Mobile Digest: Facebook’s Internet super drone Aquila completes first test flight

Half the world still lacks Internet connectivity. Facebook’s Aquila is poised to fix that. Andrew Tolve reports.

In the news

 

Five of the 7.5 billion people on planet Earth are now unique mobile device subscribers according to new data released by GSMA Intelligence. That means two thirds of the world's population is tethered to a smartphone, flip phone or tablet. And yet internet connectivity remains below 50 percent due to high cost and lack of traditional infrastructure and reliable power sources in rural communities. Hence the significance of Facebook’s first successful flight and landing of its Aquila drone last week. The drone is solar powered, has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737 and shoots lasers across the sky to connect with internet access points in nearby cities. It then feeds that connection out to rural communities via fast, bandwidth-record-breaking millimeter-wave radio technology. Aquila's first test flight ended with an accident in the Arizona desert last June. This time it aced the landing and brought mankind that much closer to universal internet. Facebook’s ultimate vision is to have a fleet of Aquila drones that soar the skies at 60,000 feet, beaming internet to communities below while staying aloft for months at a time.

 

In the money

 

Microsoft is slashing 3000 employees from its sales force in an attempt to hone in on its most profitable areas of growth — cloud services and IT for large and midsized businesses. Gartner projects that the market for public cloud services will balloon to $247 billion this year and $383 billion by 2020. Nearly all of Microsoft’s sales force cuts are outside the United States.

 

The wearables industry's former darling Jawbone is exiting the consumer market and liquidating its business, leaving the various outside parties who invested nearly $1 billion in Jawbone through the years out of luck. Some of Jawbone’s leadership has formed a new company called Jawbone Health Hub that will provide data-driven services to patients and medical professionals.

 

In other news

 

The ignominious Galaxy Note 7, aka Samsung’s exploding phone, is back — this time as the Galaxy Note Fan Edition. The phone is made from refurbished parts from the original Galaxy Note 7, only now it has a new battery that Samsung assures is the epitome of “perfect safety.” Features include an iris scanner, fingerprint sensor and stylus. Retail is set at $600.

 

Kodak is taking customers back to the future with its new Kodak Photo Printer Dock, which turns any smartphone into an instant Polaroid camera. The printer allows users to park their iPhones or Androids right into the unit and print a color or black and white 4x6 image on the spot. Users can also connect via WiFi. The $139 printer is compatible with flash drives and digital cameras.

 

The on-demand audio craze shows no signs of abating. A new report from Nielsen reveals that, propelled by the popularity of apps like Spotify and Apple Music and the podcast boom, weekly audio streams surpassed 7 billion for the first time in March 2017. And from January to June, on-demand audio streams numbered 184.3 billion — a 62% increase over the same stretch in 2016.

 

Qualcomm unveiled new ultrasonic fingerprint sensors that make the home button on most smartphones today look silly. The sensors penetrate through glass or metal, enabling full-screened (or so-called “bezel-less”) phones. They also work underwater and can detect directional gestures, heartbeat and blood flow for improved mobile authentication. The Galaxy S8 has already embraced the bezel-less revolution; the tenth anniversary iPhone is expected to as well when it’s unveiled this fall.

 

From the rumor mill, Samsung is preparing to enter the smart speaker market with a speaker built around its voice activated assistant Bixby. The speaker will likely be more task oriented than Apple’s recent HomePod debut, which fashions itself primarily as a music speaker with Siri capabilities on the size. No word yet on the release date for what Samsung internally refers to as Project Vega.

 

Finally, Amazon is preparing to take another stab at the mobile device market after the smoke has finally cleared from the Fire phone and Fire tablet. The new devices are currently in testing under codename Ice. They will support Gmail and Google Play, whereas Fire phones and tablets did not. They will not support Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, however, which is a puzzler given Alexa’s tidal wave of popularity in the Amazon Echo smart speaker. 

 

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

 

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media.