Weekend Roundup: Bye, BlackBerry; Coronavirus May Impact iPhone

It’s the weekend! And what a week it was: The Iowa Democratic caucuses’ reliance on an iPhone and Android app produced what might turn out to be the biggest technology meltdown of the year, the controversy over facial-recognition technology has entered a new arena, and manufacturers just can’t seem to give up folding phones.

Here are some other big stories that dominated over the past seven days:

Could the Coronavirus Impact iPhone Manufacturing?

As the world wrestles with how to contain the coronavirus, which has infected more than 28,000 people in China so far (and 225 outside of it), Foxconn plans on quarantining iPhone workers at its biggest factory in Zhengzhou.

“Apple’s most important manufacturing partner still intends to officially resume work Feb. 10 after an extended Lunar New Year break intended to combat the outbreak,” Bloomberg reported. “But Hon Hai said in a statement Wednesday that workers returning from outside Henan province, site of its main factory in Zhengzhou, will be sequestered for 14 days. Any staff reporting to work who reside within the province itself will be isolated for 7 days, the company added.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged the “uncertainty” surrounding Apple product manufacturing as China engages in extreme measures to combat the virus’s spread: “We’re restricting travel to business critical travel. For employees that are in the Wuhan area, we are providing care kits and supplying them across our employee population in China as well.”

Whether that impacts Apple’s broader operations remains to be seen.

The Final End of BlackBerry?

Speaking of mobile devices, remember when everyone seemed to use a BlackBerry smartphone? That was back in Ye Olden Days of 2007, when dinosaurs walked the Earth and many folks thought they couldn’t live without a physical keyboard on their smartphone.

Following the release of the iPhone and Android smartphones, BlackBerry went into a long, tortured decline. Your humble correspondent remembers with great fondness when a PR rep for Research In Motion (the original name of BlackBerry’s manufacturer, before they simply rebranded as “BlackBerry”) threatened him with a lawsuit for describing the company’s quarterly results as “poor”—after a $500 million loss and CEO promises of layoffs. In between sputtering threats, that PR rep also swore that RIM would turn things around and crush that upstart iPhone.

Um, how’d that work out for you, BlackBerry folks?

via GIPHY

Anyway, the official BlackBerry Mobile Twitter feed announced this week that, as of August 31, 2020, TCL Communication (which secured the rights to market and sell BlackBerry-branded smartphones in 2016) will stop manufacturing and selling BlackBerry phones. Support for existing phones will continue until 2022; everyone who still insists on needing a physical keyboard for their smartphone will have two years to adapt to virtual keys. And by “everyone,” we mean all 12 of you.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry, which exited the phone business with that 2016 deal with TCL Communication, is focused entirely on enterprise and security software. It makes roughly $1 billion per year from those efforts, which is pretty good for a firm that has undergone a weird, rough road over the past decade.

A.I.: Old Film Restorer?

In a very cool example of new technology being used to enhance old technology, an A.I. researcher decided to apply two A.I. visual-enhancement programs (DAIN and Topaz Labs’ Gigapixel AI) to restore “L’Arrivee d’un train en gare de la Ciotat,” a 50-second silent film that made its debut in 1896. (Hat tip to Engadget for discovering this.)

At the turn of the 20th century, movies were a very new thing, and (the legend says) theatergoers supposedly freaked out when they saw the film’s onscreen locomotive barreling toward them. However, the actual footage is quite jerky and relatively low-resolution. With his A.I. tools, researcher Denis Shiryaev rendered the footage in 4K 60 frames-per-second (fps), and the results are pretty lifelike. (It’s reminiscent in some ways of what director Peter Jackson did with “They Shall Not Grow Old,” a film that restored footage from World War I, only without colorization.)

As A.I. and machine-learning tools become more ubiquitous (and cheaper, if not free), trust that other researchers and YouTubers will try similar experiments. The crowdsourcing of old and decayed footage could end up becoming a very powerful thing.

Have a great weekend, everyone!