back to article Boring. The phone business has lost the plot and Google is making it worse

No, dear reader. You didn't forget to set the alarm, and you haven't just slept through Mobile World Congress. If 2018 feels different, it may be because the phone industry's biggest annual get-together failed to produce any interesting new phones. It's a trend that's been apparent for some time. Apple and Google, the two most …

  1. Zog_but_not_the_first

    What chances, then, of anything interesting happening ever again?

    Be careful what you wish for...

  2. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble?

    Stock Android

    I have to confess to being in two minds about stock android. Yes its dull, boring and while not a bad user experience, it's not great either.

    However, the huge plus in its favour: timely and ongoing software updates. The more bespoke the software, the more effort it is for OEMs to put out updates. Delivering with stock or near stock android images for predictable hardware should mean that android updates should appear quickly for these devices.

    Which is nice.

    1. Buzzword

      Re: Stock Android

      Yep. Recall the period from 1995 to 2012, when Windows barely changed. You could learn Windows NT 4 (released back in 1996), fall into a coma for a decade and a half, and come back to find the Windows 7 desktop experience almost exactly the same. Same for Microsoft Office, right up until that bloody ribbon. Users didn't have to re-learn everything every two years. Given how much crap we've suffered in Win8/10, I'd love to have that stability back.

      1. Zippy's Sausage Factory

        Re: Stock Android

        Recall the period from 1995 to 2012, when Windows barely changed. You could learn Windows NT 4 (released back in 1996), fall into a coma for a decade and a half, and come back to find the Windows 7 desktop experience almost exactly the same. Same for Microsoft Office, right up until that bloody ribbon.

        Mmm... NT 4 with Office 97. Now I have a warm and cosy nostalgic feeling.

        That's a Virtual Box I need to make for myself, I think...

        1. chivo243 Silver badge

          Re: Stock Android


          In a moment of nostalgia, I recently spun up a Win2000 desktop and a Win2000 advanced server. Couldn't find an AV for them though, or a browser that works on the web today...

          Took a whole 5 minutes to install! I say go for it!

          1. kryptylomese

            Re: Stock Android

            I think Immunet AV will work with Win2000 but I have not tested it:-


      2. Steve the Cynic

        Re: Stock Android

        Same for Microsoft Office, right up until that bloody ribbon.

        You must have been using a different series of Microsoft Office releases to the one I used. Interesting things changed position on the menus Every Single Release, even before the Ribbon showed up.

        (Who else remembers when "Page Setup" was on the "Format" menu where it belongs?)

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Stock Android

          If I remember correctly, preRibbon, you could at least move menu items around. To have a customised/simplified menu in the Ribbonised Office you have to create a new menu with all the bits you want and then hide the original . Which usually implies creating 2 new menus, since you need another one for any of the bits you wanted to keep in the original location. Oh and BTW, the bits of the Ribbon are really just fancy menu items, even though they are named "short cuts" ( presumably because like most shortcuts they mean leaving a logical straight route and getting lost in the middle of nowhere).

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Stock Android

      I'd rather a boring phone that is updated with the latest security patches than an "exciting" phone, where part of the excitement is wondering if it will catch a cold when I visit the next website or receive an SMS...

    3. Tim Seventh

      Re: Stock Android

      I have to confess to being in two minds about stock android. Yes its dull, boring and while not a bad user experience, it's not great either.

      For android, all you need is to download is a custom home launcher app in the play store to instantly make it exciting. Just in case you didn't know, most non-stock android just simply adds their own customized home launcher to change how you feel about their android device. So stock android can easily be changed to look similar to non-stock android.

      Taking from another perspective, what really separates a stock android and a non-stock android is the amount of bloat placed by the manufacture. Stock android (google stock version) will have little to no bloat apps with only google apps, while non-stock android almost always have bloat apps from the manufacture. When bloat apps eats your data, your battery and phoning home which you can't disable by default (without rooting or custom rom), that's a point given to stock android especially when users complain about the slowness of bloated non-stock devices.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stock Android

      Stock Android is a bloat free blank canvas for you to install and setup your phone as YOU wish, free of duplicated apps, social media platforms you don't use, and sponsored installs.

      All of these things are reasons why I would never buy a Samsung phone and stick to buying google or very close to stock.

      1. DropBear

        Re: Stock Android

        Well no, not really. A "bloat free blank canvas" would be a Stock Android WITHOUT any Google apps. Which by the way is obtainable for sure, but it's NOT what we're talking about here.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Stock Android

          Its called AOSP. On a pixel, Don't sign into with a Google account and all the Google apps can be disabled and disappear before your eyes. However be prepared for a pretty pointless experience....

    5. Oh Homer

      Android Go

      Would I be hoping for too much that one day this "Puppy Linux" of the Android world might be made available for older handsets, to extend their useful life by another decade or so?

      My most recent handset is an SGS4. My "alarm clock" is an SGS1.

  3. hashkey

    We've had the guts of ten years of OEMs bringing their own flavour to Android and what do we have to show for it? The worst thing about Android is the control OEMs have over the system (and its updates).

    I'll be delighted if, as I expect, Nokia's sales continue to impress, other OEMs realise that they have nothing to add to add to the software experience, and jump on board.

    I agree that this could be a tipping point for Android One, but I'd argue that that's A Good Thing.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      The worst thing about Android is the control OEMs have over the system (and its updates).

      No, the worst thing about Android is it's difficult to update if it's been customised. This year OEMs resolved that problem by not customising it, when it really fell to Google to fix that problem. Is it so difficult for Google to separate the skin and a few custom apps from the OS? (Another thing that Symbian did years ago and Android still doesn't do.)

      So here we are, Android is free and good enough to make cheap Chinese phones work, thus delivering a mortal blow to the manufacturers of yesteryear. They can't differentiate themselves software-wise because Android is clunky and can't be kept up to date if they do, they can't hardware-wise because that's expensive against rock-bottom white-label Chinese phones. The only target market that works is selling too-expensive phones to the idiots who buy them, low and mid range are dead. Google stands atop the hill surveying the ruins all around and pocketing the advertising commission.

      1. xanda

        Mind the gap - in the market...

        The only target market that works is selling too-expensive phones to the idiots who buy them, low and mid range are dead.

        It does seem a bit odd, and sad even, that choice is distinctly lacking. Nobody is providing a stable, value alternative in this sector of the market - at least not in mature western markets. Plus it seems that the old maxim of 'you get what you pay for' just doesn't apply in the mobile market - as attested to by the build quality of the many premium phones we've repaired.

        Personally we have never been comfortable forking out serious cash for a phone and have always been content with less (it's sometimes more apparently). Almost always our experience has been that friends and colleagues who rave about their expensive new shiny find themselves quickly relegating all the fancy stuff (camera included) in favour of more mundane requirements.

        Just how difficult can it be to produce a reasonably priced, modest spec'd mobile and still make a decent profit? Wileyfox seemed to be onto something until the bankers pulled the rug.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Mind the gap - in the market...

          > Just how difficult can it be to produce a reasonably priced, modest spec'd mobile and still make a decent profit?

          Very difficult, if lots of other people are trying to do the same. That's economics.

        2. DropBear

          Re: Mind the gap - in the market...

          The old maxim of 'you get what you pay for' ...was never, ever true. Not even approximately. What IS true instead is that most of the time, certain premium features or level of quality requires a certain minimum price under which you can't get it, because it's not feasible to produce for less than that. Any assumption that you actually get any of that beyond the baseline features and quality whenever you pay more than the baseline price is entirely baseless, any extra you pay going straight into the pockets of the seller being infinitely more likely. Which is not to say you NEVER get anything for paying a premium price, only that you really, really, really shouldn't simply assume that you do, without some cold hard proof. Because most of the time, you're just paying for an illusion.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Mind the gap - in the market...

            Well yes. Or at least, just because you pay a lot more doesn't mean you get a lot more or a " more" of stuff that you actually want. Maybe you pay a lot more for a little more. Or a little more good stuff and a lot of junk to make the premium price seem justified.

            The best example is with some car manufacturers. For one such example, three or four years back when we wanted to buy a Honda Jazz the only model with a proper built-in satnav system also came with a bundle of crappy useless things like flashy silvery door ledges and god knows what else, bumping the price up well past the value of the satnav we'd actually wanted. The main problem being that these weren't a grade-up of extras, they were useless flash.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        the worst thing about Android is it's difficult to update if it's been customised.

        Android can be customised a lot through published APIs without touching the original code-base. This problem is entirely created by lazy and/or incompetent developers demolishing the core system instead of creating extensions. Developers working for Samsung and other manufacturers explain that headless ad-hoc-modifications have turned what should be a few minutes of bugfix-merging from Google's code-base into man-years of labour. It should have been easy to set up development and distribution infrastructure such that it would take less than 40 hrs for critical fixes to trickle from Google's codebase via manufacturers to the end-users. Instead we're talking months.

        There are, and have been alternatives, but those alternatives are barely mentioned. Tech media has largely been reduced to a bunch of ad/click-whores. 99% of what they call product reviews are shameless ads and/or product demos. Nobody is representing the consumer anymore. Consumers would probably have chosen differently had they been informed by someone with the guts to explain how they are being screwed over by the industry.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Phone design

    If we have flexible screens then why not incorporate a phone in a glove? Mic in the thumb, speaker in the first finger and screen on the palm. Could be quite handy.

    1. Vulch

      Re: Phone design

      That layout twists the wrist uncomfortably, better off with speaker on the thumb and mic on the little finger.

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Re: Phone design

        And a hard reset will be a kick in the crotch...

      2. israel_hands

        Re: Phone design

        I've already got a pair of gloves like that. Woolly gloves with Bluetooth connections, mic in the little finger and speaker in the thumb.

        I can confirm that you look like an absolute legend when using them.

        I think the reason the phones seem "boring" is because there is actually an ideal form factor for them, based on current tech limits. And as others have said, from a phone OS I want stable boring and resilient. Bells and whistles are more likely to cause problems and introduce flaws. It's bad enough when you buy a new PC and have to strip out all of the OEM cruft that they use to bloat it out and (in my experience) slow it down while adding useless bullshit. The difference being that unless you root the phone, you mostly can't delete the bloatware.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Phone design

          Yep. The current constraints on a phone are:

          -Size of pockets

          -Size of users hands

          -Acuity of users eyesight

          -The tasks the phone is out to.

          1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

            Re: Phone design

            The main issues as I see the problem are:

            1. Support. today phones are use and throw away. They should point the target towards a car sales type of market, and make most of the money from spares, etc. Just put a validation chip/code in batteries, screens, etc.

            2.Wireless desktop. If they provided a wireless desktop/connected to a standard "brainless laptop" you would use the same electronics everywhere, same os. That would encourage ppl to buy more expensive phones, and then mantain them with batteries that have to be bought from the official shop, also the only one that can reseal the unit, etc. Just look and jhon deere and their "DRM everywhere except the oil, and give us time".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Phone design

      AC suggested, "...why not incorporate a phone in a glove?"

      It's been tried. A company with some experience in embedding devices (such as guns) into gloves was hired to complete the design. A prototype was built. When the test engineer went to answer his prototype Glovephone, he got mixed-up left and right and accidentally shot himself in the head with his Glovegun. It was tragic.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Phone design

        Back when phones were just phones a glovephone might have had a market. But you give up all the things that make a smartphone a smartphone if you put it into a glove. Unless you think you are going to hold your hand flat and be able to read a website on it...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Form factors

    Why oh why are the only decently-specced phones one can buy in the large, thin, fragile phablet form factor ?


    I had a Treo smartphone 13 years ago that I kept in my back pocket, that took crushing and falls and never broke.

    Because it was small and thick and sturdy.

    WHY can't I buy one like that now ?!

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Form factors

      There are some tougher phones about. Bullitt make them and there's someone else whose name I can't remember too.

      Mostly branded as Land Rover, JCB etc. IP68 and big batteries.

      If my BB dies, I'm tempted with one of the Land Rover phones, but worried about looking like a poser (I drive a Defender).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Form factors


        The rugged phones I have seen are all too big for me and my back jeans pocket.

        I don't need a 5" screen, 4" or less is fine for my needs and smaller = less bending moment = tougher.

        If there's a tough, thick, 4" screen, decently-specced phone out there, I'm interested !

      2. Joe Werner Silver badge

        Re: Form factors

        > There are some tougher phones about. Bullitt make them and there's someone else whose name I can't remember too.

        Interesting! I once (waaay back) had a Siemens phone (actually... I think three, over several years). They were the ruggedised version, and did survive a lot of abuse. One of my best mates also had phones form that series. His partner threw the phone through the living room at the wall once because she was upset (about the phone call, not my friend). I think the lid of the battery compartment came off, but everything continued to work. My phone fell onto the floor in our lab several times (stone floor).

        Are these bullitt phones also relatively small? Then this would be a good option for the next one.

        1. DropBear

          Re: Form factors

          It's not whinging. Phones really are mind-bogglingly f###ing boring in a bad way these days; it's just that I don't want my "freshness" as one more stomach-churning OS/UI revolution (boring is good there) but rather as some variety in hardware. There are a number of ways to do that without necessarily turning everything we LIKE about our phones upside down, from the dual-screen Yotaphone through larger battery options all the way to various extra keys, from a few (Nokia Xpressmusic) to full fold-out/slide-out qwerty's, and that's just a few ideas. I really miss the full-on batshit insanity of the likes of the Nokia E70 and the Motorola Aura. Unless the industry shows me something on that level, they have a reeeeeeeeealy long wait ahead of them before I even think of getting a new phone...

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Form factors

      Same here.

      I don't care how thin it is. I want a sturdy phone with a big battery, it doesn't matter if it is Nokia Communicator sized.

      And put a proper layer of glass on it (which doesn't crack at the first drop), or give us a slide-out QWERTY (like the LG Chatterbox) but with a decent-sized screen.

      Fancy doodahs like a fancy posh camera adds nothing to the phone. And fingerprint sensor? Pfft. Don't have need for such gimmicks.

      1. Edwin

        Re: Form factors

        Next year's HMD nostalgic relaunch - the Nokia E7? Or maybe one of the 9xxx series? Shall we do a poll?

        1. ScissorHands

          Re: Form factors

          I only care if Nokia re-releases the N9. With Sailfish and the original UI.

      2. Franco Silver badge

        Re: Form factors

        "or give us a slide-out QWERTY (like the LG Chatterbox) but with a decent-sized screen."

        Amen brother. Give me a device like my much loved HTC Touch Pro running the latest version of stock Android. I'd have preferred Windows 10 Mobile, but that's a lost cause now

    3. davemcwish

      Re: Form factors

      Try Caterpillar. They have a range from £50 feature phone to this years all singing and dancing £800+ s61.

      Also this retailer. (No affiliation)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Form factors


        Thanks, but as I mentioned, I want a SMALL sturdy phone that fits safely in my back pocket.

        Size comparison here:,Palm-Treo-800w/phones/10654,2912

    4. Headley_Grange Silver badge


      This - 1000x.

      The whinging Reg headline is just what's wrong with this market. Fake consumer pressure on tech companies to come up with massive "innovation" every year is why I've got a £700 upgrade phone that's a crap phone, with <10hours battery life that's too big to fit in most of my pockets sitting unused in a drawer somewhere and, more importantly, why next year's products will be even crapper. It's less emperor's new clothes and more that the emperor is a c**t.

      Hopefully my stock of SEs will last me until I retire and then I can get by with just the big button phone that I take to the pub.

      1. Steve Jackson


        Yeah, that's why I have an SE too.

    5. tychosoft

      Re: Form factors

      Indeed, even a just somewhat thicker/heavier phone with the extra space used for a better battery life seems a win-win to me, too. Of course I also do remember a period when lead slugs were put into telephone handsets because they felt much "cheaper"/"flimsier" to people once the old carbon mike and classic speaker was replaced.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Form factors

        > And put a proper layer of glass on it (which doesn't crack at the first drop)

        Tell the Materials Engineers to pull their thumb out then... what you want doesn't exist. If you have a hard thing with no give, the forces acting on a very small area get very large.

        Motorola's tough phone, the Defy, uses a polymer screen - but being polymer it is more susceptible to scratches.

        You might consider a toughened glass screen protector - a brief trawl through forums suggest that most of the time when a drop results in a shattered screen protector the underlying glass screen (the expensive bit) is just fine.

        You can if course use plastic film protectors over a glass screen. The physics is such that even the small amount of extra area over which they spread forces goes a long way to protect a glass screen. Of course they may need replacing periodically as they pick up scratches.

        All engineering is compromise.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Form factors

          "You can if course use plastic film protectors over a glass screen. The physics is such that even the small amount of extra area over which they spread forces goes a long way to protect a glass screen."

          That's actually how the glass protectors work, as they have a thin polymer layer between them and the actual screen. Force on the outer glass is spread over an area and the polymer handles a little deflection, protecting the inner screen. See also laminated windscreens.

          The great thing about the glass protector is that it's like a laminated windscreen where you can take off the chipped outer and put on a new one, without having to replace the whole screen.

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            Re: Form factors

            My trusty Nokia Asha cheapophone has met concrete floors more often than I can remember and is still fully functional. Battery is good enough for a whole week. Plus you have a real keyboard. Camera is just good enough to document traffic accidents though and the filesystem has a bug as undeletable files of 0 size have been accumulating over the years.

            I could do without the "Facebook Button" retardation (one button to reach max stupidity?) and the interface, though simple, seems to have been designed by someone who used to be a co-designer of Colossal Cave Adventure in his youth. It would be excellent if one could just redesign it, if need be in Microsoft Basic.

            The only problem is that women relentlessly make fun of me for having such a crap retro phone. OTOH, my age makes me more than impervious against such criticisms.

            Oh well: MC Solaar - Victime de la mode

            1. Updraft102 Silver badge

              Re: Form factors

              The only problem is that women relentlessly make fun of me for having such a crap retro phone.

              Best defense is a strong offense. Make light of any one of them for being a bleating, fondleslab addicted sheep first. The ones that aren't actually bleating, fondleslab addicted sheep aren't the ones that would make fun of you for having a phone that doesn't meet their standards. For the rest of us, it's just a phone, not a status symbol.

    6. Loud Speaker

      Re: Form factors

      I used to have a phone with a decent screen form-factor, replaceable SD cards and battery.

      Ohl, I still use it, because the new stuff has not got any of the essential features.

      Phone manufactures are in a foot shooting competition, and they are all winning!

  6. DenTheMan

    All we now need is the Polo.

    Rather than having a notch, why not bring out a Polo mint like phone with the camera dead centre.

    Oh the innovation in me.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: All we now need is the Polo.

      It was ideas like that that killed the old Nokia.

      At least you're trying though.

  7. GlenP Silver badge

    I'll happily accept stock Android. I'm happy with "boring" if the darn thing works and is updated regularly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Precisely ... for many people if Nokia, are happy selling a stock Android phone with almost no distinguishing OEM characteristics then that is an important distinguishing characteristic in itself.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        I think Nokia (HMD) could allow itself to push the boat and include a file manager, DLNA play to, Here Maps, and the smattering of utility apps that were in Symbian.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I have stock android on my phone. The damn thing works intermittently and never gets updates.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We have a few Google Motorola phones that came with vanilla Android. They got 1 or 2 updates in the first year, then nothing. If a Google subsidiary can't do Android right I don't know who can.

      They're not even made by Googorola - for example mine's an LG. Like the Nexus devices, they're outsourced to a different maker every year.

    4. Updraft102 Silver badge

      Boredom is underrated

      Boredom, when it comes to operating systems, is seriously underrated. If Microsoft wasn't trying to make Windows 10 fun and exciting, it wouldn't be half the piece of crap it is now. These idiotic updates no one asked for, the ones that make sure it's permanently of beta quality, are all about trying to make something that's supposed to be staid and stable (aka boring) into something just the opposite. It doesn't matter what the platform is, whether mobile or not... an operating system isn't supposed to be fun and exciting. It's supposed to run things that are fun and exciting, or useful, or important. The OS makes the application look good while itself fading into the background, if it is doing its job.

  8. deshepherd

    "Boring. The phone business has lost the plot and Google is making it worse"

    .... don't give Elon Muisk any ideas - otherwise he'll advertise "The Boring Phone form the Boring Company" and doubtless sell 1000s of bog-standard android phones for iphone prices!

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      At DeShepherd...

      If it included the FlameThrower then I'll buy one. =-D

    2. James Hughes 1

      Musk isn't stupid.

      And only stupid people think they can make money in the mobile phone industry.

      (excluding the two major incumbents, and one of those doesn't make huge money)

    3. Chemical Bob

      The Boring Phone form the Boring Company

      But it'll have a cool sticker!

  9. Ol' Grumpy

    As mentioned by a couple of folks here already, I think among the IT savvy, security updates are key and the way they are handled by most vendors at the moment is pretty bad.

    Example - the Moto G5 plus. Their EU release channel is on January 18 security updates, the UK release channel only just got November 17. Unless they are using the EU stream as a giant soak test, I don't see why they aren't released to all channels at the same time.

    If Android One compliant phones sort that out - I'm all for boring! :)

  10. LDS Silver badge

    "exercising the same power that Bill Gates held over the PC builders"

    And with the Chrome browser installed by default and prominently displayed <G>.

    Let's wait the anti-trust procedures....

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Battery, accessibility

    will be the areas for advancement next.

    As I said *last* year,

    Smartphones are becoming far more useful (FSVO "useful"). So people are relying on them more.

    Bigger batteries.

    People using smartphones are getting older, but want to continue using them.

    Screen layouts, user interface, and non-gimmicky accessibility features.

    If I changed my name to "Gartner", do you think I could get paid a shitload for stating the bleeding obvious ?

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Re: Battery, accessibility

      *Repeatedly presses the UpVote button until my keyboard catches fire*

  12. x 7

    "If this catches on, most phones in the world will look and work exactly as the Chocolate Factory intended"


    with the emphasis on "working", which is more than you can say about phones with layers of irrelevant corporate crap cruft on them

  13. jonathan keith

    Hardware design choices

    Stock android's fine by me if the handset offers a) a headphone socket b) a microSD slot and c) a replaceable fucking battery.

    1. FlossyThePig

      Re: Hardware design choices

      My phone has

      a) a headphone socket

      b) a micrSD slot

      c) a replaceable battery

      It does have Windows 10 Mobile on it though, which is fine for me.

      P.S. I don't use the headphone socket as I have bluetooth hands free gear from Oticon.

      1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        At Flossy...

        Just out of curiousity, can we see if you work any better with a bit of lipstick?

        I'll get my coat... =-)p

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Hardware design choices

      Why were you downvoted? Presumably someone here likes expensive headphones, being tied to a vendor's cloud storage, generating landfill, and wasting money.

      1. psychonaut

        Re: Hardware design choices

        it'll be some apple twat who is secretly really pissed off that he has to buy stupid expensive wireless headphones, loses them constantly, and has a shit apple phone that he paid a fortune for because he is obsessed with apple, and they can do no wrong.

        i cant upvote you enough.

        big fuck off removable battery


        sd slot.

        (actually, a decent camera too please)

        thats it. just make one already before my note 4 dies

        1. Just Another SteveO

          Re: Hardware design choices

          @ psychonaut “it'll be some apple twat who is secretly really pissed off that he has to buy stupid expensive wireless headphones,”

          Why? Apple supply an adaptor with the phone expressly so you don’t need wireless headphones..... Who’s the twat now?

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: Hardware design choices

            They break easily, they don't work with headphones which have in-line mics, and they stop the phone being charged at the same time.

            I make no comment about whether the twat is the person who wants a tried and tested technology or the person who is happy to have an adaptor hanging off their phone all the time with the aforementioned problems.

  14. Yves Kurisaki

    Let's face it..

    Let's face it, thin bezels and under-screen fingerprint readers is about all we can expect for the next 5 years, apart from CPUs getting faster and more efficient. What else do people expect?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Let's face it..

      -Foldable screens, which Samsung have announced their intention to debut in 2018. Not likely to be widespread until phones unfold (or unfurl) into an aspect ratio suitable for watching video (near 16:9)

      -Active IR 3D scanning. Announced by Qualcomm for 2018. Useful for hobbyists, tradesmen,etc, with potential impact on retail. Google's Project Tango has been killed in favour a one-camera ARCore, Apple have multipoint IR scanning (and the specialist silicon to support it) in their placeholder iPhone X.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Let's face it..

        It is getting that 16:9 aspect ratio that's going to kill the idea of foldable phones for the foreseeable future. It isn't going to be particularly useful to have a phone that unfolds into a square.

        Your folded phone is going to need to be a square, which is limited by the size of a typical pocket meaning it won't be able to unfold in a significantly larger phone. The only fix would be a trifold phone, but good luck making each part of it thin enough that a trifold phone won't be as thick as a wallet stuffed with 50 bills and a dozen credit cards.

        I agree the active 3D scanning is going to be the big thing in the next few years. No so much for faces but having a laser scanner on the back that can scan an object or room. Lots of niche applications for that, surely some that will be created when it is widely available, and of course it will be heavily used in games from day one.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Let's face it..

          Unfolded the phone doesn’t have to be constant depth. You could have one corner with all the gubbins, and a thin screen folded/rolled out from it.

          A packet of strong mints with a simple screen on the device, and a slide out screen that unrolls as needed?

      2. jelabarre59

        Re: Let's face it..

        -Foldable screens, which Samsung have announced their intention to debut in 2018. Not likely to be widespread until phones unfold (or unfurl) into an aspect ratio suitable for watching video (near 16:9)

        Nah, forget foldable, you need one that scrolls out like a window shade. Kuroko seemed to be the only character in the show to have one (well, "Railgun" does date from 2009).

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Let's face it..

          Roll up displays have been around well before Rail gun or Index. Think Tenchi Muyo! had it with the Galaxy Police.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Let's face it..

            Its been a trope in sci fi for decades (Earth Final Conflict in the late 90s, and I'm sure there are plenty of examples before that)

            There's a problem with that too though - with a foldable screen you could have a smaller device that has a working display unfolded, but not so with one you unroll/pull apart.

            I'm not saying it will never be cracked, but I think the first ones we see will be gimmicky, fragile and not very useful. There will be some tradeoffs too - glass doesn't fold so the surface will have to be plastic. Well there's a reason everyone uses glass on smartphones despite its tendency to break, and that's because plastic scratches easily.

            I'm also pessimistic about how well a folding screen holds up to a year of folding and unfolding dozens of times a day. Sure, you can build a machine to rapidly and repetitively do that, not see any problems, and think you licked it. Then you get them out in the real world with wide swings in temperature and humidity, shearing stresses from imperfect unfolding, etc. and we'll see how well the products hold up in day to day use.

  15. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Fashion statement

    Too much of the mobile phone business is about labels. Not substance. Just as a "designer" pair of Jeans is more desirable (apparently) and expensive than another perfectly good pair that hasn't got a name attached to the waistband/pocket, so a phone with an expensive name is more desirable than one that comes straight from the same factories in China without the name. And of course, being named for tree fruit makes it even more desirable.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Fashion statement

      Your point is less relevant today than it was in the days of the Nokia 8xxx series. Same functionality as their £200 models, but fancy materials and small form bumping the price to £1000. Motorola too during this period would make expensive phone jewellery, such the Aura with a circular screen.

      There isn't a huge price gap today between Korean, Japanese and Chinese Android phones of the similar specification. Apple phones are harder to compare using just numbers, since different folk find varying value in software and peripheral support, etc.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fashion statement

      For me, the Nokia 8860 was never a fashion statement, it was a "I want a phone that can easily fit in my pocket" statement. No way was I ever going to be one of those hopeless dorks with a belt clip/holster, so paying $500 out of pocket for the 8860 versus taking a free 5100 series or whatever the common phone was back in 2000 from the carrier was worth it.

  16. TomMariner

    Nokia Experience

    Love the unencumbered Nokia experience.

  17. JeffyPoooh

    Suggestion: More 'Physical I/O'

    Yes, the slab itself is very capable, but tedious.

    Physical I/O, a term which perhaps I just made up, refers to the conceptual 'edges' of the device (sensors being merely one category), where can interface to the real-world. It's a design space where there's lots of room for interesting growth.

    -Dual high quality microphones to capture binaural audio.

    -Software Defined Radio chipset dedicated to the user (distinct from the data modem). Enabled tuning into DC to L band (up to low GHz).

    -IR temperature sensor (directional type)

    These sorts of things...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Suggestion: More 'Physical I/O'

      There's the ASOP GreyBus standard which means the OS doesn't distinguish between built in components and those that are hot-plugged. However, the only common implementation (Moto Mod) uses a proprietary physical connector on the rear of the phone.

      Audio can be done today over the USB connector. Until recently, Sony supported external stereo microphones by adding an extra sleeve to the 3.5mm port.

      Thermal imaging cameras are available today for both iOS and Android phones, through their Lightning and USB ports.

      Leica surveying kit now supports Android phones in addition to iDevices.

      There's also USB OTG options for talking to Arduino projects, in addition to communication with Arduino over Bluetooth and WiFi.

  18. ecofeco Silver badge

    Will become not exciting?

    Not like now right? Where as I have a phone with round corners and a bunch of hieroglyphs that is far superior to that other phone with round corners and hieroglyphs!

    It would be a shame if THAT happened!

  19. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    The problem of the "solved problem"

    MWC attendances have been falling for the last few years in a way that echoes CES about 15 years ago as the PC market started to stagnate. This tells us that the market has matured and is waiting for the next problem that requires solving. So far all the candidates have been less than overwhelming: VR, wearables, AR, 5G…

    But a mature market also means chances for niche options of a standard platform as well as gradual but continued improvements. So along with a common wireless charging standard and a move towards USB-C, there's also space for the Gemini and Samsung's DeX. Google's Treble should also be welcomed even if it's less spectacular, the real benefits will appear next year as Google pushes out (security) updates without having to wait for the manufacturers or network providers.

    And why should Google worry about KaiOS if it runs Maps…?

  20. chivo243 Silver badge

    Flip Flop

    I've had a smartphone for less than a year. I was forever happy with my Nokia C1... I sometimes yearn for that old phone. Until, that is, I need to take a decent viewable photo!

  21. rob miller

    What they need to do....

    is make it easy to swap your data etc. between handsets. Currently everyone thinks lock-in is it, but as the article says all the rich people have their phones already. Nifty as the advertising is, no point buying another one this year.

    Need to make it so having bought a nice phone, it would still be worthwhile to buy another - different days of the week, cheap one to be stolen or lost, small one for the dinner jacket.

    1. Is It Me

      Re: What they need to do....

      Depends on what you mean by data, both Android and iOS let you sync contacts calendars photos etc. on multiple devices with one log in.

      It does mean you have to trust them with that data and use their apps/cloud.

      Due to letting Google have access to most of my life the last couple of phone I have had I just log to my Google account during part of the set up, pick another phone from the list that is associated with my account and it even starts downloading all the apps that were installed on it.

  22. maaen


    I would only buy a flagship phone with a removable battery...and there must be many millions of potential customers such as me around the world with the same basic requirement.. but the marketing people would not want to see this fact staring them in the face...

    I do not wish to be controlled..I want decide when I will buy a new phone to replace my older phone.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: maaen

      Why does everyone keep saying Marketing is blind when their whole purpose is to make money? Could it be instead they see something we don't? You see millions, but perhaps they see tens of millions.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: maaen

        To those thumbing me down, ask me this. If your ideas were really that much in demand, why hasn't anyone come in, done what you asked, and taken the cell phone world by storm? Why hasn't there been an upstart?

  23. bazza Silver badge

    From the article:

    If this catches on, most phones in the world will look and work exactly as the Chocolate Factory intended, exercising the same power that Bill Gates held over the PC builders. What chances, then, of anything interesting happening ever again? ®

    Hmm well, that might become a problem for Google. If it becomes apparent that, really, all non iPhones are stock Android, then Google are kinda in the same position as MS were with Windows / DOS back in the day; a near monopoly. That could attract the kind of attention that would not be welcome so far as Google are concerned. They're already being investigated in the EU over their leveraging of Google Play Store to command prominence and exclusivity of their services on other manufacturer's mobiles.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There was one cool feature I liked

    The FLIR camera in the Cat S61. I know, I know, that's a niche thing (but anything new these days is going to be niche) It could be sold as an environmentally aware feature since it would be easy to tell where the air leaks are in your home and caulk them up to save energy. The cost would have to be driven down, but if someone like Apple or Samsung contracted to buy tens of millions a year that problem would be addressed.

    1. psychonaut

      Re: There was one cool feature I liked

      FLIR can buy these as add ons. a few hundred quid for a reasonable model. a mate of mine has one

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There was one cool feature I liked

        You missed the whole point of what I said. Unless it is built in to a model that sells tens of millions it will always be an add on for a "few hundred quid". Given that a separate FLIR unit costs that much and you have to carry around something besides your phone either way that's hardly worth it.

        I'll bet if Apple had decided a couple years ago they are going to put it on the iPhone X follow on and its 6.5" big brother coming out this fall, they could have driven the price down 20-40x by contracting to buy 120 million of them in a year. That's about the order of magnitude they drove down the price of MEMs between 2006 and 2009 by buying in huge volume. I don't think there's any chance Apple would add them on since it is a niche feature, but Samsung is the only other company that can drive enough volume to a single model that they could make this happen (not that I think they will)

        1. DropBear

          Re: There was one cool feature I liked

          That's exactly it - I don't want it lopsided hanging off somewhere from my phone, I want it BUILT IT. And definitely not for "a few hundred quid" extra - it's not gonna be free, I get it, but please do stop trying to rob me blind.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: There was one cool feature I liked

            The sensors required for FLIR are around $100 right now. I'm sure some of that is patents, I don't know the details. No one is trying to "rob you blind" any more than they were when a digital camera cost $300, a GPS cost $200, a video camera cost $800, a computer able to run a web browser cost $2500 and so forth that now all comes for free inside your phone thanks to economies of scale.

            If FLIR became a common feature you expected to get with any high end smartphone the price would become a fraction of that (you might want to negotiate with the patent holders for a maximum payment, like how the MPEG patents max out at a certain number of units) If it doesn't get added, which seems more likely, it will probably be a $100+ add on or $200+ standalone unit a decade from now.

  25. bofh1961

    Mobile phones have always been boring. If you're lucky you can find one where the basic functionality works well and the battery lasts a couple of days. All a phone needs is the ability to make calls and send texts with good reception and a decent battery life. All a smartphone needs to add is mobile broadband and a decent web browser. You don't need an app to access Amazon from Linux so why is it necessary on Android? By now you may have guessed that I'm not young any more...

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      At BOFH1961...

      You forgot to shake your palsied fists at the young whippersnappers & scream at them to get off your lawn.

      I've trained the attack squirrels to hit them with their nuts. =-)p

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: At BOFH1961...

        Careful. That may prompt them to come back with Leather face masks and chainsaws...

  26. Gene Cash Silver badge

    PDA market?

    My "phone" manages my calendar, meetings, and appointments, my contacts, my to-do list, my email, my bank accounts and credit card balances, the restaurants I like to eat at, a list of tips & tricks I've collected, displays a map of where I am, handles my navigation, tells me where the nearest EV charging spot is, opens my garage when I get home, and plays solitaire.

    Far more than any of my Palm Pilots did...

    If THAT is not a PDA, I don't know what is...

    1. DropBear

      Re: PDA market?

      ...but it fails to handle my memos/notes, unless I'm willing to subscribe to some third party's cloud. Progress, hells yeah!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My lovely Alcatel device...

    recently received an "update" which altered the system apps to push advertising with audio that streams at the worst times possible (as if there was ever a good time).

    It also seems to want to scan my WIFI and Bluetooth be used by Facebook!

    Phone has been wiped and flashed with Lineage OS and any certs used by Alcatel have been disabled.

    Stay far away from vendor modified Android OS's!

  28. KimGriff

    At last! Someone has said it...

    At first I thought that I might be getting a bit "teched out", but this article is spot on.

    The industry is stagnating, we have reached saturation point and until there are significant advances in battery tech and other, we are going to be stuck in incremental refreshes.

  29. doug_bostrom

    At a certain point we stopped being excited with pencils.

    Once we'd seen round vs. octagonal, mechanical vs. traditional, a range of softness and the all-important addition of a built-in eraser there wasn't much left to maintain enthusiasm over what is of course only a tool to make life a bit easier.

    But in the "high tech" world it seems we must never be allowed to settle into comfortable coexistence with what are really only prosaic tools. Hence we are challenged with often lunatic "innovations" that are imposed on us, to the detriment of productivity. The ribbon in Office comes to mind.

    Phones can indeed benefit from refinements, along the lines of the titanium hammer replacing steel in professional kits. But changing the entire shape and function of a hammer isn't really possible.

  30. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge


    It's obvious why phones suck. Everybody is copying Apple, and Apple is making phones that only a few fanatics want. The headphone jack is gone, replaceable batteries are gone, moderately rugged bezels are gone, memory cards are gone, high resolution screens are gone, buttons are gone, and MHL is gone. Phone makers are actually copying the fucking notched screen for lack of anything better to do with a completely featureless rectangle. The one good thing that Apple has is the large number of supported LTE bands, and not enough makers are copying that.

  31. itzman

    Wait till theres a Linux that works on rooted phones..

    We were slow with PCs, but android IS linux plus rubbish

    Android Mint...

    No apps store, just .debs...

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      At Itzman...

      Make the screen reader work so it lets us interact with the entire OS -every menu, every screen, every text message, every phone number, everything- and I'd buy one in a heartbeat.

      I'm sick & fucking tired of supposedly "accessible" devices that turn out to have forgotten something crutial to be tweaked to be accessible, like a calculator that can't allow the screen reader to read the bloody equals sign, or a mail widget that is unable to say the fekkin CommercialAtSign...

      If that Android Mint lets us interact with the entire phone, every menu & every screen & every widget on it, then ... deep breath... SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!


      Ahem... yes. =-)p

      1. Dave559 Silver badge

        Re: Screen reader and accessibility

        We would hope that OS and app developers would test screen reader and other accessibility functionality exhaustively, but if it turns out that they haven’t been as thorough as they should have, I’m sure that they would genuinely welcome feedback so that they can make improvements.

        Or if not, a word in the ear of the RNIB (or equivalent) would hopefully result in an accessibility lawsuit headed their way to help attract their attention.

  32. YARR
    Black Helicopters

    Stock Android = "OK Google" always listening?

    If the market is heading towards stock Android on all phones for security updates, does this mean they will always be listening for "OK Google" (and everything else)? This has been reported for recent Android 7 & 8 phones with Google Now / Assistant, even after turning the setting off. Perhaps this is a "feature" for phones sold only in certain countries (for now), along with disabling the VPN?

    Big Brother will be pleased.

  33. cosymart


    I was just thinking... Must be time to replace my phone, had a look around and saw no reason to. Current phone works, does what I need it to do, fairly decent battery life, on a good tariff. Am I the only one?

    The hardware has almost plateaued out, if you need something different get an app, simple.

  34. Emmeran

    I have to upgrade this year

    I've been on a Windows phone for who knows how long mostly because it just worked. I'm not going to the AppleWorld so it looks like my next phone is a Cat S41 Android.

    The thing is Android is so messy and annoying. I really don't need my phone to do much but it needs to be business like and organized - but most of all shouldn't be frail and lacy like an iPhone.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Look at the pile of old phones in China, Africa, Mexico

    I Agree the phones business have lost the plot but say Google is making it better !!

    The conference should not have produced any completed phones just proof of concept models as there are way too many models being released. It's just the same as the automobile industry in US releasing new models to make old ones appear outdated.

    Google's Android department was at least working against the tide by aiming to produce a two part Android O/S where the lower part would be melded to the manufacturers system and drivers OEM style allowing the upper part to be updated without further action by the manufacturer.

    This is good because it removes the push by manufacturers against you purchasing new phones to get a new software operating system.

    Unfortunately what Google do elsewhere show that the right hand may not know what the left hand does.

    People really need to slow down and only purchase new mobile phone every 5 years or more, preferably every 10 years if we are to save ourselves from this ever growing pile of mobile garbage building up in countries too stupid to stop taking it from the rest of the world.

  36. pip25

    This has been the case since years

    Perhaps the main difference is that manufacturers are finally realizing that stock Android is good enough that customizing it will not help as much as it will slow down updates. So now the phones are all the same both inside and out. Yaaay.

    I can only hope that with the urge to introduce software bloat no longer as prevalent, they'll try taking bigger risks in the hardware department again. And no, I am NOT talking about removing even more features just to make the phone 1 mm thinner. Perhaps it could be foldable screens, or a new form factor entirely, anything really... Let's just say I'm more than ready to finally see something new and noteworthy.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The thickness of Sony's new phones

    11.1mm on the XZ2 and 12.1mm on the XZ2 Compact. And stingy battery capacities.

    Feels like we're back to the mid 2000s.

    Wireless charging is a gimmick, unless each new phone comes bundled with a free wireless charging accessory. That isn't going to happen.

    Looking through various forums, the (very few) Sony Xperia fanboys out there are either upset that Sony ditched the headphone jack, or annoyed that the 'Omnibalance' design was ditched for a generic Chinese phone (and HTC U11 back) look.

    Unless these new Sony phones are capable of taking superior photos/videos over the iPhone X, Pixel 2, and the Samsung phones, there isn't any compelling selling point.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: The thickness of Sony's new phones

      An unbranded wireless charging mat sells for about £10. Ikea even sell furniture with them built in.

      So it's the kind of accessory that you end up having several of anyway, and mobile phone contracts can offer them as sweeteners.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My phone has evolved into this thing that does too much now. Its basically a mobile entertainment centre. With a crap battery. (I know its not really crap, its just that my phone is really now doing the stuff my laptop used to do)

    So, what I want next:

    1. decouple the phone from the system. I need a phone that's just a phone, but allows the entertainment gadget to seamless clip together and pass through.

    2. I want a projector so I can watch tv on a wall in a hotel.

    3. optic interface, so I can see a virtual screen without needing to wear silly google glasses.

    4. nuclear battery with a half-life of at least 100 years.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      "Android TV" has effectively solved #2.

      The last few hotels I stayed at had TVs that my phone could screencast to.

      It's amusing. HDMI HCP was explicitly designed to meet Hollywood's insane requirement that the video output couldn't be copied, and now we have a standard explictly for throwing it over wireless to any old device.

  39. Greg D

    Form factor

    Issue for me is form factor. All phones are basically the same in every way, aside from some software quirks. Hardware has homologised into a uniform slab of glass with identical human interface design issues. They all look the same and feel the same.

    Buttons on the side? Shit. Touchscreen keyboards? Shit. Screen bezels that go to edge and cause all sorts of issues with fat hands holding the thing? Shit. Screens so big and unprotected, easy to break despite good quality build? Shit.

    Give me more flip phones, more bananas phones. Experiment with new form factors FFS.

    1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

      Re: Form factor

      The thing is we all have hands very similar to each other.. so the sizes are going to be from 4.5 to 5.5 and a few bigger and smaller than that, depending on preferences (bigger screen but too big, or the contrary).

      There are also a few manufacturers of chipsets, and they all pretty much are the same ARM cores, modified a bit, and a few different GPU cores. Plus the modem/radio, standard tech battery, and you just have some relatively straight forward ancilliaries such as motion sensors, screen driver, NAND, etc. YEs qualities do vary, but not so much (UFS is great, but we wont need anything faster than that).

      So yeah, boring days.

  40. Big_Boomer


    I have an Honor 9 and it does pretty much everything I need in a phone and cost £300 sim-free. The USB-C is a massive improvement over micro-USB and a decent case/screen protector is enough protection unless you are a clumsy oaf who smashes phones every 6 months. The "new" feature I'd like to see cordless charging on all phones/tablets so I can just throw everything on a mat on my bedside table when I go to bed. I would also like a magnetic car phone holder that charges the phone cordlessly. If there was a desk one too, even the heaviest phone user would never run out of charge.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Charging

      No thank you. Experience tells me all cordless charging technology present issues of heat which shorten battery lives.

  41. Dr_N Silver badge

    I blame journalists.

    Cooing over the same-old, same-old slab phone designs this past decade. Instead of holding feet to flames.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mature Market

    "This is because the mobile phone industry has fulfilled everything it once promised to do. In the West and mature markets, we've all got one, so they don't try very hard for our money. We're buying cheaper and holding onto them longer"

    Same thing happened to desktop PCs nearly ten years ago. Just the way it is.

  43. Handle123456

    "exercising the same power that Bill Gates held over the PC builders. What chances, then, of anything interesting happening ever again?"

    The same power Gates held. Past tense. What chance then? 100 %.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh noes

    Orlowski will have to find something else to write about.

    The sky must be falling in.

  45. oneguycoding


    Too much attention, both media and manufacturer, being paid to look and feel when most people cram them into protective cases and cover the screen with a slab of protective glass or plastic. Make 'em bigger, allow us to fix them ourselves (display screen and battery, if not ram and storage) and forget about me updating my phone every year, it ain't going to happen. And I know I'm not the only one who wants this piece of hardware. Most of this was doable with my Nexus 5, which I just replaced the body and digitiser and battery for my son because of a cracked screen. Cost me 60 measly Canadian dollars -- if it weren't for the lack of the fingerprint sensor I would have gone back to it myself after installing the latest version of LineageOS. Also, I demand the right to install my own rom, even if it's just stock Android. This is why I'll never use samsung or any of the other 3rd party android manufacturers.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: meh

      Then you can say goodbye to root-aware apps, of which the numbers are growing.

  46. GucciPiggy

    And what about Apple? Every iPhone has iOS and an even more restrictive OS when it comes to customization?

  47. TomG

    Reading these comments, it strikes me that so many people want their cell phones to be exciting. Do they not have a life? They probably should look for something exciting than a phone. On the other hand, maybe I don't really understand cell phones. An improvement in battery life would be good though.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Of course we all have lives. Otherwise, we'd be dead. And if we were zombies, we wouldn't be caring about phones.

  48. Palladium

    Law of good enough strikes again

    Just like PCs and TVs after some critical point, "more of the same" improvements become superfluous and replacement cycles grow longer and longer.

  49. hairydog


    Are mobile phones meant to be entertaining?

    If Google can stop makers forcing all manner of garbage onto the phones to make them appear different, that's wonderful.

    You can add stuff you want, change launchers, customise as much as you like.

    But for most people "boringly reliable" is the ultimate objective.

    iPhones are all the same UI, well behind in UX terms and you're stuck with that. Doesn't seem to matter much to their customers.

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