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Global smart speaker shipments hit an all-time high, with Amazon in the lead

The US saw a bit of a cool down in the third quarter when it comes to the shipment of smart speakers like Amazon’s popular Alexa-powered devices. But new data out from Strategy Analytics tells a different story — or, rather, adds another dimension to the smart speaker market picture. Outside the US, smart speaker shipments are actually red-hot at the moment. Indeed, global shipments hit a record high in the third quarter, putting the market on track to top 100 million units in use by the end of this year.

According to the Strategy Analytics data, global smart speaker shipments during the third quarter hit 22.7 million units, up a whopping 197% over the year-ago period. To no one’s surprise, Amazon remains the top-ranked vendor with a 32% market share, followed by Google at 23%. The competition in China, meanwhile, is particularly interesting. These numbers show that Baidu is growing particularly fast, from a 1% share of the market in the second quarter of this year to 8% in the third quarter. There, as a Phone Arena report notes, Baidu is starting to get competitive in a three-way race along with Alibaba and Xiaomi to dominate smart speaker shipments in China.

Pointing to these numbers and the trends therein, that report also goes so far as to declare smart speakers as “the biggest thing since smartphones,” at least in terms of popularity. Adds Strategy Analytics vice president David Mercer, the number of smart speakers in use may even exceed 125 million by year-end. And the market “has reached this key milestone faster than pretty much any other consumer technology device to have launched over the past decade.”

“Our extensive consumer research,” he continues, “shows that voice-first products have well and truly dropped any gimmick status they may have had and are becoming a permanent fixture in many homes.”

In terms of where things stand with smart speakers specifically in the US, data from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners LLC shows that at the end of the third quarter, the Amazon Echo had a lock on 70 percent of the US installed base — almost three times as much as its next-closest competitor, Google Home, with 25%. In third place is Apple, maker of the HomePod, with a 5% share of the US smart speaker market.

Xbox One November 2018 update brings mouse and keyboard support to the console

As Microsoft promised at its recent X018 event, the company’s Xbox One console is finally getting mouse and keyboard support starting today, with games like Fortnite supported right off the bat as part of the Xbox One November update. The update wraps together a number of features and additions that incorporated feedback from fans. The full details are here, and among the highlights: Fortnite and Warframe are some of the titles getting mouse and keyboard support at launch, with additional titles coming this month and shortly after.

Microsoft also says it’s teaming up with Razer to offer what it says is the optimal mouse and keyboard experience via a new “Designed for Xbox” mouse and keyboard setup. It’s meant for gaming on Xbox One or Windows 10 with a dedicated Xbox keyboard and new Xbox Dynamic Lighting capability that enables immersive game-controlled lighting effects, and Microsoft will be sharing more details about the Razer partnership at CES in January.

Meanwhile, the first set of updates is coming in the wake of the Xbox Skill for Cortana and Alexa launching in the US last month. For US users, Cortana will now automatically discover and pair your Xbox — all you have to do is say, “Hey Cortana, pair my Xbox” to any Cortana device, and then you can start firing away with commands like “Hey Cortana, start Netflix.”

As part of responding to fan feedback, you also now have the ability to fully close a game or app by telling your voice assistant to quit it, and you can also use that assistant as a controller in a new navigation mode.

Amazon Music is launching a new app for Xbox One in the US as well. Availability is coming to more countries soon. Also, per Microsoft: “We’re expanding search to include results from Xbox Assist and games you have ‘Ready to Install’ or currently own as part of your memberships, including Xbox Game Pass, EA Access, and more! This makes it easier than ever to find the game you are looking for and start playing.

“These updates are available because of the Xbox Insiders who have helped shape these features, so big thanks to all of you for your valuable input. If you’d like to help create the future of Xbox and get access to early features, download the Xbox Insider Hub app on your Xbox One or Windows 10 PC today.”

Here’s a state-by-state look at the fastest download speeds in the US

The East Coast, and in particular the coastal corridor between Boston and Washington DC, is home to dense population centers that are likewise packed with cell towers and the latest in mobile technology infrastructure. This has apparently paid off, because according to new data about the state of mobile broadband in the US from OpenSignal, if you want the fastest download speeds in the country, that’s exactly where should go.

That area in general is where you get the fastest speeds, but one state also handily blows away the competition: New Jersey. According to OpenSignal’s figures, the Garden State outperformed every other state in upload and download speeds, “with an average download connection of 24.1 Mbps and an average upload connection of 7.1 Mbps.”

Phone Arena notes that New Jersey comes out on top thanks to factors like being home to Verizon, the country’s largest mobile operator, but it also wins on a technicality. The District of Columbia actually has a faster overall upload speed score, but since DC isn’t a state, the win goes to New Jersey. Besides, as OpenSignal notes, it’s much easier to provide consistently fast speeds in one city than it is for a whole state.

The fast speeds in that area of the country are thanks to the fact that more than 50 million people live between Boston and Washington DC alone, and mobile operators of course tend to start with heavily populated areas first when it comes to things like upgrading capacity. Thus the data showing the fastest speeds along the East Coast, as well as other population centers like California and Florida.

“The states that did poorly in overall download speed rankings therefore tended to be more rural states without any major urban population center,” OpenSignal notes. “Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming all had overall download averages less than 12 Mbps. But rural wasn’t always an indicator of slower speeds. For instance, the Dakotas performed well in download speed, in particular North Dakota, which came in 12th in our rankings.”

Check out how your state performed below:

These are the hardware innovations that will make foldable phones like the Galaxy F possible

Samsung unveiled what we expect will be the Galaxy F at its SDC18 event last week, although it wasn’t the proper launch fans may have wanted. We only got to see the new One UI user interface, we learned that Google is involved in developing user interfaces for foldable devices, and Samsung introduced the phone’s Infinity Flex display. But a new report from Korea reveals the various innovations that make such devices possible.

The Galaxy F will still feature a flexible OLED screen made by Samsung Display, which happens to be the company behind the flexible screens inside the iPhone X, Galaxy S, Galaxy Note, and Pixel phones. But just because the OLED screen is flexible, it doesn’t necessarily mean any of these phones will bend.

To do that, several other hardware components are required, and Korean site ETNews just offered us a sneak peek at the suppliers who will make the Galaxy F (and other phones like it) possible.

Sumitomo Chemical is the company that’s manufacturing a new kind of flexible display cover to replace glass for Samsung, which is rigid. That material is called transparent polyimide (PI), and that’s what you’re going to touch when interacting with foldable devices. Sumitomo Chemical is capable of manufacturing transparent PI covers in a way that gives them a “luxurious” feeling, like glass.

Samsung Display, meanwhile, has created a particular type of optically transparent adhesive film that’s used to attach the various display components, including the polarizing film, touch film, and cover. Samsung Display has been developing the glue for some five years, the report notes. This component is crucial to ensure the great stress that comes from folding the device won’t do any damage to any of the screen’s layers.

What’s also interesting is the Samsung Display-made OLED screen that Samsung will use for the phone. The report notes that Samsung chose the same “M8” OLED display that’s been used in many of Samsung’s flagships, including the Galaxy S8, S9, and Galaxy Note 8. All these OLED screens received positive reviews when those devices came out. This indicates Samsung is going for a high-end screen experience on the Galaxy F.

The phone also requires a new polarizing film and a hinge structure that allows the entire chassis to fold. Nichido Denko and KH Vatec are the suppliers for these parts, respectively. The hinge is arguably as important for a flexible phone as the glass replacement, but ETNews doesn’t offer any details about it.

Finally, the report notes that Samsung intends to mass-produce the new screen in the coming months.

Withings continues its comeback with the launch of the Pulse HR fitness tracker

Two months after its official return as a brand, the French consumer electronics company Withings is continuing what’s turned into something of an extended comeback. Nokia had acquired the company almost two years ago, but the company recently bought itself back and reintroduced itself to the public thanks to a new logo, website and stylish new product in the form of the Steel HR Sport, a hybrid smartwatch and fitness tracker.

And today, the company is announcing its second new device since moving ownership away from Nokia. It’s the Pulse HR, a water-resistant fitness tracker that comes with features like connected GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring, smartphone notifications and 20-day battery life.

Pre-sales start today, and the tracker will ship in time for the holidays on December 5th. It’s priced at $129.95 and available to order right now at Amazon.com and Withings.com.

According to the company, this is a revival of the classic design of the Withings Pulse, which was the first tracker the company launched back in 2013. It continues an expansion of the company’s line of wearables and includes a black soft silicone wristband as part of the design, which users can exchange for different color options to suit their personal taste (additional wristband colors are coming in January). Also part of the design is a reinforced black polycarbonate surface within a stainless steel casing.

A PPG (photoplethysmography) heart rate sensor is built into the device and measures the user’s pulse in 10-minute intervals throughout the day and night, as well as providing continuous heart rate measurements during workouts. That heart rate feature also gives users a breakdown of their workout session, showing how their heart rate fluctuated from workout to workout.

In terms of usage, all the user needs to do is raise their wrist or press a button on the tracker to see and scroll through information on the OLED display — data that ranges from calories burned to the day and time, as well as progress toward daily health goals.

This all follows Withings’ launch of the Steel HR Sport two months ago, a tracker that was the first from Withings to offer Fitness Level assessments. Steel HR Sport users are measured on their heart’s and the muscles’ ability to convert oxygen into energy during physical exercise. The fitter you are, the higher that score will be.

“With Pulse HR, we wanted to give people a new form factor from our Steel and Steel HR range that still offers the same wearability, quality design and best in class battery life,” said Withings president Eric Carreel. “The band is the perfect fit for anyone who wants a device that offers important tracking features like heart rate monitoring at an affordable rate.”

Among the Pulse HR’s other features:

You get dedicated multisport tracking for activities that range from volleyball to yoga. Thanks to the heart rate tracking, you can get a look at the intensity of your workouts, including calories spent, and the device also offers automatic activity recognition for basic activities like walking, running and swimming. Speaking of the latter, the device is water-resistant up to 50 meters. It also functions as a sleep tracker, studying patterns and offering up analysis of your sleep behavior, like length and quality of sleep.

Regarding sleep, the device even goes farther there. A Smart Wake feature means the Pulse HR can wake you up with a vibration at the right time during your sleep cycle, and the device will also offer a “Sleep Smarter Program” — steps you can take over the course of eight weeks to improve your sleep.

There are also smart notifications for things like texts, calls and emails, and the notifications can be personalized in the Health Mate app, available on iOS and Android.