Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gurman: Apple working on developing its own MicroLED screens →

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is designing and producing its own device displays for the first time, using a secret manufacturing facility near its California headquarters to make small numbers of the [MicroLED] screens for testing purposes, according to people familiar with the situation.

The technology giant is making a significant investment in the development of next-generation MicroLED screens, say the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. MicroLED screens use different light-emitting compounds than the current OLED displays and promise to make future gadgets slimmer, brighter and less power-hungry.

The screens are far more difficult to produce than OLED displays, and the company almost killed the project a year or so ago, the people say. Engineers have since been making progress and the technology is now at an advanced stage, they say, though consumers will probably have to wait a few years before seeing the results.

On the facility:

[…] There, about 300 engineers are designing and producing MicroLED screens for use in future products. The facility also has a special area for the intricate process of producing LEDs.

Another facility nearby houses technology that handles so-called LED transfers: the process of placing individual pixels into a MicroLED screen. Apple inherited the intellectual property for that process when it purchased startup LuxVue in 2014.

On the difficulty in making MicroLED screens:

Creating MicroLED screens is extraordinarily complex. Depending on screen size, they can contain millions of individual pixels. Each has three sub-pixels: red, green and blue LEDs. Each of these tiny LEDs must be individually created and calibrated. Each piece comes from what is known as a “donor wafer” and then are mass-transferred to the MicroLED screen.

Apple is clearly determined to be at the forefront of this new display technology. The only other entity known to be working on this as well is — of course — Samsung. Big surprise, right? They even showed off a prototype MicroLED TV earlier this year at CES. As difficult as OLED is to make, MicroLED sounds at least 10 times harder, so we won’t be seeing this for a while.

The display on iPhone X is just mesmerizing, so I can’t wait to see how MicroLED looks. The power efficiency, longer lifespan, and higher brightness features will be very welcome, but I haven’t heard specifically if it will improve upon the other weaknesses of OLED. Namely: image retention, burn-in, and off-axis color shifting. The latter is definitely noticeable, but an acceptable trade off for the time being.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Alexa’s unprompted laughing →

Shannon Liao for The Verge:

Over the past few days, users with Alexa-enabled devices have reported hearing strange, unprompted laughter. Amazon responded to the creepiness today in a statement to The Verge, saying, “We’re aware of this and working to fix it.”

Later on in the day, Amazon said its planned fix will involve disabling the phrase, “Alexa, laugh,” and changing the command to “Alexa, can you laugh?” The company says the latter phrase is “less likely to have false positives,” or in other words the Alexa software is likely to mistake common words and phrases that sound similar to the one that makes Alexa start laughing. “We are also changing Alexa’s response from simply laughter to ‘Sure, I can laugh,’ followed by laughter,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

This is pure hilarity, and it proves we give these personal assistants way too much credit. We’re in the relatively early days of this kind of interaction, yet we get upset when they can’t understand us perfectly. Of course they can’t — they’re computers!

A hotter topic than ever right now is that Siri is dumb, but in my experience, Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa have very similar abilities when it comes to understanding and interpreting.