percent on the Tomatometer. 

Last July, YouTube committed 5 million to fighting fake news on its platform. The company made it easier to find news with ‘Top News’ and ‘Breaking News’ shelves, which highlight videos from authoritative sources. 

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The iPhone X is back on sale, but for how long?

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The iPhone X has been spotted again on the Apple Store at a discounted price. The 2019 iPhones are rumored to have three camera lenses on their backs, but what they could be used for? Meanwhile, the FaceTime bug refuses to go away. Here’s a roundup of the top iPhone and Apple headlines from this week’s episode of Apple Core.

The iPhone X makes a sneaky comeback

After disappearing from the Apple Store without a trace in September 2018, Apple has begun selling its 10th anniversary iPhone X online again. The caveat: you’ll have to search for a refurbished model while supplies lasts.

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Apple stopped selling the iPhone X shortly after releasing last year’s iPhone lineup: the iPhone XS, XS Max and the XR, presumably to prevent the X from cannibalizing sales of its new phones. The refurbished iPhone Xs were first spotted this week by MacRumors and appear to be selling out fast.

And though they are discounted from the original 99 price, the discounts aren’t that great when you compare them to the iPhone XR. An unlocked iPhone X with 64GB of storage goes for 69. That’s only 30 less than the iPhone XS with the same storage capacity, but 0 more that the 64GB iPhone XR. And even though it’s an entire year older, the 256GB model is the exact same price as the equivalent iPhone XR. iPhone X is smaller than the XR — if that’s what you’re into — and is has a dual rear camera and an OLED screen, compared to the XR’s single rear camera and LCD screen.

Apple’s Group FaceTime bug gets flagged by US lawmakers

Apple can’t seem to shake off the ongoing negative criticism surrounding its FaceTime bug. Since the news broke last week, Apple has issued a patch with the release of iOS 12.1.4 that fixes the security flaw that allowed callers to eavesdrop on other people. The company has also issued an official statement apologizing to ‘customers who were affected and all who were concerned about this security issue…’ and said it’s ‘committed to continuing to earn the trust Apple customers place in us.’

Apple further tried to make amends by paying a visit to Grant Thompson, the Arizona teen who first spotted the flaw, at his home. In an interview with CNBC, the teen’s mom mentioned a ‘high-level Apple exec’ had thanked her son and mentioned he could be eligible for Apple’s bug bounty program, which offers a cash reward of up to 00,000 to researchers who find and report vulnerabilities in specific Apple software. Apple has since confirmed the company’s plans to compensate the teen, but didn’t disclosed the exact sum.  

But the mea culpa may not be enough to quell critics. Last week, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced she would open a formal investigation to find out why Apple didn’t give users a heads-up about the security flaw, and why it took the company so long to address the issue.

Congressional lawmakers also penned a letter to Tim Cook requesting more information about the flaw to understand the extent to which it compromised users security. The letter, signed by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), chairwoman of the Digital Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, said they believe Apple has not been as transparent as this serious issue requires.

What that third camera could mean for the 2019 iPhone

It’s only February and we’re already starting to get a pretty good sense of what the 2019 iPhones (or iPhone 11s) will look like. Multiple rumors point to a very similar design to last year’s lineup, with a smaller notch on the screen, and a possible switch to USB-C as its port of choice rather than Lightning. We’ve also heard the pricier iPhone 11 Max would have three cameras on the back. But until now, we weren’t exactly sure what that third camera was going to be used for.

A recent Bloomberg report shed some light, however.  According to the report, Apple originally was said to be working on a 3D camera system for the 2019 iPhone, but then had to push it out to 2020. The new camera could scan at a range of up to 15 feet, much farther than the current True Depth camera system used on the front of the phone for FaceID, which only scans out to a range of up to 50 cm according to the report. The longer range could open up the phone to more augmented-reality features and improve portrait mode on stills and perhaps video. The third lens on this year’s iPhone, at least according to Bloomberg, would likely be used to capture a wider field of view and would only be coming to the higher-end Max model.

iOS 13 could bring Dark Mode and more emojis

The Bloomberg report also mentions a new dark mode in the works for the iPhone, similar to what Apple rolled out for its computers with MacOS, which uses a dark color scheme instead of the traditional white. Dark mode on the iPhone would make late-night screentime a lot less jarring and would look especially good on the OLED screens of the iPhone X, XS and XS Max, which are able to produce true blacks. This feature would likely come with the update to iOS 13 in September, with an announcement coming at Apple’s Developers Conference (WWDC) in June of 2019.

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Also rumored to be coming in iOS 13: 230 new emojis. Some notable additions, according to the Unicode Consortium which approves these new emojis, include: people with disabilities (with a wheelchair and probing cane), interracial and gender inclusive couples, and a some pretty essential members of the animal kingdom, like the sloth, flamingo and a skunk. 

And finally, iPhone X, XS, XS Max and XR users may not have to wait until September to get new characters on their keyboards. The Public beta of iOS 12.2 gave us a preview of the adorable giraffe, shark, owl and warthog Animojis that could be coming to these devices in the next few weeks. As if you needed another excuse to make weird faces at your phone. 

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How 5G aims to end network latency

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AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch speaks of the company

Just about everything you hear about 5G points out how its higher data speeds will let you download videos or update your apps much more quickly. Well, whoop-de-do. Faster data is helpful, but a different 5G benefit could actually be a bigger deal: reducing network communication delays called latency. Latency is the time it takes to get a response to information sent — for example, the lag between the moment you try to shoot a space invader and the moment the internet server hosting the game tells your app whether you succeeded.

Lower latency could help 5G deliver mobile networks that let us do entirely new things, not just modestly improve what we’re already doing now. Possibilities include multiplayer mobile gaming, factory robots, self-driving cars and other tasks demanding quick response — all areas where today’s 4G networks struggle or can’t manage at all.

‘Latency is really going to open up new real-time experiences we’ve never had before,’ said AT&T Chief Technology Officer Andre Fuetsch.

Well, at least it will if it works as promised. The 5G hype has been heavy for years, the truly low 5G latencies won’t arrive until 2020 — and really, how many years have we been hearing about how telemedicine will let surgeons operate on patients in a different time zone?

So sure, some skepticism is in order. But latency profoundly important, and improving it changes how everything works, so don’t dismiss the 5G’s low latency. Think of how much faster hard drives are than mainframe-era reels of magnetic tape, or how flash memory drives now are replacing pokey hard drives in laptops. When we eliminate delays from a system, it can mean changes like getting eggs on demand from Amazon instead of having to wait for the weekend shopping trip.

What’s low latency good for?

Factory automation is a favorite example of low-latency advantages. Fuetsch sees 5G connecting robots so they can coordinate their actions and avoid running into each other. 5G also could let robots communicate wirelessly instead of with network cables, untethering them so a factory can rapidly switch manufacturing jobs.

Drones could get better, too. 5G enables fast links to base stations so computing smarts can be on the ground — for example for object recognition to aid navigation. Without having to carry as powerful a computer and the battery needed to run it, a drone can fly longer when delivering packages or have more power carry a better but heavier camera. Of course, you’ll need a 5G network handy, which could be a problem in rural areas where 5G networks aren’t likely to arrive for years.

5G could also help gamers, in particular those outside and away from home broadband connections.

‘Action multiplayer games such as Fortnite need a low latency to deliver a good multiplayer experience. Historically, mobile network latencies have been too poor to support action multiplayer gaming well,’ said OpenSignal analyst Ian Fogg. That’s changing with today’s 4G, ‘and as 5G new radio networks launch, latencies will improve even more significantly.’

Another way gaming could benefit is similar to the drone example. With 5G, game consoles could rely on fast links to central servers with most of the computing horsepower. ‘Processing can be done in the cloud because of the high throughput and and low latency,’ said Dan Mondor, chief executive of Inseego, the company formerly named Novatel that’s building the wireless network equipment for Verizon’s early 5G broadband service. (Well not quite 5G, since Verizon this year is actually using technology similar to 5G but not the true standard itself, but the point still stands.)

Video chat and even plain old web browsing will benefit, Fogg added. Loading websites requires lots of round-trip communication exchanges between a browser and the servers hosting websites, so low latency can make websites snappier.

How about self-driving cars?

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V)  communication is another latency-sensitive technology. It’s not certain yet whether 5G will play a role there, but some think it will, including Jane Rygaard. She’s head of 5G marketing for Nokia, one of the world’s biggest makers of the mobile network equipment in the cell towers that connect your phone to the internet. 5G could help one car learn from others ahead on the road about potholes or braking. That information would be important to self-driving cars.

Key to V2V is an idea called edge computing that goes hand in hand with 5G. The idea is to move computing smarts from the central servers out to the 5G base stations. That’ll mean a faster response time for processing tasks like figuring out which cars nearby need to know about a problem and which aren’t affected.

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‘We need the network to be so good that we can leave space for the IT application to actually run,’ Rygaard said.

Augmented reality stands to benefit from 5G, too. A low-latency connection can deliver the necessary imagery nearly instantly as you move your phone or headset around, so an AR app doesn’t have to deliver all the possible imagery for an AR scene in advance.

Oh, and there’s that remote surgery idea. It’ll be a long time before people trust robot surgeons commanded by distant humans, Rygaard said. But there are other places for remote-control operators who need real-time interaction — a robot crawling around the radioactive Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster site, perhaps, or examining a possible bomb.

And there’s more to medicine than surgery. Verizon is excited about 5G-linked virtual reality headsets that let a remote physical therapist perform cooperative ball-bouncing exercises with patients.

5G delivering the goods

There’s evidence 5G is getting the promised low latency links.

‘We are between 1 to 2 milliseconds,’ Rygaard said of Nokia’s tests of latency between phones and cell towers. A millisecond is a thousandth of a second, about the time a baseball is in contact with a bat that’s hitting it.

There will be other delays in the system, such as software actually doing something with the data that’s traversing the network, but the 5G fundamentals appear to be in place.

‘We’re seeing the very low single digit milliseconds,’ Fuetsch said. That’s more than the 1-millisecond latency goal 5G proponents have sought for years, but it also includes communications deeper into the network, not just between a phone and cell tower. And it’s a big improvement over today’s 4G networks with latencies more than 10 times slower, according to real-world measurements from mobile analytics company OpenSignal.

On top of that, future versions of 5G will be able to guarantee that latency.

‘In a 5G network, I can determine I want 2 milliseconds, and it should be able to give me 2 milliseconds every single time,’ Rygaard said. That guarantee doesn’t matter much for watching streaming video from a sports game, but it does when you have two factory robots working in sync, she said.

Not so fast, 5G fans

Not everyone is so optimistic, though.

‘Even if I reduce the latency to 1 millisecond, that only gets you to the base station. For most normal things you’re doing on the phone, it’s got to go to the cloud anyway,’ so latency will still be a problem, said Linley Group analyst Linley Gwennap. You can cache some data and do some processing in base stations themselves, but you can’t put all the data and software from all the data centers operated by Google, Netflix, Facebook and others.

And self-driving cars with 5G? ‘Ridiculous,’ Gwennap said. There will be lots of areas with no 5G network coverage, he said, and ‘if my car is on Verizon and yours is on AT&T it’s not going to be instantaneous anyway,’ he said.

OK, so maybe the hype is getting ahead of the reality. The 5G standards for ultra-low latency are still being hammered out and that technology likely won’t arrive until 2020, Mobile Ecosystem analyst Mark Lowenstein said.

‘We’re in a particular period of pre-5G hype cycle, where a dose of reality is needed,’ he said in an October report. 5G really will be different from 4G today, but it’ll arrive only gradually and in phases. So don’t expect the self-driving cars or 5G robots quite yet. ‘Patience and a long view will be needed.’