Dating app Hinge is participating in “National Day of Unplugging” with a promotion encouraging users turn off the ability to find new dates in order to go out with people they’ve already matched with. The company is partnering with Freehand Hotel Group to offer two free cocktails to Hinge members who participate. The offer extends to Broken Shaker bar locations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. Anyone who doesn’t live in a city with a Broken Shaker can enter to win a “dream date” worth up to $1,000, which users will be asked to describe when they disconnect. If they’re randomly chosen as the winner, they’ll receive $1,000 for the date.
The app will prompt users to turn off their discover section at 5:30PM local time on February 28th and keep it off until midnight on March 1st — basically, Hinge is asking users to turn off the feature for a full day. If they do, they’ll receive some sort of ticket through the app that entitles them to free drinks between 6PM and 8PM on March 1st.
In New York City, Broken Shaker, a trendy rooftop bar, tends to have a line to get in that sometimes runs the length of the block. A Hinge spokesperson says that additional staff will be on hand to help, but that using Hinge won’t let people cut to the front of the line. Broken Shaker cocktails can cost more than $15 each, and Hinge says users can receive any cocktail for free.
While the bigger goal of the initiative is to encourage people to go out on dates, I’m sure some, if not most, people will take the opportunity to go out with their other single friends for free drinks. Still, it’s an interesting initiative if only because it taps into the trend of dating app fatigue, where users tend to match with many people but never actually meet them in person. Comped $15 drinks could get them out of the house and into a bar.
During its latest Nintendo Direct livestream this morning, Nintendo finally provided some details about its much-anticipated next Pokémon game for the Switch. Called Pokémon: Sword and Shield, the new mainline games are due to launch late this year.
The new games feature a more detailed 3D art style compared to the Let’s Go games, and include a wide variety of locales in a new region called Galar that appears heavily inspired by the UK. Naturally, there are also new monsters, including a frankly adorable trio of starters called Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble.
Startups do it. Amazon does it. And now even Fedex is doing it — experimenting with robots for short-range deliveries. Today, the company officially announced its new FedEx SameDay Bot, which it says could help make “last mile” deliveries more efficient.
The SameDay Bot is battery-powered, has a top speed of 10 mph, and is autonomous, meaning it can steer itself around pedestrians and traffic using a combination of LIDAR sensors like those found in self-driving cars and regular cameras.
FedEx says it will initially use the bot to courier packages between the company’s offices in its headquarters in Memphis (pending approval from local government). But if these trials are successful it wants to expand the service to other companies and retailers, eventually making robots a standard part of its same-day delivery service.
The company says it’s currently in talks with firms including AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart to assess their need for this sort of robot delivery. On average, says FedEx, more than 60 percent of customers for these retailers live within three miles of a store — the perfect range for a little wheeled robot.
FedEx is far from the only company experimenting with short-range delivery bots. A number of startups and large firms have begun trials with similar technology, though it’s not clear if such robots will be economical to deploy at scale, or if they can be integrated safely into cities. San Francisco was an early testing ground for such bots, but municipal legislators ended up restricting their movements as a nuisance. Other cities and states have been keen to encourage their use.
SameDay Bot does have some features that makes it stand out from the crowd though. It was developed with the help of engineer Dean Kamen, who previously created the Segway and stair-climbing upright wheelchair, iBot, and you can see the legacy of Kamen’s work in FedEx’s robot, which uses multiple pairs of wheels to climb up steps and curbs.
A video commercial for the bot also shows that it has screens on the front and back to communicate with pedestrians. A screen on the front says “hello” while a screen on the back indicates its direction of travel and whether or not it’s about to stop. Self-driving car makers have experimented with similar technology, saying they help reduce accidents and misunderstandings between human and machine.
Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping has gone on the offensive this week at Mobile World Congress, following continued pressure on US allies to drop the Chinese telecoms giant over national security fears. In a strident on-stage speech and a Financial Times editorial, Guo is escalating Huawei’s side of the story by explicitly calling out the NSA, which Edward Snowden has shown to have hacked Huawei in the past, while presenting his company as a more secure option for the rest of the world.
“If the NSA wants to modify routers or switches in order to eavesdrop, a Chinese company will be unlikely to co-operate,” Guo says in the FT, citing a leaked NSA document that said the agency wanted “to make sure that we know how to exploit these [Huawei] products.” Guo argues that his company “hampers US efforts to spy on whomever it wants,” reiterating its position that “Huawei has not and will never plant backdoors.”
A Spiegel report from 2014 said that the NSA had succeeded in accessing the source code of various Huawei products as well as email messages from founder Ren Zhengfei. “We currently have good access and so much data that we don’t know what to do with it,” one document read.
The US, for its part, has also been pressing its security concerns to allies at MWC this week. “Threats to US networks have a direct bearing on the security of our allies just as threats to our allies networks have a direct bearing on the security of our networks,” said State Department ambassador for cyber and international communications Robert Strayer. “Do you want to have a system that is potentially compromised by the Chinese government or do you want to go with a secure alternative?” Strayer asks, further arguing that Chinese law “requires firms to support and assist Beijing’s vast security apparatus.”
But the US is yet to present evidence of any coordinated hacking by Huawei, and Vodafone CEO Nick Read — who runs the largest mobile carrier in the Western world — remains unconvinced, saying that removing Huawei equipment would be “hugely disruptive” to 5G rollouts. “I would at this stage prefer to be working with governments and securities on a national basis and making sure we have a fact-based conversation,” he said at an MWC press conference.
Although the US and Huawei have tangled on this topic for many years, the issue has resurfaced as countries start to build out their 5G networks. Huawei is undoubtedly one of the technical leaders in the field, alongside Europe’s Nokia and Ericsson, and is seen to be competitive on price. Its supposedly employee-owned structure is murky, however, and Ren’s former association with the People’s Liberation Army has continued to cast doubt over the company. The company also faces US federal charges for allegedly stealing intellectual property from T-Mobile as part of an alleged bonus program that incentivized Huawei employees to lift confidential information from other companies.
But Guo’s comments this week show Huawei taking a more headstrong approach to the national security debate. “The fusillade being directed at Huawei is the direct result of Washington’s realization that the US has fallen behind in developing a strategically important technology,” he claims. “The global campaign against Huawei has little to do with security, and everything to do with America’s desire to suppress a rising technological competitor.”
I’m writing this for the year 2024. For the time when we’ll all know whether foldable phones were a mere fad or — more likely, in my opinion — they turned out to be the future of mobile computing. Whatever the outcome, I know for a fact that what took place at Mobile World Congress 2019 will be historic. It’ll be something we return to as either the cradle of a new era or as a cautionary tale about unrestrained ambition. In all cases, the story is a fun and exciting one.
Why do I think foldables will be such a big deal? Because the hype around them is earnest and enormous. Every part of the consumer tech food chain is alive and buzzing with excitement. Manufacturers have already poured millions of dollars into research and development for foldables, and we’re seeing patented and branded hinges (Enter the DragonHinge) that took years of engineering. Huawei worked on its Falcon Wing design for more than three years, and I’ve heard from a reliable source that Samsung had foldable tablets in its labs as early as 2011. Mobile carriers, according to IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo, can’t wait to get foldables into their stores, and they’re confident they’ll sell out of the newfangled devices immediately. Judging by the reaction of fellow tech journalists at MWC and readers and tech fans online, I think they’re right.
There is an unreasoning exuberance about foldables, one that you might more often see among sneakerheads salivating at an ultra-exclusive, limited production run. The closest we’ve come to that in tech in recent times might have been the release of the Apple Watch, which enthusiasts had to own immediately simply because it was so new and radically different. I think it’s notable that Apple, typically the trigger company for such maniacal hype, is absent here — to my judgment, this speaks to the growing confidence and capabilities of other companies more than it says anything about Apple. This would usually be a precarious situation for a new product category, as hardware manufacturers often try zany designs once and never again, but the sheer amount of interest and free marketing that Huawei, Samsung, and Royole, the first trio to debut foldable phones, have received tells me this device class is here to stay.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that foldables are a solved problem, not by any stretch of the imagination. I can confidently predict that in two years’ time we’ll see foldable phones refined enough to make the currently-futuristic Huawei Mate X look like a clumsy cave drawing. We’ll have screen protectors that stretch and flex with the foldable screen. And the price for a foldable will dip below $1,000 well before the end of 2020. Huawei’s Mate X and Samsung’s Galaxy Fold have set a high cost of entry with their $2000-and-up pricing, but I see those prices as a clever way to cover up the fact that neither company can produce millions of units yet. The Royole Flexpai is priced at $1,300 already, and Royole is a tiny company that lacks the budget to sell products at a loss.
Before MWC, I wasn’t convinced that the market for foldables as a premium tech product existed, but the quality of Huawei’s Mate X and the concordantly effusive reaction it’s received from all corners assures me that it’s there. It also means that a whole bunch of other companies that had been watching from the sidelines — Xiaomi and Oppo, both of whom have teased their own foldables, as well as likely candidates like Asus and Acer — will now probably greenlight their own foldable projects. Ahead of MWC, LG said that it’s not doing a foldable yet, but now that this hype bomb has been dropped, I imagine Samsung’s compatriot will be dusting off its foldable blueprints and prioritizing their development.
More than anything, foldables are exciting to me because of the exponential rate of improvement they have shown. The Royole Flexpai, which I got to handle in January, was unquestionably bad, the Galaxy Fold that was announced last week remains so mysterious that I classify it as questionably good, and the Huawei Mate X that arrived this past weekend trumps everything before it and has the potential to be great. Now, obviously we can’t expect that rate of progress every month, but I still foresee an MWC 2020 overrun with foldable devices of ever-improving quality and ever-decreasing price.
For now, for this moment in 2019 and for the future when we’ll look back at the big coming-out party of foldables, here’s a brief recap of all the action from MWC and its buildup.
That’s the sum of it: three foldable devices that I’ve gotten to see with my own eyes, two more that have slipped out onto the internet, one early prototype, and a metric ton of explosive potential. For anyone tired of seeing smartphone displays improving by fractions of an inch every year and processor performance creeping up from good to great, foldables are a hugely refreshing change of pace. I’ve been coming to MWC for a decade now, and this year’s show has transported me back to the first time I came in 2010: when Android phone makers were experimenting with all sorts of sizes and shapes, slider keyboards were a still thing, and Android was still years away from its transformative Ice Cream Sandwich update (thank you, Matias Duarte).
That software bit. That’s the one massive hurdle for hardware makers to overcome if they’re to convert the current hype into a successful line of premium foldable phones. I’ve handled the Mate X, and its physical design feels almost ready to go on sale — it’s only the hinge that gave me concern, but Huawei has four months to make that smooth as butter. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold also appears to be a mature industrial design that’s unlikely to change before release. But can we trust Samsung to do superlative software for a completely new form factor? Has Huawei ever shown itself to be a software design leader? Both of these companies have made their mobile living by ripping off Apple’s iOS for years, and it’s only recently that they’ve started developing and asserting their own taste for good user-facing concepts. Google has promised to help make Android foldables a success, and I think what Google does will be the key.
One day, we might very well talk of single-sided smartphones in the same nostalgic way we now speak of devices with external antennas, monochrome screens, and fixed-focus lenses. But for that to happen, for foldables to take over as the defining smartphone form factor, a whole lot of software muscle will have to be flexed. The hardware will be good, MWC has shown us that already.