Start Up No.1,018: smartphone woes continue, the foldable phone wait, Meizu falls (way) short, when is AI conscious?, and more

You’re probably wondering how Samsung’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor works, aren’t you? CC-licensed photo by Karlis Dambrans on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Keep it private, we’ll keep it public. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Galaxy S10 review: The best phone of 2019 • Android Central

Andrew Martonik:


Samsung’s move to an in-display fingerprint sensor is the only controversial decision it made this year. Actually, the only controversial things Samsung has done in the last handful of years have all related to biometric security. Moving the fingerprint sensor to a nonsensical place, and trying to rely on iris scanning were solid blunders in their own right. (Iris scanning is gone now, by the way.) And now, we have another attempt: an in-display fingerprint sensor. This isn’t the first we’ve seen, but it is the first using this type of technology: ultrasonic, using sound waves, rather than optical, which uses a camera.

I’ll lay it out simply: the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is better than the optical ones I’ve used (primarily, the OnePlus 6T), but it is not as fast, accurate or easy to use as a modern capacitive fingerprint sensor. That shouldn’t really come as any surprise, as capacitive sensors are a mature technology while the in-display sensors are still relatively new. But it’s worth making clear.

There is no situation in which the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor has been faster or more consistent than the Galaxy S9’s rear-mounted capacitive sensor. That’s incredibly unfortunate.

Having the sensor in the display adds the benefit of being able to unlock your phone while it’s sitting flat on a table or when you’re holding it loosely and can’t reach where a rear sensor would be. But the sensor requires far more effort to find the “sweet spot” where you know it’ll unlock right away. I found myself pressing harder on the screen to flatten out my print, which helped, but the zone where the sensor will read is smaller than you’d think.


Which would explain why Apple went for Face ID a whole 18 months earlier. This technology still isn’t ready. That aside, Samsung’s doing the usual upgrade thing, and reviewers seem happy.
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Smartphone shipments expected to drop for the third consecutive year in 2019 • IDC


the smartphone market continues to be challenged and 2019 is projected to experience its third consecutive year of declining shipments. Worldwide smartphone volumes are forecast to fall by 0.8% in 2019 with volumes dipping to 1.39bn. However, the smartphone market will begin to pick up momentum this year with year-over-year growth of 2.3% expected in the second half of the year. Over the long term, smartphone shipments are forecast to reach 1.54bn units in 2023.

“The biggest question that remains unanswered is what will bring the smartphone industry back to growth,” said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “There is no question industry growth has been down for reasons that have already been identified – longer replacement cycles, a challenged China market, and geopolitical headwinds – but it is shortsighted to overlook the possibilities of some important technology advancements that are within reach with 5G probably being the most significant.”


Essentially static – but I’d expect replacement cycles will keep lengthening as people replace elements rather than the whole of expensive smartphones.
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Want a foldable phone? Hold out for real glass • WIRED

Brian Barrett:


Corning is combining its experience with Willow glass, which can roll up like a sheet of paper, and Gorilla Glass, which gets its strength from an ion-exchange process. In fact, it’s that process that makes Willow Glass unsuitable for phones. It involves dipping glass into a molten salt solution, where potassium ions enter and push out smaller sodium ions, creating a “compressive stress layer.” To borrow an example from Corning, think of what would happen if you replaced the billiard balls in a rack with tennis balls, which are slightly larger. The additional compression would make it much harder to roll the rack. In a sense, it’s stronger. But it also comes at a cost.

“In a display application, you’re putting transistors on the glass. Transistors hate salt: Sodium, potassium, anything from the salt family will eat away a transistor,” Bayne says. “For this family of glasses to work, you have to have these components in the glass that are incompatible with transistors.”

Corning’s ultrathin, bendable glass attempts to square that circle but hasn’t quite yet. “We have glasses we’ve sampled to customers, and they’re functional, but they’re not quite meeting all the requirements,” Bayne says. “People either want better performance against a drop event or a tighter bend radius. We can give them one or the other; the key is to give them both.”

Bayne expects foldable glass to be ready by the time foldable smartphones go mainstream, say a couple of years. Mauro thinks Corning and competitors like Japan’s AGC may be even closer than that. But the important thing for you to know is that it’s not here now.


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Fitbit’s new Versa Lite smartwatch is all about the fitness basics • Engadget

Chris Velazco:


At $160, the Versa Lite is about $40 cheaper than the original, and the company hopes it’ll be enough to sway people who have never wanted a smartwatch before.

Thankfully, the Lite provides almost everything that made the original such a great workout companion. It’s rated for the same four-ish days of battery life as the standard Versa, and should track steps, heartbeats and calories burned with the same level of precision. It uses the same 1.34-inch display and will show you your notifications without any fuss. It can handle prolonged swims as well as its more expensive sibling, too, and it packs all the same exercise modes. All of the Versa’s accessories can attach to the Lite, and vice versa. The Lite is even fully compatible with the female health tracking services Fitbit launched last year (even if they still leave some of Fitbit’s users wanting). For newcomers to fitness and smartwatches alike, the Versa Lite has the basics nicely taken care of.


If you nail fitness and messaging, you pretty much have 75% of the functionality needed from a smartwatch down. The other 25%, though, is harder: app control, weather, even two-factor (I use Authy on Apple Watch a surprising amount).
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In epic fail, Meizu’s $1300 portless phone gets just 29 pre-orders on Indiegogo • Android Police

David Ruddock:


Meizu set itself an eminently reasonably bar for the campaign, too, at $100,000. That may sound like a fair bit of cash, but Meizu would only have had to sell 77 phones in order to meet this goal. It managed just 29. It’s unclear how many of those were Meizu employees, other than to say “not enough.”

Meizu isn’t a particularly well-known brand in western markets, having only expanded to Eastern Europe in the recent years, and only in 2018 had apparently received a renewal of its Google Mobile Services certification, which it lost for building phones with the Android fork Yun OS in China. Given Indiegogo is largely popular in places like North America and Europe, I guess it’s not terribly surprising no one wanted to sign up to buy a $1300 phone from a company they knew nothing about, especially one that appeared to just be taking away things people want.

While I do believe portless phones are our inevitable future, we’re years, possibly even a decade, from that being truly feasible in a mass market device.


Reminds me of the Ubuntu Edge project back in 2013: wanted $32m, managed $12m. Though in retrospect that looks a lot more impressive. They just set the wrong target.
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Apple says iPhones with third-party batteries now eligible for repairs • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:


iPhones with aftermarket batteries installed by third-party repair shops are now eligible for service at Genius Bars and Apple Authorized Service Providers, according to an internal Apple document obtained by MacRumors from three reliable sources. The change was first reported by French blog iGeneration.

This is significant news for iPhone repairs, as the Genius Bar and AASPs were previously instructed to deny service of any kind for an iPhone with a third-party battery, regardless of the circumstances.

If the repair is unrelated to the battery, the Genius Bar and AASPs are now instructed to ignore the third-party battery and proceed with service as normal, according to Apple’s internal document. This could include repairs to the display, logic board, microphones, and so forth, with normal fees applying.

If the repair is related to the battery itself, the Genius Bar and AASPs are now permitted to replace the third-party battery with an official Apple battery for the standard fee.


Which is similar to its easing on replacing third-party displays in 2017. Wonder what drove it, though. When I tried to get a third-party battery replaced a year or so ago at an Apple Store, they said they wouldn’t take it because of the regulations around disposal. Guess that’s changed.
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Uber escapes criminal charges for 2018 self-driving death in Arizona • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:


“After a very thorough review of all evidence presented, this office has determined that there is no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation,” wrote Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Sullivan Polk in a letter dated Monday.

Tempe is in Maricopa County, not Yavapai County. But Maricopa County once collaborated with Uber on a public safety campaign. So prosecutors referred the case to Yavapai County to avoid any potential for a conflict of interest.

While Uber appears to be off the hook, Uber driver Rafael Vasquez could still face criminal charges. Dashcam video showed Vasquez repeatedly looking down at her lap in the final minutes before the crash—including five agonizing seconds just before her car struck Herzberg. Records obtained from Hulu suggest that Vazquez was streaming the television show The Voice just before the fatal crash.

Yavapai County Attorney Polk said she didn’t have enough information to decide whether it would be appropriate to charge Vasquez.


“The driver of the self-driving car is responsible for this death.” That’s going to be fun to prosecute. Vasquez was given a horrible task: in charge of a potentially lethal device, but with minimal time to avert it killing. A weird formulation of the trolley problem.
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Here’s how we’ll know an AI is conscious • Nautilus

Joel Frohlich:


It’s worth wondering, though, how a person or machine devoid of experience could reflect on experience it doesn’t have. In an episode of the “Making Sense” (formerly known as “Waking Up”) podcast with neuroscientist and author Sam Harris, Chalmers addressed this puzzle. “I don’t think it’s particularly hard to at least conceive of a system doing this,” Chalmers told Harris. “I mean, I’m talking to you now, and you’re making a lot of comments about consciousness that seem to strongly suggest that you have it. Still, I can at least entertain the idea that you’re not conscious and that you’re a zombie who’s in fact just making all these noises without having any consciousness on the inside.”

This is not a strictly academic matter—if Google’s DeepMind develops an AI that starts asking, say, why the color red feels like red and not something else, there are only a few possible explanations. Perhaps it heard the question from someone else. It’s possible, for example, that an AI might learn to ask questions about consciousness simply by reading papers about consciousness. It also could have been programmed to ask that question, like a character in a video game, or it could have burped the question out of random noise. Clearly, asking questions about consciousness does not prove anything per se. But could an AI zombie formulate such questions by itself, without hearing them from another source or belching them out from random outputs? To me, the answer is clearly no. If I’m right, then we should seriously consider that an AI might be conscious if it asks questions about subjective experience unprompted. Because we won’t know if it’s ethical to unplug such an AI without knowing if it’s conscious, we better start listening for such questions now.


The article goes into more depth, but this is quite the question for the modern age.
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Ethan Lindenberger: Facebook’s anti-vax problem intensified in Congressional testimony • The Washington Post

Michael Brice-Saddler:


Ethan Lindenberger, a high school senior, testified Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and underscored the importance of “credible” information. In contrast, he said, the false and deep-rooted beliefs his mother held — that vaccines were dangerous — were perpetuated by social media. Specifically, he said, she turned to anti-vaccine groups on social media for evidence that supported her point of view.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Lindenberger said Facebook, or websites that were linked on Facebook, is really the only source his mother ever relied on for her anti-vaccine information.

Most importantly, Lindenberger said, was the impact Facebook’s anti-vax communities had on his family.

“I feel like if my mom didn’t interact with that information, and she wasn’t swayed by those arguments and stories, it could’ve potentially changed everything,” he said. “My entire family could’ve been vaccinated.”


Let’s hope that Facebook, like Pinterest, is considering breaking its search engine. Lindenberger told the committee that he got most of his information from “not Facebook.. CDC, WHO, scientific journals.. accredited sources.” Radical ideas these kids have.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,018: smartphone woes continue, the foldable phone wait, Meizu falls (way) short, when is AI conscious?, and more

  1. Waymo gave a talk about their LIDAR system yesterday at the APS March meeting. Pretty interesting. The amount of data they have to collect, and the fact the maps google themselves have got are not good enough for driverless cars (they said they need much higher resolutions than what google maps use), makes me wonder why they are doing it at all? It would be a lot simpler to start with trains or areas with more predictable routes. The amount of processing they do with machine learning for example, is so noticeable, Google’s AI engineers know when they are using the servers. Think about that.

    The LIDAR also can’t work in snow or heavy rain. That’s a big problem.

    • Granted, in the Provence we don’t see much rain, and barely ever snow (cue my Canadian nephews chuckles at 1cm of snow causing major mayhem). But not being able to drive in bad weather wouldn’t be an issue for a lot of people. My elderly mom is looking down the barrel of no longer being able to drive, and having to leave the beloved (but remote) family home. She’d be happy to trade off some cancelled trips if the flip side is being able to stay in her home.

      Of course, the bad-weather issue bites a lot harder for active people with strict schedules.

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