Your tech digest, by way of the DGiT Daily newsletter, for Wednesday, October 9.

1. The thin, weird Essential phone


We’ve heard Essential has been working on a new device. We had indications it was unusual. We saw specs leaks that suggested a new concept. But this is really something:

Essential's new phone GEM

The Essential very tall, very thin Android smartphone:

  • Essential’s new phone is being called “Project Gem,” and the company has filed a trademark for the word GEM, so that looks like the actual product name as well.
  • But who cares about the name, because just look at it!
  • It’s so tall, so thin, and so unusual. It’s like a candy bar, or a remote, or something.
  • Why? Who knows!
  • We have been seeing increasingly tall, long, and rectangular smartphones, with Sony taking this as far as anyone in recent times to mixed reviews.
  • The reason for that, though, was to offer video in the widescreen 21:9 format, but reviews found that while the narrow body was nice and easy to hold in your hand, it wasn’t easy to use, being too tall to navigate with a thumb. But Sony still tried to make it a smartphone, not something different.
  • This GEM then is just deliberately tall and skinny, and seems like it’s still offering part of the utility of a smartphone’s apps, but seems like it would be a difficult experience for browsing, texting, watching stuff, gaming, and so on.
  • Which is what most people use their phone for.
  • So, while we know very little, this thing looks like it is trying to do just one of those tasks in a way that no one else is, in a form factor that, best case, better suits the width of your hand.
  • Bloomberg previously reported that Essential’s next small screen phone would use voice commands and AI to send emails and text, which …might explain how you’ll do stuff with this phone, given that typing looks difficult?
  • As for other guesses, the thing that makes most sense is stuff you browse and scroll through, which is more social media and the like.

New Essential Phone UI MapsAndy Rubin

  • The above large image tweeted by Rubin shows four Android app cards (very likely Android 10, although that is not yet certain) stacked which …could be useful, given it appears to have a new UI, which Rubin confirmed on Twitter.
  • And the software experience, like so many new devices with new form factors, will decide how useful the product is.
  • For a company like Essential, that isn’t out of the realms of possibility but new, successful UIs on smartphones that people broadly like are few and far between.
  • But it is still a little bit exciting. Too often we don’t see new ideas at all from companies who are afraid to a) hurt their brand with weird outliers b) lose money for shareholders.
  • We don’t know price, or availability, or if anyone should get one.
  • But Essential is personally funded by Andy Rubin and so can pursue his interests at practically any cost.
  • Which brings us to Andy Rubin.

The Essential problem:

  • Or, the Andy Rubin problem.
  • In case you missed it, last year, it emerged Rubin had been forced out of Google, with allegations of serious sexual misconduct exposed in considerable detail by The New York Times.
  • Rubin was given an enormous severance package of $90 million by Google back in 2014, which, much later, saw Google come under fire as well from its own employees.
  • Rubin took to Twitter at the time to broadly dismiss the report’s “false allegations” and “wild exaggerations”, denying one specific element of the Times reporting.
  • But Rubin’s denial was limited, and there hasn’t been an apology or acknowledgement.
  • Rubin did take a short leave of absence from Essential, and hasn’t said a lot since.
  • So, does that stop Essential’s new phone being news? No.
  • But if people have a problem with Rubin’s money and his company and therefore its products, I can’t disagree with them.

2. Arm makes blueprints for processors that later get made into chips from the likes of Huawei, MediaTek, Samsung and Qualcomm. At its big annual conference happening right now, Arm is talking about its next designs focusing on “digital immersion,” privacy, and more, as Adam explains (Android Authority).


3. Motorola One Macro launched: Another Motorola One, this time with a camera for close-ups (Android Authority).


4. You can now easily move music or video streams between Google smart home devices: just ask, and it’ll move, if you want (Android Authority).


5. Windows 10 preview brings Android phone calls to your PC (Engadget).


6. The easy part for big tech was computers and apps: now every problem facing big tech is “fiendishly hard” (Axios).


7. You need a modern MacBook with a butterfly keyboard to use macOS Catalina’s iPad Sidecar feature (The Verge).


8. PlayStation 5, holidays 2020. We always knew but didn’t know for sure but now it’s official. And now we know know (Wired).


9. Collapse OS: An open source operating system for the post-apocalypse (Vice).


10. Blizzard: One of America’s biggest gaming companies is acting as China’s censor (Vox.com).


11. Nobel in physics is a two-fer: Big Bang and exoplanets (Ars Technica).


12. Oh… and one last thing. We don’t include the daily bit of fun you get each day in the DGiT Daily, but this time, why the heck not? Here’s your Wednesday Weirdness:

Oobleck has been solved! Oobleck, this stuff:

oobleck

  • Preschoolers add cornstarch to water to create the delightful glop that Dr Seuss gave a name to in his book “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” back in 1949. Oobleck.
  • It’s the stuff that gets thicker or thinner depending on what you do to it: let it be and it slides away, but if you grab at it and try and squeeze it, it becomes more like a rapidly thickening paste.
  • Also, PhDs add cornstarch to water to create what science calls a non-Newtonian fluid, and study it for years to try and understand how it works.
  • The end result of this study is that MIT engineers have figured out a mathematical model for what appears to be such odd behavior.
  • That mathematical model presents an understanding of what to expect from oobleck, and when we know about something we can make it interestingly useful, too.
  • The trick is in the ultra-fine particles in the mixture, as Ken Kamrin, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, and lead researcher on this project explained to Phys.org:
  • “As long as you squish slowly, the grains will repel, keeping a layer of fluid between them, and just slide past each other, like a fluid,” Kamrin says. “But if you do anything too fast, you’ll overcome that little repulsion, the particles will touch, there will be friction, and it’ll act as a solid.”
  • That might mean use cases for previously weird ideas, as this MIT video on YouTube explains, like filling in a pothole, or bulletproof vests.

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