Samsung teases foldable smartphone launch for later this year

Samsung is planning to launch a foldable smartphone later this year. CNBC reports that Samsung CEO DJ Koh hinted the device could be unveiled at Samsung’s developer conference in November, but it’s not clear if consumers will actually be able to purchase the foldable phone this year. Koh admitted that the mystery device had been “complicated” to develop, and rumors have suggested Samsung will launch a phone with a bendable display under the company’s Galaxy Note line.

Samsung has been experimenting with bendable OLED displays for years, and the company first unveiled a prototype back in 2012. Since then, Samsung has been reportedly testing dual-screen smartphones, with the aim of bringing some type of device to market. Koh doesn’t drop many hints at what to expect from Samsung’s foldable smartphone, but he does admit the device and its features need to make consumers react with “wow, this is the reason Samsung made it.”

Samsung released a concept ad for a potential foldable phone back in 2014. The ad featured a device with a bendable display that folded from a more tablet-like size into a pocketable phone. Samsung’s device may include a 7-inch single display, according to a report earlier this year from The Wall Street Journal. The screen will reportedly fold in half like a wallet, with the exterior of the device displaying a small bar of information.

Samsung isn’t the only company developing foldable devices. Lenovo is working on bendable phones and tablets, and Microsoft has been dreaming of a dual-screen Surface device for years. LG even revealed a foldable 65-inch OLED TV earlier this year.

Nubia’s wearable smartphone is a preview of our flexible OLED future

The most interesting prototype at IFA this year was the Nubia Alpha, an Android-based device the company bills as a “wearable smartphone.” The Alpha tries to realize one of the enduring gadget dreams: having a smart device with a display that wraps around the user’s wrist. I checked it out at IFA in Berlin this past week, and, well, it’s still at the rough draft stage of development, but Nubia is confident it’ll have it ready to go on sale in China before the end of this year. If things work out, global distribution might also happen around the same time.

The demo units at IFA were behind glass, and it took a lot of cajoling to convince Nubia to even let me touch one. I was able to lay it on my wrist, but I wasn’t allowed to close it up entirely, hence the semi-open position in these photos. The surprising thing was that, as bulky as the Alpha looks, it’s really quite light and tolerable on the wrist. I believe fans of big watches will find this chunky beast attractive, while the rest of us should definitely be paying attention to the technological advancement it represents.

The elongated OLED panel of the Alpha sits inside a metal watch strap and a plastic case with a selfie camera attached. Its software at IFA was only running a demo loop showing basic functions like exercise tracking, accepting phone calls, controlling music, and, amusingly, a Find My (other) Phone function. With Samsung teasing a foldable phone for later this year, Huawei diving into the same race, and now this Nubia prototype, our flexible-screen future is looking closer than ever.

Nubia is cagey about disclosing any further specs such as resolution, processor, memory, or battery life, but the company did tell me that it intends to price the Alpha wearable at around the same cost as a smartphone. That’s going to make it a tough sell: the Alpha can’t run Android apps without each developer adapting the software for the extra-tall display, and the abilities it has shown so far don’t really rise above those of a modern smartwatch.

Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge

Chrome’s new password manager stops you from using the same password for every website

Google is releasing an entire new design for Chrome today with new features and tweaks to the browser’s overall appearance. You can read more about the redesign here, but one of the big new features is an improved password manager. Chrome will now offer to automatically generate a random password when you sign up to websites for the first time. This password will be stored inside a Google Account securely and synced across desktop and mobile versions of Chrome.

This should stop regular Chrome users from always picking the same password for each site, and ultimately ending up with a security headache if a site is breached. Chrome’s password manager is a welcome change, but you may still want to use a dedicated and separate password manager. Chrome only manages passwords inside its browser, so if you sign into various mobile apps or apps on a TV like Netflix then these login combinations won’t be stored in a Google Account. That’s particularly relevant now that iOS 12 is about to introduce the ability to autofill passwords across browsers and apps from third-party password managers.


Chrome’s new password manager

Google’s choice to offer a password generator and manager will likely trigger debate about best password practices. Some security experts argue web users should simply remember a long and memorable phrase for each password, while others recommend a random password with special characters that’s managed by a password manager. Both options should still take modern computers years to crack, until systems get faster or the age of quantum computing finally arrives. By then, we’re hoping the entire industry has figured out a reliable way to get rid of pesky passwords once and for all.

Chrome’s new password manager is available today as part of the Chrome 69 release.

China’s top streaming service hides video view counts after click farms inflated numbers

China’s top streaming service iQiyi is turning off view counts on all of its videos. Instead, videos will be evaluated for popularity based on a new system to “underline the company’s commitment to the highest quality content.”

iQiyi is mostly known for its polished productions like the new historical drama Story of Yanxi Palace about back-stabbing concubines and hip-hop dancing reality show Hot-Blood Dance Crew. But the streaming service, which has been likened to Netflix and Hulu, sets itself apart from those platforms by allowing users to upload their own content and grow their own audiences. It’s also owned by Baidu, China’s largest search engine, and it has a lot of investment in AI tools. Despite its commercial successes, the company still isn’t profitable as it spends heavily to add original content to its library.

Now, instead of showing users how many views they’ve racked up, iQiyi’s new system will assign a “Heat Value” to videos based on how much they’ve been shared, liked, and commented on. As is typical with iQiyi, the company will use its user data and sorting algorithms to assess each video’s popularity, which will provide a “more comprehensive measure of content popularity,” according to iQiyi’s chief content officer Wang Xiaohui.

In a statement to The Verge, iQiyi says, “The desire to maximize viewer numbers has led to both a willingness in some areas of the industry to overlook work of truly high quality in favor of ‘clickbait’ content.” The platform’s new move will combat fake views generated by paying third parties to click on the videos. Top videos with 10 billion views in 2017 were the subject of ridicule on the internet, as netizens mocked Chinese platforms for having fake views that exceeded the total human population. The aforementioned drama Story of Yanxi Palace somehow hit 13 billion views as of last month.

Still, while the move is meant to combat click farming, it could potentially hurt individual creators who post videos onto iQiyi, even though there are plenty of video platforms to choose from, including Bilibili, Youku, and Ying Ke. In reality, few people appeared angry about the change in comments on Weibo. Many praised iQiyi for moving away from clickbait content or used the chance to complain about the platform’s freemium subscription model where ads are prevalent.

As one user writes on Weibo, the general consensus appears to be: “Heat value? That’s changing the soup without changing the medicine,” using a common Chinese proverb that means nothing has really changed.

Apple Watch remains best-selling wearable with 4.7 million shipments last quarter

Apple maintained its position at the top of the smartwatch sales chart last quarter, selling 4.7 million Apple Watches and capturing 17 percent of the global market, according to a report published today by research firm IDC. Apple now remains just ahead of Xiaomi, which trailed Apple by two percentage points in market share and 500,000 unit shipments in the second quarter of the year.

Fitbit, Huawei, and Garmin are far behind, with IDC reporting that higher demand for more fully featured smartwatches is driving demand for Apple products and reducing the popularity of lower-cost fitness trackers. IDC stresses that this is a natural cycle for consumer electronics and that fitness-focused devices will still have a place in the market going forward.

“Basic wearables have been in decline over the past several quarters, but that does not mean that they no longer have a place in the market,” writes Ramon T. Llamas, IDC’s wearables research director. “There still exists multiple market segments who prefer simple and inexpensive wearable devices and this is where wrist-worn fitness trackers and hybrid watches are finding demand.”

This data doesn’t point to an especially new revelation, as smartwatches have come to dominate the wearables category that was first popularized by simple fitness bands from Fitbit, Jawbone, and others. But it does illustrate Apple’s substantial impact on the wearables market, which it first entered in 2015. It also points to why the company continues to iterate on the Apple Watch and release new versions of the hardware every year, just as it eventually settled into an annual cadence for its smartphones and tablets.

IDC says demand for its LTE-equipped Series 3 device largely drove Apple’s wearable sales last quarter, and the device received a number of discounts at big-box retail stores that may have led to a surge in consumer purchases. Refurbished versions of the Apple Watch Series 3 also went up for sale on Apple’s retail site starting in February.

Next week, Apple is expected to release the Apple Watch Series 4. Leaked images indicate that the product will have a larger display and more intricate complications. The event, which will also focus on a new slate of iPhones and the company’s fall software refreshes, is scheduled for Wednesday, September 12th.

Skype’s latest version now has call recording built in

Skype announced today that call recording is now available in the latest version of the app on most platforms, except Windows 10. This is the first time Skype has offered built-in call recording since it was first released almost 15 years ago.

To record a call in Skype, click the + symbol at the bottom of the screen and then select “start recording.” Once started, a banner will appear letting everyone on the Skype call know that it is being recorded. If you are recording a video call, the recording will capture everyone’s video as well as any shared screens. The recording all happens in the cloud, and when the call is done, it’s then posted to your chat and will be available to download and share with other Skype contacts for 30 days.

To save a recorded call on desktop, click the three dot icon within your group chat, then “more options,” and then “save to downloads.” To save a recorded call on mobile, tap and hold the recorded call in chat to bring up Skype’s menu and then select “save.”

Call recording is only one new feature coming to Skype. Microsoft is also planning on introducing read receipts and redesigning the app for Windows users with the desktop client to give it a more mobile-like design. Skype’s call recording feature is available now across all supported platforms with the exception of Windows 10. Skype says that call recording will be coming to Windows 10 in the coming weeks.

How Amazon and eBay became a tax haven for Chinese sellers

For years, Amazon customers in Europe have enjoyed the shopping giant’s ability to deliver everything from best-selling books to phone chargers within days, if not hours, at prices that brick-and-mortar retailers often cannot match. Much like in the United States, online sales are eating up physical retail market shares. By 2023, it’s predicted that 21 percent of all non-grocery retail sales in Europe’s biggest economies will be online, up from just 13 percent last year. But, increasingly, the large digital platforms, which also operate as marketplaces for third-party sellers, have come under fire for helping foreign retailers skirt taxes.

In the EU, practically all marketplace sellers are required to report and pay a sales tax called value-added tax, or VAT. In the UK, the standard VAT rate is 20 percent; in Germany, it’s 19 percent. But recent reports indicate that thousands of vendors that are selling on Amazon and eBay’s marketplaces, many of which are from China, are not paying their VAT, which allows them to undercut local physical and online retailers even further. Now, the UK, Germany, and the EU Commission are stepping forward to hold marketplace operators accountable for tax fraud amounting to around $5 billion a year across Europe, according to estimates by the EU Commission.

According to Mark Steier, a data analyst and e-commerce consultant who first revealed the scheme in Germany, there are approximately 15,000 Chinese traders registered on Amazon’s German Marketplace. But one-third of them have not indicated a VAT identification number in their profile, Steier told The Verge. And from his experience, many of the VAT identification numbers offered are not valid. Steier estimates that on Amazon alone, there are about 10,000 sellers from China withholding VAT from the German state. Research by public broadcaster WDR and daily Süddeutsche Zeitung shows similar numbers. According to Steier, there are over 10,000 more VAT-avoiding Chinese traders on eBay. Germany’s Ministry of Finance has suggested that the annual loss of tax revenue caused by online VAT fraud amounts to several hundred million euros.

A recent purchase exemplifies the problem. This August, a Munich-based Amazon user named Michael (who requested only his first name be used for this article), found printer cartridges at a bargain: a pack of four for €8,99 with, thanks to Prime, no additional shipping costs. Amazon indicated that the price already included German VAT. The order was processed and delivered by Amazon, but the actual seller was a company called Cseein. The next day, Amazon’s delivery service brought a padded envelope containing the cartridges but no invoice. Michael sent an email to Cseein asking for it. The company replied quickly.

At first glance, the document looked good. It included an invoice number, Michael’s Munich address, and the company’s address in Guangdong, China. But there was something missing. Usually, there are three lines at the end of an invoice: the first indicates the net amount, then the VAT, and the third states the actual price, which is the sum of the two other figures. Here, the VAT wasn’t mentioned, and the company did not provide a VAT identification number.

For lawyer Nathalie Harksen, a VAT expert at Frankfurt-based law firm AWB, the incomplete invoice is an indication that the company probably didn’t pay the VAT — although there are clear reasons why the company would have been obliged to do so. Even though Cseein does provide a VAT number on its Amazon Marketplace profile page, that’s of no use in this case, Harksen explained, as it’s a British VAT number. When asked whether the company paid VAT over email, a representative from Cseein replied: “we pay the VAT to UK, all we sell on EU and it will be accepted.” The company obviously assumed that the email came from a disappointed customer and made an offer: “we can refund you the VAT. can you accept it.” When shown the correspondence, Harksen said, “There doesn’t seem to be any knowledge of European tax law here.”

For governments, lost taxes can impact budgets. But for vendors who play by the rules and pay their VAT, competitors who undercut their prices by avoiding VAT are a threat to their very existence.

Martin, a German Amazon Marketplace retailer (who also asked that his real name be concealed), has been selling bags on Amazon and eBay for years. “When I see the students walking by, I immediately recognize this backpack is from China, this backpack is from China, and the next backpack is also from China,” he told The Verge.

Martin says he sold some of the same imported Chinese-made products as Chinese dealers on Amazon, but because he’s based in Germany, he’s forced to pay VAT or else risk fines or even a prison sentence. Meanwhile, he says Chinese vendors are avoiding their 19 percent VAT and spoiling his business. He cites the VAT fraud as the main reason for the lower prices of rivals from China that already benefit from cheaper procurement.

“We once developed our own toilet bag, of which we sold 10,000 to 12,000 units per year on Amazon Marketplace. Now, we only sell 400 a year.”

Although Martin mainly blames politicians and the government for failing to enforce VAT, he also criticizes Amazon and eBay. “The marketplace operators should have an interest in things being right there. But they don’t seem to care where their commission comes from,” he said. After all, many of the tax-fraudulent Chinese vendors use the Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) service. That enables them to deliver just as quickly as German retailers because their goods are already stored in local Amazon warehouses.

VAT evasion is not unique to Germany. In 2014, a group of UK sellers formed an online initiative called “Campaign against VAT Fraud on Ebay & Amazon in the UK.” Thousands of Chinese dealers are suspected of not having paid the 20 percent VAT and thus harming domestic vendors. Due to online VAT fraud, UK taxpayers lost $1.3 billion to $1.9 billion in 2015 and 2016, according to estimates by a government agency.

Efforts to enforce online VAT in the UK have fallen short. In 2016, new powers to tackle the fraud were introduced, including making online marketplaces potentially liable for non-payment of VAT of overseas sellers that are using their platforms. “From these laws, thousands of non-compliant overseas businesses have been removed from online marketplaces, and over 40,000 overseas sellers have registered for VAT,” Ruth Stanier, director general for customer strategy and tax design at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), told The Verge. However, not everyone was satisfied with the way HMRC made use of its new powers.

In October 2017, the Public Accounts Committee of the British Parliament criticized the authorities for not doing enough to combat online VAT fraud. In a report, the committee described HMRC as “playing a game of cat and mouse” with companies based outside the UK. Since then, HMRC has further strengthened its rules and has also pushed online marketplaces to sign a voluntary agreement committing them to provide data about individual sellers to HMRC, including the volume and value of their sales. Amazon, eBay, and four other companies have already signed in. An eBay spokesperson told The Verge: “We work closely with HMRC to ensure our sellers comply with their VAT obligations.”

Germany is also taking legislative action. On August 1st, Angela Merkel’s cabinet passed a bill from the Ministry of Finance that, if approved by Parliament, will force online marketplaces to cooperate with tax authorities from 2019 onward. Starting January, they’ll have to report data about their seller, just like in the UK. If sellers still don’t pay their taxes, Amazon, eBay, and other marketplaces will be held accountable for lost funds. The bill is expected to pass into law.

Back in 2016, Amazon’s stance on the German VAT problem could be described as none of our business, or in the company’s own words: “Amazon dealers are independent companies and responsible for fulfilling their tax obligations.”

After two years of bad press and political debate, today, the company sounds more committed to enforcing sellers to pay VAT. Though Amazon didn’t want to comment on the government’s plans, the company told The Verge that it fully supports VAT compliance and offers extensive information, training, and tools to assist sellers. “If we are notified by a German tax authority that a seller is not VAT compliant, we will promptly block the account,” a spokesperson said.

Amazon and eBay marketplace vendors evading VAT could face even more pressure soon: the European Union is working on laws that will make online marketplaces responsible for ensuring VAT is collected on sales on their platform. The legislation should apply from 2021 on.

But the fixes could be short-lived: as Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba expands in Europe, merchants could start placing cheap VAT-free offers there, too. European authorities have less control over Alibaba than Amazon and eBay.

Instagram is building a standalone app for shopping

Instagram is working on a new standalone app dedicated to shopping, The Verge has learned. The app — which may be called IG Shopping — will let users browse collections of goods from merchants that they follow and purchase them directly within the app, according to two people familiar with the matter. Instagram declined to comment.

It could not be learned when the app might launch. Its development is still ongoing, and it could be canceled before it is released. But sources familiar with its development say Instagram believes it is well positioned to make a major expansion into e-commerce.

More than 25 million businesses already have Instagram accounts, and 2 million of them are advertisers, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said on the company’s most recent earnings call. Four in five Instagram users follow at least one business. Creating a standalone app would allow the company to provide a dedicated home for an increasingly popular activity on Instagram while also expanding opportunities for revenue.

Over time, Facebook could introduce more tools for merchants who are building their businesses on Instagram, directly challenging e-commerce platforms like Shopify, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking. Most online businesses need an Instagram account already, the thinking goes; many of them would surely use paid business tools if they became available.

Some companies already sell such tools to Instagram advertisers. Four Sixty, for example, lets businesses pay for help creating shoppable photo galleries, content moderation, post scheduling, and other services. Shopify’s app store contains dozens of plugins related to promoting and managing Instagram-based businesses.

Instagram began testing a shopping feature in November in 2016, and rolled it out more broadly in March of last year. Companies can tag posts with individual products, allowing users to shop directly from photos. Instagram is currently testing a feature that lets users shop from Instagram stories.

Shopping would not be the first Instagram feature to be spun out into a standalone app. The company has been testing Direct, a new messaging app, since last December. In June it introduced IGTV, a YouTube competitor that puts vertically shot videos into their own app.

Netflix and YouTube are most throttled mobile apps by US carriers, new study says

Since the demise of net neutrality, US telecoms have increased the amount of throttling they impose on customers trying to watch mobile video through services like Netflix and YouTube, according to new research from a group of researchers at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The study, the findings of which were published first by Bloomberg today, reveals the extent to which companies like AT&T and Verizon have taken advantage of lax government regulation under President Donald Trump to limit data speeds for customers.

This isn’t presenting entirely new information. All four big carriers in the US now offer unlimited data plans that restrict streaming video on mobile devices to 480p by default, in an apparent effort to manage network traffic, reduce congestion, and ensure that these companies don’t need to upgrade network infrastructure unless absolutely necessary.

The study, however, reveals how often this is happening and to which apps. It also provides data on the uptick in this behavior since Obama-era net neutrality regulations were repealed by Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai, who led the vote to do so in December 2017 before the order went into effect in June of this year. The research is not yet publicly available; it will be submitted for peer review as it amasses a full year’s worth of data.

The research was conducted by getting around 100,000 people to sign up for a mobile app called Wehe, which monitored network traffic for participating users to determine when an app experienced “differentiation,” as the study puts it. The app conducted around 500,000 tests, monitoring over 2,000 service providers in 161 countries.

AT&T and Verizon were by far the most egregious throttlers, differentiating delivery speeds for streaming video 8,398 and 11,100 times, respectively. T-Mobile and Sprint differentiated traffic 3,900 times and 339 times, respectively. Most of this differentiation equates to throttling, the study concludes, meaning US carriers are slowing the delivery speed of the data based on the type of data it is — a violation of one of the pillars of modern net neutrality principles. “If you are a video provider, you have a patchwork of different carriers doing different things to your network traffic,” said David Choffnes, a co-author of the study and the developer of the Wehe app, in an interview with Bloomberg. “And the patchwork can change any time.”

AT&T and Verizon do not hide that their networks are actively throttling distinct traffic types, although the carriers prefer phrases like “network management,” terms like prioritization, and other euphemisms that disguise the fact that data speeds are artificially slowed down. Right now, most unlimited data plans from the big US carriers will throttle all traffic once you exceed a certain number of gigabytes used, typically around 22GB or 25GB.

AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile also restrict video to 480p unless you pay for certain types of plans that allow you to stream in HD, by turning off a certain setting either on your phone or doing so only through the carrier’s website. Oftentimes, this throttling is presented as a feature, like AT&T’s Stream Saver, that’s designed to save customers from careless data use that might eat up too much of their monthly allowance.

Since the FCC became a Republican-controlled body under Trump, US carriers have significantly altered their offerings and, in many cases, made their plans worse by restricting how much “unlimited” data customers are actually afforded and what they can do with it. As the study makes clear, this is a direct result of FCC leniency and has occurred in lockstep with Pai’s initial announcement to repeal net neutrality protections last year and his eventual following through in December.

Last summer, after all four major US carriers started offering unlimited plans with huge caveats in February 2017, Verizon removed the ability to stream HD videos on mobile phones entirely from all of its plans with its introduction of three new plans with reduced streaming video privileges and a number of throttling thresholds and hotspot restrictions. Earlier this year, Sprint made its current unlimited plan worse and added a more expensive version of it in a bid to get customers to pay more money per month.

AT&T also more than doubled the administration fee it charges every wireless customer to $1.99, citing “cell site maintenance and interconnection between carriers.” Meanwhile, a July report from the US Labor Department indicates that cellphone plans are getting more expensive after two years of price cuts now that telecoms have hooked customers into increasingly nebulous unlimited plans and feel the need to offset the cost of large mergers and acquisitions.

All that being said, Choffnes and his fellow researchers hope the debate around throttling and not-so-unlimited data plans is reaching a tipping point. Recent news stories seem to suggest a heightened controversy around telecom behavior is brewing. Late last month, Verizon was caught throttling the data connections of emergency firefighters battling raging wildfires in Northern California’s Mendocino County.

Meanwhile, California passed the nation’s strongest net neutrality protections at the state level last Friday, with the bill now headed to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for signing. The move could significantly shift how the government regulates mobile internet providers now that the FCC has punted the responsibility to the less powerful FTC, and it sets up a model for other states to follow suit and apply pressure to regulatory bodies.

Evernote slashes price of Premium subscription as many executives depart

Evernote is currently offering a sale on its Premium membership, slashing its yearly subscription price from $70 down to a much more reasonable $42. The company offered the same deal earlier this year. If you’re interested in grabbing the deal, it’s available now on Evernote’s site. It only applies if you pay one lump sum for the annual subscription.

Meanwhile, Evernote has confirmed to TechCrunch that in the past month the company has lost many senior executives, including its CTO Anirban Kundu, CFO Vincent Toolan, CPO Erik Wrobel and head of HR Michelle Wagner. The company did not comment on a reason for the departures, but a source close to the matter tells TechCrunch that “Evernote is in a death spiral… Paid user growth and active users have been flat for the last six years and their enterprise product offering has not caught on.”

Evernote currently has three different monthly pricing tiers: free, Premium for $7.99 per month (which adds up to nearly $100 over a year), and Business for $14.99 per month. So this deal might be worth taking advantage of if you rely on the app. Premium does afford many more features than free — like up to 10GB of monthly uploads and the ability to scan business cards — but there are also several Evernote alternatives now that are cheaper (or free) like Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote and others.