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Phone flip: New Quibi series ‘Wireless’ empowers the viewer

Inside Telecom Staff

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Phone flip New Quibi series 'Wireless' empowers the viewer

NEW YORK (AP) — Most directors insist on having final edit approval of their films. Not the creators of “Wireless.”

The series on the mobile-platform Quibi employs an ingenious way to tell a story on a smartphone: You see different things on the screen depending on whether you hold your phone vertically or horizontally.

Horizontally, a traditional cinematic film follows a college student navigating the snowy Colorado mountains. But flip your phone vertically and you see his smartphone as he scrolls through photos, checks the map or calls his mom.

That means that the viewer becomes the editor. And each viewer sees a slightly different film, depending on at what points they rotate the phone.

“You’re never going to have the same experience as somebody else watching the show,” said Zach Wechter, the director, co-creator and co-writer. “It really is in our viewers’ hands when they’re going to turn the phones at any given moment.”

The 10-episode series that launched this week has the backing of director Steven Soderbergh, an eager adopter of nascent technology whose influential films include “Sex, Lies and Videotape” and “Traffic.”

He signed on to be an executive producer after seeing “Pocket,” a short film by Wechter and his creating partner Jack Seidman that experimented with the two-screen technology.

“It was the first thing I’d ever seen that I felt was designed to be watched and experienced on the phone and absolutely worked,” Soderbergh said.

The show signals a technological jump for Quibi, which launched during the pandemic offering mobile-friendly installments of movies and TV in 10 minutes or less.

The platform initially got fewer subscribers than hoped, despite landing celebs like Chance the Rapper, Chrissy Teigen and Jennifer Lopez. Even so, it heads into the weekend Emmy Awards with an impressive 10 nominations.

The technological leap with “Wireless” means it waves goodbye to passive entertainment. By letting viewers rotate their phones and choose their perspective, Wechter is empowering the audience, letting them feel like they’re controlling the story.

“I’d like to think that our project is something that will inspire filmmakers and artists to consider the possibilities of this new frontier — a new landscape for storytelling,” Wechter said.

“Wireless” stars Tye Sheridan as a college student with an unhappy past and a secret habit who is driving to a New Years Eve’s party to try to rekindle a relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

As he drives over the mountains, we watch what he does on his phone: Scrolling through Instagram, checking maps, firing up Tinder, texting friends, asking Siri questions and cuing up the band Brockhampton on the stereo. The human in horizontal mode and the technological on vertical are fused.

The filmmakers have so seamlessly integrated the phone-in-the-phone that our hero listens to his old voicemail messages and looks at photos from happier times to give context for his emotions. They’ve even created a fake, chirpy online commercial for a fictional vehicle, the Chevy Colorado.

Wechter said he was inspired to create the show based on how much time everyone spends on their phone these days, and says we have almost an emotional relationship with our devices. Soderbergh agrees, calling them “an additional appendage.”

“I think the ubiquity of smartphones is one of the most impactful parts of our lives nowadays,” Wechter said. “It really just was birthed out of realizing how essential these devices have become in our day-to-day lives.”

Soderbergh laughs that filmmakers these days are lamenting how putting their work on a phone is a depreciation of their work. “This is a complete inversion of what you typically hear a filmmaker say: To experience it NOT on your phone would be a diminishment.”

He hopes viewers will watch the thriller and then re-watch it, flipping their phone for more looks at the in-screen phone during the second time or focusing more on the actor’s perspective. “I hope other people will seize on the ability to do their own edits.”

In an interesting twist, Andie MacDowell, who starred in the indie “Sex, Lives and Videotape” 31 years ago, voices the college student’s mom in this Quibi show. Soderbergh laughs at the old technology of that film, which used video confessionals. “Think about how quaint that seems,” he said. “It’s like a Jane Austen novel compared to what we are experiencing now.”

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By MARK KENNEDY AP Entertainment Writer.

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Huawei sales up, but growth slows under virus, US pressure

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Chinese tech giant Huawei, one of the biggest makers of smartphones and switching equipment, said Friday its revenue rose 9.9% in the first nine months of this year, but growth decelerated in the face of U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

Huawei Technologies Ltd. gave no sales figure for the most recent quarter ending in September, but growth for the first three quarters was down from the 13.1% reported for the first half of the year.

Huawei is struggling with U.S. sanctions that cut off its access to most American components in a feud with Beijing over technology and security. The White House says Huawei is a threat and might facilitate Chinese spying, which the company denies.

Washington also is tightening curbs on access to U.S. markets or technology for other Chinese tech companies including telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp., video service TikTok and messaging app WeChat.

The conflict has fueled fears the global market might be dividing into competing U.S. and Chinese technology spheres with incompatible standards. Industry analysts warn that would slow down innovation and raise costs.

Executives have warned Huawei’s smartphone and network equipment sales would be affected. The company has launched smartphones based on its own chips and other components and says it is removing U.S. technology from its products.

On Thursday, the company unveiled its latest smartphone, the Mate 40, based on Kirin 9000 chips developed by Huawei.

Sales in the first nine months of 2020 rose to 671.3 billion yuan ($100.4 billion), Huawei reported. It said net profit was 8%, down from the first half’s 9.2% margin.

The company gave no details of its smartphone shipments. Sales outside China have weakened because its handsets no longer come preloaded with Google’s popular music, maps and other features. But sales in China, where Huawei phones already used local alternatives, have grown sharply.

Huawei’s global market share in smartphones rose to 19.6% in the three months ending in June, up from 17.7% a year earlier, according to Canalys. That was driven by strength in its home market, where Huawei had a 51% market share and sales rose 32% to 14.5 million handsets.

Huawei is owned by its Chinese employees who make up about 60% of its global workforce of 194,000. It began reporting financial results a decade ago in an attempt to appear more transparent and mollify foreign security fears.

BEIJING (AP) — By JOE McDONALD AP Business Writer.

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Tesla ‘full self-driving’ vehicles can’t drive themselves

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Earlier this week, Tesla sent out its “full self-driving” software to a small group of owners who will test it on public roads. But buried on its website is a disclaimer that the $8,000 system doesn’t make the vehicles autonomous and drivers still have to supervise it.

The conflicting messages have experts in the field accusing Tesla of deceptive, irresponsible marketing that could make the roads more dangerous as the system is rolled out to as many as 1 million electric vehicle drivers by the end of the year.

“This is actively misleading people about the capabilities of the system, based on the information I’ve seen about it,” said Steven Shladover, a research engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied autonomous driving for 40 years. “It is a very limited functionality that still requires constant driver supervision.”

On a conference call Wednesday, Musk told industry analysts that the company is starting full self-driving slowly and cautiously “because the world is a complex and messy place.” It plans to add drivers this weekend and hopes to have a wider release by the end of the year. He referred to having a million vehicles “providing feedback” on situations that can’t be anticipated.

The company hasn’t identified the drivers or said where they are located. Messages were left Thursday seeking comment from Tesla.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates automakers, says it will monitor the Teslas closely “and will not hesitate to take action to protect the public against unreasonable risks to safety.”

The agency says in a statement that it has been briefed on Tesla’s system, which it considers to be an expansion of driver assistance software, which requires human supervision.

“No vehicle available for purchase today is capable of driving itself,” the statement said.

On its website, Tesla touts in large font its full self-driving capability. In smaller font, it warns: “The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous. The activation and use of these features are dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions.”

Even before using the term “full self-driving,” Tesla named its driver-assist system “Autopilot.” Many drivers relied on it too much and checked out, resulting in at least three U.S. deaths. The National Transportation Safety Board faulted Tesla in those fatal crashes for letting drivers avoid paying attention and failing to limit where Autopilot can be used.

Board members, who have no regulatory powers, have said they are frustrated that safety recommendations have been ignored by Tesla and NHTSA.

Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who studies autonomous vehicles, said it was bad enough that Tesla was using the term “Autopilot” to describe its system but elevating it to “full self-driving” is even worse.

“That leaves the domain of the misleading and irresponsible to something that could be called fraudulent,” Walker Smith said.

The Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, has developed five levels to describe the functions of autonomous vehicles. In levels zero through two, humans are driving the cars and supervising partially automated functions. In levels three through five, the vehicles are driving, with level five describing a vehicle being driven under all traffic and weather conditions.

The term “full self-driving” means there is no driver other than the vehicle itself, indicating that it would be appropriate to put no one in the vehicle, Walker Smith said.

Musk also said on Wednesday that Tesla would focus on setting up a robotaxi system where one person could manage a fleet of 10 self-driving cars in a ride hailing system.

“It wouldn’t be very difficult, but we’re going to just be focused on just having an autonomous network that has sort of elements of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb,” he said.

Tesla is among 60 companies with permits to operate autonomous vehicles with human backup drivers in California, the No. 1 state for Tesla sales. The companies are required to file reports with regulators documenting when the robotic system experiences a problem that requires the driver to take control – a mandate that could entangle the owners of Tesla vehicles in red tape.

Before Tesla is able to put fully self-driving vehicles on California roads, it will have to get another permit from state regulators. Only five companies, including Google spin-off Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise subsidiary, have obtained those permits.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles didn’t immediately respond to questions about Tesla’s latest plans for robotic cars.

NHTSA, which has shied away from imposing regulations for fear of stifling safety innovation, says that every state holds drivers accountable for the safe operation of their vehicles.

Walker Smith argues that the agency is placing too much of the responsibility on Tesla drivers when it should be asking what automakers are going to do to make sure the vehicles are safe. At the same time, he says that testing the system with vehicle drivers could be beneficial and speed adoption of autonomous vehicles.

Thursday afternoon, Musk was clearly trying to sell the full self-driving software. He wrote on Twitter that the price of “FSD beta” will rise by $2,000 on Monday.


DETROIT (AP) — By TOM KRISHER AP Auto Writer

AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke contributed from San Ramon, California.

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If Google’s a monopoly, who is harmed by its market power?

Inside Telecom Staff

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Google has long defended itself against charges of monopoly by stressing that its products are free and that no one has to use them.

And it’s avoided tough government scrutiny for years based in part on the idea that people searching the internet are not Google’s true customers.

We’re its product. Advertisers are its real customers. That complicates the question of who, if anyone, is hurt by Google’s dominance in selling ads off the world’s search queries and through its array of affiliated businesses, from its Android phone software to its YouTube video platform and digital maps.

The U.S. Justice Department’s new antitrust lawsuit against Google argues that both advertisers and regular people are harmed by the tech giant’s position as “the unchallenged gateway to the internet for billions of users worldwide.”

“As a consequence, countless advertisers must pay a toll to Google’s search advertising and general search text advertising monopolies,” the government wrote in Tuesday’s landmark complaint, which asks a federal court to intervene to protect competition. “American consumers are forced to accept Google’s policies, privacy practices, and use of personal data; and new companies with innovative business models cannot emerge from Google’s long shadow.”

The government argues that Google has abused its monopoly power through agreements with other companies that promote Google’s apps and place its “search access points” as a default on browsers, phones and other devices. All of this drives more searches of Google at the expense of its rivals, the complaint alleges.

Google’s critics have been making similar arguments for years in calls to break up the tech giant or curtail its behavior, but U.S. antitrust enforcers have long relied on a traditional standard of judging a monopoly by whether it’s making consumers pay too high a price for its products.

Google controls about 90% of global web searches and dominates search-based advertising, but it holds a smaller share of the overall digital advertising market.

“This is an argument we can expect Google to make a lot and make it loudly, that its customers are the advertisers,” said Rebecca Allensworth, a law professor at Vanderbilt University.

“But there are a lot of antitrust law professors who would say that consumers pay a real price for something like a search engine,” Allensworth said. “There’s a real cost to us, in terms of privacy, attention and data. It may not be dollars and cents. But it’s that price we should be concerned about.”

Google’s business works by scooping up personal data from billions of people who are searching online, watching YouTube videos, following digital map routes, talking to its voice assistant or using its phone software. That data helps feed the advertising machine that has turned Google into a behemoth.

The assistant U.S. attorney general in charge of antitrust enforcement, Makan Delrahim, has repeatedly said that zero-price business models — Google and Facebook are the best-known examples — should not get “a free pass” from antitrust scrutiny because it’s not just about ensuring price competition. It’s about promoting “consumer welfare in all its forms, including consumer choice, quality, and innovation,” he said in a speech at Harvard Law School last November.

Delrahim recused himself from the Google probe because he represented the company as a lobbyist in 2007 when it faced antitrust scrutiny over its acquisition of DoubleClick, then a competitor in digital advertising.

Google has long denied claims of unfair competition and is expected to fiercely oppose any attempt to force it to spin off its services into separate businesses. The company argues that although its businesses are large, they are useful and beneficial to consumers.

“People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives,” the company said in a Tuesday tweet that called the lawsuit “deeply flawed.”

But the Justice Department argues that Google “deprives rivals of the quality, reach, and financial position necessary to mount any meaningful competition to Google’s longstanding monopolies,” and that foreclosing competition has reduced the quality of search services.

The complaint mentions loss of privacy and the use of consumers’ data as quality issues, although without elaborating.

While Google dominates search advertising, it’s likely to point to tighter competition in the broader market for online advertising. Google takes in about 29% of all digital ad spending, according to a June report from eMarketer, and faces growing competition from rivals such as Facebook and Amazon — each of which holds about 23% of the digital ad market and is also under antitrust scrutiny.

Rivals that run more specialized search businesses, such as Yelp, Expedia and Tripadvisor, have been among the most vocal in arguing that they’re harmed by Google’s business practices.

Seth Kalvert, Tripadvisor’s senior vice president and general counsel, said that the antitrust charges are good for consumers and could help preserve a vision of the internet as a place of transparency, “the wisdom of crowds” and vibrant competition.

“They provide the framework for meaningful action to stop Google from leveraging its gatekeeper position to benefit its owned services and increase its profits at the expense of competition and consumers,” Kalvert said in a statement.

At the same time, it’s never been certain how much the average American cares about the impacts of Google’s market dominance and the way it uses people’s information. The company has historically ranked high in surveys of user trust, though growing public awareness about the loss of digital privacy and President Donald Trump’s repeated and unfounded claims of tech industry bias have left some dents in its reputation.

The lawsuit is in some ways a repeat of the Justice Department’s last big antitrust case against a tech giant. The government sued Microsoft more than 20 years ago accusing it of leveraging a monopoly position to lock customers into its products so they wouldn’t be tempted by potentially superior options from smaller rivals.

By MATT O’BRIEN AP Technology Writer.
AP technology writers Frank Bajak and Michael Liedtke contributed to this report.

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