Samsung unveils foldable phone prototype

The South Korean tech company unveiled its new Infinity Flex display and other product upgrades at a developers conference on Wednesday.

  • Samsung has been developing a flexible, foldable smartphone for years.
  • The prototype unveiled Wednesday isn't quite the finished product some had hoped to see, but it offered a glimpse at how its long-awaited foldable phone will work when released, likely in 2019.
  • Samsung also announced other device upgrades, including a new user interface and changes to its virtual assistant Bixby.

Samsung unveiled a prototype of its new flexible display and other product upgrades at its annual developers conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The South Korean tech giant didn't introduce a finished foldable smartphone, despite recent rumors, but Samsung did briefly display a prototype device with the company's new Infinity Flex display, along with several other displays that will be available soon: the Infinity U, V and O displays.

The foldable prototype is, essentially, a tablet when open and a regular smartphone when folded. It features an exterior display on which users can make calls and use apps when the device is folded, as well as a larger 7.3-inch display that can be used when the phone is opened up.

It's designed to be folded and unfolded repeatedly hundreds of thousands of times without any degradation, said Justin Denison, Samsung's senior vice president of mobile product marketing. He added that Samsung will be ready to start mass production of the Infinity Flex display in coming months.

In a seemingly choreographed announcement at Android Developer Summit on Wednesday, Google said it would begin offering a new "Foldables" support category for Android devices. Dave Burke, Google's vice president of engineering, said Google is "enhancing Android to take advantage of this new form factor with as little work as necessary."

On Tuesday, a little-known company called Royole released a foldable smartphone, dubbed the FlexPai. The developer model of the phone is on sale for $1,318.

Bixby, Galaxy Home and other announcements

Samsung also announced several upcoming updates to its devices and Bixby, the company's virtual assistant.

  • Bixby will soon be available on more devices and in five new languages
  • Samsung's Bixby Developer Studio will soon provide developers with open access to the digital assistant.
  • New 'Multi-active window' feature will allow the use of up to three apps simultaneously
  • Samsung announced a new user interface called One UI, which promises a cleaner, simpler design and user experience. An open beta program is scheduled to begin this month.
  • Samsung smart TVs will soon offer the option to be voice-controlled.
  • The Galaxy Home, a digital assistant and sound system that Samsung says it is the "only AI speaker that intuitively moves a wave of sound directly toward you when you ask it to," will be able to integrate with Spotify when the device is released.
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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.

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