Circle raises $20m Series B to help even more parents limit screen time

Circle makes a fantastic screen time management tool and today the company announced a round of funding to help fuel its growth. The $20 million series B included participation from Netgear and T-Mobile, along with Third Kind Venture Capital and follow-on investments from Relay Ventures and other Series A participants.

With this round of funding, Circle has raised over $30 million to date including a Series A from 2017.

According to the company, Circle intends to use the funds to expand its product offering and form new partnerships with hardware makers and mobile carriers.

The timing is perfect. Parents are increasingly looking at ways to make sure children and teenagers do not become addicted to screens.

Circle works different from other solutions attempting to limit screen time. It’s hardware based and sits plugged into a home’s network. It allows an administrator, like a parent, to easily restrict the amount of time a device, such as an iPhone owned by a child, is able to access the local network. It’s easy and that’s the point.

Circle sits in a small, but growing field of services attempting to give parents the ability to limit their child’s screen time. Some of these solutions, like Apple’s, sits in the cloud and thought works well, is limited to iOS and Mac OS devices. Others, like those on Netgear’s Orbi products, offer a similar network-wide net, but is much harder to use than Circle.

In my household we use tools like Circle. The lure of the screen is just too great and these solutions, when used in combination with traditional parenting, ensure my children stare into the real world — at least for a few minutes a day.

Apple could be working with Goldman Sachs on a credit card

According to a new report from the WSJ, Apple and Goldman Sachs are partnering on a different kind of products for both companies — a credit card. The Mastercard-based card would be focused on Apple Pay and feature some deep integrations in iOS.

This card could launch later this year in the U.S., which would coincide with the next iPhone. An Apple credit card would be a good way to take a bigger cut on Apple Pay transactions. Instead of splitting fees between the card issuer, the card network and Apple, Apple would get a portion of the fees for the card issuer.

It could also be a way to evangelize Apple Pay. While most cards are now compatible with Apple Pay in the U.S., many people still don’t think about paying with their iPhone or Apple Watch.

This is also uncharted territory for Goldman Sachs . According to the WSJ, the new card would represent Goldman’s first card. The company could be investing as much as $200 million to build a support team and the IT infrastructure to handle payments. You could expect a cash back on some purchases.

More interestingly, Apple could also be working on an Apple Wallet overhaul for this credit card. You would be able to set up spending goals (like the rings in the Activity app), get notifications about your spending habits (like Screen Time) and track your rewards. It’s unclear if Apple plans to open up those new features to other banks.

By partnering with Apple, Goldman Sachs would get a great distribution channel. And by launching a card, Apple would prove once again that, given enough time, all companies eventually become banks.

Global smartphone growth stalled in Q4, up just 1.2% for the full year: Gartner

Gartner’s smartphone marketshare data for the just gone holiday quarter highlights the challenge for device makers going into the world’s biggest mobile trade show which kicks off in Barcelona next week: The analyst’s data shows global smartphone sales stalled in Q4 2018, with growth of just 0.1 per cent over 2017’s holiday quarter, and 408.4 million units shipped.

tl;dr: high end handset buyers decided not to bother upgrading their shiny slabs of touch-sensitive glass.

Gartner says Apple recorded its worst quarterly decline (11.8 per cent) since Q1 2016, though the iPhone maker retained its second place position with 15.8 per cent marketshare behind market leader Samsung (17.3 per cent). Last month the company warned investors to expect reduced revenue for its fiscal Q1 — and went on to report iPhone sales down 15 per cent year over year.

The South Korean mobile maker also lost share year over year (declining around 5 per cent), with Gartner noting that high end devices such as the Galaxy S9, S9+ and Note9 struggled to drive growth, even as Chinese rivals ate into its mid-tier share.

Huawei was one of the Android rivals causing a headache for Samsung. It bucked the declining share trend of major vendors to close the gap on Apple from its third placed slot — selling more than 60 million smartphones in the holiday quarter and expanding its share from 10.8 per cent in Q4 2017 to 14.8 per cent.

Gartner has dubbed 2018 “the year of Huawei”, saying it achieved the top growth of the top five global smartphone vendors and grew throughout the year.

This growth was not just in Huawei “strongholds” of China and Europe but also in Asia/Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East, via continued investment in those regions, the analyst noted. While its expanded mid-tier Honor series helped the company exploit growth opportunities in the second half of the year “especially in emerging markets”.

By contrast Apple’s double-digit decline made it the worst performer of the holiday quarter among the top five global smartphone vendors, with Gartner saying iPhone demand weakened in most regions, except North America and mature Asia/Pacific.

It said iPhone sales declined most in Greater China, where it found Apple’s market share dropped to 8.8 percent in Q4 (down from 14.6 percent in the corresponding quarter of 2017). For 2018 as a whole iPhone sales were down 2.7 percent, to just over 209 million units, it added.

“Apple has to deal not only with buyers delaying upgrades as they wait for more innovative smartphones. It also continues to face compelling high-price and midprice smartphone alternatives from Chinese vendors. Both these challenges limit Apple’s unit sales growth prospects,” said Gartner’s Anshul Gupta, senior research director, in a statement.

“Demand for entry-level and midprice smartphones remained strong across markets, but demand for high-end smartphones continued to slow in the fourth quarter of 2018. Slowing incremental innovation at the high end, coupled with price increases, deterred replacement decisions for high-end smartphones,” he added.

Further down the smartphone leaderboard, Chinese OEM, Oppo, grew its global smartphone market share in Q4 to bump Chinese upstart, Xiaomi, and bag fourth place — taking 7.7 per cent vs Xiaomi’s 6.8 per cent for the holiday quarter.

The latter had a generally flat Q4, with just a slight decline in units shipped, according to Gartner’s data — underlining Xiaomi’s motivations for teasing a dual folding smartphone.

Because, well, with eye-catching innovation stalled among the usual suspects (who’re nontheless raising high end handset prices), there’s at least an opportunity for buccaneering underdogs to smash through, grab attention and poach bored consumers.

Or that’s the theory. Consumer interest in ‘foldables’ very much remains to be tested.

In 2018 as a whole, the analyst says global sales of smartphones to end users grew by 1.2 percent year over year, with 1.6 billion units shipped.

The worst declines of the year were in North America, mature Asia/Pacific and Greater China (6.8 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively), it added.

“In mature markets, demand for smartphones largely relies on the appeal of flagship smartphones from the top three brands — Samsung, Apple and Huawei — and two of them recorded declines in 2018,” noted Gupta.

Overall, smartphone market leader Samsung took 19.0 percent marketshare in 2018, down from 20.9 per cent in 2017; second placed Apple took 13.4 per cent (down from 14.0 per cent in 2017); third placed Huawei took 13.0 per cent (up from 9.8 per cent the year before); while Xiaomi, in fourth, took a 7.9 per cent share (up from 5.8 per cent); and Oppo came in fifth with 7.6 per cent (up from 7.3 per cent).

This robotics museum in Korea will construct itself (in theory)

The planned Robot Science Museum in Seoul will have a humdinger of a first exhibition: its own robotic construction. It’s very much a publicity stunt, though a fun one — but who knows? Perhaps robots putting buildings together won’t be so uncommon in the next few years, in which case Korea will just be an early adopter.

The idea for robotic construction comes from Melike Altinisik Architects, the Turkish firm that won a competition to design the museum. Their proposal took the form of an egg-like shape covered in panels that can be lifted into place by robotic arms.

“From design, manufacturing to construction and services robots will be in charge,” wrote the firm in the announcement that they had won the competition. Now, let’s be honest: this is obviously an exaggeration. The building has clearly been designed by the talented humans at MAA, albeit with a great deal of help from computers. But it has been designed with robots in mind, and they will be integral to its creation.The parts will all be designed digitally, and robots will “mold, assemble, weld and polish” the plates for the outside, according to World Architecture, after which of course they will also be put in place by robots. The base and surrounds will be produced by an immense 3D printer laying down concrete.

So while much of the project will unfortunately have to be done by people, it will certainly serve as a demonstration of those processes that can be accomplished by robots and computers.

Construction is set to begin in 2020, with the building opening its (likely human-installed) doors in 2022 as a branch of the Seoul Metropolitan Museum. Though my instincts tell me that this kind of unprecedented combination of processes is more likely than not to produce significant delays. Here’s hoping the robots cooperate.

This custom ‘hyperfisheye’ lens can see behind itself

If you’re doing ordinary photography and videography, there’s rarely any need to go beyond extreme wide-angle lenses — but why be ordinary? This absurd custom fisheye lens has a 270-degree field of view, meaning it can see behind the camera it’s mounted on — or rather the camera mounted on it.

It’s certainly a bit of fun from Lens Rentals, the outfit that put it together, but it’s definitely real and might even be useful. Their detailed documentation of how they put it together piece by piece is fascinating (at least I found it so) and gives an idea of how complex lens assemblies can be. Of course, this one’s not exactly standard, but still.

The C-4 Optics 4.9mm f/3.5 Hyperfisheye Prototype, as they call it (hereafter “the lens”) first appeared as what seemed at the time to be an April Fools’ joke, at best half-serious. “The Flying Saucer,” as they called it, AKA the Light Bender, AKA the Mother of all Fisheye Lenses, included a vaguely plausible optical diagram showing the path of light traveling from the far edge of its view, from about 45 degrees rearward of the camera.

Sure, why not? Because it’s ridiculous, that’s why not!

But the beautiful bastards did it anyway, and the results are as ridiculous as you’d imagine. There are lenses out there that produce past-180-degree images, but 270 is really quite beyond them. Here’s what the output looks like, raw on top and corrected below:

Naturally you wouldn’t want this for snapshots. It would be for very specific shots in high resolution that you would massage to get back to something resembling an ordinary field of view, or somehow incorporate into a VR or AR experience.

The camera has to mount in between the legs that support the lens, which is probably a rather fiddly process to undertake. The enormous lens cap, or “lens helmet,” doubles as an upside-down stand to ease the task.

It’s a fun project and adds one more weird thing (two, technically, since they built a second) to the world, so I support it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately because it’s a “passion project” it won’t be available for rent, so you’ll be stuck with something like the Nikon 6mm f/2.8, with its paltry 220-degree field of view. What’s even the point?

Here’s everything announced at Samsung’s Galaxy S10/Galaxy Fold event

Missed today’s Samsung Unpacked event in San Francisco? In all, we have five new phones — one of them a foldable — some new earbuds, a virtual assistant and a watch. Here’s everything you need to know.

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, presented at Unpacked in San Francisco (Source: Samsung)

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold launches April 26, starting at $1,980

The last time we saw Samsung’s foldable onstage, it was, quite literally, shrouded in darkness. The company debuted a prototype of the upcoming device at a developer conference, showing its folding method and little else.

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 lineup arrives with four new models

For the 10th anniversary of the flagship line, Samsung is going all in on this thing. And with more information expected on Samsung’s upcoming foldable, well, that’s a lot of Samsungs.

Samsung’s ‘budget flagship’ the Galaxy S10e starts at $750

The S10e is the most interesting of the bunch — or at least the most interesting one that doesn’t sport 5G.

The Samsung S10 gets a 5G model

Never mind the fact that 5G is still a ways away in just about every market — Samsung’s taking an educated gamble that some percentage of its early adopting/cost is no object approach will get in early on the next generation of cellular technology.

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 has a built-in Instagram mode

A new partnership with Instagram will bring Stories directly to the camera app, without leaving Samsung’s default camera software.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 can wirelessly charge other phones

The feature relies on the S10’s large battery to charge other devices. The new feature should be compatible with all phones that charge via the Qi standard.

Samsung S10’s cameras get ultra-wide-angle lenses and more AI smarts

Unsurprisingly, one of the features that differentiates these models is the camera system. Gone are the days, after all, where one camera would suffice.

Here’s how all of Samsung’s new Galaxy S10’s compare

Want a quick at-a-glance breakdown of how they all compare? Here’s a handy chart so you know what to look for.

Samsung just announced a phone with 1TB of built-in storage

Three different storage options: 128GB, 512GB and 1 terabyte.

Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch Active tracks blood pressure

In the watch front, Samsung is embracing user health, much like the rest of the industry, including blood pressure tracking.

These are Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds

Wireless all the way. Samsung says the Galaxy Buds should be able to pull around five hours of talk time, or six hours of music listening time.

Samsung’s Bixby-powered Galaxy Home speaker will arrive ‘by April’

The product — as well as a rumored cheaper version — are a core part of Samsung’s push to make Bixby a key player in the smart home raise.

Samsung has sold 2 billion Galaxy phones

That’s a whole lot of Galaxy smartphones.

Want more? You can always watch a recording of today’s live stream.

The headphone jack lives!

Reports of the headphone jack’s death are greatly exaggerated. Or more accurately, premature. All of the latest versions of Samsung’s Galaxy phones are equipped with a 3.5mm port, bucking the trend set by Apple and followed by Google. While the headphone jack might eventually die, right now, in 2019, it’s alive and could be a major selling point for the four versions of the Samsung Galaxy S10.

Apple ditched the 3.5mm jack back in 2016 with the introduction of the iPhone 7, and some of us still haven’t gotten over it. The port has been around for generations. The 3.5mm audio jack is universal and handy, allowing someone to grab a set of headphones, any headphones costing between $10 and $1,000, and connect it to their phone. But alas, Apple removed the port from the iPhone and several manufacturers, including Google, followed. But not Samsung.

While the rest of the industry turned its back on the 3.5mm jack, Samsung kept including it on its latest smartphones and started using it as an advertised feature. What was once standard to every phone became a selling point for Samsung. This isn’t the first time Samsung bucked trends and kept around legacy features to entice buyers.

Smartphones used to have expandable memory, but as flash storage size increased, manufacturers stopped including MicroSD card slots on its phones. Not Samsung. Expandable memory remains an option in the S10 announced today.

There’s a reason Samsung is the top smartphone maker in the world: It listens to its customers, and clearly its customers want the versatility of a 3.5mm headphone jack. I do.

Alas, the 3.5mm jack will not live forever. Eventually the industry will move past the analog connection once there’s a better solution. But that’s not right now. Today, in 2019, the headphone jack has a friend in Samsung.

UK’s extended 5km airport drone ‘no-fly’ zones in force next month

The UK’s Department for Transport has said today that an expansion of drone ‘no-fly’ zones to 5km around airport runways will come into force on March 13.

Anyone caught and convicted of flying a drone inside the restricted zones could face a fine and years in prison.

Last month the government said it would tighten restrictions on drones flights around airports, after the existing 1km limit was criticized for being inadequate — saying it believes expanded no-fly zones will help protect airports from drone misuse.

The 1km drone exclusion zone around airports, and a 400ft drone flight height restriction rule, only came into force last July. But ministers came in for sharp criticism following the Gatwick Airport drone fiasco when a spate of drone sightings near the UK’s second busiest airport caused a temporary shutdown of the runway and travel disruption for thousands of people right before Christmas.

Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, also briefly halted departures after further sightings of drones last month.

“The law is clear that flying a drone near an airport is a serious criminal act. We’re now going even further and extending the no-fly zone to help keep our airports secure and our skies safe,” said transport secretary, Chris Grayling, in a statement today.

“We are also working to raise awareness of the rules in place. Anyone flying their drone within the vicinity of an airport should know they are not only acting irresponsibly, but criminally, and could face imprisonment.”

The government and the Civil Aviation Authority have announced a partnership with online retailer Jessops to help raise public awareness about the new drone rules — and encourage what they dub “responsible drone use” — as part of a national awareness campaign.

The government also said work is continuing on a new Drones Bill. Although the planned legislation is already almost a year behind schedule — and is still only slated for introduction “in due course”.

The bill will give police officers powers to stop and search people suspected of using drones maliciously above 400ft or within 5km of an airport, the government said.

It added that the planned legislation will give additional new powers to the police to clamp down on those misusing drones and other small unmanned aircraft, including the power to access electronic data stored on a drone with a warrant.

Additional powers for police were trailed back in 2017 when the drone bill was first floated by the government. It re-announced its intention to beef up police powers to tackle drone misuse last month following the Gatwick fiasco.

The government added today that the Home Office is still reviewing the UK’s approach to countering the malicious use of drones, writing that it will “consider how best to protect the full range of the UK’s critical national infrastructure — including testing and evaluating technology to counter drones”.

In related news this month, drone maker DJI announced upgrades to its geofencing systems across Europe — applying stricter and more detailed restrictions around airports and other sensitive sites after switching its mapping data provider from US based AirMap to UK based Altitude Angel.