• Commentary and Analysis

    by Published on 04-13-2017 07:30 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

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    by Published on 04-11-2017 07:00 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

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    by Published on 04-06-2017 07:15 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

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    by Published on 04-03-2017 07:30 AM
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    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

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    by Published on 03-29-2017 07:30 AM
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    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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    by Published on 03-28-2017 07:30 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps



    Here's British Home Secretary Amber Rudd telling the BBC how law enforcement needs access to WhatsApp. A lone attacker who killed four people and injured fifty more in London last week apparently accessed the messaging service just before the attack began.

    The pertinent sound bite from Ms. Rudd:

    "It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide. We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don't provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other."
    The issue is, of course, that WhatsApp deployed end-to-end encryption across its platform in late 2014. That date is not insignificant; the Snowden revelations of 2013—that is, the indiscriminate spying of citizens by the NSA, GCHQ and other Five Eyes partners—are at least partly responsible for the rise of encrypted messaging, and indeed the full disk encryption now standard on both Android and iOS.

    To believe that compromising WhatsApp will immediately make the world safer is more than a bit naive; The Independent ran a recent story on the former computer security chief for the UK's Ministry of Defence, who points out rather obviously that those wishing to spread terror will just move on to something else.

    Sources: BBC News, The Independent

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    by Published on 03-27-2017 07:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps



    So Nintendo's Super Mario Run finally came to Android last week. For some reason it's not yet available to Canadians but no worries, eh? You can download and install the official Android package from APK Mirror. Only problem is that if you do that, especially on a rooted Android device, you will eventually be locked out of the game and presented with the error message above.

    A Google search of support code 804-5100 yielded this possible fix:

    1. Download/install a (root) file manager app from the Play store and open it.
    2. Go to the following directory on your device’s internal storage — /data/data/com.nintendo.zara
    3. You'll see the deviceAccount:.xml file inside the folder, delete this file.
    4. Open the Super Mario Run game again and sync it with your Nintendo account.
    Not sure what syncing the game to a Nintendo account has to do with anything, but I dutifully followed the instructions above and was still locked out of the game.

    In one sense it's no big deal, because Super Mario Run seems to be a pretty average gaming experience at best. Before I was locked out I got the thrill of playing through two plodding tutorial levels and sitting through a bunch of cut scenes that I couldn't skip through—nothing at all like the best mobile games I've played where you're dumped right in to the action and have to figure things out as you go.

    In another sense, however, it represents yet another attack from the bad guys in the war on general purpose computing, just like Pokémon GO. It's fairly arrogant to presume that someone would root their Android device for the sole purpose of cheating a game, and in the specific case of Mario I've yet to hear of any such cheat. If it's not root but a geo-blocking issue, that would only make sense if Nintendo was trying managing the load on their servers—because, if you didn't know, this particular game title requires a persistent data connection to work.

    Whatever the case, if you're an Android user with root don't bother wasting your time on Super Mario Run. You've likely got better, more important things to do with your device.

    Links: Cory Doctorow, Howard Forums, The Android Soul

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    by Published on 03-23-2017 07:30 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Carriers



    Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau (seen above) released his government's 2017 budget yesterday, and at least two sources that I follow for digital rights in this country have already expressed concern over a vague passage contained therein. Here is that passage:

    To ensure that Canadians continue to benefit from an open and innovative Internet, the Government proposes to review and modernize the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act. In this review, the Government will look to examine issues such as telecommunications and content creation in the digital age, net neutrality and cultural diversity, and how to strengthen the future of Canadian media and Canadian content creation.
    What does it mean? According to Peter Nowak and Professor Michael Geist, lobbying, lobbying and more lobbying by those in the pocket of Canada's carriers and ISPs.

    Nowak concedes that with broadcast and telecom now effectively sharing the same series of tubes it no longer makes sense to separate the legislation governing them. However, a review of this country's enviable net neutrality rules is entirely unnecessary, duplicating work already done by the CRTC.

    Dr. Geist adds to this the looming spectre of ISP and/or Netflix taxes, channeling even more money back into our operators—who are, in case you forgot, also our broadcasters—all while foreign sources fund more English language Canadian television than ever before. Geist also points to the coming renegotiation of NAFTA, and its implications for Canada's digital policy.

    Read more at the links directly below...

    Sources: Michael Geist, Peter Nowak

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    by Published on 03-16-2017 07:30 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps



    The inspiration for today's post comes from a story this week on ZDNet, about how Pidgin, an IM client for Linux, is unable to support popular platforms like Slack or WhatsApp. This may sound crazy, but not so long ago there was a time when such disparate chat service could all be accessed by the same app.

    For desktop Linux Pidgin did a great job, and for my S60-powered Nokia smartphones of the late 2000s there were even more choices—Fring, IM+ and Nimbuzz each enabled me to connect to Facebook Messenger, Hangouts (then Google Talk) and more, all from a single interface. The magic that made this possible was, in most cases, the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol—XMPP for short.

    So what happened? Facebook XMPP support unofficially ended in the summer of 2015, after their chat API was officially depreciated that spring. The story with Google is a bit more complicated, but boils down to the XMPP-supported Google Talk being supplanted by the non-XMPP-compatible Hangouts.

    And what about those Nokia chat apps? Of the three, Nimbuzz is the only one still in service, now running its own proprietary IM platform and pseudo-VoIP service. Walled gardens, it seems, are the way of the future when it comes to chat.

    Links: Disruptive Telephony, Slashdot, XMPP, ZDNet

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    by Published on 03-08-2017 07:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis



    Much respect for the team over at XDA this morning; on the very same day that the world received news of new revelations from WikiLeaks they published a thorough, thoughtful and level-headed analysis of what they found. I've yet to see anything this detailed anywhere else on the web.

    It would indeed appear that the CIA has been collecting zero-day exploits for both Android and iOS. The good news is that most of the vulnerabilities affect older hardware and versions of those operating systems. Apple will only say that the exploits relating to their products have been patched. XDA, as you will now see, goes quite a bit further than that.

    Android Exploits
    Dugtrio - remote access vulnerability, affects Android 2.3.6 to 4.2
    Freedriod - affects Android 2.3.6 to 4.2, unreliable in Android 4.3 to 4.4
    Flameskimmer - affects Android 4.4.4, Broadcom WiFi chipset only
    Spearrow - remote info leak, affects Android 4.1.2, possibly unreliable

    App Exploits
    EggsMayhem - affects Chrome versions 32 to 39 (2014)

    Device Exploits
    Colobus - affects HTC One M7, Samsung Galaxy S4 i9505, Sony Xperia Z
    Galago - affects two specific build numbers of Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    Simian - affects Snapdragon 800-powered devices
    Snubble - affects specific builds of Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S4
    Sulfur - affects specific builds of Samsung Galaxy Note 4

    Tweets from whistleblower Edward Snowden indicate that the WikiLeaks information dump is legitimate, and would seem to suggest that the U.S. government—and by extension, its Five Eyes partners—have an ongoing interest in keeping your mobile phone and its software unsafe. If you value your privacy and are using anything cited in this post, now might be the time for a hardware upgrade, or to take that software update at the very least.

    Sources: RT, TechCrunch, XDA Developers

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    by Published on 02-10-2017 07:00 AM
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    2. Commentary and Analysis



    I caught something on Twitter yesterday that has me more than a bit confused. As you may or may not know, this week the CRTC conducted a public hearing this week in review of Canada's Wireless Code. The following excerpt from the hearing was tweeted as a graphic—I did a copy/paste straight from the official transcript.

    For reference, THE CHAIRPERSON is CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais and MS. CARSTEN is Rhonda Carsten, Director of Wireless Marketing for SaskTel.

    4180 THE CHAIRPERSON: Would you agree with me that if phones were more readily unlocked, a consumer rather than getting this $3 a day package from you for roaming in the United States or perhaps a higher price for roaming elsewhere could actually insert a SIM card from a foreign carrier?

    4181 MS. CARSTEN: We do as part of our process that we communicate to customers when they contact us with regards to international roaming and the rates, we do make it available to them to unlock their device. There is that fee associated with it but it is a one-time fee and it is a permanent unlock for that device so that they can do exactly what you reference by picking up a SIM in an international destination and utilizing those local rates that would be cheaper for them.

    4182 THE CHAIRPERSON: So how much is that unlocking fee?

    4183 MS. CARSTEN: It’s the same fee.

    4184 THE CHAIRPERSON: So $50?

    4185 MS. CARSTEN: One time based on the same cost structure that we will provide you with information about.

    4186 THE CHAIRPERSON: So if in December 2016 I was going down to the United States on holidays I’d pay $50 and if I was going 3 months later again and I want to use a SIM card option to manage my fees I’d have to pay another $50; is that correct?

    4187 MS. CARSTEN: No, no, you only pay the one time and then that device is unlocked. And every subsequent trip you make, regardless of what country you go to, you don’t have to pay again to unlock that device. It’s permanently unlocked.

    4188 THE CHAIRPERSON: Even in Canada?

    4189 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.

    4190 THE CHAIRPERSON: So it’s not just a roaming option. You’d be unlocked forever?

    4191 MS. CARSTEN: Correct.
    TL;DR The CRTC doesn't know what SIM-unlocking is...?

    Granted, the person who tweeted this is a known shill for Canada's Big Three carriers, and may well have cherry-picked this specific exchange to make the CRTC look bad. A reply to the tweet additionally pointed out that Mr. Blais in that moment might have been deliberately pedantic—"playing dumb"—to get what might seem like obvious details about SIM-unlocking on record.

    I certainly hope that's the case. If Canada's regulatory telecommunications body doesn't understand a core technology of mobile phones, we're in for a bad time.

    For more on the public hearing see additional comments in this thread.

    Source: CRTC Transcripts via an industry apologist on Twitter

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    by Published on 02-09-2017 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis



    I've been subscribed to TechAltar for a while now, and was pleased to see one of the videos from that YouTube channel grace the front pages of popular subreddits like r/Android, r/OnePlus and r/Pebble this week. The dude who appears on camera—I think his name is Martin?—clearly knows what he is talking about, and nowhere is this more apparent than in his latest production.

    His theory, in a nutshell, is that serving the tech enthusiast is not a sustainable business.

    He cites two notable examples: Oppo and Pebble. Perpetually a hit with the Kickstarter crowd, Pebble still struggled to find a wider customer base. Distribution through Best Buy and the like, more fashion-conscious designs like the Pebble Round, doubling down on fitness tracking with heart-rate sensors... none of this could ultimately save the company; its geek-cred became a fatal thorn in its side.

    Then there's Oppo, a company that Martin (?) actually worked for in Shenzhen, China for a time. It wasn't all that long ago that Oppo too was an enthusiast brand—as I recall, there was a version of their 2013 N1 that ran CyanogenMod out of the box. But there came a point where the company decided to pivot away from its tech-savvy fanbase and focus on more consumer-friendly products. The result? Oppo is now, according to The Economist, the number one OEM in the world's biggest smartphone market.

    So what's the early adopter to do? TechAltar's advice is to not get too attached to your favourite brand, and be ready to jump to the next thing once it comes along. Hopefully we will always have a next thing to jump to...!

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    by Published on 02-06-2017 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis



    I've been sitting on some really good links about Cyanogen, Inc. and its co-founder Steve Kondik for a while now, but have resisted posting them here because together they tell such a sordid and convoluted tale. But it looks like the dust has settled and we finally have closure, so here we go...

    You'll recall that in September of 2013 CyanogenMod, the most popular custom ROM for Android, incorporated into Cyanogen, Inc. Their business model was solid—the rising tide of Chinese-branded smartphones could never even hope to do well in the west with the bloated, ad-ridden software tolerated at home. The new Cyanogen OS made its famous début on 2014's OnePlus One, incorrectly called CyanogenMod 11S by yours truly. And then things got weird.

    Cyanogen, Inc.—or, more accurately, its CEO Kirt McMaster—f**ked over OnePlus when it (he) made an exclusive deal to provide software for Micromax, an Android OEM in India. For a time OnePlus was effectively blocked from selling phones in the world's second largest smartphone market. A few months later McMaster boasted to Forbes that Cyanogen was "putting a gun to Google's head".

    Fast forward to the summer of 2016, where Cyanogen, Inc. decided to get out of the Android ROM business altogether, laying off 20% of its staff and "pivoting" to market the only other intellectual property it had—a scant few customized Android apps.

    The one bright spot through this mess was the continued availability of the free CyanogenMod ROM—that is until Steve Kondik, the founder of the project, told his side of the story to the CM community in an open letter:

    My co-founder [McMaster] apparently became unhappy with running the business and not owning the vision. This is when the "bullet to the head" and other misguided media nonsense started, and the bad business deals were signed. Being second in command, all I could do was try and stop it, do damage control, and hope every day that something new didn't happen. The worst of it happened internally and it became a generally sh**ty place to work because of all the conflict.
    Shortly after posting this, Kondik was fired from the company he himself had started. And shortly after that, the Inc. shut down all the infrastructure that had made the Mod possible.

    But all is not lost: CyanogenMod lives on in the form of Lineage OS, with Kondik and some other key talent running the show. Though ROMs are currently available for only a few devices, many, many more are in the works.

    And what of Cyanogen, Inc., and the CEO that ruined everything? Well, the news from Android Police over the weekend is that McMaster has a new logo on the door of Cyanogen's old HQ, and a smashed Tesla in the parking lot. Talk about a train wreck...

    Sources: Android Police (1) (2) (3)

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    by Published on 01-24-2017 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis



    I'm an Android user and, despite the fanboy graphic you see above, I come in peace.

    Yesterday I came across a list of 10 reasons why people buy iPhones instead of Android phones. As a student of smartphone history it piqued my interest; while it's an inescapable fact that Android is currently the world's most popular computer OS (and that includes Windows on desktop computers), it also seems to be true that in certain parts of the world—Japan, the U.S. and Canada are immediate places that come to mind—you still see more iPhones than Androids in people's hands.

    Why is that?

    There are undoubtedly many answers to this question; I've added my own to the list that I found, and I'm hoping that you'll do the same...

    1. They like iOS better than Android

    I've definitely some firsthand evidence to support this. I remember showing my niece whatever Nexus phone I was using at the time and she promptly handed it back, saying that it was "too confusing". With home screen widgets and app drawers versus screen after screen of app icons (with folders for advanced users) I can appreciate that.

    2. iPhones support all of the apps that most people want

    It's not nearly as much of an issue as it was a few years ago, but with some game titles—Super Mario Run, for example—it's still very much the case.

    3. They’ve heard all kinds of things (true and false) about the security of iOS

    I would think the opposite, that iPhone users have heard all sorts of bad things about Android security. To some extent it's a fair point.

    4. iPhones play well with other Apple devices

    Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?

    In all seriousness, just as the Linux-based Android OS makes for a good fit with my desktop Linux computers, the tight integration between iOS and Mac OS makes a good case for why you'd use both.

    5. They’ve already owned an iPhone

    I'll admit that I completely missed the boat when the iPhone 3G came to Canada; at that time I was still a Mac user, but also a cheerleader for Team Nokia. In fact, I only really bought a Nexus One in 2010 to try out a new carrier (Mobilicity) and also because Nokia decided not to lend me an N8.

    Bad move, Nokia.

    6. iPhones are easy to recognize

    I think what the list is trying to say is that iPhone is a safe, dependable choice—which until Google's Pixel didn't really exist in the Android ecosystem.

    7. iPhones aren’t packed with bloatware added by the carrier

    With a few exceptions Android is guilty as charged; no argument here.

    8. They think an iPhone will last longer than an Android phone

    I would say that the opposite is true—depending on the phone, of course. With a good custom ROM I could still use my 2014 Nexus 5 or OnePlus One as a daily driver if I wanted to.

    9. iPhones seem easier to resell than Android phones

    Can't deny that. I would further say that getting a subsidized iPhone might even be worth locking yourself into a carrier contract if you plan on selling it right away.

    10. They aren’t comparing phones based on raw specifications

    Even if they were, iPhone hardware is made to run iOS, so you'd still have a solid case for the iPhone being the better choice.

    When all is said and done the only really important thing is that you use what's right for you. Nonetheless, any comments you add below will help us Android users understand you better.

    Source: Cheat Sheet

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    by Published on 01-17-2017 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps



    I'm very late to the game here, but I finally got around to watching the new season of Black Mirror on Netflix last night. If you've never seen Black Mirror, it's basically Twilight Zone meets the Internet. "Nosedive", the first episode of the show's third season, is set in a dystopian near-future where everyone is constantly being rated by their peers, with very real implications for the goods, services and even people they are able to access.

    If you find such a premise to be a bit far-fetched, you might be surprised to find out that a similar rating system is in use right now in mainland China.

    The Chinese government is calling it "social credit"; as The Washington Post reports, the reasons behind it are fairly pragmatic:

    At the heart of the social credit system is an attempt to control China’s vast, anarchic and poorly-regulated market economy, to punish companies selling poisoned food or phony medicine, to expose doctors taking bribes and uncover con men preying on the vulnerable.
    Here's the scary part: social credit is being expanded from businesses and professionals to the rest of the population. Enrollment in the social credit system could be mandatory as early as 2020.

    One initiative to get China's 700 million Internet users to embrace the idea is Sesame Credit, a joint venture between Alibaba, Tencent and, of course, the Chinese government. I found an excellent analysis of Sesame Credit on, of all places, a YouTube gaming channel:



    If you thought social media was already bad, gamifying obedience will surely make it much, much worse.

    Source: Washington Post

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    by Published on 12-30-2016 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis



    My final submission for 2016 will not be an arbitrary list of top 5 or top 10 devices, but instead a consideration of hardware trends I've observed over the past year. It's by no means complete, just the things that spring immediately to mind.

    The Endangered Audio Jack

    The good news, for Apple's stockholders at least, is that iPhone 7 owners seem perfectly willing to go without the standard audio jack that remains on almost every other phone currently on the market—the Moto Z is also missing the 3.5mm plug, but I've honestly never seen one in use outside of a Motorola boardroom.

    There are rumours that next year's Galaxy S8 won't have an audio jack, either. But why? The only justification I can think of is the continuing obsession with impossibly-thin phones that nobody asked for.

    Dual Cameras

    Smartphone OEMs have at least innovated their way around the dilemma of putting a zoom lens on an impossibly-thin phone. What started on the LG G5 was ultimately brought to the masses on the iPhone 7 Plus. Huawei's P9 also has two cameras, but for a different purpose—the two sensors capture different colour information to produce a more vivid result.

    Anyway, the trend of dual-camera smartphones is something I expected to continue into 2017. But there's actually another way to put a zoom lens on an impossibly-thin phone: slap an actual optical zoom onto the back, and throw in a Hasselblad logo for good measure.

    Modularity

    Modular phones were also a trend in 2016, but I'm not yet convinced that it's going to stick. A pair of new Moto mods were announced earlier this month, but LG's Friends have expanded to include a slew of decidedly non-modular accessories. Even more telling is that leaked renders of next year's LG G6 show no signs of any modularity whatsoever.

    And let's not forget that Google's own modularity experiment, Project Ara, is dead.

    Catching Up

    I'll close off by mentioning an innovation from last year that I didn't get to enjoy until 2016. Dual SIM support made an early appearance on the ASUS ZenFone 2, and was also a feature on 2015's OnePlus 2. This infrequent world traveller got to use it on his OnePlus 3 over the summer, and as a fan of cheap local SIMs I can safely say it's a feature that I'll no longer be able to do without.

    Feel free to add your favourite smartphone innovations of 2016 below!

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    by Published on 12-29-2016 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Carriers



    Our year-end retrospective continues with a look back at the notable carrier-related stories of 2016. Note the strong bias towards the Canadian market in what follows, as that's where I happen to live. Sorry, eh?

    CANADA

    Bell Acquires MTS

    Our biggest story of the year had to be Bell's takeover of Manitoba Telecom Services, a deal that was recently approved by the CRTC. This regional carrier was at least partly responsible for one of the most popular Canadian plans on Howard Forums, the $55 (now $48) Manitoba/Saskatchewan (now just MB) plan from Koodo. Some links:

    BCE Buys MTS: Some Notable Quotes

    Winseck and Klass Weigh in on BCE and MTS

    How The Colony Could Learn from The Empire

    Competition

    Wireless plans in Canada continue to mimic gas prices; the guy on one corner continues to raise or lower prices (mostly raise them) to match the guy on the opposite corner. The one bit of good news: WIND—I mean, Freedom Mobile now supports LTE data, albeit on only two devices.

    This is What Wireless Competition Looks Like in Canada

    Egregious New Data Overages Coming to Fido; Other Carriers to Follow?

    Freedom Mobile’s LTE Network Now Live in Toronto and Vancouver

    S**t Guy Laurence Says

    Notable Plans

    Queuing for SIM cards? Only in Canada.

    USA

    Zero-Rated Data

    In studying the U.S. wireless market from afar it seems to me that this was the most contentious issue of the year. I myself am a strong believer in net neutrality; zero-rated services are awesome if you're subscribed to the carrier that offers them, and awful if you're not... which is kind of the point.

    The Dangers of Zero-Rated Data

    Netflix Video Throttled on AT&T and Verizon

    Ars Technica Profiles FCC Chair Tom Wheeler

    Notable Plans

    How to get Unlimited Internet on Sprint for $500/year (tax-deductible)

    If there are any big carrier-related stories that I've missed—particularly from the United States—feel free to add them below!

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    by Published on 12-28-2016 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis



    I'm using a year-end retrospective post on Wareable as the inspiration for my own year-end retrospective on smartwatches. But this isn't just a reblog—I think there's at least one big story missing in that post, which I'll tell you about at the end of this one.

    Apple Watch Series 2

    I do agree that the second-generation Apple Watch is a big deal, but probably not for the same reasons as most people think. With its refocus on fitness tracking we suddenly saw a $500 USD (on average) luxury item chasing a $100 USD Fitbit. For me, there was no better indication that smartwatches had lost the plot.

    The Death of Pebble

    The smartwatch pioneer also doubled down on fitness in 2016, but it was too little, too late. If you were interested, there's one more factor that likely contributed to the company's demise: Japan Display, Inc., the supplier of Pebble's e-paper screen, is having its own financial woes.

    The Rise of The Hybrid

    Fossil Group reportedly began 2016 with a promise to launch 100 wearables by year's end. Unfortunately their Android Wear products all include Motorola's contentious flat tire as a standard design aesthetic. But they've also popularized an entirely new class of smartwatch: the hybrid. These devices are light on smartwatch features—basically a vibration motor and, if you're lucky, a programmable light or subdial to track your steps—but big on battery life and traditional watch movements. Nokia also got in on this nascent product category with its acquisition of Withings.

    Android Wear

    2016 ended without the release of Android Wear 2.0, but what everybody seems to have missed is a major tipping point in the platform. Android-powered smartwatches are now available from no less than four traditional watch companies—Casio, Fossil, Nixon and even Tag Heuer. I still expect Android Wear to eventually capture the bulk of the smartwatch market, just like Windows did with personal computers in the 1990s.

    Hopefully along the way we'll find something more useful for them to do than show notifications on our wrists and track steps.

    Source: Wareable

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    by Published on 12-13-2016 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis



    Hey everybody, check this out... The OnePlus 3T smokes the much more expensive Google Pixel XL in a real-world side-by-side speed test. HAH!

    There's just one problem: according to this sober editorial on XDA, "real-world" side-by-side comparisons like these are inconclusive at best. The author, Daniel Marchena, likens them to an episode of Top Gear—or rather, The Grand Tour—that is, entertaining to watch, but not at all instructive:

    Applications like Geekbench 4 are tests done in a specific testing environment. They are self contained, and thus are less likely to be affected by the environment directly. Contrary to this, a speed test is open to a host of variables like touch response times, background processes, the amount of user data synced, which side of Google’s beloved A/B testing a phone could be involved in, the application state, the unavoidable human error…
    To illustrate his point, Daniel ran five separate side-by-side comparisons between the Pixel and the LG V20. To see the wildly-varying results, check out the link immediately below. And to see more side-by-side videos, I'm afraid that you'll have to look elsewhere from now on.

    Source: XDA Developers

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    by Published on 12-08-2016 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Commentary and Analysis



    Exhibit A: The original iPhone, running iOS 1.0, vs the T-Mobile G1, running the first release of Android. These two revolutionary devices could not have been more different—despite Google famously going back to the drawing board when the iPhone made its début.



    Exhibit B: The current iPhone vs the Google Pixel. The software and ecosystems are distinct but not dissimilar—both have their own app stores that run the same popular apps, albeit on different codebases. Design-wise they're largely the same, both slabs of mostly screen. And the prices? Well, the prices are identical.

    Don't get me wrong, smartphones have gotten exponentially better over the past decade. What I'm saying is that they've progressed to the point where they've largely become boring. At least for me.

    There is still innovation to be found, but you have to look for it. The notion of modular phones is interesting, but the execution of that idea by the likes of LG and Motorola is little more than a gimmick; Fairphone's proposition of upgradeable and recyclable phone parts is much more sustainable. Too bad you can only get one in Europe.

    Then there's Google's Project Tango, bringing augmented reality to the palm of your hand. But at present it's available on only one device, and reviews of that device aren't very good.

    Are my expectations for smartphones too high? Always. And I find both Google and Apple guilty of chasing profits more than innovation. To both of them I have this to say: Stop being boring!

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