In most AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile stores, it takes a while to find the ZTE phones, buried in the back, past the latest from Apple and Samsung. But they’re there. In AT&T stores it’s the ZTE Maven, which has a screen, speakers, and a processor with capabilities somewhere between the iPhone 5 and 6. As Tony Greco, ZTE’s head of U.S. retail marketing, puts it, “These were state-of-the-art features two years ago.” The Maven’s draw, really, is price. Without any subsidies from a wireless carrier, the phone costs just $60. And it’s not even one of the company’s cheaper models.
ZTE is quietly becoming a force in the U.S. by selling good enough phones at low prices—smaller prepaid smartphones for $30, basic phones with QWERTY keyboards for about the same, and so on. The Chinese company’s products are among the cheap phones of choice at three of the big four U.S. carriers. (Verizon doesn’t carry them.) ZTE claimed about 8 percent of America’s smartphone market in the second quarter of this year, says researcher IDC, up from 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2014. That ranks the company fourth among smartphone makers overall, behind Apple, Samsung, and LG. “We came from nowhere, and now we are a solid force,” says Lixin Cheng, head of ZTE’s U.S. operations.
In the U.S., the company was best known for years for making network routers and switches for mobile operators. Its phone sales are all the more surprising because it’s been frozen out of the more lucrative telecom networking market since 2012. That year, the House Intelligence Committee issued a report warning that China’s intelligence services could potentially use ZTE’s equipment, and those of rival Huawei Technologies, for spying. Huawei then dismissed the allegations as “little more than an exercise in China bashing.”
THINK BACK TO around 2007 and try really hard to recall something that you’ve probably long forgotten: What was it like the first time you used a touchscreen phone? You don’t remember? Me neither. But that’s OK! In fact, that’s the mark of successful design.
The company replaced the battery Apple built into the iPhone 6 with an Intelligent Energy fuel cell of the same size. The only modifications needed were the addition of vents that allowed water vapor to escape.
SUPER MARIO MAKER, Nintendo’s upcoming game-creation software for Wii U, doesn’t give you all of its tools immediately. Instead, it rolls them out in dribs and drabs, a day at a time. This is intended to let you cut your teeth making simpler Mario levels first, before moving on to more complex machinery.
IMAGINE TAKING A photo of the Eiffel Tower while on a vacation to Paris. But that’s not all. Imagine returning home with your phone, plugging it into a 3-D printer, and creating a tangible recreation of your photo—something you can hold in your hand or put on your mantel, a souvenir of your own making. Microsoft Research wants to make this happen.
THE PERFECT GIF is a difficult thing to find. In an Internet rife with search options, there are a seemingly infinite number of options. But choosing a GIF that animates exactly what you want it to? More difficult. But a new web app called Giftawk will quite literally translate your requests into GIF form.
The browser-based app simply needs access to your microphone, and then asks you to speak into it. Say anything you want, and boom—it services up a GIF or GIFs that act out your speech. (For the record, my own GIF maker turned these GIFs into weird pop art—they don’t actually look like that.)
Things get more complicated, though, when you try full sentences. Developer Adam Lusted created the Chrome web app uses Chrome’s speech recognition API. “I then split the phrase up and fetched relevant GIFs for each word from the Giphy API,” he says. “It was relatively easy to make. I was unsure how well it would work because the speech recognition API is a bleeding edge technology.”
While Giftawk is one of the first speech-to-GIF translators, it isn’t the only app trying to link language and animated images. Last year, the MIT Media Lab introduced GIFGIF, a multi-purpose GIF service that offers a variety of ways to take common human communication and turn it into GIFs. There’s Text to GIF (type something in, get a GIF out) and Face to GIF (the camera uses facial analysis to register a GIF). In addition to being objectively fun, GIFGIF wanted to use the data it received to help assign emotional assessment to GIFs, furthering how we might unilaterally understand them (or not).