H1 2015: a recap of important device announcements, technological advancements, and notable industry events
We're halfway through 2015 already, so gather round, fellas! It's time for some sweet introspection of what the past six months were about in terms of important device announcements, technological advancements, and notable industry events!
The first half of 2015 brought us no less than 12 hot new smartphone and tablet announcements. We've rounded them up in the gallery below, making sure you won't miss any interesting devices among the ones that really matter.
But what makes a mobile device superior than others of its kind? Well, products by companies with an established global presence and a track record of impressive achievements deserve the most attention. These are devices almost anyone anywhere can buy, and are usually design and hardware benchmarks for all the smaller competitors to strive for.
Among this selection, it is the HTC One M9, the Samsung Galaxy S6 & S6 edge, the LG G4, and the Sony Xperia Z3+ that check the most boxes for us. None of them is a perfect, non-compromise smartphone. None such exist, anyway. But each of these has something amazing going on about it.
The One M9, even though it feels overwhelmingly familiar to the One M8, is still the most gorgeous Android smartphone there is. Meanwhile, Samsung's Galaxy S6 & S6 edge present the pinnacle of 2015 mobile processing and memory technology in a stylish metal & glass packaging.
While Samsung was busy squeezing the best of its semiconductor arm's abilities, LG discovered the organic charm of genuine leather and developed an outstanding pair of cameras for the LG G4, turning it into one of 2015's finest phones for photography... and leather lovers.
And, of course, the Sony Xperia Z3+! In times where everyone is seemingly ready to write Sony completely off the smartphone game due to its weak sales, the Japanese keep standing for themselves and what they believe in - elegant design and top-shelf specs. While we're at it, let's give a honourable mention to the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet, for it is the sole premium-grade Android tablet available from a major manufacturer in 2015.
Other mentions include the Asus ZenFone 2, Xiaomi's Mi Note & Mi Note Pro phablets, the Huawei P8, LeTV's specs-intensive line-up, the AT&T-bound rugged Galaxy S6 Active, and the Verizon-exclusive Xperia Z4v. These devices may not be "huge" or ground-breaking, but there's lots of ambition behind each, there's no doubt about that.
NVIDIA announced the Tegra X1 mobile "supercomputer" (Jan 04)
At CES 2015, NVIDIA announced a mobile chipset that packs roughly the same processing punch as the fastest supercomputer from 15 years ago, the ASCI Red. This supercomputer system occupied 1,600 square feet of space and sipped on 500 thousand watts of power to be able to produce 1 TERAFLOP of processing power. 15 years later, the Tegra X1 accomplishes the same with less than 15 watts of power, and fits in tablets. For better or worse, though, we probably won't be seeing this excessively powerful beast in anything other than connected cars of the near future. It's simply too power-hungry and heat-generating for current smartphones and tablets to be able to carry it. Still, major props to NVIDIA for advancing mobile computing beyond anyone's expectations!
Sharp announced a 5.5-inch 4K IGZO display for smartphones (Apr 13)
Sharp gave us an early glimpse at smartphone displays' future by announcing the world's first 5.5-inch mobile screen with a 2160 x 3840 Ultra-HD (4K) resolution. The panel is scheduled for mass production in 2016, and comes with a mind-boggling pixel density of 806 pixels per inch. You'd be forgiven if you can't figure out the practical purpose of 4K smartphone screens, seeing that 2K smartphone displays are considered "overkill" by consumers and manufacturers alike.
While that's perfectly reasonable, we can still see 4K screens offering two very nice, but not necessarily essential benefits. First, they can reproduce 4K video content pixel for pixel, which means extremely sharp and lush visuals fired at your entertainment-hungry eyeballs at a close distance. And second, 4K displays will make VR headset experiences absolutely sublime, as the greatly enhanced pixel density removes the screen-door effect, and therefore provides better immersion.
So, onward to new virtual worlds we march!
MediaTek unveiled the first deca-core mobile chipset, the Helio X20 (May 12)
Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek is almost ready to deploy the first 10-core mobile CPU in its upcoming MT6797 SoC. It takes full advantage of ARM's 64-bit cores by stuffing them into a TINY.Medium.huge configuration. This means there's a “tiny” tier of four economical Cortex-A53 cores running at up to 1.4GHz that handle basic tasks, a “medium” tier of four Cortex-A57 cores running at up to 2GHz for heavy pushing, and the “huge” tier – a duo of intense Cortex-A72 cores, which scale up to 2.5GHz. That elusive “too many cores!” factor apart, the MT6797 looks like an early step into the future. Hopefully, it will have the graphics horsepower to match its CPU prowess. We'll be seeing about that in October at the earliest, after the upcoming X20-powered Elephone P9000 gets benchmarked.
Google announced Android M (May 28)
Android M is unlikely to be as big a deal in consumers' minds as was Lollipop, as it sticks to the previously established design language and mostly focuses on bettering the user experience. This doesn't sound quite as sexy as a completely new look, but we have to say that many of the changes that Google announced on stage make a ton of sense, and some are even exciting — like Now on Tap, Android Pay, and the new Google Photos service. And they're not alone — pet peeves such as volume control, the promise of a MultiWindow-like feature down the road, and even a more sophisticated permissions system all add up to a comprehensive package that makes it clear that Google isn't being at all complacent. If anything, Google is very aggressively expanding the capabilities of its mobile OS.
Apple announced iOS 9 (Jun 08)
The ninth major release of iOS is built to be a refined, proactive, and intelligent successor to last year's iOS 8. To achieve this goal, Apple has solidified many of the fundamental pillars in its operating system, all while introducing numerous improvements to stock applications and the iOS multitasking experience. Apple has also addressed all stability, bugs, and performance concerns with a huge under-the-hood optimization overhaul. What iOS 9 predominantly stands for is speed, optimization and stability.
US subscribers are free to unlock their smartphones again
Since February 11 this year, US customers have been able to take advantage of the Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which enabled them to ask mobile carriers to unlock their devices after their original contract is completed and the device has been paid for in full. Hooray for freedom!
Apple Watch sold more units on day 1 than Android Wear devices sold in a year
It took the Apple Watch just a day to surpass the entirety of Android Wear device sales throughout 2014. It must be quite difficult for Google and its partners to let that sink in. Then again, it's not like we saw any sad faces at this year's Google I/O keynote or anything. Android Wear has ways to go!
But still, when Tim Cook arrogantly said that the Apple Watch is the only smart-watch that matters, the man in charge was definitely onto something. Eclipsing the competition's one-year sales on day one is probably what he had in mind. This notable achievement serves to show just how far Apple's marketing power stretches.
Galaxy S6 failed to best predecessors' sales records, despite its qualities
And while we're talking marketing power, it appears Samsung is losing some of its. Although the company won't admit it if the Galaxy S6 & S6 edge are indeed failing to meet their bold sales targets, analysts of different firms keep pouring fuel into this rumor's fire. For all its technological and design prowess, the flaghip duo came in second to the iPhone 6 & iPhone 6 Plus globally, and couldn't surpass sales of the Galaxy S4 from two years ago.
Who's to blame? Two things - high-end market saturation and people's love for Apple. The only thing left for Samsung to do now, we reckon, is pour even more billions into marketing.
Elop's second tour at Redmond is over! As part of Microsoft's changes to its Senior Leadership Team, the executive vice president of Microsoft's Devices Group is once again departing. That is, Elop, Kirill Tatarinov and Eric Rudder are leaving because of the shakeup, while Chief Insights Officer Mark Penn is leaving to start a private equity fund.
So, who's up for making Stephen Elop their CEO? Anyone? Any... one?
With these six months behind us, we have lots of great devices, events, and technological developments to look forward to in the second half of 2015. Both Samsung and Qualcomm are developing custom CPU cores for their next-generation mobile processors. Devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Xperia Z4 Compact, OnePlus 2, Xiaomi Mi5, iPhone 6s/6s Plus and many others are about to show up and blow our minds... or not. One thing is certain, though - we'll be around to see through the next six months!