Asus ZenFone Zoom Camera in a More Affordable Package? Don’t Hold Your Breath

Asus ZenFone Zoom Camera in a More Affordable Package? Don't Hold Your Breath

Asus on Friday launched the ZenFone Zoom at an event in Agra, which is the thinnest smartphone in the world with 3X optical zoom. Given what previous smartphones with optical zoom looked like, what Asus has achieved in terms of design looks really impressive. The ZenFone Zoom still looks like a smartphone, instead of resembling a camera that had phone features thrown in as an afterthought.

Gadgets 360 got a chance to speak to a room full of Asus executives, and we started off by asking CEO Jerry Shen how the idea of ZenFone Zoom came about.

“We tried to design a smartphone with very powerful photography experience,” Shen explained. “When we review the history – like Samsung also had a smartphone [with optical zoom], but Samsung’s smartphone was like a camera with smartphone features because their optical zoom is this way [raises hand above the phone’s surface], but our lens is this way [points inside the phone].”

Kamew Yeh, Director of Digital Image Technology Division at Asus, later gave Gadgets 360 a closer look at the lens assembly developed by Hoya, the Japanese company that makes camera modules for digital cameras and smartphones. As Shen mentioned, the zoom lens, which typically moves outwards when you try to zoom into an object, has been fitted inside the smartphone at an angle of 90 degrees, so it’s effectively moving sideways. This means, contrary to what you’d expect, there’s no bulge in the design of the phone. Of course the phone’s curved design that tapers towards the edges helps a bit in masking the fact that its flat centre is thicker than most other smartphones.

asus_zenfone_zoom_ndtv_1.jpgYeh told Gadgets 360 that any other OEM can buy the same lens assembly from Hoya, but insisted that the implementation won’t be easy as replacing the rear camera module of an existing smartphone. Shen had earlier said the company spent two years developing the smartphone, and Yeh explains that this included making changes to the image processing software to compensate for the unconventional lens assembly.

The ZenFone Zoom comes with relatively high-end hardware and a premium finish, which, combined with the unique camera mechanism, results in a price tag of Rs. 37,999 – not exactly affordable. Shen acknowledged not everyone would be queuing up to buy this phone and we asked him if Asus has plans to offer the same package with other hardware and design in, theoretically, a more affordable smartphone.

“We may try to do that in the future but not now,” Shen says. “We spent two years trying to make sure everything is perfect, and then [later] we can start [looking at other models].” Shen says that it’s possible to give optical zoom in a more affordable smartphone, but it won’t be as thin as the ZenFone Zoom. You can of course buy a camera with 3x optical zoom at a fraction of the cost of the ZenFone Zoom, but it’s unlikely to be as thin, and of course it won’t double up as a smartphone.

asus_zenfone_zoom_hoya_lens_ndtv_2.jpg“This camera module altogether, the cost is much more than the CPU and anything [else],” explains Shen, talking about the circular part that sits at the back of the smartphone. Together, the metal unibody that is required to house the camera module, and the optics cost “about 5-10 times of the CPU”, accounting for “40-50 percent” of the total cost of the ZenFone Zoom, according to Shen.

Jen Chuang, Director of Asus Design Centre steps in to say that Asus ZenFones are known for their good cameras, even without optical zoom. “I would like to argue actually most of the ZenFones are really, really good in camera quality, even without the optical zoom – like Selfie, Laser, they are all really unique in camera features, so I will like to say we actually really do have great cameras in all product segments,” Chuang concludes.

Having spent some time with the ZenFone Zoom, it’s clear that the 3x optical zoom definitely helps in capturing more detail by getting you that little bit closer to things. Of course it wasn’t long before we started taking it for granted and found ourselves wishing we had 12x optical zoom, to get really up close. It would be no surprise if somewhere in Taiwan or Tokyo, Asus and Hoya engineers are working to make that very dream a reality.

[“Source-Gadgets”]

Apple’s iPhone Success May Be Reaching Its Peak

Apple's iPhone Success May Be Reaching Its PeakApple could soon face one of its biggest challenges to date: Peak iPhone.

Most analysts believe Apple surpassed its own record by selling more than 74.5 million units of its flagship product in the final three months of 2015. But there are signs that iPhone sales in the first three months of 2016 will – for the first time ever – show an abrupt decline from the same period a year earlier.

That could mark a pivotal moment for the Silicon Valley giant. Apple is the world’s biggest company, in terms of stock value, thanks to the iPhone’s surging popularity around the world. In business terms, Apple makes most of its money from iPhone sales.

But concerns about slowing growth have sent the stock into a months-long slump, fueling debate about what kind of company Apple will be in the future.

The iPhone contributed nearly two-thirds of Apple’s $234 billion (roughly Rs. 15,92,050 crores) in revenue last year. None of the other new products Apple has launched in recent years have emerged as blockbusters. That’s led some critics to suggest Apple has lost its innovative touch, while others say it’s evolving to depend on a broader base of related tech products and services.

One thing is clear, said analyst Angelo Zino at S&P Capital IQ: “Last year was an unprecedented year forApple and the iPhone…. You’ll never see that type of growth from the iPhone again.”

(Also see:  iPhone Sales in India Grew 76 Percent, Says Apple CFO)

When CEO Tim Cook reports Tuesday on Apple’s sales for the last three months of 2015, investors will be watching closely for any hints about how Apple’s signature smartphone is faring in the current quarter. Sales usually fall somewhat after the holiday shopping season. But analysts say it appears Apple has cut production orders from key suppliers in recent weeks, suggesting it’s lowered its own forecasts.

Apple hasn’t commented on iPhone sales since last fall, when Cook struck an upbeat tone. In part, Zino and other experts say, the company is suffering from its own success. Apple sold 61 million iPhones in the March quarter of 2015, or 40 percent more than it did a year earlier. To match that growth rate, Apple would need to sell more than 85 million in the current period. Instead, analysts are expecting around 55 million.

(Also see:  iPhone Sales Decline Signalled by Fewer Orders at Apple Suppliers)

An estimated 500 million people own iPhones now, which means Apple can rely on a significant number to upgrade each year. But some have put off buying a new model because they didn’t see a strong reason to upgrade.

Despite some new features, “people are feeling like there hasn’t been anything that’s really new” in the latest iPhone models, known as the 6s and 6s Plus, which came out last fall, said market researcher John Feland of Argus Insights.

Apple will likely make significant changes in the next major iPhone release, expected in September, which could fuel another surge in sales. Some tech blogs have reported a new model might even be coming this spring.

The company went through a similar cycle a few years ago, when iPhone sales growth slowed to 7 percent in the final months of 2013. The next year, Apple introduced new models with significantly bigger screens. That sent sales skyrocketing, especially in Asia, where consumers had previously flocked to buy big-screen phones from rival Samsung.

But there may no more equally dramatic changes left to jump-start sales like that again. “Apple really pulled the big lever they had left un-pulled, up to then,” said tech analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research. “That was sort of a one-off event.”

While iPhone sales may be slowing, Apple has launched other products and services tied to the iPhone – from the Apple Watch to the digital payments service known as Apple Pay, the subscription-basedApple Music and “smart home” software that lets users control their lights and appliances with Siri, the voice-enabled digital assistant on the iPhone and iPad. These are designed to make the iPhone itself more useful, while producing a steady stream of new revenue.

None of those new products have sold like the iPhone itself, however. Sales of the iPad have been declining for two years.

“Apple still has a lot of value, a lot of cash flow, so it’s not to say the company is in trouble. But it’s difficult to say that it’s on the cutting edge,” said Murillo Campello, a finance professor at Cornell University who follows Apple closely.

Others say it’s premature to count Apple among former tech giants, like Hewlett-Packard, that have struggled for relevance as their pace of growth and innovation declined.

Apple is working on a wide range of future products, from streaming video to virtual reality and even self-driving cars, said FBR Capital Markets’ analyst Daniel Ives in a recent note to clients.

“Apple’s often surprised us with what they end up doing,” added Dawson.

[“Source-Gadgets”]

China Smartphone Glory Days Are Over as Apple, Xiaomi Face Tough Times

China Smartphone Glory Days Are Over as Apple, Xiaomi Face Tough Times

China’s smartphone boom may be over, as even Apple Inc grapples with a slowing economy and investor darling Xiaomi Inc struggles to stand out amid intense competition in low-margin handsets.

On Tuesday, Apple reported the slowest-ever increase in iPhone shipments as the Chinese market weakened. That slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy is threatening to hamstring consumption across the country.

Xiaomi, China’s most valuable startup with a $45 billion (roughly Rs. 3,06,047 crores) pricetag, is under threat, after it missed targets for $1 billion (roughly Rs. 6,801 crores) in Internet service revenue and also handsets sales in 2015.

As China’s economy grows at its slowest pace in a quarter of a century, the country’s once booming smartphone market has become saturated. For vendors whose products have become commoditised and make little to no profit, that doesn’t just mean the years of easy growth are in the past, but that it could be a struggle to keep their heads above water.

(Also see:  Apple Says It Has Over 1 Billion Active Devices Worldwide)

“The large growth rates that we saw in years past are definitely much different now,” said Bryan Ma, analyst at IDC, which predicted China’s smartphone market will grow at 1-2 percent this year. “In theory it could slip below zero this year, but either way, it’s relatively flat.”

Last year, IDC estimated it grew 2 percent. From 2011 to 2013, the market on average more than doubled in size each year.

Xiaomi’s Internet services revenue surged 150 percent to CNY 3.71 billion ($563.94 million or roughly Rs. 3,834 crores) from CNY 1.48 billion a year earlier, an internal document reviewed by Reuters showed.

xiaomi_phone_reuters.jpgA spokeswoman for Xiaomi declined to comment on revenue for 2015.

Like peers such as Apple, Beijing-based Xiaomi is trying to sidestep a slowdown in the world’s largest handset market by coaxing smartphone buyers to also purchase Internet services and opening stores in China’s less wealthy cities.

The firm has grown rapidly since it started in 2010. But Xiaomi’s valuation has been questioned recently as the firm has struggled to maintain its early growth surge.

Xiaomi missed its global shipment target by 12 percent, selling 70 million handsets last year, when domestic rivals such as Lenovo Group Ltd and top player Huawei Technologies Co Ltd countered at home with similar Internet-only device sales campaigns.

“Given that Xiaomi’s valuation has always been based on the company being more than a commodity handset manufacturer, missing their services revenue goal by such a significant margin is even more concerning than missing their handset target,” said Ben Thompson, a tech analyst at Stratechery.

Now it’s a question of whether Xiaomi can grow that revenue fast enough to prove its critics wrong, Thompson said.

The company encapsulates the risks of a vendor like Samsung Electronics Co Ltd in recent years, who can’t build a moat for their business.

“The only way to win with an undifferentiated product is having a superior cost structure and scale,” said Thompson. “Samsung did it, and now Huawei is doing it. ‘Win’ is all relative though, if you’re making a couple of bucks in profit per phone.”

[“Source-Gadgets”]

No Need to Fret, Apple Is Doing Fine

No Need to Fret, Apple Is Doing Fine

Let’s get this out of the way first: Despite what you may have heard, the iPhone is not dying. Neither, by extension, is Apple.

It’s true that in an earnings report Tuesday, after weeks of speculation by Wall Street that iPhone sales would finally hit a peak, Apple confirmed the news: iPhone sales grew at their lowest-ever rate in the last quarter. And the company projected total sales of as much as $53 billion (roughly Rs. 3,61,532 crores) in the current quarter that ends in March, which would be a decline of 8.6 percent from last year and Apple’s first revenue drop in more than a decade.

But if Apple is now hitting a plateau, it’s important to remember that it’s one of the loftiest plateaus in the history of business. The $18.4 billion (roughly Rs. 1,25,518 crores) profit that Apple reported Tuesday is the most ever earned by any company in a single quarter.

(Also see:  This Is the Biggest Threat to Apple’s Business Around the World)

It’s necessary to start with these caveats because people have a tendency to react strongly, almost apoplectically, to any suggestion of weakness on Apple’s part. Like pickles, cilantro and Ted Cruz, Apple inspires extreme opinion. The doubters are now ascendant. Apple’s share price has fallen more than 11 percent over the last year, in stark contrast to gains by the other four American tech giants.

So this column will try to do something tricky: explore what’s ailing Apple without going off the deep end. And after talking to several observers who watch the company closely, here’s my ice-cold take:Apple is doing quite OK.

Could it be doing some things better? Sure. Are any of its problems urgent? Not particularly, and from what one can tell, it’s working to address many of its shortcomings. Does it face existential threats? Yes, but no more than any other tech giant. Will it remain an outsize presence in the tech industry for years to come, generating profits on a scale that no other corporation can match? Almost certainly.

(Also see:  Apple’s iPhone Success May Be Reaching Its Peak)

“I’m not worrying about Apple in 2015 or Apple in 2016,” said Ben Thompson, an analyst who runs the site Stratechery, and who questioned Apple’s far-off future in a recent piece. “I’m thinking about the arc of Apple from 1976 to Apple in 2046. The iPhone era has been the pinnacle of everything that Apple does best. Anyone fretting about Apple right now is totally overstating it. But if I look out 10 years, 20 years, each of Apple’s advantages starts to fade.”

I’ll get to those long-run worries in a bit, but let’s start with the present. At the moment, Apple’s biggest problem is its own success. The iPhone turns nine this year. The iPad turns six. These devices have made Apple the world’s most valuable company (until Google’s parent company, Alphabet, overtakes it, which might happen soon).

Apple’s iPhone business is now so huge it sounds almost fantastical – Apple books more revenue from the iPhone (about $154 billion or roughly Rs. 10,50,534 crores in its last fiscal year) than Amazon,Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard or IBM generate from all of their operations. Two-thirds of the world’s countries have gross domestic products smaller than annual sales of the iPhone.

Yet the very dominance of Apple’s aging mobile empire inspires doubts about its future. The bigger the iPhone gets, the harder Apple has to work to beat its previous milestones, and the more vulnerable it appears to some fatal technological surprise.

The primary criticism of Apple’s recent performance is that it’s doing too much, and as a result, the general quality of its products has slipped. Related to that is the notion that Apple has lost some of its innovative and design magic. It has put out a larger-than-usual number of features and products that have failed to thrill reviewers. As Gizmodo put it in a headline summing up 2015, “Everything Apple Introduced This Year Kinda Sucked.”

Apple still does noteworthy new things, but I can understand Gizmodo’s frustration. The Apple Watch is a work in progress. Apple Music and Apple News feel awkward, far less pleasant than dedicated music-streaming and news apps that have long been available in the app store (like Spotify and Flipboard). The Apple TV offers little I couldn’t get on other devices, and its remote is heroically unfriendly. And 3D Touch and Live Photos, the new features in the latest iPhone, are nice but not groundbreaking.

But there’s something worth keeping in mind about each of these criticisms. They’re the gripes of a technophile, and they don’t necessarily reflect mainstream consumer perceptions about Apple’s products.

“Most of these critics are those who spend most of their time in this world of Apple analysis, so of course they’re hypersensitive to their devices,” said Horace Dediu, a fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, a think tank, and an analyst who follows Apple at his site, Asymco.

Dediu said customer satisfaction data showed continuing love for everything Apple sold. Almost everyone who has purchased an Apple Watch loves it. The same is true for iPhones and iPads. Apple’s crash logs show that its software isn’t getting buggier, contrary to what heavy users might think. “And people have short memories – they forget that the first iPhone was also full of bugs, that things in the past weren’t perfect,” he said.

Dediu is one of a chorus of analysts who argue the iPhone is far from its peak. With incremental improvements to the device’s interface and capabilities, Apple can add more than enough to keep people hooked to its devices. He calls the current peak in sales a “localized peak” – a blip from which Apple will soon emerge. In a piece last fall, I echoed this theory that the iPhone can’t lose; so has Thompson.

But if continued growth sounds like wishful thinking, there’s another path for Apple to prosper even if iPhone sales do hit a wall: Suck more money out of each phone. In a note to clients last fall, analysts at Goldman Sachs suggested that through a widening number of subscription services baked into the iPhone, Apple could begin to reap a huge monthly fee from its users, which it said constituted “the most lucrative installed base in the world.”

It’s an argument Apple executives are starting to vocalize loudly. On Tuesday’s earnings call, Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said the popularity of the iPhone provided the company a “long-lasting foundation.”

Apple’s ecosystem is so sticky that people tend to flock to its services even if there are better products out there. Even if I’m not a fan, 10 million people have subscribed to Apple Music in its first six months.

Given all these options for minting bullion from the iPhone, the most alarming worries for Apple aren’t about the present. They are about the future beyond the horizon, and they are necessarily speculative.

The basic question is this: In the future, will physical devices matter less than they do now? If computers are more like the machines in the movie “Her” – ethereal, ambient computers that exist in the cloud, that respond to our voices and our bodies, anticipating our desires – what will happen to Apple then? This is a company whose entire existence hinges on the cultural appreciation of physical things. Can it prosper in an age of ambient computing?

These are interesting questions to pose. I had a long conversation with Thompson about these ideas, and Apple’s apparent weaknesses – how it’s not as good at artificial intelligence and voice recognition as Google, how it lacks the cloud infrastructure that Amazon has built, and how, most important, its entire corporate culture is geared toward making actual stuff, which could limit its capacity to create fantastic online services.

But ultimately the discussion felt academic. It seems obvious that as the tech world changes around it, Apple, over the next decade, will need to reinvent itself. But so will everyone else. That is just what you do in this industry.

[“Source-Gadgets”]