It may surprise even Neil Stephenson himself. His science fiction novel "Avalanche" published in 1992 has become a "Bible" in the Internet world nearly 30 years later.
Metaverse, or "Metaverse", this word from "Avalanche" has almost contracted the hot spot of the technology circle for the whole year in 2021. An Internet world composed entirely of digital content and 3D virtualization is becoming a favorite of technology companies. A new story to tell first.
We are counting on VR/AR and other devices, expecting them to create a virtual space that can immerse in life and socialize, and become the next digital product that changes human lifestyles like smartphones. At a time when the concept of the metaverse is rampant, our expectations for such an ultimate device are almost at their peak.
However, this "final battle" in the technology circle has never come. An ultimate virtual world needs more powerful graphics power to "build", needs clearer display technology to "show", and needs to be consistent with our real life. Generate more "connections"… How long will it take us to cross this barrier that separates imagination from reality?
Economist Brian Arthur stated in The Nature of Technology:
Many components of a technology are shared by other technologies, so as these components are improved in other applications than the main technology, a lot of progress automatically occurs.
In the past 2021, although we have not been able to meet the "ultimate product" that can subvert interaction and life, some technologies that can support new lifestyles have begun to emerge in different consumer electronics fields. The context became clearer during the year.
At the end of 2020, Apple's M1 chip completely reversed the "dwarf first-class" situation of Arm-based computers, and what is even more surprising than the performance of the M1 chip is the speed at which Apple promotes the software ecosystem.
In less than a year, the mainstream software on macOS has basically launched a version specially adapted for the Arm architecture, and the "pain period" of Apple and Intel breaking up is shorter than expected.
Different from the taste of the M1 chip, the birth of the M1 Pro and Max a year later is to leverage the professional application field dominated by the X86 and challenge the opponents where they are best at.
Tim Millet, Apple's chip architect and vice president, mentioned in an interview that it took more effort to go from M1 to M1 Pro and M1 Max than to build an M1 chip from scratch.
In terms of absolute computing power performance, M1 Max can already compete with flagship PCs, and more importantly, M1 Max's strength will not be constrained by cables, and its still far-leading energy consumption ratio control broadens the Macbook Pro work boundaries.
Work such as large-scale 3D graphics scanning, rendering, or ultra-high-definition editing is no longer restricted to professional studios, and more people can participate in professional work.
The M1 Pro/Max of the "frying field" also proves that the M-series chips have great potential for expansion. Apple is likely to stack more cores on the M chips to replace the Intel cores on the Mac Pro to provide the ultimate computing power.
Or to further simplify the M chip, resurrect the MacBook series that was born for absolute portability, or even apply it to the mysterious Apple MR glasses.
According to Apple's 2021 fourth-quarter report, revenue from Macs increased by 16% year-on-year. Facing the M-series chips that are chasing after victory, it is time for even the arrogant giant to make a change.
Intel CEO Pat Kirsinger mentioned in an interview in October that Intel is confident that it will maintain or even surpass Moore's Law over the next decade, which is often seen as slowing or even failing.
A month later, Intel came up with a 12th-generation Core that switched to a "heterogeneous multi-core" architecture, which is considered the most disruptive change to X86.
In the past, whether it was AMD or Intel, 4-core, 8-core or 16-core, the multi-core processors of the X86 platform adopted the "homogeneous multi-core" core architecture, that is, the structure, computing power and status of each core were the same.
The 12th-generation Core divides the core into two types: performance cores and energy efficiency cores, which is a bit like the "large and small core" structure of the Arm architecture.
Since the volume of energy-efficient cores is much smaller than that of performance cores, it is a more cost-effective way to increase the multi-computing power of processors by increasing the number of energy-efficient cores.
In the exploration of new architectures, AMD, which has always been known for its multi-core performance, has not been left behind.
From some of the patents published by AMD, we can also find some clues related to the "heterogeneous multi-core" design. At present, the transition to the "heterogeneous" structure is indeed an important direction for the X86 platform to improve the energy efficiency ratio.
Architecture is the foundation of chip design. In addition to relying on the improvement of semiconductor technology, chip performance also requires continuous optimization and upgrading of the architecture. Faced with the current situation of difficult advancement of the process technology, it has naturally become a common choice for all companies to focus their R&D efforts on the upgrade of the chip architecture.
With the news of Apple's former Mac system architecture director Jeff Wilcox returning to his old company Intel, the winner of this new era of chip wars is full of suspense, and the fierce competition has spawned stronger chip computing power. It will ultimately benefit consumers, creators and even more industries.
The M1 Pro/Max chips are not the only bright spot of the new MacBook Pro. Turning on the computer, this mini-LED screen can almost match the Pro Display XDR priced at 40,000 yuan in terms of screen brightness, contrast and other display qualities. It is also Apple's The confidence of "Bombing Field".
The mini-LED was first familiar to the public, and it should come from the 12.9-inch iPad Pro released by Apple in April, which is equipped with the most "bright" screen in the history of the iPad – both bright and dark.
The key to the bright eye is the more than 10,000 mini LED lamp beads hidden under the screen.
From the perspective of imaging principle, mini LED is like a technical improvement of LCD screen. It reduces the LED lamp beads on the traditional backlit version into LED chips about the size of a hair diameter. Originally, there were only a few hundred lamp beads covered. The backlight panel has become tens of thousands of small bright spots.
When the number of lamp beads is increased, more detailed "light control areas" can be divided, which is bright when it is bright, and dark when it is dark – this is also the secret to making black appear more pure.
Taking the XDR screen of the iPad Pro as an example, it has more than 2500 backlight partitions, compared with only dozens of ordinary LCD screens, with more backlight partitions, and the layers of light and dark transitions are naturally richer.
▲ Samsung's mini-LED display
The popularity of mini-LED in the field of large-screen displays is faster. TV manufacturers including Samsung, Huawei, and TCL will launch corresponding mini-LED TVs and display products in 2021, which are similar to OLED and LCD products. Compared with that, mini-LED has considerable advantages in terms of brightness and contrast.
The mini LED balances the low contrast ratio of LCD and the low brightness of large-sized OLED, but it is too early to consider it as the optimal solution for the current screen.
Because the HDR content that can take advantage of the mini LED display is still not rich, in most scenarios, the high-cost mini LED cannot make a big gap between the two.
So from a content production perspective, the MacBook Pro series should be the most important mini LED product this year.
The new MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch lower the threshold of HDR video workflow to a new level – a mobile phone and a laptop can complete the production of HDR video.
Until now, just a color-accurate, high-brightness HDR display was a huge cost to creators.
The era where everyone is a creator is slowly changing to an era where everyone is an HDR creator.
And richer HDR content allows us to re-look at the world with a more realistic perspective. In this virtuous circle of mutual promotion between hardware and content, we have taken an important step in 2021.
In the past, when choosing digital products, we paid more attention to the design and performance of the product itself, but now, you may need to tangle about the brand ecology.
The word "ecology" will be repeatedly mentioned by various mobile phone manufacturers in 2021. Building a full-product ecosystem including headphones, watches, tablets, computers, and even cars around smartphones seems to be the "final" of every mobile phone manufacturer. fantasy".
Such an interconnected ecosystem sounds wonderful, but buying computers and TVs based on mobile phone brands is an unprecedented consumption habit for consumers in the past.
The core of ecological construction is to provide a unified, cross-device collaborative service. This is not only a hardware competition, but also a test of software and hardware integration capabilities. Huawei's HarmonyOS is probably the one that attracts the most attention in this competition.
If you don't quite understand the obscure technical terms such as "distributed task scheduling" and "cross-device elastic deployment", then Huawei's release of HarmonyOS 2 three years later should solve your confusion.
In HarmonyOS 2, Huawei summarizes the meaning of Hongmeng Ecology in two simple words – "Super Terminal" and "Service Circulation".
"Hyper Terminal" is based on the same ecology, and Hongmeng devices can freely call their own hardware in the control center.
A tablet can become a digital tablet for a computer, a TV and audio system can become a screen and a speaker for a mobile phone, and multiple mobile phones can be used together to form a multi-camera shooting.
The "service transfer" is based on such a hyperterminal system to realize cross-device migration of tasks. For example, games on mobile phones can be seamlessly connected to tablets with larger screens; when the mobile phone is turned off during navigation, route information is automatically migrated. to the watch and so on.
Using software services to break through the hardware restrictions between different devices is becoming the direction of more and more brands in the future. In the latest MIUI 13 Magic Sharing Center released by Xiaomi, we can see similar cross-device and cross-platform information Mobile service.
As a pioneer of ecological collaborative services, Apple's Universal Control function announced at WWDC 2021 is also worthy of attention.
In the presentation of Craig Federighi, Apple's software engineering director, he used the same mouse to easily achieve cross-screen walking on 3 Macs/iPads, and he could also drag and drop files between devices. The "screen" seems to merge into a machine at this moment.
The seemingly easy and intuitive operations of Harmony OS and Universal Control are actually composed of complex connection technologies. When these cross-device ecological services continue to improve, the multi-terminal unified service we have been looking forward to is likely to be realized.
At that time, computers, mobile phones, tablets, headphones, and even sweeping robots are no longer a single individual device, but an integral part of a huge "super hardware". The selection of any product is an ecosystem vote.
Thanks to the "involution" of mobile phone manufacturers in recent years, it is not easy to find a phenomenal selling point for mobile phones.
▲ Picture from: Marques Brownlee
High refresh rate with similar quality, fast charging and 5G network with similar speed, similar SoC core configuration… In addition to the different styles of design and system experience, this year's struggle for mobile phone manufacturers seems to be only video shooting.
Stacking hardware is the most direct way to improve the quality of shooting, which is the "muscle pie" of mobile photography.
At the beginning of the year, Xiaomi 11 Pro and 11 Ultra launched an "arms race" with the GN2 with a photosensitive element size close to 1 inch, paving the way for the era of mobile phones entering a 1-inch outsole.
Unexpectedly, it was not the TOP players in the market such as Huawei, OPPO, vivo, etc. that crossed this threshold first, but the AQUOS R6 launched by Sharp and Leica.
Photography is the art of capturing light. Since the area of the sensor fundamentally determines the amount of light entering the image, the larger the area, the higher the image quality. The 1-inch sensor size is just the difference between a card camera and a camera. A watershed with cell phones.
Of course, the 1-inch bottom is not a panacea. As the size increases, the flange distance and optical path of the lens will change. Otherwise, it will be like the Xperia I Pro, which also uses a 1-inch outsole, and the actual usable area is only about 1/2. 1.3'.
Since "muscle gain" has a physical limit, other manufacturers choose to strengthen graphics algorithms, which is a "brain pie" that digs deep into computational photography.
Computational photography is to restore real-world imaging technology through a series of computational processing. For example, HDR and night mode are the most typical computational photography scenarios by stacking multiple exposures into one photo. will vary.
The "computational optics" proposed by Huawei on the P50 series is impressive.
Through close cooperation with lens manufacturers, Huawei uses algorithms to compensate for the information lost by light in the lens, so that the P50 Pro's periscope lens can achieve ultra-telephoto imaging under the premise of shortening the optical focal length (from 10x to 3.5x). The quality has improved from the previous generation.
Apple, who is keen to use computational camera technology, has also brought innovations to the iPhone 13 series. Thanks to the increase in computing power of the A15 bionic chip, Apple has brought portrait mode into the video field and has become a "movie" that can flexibly change its focus like a movie. model".
"Cinematic Mode" allows you to shoot a shallow depth of field effect closer to a professional camera, and can automatically change the focus according to the content of the screen, or adjust the focus in post.
The basis is that the depth map is captured by multiple cameras, combined with AI algorithms, to distinguish the subject and background in real time, which is a bold attempt of computational photography in the field of video.
As a master of computational photography, Google has introduced unique features such as motion blur, long exposure, magic eraser, and more on the Pixel 6 series, which switched to its self-developed Tensor chip.
Google hopes to lower the threshold of professional photography technology as much as possible through computational photography, and pressing the shutter is a good photo.
Computational photography is closely related to the computing power of algorithms and processors, which makes the importance of ISP chips repeatedly mentioned in 2021. Actively deploying self-developed ISP chips is a major trend for mobile phone manufacturers.
With the emergence of Xiaomi Surging C1, vivo V1 chip, and OPPO Mariana chip, I believe that the differences in imaging styles and photography gameplay of each company will be improved in the future, and the battle for the best camera phone is bound to change in 2022. more intense.
When you get up in the morning, the curtains are automatically opened, and the night light that has been on all night can finally rest. At this time, the kettle automatically starts to boil water.
After years of development, the automated home life composed of sensors and smart home appliances is no longer new. The emergence of smart homes has made our lives easier, but building a smart home from scratch is not easy at all.
For novices who have just entered the smart home, some people who come here often suggest that they choose the ecology first, and then choose the product according to their needs. The ecology of the smart home is often bound to the mobile phone brand, otherwise the equipment will have data incompatibility, control incompatibility, and complicated connections. problem.
If you buy a smart light bulb, you need to go through complicated pairing after it is powered on; if you want a voice speaker, you can only choose from a few models from a brand; obviously under the same roof, you need to control the whole house electrical appliances in 3. Jumping back and forth in an app… This kind of experience can hardly be called "smart".
"Smart" should be the natural evolution of the home in the Internet age, but now smart home is bound by the agreement barriers between different ecosystems. Under the beautiful vision of "whole house intelligence" that every brand is emphasizing, these limitations appear to be both Cumbersome and redundant.
The good news is that this industry problem will turn around in 2021. The Matter standard launched by the CSA Alliance in May was born to break through the barriers to smart home brands.
The predecessor of the CSA Alliance is the Zigbee Alliance, and its participating members include more than 400 companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Samsung, and Huawei. This is a rare collaboration between the giants of the smart home industry, and Matter was born with high hopes.
Unlike Apple's Homekit, Google's Google Home or Amazon's Alexa, Matter is not an ecological platform, but an IP-based unified connection technology, which can achieve cross-platform and ecological collaboration through the Matter standard.
That is to say, when the Matter standard is popularized, you may no longer need to pay attention to what brand and ecology of smart appliances are, and they can be integrated into the original smart home network at home when they are plugged in.
The emergence of Matter has brought many new possibilities to the smart home: all smart homes can be controlled with only one app, and any voice assistant can control every appliance in the home…
Matter has built bridges to communicate with each other across countless devices, but this is just the beginning.
▲ Matter appeared at this year’s Apple’s WWDC conference
Although Matter has been promoted by many giants, as an unprecedented "uniform" technology, the Matter standard still needs a lot of time to discuss and decide, so that many members can reach consensus. Matter-related certification standards and products will not be released until 2022.
In any case, an underlying technology that can reconnect the entire smart home industry is always a good thing to look forward to.
Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along.
At the launch of the original iPhone 15 years ago, Jobs used this sentence as his opening remarks.
He waited 2 years and 6 months for this day, and he slept through the night the day before the release, believing that the upcoming multi-touch operation will forever change the way people make calls, surf the Internet and listen to music, this set of touch screen iPod , mobile phone and Internet communication device, can "Put the Internet into your pocket."
The original iPhone is a well-deserved "revolutionary product", it is the starting point of the mobile Internet, and even after that, it is difficult for us to find a product that can be compared with it. When will the next revolutionary product appear? This is a question that is asked every year but not answered.
This is because not all innovations are made overnight. Brian Arthur believes that technology must come from a new combination of previously existing technologies to some extent, and the stock of existing technologies provides the new combination required. In part, this is a combinatorial evolution of technologies.
2021 is the year of storage technology for "evolution". As a transitional stage for Micro LED, mini-LED has begun to be popularized in terminals; Moore's Law, which has slowed down due to the difficulty in advancing the manufacturing process, is realizing computing power growth in another form; the disintegrating smart home market is expected to form an interconnected platform …
Technology has slowed down the pace of progress, but never stopped the pace of innovation. These life-changing technology trends are like a snowball, starting to roll in 2021.
Brian Kernihan, the father of the C language, mentioned in the book "The World is Digital":
Technological change is not a single isolated event, but an ongoing process: rapid, continuous and faster.
A technological revolution that has been awaited for too long may be close at hand.
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