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Facebook hires Britain’s former deputy PM

By Business Desk,

Facebook has hired former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to lead its global affairs and communications team, making him the most senior European politician ever in a leadership role in Silicon Valley.

The appointment comes at a time when the world’s largest social network is facing criticism from users and lawmakers following scandals about privacy and election meddling.

Clegg was the leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats, the minority partner in the Conservative-led coalition that ruled Britain between 2010 and 2015.

He served as deputy prime minister to David Cameron, but was ousted after the Conservatives won a majority in 2015 in an election that saw Clegg’s party suffer a significant loss of support.

Clegg lost his own seat in Britain’s parliament in a general election last year.

Clegg, 51, succeeds Elliot Schrage and will report to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operation officer.

China launches world’s largest drone

By News Desk,

The world’s largest unmanned transport drone has been successfully launched by China.

The drone which can carry a payload of 1.5 tonnes was tested at Baotou test site in North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

The large commercial drone Feihong-98 (FH-98) was developed and modified by the China Academy of Aerospace Electronics Technology.

It was adapted from the prototype of the Shifei Y5B, a China-developed transport plane.

As China’s first fully domestically-built transport aircraft, the Shifei Y5B has a history of over 60 years since its first flight in 1957 and has been widely used.

According to Liu Meixuan, president of the China Academy of Aerospace Electronics Technology, the FH-98 features simple take-off and landing, simple operation, advanced technology, at an affordable cost.

The FH-98 has a maximum takeoff weight of 5.25 tonnes, a maximum capacity of 1.5 tonnes and 15 cubic metres, a flight height of 4,500 metres, a cruising speed of 180 kilometers per hour, and a maximum range of 1,200 kms, the report said.

China has been making advances in the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

On October 9, state media reported that China will sell 48 of its Wing Loong II high-end reconnaissance and multi-role Chinese drones to its all-weather ally Pakistan.

Eight surprises from Apple’s big iPhone XS event

By Business Desk,

For Apple fans, the wait for yesterday’s big press conference seemed like it was going to last an eternity. Details surrounding Apple’s next-generation iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR began leaking more than a year ago when the world’s top Apple insider revealed that Apple had three new iPhone models planned for 2018. The flow of leaks has been constant all year long, painting a clearer picture with each passing day. Then, just one week before Apple’s big event, nearly all the remaining details leak when Apple accidentally posted iPhone XS and Apple Watch Series 4 marketing materials on its website.

We definitely knew almost everything there was to know about Apple’s next-generation iPhones and Watch models before Apple executives even took the stage on Wednesday. That said, they still had a few tricks up their sleeves to surprise us with. In this post, we’ll recap the only eight big surprises from Apple’s press conference.

Prices

We had a good idea that this year’s new iPhone models were going to be expensive, but holy moly we had no idea just how expensive they were going to be. In fact, rumors suggested that the new iPhone XS would start at $899 this year instead of $999. Sadly, that’s not the case at all. It’s funny, though: last year Wall Street analysts flipped out when Apple announced the iPhone X starting at $999. This year, Apple’s top-end iPhone is even more expensive than a MacBook and Wall Street is loving it.

Here’s how pricing breaks down for the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max:

iPhone XS

  • 64GB: $999
  • 256GB: $1,149
  • 512GB: $1,399

iPhone XS Max

  • 64GB: $1,099
  • 256GB: $1,249
  • 512GB: $1,449

That’s right, boys and girls, Apple is about to start selling an iPhone that costs more than $1,500 after taxes. What a time to be alive.

Where the iPhone XR is concerned, things are even worse. Rumors suggested the XR would be a lower-cost alternative to the iPhone XS and XS Max, with the iPhone XR likely to start at around $650. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all. It’s cheaper than Apple’s other new iPhones, but not by much.

iPhone XR

  • 64GB: $749
  • 128GB: $799
  • 256GB: $899

iPhone XR release date

There were a few rumors here and there that said Apple might have to delay the release date for the iPhone XR due to manufacturing difficulties, but most people didn’t pay them any mind. According to those rumors, Apple’s partners were having problems with light leakage around the outside of the phone’s LCD display, and they needed more time to iron out the wrinkles. Whether that’s the case or Apple just wants to make sure that as many early adopters as possible go for the more expensive iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, it turns out that the iPhone XR won’t be released until next month. Pre-orders open on October 18th with a release to follow on October 26th.

No AirPower

Remember that really cool wireless charging mat that Apple unveiled more than a year ago? Well reports suggested that Apple would finally announce release information during yesterday’s event. Instead, Apple removed any and all mention of the AirPower from its website. No one really knows what’s going on, but if you really want a wireless triple charger you can already get one on Amazon.

Faster Face ID

This is one of those rare instances when the world’s top Apple insider, TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, was wrong. Stop the presses!

Kuo reported many months ago that Face ID wouldn’t undergo any changes on this year’s new iPhones. That… isn’t the case at all. Instead, Apple upgraded both the hardware and the software that handles Face ID. Improvements to the TrueDepth camera system and to the A12 Bionic SoC will apparently give Face ID a big speed boost, and tweaks on the software side will help things even further.

New cameras

Apple improves the cameras on its iPhones every year so we expected some type of improvements, but we had no idea what they would be. Apple ended up announcing what may end up being the most impressive smartphone camera system in the world when the iPhone XS and iPhone XS MaX are released next week.

The new camera still has two 12-megapixel sensors, one with a wide-angle lens and the other with a telephoto lens. All of the components in the camera system have been upgraded though, and the sensor is now twice as fast

In addition to hardware changes in the camera itself and software enhancements like Smart HDR, the new A12 Bionic chipset has an upgraded image signal processor (ISP) that further improves photo processing speeds and image quality.

Depth effect

There’s plenty to look forward to with Apple’s upcoming new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max camera, but one feature in particular came as a surprise. It wasn’t just a surprise because it hadn’t been revealed in rumors, but also because it’s something no other camera in the world can do. On Apple’s new iPhones, you can actually adjust the depth of field in a Portrait Mode photograph after you’ve taken the picture! Even more impressive is the fact that the iPhone XR has this feature as well, despite the fact that it only has a single-lens rear camera. It’s likely not quite as impressive as it is on the iPhone XS and XS Max, but it’s still another industry first.

A12 Bionic

We obviously knew that Apple would reveal its next-generation processor alongside its new iPhones. We also knew the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max would be the first smartphones in the world to ship with 7-nanometer chipsets. What we didn’t know, however, is just how massive an upgrade the A12 Bionic would be.

This industry-first 7nm SoC has a 6-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. The cores can run independently or all the same time, depending on the tasks at hand. The A12 also has a new 4-core GPU that is 50% faster than the A11’s GPU, and there’s an upgraded 8-core neural engine and a brand new image signal processor (ISP) as well. Apple says the A12 Bionic can process 5 trillion operations per second, which compares to 600 billion in the A11.

A12 Bionic in the iPhone XR

Last but certainly not least, the fact that the iPhone XR is also powered by the A12 Bionic SoC came as a big surprise. Rumors positioned the iPhone XR as an upper mid-range phone that would feature more modest specs and pricing that started in the $600 range. The phone’s specs are a bit less impressive than the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, but just barely. In fact, the iPhone XR will end up being more powerful than most flagship Android phones over the year to come.

Since rumors positioned the iPhone XR as a sort of iPhone SE upgrade, many people assumed that it would be powered by last year’s A11 Bionic chipset so that Apple could keep costs down. That’s not the case though, and the iPhone XR gets the same impressive A12 Bionic SoC as the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

Apple’s iPhone eSIM could be a big deal

By Business Desk,

Apple has introduced a technology called eSIM into its latest iPhones that could open new revenue streams for the tech giant, analysts have said — but it will have to balance its relationship with major carriers around the world.

The iPhone XR, XS and XS Max will all have dual-SIM capabilities. This means that a user will be able to have two separate phone lines. One will be via a traditional physical SIM card and the other will be an eSIM or embedded SIM.

The technology will theoretically allow a user to change carriers without having to order a new SIM card or go to a shop. Instead, they could just sign up digitally.

This is useful if you’re traveling abroad and want a temporary local number. Or if you want to have your work and personal numbers on the same device.

Dual-SIM hasn’t really been a popular option in countries including the U.S. and U.K., but is liked by consumers in emerging markets such as India, a country where Apple has had a small market share. Dual-SIM could prove very popular for users in these markets. Apple has had eSim technology previously in its iPad Pro and is not the first smartphone maker to offer it.

But the eSIM option could open new business models for Apple, according to analysts.

“The eSIM will be controlled by Apple and it can dictate which carriers to partner with, support and show relative mobile plans,” Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, told CNBC by email on Thursday.

“So Apple can be the gatekeeper now since it will have control over eSIM. Thus it will demand a revenue cut for the activations happening through eSIM.”

Shah said that Apple could also offer its own tariffs that are white-labeled by other mobile providers and charge a “premium for the convenience and ease of activating a new plan.”

Ian Fogg, vice president of analysis at OpenSignal, backed up that view in a LinkedIn post Thursday, saying Apple could introduce its own data tariffs “to take charge of more of the end-to-end mobile network experience.”

However, this is unlikely because of the complexities of doing so and the reliance on mobile networks.

“Apple’s ability to deliver the complete mobile network experience will remain limited even if it offers its own mobile tariffs using eSIM, because of Apple’s continued reliance on wholesale services from the mobile operators which own both spectrum and network infrastructure,” Fogg said.

“The mobile operators are not going away any time soon. Apple knows this and will continue to work with them.”

Still, Apple’s move with the eSIM is likely to worry mobile carriers because it could allow users to switch providers quickly, heating up competition in what is a tough market for many operators.

“Introducing dual SIMs in all markets is a bold move by Apple and something that will give mobile operators a lot to think about,” Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, said in a note Wednesday.

“The potential for new business models is limited while Apple continues to offer a physical SIM card slot alongside the eSIM capability. But, if it eventually decides to get rid of the physical SIM it will have significant implications for how customers buy airtime in the future.”

But it’s hard for carriers to ignore right now and Apple has done well to get major names on-board. In the U.S., AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are all signed up. In India, major telcos Reliance Jio and Airtel will offer services.

Neil Campling, co-head of the global thematic group at Mirabaud Securities, told CNBC by email on Thursday: “Carriers can’t complain as they need to offer Apple devices, but Apple is just making it easier for users — and ease of use has always been the MO of Apple products. What this will likely do is accelerate price competition at the carrier level and could increase churn rates… which is never a good thing for carriers, of course.”

MTN Nigeria replies CBN on illegal repatriation of $8.1 billion

By Business Desk,

MTN Nigeria on Thursday refuted the claims by the Central Bank of Nigeria that it illegally, in collusion with four Nigerian banks repatriated $8.1billion from its Nigerian operations to offshore investors.

The CBN said the remittances between 2007 and 2015, in tranches of of 2.63 billion dollars, 1.766 billion dollars and 348 million dollars were done in flagrant violation of the rule that says it can only be done with regular ‘Certificates of Capital Importation (CCIs)’ issued by the apex bank.

The CBN said MTN did the repatriation after illegally converting shareholders’ loan of $399, 594,146 to preference shares. As part of the sanctions, four banks, Stanbic IBTC Nigeria, Citibank Nigeria and Diamond Bank Plc,were fined by the CBN.

Standard Chartered Bank would pay a fine of N2.47 billion, Stanbic IBTC, N1.88 billion, Citibank Nigeria, N1.26 billion and Diamond bank, N250 million.

Funso Aina, Public Relations Manager, Corporate Affairs/Corporate Relations MTN denied the claims by the CBN

“MTN Nigeria received a letter on Aug 29 from Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) alleging that Certificate of Capital Important (CCIs) issued in respect of the conversion of shareholders’ loans in MTN Nigeria to preference shares in 2007 had been improperly issued.

`As a consequence they claim that historic dividends repatriated by MTN Nigeria between 2007 and 2015 amounting to $8.1 billion need to be refunded to the CBN.

“MTN Nigeria strongly refutes these allegations and claims.

“No dividends have been declared or paid by MTN Nigeria other than pursuant to CCIs issued by our bankers and with the approval of the CBN as required by law,” he said.

Aina said that the issues surrounding the CCIs had already been the subject of a thorough enquiry by the Senate of Nigeria.

He added that in September 2016 the Senate mandated the Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions to carry out a holistic investigation on compliance with the Foreign exchange (monitoring and miscellaneous) Act by MTN Nigeria & Others.

He said that in its report issued in November 2017, the findings evidenced that MTN Nigeria did not collude to contravene the foreign exchange laws and there were no negative recommendations made against MTN Nigeria.

“MTN Nigeria, as a law-abiding citizen of Nigeria, is committed to good governance and to abide by the extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“The re-emergence of these issues is regrettable as it damages investor confidence and, by extension, inhibits the growth and development of the Nigerian economy.

“We will engage with the relevant authorities and vigorously defend our position on this matter and provide further information when available.

CBN’s spokesperson, Isaac Okorafor, said the apex bank has written MTN Nigeria demanding a refund of the $8.13 billion, repatriated.

The Bank resolved to sanction the commercial banks following investigations in March 2018, which confirmed allegations of remittance of foreign exchange with irregular Certificates of Capital Importation (CCIs) issued on behalf of some offshore investors of MTN Nigeria.

Pilgrims in millions descend on Mecca, with smart apps

By News Desk,

Two million Muslim pilgrims gather in Saudi Arabia this week for the hajj as the annual pilgrimage becomes increasingly hi-tech with apps to help the faithful navigate Islam’s holiest sites.

This year the hajj comes with the ultra-conservative kingdom witnessing an unprecedented pace of change, finally ending a ban on women driving while remaining firm in the face of any dissent.

One of the five pillars of the world’s fastest-growing religion, the hajj is expected to draw two million people from around the globe this year.

By Thursday, more than 1.6 million people had already arrived in Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, which runs from Sunday to Friday.

Thousands could be seen arriving in Mecca, with groups from different countries wearing distinct colours to set them apart.

Some pilgrims pushed their elderly relatives on wheelchairs while others stopped to call family members back home on video chat or buy ice cream as temperatures soared above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

For many, it is their first time away from home.

Every Muslim is required to complete the hajj at least once in their lifetime if they have the means to do so.

Many were visibly moved to be so close to Islam’s holiest site — the Kaaba, a black masonry cube in the centre of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

“I feel as light as a feather,” said Senegalese Fame Diouf, who travelled from Amsterdam. Laughing, she recounted the story of how she couldn’t stop crying near the Kaaba.

“This was my dream from childhood,” said Raja Amjad Hussein, who made the trip to Mecca from Pakistan.

“I can’t explain. I have no words,” the 40-year-old told AFP.

“For many Muslims this is the big, the biggest, dream of life, to see Kaaba and pray for yourself and the whole Muslim nation.”

No matter their race or nationality, for every pilgrim hajj begins with “ihram”, the donning of an all-white outfit.

For men, this is a seamless tunic worn over baggy pants; for women, a loose dress with only the face and hands exposed.

Pilgrims then perform rituals around the Kaaba and on the Mount Arafat plain east of Mecca.

The hajj ends with Eid al-Adha, a three-day feast which starts with the “stoning of the devil”.

Eid al-Adha also includes the slaughter of sheep, with the meat distributed to Muslims in need. The ritual symbolises Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, on the order of God.

The hajj presents the Saudi authorities with major logistical challenges.

The Pew Research Centre says the number of Muslims in the world is expected to rise from 1.8 billion in 2015 to three billion in 2060.

This year, the Saudis have launched a “smart hajj” initiative, with apps to help pilgrims with everything from travel plans to medical care.

Asefny, for example, is an app launched by Saudi Arabia’s Red Crescent to help pilgrims request emergency medical attention.

Authorities are able to locate those in need through the app.

The Saudi hajj ministry also runs the Manasikana app, which provides translation for pilgrims who do not speak Arabic or English.

The 2018 pilgrimage comes amid a widening crackdown on political dissent in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy aggressively pursuing a campaign to clean up its image as one of the world’s most restrictive countries.

It also comes more than a year into the worst political crisis to grip the Gulf, pitting regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Qatar against one another.

Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest exporter of oil — and its allies accuse Qatar of cosying up to both Sunni Islamist extremists and Shiite Iran, Riyadh’s greatest rival.

They have cut all ties with Qatar and banned all flights to and from Doha. Qatar denies the charges.

Qatari pilgrims are still permitted into Saudi Arabia for hajj.

Iranian pilgrims are also in attendance this year. Tehran had temporarily suspended sending its citizens to hajj following a 2015 stampede that left around 2,300 pilgrims dead, including hundreds of Iranians.

Saudi Arabia has drawn harsh criticism for a crackdown on political dissent since the appointment last year of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose modernisation campaign has grabbed headlines around the world.

More than a dozen women’s rights campaigners were detained and accused of undermining national security and collaborating with enemies of the state in recent weeks.

Some have since been released.

Google employees protest China’s Dragonfly

By Business Desk,

Hundreds of Google employees have signed a protest letter over the company’s reported work on a censor-friendly search engine to get back into China.

The employees, according to a New York Times report, are demanding more transparency so they can understand the moral implications of their work, said the Times, which obtained a copy of the letter.

It has been signed by 1,400 employees and is circulating on the company’s internal communications system, the newspaper said, quoting three persons who are familiar with the document.

The letter argues that the search engine project and Google’s apparent willingness to accept China’s censorship requirements “raise urgent moral and ethical issues.”

“Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment,” they say in the letter, according to the Times.

Employee anger flared with a report earlier this month in The Intercept that Google is secretly building a search engine that will filter content banned in China and thus meet Beijing’s tough censorship rules.

Google withdrew its search engine from China eight years ago due to censorship and hacking.

The new project is said to be codenamed “Dragonfly.”

The tech giant had already come under fire this year from thousands of employees who signed a petition against a $10-million contract with the US military, which was not renewed.

With the secret project, Google employees are reportedly worried that they might unknowingly be working on technology that could help China hide information from its people.

“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” the protest letter says, according to the Times.

At a townhall gathering of employees on Thursday, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai said the firm was committed to transparency, and that while it was “exploring many options”, it was “not close to launching a search product in China,” the Financial Times reported, citing a person present at the meeting.

What Tesla take over proposal could look like

By Business Desk,

Now that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has hired advisers for his plan to take the U.S. electric car maker private, and the Tesla board has named a special committee of independent directors to evaluate it — two steps CNBC reported would happen last week— the next milestone is for Musk to actually put together a formal proposal.

(Ideally, this proposal would already exist, but let’s table that point for now.)

Musk’s offer is likely to include conditional financing from third parties, including Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and may have requirements that a certain number of Tesla shareholders roll over their existing stakes into a private company, according to M&A bankers and lawyers who have worked on similar transactions. Putting these conditions in a proposal will allow Musk to show the board something quickly without having to secure tens of billions in committed financing.

It’s also possible the Saudi sovereign wealth fund could commit much more in financing, but Tesla’s cash-burning business, costly factories and Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) issues make that less likely, the bankers and lawyers said.

Of course, Musk already tweeted he had secured financing last week, which has reportedly prompted an SEC inquiry. While conditional clauses may aid Musk’s efforts in lining up financing, the SEC will only care about what he knew to be true at the time of his first tweet, said Thomas Gorman, a lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney and a former SEC enforcement attorney who specializes in financial fraud and market manipulation.

It’s particularly important there is Saudi financing in the formal proposal because Musk has specifically said the country’s sovereign wealth fund’s interest in taking the company private was the basis for his “funding secured” comment,” said Gorman.

“The SEC needs to determine if Musk’s first tweet was a false statement when he put it out,” said Gorman. “There must be some documentation around conversations about funding, even if it’s limited. If the Saudi sovereign wealth fund has the ability and willingness to do this, and Musk knew at the time, you might not like the way he did this, but I don’t think that’s an enforcement case.”

Musk did make reference to existing shareholders rolling their stakes into a private company through a special-purpose vehicle when he first tweeted about Tesla’s take-private last week. The details around how such a fund would work weren’t clear, and there’s no obvious precedent for such a thing.

Musk said Monday he is being advised by Silver Lake on taking the company private. Silver Lake helped Michael Dell with his management-led buyout of Dell in 2013. It’s likely Musk wants to emulate how Dell took his company private, Gorman said. Still, Dell dealt with a variety of obstacles, including counterbidders and deducing a fair price for shareholders, when he attempted the leveraged buyout. Musk probably won’t have an easy time moving forward with a buyout even if he avoids the SEC’s glare, Gorman said.

“He can’t make the company do this,” Gorman said. “If the company decides it doesn’t want to do this, then it won’t.”

Tinder founders sue parent IAC, saying it owes them billions

By Business Desk,

A group of founders, executives and early employees of Tinder on Tuesday sued IAC/InterActiveCorp, claiming the parent company deliberately undervalued the dating app to avoid paying them billions of dollars and deprived some employees of stock options.

The lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan stated that IAC and its subsidiary Match Group Inc deliberately prevented the plaintiffs from cashing in stock options they could exercise and sell to IAC. They are seeking damages of not less than $2 billion.

“The defendants made contractual promises to recruit and retain the men and women who built Tinder,” Orin Snyder, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

“The evidence is overwhelming that when it came time to pay the Tinder employees what they rightfully earned, the defendants lied, bullied, and violated their contractual duties, stealing billions of dollars,” he said.

IAC and Match Group said the allegations in the complaint “are meritless and we intend to vigorously defend against them.”

The plaintiffs, including Tinder founders Sean Rad, Justin Mateen and Jonathan Badeen and several executives and employees were given stock options in Tinder as part of their compensation in 2014, according to the lawsuit. Because Tinder is a private company, they were not able to exercise their options and then sell stock on the open market.

Instead, they were allowed to exercise their options and sell only to IAC and Match on four specific dates, in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021, on which the stock options would be independently valued, according to the lawsuit.

Match and IAC, which owns 80 percent of Tinder-owner Match, appointed Greg Blatt, Match’s then chairman and chief executive, as interim CEO of Tinder in 2016. The plaintiffs said this allowed the two companies to “control the valuation of Tinder.”

The plaintiffs claimed that IAC and Match engaged in a “disinformation campaign” to obtain a “bogus” $3 billion valuation for the 2017 date. Some plaintiffs who had left the company were contractually forced to exercise their options using that valuation, according to the lawsuit, while other plaintiffs kept their options.

However, IAC and Match then merged Tinder into Match without the consent of Tinder’s board of directors and canceled the future dates for exercising options, the lawsuit said.

“Mr. Rad has a rich history of outlandish public statements, and this lawsuit contains just another series of them,” IAC and Match Group said in a joint statement.

Samsung launches Galaxy Note 9 phablet

By Business Desk,

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) launched the Galaxy Note 9 “phablet” in New York on Thursday, promising better battery life and quick cooling to attract gamers and revive flagging sales.

The focus on gamer-friendly features appears to be a shift away from Samsung’s previous positioning of the Note as a productivity-boosting device, and is an attempt to lure younger customers as the company’s smartphone sales falter.

U.S. carrier Verizon Communications Inc said the new device will be available for pre-order from August 10, with the 128 gigabyte model priced at $999.99 for the and 512GB model at $1,249.99.

Sprint Corp will introduce the smartphone on August 24 and offer a 50 percent discount as part of a promotional scheme.

Samsung also launched the Galaxy Home speaker, a device that will use its Bixby voice assistant and compete with similar products from Amazon Inc, Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

The company last month posted its slowest quarterly profit growth in more than a year as rivals such as China’s Huawei Technologies nipped at its heels, challenging the market leader with cheaper, feature-packed models.

An industry source said the new Note would be priced similarly to its predecessor Note 8, which sold at around $950. The Note 8 sported dual rear cameras and the biggest screen to date on a Samsung smartphone.

The new Note will support up to 1 terabyte of memory – it will have a 512 GB version that will support an additional 512 GB memory card – the source said, making Samsung the first major smartphone maker to sell a 1TB phone.

Samsung launched the Note 9 at 11 a.m. in New York on Thursday, or Friday midnight in Seoul. The new Note is set to hit stores on Aug. 24, Samsung said.

The launch comes about three weeks earlier than its predecessor’s release date, a move prompted by increased competition in the second half of the year as rivals release new smartphone models.

During the event, the company also unveiled its Samsung Galaxy watch with a wireless pad and charger duo for its watch and Note 9.

Samsung said the Note 9 will be the first Android phone to support Fortnite, a hugely popular video-and-smartphone survival game that was only playable on computers, consoles and Apple products until now. Lovers of the game will get an exclusive Note 9 character skin or alternative appearance for characters.

The phablet – a cross between a smartphone and a tablet – would also be able to cool down quickly during game sessions that typically heat up phones a lot.

Its S Pen stylus is Bluetooth-enabled and designed to act as a remote for controlling YouTube video playback.

For its smart speakers, Samsung has partnered with Spotify Technology SA for music streaming. Spotify shares rose nearly 5 percent to $186.96 after the announcement.