Unfiltered

Our security shouldn’t only be Huawei’s price to pay

The Chinese company is an unfortunate casualty in a war it shouldn’t be fighting alone 

Donald's Trumps tough stance on China leaves Huawei a casualty. MJ Jucutan / GadgetMatch

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It’s official. American companies can again do business with Chinese tech giant Huawei. 

This weekend, a confusing six weeks after the ban went into effect, US President Donald Trump reversed his own executive order following negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a leader’s summit in Japan. 


It means existing and future Huawei smartphones will continue to enjoy unfettered access to Android updates, as well as other Google services including the Google Play app store. 

It also means US companies like Qualcomm, Intel, and Micron can continue to supply the parts that Huawei needs to continue building phones.

But it doesn’t mean that Huawei can start selling devices in the US, at least not yet. 

The company’s entry into the US market is being left on the table as a talking point in the US’ ongoing trade negotiations with China. Speaking to journalists after the G20 Summit, President Trump said, “We’ll have to save that to the very end, we’ll have to see.”

The move is an interesting turning point in the continuing trade battle between the two superpowers,  where Huawei sadly and unfairly appears to be a casualty of war

Over the last few years, it has become harder for Huawei to do business in the United States following claims that its hardware is a threat to US national security. Claims that have, for the most part, gone unsubstantiated. Warnings have come from both the US Congress and the intelligence community. Mr. Trump himself has been quoted as saying, “Huawei is something that is very dangerous.”

But with Huawei’s access being used as leverage in trade negotiations, one can’t help but ask if there is – or was – any basis for these allegations. Or were fears and assumptions instead blown out of proportion, simply to put pressure on China? 

What’s clear is that consumer confidence in the brand has taken a major hit, so much so that it will be interesting to see how Huawei intends on bouncing back from this crisis. That’s unfortunate to see, considering the company’s massive contribution to the smartphone industry over the last two to three years. Where growth has slowed and many brands have merely iterated, Huawei has arguably pushed innovation hardest.    

Huawei Mate X

Huawei hopes to forge into the future with its foldable Mate X smartphone. Photo by Marvin Velasco / GadgetMatch

The tea leaves point to the company relying on its dominance in the 5G race, where it appears to be miles ahead of its competition. With or without Google, expect the Chinese firm to also push even harder in the smartphone space. Its foldable Mate X smartphone is nearing its release date and could possibly be a game changer. 

Still, I wonder, is it a little too late, and is the damage dealt beyond repair?    

As the story develops. It opens up a host of other questions and issues that beg to be considered.

Sure, concerns about China are not without basis. But how big of a threat is China (the country) to global consumers? And are all Chinese tech companies, solely by virtue of their origin or association, equally worth being wary of? 

While privately owned Chinese corporations like Huawei have insisted that they “will not build backdoors and hand over customer data,” experts fear that no Chinese company can be completely independent of its government. Looming over any such promise, the Chinese Counter-Espionage legislation mandates organizations to assist the government in intelligence work when deemed necessary.

But if this were the case, what about devices built with Chinese-made components? Chances are, you either own or are using one right now. Is it then even realistic to assume that we can live in a world without Chinese tech and manufacturing?

US government concerns about Huawei find ground in the company’s leadership in networking equipment and its potential dominance over 5G infrastructure. Anyone with that much power over something so vital can be a threat. But one can argue that the same can be said of any other company or country: the tech industry, after all, is built on a global supply chain. China does not have a monopoly on spying and hacking. Remember Russia? If China is a threat, so is every other technology superpower — including the US.

So what now? And how do we mitigate these risks in a way that doesn’t simultaneously deprive us of the next generation of industry advances?

By no means am I a security expert, nor do I have all the answers. But what’s clear to me is that restricting trade hinders innovation. And being technologically backward is a security threat in and of itself.     

It’s also clear that the means by which the US has chosen to engage with China hurts all of us. Not only does it set a bad precedent its ramifications also extend beyond innovation and geopolitics.

Our combined national security shouldn’t be only Huawei’s price to pay.

It’s 2019 and we live in a global village that is intricately interconnected. National security is our collective cross to bear because if these threats are otherwise unresolved, we all suffer.

This, even more than a trade issue, is a cybersecurity one. And while governments should be expected to step up to defend their citizens from potential holes in network security with progressive and ethical solutions, while utopic, I would love to see as a next step, the creation of an independent international body supported by us all. A group with no other interest in mind but that of consumers made up of great minds from both the West and the East.

Such a group would be responsible for testing hardware and software, and coming up with transparent solutions, separated from politics and uncolored by trade negotiations. Solutions that allow us to navigate this new world without paranoia, and with the freedom to choose the devices that we believe best match our needs. 

Want to read this post in German? Visit MobileGeeks.de to see a translation!

Unfiltered

Smartphone makers need to stop chasing numbers

How close are we to smartphone launch fatigue?

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Image by GadgetMatch

The year 2019 has to be one of the busiest for everyone in the mobile technology industry. A decade back, it was dominated by the likes of Nokia, BlackBerry, and Motorola. Samsung was just gaining momentum and Huawei simply existed in the consumer electronics space.

Back then, we saw one-year refresh cycles for phones. Apple would release a new iPhone every year, Samsung’s S and Note series were a huge hit and each got an upgrade every year, and all other brands started following a similar format. Then came a time when HTC, LG, and Samsung would compete to build the perfect flagship.


With the introduction of new players like Xiaomi, Vivo, OPPO, and Realme, strategies and product launches have drastically changed. These new players rule the affordable and midrange segments and have managed to dethrone Samsung in terms of market share.

But this quick rise to fame has been on the back of repetitive launches. Earlier, a year-long cycle was maintained for each series and this was slowly brought down to six months. Now, we see a new phone launching every one to three months. And each new offering undercuts the previous product. Basically, even if they belong to a different lineup, they end up killing the previous one.

In an attempt to cover every possible price bracket, each of these new launches is also accompanied by a host of configuration options and limited editions. While there is no doubt that this has made the buyer a king in terms of choices, the market is headed in stormy waters from a long-term point of view.

Each of the new offerings come with incremental upgrades. It’s something you can definitely live without for a long time, but your purchase is bound to age quickly. And this brings to an even more important question, are smartphone makers blindly chasing numbers?

Should smartphone makers give up or should they just keep chasing numbers?

A couple of years back, every brand wanted to offer as much RAM as possible. We’ve reached a point where a full-fledged Windows 10 laptop comes with 8GB RAM and a “mobile” operating system like Android needs 12GB.

2018 was all about chasing the screen-to-body ratio figure. Just to get a few more points, brands tested out pop-up cameras, water-drop notches, and even cut-outs. Now, thanks to the rise in popularity of mobile gaming, the processor is a crucial part of the phone.

Recently, Realme’s CEO, Madhav Seth had an interview with the folks over at GSMArena and when asked about the quick update cycle between the Realme 3 and Realme 5 Pro, this is what he had to add:

Now if I say for 3 Pro and between 5 Pro, what would be the difference, mainly? I’d say there are two differences: the performance doesn’t compromise much because I don’t play this game of this processor – the 710 and 712. There isn’t much of a difference between your day-to-day usage. Even while you are gaming, there’s not much of a difference. There is a difference, but not that drastic.

Yes, the executive agrees there’s “not much difference”, but there is a difference. And the brands are able to cash-in on this. A difference of just two digits between the 710 and 712 has given brands an opportunity to launch a brand new product within just four months.

How many megapixels do we really need?

Similarly, another department where brands are going nuts is the camera. How many megapixels do you need? Apparently, as many as possible. You’ll always end up clicking a 12-megapixel picture with a 48-megapixel sensor on a normal basis unless you start the dedicated mode. But, on-paper, 48 is a larger value than 12. We’ll also ignore the fact that pixel size or software processing also matters. There’s a reason why Pixel 3 is the best camera phone with just a single 12-megapixel sensor.

While this thought process of amping up numbers has been fairly common in the Android ecosystem, OnePlus has been able to carve out a different niche for itself. Sure, it packs all the latest hardware. However, this doesn’t force it to focus just on specs and launch a new phone every now and then. They have a fixed six-month cycle for years and a secret weapon — their Android skin.

What sets a phone apart from the pack?

OxygenOS is a well-carved product that perfectly compliments the hardware. This is assuring for the user because they know a T-series phone will not practically affect them and the brand won’t forget about software updates after a few months.

Similarly, even Apple relies on a year-long refresh cycle. Their weapon is iOS. This single piece of software lets them completely omit figures like RAM, battery size, and even camera lens details. They don’t reveal the nitty-gritty details because the end-user doesn’t care. It’s an iPhone.

On the other end, even Android players are proud of their software. Xiaomi has MIUI, Realme has ColorOS, and Vivo has Funtouch OS. But the main question is, how long do they last? Software updates are quite often delayed, the UI is bug-ridden, and simply lacks a polishing touch. Not to forget, a few brands like Honor literally forget they’ve launched quite expensive phones and should ideally provide support.

From a long-term perspective, this confidence in products is what makes Apple a “brand”. Even OnePlus and Samsung have achieved a similar status among the masses and consistency and commitment should be the key focus. Samsung has transformed itself from being a TouchWiz meme master to deploying OneUI on every possible new phone.

In the affordable segment, Nokia-branded phones have done a fairly good job. They stick to stock Android and deliver on their promise of consistently supporting older phones. A reputation is formed, something that’ll last.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not favoring stock Android. I’m personally not a big fan. However, I’m stressing that brands keep aside the numbers game and focus on delivering an experience. If you’re just going to assemble hardware, there’s no difference between you and defunct players like Micromax and Karbonn.

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Computex 2019

AI Facial Recognition continues to scare me

Technology is indeed getting creepier

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AI or artificial intelligence used to be something we only see in sci-fi movies. Today, AI is very much part of our daily lives with a lot of it deeply embedded in the smartphones we all use.

Apple, through the iPhone X, then introduced AI facial recognition as a secure way to unlock phones. They call it Face ID and it’s widely considered the most secure facial recognition system on smartphones right now. But it’s not perfect. It once failed to tell the difference between two Chinese women.


Before all of these advancements, it was in the 1960s when Woody Bledsoe created a system that detects facial features by plotting coordinates through a tablet. Thus, the facial recognition system was born. It has then made its way to smartphones, laptops, and security cameras.

In Computex 2019, we found CyberLink’s FaceMe. It’s an advanced AI facial recognition system that determines one’s age and emotions through a web camera. To my surprise, it accurately detected my approximate age group — around 21 to 26 years old. I thought the mood detection was subjective as my appearance won’t exactly tell you what I really feel. Bottomline? I found it amusing but scary.

Have you ever wondered how Facebook detects you on other users’ photos? In 2015, Facebook created a deep learning facial recognition system called “DeepFace” that detects faces through images. Innovative? Yes. Creepy? Well, Mark Zuckerberg made headlines when a photo of him surfaced online with his laptop’s webcam had tape covering it. This then led to the speculation that Facebook spies on its users.

On the other hand, the Chinese government has a totally different way of utilizing facial recognition. While the rest of the world pays through cash or contactless payment, Chinese establishments use AI facial recognition system as one of their primary payment methods along with using WeChat.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg; if you have already seen Black Mirror’s Nosedive, you can relate the story’s plot to China’s “Social Credit System”. They score points or earn rewards by doing good deeds such as following traffic rules, volunteering, or even donating blood. They can they use the the points and rewards to buy goods.

Source: ABC News Australia

Having debt or legal troubles will lower your credit. Punishments include a ban from traveling outside the country and not being able to buy your own property. It even goes as far as being shown through the “reel of shame” where “laolai” (a derogatory term for citizens who failed to pay their debts) were named and shamed during a film premiere — just like how it happened in an Avengers: Endgame screening.

Huawei, despite being a Chinese brand, has been successful in gaining customers’ satisfaction and trust in just a short time. Those on the Western side think the opposite: The US government accused Huawei of spying but US later lifted the ban. Even the arrests of their officials in Europe and Canada are undeniable. The commotion between US and China even opened a lot of discussions about spyware, including the safety and danger of AI facial recognition systems.

A lot of questions still remain. Do we really consider facial recognition our friend for keeping our data safe and secure from others? Or is it becoming our foe after all these allegations about the government and companies spying on us? One thing is for sure: AI facial recognition is far from being flawless.

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