Joining me this week to discuss these top mobile news stories is tech veteran Eric Leandri, the co-founder and CEO of search-engine Qwant.
One last thing before you go, you will find an edited transcript of This Week in Mobile below, and feel free to reach out with mobile news and products (devices, apps, accessories) or if you'd like to be a guest on the show. Enjoy!
Introduction: Today's show is brought to you by Qwant, the only search-engine designed from the ground up to protect the privacy of its users.
Jean Baptiste Su: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of This Week In Mobile. It is Saturday, April, 14, 2018. And I'm Jean Baptiste Su, Principal Analyst at Atherton Research and your host. Joining me today to discuss the top mobile news stories of the past seven days is tech veteran Eric Leandri, CEO and co-founder of search-engine Qwant. Welcome back to the show, Eric.
Eric Leandri: Happy to be here. Hello.
JBS: Hello, hello. For our audience that don't know about Qwant can give us a short elevator pitch of what Qwant does?
EL: Qwant is the first and only search-engine that truly protects your privacy. Unlike Google we don’t track you when you search online and we don't sell your information to anyone. The difference between Qwant and DuckDuck is that we own our infrastructure and it's in Europe so we can guarantee that all your information is totally private from your device to your results and we are building our own index too.
JBS: All right. And actually with everything that's happening with privacy and Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook in front of the U.S. Congress, privacy is quite top of mind for all of us, at least in the tech industry.
EL: I think we are very happy about privacy that would be a concern for America and for American citizens because America should be the country of freedom and this kind of things should be stopped. So in Europe, we can do it, we can give you a privacy-based search-engine. So, please you're welcome.
JBS: Okay, all right. So let's start Eric with some of the main news in the mobile world and again that was another busy week and let's talk about some device news. This week we had two vendors LG and HTC who pretty much pre-announced devices for the coming weeks. LG with their G7 ThinQ and HTC 12X. It seems when we look at the global mobile market, LG and HTC are very much laggards behind Samsung, Huawei, and ZTE. What do you think about LG and HTC? Do you think they're still going be in the market for some time or perhaps this is their last devices in the market?
EL: Yeah. What I would say about LG, is that they have a new strategy and that it kind of work. For HTC I was a lover of HTC One. It was a great phone years ago and they had made lots of great improvements for the Android market for years. Right now, wow, it will be very difficult for them to do something better or something new if they continue just to follow everybody else, in terms of specifications. But for LG, I think the G7 ThinQ it's about Artificial Intelligence (AI). And I think that it’s a smart move because maybe LG will not be obliged to create one cell phone by year. So, if they have the same model and if they use AI to make it better and better, adding features it could be a great, great move. And I'm very very impressed by the new idea about the sound in the G7 ThinQ, being able to talk to your cell phone at a 5-meter distance, 16 or 18 feet.
JBS: Right, 16 feet.
EL: That means that you can put your cell phone inside your home and replace Google Home, Amazon Echo, etc.
EL: Yeah, for example. You will still have a problem because LG's AI technology is based on the Google Assistant and so you will not have access to Amazon Alexa. So at the end, you will not be able to replace your Alexa but your Google Home for sure.
JBS: I mean getting access to Google Assistant isn't there may be a privacy issue? I mean if it listens to you all the time either it's in the pocket or at home even if you're on the conversation of your cell phone that's kind of creepy, don't you think?
EL: Yeah. And especially it will give you the capability to talk to it at a 5-meter distance. That means that you have the perfect spy with you every single second but the whole idea with that AI what I will say, if I was at LG, I will use the AI and not connect as deeply with the Google Assistant. I will use AI and the capability of AI on the cell phone, for example, to recognize your voice and start to listen to you and interact with you. But I think it's very important that you are able to disable that kind of features because at the of the day if you are at home if you are just in a meeting, do you imagine you are in a very important business meeting in your office and you start talking about your new ideas, your new features, and everything and that thing is just listening to everything. The question is it on the cell phone or everything you say and everything that the people says around you goes to servers on the cloud to be analyzed. That's a real question today.
JBS: Right, right. So that would be similar to maybe to a Bixby for Samsung?
EL: Yeah. It seems like they do several things right now but the problem is it just vaporware, right?
EL: For example, were talking about Huawei.
JBS: It's in June so probably in a couple month.
EL: Yeah, but we were talking about Huawei P20 last time and Microsoft has released a translation application which does translation using the Neural Processor Unit (NPU) on the cell phone. And that’s the kind of things which should be done more. For example, in France, there's a company called Snips they try at Snips to do AI intelligence with the NPU on your cell phone directly. So they listen to you based on the cell phone, it's inside of the cell phone it doesn't go to the cloud and nobody else can get all that kind information. It's not using GPU cloud-based computation. The problem is the power and the capabilities of the CPU today and the GPU on your cell phone but the idea about using AI to guarantee that when you use the technology, when you make it more simple, when you use interaction with your cell to activate or stop everything in your home you will be able to do that directly on your cell phone and nobody will use all these kind of data's to sell it, to use it, to give information about you to anybody around just because you interact with your phone. And I think AI should be something that is separate from these big giants which have one unique business model, that is to sell all your data to anybody. So, if I was a cell phone manufacturer especially today, based on the capabilities of AI, I will start to make my own part of the interaction with the cell phone to keep my customers private to keep them with us and to give them a better interaction, better capabilities without the giant Internet companies using my data. I think it would be a huge improvement for everybody there.
JBS: So using it on the phone versus maybe uploading into the cloud, for example.
EL: Yes, sure. Because today you don't know what will happen with your data in the cloud. You have seen it this week with Facebook. In Europe, we think that AI should work and help humans and not being used to spy on us and to sell everything.
JBS: Right. I mean you were talking about HTC earlier and I agree with you I mean HTC is one of the Android pioneers but obviously last year they sold what it looks to be like most of their team building smartphones to Google. I mean there's nothing left and it feels like the 12X the phone that they're going to release in a few weeks this is going to be it, right. This is going to be the end.
EL: I think so. Really, I think so. With HTC right now, like you say, they have sold the most important part of their smartphone business to Google. And let's see the HTC 12X but really what we know about the specifications right now it will be difficult to do something great. And for the rest, like the HTC Viv, it's a great product so I hope that the next generation of Viv will give HTC new potential. Let's see.
JBS: Yeah, yeah, I totally agree with you. Now, let's switch gear and talk about ZTE. ZTE is another Chinese company, ZTE Iceberg that's their code name for their upcoming cell phone and instead of just one notch that Apple popularized with the iPhone X. Now ZTE seems to think that if you have two notches one on the top one on the bottom, it's even better. So really, what's your take on the notch? Everyone seems to copy Apple at this point.
EL: Yes. First of all, that proves that Apple can change everything. If they do a notch I think it was the most controversial things about the Apple design last year. You can have 50% of people saying is the worst idea ever 50% of people saying it so great. So Apple can change the rule of the phone industry even if they do it after other Chinese brands. It's clear that when it's Apple who does everybody wants to copy it. What is very funny for me, have you seen, that a lot of cell phones with a notch have now a special feature to give users the capability to add a black line from the right to the left. So you can remove the notch with a black line the top. So it looks like it's not a screen but just a part the screen. So I think with Iceberg you will certainly have the same kind of feature with two black line one on the top one on the bottom. At the end look like a normal cell phone without the notch. But that's funny because you can remove the notch effect by just adding a black line on the top to cover the notch. So the idea of Iceberg, which is very impressive for me, is to remove the metal inside of the cell phone and replace it with glass it's something that could be very interesting because metal inside is used for several things, one of them is the heat because metal is used to dissipate the heat of your CPU and GPU inside of the cell phone. And cell phones are more and more powerful. So I don't know if with the glass inside you will be able to have the same kind of effect on that cell phone. So if we talk about the notch, okay, I think it's something interesting. Maybe you don't know but there is a German company called Carbon Mobile, They have the idea of using carbon instead of metal inside of their cell phone and the weight of the cell phone at the end is so incredibly light. It's incredible it looks like you have nothing in your hand. I'm wondering what is the weight of that idea from ZTE and if it works for the day-to-day usage of your cell phone with the heat that you have now with the power of the CPU and GPU inside of the cell phone.
JBS: It feels like cell phone manufacturers are looking to create some crazy things just to be different from the other. I mean it's like Huawei now they have three cameras, ZTE that wants to replace glass, it's getting harder to be really different in that market.
EL: Yes. But again 3 cameras are great for sure but replacing the metal by glass or by carbon inside of the cell phone it's a huge improvement if it works if it works because you will be able to create cellphones that are smaller, lighter and with more capabilities So if we are talking about switching to new ideas in the cell phone world these are kind of switches that are a lot more important than just a notch. The iPhone X has made something great with that notch idea and putting in in front of the full screen on your iPhone. You have smaller phones and with bigger screen. So that's a great idea and that's something that everybody now understands to be a really good idea. And now, with the idea of removing metal inside of your cell phone, you will be able certainly to create smaller phones with bigger screens, with fantastic beautiful screens that are lighter and certainly more efficient. But there are lots of new improvement that are very complicated and really you should look at Carbon, the German company, and you will see that some new ideas don't come from giants some time.
JBS: Yep totally agree. And talking about new idea, last week we talked about the Huawei P20 and after a few days, there's a company here in California, iFixit that disassembled the phone, and found that the 3 cameras actually have optical imaging stabilization. Huawei when they announced the device just said it was just only one camera that was stabilized and the 2 others were using AI. But it seems now that the whole system, the 3 cameras are using mechanical stabilization, so that's interesting I mean Huawei seems to downplay actually that they're using optical stabilization and that the magic is all about AI. What's your take?
EL: Everybody's using tricks right now when it relates to AI, not only Huawei. So I think it's a work in progress, I really think that Huawei tries to prove that they are better than others in AI. Now let's try to remove the AI parameters on your Huawei P20 Pro and make some tests, taking photos without the AI and taking photos with the AI parameters on. And so we will see if the AI improves the result or if it's just the stabilization in the camera that gives us the quality of each photo.
JBS: We're going to do it. We have the device and we're going to try and will report back here next week. That's great.
EL: That's something that you should try. And that's something that's great if it works in reality because the fact that you can disable the AI could be great. For example, if you use a device and take a short of let's say a cloudy sky and when the weather is very awful you will that the AI device from Huawei can give you a blue sky. Even if you see a grey sky the result will be blue because that'll be how AI understands the sky. When you deactivate the AI capability you will see that the sky looks like what you are looking at and so don't let the cell phone be the artist for you and see if Huawei is overselling its AI capabilities or just try to correct some problems that they certainly have with the actual capabilities of AI.
JBS: It’s a great idea. Honestly, I didn't know you could disable the AI here I'm going to ask the team to do it and definitely, we're going to report back what would the results. Talking about another large smartphone manufacturer, Samsung. So Samsung is the number one smartphone maker in the world. They were number one in China not too long ago and now they are less than 1% of the market in China. It seems that it's hard to succeed in China even for a company like Samsung.
EL: For sure. But Samsung had the battery problem before. I used to travel to China often and before everybody wanted to have a Samsung. And during that period with the battery problem, everybody started to look at Huawei and other cell phone coming from China and the iPhone for sure. And so, their market share started to change and now Chinese brands are trendy in China. Three years ago it was not the case, Chinese people three years ago they don't want to buy Chinese brands now they buy Chinese brands. They buy Huawei, they buy ZTE, they buy several other Chinese Brands and they buy iPhone especially because now Apple has made a partnership or an agreement with the government in China. JBS: Okay. Let's talk about the app of the week and we have an interesting app this week and that's Quanta Monitor and it's coming from Finland. It monitors the radiation that comes from your phone and that seems to be an important topic coming up from the past few weeks. Obviously, in France, you had Orange telecom that issued a recall because one of their phones were just emitting too much radiation. That's crazy.
EL: Yeah, but it's not so crazy. When I was younger I used to climb very high on top of a mountain to install all the biggest radio transmitter and at that time you used to have something with you to guarantee that the radio around you is not too dangerous for your human body. So now there is nothing new there but if we talk about Quanta Monitor what was very interesting for me is they have created a second app years ago Quanta Guard to stop you being exposed when let's say, the exposure to the radio is too much according to their calculation. But Quanta Guard can't work since Android 4.4.4 stopped the capability for them to modulate the radio frequencies. So they can still monitor the radiation levels but they can't stop the radio in your case that's not so cool because Quanta Monitor I think is a good app. And Quanta Guard was their paid application so it was their business model. At Android 4.4.4 it doesn't allow to do about anymore that's not so cool and their business went away.
JBS: So Eric, one last big piece of news it came up today but it was actually in the news for several weeks already. It's the son of the Qualcomm founder, Paul Jacobs, who now wants to take his dad's company private. So Qualcomm is building wireless chips for most of the smartphone makers, a bit less for Apple these days, but even Apple is using Qualcomm chips on its smartwatch. So that's interesting, I mean Qualcomm was in the news because Broadcom wanted to acquire Qualcomm it was all this fuss and again President Trump came in and said, no, this is a National Security so you can't buy our technology, you can't buy Qualcomm.
EL: Yeah. Qualcomm is a fantastic company for sure and I perfectly understand your President saying that it's a National Security to guarantee that Qualcomm stays independent. It's one of the most important for sure in that market and what they do now is integrating AI into their chips, which is very important for sure too. So, it would be very interesting to see the next move and yes, the idea of being acquired for that kind of amount of cash for sure it could be a very interesting for the owners but uh I really think that it's very important for America to guarantee that they still have that kind of company who belongs to America.
JBS: And that's interesting because before I mean Nokia Ericsson were the leaders. In China, you have MediaTek and Huawei who's doing this. Intel is doing wireless modems as well. How do you see this play out?
EL: One of my friends has created a wireless modem for cell phone phones but they have sold to NVIDIA when NVIDIA tried to make their own chip for the cell phone market years ago if you remember about Tegra. At that time, it was very very tough with Qualcomm because they were very aggressive in that market to get all the IP. So, if you don't control the creation of that kind of modem and if you let it go to China or elsewhere then you will have a security problem for sure and it’s a very niche problem for sure. Because right now it's very complicated based on the AI images based on the AI arrival everywhere to not have the capability to design your own chipset to do your own things because you need to make quite everything by yourself or control the chain in a way that you can guarantee that everything works the way you want.
JBS: Yeah, especially the modem that's where all the data, all the communication goes through. So that's certainly a very important security issue right there. Well Eric, that's all the time we have today for This Week In Mobile. Thank you again for coming. And see you next week.
EL: Thank you very much.