Apple’s done a lot to curb iPhone theft via the “Find my iPhone” feature and encryption that locks out users if an incorrect code or fingerprint is used too often. However, it’s thinking about getting more proactive, judging by a recent patent application. It claims a method of “capturing biometric information for identifying unauthorized users,” including fingerprints, video or audio. The information could be stored or send to a server, where police could presumably use it to figure out who nabbed your device.
The system is pretty simple. The Touch ID sensor, front camera and microphone are already there, they simply need to be switched on without alerting the bad guy. In one scheme, the system could capture biometric data after a single failed passcode attempt; in another, it would only store it after a pre-determined number of failed attempts. On top of storing video, audio and fingerprint data, it could save and transmit “forensic” info like a GPS location. (The patent doesn’t specifically mention the iPhone or iPad, but those are Apple’s only devices with fingerprint sensors.)
Such a feature might be on shaky legal ground, however. Apple, maybe more than any company, understands the downsides of storing data without notifying users. And while it’s fun to speculate about patents, the tech rarely makes it into actual products, and this one has yet to be approved by the USPTO. Still, Apple can already track thieves, and such a scheme would let you nab them without having to traipse around the world.
Apple has rolled out a patch for three previously unknown zero-day exploits that were used to hack into the iPhone 6 of Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights activist based in the United Arab Emirates. Security company Lookout and internet watchdog group Citizen Lab investigated the attack on Mansoor’s iPhone and found it to be the product of NSO Group, a “cyber war” organization based in Israel that’s responsible for distributing a powerful, government-exclusive spyware product called Pegasus.
The hack took advantage of three zero-day exploits that allowed the attackers to jailbreak Mansoor’s iPhone and install spyware to track his movements, record his WhatsApp and Viber calls, log his messages and access his microphone and camera. Given the high cost of iPhone zero-days and the use of a government-specific spyware product, Citizen Lab believes the UAE is behind the hack. The UAE has previously targeted Mansoor.
“We are not aware of any previous instance of an iPhone remote jailbreak used in the wild as part of a targeted attack campaign, making this a rare find,” Citizen Lab writes.
Once Citizen Lab discovered the zero-days, it contacted Apple and says the company responded promptly. Apple released a software update today, iOS 9.3.5, that addresses the three flaws.
Microsoft’s Word Flow keyboard for iPhone just got a significant upgrade this week, adding a search engine for emoji, GIFs, and more from Bing.
The new search feature will copy GIFs to your clipboard so you can paste them into messages and can even choose GIFs from what you type for contextual searches. If you type something like “yaaaas!” or something inane like that, you can search for matching GIFs of that nature.
Microsoft is planning on adding in additional themes, support for iOS text replacement and cursor placement using 3D Touch.
The new built-in search is obviously meant to compete with Google, after Google previously released the Gboard keyboard for iPhone with built-in search.
There are several different keyboards available for iPhone to choose from, but now that giants like Microsoft and Google have made their own options available, the vanilla iPhone keyboard seems like an afterthought, especially considering Microsoft previously acquired SwiftKey.
It’ll all come down to personal preference, but Microsoft just shot ahead to Google’s level with its addition of these new features.
There’s a lot going on behind the curtain with Prisma, the app that turns your banal photos into Lichtenstein- or Van Gogh-esque artworks. The app actually sends your cat photo to its servers where a neural network does the complex transformation. Starting soon, that will no longer be necessary, though. “We have managed to implement neural networks to smartphones, which means users will no longer need an internet connection to turn their photos into art pieces,” the company says. Only half of Prisma’s styles will be available offline at first (16 total), but others will be added in the “near future.”
Running the algorithms locally will speed things up (depending on your smartphone), help folks with poor internet service and free up valuable CPU cycles on its servers. The latter benefit will allow its tech to work with video, in a later release, Prisma adds. “Now that we’ve implemented neural networks right to the smartphones, we have enough servers capacity to run full videos on them in the near future.”
Now that we’ve implemented neural networks right to the smartphones, we have enough servers capacity to run full videos on them in the near future.
Prisma claims it’s the first to implement neural network tech on a smartphone, and that “no team or company has ever done anything close.” That, it says, opens up AI to developers without access to server farms, meaning “we will see [a lot more] new products based on neural networks.” Companies like Google and Apple may beg to differ, as they have already implemented smartphone AI for translation, voice recognition and more.
52 million folks have installed Prisma and 4 million use it daily, according to the company. Much as Snapchat has done, it plans to monetize the app via brand filters, while keeping it free for users. The offline processing speed depends on which smartphone you have — Prisma says “it takes three seconds for the iPhone 6 to repaint a photo and 2.5 seconds for the iPhone 6s.” The new features will arrive to iOS shortly and hit Android after that.
iFixit, famous destroyer of gadgets for the good of all humankind, has busted out its arsenal of teardown tools to take apart a Samsung Galaxy Note 7. In the team’s quest to see every single component inside the phone, they found several sealed components that make the device waterproof. If you’ll recall, the phone is rated IP68, which means it can withstand being submerged for up to 30 minutes or five feet underwater. The teardown reveals that the company achieved that rating by protecting the device’s headphone jack with a sealing gasket, the speaker with several layers of material and its S Pen chamber with copious amounts of glue, among other measures.
The teardown also confirms what people already know: the Note 7 has its cousins’ (the S7s’) main camera, flash memory and gyroscope. It even has a nearly identical chipset. The newer phone has a third camera, though, that it uses as its iris scanner. When it comes to battery, it’s not quite as good as the S7 Edge’s, but as we mentioned in our review, the difference is barely noticeable. Further, its batter is “significantly more powerful” than the one found in the iPhone 6s Plus. Besides examining the phone itself, iFixit has taken a closer look at the S Pen, as well. The phone’s stylus is apparently more sensitive than both Apple’s Pencil and the Surface Pen.
Overall, the device got a low repairability rating due to its modular components, but iFixit says it still “lives up to the hype.” You can see the whole teardown on the team’s website or watch the highlights below.
Back in May at its I/O developer conference, Google introduced a pair of new communication apps: Allo for text-based communication and Duo for video calling. Allo is the more interesting of the two, with its deep usage of the intelligent Google Assistant bot — but Duo is the one we’ll get to try first. Google hopes it’ll stand out among a bevy of other communications apps thanks to a laser focus on providing a high-quality mobile experience. It’s available today for both the iPhone and Android phones.
“The genesis of Duo was we really saw a gap when it came to video calling,” Nick Fox, Google VP of communications products, said. “We heard lots of [user] frustration, which led to lack of use — but we also heard a lot of desire and interest as well.” That frustration came in the form of wondering who among your contacts you could have video calls with, wondering whether it would work over the wireless connection you had available and wondering if you needed to be calling people with the same type of phone or OS as yours.
To battle that, Google made Duo cross-platform and dead simple to use. You can only call one person at a time, and there’s barely any UI or features to speak of. But from a technology standpoint, it’s meant to work for anyone with a smartphone. “It shouldn’t just work on high-end devices,” said Fox. “It should work on high-end devices and on $ 50 Android phones in India.”
Google designed it to work across a variety of network connections as well. The app is built to provide HD video when on good networks and to gracefully and seamless adjust quality if things get worse. You can even drop down to a 2G connection and have video pause but have the audio continue. “We’re always prioritizing audio to make sure that you don’t drop communications entirely,” Fox said.
All of this is meant to work in the background, leaving the user with a clutter-free UI and basically no buttons or settings to mess with. Once you sign into the Duo app with your phone number (no Google login needed here), you’ll see what your front-facing camera sees. Below that are a handful of circles representing your most recent calls in the lower third of the screen. You can drag that icon list up and scroll through through your full list of contacts; if people in your phonebook don’t have the app, you can tap their number to send an SMS and invite them to Duo.
For those who do have Duo, tapping their number initiates a video call. Once you’re on the call, you just see the person you’re talking to, with your video feed in a small circle, not unlike Apple’s FaceTime. Tapping the screen reveals the only UI elements: a hang-up button, mute button and a way to flip between the front and back cameras.
Duo is even simpler than FaceTime, and far simpler than Google’s own Hangouts app, which the company says will now be more focused on business and enterprise users. In that focus on simplicity, Fox and his team left out a number of features you might find in other video-calling apps. Chief among them is that Duo can’t do group calls; it’s meant only for one-to-one calling. Google also decided against making desktop apps for Duo or Allo.
“We forced ourselves to think exclusively about the phone and design for the phone,” Fox says. “The desktop experience is something we may build over time. But if you look around the world at the billions of people that are connected to the internet, the vast majority have one device, and that device is a phone. So it was critical for us to really nail that use case.”
That’s part of the reason Google is tying Duo to a phone number rather than your Google account: Your phone already has your contacts built in, while many people might not curate or manage their Google contacts list. This way, you can see exactly who in your usual phone book is using Duo (and if they’re not, you can send them an SMS invite).
Perhaps the most clever feature Google included is Knock Knock. If you’re using an Android phone and someone calls, you’ll see a preview of their video feed on the lock screen. The person calling can wave or gesture or make a silly face to try and draw you into the conversation, and Fox says that makes the person on the receiving end a lot more likely to answer with a smile rather than a look of confusion as they wonder if they video is working properly. For the sake of privacy, you’ll only see a video feed from people in your contacts list, and you can turn the feature off entirely if you prefer.
It’s all part of Google’s goal to make the app not just simple but “human” as well. “It’s something that you don’t generally hear from Google when we talk about our apps,” Fox admits, “but video calling is a very human experience, so it’s very important that you feel that in the app as well.”
All of this adds up to a product that is refreshingly uncluttered and has a clear sense of purpose. It doesn’t fundamentally change the video-calling experience, but it is frictionless and very easy to use on a moment’s notice. Under the hood, the app does live up to its promise of updating the call based on changing network conditions — you can even flip between WiFi and cellular networks without dropping a call. There’s not a whole lot to say about the experience, and that’s probably for the best. You can make calls to people in your contacts list easily, not worry too much about dropping them, and then get on with your life.
That ease of use is what Google hopes will pull users into the app. It does indeed feel simpler than most other options out there. But given the huge variety of communication apps available and Google’s strange historical difficulty with the space, it’s not hard to imagine Duo being a niche app. That won’t be for lack of effort — Duo actually does make video chat easier than making a phone call.
If you want to sketch or perhaps add your signature to a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document on iOS, the only option has been to use the iPad Pro’s Pencil. Now, with the latest version of Office for the iPhone, you can draw directly on a document with no need for the stylus. Once you launch the app, you can “use your finger to write, draw and highlight with the tools in the new Draw tab,” Microsoft says.
Tools include a pen with adjustable line thicknesses and color, a highlighter and an eraser, and you can draw directly on cells, documents or slides. The new tools should come in particularly handy in conjunction with Office’s new collaboration tools, letting users easily mark up and share changes. The updated apps are now available on the App Store.
Many modern gadgets seem like they were designed to be disposable, forcing consumers to buy a new model instead of repairing their old one. This leads to an enormous amount of waste, and it’s difficult to find places that recycle the tech we no longer need. Fortunately, a new wave of product design is surging: devices that are made from sustainable materials and can be easily repaired, often by the end user. These new designs range from smartphones with swappable modules to circuit boards that dissolve in hot water and automated kiosks that dispense cash in exchange for electronics. With the new trend on the rise, we can look forward to a world where fewer gadgets are destined for landfills.
Circuit board dissolves in water, freeing reusable components
It’s no secret that electronic components aren’t biodegradable, although some engineers have attempted to develop more eco-friendly versions over the years. A team of researchers at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory took on the challenge and wound up creating a circuit board that dissolves in hot water. The device melts away after being submerged, leaving 90 percent of its resistors and capacitors available for reuse. Compared to traditional circuit board recycling, which salvages only two percent of the electronic components, this is a major breakthrough in reducing e-waste.
Google’s LEGO-like Project Ara smartphone
Leave it to one of the world’s largest tech companies to bring a modular smartphone to market. Google’s Project Ara is a smartphone composed of individual modules that can be swapped and replaced, so you can repair or upgrade the phone instead of having to throw it out and buy a brand new one. The futuristic handset is expected to go on sale next year, and Google has designed six different modules that snap together like LEGO bricks, each with its own special function. Reportedly, a developer model will be released later this year, with a consumer version slated to arrive in 2017.
Apple’s iPhone rapid recycling robot
Apple, the tech giant with nearly a billion devices in use around the world, has developed a robot named Liam that disassembles old iPhones so the components can be reused. Liam works quickly to tear down the unwanted handsets, and the robot is sort of the mascot of the new Apple Renew program, which invites consumers to send in their Apple gadgets using a prepaid label provided by the company. Making it easier to dispose of broken or outmoded electronics, and having a fast-moving robot to take them apart, is one way Apple is working to minimize the environmental impact of our high-tech world.
Fairphone 2 is an ethically sourced, low-waste smartphone
The second edition of the Fairphone, originally launched in 2013, is a handset that cuts down on electronic waste while also ensuring that its components are ethically sourced. The Fairphone 2 features a modular design that can be easily repaired by the end user. That feature allows consumers to upgrade their unit or replace malfunctioning parts without replacing the entire device. Additionally, the phone’s makers source conflict-free tin and tantalum from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is something not all smartphone makers can say.
ecoATM trades cash for unwanted gadgets
In a world of disposable electronic devices, just about everyone you know has had an old phone or dysfunctional MP3 player lying around at some point, as it can be a challenge to figure out what to do with them once they’re no longer needed. A finalist for the 2013 Index Design Award, the ecoATM offers one clever solution. The unmanned machine accepts unwanted small electronics in exchange for cold, hard cash. Sort of. Essentially, the ecoATM helps you sell your old phone, tablet or MP3 player, for an average price of around $ 25. With its headquarters in California, the company already has 350 stations in 24 states so it’s pretty easy to turn your unwanted gadget into a little extra pocket change.
3D printer built from reclaimed components
Finding new uses for electronic waste is one smart way to deal with the growing problem. In perhaps the ultimate display of eco-friendly electronics design, this $ 100 3D printer was built entirely from e-waste. Kodjo Afate Gnikou, a resourceful inventor from Togo in West Africa, collected unwanted parts from broken scanners, printers and computers to create a working 3D printer that rivals commercial models with thousand-dollar price tags. The ingenious scavenger harvested parts from a nearby landfill, but it’s easy to imagine how electronic components could be collected separately and diverted to factories, where new devices are built from the discarded guts of old gadgets.
Howdy out there Public Access Weekly fans! Anyone out there catching that Perseid meteor shower? I’m going to make an attempt to escape from the perpetual San Francisco summer fog to try and catch a glimpse this weekend, fingers crossed. Other than that… I got nothing. It’s been a pretty average week around here so let’s just get started, shall we?
A big heads up/reminder for all you savvy commenters out there – if you flag your comment with “Correction Needed” for anything you notice factually wrong in an article, or “Technical Issue” for things that are breaking on the site, we will see it quicker and be able to fix it faster! Is this your job? Heck no. But look, we’re not perfect and we appreciate the help.
For all you Public Access contributors out there, keep an eye out for a new landing page to greet you on Monday. We’re working on a big, comprehensive guide that will feature a slew of tips and tricks on everything from linking and images to how to write like an Engadget editor, but in the meantime this landing page will be a quick reminder of the rules and guidelines for Public Access members. And if you have any questions about Public Access or contributing, now is the time to chime in!
Looking for something to read? Check out:
We’re doing a podcast again! After a two year hiatus, we’re bringing it back with a slew of new ways to listen (iTunes, Google Play Music, Pocket Casts, SoundCloud). You can even watch the magic happen, if you’re so inclined, by clicking the YouTube link in the story.
The rumors about the next iPhone are starting to come in, with Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman claiming the headphone jack is done-for while the body of the next handset will largely remain the same as the iPhone 6/6S. Don’t miss the discussion about the potential camera upgrades in the comments — some salient points are being made.
Facebook and Adblock Plus are fighting, with Facebook throwing down the gauntlet first by announcing plans to restrict software that removes advertising and Adblock Plus responding with a workaround. One thing is for sure: It ain’t over till it’s over, and with Facebook rolling out code that works around the workaround, this is far from over.
Looking for something to write about? Mull over:
First Evernote announced it was limiting the free version of its service, now Hulu is ditching its ad-supported free tier in favor of teaming up with Yahoo for a “Yahoo View” option. Folks were pretty quick to give up Evernote for other free services, but a lot of folks seem to feel differently about Hulu. The question to you is: How much technology do we deserve for free? What are you willing to pay for various streaming services and softwares? And what will be the result of companies increasingly trying to monetize their services?
Jessica Conditt wrote about the day-one patch for No Man’s Land, stating that the process of releasing a patch on a game’s release is “the new normal.” Commenters were quick to begin the debate on whether day-one patches were acceptable or just the result of lazy companies releasing incomplete products. Here’s you chance to join in: Are day-one patches A-OK or are they unacceptable, and why?
This week Buzzfeed published an extensive look at Twitter and how the social media company handles harassment and trolls (or rather, how it doesn’t…). While Twitter has denied many of the claims made within the article, the question here is: How do you handle harassment on Twitter? What about other social media sites? And what should Twitter’s actions be to protect its users while championing the free speech the site was founded upon?
Almost two years ago, the popular photo-editing and sharing app VSCO released a big iOS update that, among other things, brought the app to the iPad. At the same time, VSCO added a sync feature: if you imported a photo into your VSCO library and made edits on your iPhone, the same photo and edits would appear on your iPad (and vice versa). It was a handy feature, letting you make changes on the iPad’s big screen while sending them to the iPhone for easy sharing to apps like Instagram. However, as of today, that sync feature is going away.
VSCO announced the change with an email to users a few weeks ago, but today is doomsday for the feature. At the moment, sync appears to be working, albeit in limited fashion. I’ve been able to import photos into my VSCO library on both my iPad and iPhone and have edits stay in sync. That’ll probably disappear before long, however, so don’t necessarily rely on it. The good news is that none of your images will be deleted and there’s an “export all” feature to save them to your camera roll. But if you delete the app from a device, those images and edits will be gone for good, so make sure they’re backed up somewhere.
Despite the quality of VSCO’s edits, the app has always been a little confusing, so removing sync might actually make for an easier experience in some regard. And while the experience of making edits on one device and having them appear on another was nice, you can always export your edited photos to the camera roll and have the same image appear on another device thanks to iCloud’s photo library or Google Photos. Given the amount of photo syncing and backup options out there, it does make sense for VSCO to stay firmly focused on editing.
VSCO also recently pushed out a visual redesign in the iPhone app, but most of those changes haven’t come to the iPad yet — maybe as the company removes its sync feature, it’ll put the apps back on par from a visual standpoint.