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  • Writer's pictureMike V.

Weekend Reading

Barron’s: The New Foldable Phones Could Be the Next Big Thing

The star attractions, the Galaxy Fold from Samsung Electronics and the Mate X from Huawei Technologies. Samsung and Huawei view the devices as the most significant change to the wireless industry since the first-ever smartphones. While recent generations of phones have fought over incremental changes like better cameras and faster processors, the foldable phone is built on the view that a phone’s physical form remains as important as the latest apps and software. The promise of 5G is pushing phone makers to finally rethink the decade-old smartphone form factor, Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon. “In every transition in tech—from 3G to 4G to today—the network was ready but not the devices,” Amon said. “This time, the devices are ahead of the network. It’s not that the form factor of foldables is for show; what 5G brings in streaming, gaming, and work productivity requires a larger screen, and it allows a phone to function as a laptop."

Ericsson CFO Carl Mellander struck a similar theme. As the telecom infrastructure changes for 5G, so too will the devices—foldable or not. “We’ve entered a window of innovation for smartphones,” he said. Even retailers are getting bullish about the foldable future. “We’re also excited to watch the foldable phones emerge over the next several months,” Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly told investors during the company’s earnings call. Samsung got a jump by introducing the Galaxy Fold in San Francisco, a week before Mobile World Congress. The Fold starts as a 4.6-inch display that converts into a 7.3-inch tablet. That’s essentially an iPhone 8 transforming into an iPad Mini. The technology was cheered. The Fold is slated to launch in the U.S. on April 26, but no one was trying the device in Barcelona.

A rep said the company is currently focused on its latest line of traditional smartphones, the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, which will be in stores on March 8. Samsung says it spent years designing its foldable entry. A new plastic display and hinge enable the screen to collapse onto itself, a system that Samsung says is “built to last.” And while its price may make some consumers blanch, Samsung anticipates a strong wave of first adopters. “Innovation excites people, and consumers have never been more educated about what they want in technology,” Justin Denison, senior vice president of mobile phone product marketing at Samsung.

Apple, which routinely redefines an established market, was granted a patent for a folding device in 2014, and its entry seems inevitable now that Samsung and Huawei have made their moves. It’s no secret the global smartphone market has been in a funk. Unit shipments were flat, at 408 million, in the December quarter because high-models just aren’t selling, according to Gartner. Lack of innovation isn’t helping matters.

Bloomberg: Waymo Starts Selling Sensors to Lower Cost of Self-Driving Cars

Waymo is set to begin selling the laser-mapping sensors used on its driverless vehicles to other companies—as long as the customers don’t compete with its core robotaxi business. The sensors, known as lidar, shoot lasers off objects to determine what’s nearby. The next generation of warehouse robots, security systems, and even autonomous tractors could all be built with this technology. For Waymo, however, the strategy isn’t simply to generate revenue. The sensor hardware for autonomous vehicles is made in-house by Waymo, which means increased production should lower costs. “As we scale our fleet and build more cars, we need to make sure the cost of the sensor suite comes down as well,” Simon Verghese, the head of Waymo’s lidar team, said in an interview. “We’re excited to see what people might do with this and to explore whether some of these spinoff technologies give us another pillar to our business.”

Even though the self-driving cars most often associated with lidar have only just started appearing on public roads, the technology has already found its way into the wild to help collect trash, sweep streets and pilot drones. Retailers such as Walmart Inc. and grocery store chain Stop & Shop Inc. are using lidar-equipped robots to help keep shelves stocked. A security company called Knightscope uses lidar to help patrol malls and parking lots.

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