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Smartphone sales fall for first time ever, says Gartner

Apple’s iPhone X wasn’t enough to boost smartphone sales in the holiday quarter.

CNET

Uh oh. Smartphones finally took a nosedive. In the fourth quarter of 2017, smartphone sales fell for the first time ever, according to Gartner.

Handset makers sold nearly 408 million smartphones to customers in the quarter, down 5.6 percent from the same period a year ago, the research firm said Thursday. That marks the first annual decline since Gartner started tracking the smartphone market in 2004. Fewer people are switching their feature phones to smartphones “due to a lack of quality ‘ultra-low-cost’ smartphones” and instead are buying nicer feature phones, Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta said Thursday.

And people who already own smartphones are upgrading to higher-end models and holding on to them longer, he added. “Moreover, while demand for high quality, 4G connectivity and better camera features remained strong, high expectations and few incremental benefits during replacement weakened smartphone sales,” Gupta noted.

The smartphone market has been slowing down of late. It’s become harder for handset vendors to make huge changes in their devices and differentiate from one another.

Prices for the latest and greatest phones have actually increased at the same time US carriers have gotten rid of subsidies. All of that’s meant people are waiting longer to upgrade. Even Apple has struggled.

It reported in April 2016 that its iPhone unit sales fell for the first time ever, and they ended up declining for that full year. Apple’s sales have largely rebounded, though they again slid in the December quarter despite the launch of the iPhone X. Samsung managed to hold on to the No.

1 position in the fourth quarter, even though its unit sales slid 3.6 percent to 74 million units, Gartner said. The company on Sunday will show off its newest phone, the Galaxy S9. The device is expected to feature tweaks but no major design overhaul.

Apple ranked No.

2 in the period with iPhone sales down 5 percent to 73.2 million, followed by Chinese vendors Huawei, Oppo and Vivo. Huawei and Xiaomi (which doesn’t rank in the top five) were the only smartphone vendors to see their unit sales grow in the quarter, Gartner said.

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(Note, Apple earlier this month reported it sold 77.3 million iPhones in the December quarter, but Gartner calculates its figure differently. It tallies devices in the hands of actual users, while Apple and others also include phones that have not yet been purchased by end consumers and are still held by Verizon Wireless, Best Buy and other vendors.)

For the full year, smartphone sales increased 2.7 percent to 1.5 billion units, Gartner said. Samsung’s market share stayed about flat at 21 percent, while Apple’s remained at about 14 percent. Huawei’s grew to 9.8 percent from 8.9 percent in 2016.

For smartphone operating systems, Android’s lead grew by 1.1 percentage points to 86 percent.

Apple’s iOS remained at about 14 percent.

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SpaceX Starlink satellite broadband gets off the ground

A pair of small satellites named for an adventurous Belgian cartoon character could serve as proof of concept for an ambitious global broadband service envisioned by Elon Musk. After days of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the two small satellites, newly dubbed Tintin A and B by Musk (but known more formally as Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b), lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force base in California on Thursday morning. The recycled rocket’s main mission was to launch Spain’s larger Earth-imaging satellite, Paz.

It’s a fairly routine delivery for SpaceX these days.

But once again SpaceX CEO Musk has sparked the public’s imagination with plans to build something unprecedented. In this case, it’s two constellations of satellites, totaling over 11,000 orbiting craft in all, meant to deliver terrestrial-quality broadband to anywhere on the globe, be it an Arctic research station or an African village. The Federal Communications Commission last year granted permission for the operation of the Microsats, but Musk only publicly acknowledged the existence of the prototype satellites this week, saying on Twitter that the Starlink broadband service “will serve [the] least served.”

Today’s Falcon launch carries 2 SpaceX test satellites for global broadband.

If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 21, 2018

Paz and the pair of small satellites were successfully deployed about 11 minutes after the Falcon lifted off. Less than two hours later, Musk reported that the demonstration satellites had successfully deployed and begun communicating with Earth stations. He added that Tintin A and B “will attempt to beam ‘hello world’ in about 22 hours when they pass near [Los Angeles].” Also, the Wi-Fi password is “martians,” Musk joked.

The launch had been delayed three times from its initially scheduled date of Saturday, first to provide extra time to check out launch systems and an upgraded fairing, then because of high-altitude winds. The Falcon 9 booster used to deliver the three satellites to orbit was not recovered. It was previously flown on a mission in August and recovered to be reused for this launch.

SpaceX did try to use a new giant-net-on-a-boat setup that Musk announced after the launch of the Falcon Heavy earlier this month. It attempted to catch the fairing, which is the nose cone that protects the payload during ascent, but Musk reported that it missed its target by a few hundred meters, splashing down intact in the Pacific instead.

Tintin A and B are designed to communicate with each other through optical laser links and with ground stations on Earth. If all goes well and SpaceX receives approval from the FCC to begin launching its first full satellite constellation, we could see hundreds and then thousands of other small satellites being launched to a low Earth orbit to begin spinning up the broadband service.

Most satellite internet customers are currently served by a handful of satellites in high geostationary orbit, but Starlink’s lower-altitude constellations would instead use a swarm of satellites to provide low-latency connectivity that feels more like a cable or fiber-optic connection. All of this is likely several years and many more rocket launches down the road. Musk has said he hopes to see Starlink operational in the mid-2020s.

First published Feb.

22 at 6:58 a.m. PT.Updated at 8:36 a.m. PT: Added details on the deployment and activation of the satellites and the result of the attempt to catch the fairing.

Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.

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SpaceX Starlink satellite broadband gets off the ground

A pair of small satellites named for an adventurous Belgian cartoon character could serve as proof of concept for an ambitious global broadband service envisioned by Elon Musk. After days of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the two small satellites, newly dubbed Tintin A and B by Musk (but known more formally as Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b), lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force base in California on Thursday morning. The recycled rocket’s main mission was to launch Spain’s larger Earth-imaging satellite, Paz.

It’s a fairly routine delivery for SpaceX these days.

But once again SpaceX CEO Musk has sparked the public’s imagination with plans to build something unprecedented. In this case, it’s two constellations of satellites, totaling over 11,000 orbiting craft in all, meant to deliver terrestrial-quality broadband to anywhere on the globe, be it an Arctic research station or an African village. The Federal Communications Commission last year granted permission for the operation of the Microsats, but Musk only publicly acknowledged the existence of the prototype satellites this week, saying on Twitter that the Starlink broadband service “will serve [the] least served.”

Today’s Falcon launch carries 2 SpaceX test satellites for global broadband.

If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 21, 2018

Paz and the pair of small satellites were successfully deployed about 11 minutes after the Falcon lifted off. Less than two hours later, Musk reported that the demonstration satellites had successfully deployed and begun communicating with Earth stations. He added that Tintin A and B “will attempt to beam ‘hello world’ in about 22 hours when they pass near [Los Angeles].” Also, the Wi-Fi password is “martians,” Musk joked.

The launch had been delayed three times from its initially scheduled date of Saturday, first to provide extra time to check out launch systems and an upgraded fairing, then because of high-altitude winds. The Falcon 9 booster used to deliver the three satellites to orbit was not recovered. It was previously flown on a mission in August and recovered to be reused for this launch.

SpaceX did try to use a new giant-net-on-a-boat setup that Musk announced after the launch of the Falcon Heavy earlier this month. It attempted to catch the fairing, which is the nose cone that protects the payload during ascent, but Musk reported that it missed its target by a few hundred meters, splashing down intact in the Pacific instead.

Tintin A and B are designed to communicate with each other through optical laser links and with ground stations on Earth. If all goes well and SpaceX receives approval from the FCC to begin launching its first full satellite constellation, we could see hundreds and then thousands of other small satellites being launched to a low Earth orbit to begin spinning up the broadband service.

Most satellite internet customers are currently served by a handful of satellites in high geostationary orbit, but Starlink’s lower-altitude constellations would instead use a swarm of satellites to provide low-latency connectivity that feels more like a cable or fiber-optic connection. All of this is likely several years and many more rocket launches down the road. Musk has said he hopes to see Starlink operational in the mid-2020s.

First published Feb.

22 at 6:58 a.m. PT.Updated at 8:36 a.m. PT: Added details on the deployment and activation of the satellites and the result of the attempt to catch the fairing.

Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.

Solving for XX: The tech industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about “women in tech.”

SpaceX Starlink satellite broadband gets off the ground

A pair of small satellites named for an adventurous Belgian cartoon character could serve as proof of concept for an ambitious global broadband service envisioned by Elon Musk. After days of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the two small satellites, newly dubbed Tintin A and B by Musk (but known more formally as Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b), lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force base in California on Thursday morning. The recycled rocket’s main mission was to launch Spain’s larger Earth-imaging satellite, Paz.

It’s a fairly routine delivery for SpaceX these days.

But once again SpaceX CEO Musk has sparked the public’s imagination with plans to build something unprecedented. In this case, it’s two constellations of satellites, totaling over 11,000 orbiting craft in all, meant to deliver terrestrial-quality broadband to anywhere on the globe, be it an Arctic research station or an African village. The Federal Communications Commission last year granted permission for the operation of the Microsats, but Musk only publicly acknowledged the existence of the prototype satellites this week, saying on Twitter that the Starlink broadband service “will serve [the] least served.”

Today’s Falcon launch carries 2 SpaceX test satellites for global broadband.

If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 21, 2018

Paz and the pair of small satellites were successfully deployed about 11 minutes after the Falcon lifted off. Less than two hours later, Musk reported that the demonstration satellites had successfully deployed and begun communicating with Earth stations. He added that Tintin A and B “will attempt to beam ‘hello world’ in about 22 hours when they pass near [Los Angeles].” Also, the Wi-Fi password is “martians,” Musk joked.

The launch had been delayed three times from its initially scheduled date of Saturday, first to provide extra time to check out launch systems and an upgraded fairing, then because of high-altitude winds. The Falcon 9 booster used to deliver the three satellites to orbit was not recovered. It was previously flown on a mission in August and recovered to be reused for this launch.

SpaceX did try to use a new giant-net-on-a-boat setup that Musk announced after the launch of the Falcon Heavy earlier this month. It attempted to catch the fairing, which is the nose cone that protects the payload during ascent, but Musk reported that it missed its target by a few hundred meters, splashing down intact in the Pacific instead.

Tintin A and B are designed to communicate with each other through optical laser links and with ground stations on Earth. If all goes well and SpaceX receives approval from the FCC to begin launching its first full satellite constellation, we could see hundreds and then thousands of other small satellites being launched to a low Earth orbit to begin spinning up the broadband service.

Most satellite internet customers are currently served by a handful of satellites in high geostationary orbit, but Starlink’s lower-altitude constellations would instead use a swarm of satellites to provide low-latency connectivity that feels more like a cable or fiber-optic connection. All of this is likely several years and many more rocket launches down the road. Musk has said he hopes to see Starlink operational in the mid-2020s.

First published Feb.

22 at 6:58 a.m. PT.Updated at 8:36 a.m. PT: Added details on the deployment and activation of the satellites and the result of the attempt to catch the fairing.

Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.

Solving for XX: The tech industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about “women in tech.”

Tamron unveils its first Sony FE mount lens — and an $800 telephoto for DSLRs

The Tamron 70-210mm for Canon and Nikon mounts. Sony full-frame mirrorless shooters will soon have a new lens option — and one that doesn’t even have Sony in the name. On Thursday, February 22, Tamron announced the development of the company’s first Sony FE mount, a 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD lens, along with a new budget telephoto, a 70-210mm F4 for Canon and Nikon mounts.

Third-party lenses for the Sony FE mount are less plentiful than the off-brand lenses for Canon and Nikon mounts. Tamron says it is now working on its first Sony FE lens and with the lens still under development, full details such as pricing and availability aren’t yet available. What Tamron is sharing about the upcoming lens is that the 28-75mm will use a brand-new autofocus system.

The company says the new focus motor, called the Rapid Extra-silent Stepping Drive or RXD, is precise, fast, and quiet, making the lens available for video use as well as stills. The lens is capable of focusing on objects as close as 7.5 inches. The company also says the lens will be compatible with Sony’s Direct Manual Focus, which allows photographers to quickly switch between auto and manual focus.

Tamron says the FE mount lens will have a “next-generation” design with weather-sealing. And while the exact specifications could change before the lens’ full launch, Tamron expects the lens to weigh in at around 19 ounces and 4.6 inches. The Sony FE mount lens doesn’t yet have a launch date, but Tamron’s 70-210mm F4 Di VC USD for Canon and Nikon full-frame cameras, also announced today, is expected out in April for £800.

The lens boasts the highest magnification ratio among other 70-200mm F/4 lenses, Tamron says, with a maximum magnification of 1:3.1 and the ability to focus on objects as close as 37.4 inches from the front of the lens. An internal zoom design also means the lens length doesn’t change as the focal length adjusts. The lens, Tamron says, also encompasses a high-speed dual Micro-Processing Unit that controls autofocus performance and an image stabilization system.The company says the autofocus is both fast and quiet while the stabilization is rated at four stops.

The lens, which will also be weather-sealed, weighs 30.3 ounces and is 6.8 inches long.

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