At a relatively quiet Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona (February 26, 2018 to March 1, 2018), those looking for significant debuts had to settle for the next Samsung Galaxy smartphone (S9 and S9 Plus), and not a lot more. What did attract a fair amount of notice were the numerous demonstrations scattered around the convention that featured the spectacularly fast connectivity of 5G and a concept phone from Vivo called the Apex FullView.
VIVO’S “CONCEPT PHONE”
At an auto show, a concept car is usually a one-off of a design too different to try to mass produce. They’re fascinating and fun for the engineers, but customer demand is too limited for the type of car you could, say, drive down to the lakeshore and across the water to shorten the daily commute.
On the other hand, the concept phone shown by Vivo at this year’s MWC probably stands a very good chance of making it to actual display cases, beginning first in China and then worldwide. Vivo is a nine-year-old smartphone developer based in Dongguaan, Guandong, China, with an established record for innovation.
Vivo’s Apex FullView concept phone pushes the limits of the bezel around the display almost to the phone’s edge. One online reviewer declared, “Vivo Apex does not have a frameless display, it is a display.”
The mathematics of the claim rests in some surprising numbers. The frames on the sides and top of the display measure 1.8mm. That’s 0.070″, less than the thickness of a new nickel, which measures 1.95mm. And the bottom of the screen has a 4.3mm bezel, which Vivo wants to reduce to 1.8mm by the time of first production. The final design will provide a screen that has a 98% screen-to-body ration.
Because of the screen’s topology, the 8-megapixel forward-facing camera has been placed at the top edge of the phone. When needed, it pops up in less than a second.
Another technical difference with the Apex is the absence of conventional speakers. The speakers are built into the screen, and the sound on the device creates screen vibrations, something Vivo calls its Screen SoundCasting technology. They point out several other benefits to having no internal space taken over by physical speakers. The SoundCasting technology consumes less energy, and the saved space inside can be used to increase the size of the on-board battery, thereby extending battery life. The Android Authority blog describes the Apex’s sound output as surprisingly clean and loud.
And a final innovation with the screen turns the phone’s view inward as well as projecting visually and audibly outward. Vivo has expanded that part of the screen that can “see” and read your fingerprint to the entire bottom half of the screen. It does this without the familiar button sensor embedded in the bezel area of the screen. You just press the screen with one or two fingers. You can use two because the system allows for single or two-finger authentication. This isn’t only a convenience for righties and lefties, but for those who want to register two fingers (or thumbs), its ergonomics allow for holding the large 6″ screen in a two-handed, thumb-typing position during the authentication/opening of the system. Vivo debuted the Synoptics Clear ID system responsible for this fingerprint reader in one of its new phones at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., earlier this year.
It’s probably reasonable to expect the Apex FullView to materialize within a year or two, and the various technologies that make the smartphone so appealing will likely show up in the offerings of other major manufacturers as well.
NEW 5G IN THE WORKS
The fifth generation wireless communication is still in the experimental stages, but we’re probably now only months away from deployment of its superspeed networks. Three large mobile networks are in the testing stage, including Verizon, which was reported by The Verge as preparing 5G services in five cities by the end of next year, and AT&T, which announced on its website, about.att.com, that it will launch mobile 5G in 2018. T-Mobile announced that it’s building out 5G in 30 cities this year (2018).
In its review of MWC 2018, www.spectrum.ieee.org, the website for IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), commented on the presence of 5G at the show. “This is, unquestionably, the year for 5G. It’s obvious from the sheer number of booths displaying 5G demos and announcements this year at Mobile World Congress. There was also an overwhelming number of Internet of Things-related announcements, sure, but even many of those were about how 5G will enable new capabilities for IoT networks.”
This would seem to naturally follow the blossoming of artificial intelligence that was heralded by many in what was known as The Year of AI in 2017. That stage of machine intelligence required the confluence of three major movements: Big Data, cloud networks, and massive computation engines with the ability to learn in supervised and unsupervised modes. Now while awaiting the possible arrival of quantum computing, 5G will open the pipes for accelerating flows of information on the expanded networks.
At MWC, Spectrum IEEE pointed to a number of 5G projects in robotics, autonomous vehicles, and virtual reality that are on the horizon.
KT Corporation showed the difference between video streaming quality for 4G and 5G networks using video filmed by cameras attached to drones covering a motion study.
The impact of 5G on autonomous transportation was demonstrated by eHANG’s taxi drone, which is a flying drone that will be used later this year to carry single passengers from Dubai’s airport to high-end hotels. There are two modes for the taxi, remote piloting and the drone flying itself. The vehicle resembles a single-seat helicopter body with multiple drone propellers mounted beneath.
Ericsson collaborated with the automation company Comou to display 5G-enabled robots working wirelessly on a factory floor “analyzing themselves for damage in real-time.”
And a number of companies, including HTC and Samsung, displayed virtual reality experiences over 5G networks.
The general message of these numerous displays was that 5G is on the way, and it will be creating dramatic improvements in areas like entertainment, virtual reality, and transportation in specific applications before it arrives in a major reworking of the communications infrastructure that will enable downloading full-length movies on your mobile in just seconds.