• Commentary and Analysis

    by Published on 07-06-2017 08:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis

    I'm hoping that this post will be of some use to anyone looking to purchase a OnePlus device, now or in the future. As an online-only retailer here in the Americas, there's currently no way to hold one of their products in your hands before you commit to buying it—unless, perhaps, you live near New York City and can attend one of their launch events. To put worried would-be buyers at ease, OnePlus offers a 15-day "no hassle" return, which I got to test on my recent OnePlus 5 order.

    The first step in the return process is to create a service request on the OnePlus support site. If you want a refund you're asked to include some details as to why, but this is optional if I remember correctly. Anyway, almost immediately I received an email confirmation of my service request, and a few hours later I got another email from a company called FutureTel, a Canadian authorized service centre for OnePlus. Their message included an RMA number and a FedEx mailer, so all I had to do was pack up my phone, attach the mailer to the box and drop it off for shipping.

    And here's where we get to the only issues with my return experience. While these FutureTel people were inspecting my phone I received two separate and cryptic emails from OnePlus that read like this:

    Hello Friend,

    This is to inform you that your RMA has now been cancelled.
    This was immediately followed by a FutureTel email with a new RMA number and, somewhat distressingly, another mailing label. I contacted someone from OnePlus through their support chat portal, and was told that this was merely a procedural hiccup, and that FutureTel was still in the process of inspecting my device.

    The process wrapped up yesterday, with separate notices from OnePlus and PayPal that my refund had been issued; when all was said and done the entire return process took about 8 days. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a no-stress return, but "no-hassle" seems fair. I have heard that U.S. returns are subject to a 10% restocking fee if there's nothing wrong with the phone (ie. if the user just doesn't like it), so keep that in mind if you're planning to order.

    As for the OnePlus 5 itself, I don't think I can recommend it. The manufacturing defects that I experienced with mine, along with the reports I've read about the upside-down screen and even upside-down audio (?) makes me think that OnePlus cut too many corners in the making of what ended up being their most expensive device yet.

    by Published on 06-29-2017 08:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis

    Ten years ago today the first-generation iPhone went on sale in the USA, changing smartphones forever. However... As this post will end up being the 3,390th front page entry on these forums, the undying Nokia fanboy within me must insist on observing this auspicious number with an excerpt from a fantastic book about the Finnish phone-maker, and how it all went wrong for them.

    Nokia had little to worry about in the summer of 2007; their N95 was a triumph, and their roster of Eseries and Nseries smartphones was deep. Anecdotally, yours truly imported an E61i in July of that year, and stuck with S60 until switching to Android in late 2010. That's where we pick up the story, with Stephen Elop newly-installed as Nokia's CEO, and the growing realization that Symbian, Nokia's smartphone OS, is doomed. Something had to be done, and soon...

    Elop knew his decision couldn’t be based solely upon trends in market share. Android devices were stealing huge chunks of the market, but they were not taking commensurate shares of profits. At the end of 2010 Apple had less than 4 per cent of the total market, but by one estimate the company claimed an astonishing 44 per cent of all mobile phone manufacturers’ operating profit. Samsung’s sales were increasing, but they had a relatively low 10 per cent gross operating margin. Here was the lesson: going to Android could potentially help sales, but there was no evidence it would help profit.

    But there was an even more serious problem with Android, and that was Samsung. Executives carefully studied the dominant manufacturer in the Android ecosystem and didn’t like what they saw. Nokia had become swollen and lethargic while Samsung was lean and agile. Over the past several years Samsung had to compete in the Android market with speed, price and efficiency as Nokia’s similar qualities slowly decomposed. To compete in the Android ecosystem a manufacturer needed to be good. Now the South Koreans could take a product from an idea in a developer’s head to the hands of a consumer faster, cheaper and more efficiently than the Finns. That great efficiency advantage Nokia had created after the mid-1990s crisis had lasted almost exactly a decade as they had expected, but now it was gone.

    “It was impossible for Nokia to choose Android,” one insider says. “Samsung led the Android market so Nokia would be a follower. We were still thinking big, like about regaining a 40 per cent market share.”

    “We were scared of Samsung,” another former executive confirms. “We couldn’t compete directly against them in the Android ecosystem.”
    The infamous Burning Platform Memo would be published a few months later.

    Nokia's fear of Samsung, however justified it may have been, demonstrates that they had already lost the fight. They ended 2010 with a 37.6% share of the worldwide smartphone market, but as we all know, that wouldn't last long.

    Source: The Decline and Fall of Nokia

    by Published on 06-27-2017 08:00 AM
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    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis

    Here's a fan render of the forthcoming Galaxy Note 8 from Samsung. Evan Blass reports in VentureBeat that it will be the Korean conglomerate's first dual-camera smartphone, with a Snapdragon 835 processor (or Exynos equivalent), a generous 6 GB of RAM and a 6.3 inch AMOLED edge-to-edge screen, at an 18.5:9 aspect ratio.

    It will also retail for a thousand Euros. So in that regard, it will share the same problem as other 2017 flagships: they're all just too expensive.

    This troubling trend first came to my attention with the Google Pixel late last year, and has continued with the Galaxy S8/S8 Plus and Andy Rubin's Essential Phone. Even OnePlus is hopping on-board—the deluxe $539 USD OnePlus 5 is only a bargain when you compare it to everything else at the high end of the market.

    It also doesn't help that most people in North America are still getting their hardware financed or subsidized by their carrier. I have a friend with a teenage daughter who's been begging for more data, but when I told him about a decent prepaid offer he couldn't take it, because she's locked into a contract until the end of the year. In other words, she (more likely her dad) is trading years of affordable service for a one-time discount on an overpriced phone.

    This "kill the bezel" trend is at least part of the problem, enough so that it's interfering with what I still believe is the inevitable commoditization of smartphone hardware. Maybe it's time to stop chasing specs and start putting value above all else.

    Sources: BGR, VentureBeat

    by Published on 06-23-2017 08:15 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis

    Taking a break from the OnePlus hype, here's something completely different: a post mortem by a developer for Ubuntu Phone listing their reasons for why that platform failed. Of course you could argue that it was doomed from the start; if BlackBerry and Windows Phone couldn't compete against Android and iOS, what chance could a smartphone version of Ubuntu possibly have?

    It turns out that Canonical, Inc. only ever wanted 1% of the mobile market, and obviously failed to even capture that. Here are some explanations:

    1. It didn’t target a profitable niche.

    It started with the promise of a super-phone but the reality ended up being a couple of cheap handsets and tablets from a Spanish OEM. Pretty hard for Linux nerds to get excited about that.

    2. Bad user experience and skewed priorities.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: nobody really cares about plugging their smartphone into a desktop monitor and keyboard.

    3. The devices were too hard to get.

    I can attest to this. I once inquired about Ubuntu Phone at Sincere House, the mall in Hong Kong devoted entirely to mobile phones. No one there had the slightest idea what I was talking about.

    4. Focusing on irrelevant tech.

    See #2 above.

    5. Life as an app developer was too hard.

    Ubuntu Phone had its own SDK, with no abilities to cross-compile from Android, iOS, Windows, even X11. Oh, and apparently it also broke frequently when updated, sometimes for weeks on end.

    If you're a desktop Linux user like myself, or just want some dirt on the smartphone OS that never was, you can read the full story below.


    by Published on 06-16-2017 08:45 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Carriers

    For mobile users in Canada the biggest news story of the week, perhaps the year, is a new decision by Canada's Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to free users from carrier locks on their devices starting December 1st, 2017. Even better, effective this date new users who are unhappy with their carrier will be able to return their hardware and walk away at no cost, so long as they've used less than half of the data bucket on their monthly plan.

    It's not hard to see what the CRTC is trying to do here, to force Canada's Big Three carriers to compete more honestly on the strength of their networks, and hopefully price. I don't actually think that the price thing is going to play out like the CRTC wants it to; if recent history has taught us anything we know that carriers will always find a way to make up for lost revenue at the expense of their customers. In other words, come December 1st plan prices will almost certainly go up.

    And while it's probably out of the question for the CRTC to regulate plan prices, they could perhaps regulate data overages.

    Currently our Wireless Code mandates that carriers notify a customers when their data overages reach $100, and the customer must give their express consent to go over that limit. The unfortunate fact about that is data overages have gotten so expensive in this country that it's way too easy to reach the $100 threshold. I'll use two currently desirable Big Three plans as examples.

    If you hadn't heard, Public Mobile is once again offering a promotion on their 90 day prepaid plan that effectively gives you 4 GB of data per month for $40. Since it's a prepaid plan you won't be dinged for extra data; you have to purchase it yourself in increments of 200 MB or 1 GB. But that extra 1 GB will cost you a whopping $30. On a $40 / 4 GB plan that just doesn't make sense.

    Or take Koodo's Québec-only limited time offer of 6 GB for $49, available to anyone anywhere in Canada who's willing to jump through a few extra hoops. If you go over that 6 GB data allotment Koodo will charge you $5 per additional 100 MB, or an even more egregious $50 per GB!

    Three years ago the standard data overage charge was a mere $10 per GB; what else but a Big Three cash grab can explain the skyrocketing rates? We need an intervention to stop this madness, and I'm hoping that the CRTC is up for the task...

    Links: CRTC (1) (2)

    by Published on 06-15-2017 08:45 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps

    This isn't going to end well...

    I've nothing but respect for XDA recognized developer topjohnwu, but brazenly tweeting Google to boast that you've thwarted their tampering detection for Android is kinda dumb. I mean, it's fantastic that he was able to do it, just dumb to brag about it.

    I first wrote about topjohnwu's Magisk last month, and have been relying on it ever since. It's killer feature, Magisk Hide, does what no other Android rooting solution has been able to: hide root from SafetyNet-enabled apps. So Android Pay now works with root; ditto for other banking apps, Netflix, Nintendo games, and so on.

    The first hurdle for Magisk came two weeks ago, when the Magisk Manager app was pulled from the Play Store, not a huge deal because the flashable zip file—which includes the Magisk Manager apk—remains on XDA. Now a SafetyNet update seems to have broken Magisk Hide, but the issue is easily solved by updating to a beta version of Magisk. The sole developer of this incredible effort took to XDA to assure users:

    I personally think there really is no effective method to prevent magiskhide to work, unless there exist some ways that's beyond my knowledge; they add more checks, and I hide more. Since Magisk is running as root but the SafetyNet checks are not, we are more privileged than the detection method, and as a result we have MUCH more control over what the SN process can see.
    I don't doubt any of this, but I really hope that topjohnwu's Twitter braggadocio doesn't draw the ire of Google and end up ruining Magisk for everyone.

    Sources: @topjohnwu on Twitter, XDA (1) (2)

    by Published on 06-12-2017 08:15 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps

    Here's another bombshell from WWDC last week: iOS 11 brings with it a brand new file format for storing photos. It's called the High Efficiency Image Format and uses the unwieldy suffix you see above. It's a new standard developed by the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and is used in video compression as well.

    I found a helpful side-by-side visual comparison of HEIF and other file formats on this Nokia Github page. While I'm not seeing the claimed 50% smaller file sizes for still images, HEIF does very well against animated GIFs. So there's an obvious benefit here for Apple's proprietary Live Photos.

    But here is also where HEIF gets a bit contentious. The HEIF image format is also part of a new video codec called HEVC (High Efficiency Video Codec) which will compete against another video codec called AV1. Whereas HEVC support requires licensing from no less than four patent pools, AV1 will be royalty free. Perhaps because of this AV1 already has broad support from companies including Adobe, Amazon, AMD, ARM, Broadcom, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix and Nvidia.

    How you feel about open standards versus user experience will very likely influence your opinions on HEIF. But hopefully our apps, browsers and desktop streaming boxes will be able to support both.

    Sources: JPEGmini Blog, Nokia Tech Github, XDA

    by Published on 06-09-2017 08:45 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis

    Smartphone OEMs are winning the battle against smartphone bezels, it seems. With the Mi Mix leading the charge, LG and Samsung turned a regional skirmish into a global campaign. Even the inventor of Android himself has joined the fight, reclaiming almost all of the top bezel for his Essential Phone.

    Later this year Apple will, with their 10th anniversary release, attempt the impossible—to put a fingerprint scanner underneath the screen of the iPhone 8. What you see above is only a fan render; note the presence of a headphone jack. #Courage. Anyway, Samsung wasn't able to accomplish this feat on their Galaxy flagships this year, and according to SamMobile they've have given up on it for the forthcoming Note 8 as well. But, as 9to5Mac reports, Apple has already filed patents for a Touch ID-enabled screen, and appears to be proceeding full steam ahead.

    Here are two reasons why I think this is a bad idea.

    The screen of your smartphone is simultaneously its most important and vulnerable component. If your screen cracks to the point where it is non-responsive there won't be any alternative way to authenticate yourself. It's possible that your 2017 flagship might also have an iris scanner, and it's also possible that your screen will be damaged to the point where that sub-screen technology won't work properly, either.

    There's another, potentially even bigger issue. Since your cracked screen now has an embedded proprietary fingerprint scanner you will likely have no other option than to get it fixed at an authorized repair center. Replacing a smartphone screen isn't especially difficult if you have the proper parts and tools; third-party repair shops have been doing brisk business with butter-fingered users for years. But Apple especially has been fighting right to repair legislation across the USA, and a Touch ID-enabled screen would give them an unfair advantage in winning that war as well.

    Links: 9to5Mac, SamMobile

    by Published on 06-08-2017 08:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Carriers

    OpenSignal has published their semi-annual "state of LTE" report, with data from more than half a million devices across some 75 countries. The graph above is likely the one that you'll be most interested in, ranking average 4G download speeds by country. The top 10 are as follows:

    Singapore: 45.62 Mbps
    South Korea: 43.46 Mbps
    Hungary: 42.61 Mbps
    Norway: 41.36 Mbps
    Netherlands: 38.36 Mbps
    Luxembourg: 35.44 Mbps
    Croatia: 35.19 Mbps
    New Zealand: 34.91 Mbps
    Bulgaria: 34.07 Mbps
    Australia: 33.76 Mbps

    And if you were wondering what speeds were like closer to home:

    Canada (13th): 30.58 Mbps
    USA (59th): 14.99 Mbps

    For further insights see the link directly below. And if you disagree with the data you can make it more accurate for their next report by downloading the OpenSignal app for Android or iOS.

    Source: OpenSignal

    by Published on 06-07-2017 08:00 AM
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    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis

    The International Data Corporation (IDC) has published some stats for wearable sales in the first quarter of this year, which I caught on Liliputing. The big story? Fitbit has been overtaken in sales and market share by both Apple and Xiaomi. This doesn't necessarily mean that Fitbit has fallen out of favour with its user base, but might indicate that the market for fitness trackers is at the saturation point.

    According to the numbers Apple and Samsung have both shown impressive year over year growth, at 64.1 and 90.8% respectively. Xiaomi's dominant market share certainly caught me by surprise, until I realized that their cheap and cheerful Mi Band 2 is available through Amazon Prime in Canada and the USA. Also of interest is the complete absence of any specific device running Android Wear. A breakdown of market share by wearable OS would have been instructive here.

    To put wearable shipments in perspective, IDC reports that Samsung shipped 79.2 million phones in the same quarter as Apple's 3.6 million smartwatches and Xiaomi's 3.6 million fitness trackers. In other words, the addressable market for these things is still pretty small.

    Links: IDC (1) (2), Liliputing, Mi Band 2 on Amazon (1) (2)

    by Published on 06-05-2017 08:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Carriers

    So the Computex trade show just wrapped up in Taipei, Taiwan, and if you believe Engadget the age of the embedded SIM is upon us. The world's four biggest PC vendors—Lenovo, HP, Dell and ASUS—have all pledged to build Windows machines (presumably laptops) with eSIM support. It's a bit odd if you think about it; while an embedded SIM makes sense in a tight space like a smartwatch a laptop would has plenty of room for a traditional SIM card. But apparently Intel is developing an eSIM that provides a persistent gigabit data connection over LTE.

    So are eSIMs inevitable for smartphones as well? I sure hope not. My problem with embedded SIMs is that they force the user to cede control of their data connection to someone else.

    For the last decade or so every mobile phone I've owned has been free of carrier locks—meaning that right out of the box I could insert my SIM card of choice, and as long as my carrier's bands were supported I'd be good to go. As an added bonus I've also been able to remove said SIM card and gift or sell my hardware to someone else when I'm done with it, so that they can do the same.

    With an eSIM the user has to select and/or change their carrier through software, which doesn't sound like a big deal but is nonetheless an additional barrier between you and your connection. A software interface gives a third party the power to block a carrier or even a specific plan from your electronic property. At best an eSIM provides multiple, competing interests a means to make your device worse. Don't believe me? Look no further than the Apple SIM; when it launched in 2014 AT&T used it to lock users to that network, while Verizon banned it altogether. That dream of having carriers competing to give you a data connection didn't exactly pan out.

    It might be a minor inconvenience having to deal with APNs, SIM card trays and ejector tools, but I'm still a big fan of physical SIMs. In fact, I'd take dual-SIM support over an eSIM any day of the week.

    Links: Engadget
    by Published on 05-12-2017 08:15 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis

    The Hacker News did up this fancy new graphic for what is ultimately an old problem. That problem? OnePlus doesn't use a secure channel to deliver OTA updates. Instead of HTTPS or TLS your stock OnePlus device will check for and receive software updates over plain old HTTP.

    The specific flaws are as follows:

    Exactly what I wrote above, that OnePlus OTAs are not delivered in a secure manner. This flaw makes the next three attacks possible.

    An additional fly in the ointment: Because all OTA updates from OnePlus are signed with the same key, it's possible to disguise a downgrade as an upgrade, making the target less secure.

    Because of that shared key it's also possible to disguise a Hydrogen OS OTA as an Oxygen one, and vice versa.

    Again with the shared key... it's also possible to remotely inject a OTA meant for a OnePlus X onto a OnePlus One, and vice versa.

    Keep in mind that for any of this to work the attacker would have to be on the same network as you, and you yourself would have to approve the incoming update on your device. But the fact remains that these vulnerabilities wouldn't exist at all if OnePlus used HTTP or TLS to check for and deliver updates.

    I'll add to this that the company should also be quicker to update the factory images on their site. I understand and can appreciate their practice of rolling out OTAs by region, but I see too many users on reddit and their forums installing updates from dodgy sources, like some random person's MEGA account.

    Sources: Aleph Security via The Hacker News

    by Published on 05-11-2017 08:00 AM
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    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis

    I'm always fascinated by the mobile phone culture of other countries, be it the die-hard keitai users of Japan or the magic of M-Pesa mobile payments across great swaths of Africa. A couple of summers ago I linked to the XDA Atlas, providing some fantastic insight into that site's worldwide user base. This past week on r/Android a redditor from India posted about the peculiarities of using a smartphone in that country. I thought it would be interesting to share a few highlights, so here they are...

    First off, it would seem that most Indian smartphone users are on prepaid plans. That in itself isn't so unusual, until you consider that dual-SIM support is a must-have feature for them. The redditor explains why:

    Telenor's call rates are dirt cheap, but its data speed is bad. On the other hand, Airtel has good data speeds, but its call rate is way more than Telenor's. So many people use Telenor for calling and Airtel for data, getting the best of both without shelling out double the money.
    Dual-SIM phones will never be popular here in the west because carriers will never sell them—more specifically, they'll never undercut themselves by giving their customers the option of a second provider on the same device. That's definitely an advantage of a prepaid market, that users can easily obtain unlocked phones with dual-SIM support.

    The bad news with prepaid—for India, at least—is that SMS is much more expensive. According to the redditor users have largely abandoned it in favour of data-driven alternatives like WhatsApp and Nimbuzz. Remember Nimbuzz? That former XMPP aggregator is now its own proprietary service, the most popular one on the subcontinent, apparently.

    To find out which smartphones are popular in India and more, check out the reddit thread immediately below. Dual-SIMs ftw!

    Source: r/Android

    by Published on 05-09-2017 08:30 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps

    Cool, they turned Google Keep into an operating system. </s>

    Seriously, this is what Mountain View is calling Armadillo, the UI layer of a mobile OS called Fuchsia, which could one day replace Android. And here's Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica with his best attempt to explain what's going on:

    Above the profile section are a bunch of cards labeled "Story [something]." The readme describes stories as "a set of apps and/or modules that work together for the user to achieve a goal." That seems pretty close to a recent apps list, maybe (eventually) with some kind of grouping feature. Tapping on any card will load it as a full-screen interface, and since one is labeled "email," it's pretty obvious that these are apps.

    Perhaps this video demo, where the grabbed screen comes from, will enlighten us:

    Nope, still not getting it.

    But hey, if you want to try Fuchsia and Armadillo for yourself Kyle Bradshaw, the author of the video, has compiled an .apk of Armadillo that you can install and run on your Android device.

    Me? Nah, I'm good.

    My derision for Google's latest flight of fancy stems from the project's proprietary nature. At present all the sources for Fuchsia are available on Github, which is great. But here's the bad news: if it ever sees a commercial release Fuchsia won't run on the Linux kernel but instead an in-house microkernel with a less-open software license. Which means no kernel sources. Which means no custom ROMs. Which means no thanks.

    Source: Hotfix IT via Ars Technica

    by Published on 04-26-2017 11:15 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis

    Except for this guy, apparently...

    I took this photo Tuesday evening in the ANA Lounge at Haneda Airport while waiting for my flight home. To be fair, it's entirely possible that the subject of the photo doesn't read Japanese, English, Chinese or Korean. And perhaps if I had put the sign within his field of view instead of hoarding it for my photo opp I might not have had to endure half of his conversation for twenty minutes. But that's not my point—my point here is that indiscretions like this really stand out in Japan, because the mobile manners of Japanese people are generally very good.

    Fans of Top Gear might remember this episode where Richard Hammond is shushed on the Shinkansen for taking a call on speaker phone:

    (If the time stamp didn't work scrub ahead to 5 minutes and 2 seconds...)

    There are signs all over bullet trains—in English—asking people not to use their mobile phones, which reasonable people understand to mean to not use them for voice calls, and certainly not voice calls using your phone's loudspeaker. It may seem harsh, but I was able to enjoy a two-hour train ride to Kyoto and back on a crowded train that to my North American ears seemed nearly silent.

    So what do Japanese people do when they want to call someone in a public or shared space? They seek somewhere to make their call that's away from other people so as to not disturb them. Crazy, I know... In the case of my airport lounge at Haneda there is a defined area specifically for people to make voice calls. Conversely, at a transit lounge in Vancouver the girlfriend and I had to seek out the only tiny corner where people were asked not to use their phones.

    As the jet lag wanes I will gradually become reaccustomed to walking down the street surrounded by people yelling into their phones, at their smartwatches, at Google, Siri, at each other and at no one in particular. If you live in a big city all this is perfectly normal—unless that city happens to be in Japan. If you ever want to give your ears a break, to hear what good mobile manners sounds like, you should check it out!

    by Published on 04-13-2017 08:30 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis

    Here's an infographic from Vocativ showing a geographic breakdown of IMSI catchers (also known as stingrays) used by various police forces across the USA. According to the accompanying story there are at least 471 such devices used by law enforcement agencies across the nation. In Canada, a CBC investigation has revealed widespread use of IMSI catchers by local police forces and the RCMP.

    But despite their widespread use, police are reluctant to talk about these cell tower-spoofing devices, in some cases lying about their very existence. There's good reason for that.

    First and foremost is the legal issue. Given the power of an IMSI catcher to indiscriminately capture communications from every cellular device within range, they're understandably illegal for civilians to own and operate. But here's something that may surprise you: police use might be illegal as well. Defence lawyers in Canada have argued that the RCMP violated the Radiocommunications Act by using unregistered devices that interfere with public airwaves. As for their deployment across the United States, Vocativ notes that the legality of stingrays is still being "figured out" by the court system there. It doesn't help that agencies who purchase IMSI catchers must often sign an NDA agreement with the companies that provide them; this has, in part, historically led to police denying their possession of them.

    Equally troubling is the potential for mass surveillance. In the USA only a handful of states—including California, Utah, Virginia, and Washington—require a warrant for IMSI catcher use. In Canada Chief Superintendent Jeff Adam told the CBC that the RCMP "does not collect voice and audio communications, email messages, text messages, contact lists, images, encryption keys or basic subscriber information." But there is currently zero oversight to hold that police force to account. You tell us that, unlike the NSA, you don't collect or store bulk interceptions, and we're supposed to believe you, just because?

    Here's my real problem with IMSI catchers: how would you self-censor your own communication knowing that at any moment the police could be listening in?

    Sources: CBC (1) (2), Globe and Mail, Vocativ

    by Published on 04-11-2017 08:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis

    As I wrote last week, AI (or what currently passes for it) is the latest innovation for smartphones, with Apple, Google, even Samsung getting in on the action. From the perspective of the other two, Google has the enviable problem of already knowing so much about the people who use its services—which begs the question: How can they possibly maintain some semblance of privacy for users, while collecting ever more data from them?

    The answer is what Mountain View is calling "federated learning". Google published a research paper and blog post on the subject, which I found through VICE Motherboard. Here's the latter to explain the concept:

    Normally, AI training has to be done with all of the data sitting on the one server. But with federated learning, the data is spread across millions of phones with a tiny AI sitting on all of them, learning the user's patterns of use. Instead of the raw data being sent to a Google training server, the phone AI transmits an encrypted "update" that only describes what it's learned, to Google's main AI where it's "immediately" aggregated with the updates from every other phone.
    The researchers maintain that the update isn't stored anywhere on its own, and thus cannot be linked with the individual user who provided it. Read more about federated learning at the links directly below.

    Source: Google Research Blog via VICE Motherboard

    by Published on 04-06-2017 08:15 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis

    Android Police reported yesterday that Ubuntu Phone—that is, the smartphone version of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution—is dead. While technically correct, that's not the whole story; what's really happening is that Ubuntu is abandoning Unity, their in-house desktop environment that also happens to run on smartphones and tablets.

    The idea started as Ubuntu for Android way back in 2012, three years before Microsoft's Continuum and five years before Samsung's DeX. And now Ubuntu is dropping it altogether and moving on. You could argue that Ubuntu smartphones never had a chance in a world dominated by Apple and Google, and you'd be right—but you also need to consider the bigger picture. If there was ever an addressable market for phone/computer convergence it would be Linux geeks, but even amongst them I've seen zero evidence of widespread adoption. If you really think about it, it's not hard to see why.

    "Hey man, can I unplug the monitor, keyboard and mouse from your computer so I can use my phone instead?"

    In an age of Chromebooks, Ultrabooks and cloud computing that just ain't gonna happen. Ever.

    As an Ubuntu user myself I'm genuinely bummed that Ubuntu Phone is no more—I didn't much care for the iteration I tested but I recognize that, for a very niche audience who genuinely care about Free/Libre software, it would have been a welcome alternative to the bigger players. But let's be real here, getting phones to do double duty as desktop computers is ultimately a waste of time and effort for everybody.

    Sources: Android Police (1) (2), Howard Forums, PC Mag, The Verge

    by Published on 04-03-2017 08:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis

    Despite the photo—here's more on the subject if you're interested—there are no late-breaking April Fool's Day jokes here... just three predictions from a Business Insider piece on the inevitable post-smartphone world. As beloved as our connected pocket computers may be, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine a future where they're as clunky and cumbersome to the user as a mainframe computer would be in a home office today.

    Short Term

    Digital assistants will likely end up usurping the app as the primary means for human-to-machine communication—web searches, map directions, that kind of thing. If you think about it, funneling such interactions into a single channel makes a lot more sense than searching for relevant information across disparate apps.

    My problem with digital assistants is that you must interact with them by voice; that's fine for your home or car, but I'm not especially jazzed about living in a world where everyone is walking around mumbling into an earpiece like in the movie Her.

    Medium Term

    I could instantly see the power of augmented reality when I first tried an AR app on my Symbian-powered phone in 2010. The problem is that no one wants to walk around having to hold their phone of front of their face to better understand the world around them. I was pretty excited about Google Glass until I actually came face to face with someone wearing it—there are obvious privacy concerns when you're wearing a camera on your face.

    I think the Snap Spectacles have addressed that problem well with their rather obvious recording light. Wouldn't it be great if the lenses on those things could also project AR data to the person wearing them?

    Someone, somewhere is going to figure this out; when they do I see no reason why augmented reality glasses couldn't supplant the smartphone as we know it today.

    Long Term

    Elon Musk has already co-founded a company with the eventual goal of attaching a networked computer directly to your brain. As inconceivable as this may sound today, Musk believes that the development of this technology is imperative to keep humanity competitive in the age of true artificial intelligence. Way to stay positive, Elon.

    Read more at the source directly below.

    Source: Business Insider

    by Published on 03-29-2017 08:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis

    A bold proclamation that I made at the start of 2017 is still holding up almost three months later; traditional watchmakers are announcing more and more of the best-looking smartwatches, putting similar efforts by the likes of Huawei and LG to shame. Yes, I'm deliberately conflating "best-looking" with "best" here—if you're fretting about how much RAM your smartwatch has, you're doing it wrong.

    Look instead to the new Android Wear models announced at the Baselworld trade show in Switzerland this past week. Movado, Diesel, Montblanc... all great-looking watches with first-party customizable faces and—surprise!—the added utility of notifications on your wrist. It's as much jewellery as it is tech, and that's not at all a bad thing.

    It might not be enough to win back folks who've given up on wearing a wristwatch altogether, nor entice those who've never worn one in the first place. On the other hand (pun intended), not every watch-wearer cares about monitoring their heart rate or even tracking their steps—there are plenty of Fitbits for that. For the serious watch fan in the market for a good-looking timepiece with notification support, 2017 looks to be a very good year. Just do yourself a favour and set the fashion bar a little higher than your local Best Buy.

    Source: XDA

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