Spring phone release season is upon us

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It appears as if big tech companies have found some level of footing and are gearing up to see if they can sell some new phones in the middle of the pandemic. Today, OnePlus will be announcing the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro, for example. Its sister company Oppo has already announced the Ace 2, its first phone with wireless charging. Motorola says it will announce its next flagship phone on April 22nd, rumored to be called the Edge and Edge Plus.

Of course, this all happens in the wake of the last big tech event I attended (and will attend for a while), the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S20 series.

The list continues if you expand beyond just official announcements. LG would like you to know it still makes phones and is taking a shot at getting back in the game with a new design language and a new name: Velvet. We also have just about as much information as you can get about Google’s midrange Pixel 4A, except a launch date. Last but certainly not least, we’re still waiting to see if and when Apple will release a modern successor to the much-loved iPhone SE.

You probably typically think of the fall as “phone season,” what with the iPhone, Pixel, and Galaxy Note launches that happen around that time. But for Android, the fall is actually late in the cycle for Qualcomm’s processors. That ends up being an issue both the Note and the Pixel need to overcome, and of the two the Note has been more successful in doing so.

The new plot point in this somewhat predictable yearly narrative arc is the arrival of Google’s “A” series of Pixel phones. This year, 9to5Google has the specs dead to rights and they look really solid for a $399 phone. I don’t think you can add Apple’s rumored 2020 iPhone SE to this narrative as a “spring is when big companies release inexpensive phones” story, as the SE feels more like an outlier than a yearly narrative. The last SE did too.

Increasingly, I find that “flagship” phones are mainly about luxuries instead of tangible benefits to most people. Those luxuries include screen quality, 5G, wireless charging, face unlock, speed, overall build quality, camera quality, and a smattering of other things.

Are all those things worth hundreds of dollars? Yes, but not in the same way a more expensive laptop is worth hundreds of dollars more than a cheap one. The more expensive laptop generally lets you do more. While there are people who do use their phone as a genuine mobile workstation, most people would get just as much done with a $400 or $500 phone as they would a $1,200 one.

That’s partly why it’s so hard for the LGs, Motorolas, OnePlusses, and even Googles of the world to compete at the flagship level. When $500 gets most of what you want done, these companies need to prove the value of every dollar spent over that.

Google and Apple collaborate on a COVID-19 response

Apple and Google are building a coronavirus tracking system into iOS and Android. You don’t need me to tell you this is the biggest tech news of the past week. The Verge has been covering it top to bottom, and more details are coming out still. It’s a massive and important collaboration between two companies that don’t exactly have a strong track record of working together. (As an aside, one reason I enjoy reporting on web technologies is that it’s the place where you can most clearly see engineers from both companies in actual conversation with each other.)

As with the informational sites and apps these companies have published, this tracking system is not a panacea (a word that’s usually metaphorical but is sadly literal in this context). Contact tracing is just one part of a larger, necessary response and this Bluetooth-based system is just a small part of the contact tracing we’ll need to do.

In fact, you should go read Nicole Wetsman’s piece on this right now: What is contact tracing? I think understanding how it works is going to be essential knowledge to be a good citizen in 2020, so please educate yourself on it.

Meanwhile, if you want to know how this new system fits in, Adi Robertson has the practical explanation you’re looking for: How you’ll use Apple and Google’s coronavirus tracking tool.

Casey Newton adds context: How Apple and Google are tackling one of the toughest parts about tracking COVID-19 exposures.

Perhaps the best way to think about the Apple/Google announcement is that in a world with no coherent federal response to the ongoing disaster, we must instead rely on a patchwork of partial solutions. In such a world, I have no objection to Apple and Google trying to build a contact tracing tool, even if I do worry that people will expect too much of it. I am also, as ever, open to being pleasantly surprised.

And Russell Brandom gets into the nitty gritty security details, and it seems as though they’re actually pretty good! Here’s his piece: Answering the 12 biggest questions about Apple and Google’s new coronavirus tracking project.

More to come on all of this, of course, including the news that Google is distributing it the right way for Android phones: via Google Play.

More from The Verge

Foxconn’s buildings in Wisconsin are still empty, one year later.

Quibi had 1.7 million downloads in its first week, is working on TV casting support.

Microsoft reportedly delays Surface Neo beyond 2020. Better late than bad. Windows 10X is a very important moment for Microsoft, as is this device. If it’s going to be anything more than a curiosity, they need to get it right the first time.

Gocycle GXi e-bike review: fancy folder. Thomas Ricker has another e-bike review here. It’s very expensive and very fancy.

Let me begin by saying that the Gocycle GXi is one of the most advanced e-bikes that money can buy. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Gocycle, a company founded by a former design engineer for McLaren cars.

Webcams have become impossible to find, and prices are skyrocketing. Logitech is trying to clamp down on the price gouging where it can.

Why the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories don’t make sense. Every now and then we publish a story for just one purpose: to give you something you can send to your unreasonable relatives or friends in the hopes of convincing them of the truth or — at the very least — getting them to stop bothering you with their claptrap.

Apple may let you try apps without installing them in iOS 14. Fascinating tech, will be curious to see how Apple rolls it out. Put me on the list of people who was worried about Instant Apps on Android undercutting the open nature of the web but being proven wrong simply because the feature hasn’t turned out to be that popular.

Google now offers a Braille keyboard for Android. Google has put just a ton of work into accessibility on Android in the last few years and deserves to be applauded for it.

Ring’s new Alarm system is smaller, sleeker, and comes with one-touch access to emergency services.

Google is rebranding Hangouts Chat as just Google Chat. Imagine an alternate universe where Google had successfully acquired WhatsApp instead of Facebook. Nevermind, Google probably would have squandered that too.

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