Features

Project Ara’s story is all about wasted potential

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After rumors recently surfaced about the cancellation of Project Ara, we now have confirmation from Google that their highly ambitious modular phone will no longer reach the consumer market. Reasons were somewhat vague, but what we do know is that it’s being done to “streamline the company’s hardware efforts.”

It was only last May when we witnessed a revived desire from Google to push the product, complete with a cool trailer and announcement of a possible consumer launch next year. Progress before and after the unveiling was typically silent, and we’ve finally confirmed that it’s been an internal structure issue all along. Now, we think about what could have been a savior for the smartphone industry.

The beginning of the end

Imagine presenting a prototype of your company’s next big thing in front of a worldwide audience, only for it to freeze during bootup and fail to even reach the home screen. No, I’m not talking about an episode of Silicon Valley. That’s actually the nightmare Google experienced back in 2014 when it presented a “working” prototype of its first modular smartphone. Thinking about it now, the incident summarizes the current situation really well.

Project Ara (1)

In the most recent build of Project Ara, you had all the functions you’d expect from the modern-day smartphone you’re accustomed to, along with the ability to plug in your choice of modules to add greater functionality. Upgrades ranging from cameras to replaceable batteries stylishly fit into the main frame to create one unified pocket computer. If you think the process is as simple as playing with Lego blocks, you’re absolutely right.

An eternity in the tech world

What could this have meant for consumers had it become a commercial product? It would have been a possible game-changer in terms of phone upgrade cycles. With a smartphone having limitless module options to keep you busy, ordering that newly launched Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPhone wouldn’t be as tempting anymore.

However, it’s been a long two years since the initial reveal, and much has changed.

It’s important to take note that Project Ara was no longer a fully modular smartphone as of May 2016. The Google phone had its core components fixed into the main frame, meaning you couldn’t touch the processor, internal storage, RAM, and front display. This became a potential deal-breaker for enthusiasts wanting a PC-like handheld gadget they can fiddle around with on the go. The development led to disappointment from the community and the product’s eventual downfall, but it might have also been able to entice a more mainstream market wanting a simpler package.

Project Ara (2)

In exchange for the loss of complexity, the last build came with welcome refinements. Plug and play was possible with certain modules, wherein you could hot swap the unit while the phone was on and even share with other Ara users on the spot. If you wanted to get fancy, saying “Okay Google, eject the camera” commanded the phone to do as it’s told.

Google’s very own

Looking back, it’s easy to forget how big of a deal Project Ara was when it was first announced at Google I/O 2014. Modular phone schematics were tossed around brainstorming sessions prior to that, but it was only when Google unveiled a (partially) working prototype that this concept became closer to commercial reality. Still, the fact that it froze shortly after being turned on established how much of a pipe dream it was back then, and how it continues to be one now.

During Project Ara’s downtime, a couple of companies took a crack at modular designs in attempts to overshadow the hype Google built and lost. The Fairphone 2 was the first modular phone to officially hit the market, and the LG G5 garnered even bigger headlines as a totally revamped flagship device with modular Friends you could attach to its Magic Slot. Most recently, Lenovo launched the Moto Z series, which proves that even partial modularity is still alive and kicking.

And yet, the latest announcement from Google I/O 2016 was more than just about a potential date and a sweet new trailer for Project Ara. Google was finally going to release a smart device that’s truly theirs – free of any partnership from the likes of Huawei or HTC in their long-running Nexus program.

The company’s previous attempt at controlling the hardware process came when it acquired Motorola in 2012. Google then became a competitor for a long list of smartphone brands that rely on Android as their sole operating system. This didn’t fly well with major players such as LG and Samsung, who subsequently secured backups in WebOS and Tizen, respectively, in case Google would suddenly favor its own manufacturing process for the latest Android updates, ultimately discriminating against loyal associates.

It’s uncertain how Project Ara would have impacted the search giant’s relationship with hardware partners as an indirect competitor, since modular phones might create a category of their own some day.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves

Ironically, the highly customizable Project Ara proved that you didn’t have total control over the aesthetics and feel. While the dimensions and weight of the device vary depending on the components equipped, you’re going to end up with a bulky, blocky handset no matter what. LG saw through the weaknesses of a largely modular phone to produce the G5 we’re enjoying today. By allowing only partial modularity from the bottom end of its current flagship, the primary build remains largely intact, so there’s no need to worry about assembling a hideous product.

Our recent unboxing and hands-on review of the G5 and its add-ons showcased how much promise there is in upgrading your handset before committing to a completely different phone the following year or two. Lenovo followed shortly after with the Moto Z and its growing lineup, but it’s too early to gauge its success.

lg-g5-mwc-20160328-02

We’ve been wanting these possibilities for a while now. Smartphone technology in general has stagnated in the past years, with every manufacturer heavily focusing on simply improving on the touchscreen-optimized formula Apple established nearly a decade ago with the original iPhone. If your current smartphone already has a high-resolution display, fast-acting camera, accurate fingerprint scanner, and either a glass or metal physique, there isn’t much more you can ask for outside the realm of modularity. Well, probably better battery life, but we’ll never be satisfied with that, right?

Speaking of batteries, with news of entire Samsung Galaxy Note 7 units being recalled because of a single part, swappable components might be the solution to new-age manufacturing woes.

Or maybe, we simply aren’t ready yet for the complexity of a fully modular smartphone. Consumers have finally moved past DIY solutions for PCs in exchange for the simplicity of owning a razor-thin notebook or all-in-one laptop with as much, if not more, power. Complicating the everyday smartphone could just as easily backfire, and discriminate against users who aren’t that tech-savvy.

It’s not just about the modules anymore

Going back to Google I/O 2014, one of the presenters posed this question: Why choose a phone for its camera, when you could choose a camera for your phone? Project Ara’s vision remained the same until its demise, but we now have a more daunting question to ask: Since we’ve already reached the pinnacle of touchscreen-smartphone convenience, when will we be ready to embrace a more complex form factor?

Project Ara’s Twitter account once wondered if fans were still around after one of its long hiatuses. We, the consumers, haven’t left yet, and taking a look at the official website shows how the developers themselves haven’t let go of the project either.

[irp posts=”7634″ name=”Cancelled Project Ara prototype shows up, reveals specs”]

Image Credit: Maurizio Pesce

Reviews

Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro Unboxing and Review: Death of the Flagship Killer

Is this too pricey for a Xiaomi?

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Supposed to have launched globally last February, the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro is rolling out across the globe in spurts, first in China and then in Europe later this month. Is it still the flagship smartphone you can get for less?

In our Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro Unboxing and Review we talk about Xiaomi’s new strategy. And answer some of your questions including – can it compete with other Android faves like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Huawei P40 Pro.

Watch the video.

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18 things you didn’t know your iPhone could do

Use your iPhone to the fullest

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Every smartphone user wants to take full advantage of their device. It’s one way of getting the most value for your money. This holds particularly true for an iPhone since it doesn’t come cheap.

If you are an iPhone user,  there’s always something you can look forward to. iOS is being refined each year to add new features to your iPhone.

Some features are big changes you might notice quickly. However, there are also other features that you might not know until you come across it. Some of these features are really helpful, while others are just for fun. Here are the 18 things you didn’t know that your iPhone could do:

1. Search for photos in your Photos album by what’s in the photo

If you always get tired of sorting through photos of your favorite pet, then worry no more. The Photos app automatically detects places, faces, and objects in your pictures. Plus, it can automatically group them for you. You can know more about it
here.

2. Add a dictionary to iOS so it appears in spotlight search

Do you know that iOS comes with a built-in dictionary? Every iPhone has one, and it supports multiple languages too. Adding a dictionary is as simple as going to Settings > General > Dictionary, then tapping the dictionary you need. Now, you can easily find a word’s definition by swiping down from the home screen and entering the word.

3. Turn a whole webpage or email into a shareable PDF

You can easily create a PDF of a webpage or an email in iOS. Take a screenshot of a document, tap the thumbnail that appears, and tap “Full Page” on the right.

4. Use your iPhone as a tape measure

Through the power of augmented reality, you can turn your iPhone into a measuring device. To do this, simply head to the Measure app and follow any setup instructions. After setting up the app, you can now use your iPhone to measure any objects. This should come in handy when you don’t have any measuring tool lying around and you need to measure on the go. To know more about this functionality, visit this website.

5. Change your WiFi connections in Control Center

You don’t need to go into Settings to change your WiFi connection! You can change it on the fly through the Control Center. To access it, swipe down from the right-hand corner of your iPhone. If you have an iPhone 8 or older model, then swiping up from the screen will reveal the control center. Long-press on the panel that includes airplane mode, cellular data, WiFi and Bluetooth icon. Long-press again on the WiFi icon to show all the connections within your iPhone’s range.

6. Change your Bluetooth connection in Control Center

You can also change your iPhone’s Bluetooth connection right from the Control Center. After accessing the Control Center, long-press on the Bluetooth icon to show all the available devices within range. This feature is a godsent especially when you love to connect to other multiple peripherals like wireless speakers and earbuds.

7. Swipe left to quickly open the Camera

There’s a way to quickly access the camera without unlocking your iPhone and searching for the Camera app. Swiping left from the lock screen will take you straight to the camera.

8. Quickly delete a digit if you make a mistake in the Calculator app

There must be a moment when you accidentally delete a large number because you thought that hitting the “C” button would only delete a single digit. With this tip, those moments will soon be a thing of the past. By swiping to the left or to the right over the numbers, you can now delete a single digit without ever hitting that “C” button by mistake again.

9. Turn your keyboard into a trackpad

There’s a handy feature in the default iOS keyboard that turns it into a trackpad. To take advantage of this feature, you must long press on the space bar until the keys disappear. You can now drag your fingers on the keyboard to change the position of the cursor.

10. Swipe with three fingers to undo or redo

Having an undo or redo function is really handy especially on long typing sessions. To undo on an iPhone, swipe left with three fingers. Alternatively, swipe right to redo. Older iPhone models implement a shake-to-undo function, which is a great exercise for the wrist.

11. Double-tap the space bar to end a sentence with a period

Another handy editing feature built into the default iOS keyboard is double-tapping to insert a period. After finishing a sentence, just double-tap on the space bar to insert a period and save time.

12. Play games with friends in iMessage

The iMessage app comes with a plethora of features to level up the conversation. One great feature is the ability to play games with your friends right from the app itself. Simply head over to iMessage, select a conversation and tap the App Store icon located on the bottom. Find a game that you want and start playing with your friends.

13. Express yourself with new Memoji stickers

Memoji stickers are a fun way to express your virtual self in a conversation. The latest iOS version — iOS 13.4 — introduces nine new Memoji stickers. Now, you have more ways to express yourself to your friends and family. You can roll your eyes in disgust, scream in fear, or even make it appear that you’re behind a computer to remind your nagging friends that you’re busy working at home. Here is the full list of new Memoji stickers:

  • Screaming in fear
  • Party horn
  • Rolling eyes
  • Face with steam
  • Folded hands
  • Gesturing no
  • Person with a tipping hand
  • Smiling face with three hearts
  • Person behind a computer

You can find out more about using Memoji on iPhone and iPad here.

14. Quickly reply to friends in iMessage

Got no time to reply to your friends? There’s a quick reply function within iMessages. To take advantage of this function, you simply have to touch and hold a conversation from the messages list, then tap on one of the automatic replies.

15. Filter messages from people you didn’t know

Spams are an annoying part of life, whether as an email or as a text message. Luckily, the Messages app comes with a built-in filtering system for blocking contacts who like to send spam. The filtering system can also be automatically set to block unknown numbers. Just head over to Settings > Messages and turn on “Filter Unknown Senders” to take advantage of this feature.

16. Never forget where your car is parked with Maps

As you grow older, you tend to be more forgetful. The last thing that you would want to forget is the location of your car in a parking spot. Thankfully, Maps is here to save the day. Your iPhone will actually remember where you last parked your car if you turn it on in the settings. Turn on Location Services for Maps, then toggle Significant Locations, and finally, turn on “Show Parked Locations”. The next time you connect your iPhone to your car’s dashboard, Maps will remember your car’s location after you disconnect.

17. Video call for up to 32 people with Facetime

If you really are cautious about
Zoom for its privacy and security loophole, then one good alternative is Apple’s own Facetime. After all, the company promises built-in privacy and security features to the app. The only downside though is that your friends must have an Apple device to take advantage of Facetime. However, if your friends and family use an Apple device, you can create a group Facetime call by simply tapping the name of the contact or a group and hitting the call button.

18. Share folder with friends using iCloud Drive Folder Sharing

Up until iOS 13.4, iPhone users have no way of directly sharing folders through iCloud. However, since the recent update, you can now quickly share files and folders to your friends through iCloud. To do this, go to the Files app and select any folder that you want to share. From the share sheet, you can add people and specify how you want to send the invitation link for sharing. You can read more about the feature here.

Now that you know these, try them out on your iPhone and take advantage of everything iOS has to offer. A new iOS version is also expected this June, along with a new low-cost iPhone. So, this is your time to master these things before delving into a new iOS version for new features.

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Features

How to optimize your remote work setup

Tips from Lenovo!

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By now, most employees around the world are working from home due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The necessity of remote work is changing employers’ and employees’ perception of work done in the comfort of one’s home. The surge in its popularity over LinkedIn seems to support this. Plus, new data from Lenovo concludes that 77% of employees feel companies will be more open to remote work after the outbreak.

This new data stems from research conducted in five countries last March. The research also shows that 87% of employees are ready to work from home when required.

The changing perception meant that companies will have to adjust their guidelines regarding remote work. It also meant that companies have to discard the perception that work from home is no work at all. To that end, Lenovo shares four tips on how to optimize remote work for an efficient and effective workflow.

1. Stay flexible and connected through technology

One benefit of advancements in technology is making remote work a possibility. However, to take advantage, employees need to use the right technology that will optimize their workflow. A helpful piece of technology for a work-from-home setup is a reliable laptop that can be used anytime, anywhere. Along with a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet can come in handy for enabling on-the-go communication and collaboration.

2. Leverage productivity and collaboration tools

Employees working from home can be tempted by numerous distractions. That’s why it’s important to leverage productivity tools to conquer the daily workload. One important tool is a monitor that acts as a second display for content. Having an extra monitor is helpful in increasing productivity as it gives more screen area to work with. Employees who use an extra monitor at work should imitate this setup at home for maximum efficiency. Investing in a good monitor with at least Full HD resolution is a great way to go.

It is also important to utilize the right apps for productivity and collaboration. There are a lot of these apps in Apple App Store or Google Play Store that finding the right one is a matter of personal preference.

For real-time collaboration, popular apps include Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams that employers and employees can take advantage of to keep everyone updated about their work. Plus, the presence of these apps meant that employees can get together for a lighthearted, virtual get-together.

3. Encourage flexible work schedules

Employers should permit some flexibility. Being at home means employees now have to juggle between household tasks and their work. Having a flexible work schedule is one solution to this dilemma. Plus, it will encourage them to be more productive since they don’t have to worry about signing at a particular time. A flexible schedule with a balance between work and personal time will result in a much healthier workforce too.

For employees, having a flexible working schedule will give them the power to draw boundaries and set aside distractions. Working from home is a challenge since there are numerous distractions that can consume precious time. Especially during these times when numerous ebooks, films, and episodes are now available for free, proper discipline is required to avoid falling into procrastination and to stay focused at work.

4. Communicate often as this might be a new norm

Communication is always the key. To stay connected, employees must utilize tools that enable instant communication and collaboration. Employers, on one hand, are encouraged to do so too. There are numerous apps available that facilitate communication between employees and employers. Skype, Slack, or even Facebook Messenger are useful for staying in the loop.

Working from home is an opportunity that presents numerous benefits for everyone involved. As perceptions change around remote work, more companies may be willing to let their employees work in the comfort of their own home. However, working at home also presents some companies that might affect productivity. These tips would come in handy as employees look to optimize their workflow.

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