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16 biggest hits and misses of 2016

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ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra

Summarizing 2016 is best done by going through the highs and lows — well, mostly lows.

As this turbulent year comes to a close, GadgetMatch presents a total of 16 unforgettable moments and polarizing announcements that have shaped the past twelve months.

This is going to be a long read, so let’s get right to it.

Hit: Google releases its own smartphones to positive reception

Google’s Pixel and larger Pixel XL have been experiencing great critical and commercial success — so much so that Google’s third-party partners, specifically Samsung and LG, are caught in an upstream, and the Nexus program has been set aside for now. The search giant is showing manufacturers how to do Android right, but one question remains leading into 2017: Where’s Android One headed?

Miss: Samsung recalls its greatest phone ever

This has to be the most heart-wrenching miss on this list. The recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 caused such an impact on the tech industry, we’ll still be feeling it well into 2017. It’s a shame really, as many media outlets — including ours — praised the stylus-equipped smartphone as not just the best smartphone this year, but even the greatest Android device ever made.

Miss: Apple lets go of everyone’s favorite port

No bit of tech news this year harmed mainstream audiences as much as Apple’s removal of the audio jack in its latest crop of iPhones. It’s a move marketing head Phil Schiller believes takes “courage,” but we think it has more to do with consumerism, making people buy new pairs of wireless headphones which Apple coincidentally markets together with partner company Beats.

Hit: Nintendo cares about our childhoods

Nintendo clearly won the award for coolest gift to buy your parents, yourself, or even your kids this holiday season. The miniature Famicom and NES consoles are always sold out wherever they’re available, and why not? They’re incredibly affordable, come preloaded with 30 classic games, and make you relive all those bitter sibling rivalries during childhood.

Miss: Android Nougat never really took off

It’s been four months since Android 7.0 Nougat began rolling out, but a total of only 0.4 percent of consumer devices actually have it today. To make matters worse, an even newer Android 7.1 came out already, and support for the more widespread Android 2.3 Gingerbread will be discontinued early next year. Google has a lot of ground to cover until Android 8.0 launches next year.

Miss: Smartwatches are going the way of the dodo

How many people do you know constantly wear a smartwatch? Exactly. Sales have been slumping, and even though the latest version of Android Wear is set to release early 2017, brands like Motorola and Samsung aren’t keen on applying Google’s smartwatch operating system, opting instead to either give up completely or use their own interface.

Hit: Chinese smartphone brands reach new heights

Chinese smartphone brands ruled 2016. Yes, Apple is still on top when it comes to total profit, raking in 91 percent of all smartphone revenue last quarter, but the global rise of Huawei, OPPO, and Vivo is unprecedented. And it’ll only get better with these Asian companies making a stronger push in the western hemisphere during the next few months.

Miss: Project Ara doesn’t see the light of day, sort of

We were so disappointed to hear this news: After years of development and hopeful demos, Google’s modular Project Ara smartphone never entered the mass production phase. Fortunately, an actual prototype of the project leaked last month, but all it did was remind us how much potential was wasted.

Miss: GoPro suffers financially and recalls Karma drone

GoPro has been the go-to brand for all things action camera since its conception. Now, unfortunately, its profits have plunged, and mishaps like the recall of its ambitious Karma drone doesn’t help maintain a positive image for the brand. GoPro will need some divine intervention to make up for its 40 percent drop in sales as compared to 2015.

Hit: Apple finally updates its MacBook lineup

After years and years of minor refreshes, Apple finally launched what we’ve all been waiting for: an all-new MacBook Pro. With so many changes — such as the new keyboard and loss of several important connectivity ports — it feels like a totally new product, but the true innovation comes in the Touch Bar, which is open to endless support from third-party developers.

Miss: BlackBerry gives up on hardware

In what was the least surprising yet still heartbreaking news, BlackBerry has halted all plans for designing its own smartphones. Instead, the entire development and manufacturing process is now in the hands of third-party companies, to the disgruntlement of long-time fans. The awkwardly named BlackBerry DTEK50 and DTEK60 are simply rebranded midrange Alcatel handsets with added security, courtesy of BB.

Hit: Xiaomi cuts in front of innovation line

Xiaomi Mi Mix front and back

We’ve seen hundreds of leaks and prototypes that never got turned into actual commercial products, but Xiaomi went ahead and pulled the trigger with its Mi Mix concept phone. Just look at its massive near-borderless display, ceramic-encased design, and high-end specifications — has Xiaomi set the standard for what smartphones will strive to be in 2017?

Miss: LG fails modular experiment

LG V20 and LG G5 with removable batteries

For every successful modular phone, there are a few that fail. LG had its first attempt with the flagship G5 earlier this year, but a not-so-great reception to its not-that-intuitive execution lead to the Korean company possibly junking it completely. The recently launched V20 doesn’t have modularity either, so Lego-like phones are probably better left as works in progress for now.

Hit: World goes crazy for Pokémon Go

No single game has caused as much controversy as Pokémon Go this year. The augmented reality app invaded smartphones all over the world, making developer Niantec filthy rich in the process. We ourselves got swept into the craze, writing comprehensive guides for getting started and finding the best spots for those rare creatures.

Miss: ASUS jacks up this year’s ZenFone prices

ASUS made waves in 2015 with ZenFones that had unmatched horsepower for their price points, effectively forming a booming segment of bang-for-buck phones we still see today. A year later, when the Taiwan-based company released the outrageously priced ZenFone 3 series, formerly loyal fans have been jumping ship for more affordable offerings.

Miss: Yahoo goes up for adoption

How the mighty have fallen — Yahoo was so wealthy at one point, it could have bought Google. Instead, the former internet giant got bought by Verizon for only $5 billion; that’s a huge drop from its $125-billion valuation back in 2000! The nail in the coffin came when news broke about 500 million Yahoo accounts getting hacked — two years after the breach actually happened.

Explainers

All filters: Article 13 of the EUCD explained

Is this the end for memes everywhere?

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If you haven’t been on the web often lately, this may be something that has slipped past your radar. On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament voted to pass a directive that could change the way we approach the internet for years to come. But, consider first that it’s only the initial review, with a final vote happening next year.

What is this directive, and why is the internet involved? Why are people suddenly seeing #Article13 trend on Twitter a few hours after the decision was passed? What’s with this #SaveTheInternet nonsense?

Understanding the copyright directive

The directive at the forefront of this entire debacle is known as the European Union Copyright Directive, or EUCD. The EUCD hopes to streamline effective regulations towards the protection of intellectual property in the EU. It was first adopted in 2001, following the ruling during the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty. Earlier this year, another version of the directive was drafted with added articles and stipulations.

Basically, the EUCD seeks to create measures to protect one’s copyright on created content. The range of intellectual property that should be protected include music, videos, images, algorithms/codes, and even software. The directive calls for member countries to enact and implement laws that protect copyright owners. Eventually, such stipulations also reach big companies that operate within the EU.

You might be thinking why there is an outcry over it in the first place, especially when the directive’s purpose is clear. Well, there’s one particular part of the EUCD that a lot of people disagree on: Article 13.

The unlucky Article 13

Article 13 of the EUCD isn’t a lengthy piece of reading. The whole article contains three provisions for the implementation of copyright protection on websites that host user-generated content. The directive makes a note that these websites store large amounts of user-generated content, with the main purpose, if not one of its main purposes, of earning profit. Basically, any website that allows you to upload your own content and allows you to earn money from it is affected by the directive.

The article also cites that such websites should create measures such as “effective content recognition technologies,” complaint management systems, and tracking solutions. These measures should be readily available the moment users upload content on the website itself. With such measures taken into account, it allows content creators and service providers to properly engage in discussions should there be a dispute. It’s basically what YouTube Creators is all about.

Websites like YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as streaming apps such as Spotify, Apple Music, and IGTV (when monetization is available) are most likely the article’s main targets. The directive also explicitly states that non-profit service providers and online marketplaces will not be affected. So, Wikipedia and Shopee aren’t affected, don’t worry.

The ongoing debate towards copyright protection

For some people, the EUCD is inherently good for intellectual property protection. They argue that the primary goal of the directive is to protect users from piracy and copyright infringement. Through the EUCD, there will be systems in place that protect music labels, content creators, and publishers from any illegal use of their content online. For these people, users should be held liable for infringement of any kind (memes, remixes, and parodies are a few examples).

Furthermore, the directive not only affects users but also the companies that run these websites. It basically mandates companies to create better content recognition systems, or change their already existing system for stricter copyright protection. If they don’t make adjustments, they will be held liable for any infringement-related issues. What Article 13 does, for those who are for the EUCD, is simply a suggested improvement.

However, there are others who believe that the directive is a little too extreme and could potentially do more harm than good. Leading institutions and companies in the tech industry think that the provisions are too vague, leaving it open for interpretation. This has the potential for companies to abuse copyright claims without effective ways of intervention. Furthermore, any significant changes to already-existing systems would require heavy costs to implement.

The bigger picture here is how the directive affects the internet as a whole. Big names in the tech industry argue that it’s an attack on the creative freedom of users. Instead of allowing the internet to be an open space for the right way of creativity, it simply adds more filters and restrictions in the process. Basically, you can’t put up an Avengers meme without having the approval of Disney and Marvel Studios first.

So, what happens now?

The EUCD was put in place to protect copyright — a simple and basic goal. There is recognition that there are measures that must be in place to uphold copyright. There is no denying that big companies have to abide by intellectual property rules, or suffer severe consequences for infringement. However, a lot of people are clamoring that these measures are both vague and sound extreme. Not only does the directive infringe one’s creative freedom in providing quality content, but it also makes the whole process costly and rigid.

At the end of the day, everybody wants to protect copyright. The argument for or against the EUCD is already past the debate on whether protecting copyright is right or wrong. The debate now is whether or not a open source like the internet should be kept that way or be strictly protected at all costs.

All of these will come into play in January 2019, when the European Parliament casts its vote for or against the directive. If you have the time to read the EUCD, you can access the full document here.

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How Chinese vendors have taken over the Indian market

Market share has been grabbed but can they sustain it?

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A few years back, the most prominent smartphone companies in India included Micromax, Karbonn, Sony, HTC, and obviously, Samsung. It was a healthy mix of a few homegrown companies along with a blend of various manufacturers from diverse backgrounds. Each had its unique selling point and the market was at a nascent stage.

Fast forward to 2018, the dynamics have completely changed. Except for Samsung, all other companies listed above are almost non-existent and the complete business has been taken over by Chinese makers. According to Counterpoint Research’s Q2 2018 report, Xiaomi, Vivo, OPPO, and Honor (Huawei’s sub-brand) have a combined market share of 53 percent.

Domestic companies like Micromax have a very unstable presence in the region now, and all other vendors like Karbonn, Intex, and Spice have packed up. The only brand that has been able to survive this long is Samsung. But, considering the recent two quarters, even Samsung has lost a substantial share to the Chinese.

How did the newcomers manage to take over the market so rapidly, and successfully?

The base strategy is pretty similar to that of Samsung. Back in 2010, when Nokia and BlackBerry had their superiority, Samsung Mobile was a fledgling in the country. Samsung came in and filled the market with next-generation trendy products at a nominal rate. When Nokia and BlackBerry were busy competing with their QWERTY phones, Samsung was selling touchscreen phones like the Corby and Champ.

These phones appealed to the younger audience, and while Apple was busy knocking down everyone in design, Samsung was busy scaling their production. Soon, we saw their brief stint with Windows OS via the Omnia series, followed by entry into the Android ecosystem. Even with Android, Samsung continued releasing phones in every price segment: The Galaxy Star was a top-selling budget phone, the S-series had just taken off, and new devices were being launched almost every month.

In short, they filled the market with options and every type of user was targeted. The gamble paid off massively. Within a few years, the old behemoths were gone and Samsung had established a brand with trust among users. The company focused on grabbing market share via the budget and midrange segment and simultaneously managing the top-tier S and Note series for higher margins.

This is the same strategy that the new Chinese vendors are applying. First, fill the market with trendy phones that are reasonably priced, and then expand their portfolio. A notch and glass backing are the current trends, and everyone quickly jumped on the bandwagon.

From gradients to patterns, there are multiple options available. Want a performance-centric phone? Huawei and Xiaomi brought in high-end processors for just INR 20,000 (US$ 276). Like iPhone’s Face ID? Almost every phone comes with face unlock.

Vivo brought in the in-display fingerprint scanner before everyone else and it’s exactly the kind of innovation the end user wants. While these companies are busy expanding their portfolio, they are also careful to consider long-term goals. Huawei’s Mate and P series have been mind-boggling, and with the P20 Pro, it has managed to establish itself as a premium player.

OPPO, Vivo, and OnePlus belong to the same holding company — BBK Mobile. OnePlus leads the premium segment while OPPO and Vivo act as test beds for new concepts, like the sliding camera. Ultimately, anything earned by either of them goes to the same pocket. Xiaomi has avoided the top-tier segment until now, but with the POCO F1, it still remains unclear how they intend to establish a premium brand.

Apples and oranges

I haven’t considered Apple in this equation because the company has completely different expectations from the market. It doesn’t care about market share as long as it grabs the top one percent audience. Every week we see new launches happening in the country with each new product trying to take on the competitors offerings.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Chinese domination in the country will be short-lived but the statistics suggest a different story. Each of them has also confidently invested in growing their presence; this includes the operation of service centers and exclusive stores. In fact, all of them have joined the Make in India initiative to avoid import duty.

We haven’t seen Samsung get aggressive to the competition yet; they are still trying to make it through at their own pace. It will also be interesting to see how HMD Global is able to make a mark with their Nokia branded offerings in the country.

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Sony’s PlayStation is back, Xiaomi outs new Mi 8 variants: Weekend Rewind

Ending the week with nostalgic feels

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Here are this week’s top stories on GadgetMatch.

1. The iconic PlayStation is back!

Let’s kick things off by taking a trip down memory lane. Almost 25 years after its debut, Sony is bringing back the iconic first-gen PlayStation and it will come as the PlayStation Classic.

It’s basically a miniaturized version complete with a pair of original controller replicas. What’s even more exciting is that fans of the original PlayStation will be able to relive 20 legendary titles including Final Fantasy VII and Tekken 3!

2. Razer Phone 2 gets a launch date

Razer officially confirms the arrival of its second gaming smartphone — the Razer Phone 2. It succeeds the Razer Phone that was launched last November and based on earlier leaks, it’ll be a familiar-looking product.

The phone should sport the same body as its predecessor including the display with a buttery-smooth 120Hz refresh rate. Of course, the internals will have beefier specs as well. We’ll know more real soon during its special event at California this October 10.

3. Apple has the lead!

While it may be true that Apple didn’t sell the most number of smartphones, they still earned more than their competitors. According to the latest data from Counterpoint Research, Apple had the biggest share of industry profits during the second quarter of 2018.

For comparison, Apple earned 62 percent of the second-quarter smartphone profits. Samsung, which is the top-selling smartphone vendor, is responsible for just 17 percent of smartphone profits in the quarter. Huawei takes the third spot with eight percent of the profits.

4. A complete but affordable smartwatch

Huami, Xiaomi’s sub-brand in China, has a smartwatch that offers tremendous bang for your buck. The company just unveiled the Amazfit Verge and it’s got everything you could ask for in a wearable without the high price tag.

The Amazfit Verge has a GPS, heart-rate sensor, and full-circle AMOLED display. It’s also equipped with a microphone and loudspeaker that allow voice calls through the smartwatch.

5. Xiaomi outs Mi 8 Pro and Mi 8 Lite

On a related note, Xiaomi also held a quick event to announce a few things including two new Mi 8 variants — the Mi 8 Pro and Mi 8 Lite.

In a nutshell, these are additions to the flagship Mi 8 family. The Mi 8 Pro is similar to the Mi 8 with the same specs like its Snapdragon 845 processor, up to 8GB of memory, and 128GB of expandable storage. Although, this model comes with an in-display fingerprint sensor.

As the name suggests, the Mi 8 Lite is a toned-down Mi 8 and comes with a midrange Snapdragon 660 chipset, dual rear cameras, and a 24-megapixel front camera. Both phones are initially available in China, and international availability is yet to be announced.


Weekend Rewind is our roundup of top news and features you might have missed for the week. We know the world of technology can be overwhelming and not everyone has the time to get up to speed with everything — and that includes us. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the rewind.

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