• 10Mar

    The past few months have seen a flurry of rumors surrounding supposed smartwatch prototypes from several giants of mobile tech. Companies like Apple, Google, LG, Samsung, and Microsoft have all found themselves at the blogoshere’s rumor mill as speculation—of varying legitimacy and detail—swirled around what’s shaping up to be the next big thing: wearable mobile tech. With devices like Pebble’s crowd-funded offering making waves, 2013 might be the year of the smartwatch.
    Following the whirlwind success of Pebble’s Kickstarter, the smartwatch hype hit a fever pitch in February when Bloomberg reported that unnamed sources had told them that Apple had assembled a team of over 100 individuals, covering every aspect of product design, from engineering to marketing, to develop a wrist-worn device. The revelation about the so-called iWatch led to a series of claims from other companies about similar devices being in the pipeline, at varying stages of development. Google’s Android team—separate from the X unit that’s working on Glass—is reportedly taking on the task of designing a Google branded smartwatch. Likewise, LG is toying with the idea of wearable devices—one alleged smartwatch and something similar to Glass—that run on either an Android or Firefox based OS.

    Determined not to be left behind, Samsung’s Lee Young Hee, executive vice president of mobile business, said: “We’ve been preparing the watch product for so long. We are working very hard to get ready for it. We are preparing products for the future, and the watch is definitely one of them.” And although the company has kept its lips sealed about specifics, sources familiar with Microsoft’s supply chain claim that they’ve ordered component parts for 1.5 inch touchscreen displays and interchangeable wristbands. The designers and engineers responsible for Xbox accessories and the Kinect sensor are reportedly hard at work on the device.

    These rumors aren’t indicative of the first time the industry has tried to make “Fetch” happen. In 2004, Microsoft debuted their wrist-worn SPOT device, an early take on the smartwatch that allowed users to access data over FM radio waves, including stock information, weather reports, and news. A prohibitively high cost—the SPOT watch was $800 at launch—and cumbersome subscription fees for MSN Direct led to the device’s demise in 2008. Similarly, Samsung has struggled with its own wearable tech track record.

  • 10Mar

    LAS VEGAS–It’s been an exceptionally busy and newsworthy past 12 months for cameras — budget full-frame models, 4K action cameras and cinema cameras, full-frame compacts. Unfortunately for CES 2013, most of that happened at Photokina this past fall. So while this show brought a few nice, potentially ownworthy updates to existing product lines, none of it really stands out as particularly whizzy.

    In advanced cameras, the most common update has been to autofocus systems, with combo phase-detection/contrast AF starting to take over in camera lines that have traditionally had rather slow performance — new models like the Fujifilm X100S and the Samsung NX300. The X100S has the most technologically innovative advancement, debuting a split-screen electronic viewfinder for improved manual focus control. We had a chance to try it and even though we were never fond of that type of viewfinder on film SLRs, it works well in an EVF (because the viewfinder is brighter than on, say, a cheap SLR).

    Perhaps the most notable, though notably good or bad we’ve yet to decide, is Polaroid’s entry into the interchangeable-lens camera market with cheap Micro Four Thirds and Nikon CX-size sensors and mounts. The cameras are extremely plasticky and the sensors are built into the lens, but the company will have adapters for other mounts with built-in sensors. We’re really curious about the photo quality.

  • 10Mar

    LAS VEGAS–Lixin Cheng and the rest of his division are determined to make it in America.

    Cheng is the CEO of ZTE’s U.S. division, and in addition to strengthening the company’s carrier relationships, Cheng also has big plans in the near future to increase ZTE’s presence in the U.S.

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    “There are a lot of things already in the pipeline,” he said, referring to the devices planned through U.S. carriers.

    But other than just spending money on developing handsets (though Cheng does refer to it as ZTE’s “bread and butter”), the company also plans on using the $30 million that it recently announced to expand its U.S. infrastructure, warehousing, and local research and development.

    Of course, there are serious obstacles to face. Last fall, the U.S. House Intelligence Committee held a hearing expressing security concerns over alleged ties Huawei and ZTE had with the Chinese government.

    Though both companies tried to reassure the lawmakers and the American public that there was nothing to worry about, a veil of suspicion from U.S. consumers remains.

    For Cheng, the entire issue was troubling, but there were a few silver linings. First, it helped ZTE increase its transparency with the FCC. Secondly, as the old saying goes, any press is good press.

    “From a branding point of view, it increased our brand awareness and a lot of people know ZTE more,” he said. “I can’t believe there is a positive side, but that’s one, I think.”

    And as for concerns about competing with the tech giants already dominating the U.S. market, Cheng said there isn’t any really.

    He continued, saying he has full respect for Samsung and Apple, but because ZTE provides such a wide range of inexpensive and prepaid handsets, the company fulfills a niche role in the market that the other two do not satisfy.

    “Honestly, I’m not focused on competitors,” he said. “That’s just our strategy. We’re focused on our customers.”

    For now, what’s important are the things that have a more immediate impact, like bringing the ZTE Grand S, the company’s new flagship handset, to the U.S. after its initial Chinese launch.

    ZTE Grand S
    The ZTE Grand S.
    Lynn La/CNET
    Cheng is determined to have it available on our shores because it would mark a notable departure from ZTE’s usual line of midrange handsets in the U.S. With this smartphone, along with carrier branding, the Grand S could be the boost the company needs to make a more positive name for itself.

    Especially when considering the money that’s at stake. Even though ZTE increased its U.S. market share 5 to 6 percent in the last two years, the financial gains from last year weren’t so high. Cheng, however, remains steadfast.

    “Last year was a very challenging year for us,” he said. “But despite that, ZTE is committed to the U.S. market.”