Twitter removes Kanye West tweet sharing Forbes editor’s personal info – CNET

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Kanye West is running for president but isn't on the ballot in all states.

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Twitter on Wednesday removed a post by Kanye West that shared personal information about a Forbes editor. But the social media outlet reportedly took about half an hour to pull down the tweet, leaving it up long enough to garner about 17,000 retweets. 

West, the rapper who at times appears to post a stream of consciousness on Twitter, called Forbes' chief content officer a white supremacist and shared his phone number, which is against Twitter's policies. As a result, the social media site removed the tweet, leaving the note "This Tweet is no longer available" in its place. 

But Twitter had left the post up for about 30 minutes before determining it violated policy, according to Business Insider. The Forbes editor targeted in the post, Randall Lane, wrote about West in early July following a long-ranging interview that covered everything from West's bid for president to his fear of vaccines

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed the tweet's removal for sharing private information but declined to provide information about the timeline for removing the tweet. A Forbes spokesman said everyone at Forbes expresses empathy for West. West didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Twitter's move made West the second president candidate -- after President Donald J. Trump --- to have a post removed for violating policies. In June, Twitter first removed a video posted by Trump due to a copyright complaint after labeling the tweet as "manipulated media." Then in July, it removed an image and a video posted by Trump over copyright complaints. It has labeled other Trump tweets as misleading or containing manipulated media, including as recent as Wednesday. 

West has long been one of the most vocal users of Twitter, broadcasting thoughts to his 30.9 million followers. He briefly quit Twitter and Instagram in 2017 but soon returned to the platforms. Earlier this year, he talked about his diagnosis for bipolar disorder, and in July, he said he's running for president. He made the move too late to be on the ballot in some states and is viewed as a long shot compared to President Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. 

Meanwhile, Twitter and other social media outlets have been struggling to figure out how to prevent misinformation on their sites, particularly when it comes to people like President Trump. Misinformation on social media is nothing new. Russian agents tried to sway the 2016 US presidential election with divisive tweets and Facebook posts. Message board chatter about "Pizzagate," a conspiracy theory that falsely accused Hillary Clinton and others of operating a child sex ring out of a restaurant, led to gunfire in Washington, DC. Hoaxes, often disguised as legitimate news, have spread far and fast, thanks to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as 4chan, 8kun and other anonymous message boards. 

But social media's inability to contain the explosion of misinformation takes on new urgency as the novel coronavirus pandemic ravages the globe, as Black citizens are fighting for better rights in the US and as the country gears up for the presidential elections on Nov. 3. The role of Twitter and Facebook in spreading news in real time without any checks makes them particularly vulnerable to manipulation.

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Twitter removes Kanye West tweet sharing Forbes editor’s personal info – CNET

gettyimages-1051902348

Kanye West is running for president but isn't on the ballot in all states.

Getty Images

Twitter on Wednesday removed a post by Kanye West that shared personal information about a Forbes editor. But the social media outlet reportedly took about half an hour to pull down the tweet, leaving it up long enough to garner about 17,000 retweets. 

West, the rapper who at times appears to post a stream of consciousness on Twitter, called Forbes' chief content officer a white supremacist and shared his phone number, which is against Twitter's policies. As a result, the social media site removed the tweet, leaving the note "This Tweet is no longer available" in its place. 

But Twitter had left the post up for about 30 minutes before determining it violated policy, according to Business Insider. The Forbes editor targeted in the post, Randall Lane, wrote about West in early July following a long-ranging interview that covered everything from West's bid for president to his fear of vaccines

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed the tweet's removal for sharing private information but declined to provide information about the timeline for removing the tweet. A Forbes spokesman said everyone at Forbes expresses empathy for West. West didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Twitter's move made West the second president candidate -- after President Donald J. Trump --- to have a post removed for violating policies. In June, Twitter first removed a video posted by Trump due to a copyright complaint after labeling the tweet as "manipulated media." Then in July, it removed an image and a video posted by Trump over copyright complaints. It has labeled other Trump tweets as misleading or containing manipulated media, including as recent as Wednesday. 

West has long been one of the most vocal users of Twitter, broadcasting thoughts to his 30.9 million followers. He briefly quit Twitter and Instagram in 2017 but soon returned to the platforms. Earlier this year, he talked about his diagnosis for bipolar disorder, and in July, he said he's running for president. He made the move too late to be on the ballot in some states and is viewed as a long shot compared to President Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. 

Meanwhile, Twitter and other social media outlets have been struggling to figure out how to prevent misinformation on their sites, particularly when it comes to people like President Trump. Misinformation on social media is nothing new. Russian agents tried to sway the 2016 US presidential election with divisive tweets and Facebook posts. Message board chatter about "Pizzagate," a conspiracy theory that falsely accused Hillary Clinton and others of operating a child sex ring out of a restaurant, led to gunfire in Washington, DC. Hoaxes, often disguised as legitimate news, have spread far and fast, thanks to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as 4chan, 8kun and other anonymous message boards. 

But social media's inability to contain the explosion of misinformation takes on new urgency as the novel coronavirus pandemic ravages the globe, as Black citizens are fighting for better rights in the US and as the country gears up for the presidential elections on Nov. 3. The role of Twitter and Facebook in spreading news in real time without any checks makes them particularly vulnerable to manipulation.

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iPhone 12 needs iPad Air’s new Touch ID while we’re all still wearing masks – CNET

Apple's new iPad Air integrates Touch ID into a button on the side of the iPad. 

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This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

Apple's new iPad Air relocates Touch ID to a button on the edge of the device. The company's upcoming iPhone 12 lineup should do something similar, giving users an option between unlocking their iPhone using their face or unlocking it with their fingerprint as the world combats the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

On Tuesday, Apple unveiled its newest gadgets, including an updated $599 (£579, AU$899) iPad Air that integrates Touch ID into the power button on top of the tablet. The move makes it easier for you to unlock the device while you're wearing a mask and allows Apple to include a larger screen in its tablet without relying on Face ID to unlock the device. To get Apple's face-unlocking technology in an iPad, users have to opt for one of the company's pricier Pro models. 

When it comes to the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup, Apple would be smart to do something similar. But with its popular smartphone, it should pack in both Touch ID and Face ID to make it much faster to get into device when wearing a mask. The novel coronavirus pandemic, which has been raging around the world for months, likely isn't going away anytime soon. And that means we'll all be wearing masks when leaving the home for the foreseeable future. 

"The focus on the new integrated fingerprint reader likely presages that it will show up in the next iPhone as a hedge against Face ID," Reticle Research analyst Ross Rubin noted. 

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Apple has integrated Touch ID into the button on top of the iPad Air, a first for the company but something commonly found in Android devices. 

CNET

Apple's event, its second virtual presentation during the pandemic, comes at a difficult time. The coronavirus has infected over 29 million people around the globe and killed about 930,000. Millions of people are out of work amid a recession that's hitting the US hard, and COVID-19 shows no signs of abating in many places in the world. People have been scooping up electronics that let them work or take classes at home -- like webcams and laptops -- but they've been shunning purchases like 5G smartphones. This year, the phone industry will see its biggest drop in sales in a decade, according to CCS Insight. 

Apple typically holds a flashy product launch in September to show off its newest iPhones. On those occasions, the Apple WatchiPad and other devices take a back seat to Apple's key smartphone, and the company sometimes holds another event in October for its iPads and Macs. This time around, the focus was on its other products, particularly the Apple Watch and the iPad. Apple earlier this year warned its iPhone production would be hurt by COVID-19, and in late July, it said its newest iPhones, which will sport super-fast 5G connectivity, would be delayed "by a few weeks" because of the pandemic.

As phones get slimmer and sleeker, companies have been looking for ways to cram a bigger screen into a smaller package without carving out space for a fingerprint sensor. Apple has relied on its Face ID to unlock its latest devices instead of a physical fingerprint reader, while other companies have commonly used techniques like embedding fingerprint sensors on the back or sides of devices or integrating the technology underneath the front display itself. 

The COVID-19 pandemic makes the move back toward physical buttons, like the iPad Air's integrated Touch ID, attractive to potential buyers who get frustrated by typing in a passcode every time they want to access their devices. 

Face ID's foibles

Starting with the iPhone 5S in 2013, Apple embedded its fingerprint sensor into a round button on the front of its devices, taking away real estate from the display. In 2017, it ditched the Touch ID-enabled home button in favor of Face ID technology for the iPhone X. Over the following years, Apple packed Face ID into its high-end phones and tablets, a move that allowed it to include bigger screens on the devices but keep a secure, fast way to unlock the gadgets. 

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As the coronavirus ravages the world and people seek protection by wearing masks, more consumers may seek out devices with physical unlock buttons. Apple's Face ID is more secure than Touch ID, but it doesn't work when someone's wearing a mask. In May, Apple made its devices unlock faster while wearing a mask, but it still requires someone to remove the mask for Face ID to work or to type in a passcode. 

Apple brought Touch ID back with March's iPhone SE. In that case, the technology was embedded into the round home button, and many applauded the ease of unlocking the device while wearing a face mask. But the inclusion of Touch ID in the home button limited the size of the phone's display. With the iPad Air, Apple has increased the screen size.

Android device makers, like Samsung, have included fingerprint unlocking technology in buttons on the sides of their phones for years, and they've also integrated the technology underneath the display itself -- something Apple hasn't done. 

While in-screen fingerprint technology is attractive to users and device makers alike, it hasn't worked as well in practice as hoped. Early versions, on devices like Samsung's Galaxy S10, were slow, buggy and easy to hack. Qualcomm, the main provider of the technology, has made steady improvements to in-screen fingerprint technology, but it's still not widely used across the phone industry. 

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Qualcomm will bring 5G to $125 phones from Motorola, Oppo, Xiaomi next year – CNET

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Qualcomm will bring 5G to its Snapdragon 4-Series chips in 2021. 

Qualcomm

5G is coming to even cheaper phones early next year, thanks to new Qualcomm chips -- and Motorola, Oppo and Xiaomi will be selling them. 

When a new technology like 5G launches, it first arrives in high-end, pricey devices and eventually trickles down to less expensive phones. The first 5G phones released last year cost over $1,000 -- the Galaxy S10 5G retailed for $1,300 -- but pricing has been falling quickly

Last year at IFA, Qualcomm vowed to expand 5G to its 6- and 7-series chips, the processors that power midrange devices from companies like Motorola, TCL and Nokia phone maker HMD. 

This year, during a virtual keynote at the Berlin trade show, the San Diego company said the super-fast connectivity will arrive in even lower cost devices that retail for around $125 to $250 because of upcoming chips in its Snapdragon 4-series.

"We're accelerating 5G global commercialization and scale and working to ensure that the most affordable 5G devices worldwide are based on Snapdragon," Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said Thursday during a virtual keynote at the IFA electronics show. 

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He didn't name or detail the chips but said Qualcomm will bring high-end features to lower-cost phones. The company will share more information later.

The novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 25 million people around the globe, has caused companies to rethink their product launches. GSMA canceled Mobile World Congress, the world's biggest mobile show, a week before journalists were due to arrive in Barcelona in late February. Instead of phone launches over the past several months, Apple, Samsung, Huawei and OnePlus all held digital events or introduced devices via press release.

IFA, held in Berlin, is the first big tech convention actually taking place during the outbreak. But it's a far scaled-back event, with a maximum 5,000 attendees instead of 200,000. Americans aren't allowed into European countries like Germany, which means companies like Qualcomm have to participate in the conference remotely. 

The continued advance of 5G is more critical than ever now that the the coronavirus has radically changed our world. The next-generation cellular technology, which boasts anywhere from 10 to 100 times the speed of 4G and rapid-fire responsiveness, could improve everything from simple video conferencing to telemedicine and advanced augmented and virtual reality. But the pandemic has caused people to watch their spending. Many are scooping up devices that help them work or study from home, but they've been shunning new smartphones. 

Bringing 5G to Qualcomm's 4-series Snapdragon chips will go a long way to expanding the connectivity globally. The company estimates it will address regions that have about 3.5 billion smartphone users. 

Motorola, Oppo and Xiaomi all vowed to make phones using Qualcomm's upcoming chips. The first 4-series-powered phones will arrive in the first quarter. 

"2020 marks the year of 5G proliferation," said Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun, who spoke during Qualcomm's IFA keynote. "Xiaomi will become one of the first companies to introduce a smartphone using the 5G 4-series platform."

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Samsung, LG experiment with virtual demo rooms of the future amid IFA conference – CNET

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In the past, Samsung's taken over an entire hall at Berlin's Messe. This year, it's showing its new products in a virtual house tour. 

Samsung

Tech events so far this year have made something clear -- it's not tough for giants like Apple and Samsung to go all-virtual with their launches. But one aspect of a typical tech event doesn't translate to a computer or phones screen: the demo room. Samsung thinks it's found a possible solution.

The company on Wednesday hosted a virtual Life Unstoppable event that coincided with the IFA electronics show in Berlin. It wasn't a typical press conference like the company's two Unpacked events held over the past month. Instead, Samsung used Epic's Unreal Engine for games to build a virtual, 3D tour experience -- a sort of choose-your-own adventure digital demo -- for the media and its partners. 

"Would we have done it if COVID wasn't around? I'm not sure," Benjamin Braun, Samsung's head of marketing for Europe, said in an interview. "That is a different way of presenting new products that no one's done before." 

The novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 25 million people around the globe, has caused companies to rethink their product launches. GSMA canceled Mobile World Congress, the world's biggest mobile show, a week before journalists arrived in Barcelona in late February. Instead of phone launches over the past several months, AppleSamsungHuawei and OnePlus all held digital events or introduced devices via press release. 

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IFA, taking place in Berlin from Sept. 3 to 5, is the only big tech conference with an in-person component this year. But only 5,000 people can attend, far below last year's level of 200,000. While Samsung isn't attending IFA, it's still hosting events, like Life Unstoppable, that coincide with the shortened convention. 

Samsung's virtual house

Participants of Life Unstoppable will navigate around a digital house that contains about two dozen different Samsung devices, ranging from its $3,500 waterproof, outdoor Terrace TV to its updated Galaxy Z Fold 2 foldable phone. The visit revolves around a 45-minute guided tour, but participants are able to branch off on their own to look at the back ports of a TV or circle back to the kitchen to check out the appliances. 

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Samsung's virtual house tour lets participants get more information about devices like the Galaxy Z Fold 2. 

Samsung

Samsung noted that "every detail," from the home's artwork to the furniture's fabric, "was carefully selected following meticulous research into the type of guests that would be visiting Samsung House, resulting in a truly immersive home environment."

There's also an augmented reality component that lets people see what the new products, like TVs, will look like in their own homes. And Samsung noted that immersive 8D audio makes visitors feel like they're really in the home

During Life Unstoppable, Samsung unveiled a host of new products, ranging from a smart video projector called The Premiere to its Wireless Charging Trio pad that can charge a phone, watch and earbuds at the same time. Samsung also introduced a new fitness band, the Galaxy Fit 2; a low-priced 5G smartphone, the Galaxy A42 5G; and the budget Galaxy Tab A7 tablet. 

While Samsung determined Life Unstoppable was the best format for IFA, Braun said, it may go a different route with CES and other trade shows. 

"We constantly need to force evolution, force innovation, not only in our products but also in the way we present ourselves," Braun said. "At some point, once COVID is under control and we're back to potentially physical [events], then we need to rethink them as well. How do we merge the two?"

LG's 'virtual exhibition' and IFA's 'Xtended Space'

Samsung isn't the only company trying to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation by creating a virtual experience for regular show attendees to enjoy in lieu of IFA this year.

On Tuesday, LG launched its IFA "virtual exhibition," demonstrating its latest product lineups within a realistic rendering of its usual IFA home -- the Berlin Messe's Hall 18. 

First impressions show this to be an improvement to the usual in-person experience. No longer must you spend upwards of 30 minutes attempting to navigate the labyrinthine convention center with its many entrances and exits to reach the LG booth, and gone are the hordes of people that usually delay your journey even further.

But as you click through the virtual exhibition, you start to remember why attending these shows in person was important in the first place. 

The cinema screening room in which you are supposed to be able to enjoy the deep blacks of LG's latest screen technology doesn't have quite the same impact when you're viewing it through your own laptop or phone screen. The same is true when testing the sound quality of LG's speakers and headphones in its virtual audio booth.

It's hard to say how cool and effective LG's rollable TV is without being able to examine it from all angles. Maybe it would help if you could navigate the exhibition in VR, which would allow for a more immersive, less static experience. Samsung said its Life Unstoppable home could be viewed in VR, but it was mostly designed for PCs, phones or tablets. 

While LG and Samsung are offering their own takes on the virtual trade show, the wider event is also going online this year via a digital platform it's calling IFA Xtended Space.

Through an online hub, virtual attendees will be able to join live streams of keynotes, press conferences, panel sessions, presentations and virtual exhibitor presentations and match-making opportunities that will allow them to establish new business contacts. New products will even be presented in 3D, although it remains to be seen how easy it is to form a proper first impression of new tech without being able to touch it or hold it in your hands.

IFA's organizers acknowledge that this year's show won't replicate the experience most regular attendees are accustomed to, but they believe its digital platform will offer something novel to people -- whether they're using it to supplement their in-person visit to the show, or to attend remotely.

"A digital platform can hardly compensate for a true on-site experience," IFA Executive Director Jens Heithecker said Tuesday in a press release. "However, the IFA Xtended Space enables all those who are interested to know even more and those who cannot join the IFA 2020 Special Edition physically in Berlin to have a truly unique virtual experience."

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Back-to-school season is here, but the homework gap is still a massive problem – CNET

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The West Contra Costa Unified School District, located beside the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, has struggled to make sure all students have reliable internet access at home. 

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When the coronavirus pandemic forced California schools to close in March, the West Contra Costa Unified School District knew it had a problem. Most of its 29,000 students had school-provided Google Chromebooks, but an estimated quarter of them didn't have access to reliable internet connectivity at home -- something that was vital for attending classes virtually. 

Cities like Richmond and San Pablo, which make up the WCCUSD, are nothing like the tech hub of San Francisco, despite being just across the bay. About 90% of the students are Black, indigenous or people of color, or BIPOC (including 54% Latino), and many of the district's families can't afford home broadband connections. Students would normally cope by doing their homework in a library or restaurant offering free Wi-Fi. Another lifeline: Sprint's charitable 1Million Project, which offered free cellular hotspots to about 1,500 WCCUSD students. 

The pandemic changed everything. When the WCCUSD turned to Sprint's program to secure 1,300 more hotspots for low-income students, it had to buy the devices for $70 apiece. Worse yet, the program would soon end because of T-Mobile's acquisition of the carrier. The combined company's new program, called Project 10Million, will offer free internet service for 10 million US households, but it hasn't yet launched, leaving the district in a lurch. (T-Mobile says it's coming "soon.")

Over five months later, it's back-to-school season. Classes at the WCCUSD will remain virtual for the foreseeable future, thanks to the continued spread of the coronavirus, and the district still hasn't figured out how to fully address the digital divide, which includes an estimated bill of over $3 million to get its students online.

"It's been really rough," Matthew Duffy, superintendent of the WCCUSD, says in an interview. "We're handcuffed by ... how much it's going to cost."

WCCUSD isn't alone. San Francisco, which earlier this month secured $10.5 million in philanthropic funding, still faces a $14.5 million shortfall to equip all students with technology access and devices this school year. California struck a deal with Apple and T-Mobile -- similar to an agreement reached in New York City -- to make up to 1 million discounted, cellular-connected iPads and 4G service available to schools, but the individual districts are responsible for funding the cost. 

As the novel coronavirus continues to ravage the US, schools across the country are figuring out how to hold classes this fall. Some are offering in-person sessions, but others -- like the districts that cover 97% of the 6.2 million students in California -- are opting for remote learning. Thirteen of the 15 biggest US school districts will be fully remote this fall, with their students attending virtual Zoom sessions or completing their Google Classroom homework online. Nearly half a year after the pandemic first shut down schools, many still don't know how to make sure all students can attend virtual classes. 

This shift online has shined a light on a long-standing problem that's only gotten more severe in the age of the coronavirus: the so-called homework gap. The country has wrestled with a digital divide for decades, but the pandemic has exposed some of the most vulnerable populations: Students from poorer urban areas and remote rural districts, with minorities disproportionately hurt by lack of access to connectivity. In California, the wealthiest households are 16 times as likely to have access to home internet as the poorest ones, according to the Greenlining Institute. The worry is that the disconnected students, many who are already disadvantaged, will fall even further behind their more affluent peers. 

"There's so much of this crisis we can't fix," Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who coined the term "homework gap" well before the pandemic, says in an interview. "But the homework gap is something we can solve."

An estimated 18 million people in the US don't have a broadband connection with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, according to a FCC tally from 2020. Experts say the official figures are almost certainly lower than reality because of faulty maps. Another study found about 16.9 million children don't have the home internet access necessary to support online learning during the pandemic, according to a joint study from the Alliance for Excellent Education, National Indian Education Association, National Urban League and UnidosUS. Black, Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native households are even less likely to have adequate connectivity, with one out of three lacking access at home, that study said. 

Schools are being forced to tackle the digital divide problem in their districts, becoming experts in complex broadband options seemingly overnight. That's on top of grappling with how to make sure their low-income students are fed and healthy, and navigating archaic regulations controlling how they receive funding. Various schools around the country have relied on emergency relief funds from the CARES Act to purchase devices and hotspots for students, while others have begged the public and businesses for help funding equipment

"Even before the pandemic we had a homework gap," says Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of advocacy and governance at AASA, the School Superintendents Association. "We all knew it, we all talked about it. It's not as if the pandemic created the homework gap, it's just that we can no longer conveniently have it swept under the rug."

Device shortages

When the coronavirus exploded in China, it didn't just kick off the proliferation of the disease. It also caused a shutdown in the production of electronics that we're still feeling the effects of today. 

The result was supply being unable to meet the demands sparked by the lockdown, from high-definition webcams to computer monitors. For Chromebooks, hotspots and other devices for education, shipping delays have been severe. 

California's Department of Education contacted electronics manufacturers and internet service providers to see what devices were available and what they could provide for the state's schools before remote classes began. It estimated it would need over 700,000 computing devices and more than 300,0000 hotspots to get California students connected this year. 

In April, Google agreed to give 4,000 Chromebooks to California students and provide free Wi-Fi to 100,000 rural households for three months. But the donation is nowhere close to meeting the need in the state. To try to bridge the gap, California reached a deal with Apple and T-Mobile at the beginning of August. 

Apple agreed to make up to 1 million iPads available for California schools by the end of 2020. Districts can buy the year-old, seventh-generation iPad -- the most recent model available -- with cellular capabilities for $379, which is $80 less than what the general public pays and $60 below what students and educators pay on their own. It's still more expensive than the Wi-Fi-only iPad, which costs $329 for the public or $309 for students and educators, but the built-in LTE helps address the connectivity problem. 

T-Mobile's 4G LTE service for the LTE iPads costs about $12 to $17 a month for unlimited data, depending on the length of the contract, the Education Department says. 

"This is a game changer," Tony Thurmond, California state superintendent of public instruction, says in an interview.

As part of that agreement with California, Apple has agreed to prioritize iPad shipments to the state's schools as more supply becomes available, he says. The Cupertino, California, company has earmarked over 200,000 iPads for California districts to purchase immediately, he says. 

"This is significant at a time when there's a run on devices worldwide," Thurmond says, adding that about 70 California districts so far have talked with Apple and T-Mobile about the offer.

At the same time, the state's Department of Education is coordinating with electronics resellers to source other devices like Android tablets. Chromebooks, in particular, are in high demand but in short supply, says Mary Nicely, a senior policy adviser to Thurmond. One vendor has offered to convert a low-cost Microsoft Windows machine into a Chromebook, she says, and companies like Acer and Lenovo are also "trying to prioritize California."

"We're looking at backlog for all of our manufacturers in the millions, but they think that they can get those millions into California by the end of December," Nicely says in an interview. 

Overall, the California Department of Education sent requests to about 100 California companies for help with supplies or donations for remote school this fall. It would cost the state's districts about $500 million to buy enough hotspots and computing devices for students who don't have them. Of those requests, only about 10 companies have responded.

"While some companies have made donations, it's been difficult to get many companies to really lean in," Thurmond says.

California has the benefit of many Silicon Valley companies reporting huge profits as their technology becomes even more vital to keep people connected. In the June quarter, Apple, Facebook and Google reported a combined $23.4 billion in profit. In mid-August, Apple became the world's most valuable tech company, worth over $2 trillion.

"I do hold out hope as these corporations figure out their financial situations post-COVID that there will be more money coming in from the private sector," says Vinhcent Le, technology equity legal counsel at the Greenlining Institute.

But if one of the richest and most powerful states in the country can't bridge the digital divide when it's most dire, what hope do less-connected and poor states have?

Farm country 

A 2.5-hour drive west of Washington DC through forestland and mountains, lies a rural part of West Virginia called Grant County. Most of the 11,600 residents in the 480-square-mile county work on farms, a local power plant, or in nearby factories for poultry production or kitchen-and-bath cabinets.

Grant County is the eighth most sparsely populated county in West Virginia when it comes to students per square mile, the local school district's superintendent says. Grant County Schools serves 1,630 students, all of whom qualify for government-sponsored meals thanks to the low socioeconomic status of about three-quarters of the county's residents, says Grant County Schools Superintendent Doug Lambert. 

Compounding the problem: Only about 54% of Grant County's residents have home internet access, and "we're not sure [they have] the necessary … capacity to do what's ... expected on the internet platforms that we're going to use," Lambert says. A school survey found 44% of respondents don't think their connectivity is fast enough for virtual school. 

grant-county-schools-2

Teachers get ready for the first week of classes at Grant County Schools in West Virginia. The district may have to distribute lessons through paper assignments to the majority of its students if its coronavirus infections don't decline before Sept. 8, the first day of school.

Grant County Schools

While about 5.6% of the overall US population lacks broadband internet, according to the FCC, the percentage jumps to 22% in rural areas. Building out high-speed internet networks is prohibitively expensive when there's only one customer every mile or so. In many rural areas that have some sort of connection, there are only one or two internet providers, and the service available is pricey and spotty. Hospitals, schools and other critical groups have long lacked fast-enough internet to function, and it's now heavily impacting students who will be learning from home. 

Nicol Turner Lee, an expert on connectivity at the Brookings Institution, has proposed parking Wi-Fi-connected buses in rural communities around the US. By one tally, there are about 480,000 school buses that are largely sitting empty. They could be outfitted with solar-powered Wi-Fi routers and parked in underserved neighborhoods to act as community hotspots.

Some schools are doing it. The Florence County School District 2, one of five school districts serving Florence County in South Carolina, parks nine Wi-Fi-enabled school buses in neighborhoods with little broadband access.

"There are going to be traditional routes of access that we'll be able to see like … hotspots, partnerships with libraries, digital parks," Turner Lee says in an interview. "But then there'll be places that we still need to be creative."

Grant County Schools has given families the option of full-time virtual courses this fall, in-person classes or a hybrid of the two. About 18% of students have signed up for the virtual option, but because of the number of COVID-19 cases in the county, it's possible that all students will start the academic year remotely. 

As a result, come Sept. 8, the first day of school, Grant County Schools faces the possibility that the vast majority of its students will only be educated through paper assignments handed out alongside their free daily meals. 

"We will do everything we possibly can to meet the needs of our kids," Lambert says. "But we are very much hindered in the broadband capacity [of the county]."

Because the area is so poor, many families can't afford to pay for service in their homes. Using smartphones as hotspots gets expensive really fast. And the county's topography and remoteness means there are some places that don't have access to broadband at all, even if the families could afford it. 

On top of that, the local internet service provider, Frontier Communications, filed for bankruptcy in April, making it unlikely that it will expand its broadband internet footprint anytime soon. 

Unlike many schools around the country, Grant County Schools didn't offer personal Chromebooks or tablets for students before the pandemic. Instead, it has now refurbished old desktop computers and repurposed the district's classroom laptops for the families who've chosen full virtual classes. 

The remaining 1,200 students will have to wait until November at the earliest for their new Chromebooks to arrive. The district paid about $550,000 for 1,650 Lenovo models using money from the CARES Act and other federal funding that it received at the end of June and early July. Not getting the money earlier meant it was at the end of a long list of orders.  

"All kids are important, all kids are special," Lambert says. "What about my kids? Sometimes we're forgotten because we don't have political cloud."

A national plan

Whether they hail from California or West Virginia, many schools hoped to tap into a tool that's long helped their internet connectivity efforts: a federal assistance program called E-Rate. The FCC-run program provides schools and libraries with internet service that's discounted by 20% to 90%, depending on the poverty level of the area. 

Instead, they found that trying to expand their E-Rate discounts outside of the school walls would hurt them. 

When E-Rate was introduced with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it was designed to discount internet service within building, not throughout the community. But some, like the FCC's Rosenworcel, argue that the E-Rate mandate should be expanded to give schools Wi-Fi hotspots for students with unreliable home internet. 

Now playing: Watch this: As US deals with digital divide, AT&T talks up broadband,...

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It wouldn't be without precedent. In 2011, the FCC ran a pilot program with E-Rate, called Learning On-The-Go, to test providing connectivity for netbooks for students living in remote areas, among other efforts. 

Since E-Rate is a program schools know well, they would be able to easily navigate the system to get more funding. And because the program is already in place, funding could be distributed quickly.

"It's increasingly apparent we organize a lot of fundamental things for our students through schools," Rosenworcel says. E-Rate "is the way to expedite connectivity for the most number of students as fast as possible."

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the rest of the panel have resisted, saying E-Rate can't be used to take steps like distributing hotspots. "Current law specifically allows E-Rate funding only for 'classrooms,' not student homes," the FCC said in a statement. "That's precisely why since March, Chairman Pai has repeatedly called on Congress to establish and fund a Remote Learning Initiative so that more students can get connected and stay online."

One of those members of Congress trying to expand connectivity is Grace Meng, a Democrat from New York. She introduced House legislation in late April, the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020, that called for a $2 billion fund to get internet access to kids at home. The FCC would distribute the money to schools and libraries through E-Rate to buy hotspots and other Wi-Fi devices. 

"We don't want to reinvent the wheel now," Meng says in an interview. "E-Rate is a known program, it's a trusted program, and we think it's the fastest way to go."

In the Senate, Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, filed a companion bill that same month, called the Emergency Educational Connections Act. The bill, co-signed by half a dozen other Democrats, would provide $4 billion for the FCC to distribute via E-Rate. 

While technology funding for disadvantaged students has broad support, the coronavirus stimulus proposals it's packaged with do not. The Heroes Act and the Moving Forward Act, which both contain provisions to fund connectivity, were passed by the House but have stalled in the Senate

Four months after the two education connectivity bills were proposed, there's still no additional funding for E-Rate and internet connectivity, forcing districts to cobble together solutions of their own. Schools in places like California have already begun classes, and the rest of the country will begin within the next month. 

Grant County Schools had hoped to use its school building E-Rate internet service -- which is discounted by 80% from the normal service pricing -- to provide connectivity for families and community members outside the school. The FCC wouldn't allow it. 

"We make emergency changes all the time," Lambert says. "Why can't we make a change at least temporarily to help us get through this with E-Rate? It's fallen on deaf ears."

Instead, Grant County Schools is drawing from $82,000 in funding it received from West Virginia to install five new hotspots around the community. Parents will be able to park their cars outside the new locations -- as well as the two county libraries and four schools -- to tap into the 20Mbps download and upload connectivity. 

But even those 11 community hotspots may not be enough to get students online. The capacity will be shared with whoever's parked nearby -- including the broader community -- and it falls below the FCC's broadband definition of 25Mbps down (though the upload speed is better than the 3Mbps broadband standard).

Calling on the private sector

The private sector has stepped in to fill some of that gap. Carriers like T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T have provided discounted or even free service for families. Device vendors have donated Chromebooks and other laptops and tablets. 

At the start of the pandemic, Verizon reached a deal to provide discounted unlimited data plans for students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second biggest district in the country. Very quickly, it realized other schools would need connectivity for students, and it reformatted its deal to extend it to other districts. The newly formed Verizon Distance Learning Program now has agreements to provide "really favorable" data rates to the rest of California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas through its newly formed Verizon Distance Learning Program. 

"This program is here for as long as COVID-19 is the pandemic that it is," says Andres Irlando, president of Verizon's public sector group that oversees its distance learning work. He declined to specify what rates the schools are paying for their data. 

Hotspots make it easy for students to get online immediately, are ideal in places without fast wired connections and are helpful for families who are unstable with their living situations. But the longer term solution to keep kids connected is getting them hard wired connections at home, experts say. That's where companies like Comcast come in. 

To help during the pandemic, Comcast expanded its Internet Essentials program that connects low-income families for $10 a month. The company believes the moves have addressed problems families have experienced in the past, like being denied service because of older unpaid bills at Comcast.

Through at least the end of 2020, it will stop withholding access from families who have debt less than a year old (it had previously stopped denying service for debt older than that). In March, it boosted the speed of its plan by 10Mbps to 25Mbps, now meeting the FCC threshold for broadband, and it began offering 60 days of free service to families who qualify for Internet Essentials. Comcast also has streamlined its application process to make it easier for families to apply and get approved.

"If you're a family with a student, more likely than not, you're guaranteed an expedited application," says Karima Zedan, who runs Comcast's Internet Essentials business. "We want to get those households connected as quickly as possible."

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Grant County, West Virginia, is a rural part of the state, and not even half of its residents have internet access at home. 

Getty Images

Because it could be tough for some families to afford even $10 a month, Comcast in mid-August introduced its new Internet Essentials Partnership Program that lets cities, schools and nonprofits pay for internet services for families for one or two years. Since the start of the pandemic, Comcast has signed up over 70 schools, covering more than 200,000 students, to the program. Chicago is one district that will make high-speed internet, via Comcast or RCN, available for free to about 100,000 Chicago Public School kids in their homes over the next four years.

"Reliable, high-speed internet is one of the most powerful equalizers when it comes to accessing information," Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot said in a press release announcing the initiative. "This program is a critical component of our … efforts to end poverty."

In Grant Country, Frontier offers discounted home internet service for families through the federal Lifeline program. It lowers the monthly cost of phone or internet access by up to $9.25, but people who qualify can only get a discount on one of the services. 

Across the country, teachers are expecting hiccups as the year gets started virtually. Sara Park, a ninth-grade English teacher at San Francisco Public School's Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, says her first week of classes went more smoothly than in the spring -- but about 15 of the 95 students in her three classes dropped in and out of the sessions because of connectivity, login and other issues.

"I fear that a digital divide this early within a student's trajectory ... ultimately feeds into a divide in whether or not you're going to go to college," Park says. "And [that] then turns into [whether you're] accessing high paying jobs."

Even if students have access to the internet and devices, they -- or their parents -- may not have the digital literacy required to participate in remote school. That includes tasks seemingly as simple as connecting a computer to a hotspot or figuring out how to schedule a meeting on a digital calendar. 

"I truly do fear that even if every student has a laptop and hotspot, there's no ensuring equity," Park says. 

As for the Bay Area's WCCUSD, the school's administrators scrambled to find ways to bridge the digital divide in their district as they prepared for remote classes to start on Aug. 17. Eventually, they identified another T-Mobile program, called EmpowerED, that would provide discounted monthly service and waive the hotspot pricing.

Unlike the Sprint 1Million program, which had strict eligibility requirements like only accepting high-school kids, T-Mobile's EmpowerED is open to more students and is easier to join. But it has a big downside: it's not free. After a three-month free trial, the WCCUSD has to pay a monthly fee of $20 per student for 4G LTE service. And it has to sign a year contract. 

It's costing the cash-strapped district about $540,000 to equip an additional 3,000 students with hotspots -- on top of about $2.5 million it's paying for 6,000 new Chromebooks.

"It adds up really fast," says Tracey Logan, chief technology officer for the school district. The fear for the WCCUSD -- and countless other schools around the country -- is what happens if the pandemic drags into the next academic year. The school district already has to replace about $6 million worth of aging Chromebooks next year, and if even more of its students need home hotspots, the costs could skyrocket. 

"It's not really sustainable beyond a year," Logan says. "Have we bridged the digital divide? Absolutely not."

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Ericsson, UNICEF partner to map school connectivity and bridge digital divide – CNET

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An estimated 360 million young people don't have access to the internet, which limits their opportunities for education and high paying jobs. 

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How do you figure out the best way to bridge the digital divide? You start with maps. 

Swedish networking giant Ericsson and UNICEF are partnering to map school connectivity in 35 countries by the end of 2023. The effort is part of the Giga Initiative, which aims to connect every school to the internet. 

Mapping school internet access is just the first step in making sure connectivity is ubiquitous globally, Heather Johnson, Ericsson vice president of sustainability and corporate responsibility, said in an interview. 

"The ultimate goal is, of course, connecting every school," Johnson said. But "first you have to understand where the gaps are."

The mapping will take place using artificial intelligence and machine learning, Johnson said. Along with committing resources for data engineering and data science, Ericsson also has made a "multimillion-dollar commitment" to the Giga Initiative. The data collected through the mapping process will help governments and private organizations determine where internet connectivity needs to be built.

The world has grappled with a digital divide for decades, with an estimated 3.5 billion people lacking access to stable internet. The novel coronavirus pandemic has made the need for high-speed, broadband internet even more obvious. As people work from home, they require steady connections to get their tasks done and kids need internet access to complete their digital coursework. Without connectivity, none of that is possible, disadvantaging people who live in places without reliable, fast internet access. 

In the US alone, an estimated 18 million people in the US don't have a broadband connection with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, according to a US Federal Communications Commission tally from 2020. Some estimates, which blame faulty FCC maps, are much higher. Globally, 360 million young people don't have internet access, according to the International Telecommunication Union. 

Pandemic-related school closures have impacted 94% of the world's student population and up to 99% of students in low and lower-middle income countries, according to a UN report

"COVID-19 has exacerbated or highlighted the divide that maybe we -- Ericsson -- knew about it, but society at large didn't really understand how much inequity there is by not being connected," Johnson said. 

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Note 20: How do you sell a $1,000 phone during a pandemic? Samsung has a plan – CNET

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra phones

Samsung is launching its highest-end smartphones, including the Note 20 Ultra, during the pandemic.

Samsung

Virtual sales pitches and consultations. Touchless in-store device demos. Deals galore. Those are just some of the plans in Samsung's playbook for selling phones during a pandemic. Last week, the South Korean electronics giant unveiled the Galaxy Z Fold 2 alongside the $999 Note 20, the $1,299 Note 20 Ultra, the $649 Galaxy Tab S7 tablet, the $399 Galaxy Watch 3 and the $170 Galaxy Buds Live earbuds. Samsung has already begun taking preorders for the new Notes. Orders will ship to arrive on or around Friday, Aug. 21. 

Samsung hasn't yet detailed pricing or availability for the Z Fold 2, but said it will share more information on Sept. 1. The first generation of the device cost $1,980 and came with 4G in the US. The new model packs in 5G connectivity across the three major US carriers, a glass screen and a redesigned hinge, all of which could make it even more expensive. 

Samsung, which recently lost its crown as the world's biggest phone maker to Huawei, is launching its new devices in a tough environment. Instead of facing a strong market for phones, with 5G and foldable screens getting people to upgrade their devices, most handset makers are seeing lower demand amid the raging coronavirus pandemic. Millions of people are out of work, hundreds of thousands have died and regions around the globe continue to battle a seemingly unending surge in infections. Consumers are opting for less expensive devices, saving their money altogether or spending their cash on PCs and other work-from-home and entertainment supplies.

Samsung's task with its new lineup is finding buyers willing to fork over a grand or two during a pandemic and recession. The new products were designed before the novel coronavirus spread around the globe, which meant Samsung couldn't tweak the Note 20 or its other new devices to address the pandemic. 

What it could do, though, was change how it goes about selling the Note 20 and the Note 20 Ultra, Drew Blackard, vice president of product management for Samsung Electronics America, said in an interview ahead of the launch event. 

"It was a bit more of how you react to the current situation as opposed to kind of retool everything that you're doing," Blackard said. "Despite the fact that we couldn't change the device, we very much rethought how we go to market."

Now playing: Watch this: First Look: Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra

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That includes those virtual consultations that'll make the online buying interaction more like the in-store experience. Touchless digital demos will give in-store shoppers a glimpse into the Note's features, right from their own devices. And Samsung is exploring ways to tailor its future products and services to the needs of people who are largely stuck at home, like making it easier to track fitness and stay healthy while quarantining. 

Lower phone sales

Samsung's phone sales have taken a hit during the pandemic. Its Galaxy S20 lineup became available about a week before parts of the US issued stay-at-home orders. Because consumers were worried about money -- and couldn't see the new devices in person -- demand fell. Last week, Samsung said its mobile business revenue tumbled 18% from the previous year. 

In the second quarter, Apple was the only smartphone vendor that saw its shipments grow, according to CanalysApple's iPhone SE, its first major revamp of its popular small phone in four years, arrived in mid-April with a starting price of $399. That seemed to be the perfect phone for the times and helped buoy Apple's results. The device costs $300 less than the iPhone 11 but contains many of the same specs, appealing to people who can't afford a $700 phone, let alone a $1,000 iPhone 11 Pro

Samsung, despite launching its new Galaxy S20 lineup in March and its less expensive Galaxy A phones, saw the biggest year-over-year drop of the world's top five phone makers in the second quarter, Canalys said. Its 30% decline allowed Huawei to leapfrog Samsung to become the world's biggest smartphone vendor for the first time, the firm noted. It was the first time in nine years that a company other than Samsung or Apple shipped the most phones.

Samsung, in a statement, said it'll continue to "focus on creating innovative mobile experiences that improve our users' lives." Part of that includes its new devices from Unpacked, and it noted during its earnings in late July that it also will strengthen its "mass-market lineup" of less expensive phones. 

At least in the US, Samsung "found that, actually, demand for premium devices is still quite high," Blackard said. Still, Samsung sold about 44% fewer Galaxy S20 models in the US in the first four months of sales than the Galaxy S10 last year, according to M Science, a data analytics provider that tracks stats like mobile adoption. 

Google, meanwhile, unveiled its new smartphone, the Pixel 4A, last Monday. Instead of introducing a high-end, flagship phone, Google opted to slightly pare back the Pixel's specs to price it at $349. The phone doesn't have 5G or a premium processor, but "for its price, the Pixel 4A has one of the best cameras you can get on a phone," CNET's Lynn La said in her review of the device. 

The new Note 20 lineup is nowhere near that price level, with phones starting at $1,000. For some people at this time, that pricing could be hard to stomach. Working in Samsung's favor is the rabid Note fanbase. 

"What we've shown here in the past five months is we probably have the broadest portfolio of any company in the industry," Blackard said. "We are down to $99 on the A01, up to Galaxy Fold, which is [about] $2,000. ... Our portfolio is very well suited to the current situation."

Still, the new Note lineup has a lot in common with the Galaxy S20 devices from earlier this year.  In the past, the Note got the latest and greatest technology first, and it also had the biggest screen. Now the Galaxy S lineup gets a lot of features first, and the foldables are Samsung's new ultra-premium lineup. There've been questions for years about where the Note fits into Samsung's overall lineup.

"It will be interesting to see whether this will be the last evolution of the Note in its current format," said CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood. "These days consumers tend to hold onto their smartphones for at least three years, so having two flagship launches a year may no longer be necessary."

Encouraging online shopping

A big focus for Samsung during the pandemic is boosting online phone sales, something that hasn't been a huge market in the US. Here, most people buy their phones from carriers like Verizon and AT&T, and they usually at least look at them in person before making the purchase. But the pandemic has forced many stores around the country to close, preventing people from holding new phones in their hands before buying them. 

"People shop on their phones, but they don't shop for phones with their phones," Blackard said. 

To make people more comfortable with buying smartphones online, Samsung started offering contactless delivery and increased the return window for its devices to 30 days from 14. It also created a first responders discount for all of its products, which is on par with Samsung's employee discount. 

Now playing: Watch this: Samsung Unpacked showcases new devices, partnerships

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Since the pandemic began, the amount of US purchases made online across the phone industry has almost doubled compared with in-store, Blackard said. 

Samsung also will be offering virtual consultations starting this month, providing information that would-be buyers typically get when they go into physical stores -- like detailing features of a device, explaining their phone plan and potential deals for the phone and answering questions. 

"From your computer, you'll be able to just log in, and you'll get a Samsung representative who can walk you through that purchase process as if you were there in a retail store," Blackard said. He added that while the consultants initially will be Samsung employees, the company hopes to partner with others, like carriers, to provide the same sort of experience. 

Changing the in-store experience

For stores that are open, Samsung is rolling out a new "touchless digital retail mode" with the Note 20, Blackard said. Typically, people visiting stores pick up new devices and play with them before deciding to buy. Samsung's technology will let people scan a QR code using their own devices and launch "a virtual experience of what it's like to use the Note 20 on the device you have in your hand," he said. 

"People might not want to touch a phone right now as they go into a store," Blackard said. 

Samsung also knows it has to make its devices more attractively priced for consumers. After introducing the Galaxy S20 in March, Samsung offered "work from home bundles" that gave deals on equipment. And last month, it partnered with Postmates to give anyone who bought certain Galaxy devices a free year of Postmates Unlimited, the service that gives free delivery on orders. 

Though the new Note lineup doesn't come cheap, Samsung plans to offer generous promotional deals for the phones. Note 20 buyers will get $100 Samsung.com gift cards, while Note 20 Ultra purchasers will get $150. Samsung also has trade-in offers to give up to $650 for older devices, and it's expanded its upgrade program, which lets device owners get a new Galaxy phone every year. 

And Samsung on Wednesday detailed a new partnership with Microsoft for a gaming bundle that includes three free months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and a Bluetooth controller. The two companies also have worked to bring Android apps to Windows and include other productivity features in Samsung mobile devices, something that's attracted more buyers and could appeal to people who are working from home. 

"The Note occupies an evolving space in Samsung's lineup," Reticle Research principal analyst Ross Rubin said. "Samsung has shifted it toward productivity enthusiasts."

Future products

Huawei, which sells most of its devices in its home country of China, has already made some design tweaks to its phones, like adding a temperature sensor to its Honor Play 4 Pro so the smartphone can work as a thermometer

Samsung isn't ready to talk about changes to its devices, Blackard said, but it's looking at three broad areas for innovation: fitness and health; shopping; and entertainment. 

The areas "are very exploratory," Blackard said. Samsung won't be deploying new services or features immediately but considers them "areas of investigation and product collaboration to bring these solutions to market."

When it comes to fitness, Samsung is exploring tools to help people "figure out ways to exercise from home," Blackard said. For health, Samsung is looking into features to support telehealth, those digital doctor appointments more people are having during the pandemic. 

"How do we dive deeper with consumers on some of the things that they're going through and then ultimately craft solutions around that?" Blackard said.

When it comes to retail, Samsung is exploring ways to improve the online shopping experience. "Considering all the technology we have in these [new Note] devices -- 5G connectivity, great augmented reality solutions, three cameras -- the mobile shopping experience is still pretty basic," Blackard said. 

And with entertainment, Samsung is considering how it can help people enjoy concerts, sports, movies and other content from home instead of in person. Rather than create its own services -- something Samsung has struggled with -- it's opted to partner with other companies over the past several years, like working with Microsoft to offer Xbox Cloud gaming on the Note 20. It's looking at even more ways to work with partners in entertainment, Blackard said. 

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Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 will fit in your pocket better than last year’s model did – CNET

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Samsung has redesigned its Fold foldable, adding a large front screen to the second generation of the device.

Samsung/Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2 resolves one of the biggest complaints about the first generation: the front display. The South Korean electronics giant on Wednesday -- at its first all-virtual Unpacked event -- unveiled the new version of its first foldable from last year. The device sports a screen that stretches across the front of the phone, giving it a flashier and more modern design. 

The Z Fold 2's cover screen is 6.2 inches diagonally, while the interior is 7.6 inches laid flat. Both are Samsung's nearly bezel-free Infinity-O display technology. And the interior foldable display uses the ultrathin glass similar to what's inside the Galaxy Z Flip. The first generation of the Fold had a 4.6-inch outer display and a 7.3-inch interior screen made of plastic. 

Samsung made the body thinner and minimized the gap between the screens, making it fit better in a pocket. The device's "dual intelligent battery" will last all day, Samsung said, and the phone now has 5G for the US model. It will be available on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile in the US. (5G models of the original Fold only launched in select markets like the UK.)

The company also redesigned the Z Fold 2's hinge, giving it a more firm snap to place it flat. A new flex mode will let the device stay open at different angles, similar to the Z Flip. There's no S Pen stylus in the Z Fold 2, despite some rumors saying it would appear in the device.

Now playing: Watch this: Galaxy Z Fold 2: Samsung goes all in on foldable phones

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The Z Fold 2 comes in two colors, mystic black and mystic bronze. Samsung didn't detail a sales date or price for the new device but said it will share more details on Sept. 1. Preorders will also begin that day. The company is hosting an event in lieu of attending the IFA electronics show in Germany.

"Samsung is making a sizable commitment to foldables," CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood said. "Although a small category today, it is of high strategic importance."

Samsung unveiled the device alongside the $999 Note 20 and $1,299 Note 20 Ultra at its event. It also introduced the new $170 Galaxy Buds Live earbuds, $649 Galaxy Tab S7 tablet and $399 Galaxy Watch 3.

The Z Fold 2 and other devices come at a tough time for the mobile industry. Last year's new innovations of 5G and foldable screens were supposed to get cheaper and more readily available in 2020, giving consumers a reason to upgrade. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic has been battering phone sales as consumers opt to save their money or spend it on PCs and other work-from-home supplies. Millions of Americans are out of work amid a recession, more than 700,000 people have died worldwide and countries around the globe continue to battle unending infections.

In the second quarter, Apple was the only smartphone vendor that saw its shipments grow, according to Canalys. Samsung, despite launching its new Galaxy S20 lineup in March, saw the biggest year-over-year drop of the world's top five phone makers. Its 30% decline allowed Huawei to leapfrog it to become the world's biggest smartphone vendor for the first time, the analyst firm said. It was the first time in nine years that a company other than Samsung or Apple shipped the most phones

"This is a remarkable result that few people would have predicted a year ago," Canalys senior analyst Ben Stanton noted. "If it wasn't for COVID-19, it wouldn't have happened. Huawei has taken full advantage of the Chinese economic recovery to reignite its smartphone business."

It's unlikely the new Fold or Note 20 will help it fend off Huawei. The devices are the most expensive phone lineups that Samsung offers, and the foldable in particular could be a tough sell for consumers who are guarding their wallets.

Last year's Fold, which started at $1,980, wasn't meant to go mainstream or attract a huge number of buyers. For Samsung, it was a way to show what was possible with its display technology -- and gain bragging rights by introducing one of the world's first foldable phones. But instead of boasting, Samsung faced problems ahead of the Fold's launch. The company delayed the launch of its first Fold, by five months from April 2019 to September, after some journalists found screen defects in their review units.

Samsung followed up with its Flip in February, its second foldable but its first to use glass instead of plastic. The device was Samsung's do-over, and its clamshell design proved to be popular with buyers. A 4G version of the Galaxy Z Flip went on sale for $1,380 on Feb. 14, and Samsung introduced a $1,450 5G model ahead of Unpacked. 

"After releasing two foldable devices and listening to user feedback on the most requested upgrades and new features, Samsung delivers the Galaxy Z Fold 2 with meaningful innovations that offer users an enhanced refinements and foldable user experience," Samsung said Wednesday in a statement. 

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Samsung’s struggle: Selling the high-end Note 20 and Z Fold 2 in a pandemic – CNET

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Samsung's Note lineup -- including last year's Note 10 -- has fervent fans.

Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung's mobile business has a new test this year: Getting buyers to fork over $1,000 during a pandemic. 

At 7 a.m. PT Wednesday, the company will host its first virtual Unpacked event, broadcasting live from South Korea. It's expected to unveil five devices, which likely include a new smartwatch and earbuds, as well as a tablet. Importantly, Samsung will show off its new Galaxy Note 20 and its Galaxy Z Fold 2.

Those phones won't be cheap. The Note and foldable lines are actually the most expensive mobile devices Samsung makes. Even before the pandemic, Samsung was struggling to sell phones that cost $1,000 or more. One of the biggest innovations of last year's Note 10 was a $50 price drop to $950. (Its Note 10 Plus, however, came in higher, at $1,099).

This year around, prices likely won't be lower. The full Note 20 lineup, at least in the US, is expected to include 5G connectivity, which boosts the cost of making a device. Consumers who've been waiting for a Note that can tap into many different 5G networks may scoop up the device. Others could decide to save their money and wait until those 5G networks are more widespread. 

"People who had been waiting to upgrade their phones may decide this is the time to do it," Technalysis Research analyst Bob O'Donnell said. "But I do think it's going to be more challenged."

The Note 20 isn't the first major phone to launch during the pandemic. Apple and Samsung have both sold new phones this year, as have LG, Motorola and OnePlus. But Samsung's phones tend to sell in much higher volumes than the devices from its Android peers. And its chief rival, Apple, hasn't yet attempted to sell a high-end, flagship phone during the pandemic. Apple's lone new smartphone this year has been the $399 iPhone SE. Its first 5G iPhones aren't expected until this fall.

Google, meanwhile, on Monday unveiled its new smartphone, the Pixel 4A. Instead of introducing a high-end, flagship phone, Google opted to slightly pare back the Pixel's specs to price it at $349. The phone doesn't have 5G or a premium processor, but "for its price, the Pixel 4A has one of the best cameras you can get on a phone," CNET's Lynn La said in her review of the device. 

Samsung's flagship phone from earlier this year, the Galaxy S20, went on sale as China and parts of Europe grappled with COVID-19. About a week after it hit stores, regions of the US started issuing stay-at-home orders to battle the virus. At the time the Galaxy S20 became available, most consumers had no idea how much the pandemic would change their lives.

Now millions are out of work amid a recession that is hitting the US hard, hundreds of thousands have died and places around the globe continue to battle a seemingly unending surge in infections. In the US, Samsung sold about 44% fewer Galaxy S20 models in the first four months of sales than the Galaxy S10 last year, according to M Science, a data analytics provider that tracks stats like mobile adoption. 

Now playing: Watch this: Samsung Galaxy Note 20: What we want to see

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This year was supposed to be a good one for the phone industry. Last year's new innovations of 5G and foldable screens were supposed to get cheaper and more readily available in 2020, giving consumers a reason to upgrade. Instead, financial struggles and worries about COVID-19 will limit the number of devices companies can make and how many phones people will actually buy. Even once the worst of the pandemic is behind the US and other markets, the global economy will likely continue to struggle.

Samsung isn't only dealing with hesitation about $1,000 devices, it's also facing the challenge of selling a pricey flagship phone -- as well as an even more expensive foldable -- during a global pandemic.

Tae-moon Roh, the Samsung executive who oversees the company's mobile business, in July wrote a blog post calling the current era the "Next Normal" and said there will be "even bolder innovation" going forward. "We'll make mobile technology that's more personal, intelligent, useful and secure," he wrote. 

Still, the global smartphone market should tumble 12% this year, according to International Data Corp. The industry has its worst three months ever in the second quarter and shipments likely won't grow until early 2021, the firm says. 

"There's no question that challenges lie ahead for the smartphone industry," IDC analyst Ryan Reith said. 

Cheaper and cheaper

Most of the high-profile phones launching since the pandemic have fallen in the mid- or low-price brackets. Apple's iPhone SE, its first major revamp of its popular small phone in four years, arrived in mid-April with a starting price of $399. That seemed to be the perfect phone for the times. The device costs $300 less than the iPhone 11 but contains many of the same specs, appealing to people who can't afford a $700 phone, let alone a $1,000 iPhone 11 Pro

Apple has sold nearly 3 million units of the device in the US from mid-April through early July, according to M Science. 

"The iPhone SE is performing better than expectations even in the pandemic," said Mark Bachman, the lead tech and telecom analyst at M Science. "It's proven to be a nice, low-cost opportunity to be an Apple [device] owner."

Samsung in April unveiled lower-priced phones of its own, its new Galaxy A Series. The devices range in price from $110 for the Galaxy A01 to $600 for the Galaxy A71 with 5G. On the other end of the spectrum is a 5G version of Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip, which goes on sale Aug. 7 for $1,450 -- $70 more than the 4G model from February. 

One of the most notable new mid-range phones is Google's Pixel 4A. While priced at only $350, it sports a premium camera that rivals those on Apple and Samsung devices. The phone will launch Aug. 20 through Verizon, US Cellular, Amazon and BestBuy.com. Google also plans to offer the more expensive Pixel 4A 5G and the Pixel 5 at a later date.

"We priced [the Pixel 4A] aggressively," Brian Rakowski, Google vice president of product management, said in an interview with CNET's Richard Nieva. He added that the company made "trade-offs" with features so it could hit that price.

While lower-priced phones have tended to do well over the last few months, other high-end phones have hit the market during the pandemic, including the $800 LG V60 ThinQ (add $100 to $150 for the Dual Screen case), the $999 Moto Edge Plus, the $899 OnePlus 8 Pro and the $1,200 Sony Xperia 1 II

But prices for 5G phones are dropping a lot faster than for 4G phones in their early days, analysts say. That's especially true as consumers spend their money on devices like computers and other tools for working from home, not necessarily new smartphones. 

"This will result in even more aggressively priced 5G smartphones than expected prior to the pandemic," IDC's Reith said. 

Note fanboys

Working in Samsung's favor is the popularity of the product it's launching. The Note has a fervent fan base, even with the battery problems and 2016's Note 7 recall.

The first Galaxy Note, from late 2011, was an anomaly for its time. It included a 5.3-inch screen, much larger than the iPhone 4S' 3.5-inches screen, with a stylus to scribble on the display. Early reviews didn't know what to make of the Note, but Samsung didn't abandon the lineup. Instead, it put its riskiest and most innovative technologies, like its curved display and iris scanner, into the Note before expanding them to other devices.

That stopped with last year's Galaxy Fold, the first Samsung device to incorporate a foldable display. The move -- effectively creating a flashier, higher end lineup -- raised questions about who the Note is really for and where it fits in Samsung's portfolio. At the same time, the Galaxy S lineup has gotten bigger and has started incorporating innovative technologies before they head to the Note. 

Even though the Note may not be Samsung's flashiest device anymore, it still has plenty of fans. And its admirers tend to be tech early adopters and people who don't mind spending more money on a phone. It's likely many of those people haven't seen their finances change during the pandemic. If they had planned to buy a Note before COVID-19's spread, they'll probably still do so.  

"At the end of the day, the people who are the target market for these products," Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said, "have not been necessarily impacted by the pandemic." 

Fold challenges

Even with its loyal fans, Samsung's sales may not be as high as for normal Note launches. And when it comes to the Fold, Samsung could face an even bigger challenge attracting buyers. The first version of the device, which featured a small front screen and opened into a tablet, cost $1,980 when it went on sale in September. And that version only included 4G. Samsung didn't offer a 5G version in the US, but it likely will this time around. 

Adding 5G to this year's Galaxy Z Flip boosted that device's price by $70 to $1,450 and Samsung likely will increase the Fold 2's price or at least keep it the same as the first model. 

Fold buyers in particular may need some sort of incentive to purchase the device, like offering an upgrade program. Earlier this year, Samsung launched a buyback program that offers to credit 50% of the full retail price to a customer's payment account if they buy a Galaxy S20 directly from Samsung and return the device within two years. In late July, it said it would do the same for its upcoming, unnamed Galaxy device, likely the Note 20. 

It didn't mention its foldables, which weren't yet old enough to be ready for upgrade. But now, the second-generation Fold is expected to make big improvements from the first generation, especially when it comes to the materials and front-facing screen. 

Last year's Fold used a plastic foldable display, while the Flip uses glass. It's likely that Samsung will switch to glass for its Fold 2. And one of the big criticisms against last year's Fold was the difficulty using the small front screen. Samsung could boost the display's size and it's also rumored to be including a stylus with this year's Fold. 

Those are all features that an earlier Fold user may like to have -- but may not want to spend another $2,000 on so soon. To get around that, Samsung could offer some sort of trade-in program or other benefits to someone buying the new Fold. 

"Why not encourage the upgrade and give them either a high-value trade-in or something they actually get them on the new product?" Milanesi said. "Especially given the times, it would be a nice gesture."

5G first

One of the biggest expected changes in the Note 20 from last year's Note 10 is the incorporation of 5G across the whole lineup. 

5G is expected to change the way we live, particularly as the world grapples with the pandemic. It could improve everything from simple video conferencing to telemedicine and advanced augmented and virtual reality. But networks are still being rolled out across the US and world, limiting 5G's benefits. And 5G-enabled devices still cost more than their 4G predecessors. 

Last year's Note lineup came with a 5G variant, but it was hobbled in many ways. The device didn't work on all networks or tap into all flavors of 5G. The first Galaxy Note 10 Plus with 5G was initially only available for $1,300 on Verizon's network. Later in 2019, a model with a different modem for AT&T and T-Mobile become available. Both versions could only tap into certain early 5G networks, not the broad and super-fast networks planned by the carriers. 

Buying a 5G Note 10 meant it would really only be useful for a year or so -- at best -- if a user wanted to access the full benefits of 5G. As people hold onto their phones for longer -- three years in the US, up from the previous two -- it's key to future-proof whatever devices they buy. It's likely that Samsung's Note 20 will tap into more types of 5G and Samsung likely will only introduce 5G variants of the device, at least in the US. 

At the same time, adding 5G to the Note will likely add to the cost of the device, something that could work against the company. The base Galaxy S20 costs $250 more than last year's lowest-end Galaxy S10 and this year's Note 20 could also be pricier than previous 4G-only models.

For people living in areas without 5G, it could be more attractive to buy an older, cheaper 4G Samsung device or wait to buy a new phone until 5G is widespread. 

Samsung's Galaxy S20 lineup was the first to include all 5G options, something very new for consumers. In the US, many people still prefer to see phones in person at a carrier or electronics stores before buying them. Because the pandemic closed many stores across the country, that hurt sales.

Hesitation about 5G in general likely played a role in the Galaxy S20's lower sales, M Science's Bachman says. In the US, consumers bought 2.3 million Galaxy S20 units in their first four months on the market, well below the 4.1 million tallied for the Galaxy S10 and 4.7 million for the Galaxy S9, his firm said. 

Instead, Galaxy S20 sales were on par with those of the Note, which has never sold as well as the Galaxy S lineup. Last year, US consumers purchased 2.4 million Note 10 devices in the first four months it was available. 

"The S20 … was made for somebody who could operate on a 5G network," M Science's Bachman said. "Of course, it would operate on a 4G network, but you're paying a premium for that phone." The 5G tax is something many people weren't willing to pay.  

Samsung's new Galaxy A71, which costs $600 for the 5G model, is likely cannibalizing some Galaxy S20 sales, Bachman said. It hit the market in the US in June and buyers save about $400 by buying that device and not the lowest end Galaxy S20. 

Now Samsung has to hope potential Note buyers don't do the same.

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