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Lithium-sulfur batteries store considerably more energy than their lithium-ion cousins — in theory as much as six times the energy for a given weight. What’s more, they can be made from cheap materials that are readily available around the world.

Source: Batteries made with sulfur could be cheaper, greener and hold more energy – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Better batteries can’t arrive soon enough. We need them to be cheaper to make, store more energy and less of a drain on dwindling resources.

They can improve mobile device performance and usefulness. They can power electric vehicles for longer. It would be great to drive from Auckland to Wellington on a single charge without worrying.

Better batteries can improve power grids and boost home storage, making solar power more viable.

Mahdokht Shaibani and her team at Monash University may have made the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for. The story says there may be a commercial product in two to four years. It may be too soon to get excited, but it is a development worth watching.

Battery life has already improved hugely in recent years. This week Dell demonstrated an updated Latitude 9750 2-in-1 computer that uses AI-based technology to eke-out battery life.

Computer brands talk about edging close to 24-hour battery life. That may be true if you don’t push laptops to the limit. In real world condition you’re more likely to see 14 hours or so.

The new Apple iPhone 11 runs for four hours longer than the previous year’s iPhone XS. That’s a 20 percent increase year-on-year. This has a knock-on effect elsewhere in the phone business.

Worrying about finding outlets is less of an issue than it was. And yet it would be great if a phone could go the best part of a week between battery top-ups. That goes for everything else.

“Anyone saying that Android apps on ChromeOS are a good experience is delusional.”

Google PixelbookIn Chrome OS has stalled out, Dave Ruddock says Google’s Chrome OS has failed to live up to its potential. Ruddock is a Chrome user who says he does 95 percent of his work using the operating system.

When Chrome OS first appeared it looked like the future. Or at least one version of a potential future.

It’s a great idea on paper.

Take a minimal specification computer. One that costs almost nothing to make and almost everyone can afford. Give it just enough hardware to connect to the net and handle a web browser.

Cloud power

Then let efficient remote cloud systems do all the heavy lifting. After all, that’s what most people now do most of the time anyway. Few MacBooks or Surface Books are not web-connected.

ChromeOS users mainly connect to free services. That’s a problem because in the online world free can be a high price to pay.

Large companies don’t give services away out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to advertise their client’s products or manipulate you into voting a certain way. And we all know that works. It’s an aspect of surveillance capitalism.

This gets worse.

ChromeOS uses Android apps to plug functionality or entertainment gaps. The experience is bad.

Android apps can be cheap and nasty at the best of times. They collect far too much user data. Many Android apps live at the seamy end of surveillance capitalism.

Ask yourself why you need to give someone your home address to write a document or your first pet’s name1 in order to put an interesting filter on your uploaded pictures.

Dismal

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Android app on ChromeOS experience is dismal. I can’t bear to use it.

Many apps were clearly written for phones and make little or no allowance for larger screens and keyboards. They are buggy as anything and many are a security nightmare2.

There’s something else bad about Chrome. We live in a world where technology iterates towards a kind of nirvana. Each successive line of Windows or MacOS computers is a step up on what went before. Each new generation of mobile phone has a better camera, faster processor, is packed with more oomph.

This applies even when there are two-steps forward, one step back messes like the butterfly keyboards in recent Apple laptops.

As Ruddock points out, the problem with Chrome, the OS and Chromebooks, the computers do not appear to be moving in any direction.

Going nowhere

Chromebooks are not as clunky as they were, some are nice to use. But it isn’t going anywhere. The Chrome experience has barely changed over the years. There’s little prospect of it changing in the near future.

It’s stagnant.

Sure this might not matter to school students who need a fast, low-cost route to the web. It matters to almost everyone else.

Ruddock says there are aspects of Chrome life that amount to computing barbarism. He is being generous.

Sure, a MacBook or a Surface Book might cost getting on for ten times the price of a Chromebook. But the experience is on another plane. You can do so much more. It’s a struggle doing everyday work on a Chromebook, it’s a challenge being creative.


  1. Maybe not literally. But they often ask for information they have no right collecting ↩︎
  2. Although I doubt the average Chromebook users cares much for security or privacy ↩︎

Nokia 7.1 phone

New phone models arrive monthly. Most phone product lines get an annual refresh.

Apple usually does its annual iPhone upgrades all at once.

Top Android phone makers like Samsung, Huawei and Nokia have a few product lines. Each line gets its own annual update. The phone makers tend to stagger their launches.

Add in the smaller brands and yes, we see a dozen launches of note each year.

Goodbye two year refresh cycle

Phone makers expect you to hang on to a device for at least two years even if they refresh their model lines every year.

Carriers agree. Their phone plans are usually two-year contracts. Remember carriers make money when you to buy new phones and roll over two-year contracts.
While two-year contracts remain popular, they’re less common today than five years ago.

New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department depreciates phones at 67 percent a year. That implies a life expectancy of under two years.

We’re holding on for longer

Most of us now hold onto phones for longer than two years. No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable.

There’s still a difference between Apple and Android phones. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for less time than iPhone users. Apple’s sales figures reflect this. iPhone revenues peaked two years ago. Apple is now focusing on selling services to its customers to make up the shortfall.

Five years ago Benedict Evans reported Android users keep phones for under two years. Back then, Apple iPhones stayed in use for more than two years. There are interesting theories about this in the comments on Evans’ post. This also explains why second-hand iPhones hold their value better than Android phones.

One reason people hold on to phones for longer is that upgrades are more incremental than in the past. A few years ago there would be dramatic changes from one year to the next. Now the emphasis is on cameras and cosmetics.

Phone hardware can live for years

Phones can take a beating. Owners handle them many times each day. They get dropped, knocked, scratched and soaked.

Yet, in most cases, there are no moving parts to seize up.

If you look after your phone and it doesn’t pick up too much moisture, the battery is the first part to wear out. Constant use and charging cycles mean they degrade over time. After about three to four years use they hold as little as half the charge they managed when they were new.

You can replace most phone batteries, even those in sealed phones. It can be difficult, there are official repairers and a cottage industry exists.

Although it may seem expensive to pay someone NZ$100 to replace a battery, it’s cheaper than buying a new phone.

Screen life

Screens last three to ten years depending on the technology, build quality and your use. Often the screen backlighting goes first. Again, repairers can fix these problems.

There are times when a new phone model is compelling.
Sometimes move from one year’s model to the next brings a must-have feature. Even so, you can expect to get at least two years from a device. They should last for three or more. Five years is no longer exceptional.
 Of course, some users give their phones a pounding. If that’s you, or a family member, you have two choices. You could buy a more robust phone model. Or you could opt for a a cheaper model that won’t break the bank when replacement time rolls around.

The Telecommunications Bill going through Parliament sets the tone for New Zealand’s fibre era.

By 2022 around 87 percent of New Zealand’s population will have access to fibre.

Many homeowners and businesses have already chosen to connect to fibre. This month Statistics New Zealand reported one in three broadband connections are now fibre. That’s up from one in eight connections two years ago.

According to the most recent Broadband Deployment Update from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, uptake is now 44.1 percent. In some regions uptake is already higher than 50 percent.

The numbers continue to climb.

Fibre is only likely to get more popular with Spark buying up sports broadcast rights. Early next year the company will launch an app so viewers can watch Rugby, Football and Formula One racing online in high-definition. Other sport will follow.

Fibre everywhere

I’m not sticking my head out here by saying I expect half of all New Zealanders to have fibre connections by 2022. The number could be higher.

By then Spark will have a 5G mobile network, other mobile carriers could also offer fast mobile broadband and fixed wireless services with fibre-like speeds.

Many of those left with copper networks should see better experience thanks to VDSL and other fast copper technologies.

We will be in a new communications era.

New rules

Last year the National government introduced the Telecommunications Amendment Bill. It aims to set out the rules for fixed line telecommunications in the fibre era.

Most insiders expect the Bill to have its third and final reading between now and Christmas. After then it will be law.

This week the government tabled a supplementary order paper for the Bill. Among other things it sets a new cap for the wholesale price of a fibre connection.

The government has decided that a 100/20 mbps connection will be the benchmark. It calls this the anchor service. Some in the industry have argued that by 2022, 100/20 mbps will be bordering on obsolete. Never mind, the key point is that the price cap will $46.

Telecommunications Bill brings certainty

This is important as it gives everyone in the industry something to work with as they plan strategies for the coming era.

The figure means wholesale broadband companies make a profit. They have enough incentive to expand fibre networks beyond the reach of 87 percent of the population. No doubt this will happen over time.

Likewise retail service providers know what they need to charge consumers to make their broadband services pay. Everyone in the industry likes certainty.

Elsewhere the Bill will make telecommunications regulations more like those in other utilities. It will remove unnecessary rules that are a hang-over from the copper era.

Watching service quality

The Bill also aims to get the Commerce Commission to take more notice of retail service quality. The Commerce Commission will also get to check that emergency services are available even in the event of a power failure, which would knock out fibre services.

The Commerce Commission will be allowed to conduct inquiries into any matter relating to the industry or for the long-term benefit of consumers.

Telecommunications Minister Kris Faafoi says the new regulated price: “…represents a fairer deal for everyone: a good price for New Zealand broadband consumers and a reasonable price for Chorus”.

Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie says the supplementary order paper provides some clarification. She says: “We welcome this step towards a new regulatory framework for New Zealand’s key communications infrastructure. We look forward to the passage of the bill and to starting work on implementation”.

One thing that hasn’t been said in public, but is discussed by the industry in private is that the certainty brought by the Bill when it becomes law should calm things down between the various players.

The last year or so has seen retail and wholesale companies jockey for position ahead of the Bill. Relations between players have been tense. Most of the time this has been behind the scenes, but every so often something emerges in a speech or a media interview.

Once the Bill becomes an Act, everyone can get back to the more important business of finding innovative ways to make money from telecommunications services. That means giving customers what they want and seeking out new things that we are going to want in future.

Mid-October is as late as a phone launch can be for the new model to feature in the all important Christmas sales quarter. Today Huawei showed New Zealanders the Mate 20 Pro. It clearly aims to challenge Samsung for space under the Christmas tree. Huawei needs to get a move on. While customers can order the phone from Friday, it doesn’t official go on sale until the first week in November.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the first mainstream phone to sport a fingerprint reader embedded in its display.

Like most other premium phones this season, the Mate 20 Pro has a huge screen. Unlike most rival models, it has three cameras on the back.

Huawei has gone for a 6.4 inch QHD Oled display on the Mate 20 Pro. It’s big, so is the battery Huawei rates it it at 4,200 mAh. The non-Pro Huawei Mate 20 is a fraction larger again.

The battery charges fast, to 70 percent in 30 minutes. There’s also a slower wireless charging option. One nice twist is that you can wireless charge suitably equipped accessories such as ear buds from the phone.

 

7 nanometre processor

In contrast the technology in the Kirin 980 processor that powers both phones is tiny. It’s Huawei’s first 7 nanometre phone processor.

This puts Huawei in line with Apple which also uses 7 nm technology in the A12 chips found in the company’s 2018 iPhones.

That’s not the only on-paper similarity to the iPhone XS. The Mate 20 Pro has 3D face recognition software.

While you may not need both face recognition and a fingerprint scanner in the same device, having the two is an impressive show of techno prowess.

Glass slab

Doing away with a separate fingerprint reader makes the phone an even more featureless slab of glass.

There are obvious physical comparisons with the Apple iphone XS series, yet in the hand the Mate 20 Pro looks and feels more like a Samsung Galaxy S model than an iPhone. Indeed, from the front it’s hard to tell the Mate 20 Pro from the Galaxy S or the iPhone XS Max. Either phone designers all think alike, or they’re playing follow-the-leaders. 

As always with modern premium phones, marketing emphasises the camera or in this case cameras. There are three on the back include a 40 megapixel camera, a second 8 megapixel camera with a telephoto lens and 20 megapixel wide-angle camera.

This last camera replaces the monochrome camera that is in Huawei’s P20 Pro. I’ll let you know how this works in practice when I get some hands-on time with the phone.

Android 9

Huawei has upgraded EMUI, its Android overlay software. For me this has always been one of the weakest links in Huawei phones. It still looks a lot like iOS to the casual observer. I swear some of the app icons are direct copies of Apple’s icons. Huawei’s other weak link has been tardiness when it comes to upgrading phone software. There’s a promise this will improve. At the launch Huawei told journalists there is already an upgrade for the software in the review phones.

As the name suggests, EMUI 9 is a variation on Android 9. Huawei says it optimised the software to speed up regular tasks.

Given the processor has also had a speed bump, the phone should be a lot faster and smoother than earlier models. Having said that, speed and smoothness never felt like problems with recent Huawei phones.

First thoughts

Like Apple Huawei has ditched the headphone jack in favour of wireless connections. This is something that upsets some people. It’s time to accept that a physical jack is now an anachronism.

The Mate 20 Pro goes on sale at NZ$1599. That puts the Mate 20 Pro on a par with the Oppo Find X and makes it $200 cheaper than the $1700 Samsung Galaxy Note 9. My impression is that Huawei wants to stay competitive on price in New Zealand. On paper Huawei has the price edge,

It needs too. Samsung dominates the Android phone market. For many users it is a tried and tested brand with, one exploding model aside, a clear track record. Huawei is not well established yet. It sales are tiny compared Samsung’s phone numbers in New Zealand hence the aggressive price. I’ll write about whether it is worth the money when I give it a proper test.