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Google Reveals What Searchers Wanted in 2017

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The iPhone 8 and iPhone X ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in overall searches on Google this year, and No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the consumer tech search category on the Google Trends Year in Search 2017 list released Tuesday.

Bitcoin ranked No. 2 in global news searches, and “how to buy bitcoin” ranked No. 3 among how-to searches on Google in 2017.

The Nintendo Switch, Samsung Galaxy S8, and Xbox One X were the third, fourth and fifth most frequently used consumer tech search terms.

The lists are based on search terms that had a high spike in traffic in 2017 as compared to 2016.

“Those issues that directly touch the consumer, or are perceived to do so, will rise in search popularity,” said Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

A Few Surprises

The findings “probably correlated with the marketing budgets of the various vendors,” Jude told TechNewsWorld.

However, “I would have thought that some of the tech services — connected home stuff, automatic backup services, etc. — would have made the list,” he said.

The inclusion of the Nintendo Switch came as a surprise to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“I would’ve thought handheld gaming-focused devices went obsolete years ago,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Nintendo “has proven that they have a unique ability to bring concepts back from the dead,” Enderle noted. The Nintendo Switch “looks like a crippled tablet in that it doesn’t support things most tablets do, but folks really like it as a dedicated gaming device.”

Given the tie-in of Lenovo’s Star Wars: Jedi Challenges smartphone-powered augmented reality headset to The Last Jedi, Enderle thought it might make the list, but “I expect it came out too late to get enough search volume to move ahead of the Xbox X or any of the smartphones,” he said.

Still, the AR headset, which is compatible with some iPhones and Android phones, “is selling very well and will go through updates — so watch it for next year,” Enderle predicted.

The Bitcoin Boom

“Bitcoin has been hyped tremendously in the press as everything from the next universal currency to a hedge against government debt default,” Frost’s Jude said. “It’s no wonder that the general public is starting to take notice.”

Interest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is surging, and various commentators and investors predict bitcoin’s price could close in on the $1 million mark.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange launched trading in bitcoin futures Dec. 10 with the ticker symbol “XBT.” Trading was halted twice that day as the futures surged.

The CBOE’s bitcoin futures fell 10 percent Wednesday, triggering a two-minute halt to trading.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange will launch bitcoin futures trading on Dec. 17.

“Stories of people starting with (US)$100 of bitcoin and ending up multimillionaires likely contributed to the massive feeding frenzy on the cryptocurrency right now,” Enderle suggested. “Anything that looks like a valid get-rich-quick path will almost always get a lot of attention.”

Search Stats as Predictors

Search result statistics might indicate future trends, but given the rapidity of technological change, that might not hold less true for tech products.

Google’s 2017 search terms list “indicates point trends and shows that Apple still has a huge base of loyal buyers,” Enderle said.

“It shows that in 2018, folks will likely get excited about anything that looks to make them rich, and they likely will still have an affinity for hot consumer devices,” he added.

The search terms list “is a good bellwether, but you can’t really predict far into the future with it,” Enderle said. “People are mercurial in this regard, and what’s hot this month may every well be anything but next month

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New Lens Tech Can Shrink Cameras, VR and AR Gear

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Scientists at Harvard University on Monday unveiled a metalens that has the potential to shrink the size of any device that uses a camera while at the same time improving performance.

While traditional lenses are made from glass, metalenses use a flat surface peppered with nanostructures to focus light. One problem with metalenses has been their inability to focus the full spectrum of light.

That’s not the case any more, however, as a team at Harvard’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a metalens that can focus the entire visible spectrum of light — including white light — at a focal point, with high resolution.


 flat metalens

This flat metalens is the first single lens that can focus the entire visible spectrum of light — including white light — in the same spot and in high resolution.

Rx for Thinner Phones

An advantage a metalens has over conventional lens systems is that multiple elements aren’t needed to correct for aberrations. Those multiple elements make lenses thick, and thick lenses mean thicker devices.

“Our lens is a flat lens, so it’s thinner than a conventional lens,” explained Federico Capasso, a professor of applied physics at Harvard and author of the research paper on the new metalens published Monday in Nature Nanotechnology.

“If this lens were used in a cellphone, the cellphone could be much thinner,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Two components of a cellphone continue to challenge designers driven to make the devices thinner: the battery and the camera.

“The lens is responsible for the bump on the back of the cell phone that the cell phone companies hate,” Capasso said. “Right now, a cellphone has six or seven regular lenses. Even if we can cut it down to three, it’ll be extremely significant.

Impact on VR, AR

By correcting chromatic aberration, the metalens developed by the Harvard researchers addresses an annoying problem facing virtual reality and augmented reality hardware developers.

“Chromatic Aberration — color focal point mismatch resulting from the propagation speed of different frequencies of light — is one of many visual artifacts causing lack of visual fidelity and realism in augmented and virtual reality,” explained Sam Rosen, a vice president at ABI Research.

To correct those artifacts, high-end VR or AR hardware will often use advanced computational techniques to adjust focal points on a color-by-color basis.

“That process is compute-intensive and must be tuned for every model of device,” Rosen told TechNewsWorld.

“An improved passive lens which solves this problem could make for better devices by resolving the problem in the underlying physical hardware, making systems simpler and easier to program,” he added.

To address the propagation problem found in both conventional and other metalenses, the scientists cooked up a clever fix.

“By combining two nanofins into one element, we can tune the speed of light in the nanostructured material to ensure that all wavelengths in the visible are focused in the same spot, using a single metalens,” explained Wei Ting Chen, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and member of the metalens team.

Business Disrupter

Another benefit of using an achromatic metalens in a camera is that it makes the production of the camera subsystem easier to produce.

Now, the subsystem is made up of a sensor, which is a piece of fabricated silicon, and a stack of lenses, which are produced by lens molding, a process dating back to the 19th century.

“With a metalens, we can have the same foundry that makes the sensor chip make the metalenses for the camera module,” Capasso said. “That’s why so many companies are excited about this. There is a chance to disrupt the business model anywhere cameras are used.”

The use of cameras with metalenses is still some time away, Capasso acknowledged.

“I’m not going to tell you that you’re going to see a cellphone with metalenses two years from now,” he said. “That would be ludicrous. This is in the research stages, but it’s still a big step forward.”

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