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Day: August 13, 2019

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Xiaomi tops Indian smartphone market for eighth straight quarter

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Xiaomi has now been India’s top smartphone seller for eight straight quarters. The company has become a constant headache for Samsung in the world’s second largest smartphone market as sales have slowed pretty much everywhere else in the world.

The Chinese electronics giant shipped 10.4 million handsets in the quarter that ended in June, commanding 28.3% of the market, research firm IDC reported Tuesday. Its closest rival, Samsung — which once held the top spot in India — shipped 9.3 million handsets in the nation during the same period, settling for a 25.3% market share.

Overall, 36.9 million handsets were shipped in India during the second quarter of this year, up 9.9% from the same period last year, IDC reported. This was the highest volume of handsets ever shipped in India for Q2, the research firm said.

As smartphone shipments slow or decline in most of the world, India has emerged as an outlier that continues to show strong momentum as tens of millions of people purchase their first handset in the country each quarter.

Research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch that there are about 450 million smartphone users in India, up from about 350 million late last year and 300 million in late 2017. This growth has made India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, the fastest growing market worldwide.

Globally, meanwhile, smartphone shipments declined by 2.3% year-over-year in Q2 2019, according to IDC.

Chinese phone makers Vivo and Oppo, both of which spent lavishly in marketing during the recent local favorite cricket season in India, also expanded their base in the country. Vivo had 15.1% of the local market share, up from 12.6% in Q2 2018, while Oppo’s share grew from 7.6% to 9.7% during the same period. The market share of Realme, which has gained following after it started to replicate some of Xiaomi’s early models, also shot up, moving from 1.2% in Q2 2018 to 7.7% in Q2 2019.

Samsung showroom demonstrator seen showing the features of new S10 Smartphone during the launching ceremony (Photo by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The key to gaining market share in India has remained unchanged over the years: better specs at lower prices. The average selling price of a handset during Q2 was $159 in the quarter that ended in June this year. Seventy-eight percent of the 36.9 million phones that shipped in India during this period sported a sticker price below $200, IDC said.

That’s not to say that phones priced above $200 don’t have a market in India. Per IDC, the fastest growing smartphone segment in the nation was priced between $200 to $300, witnessing a 105.2% growth over the same period last year.

Smartphones priced between $400 and $600 were the second-fastest growing segment in the country, with a 16.1% growth since the same period last year. Chinese phone maker OnePlus assumed 63.6% of this premium segment, followed by Apple (which has less than 2% of the overall local market share) and Samsung.

Feature phones that have maintained a crucial position in India’s handsets market continue to maintain their significant footprint, though their popularity is beginning to wane — 32.4 million feature phones shipped in India during Q2 this year, down 26.3% since the same period last year.

Xiaomi versus Samsung

India has become Xiaomi’s biggest market. It entered the country five years ago, and for the first two, relied mostly on selling handsets online to cut overhead. But the company has since established and expanded its presence in the brick and mortar market, which continues to account for much of the sales in the country.

Earlier this month, the Chinese phone maker said it had set up its 2,000th Mi Home store in India. It is on track to have a presence in 10,000 physical stores in the country by the end of the year, and expects to see half of its sales come from the offline market by that time frame.

Samsung has stepped up its game in India in the last two years, as well. The company, which opened the world’s largest phone factory in the country last year, has ramped up productions of its Galaxy A series of smartphones that are aimed at budget-conscious customers and conceptualized a similar series that includes Galaxy M10, M20 and M30 smartphone models for the Indian market. The Galaxy A series handsets drove much of the growth for the company, IDC said.

Even as it lags behind Xiaomi, Samsung shipped more handsets in Q2 2019 compared to Q2 2018 (9.3 million versus 8 million) and its market share grew from 23.9% to 25.3% during the same period.

“The vendor was also offering attractive channel schemes to clear the stocks of Galaxy J series. Galaxy M series (exclusive online till the end of 2Q19) saw price reductions, which helped retain the 13.5% market share in the online channel in 2Q19 for Samsung,” IDC said.

But the South Korean giant continues to have a tough time passing Xiaomi, which continues to maintain low profit margins (Xiaomi says it only makes 5% profit on any hardware it sells). Xiaomi has also expanded its local production efforts in India and created more than 10,000 jobs in the country, more than 90% of which have been filled by women.

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The ClockworkPi GameShell is a super fun DIY spin on portable gaming

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Portable consoles are hardly new, and thanks to the Switch, they’re basically the most popular gaming devices in the world. But ClockworkPi’s GameShell is something totally unique, and entirely refreshing when it comes to gaming on the go. This clever DIY console kit provides everything you need to assemble your own pocket gaming machine at home, running Linux-based open-source software and using an open-source hardware design that welcomes future customization.

The GameShell is the result of a successfully Kickstarter campaign, which began shipping to its backers last year and is now available to buy either direct from the company, or from Amazon. The $159.99 ($139.99 as of this writing on sale) includes everything you need to build the console, like the Clockwork Pi quad-core Cortex A7 motherboard with integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 1GB of DDR3 RAM, but it comes unassembled.

You won’t have to get out the soldering iron – the circuit boards come with all components attached. But you will be assembling screen, keypad, CPU, battery and speaker modules, connecting them with included cables, and then installing them in the slick, GameBoy-esque plastic shell. This might seem like an intimidating task, depending on your level of technical expertise: I know I found myself a bit apprehensive when I opened the various boxes and laid out all the parts in front of me.

But the included instructions, which are just illustrations, like those provided by Lego or Ikea, are super easy to follow and break down the task into very manageable tasks for people of all skill levels. All told, I had mine put together in under an hour, and even though I did get in there with my teeth at one point (to remove a bit of plastic nubbin when assembling the optional Lightkey component, which adds extra function keys to the console), I never once felt overwhelmed or defeated. The time-lapse below chronicles my enter assembly process, start to finish.

What you get when you’re done is a fully functional portable gaming device, which runs Clockwork OS, a Linux-based open-source OS developed by the company. It includes Cave Storyone of the most celebrated indie games of the past couple of decades, and a number of built-in emulators (use of emulators is ethically and legally questionable, but it does provide an easy way to play some of those NES and SNES games you already own with more portability).

There’s a very active community around the GameShell that includes a number of indie games to play on the console, and tips and tricks for modifications and optimal use. It’s also designed to be a STEM educational resource, providing a great way for kids to see what’s actually happening behind the faceplate of the electronics they use everyday, and even getting started coding themselves to build software to run on the console. Loading software is easy, thanks to an included microSD storage card and the ability to easily connect via WiFi to move over software from Windows and Mac computers.

Everything about the GameShell is programable, and it features micro HDMI out, a built-in music player and Bluetooth support for headphone connection. It’s at once instantly accessible for people with very limited tech chops, and infinitely expandable and hackable for those who do want to go deeper and dig around with what else it has to offer.

Swappable face and backplates, plus open 3D models of each hardware component, mean that community-developed hardware add-ons and modifications are totally possible, too. The modular nature of the device means it can probably get even more powerful in future too, with higher capacity battery modules and improved development boards.

I’ve definitely seen and used devices like the GameShell before, but few manage to be as accessible, powerful and customizable all at once. The GameShell is also fast, has great sound and an excellent display, and it seems to be very durable with decent battery life of around three hours or slightly ore of continuous use depending on things like whether you’re using WiFi and screen brightness.

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$600M Cray supercomputer will tower above the rest — to build better nukes

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Cray has been commissioned by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to create a supercomputer head and shoulders above all the rest, with the contract valued at some $600 million. Disappointingly, El Capitan, as the system will be called, will be more or less solely dedicated to redesigning our nuclear armament.

El Capitan will be the third “exascale” computer being built by Cray for the U.S. government, the other two being Aurora for Argonne National Lab and Frontier for Oak Ridge. These computers are built on a whole new architecture called Shasta, in which Cray intends to combine the speed and scale of high performance computing with the easy administration of cloud-based enterprise tools.

Due for delivery in 2022, El Capitan will be operating on the order of 1.5 exaflops, or floating point operations per second, a measure of calculation often used to track supercomputer performance. Exa denotes a quintillion of something.

Right now the top dog is already at Oak Ridge: an IBM-built system called Sierra. At about 1.5 petaflops, it’s about 1/10th the power of Aurora — of course, the former is operational and the latter is theoretical right now, but you get the idea.

One wonders exactly what all this computing power is needed for. There are in fact countless domains of science that could be advanced by access to a system like El Capitan — simulations of atmospheric and geological processes, for instance, could be simulated in 3D at a larger scale and higher fidelity than ever before.

So it was a bit disheartening to learn that El Capitan will, once fully operational, be dedicated almost solely to classified nuclear weaponry design.

To be clear, that doesn’t just mean bigger and more lethal bombs. The contract is being carried out with the collaboration of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which of course oversees the nuclear stockpile alongside the Department of Energy and military. It’s a big operation, as you might expect.

We have an aging nuclear weapons stockpile that was essentially designed and engineered over a period of decades ending in the ’90s. We may not need to build new ones, but we do actually have to keep our old ones in good shape, not just in case of war but to prevent them failing in their advancing age and decrepitude.

The components of Cray’s Shasta systems.

“We like to say that while the stockpile was designed in two dimensions, it’s actually aging in three,” said LLNL director Bill Goldstein in a teleconference call on Monday. “We’re currently redesigning both warhead and delivery system. This is the first time we’ve been doing done this for about 30 years now. This requires us to be able to simulate the interaction between the physics of the nuclear system and the engineering features of the delivery system. These are real engineering interactions and are truly 3D. This is an example of a new requirement that we have to meet, a new problem that we have to solve, and we simply can’t rely on two dimensional simulations to get at. And El Capitan is being delivered just in time to address this problem.”

Although in response to my question Goldstein declined to provide a concrete example of a 3D versus 2D research question or result, citing the classified nature of the work, it’s clear that his remarks are meant to be taken both literally and figuratively. The depth, so to speak, of factors affecting a nuclear weapons system may be said to have been much flatter in the ’90s, when we lacked the computing resources to do the complex physics simulations that might inform their design. So both conceptually and spatially the design process has expanded.

That said, let’s be clear: “warhead and delivery systems” means nukes, and that is what this $600 million supercomputer will be dedicated to.

There’s a silver lining there: Before being air-gapped and entering into its classified operations, El Capitan will have a “shakeout period” during which others will have access to it. So while for most of its life it will be hard at work on weapons systems, during its childhood it will be able to experience a wider breadth of scientific problems.

The exact period of time and who will have access to it is to be determined (this is still three years out), but it’s not an afterthought to quiet jealous researchers. The team needs to get used to the tools and work with Cray to refine the system before it moves on to the top secret stuff. And opening it up to a variety of research problems and methods is a great way to do it, while also providing a public good.

Yet Goldstein referred to the 3D simulations of nuclear weapons physics as the “killer app” of the new computer system. Perhaps not the phrase I would have chosen. But it’s hard to deny the importance of making sure the nuclear stockpile is functional and not leaking or falling apart — I just wish the most powerful computer ever planned had a bit more noble of a purpose.

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