The Shaky Science Behind Predicting Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake in Italy killed hundreds of people—and set in motion a legal battle and scientific debate that has kept seismologists on edge


It’s a typical day and Italy is shaking.
I am standing in the monitoring room at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, in Rome, and I watch the earthquakes taking place in real time. At least two people staff the room 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The quakes—terremoti, or earth motions, as they say in Rome—pop up as red, yellow and black dots on a series of screens that cover the front wall. When I arrive, just before noon, there have already been four quakes of a magnitude greater than 2.0 recorded that morning in Italy. There have also been 16 smaller quakes. Most of these have been concentrated in an area northwest of Florence, which is experiencing what’s known as an earthquake “swarm.” By the time I leave the room, an hour or so later, two more terremoti have jolted the area.

“It’s a quiet day,” Giulio Selvaggi, a seismologist at the institute, tells me. Selvaggi is a trim man with dark hair, light eyes and a dry wit. “For the moment,” he adds.

Thanks to the northward drift of Africa, the “boot” of Italy is gradually being compressed, like a leg being pushed from below. Meanwhile, for reasons no one entirely understands, the country is also expanding laterally, like a thigh growing wider. The net result is that Italy is known, perhaps euphemistically, as “seismically active.” Small earthquakes happen all the time; every decade or so, there’s a major one. (Repeated quakes are one of the main reasons ancient Rome now lies in ruins.) A sequence of quakes in Assisi in 1997 killed at least ten people and destroyed a series of world-renowned frescoes in the Basilica of San Francesco. In 2002, twenty-seven schoolchildren died in the southern region of Molise when a quake destroyed the roof of their school. Today, whenever there’s an earthquake in Italy of a magnitude greater than 2.5, one of the technicians in the monitoring room in Rome picks up a red phone and reports it to the country’s Department of Civil Protection. This way, the department can explain to nervous citizens why their pictures have dropped from the walls or their dishes have rattled. What would be a lot more useful, of course, would be a system that alerts residents minutes, hours or better still days in advance of a quake. People could then take real precautions. They could secure artworks and other valuables. They could fasten down their furniture and evacuate their homes.

The most recent major earthquake struck in April 2009, in the mountainous region of Abruzzo. More than 300 people were killed, thousands were left homeless and the picturesque center of the region’s capital, L’Aquila, was left in ruins. Outside the region, the L’Aquila earthquake is famous not so much for the devastation that it caused as for the legal battle that ensued, one that essentially put the science of earthquake prediction on trial.

The city of L’Aquila sits about an hour and a half northeast of Rome, on a hilltop shadowed by some of the highest peaks of the Apennines. The mountain chain, which runs down the center of Italy’s leg, like the seam of a stocking, is among the country’s most seismically dangerous areas, and it has a long history of tragedy. In 1461, a quake largely destroyed L’Aquila; this happened again in 1703. A magnitude 6.9 quake centered in the nearby town of Avezzano killed more than 30,000 people in 1915. The L’Aquila quake six years ago had a magnitude of 6.3 and, because its center was close to the surface of the earth, it was unusually destructive.

The drama of the 2009 earthquake began in the fall of 2008, when L’Aquila experienced a seismic swarm. Dozens of tremors shook the city, most too minor to be felt. The swarm continued through the early months of 2009, and some of the tremors were powerful enough to prompt school evacuations. People began to worry that the shaking was a sign that a disaster was imminent. Their anxieties were heightened by an amateur seismologist named Giampaolo Giuliani, who claimed he could predict quakes on the basis of radon levels. (Radon, a colorless, odorless radioactive gas, is present in small quantities in most rock formations.) Giuliani had installed radon detectors around L’Aquila and reported seeing levels rise sharply, which, by his account, represented a dire warning.

To address the mounting sense of panic, Italy’s National Commission for Forecasting and Preventing Great Risks held a special meeting in L’Aquila. The seismologists present pointed out what was known: L’Aquila was in a high-risk area. Seismic swarms only rarely precede major quakes. Meanwhile, studies had shown that radon spikes had no forecasting value.

A week after the commission met, on April 6, at 3:32 a.m., the quake struck. It lasted only 20 seconds, but the damage was enormous. Survivors described a roaring sound, a hideous shaking and a cascade of debris. “It was like being in a blender,” a L’Aquila resident who lost his wife and daughter in an apartment building collapse would later tell the journal Nature.
Grief turned quickly to outrage. How could the experts have failed so badly? One government official from the National Department of Civil Protection had gone so far as to state before the quake that the seismic swarm in L’Aquila had reduced the danger of a major event, a claim based on a misunderstanding of the underlying science. Some residents said this statement had convinced them to stay inside on the night of the quake and that this, in turn, had cost family members their lives.

In 2010, six of the scientists who’d participated in the meeting in L’Aquila were charged with manslaughter, along with the government official. One of the scientists was Giulio Selvaggi, then director of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology. “I couldn’t believe it,” Selvaggi told me of the indictment. “I thought it was a mistake.”

The prosecutors in the case argued that, while there might be no way of reliably predicting earthquakes, the scientists were nevertheless criminally negligent, as they’d failed to adequately assess the risk of a quake. To the defendants, this was a distinction without a difference.

“An earthquake is unpredictable, so the risk is unpredictable,” Selvaggi said to me. Scientists all around the world—indeed, scientists across fields—condemned the case as a witch hunt tricked out with statistics.

“The charges against these scientists are both unfair and naive,” the head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alan Leshner, wrote in an open letter to the Italian president. The American Geophysical Union warned that the case could have a dangerous rebound effect, discouraging scientists “from advising their government or even working in the field of seismology” because of the legal risks.

The trial, which was held in L’Aquila, lasted more than a year. All those charged were found guilty. Prosecutors had recommended four-year prison terms; the judge handed down sentences of six years. The defendants’ guilt, he explained, was “severe.” One of those convicted, Claudio Eva, a seismologist from the University of Genoa, called the decision “very Italian and medieval.”

The appeal of the L’Aquila verdict took another two years. At its conclusion, the six scientists were all acquitted, though for the seventh defendant—the government official—the verdict was upheld. At the time I visited Selvaggi, his conviction had just recently been overturned, and he still seemed deeply shaken by the experience. He felt confident that he’d done nothing wrong, but he found the wrath of the victims’ families difficult to bear. Meanwhile, his teenage children had a tough time dealing with the negative publicity surrounding the trial. “It was terrible,” he said. Alessandro Amato, one of Selvaggi’s colleagues at the institute, told me that the damage to the reputations of the scientists will be hard to undo. “The second verdict stated that the scientists were not responsible legally,” he said. (Amato, who was not involved in the case, is now working on a book about it.) “But most people still think they are. So many people think we are hiding from our responsibilities, that earthquakes are somehow predictable, but we just don’t want to admit it.”

Not long after I visited the Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, I took a bus from Rome to L’Aquila. A geologist at the institute named Fabrizio Galadini, who works on archaeoseismology—the study of past earthquakes—had offered to show me around. The first thing I noticed as the city came into view were the many construction cranes poised over it, their long, steely arms outlined against the clouds. I counted 30 before losing track.

When I arrived at an enormous piazza in the city center it was almost completely deserted. The buildings lining the piazza—shops, churches, elegant palazzos—were covered in scaffolding. In the window of a defunct bar, a handwritten sign advertised a soccer game scheduled for April 6, the very date the quake struck.

As we walked, Galadini told me about how the city had been built and rebuilt over the centuries, quake after quake. L’Aquila was founded in the 13th century by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, to counter the power of the Papal States. According to legend, the residents of 99 surrounding villages abandoned their homes to move there. Records of quakes extend nearly as far back: Medieval documents attest to a major earthquake in 1315 and multiple damaging quakes in 1349. Another strong quake struck in 1456, and the quake in 1703 very nearly destroyed the city.

Many of the city’s historical buildings were restored after 1703, Galadini said. “Those suffered damages” in 2009, he told me. “But the most dramatic fact is that the strongest damage was not suffered by historical buildings. It was suffered by modern buildings.” In one well-known case, a wing of a dormitory constructed in 1965 collapsed, killing 11 university students.

We turned and wandered down a narrow side street. Here, too, the buildings were covered in scaffolding and held together by steel braces. Most were locked up, but occasionally it was possible to peer inside and see men working among piles of rubble. Galadini said he thought some buildings would never be repaired, but would remain as “seismic fossils.” We arrived at Santa Maria di Paganica, an enormous stone cathedral constructed in the 14th century, which had been restored after the 1703 earthquake. The walls were still standing, but the roof had collapsed. A temporary roof of plastic sheeting had been constructed to keep out the rain, but this was now in tatters. “It’s a sort of symbol of the earthquake,” Galadini said.

Finally, we got to a newer building, constructed, Galadini speculated, in the 1960s or ’70s. The front wall, which had no central support, had completely given way. It seemed that nothing inside had been touched in the intervening six years. In a ground-floor apartment, I could see a jumble of broken tiles and plumbing, piles of clothes, and, on the walls, someone’s collection of coasters.

I asked Galadini what he thought the effect of the L’Aquila trial had been. He said it had pushed scientists in Italy to become latter-day Cassandras, always erring on the side of catastrophe. This was true not just in seismology, but also in unrelated disciplines, like meteorology: “If you say a hurricane is coming here, if the hurricane does not affect this area, OK, nothing has happened,” he said. “But if a hurricane occurs here, you can say, ‘Ah, I told you!’ For geologists, seismologists, the effect is quite simple. If people ask me, ‘Can you reassure us about the possibility that an earthquake will occur or not?’ I say, ‘No. I cannot reassure anybody. An earthquake may occur any minute!’”

People have been trying to predict earth­quakes probably for as long as they’ve lived in structures that could fall down on top of them. The early theories now sound farfetched. Aristotle, for example, thought that quakes could be foretold by looking at the sky. “A little, light, long-drawn cloud…like a long very straight line” was, he wrote, a sign of danger. Modern seismology is often said to have begun with the man who coined the term, an Irish engineer named Robert Mallet. Mallet became curious about the subject in the 1840s, after reading about earthquakes that had devastated Calabria, in southern Italy.

In order to study earthquakes more effectively, Mallet decided to stage some on his own. Using buried casks of gunpowder, he set off explosions in the sand of Killiney Beach, south of Dublin. Then, in December 1857, there was a major earthquake near Naples, which killed 10,000 people. With the help of Charles Darwin, who had a lifelong interest in geology, Mallet convinced Britain’s Royal Society to send him to Italy to view the destruction. He concluded—correctly—that earthquakes send out shock waves that radiate in all directions. (He also coined the word “epicenter.”) Mallet wasn’t sure what caused earthquakes. He believed they were probably the result of some sort of underground explosions. But he realized what people really wanted to know was not so much the why of earthquakes as the when and where.

“It will occur to many to ask, Can the moment of the occurrence or the degree of intensity of earthquake shock be predicted?” he wrote. “It is neither impossible nor improbable that the time shall arrive when…such forewarnings may be obtainable.” In other words: perhaps, someday.

A century after Mallet, an explanation for what causes earthquakes was finally found with the discovery of plate tectonics. When tectonic plates move—as they’re always doing, albeit very slowly—their edges can lock. Stress accumulates until, eventually, the locked blocks of rock abruptly slip past each other and the earth rumbles. (The strength of an earthquake depends on a complicated interplay of factors, including the physical properties of the rock and the distance the fault slips as the plates release from their grip.) Plate tectonics made it seem possible that obtaining “forewarnings” might be imminent.

In 1971, the head of Caltech’s seismology laboratory said he thought that, once the necessary research was completed, experts would be able to “forecast a quake in a given area” if not down to the exact day then “within a week.” Four years later reports reached the United States that Chinese scientists had successfully predicted a large earthquake in the northeastern province of Liaoning. This was in the middle of the cold war, and there was talk of an “earthquake gap” opening up between the East and West. The reports of a successful prediction in Liaoning would, a few decades later, be revealed to have been greatly exaggerated. But by that point, the U.S. Congress had already budgeted tens of millions of dollars to finance research into a reliable method of quake forecasting. Japan, another seismically active country, poured tens of millions of dollars into a similar program.

Plate tectonics suggest that earthquakes ought to occur in cycles—a rhythm of building stress and release, building stress and release. In 1988, seismologists tested this logic by observing a section of the San Andreas fault near the town of Parkfield, in central California. The area had produced six earthquakes of a magnitude 6.0 or greater since 1857. Researchers concluded that the next one was due within four years. In fact, it did not take place for 16 years. Similarly, the next major quake in the Tokai region of central Honshu, in Japan, was forecast for 2001, 2004 and 2007, but as of this writing has not happened. In a tragic twist, in mid-April seismologists gathered in Katmandu, Nepal, to discuss the dangers of a major quake. They knew the area was vulnerable to disaster but could not foresee the magnitude 7.8 quake that struck the city one week later, killing thousands of people.

Research has also shown that swarms of small quakes of the sort L’Aquila experienced before the 2009 quake—and that Tuscany was experiencing on the day I visited the institute in Rome—have limited predictive value. If a region experiences a swarm, it becomes more likely to experience a large quake. The problem is that it’s even more likely not to experience a large quake. Italian geologists who examined seismic data from three earthquake-prone regions found that if a swarm contained a medium-sized shock, it was followed by a major shock 2 percent of the time. This represents a significantly elevated risk, but it means that if you use a swarm to try to predict a major quake, something like 98 out of 100 times you’ll be wrong. Most swarms end not with a bang, but with a whimper.

A report by the International Commission on Earthquake Forecasting for Civil Protection, which was set up in the aftermath of the L’Aquila quake, put it bluntly: “The absence of simple foreshock patterns precludes their use as diagnostic precursors.”

Studies of radon spikes and bulges in the earth’s surface and changes in electromagnetic emissions and fluctuations in groundwater chemistry have all yielded the same negative results. So has research into weird animal behavior. (One of the signs Chinese officials supposedly used to predict the 1975 Liaoning quake was the unusual behavior of the region’s snakes, which were seen slithering around in the middle of winter.) Though it’s tough to perform a rigorous analysis of bizarre animal reactions, Susan Hough, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, reported on the “handful” of controlled experiments that have been done in this area in her book Predicting the Unpredictable: The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction. One study looked at the number of newspaper ads placed by people looking for lost pets. Another looked at the behavior of rodents in earthquake-prone southern California. The studies “never demonstrated any correlation,” Hough wrote.

After more than 40 years of intensive research, seismologists have yet to find a signal that can reliably be used to forecast a major quake. “Earthquake science is a field in which the most fundamental problem—reliable earthquake prediction—remains to be solved,” Hough observed.

Of the many seismically active regions in Italy, none, in a manner of speaking, is more active than Cesano, a suburb of Rome about 15 miles north of downtown. There, on the campus of the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, known as ENEA, researchers routinely stage earthquake disasters in the hope of averting them.

The work takes place in an enormous hangarlike building known around the campus as the seismic hall. The building is a sort of architectural bazaar, filled with models of existing and imagined structures. On the day I visited, the inventory included miniature apartment buildings; a small-scale medieval tower; a model of the cathedral dome of San Nicolò All’Arena, in Sicily; and several statues. The apartment buildings, made of steel and concrete, were about 30 feet tall and big enough to walk around inside. Gerardo De Canio, an ENEA engineer who was showing me around, pointed to a large metal plate, 13.5 feet by 13.5 feet, embedded in the floor. This, he explained, was the “shaking table.” The table can be programmed to simulate any sort of quake. It could, for example, be set to mimic one of the recent Tuscan tremors or the quake that destroyed the center of L’Aquila.

The question of whether seismologists will ever be able to predict earthquakes is one that still divides the field. To some, the fact that no reliable signal has yet been found simply means more research is needed. To others, it’s an indication that such a signal doesn’t exist.

“Nothing is hopeless,” is how one Italian geologist put it to me. “What I say is, Now we do not know how to predict earthquakes. So we have to face the problem: What to do in this time when we do not predict quakes.”

In the seismic hall, De Canio and his colleagues study new methods of construction as well as ways to retrofit old structures to make them more stable. The architectural models, which are so heavy they have to be moved around by crane, are placed on the shaking table, a quake is set in motion, and the engineers watch what happens. De Canio showed me a video of a recent test. As the table shook, a mini-apartment building collapsed in a shower of dust.

We crossed the hangar to look at a pair of replicas of ancient statues. The originals, known as the Bronzes of Riace, were crafted in the fifth century B.C., and they dazzled the art world when they were discovered, in 1972, by a diver in the Mediterranean. Now on exhibit at a museum in Calabria, they depict two naked Greek warriors with rippling muscles and great beards. The Bronzes of Riace are particularly vulnerable because, like actual people, they have no support except their feet. To protect the statues, De Canio and his team designed flexible bases, with shock absorbers, internal springs and a series of balls, like oversized marbles, that allow them to roll around instead of snapping off at the ankles.

ENEA is planning to build a similar base for Michelangelo’s David, which, after spending centuries outdoors in Piazza della Signoria, a public square in Florence, is displayed at the Galleria dell’Accademia. Like the Bronzes of Riace, the David is unusually vulnerable because its entire weight—some 12,000 pounds—is supported only by the statue’s feet and a narrow marble tree stump. Already there are cracks in the stump and along the statue’s left ankle. During the recent swarm of tremors in Tuscany, the Italian government announced that it would allocate €200,000 for a new earthquake-resistant base, but so far, De Canio told me, the funds had not yet been released. In his office above the test floor, De Canio showed me a foot-high model of the David; a larger model would be built next. “We are ready for the David,” De Canio told me. Then he shrugged.

When I got home that evening, I checked the website of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, where interested citizens can get the latest information on terremoti. Over the previous 24 hours, there had been one magnitude 3.1 earthquake, in eastern Sicily; six other earthquakes measuring over 2.0; and doubtless many smaller quakes that were not reported on the website. By Italian standards, at least, it had been a quiet day.



What the Nokia 3310 had that smartphones don’t

The Nokia 3310 – one of the most popular cell phones in the world just after the turn of the millennium (along with its variations) – is having a surprising resurgence in popularity, amidst reliable rumors that Nokia will re-introduce a modernized version of the phone at the Mobile World Congress later this month.

However, all signs point to the reiteration being a “dumb” phone, that is, the kind of brick we were all sporting before the iPhone ushered in the smartphone era. That makes the rumored reintroduction the stuff of clickbait, a flash-in-the-pan indulgence of nostalgia that should get people talking, but not much else. The rumored going rate for the new generation is only 59 Euro; the source speculates that it will be hawked as a second phone.

It sounds like a tough sell, even for nostalgic mobile enthusiasts. There are a number of mobile and desktop solutions that can fulfill the need for a second phone, if indeed you ever encounter it. Instead, we wish that smartphone manufacturers (Nokia included) would take a cue from the traits that made the trusty little bricks endure so long in the public memory. Here are the Y2K-era selling points we’d like to see come to smartphones.

The original Nokia 3310’s indestructibility is the stuff of legend (not to mention memes). On the other hand, it would be a foolhardy move to rock a smartphone without a case.

Yes, we appreciate the recent trend toward increased water resistance and incrementally tougher builds, but that’s not enough. Now that smartphone ownership is nearly a given, the industry isn’t cutting consumers any deals. Not only must we pay for more expensive phones, we have to pay for the data plans and the third-party accessories to go with it. We’d be thrilled if more smartphones were capable of surviving impacts and drops without additional protection.

Terrific battery life
The Nokia 3310’s 900 mAh battery is dwarfed by the 3,000 mAh+ powerhouses seen in today’s flagships, but its overall life (up to 4.5 hours of talk time, or 260 hours of standby) was impressive for its time, especially considering that phones did a lot more standby time back then. The phones seemed to last forever between charges.

It seems that today’s leading manufacturers are prioritizing charging tricks over battery duration, and that’s a questionable strategy. Fast and wireless charging are often billed as attractions, but does it matter how a phone is charged if you only need to do so every few days?

We know battery life can be added without deal-breaking bulk. Accessory makers are dreaming up ever-thinner battery cases that can double the life of a phone while adding only millimeters of thickness. That kind of built-in capacity would be quite welcome.

No beauty contest required
Don’t get us wrong: We’re not about to condemn the gorgeousness of ever-shrinking bezels or a slim, sexy smartphone. But not everybody needs or appreciates that aesthetic. When you consider that many flagships have only minor differences in build details, and that they’re usually stuffed into a case anyway, cutting-edge appearance doesn’t hold much value.

In practice, “good looks” in a smartphone means adhering to the established thin/light/unibody standard. For those who don’t want to pay a premium for incremental improvements in those departments, there aren’t many choices.
If a halfway-decent looking phone was released with an abundance of user-friendly details, we could easily overlook its lack of a supermodel status. (For what it’s worth, we think the Google Pixel and Pixel XL flirt with this “performance over presence” concept.)

The original Nokia 3310 fits that description well. It didn’t look super-futuristic and its bar-style build wasn’t ogled like its slim flip phone counterparts, but its no-nonsense style and optional personalization make it look equally at home in a teenager’s purse or a businessman’s briefcase.

Simple pleasures
Snake 2, a customizable screen saver, optional modular face and back plates, compose-your-own ringtones: These bells and whistles are humble, but they made users feel like part of a club. Those little pleasures are a big factor in today’s Nokia nostalgia.

Modernized versions of these pleasantries could take any number of understated, achievable forms. One current example is the Google Pixel’s cat-themed Easter egg, but the blue chat bubbles that iOS users see when they hold an iMessage conversation could also fit the bill.

We feel these personal touches help the user feel welcomed and appreciated. It seems like back then, manufacturer egos took a backseat to customer satisfaction (another sea change we can credit to the iPhone). Nowadays, even high-value offerings like the OnePlus 3T are emblazoned with aggressive branding – “Never Settle”, its stock wallpaper proclaims.

In summary – good value and customer appreciation
Yes, super-sophisticated builds, the latest operating systems, and cutting-edge performance are important to some mobile buyers. But if you want value – a phone that works well without insisting on its own greatness – there really aren’t many options.

The Nokia 3310 is remembered fondly because it occupied a sweet spot between capability and affordability. If a comparably-situated smartphone hit the market, it could inspire some powerful brand loyalty. But somehow, we don’t think egos the size of Apple’s are going to listen.

Source: New Atlas magazine

Apple sets the date for WWDC 2017


Apple has set the dates for its annual Worldwide Developers Conference: June 5-9 in San Jose, California. Each year at the WWDC, Apple outlines the new versions of its mobile and desktop operating systems. This gives developers the opportunity to create new experiences for them ahead of their public release, and lets consumers know what’s in the pipeline.

Assuming history is a precedent, we expect Apple to reveal details about the next versions of iOS and macOS. In addition, the company intends to discuss developer APIs for Siri, smart home accessories, health and auto technology. In this way, the WWDC engenders new innovations and apps for the entire Apple lineup: iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV and Macs.

This year’s venue – the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose – is a departure from the San Francisco location where Apple has hosted this event for the last several years, but it is closer to the company’s Cupertino headquarters.

Developers interested in attending will have the opportunity to apply for tickets through Apple in the (Northern hemisphere) Spring. For everyone else, the conference will also stream live through the WWDC website and apps.

Best Tablets For 2017: Android, iOS & Windows 10


One of the reasons Apple’s iPad was so successful was that, like many Apple products, it captured the public’s imagination – commercially, at least, there hadn’t been anything quite like it aimed at consumers, and it promised a bright sci-fi-like experience full of exciting possibilities.

The iPad introduced the idea of tablets to an unexpecting mass market. What wasn’t so predictable was the steady decline of tablets thereafter. Following the inevitable boom where everyone rushed to cash in on the sudden interest in tablets, sales have gradually dropped off year-on-year, and it’s not just competitor models this is happening to either, Apple itself is struggling to shift iPads in anywhere near the quantities it expected to or used to.

The catch, it seems, is that while users will happily replace their contract-tethered smartphone every year or two, buying a new tablet this regularly is a big no-no, and consumers seem to treat these larger devices similarly to laptops and PCs as a rare, carefully considered, and long-lasting purchase.

But that doesn’t mean tablets are useless. Indeed, they can be great content consumption–and even creation–devices. And the tablets on the market today are better than they have been during any time in the past.

Global market research firm TrendForce estimates that 2016 tablet sales numbered around 154.5 million units–or a  decline of 8.3% from the year earlier. They also estimate that global tablet shipments for 2017 are likely to fall by  5.3% annually this year to about 146.4 million units. In other words, tablet sales are still decreasing, but not by as much.

“Most tablet brands will be more conservative in committing their resources during 2017,” TrendForce notebook analyst Anita Wang pointed out. “Amazon and Huawei on the contrary have ambitions to increase their tablet shipments by many folds. The two brands are expected to expand their offerings in the near future. Additionally, Microsoft will be releasing Surface Pro 5 in the first quarter of 2017. Generally speaking, tablet shipments will drop next year but the decline will be fairly limited.”

The number of Android tablets in circulation has dropped off at a rather alarming rate during the past 18 months.

Not so long ago you couldn’t go a week without an Android tablet launching and now there fast becoming as rare as hen’s teeth.

A lot of this is to do with Apple’s iPad; it dominates the space almost entirely, just as the iPod did in the MP3 player space.

However, all is not lost – things are starting to change. And we have Microsoft to thank for that. Windows 10 and the hybrid machines it gave birth to and growing in popularity through their ability to bridge the gap between traditional laptop and tablet.

What the Android space REALLY needs is a decent ChromeOS dual-boot slate; a tablet that runs Android, but features all the cool attributes of ChromeOS.

Google is doing more cross-over stuff with Android and ChromeOS, but progress is painfully slow.

I would 1000% buy a Android tablet that could dual-boot ChromeOS. Hell, I’m tempted to start a KickStarter campaign to make it happen!

Budget tablets and hybrids like the current Surface Pro 4 and upcoming Surface Pro 5, and also the iPad Pro, are expected to be the driving forces behind 2017’s tablet space.

Here are our favorite tablets for 2017 so far.

iPad Pro 12.9in

The iPad Pro was the newest tablet of 2016–and it’s a monster. It’s got a massive 12.9-inch 2732 x 2048 resolution at 264 ppi. But beneath that gorgeous display is a powerhouse of productivity. Inside you’ll find and INSANELY fast A9X chip–it’s actually faster than the Intel chips found in some MacBooks. Add to that the 4GB of RAM and four speaker audio and it’s no wonder this thing was labeled “Pro”.

You can actually edit 4K video on it without any lag. That’s not even to mention the optional Apple Pencil, dubbed by many as the best stylus ever made. The Pencil and the Pro work so well together, some artists are even saying it’s the first tablet that’s as good as a real pencil and paper.

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S

Samsung’s hybrid Windows 10 machine has an amazing screen, decent specs and it looks really smart. Also, the battery life is pretty decent as well. Combine this with all the benefits you get from running Windows 10 and you have one hell of a productivity machine that is great for working on the move and consuming media while on riding plans and trains (or your sofa).

The Galaxy TabPro S comes with a keyboard, but if you want to take advantage of Windows Ink, you will need to pony up for a stylus. Why Samsung didn’t include one from the get go remains to be seen. Ink is an awesome feature that lets you add notes to applications and web pages. You can then get Cortana to store these notes for a later date.

Who’s this for? Anyone that wants a portable, powerful Windows 10 machine with tablet properties and a truly STUNNING display.

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Specs

  •     Windows 10.
  •     12in Super AMOLED (2160×1440)
  •     6th Gen. Intel Core M processor (Dual Core 2.2GHz)
  •     4GB(RAM)
  •     128GB SSD.
  •     Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac MIMO.
  •     Wi-Fi Direct.
  •     NFC.

iPad Air 2

While the iPad Pro is probably too much for most people, the iPad Air 2 is designed for everyone. Surprisingly, the Air 2 didn’t receive an update last year–it’s the exact same model as the year before. Given that it’s still one of the best tablets on the market it goes to show how ahead of its time it was for its 2014 release.

The iPad Air 2 features a 9.7-inch display with a 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution at 264 ppi. Though its A8X chip can’t compete with the A9X found in the iPad Pro, it’s no slouch either. The iPad Air 2 is not only great for browsing the web and sending email, but for getting major productivity tasks–such as video and photo editing–done.

iPad mini 4

Though the iPad mini 4 hasn’t seen an update recently, it’s still probably the best small-sized tablet on the market. It’s 7.9in 1536 x 2048 display isn’t too big or too small. It features a Dual-core 1.5 GHz processor with 2GB of RAM and comes in 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB options.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8

The Galaxy Tab S2 8 doesn’t have the best design. It’s got a rubber body, which makes it look rather clunky. But what it lacks in sex appeal it makes up in specs. It features an 8-inch 2048 x 1536 resolution AMOLED display at 320 ppi. Inside you’ll find a powerful Exynos 7 Octa Core processor and 3GB of RAM. Combine all that with Samsung’s excellent craftsmanship and a built-in fingerprint scanner and the Galaxy Tab S2 8 is one of the best all-around Android tablets on the market.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

It’s almost hard thinking about the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 as a true tablet. That’s because it does an amazing job doubling as a laptop (that’s good, considering Microsoft bills the Surface as a hybrid). The Surface Pro 4 packs a 12.3-inch 2736 x 1824 pixel display at 267 pixels per inch and comes in 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB storage options–far more than any other tablet on this list.

It also features Intel Skylake Core M3, Core i5, or Core i7 processors and 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB of RAM. Oh, and it runs the full version of Windows 10 so it can run any desktop app you own. And as with the Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro, the Surface Pro 4 has gotten high marks for its stylus, which is included (unlike with the iPad Pro).

Asus ZenPad 3S 10

The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 is perfectly proportioned for those looking for on-the-go usage. It has a 9.7in display and built-in support for high-resolution, meaning your tunes sound truly epic when fired through its built-in speakers or streamed or sent to your headphones.

It is also one of the cheaper tablets on this list as well, making it an ideal choice for those after value for money. This is a more of a traditional tablet compared to the likes of the iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4. But for those that want a large screen media and browsing experience, it simply cannot be beaten.

Even more so when Google REFUSES to update its Nexus 7 slate.

iPad Pro 9.7

Overall, however, the best tablet on the market has to be the 9.7in iPad Pro. It’s the perfect size for lots of people (let’s face it: the larger iPad Pro is just too big for most). It’s beautiful 1536 x 2048 display is accompanied by a A9X processor with 2GB of RAM and it comes in 32GB, 128GB, or a massive 256GB option. Oh, and add in that Apple Pencil and keyboard support and this is once of the best tablets ever made.



Dubai prepares for mid-year launch of Ehang’s crazy taxi drone

With its jet-propelled firefighters, million-dollar drone races and plans for its very own Hyperloop, Dubai ain’t a bad place to see advanced technologies in action. In the latest example of the city’s early-adoption mindset, the local transport authority has revealed that it has been testing Ehang’s personal taxi drone, with plans to launch real operations this July.
We first laid eyes on the Ehang 184 passenger drone at CES last year. As far as drones go, it’s actually much less drone and more automated helicopter, using onboard navigation systems to carry passengers to their desired location without the need for a pilot. It can be ordered via a smartphone application, fly for 30 minutes at a time and take passengers as far as 40 to 50 km (25 to 31 mi) away with a payload capacity of up to 100 kg (220 lb).
This might all sound pretty out-there, but the Chinese company has already signed an agreement with the State of Nevada to conduct flight testing and also teamed up with a biotechnology firm to use its pilotless choppers to deliver artificial organs.

But it looks like both efforts might be beaten to the punch by the UAE, with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority announcing the plans at the World Government Summit today. It revealed that it has already carried out a test run and has earmarked July 2017 as the launch date for full operations. If anyone seems capable of pulling it off …

Source: Government of Dubai (Facebook)

Announcing the All-New Flipboard, the Place for All Your Passions

Most people are interested in lots of things, but true passions run deep. The all-new Flipboard is built around those obsessions that define your work, life and play.


Flipboard 4.0 is a response to our ever-growing ecosystem of publishers, Flipboard Magazines, topics and more. With over 30 million magazines created, thousands of publishers on our platform, and tens of thousands of topics—plus input from social networks like Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn—we re-imagined Flipboard to more effortlessly get you to the things you love. Long-time readers who follow lots of content should find a more streamlined experience, while new users will be able to dive right into their passions with minimal setup.

At the heart of this edition is the Smart Magazine, a new way to organize the world’s stories, curated by experts and enthusiasts, into continually updating collections that can be personalized by you. Your Smart Magazines have a sleek new ‘shelf space’—the Home carousel—for quick access to important and inspiring content about your passions.

Here’s how it all works:
•Swipe left to add a passion to your Flipboard. Let’s say you pick “Photography.”

Source: Flipboard

Hans Rosling, Swedish Doctor and Pop-Star Statistician, Dies at 68


Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor who transformed himself into a pop-star statistician by converting dry numbers into dynamic graphics that challenged preconceptions about global health and gloomy prospects for population growth, died on Tuesday in Uppsala, Sweden. He was 68.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to Gapminder, a foundation he established to generate and disseminate demystified data using images.

Even before “post-truth” entered the lexicon, Dr. Rosling was echoing former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s maxim that everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.

“He challenged the whole world’s view of development with his amazing teaching skills,” Isabella Lovin, Sweden’s deputy prime minister, said in a statement.

A self-described “edutainer,” Dr. Rosling captivated vast audiences in TED Talks — beginning a decade ago in front of live audiences and later viewed online by millions — and on television documentaries like the BBC’s “The Joy of Stats” in 2010.

Inviting animated visualizations and prosaic props (like apples and colorful Lego plastic blocks) defined him as a funky philosopher rather than a geeky professor.

“I produce a road map for the modern world,” he told The Economist in 2010. “Where people want to drive is up to them. But I have the idea that if they have a proper road map and know what the global realities are, they’ll make better decisions.”

In Dr. Rosling’s version of those realities, the traditional divide between third-world and industrialized nations had become anachronistic, since so many countries were undergoing development, with some in Asia improving faster than some in Europe. He considered that five billion people continued to head toward healthier lives while one billion remained mired in poverty and disease; that progress toward health and wealth had contributed to climate change; and that the world was so poorly governed that possibilities to improve it abounded.

“I’m not an optimist,” Dr. Rosling once said. “I’m a very serious possibilist.”

He predicted that the United Nations’ goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 was attainable because the tools to do so had been identified and the share of people living in that condition had already declined by more than half in 25 years.

He also argued vigorously that overpopulation would no longer be problematic as the world grew wealthier and fertility rates declined.

“There are so many who think that death keeps control of population growth,” he said in an interview with The Guardian in 2013. “That’s just wrong!”

He told The Economist: “The only way to reach sustainable population levels is to improve public health. Child survival is the new green.”

As a medical doctor, epidemiologist and academic, but with the flair of a seasoned performer (he once demonstrated his expertise as a sword swallower), he delivered counterintuitive factoids, accused advocates of tweaking statistics to advance their own causes, and debunked misapprehensions about the third world — although not every expert concurred.

He pointed out that Sweden had more children per woman than Iran, that Shanghai was just as wealthy and healthy as the Netherlands, and that the world’s average life expectancy of 71 years was now closer to the highest (84 in Japan) than to the lowest (49 in Swaziland).

“They just make it about us and them; the West and the rest,” Dr. Rosling told the journal Nature in December. “How could anyone hope to solve problems if they didn’t understand the different challenges faced, for example, by Congolese subsistence farmers far from paved roads and Brazilian street vendors in urban favelas?”

Hans Gosta Rosling was born in Uppsala on July 27, 1948. His father was a coffee roaster.

He studied statistics and medicine at Uppsala University and public health at St. John’s Medical College in Bangalore, India, where he received his medical degree in 1976.

In 1979, he and his wife, the former Agneta Thordeman, whom he met while she was studying to be a nurse, moved to Mozambique with their two young children.

He was delivering on a pledge he had made years earlier to Eduardo Mondlane, the founder of the Mozambican Liberation Front, to help provide health services when the country became independent. Mr. Mondlane was killed in 1969, six years before independence was granted by Portugal.

Dr. Rosling served as district medical officer in a northern province. He was the sole doctor for a population of 300,000.

His investigation of a paralytic disease called konzo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was determined to be caused by ingesting naturally occurring cyanide in cassava roots, earned him a doctorate from Uppsala University.

In addition to his wife, a pediatrician and researcher, he is survived by two sons, Ola and Magnus; a daughter, Anna; and a brother, Mats.

With his son Ola and his daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, Dr. Rosling established Gapminder in 2006 while he was a professor of global health at the Karolinska Institute, the medical university outside Stockholm. The foundation aims to chart trends and fight what it calls “devastating ignorance with fact-based worldviews everyone can understand.”

It derived its name from the London Underground’s recorded warnings to passengers to “mind the gap” between a subway car and the platform. Gapminder’s data images are designed to evoke the divide between statistics and the misleading ways in which they are sometimes interpreted.

“It’s like the emperor’s new clothes, and I’m the little child saying: ‘He’s nude! He’s nude!’” Dr. Rosling told The Guardian.

Brandishing his bubble chart graphics during TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talks, Dr. Rosling often capsulized the macroeconomics of energy and the environment in a favorite anecdote about the day a washing machine was delivered to his family’s cold-water flat.

“My mother explained the magic with this machine the very, very first day,” he recalled. “She said: ‘Now Hans, we have loaded the laundry. The machine will make the work. And now we can go to the library.’ Because this is the magic: You load the laundry, and what do you get out of the machine? You get books out of the machines, children’s books. And Mother got time to read to me.”

“Thank you, industrialization,” Dr. Rosling said. “Thank you, steel mill. And thank you, chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.”

Source: NY Times