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Sony, LG, others back out of year’s biggest mobile tech event amidst coronavirus fears

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Mobile World Congress 2020 (MWC) is supposed to be the biggest week of the year for mobile technology, but the coronavirus public health scare and related travel restrictions have led to a great deal of uncertainty amidst the usual fanfare.

Several major tech companies including Sony, Amazon, LG, Ericsson, and Nvidia have cancelled plans to appear at the conference, and some, like Samsung, still plan to attend but with a reduced presence. The GSMA was quick to point out, as quoted in the BBC, that the event remains “more than 2,800 exhibitors strong.”

The announcements have trickled in over the past few days. Many of these companies are usually key players at the event, and while many more companies still plan to attend, this year’s show looks like it’s going to be very different than what we saw in 2019 or 2018.

Organized by the GSMA mobile interest group and held annually in Barcelona, MWC has become arguably the most significant event of the year for the mobile and wireless technology industry. Many mobile companies skip the noise of CES to unveil their plans and do business at this more focused event. This year’s event was expected to be a major one: it will open the floodgates for the 5G transition, mobile companies have predicted.

In 2019, 109,000 people from 198 countries and territories attended MWC. Six percent of those attendees were from China, and 16 percent were from the wider Asia-Pacific region, according to the GSMA’s annual report.

Yesterday, the GSMA responded to the back-outs by clarifying the safeguards the organization is taking to protect attendees and exhibitors at MWC. They include a ban on all travelers from China’s Hubei province and a requirement for travelers to show proof they’ve been away from China for the 14 days preceding the event. Additionally, attendees must state that they have not been in contact with any infected persons and subject themselves to temperature screenings. The GSMA will also give “advice” that visitors not shake hands at the event.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau recently reassured visitors that the city is ready to handle the event in these circumstances. “I would recommend that we listen to the experts, scientists, and health authorities who tell us that the Mobile (World Congress) can go on with complete normality,” she said. Catalan Health Minister Alba Vergés was quoted in the GSMA’s statement on the subject saying, “the Catalan health system is prepared to detect and treat coronavirus, to give the most appropriate response, and this must be clear to those attending MWC Barcelona.”

The coronavirus outbreak’s effect on the tech industry is not just about conferences; several companies have placed business travel restrictions on their employees, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Airbnb, and more. And both Apple and Amazon told investors on their most recent quarterly earnings calls that they are uncertain how severely the outbreak will impact their supply lines in China. There have been numerous reports of key factories for those companies closing or operating with reduced staff.

The outbreak is also affecting other industries. The Singapore Airshow has seen some back-outs by major exhibitors, including Lockheed Martin. And in one of many examples for the gaming industry, popular video game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds saw the postponing of an esports event planned in Berlin.

As Ars has previously reported, there are now 40,500 confirmed cases of the virus, and there have been 910 deaths. The majority of the cases occurred in China, and only one death has been confirmed outside of China.

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The MacBook Pro will soon get a resolution bump, macOS beta suggests

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Enlarge / The 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Samuel Axon

The seventh beta of macOS Monterey contains what appear to be references to new screen resolutions suitable for the MacBook Pro line, as discovered by MacRumors.

In a list of supported graphics resolutions within macOS, there are two new resolutions: 3,456 by 2,234 and 3,024 by 1,964. Each carries a “Retina” marker, which Apple typically only applies to its own devices’ screens.

The aspect ratio for these new resolutions is very close to the current aspect ratios on the MacBook Pro computers sold today, but they’re lower than what we currently see in the iMac line, suggesting that they aren’t for Apple’s desktops. Further, the numbers fit nicely with a move to true 2x Retina, as opposed to the scaling approach presently used for Retina displays.

It is possible that this is a mistake, but the timing is convenient. macOS Monterey is expected to launch this fall alongside new MacBook Pro models featuring custom-designed Apple silicon that would be faster successors to Apple’s much-lauded M1 chips found in lower-end Macs and the most recent refresh of the iPad Pro.

If reports in Bloomberg and elsewhere are to be believed, the new laptops would also include Mini LED displays, which provide better contrast than the display technology currently used in Mac laptops, as well as additional ports like HDMI or an SD card slot. These devices would also drop the Touch Bar, which some users like but others hate, in favor of a return to physical function keys. The 13-inch MacBook Pro would probably see reduced bezels, making it a 14-inch MacBook Pro. (A similar change replaced the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 16-inch model a couple of years ago.)

So increased screen resolutions join a plethora of other likely changes that would make for the most significant redesign of the MacBook Pro since the first Touch Bar models in 2016.

Leaks have also pointed to an upcoming MacBook Air redesign, but that laptop is unlikely to come until later.

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The Surface Duo’s two-year-old Android OS will be updated sometime this year

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If Microsoft wants to be taken seriously as an Android manufacturer, one of the things it will need to establish is a track record of reliable, on-time software updates. But as the company launches a second generation of the Surface Duo and the company’s first Android phone turns a year old, so far Microsoft has failed to impress.

The Surface Duo 1 shipped in September 2020 with Android 10, which was a full year old at the time, and Android 11 had already launched. The hope was that Microsoft would quickly update the Duo to the latest version of Android, but that never happened. Today the device is still running Android 10, which is now two years old, and Android 12 is about to ship. Microsoft has finally broken its silence about Surface Duo 1 updates, and the company tells The Verge it plans to update the device to Android 11 “before the end of this year.”

Assuming Microsoft follows through on its promise, the company’s $1,400 flagship device will be updated from a two-year-old operating system to a one-year-old operating system. Microsoft committed to three years of updates, and it has been delivering monthly security updates. But this is still worst-in-class update support, especially for the price. Samsung usually rolls out Android to its latest flagship three months after Google’s release, while OnePlus usually takes around a month—Microsoft’s one-year timeframe is really bad.

Microsoft is, at least, communicating. Before, it never really let its customers know when Android 11 would be arriving on the Surface Duo until this latest report, leaving the rumor mill to fill in the gaps. It would be nice to get a timeframe for Android 12 releases, given the latest update will be out any day now. Perhaps Microsoft’s lack of communication was due to the company just not knowing when Android 11 would be done. The Android 10 build that shipped on the original Duo had all sorts of bugs, and the company is clearly having a hard time transitioning to Android.

Perhaps some of Microsoft’s update problems were caused by the Duo 1 originally being designed for a now-canceled mobile resurrection of Windows; Microsoft was essentially forced to switch to Android later in that product’s development life. Unsurprisingly, the Windows-maker didn’t have a lot of Android OS engineers on staff at the time, and Microsoft ended up outsourcing the Duo’s OS development to a company called “Movial.” Microsoft ended up acquiring Movial just two months before the Duo’s release date, which doesn’t sound like ideal timing.

The Duo 1’s Windows DNA resulted in a device with very different underpinnings from a normal Android phone, like a “custom engineered” Microsoft UEFI instead of the normal Qualcomm one. The Duo 2 should have been designed from the start with Android as the target, so maybe things will be better for the sequel?

Listing image by Ron Amadeo

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Windows 11 hits the Release Preview Insider channel as official release nears

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Enlarge / The “official” Windows 11 update, complete with the UI that regular people will see, is now available in the Release Preview channel for Windows Insiders.

Andrew Cunningham

Yesterday, Microsoft released a near-final build of Windows 11 to Windows Insiders in the Release Preview channel, which (as the name implies) is generally the last stop for a major new Windows version ahead of its release to the general public. The official release date for Windows 11 is October 5, but Microsoft is planning to roll it out gradually over the next few months to prevent widespread problems.

The build number in the Release Preview channel is 22000.194, the same version released to the Beta channel on September 16.

While Beta- and Dev-channel builds of Windows 11 are simply downloaded and installed like regular Windows Updates, the version in the Release Preview channel gives you the same upgrade message that will be offered to the public when Microsoft offers the Windows 11 upgrade for their PCs. This includes a system notification that users can click through to learn more about Windows 11’s new features and a special update message in Windows Update that will give you the opportunity to waive the Windows 11 upgrade and stay on Windows 10 (seen above).

Windows 10 can run on pretty much any PC that could run Windows 7 or Windows 8, but Windows 11 comes with stringent new processor and security hardware requirements that severely limit its compatibility. The most important is the CPU requirement, which generally mandates an 8th-generation Intel Core processor (introduced in late 2017) or newer or a 2nd-generation AMD Ryzen processor (introduced in mid 2018) or newer. There are only a handful of exceptions for older processors, including for Microsoft’s own Surface Studio desktop—Microsoft has the full list of Intel and AMD processors available on its documentation site.

If your PC can run it, Windows 11 includes a refreshed user interface, rescued from Microsoft’s failed “Windows 10X” project. The redesign overhauls the taskbar, Start menu, system tray, the Settings app, and Windows Explorer, as well as right-click menus and built-in apps throughout the OS. It also adds some gaming features and improvements to the Windows Subsystem for Linux, though some of these will be backported to Windows 10.

Listing image by Microsoft

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