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Galaxy Note 8: The revival of Samsung’s poster child



Last year’s Galaxy Note 7 debacle felt like “rising up to the heavens and abruptly falling into hell without warning,” one Samsung senior executive has said. Multiple units around the world had caught fire, and the company was forced to recall and kill the phone. The mood was severe at Samsung’s mobile division. No one spoke of it directly outside of meetings, which were intense, because there were many, many things up for review.

After deciding to keep the Note brand — a decision which was hotly debated — there was no choice but to move forward. Last October, DJ Koh, president of Samsung Mobile, stood in front of a large group of Samsung Mobile employees. It was the first time that the mobile chief had explained the Note 7 situation in person. The auditorium was completely silent and the atmosphere heavy. After Koh finished his talk, one by one, employees started to ask questions. Then, one employee asked the president on his health. He replied that it was more important than ever to keep healthy, and asked everybody to do the same. Some employees recollect that they were in tears and almost cried at that moment.

“We were determined. We reset everything. I mean everything. There wasn’t a thing that we didn’t review again; it was back to the basics,” BJ Kang — part of both the product strategy team for the Note 8 and of the Note team from the series’ inception — told ZDNet. Though the Galaxy S8 series — which broke pre-order records in South Korea — redeemed the division somewhat, the mood was intense up to the launch of its Note sibling.

The Galaxy Note 8 was very well received. It became the highest pre-ordered Note in South Korea and the US. Samsung expects its highest ever quarterly profit of 14.5 trillion won for the third quarter; about a third will likely be from its mobile division, thanks to strong initial sales of the Note 8 and profits from the S8 series. “After the past year, it was just an emotional moment,” said Cue Kim, also of the product strategy team.


The history of the Galaxy Note series reflects Samsung’s trajectory in smartphones more than any other product. In terms of sales, it lags behind the Galaxy S series, which is designed more for mass appeal, but the Note series began with a very heavy chip on its shoulders.

Launched in 2011, reception for the first Note was largely negative. Its 5.3-inch screen was considered too big and the accompanying stylus was considered a relic from the pre-smartphone era. The late Apple founder Steve Jobs was famously against both. The lawsuits with its archrival were also in full swing; Samsung was still an underdog to Cupertino’s iPhone.

The Note didn’t just spring out from a vacuum. Prior to launch, Samsung conducted a worldwide survey with teams going around with papercut and woodcut models of the yet-to-be-named phone to people of all ages, gender, backgrounds, and geographies.

The South Korean tech giant found that consumers carried multiple devices but wanted simply to have an on-the-go device. The product needed to beat and have the benefits of the “incumbents”: It needed the portability and apps of phones; the large and immersive display and minimum scrolling of tablets; quick capturing of ideas and memos of the good old notepad.

The chief concern, said Kang and Kim, was how large a screen would be accepted. Consumers’ willingness to accept size and form varied by trade-offs, but as long as it was portable with additional benefits, they were willing to have a large screen, the company found. An “extensive analysis” of all possible screen sizes between 5 to 6 inches was conducted. “It’s funny now looking back, because almost all phones have screens between those sizes today,” Kang said with a laugh. “No one would consider them enormous. But we had no benchmark back then. We measured pocket depths of men’s pants. We weighed women’s bags.” They settled on 5.3 inches, relatively normal now, but huge then.

The stylus was also no easy feat; engineers balked at the challenge. Stylus technology then was clunky; conventional resistive screens for styluses didn’t handle the touch of a finger well.. The break came with Wacom’s digitizer technology. Its touch-sensitive graphics tablet was popular among graphic designers; Samsung’s UX team had known of it for some time but didn’t have a use case.

Evolution of the Note series.

Image: Samsung

“All-in-all, it was an experimental phone, it was an experimental launch,” said Kang. “But we were responding to a consumer demand to do in one device what a tablet, smartphone, e-book, and gaming console could do. There were mixed-reviews, yes, but for us it was a confirmation that it worked, and we set to improve the series.”


The Note’s identity was still fragile then; it had the best up-to-date hardware and software Samsung offered, but that was about it. Stylus use was limited to note-taking, and other vendors were also beginning to experiment with “super-sized” screens. Tablets were launched smaller, such as the Nexus 7, which was popular in 2012.

“Admittedly, different vendors were trying different sizes for smartphones and tablets,” said Kim. “But I don’t think they were as ambitious as ours. In terms of concept, we were the only ones willing to really do the all-in-one.”

The big break was the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note 2. With an upgraded design and more app tools for the stylus for creators, the phone basically started the trend of calling big phones “phablets”. “The point was to combine all-in-one with creativity with the pen,” said Kang. As for the “big” screen, that was locked-in; there was no going back to a smaller one.

The 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 was arguably when the Note series sealed its identity as a big-screened multi-tasker with a productivity-increasing stylus, aimed at professionals and creators. Those who were buying the series for the high specs wanted more features from the S Pen in various areas as it increased in productivity. The stylus could used to command apps to load though “action memo” and markings on internet and YouTube content could be collected in a scrapbook. The company added multi-window for the first time: two screens on the display.

“We really upped the stylus game with the third one,” said Kang. No one was complaining about the big screen or calling the stylus a relic anymore.

“I think that is when the Note really settled as a separate category.”


In 2014, Samsung made a big splash with the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4. It adopted metal frames for the first time — Samsung went “full-metal” the following year with the S6 — on a plastic body. The S Pen had its own pattern design, and writing on it felt more realistic thanks to an improved pen pressure and speed reader. Calligraphy was added, as was wireless charging for the first time.

The Note series help popularize “phablets” and made the use of the stylus respectable.

The firm also launched the Galaxy Note Edge, the conglomerate’s first edged-display phone, though only on one side. “The Galaxy Note series, I think to us as well as consumers, represented the best that Samsung could offer in that year,” said Kang. “In terms of flexible technology, we weren’t quite there yet. And the edge design worked best with a big screen. It just made the best sense.”

It was trickier in 2015. The 5.-7 inch Galaxy Note 5 was launched with the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. Samsung launched the two together because it expected the demand for large screen to be limited compared to demand for the smaller S6 and S6 Edge, its first dual edged phones, earlier that year. It led to the controversial decision to only launch the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus in Europe, and there were many complaints from European consumers on why the Note series wasn’t coming.

“Of course we knew Note had its own fan base by then,” said Kang. “But it helped us confirm that it wasn’t just about the large screen anymore. It was about the particular experience with the stylus and multitasking features.” The S Plus models were paired with the S model in prior launches.

The Galaxy Note 5 didn’t have edged screens, but it did have a curved back that improved the grip from previous models. PDF annotating and scroll capture features were added. Clicking the S Pen to pull it out — which got stuck for some first-time users — was established and was carried on to today.


The entire Note series has sold a total of 50 million units so far. Except for the first Note, which sold around 8 million units, all have surpassed the 10 million mark, according to analysts. It is highly likely that the Galaxy Note 8 will be the best-selling of the series.

The Galaxy Note 8 brings Samsung’s mojo back; it may be the series’ bestseller.

Despite its name, the Note 8 is the seventh generation of the phone — eighth if you count phone by phone including the Note Edge, but not including Galaxy Note 3 Neo, a mid-tier phone, and Galaxy Note FE, a reassembled Note 7. The Note 8 boasts a 6.3-inch screen, the biggest yet in the series. And simply put, it’s the best that Samsung could offer, according to Kim.

“The Note 8 retains many of the features introduced in the Note 7 that were received well,” he said. “One of the saddest things for us was that, when the recall was going on, we received so many requests to just keep their Note 7s, and these features were not fully used. We are glad that they are back.”

The tip of the S Pen used a new material to enhance the sense of writing, Kim said, with its shape being tailored to resemble the analogue pen more than any previous model. “Consumers were using the S Pen not just for the writing and drawing, but as a navigation tool,” Kim said. “So we really wanted to increase its touch accuracy. Basically more and more features were being used through the stylus, or they wanted it that way.” Live Message, another feature for the Note 8, allows consumers to draw or write messages using the pen and send them via messengers.

The Note 8 is, simply put, for professionals and creators, Kang said, and many of the features of the phone are for “work and play”. Multitasking features play a key role for Note users.

“It’s an established identity at this point, and our consumers want more,” he added. “One of our goals was to allow users to seamlessly switch back and forth between work and play, and to incorporate more media, more creativity [this time] round. That is how we came up with the App Pair.”

Users can “pair” two apps and place them a side bar that can be dragged out. When the user clicks on one of them, the screen automatically divides into two. “The main inspiration came from drivers,” Kang said. “One member of the product strategy team said they wanted navigation and music loaded at the same time. Pressing them separately was such a hassle.”

Another influence was the rise of media viewing, and the fact that consumers wanted to use social media while watching content. The Note 8 also sports a dual-camera for the first time in a Samsung flagship. It has OIS, or optical image stabilization, for each one.

“It’s not just about zoom and picture quality,” he added. “We made sure there was a purpose to the dual camera. The editing is ramped up — users can blur the background as much as they want compared to the subject of a photo. Our video is best so far.” Users are then able to edit after they take the photo before sharing in social media.

“We hope consumers are satisfied with the Note 8 experience and look forward to improving it further,” Kang added.


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Tech News

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.

More at Tom’s Guide.

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.””

More at Mashable.

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.”

More at 9to5Mac.

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.”

More at MacRumors.

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.”

More at Engadget.

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.”

More on the Spotify statement at Apple Insider.

And Finally…

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.”

Arun Venkatesan has taken a closer look on his blog.

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.


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Tech News

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.


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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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