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Apple created the perfect phone design





Narrator: All of these phones were released in 2018. They were made by 14 different companies. Why do they all look the same? The modern smartphone can be described in three ways, a large screen, a notch, and no headphone jack. It’s no surprise that smartphones didn’t always look like this. But, how did we end up with this glass slab design? In 1994, IBM released what is considered to be the first smartphone. The Simon Personal Communicator had a monochrome LCD and stylus. It included some smart capabilities, like sending emails and faxes. Compared to other phones at the time, the Simon put more focus on the screen. The body of the phone was just a shell. This balance might remind you of another popular smartphone.

In 2007, the release of the iPhone started a design trend that has lasted more than a decade. Instead of having a full keyboard or complicated design, the iPhone stripped away most of the hardware, and instead focused on the touchscreen. Buttons can be limiting. They’re defined when a phone is created and can’t be changed, but software and apps can be changed, and updated with new features. Over time, hardware gimmicks and accessories didn’t catch on. But, thousands of new apps are released every single day. Apps can change and evolve, and they’ve become the reason we use our phones. A few years after the iPhone, companies like Samsung and Motorola followed Apple’s lead, and created phones with big screens and buttons on the sides and bottom. As technology has improved, phones have gotten thinner, larger screens, and more powerful processors. Phones continue to have fewer buttons, but the design remains very similar to the original iPhone. So, what’s so special about this glass rectangle?

Neil Mansfield: I think all smartphones look the same, because of two key reasons. One of them is the humans that are using them, are pretty much all the same. So, therefore, there’s not a lot of variation that a manufacturer can do from the human perspective.

Narrator: Neil Mansfield is a professor at Nottingham Trent University. He pointed out that what people want more than anything is a phone that they can comfortably hold and easily put in their pocket.

Neil Mansfield: The other aspect of it is being driven by the technology that’s available. If you can only make batteries of a certain form factor, that’s gonna drive how big the phone can be and the shape of the phone. If you can only make a screen of a certain form factor, it’s exactly the same. And that’s why we see phones that are flat, why we see phones follow that rectangular shape.

Narrator: New phones are released every year, but manufacturers are limited by the currently available technology. Take the notch, for example. It looks odd, and can be kind of distracting, but it houses useful features like front-facing cameras, sensors, and speakers. Several companies have tried to use hardware tricks to get rid of the notch, but until technology advances, we’re stuck with it on mainstream phones. Besides technological challenges, trends play a big role in phone design. Looking at the history of smartphones, it’s clear that Apple has been the trendsetter. Apple isn’t always first, but when they add or take away features, other manufacturers tend to follow. Samsung, for example, began pushing their screen to the edge before Apple, and so far, they have even avoided including a notch on their phones. But, competitors haven’t followed Samsung’s design, they’ve picked Apple’s. But, there actually are some benefits to phones looking similar. It’s easier for consumers to switch from one phone to another when the learning curve isn’t as steep. But, the trouble with these similar designs is a serious lack of innovation. Critics have called out Android manufacturers for missing an opportunity to avoid the notch and adopt a new design, separate from Apple’s. If companies aren’t willing to innovate, new phone models will always seem the same, giving consumers less reason to upgrade. In a time when over a dozen flagship phones are released each year, it can be really hard for an average user to differentiate between two phones. How do you know if the latest LG phone is better than the latest Google phone, if they both look the same? But, maybe this is it? Have we reached the peak of our smartphone design? Judging by the exponential speed of technological improvements, probably not. Future advancements in technology could dramatically change the way our phones look.

Neil Mansfield: As we get new materials or batteries, as we get new technology rolling out for displays, that’s gonna allow the phone designers and the manufacturers to be more creative in what they do.

Narrator: But, for now, companies are trying to evolve as much as they can inside the box they are given.


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A big test of reusable packaging for groceries comes to Canada





An online store has launched in Ontario selling groceries and household items from Loblaws in containers it will take back and refill — a test of whether Canadian consumers are ready to change their habits. Industry-watchers say it is breaking ground for reusable packaging.

The store, called Loop, launched in Canada on Feb. 1, in partnership with supermarket giant Loblaws, and offers items like milk, oats, ice cream and toothpaste for delivery in most of Ontario. Loop is already operating in the continental U.S., the U.K and France. 

Included so far are some products from well-known brands such as PC sauces and oils, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Heinz ketchup, Chipits chocolate chips and Ocean Spray cranberries. 

“The goal is really validating that this is something the Canadian public is interested in,” said Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Loop and its parent company TerraCycle.

Unlike existing small no-waste retailers, they want to offer “your favourite product at your favourite retailer in a reusable and convenient manner.”

The involvement of a huge retailer makes the launch notable in terms of scale and who it will reach, said Tima Bansal, Canada Research Chair in business sustainability at Western University in London, Ont. 

“I think it’s at the scale that’s needed to create the change in the community in Canada more generally,” she said.

How it works for customers

Szaky likens Loop to the reusable bottle system for beer in Canada “but expanding it to any product that wants to play in the [North American] ecosystem.”

The ultimate goal, he said, is to give people a greener way to consume that limits the amount of mining and farming needed to produce packaging.

“This allows us to greatly reduce the need to extract new materials, which is the biggest drain on our environment. currently lists just 98 products, although many are sold out or “coming soon.” 

As with other online grocery stores, customers fill their virtual shopping cart, but in addition to the cost of the item itself, they pay a deposit for its container. That can range from 50 cents for glass President’s Choice salsa jars like the ones that are normally at the supermarket to $5 for a stainless steel Häagen-Dazs ice cream tub. 

The items are delivered to a customer’s home by courier FedEx for a $25 fee, although the fee is waived for orders over $50.

Once you’ve spooned out all the salsa or ice cream or squeezed out all the toothpaste, the container doesn’t go in the recycling bin. Instead, you toss them into the tote bag they came in — even if they’re dented or damaged — and they get picked up.

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This wearable device beeps when workers get too close to each other





It’s a device that emits a high-pitched beep, buzzes and lights up if your coworker steps too close.

While some introverts would have bought this device before the pandemic to stave off chatty colleagues near the coffee machine, ZeroKey designed the product with a more important purpose — helping employees physically distance to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. 

The Calgary tech company’s “Safe Space” device looks like a small plastic badge that can be worn on a wrist or clipped to a shirt pocket or belt. 

“Our products, in a nutshell, localize or figure out where things are in 3D space and our big claim to fame is we do it very precisely, more precisely than anyone else in the world,” said Matt Lowe, co-founder and CEO of ZeroKey.

The company says its location-tracking technology passively monitors the distance between each device and is accurate down to 1.5 millimetres. The distance on devices can be set — so if, say, science determines three metres apart is actually safer that two, that can be tweaked. 

Lowe says the company came from humble beginnings — he and a co-founder, working out of a room in his house. The company has grown from two to 30 employees and has more openings it’s looking to fill.

Inspired by sci-fi

Their inspiration comes, as so many technological innovations have, from sci-fi. 

Lowe recalls watching Minority Report, and being transfixed with the gesture-based user interface Tom Cruise’s character operates. 

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had an interface that was more in tune with how humans operate naturally with their hands. So if you could just walk up to a new piece of technology … and just immediately be proficient,” he said. 

But applying that tech to the COVID-19 era wasn’t something the company had anticipated.

Lowe said some of the company’s clients in the manufacturing industry approached ZeroKey with a request.

“They came to us and said, ‘hey … we have the data where people are, can you build some sort of system so that we can do contact tracing and we can let people know if they’re closer than two metres?’ And we said, ‘absolutely … that’s easier than what we normally do,'” he said.

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Blistering rallies spur Canadian tech world to repeat equity sales





Canadian technology companies have been making multiple trips to the equity market over the past year, capitalizing on a rally in tech shares that’s helping them raise cash at ever higher valuations.

Dye & Durham Ltd., which makes software used by law firms, took advantage of a more than sixfold rally in its shares since its July IPO to raise $500 million (US$394 million) in a bought deal of stock and convertible debentures, the company said Tuesday. Dye & Durham, which went public at $7.50 a share, received $50.50 per share in the private placement. Peers including Lightspeed POS Inc. and Docebo Inc. have made similar moves.

Shares of technology companies have gained since the onset of the pandemic as their corporate customers increasingly turned to cloud-based applications to support their remote workforces, said Anurag Rana, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. The technology sector was one of the few places investors could look for growth during the crisis, with huge swaths of the economy including retailers, restaurants, airlines, hotels and casinos hammered by lockdowns, he said.

“Issuers and private-equity investors are not stupid, and they know somewhere down the road that valuations may come back,” Rana said. “So this is the time when they sell.”

Canada’s S&P/TSX Information Technology Index has risen 82 per cent in the past year, fuelled by rallies in Lightspeed and Shopify Inc. That compares with a 36 per cent advance for the U.S. S&P 500 Information Technology Index.

Those gains are giving early investors in tech companies an opportunity to take some profits. In conjunction with Dye & Durham’s private deal announced Tuesday, some investors agreed with the underwriters to sell 1.98 million shares at the $50.50 price as well.

Lightspeed, which provides cloud-based point-of-sale systems for retailers and restaurants, has also seized the moment. The company went public in Canada in February 2019 and last year followed that up with a U.S. IPO, selling shares for US$30.50 apiece. The deal raised US$332.3 million for the company and US$65.4 million for some shareholders.

After Lightspeed’s share price more than doubled, it went back to the market again last week with a public offering of shares for US$70 each, raising US$620.2 million for the company and US$56 million for other shareholders.

Docebo, which sells cloud-based learning software, has tapped the market multiple times over the past year. The firm, which went public in Canada in October 2019, completed a bought deal of shares atC$50 apiece in August. The move raised $25 million for the company and $50 million for investors including founder and Chief Executive Officer Claudio Erba, Chief Revenue Officer Alessio Artuffo and top outside investor Intercap Equity Inc.

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