The Week in Mobile: February 25-March 3, 2018

Samsung takes on the iPhone X with new Galaxy S9, Google Assistant provides more options for devs, first 5G network cities are revealed and more

Each week we round up the top news stories, think pieces and other content that centers on the fast-paced, quickly changing world of mobile technology. We tell you which companies are employing clever mobile strategies, illuminate new ways of thinking about mobile and offer a peek at meaningful trends in the industry. This content is designed to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

How Does the Samsung Galaxy S9 Stack Up Against Apple’s iPhone X?

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 has finally (officially) been revealed, and that means it’s time to start comparisons to Apple’s iPhone X. There are several similarities between the phones, particularly when it comes to the minimal bezel design, glass-on-glass metal frame and 5.8-inch OLED screen (If you don’t count the larger S9 Plus). What they have in common ends there, though. When it comes to security, the iPhone X sports its patented FaceID tech while the Galaxy S9 has Intelligent Scan for facial unlock. While Intelligent Scan has yet to see real-world, everyday use – reports indicate that though the tech might be quicker than FaceID at unlocking your device, it’s not as secure and won’t be usable to confirm mobile payments.

As for other differences, when it comes to software, the new Samsung device obviously runs Android Oreo 8.0 to Apple’s iOS 11. Another feature that may interest consumers is the Galaxy S9’s headphone jack, while Apple’s gone all-in on the more minimalist lightning port headphones or Earpods. Perhaps most important is the pricing difference: the cheapest iPhone X will set you back $999, while the most affordable Galaxy S9 starts as low as $720 (depending on the carrier). Pre-orders for the new Samsung smartphone have already begun, and will hit stores on March 16.

Google Adds New Languages and Features to Assistant Actions

Google Actions, the search giant’s answer to Amazon Skills, has received some new features that make it more accessible to a wider number of developers. The biggest update includes providing Google Assistant Actions in seven new languages, including Hindi, Thai, Indonesian, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch. This support means that a number of developers internationally will be able to start building new Actions in their native language. Other features coming to the platform include the capability to translate Actions by exporting directory listing information as a file, an option to connect Actions to the Google Places API for improved location services and the ability to create a deep link to an Android app. The updates to the platform are now available.

U.S. Carriers Announce the Cities That Will Get the First 5G Networks

At Mobile World Congress, a number of major U.S. carriers announced the first cities that will receive 5G networks later this year. Last week, AT&T announced that Atlanta, Dallas and Waco, Texas would be the first of 12 cities to get 5G before the end of the year. Now, Sprint says that New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington (D.C.) and Houston will be its first cities to get the upgrade. Meanwhile, T-Mobile will also cover New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, as well as Las Vegas. These will be the first of 30 total cities that will fire up 5G by the end of 2018. The upgrade will bring immensely faster speeds comparable to that of fiber optic internet connections (upwards of 500 megabytes per second). The catch-22 is that even as these network launch, consumers won’t be able to use them until 5G-enabled smartphones are available, likely 2019.

Microsoft’s Soundscape App Makes it Easy for the Visually Impaired to Navigate Environments

Microsoft has launched a new iOS app designed to help those who are blind or visually impaired navigate cities more effectively. Called Soundscape, the app will help users find their way to places of interest or away from unfamiliar areas by setting beacons and waypoints for destinations and landmarks. It then uses spatial audio cues to help guide the user where they want to go. There are three modes: ‘locate’ for identifying where you are, and ‘around me’ and ‘ahead of me’ for calling out points of interest in a specific area or direction. The app is not designed to replace guide dogs or canes, but rather to help the user get around more efficiently. Soundscape is now available for iOS.

Mercedes’ Vehicle Lens Provides Important Vehicle Stats via Augmented Reality

Mercedes is showcasing a new augmented reality app that will provide drivers with key information on their automobile. Vehicle Lens provides a virtual view of your ride alongside vital information as you point the camera at different areas of the car or truck. For example, pointing the camera at the wheels will display up-to-date information on your tire pressure that can come in handy before a long trip. The app can also display current mileage total, fuel and coolant levels and even personal information about drivers – including how long or often they’ve been driving lately. The app has been touted as a great new tool for semi truck and other professional drivers, but the uses for consumers are apparent too.

‘Pop-up’ and ‘Hidden’ Cameras May Be the Future of Mobile Design

Mobile World Congress has shown off a potential new camera trend for mobile and other devices: pop-up cameras. While cameras have long been built into devices around or above the screen, Vivo and Huawei showcased new gadgets that feature pop-up cameras. Vivo debuted a smartphone concept with a hidden camera on the top left of the device that slides out only when the user needs it. Meanwhile, Huawei revealed a new laptop prototype that utilizes a hidden key to reveal the camera like a mini trap door. This is vastly different from some of the other recent camera designs from the likes of the iPhone X, which utilizes a notch near the top of the screen to house the picture and video tool. In the age of more bezel-less and full-screen devices, these concepts offer a potential glimpse into the future of camera placement that may not compromise on valuable screen space.