Sunday 25 February 2018

The latest mobile phones: from face recognition to private sommeliers

Google's new Galaxy Nexus is made by Samsung and will launch in November
Google's new Galaxy Nexus is made by Samsung and will launch in November

Matt Warman

IN JUST three days, major new models have been announced by Motorola, Google, Samsung and Vertu.

In Berlin, Hong Kong and Milan, the world’s major mobile phone manufacturers have announced their latest handsets this week. Now offering everything from face recognition to your own private sommelier, the market has never been more dynamic.

Compounding this is Apple’s new iPhone 4S, launched last week, and the impending news of Nokia’s first Windows Phones, due in London a week today. No wonder in San Francisco Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer was ramping up the rhetoric, claiming somewhat implausibly that users “need a computer science degree” to use a phone running Google’s Android software. This is the same software, someone should tell him, that more than half of all consumers currently opt for when buying a new smartphone.

Behind all these announcements, from Google, Samsung, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Motorola and even luxury brand Vertu is, of course, Christmas. As phones have become cheaper and money is tight, the prospect of upgrading a handset, often for free, is attractive for many consumers. Big brands are all keen to get a slice of a market where users continue to move from older so-called “feature phones” to newer, more capable models.

But there are bigger problems too: on one blog, This Is My Next, reviewer Vlad Savov pointed out that Google and Samsung’s latest collaboration still felt, in a pre-production model at least, to not be as slick as either Microsoft or Apple’s rival phones. Ovum analyst Jan Dawson said meanwhile that BlackBerry was “rebuilding the foundation for all its devices”.

So major technology brands, whose influence on people’s lives is continuing to grow, are in a state of flux. Even railway companies are starting to offer tickets via mobile phones, as First TransPennine Express announced this week. In Nice, Orange is using its new handsets to let people pay for goods, tram tickets, bike hire and even to find out local details from tourist information. The sense that the computer in your pocket is gradually becoming more important than your wallet or purse is growing by the day.

But the frenetic pace of improvement brings risks, too: according to a survey for security firm LogRhythm, four out of five people said they doubted big organisations were keeping our data safe.

Perhaps most intriguingly, however, it’s the new services that mobiles are offering that are innovative: Apple’s ‘humble personal assistant’ sets your alarm clock and helps you send email, while Google promises the ‘best in class’ keyboard and an easy way to share files. So the devices themselves are in fact not as important as the software they’re running. It’s explaining that shift to consumers that will determine which manufacturer has the best of the Christmas sales.

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