Apple Magazine - - Summary -

Most lead­ing phones of­fer the same ba­sics: Big screens, de­cent bat­tery life and good cam­eras. So when a new­comer brings some­thing in­no­va­tive to the party, why is it dif­fi­cult to break through a phone market dom­i­nated by Ap­ple and Sam­sung?

One such smart­phone comes out this week from Red, a com­pany with roots in dig­i­tal cam­eras for movie pro­duc­tions. The new Hy­dro­gen One has a holo­graphic screen that pro­duces 3-D vi­su­als with­out need­ing spe­cial glasses. It is launch­ing with two ma­jor movies con­verted to this for­mat and al­lows users to cre­ate and share their own videos shot with the phone.

Red’s goals are mod­est — about 16 mil­lion units a year, based on Red’s stated tar­get of 0.5 per­cent of Sam­sung’s sales. But Red will need cus­tomers be­yond the tech elite and cam­era buffs; it’ll need their friends and friends of their friends. It doesn’t help that the Hy­dro­gen One car­ries a hefty $1,295 price tag.

“The Red Hy­dro­gen One stands lit­tle chance of up­set­ting the smart­phone sta­tus quo,” said Ge­off Blaber, a re­search an­a­lyst at CCS In­sight.

Chip­ping away at Ap­ple’s and Sam­sung’s dom­i­nance is much harder than it used to be be­cause phone in­no­va­tion isn’t so much about hard­ware any more, Cre­ative Strate­gies an­a­lyst Carolina Mi­lanesi said. What mat­ters more, she said, is the soft­ware and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence be­hind it.

Con­sider Ap­ple’s new iPhones. Sure, the new XR and XS mod­els all have de­cent screens, bat­tery life and cam­eras. But Ap­ple has also been em­pha­siz­ing such soft­ware-based fea­tures as aug­mented re­al­ity, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and au­to­ma­tion us­ing the Siri dig­i­tal as­sis­tant. Or take Sam­sung’s Galaxy Note 9. Sig­na­ture fea­tures in­clude the use of AI to au­to­mat­i­cally fine-tune im­ages.

While the Hy­dro­gen One’s screen is dif­fer­ent, Mi­lanesi said, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily some­thing the mass market will grav­i­tate to.

Red founder Jim Jan­nard said his phone is about mak­ing waves in a sea of smart­phone same­ness.

“We don’t buy the same make, model or color of car that our next-door neigh­bor has,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant to keep this in­dus­try push­ing along ... and give peo­ple some new choice. What we’ve done is pretty nuts.”

The phone starts sell­ing this week through AT&T and Ver­i­zon in the U.S.

Red calls the screen tech­nol­ogy 4V, for four view, which is an­other way of say­ing it’s dou­bling what twin-lens 3-D cam­eras pro­duce by adding depth data to each im­age. There’s a spe­cial ma­te­rial un­der the screen that lets 4V photos and video ap­pear to the viewer in 3-D. Im­ages that aren’t shot or con­verted to this for­mat will look the same as they do on any other screen. At­tempts to pho­to­graph a 4V screen will also pro­duce im­ages that don’t look any dif­fer­ent.

Yet the 3-D wiz­ardry in­deed works, though it’s more pro­nounced in some scenes than oth­ers. Im­ages of a soc­cer goalie block­ing a shot feels re­al­is­tic, but a wa­ter­fall at Yosemite Na­tional Park looks like video taken with a reg­u­lar cam­era (though leaves in the fore­ground looked 3-D). The Red phone might re­mind you of holo­graphic stick­ers in which the view shifts slightly as you tilt them.

The Warner Bros. stu­dio is giv­ing cus­tomers of par­ent com­pany AT&T two free 4V movies: the first “Harry Pot­ter” pre­quel, “Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” and Steven Spiel­berg’s “Ready Player One,” which is set in a vir­tual world. The stu­dio plans to con­vert about a half­dozen other movies ini­tially. Red will have tools for pro­duc­ers to con­vert ex­ist­ing 3-D video into the 4V for­mat.

The Hy­dro­gen One also has twin lenses in the back to cap­ture 4V photos and video. Trou­ble is, peo­ple you share them with will get a nor­mal im­age un­less they also have a Hy­dro­gen One.

The phone also has a hand­ful of 4V games.

Red’s 4V could run into the same prob­lems that vir­tual re­al­ity has faced. Peo­ple haven’t been rush­ing out for head­sets, while video cre­ators haven’t been rush­ing out to make VR ex­pe­ri­ences. There’s a chicken-and-egg prob­lem at play.

Be­yond the fancy screen, the phone is thick at a time Ap­ple and Sam­sung make thin­ner phones. That’s done to fit in a big­ger bat­tery, with 12 per­cent more ca­pac­ity than the su­per-charged Note 9. The sides have ridges to im­prove the grip. The phone has pins for ex­pan­sion mod­ules, such as an adapter for any stan­dard SLR lens. (In­ci­den­tally, a ma­jor man­u­fac­turer that tried this mod­u­lar­iza­tion ap­proach, LG, backed away from it af­ter a year.)

Jan­nard has a his­tory of dis­rupt­ing other in­dus­tries, too. He pre­vi­ously founded Oak­ley, which be­came a force in sun­glasses us­ing many of the word-of-mouth tech­niques he is hop­ing to repli­cate with the new phone.

“We’re not try­ing to win over the whole world,” he said. “We’re try­ing to pro­vide a phone that we hope enough peo­ple like. Oth­er­wise, I’m go­ing to own the sin­gle most ex­pen­sive cell­phone in the world, and I’m happy with that.”

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