The BlackBerry Z30
The Z30, BlackBerry’s fourth smartphone based around the BB10 operating, was announced last week by the Canadian company, and I’ve spent time this week with the 5 inch touchscreen handset to see what BlackBerry can offer in this ‘second generation’ handset.
Last week also saw a few other announcements from BlackBerry, ranging from extensive job losses to a bid that would take the company back into private ownership. These are all going to have an impact on the Z30, but I’m going to address them in a more detailed article in the near future. Right now I just want to look at the Z30 ahead of its availability in the UK tomorrow.
Out of the box two things struck me. The first is that they’ve got the presentation sorted. A matt black box, with the Z30 proudly on the top tray. Below that a cardboard sleeve for the flip cover, and then the USB cables, AC charger, and in-ear headphones in the lower level. It all feels rather slick, professional, and gives a great first impression.
And then I found the spare battery. Because the Z30 is a sealed unit, this is an external battery pack for recharging the handset through the micro USB port. It’s one way to get around the short battery life that the Z10 suffered. The other way is to put a really big battery cell inside the handset, which they’ve done. With a 2880 mAh battery, the Z30 has a lot of power.
But that power does come with some caveats. The first is that much of the extra capacity is going to be used by the larger 5 inch capacitive touch-screen (now using Super AMOLED, rather than the LCD technology of the Z10), while the second is that the BB10 OS does not seem to be as efficient as other mobile operating systems. I’ll be watching the battery life as I review the handset and cover this more in the main review next week here on Forbes. BlackBerry has stated the Z30 will run for 25 hours with ‘varied use’.
Spec wise the handset is powered by a 1.7 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU, an Adreno 320 GPU, and 2 GB or RAM, which is a similar load out to the middle-high end Android smartphones this handset will be in direct competition with. BlackBerry is also pushing the ‘natural sound’ capabilities of the device, with stereo speakers and improved audio handling for media playback and video calling.
The BlackBerry Z30 Hub
The other notable change in the Z30 (apart from the general scaling up of the size and specs) is the OS. The Z30 comes with v10.2 of the BB10 operating system. As a point change there’s nothing fundamentally new about the use or operation of the handset from the Z10, Q10, and Q5 that we’ve looked at previously. You still have the fascination with gestures replacing the home keys and status bars of other handsets, you still have the glance functionality to look at incoming messages over a number of social networks, services, and email boxes, you still have access to BBM, and the third party application support is still patchy.
Visible highlights of the 10.2 update can be seen in a number of places, but given the focus on messaging in the handset, the addition of the ‘Priority Hub’ is one to draw attention to. Over time, the Z30 will learn what messages are important to you, and will endeavour to highlight these so you can have quick access to them. With the potential avalanche of messages from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sources, this could prove useful to the busy Z30 user.
You can also reply to incoming messages without going to them through the hub. Receive a message alert across the top of the screen when you are working, and a quick swipe gesture down and you have the option to reply to the message from that screen. A nice touch, and one of many that have been added since the Z10 to help with your workflow around communications.
From this short time, the Z30 takes many lessons from the Z10 and the BlackBerry team has applied these to make the core experience of BB10.2 one that fits better with the connected experience of 2013, although I still think that being limited to a single Twitter account, and a lack of Facebook Pages inclusion in the hub, stops BB10 overall being anything other than a consumer focused OS, which is unfortunate given the focus on the prosumer that BlackBerry is now pushing for.
The BlackBerry Z30 on the Z10
Putting the new handset next to the older Z10, and you can see that the Z30 is a clear improvement. The physical styling of the handset is more welcoming and is a better fit in my hand; the increased screen size blends in to the front of the handset and the extra size takes away the cramped feeling of BB10 that hindered the first all-touchscreen on the Z10 (and show just how poorly suited a physical keyboard is to the new OS).
But being better than the last handset is not enough. The Z30 is going to be placed alongside handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S4, the iPhone 5S, and the Nokia Lumia 925/928. My gut feeling is that while the Z30 handles the basics well, it will struggle when you push the envelope.
So for the next week I’ll be living with the BlackBerry Z30 to see how well you can push the envelope with the handset, both as it stands now, and if all of BlackBerry’s online services were to be switched off. There’s a strong chance that this could be the last new handset from BlackBerry, and if that is the case I hope they can go out with their head held high.
There is a market for the Z30, but I don’t think it’s as large as BlackBerry hope. In an unbiased world many people would happily consider the Z30 in-store, but I don’t see it being an immediate ‘must buy’, more like a handset that needs careful consideration. That means the business issues around BlackBerry are going to come into the decision process, and that will make the Z30 an interesting purchase to justify.
Apple Loop: Shock iPhone 12 Details, Massive iOS 14 Problems, Macbook Pro Delay
Taking a look back at another week of news and headlines from Cupertino, this week’s Apple Loop includes surprising iPhone 12 benchmarks, big problems with iOS 14, two new iPads, Apple ignores MacOS, the “good/better/best” of the Apple Watch, the controversy around Apple One, and the Macs’ never changing system System Preferences.
Apple Loop is here to remind you of a few of the very many discussions that have happened around Apple over the last seven days (and you can read my weekly digest of Android news here on Forbes).
Just How Fast Is Your Next iPhone?
We might not have seen the iPhone 12 family as part of Apple’s virtual September launch event this week, but we have seen the benchmarks pop up on the AnTuTu website. That gives us a raw comparison of the numbers from last year’s iPhone to this year’s. Philip Michaels reports some pretty shocking numbers:
“Leaked benchmarks from Antutu, purportedly showing off an iPhone 12 Pro Max’s performance, may help fill in some of the blanks. MySmartPrice spotted the leaked numbers, which claim to show off a device with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage running iOS 14.1.
“According to the leaks, the iPhone 12 Pro Max tallied a score of 572,333 on Antutu’s test, which is a 9% gain over the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s 524,436 result on the same test. MySmartPrice says the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s reported tally would be the highest score ever posted by an iPhone, which you’d hope given that it’s a new model.
The Big Problem With iOS 14
Apple may not have announced a release date for the iPhone, but it did announce the release date of iOS 14. And that has caused problems. Normally Apple will provide a week’s worth of ‘heads up’ time to Developers so they can ensure their apps are ready for the jump up to the next major version of iOS. Not this year… developers had less than a days notice, and they are not happy. Matt Binder reports:
““Gone are the hopes of being on the store by the time users install the new iOS 14 and are looking for new apps. Gone is the chance to get some last-minute fixes into your existing apps to make sure they don’t stop working outright by the time users get to upgrade their OS,” explained Steve [Troughton-Smith from High Caffeine Content.”
““There are some developers who have spent all summer working on something new, using the latest technologies, hoping to be there on day one and participate in the excitement (and press coverage) of the new iOS,” he continued. “For many of them, they’ll be incredibly upset to have it end like this instead of a triumphant launch, and it can dramatically decrease the amount of coverage or sales they receive.””
Take Two Tablets And Call Your iPhone In The Morning
Taking the flagship spot away from the ‘missing presumed having a good time’ iPhone 12 was Apple’s new iPad Air. Beating the smartphone as the first device with Apple’s new A14 ARM-based processor. Samuel Axon and Jim Salter report for Ars Technica:
“The iPad Air gets the new A14 Bionic CPU, built on 5nm process technology. It’s a six-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four lower-power, more efficient cores for simpler background tasks. The A14 Bionic offers a 30 percent GPU performance boost compared to previous generations, and Apple says it puts up double the graphics performance of typical laptops.”
As well as the increased power, 2020’s iPad Air has a new design; USB-C has been added, the bezels have been trimmed away, the home button has been removed, and TouchID has been integrated into the power button. It;s not the only new iPad, as the entry-level iPad moves up rom the A10 to the A12 Bionic processor. Benjamin Mayo reports:
“The jump from A10 to A12 means Apple’s cheapest iPad will feature the Neural Engine for the first time. Apple says the A12 chip offers more than twice the performance of the top selling Windows laptop, 6x faster than the top-selling Android tablet and 6x faster than the best-selling Chromebook.
“The 8th-generation iPad keeps the same price as the 7th-gen: that’s $329 for general sale and $299 for education.”
Will Mac Owners Be Satisfied With Safari After macOS Delay?
If you were waiting for MmcOS Big Sur to drop for your Mac or MacBook, then you are out of luck. Apple’s event saw updates to iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS… but macOS has been delayed. The ‘Big Sur’ release is still in the future, but a small crumb (perhaps from a cookie) has been handed to Mac fans in the form of Safari 14, presumably to offer cross-OS support with other devices. Juli Clover reports:
“Safari 14 brings improved performance, customizable start pages, a Privacy Report to see which cross-site trackers are being blocked, and a new tab bar design that provides tab previews so you can see what you have open at a glance. Today’s update also removes Adobe Flash.”
The Apple Watch Strikes Three
Two new Apple Watch models were launched, and as the Apple Watch Series 3 remains, there is now a low-, a mid-, and a high-level smartwatch in the classic triplet that Apple was once famous for. Todd Haselton looks over the Series 6 Apple Watch for CNBC, including the headline ‘wellness’ features:
“The Series 6 also has Apple’s most advanced sensors. You can run the ECG app for an electrocardiogram, for example, a feature that’s not on the Apple Watch SE or Series 3. It’s also the only model with the new blood-oxygen app. I tried that and it told me my blood oxygen was 96%, which seems good.
“…Apple is careful to explain that this isn’t a medical device. You can use it if you’re curious about your blood oxygen when you’re hiking at high altitudes, but Apple isn’t making any promises about detecting low oxygen should you fall ill with coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, Apple has brought the ‘SE’ brand to the Apple Watch, again with the promise of a cheaper ‘mid-range’ slice of hardware that still delivers the core Apple experience. Chris Velazco has spent some time with the wearable to try and work out where it fits into the portfolio:
“For one, the SE uses the same S5 system-in-package (or SIP) that we got in last year’s Series 5, which in turn contains the same dual-core processor as the Series 4. Meanwhile, Apple has confirmed that the SE has the same compass and always-on altimeter as the Series 6, along with a very similar screen.
“From what I can tell, it’s the same bigger display we got in the Series 5, just without the always-on functionality enabled. And while the Series 4 was the first Apple Watch to come with heart-sensing ECG support, you simply don’t get that here. Ditto for the Series 6’s new blood oxygen measurement features.”
Bouquets and Brickbats For Apple One
Also announced alongside Apple’s hardware, and perhaps an indication of where Apple wishes to focus on the future, were new options for the various subscription services offered by Cupertino. Apple One takes the popular options and bundles them together while offering a discount. Brian Heater reports:
“It’s not quite mix and match yet, but there are three pricing tiers. Individual offers Apple Music, TV+, Arcade and iCloud for $15 a month. The Family version will get you those four services for $20 a month. For the hardcore, there’s the $30 a month Premier tier, which bundles iCloud, Music, TV+, Arcade, News+ and [the new service] Fitness+.“
“For those who have been putting off a given Apple subscription, such a bundle could certainly sweeten the pot — and make it even harder for users to escape the pull of the Apple software ecosystem.”
More at TechCrunch. Given Apple’s market position, using one service to pptentiallybolster another through a bundle has drawn the eye of the competition. Spotify – which has already filed an anti-trust complaint with the European Commission against Apple – drew attention to the issue shortly ager the end of the event.
“Once again, Apple is using its dominant position and unfair practices to disadvantage competitors and deprive consumers by favoring its own services. We call on competition authorities to act urgently to restrict Apple’s anti-competitive behavior, which if left unchecked, will cause irreparable harm to the developer community and threaten our collective freedoms to listen, learn, create, and connect.”
The look of the MacOS user interface has evolved since OSX was announced in 2000. One area has stayed relatively contestant, but the small changes highlight the thinking behind the OS over the years.
“The interface started glassy and skeuomorphic, mimicking the materials used on Macs. Over the decades, it went through significant revisions. One thing that seems to have remained relatively unchanged over the years is the System Preferences screen.
“But, at a closer glance, we’ll see that this mundane part of the operating system has changed quite a bit and hides some fun easter eggs and surprises.”
Apple Loop brings you seven days worth of highlights every weekend here on Forbes. Don’t forget to follow me so you don’t miss any coverage in the future. Last week’s Apple Loop can be read here, or this week’s edition of Loop’s sister column, Android Circuit, is also available on Forbes.
Apple reportedly acquires VR startup ‘Spaces’
Apple has now acquired another startup, Spaces, which has a team specialized in virtual reality technologies (VR). The acquisition was announced today by a Protocol report citing its own sources.
Spaces was created in 2016 by DreamWorks Animation veterans, and the startup has been developing VR products since then, including a Zoom add-on that allowed users to hold virtual reality video conferencing using animated avatars.
The company discontinued all its services last week without further details. The official Spaces website just mentions that the startup is now “heading in a new direction.”
Thank you to our users and partners who participated in our awesome VR video conferencing product and the many people who enjoyed our VR location-based entertainment attractions found at theme parks, theaters, and more.
According to the Protocol report, both Apple and Spaces did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the acquisition. The price paid by Apple on the Spaces startup is also unknown.
While it’s not certain that the team behind Spaces will join any VR related project at Apple, rumors suggest that Apple is working on AR and VR headsets for 2021 and 2022. Bloomberg says the headset will reportedly feature high-resolution displays and a “cinematic speaker system,” which should make it difficult for the user to notice the differences between real life and the virtual reality experiences the headset will provide.
As Apple continues to invest in its ARKit and new features such as the LiDAR scanner in the new 2020 iPad Pro, it’s plausible to expect that all of these technologies will be merged into a new product to offer advanced augmented and virtual reality capabilities.
Huawei Suddenly Strikes At Google With New ‘Fight’ To Beat Android
“The world has been suffering for a long time,” rotating Huawei chairman Guo Ping told employees during a pep talk this week, referring to the lock Google has on the Android ecosystem. And so ended the executive silence on President Trump’s latest salvo, cutting Huawei’s access to the chipsets powering its flagship smartphones. Guo admitted the new sanctions would “cause certain difficulties… especially for high-end mobile phones,” but assured employees that “I believe we can solve them.”
The focus of Guo’s remarks was Huawei’s answer to the loss of Google from those mobile phones. Its alternative has been in the works since last year—part HarmonyOS operating system that can run across phones and other smart devices, but mostly the HMS replacement for Google Mobile Services, the apps and underlying services that drive the Android ecosystem. Huawei now has 600 million users on its ecosystem. This is a change that impacts all of those who stay with the brand.
“The world is also looking forward to a new open system,” Guo said. “And since Huawei helped Android to succeed, why not make our own system successful?” The devil’s very much in the detail here. HMS may be bigger, brighter and bolder, as Huawei claims, but the timing of its full HarmonyOS deployment on a smartphone remains unclear. Reports that this would happen by the end of this calendar year, perhaps as soon as with the launch of the imminent Mate 40, have been denied.
“HMS must have a ‘Foolish Old Man Moving Mountain Spirit’,” Guo said to rally his audience, “no matter how high the mountain is, dig an inch or less, persist and fight for a long time, we will definitely succeed.”
There is nothing especially new in these bullish HMS remarks. What is new, though, is the idea that anything can still be on track despite the admission from the company that its stockpiled custom chipsets will only see it through the launch of the Mate 40, with analysis assuming depletion early-ish next year. And right now there is no Plan-B, given that Trump has cut access to third-party alternatives.
“Don’t waste an opportunity in a crisis,” Guo Ping said of the latest U.S. attack, telling his audience that Huawei will invest heavily in HiSilicon to overcome the impact of the U.S. ban, albeit that will take time. “HiSilicon will grow stronger in several years,” he said, suggesting that the U.S. had created a situation that would ultimately work in Huawei’s favour, as long as everyone seized upon it.
Guo described the company’s decision to launch HMS as “brave,” and that “it was not an easy decision for us, as a smartphone company, to develop our own Huawei Mobile Services ecosystem. It’s very difficult and very challenging. But we delivered a better-than-expected script for the first year.”
Huawei has maintained throughout its time on the U.S. blacklist that it wants nothing more than a return to normal—where normal is Google restored to its new devices. But the longer this situation continues, the more one can assume Huawei isn’t going to backtrack on HMS, not given that it secures a future for the company’s smartphones that’s not reliant on U.S. tech.
Until now, Huawei execs have been notably diplomatic over the loss of Google and their preference being to restore the relationship between the two organizations. That’s why these comments are so remarkable—it’s a surprisingly hard stance with surprisingly emotive language to take over Google and the competitive landscape that may now emerge.
As hard as replacing Google is—and many analysts suggest it is near impossible, the chipset issue is much worse. But Huawei looks intent on playing a long-game, with the balance sheet to do so. As reported by China’s state-controlled Global Times, Guo “compared cultivating HMS as a protracted war that Huawei is destined to win in the end,” telling his audience (and Google) that “it’s plausible to have two systems in a world. And Huawei will be able to survive and take the lead even in an extremely hostile environment.”
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