May 19, 2020

The iPhone 7 – trend-setting or monopolisation?

mobile phones
Nell Walker
3 min
The iPhone 7 – trend-setting or monopolisation?

When one buys an iPhone, one is paying for an image - a particular minimalist colour scheme, an iconic symbol, and a certain degree of quality to accompany it. Apple inspires customer loyalty in a way few technology companies are able to, and it has made strides in the world of mobile devices that many competitors have been unable to maintain. But could the increased exclusivity of the iPhone be seen as monopolisation, outshining the company’s genuine achievements?

The release of the iPhone 7 caused controversy regarding the lack of headphone jack. Apple has long manufactured its own headphones for use with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, instantly recognisable by being vivid white – and when was the last time you saw an Apple fan using anything else?

iPhones are also now the only mobile to have their own brand of charger, which will differ depending on whether your mobile is pre or post-generation 5. While all other brands now use a universal adapter, iPhone sticks staunchly to its bright white cable. The devices are also favoured regarding accessories, with cases and button covers readily available in way that they aren't for the wealth of Android or Windows models.

Apple's decision to take away the jack and offer $159 wireless headphones confirms the exclusivity of its image. Many fans were underwhelmed by the real design compared with the fan-created concept art which featured smaller, neater, and more secure buds than the real things, which have inspired both mockery and apprehension over obvious security issues. Apple has attempted to sweeten the deal by assuring customers they can buy individual AirPods if one is lost, but the expense remains off-putting.

While iPhone customers can still use headphones via some complicated wiring wizardry, this latest evolution does appear to take away the last vestiges of choice. However, this does not necessarily negate the technological advancements – and they truly are advancements – Apple has made. The iPhone brings in half of its revenue for good reason; it has reshaped its industry with features such as the voice-activated personal assistant known as Siri, the fingerprint sensor introduced as of the 5S, and increasingly large screens – all of which have since been replicated by other brands.

While Apple may not have plucked many of its features out of the R&D ether, it has used its expansive talent pool and influence to repurpose and perfect existing ideas, consistently influencing others. Apple did not invent multitouch, but it did bring make the technology prominent and accessible. Nor did it come up with the concept of an app store, the swipe-to-unlock function, or video calling, yet the iPhone is considered the gold standard for all of these things.

While other smartphone companies have emulated some features developed (if not created) by Apple, the iPhone remains unique. Rather than selling and running many models at varying levels of quality and complexity, Apple releases just one at a time and continuously works on it. Updates to both the iOS and the handsets can be irksome, but the iPhone is like a much-loved game franchise for which one has to invest not only in new games, but newer consoles, in order to support the attachment to that brand.

The iPhone is a behemoth which cannot be overcome, and no amount of derisive AirPod memes will make a jot of difference to sales of the iPhone 7. Monopolisation or not, Apple is unstoppable. Perhaps deservedly so.

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Jun 16, 2021

Dr Peng Wei: Designing the Future of Autonomous Aircraft

3 min
NASA has announced that it will fund a new project, headed by Dr Peng Wei, to develop safety management systems for autonomous electric aircraft

Air traffic is expected to double by 2037. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world will need 37,000+ new passenger and freight aircraft, and more than half a million new pilots—unless we come up with another solution. Right now, a George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science professor, Dr Peng Wei, is starting to research autonomous electric aircraft design. 


NASA will fund the research, which will study how to minimise risks for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL). As Airbus states: ‘Autonomous technologies also have the potential to improve air traffic management, enhance sustainability performance and further improve aircraft safety’. 


Who is Dr Wei? 

An assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Dr Wei has researched aircraft control, optimisation, and AI and ML applications in aviation. Over the next three years, he’ll lead the US$2.5mn NASA grant project in collaboration with researchers from Vanderbilt, the University of Texas at Austin, and MIT’s Lincoln Lab


Why is His Research Important? 

Even though the wide adoption of self-piloting cars, much less aircraft, is still far down the road, technologies that Dr Wei and his colleagues are researching will form the commercial transport of the future. But aviation manufacturers, in order to produce autonomous aircraft, will have to meet extremely high safety standards. 


‘The key challenge for self-piloting capabilities is how the system reacts to unforeseen events’, said Arne Stoschek, Wayfinder Project Executive at Acubed. ‘That’s the big jump from automated to autonomous’. In the air, AI-piloted aircraft will have to manoeuvre around adverse weather conditions, such as wind and storms, and other high-altitude risks, such as GPS hacking, cyberattacks, and aircraft degradation. And the stakes are high.


‘If a machine learning algorithm makes a mistake in Facebook, TikTok, Netflix —that doesn't matter too much because I was just recommended a video or movie I don't like’, Dr Wei said. ‘But if a machine learning algorithm mistake happens in a safety-critical application, such as aviation or in autonomous driving, people may have accidents. There may be fatal results’. 


What Are His Other Projects? 

In addition to the new NASA research, Dr Wei has been awarded three other grants to pursue AI-piloted aircraft: 



Research like NASA and Dr Wei’s three-year programme will help improve how AI reacts and adapts to challenging air conditions. In coming years, autonomous aircraft will likely take off slowly, starting with small package delivery, then upgraded drones, and finally commercialised aircraft. But congestion issues will worsen until autonomous aircraft are the best alternative. 

According to BBC Future, by 2030, commuters will spend nearly 100 hours a year in Los Angeles and Moscow traffic jams, and 43 cities will be home to more than 10 million people. The final verdict? Bring on the AI-operated transit.

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