back to article Sensors, not CPUs, are the tech that swings the smartphone market

A computer without sensors is a pitiful, useless thing. Keyboards are sensors, as are mechanical-optical paper-tape readers, magnetic heads on storage discs, and the logic scanning for ones and zeroes on an ethernet interface. Everything a computer does - outside of calculations - involves a sensor. Despite this, we tend to …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >we tend to judge of our computers by their CPUs, rather than their complement of sensors

    Because all the major tech companies are busy desperately dumbing down the clients so you'll continuously need services from them you never needed before and you don't really need now.

    Like storage, or music streaming and licensing.

    Give me a phone which can run a bog-standard linux distro and applications please, and give me a linux distro which can run on a phone. Then you can take your cloud services and shove 'em, er, where the sun don't shine.

    1. Richard Jones 1

      Re: >we tend to judge of our computers by their CPUs, rather than their complement of sensors

      A bit like my reaction to all of the hype in one report only the word that kept flashing into my mind and obscuring the read in big letters was;

      WHY?

      Does no one understand that the market is NOT one market but a whole range of different market segments? I have almost given up looking for a new mobile to replace my old Nokia as nothing I have seen comes close enough to meeting my needs.

      They may well be perfect for the needs of others, al they are both lucky and welcome to their devices, but they simply cannot do what I explicitly need.

    2. Frank Bough

      Re: >we tend to judge of our computers by their CPUs, rather than their complement of sensors

      Either your post was a beautifully crafted satire or you exemplify everything that's wrong with IT.

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: >we tend to judge of our computers by their CPUs, rather than their complement of sensors

      >Give me a phone which can run a bog-standard linux distro and applications please, and give me a linux distro which can run on a phone.

      I won't give it to you, you can buy it yourself! If you want command line Linux applications on a phone, a Ubuntu phone will do that, or a Sailfish in some circumstances.

      If you want to use Linux GUI applications on a phone, then you are a masochist.

      (I tried using Inkscape on an Android phone. It was a horrible experience. I can imagine the same is true of many GUI Linux applications on a small touchscreen. )

      Good luck.

      1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: >we tend to judge of our computers by their CPUs, rather than their complement of sensors

        If your phone is easier to use over VNC than in real life, you need a different phone ( ie: one that doesn't run Gnome/KDE )

  2. jake Silver badge

    That's not "sensors" ...

    ... Computers consist of CPU, Memory, and I/O. That is it. Three simple concepts.

    Your "sensors" are just the tools that allow humans to use the triumvirate.

    For small values of "use", from my perspective ...

    1. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: That's not "sensors" ...

      It's normally called IO but this article says 'sensors' which is an engineering term. You can run a computer with a Morse code key as input and a beeper as output. That would be very boring.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    OT: That cold war thing.

    From 1945 the Soviets bugged the US embassy with a predecessor of the RFID tag called "the thing"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thing_(listening_device)

    It was active for 7 years and had no electrical components, drawing its power from radio waves beamed at it. Reading resonance is really old hat which I shall pick up along with my coat.

  4. kmac499

    Swiss Army Phone.

    You stopped a bit early in your sensor list,what about the

    Compass

    GPS

    NFC

    Touch screen\Finger print

    But I do agree with other posters. The packaging of current 'phones' as slabs that can pretend to be miniature TV's\Games Console is dumb. There is still a huge market for a good mobile phone that fits in a pocket and runs for a few days.

    1. Doctor_Wibble
      Thumb Up

      Re: Swiss Army Phone.

      > There is still a huge market for a good mobile phone that fits in a pocket and runs for a few days.

      Or better yet, a week or two! And have an upvote.

      I wonder how many people have a smartphone not because they wanted one but because that was what was on offer or because the deals were structured to steer them that way?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Swiss Army Phone.

        I wonder how many people have a smartphone not because they wanted one but because that was what was on offer...

        I think that the marketing droids miss the point when they call it a smartPHONE when in fact it is a miniature tablet that MIGHT be capable of making phone calls.

        When my very old Nokia phone fell apart (it was that old) I ended up with a very cheap smartphone because that was all that was available at the time. It does make phone calls most of the time and I can get three days between charges from it (unlike the Nokia which would go three WEEKS between charges) but as far as I'm concerned the remainder of the 'gubbins' on it are redundant.

        1. dotdavid

          Re: Swiss Army Phone.

          "When my very old Nokia phone fell apart (it was that old) I ended up with a very cheap smartphone because that was all that was available at the time"

          You know I've never understood that. You can get a Nokia 105 from Amazon for under £20 that will do anything an old Nokia can do (including last for weeks on battery) plus more, and that certainly isn't a smartphone.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Swiss Army Phone.

            @dotdavid, I know all that but as I said the smartphone was all that was available AT THE TIME. The old Nokia fell apart just as I was trying to make an urgent call. I therefore dashed into the nearest electronics retailer and got the cheapest no sim phone they had. It does have one advantage over my old phone - dual sims which is very convenient on my travels around Europe.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      Re: Swiss Army Phone.

      "There is still a huge market for a good mobile phone that fits in a pocket and runs for a few days."

      You mean like a £10 - £20 Moto / Nokia / Samsung / LG then?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pedant

    "Everything a computer does - outside of calculations - involves a sensor"

    Technically, a transistor involves a sensor of sorts, and therefore all the calculations involve sensors too.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Pedant

      Sensors are meant to convert changes in some physical quantity (force or pressure, conductivity, radiation, etc.) into a signal that can be processed further. However, it's a bit of a stretch to think of a transistor as a sensor that is used to detect the quantity of electrons at its base/gate, and turning it into a greater quantity of electrons.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At the Apple koolade again?

    Quote "Although CPU is important on a smartphone - my iPhone 6S Plus is faster than any desktop I’d purchased before this year"

    You must have either been buying very slow desktops, or not bought one for several years.

    The A9 chip in the iPhone 6S, is about equivalent to an Core 2 Duo E6700, which while it was the top of the line CPU in its day, that day was in the middle of 2006. So almost a decade ago.

    1. Known Hero

      Re: At the Apple koolade again?

      Yes I wondered about that statement as well, wasn't going to say anything due to fanboi's till I read you post and thought Fair enough, strength in numbers. ;)

      Also queried the "My invention section", Cool thing to do when up against the wall but trying to promote your own gear or genuinely just for info? especially considering VR is becoming all the rage, Is that the reason for this article ?

      Meh maybe I'm just being cynical.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: At the Apple koolade again?

      The A9 chip isn't just doing CPU duties, it's doing GPU duties too - so all I'm saying is that there are a few ways of interpreting the "Y is faster than Z claim".

      There is also the task-based measure of speed - how long does this thing take to open an email client, for example. I would imagine that the iPhone would load its mail client faster than any desktop computer that uses a spinning rust HDD. You might cry foul, saying that an app on iOS or Android app is smaller than a Windows/Linix equivilent, but he was clearly comparing two computing systems, not two CPUs.

      Of course, the same is true of the top offerings from Qualcom or Samsung, too. The article author was just using the iPhone as an example against desktop computers, and wasn't comparing it to other phones.

      In any case, Intel chips haven't got that much faster year-on-year recently... they have been 'fast enough' for some time, so Intel have concentrated on making them more power efficient (tangible benefits include longer battery on laptops, quieter operation and smaller form-factors on desktops.)

      1. joeldillon

        Re: At the Apple koolade again?

        Modern Intel chips are doing GPU duties too, though...

        (and to then say he wasn't comparing CPUs when he specifically says '. Although CPU is important on a smartphone - my iPhone 6S Plus is faster than any desktop I’d purchased before this year', and then discount SSDs on top of that...really?)

        Mobile phone CPUs are not faster than desktop CPUs, by any stretch of the imagination. Given the size and power disparity, this should not be surprising. They may be /fast enough/ for most people's uses, but that's not the same thing.

        1. elwe

          Re: At the Apple koolade again?

          "Apple cleverly added a proximity sensor - infrared reflected off skin"

          I had a Nortel with an IR proximity sensor in 1997...

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: At the Apple koolade again?

            >"Apple cleverly added a proximity sensor - infrared reflected off skin" - I had a Nortel with an IR proximity sensor in 1997...

            I once had a capacitive touchscreen phone that lacked a (ear) proximity sensor... after waiting on hold to a utility company for twenty minutes and just getting through to a human, my cheek brushed the 'End Call' button. The phone was lucky not to be thrown across the car park.

            The first iPhone had a very poor battery life (one of the reasons it lacked 3G) so the proximity sensor also helped in that regard, as noted in the article. I don't know about your Nortel, but I imagine it had a reasonable battery life anyway.

      2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

        Re: At the Apple koolade again?

        "There is also the task-based measure of speed - how long does this thing take to open an email client, for example."

        That's my benchmark. How long does the box take to do stuff, so I can get stuff done.

      3. Known Hero
        Mushroom

        Re: At the Apple koolade again?

        Dave 126: I would imagine that the iPhone would load its mail client faster than any desktop computer that uses a spinning rust HDD.

        Lets skew the results even more too!!!! Lets make sure that the top of the line phone is competing against a Aldi £220 computer. Lets also have it running on 215mb of ram & half a keyboard as the other half got melted in the fire from the shitty PSU.

        Dave 126: The article author was just using the iPhone as an example against desktop computers,

        Which is a stupid comparison, and he was wrong at the same time, hence the replies.

        allthecoolshortnamesweretaken: That's my benchmark. How long does the box take to do stuff, so I can get stuff done.

        Would you not include time taken to complete task then ? e.g. how long to write the email reply included with time taken to open & send?

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: At the Apple koolade again?

          I have no need to skew the comparison, Known Hero. In fact my very first sentence included " all I'm saying is that there are a few ways of interpreting the "Y is faster than Z claim"."

          The original author made a throw-away comparison, but he knows what the last-but-one desktop computer he bought was. We do not.

          He could have used any new flagship smartphone, and the chances are his claim would still hold, so I didn't see it as 'Apple Koolaid' (which OP claimed) since 'Koolaid' is used colloquially to cast doubt on someone's judgement. In this case undeservedly so, since the author's claim is plausible - or likely even, if his last few PCs have been laptops.

          He wasn't saying 'Apple is great', but that 'Moores Law means you can get a lot of grunt in small package today'.

          ( There are people who will tell you that the iPhone is faster than damned-near any other phone, but they defend against claims of Koolaid by describing their testing methodology and any hurdles in conducting a truly objective test: http://www.anandtech.com/show/8554/the-iphone-6-review/5 )

          1. Known Hero

            Re: At the Apple koolade again?

            dave 126: I have no need to skew the comparison, Known Hero.

            Then why define the need for it to be running spinning rust? Its the only situation in which your statement would hold up, that predefined requirement.

            regarding handling GPU as well Take a gander at some of the AMD A10 APU's chips I doubt very much they will crunch slower than a A9, thermal throttling is a PITA

            And on top of it all, loading faster has little to do with CPU & GPU cycles nowadays, its as we argue about, mainly Drive speed. so then to compare the CPU/GPU is idiotic (author not you) when comparing load times.

            Personally my 3-5 year old gaming desktop loads Much faster than my 2 year old flagship Sony phone.

            God knows how long it would take to load 3gigs of textures on my phone into a running process!!!!

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Re: At the Apple koolade again?

              >Then why define the need for it to be running spinning rust?

              No worries, Known Hero! The spinning rust was just was just low-hanging fruit. Like I said, there are many ways of judging 'faster', and the 'last-but-one desktop*' could cover such a range of machines that it's silly. :)

              It's all good though - even a £25 Chromecast or Raspberry Pi can shunt out HD video at a faster framerate than many a desktop I've seen, desktops that for many popular tasks aren't frustratingly slow.

              *The original author would not be too unusual if he had last bought a desktop in, say 2005, and had since just used laptops.

    3. kryptylomese

      Re: At the Apple koolade again?

      came here to say this

      +1

    4. DougS Silver badge

      Comparing A9 to x86

      It isn't quite so easy to say "it compares to X" CPU since most benchmarks aren't all that good.

      But assuming that's the case, that E6700 bought in 2006 would have vastly inferior graphics, and have a spinning hard drive instead of flash. I'd consider the SSD the biggest advance in computer performance in a generation. Any PC with a spinning hard drive - no matter what the CPU and GPU - is inferior to an iPhone 6S performance wise for real world use because of that. Yeah, your game on an 8 core extreme CPU with a $400 GPU that sounds like a jet engine may run at some incredible frame rate, but once you start doing something that has to hit the filesystem very much in a random fashion (like copying a big folder of small files) your performance will drop through the floor.

      Not trying to toot Apple's horn here, the A9 is faster than the SoCs from Qualcomm and Samsung but not by a huge amount. This is more about how transistor performance has evolved over time to the point where a CPU consuming 2 watts can perform at an appreciable fraction of a CPU that consumes nearly 100 watts. That's pretty cool no matter what brand of phone it is found in!

  7. dotdavid

    "Every major manufacturer will have their own Gear VR-like plastic case for wearing their latest top-of-the-line handset"

    I can see that; all the manufacturers are looking for ways to differentiate considering they basically all run Android. Unfortunately it won't work - I bet I'm in the majority of people that would never buy a Gear VR or similar unless it was compatible with all Android phones.

  8. Dave 126 Silver badge

    It's just an assumption that the author has been buying lots of recent desktops. The sales figures for desktops support the idea that many people find an older PC with no sdd fast enough.

    It is perfectly possible for an iPhone - or Snapdragon or Samsung SoC to be faster than an older, but still fast enough, PC

  9. Smooth Newt

    A computer without sensors is a pitiful, useless thing.

    You might want a decent screen too for VR, unless you enjoy motion sickness.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: A computer without sensors is a pitiful, useless thing.

      Quite a few modern phones already have a far higher pixel density than benefits the reading of web-pages and the like. Indeed, some of them boast so many PPI that one suspects it is more motivated by bragging rights than user utility, especially given the detrimental effect on the battery.

    2. Captain Queeg

      Re: A computer without sensors is a pitiful, useless thing.

      That's a really good point - and it applies more widely. The trouble with smartphones in general is that they're adequate at everything, but class leading at nothing.

      - OK as a camera, but not really with the ergonomics of a camera

      - OK battery life, but nothing like as long ad dumb phones

      - OK as a sat nav - but not as accurate or durable as a dedicated unit

      - OK as a music player, but not the sound quality of a dedicated unit

      the list goes on. I accept that the convenience of being a Swiss army knife weighs hugely against these deficiencies, but as the OP pointed out not as capable as hardware VR and if you need VR I imagine you need good VR.

      VR as a consumer offering feels like another misstep in the mould of Google Glass or the Apple Watch.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: A computer without sensors is a pitiful, useless thing.

        >OK as a sat nav - but not as accurate or durable as a dedicated unit

        As a sat-nav, phones do have one trick up their sleeve over dedicated units: real time traffic information. Indeed, if you are feeling social, you can install an app that will add to the pool of real-time data, to everyone's benefit.

        >- OK as a music player, but not the sound quality of a dedicated unit

        That depends on the phone; some are very good, like the LG G2 or some variants of the Galaxy S3. But yeah, a dedicated player can be left plugged into your amp when a phone call comes in.

        But yeah, I absolutely accept your general point, my quibbling aside.

  10. Ru'

    "Everything a computer does - outside of calculations - involves a sensor."

    Ignoring output devices like screens etc. I guess?

  11. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    There was/is a thread from a couple of days ago where VR is discussed. If I may be allowed to quote from that:

    The real problem of VR is that you look like a dick using it.

    VR is potentially very usefull in some CAD applications; most of it works fine and dandy on a screen. Other applications might include remote control of "robots", augmented reality in maintenance or assembly line scenarios. And, of course, porn. And that's it. (Incidentally, in these situations it probably doesn't really matter that much how you look.)

    Oh, and I think I could have written the exact same post some 20 years ago - perhaps I did.

    .

  12. kuiash

    Yes they are... sad, confused things. I used to hit "RUN" and enter - Nothing - I'd fucked it up. The machine had no senses anymore - SHIFT+SPACE - maybe... unless I'm on MCode... It can't hear me. The cogs churn but no flour is milled.

    It's gone... It only responds to power.

    Or a screwdriver in the back.

    That moment when an X Session just winks out... maybe you can get back in... maybe.

    Now: Shake to reset. Violently... It heard me! *BOOM*

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I would dearly love a smartphone that was primarily a computer with a phone function added.

    One that I could easily load up a copy of one of the l*nux flavours on, or even a suitably licensed W*ndows version (should I suffer some brain trauma) & run the same applications as I get on my PC, I don't give a sh*t about crap like angry birds, but a decent office suite - yeah I'd be interested.

    A smartphone where the Operating System controls the entire phone, rather than the code in the radio rom, which is not updateable, full of bugs and exploits, being the master in the master/slave set up. A smartphone where a secure OS is enough to secure the phone from the bad guys.

    An operating system that doesn't haemorrhage information unless I specifically tell it to and then only releases those bits I've approved of.

    Basically a laptop in a smartphone form factor.

    But this will never happen, will it.

  14. moiety

    I've got no problem with loading phones up with sensors. It's where the data goes that worries me. Sensors on my equipment that I've paid for should be for my benefit and my benefit alone; and should require my explicit permission before broadcasting *ANYTHING* to *ANYBODY*.

    That, alas, is not how it seems to work these days.

    Really, I'm amazed at how far we've fallen, in so short a time. If you'd told someone from 20 years ago that they could have an OS for free but that would report everything back to the mothership in another country; they would have told you to get off and milk it.

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just a thought.

    How powerful is a Raspberry Pi these days ? are there any other SBC's that could be used

    Anyone built a phone add board on for one ?

    OK a home brew smartphone would be a bit bulky & probably wouldn't be feasible given available hardware today but who knows what would be available tomorrow.

    And it would do what you told it to, release what information you said it could & nothing else.

  17. Crisp Silver badge

    Gear VR is a fantastic piece of hardware...

    It's the software support that lets it down.

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