Wednesday April 29, 2015 3:50 pm PDT by Juli Clover
During its Wednesday earnings call, Apple rival Samsung Electronics reported net profit of 4.63 trillion won ($4.35 billion) for the January to March quarter, a 39% drop from its net profit of 7.49 trillion won in the year ago quarter. A sizable portion of the lost profit came from Samsung's mobile division, which brought in 2.74 trillion won ($2.5 billion) in the first quarter of 2015, vs. 6.43 trillion won in the first quarter of 2014.
Despite the year over year profit loss, Samsung's earnings release highlighted its quarter over quarter improvement and pointed towards increased sales of middle-end smartphones including the Galaxy A series. Samsung doesn't divulge its smartphone sales, but analysts believe the company sold 83.2 million smartphones during the quarter, compared to Apple's 61.2 million.
The high number of sales let Samsung regain its title of the worlds largest smartphone maker, but many of those sales were for lower-priced phones and not flagship devices, causing it to lose profit year over year. Much of Samsung's profit loss can be attributed to the introduction of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, letting Apple devices compete with Samsung devices on screen size for the first time.
Ahead of the launch of the two larger-screened iPhones, big screens were a feature that set Samsung devices apart from iPhones and drew customers for the South Korean company, but with the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus, Samsung has lost some of its grasp on customers seeking devices with bigger displays.
Samsung expects its profits to increase during the second quarter following the global launch of the company's new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge and on the strength of its semiconductor business. According to Samsung, demand for its curved S6 Edge has been high, but limited supplies have restricted sales.
Thursday April 16, 2015 7:30 am PDT by Joe Rossignol
Apple's next-generation iPhones could adopt 7000 Series aluminum used for the Apple Watch Sport, according to Taiwan's Economic Daily News. The so-called "iPhone 6s" and "iPhone 6s Plus" would likely use Apple's custom Series 7000 aluminum alloy, which is designed to be 60% stronger than most aluminum, and one-third the density of stainless steel, while still maintaining a light weight.
Apple elaborated in more detail about the Series 7000 aluminum it used for the Apple Watch Sport on its website, noting that each casing is machined, polished and blasted with microscopic zirconia beads to achieve a consistent satin texture found on each Apple Watch. An additional anodized outer layer helps protect against scratches and corrosion, while the anodizing process also makes possible alternative colors like Space Gray.
For Apple Watch Sport, we started with 7000 Series aluminum — the same used in competition bicycles. We altered it to create a new alloy that’s just as light, yet even more durable — it’s 60 percent stronger than most aluminum, and one-third the density of stainless steel. It has a bright, lustrous colour and a uniform structure free of defects and impurities. Each case is machined and polished, then blasted with microscopic zirconia beads to achieve a consistent, satin texture. A special anodizing process creates a hard, clear outer layer that helps protect against scratches and corrosion.
Economic Daily News has a mixed track record at reporting on Apple's upcoming plans, and the translated report does not offer many further details, so this rumor should be treated with a proverbial grain of salt. Nevertheless, it is common for Apple to introduce new features on one device before expanding to others. Force Touch, for example, was exclusive to the Apple Watch before making its way to MacBooks, and the technology is also rumored to be included in the next iPhone.
Apple's recent acquisition of LinX Imaging is one of the company's more exciting acquisitions in the last several months, as the technology being developed by LinX could lead to some significant improvements in camera quality in future iOS devices. Given the significance of the purchase, we wanted to take a deeper look at LinX's technology and what it could do for future iPhone photography.
No More Protruding Camera
LinX specializes in multi-aperture cameras for mobile devices, which offer several benefits over single aperture cameras, including the ability to pack impressive image quality in a smaller size. With a multi-aperture camera, LinX is able to take advantage of several smaller sensors rather than one large sensor, preventing the camera from needing a longer lens.
The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus were equipped with protruding lenses so Apple didn't have to sacrifice image quality for thinness, but it's possible Apple could shrink the length of the camera in future iOS devices with LinX technology, resulting in a flush rear exterior. According to LinX, the use of multiple sensors over a single large sensor let it shrink the height of its camera device by a factor of 1.4 to 2. Comparatively, one of LinX's dual-aperture cameras was described by the company as "significantly" thinner than the iPhone 5s camera and able to "fit in a device thinner than the iPhone."
SLR Image Quality
LinX announced the launch of its most recent mobile-ready multi-aperture camera in June of last year, and in documentation [PDF], the company highlighted the many ways in which its technology improved upon other multi-aperture camera designs, citing image quality as its first priority.
When designing our algorithms and modules our first priority has always been IMAGE QUALITY. We even leveraged the multiple channels to boost the sensitivity of the camera which allows us to capture stunning images at very low light levels and keep exposure times short at normal indoor light levels.
LinX's mobile cameras were described as offering SLR-like images in normal lighting conditions with low noise levels, due to their ability to capture more details than standard single aperture cameras. To offer proof, LinX captured several photos with its LinX 8 mpix, a dual aperture camera with two 4-megapixel sensors with 2.0 micron BSI (backside illumination) pixels, and compared those to images taken with the iPhone 5s (equipped with an 8-megapixel single aperture camera with 1.5 micron pixels) and an iPhone 5.
Noise Reduction and Detail
The images captured by the LinX camera were brighter and clearer, with a significant reduction in noise. Available detail when zoomed into a photo was also much greater, as can be seen in the comparison below.
In the photo below, the image was taken in mid-levels of light, at approximately 40 to 50 lux, similar to a decently well-lit room in a house or restaurant. The LinX sensor let in more light than the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S4, for a photo that is clearer and sharper with less noise.
Very Low Lighting
LinX technology is able to significantly improve low light performance by using multiple channels to increase the sensitivity of the camera for better detail. It also keeps exposure times short to cut down on the motion blurring that can impact photo quality in conditions where lighting is not optimal. For a mobile camera in one lux of lighting, the detail that the dual-aperture LinX 8 mpix was able to capture is impressive.
Low light photos with less noise are also achieved through the use of clear pixels (adding clear pixels to standard red-green-blue filters) to let more light pass through in situations where lighting is low. The use of clear pixels lets in light without the need for larger pixels, keeping resolution high. Larger pixels typically result in more light for the sensor, but using large pixels cuts down on resolution. LinX technology doesn't have to compromise between pixel size and resolution, as it can use small pixels but still let in adequate amounts of light.
Smaller pixels also often introduce pixel crosstalk that can impact color clarity to result in muddier colors, but the LinX camera's clear pixels are less sensitive to this issue because they can collect more photons per pixel, also cutting down on noise levels.
In its documentation, LinX describes a 1x2 (aperture) camera module with two 5-megapixel sensors with 1.12 micron BSI (backside illumination) pixels, intended for a "super-slim handset with very limited space for the camera module." The camera is cheaper than the one found in the iPhone 5s, but delivers the same resolution due to its smaller pixels, so image quality is largely the same. Presumably Apple would use something a bit more cutting edge in its newer devices, but the product gives an idea of the type of technology LinX was working on.
Depth Mapping for 3D Models
With multiple apertures, LinX camera modules are able to calculate "ultra accurate sub pixel disparities" between images, letting them create detailed depth maps of a scene. With depth information on a per-pixel basis along with RGB information, LinX cameras can create 3D point clouds of objects from a single frame or a complete 3D model by combining several frames captured from different angles.
Point mapping with data taken from a single photo
Outdoors, depth can be calculated even in direct sunlight or in complete darkness with flash lighting (either visible or infrared).
This is interesting technology because it can be used in several fascinating ways. Depth mapping like this can let people create 3D scans of objects from simple photographs taken at multiple angles, and it can also determine the size of an object that's been photographed and its distance from another object (potentially useful for indoor mapping). It's also possible to use the depth information to refocus an image, introducing a synthetic blur that can emulate different depths of field (a method described in one of LinX's patents). In editing, the information could be used to remove and add objects to a photograph.
LinX Depth Mapping
LinX offers several different camera options, each of which have unique applications. A 1x2 aperture array with a color and mono sensor, for example, can create low quality depth maps, improve low light performance, and produce better images.
A 2x2 array can create high quality depth maps with higher dynamic range, improved low light performance, and general image quality.
A 1+1x2 array uses two small apertures to create a depth map that provides focusing input for the main aperture, leading to ultra fast focusing even in conditions with very low lighting.
Apple and LinX's Technology
It's not clear how and when Apple will incorporate LinX's technology into its devices, but it's possible we could see these types of camera improvements as soon as this year. Rumors have suggested Apple is looking into a major camera boost for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, with new technology that could produce SLR quality images, and LinX's multi-aperture lens systems could potentially accomplish that feat.
Apple's iPhone is one of the most popular camera options in the world according to data from Flickr, which has led Apple to focus heavily on camera improvements over the years. Apple's commitment to photo quality has continually led to iOS cameras that offer superior images compared competing smartphones, and the acquisition of LinX could put it even further ahead of the competition.
More detailed descriptions of LinX's technology as well as additional comparison photos can be seen in a June PDF released alongside its latest products.
Tuesday April 14, 2015 11:59 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple has purchased Israeli camera technology company LinX Imaging for approximately $20 million, reports The Wall Street Journal. LinX specializes in creating multi-aperture camera equipment for mobile devices and it's possible that Apple will use the company's technology in upcoming iOS devices.
Last year, LinX announced the launch of miniature multi-aperture cameras half the height of standard mobile cameras with the ability to create "stunning color images and high accuracy depth maps" for SLR image quality without the bulk of an SLR camera.
The image quality of mobile cameras has reached a dead end. Device makers are striving to differentiate using imaging capabilities but the pixel size race has ended and next generation cameras do not reveal any dramatic improvements. LinX cameras revolutionize mobile photography and broaden the usability span and user experience, allowing us to leave our SLRs at home.
The engineers at LinX have solved all problems associated with combining multiple images captured from different points in space such as registration errors and occlusion related artifacts which are seen on competing technologies.
LinX's technology uses software to extract depth information for each pixel to create a depth map for that can also be used for 3D image reconstruction. LinX's website is now defunct, but the company offered products with two, three, and four camera arrays in multiple configurations and sizes. Its most recent technology was downscaled enough to be ready for use in mobile devices.
LinX technology includes several other improvements Apple could potentially take advantage of, including multiple sensors for a smaller size, better sensitivity to light, and greatly improved image quality in low light.
There have been rumors suggesting Apple's iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus will offer much improved dual-lens camera technology with image quality on par with SLR cameras, which could be made possible through mobile camera advancements like those LinX Imaging has worked on.
Camera improvements and iPhone photography have always been important to Apple, and its iOS devices routinely offer highly competitive picture taking capabilities that often outclass devices from competing companies. In the past, major improvements to camera technology have come in "S" release years, so it is likely we will see at least some boost in picture quality in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
Apple confirmed the purchase of LinX Imaging with its standard acquisition statement, given to The Wall Street Journal: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."
Friday April 3, 2015 8:08 am PDT by Mitchel Broussard
Third-party warranty firm SquareTrade recently released a video showcasing the durability of the new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and HTC One M9, discovering the Galaxy to bend at 110 lbs of pressure and the One M9 to bend at 120 lbs of pressure.
Although the Galaxy S6 Edge's pressure limits are comparable to the iPhone 6 Plus' testing, the Galaxy's screen ended up cracking under the pressure instead of slightly bending similar to Apple's plus-size iPhone model. The HTC One M9 lasted further than its two competitors, reaching 120 lbs of pressure, but the phone was rendered useless thanks to a faulty power button following the pressure test.
Testing to the point of "catastrophic failure", the iPhone 6 Plus survived 179 lbs of pressure, beating out the Galaxy S6 Edge's 149 lbs stress test. As SquareTrade points out, the Galaxy's stress tests proves the phone could be worse for users due to the smartphone's screen cracking under intense pressure.
Following the "Bendgate" controversy last year, both Samsung and HTC parodied Apple's woes on social media. Though SquareTrade's pressure tests are meant to measure intense circumstances, it's still interesting to see where each smartphone lies on the durability scale when compared to one another.
Thursday April 2, 2015 6:38 pm PDT by Husain Sumra
Samsung will provide Apple with A9 chips for its next-generation iPhone and other devices, reportsBloomberg, confirming a previous report in early February. Over the past couple of months there had been confusion and conflicting reports as to whether Samsung, Apple's longtime supplier and rival, or Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) would produce the chips.
Samsung will start making Apple A9 processor chips at its Giheung plant in South Korea, the people said, asking not to be identified because the contract hasn’t been discussed publicly. Additional orders will go to Samsung’s partner Globalfoundries Inc., according to another person familiar with the arrangement.
In 2013, Apple signed a chip production deal with TSMC in hopes of diversifying its supply chain resources and reducing its reliance on Samsung amid the two companies' ongoing legal disputes.
It appears that Samsung's investment in manufacturing technologies won Apple over, with TSMC Chairman Morris Chang recently telling investors that the company would lose ground to Samsung in producing the most advanced chip technology possible in 2015, though he also noted the company would regain that advantage in 2016.
Samsung is reportedly producing the chips with its advanced 14-nanometer process, which has outpaced TSMC's capabilities and results in smaller chips that consume less energy and provide more processing power. The Korean company is also said to be providing memory chips for Apple's next-generation devices.
Thus far, little is known about what the next-generation iPhones or iPads could include other than new A9 chips, but new reports indicate Apple could be bringing its new Force Touch technology to the devices. Other rumors also suggest the A9 may make its way into the "iPad Pro", which may debut in late 2015. It's likely the 2015 versions of the iPad Air and iPad mini will be outfitted with versions of the A9 as well.
Thursday April 2, 2015 8:24 am PDT by Joe Rossignol
KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a respectable track record at reporting on Apple's upcoming plans, issued a note to investors on Thursday that claims the next-generation iPhone will have a FPC-made capacitive Force Touch sensor under the backlight, laminated with metal shielding. Kuo adds that the change may be significant enough for Apple to call its next iPhone the "iPhone 7" instead of the so-called "iPhone 6s."
The analyst claims that the hardware design of Force Touch will be different than the technology used in the Apple Watch and 12-inch Retina MacBook. Instead of directly detecting the pressure applied by fingers, the new improved Force Touch hardware will monitor the contact area where a finger presses to determine how much pressure is being applied. The sensor will use capacitive technology and thin FPC material to save space.
"We believe that iPhone’s Force Touch sensor doesn’t directly detect the pressure applied by fingers. Instead, it monitors the contact area on which the finger touches the screen to decide how big the pressure is.
There are two possible structural designs for Force Touch from a technology viewpoint. The Force Touch sensor can either be placed between the cover lens and the In-cell touch panel or under the In-cell touch panel’s backlight. In the first position, the technological challenge lies with how to produce the transparent Force Touch sensor; in the second position, the challenge is how to reduce signal interference from in-cell touch panel. Our understanding of the technology is that producing a transparent Force Touch sensor is more difficult, so the chances are the new iPhone this year will opt for the second position."
Kuo adds that Apple is likely to change the hardware design of Force Touch again in 2016 by removing the metal shielding to achieve a thinner form factor. He notes that the changes should improve the iPhone user experience, but will likely create uncertainty for Force Touch module suppliers TPK and GIS, as well as metal shielding suppliers Minebea, Hi-P and Jabil.
Kuo claims that Apple is still targeting 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models for its next-generation iPhones, akin to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and notes that a 4-inch model is unlikely to be released this year. KGI Securities estimates iPhone shipments will total 25 to 30 million units in the third quarter, helping drive momentum for Force Touch components within the supply chain.
Thursday April 2, 2015 6:54 am PDT by Joe Rossignol
Apple's pressure-sensing Force Touch technology could be exclusive to the so-called "iPhone 6s Plus," according to Taiwan's Economic Daily News (via GforGames). The report, which claims Taiwanese manufacturer TPK will be responsible for supplying Apple with the Force Touch sensors, makes no mention of the "iPhone 6s," leading to speculation that the technology could be reserved for the larger iPhone 6s Plus.
It has been reported that Apple will include Force Touch technology on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus on at least three occasions since the beginning of this year. TechNews Taiwan reported that the iPhone 6s will gain Force Touch and 2GB of RAM in January, while AppleInsiderreported in March that Apple's next-generation iPhones will feature Force Touch, but lack a previously rumored dual-lens camera system.
The Wall Street Journalcorroborated both reports later in March, claiming that Apple will introduce Force Touch and is considering a new pink color option for its next-generation iPhones. Currently built into the upcoming Apple Watch and 12-inch Retina MacBook, Force Touch lets devices distinguish between a light tap and a hard press, enabling new gestures that yield different actions depending on how much pressure is applied.
While this latest report should be treated with a proverbial grain of salt, making Force Touch exclusive to the iPhone 6s Plus would not be an unprecedented move. Apple limited optical image stabilization (OIS) to the iPhone 6 Plus, and the larger smartphone also features a landscape mode. The higher cost of Force Touch sensors could be another reason that Apple would limit the technology to the more expensive iPhone 6s Plus.
Wednesday March 25, 2015 8:53 pm PDT by Husain Sumra
Apple is planning on releasing three new iPhone models in the second half of 2015, according to a new report from DigiTimes. The site claims that a 4-inch iPhone model will join the 4.7-inch iPhone 6s and 5.5-inch iPhone 6s Plus.
Apple will release three different iPhones in the second half of 2015, the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus and a 4-inch device currently being referred to as iPhone 6C, according to industry sources.
A new 4-inch iPhone was also rumored in December 2014, with a report claiming that the device would be aimed toward female users. However, even if a new 4-inch iPhone isn't introduced, Apple will presumably have the iPhone 5s to offer for free on a two-year contract once the current models slide down.
DigiTimes notes the 4-inch iPhone 6c is likely to be manufactured by Wistron while both the 6s and 6s Plus will be manufactured by Foxconn. In January, a report from Chinese site Feng.comclaimed that Apple had not made any orders in its supply chain for a 4-inch iPhone.
Earlier this year, CEO Tim Cook said the new, larger iPhone models had brought the highest Android switcher rate over the past three years and that they brought in more newer customers than previous iPhone models. It's possible that Apple believes offering more sizing choices to customers could allow Apple to reach more customers, as Cook also mentioned different regions preferred different sizes.
Apple is expected to announce new iPhone models in September, with new additions to both the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus rumored to include 2GB of RAM and Apple's new Force Touch technology, which has already made its way into Apple Watch, the new MacBook and new 13-inch MacBook Pros.
Following a number of leaks last year that saw the company reveal the NFC-equipped logic board from the iPhone 6 and even build a booting device from parts in the weeks before the device's official debut, Feld & Volk moved quickly to launch its own versions of the device. The company specializes in modifying iPhones for the luxury market by replacing the standard rear shells with new ones made from other high-end materials, frequently including touches such as gold plating and lighted Apple logos.
Feld & Volk's first iPhone 6 offering was its Wood collection, priced at $3900, but the company is now moving forward with a number of new collections to be shown starting later this week at the Baselworld watch and jewelry expo in Switzerland.
Feld & Volk's iPhone 6 Wood collection
Among the new materials being shown by Feld & Volk are carbon and titanium, with a new model pairing a carbon rear panel with a titanium frame and a glowing blue Apple logo. The iPhone 6 Carbon is already being featured by French retailer Colette, which notably was the site of the Apple Watch's first public appearance last September.
Other new collections from Feld & Volk will include one with alligator leather and another featuring a sapphire back with a titanium frame, and Feld & Volk is also teasing upcoming announcements involving illumination to build upon the company's glowing Apple logo feature.
Feld & Volk's iPhone 6 Carbon collection
While there has long been a market for modified luxury versions of Apple's products, the segment is seeing increased attention with the upcoming launch of the Apple Watch, with Apple itself selling 18K gold versions of the device priced at $10,000-$17,000. Feld & Volk and other similar companies are no doubt looking to capitalize on this move by Apple, and Baselworld is likely to be the site of a number of such announcements. Feld & Volk will be making additional announcements at the expo and will be providing updates on its site and Facebook page.
Apple will add pressure-sensing Force Touch technology to its next-generation iPhones, reports The Wall Street Journal in an article that covers a range of new details on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. Currently built into the upcoming Apple Watch and 12-inch Retina MacBook, Force Touch lets devices distinguish between a light tap and a hard press, enabling new gestures.
According to the report, which is sourced from Apple suppliers, Apple's next-generation iPhones will continue to be available in 4.7 and 5.5-inch screen sizes, with plans to "keep the resolution similar." New colors are a possibility though, and Apple is said to be considering adding a pink option to its existing space gray, silver, and gold iPhone lineup.
Production may begin on components for the next-generation iPhones as early as May, but The Wall Street Journal notes that Apple often tests technologies and designs with various suppliers that may not make it into finalized products.
Beyond the Force Touch rumors, little is known about the next-generation iPhones, which will likely be called the "iPhone 6s" and the "iPhone 6s Plus." The devices are expected to receive upgraded A9 processors and have been rumored to include features like camera upgrades, more RAM, and improved Touch ID. Apple will presumably release the new iPhones in September.
Apple has launched a worldwide "Shot on iPhone 6" advertising campaign involving 77 photographers, 70 cities and 24 countries, with iPhone 6 photography to be featured in magazines, newspapers, billboards, transit posters and more. The large-scale marketing initiative has started rolling out in several countries across the world this week, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Thailand, Malaysia, Tokyo and United Arab Emirates.
"Shot on iPhone 6" photo on billboard in Los Angeles (via Twitter)
A number of "Shot on iPhone 6" advertisements have begun surfacing on Twitter and Instagram over the past few days, with spots appearing on the back cover of The New Yorker magazine, horizontal posters in London's Euston Square subway station and in the Malaysian city of Bangsar, billboards in Los Angeles and Toronto, the side of a tall skyscraper in Dubai and more.
"Shot on iPhone 6" photo on back cover of The New Yorker (via Twitter)
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