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UK hit as global raisin supplies dry up

Raisins growing on the vine in California, US Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption California, a big supplier of raisins to the UK, produced less crops last year

The UK has been hit by a global shortage of raisins, sultanas and currants.

Britain – the world’s biggest importer of dried fruit – has seen the price of raisins and sultanas rise by 42% since September, leading suppliers have said.

They blame falling numbers of raisins in California for pushing up prices.

Bakeries say increases are unlikely to affect the cost of hot cross buns – but an industry analyst warned this year’s Christmas puddings could be hit.

Jara Zicha, a market analyst in the UK, said farmers in California, which produces most of the raisins destined for the UK, have moved away from producing dried fruit in favour of more profitable crops.

Mr Zicha, from the retail consultancy Mintec, said: “It’s a gradual decline simply down to farmers moving to other crops because of rising labour and land costs.”

Hot cross buns

He said rising supply costs in the UK had been exacerbated by the fact Greece was also producing fewer currants.

The US shortage has increased demand for Turkey’s sultanas and raisins, he added.

Fears were initially raised over the cost of Easter hot cross buns. However, several bakeries told the BBC the current shortage has come too late to affect hot cross bun costs this year.

Several bakers said they already have large stocks of dried fruit and have agreed contracts with suppliers.

Ruth Burke-Kennedy, from Yorkshire-based bakery and tea rooms Betty’s, said: “We are covered through this season because our purchase prices are fixed, we can ride it out.”

Image copyright BBC Good Food
Image caption Chocolate orange cross buns are one alternative which avoids the need for dried fruit

Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers, said anybody who is making hot cross buns for Easter will “already have the supplies in place”.

Steve Dresser, founder of retail consultancy Grocery Insight, added: “I would be surprised if any shortage impacts the price of this year’s products given the fruit will be bought and either in depots or on the way over, given the uplifts of sales nearer Easter.”

Andrew Ciclitira, director of UK dried fruit supplier Demos, urged manufacturers to be “more creative” and look to Australia and South Africa as alternative suppliers of raisins and sultanas.

Cooking creatively

Mr Zicha warned the current shortage could have an affect later in the year – potentially at Christmas.

“Most of the bakers have the stocks already,” he said. “But this shortage, rather than affecting Easter, might affect products at Christmas time, like Christmas pudding.”

Barney Desmazery, BBC Good Food editor, urged budding bakers to get creative with their choice of ingredients.

“The history of cooking has been a shortage of one ingredient and using another,” he said.

“There’s no reason we should not have our Christmas cake, but maybe using dried mango, coconut and rum instead.”

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Leicester explosion: Five people confirmed dead

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Media captionLeicester explosion: What we know

Five people have died in an explosion at a shop in Leicester.

Residents said they heard “a big thud, like an earthquake” at the time of the blast in Hinckley Road at about 19:00 GMT on Sunday.

Five other people remain in hospital, one in a critical condition, Leicestershire Police said.

Supt Shane O’Neill said police believe there may be more people unaccounted for and rescue efforts were continuing on Monday.

  • Live: Five dead in building explosion

At this stage the explosion is not being linked to terrorism, he added.

The building consisted of a shop premises on the ground level and a two-storey flat above.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Crews are searching through debris strewn across Hinckley Road

Witnesses said the shop was formerly a Londis but recently became a Polish supermarket called Zabka. It is believed to have only been trading since the new year.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the shop said none of the usual workers were injured in the explosion “resulting in collapse of the entire building on our shop below”.

It added: “There was a boss on shift, who fortunately was slightly injured and is in the hospital.”

Image copyright PA
Image caption A section of Hinckley Road in Leicester remains cordoned off

Matt Cane, group manager at Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, said the bodies of the five people were found during the search of the building.

He added fire crews were still working to find survivors who may be trapped in “voids” inside the collapsed building.

“When you look at the pictures of the building it looks incredibly unlikely that we would find anybody but we are absolutely committed to search and rescue at this stage,” he said.

“There are still pockets of fire in the basement area of the building.”

Rescue work was temporarily suspended at about 14:00 on Monday over fears for the stability of a neighbouring building.

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Media captionSupt Shane O’Neill said that four people had died, before the death toll later rose to five

Gas network Cadent said it had assisted emergency services on Sunday night by “isolating the gas supply” to the building and adjoining properties on Hinckley Road.

Supt O’Neill, from Leicestershire Police, said he “can’t say at this stage” what may have caused the explosion.

“It is a joint investigation between the fire service and the police and the priority is to make the area safe,” he added.

He urged anyone who knows someone who is missing to contact police, adding: “It is still a search and rescue operation. It is important we try and find as many people as possible.”

Image caption Leicestershire Police declared a “major incident” after the blast in Hinckley Road

Tony Hartley, who lives near the blast site, said a group of men who ran to the scene to help the injured people.

“Me and a friend lifted up a steel girder with about five other blokes and removed a bloke from underneath it,” he said.

“We then turned round, saw rubble and heard a little boy crying. There was me and another bloke sifting through the rubble and we managed to pull the boy out.

“I said to him ‘Is there anybody else in there?’ and he said ‘My friend’s a metre back inside the building’ and that’s when the emergency services turned up.”

At the scene: BBC reporter John Alexander

There was a noise which sounded like the pilot light of a house boiler being lit, a loud whoosh followed by a tremor, like an earthquake.

At first I thought my boiler had exploded or my roof was falling in so ran outside, as did most of my neighbours. Then we were all asked to leave our houses.

I think the shop was usually open until about 22:00, most of the shops are convenience stores and takeaways along the road where the explosion was.

I tried to find out last night when we could get back into our houses and what they thought had caused the blast but they weren’t prepared to say. I was told we could return if we wanted at 04:30 and the power has been restored.

The road is still closed and there is a large plume of smoke coming from the building, the fire is still burning.

Angel Namaala, who lives opposite the shop, told the BBC she heard “this big thud, like an earthquake”.

She said: “The building had gone down and people were trying to help where they could by taking the bricks off. But the fire was getting bigger and bigger so people were told to leave the scene.”

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Media captionAerial footage shows the extent of the blast at a shop in Hinckley Road

Emergency service workers remain at the scene and are being offered drinks and food by a rapid relief team.

A 79-year-old resident, who lives nearby but did not want to be named, said a 15-year-old boy suffered head injuries in the blast.

“Someone brought him a duvet to keep him warm while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Someone also brought him a stool from one of the houses and a chap was bandaging his head. I think he had a cut above his eyes and his back was hurt.”

Image copyright Matthew Cane / Leicestershire Fire and Rescue
Image caption Search and rescue crews search through the rubble
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rescue efforts are still under way as police believe there may be more people unaccounted for

Hinckley Road, from its junction with Bolton Road to its junction with Woodville Road, remains closed in both directions and motorists are advised to avoid the area.

About 28 properties in Hinckley Road were left without electricity following the explosion but power has since been restored, Western Power Distribution said.

Firefighters are expected to be on the site for “a number of days” and it was “still too early to say” what caused the explosion, Mr Cane added.

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Orangeman defies Order for gay daughter’s wedding

Orange Order Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Orange Order is opposed to same-sex civil partnerships and marriages, calling them a ‘sign of moral decline’.

The Orange Order is remaining tight lipped on its newly elected Grand Master’s decision to walk his gay daughter down the aisle.

Belfast Grand Master Spencer Beattie celebrated Lesa’s civil partnership with Melanie Atkinson in Carrickfergus last week.

But he plays a key role in the Order which refuses to admit gay people.

It is also opposed to same-sex civil partnerships and marriages, calling them “a sign of moral decline”.

Pictures of the civil ceremony, featuring the two women in white wedding dresses featured in the Sunday Life.

Mr Beattie told the paper: “I’m all for equality and people having the right to make their own choices.”

Later, he said: “I don’t know if I’ll get in trouble for going to the ceremony, but that’s not up to me.

“I’d like to take some advice before saying anything further.”

Gay campaigners welcomed Mr Beattie’s stance. However, there are those within the Orange Order who would be strongly opposed to it.

A Grand Lodge spokesman said on Monday: “This is a private family matter.” There was no further comment.

However, individual members of the Order spoke to BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback on Monday.

‘Personal choice’

David McNarry, a former assistant grand master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, said Mr Beattie “made a decision as a loving father”.

“As an MLA, I consistently voted against equal marriage and would do it if I was still an MLA,” he said.

“As a member of the Orange institution, that is a position that the Orange Order has taken in reference to same-sex marriage.

“They are both, in my opinion, quite honourable positions to adopt and adhere to,” he added.

“My love for my daughter would far outweigh that position that I would have… You can only say it as yourself.

“My love for my daughter – I would do the same as Spencer.”

Orangeman and former Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott said it was about “personal choice”.

“Clearly this issue is his family and personal commitment to his family and I would support him wholeheartedly in that,” he said.

“As David says, you just don’t know until these things come to your own door what would happen.”

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Scott Westgarth: British boxer dies after winning fight in Doncaster

Scott Westgarth was fighting in his 10th bout

British boxer Scott Westgarth has died in hospital after falling ill following a light-heavyweight fight in Doncaster on Saturday.

The 31-year-old won the eliminator bout on points against Dec Spelman.

He appeared to be in pain during post-fight interviews and was then taken to hospital after falling ill backstage.

The rest of the show, headlined by Curtis Woodhouse who was due to fight in a Commonwealth light-welterweight title eliminator, was cancelled.

Westgarth, who was the underdog going into Saturday’s bout, was chasing an English title fight.

His previous record was six wins, two losses and a draw.

Promoter Stefy Bull broke the news on social media

The news was announced by Westgarth’s promoter for the weekend fight, Stefy Bull, who said the boxer was “a young man doing a job he loves”.

Westgarth’s opponent on the night, Spelman, also paid his tribute.

Following news of Westgarth’s death, the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) reiterated that it has improved safety in the sport.

“I think boxing in this country has changed remarkably with regards to medical procedures over the last 20-30 years,” general secretary of the BBBofC, Robert Smith, told the BBC. “We’re always looking to improve things.”

“We do appreciate that this is a tough sport and we try to make it as safe as possible but that’s not always the case.

“It’s a very small sport, really. We are a little family and when things go wrong, we do all stick together. We don’t go into this sport with our eyes closed and we know how dangerous it can be.

“I’ve been a boxer and I would still do it tomorrow, if I could. This is a terrible time for the sport and the family and I can’t say anything that will make anything better. We’ve got to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again but we know and I know deep down there is a possibility it will.”

Canada’s Tim Hague was the last professional boxer to die following a fight, two days after a bout last June.

Scotland’s Mike Towell died from a brain injury following a bout in September 2016.

Last week, Towell’s opponent, Dale Evans announced his retirement, saying his hunger for the sport has been replaced by “worry and fear”.

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University strike: Lecturers’ pension action solid, says union

Rally in snow Image copyright UCU
Image caption Lecturers at four more universities joined the strike on Monday

Staff at four more universities have joined the strike over pension cuts, with 61 now affected, the University and College Union said on Monday.

Support for the action remains “solid”, with pickets braving freezing temperatures, according to the union.

Staff say the pension changes will cost the average academic £10,000 a year in retirement – but the employers say the scheme has a deficit of more than £6bn.

Bosses have ruled out new discussions on the changes at talks due on Tuesday.

Under a plan agreed in January, the Universities Superannuation Scheme will change from a defined benefit scheme, giving members a guaranteed income in retirement, to a defined contribution scheme, where pensions are subject to changes in the stock market.

Preconditions

On Friday, the employers, Universities UK, issued a call for more talks but said the discussion would not reopen the decision to press ahead with the changes, taken by the Joint Negotiating Committee on 23 January.

And, in a letter to university vice-chancellors and principals, which became public over the weekend, UUK’s chief executive Alistair Jarvis, argued that talks without preconditions could not “achieve a sustainable resolution to the dispute”.

The union has agreed to the talks but has expressed misgivings that these preconditions mean they will not address “the very reason for the strike”.

Universities UK says it will, however, consider “a credible proposal that addresses the significant financial issues the scheme is facing”.

The union disputes the method which concluded that the scheme was in such a poor financial state and has called for a new evaluation.

Some vice-chancellors are backing this view with Peter Piot, director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, urging “a further actuarial valuation of the scheme”.

While Anthony Forster, vice-chancellor of Essex University, has said “university employers must step up to the plate and commit to increasing employer contributions to the scheme”.

“Principled compromise is the answer,” he argued.

Some 18 vice-chancellors have so far called on Universities UK to adopt a more conciliatory approach.

An estimated 100,000 students have signed petitions, broadly supportive of the lecturers’ position, and asking for fee refunds for lost teaching hours.

In the first wave of a month-long programme of strikes, staff walked out at 57 universities on Thursday and Friday last week.

They, together with the staff at four more institutions whose three-day strike started on Monday, will be joined by colleagues at three more universities in weeks three and four of the action.

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Celtic’s Scott Brown ends Scotland career after Alex McLeish talks

Scott Brown returned to Scotland duty to conclude the World Cup qualifying campaign

Celtic captain Scott Brown has blamed a packed football calendar as he retired from Scotland duty for a second time.

The 32-year-old, who earned 55 caps, had initially ended his international career in August 2016.

He overturned that decision two months later but has called it a day after talks with Alex McLeish, who has succeeded Gordon Strachan as team boss.

“In terms of looking after my own body and in interests of my family, I felt now is the right time,” he said.

“I have spoken to Alex McLeish over the weekend. I really wanted to tell Alex first what I was thinking about things.

‘Brown retirement a blow for Scotland’

“As I said to Alex, I felt that, given the demands which are increasing all the time in football and at this stage of my career, I wasn’t able to give both my club and country my best and I needed to focus purely on Celtic at this time.

“The football calendar is more and more demanding now.”

Dunfermline-born Brown started his career with Hibernian and made his Scotland debut almost two years before his 2007 transfer to Celtic.

He went on to captain his country under Strachan and made his previous decision to retire because of concerns about his own fitness in previous seasons.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers described Brown’s international retirement as a “real, real sensible decision”.

“I think he means it this time,” said Rodgers. “It is obviously great news for Celtic and sad for the Scottish team.

Is this the new ‘Broony’? Scott Brown rides out a challenge from Aberdeen’s Sam Cosgrove

“I think the last time he went back it was probably for Gordon, to help someone he was very close to.

“But for him and his career going forward, he wants to prolong career at club level.”

And McLeish paid tribute to the midfielder, and praised his influence over the squad, particularly the younger players.

“I would like to thank Scott for his dedication to his country throughout his career,” McLeish said.

“I have known Scott for a long time and know how difficult this decision has been for him.

“Scott gave his all every time he represented his nation and his influence on the squad is immeasurable. He has been a shining example for the younger players in the squad and an influential figure in the dressing room.”

Alex McLeish worked with Brown in his first spell in charge of the national team

Brown returned following talks with the former Celtic manager ahead of Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against England.

However, his latest decision comes after the failure to reach this summer’s finals in Russia and ahead of summer friendlies that have been criticised by club manager Rodgers because of potential demands on his players ahead of next season’s Champions League qualifiers.

“I have really enjoyed my time with Scotland and making over 50 caps is something which I will always be really proud of,” Brown told Celtic’s website.

“It was a huge honour to pull on the Scotland jersey every time I was given the opportunity and to be able to captain my country is a privilege I will always cherish.”

Brown thanked the managers and players he has worked with in international football – and the fans for their backing.

“I want to wish Alex and the squad the very best of success for the future and particularly for the upcoming campaign,” he added.

“Obviously I’ll be supporting the lads all the way as they try to get to the Euros.”

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Girl aged 5 died after GP turned her away for being late

Ellie-May Clark Image copyright Athena Pictures

A five-year-old girl with a history of asthma was turned away from her doctor after being late for an emergency appointment – and died in hospital later, an inquest has heard.

Ellie-May Clark was taken to the Grange Surgery in Newport, south Wales.

But she was late for her appointment and her GP refused to see her, the inquest at Newport heard.

The coroner was told the surgery operated a “10 minute rule” for late patients. The hearing continues.

Ellie-May’s mother Shanice Clark told the senior coroner for Gwent Wendy James she had initially requested a home visit when her daughter fell ill in January 2015.

Instead, she was offered an emergency slot for 25 minutes later. She said she told the receptionist she might be late as she had to arrange childcare and catch a bus.

Ms Clark said when she arrived at the surgery she was five minutes late for her 17:00 appointment but had spoken to the receptionist by 17:10.

But this time was disputed by former receptionist Ann Jones who told the inquest she believed it was 18 minutes past five when the doctor was informed that Ellie-May had arrived.

The child’s mother was then told she would have to return in the morning.

However, the coroner heard this was the first time the rule had been imposed on an emergency appointment.

Image caption The Grange Clinic in Newport

Ms Clark said she was “angry” and “upset” when they were asked to come back. She said Ellie asked: “Why won’t the doctor see me?”

But she explained to the coroner that: “I knew she wasn’t a 999 emergency”, “I’ve seen her a lot worse in the past”.

She added: “Obviously now I would have done things differently”.

The hearing was told Ms Clark continued to check on her daughter at home every 10 to 15 minutes and at about 22:30 she was coughing.

Ms Clark said Ellie-May then fell off the bed and was turning blue.

She was taken to the Royal Gwent Hospital by ambulance but died.

The inquest was told that the cause of death was bronchial asthma.

The hearing continues.

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Para-swimmer Rosie Bancroft appeals for stolen prosthetic leg’s return

Rosie Bancroft Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Para-swimmer Rosie Bancroft is coaching in Manchester

An elite Para-swimmer has appealed for the return of her prosthetic leg which was stolen in a “horrible” burglary.

ParalympicsGB hopeful Rosie Bancroft, who swims for the City of Manchester team, had hidden the limb in the back seat of her blue Fiat 500 convertible.

The car was stolen from outside her house in Manchester on Saturday night.

The 23-year-old said her vehicle had been specially adapted, including the positioning of the accelerator pedal, so “we’re hoping they didn’t get far”.

Ms Bancroft, originally from Oxford, is studying at the University of Manchester and coaches the swimming club team.

Born without her lower right leg, she needs the prosthetic for running and training in the gym.

It was tailored to her height and weight after “months of painful fittings” and is of no value to anyone else, she said.

“I can’t really walk very far with my other leg and without a car as well it’s going to be hard to get around.”

The burglary happened in the middle of the night while Ms Bancroft and her boyfriend were asleep at their home in Upper Brook Street.

She did not notice the theft until Sunday evening as she was working on her zoology dissertation all day.

“It’s just horrible,” she said, adding that she did not know how the burglars got in. “I couldn’t find my bag and noticed my coat was gone.

“I think the car keys were in the coat but they might have been in the kitchen.”

She posted a photo of the car on Facebook and Twitter and it was shared hundreds of times.

She wrote: “My accelerator is switched to the opposite side so we’re hoping they didn’t get very far driving it.

“If anyone spots this car PLEASE let us know as it may be abandoned on a road somewhere.”

Greater Manchester Police are investigating.

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Carabao Cup: Man City too good for Arsenal

Vincent Kompany has been at Manchester City for almost 10 years

Manchester City won their first trophy under Pep Guardiola as they brushed side Arsenal in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley.

Sergio Aguero took advantage of some poor Shkodran Mustafi defending to latch on to Claudio Bravo’s goal-kick and lob David Ospina for the opener.

Captain Vincent Kompany diverted home Ilkay Gundogan’s shot to double their lead.

And David Silva added the third when he smashed home from Danilo’s pass.

The Gunners were as poor as the scoreline suggests and their best chance came at 0-0 but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s close-range effort was at Bravo.

The League Cup remains the only domestic trophy Arsene Wenger has not won at Arsenal, losing in the final for the third time in his 21-year reign.

Guardiola, whose side are 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League, again wore the yellow ribbon to support jailed Catalan politicians that has landed him in trouble with the Football Association.

In his second season at City, he can now add the League Cup to the 21 trophies he won as boss of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Kompany’s character reaps rich reward

City manager Guardiola demonstrated his faith in the ability and influence of captain Kompany on his side when he was selected ahead of £47.5m John Stones at Wembley.

The 31-year-old Belgian was the mainstay and leader of the Manchester City side who claimed Premier League titles under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini in 2012 and 2014 – but has waged a relentless battle against injuries in recent seasons.

In 2015-16, Kompany figured in only 22 of City’s 59 games while in the following campaign he was involved in just 15 out of 56 – that is just 26.8%.

This term he has played in 13 out of 43 games but chose the Wembley stage to demonstrate exactly what he can still mean to Guardiola and City as they now move on to close out the formalities of another title triumph and continue their pursuit of the Champions League.

Kompany was at his imperious best, matching Aubameyang in a first-half race before brushing the Arsenal striker aside to snuff out a rare moment of danger.

And he was at the heart of the attacking action as City moved through the gears to exert complete control in the second half, seeing one shot deflected inches wide before reacting first to Gundogan’s shot to turn in the crucial second.

Kompany celebrated like a man who has known the long, lonely hours searching for full fitness and was enjoying a moment of sweet elation.

He led from the back and at the front in a consummate performance.

Stats – Aguero is Europe’s form striker in 2018

  • Manchester City’s 3-0 win over Arsenal is their biggest ever cup final victory, as well as the Gunners’ biggest ever loss in a cup final.
  • Manchester City have won the League Cup for a fifth time – only Liverpool (eight) have won it more often.
  • Arsenal have lost six of their eight League Cup finals, including each of their last three. The Gunners are the first side to lose in three successive appearances in the League Cup final (2007, 2011 and 2018).
  • City are one of four sides to lift the trophy on four successive League Cup final visits (Aston Villa, Liverpool and Manchester United).
  • No manager has lost more League Cup finals than Arsene Wenger (in 2007, 2011 and 2018), level with Sir Alex Ferguson, who also won the trophy four times.
  • Pep Guardiola has triumphed in seven of his previous eight major domestic and European finals, losing only to Real Madrid with Barcelona in the 2011 Copa del Rey final.
  • Sergio Aguero has scored in each of his last five games against Arsenal. He has scored 15 goals in 13 appearances in 2018 – more than any other player in the top five European leagues.
  • This was the biggest win by a Premier League team against another in a League Cup final since 2006 (Manchester United 4-0 Wigan), and biggest in a League Cup final at Wembley since 1996 (Aston Villa 3-0 Leeds).

What’s next?

Both sides meet again in the Premier League on Thursday at Emirates Stadium (19:45 GMT). City then host Chelsea on Sunday (16:00), with Arsenal at Brighton earlier in the day (13:30).

More to follow.

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Samsung’s new phone focuses on camera tricks

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Media captionWATCH: Spencer Kelly gets hands on with the Galaxy S9

New and improved camera capabilities are the main thrust of Samsung’s pitch for its latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S9 and larger S9+.

The handsets gain a super-slow-motion facility designed to make it easy to extend key moments of action. They also gain a type of lens that should improve low-light photography.

Samsung’s sales rose in 2017 but not as fast as those of many Chinese rivals.

Experts suggest the new facilities represent minor upgrades.

That may make marketing the S9 a challenge since the phone’s design also strongly resembles that of the existing S8. Slightly smaller bezels at the top and bottom and a new position for the fingerprint sensor are the biggest alterations.

The S9+ is only a little more distinct from the S8+. It now features two camera lenses on its rear, providing different fields of view and allowing photo backgrounds to be digitally blurred.

Image copyright Samsung
Image caption The S9 can automatically design an avatar or emoji for users

“I’m not sure if the improvements will be enough to make people rush and upgrade,” commented Francisco Jeronimo, an analyst at market research firm IDC.

“The quality of the camera is a purchasing driver for many consumers, and Samsung’s does appear better than [Google’s] Pixel 2.

“But I was expecting to see more development around its intelligence – it still relies on the cloud, meaning you need to be connected to the net to do live translations, for instance.”

By contrast, he added, Huawei’s latest phones can translate words they are shown while offline thanks to their use of a new chip technology.

Manufacturer 2017 handset shipments Year-on-year change Market share
Samsung 317.7 million +2.0% 21.7%
Apple 215.8 million +0.2% 14.8%
Huawei (incl Honor) 154.2 million +10.7% 10.6%
Oppo 111.7 million +12.0% 7.6%
Xiaomi 92.7 million +75.0% 6.3%
Vivo 87.6 million +13.4% 6.0%
LG 55.8 million +1.2% 3.8%
Industry total 1.46 billion -0.5% 100%

Source: IDC

Samsung held its launch on the eve of the Mobile World Congress tech show in Barcelona.

It has priced the S9 at 849 euros (£750; $1,047) and the S9+ at 949 euros (£838; $1,170) – 50 euros more than their predecessors

The biggest hardware change to the S9’s camera is that it now features a variable aperture, with a choice of two settings.

At its widest setting it allows in more light, which can be helpful in dim conditions, but at a cost of having shallower focus.

It is not the first handset-maker to do this. Nokia offered a similar technology in its N86 phone in 2009, but the innovation failed to catch on.

To further improve low-light imagery the S9 now takes 12 images in quick succession to help detect and remove noise – the S8 took three.

But its standout feature is the capacity to slow down video while keeping it in high-definition resolutions: 960 frames per second in 720p and 480fps in 1080p.

Image caption The slow motion videos can be turned into Gifs and also be placed on the phone’s lock screen

Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium phone added a similar feature last year, but Samsung says its version is “more usable”.

In both cases, owners must determine, at point of capture, the 0.2 seconds that get turned into six seconds of footage, at the slowest setting. This can be a challenge to get right.

While Sony relies on users pressing a button at exactly the right moment, Samsung’s S9 auto-triggers the function when motion is detected in a chosen part of the screen.

Other camera-related innovations include the introduction of AR Emojis.

Image copyright Samsung
Image caption Samsung’s latest phone has a camera that adapts to different light levels

These are animated cartoons created from facial scans of the owners that then mimic their expressions. They are similar in concept to Apple’s animal-based Animojis, but Samsung suggests its version is more “personal”.

The Bixby Vision image-recognition app gains the ability to identify foods the camera is pointed at and estimate their calorie content.

And the phone now combines data from its iris and facial-recognition systems to improve their reliability.

Samsung, however, declined to provide a failure rate to permit a comparison with Apple’s one-in-a-million statistic for its Face ID facility.

IHS Technology’s Ian Fogg said the risk for Samsung was that if consumers do not view the new features as a huge leap forward, they might prefer to wait to see what the S10 offers.

“The typical Samsung upgrader probably has an S6 or S7,” he explained

“Samsung has delivered significant incentives to upgrade with the improved camera and the larger display, compared with the older phones.

“But the problem is that those handsets from two to three years ago are still very usable and will still feel pretty good to many.”

Analysis:

Image caption Rory was not convinced his AR Emoji was a great likeness

By Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent

How keen are you to see the world in ultra slooooooow motion or to have an animated emoji that looks just like you?

Samsung is betting that these are not niche interests and will spark a rush to upgrade, particularly amongst those people whose phones are a couple of years old.

In truth, the Galaxy S9 feels like an incremental improvement on last year’s S8 – the screen stretches a bit further in the same space, the sound system is louder, which means more anti-social noise in public places, and Samsung’s underwhelming Bixby assistant has got a bit smarter at reading foreign menus.

To be fair, smartphones like the Galaxy are already brilliant computers delivering extraordinary performance on the move – and making new models stand out from the crowd is a struggle for all manufacturers.

It is a good bet that the S9 will sell very well indeed and put another rocket under Samsung’s profits – it just isn’t going to make jaded phone-buyers go “wow!”

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