Taking apart the smartphone market

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As Apple prepares to unveil a new series of sleek, sealed, impeccably packaged iPhones on Tuesday, it has little to fear from a scrappy rival launching a smartphone at the same time that is so loosely assembled it is delivered with a screwdriver in the box.

The Fairphone 3, subject of this week’s Tech Teardown, also comes without a charger or earphones, but does include a rubber bumper to help prevent it from breaking and falling apart if you drop it.

While Apple’s watchword is style, Fairphone’s is sustainability. It has produced a modular smartphone where users can replace their own screens, batteries and other parts as they shatter, wear out or become outdated.

The decline in smartphones — 1.5bn are expected to be sold this year, according to the Gartner research firm, a fall of 2.5 per cent on 2018 — has been attributed to users holding on to their handsets for longer because new features and designs are not compelling enough for them to upgrade.

But Amsterdam-based Fairphone, which has sold 175,000 devices in its six-year history, also aims to raise awareness of the environmental implications of upgrading your phone every two years in line with your contract renewal, and to show the benefits of holding on to it for five years or more.

Fairphone is the only significant modular player after Google quit the scene, suspending its Project Ara in 2016. But companies such as France’s Back Market, with its “Screw New” approach to selling refurbished phones, and the London-based Restart Project, which teaches people to repair broken devices, promote similar ideals.

They could do with some help from regulators. While large appliances, such as washing machines, refrigerators and TV sets, will have to be easier to repair from 2021 as part of EU environmental legislation, there are no plans currently for eco-design regulations for smartphones that would force manufacturers to make them inexpensively repairable beyond their warranties.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. States to take on Facebook and Google
New York’s attorney-general has announced a probe into Facebook, looking at whether the social media company has suppressed competition and harmed consumers in the process. Other states, including Colorado, Florida and Ohio, will also take part. People close to the process have told the FT that state attorneys-general are also due to announce a separate antitrust investigation into Google.

2. A deepfake detection challenge
Facebook and Microsoft are teaming up with artificial intelligence researchers from Oxford, Berkeley and others to detect the “deepfake” videos that threaten to create realistic new disinformation campaigns. The social network is tackling the fraudulent videos for the first time in contributing $10m to a “Deepfake Detection Challenge”, aimed at encouraging the creation of tools that can spot videos manipulated using the low-cost technique. 

3. Alibaba buys imported luxury brands seller Kaola
Alibaba will have well over half of China’s fast-growing cross-border ecommerce market with the acquisition announced today of Kaola from NetEase for $2bn. Lex says demand in this segment is rapidly growing as Chinese shoppers buy more than a third of the world’s luxury goods.

4. Death Stranding and the art of cinematic video games
“Even now, I don’t understand the game, its world view, gameplay, they are all new. My mission is to create a genre that does not currently exist, and which takes everyone by surprise.” Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima is not giving much away about his eagerly anticipated new video game Death Stranding, in an interview with Leo Lewis in Tokyo. 

5.AI and the perfect lie detector 
Humans have been trying to overcome the problem of deception for millennia. The search for a perfect lie detector has involved torture, trials by ordeal and, in ancient India, an encounter with a donkey in a dark room. In the past couple of decades, the rise of cheap computing power, brain-scanning technologies and artificial intelligence has given birth to what many claim is a powerful new generation of lie-detection tools, reports The Guardian.

Sifted — the European start-up week

It’s fair to say blockchain is not short of funding. In the first half of 2019 alone, start-ups in the space reportedly raised an eye-watering $822m. But entrepreneurs are now preparing to get a fresh bout of capital from the venture capital arm of London-based cryptocurrency wallet provider Blockchain.com. The company told Sifted on Wednesday that its venture arm is looking at raising $50m to pump into start-ups.

Elsewhere, Estonia’s Starship, which makes autonomous 6-wheeled delivery robots, is rolling out its hardware on American university campuses with a goal to have 5,000 in place by 2021. In Stockholm, a tech festival is trying to break the record for the world’s largest female hackathon and Air Street Capital’s Nathan Benaich argues that machine learning start-ups are getting the wrong idea

Tech tools — Beko’s sunshine in your fridge

White goods have been drowned out at the IFA show in Berlin in recent years by consumer electronics, but they still have a big presence and Beko unveiled new fridge technology at its press conference that will keep your tomatoes firm and cabbage fresh. HarvestFresh technology shines green, blue and red light in the fruit and veg compartment to mimic natural sunlight “to recreate a natural living environment for fruits and vegetables long after they have been harvested and purchased. Studies have shown that this technology has helped preserve vitamin A and vitamin C levels much longer”. HarvestFresh will be available across selected lines from 2020.

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