• Apps

    by Published on 03-28-2017 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    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
    1. Categories:
    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 03-24-2017 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    This may not affect every Android user reading this, but it's unfortunate news nonetheless. Android Police reports that G Suite administrators have received email notices from Google warning that SMS will no longer be supported in Google's de facto chat app as of May 22nd. Affected Hangouts users will be seeing the above in-app alert starting March 27th.

    Hangouts has supported SMS since Android 4.4; those who made use of it—myself included for a time—enjoyed the benefits of needing one less icon on their home screen and, more importantly, having all of their non-email messages contained within a single app.

    I can think of at least one technical reason why the change needs to happen: with RCS coming to text messaging it might be too daunting for Google to add Hangouts support, especially when Hangouts itself is already undergoing a fairly significant makeover.

    There may well be another, more pragmatic reason, as a redditor on this r/Android thread explains:

    Hangouts Users: "Why would I use Allo when Hangouts has IM and SMS?"
    Google: "Good point.... Aaaaand fixed."
    Sources: Android Police, reddit

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    by Published on 03-17-2017 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    I think it's supposed to rhyme with "ATM". And honestly, that's about the only thing about this story that makes any sense.

    Mobile Syrup reported yesterday that Paytm, the largest mobile payments company in India, was coming to Canada. In fact, it's technically already here—they've apparently been renting office space in Toronto since 2014.

    How does it work? I found these instructions from Gadgets360, an Indian tech site:

    1. Set up a Paytm account using your mobile number and email;
    2. Add money to your Paytm Wallet from your bank, debit or credit card;
    3. Select 'Pay or Send' to transfer money to someone else;
    4. Make a payment by scanning a QR code, or...
    5. Send money to another Paytm user via their phone number.

    So the business model here is fairly obvious; at any given time Paytm is making interest off of whatever cash their 150 million users have deposited in their mobile wallets. And while I can certainly appreciate the value of a mobile wallet in a country where maybe not everyone has a credit card, I don't think that's so much the case in Canada. Furthermore, there are existing solutions already offering some or all of Paytm's features—SmoothPay, PayPal, and ZenBanx are similar apps that I've previously covered here.

    If you're a Canadian with business and/or family in India (or vice versa) then the arrival of Paytm in this country is probably great news. But I'm struggling to see any value in it for anyone else.

    Sources: Gadgets360, Mobile Syrup, Paytm

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    by Published on 03-16-2017 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    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 03-10-2017 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    The important thing here is that they didn't ruin Hangouts altogether.

    I'm not even sure that Google—nor Android users, for that matter—realize what a good thing they have had in Hangouts. Though the days of proper XMPP support are long gone, there is still data portability via Google Takeout and, perhaps more importantly, clients for Android, iOS and desktop web browsers.

    You could partly blame carrier SMS charges on the rise of WhatsApp, along with technical issues hindering content shared through MMS. Whatever the case, WhatsApp is now immensely popular, leading Google to chase after it with their in-house clone called Allo. In the same way, the company is now targeting a darling of start-up culture, Slack, with a complete overhaul of the Hangouts platform.

    That platform will see two new apps, Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat. Meet looks to be a more business-friendly version of Hangouts On Air, though I'm willing to bet that its biggest user demographic will continue to be podcasters. Chat will add a chatbot to the current Hangouts experience, and bring with it the ability (for example) to schedule calendar events from within the app. Unfortunately, as an enterprise product, Hangouts Chat will also offer additional functionality via paid features; put another way, the free version will be limited.

    Like the Pixel phones and Pixel-exclusive features, this also seems very un-Googley to me, and perhaps its time to wean my friends and I off of Hangouts and on to something else. What do you use for chat?

    Sources: Android Police, XDA Developers

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    by Published on 03-06-2017 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Apps



    Google had some news of their own at Mobile World Congress last week—The Verge reports that their "AI" Assistant is rolling out to millions of Marshmallow and Nougat-powered Android phones around the world. Users in the U.S. are first in line for the upgrade, with Australia, Canada, the U.K. and Germany to follow.

    Android Central has an interesting take on the timing of the announcement:

    Samsung was never going to build it into the Galaxy S8 or any other phone it sells. Now the decision has been taken out of Samsung's hands and left up to you to opt in if you want Google Assistant.
    Okay, cool, but before we all swoon over good guy Google let's also remember that up to now it's been an exclusive feature of the company's Pixel phones, rather than being more widely available from the get-go. Same story for the Pixel Launcher, by the way, which Google is only now graciously allowing on the new Android devices from Nokia.

    You could look at this phenomenon in one of two ways, neither of which paints Google in a particularly attractive light. I see these Pixel exclusives—and the Pixel itself, for that matter—as very un-Googley, and not at all in the spirit of AOSP. On the other hand, Pixel owners might rightfully feel that they're de facto beta testers for everyone else.

    At any rate, Google's Assistant is making its way to your non-Pixel phone. Let us know if you get it!

    Sources: Android Central, The Verge

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    by Published on 02-24-2017 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Hate to end my week here on a bummer but I've got some bad news for any Android modders reading this: CMTE, one of the standout features of CyanogenMod and the other ROMs based on it, is effectively dead.

    The news comes from a front page post on XDA, with evidence that Clark Scheff, lead developer of CMTE, has abandoned it and moved on to other things. Seeing no support for CMTE in Nougat-based ROMs, CyanogenMod Themers have likewise moved on to Substratum, based on Sony's contribution to the Android Open Source Project, RRO or Runtime Resource Overlay. I haven't tried Substratum myself, but I have written about the previous iteration of RRO, Layers, and found it to be much less elegant and intuitive than CMTE.

    CM13 themes still work fine for the Marshmallow-based ROMs that support them—like Sultan's ROM for my OnePlus 3, for example. I'm going to look into Substratum over the weekend and report back to you on it next week.

    Source: XDA

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    by Published on 02-13-2017 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Apps



    Last week Android Authority proclaimed that OnePlus was the new Nexus. Granted, they were only talking about one device (the OnePlus One) and only one custom ROM (Lineage OS). This XDA blog post uses a broader data set—traffic on its own forums—to further the claim. When combined, the OnePlus 3 and 3T together make up the most active community on XDA.

    So for any fellow OnePlus 3/3T modders reading this, here's a quick look at four of the most popular custom ROMs available for these devices.

    FreedomOS (Nougat)

    As its name would suggest, this ROM uses the AROMA Installer to let the user choose which Google apps they want on their device during installation. AdAway and a hosts file are also included by default, along with root access via SuperSU.

    XDA Threads: OnePlus 3 / OnePlus 3T

    Lineage OS (Nougat)

    Lineage OS is the new moniker for what was once CyanogenMod, the granddaddy of all custom ROMs. As such there are current available builds for the OnePlus 3T, OnePlus 3, OnePlus X, OnePlus 2 and OnePlus One.

    XDA Threads: OnePlus 3 / OnePlus 3T

    Resurrection Remix (Marshmallow / Nougat)

    Resurrection builds on the work of CM, Omni and Slim. The standout feature of this ROM would have to be the extensive configurations menu. Note that the Marshmallow-based ROM for the OP3 seems to have been discontinued; hopefully a Nougat-based ROM like the one for the 3T will be available soon.

    XDA Threads: OnePlus 3 / OnePlus 3T

    "Sultan's ROM" - Unified CM 13.0 with custom 3.18.20 kernel (Marshmallow)

    This, as you may know, is the ROM that I'm currently running on my own OnePlus 3, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Its main selling point is stellar battery life; added bonuses include not forcing encryption and supporting my favourite CyanogenMod Theme.

    XDA Threads: OnePlus 3 / OnePlus 3T

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    by Published on 02-03-2017 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps
    Article Preview



    On my flight home from Bermuda the WestJet app I had installed on my phone came in unexpectedly handy; I got it for the sole purpose of checking in online without a computer, but once on-board I found out the app was to also serve as my infotainment hub for the ride back to Toronto.

    It wasn't my first experience with in-flight connectivity—I can thank Icelandair last summer for that—but it was the first time I did so via an app. Here's what it was like. ...
    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 01-03-2017 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Apps



    Most Android users turn to custom ROMs when their device is no longer updated by the manufacturer. I've done things a little differently, flashing a ROM on my OnePlus 3 to avoid an update. That ROM is Sultanxda's spin of CyanogenMod 13, and so far it's pretty great.

    OnePlus promised owners of its 3 and 3T models an update to Android 7 (Nougat) before the end of 2016 and, to their credit, a notification of said update appeared on my phone late last week. The only problem is, I'm not especially thrilled about Nougat—I tried the stock Android 7 ROM on my Nexus 9 tablet last September and was surprised to find that I couldn't change the hosts file with AdAway. That issue might well have been fixed by now, or it could have been a one-off problem specific to that installation; even so, I don't currently desire any of the features that Nougat has to offer.

    I could have just stuck it out with the Marshmallow version of Oxygen, which for the past six months has served me very well. But instead I took the opportunity to flash Sultan's ROM, and I'm glad that I did.

    For starters, the ROM seems somehow quicker than Oxygen OS, and Oxygen is certainly no slouch when it comes to performance. Then there's the added value of CyanogenMod extras—a file manager, screen recorder, audio equalizer... and what I've missed more than anything else: The CyanogenMod Theme Engine. Oxygen's dark mode is better than nothing, but it's no match for the ability to theme select apps and your system's UI. To get you started, the ROM includes Cyanogen's HexoLibre Theme, pictured above.

    There are, of course, a few minor headaches associated with the installation of any custom ROM. You'll have to flash a Google apps package separately, which will include at least a few AOSP packages that you're likely to never use (they can at least be "frozen" with Titanium Backup). In the case of Sultan's ROM I also had to flash a custom firmware before the actual ROM would take.

    Even with all that, plus the added annoyance of having to reset two Android Wear smartwatches, it was worth it. I now hold in my hands what feels like an entirely new phone, along with a reminder of just how powerful and flexible Android can be. If you're interested in this excellent custom ROM, links from XDA are immediately below.

    Links: Sultan's ROM for the OnePlus 3 / OnePlus 3T

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    by Published on 12-21-2016 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Apps



    Here's Michael Fisher with his video review of Samsung's Gear S3, Frontier Edition. If my YouTube feed is any indication, this is the most sought-after smartwatch of the holiday season. It's also a great time to buy, with both Amazon.com and Best Buy Canada currently selling the Frontier Edition of the watch at discounted prices—$299 USD and $400 CAD, respectively.

    A standout among the Gear S3's tricks (and there are a lot of them) is the ability to tap and pay with your watch, even when paired to a non-Samsung phone and even at an olde-tyme magnetic stripe terminal. And here's where I've got some bad news for you: If you're in Canada and want to use a Gear S3 for wrist-based payments you'd better have one of the select few CIBC credit cards currently supported by Samsung Pay.

    Samsung phone owners with root will already know that Samsung Pay doesn't work anywhere—at least that's what I gather from this Change.org petition. What's not so clear to me is whether or not Samsung Pay will work on a Samsung watch that's paired to a rooted phone; I guess it would depend if the Samsung Gear Manager app has the ability to detect root.

    Are there any Gear owners with rooted phones able to weigh in on this?

    Links: Amazon.com, Best Buy Canada, Change.org, Samsung Canada

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    by Published on 12-19-2016 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    If you've about twenty minutes to spare and can stand subtitles, this documentary by a Dutch film school student is very much worth your time.

    It's called Find my Phone but the star of the story is not, as you might think, the built-in phone-finding apps on Android and iOS—but rather a more stealthy third-party root app for Android called Cerberus, which I've written about on these forums before. With the app installed, the filmmaker was able to spy on a phone theif for a full two weeks, remotely capturing photos, video, SMS Messages, and even topping up phone credits for fear of the device going offline.

    Two things you can learn from watching the documentary: (1) It can be comically difficult to have your phone stolen in The Netherlands—the film student's rooted HTC One doesn't get nicked until six-and-a-half minutes in. And (2) the kid makes the very bad decision to seek out the phone thief in person—and immediately regrets it.

    If nothing else, Find my Phone is an effective endorsement for Cerberus, which you can download from the Play Store here. For redditors' thoughts on the film, see the source link directly below.

    Source: reddit

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    by Published on 12-15-2016 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Yesterday what is arguably the best Android launcher on the market celebrated its 5th birthday with a major update—appropriately enough, to version 5.0

    I myself marked the event with a return to the app. Since last summer I've been using Nokia's Z Launcher, an innovative and intuitive take on the traditional Android launcher. But to find what I'm looking for, fast, nothing beats Nova; at this point I have too many years of muscle memory invested in it.

    Here's a quick list of new features in the update, from the developer's Google+ page:

    • Swipe to open drawer (à la Pixel Launcher)
    • New Pixel style search bar
    • New search view, with tabs for Frequent, Recent and New/Updated apps
    • New "Timeout" screen lock method
    • New double-tap-swipe gestures
    • Android 7.1 launcher shortcuts
    • Dock backgrounds to draw under navbar
    • Quick start to easily change major settings (Nova Settings > Backup > Quick start)


    If you haven't yet had the pleasure of experiencing Nova Launcher you can download the app here and, if you'd like, upgrade to the Prime version here.

    Source: Google+

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    by Published on 12-12-2016 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Tips,
    3. Apps



    Do you know someone who regularly overshares personal information on social media? If so, you might want to direct them to this post.

    Russian Art School Student Egor Tsvetkov completed a project earlier this year; he called it "Your Face Is Big Data". For the project, he took 100 photographs of random people who happened to sit across from him on the subway. Then he used an Android app called Find Face to see if he could match the strangers with their accounts on Russia's version of Facebook, VKontakte.

    The result? He was easily able to identify about 70% of his subjects, even if their morning commute face bore little resemblance to their staged profile pic. As for the purpose of this privacy invasion, here's Tsvetkov himself to justify what he did:

    “My project is a clear illustration of the future that awaits us if we continue to disclose as much about ourselves on the Internet as we do now.”
    For a gallery of Egor's subway and social media matches, check out the first link directly below. The second link has more information about Tsvetkov and his project.

    Sources: Imgur, PC World

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    by Published on 11-25-2016 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Apps



    I'll be honest, I've been collecting links from reputable sources since I got back from vacation last Friday, and I still feel like I'm barely scratching the surface of what's available. So consider this post a Black Friday starter pack rather than a definitive guide. We'll start with Michael Fisher—aka Mr. Mobile—and end with some deals for Canadians, who celebrated their Thanksgiving back in October.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Phones

    All Black Friday 2016 phone and tablet deals from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Amazon, Apple, BestBuy

    Amazon’s Black Friday deals include huge smartphone discounts

    2016 Online Black Friday Prepaid and Unlocked Phone Deal Tracker

    2016 Black Friday Brick and Mortar Prepaid and Unlocked Phone Deal Tracker

    Apps

    Black Friday app and game sales roundup [Updated Continuously]

    Check Out These Black Friday Deals On The App Store's Best Games [Updating]

    Canadian Deals

    Here are the Canadian carriers’ Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals

    2016 Canadian Black Friday Apple Deals and More: Roundup [Sticky]

    If you've a link or specific deal that you'd like to add to this list, by all means do so below. And if you're venturing out for door-crasher specials, please be excellent to each other... Happy hunting!

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    by Published on 10-24-2016 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Reviews and Hands-on,
    3. Apps



    Marques Brownlee—aka MKBHD on YouTube—did a thing, a side by side comparison of Siri on the iPhone 7 Plus vs. Google Assistant on the Pixel XL.

    Having not used iOS that much I was struck by how visually striking Siri's results could be, even if Google was more accurate overall. Let's face it, though, only a marketing person for Apple or Google would dare to call either of them "AI". I don't think we have to worry about the singularity anytime soon.

    BONUS VIDEO! ...
    by Published on 09-21-2016 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps
    Article Preview



    Sometime overnight Allo, Google's mobile-first messaging app, went live. Available for both Android and iOS, it may or may not be ready for download in your country or to your specific device—but Android users can at least grab the officiall package from Android Police's APK Mirror.

    Reading through the feature list on the official website I can already tell that this app is not for me; it's meant for a user whose primary—possibly only—connection to the Internet is through their smartphone. There's currently no desktop client for it, nor do there seem to be any data portability options. You register for Allo with a Google account and a phone number, though the Google hook-up is only necessary if you want to interact with Google's chatbot, @google.

    Out of the gate Allo faces some stiff competition from more established players in the rich messaging racket, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and a slew of alternatives whose popularity will depend on what part of the world you call home. So why even bother? ...
    by Published on 09-12-2016 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps
    Article Preview



    XDA was the bearer of bad news for Pokémon GO players over the weekend; the latest update to the game locks out Android users with root, and jailbroken iPhones as well. The official line from Niantic Labs is as follows:

    "We continue to focus on eliminating bots and scrapers from Pokémon GO. Rooted or jailbroken devices are not supported by Pokémon GO. Remember to download Pokémon GO from the official Google Play Store or iTunes App Store only."

    Okay, fair enough... Niantic wants only to keep an even playing field for everyone participating, right? It's a noble idea, but there are at least three problems with the way they've chosen to implement it. First, the game's root-block can be bypassed—I wouldn't call it easy but for someone hell-bent on being a Pokémon cheat it's certainly doable. Second, there's the rather insulting presumption that a user who has taken full control of their Android or iOS device has done so only to punk the game. And third, there is the continuing, if unspoken, narrative by software companies that rooted or jailbroken phones are somehow unsafe. If you've rooted or jailbroken your own device then this is just not true.

    So now, if you're a Pokémon player with root, your only choices are to give it up or bypass the root/jailbreak checks. The game itself is almost certainly compromised already and will continue to be; Niantic has really accomplished nothing here. ...
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