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The winner in the war on Huawei is Samsung

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No such thing as bad publicity! Huawei ban raises brand profile
Huawei says it is aiming to be biggest smartphone brand by 2020. Read more: https://zd.net/2vaXxJ0

The past week of off-again, on-again support from Google to Huawei concerning Android, combined with the potential killer blow of Arm joining the party to shun Huawei, should be regarded as a warning shot to what sort of impact a proper trade war between the United States and China could have on the tech sector.

Despite the bluster and rhetoric out of the Oval Office, the simple fact is that the supply chains between the nations are far too intertwined for either country to avoid high amounts of pain as they get untangled.

Whatever device you are reading this on, there’s a fair chance it was assembled in the Middle Kingdom, using componentry and intellectual property from the US.

Given the lead time needed for design and manufacturing, an edict out of Washington to separate this ecosystem should be measured on a timescale of years, not months.

The isolation of Huawei from software, hardware, and intellectual properly would be enough to sink many other companies, but if any company was capable of bouncing back from such an edict, it would be Huawei.

Its success in China alone makes it one of the world’s biggest manufacturers. it’s also been working behind the scenes on replacement software for such an occasion, and the company also has a chip arm in the form of HiSilicon.

Should Huawei have its access to Android cut off when the dust has settled, the big missing puzzle piece would be the Google Play Store. But it’s not hard to imagine Huawei quickly starting up its own store, or combining with other Chinese handset manufacturers to create a nationalistic alternative.

Read more: Google suspends Android support for Huawei: What it means for your smartphone

In the world of Android, there is regular Android, and then the very different flavours of it that appear out of China such as ColorOS. What we could be seeing here is the bifurcation of Android brought on by the White House.

Importantly, Huawei’s lack of non-employee shareholders means it can make tough decisions to go dark, go rogue, or reform itself without needing to answer to a stock exchange. This will be vital if its access to chip designs from Arm is cut off, and it needs to begin developing its own.

There is also the prospect that all the banning could be for nought, if the White House trades the ban away to get a deal with Beijing.

Hitherto unmentioned, but certainly having a keen interest and laughing it up is Samsung. The schadenfreude levels in Seoul would certainly be high.

Despite the Korean behemoth rising to smartphone prominence off the back of Google’s mobile operating system, Samsung and Google are at best frenemies living in a dysfunctional wedded state.

If the second biggest Android smartphone maker in the form of Huawei were hamstrung for a period of time, it would certainly help Samsung.

But there are also other prizes at stake as Samsung looks toward cementing a spot as one of the world’s top 5G network equipment manufacturers.

Must read: Samsung and 5G: Will this time be different?

Samsung might be able to boss its way around many business sectors — whitegoods, shipbuilding, and semiconductors being among them — but its network business has failed to take off time and time again.

The opening for Samsung to quickly step into the void left by Huawei in the wake of 5G equipment bans was best summed up by Australia’s 29th and most recently knifed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“In many discussions with my western counterparts, I raised the concern that we, and in particular the Five Eyes, had got to the point where there were now essentially four leading vendors of 5G systems — two Chinese, Huawei and ZTE, and two European, Ericsson and Nokia,” Turnbull said in March.

“With the benefit of hindsight it beggars belief that the countries which pioneered wireless technology — the United States, the UK, Germany, Japan and with WiFi, Australia — have got to the point where none of them are able to present one of their own telcos [as] a national, or a Five Eyes, champion in 5G.”

Samsung is throwing $22 billion into its 5G networking business, with the aim of claiming a minimum 20% of the market by 2020.

So far, the Korean giant has done well on its home turf, and the clouds surrounding Huawei should continue to give Samsung the long-desired leg up in equipment sales it has longed for.

At the same time, any hit to Huawei’s phone business will only help Samsung’s mobile business, which has struggled to bank the massive profits it saw five years ago.

ZDNET’S MONDAY MORNING OPENER

The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet’s global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.

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GM and LG reveal second $2.3bn Ultium EV battery plant

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GM and LG will build a new electric car battery plant together, the two companies have confirmed today, settling rumors of an expansion of the joint Ultium Cells venture as the automaker tries to maximize production of cheaper EV power packs. The new facility will be in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and see General Motors and LG Energy Solution pump in a further $2.3 billion in investment.

It follows an existing $2.3 billion investment by the pair in a battery production facility in Lordstown, Ohio. Construction there is currently underway, as GM prepares for a rapid uptick in demand across its various brands for batteries.

GM Ultium, announced in 2019, is the automaker’s new platform for all-electric vehicles. It’ll underpin models from Cadillac, GMC, Buick, Chevrolet, and other nameplates in General Motors’ portfolio, with the potential for 450+ miles of range and a variety of drivetrain configurations. However, it’ll also be expensive, at least to begin with, and no small part of that is the cost of the battery cells themselves.

It’s leading to a split in GM’s EV portfolio, of sorts, as Ultium is reserved for the electric vehicles that can command the highest sticker prices. That means models like the six-figure GMC Hummer EV and the Hummer EV SUV, along with the Cadillac Lyriq. In contrast, more affordable – and more mainstream – models like Chevrolet’s Bolt EV and new Bolt EV electric crossover will continue using the automaker’s existing, less advanced but much cheaper, platform.

Looking ahead, though, GM is counting on Ultium coming down in price and making affordable batteries at-scale more of a possibility. The roadmap calls for pack sizes from 50 to 200 kilowatt hours, made up of large-format, pouch-style cells which can be stacked either vertically or horizontally for maximum flexibility. There’ll also be support for either 400-volt packs with 200 kW DC fast charging, or 800-volt packs with 350 kW DC fast charging, depending on model and target audience.

Getting that all to a cost-effective point is vital if planned vehicles like the all-electric Chevrolet Silverado are to be competitive.

The new Spring Hill Ultium plant will be built by Ultium Cells on land leased from GM to the joint venture. Eventually it’s expected to span approximately 2.8 million-square-feet, with construction beginning immediately. However it’s not going to be open until late 2023, GM warns.

At that point, it’ll be supplying batteries to GM’s Spring Hill assembly plant nearby. That’ll be the location where Cadillac builds the upcoming Lyriq luxury electric crossover, alongside the existing gas-powered XT6 and XT5 SUVs.

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Samsung’s new smart headlamp tech just leaves me angrier

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You might not associate Samsung with car parts, but the company has revealed new smart LED headlamp clusters that could bring active lights to a much broader range of vehicles – though for the moment it looks like American drivers will miss out. The Samsung PixCell LEDs aren’t just one light source but in fact a whole cluster of more than 100 ultra-small segments, built into a single LED chip.

Those segments can be individually controlled, such as by an adaptive driving beam (ADB) system. For instance, if the system spots an oncoming vehicle at night, while you have your high-beams switched on, it could selectively occlude the parts of the headlamps which are directed at that vehicle.

The result would be avoiding glare for that car, but continued visibility around it for you. Alternatively, headlamps using the PixCell LEDs could focus light according to ambient conditions, such as when driving in fog or heavy rain, to maximize how much of the road can be seen.

Samsung isn’t the first company to offer smart headlamp LEDs like this, but its method is a little different. The PixCell system combines 100+ tiny segments – each separated by a silicon wall – with each acting like a pixel. The light-emitting area is only 1/16th of the size of a conventional discrete LED module used in current ADB systems, Samsung says. That means the overall light assembly could be as much as 50-percent smaller without impairing functionality.

That’s great, assuming you live in a country where these sort of headlamps are actually permitted. It’s a problem US drivers find themselves facing, where automakers have been forced to disable the smart lighting features on cars for sale in America. Currently, regulations in the US don’t allow this sort of selective lighting on vehicles, and while car companies and safety organizations have pushed for changes, there’s no telling when – or if – that will happen.

It’s frustrating, because it leaves American drivers missing out on some of the biggest advances in tech we’ve seen in automotive recently. Audi’s digital matrix LED system, for example, is offered elsewhere in the world on vehicles like the e-tron SUV; the same EV in the US, however, doesn’t offer that feature. Mercedes’ Digital Light – as featured on the new flagship EQS all-electric luxury sedan – is similarly blocked by out-of-date rules. Both systems, when functional, can even do things like project graphics on the road to better communicate vehicle behaviors with pedestrians and other road users; in the US, about the smartest thing they can manage is automatically flip between high- and low-beam settings.

Polestar found itself in the same situation with the recently-launched Polestar 2. The EV has Pixel LED headlamps, made up of 84 individual LEDs within each light, and which can do things like selectively shade the brightness in patches so as not to dazzle oncoming traffic.

While US-spec cars are fitted with the Pixel LED hardware, the advanced ADB features aren’t enabled. Polestar has said that it could do that with an OTA software update in future, should the local regulations change, though again it can’t say when that might happen, if it ever does. In fact, owners of the Polestar 2 could have the EV and never get to use the full extent of the features it’s capable of.

Samsung says there are still good reasons to use the PixCell LED system, even if ADB isn’t legally allowed in every region. For a start, it supports different configuration of the same hardware to suit varying light regulations and requirements. “Based on a single standard headlamp design,” the company points out, “lamp makers can customize light output to suit varying design needs and enjoy reduced lead time for development, production, supply and time-to-market.”

With some software architecture foresight by automakers, then, smart LED lights like these could one day be upgraded with a firmware patch to enable the more advanced functionality that the hardware is capable of. For that to happen, though, we’ll need US road safety regulators to get up to speed with the cutting-edge of vehicle tech, and that’s a process which is frustratingly slow in comparison.

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Alpha Wolf+ EV has an extra pair of suicide rear doors

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California-based startup Alpha Motor Corporation is expanding its electric vehicle portfolio with the Wolf+ (Wolf Plus), an extended-cab version of the brand’s Wolf electric pickup unveiled last month. Whereas a standard Wolf EV pickup truck has only two doors, Wolf+ has dual rear-hinged half-doors to make the rear seats more accessible, similar to what you get in the 2022 Mazda MX-30 EV.

Despite its extended-cab body style, Alpha Wolf+ has the same 5.5-feet bed as the non-plus version. It also gets a bevy of off-road accessories like standard fog lights, a roof basket, and a set of solar panels in the bed cover.

Like the first Alpha Wolf, the Wolf+ you see on this page are just renderings of an incoming pre-production prototype model. We have no word yet of an official launch date, but Alpha is on track to make its first customer deliveries beginning as early as 2023. The company also revealed the JAX (Junior All-Terrain Crossover) SUV earlier this year, a four-passenger off-road vehicle with retro styling cues similar to Wolf and Wolf+.

Alpha claims a range of 250 to 275+ miles from a still-unspecified battery pack. If the Alpha JAX is any indication, we reckon Wolf+ might come with a 75 kWh lithium-ion battery. Additionally, Wolf+ is available in a single motor RWD or dual-motor AWD powertrain. We find this surprising since a standard Wolf with a single motor is a front-wheel-drive unit.

We also found the performance numbers a bit surprising. Alpha claims Wolf+ accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 5.9-seconds versus 6.2-seconds for a front-drive Wolf. It also has a maximum towing capacity of 6274 pounds (3050 kg). In contrast, a standard Wolf can tow 3000 pounds (1,360 kg). Indeed, you can haul more stuff with Wolf+.

Inside, Alpha Wolf+ has a digital instrument cluster, a large center touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, and a premium audio system. Base models get 16-inch wheels, while larger 17 to 18-inch alloys are available. And yes, Alpha Wolf+ has a roomy frunk or front trunk.

Alpha has yet to unveil definite launch dates for its all-electric vehicles, but the reservation books are open for both the Wolf and Wolf+ models. The Wolf has base prices starting at $36,000 to $46,000, while pricing for Wolf+ will follow soon.

Alpha Wolf+ Gallery

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