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5 Tech and Design Details That Stood Out – TechCrunch

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Ford finally showed the world its highly anticipated all-electric crossover, the Mustang Mach-E. The vehicle, which was unveiled Sunday at the Hawthorne Airport and in Tesla’s backyard, marks a series of firsts for Ford and the Mustang badge.

It’s the first vehicle to come out of Team Edison, the automaker’s dedicated electric vehicle organization. It’s not only the first electric Mustang, it’s also an SUV. 

TechCrunch has had an up close look and ride in the Mach-E, the first variant of which will become available in fall 2020. While there’s a lot to highlight, here are some of the details that stood out.

Door handles

Ford went an entirely new direction with the door handles on the Mustang Mach-E. You won’t find any Tesla lookalike door handles here. The doors seem to be lacking handles at all. A closer look though reveals illuminated buttons on the B and C pillars. The front doors also have a small, protruding handle located just under the button to grab onto.

Pressing the button for the backdoor immediately pops it open just slightly. Then the passenger reaches into the ajar door to hit the latch. This might sound dangerous and apt for a crushed finger. Except there’s an immediate safety in place that doesn’t allow the door to close. TechCrunch tested it out.

Owners will be able to also use their smartphone to unlock the Mustang Mach-E. This phone as a key technology is new to Ford.

Tech tray

It’s a seemingly small detail, but so many automakers ignore that their customers have smartphones and want to put these devices somewhere other than a cup holder. Behold the tech tray, which has wireless charging pad.

The cup holders, located just below the tech tray, can be used to hold actual cups.

Infotainment system

The 15.5-inch screen will get a lot of attention, perhaps because its location and vertical placement is reminiscent of the Tesla Model S. But then there’s the physical dial placed on the bottom of the screen to control the volume.

Ford Mustang Mach-E screen

While not everyone will love this feature, it’s interesting how this dial came to be. Team Edison was assembled in 2017 to do more than create a new electric vehicle. It was created to do it differently and much faster than a typical vehicle program.

How the look and functionality of the infotainment system was developed is an example of this newfound nimbleness. A group of just over a dozen people with minimal oversight started with a research trip to China. Further customer research revealed that people wanted native apps in their car’s infotainment system and they didn’t want to learn anything new, Philip Mason, who is on Team Edison’s user experience, said during a backgrounder event prior to unveiling.

A prototype of physical dial was put together quickly — no fancy prototypes — and research groups responded positively.

The infotainment system is also cloud connected, allowing it to show traffic in real-time in navigation feature, has natural language, activated by one of four “wake words” like OK, Ford, and allows users to create personal profiles. The system learns the behavior and likes of the user over time.

And the entire system will be updated and improved via over-the-air software updates.

Vegan interior

Ford is hardly the first to move away from leather for its interior. Tesla has dropped leather and the Porsche Taycan is also vegan. Now the interior of the Mustang Mach-E also qualifies.

The synthetic material is among the better faux leather materials TechCrunch has come across. Even the steering wheel, a challenging area for synthetics, feels good.

Ford Mustang Mach-E interior

Frunk

A front trunk in an all-electric vehicle is nothing new. The Mustang Mach-E doesn’t have the biggest frunk on the market; it’s not the smallest either.

But there is something interesting about this 4.8-cubic-inch frunk. It’s drainable and plastic lined. Josh Greiner, senior interior designer on the Mach-E, was quick to note during a backgrounder prior to the unveiling that the frunk could be packed with ice and used while tailgating.

One more bonus item

Right above the steering wheel is a driver monitoring system. This might come in handy for the automaker’s eventual plans to offer a hands-free driver assist system in Mach-E.



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Google TV app to include deprecated Android TV Remote app

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Just like with its messaging platforms, Google hasn’t exactly been consistent about its digital media ecosystems. Google News was once Google Play Newsstand which was once Google Play Magazines and Google Currents combined. Google Play Music was supplanted by YouTube Music and now the Google Play Movies & TV app has been renamed Google TV, which is different from the Google TV “skin” based on Android TV. To be fair, Google does try to consolidate things, like retiring an obsolete Android TV remote control app and shoving it into the new Google TV app.

It probably won’t be long before Google consolidates its video-on-demand platforms and branding into a single “Google TV”. Whether that will replace Android TV, just as Wear OS replaced Android Wear, is still an open question but, at least for now, Google TV seems to be focused on the user interface, viewing experience, and, of course, its digital content store.

The old Google Play Movies & TV Android app that Google TV replaced mostly focused on those as well but it seems it’s being primed to do more soon. 9to5Google found traces of functionality that refers to a directional pad as well as enter and back buttons. There’s also mention of pairing the phone to an Android TV.

These operations are already found on the standalone Android TV Remote Control. Although the app still exists on the Google Play Store, it hasn’t seen an update since 2017. Considering Google may be moving to put all its Android TV and videos in one basket, it makes sense to retire such a standalone app and just incorporate its pretty basic features into a single Google TV app.

At the moment, these new features don’t work at all but it does hint at the direction Google might be heading for Google TV. While it might be nice to have everything under a single Google TV banner, there is also the overlap with YouTube and YouTube TV that could make some wary of another Google Play Music scenario in the near future.

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ASUS ROG Phone 5 might have more RAM you’ll ever need for now

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How much RAM do you need for a smartphone? Disregarded the old joke about 640KB of RAM for PCs in the late 80s, smartphone memory seems to have stalled at 12GB in the past year or so with very few exceptions. That said, it seems that high-end smartphones are ready to push the envelope again with the ROG PHone 5 going beyond the 16GB that you’d find on the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G this year.

Just for a quick refresher, RAM is that volatile (meaning it loses data when power goes out) memory space that’s used not for holding data you want to keep but for programs to stay while running. To keep it overly simple, the more RAM you have, the more programs you can have running at the same time before the operating system starts killing unused programs to make room for more. This is why phones with less RAM often have problems multi-tasking, forcing apps to be restarted when you switch back to them because they were killed in the background.

That is true for normal apps but is even more true for games that have large pieces of code and data that need to be kept in memory to run fast and smoothly. It’s really no surprise, then, that the first smartphones that boasted 16GB of RAM were gaming phones like the Lenovo Legion Duel (or Pro) and the ASUS ROG Phone 3. According to a Geekbench sighting, the ASUS ROG Phone 5 will be taking that to the next level even.

The benchmark notes a RAM size of 16.97GB which, given how these numbers work, suggests that the phone could actually have 18GB of RAM. That is quite a large amount of RAM that, even with today’s demanding mobile games, might sound almost too much. Then again, ASUS offers various configurations for its ROG Phones so this could simply be the top-end variant.

The entry doesn’t have other details to offer but we can already piece some of those together. The phone will undoubtedly take advantage of all the power that the Snapdragon 888 has to offer, for example, and DxOMark’s recent audio benchmark revealed not just the return of the 3.5mm headphone jack but also what seems to be a display on its back purely for branding purposes. The ASUS ROG Phone 5 is slated to debut on March 10 so Android gamers won’t have too long to wait for confirmation.

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NVIDIA SHIELD TV SmartThings Link will become unusable in July

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A smart home hub is only as useful as the number of languages it can speak. Given the number of disparate smart home platforms available today, it pays to either understand all those or at least have the ability to learn to communicate with other smart home products. That was practically what the SmartThings Link USB dongle did for the NVIDIA SHIELD TV but that dongle itself will lose its ability to speak the SmartThings language when Samsung upgrades its ecosystem in June.

The SmartThings Link dongle goes way back in 2017 when Google, NVIDIA, and Samsung seemingly sang in unison to bring their smart home ecosystems to a single device. The NVIDIA SHIELD TV, which ran Android TV, not only got support for Google Assistant but also Samsung SmartThings via that USB stick. It may not have exploded as the companies would have hoped but this recent news shows that there will be quite a number of disenfranchised users who banked on that setup.

Janko Roettgers on Twitter shared an email from Samsung detailing the end of times for the SmartThings Link. Starting June 30, 2021, the device will be rendered useless and the NVIDIA SHIELD TV and SmartThings devices will no longer be able to communicate with each other. Additionally, NVIDIA’s Android TV console will also lose control of any other Zigbee or Z-Wave product previously connected via the SmartThings app.

Although disappointing, the writing has been on the wall since June last year when Samsung announced that it would be moving to a new SmartThings platform. A lot of devices won’t be able to make the transition, not just the SmartThings Link, as the change will require completely new hardware more than just a software update. Samsung is taking a very big risk in promising a more flexible ecosystem while potentially hanging hundreds out to dry.

Samsung seems to be offering refunds for some or discounts for its new SmartThings Hub but this still means that SHIELD TV owners won’t be able to use their device as a central smart home hub anymore. Whether Samsung takes steps to bridge the gap again is still unknown but it seems to be cozying up to Google lately so that might still happen, one way or another.

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