Google is a social media addict and it has fallen off the wagon again

Googlers just don’t know when to give up when it comes to social media as the internet giant attempts to crack the market once again with Shoelace.

It’s been almost six months since the team decided to shut-down Google+ but the search behemoth hasn’t given up just yet. We’ve lost track at how many times Google has attempted to crack this lucrative market, and the latest attempt will put much more of a hyper-local twist on the social networking euphoria.

“Shoelace is a mobile app that helps connect people with shared interests through in person activities,” the team has written in the new platforms FAQs. “It’s great for folks who have recently moved cities or who are looking to meet others who live nearby.”

Coming out of Google’s Area 120, an experimental group within the R&D business, the team will look to create a platform which will focus on uniting people in local communities and neighbourhoods depending on their interests and experiences. It is a slightly different twist to and the Google team will be hoping its fifth time lucky as it attempts to crack the code.

Starting in New York with an invite-only private test, the platform will hope to push events out to users and encourage them to create their own. This might be as simple as checking to see if anyone within a five-minute walk would want to join a kick-about in the park, or it could be to promote a comedy-night in the local pub.

On the commercial side, it makes sense. Should Google be able to scale adoption to a suitable level there will certainly be demand from advertisers, from small pubs hoping to promote bingo to larger music venues hoping to sell tickets. However, if Google can’t convince enough users to engage with the platform, what’s the point.

This is where Google has struggled before; user adoption. Google+, Google Buzz and Google Friend Connect are all examples of platforms which failed because no-one actually used them aside from Google employees. Shoelace is the latest act of defiance from a company which does not know when to quit, and it is presenting a niche idea.

Users will be able to make use of a mapping feature to browse the local area for events, yoga in the park for instance, irrelevant as to whether they are connected to an individual who is attending or not. This is where it is slightly different from other platforms, it is activity driven not connection driven. This might sound like a good USP, but it relies on the assumption users will be OK spending their time with strangers.

Each time Google has attempted to crack the social media world, there seems to be a groan from the cynics and unimaginative who have decided there are enough social media platforms already. Google does not want to give up the potential gold-mine which is social media and the fortunes of competitors demonstrate why.

Alongside Google, Facebook is recognised as a leader in the world of online advertising. The core platform, as well as Instagram and WhatsApp, are making billions for Zucks and his cronies, but they are not alone. Twitter is starting to hoover up profits while Snap is looking like a genuine business and over in China, WeChat is perhaps the most complete offering around, combining social, communication, payments and eCommerce all in one place. You can see why Google has such a fascination with social media.

IBM and Google reportedly swap morals for cash in Chinese surveillance JV

IBM and Google executives should be bracing for impact as the comet of controversy heads directly towards their offices.

Reports have emerged, via the Intercept, suggesting two of the US’ most influential and powerful technology giants have indirectly been assisting the Chinese Government with its campaign of mass-surveillance and censorship. Both will try to distance themselves from the controversy, but this could have a significant impact on both firms.

The drama here is focused around a joint-venture, the OpenPower Foundation, founded in 2013 by Google and IBM, but features members such as Red Hat, Broadcom, Mellanox, Xilinx and Rackspace. The aim of the open-ecosystem organization is to facilitate and share advances in networking, server, data storage, and processing technology.

To date, the group has been little more than another relatively uninteresting NPO, serving a niche in the industry, though one initiative is causing the stir. The OpenPower Foundation has been working with Xilinx and Chinese firm Semptian to create a new breed of chips capable of enabling computers to process incredible amounts of data. This might not seem extraordinary, though the application is where the issue has been found.

On the surface, Semptian is a relatively ordinary Chinese semiconductor business, but when you look at its most profitable division, iNext, the story becomes a lot more sinister. iNext specialises in selling equipment to the Chinese Government to enable the mass-surveillance and censorship projects which have become so infamous.

It will come as little surprise a Chinese firm is aiding the Government with its nefarious objectives, but a link to IBM and Google, as well as a host of other US firms, will have some twitching with discomfort. We can imagine the only people who are pleased at this news are the politicians who are looking to get their faces on TV by theatrically condemning the whole saga.

Let’s start with what iNext actually does before moving onto the US firms involved in the controversy. iNext works with Chinese Government agencies by providing a product called Aegis. Aegis is an interception and analysis system which has been embedded into various phone and internet networks throughout the country. This is one of the products which enables the Chinese Government to have such a close eye on the activities of its citizens.

Documentation acquired by The Intercept outlines the proposition in more detail.

“Aegis is not only the standard interception system but also the powerful analysis system with early warning and timely action capabilities. Aegis can work with all kinds of networks and 3rd party systems, from recovering, analysing, exploring, warning, early warning, locating to capturing. Aegis provides LEA with an end to end solution described as Deep Insight, Early Warning and Timely Action.”

Although the majority of this statement is corporate fluff, it does provide some insight into the way in which the technology actually works. This is an incredibly powerful surveillance system, which is capable of locating individuals through application usernames, IP addresses or phone numbers, as well as accurately tracking the location of said individuals on a real-time basis.

Perhaps one of the most worrying aspect of this system is the ‘pre-crime’ element. Although the idea of predictive analytics in some societies has been met with controversy and considerable resistance, we suspect the Chinese Government does not have the same reservations.

iNext promises this feature can help prevent crime through the introduction of an early warning system. This raises all sorts of ethical questions, as while the data estimates might be accurate to five nines, can you arrest someone when they haven’t actually committed a crime. This is the sticky position Google and IBM might have found itself in.

OpenPower has said that it was not aware of the commercial applications of the projects it manages, while its charter prevents it from getting involved. The objective of the foundation is to facilitate the progress of technology, not to act as judge and jury for its application. It’s a nice little way to keep controversy at arm’s length; inaction and negligence is seen as an appropriate defence plea.

For IBM and Google, who are noted as founding members of the OpenPower Foundation, a stance of ignorance might be enough to satisfy institutions of innocence, but the court of public opinion could swing heavily the other direction. An indirect tie to such nefarious activities is enough for many to pass judgment.

When it comes to IBM, the pursuit of innocence becomes a little bit trickier. IBM is directly mentioned on the Semptian website, suggesting Big Blue has been working closely with the Chinese firm for some time, though the details of this relationship are unknown for the moment.

For any of the US firms which have been mentioned here, it is not a comfortable situation to be in. Although they might be able to plead ignorance, it is quite difficult to believe. These are monstrous multi-national billion-dollar corporations, with hordes of lawyers, some of whom will be tasked with making sure the technology is not being utilised in situations which would get the firm in trouble.

Of course, this is not the first time US technology firms have found themselves on the wrong side of right. There have been numerous protests from employees of the technology giants as to how the technology is being applied in the real-world. Google is a prime example.

In April 2018, Google employees revolted over an initiative the firm was participating in with the US Government. Known as Project Maven, Google’s AI technology was used to improve the accuracy of drone strikes. As you can imagine, the Googlers were not happy at the thought of helping the US Government blow people up. Project Dragonfly was another which brought internal uproar, this time the Googlers were helping to create a version of the Google news app for China which would filter out certain stories which the Government deemed undesirable.

Most of the internet giants will plead their case, suggesting their intentions are only to advance society, but there are numerous examples of contracts and initiatives which contradict this position.

Most developers or engineers, especially the ones who work for a Silicon Valley giant, work for the highest bidder, but there is a moral line few will cross. As we’ve seen before, employees are not happy to aide governments in the business of death, surveillance or censorship, and we suspect the same storyline will play out here.

Google and IBM should be preparing themselves for significant internal and external backlash.

Researchers point to 1,300 apps which circumnavigate Android’s opt-in

Research from a coalition of professors has suggested Android location permissions mean little, as more than 1,300 apps have developed ways and means around the Google protections.

A team of researchers from the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) has been working to identify short-comings of the data privacy protections offered users through Android permissions and the outcome might worry a few. Through the use of side and covert channels, 1,300 popular applications around the world extracted sensitive information on the user, including location, irrelevant of the permissions sought or given to the app.

The team has informed Google of the oversight, which will be addressed in the up-coming Android Q release, receiving a ‘bug bounty’ for their efforts.

“In the US, privacy practices are governed by the ’notice and consent’ framework: companies can give notice to consumers about their privacy practices (often in the form of a privacy policy), and consumers can consent to those practices by using the company’s services,” the research paper states.

This framework is a relatively simple one to understand. Firstly, app providers provide ‘notice’ to inform the user and provide transparency, while ‘consent’ is provided to ensure both parties have entered into the digital contract with open eyes.

“That apps can and do circumvent the notice and consent framework is further evidence of the framework’s failure. In practical terms, though, these app behaviours may directly lead to privacy violations because they are likely to defy consumers’ expectations.”

What is worth noting is while this sounds incredibly nefarious, it is no-where near the majority. Most applications and app providers act in accordance with the rules and consumer expectations, assuming they have read the detailed terms and conditions. This is a small percentage of the apps which are installed en-mass, but it is certainly an oversight worth drawing attention to.

Looking at the depth and breadth of the study, it is pretty comprehensive. Using a Google Play Store scraper, the team downloaded the most popular apps for each category; in total, more than 88,000 apps were downloaded due to the long-tail of popularity. To cover all bases however, the scraper also kept an eye on app updates, meaning 252,864 different versions of 88,113 Android apps were analysed during the study.

The behaviour of each of these apps were measured at the kernel, Android-framework, and network traffic levels, reaching scale using a tool called Android Automator Monkey. All of the OS-execution logs and network traffic was stored in a database for offline analysis.

Now onto how these apps developers can circumnavigate the protections put in place by Google. For ‘side channels’, the developer has discovered a path to a resource which is outside the security perimeters, perhaps due to a mistake during design stages or a flaw in applying the design. With ‘covert channels’ these are more nefarious.

“A covert channel is a more deliberate and intentional effort between two cooperating entities so that one with access to some data provides it to the other entity without access to

the data in violation of the security mechanism,” the paper states. “As an example, someone could execute an algorithm that alternates between high and low CPU load to pass a binary message to another party observing the CPU load.”

Ultimately this is further evidence the light-touch regulatory environment which has governed the technology industry over the last few years can no-longer be allowed to persist. The technology industry has protested and quietly lobbied against any material regulatory or legislative changes, though the bad apples are spoiling the harvest for everyone else.

As it stands, under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act, such activities would be deemed as non-compliant, and we suspect the European Commission would have something to say with its GDPR stick as well. There are protections in place, though it seems there are elements of the technology industry who consider these more guidelines than rules.

Wholesale changes should be expected in the regulatory environment and it seems there is little which can be done to prevent them. These politicians might be chasing PR points as various elections loom on the horizon, but the evolution of rules in this segment should be considered a necessity nowadays.

There have simply been too many scandals, too much abuse of grey areas and too numerous examples of oversight (or negligence, whichever you choose) to continue on this path. Of course, there are negative consequences to increased regulation, but the right to privacy is too important a principle for rule-makers to ignore; the technology industry has consistently shown it does not respect these values therefore will have to be forced to do so.

This will be an incredibly difficult equation to balance however. The technology industry is leading the growth statistics for many economies around the world, but changes are needed to protect consumer rights.

ICO gets serious on British Airways over GDPR

The UK’s Information Commissioner Officer has swung the sharp stick of GDPR at British Airways and it looks like the damage might be a £183.39 million fine.

With GDPR inked into the rule book in May last year, the first investigations under the new guidelines will be coming to a conclusion in the near future. There have been several judgments passed in the last couple of months, but this is one of the most significant in the UK to date.

What is worth noting is this is not the final decision; this is an intention to fine £183.39 million. We do not imagine the final figure will differ too much, the ICO will want to show it is serious, but BA will be giving the opportunity to have its voice heard with regard to the amount.

“People’s personal data is just that – personal,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

“When an organisation fails to protect it from loss, damage or theft it is more than an inconvenience. That’s why the law is clear – when you are entrusted with personal data you must look after it. Those that don’t will face scrutiny from my office to check they have taken appropriate steps to protect fundamental privacy rights.”

The EU’s GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, offers regulators the opportunity to fine guilty parties €20 million or as much as 3% of total revenues for the year the incident occurred. In this case, BA will be fined 1.5% of its total revenues for 2018, with the fine being reduced for several reasons.

In September 2018, user traffic was directed towards a fake British Airways site, with the nefarious actors harvesting the data of more than 500,000 customers. In this instance, BA informed the authorities of the breach the defined window, co-operated during the investigation and made improvements to its security systems.

While many might have suggested the UK watchdog, or many regulators around the world for that matter, lack teeth when it comes to dealing with privacy violations, this ruling should put that preconception to rest. This is a weighty fine, which should force the BA management team to take security and privacy seriously; if there is one way to make executives listen, its hit them in the pocket.

This should also be seen as a lesson for other businesses in the UK. Not only is the ICO brave enough to hand out fines for non-compliance, it is mature enough to reduce the fine should the effected organization play nice. £183.39 million is half of what was theoretically possible and should be seen as a win for BA.

Although this is a good start, we would like to see the ICO, and other regulatory bodies, set their sight on the worst offenders when it comes to data privacy. Companies like BA should be punished when they end up on the wrong side of right, but the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon have gotten an easy ride so far. These are the companies who have the greatest influence when it comes to personal information, and the ones which need to be shown the rod.

This is one of the first heavy fines implemented in the era of GDPR and the difference is clear. Last November, Uber was fined £385,000 for a data breach which impacted 2.7 million customers and drivers in the UK. The incident occurred prior to the introduction of GDPR, the reason the punishment looks so measly compared to the BA fine here.

The next couple of months might be a busy time in the office of the ICO as more investigations conclude. We expect some heavy fines as the watchdog bears its teeth and forces companies back onto the straight and narrow when it comes to privacy and data protection.

Google Maps to start predicting crowdedness on public transport

Google Maps is already one of the most popular ways to plan the comings and goings of daily life, but a new update makes it just a little bit better.

Launched at the end of last week, Google Maps will now tell users how busy public transport is likely to be and whether users should anticipate delays on a journey. It’s a simple upgrade, but this extra little bit of information is an example of why Google Maps is such a popular application around the world.

“On days when everything runs smoothly, taking public transit is one of the best ways to get around town,” Google stated in a blog post. “Not only is it cost-effective and efficient, but it also lets you stay hands-free, so you can sit back, relax and maybe even read a few chapters of your favourite book.

“But unexpected delays or overcrowded vehicles can quickly turn your ride from enjoyable to stressful. Starting today, Google Maps is rolling out two new features to help you better plan for your transit ride and stay more comfortable along the way.”

There are two new snippets of information which are being introduced here. Firstly, users will be told whether there are any delays on the bus to be aware of. Many estimates on time of arrival are based on the average time in which it takes the bus to get from point A to point B, not taking into account the conditions at that time. To counter this problem, Google will introduce live traffic updates.

Secondly, the Maps application will begin to tell users whether they are likely to snag a seat on an up-coming bus, train or underground journey. This section is more guesswork than anything else, using data collected on journeys through the last two years to figure out the current situation. That said, these guesses are usually correct and might be useful for anyone who gets a bit fidgety during the busy periods of travel.

These two features will be rolled out in 200 cities across the world, including numerous locations in the UK such as Cardiff, London, Nottingham and Reading.

Google Maps is turning into a wonderful money maker for the team, and this is perhaps the very reason why. Numerous features are being introduced without necessarily tying them to the bottom line. Google is not necessarily going to make money from these updates, but more people might use the product. It’s the built it and they will come attitude, focusing on nailing experience before turning to profits.

Speed more than security is key for eCommerce success

New research from GoCardless has suggested extended authentication processes is costing online retailers sales as a notable chunk of consumers favour convenience over security.

Security is an on-going issue in the technology industry and while it should have been addressed years ago, it wasn’t. What we are now seeing it a desperate attempt to catch-up and put in place the technologies, processes and regulations to create what would be deemed an acceptable level of security. The result is a tsunami of changes which are causing complications all over the place.

One such example is the introduction of Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), a European-wide initiative to set in place two-stage verification for authentication of online purchases. The rules are slated for September and will likely see some notable changes in the way retailers engage customers.

Worryingly for the retailers, the GoCardless research suggests consumers are already frustrated with the authentication process as is. Any further changes could see heightened churn on sales.

According to the research, 43% of UK respondents to the survey said ‘speed and ease of payment’ was the most important factor when purchasing products online. The numbers are certainly smaller in other European nations, but very notable. Security is a consideration in all the markets in question, as you can see in the table below, though it seems there is only a certain amount consumers will stomach before looking elsewhere.

UK France Germany Spain
Speed is the most important factor 43% 32% 33% 17%
Security is a large consideration 55% 62% 61% 58%
Abandoned purchase because of security process 44% 33% 48% 40%

As you can see from the final row, a notable number of customers can become easily frustrated by extended security, validation and authentication processes. This might be down to the idea that too much is being thrown at the consumer at once.

Generally, consumers seem to favour being eased into a change. Take Facebook for example, what the platform is today is remarkably different from when it started, and this includes the amount of personal information which is being requested and processed. If all of these changes were introduced at once, there would have been uproar, but like the boiling frog, consumers were eased into the current situation.

For years, the technology industry ignored the importance of security, refusing to make it a priority voluntarily. Now governments and regulators are stepping in to force through changes; it might give the consumer a shock and a negative experience.

“In the eyes of UK consumers, convenience is virtually neck and neck with security in terms of importance when shopping online,” said Duncan Barrigan, VP Product at GoCardless. “Protecting shoppers from fraud when they pay online is crucial, and new regulation which achieves this should be welcomed.

“The flipside is that these measures, if implemented badly, could significantly disrupt consumers and lead to a significant conversion drop off for businesses. Online retailers must work with their payment providers to find the right balance between security and convenience at checkout – not waking up to this new reality could seriously harm e-commerce. Major retailers like Amazon are already sounding the alarm.”

US rumoured to begin posturing at India

The Trump administration is certainly an ‘enthusiastic’ one, and now it appears it might be turning its attention to India.

According to Reuters, the US is set to start beating its chest in front of the Indian Government, suggesting it will limit H-1B work visas for nations who force foreign firms to store data locally. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently readying his forces for an Indian excursion, and it would appear he is not in a friendly mood.

The H-1B work visas are popular with many US businesses and individuals around the world. The visa allows an individual to enter the US to temporarily work at an employer in a specialty occupation. Considering the foundations of Silicon Valley were built on its ability to attract the best talent from around the world, this has been a very beneficial programme for the US economy and those specialised workers who want to maximise their earnings.

Although there are no official quotas, it is believed that Indian citizens account for 70% of the H-1B visas which are issued each year. One outcome which is being suggested is that the country and its citizens would be limited to 15% of the annual total.

However, should the rumours prove to be true, it could widen an already strained relationship between the US and India. The US might be the most powerful and influential nation worldwide, but it is proving to be more of a bully than an ally at the moment.

Interestingly enough, this move could also put the US at odds with numerous other nations; India is not the only one which places data localisation requirements on foreign countries.

Russia and China are two countries which have very strict data localisation laws, though it will surprise few that the US does not have an issue in upsetting these governments. The European Union is another however. There are currently laws in place in Europe which make it difficult to transfer large volumes of data outside of the bloc, effectively acting as localisation requirements.

One of the best examples of how difficult the European laws can be to navigate is a battle between the US Government and Microsoft which ended last year. In this saga, the Department of Justice wanted access to emails stored on one of Microsoft’s Irish servers. Due to localisation complications, Microsoft argued the US had no jurisdiction and should not be granted access to the content. This battle continued for five years, with the passing of the CLOUD Act effectively ending the debate. It is still controversial, but this chapter has been closed.

Protection of a nations citizens and jurisdiction are two of the reasons sovereign nations are keen to implement data localisation laws, as well as the fact it provides a handy boost to the local economies. We suspect there will be objections if the US attempts to bully its way to eradicating these requirements.

Should the reports be true, another data privacy and protection debate could be on the horizon.

Microsoft wastes no time in countering Google’s cloud gaming ambitions

Cloud gaming is emerging as a major new front in the competitive war between tech giants, who are using the E3 gaming trade show to flex their muscles.

A few days ago Google added some substance to its cloud gaming ambitions by announcing more details, including a list of games and pricing, of its Stadia platform. Shortly after Microsoft had its big E3 reveal, which of course focused on plans for its Xbox gaming console. These included the ability to stream games from a console to a mobile device and the opportunity for attendees to stream games from the cloud via the Project xCloud streaming service.

The difference between the two is that the latter doesn’t require you to own an Xbox console and so is directly equivalent to Stadia. Microsoft first announced Project xCloud last October, so it’s clearly a tricky proposition if this is the progress it has managed in the intervening 8 months. Having said that, at least one gaming hack seemed impressed with the streaming performance, noting that the latency was acceptably low.

Low latency will be the killer feature of 5G if this sort of thing is to drive truly mobile gaming, as we noted from MWC earlier this year. Not only is it a prerequisite for fast-paced first-person shooter games, in which any delay presents a massive competitive disadvantage, but it’s widely recognised that its essential for the virtual reality user experience.

You can see a bit more from the Microsoft E3 announcement below, but the company still seems to be keeping its cards fairly close to its chest on this topic. Maybe one reason is that it’s trying to work out what this means for its cloud gaming partnership with Sony, which just happens to make the main competitor to the Xbox. The market is clearly receptive to cloud-based subscription services for its entertainment such as Netflix and Spotify. We will soon find out if this applies to gaming too.

Google fleshes out its Stadia cloud gaming platform

Having teased a new cloud gaming platform earlier this year, Google has finally got around to launching it properly.

Stadia offers games that are 100% hosted in the cloud, which means you don’t need a console, don’t need to install any software and can game on any screen with an adequate internet connection. Right now Google is only launching the premium tier, which offers 4K gaming but requires a £9 per month subscription and a 35 Mbps connection.

A freemium tier will follow in due course that won’t change a subscription fee but will offer reduced performance. It looks like both tiers will charge full-whack for individual games, although the premium one will chuck in a few freebies to sweeten the pot. Among the games announced by Google is a third version of the popular RPG Baldur’s Gate.

To seed the market Google is urging early adopters to by a Founder’s Edition bundle that includes a controller, a Chromecast Ultra dongle and three months subscription to the ‘Pro’ premium tier for £119. Here’s what you get for Pro versus the basic package.

stadia pricing

The main telecoms angle here is bandwidth. Google reckons you still need a 20 Mbps connection even for 1080p gaming, which a lot of people, even in the UK, still struggle to reach. But the real strain on networks will come if people start using stadia via mobile devices. This is unlikely to really take off until you get games developed specifically for mobile, probably with a location and/or AR element to them, but when they do we might finally see a killer consumer app for 5G.

 

Apple poised to enter the foldy-phone fray

A patent for a new foldable phone has emerged in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, signalling Apple’s entry into the desperate battle for innovation.

Filed on March 28, the document describes an electronic device with ‘bendable or flexible layers’ to move towards creating a new form-factor for the iLeader. Although Apple has been relatively quiet in the foldable arena to date, it wasn’t going to be too long before the smartphone giant made some noise.

While this innovation might have appeared to be a flash-in-the-pan, the idea of a foldable device will keep imaginative engineers busy. The smartphone industry has been crying out for innovation for years, and while the initial introduction of foldable devices might have been a flop, there is certainly potential in the long-run.

Although the underlying theme of Mobile World Congress this year was the gradual movement towards 5G, devices always seem to wrestle some attention in the headlines. The return of Nokia devices snatched it in 2017, while a Matrix style device caught attention last year, but it was foldable devices in Barcelona this February.

samsung foldable phone

Samsung was the first to start talking about the concept last summer, while Huawei certainly attempted to steal some of the thunder. However, it was Samsung who won the race at Mobile World Congress, though the devices have failed to live up to expectations. Reviewers for a host of different media titles reported faults with the devices, leading to numerous delays and recalls. The official release date was supposed to be May, before being pushed back to June, and now it seems there might be further delays with no concrete date in sight.

And while Samsung is facing engineering difficulties, Huawei’s are much more troublesome. A major disruption to its global supply chain, owed to the White House, puts the prospects of many devices in question, most notably due to Google putting its relationship with Huawei on pause.

The foldable devices segment has seemingly ground to a halt, fading from the headlines after claiming its 15 minutes of fame.

And then Apple makes its debut on the folding stage.

If we were being honest with ourselves, this was always going to be nothing more than a minor set back for foldable devices. The smartphone segment has been searching for innovation, with the last genuine disruption coming back in the noughties when Apple ditched the keyboard. A lack of buttons might have disturbed consumers at the beginning, but who would go back to that era now?

The same will be said about foldable phones. Once they enter the market, consumers will find reason to like them. Whether it is multi-taskers on the tube, gamers with more real estate to enjoy, or watching movies on a wider screen. There are usecases now, and new ones will emerge in the coming years. The devices might not intrigue everyone, but there will be a place in the technology.

It also gives smartphone manufacturers a reason to ask consumers to spend more money. Right now, consumers are being asked to spend extortionate amounts on incremental upgrades. Demand has gone down, we have seen this in the smartphone shipment figures each quarter, and the refurbished devices market is growing steadily. Consumers are sick of taking out second mortgages for much the same.

And when Apple decides to showcase its own device, you can pretty much guarantee there will be queues around the corner.

Line at Apple store

Apple is the master of creating and cultivating a brand identity and loyalty amongst its customers. Some might say the closed ecosystem is forced loyalty, but many Apple customers life and breathe the brand. There are a few faltering at the moment, you can see that through Apple’s sliding market share, but they may well be brought back by genuine innovation.

However, what is worth noting is that Apple does make excellent products. It would be unfair to credit all of its success to the marketing department; the engineers do chip in as well.

Most of the time the specs are market leading and the reviews are some of the highest around. Apple’s engineers live through a culture of perfection, dating back to the leadership of Steve Jobs, which is represented through the price of the products and the loyalty of the customers.

One of the issues which all manufacturers will face is the thickness of the phone. Smartphones are increasingly becoming sleek devices, incredibly light and not that intrusive. Foldable devices which we have seen so far certainly do not fit this description. Such is the challenge of doubling the size of the screen, and the power demands which accompany this real estate, these devices are bulky. It might turn off some consumers.

LG has come up with an interesting concept, somewhat of a halfway house, with its latest device, the V50ThinQ 5G. The smartphone can be plugged into a separate module, which includes a second screen. This product effectively has the same advantages of a foldable screen, double the screen space, but the phone can be taken out of the module for everyday use. It isn’t the full-blown promise, but it is an interesting addition.

fznor

Another minor irk for some reviewing the devices is that they are not completely flat. Even when fully extended, there is still a slight bend in the screen. This is really nit-picking, as it won’t impact experience that much, but hyper-techno-enthusiasts will pick on this minor ‘flaw’ in the devices.

Price is another consideration; can Apple create a product which is friendly enough to the wallet? Apple customers are of course used to paying a premium, but foldable devices could take this to a new extreme. Huawei’s first foldable device was priced at $2,600 while Samsung’s was $1,920. Apple is traditionally more expensive than these two, but that would surely be too much to ask of customers.

The second-wave of foldable devices are likely to be cheaper, and soon enough economics of scale in the manufacturing facilities will kick-in. But whether smartphone manufacturers are pricing themselves out of the market remains to be seen with future launches.

Finally, the durability of the devices needs to be questioned. Smartphones are already delicate pieces of kit, just look at the number of cracked screens which are being carried around today, and introducing a fold introduces another weakness for the clumsy and drunken to take advantage of.

These are a challenges Apple engineers will have to consider if it wants to woo its followers back into line.

That is not to say Apple customers blindly follow however. Not only have you got some switching to more price-friendly alternatives, you have to remember how long it took the Apple Watch product line to gain traction. Even now some might say this is a product line which is struggling to live up to the promise.

But Apple is Apple…

If anyone can crack the foldable devices market, Apple would certainly be a sensible bet.