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2017: the year smartphones went all-screen and came with baked-in AI | Technology

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At the beginning of 2017 you could have been forgiven for thinking that smartphone innovation had died, with most phones looking the same and doing the same things, changing very little from the year before.

But by the end of 2017 two things were clear: manufacturers needed to go all-screen or go home, and artificial intelligence had finally made its way into the phone, not just feeding everything you said to a server somewhere over the horizon.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 introduced the new minimal bezel design in April, shrinking the non-screen parts of the front down to the bare minimum and as a result putting a bigger screen in the same sized smartphone.

It was clearly the future. Even Apple agreed, launching the iPhone X in November.

While there are many upsides to the so-called “bezel-less” smartphone design, increased fragility is not one of them. As drop tests of the iPhone X showed, an all-screen design and the ground do not mix.

Despite these worries, the elongated screens with ratios around 18:9, rather than the regular 16:9 widescreen ratio of phone screens and TVs before, are expected to extendto the middle ranges in 2018 – so no longer the preserve of the top-tier £500+ smartphones.

Being smarter to be faster

Google’s vice president product manager Mario Queiroz: ‘There’s probably only one consumer product that’s actively used for more hours a day than a phone and that’s the mattress.’ Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

On the inside, the big smartphone trend for 2018 will be greater use of AI to make devices faster and smarter.

Google’s vice president product manager Mario Queiroz, said: “We’re getting to the point where photo quality is already so good that the focus is turning to the smarts that you build beyond that.”

Augmented reality is one such task, overlaying virtual items and information on to the real world through the screen. Using AI to do things faster is another.

“How many times do you long press on the word and it just selects that one word,” says Queiroz, using the example of Buckingham Palace. “Why, when you press on Palace does it not take into account Buckingham?”

Using local machine learning (ML), Android’s smart select feature predicts which other words around the one you tapped on you might actually want to select. Queiroz said: “We can make your selection faster, so you can go immediately to your action, instead of selecting, expanding and then taking action.”

While Queiroz says “AI is a big trend, period”, what made the end of 2017 different is that the ML that powers AI can be shrunk down to fit on a phone, not just accessed from a server farm via a phone.

Local AI processing has many benefits. There’s no reliance on a server so there’s no need for an internet connection; you’re not continually sending your personal data to a third-party; and it is a lot faster.

“Speed for the right applications makes it imperative to do things on the device, but the other thing is privacy,” said Queiroz giving Google’s Now Playing feature on the Pixel 2 as an example, that uses a local database of songs to identify music in the background and only connects to Google if the user wants to find out more information about the song or add it to a playlist.

“There are more and more things that can and should be done on the device, which will be very beneficial for privacy.”

Powering this shift to local AI are new specialised AI processing chips. Google, Huawei and Apple all shipped phones in 2017 with AI chips and more are expected in 2018.

Longer battery life and stable performance

Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro. . Several manufacturers, including Huawei and Google, are using built-in AI to try and understand each user’s unique pattern of behaviour. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the GuardianOne of the other expected benefits of on-device ML for 2018 is improved battery life. Several manufacturers, including Huawei and Google, are using built-in AI to try and understand each user’s unique pattern of behaviour.The AI predicts when you’re likely to open a particular app, such as a running app each morning and Netflix on the train home, and gets the phone ready to load that app as fast as possible when needed. The user doesn’t perceive it happening, but instead just experiences snappy performance, which companies such as Huawei claim will continue for the life of the device.A similar thing is being used to try and extend battery life, minimising systems that are not needed and optimising the device and apps to help prevent battery drain. The result is a smartphone that lasts longer with the same size of battery, at least in theory.“It’s challenging to work on smartphones, as it’s one of those things that everyone knows and everyone is a critic. You have to really deliver quality and quality experiences otherwise you hear it immediately,” said Queiroz. “There’s probably only one consumer product that’s actively used for more hours a day than a phone and that’s the mattress.”“Even then I think some people use their phones more than their mattress.”

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LG G7 ThinQ Is Now Available In the US for $750

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LG waited longer than normal to announce its big 2018 flagship phone, but it finally took the wraps off the LG G7 ThinQ a few weeks ago. Today, the phone is available for purchase on most US carriers. While LG has had trouble competing with the likes of Samsung, it’s still targeting the same premium space. Although, it’s got an iPhone-style screen notch now. That’s what consumers want, right?

The LG G7 ThinQ is the epitome of all things 2018 in smartphone design. It has a glass back, dual cameras, and a display notch that isn’t done particularly well. The missing bit of screen provides a place for the camera, earpiece, and some other sensors. It does seem a little excessively large for how compact these components are, though. In addition, the G7 has a “chin” at the bottom with a larger bezel than the top and bottom. This asymmetric look isn’t as striking as the iPhone X it imitates. The 6.1-inch 1440p display is also an OLED, which lacks the vibrancy of modern OLED panels.

Inside, this phone has all the current flagship hardware you’d expect with a Snapdragon 845, 64GB of storage, and 4GB of RAM. Unlike many other current smartphones, the company has opted to keep the headphone jack for the G7 ThinQ. LG also touts the G7’s unique speaker design that uses the entire chassis as a resonator to boost sound output.

You may be wondering about the name — specifically the “ThinQ” bit. Well, that’s LG’s expanded brand for all its AI technologies. What that means for the G7 is that there’s an AI mode in the camera that looks for objects it can identify and offers possible filters. It’s not very accurate or useful, but LG didn’t even develop any AI software or hardware for this phone. It just licensed a machine vision library from a third-party.

The LG G7 ThinQ is available from all major carriers in the US except AT&T. Apparently, AT&T chose to sell the LG V35 instead of the G7. This marks the third variant of the V30 that LG has sold since it debuted last year. At other carriers, the G7 ThinQ will run you $750, give or take a few dollars. Carriers offer payment plans to split the cost over two years. It will launch on Google’s Project Fi soon, as well. If you don’t want to go through carriers, the phone is also available from Amazon.

 

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Google Doodle honors ‘Prince of Mathematicians’ Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss

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Maths is the latest to receive the Google Doodle homage.

Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, otherwise known as “The Prince of Mathematicians”, made instrumental contributions to number theory, algebra, geophysics, mechanics and statistics.

Gauss was born on April 30 in 1777 in Brunswick, a city in the north of Germany, near Wolfsburg. Despite poor working-class parents and an illiterate mother, Gauss was a child prodigy, believed to have been able to add up every number from 1 to 100 at 8-years-old.

One of his first major equations was working out his date of birth, which his mother hadn’t recorded. He used the only information she had: that it was a Wednesday, eight days before an Easter holiday.

At university when he was 19, Gauss discovered a heptadecagon, or a 17-sided polygon. He requested that a regular heptadecagon be inscribed on his tombstone, but it was too difficult for the stonemason, who said it would just look like a circle.

513px-regular-polygon-17-annotated-svg
 A heptadecagon.

 


László Németh/Wikipedia

And remember your prime numbers? That year Gauss was involved with proving the prime number theorem, helping understand how prime numbers are distributed among the integers, or whole numbers.

Again the same year, a productive one for Gauss, he discovered the quadratic reciprocity law, which allows mathematicians to determine the solvability of any quadratic equation in modular arithmetic.

At 24, Gauss’ work on number theory, which he completed when he was 21, was published as a textbook. Not only did it involve his original work, but it reconciled that of other mathematicians. It would be considered his magnum opus and had an extraordinary impact on the field.

Oh, and add to those achievements a discovery in astronomy — in the same year, 1801, Gauss calculated the orbit of an asteroid called Ceres.

After a much-accomplished life, Gauss died aged 77 on Feb. 23, 1855.

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