Technology

GulfNews Technology

Trump's China tech war backfires on automakers as chips run short

Automakers around the world are shutting assembly lines because of a global shortage of semiconductors that in some cases has been exacerbated by the Trump administration's actions against key Chinese chip factories, industry officials said. The shortage, which caught much of the industry off-guard and could continue for many months, is now causing Ford Motor Co., Subaru Corp and Toyota Motor Corp to curtail production in the United States. Automakers affected in other markets include Volkswagen, Nissan Motor Co Ltd and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The problems stem from a confluence of factors as auto manufacturers compete against the sprawling consumer electronics industry for chip supplies. Consumers have stocked up on laptops, gaming consoles and other electronic products during the pandemic, creating tight chip supplies throughout 2020. They have also bought more cars than industry officials expected last spring, further straining supplies. In at least one case, the shortage ties back to President Donald Trump's policies aimed at curtailing technology transfers to China. One automaker moved chip production from China's Semiconductor Manufacturing International, or SMIC, which was hit with U.S. government restrictions in December, to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co in Taiwan, which in turn was overbooked, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. An auto supplier confirmed TSMC has been unable to keep up with demand. "The systemic aspect of the crisis is giving us a headache," said a supplier executive, who asked not to be identified. "In some cases, we find substitution parts that could make us independent from TSMC, only to discover that the alternative wafer manufacturer has no capacity available." TSMC and SMIC did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On an earnings call with investors Thursday, TSMC Chief Executive C.C. Wei said there was a shortage of automotive chips made with "mature technology" and that it is working with customers "to mitigate the shortage impact." It only takes the tiniest of chips to throw off production: a Ford plant in Kentucky that makes the Escape sport utility vehicle idled because of a shortage of a chip in the vehicle's brake system, a union official in the plant said. Ford also will idle its Focus plant in Saarlouis, Germany, for a month starting next week because of chip shortages. The situation is unlikely to improve quickly, since all chips, whether bound for a laptop or a Lexus, start life as a silicon wafer that takes about 90 days to process into a chip. The chipmaking industry has always strained to keep up with sudden demand spikes. The factories that produce wafers cost tens of billions of dollars to build, and expanding their capacity can take up to a year for testing and qualifying complex tools. "The long and short of it is, demand is up about 50%. And there's no asset-intensive industry like ours that has 50% capacity lying around," said Mike Hogan, senior vice president at chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries and head of its automotive unit. Huawei Effect Tight capacity and soaring demand has made it difficult for chip producers to absorb two shocks from the Trump administration. First, the White House in September banned Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, the Chinese telecommunications giant and a major smartphone maker, from buying chips made with American technology. Huawei stockpiled chips ahead of the ban in order to keep building what products it could after it took effect. And Huawei's rivals, eyeing a chance to grab market share, started snapping up chips, analysts said. Second, the U.S. government enacted rules that bar SMIC from using some U.S. tools to make chips, a move that has prompted at least some of SMIC's customers to look for a different chip factory because of concerns that production could be disrupted. "There's a fear of using a Chinese chip factory if the United States is going to put them on an entity list," said Daniel Goehl, chief business officer of UltraSense Systems, referring to possible further restrictions. A Commerce Department spokesman declined to comment on the implications of the SMIC and Huawei blacklistings for the auto sector but said that the top priority was "to ensure the Export Administration Regulation protects U.S. national security, economic security, and foreign policy interests. Analysts said the automotive chip shortage is likely to persist for as long as six months. An AutoForecast Solutions report estimated the global auto industry had already experienced lost volume of 202,000 vehicles as of Jan. 13. Executives at automakers and suppliers said they are adapting production schedules to protect chips used in higher-profit vehicles. And companies are weighing sourcing chips from more suppliers and increasing inventory levels in the future. "It's four-dimensional chess all day long," said one auto official, who asked not to be identified.

GulfNews Technology

Sony brings news Bravia XR TV line-up with new ‘Cognitive Processor XR’

Technology|: Sony Electronics recently announced the new Bravia XR televisions, including the MASTER Series Z9J 8K LED and A90J OLED as well as the A80J OLED, X95J and X90J 4K LED televisions. Powered by the Cognitive Processor XR, the brain of the new Bravia XR, the Bravia TV’s use a completely new processing method that goes beyond conventional AI, designed to replicate the ways humans see and hear.Sony's latest new Bravia XR TVSupplied How does the Cognitive Processor XR work? When we see objects, we unconsciously focus on certain points. The Cognitive Processor XR, powered by cognitive intelligence, knows where that focal point is by dividing the screen into numerous zones and detecting where the “focal point” is in the picture. While conventional AI can only detect and analyse picture elements like color, contrast and detail individually, the new processor can cross-analyse an array of elements at once, just as our brains do. A TV that works the way your brain does Image Credit: Supplied Cognitive Processor XR also analyses sound position in the signal and output to achieve a precise match with the action on screen. In addition, it up-converts any sound to 3D surround sound, to deliver supreme realism with an immersive soundscape. Modern features for a modern user • Google TV: This lineup also introduces Google TV, a brand-new user interface for the ultimate entertainment experience. Easily find something to watch with personalised recommendations and manage everything with one Watchlist. Users can even add to their Watchlist from their phone or laptop. All the apps you need and more! Image Credit: Supplied • HDMI 2.1 Compatibility: All Bravia XR TVs will feature HDMI 2.1 and e-ARC compatibility, including 4K 120fps, Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), supporting higher resolutions and frame rates ideal for next-generation gaming. • Sound-from-Picture Reality: In addition to best-in-class picture quality, the new Cognitive Processor XR also offers incredible sound with Sound-from-Picture Reality™, which aligns the position of the sound with the images on the screen to offer a uniquely lifelike experience. • Hands-Free Voice Function: Sony’s voice-activated TVs work alongside Google Assistant to provide a smarter viewing experience. Ask the Assistant to search for the latest blockbuster or stream shows. Have it dim the lights by connecting smart home devices. Manage tasks and see your calendar, or ask it questions and see the answers on your TV. Your favourite content at your command Image Credit: Supplied • Smart Speaker Compatibility: With Google Assistant, you may cast and control videos from YouTube with Google Home or change the channel or volume with Google Home enabled devices. • Delivering the Creator’s Intent: The new models will continue to deliver the creator’s intent with Netflix Calibrated Mode, offering studio-quality Netflix content To know more about the new Sony BRAVIA XR Cognitive Processor and televisions, click here.

GulfNews Technology

Signal app goes down amid peak user traffic

Media|World|Business|: New Delhi: The users of highly-encrypted Signal app faced trouble sending messages and the company said on Saturday that it was still working to bring additional capacity online to handle peak traffic levels. The problem started late Friday and the company first acknowledged it may be due to technical difficulties. Signal allows for secure and encrypted video, voice and text communication, but users were unable to send any messages. "We have been adding new servers and extra capacity at a record pace every single day this week nonstop, but today exceeded even our most optimistic projections. Millions upon millions of new users are sending a message that privacy matters. We appreciate your patience," it said in a series of tweets. As WhatsApp started sending notifications to its users asking them to either accept its new policy or see their accounts removed from February 8, it came as a blessing in disguise for its rivals as Signal as it saw a massive flow of new users. The rush led to extra burden on Signal servers. Read more WhatsApp delays data sharing change after backlash Is Signal better, safer than WhatsApp? Signal App: The best messenger for privacy How WhatsApp lost the trust of its users in India, its largest market Mobile numbers of WhatsApp on Web users found on Google Search WhatsApp answers questions about February 8 update, says it doesn't share private information with Facebook "We are making progress towards getting the service back online. Privacy is our top priority, but adding capacity is a close second right now," it said. "We are still working as quickly as possible to bring additional capacity online to handle peak traffic levels". The encrypted messaging service has climbed to the top spot in the free apps category of the App Store in multiple countries, including India.

GulfNews Technology

US blacklists Xiaomi, CNOOC, Skyrizon, raising heat on China

Technology|: Hong Kong: The US government has blacklisted Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. and China's third-largest national oil company for alleged military links, heaping pressure on Beijing in President Donald Trump's last week in office. The Department of Defense added nine companies to its list of Chinese firms with military links, including Xiaomi and state-owned plane manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (Comac). US investors will have to divest their stakes in Chinese companies on the military list by November this year, according to an executive order signed by Trump last November. Xiaomi said in a statement that its products are for ``civilian and commercial use" and said it is not owned, controlled or affiliated with the Chinese military. ``The Company will take appropriate course of actions to protect the interests of the Company and its stakeholders,'' the statement read, although Xiaomi did not elaborate on what those actions might be. Xiaomi Corp. overtook Apple Inc. as the world's No. 3 smartphone maker by sales in the third quarter of 2020, according to data by Gartner. Xiaomi's market share has grown as Huawei's sales have suffered after it was blacklisted by the U.S. and its smartphones were cut off from essential services from Google. Separately, the Commerce Department put China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) on the entity list, an economic blacklist that forbids U.S. firms from exporting or transferring technology with the companies named unless permission has been obtained from the U.S. government. The move comes after about 60 Chinese companies were added to the list in December, including drone maker DJI and semiconductor firm SMIC. CNOOC has been involved in offshore drilling in the disputed waters South China Sea, where Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with other countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia. ``China's reckless and belligerent actions in the South China Sea and its aggressive push to acquire sensitive intellectual property and technology for its militarization efforts are a threat to U.S. national security and the security of the international community,'' U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. ``CNOOC acts as a bully for the People's Liberation Army to intimidate China's neighbors, and the Chinese military continues to benefit from government civil-military fusion policies for malign purposes,'' Ross said. A CNOOC spokesperson said in a statement that it will ``continue to monitor the progress," acknowledging that the company had been put on the entity list. Chinese state-owned company Skyrizon was also added to the economic blacklist, for its push to ``acquire and indigenize foreign military technologies,'' Ross said. Beijing Skyrizon Aviation, founded by tycoon Wang Jing, drew U.S. criticism for an attempt to take over Ukraine's military aircraft engine maker Motor Sich in 2017. The concern was that advanced aerospace technology would end up being used for military purposes. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian criticized the move as suppressing Chinese companies, and said the Trump administration was ``generalizing the concept of national security and abusing state power for no apparent reason.'' "China will take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises, and resolutely support Chinese enterprises in safeguarding their own rights and interests in accordance with the law,'' Zhao said at a daily briefing Friday.

GulfNews Technology

Apple considers foldable iPhone; minor changes planned for 2021 models

Technology|: Cupertino:  Apple Inc. has begun early work on an iPhone with a foldable screen, a potential rival to similar devices from Samsung Electronics Co. and others, though it's planning only minor changes for this year's iPhone line. The Cupertino, California-based company has developed prototype foldable screens for internal testing, but hasn't solidified plans to actually launch a foldable iPhone. The development work hasn't expanded beyond a display, meaning Apple doesn't yet have full handset prototypes in its labs, according to a person familiar with the work, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters. Like Samsung's Galaxy Fold, the Motorola Razr reboot and other offerings from Chinese companies including Huawei Technologies Co., a foldable iPhone would let Apple make a device with a larger screen in a more pocketable package. Apple has internally discussed a number of foldable screen sizes, including one that unfolds to a similar size as the 6.7-inch display on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Current foldable phones have screens that are from 6 and 8 inches unfolded. In testing The foldable Apple screens in testing, like those from Samsung, have a mostly invisible hinge with the electronics stationed behind the display, the person said. Other companies, including Microsoft Corp., have recently launched devices with visible hinges separating two distinct panels. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment. This would be a radical departure for Apple. Its pioneering touchable, all-screen smartphone is arguably the most successful consumer technology product in history, helping make Apple the world's most valuable company. However, a foldable iPhone is likely years away or ultimately may never be introduced. The company is currently focused on launching its next-generation flagship iPhones and iPads later this year. Apple isn't planning major changes for this year's iPhone line given the enhancements made to the smartphone in 2020, including 5G and new designs, according to people familiar with the situation. Inside Apple, engineers consider the next iPhones another "S" version of the device, the nomenclature typically given to new iPhones with minor upgrades. COVID-19 impact The Covid-19 pandemic has also complicated product development, with Apple hardware engineers only working at the company's Silicon Valley offices a few days a week and in limited numbers. That has meant offloading work to Apple's engineers in China. Last year, the pandemic delayed the iPhone 12's release by several weeks, but Apple was able to still include nearly every intended feature except an accessory dubbed "AirTags" for locating physical items like backpacks and keys. The company now plans to launch that accessory this year, and it is planning multiple accessories for it including a leather keychain. Samsung announced a similar gizmo earlier this month. Though overall changes will be minor, Apple is still testing a key upgrade for 2021: an in-screen fingerprint reader. This would add a new method for users to unlock their iPhone, going beyond a passcode and Face ID facial recognition. Apple started to move away from fingerprint sensors in 2017 with the launch of the iPhone X, but Touch ID has remained as a feature on Mac laptops and cheaper iPhones since then. Qualcomm Inc., which provides Apple with 5G modems, earlier this month announced a faster in-screen fingerprint sensor. The feature would be convenient in an environment where users wear masks, which are often incompatible with facial recognition. An in-screen fingerprint reader, which has also been featured on Android phones for several years, could also be quicker than Face ID for some users. Apple won't remove its facial recognition scanner though as it's still useful for augmented reality and camera features. Wireless charging Apple has also discussed removing the charging port for some iPhone models in favor of wireless charging. The company moved to a magnetic MagSafe charging system with the iPhone 12, in addition to removing the charging brick from the iPhone box last year. It's also bringing this charging technology back to the MacBook Pro. For its tablet line, Apple is planning a new iPad Pro that looks similar to the current model but adds a MiniLED display and much faster processor. A thinner and lighter entry-level iPad that uses the same design as the 2019 iPad Air is also in the works.

GulfNews Technology

WhatsApp delays data sharing change after backlash

Media|World|Business|: San Francisco: WhatsApp on Friday postponed a data-sharing change as users concerned about privacy fled the Facebook-owned messaging service and flocked to rivals Telegram and Signal. The smartphone app, a huge hit across the world, canceled its February 8 deadline for accepting an update to its terms concerning sharing data with Facebook, saying it would use the pause to clear up misinformation around privacy and security. "We've heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update," WhatsApp said in a blog post. "This update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook." It said it would instead "go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15." The update concerns how merchants using WhatsApp to chat with customers can share data with Facebook, which could use the information for targeted ads, according to the social network. "We can't see your private messages or hear your calls, and neither can Facebook," WhatsApp said in an earlier blog post. "We don't keep logs of who everyone is messaging or calling. We can't see your shared location and neither can Facebook." Location data along with message contents is encrypted end-to-end, according to WhatsApp. "We're giving businesses the option to use secure hosting services from Facebook to manage WhatsApp chats with their customers, answer questions, and send helpful information like purchase receipts," WhatsApp said in a post. "Whether you communicate with a business by phone, email, or WhatsApp, it can see what you're saying and may use that information for its own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook." Technology experts note that WhatsApp's new requirement of its users makes legally binding a policy that has been widely in use since 2016. Facebook aims to monetize WhatsApp by allowing businesses to contact clients via the platform, making it natural for the internet giant to centralize some data on its servers. Countries concerned The Turkish Competition Authority said it is opening an investigation and requiring WhatsApp to suspend the data sharing obligation on its users. Several Turkish state organizations - including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's media office - switched to Turkcell telecom's new messaging service BiP in response. The terms of service tweak also put WhatsApp in the crosshairs in Italy and India, where a petition has been filed in a Delhi court. WhatsApp's notice to users lacked clarity and its privacy implications need to be carefully evaluated, Italian data protection agency GPDP said in a post at its website. GPDP said it has shared its concerns with the European Data Protection Board and reserved the right to intervene in the matter. Facebook has come under increasing pressure from regulators as it tries to integrate its services. The EU fined the US social media giant 110 million euros (then $120 million) for providing incorrect and misleading information about its 2014 takeover of WhatsApp concerning the ability to link accounts between the services. Federal and state regulators in US have accused Facebook of using its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram to squelch competition and filed antitrust lawsuits last month that aim to force the company to divest them. Privacy paramount User privacy fears have been mounting, with Uber careful to stress that a change in app terms taking effect on January 18 has nothing to do with sharing data. Encrypted messaging app Telegram has seen user ranks surge on the heels of the WhatsApp service terms announcement, said its Russia-born founder Pavel Durov. "People no longer want to exchange their privacy for free services," Durov said without directly referring to the rival app. Encrypted messaging app Signal has also seen a huge surge in demand, helped by a tweeted recommendation by billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk. WhatsApp has sought to reassure worried users, even running full-page newspaper adverts in India, proclaiming that "respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA".