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Samsung Galaxy Fold
Samsung Galaxy Fold

It makes calls. It takes photos. It browses the internet. It opens like a book? Wow.

Smartphone giant Samsung this week announced what it believes will become a new category of smartphone. According to DJ Koh, President and CEO of IT & Mobile Communications Division, Samsung Electronics,

Today, Samsung is writing the next chapter in mobile innovation history by changing what’s possible in a smartphone. Galaxy Fold introduces a completely new category that unlocks new capabilities never seen before with our Infinity Flex Display.” Koh continued, “We created Galaxy Fold for those that want to experience what a premium foldable device can do, beyond the limitations of a traditional smartphone.”

In an interview with BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, Samsung spokesman Mark Notton said that Samsung has a need to “continuously, relentlessly innovate“.

Corbeau reckons there are fascinating aspects to these statements, worth unboxing for closer inspection (well we can’t get our hands on the device until March!).

If Mr Koh is right that the Fold is the next chapter in mobile innovation history then Samsung didn’t really write it. Samsung more kind of edited it. Just one month before the Fold, the FlexPai foldable smartphone was launched by Shenzhen-based Royole Corporation. While the Fold is a bit on the thick side for a phone, the FlexPai looks more like a bookie’s wallet on race day. With similar pricing (around £1200 for the FlexPai and £1300 for the Galaxy Fold), Royole will find it difficult to compete. Actually this is probably not the huge problem for Royole that it appears. The venture-backed Chinese corporation has IP, fabrication facilities and a line of milestone AMOLED products dating back to 2014. Their innovation model is to transfer a core technology to different products in different market sectors.

Samsung on the other hand has been a major player in the smartphone market for some years, finally getting a nose in front of Apple at the end of 2018. According to IDC a global market intelligence company, Samsung presently has 20% of the market in terms of unit sales, with Apple and Huawei around 15% and Xiaomi and OPPO each taking around 8% of handset sales. The drive for continuous and relentless innovation at Samsung has produced incremental improvements in their flagship Galaxy S to keep them out in front but with the smartphone market finally saturating and rivals like Xiaomi snapping at their heels, they need to innovate an entirely new premium product.

Is the Samsung Galaxy Fold the answer? Time will tell. Users can certainly understand the value of being able to carry a single device that functions both as a phone and a tablet.

The first flexible screen smartphone from Royole Corporation may find it difficult to compete against the stylish Fold but Royole are an organisation to keep a beady-eye on.

Further information on the Samsung Galaxy Fold can be found on the company website. Further information on the FlexPai smartphone from Royole Corporation can be found on their product information page. A detailed review of new tech revealed last month at CES 2019 can be found at TechRadar.

Birds of a feather

Academics love nothing better than a good conference. A chance to meet up with old friends, hear the latest gossip and tell anyone who will listen something they know that nobody else does.

Of course it is just a coincidence that conferences on a Greek island or on the Turkish coast in early summer are especially popular.

I guess most people’s idea of a scientist is someone who spends long hours in the lab (true), is obsessive about something difficult to explain (true) and prefers to be alone with their thoughts (occasionally true). The fact of the matter is that we need to listen to one another, exchange ideas and actually learn from one another.

It is often thought that large groups of roosting birds like the corbeau get together to share information about food sources in a similar way that groups of people get together to enjoy one another’s company and share their knowledge. This rather altruistic idea was sadly disproved by researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland in 1991, who identified individual birds at a nearby food source on subsequent days. They discovered that the increasing number of birds frequenting the food source following night time roosts was simply due to more birds finding the food source themselves and returning to it.

But perhaps this still shows the similarities between inventive humans and corveau. If you come across a fascinating new idea at a conference the best thing to do is to get up early the next morning and exploit it yourself!

You can find the altruistic crow hypothesis exploded in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Should I stay or should I go now?

Stick or twist? stay or go? whichever we decide, it pays to have a plan. Faced with the attraction of long summer days to bring up the family and the dangers of a long flight, it’s not surprising that some American crows choose to migrate north while others stay put.

A scientific study into the migratory behaviour of West coast and East coast American crows has revealed that the familiar 80:20 rule applies. Around 80% of crows on average travel up to 1000 km northwards and 20% stay put in the South. So why do some leave the familar stomping grounds of Sacramento for the forests of Oregon or the more bracing open spaces of Canada? According to the authors of the study published in The Auk journal, there appears to be a genetic similarity between those birds that migrate the greatest distances. This seems most likely to be a natural consequence of birds finding mates from their neighbours during the mating season and perpetuated when they and their children turn up like summer vacationers in following summers.

It’s not certain whether the crow populations on the West coast and East coast have always migrated in the same numbers or if they are in the process of becoming completely migratory. One thing is clear and that is that the migrating group are being more successful at reproducing than the stay-at-homes.

Is there anything this tale of corbeau holidaymaking has to teach us about innovation and change? Well I think there is. When some flight plans are so much more successful than others it’s time to stop doing the same old. It’s time to start doing the same new.

Holiday brochures are difficult to avoid at this time of year but you can find an open source copy of The Auk journal paper from the groups at Cornell University and Hamilton College here.

Brave as well as bright

Life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’ or so said Thomas Hobbes, a poet and philosopher in 1651. Nature is full of wonders but it’s true that for some, life is indeed brutish and short. For the young, the weak and the inexperienced, nature has its dangers.

Many species of bird will fight bill and claw to protect their young and their families from mortal dangers. Crows will act together or even alone against a much larger adversary. White-rumped vultures are huge creatures weighing up to 7.5 kg, more than ten times the weight of an American crow and yet a single persistent and courageous crow will drive it away .

Whenever we incubate some bright new idea or develop a new product it’s unfortunately likely that a competitor will try to either steal it or attack it. Why? Successful innovation is a threat to the existing order. If a competitor is feeding off scraps and can’t innovate themselves then appropriating or destroying the threat is the only option.

For the courageous corbeau, as we shall see in this blog category, there are many ways to fend off the vultures.

An introduction to Thomas Hobbes can be found on Wikipedia  and the RSPB has an interesting account of small birds mobbing dangerous predators.

Something to crow about

It’s been known for a long time that birds of the crow family are clever innovators. Now The Times newspaper has reported the recent publication  (6th February) of a scientific study revealing just how discerning they are.

We have all tried to open lids with our house keys (usually bending them) or turn a slotted screw with a kitchen knife that just happened to be nearby. New Caledonian crows wouldn’t do anything so dumb. They have a clear picture in their mind’s eye of just the right tool for the job and refuse to use something that’s just conveniently lying around.

Only crows and humans manufacture hooked tools to fish for food in inaccessible locations. In the study the birds picked out twigs of specific diameter, length and flexibility to fashion into tools to hoik succulent little grubs from their hiding places in crevices.

When it comes to industrial research and development we can learn something from these picky avians. Rather than trying to make an idea work with the wrong starting materials, it’s far better to stay true to your vision and wait to invest your time and energy in the right resources.

If you want to find out more about the amazing innovation of these corbeau, take a look at the website of Professor Christian Rutz (Professor of Biology at St Andrews’s University, Scotland). You can find the full scientific paper in Biology Letters or on-line at the Royal Society website.