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The Week in Mobile: September 24-30, 2017

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Amazon releases a flood of Echos, Apple deals with iPhone production issues, MLB experiments with AR at live games 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.

You Get an Echo, You Get an Echo

Amazon just pulled ahead in the voice-based AI assistant race, leaving Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung scrambling to catch up. The Seattle-based giant announced six new Echos this week, all at under $150 each, creating an “echosystem” with something for everyone. The throughline? Each device helps Amazon increase Alexa’s foothold in homes, paving the way for it to become the default home operating system. Amazon also gave Alexa an overhaul with features like “Routines,” which automates a series of actions from a simple command. For example, “Alexa, good morning” would switch on the lights, start the coffeemaker, and tell you the weather. Another new feature, “Groups,” makes it easier for users to control all their Amazon smart home devices together. On the developer side, Amazon has made its updated Alexa Smart Home Skill API available to support these new features.

Amazon knows it can’t compete in the iPhone and Android-dominated smartphone market, which looks to be a blessing in disguise for its smart home offerings. While Google and Apple have approached smart home as a side priority, Amazon has been free to pour resources into the market and, if this latest announcement is any indication, quickly distance itself from competitors.

Apple Under Pressure From Issues with New iPhones

Just a couple of weeks removed from its mega-hyped product launch, Apple is already feeling the pressure to deliver on its latest lineup of iPhones. According to a new report, an unforeseen production bottleneck of the iPhone X’s facial recognition sensor (the key technology behind the phone’s Face ID feature) may keep users waiting longer to get their hands on it than previously anticipated. The problem stems from modules (referred to as “Romeo” and “Juliet” by engineers) that work together to enable users to unlock their phone with Apple’s facial ID scanning. The Romeo components have proven more difficult to assemble than its Juliet counterparts, causing imbalances when scaling for mass production.

But that’s not the only iPhone headache Apple is dealing with at the moment. The company has announced that its working on a fix for an issue that is causing some iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus users to hear static noises during calls. The problem affects both normal and FaceTime calls, and can be heard through the device’s earpiece. Apple says its working on a software fix for the issue, which can’t be resolved by changing network settings or restarting the device. The company did not say when users can expect the update.

MLB Looks to AR to Revitalize the Baseball Viewing Experience

Baseball may be known as America’s pastime, but these days, smartphones have a better claim to that nickname. As the average age of baseball viewership ticks upward, the MLB is experimenting with ways to make the game more immersive and engaging for younger fans — beginning with tests of an AR-enhanced viewing experience with ARKit. Game attendees watching the field through their iPhones or iPads will be able to see contextual information on their screen, including player bios, stats, and live hit paths for balls. As companies rush to create AR features, often for AR’s sake, baseball is one implementation that actually makes sense given the game’s reliance on statistics and slow pace (hence a greater need to keep viewers engaged). The technology has been tested at three of the league’s 30 stadiums — Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles and Oakland Coliseum and AT&T Park in the Bay Area — but still faces obstacles like variation in stadium size and topography. When fully functional though, it may signal a future of live games in which smartphones are no longer a distraction, but a crucial part of the viewing experience.

Smartphone GPS Error Margins Could Shrink to Just One Foot Next Year

For how much we rely upon our smartphone GPS, the technology is reliably unreliable. That could change with the expected release of a mass-market GPS chip next year that improves a device’s accuracy to within 30 centimeters, or one foot — a noticeable difference in cities with tall buildings that block GPS signals. By comparison, today’s devices have an accuracy range of three to five meters (16 feet). In real-world terms, that’s the difference between getting on a highway and an off-ramp or making a turn and continuing straight. The improvement is due to new GPS satellite broadcasts from semiconductor company Broadcom, which says it will make chips available in some phones next year. However, owners of more popular phones like the iPhone will have to wait even longer for the improvement as the industry default, Qualcomm, has yet to build its own version.

Google and Levi’s Smart Jacket is Now Available

In partnership with iconic denim maker Levi’s, Google has debuted a new ‘smart’ jacket to help bike commuters stay connected without having to pull out their phone. The Commuter Trucker Jacket which debuted at Google’s I/O conference last year, allows users to answer calls, hear messages, adjust headphone volume or get directions using swiping and tapping gestures directly on the sleeve. It works using special sensors located within the threads of the jacket’s cuff that can wirelessly connect to the users smartphone. With the mobile app, users can completely customize the gestures required to perform an action, and Levi’s says the jacket is completely washable once you remove the sensor. It works with Android and iOS device, and is now available to purchase for $350.

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