2016’s hacks, attacks and security blunders

Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse than 2015’s security and privacy disasters, the asshole known as 2016 came along to trample and pee on any hope we had left for a hack-free, secure future. This was the year Hollywood hacking scare-fantasies like War Games started to feel uncomfortably real. Yay…

This lovely year, our government used Tor exploits, the UK passed its terrible Snooper’s Charter, our TSA failed at cyber, the FBI got its hacking powers expanded and the Shadow Brokers tried to sell NSA secrets. But it’s the stories below that shaped this year in hacking and cybersecurity. They may have even had a hand in changing the course of history for the free world.

All for nothing

All it takes to get the FBI’s panties in a bunch is for someone to say “no” — and bunched they became when the agency wanted to get into an encrypted iPhone related to the San Bernardino shootings. The FBI wanted Apple to build a custom version of iOS with a backdoor. Apple said it not only wouldn’t, but couldn’t break the phone’s encryption for the case, because it would essentially break encryption on every other iPhone. This turned into a knock-down-drag-out fight both in congressional testimony and in the press. Everyone had an opinion, and the encryption debate became a vitriolic and emotional squabble. Eventually, the FBI picked itself up, dusted itself off, and ponied up $ 1.3 million for an exploit that allowed it into the phone.

An unhealthy diagnosis

When the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital had its files held hostage in February by malware demanding payment, the digital plague known as ransomware finally got everyone’s attention. While not the first emergency service organization to fall victim to these extortion schemes, the hospital’s predicament highlighted the direness of the situation. The hospital was at a standstill with its systems responsible for CT scans, documentation, lab work, pharmacy functions and electronic communications all out of commission. Staff relied on pencil and paper; it was reported that radiation and oncology were temporarily shut down. The hospital eventually paid the ransom and got its files unlocked, and no one was harmed as a result of the disruption (that we know of). Still, it demonstrated just how fragile the systems our lives depend on have become.

Ocean’s 15 is going to be boring

The SWIFT bank heists are the stuff blockbuster films are made of. That is, if we wanted to watch George Clooney sit at a computer mashing keys for about 1,000 hours. In April, hackers swiped $ 81 million from Bangladesh Bank thanks to a flaw in SWIFT international banking software. A bank in Vietnam was also hit with the same technique, to the tune of $ 1 million. Then May saw another round of SWIFT-related bank robberies, in which hackers snatched $ 12 million from an Ecuadorian bank. Most of the attacks targeted Australia, Hong Kong, the UK, the Ukraine and the US, and they probably won’t stop anytime soon. It’s now believed a second group is targeting banks using the same methods, again using malware to cover its tracks via SWIFT.

Offshoring accountability

There was one big hack and dump that actually felt like it wasn’t done with completely evil intentions. That was the Panama Papers leak, in which a boatload of offshore-tax-haven records was released to the public via a handful of global news organizations. The offshore money-laundering firm Mossack Fonesca provided tax-avoidance services mostly to the rich and despotic, who wanted to stay technically within the law but needed to cover their unethical tracks. The resulting scandals prompted the prime minister of Iceland and FIFA ethics-committee member Juan Pedro Damiani to resign. Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron had some fessing up to do; leaders of Sudan and Azerbaijan, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko were also named in the papers. China’s government went on damage control and demanded reporting on the Papers be stopped after the family members of eight Communist Party elites were shown to have dealings with offshore companies.

Leave Britney alone

Throughout the year, one group managed to ruin the day of many CEOs, companies, and celebrities: social media extortionists extraordinaire OurMine. Grabbing usernames and passwords from breach dumps, finding famous names and seeing if the credentials still work isn’t exactly the work of hacking masterminds. But OurMine has made headlines time and again with this very simple formula. Big names on the “hacked by OurMine” list include Katy Perry, Marvel, Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, AOL’s Steve Case and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. They proved that even the people who should know better reuse passwords, and companies aren’t doing a good enough job at telling users to change their passwords after a breach. Though, we can note with a small amount of dark amusement that one of its recent victims is Sony … which you’d think would know all about password and security hygiene by now.

What’s the opposite of security?

If there was a contest for getting embarrassingly hacked and being the worst at user security, Yahoo surely became the reigning queen of 2016. In fact, they won the race to the bottom so hard this year, the company may be hanging onto the crown for years to come. When Yahoo revealed in September it had been hacked in 2014, just after its sale began to Verizon, the truth started coming out. That incident affected a jaw-dropping 500 million Yahoo users. Turns out this was only one of the intrusions Yahoo failed to tell us about, because this month it revealed that it was hacked again, in 2013. This time, it took the crown for the biggest exposure of customer records and credentials, ever — with over 1 billion accounts coming up pwned in a years-long compromise. Yahoo always had a tough slog when it came to staying afloat, but this year we found out that it really sucked at everything. But most especially security.

When your DVR is a honeypot

There was only one way this year could get worse when it came to hacking, and of course, it happened. Insecure IoT devices were leveraged via the Mirai Botnet to take out about half the internet when PayPal, The New York Times, Pinterest, Spotify, Twitter and many more sites went offline in October. WikiLeaks said it was all about them, everyone blamed Russia, and IoT hackers pretty much just rolled their eyes. The attackers did all this by exploiting the stupid decisions of “smart” appliance companies who left backdoors and default passwords in things like connected cameras and DVRs. The Mirai Botnet incident was only a partial use of the gigantic implanted malware bot-army, so that’s just great. It certainly served as a warning — albeit too late — about security neglect in manufacturing, and just how fragile our internet economy and communications really are.

Like D-Day, but for drama

In July, President-elect Donald Trump invited the Russians to hack us in a very specific way… and they did. So weird, right? They even went the extra mile for him by taking down his Democratic opponent with a series of hacks (and subsequent leaks, via WikiLeaks) that may have swayed the election in the bad hombre’s favor. It was the world’s most painful lesson in cybersecurity. John Podesta got owned through bad advice encouraging him to click a phishing link, and every US state panicked about the vulnerability and hackability of its voting machines. The result has been an ugly, rolling-downhill cyberwar with Russia, pitting the incoming president against the White House and most governmental organizations who believe Russia fucked us over — while Trump defends the 400-lb hackers who made him look good. And not just by physical comparison.

Images: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images (iPhone); Shutterstock (Yahoo); REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration (Mossack Fonseca)

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The best stylus for your iPad or other touchscreen device

By Serenity Caldwell

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After testing 18 styluses in five categories for over 20 hours to find the best touchscreen stylus for sketching, writing, and navigation, we think the Adonit Mark is the one most people should buy, thanks to its unmatched combination of accuracy, comfort, and price.

Who this is for

A stylus makes it easier to draw, sketch, doodle, write notes, and use devices in cold weather, and they help people with accessibility issues that might make touchscreen navigation difficult.

If you use an iPad or other tablet largely for browsing the Web, watching video, or playing games, you’re likely better off manipulating the screen with your finger. But even if you’re just a casual iPad or iPhone user, a simple stylus might be in the cards for you this year: With new drawing-focused messaging features in iOS 10, and with most social applications incorporating some form of doodling, it’s becoming more and more useful to be able to draw coherently on glass.

How we picked and tested

The finalists, from left to right: Apple Pencil, Adonit Pixel, Lynktec Apex Fusion, Adonit Mark, Studio Neat Cosmonaut, Adonit Mini. Photo: Serenity Caldwell

Professional digital artists and avid note-takers have different needs than the average iPad user, so we picked and tested a few different styluses with those groups of people in mind, as well as a model for children and people with accessibility issues.

We picked three to five top styluses from each of the five stylus categories described in our full guide (rubber nib, mesh nib, “other” nib, active (powered) fine-tip nib, Bluetooth-powered nib) based on popularity, outside recommendations, our own stylus experience, and comparison testing.

We put the initial group of 18 models (including the Apple Pencil) through three rounds of tests on the three most recent iPad models: an iPad Air 2, a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and a 12.9-inch iPad Pro. As for the apps, we used Apple’s Notes, which provides a good baseline for drawing features without too much overprocessing, along with the Paper app for precision and balance tests.

We designed our initial tests to evaluate the four most important characteristics of a great stylus: comfort, resistance, balance, and precision. For more on our testing procedures, see our full guide.

Based on our tests, we chose six semifinalists to test with our illustration and cartooning experts. Both artists experimented with the tools while engaged in their regular workflows.

Our pick

Photo: Serenity Caldwell

The best stylus for most people and most uses is the Adonit Mark. It feels like a high-quality pen in your hand, with an anodized finish you can’t help but want to touch. Its weight is evenly distributed across its body, allowing you to hold it close to the nib or near the other end and still have control. The Mark’s mesh nib is thicker, more durable, and smoother to write with than the competitions’. And perhaps best of all, this model is one of the most affordable styluses out there.

Don’t get us wrong: The Mark doesn’t beat the Apple Pencil—no stylus we tested does. But if you don’t have the money for a $ 100 stylus or you don’t have an iPad Pro, the Mark is the next best thing. Although we do have some long-term testing concerns about the durability of the mesh nib based on past experiences, the Mark’s nib is replaceable, and though Adonit doesn’t currently sell replacement Mark nibs, the company says you can request them through customer service.

The balance of this stylus is impeccable, and it feels great for writing and drawing whether you like to grip it at the nib, middle, or end. The Mark’s matte-black (or silver) anodized-aluminum finish provides a satisfying grip, and the coating is enjoyable to touch. The Mark really proved itself during our speed and precision tests. While writing or tracing, you can hold the Mark in just about any position and still get good grip and control—and you can easily avoid accidentally rubbing your palm against the screen.

The Adonit Mark feels great in the hand, and it writes and draws well. Photo: Serenity Caldwell


Runner-up: For kids and accessibility

If the Adonit Mark is sold out or you don’t enjoy mesh-nib styluses, you can’t go wrong with the Studio Neat Cosmonaut. Photo: Serenity Caldwell

The Studio Neat Cosmonaut looks very different from most of the contenders in the stylus field—both its body and its nib are larger than those of every other modern stylus option we’ve seen. But this bigger size makes it a perfect choice for kids and people who have trouble gripping smaller pens.

The Cosmonaut’s rubber-coated aluminum body is sturdy and balanced; it feels great in the hand of a child, adult, or senior. It’s a big tool, and though its balance and resistance allow you to do excellent line work, you have to trust in the Cosmonaut’s nib precision—the stylus’s chunky body often blocks your view of the area you’re working on. For zoomed-in illustrations, loose sketching, or big writing, however, the Cosmonaut is a delight to work with. The Cosmonaut can get heavy during lengthy drawing sessions, and at around $ 25 at the time of this writing, it’s more expensive than the Mark. But if you want a solid stylus with a unique profile and excellent durability, you can’t go wrong with it.

For iPad Pro users: Apple Pencil

Photo: Serenity Caldwell

If you’re a professional illustrator, calligrapher, or artist, or if you need impeccable handwriting and annotation on glass, you need the Apple Pencil. If you’re an intermediate artist taking the next step, you need the Apple Pencil. And if you like using a stylus to navigate your tablet, you’ll love the Apple Pencil. The big caveat is that the Pencil currently works only with the iPad Pro models. But because Apple makes the Pencil, as well as the iPad, iOS, and software kits for developers, the Pencil can take advantage of special features (such as side-touch shading, thanks to data gathered from the Pencil’s tilt) that styluses from other makers simply cannot.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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2016 was a hard year to be an Apple fan

Tim Cook and the rest of Apple’s leadership will probably not look back fondly on 2016. iPhone sales declined for the first time, and Apple’s profits followed suit. There are still bright spots, like the company’s growing services business, and the company is still making insane amounts of money. Even so, the stalled growth has to be concerning to both the company and its investors.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to pity Apple. I’m here to commiserate with its fans, the ones who Apple shafted this year. Particularly those of us who waited all year long for a substantial update to the Mac lineup only to be offered a pair of intriguing but compromised new laptops. Or those of us who bought an iPhone 7 and can’t use the headphones included with it in our new MacBook Pro, or even those of us trying to figure out which iPad to buy.

Across the board, Apple has confusing product lineups with weird and unnecessary compromises. And if you believe the wailing of aggrieved fans across the internet, it seems like plenty of loyal Apple supporters might be contemplating life outside the company’s ecosystem. How did we get here?

Apple fans: 2016 Year in Review

The product that most exemplifies Apple’s difficulty in 2016 is the Mac. The Mac may only compose a small part of Apple’s overall business, but that doesn’t excuse the neglect it’s endured recently. For 10 full months, the only update was a processor refresh on the 12-inch MacBook. (OK, you can also buy it in pink now. Thanks, Apple.) The company’s main three machines — the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iMac — went untouched. That’s still the case for the iMac and MacBook Air; it’s hard to recommend that anyone buy them right now. And we all know what happened when the MacBook Pro was finally updated: A portal to the dongleverse was opened.

I’m not here to pity Apple. I’m here to commiserate with its fans, the ones who Apple shafted this year.

Yes, Apple had already released the 12-inch MacBook with just a single USB-C port. But that computer was designed with extreme portability in mind; it was a laptop inspired by the iPad. It’ll likely take the aging MacBook Air’s place in the lineup as the company’s entry-level Apple laptop. That was fine when the MacBook Pro and its many ports existed, but Apple has now made it clear it’s not interested in keeping any legacy I/O around, even for its “pro” customers. That’s an aggressive move, and one that has been met with widespread displeasure.

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In a vacuum, there are plenty of things to like about the new MacBook Pro. The screen is excellent, the reductions in size and weight are welcome improvements, performance and audio quality are both improved, and even the controversial Touch Bar has potential. Other things, such as the redesigned keyboard, are a matter of personal preference, not a definitive drawback. But reduced battery life, the loss of physical function keys and only one type of port mean that many of the professionals Apple is targeting will need to change their workflow.

And that’s not even mentioning the price increases: It’ll cost you at least $ 1,799 to get a MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar. History suggests that prices of the new MacBook Pro will eventually drop as the old models are phased out, but there’s still some significant sticker shock here.

This confusing middle ground between old and new makes it hard to decide which MacBook Pro is the best for a given shopper. Is your $ 1,499 better spent on the previous-generation model or the new one? If you opt for the new model, you get a piddly two ports and no Touch Bar, while opting for last year’s computer gets you all the ports you could want but in a heavier package with an older processor and worse screen. My guess is that lots of people will decide not to make a purchase instead of being forced to compromise one way or another. The new entry-level MacBook Pro would be a great step up from the MacBook Air for a lot of users — but the $ 500 separating the two computers is a difficult gap to close.

The most frustrating thing about all of this is that Apple could have silenced its critics by simply including a USB 3 port and not removing the SD reader. Space may be at a premium on this new device, but I’d be willing to bet that many potential buyers would be happy to give up two of the four USB-C ports in exchange for those legacy connections. But that wouldn’t be a “courageous” move now, would it? Hell, Apple could even throw us the smallest of bones by including a USB 3 to USB-C dongle in the box so users can charge their iPhones without any further hassle.

Speaking of the iPhone, let’s go over that headphone situation one more time. Putting aside Schiller’s ridiculous “courage” line, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if we can evolve beyond the headphone jack. No other port has been immune to the march of time, and Apple probably has the data to show that most iPhone buyers use the included headphones. In theory, switching to the included Lightning headphones wouldn’t be a big deal, and there’s a dongle in there if you have a nice pair you want to keep using. What’s the harm?

Just as with the MacBook Pro, the problem is making consumers change their routines without a clear benefit. Apple executives gave a few rare interviews about the headphone jack decision when the iPhone 7 first came out, but the rationale mostly came down to using the limited space inside the iPhone for more useful technology, such as water resistance, a bigger battery and better cameras. Those are indeed great features to add to the iPhone. But they’re also table stakes at this point. It’s easy to forget that before the Galaxy Note 7 started exploding, Samsung had closed basically all the hardware gaps between its offerings and the iPhone, which means these updates were necessary, not revolutionary. And without also presenting an improved headphone solution, it’s hard to not feel like something was lost in this move.

Adding insult to injury, Apple did come up with an improved wireless-headphone experience: AirPods are much simpler to use than your average Bluetooth headset. But the price and mediocre audio quality make them a tough sell, and Apple didn’t even manage to have the headphones out on time. They only just hit the Apple Store a few weeks ago, and they’ll be in short supply for a good long time. They should have been ready to go alongside the iPhone 7, but Apple’s latest handset has been on the market for nearly three months without its companion wireless earphones. That’s a major tactical blunder.

Many of Apple’s more fervent supporters have scoffed at the notion that Apple is floundering a bit. After all, the company’s bottom line grew for 15 years: It clearly knows how to build products that resonate. But there’s been a growing chorus of unhappy fans who say that Apple doesn’t have the same eye for detail as it used to. Some point to the goofy charging experiences for the new Apple Mouse and Pencil as design decisions that Steve Jobs never would have allowed.

For me, it’s this new world of dongles that I’d have to use to make a new MacBook Pro work the way I need it to. Something isn’t right when the MacBook Air, which hasn’t substantially changed in design for five years, is still better for my needs than the brand-new MacBook Pro. I’d happily open my wallet and pay $ 1,799 for that new computer if it had an SD slot and a full-sized USB port. Part of me feels like those are tiny things to quibble over when weighed against the improvements — I’m dying for a better display at this point — but we all have to draw the line somewhere.

For others, that line might be the missing headphone jack, the late AirPods, the lack of substantial Mac updates (the Mac Pro hasn’t been touched for three years), the confusing iPad lineup, the lackluster Apple Watch reception or any other chink in Apple’s armor. Apple fans were sold on the promise that “it just works.” When that stops being the case, it’s much easier to start looking at competitors like Microsoft and Google. And that won’t help Apple make 2017 a better year.

Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.

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Police seek Amazon Echo data in murder case (updated)

Amazon’s Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, police in Arkansas want to know if one of the gadgets overheard something that can help with a murder case. According to The Information, authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Amazon declined to give police any of the information that the Echo logged on its servers, but it did hand over Bates’ account details and purchases. Police say they were able to pull data off of the speaker, but it’s unclear what info they were able to access. Due to the so-called always on nature of the connected device, the authorities are after any audio the speaker may have picked up that night. Sure, the Echo is activated by certain words, but it’s not uncommon for the IoT gadget to be alerted to listen by accident.

Police say Bates had several other smart home devices, including a water meter. That piece of tech shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1AM and 3AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. Investigators allege the water was used to wash away evidence of what happened off of the patio. The examination of the water meter and the request for stored Echo information raises a bigger question about privacy. At a time when we have any number of devices tracking and automating our habits at home, should that information be used against us in criminal cases?

Bates’ attorney argues that it shouldn’t. “You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us,” defense attorney Kimberly Weber said. Of course, there’s also the question of how reliable information is from smart home devices. Accuracy can be an issue for any number of IoT gadgets. However, an audio recording would seemingly be a solid piece of evidence, if released.

Just as we saw with the quest to unlock an iPhone in the San Bernardino case, it will be interesting to see how authorities and the companies who make smart home devices work out the tension between serving customers, maintaining privacy and pursuing justice.

Update: An Amazon spokesperson gave Engadget the following statement on the matter:

“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”

As a refresher, Echo only captures audio and streams it to the cloud when the device hears the wake word “Alexa.” A ring on the top of the device turns blue to give a visual indication that audio is being recorded. Those clips, or “utterances” as the company calls them, are stored in the cloud until a customer deletes them either individually or all at once. When that’s done, the “utterances” are permanently deleted. What’s more, the microphones on an Echo device can be manually turned off at any time.

Source: The Information

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Samsung’s 2016 went up in smoke

Samsung’s year started well, all things considered. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge were bona fide hits. The company’s financials looked great. Its position as the global leader in the smartphone market was assured. And then the Galaxy Note 7 happened. After months of success, Samsung’s year started to unravel — quickly.

In hindsight, it’s a little shocking how quickly the situation unfolded. The phone was officially announced on August 2nd, and it launched on August 19th to critical acclaim and commercial success. Toward the end of that month, the first report of a Note 7 explosion emerged from South Korea, triggering a cascade of similar reports from around the world. Samsung’s new phablet was not only flawed but also actively dangerous. After a week, Samsung halted Note 7 shipments to Korean consumers, and just days after that the company issued its first widespread Note 7 recall. As you probably remember, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission helped facilitate a recall in the US shortly after that, which should’ve been the end of it.

It wasn’t. Some of the supposedly safe replacement devices Samsung delivered to customers kept overheating, and there was even one incident that grounded a Southwest Airlines flight. Enough was finally enough. On October 10th, Samsung officially halted global sales and exchanges of the Note 7. The next day, the production lines were stopped entirely. In less than two months, Samsung’s “finest phone yet,” to quote our own review, had become a black mark on the company’s track record.

Perhaps the worst part: We still don’t know what caused all this. At first, it looked like batteries made by Samsung SDI could be to blame. Then devices with batteries sourced from other suppliers, such as Japan’s TDK, began to overheat too. Now a new report from engineering firm Instrumental suggests the Note 7’s failures were due to the fact that the batteries themselves were too big to be squeezed into a smartphone so “aggressively” designed — that is, Samsung should have made allowances for the natural swelling batteries undergo over time. Beyond the potential for explosions, though, Anna Shedletsky, the author of the report, suggests the phone would have been doomed regardless.

“If the Galaxy Note 7 wasn’t recalled for exploding batteries,” the report reads, “I believe that a few years down the road these phones would be slowly pushed apart by mechanical battery swell. A smaller battery using standard manufacturing parameters would have solved the explosion issue and the swell issue. But, a smaller battery would have reduced the system’s battery life below the level of its predecessor, the Note 5, as well as its biggest competitor, the iPhone 7 Plus. Either way, it’s now clear to us that there was no competitive salvageable design.”

Samsung’s woes didn’t end with smartphones. Between March 2011 and April 2016, Samsung produced 34 top-loading washing machine models that, due to failures in design, could quite literally blow their tops. US regulators took notice of the trend and took action in September — great timing for Samsung. The company once again collaborated with the CPSC to get a recall going, but not before some 730 reports of washing machine explosions had rolled in.

Unlike with the Note 7, Samsung has at least explained what was going on with these washing machines. According to company statements, excessively strong vibrations can occur when bedding or other bulky items are washed at high speeds. Those vibrations can dislodge the lid, leading it to shoot off the washing machine and strike people nearby. All told, some 2.8 million top-loading washing machines had to be recalled, and reports of trouble from around the world are still surfacing. Earlier this month, a family in Sydney fled their home when their Samsung washing machine caught fire. Prior to that, nine injuries related to washing machine malfunctions were reported, including a broken jaw in one case. It’s difficult to say what kind of exploding consumer good is more unnerving: the one that we carry in our pocket everywhere we go or the one that sits quietly in a corner of our home until it violently remind us of its existence.

So, yes, Samsung had a bad year. That doesn’t mean the company is doomed. Despite its recent failures, it would take a lot more than this to kill a corporate octopus flush with so much money and influence. Consider the following: The most recent estimates we could find suggested the Note 7 recall would cost at least $ 5.3 billion. That might sound like a lot (and it is!), but as far as Samsung is concerned, that’s chump change. As laid out in a long-term plan published in late November, the conglomerate wants to keep no more than 70 trillion Korean won in its cash reserves: That works out to just shy of $ 60 billion. That’s $ 60 billion Samsung is keeping handy for rough spells (though some of that treasure trove was probably tapped for that Harman acquisition last month).

That’s not to say Samsung was completely unaffected by the events of the past few months. Samsung’s most recent earnings release, from October, showed its mobile division tanking, with operating profit down 96 percent from the year before. No matter, though: Continued growth in the conglomerate’s chip and display business helped absorb the financial blow from the mobile side. We’re not sure how the numbers will shake out the next time earnings are released (especially in light of a potential structural shakeup), but for now Samsung’s money-making machinery still works fine. The bigger question centers on Samsung’s reputation and the trust it built with its customers. The path forward would benefit from clarity and contrition, but the truth is that rich companies can afford to muddle along until consumers forget about their past failures.

Samsung won’t forget about its troubled turn this year, but with luck the company will use it as a sobering reminder to do better in the future. After all, another pivotal moment in Samsung’s history was also forged in fire. It, too, involved phones, coincidentally enough, but none nearly as complex as the Note 7.

In early 1995, Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee gave out cell phones as gifts to celebrate the new year, and for one reason or another they didn’t work. Lee was incensed. The phones’ failure to function properly not only reflected poorly on him personally but also highlighted the slow progress of Lee’s plan to make Samsung synonymous with quality around the world. Two years prior, Lee — fed up with Samsung’s cheap, often slipshod work — bellowed at his senior managers to “change everything except your wife and children.” If Samsung was to achieve its potential, it had to change, and it wasn’t happening fast enough.

In March 1995, Lee had those phones gathered in the courtyard of Samsung’s Gumi factory, in the heart of one of Korea’s many industrial centers. Thousands of devices lay there, surrounded by some 2,000 Samsung workers with headbands that said “quality first” lashed to their foreheads. As Lee and his board of directors looked on, the phones, along with monitors and fax machines, were battered with hammers and heaved into a fire. The message was clear: Poor quality would no longer be tolerated.

Samsung has transcended its humble origins, but the message delivered that day over 20 years ago bears repeating. Company mythology points to the fire in Gumi as an act of cleansing, signaling a new era for a revitalized Samsung. Every company has bad years. What’s more important is how the company carries itself in the weeks, months and years that follow. Samsung turned things around for itself in 1995, and it can rebound now too.

Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.

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In 2016, emoji kept it 💯

In addition to everything else that happened in tech this year, something small, cute and unassuming wormed its way into your smartphone, your social network and even your MacBook keyboard. While emoji have been around a while, this was the year these pictographs firmly lodged themselves into our lives. It’s become less like immature shorthand and more like another language.

Apple and Google both showed they were both taking the tiny icons seriously. The iPhone’s iOS 10 added search and predictive features for emoji to its keyboard, making it even easier to inject winks and explosions into everything you type. (Apple also added emoji functions to the OLED Touch Bar on its new MacBook Pro.)

Google took it even further, with its latest Android keyboard and gBoard on iOS both including predictive emoji. The company even baked them into its new AI assistant, Allo. The assistant can play emoji-based movie guessing games. In fact, the internet juggernaut has a real emoji crush: In early December, its main Twitter account even started offering local search results if you tweeted an emoji at it.

Granted, the results are … mixed. It won’t be replacing Yelp anytime soon, but it demonstrates how emoji are moving beyond their quick-and-dirty text-message roots.

Quicker access to emoji on your phone also comes at a time when most of our digital interactions (or at least mine) happen through smartphones. It’s become easier to use emoji, and new uses are introduced all the time. GoDaddy launched a service that allows you to create and register website addresses written purely in emoji. It could open a new wave of easily memorable sites — and there’s no shortage of emoji combinations available.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in use of emoji is how open to interpretation many of the pictograms are. More than the written or spoken word, emoji can be easily misunderstood — a fact compounded by the subtle visual differences between identical symbols in different emoji fonts. Send an iPhone emoji to someone using Google hangouts on a PC, and they might not pick up the exact same meaning.

Credit: Grouplens

They can also deliver entirely new uses, beyond the simple word was once meant to represent. There’s a reason for the popularity of the eggplant emoji and it has nothing to do with moussaka.

This vagueness and playfulness is part of their charm; some things are just funnier or easier to say in emojis. Occasionally, they can be haunting:

It’s not all frivolity and euphemisms. Updates to the emoji series attempt to better represent modern culture and society. Unicode’s latest character set for 2016 had a strong focus on gender and jobs, offering dancing bunny-boys and female police officers in an effort strike a better balance between the sexes. It even added the option of a third, gender-neutral option — although that’s apparently proved more difficult to visually express.

This year, Sony Pictures announced that it’s making a CGI feature film based entirely around emoji. It sounds like a terrible idea, but the studio believes it can make money from it. (There might even be more than one movie.)

The effect of emoji has even been noted by one of the world’s most prestigious design museums, with the Museum of Modern Art inducting emoji earlier this year. The debut set of symbols, designed for Japanese phone carrier Docomo back in 1999, is now filed under the same roof as the works of van Gogh and Dali. Used at the time to convey the weather and other messages (in a character-frugal way), the symbols were soon copied by other Japanese carriers, but it took another 12 years before they were translated into unicode in 2010, which Apple then expanded when it launched the original iPhone the following year.

So have we reached peak emoji? The initial set of low-pixel characters totaled 176. Now, at the end of 2016, there’s over 1,300 of them — and no shortage of new suggestions.

Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here

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Soon cops will search your phone just like your car

Imagine a routine traffic stop during which the officer has the legal right to search not just your car, but your phone too.

That’s where we’re likely headed: A Florida court recently denied Fifth Amendment protections for iPhone passcodes, saying suspects must now reveal them to police. The decision came after a previous court had ruled that a suspect couldn’t be compelled to give up the key to unlock his phone based on laws against self-incrimination.

A trial judge had denied the state’s motion to compel the suspect to give up his passcode, finding that it would be tantamount to forcing him to testify against himself, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

But the Florida Court of Appeal’s Second District just reversed that decision. Judge Anthony Black said, “Unquestionably, the State established, with reasonable particularity, its knowledge of the existence of the passcode, Stahl’s control or possession of the passcode, and the self-authenticating nature of the passcode. This is a case of surrender and not testimony.

“More importantly,” he added, indicating future cases about passcodes and Fifth Amendment protections, “we question the continuing viability of any distinction as technology advances.”

The case tipping the scales in favor of the police comes by way of a total creep getting caught shoving his phone under a woman’s skirt and taking photos. It’s pretty hard to feel bad for the guy. Many people know that “upskirts” are illegal, and most know it’s also a really shitty thing to do to someone. But Aaron Stahl didn’t care. He followed a woman around a store, and when he thought she wasn’t looking, he crouched down, shoved his phone under her skirt to take photos and got caught doing it.

When she asked him what the hell he was doing, he claimed he’d dropped his phone. She yelled for help and tried to stop him from leaving. He ran. But the store had him doing everything on surveillance cameras and got a clear shot of his car’s license plates. When police caught up to Stahl and arrested him for third-degree voyeurism, he’d conveniently left his phone at home.

In a police interview, Stahl consented to a search of his phone, an Apple iPhone 5. But when police actually went to his house with a warrant and got the phone, he withdrew his consent before giving them his passcode. Basically, Stahl attempted to show he’s innocent by not being accountable for his phone.

And as we all know, without the passcode even Apple can’t pop open someone’s iPhone and hand the contents over to police.

That’s meant authorities have had to get a little creative about looking through people’s phones.

After much wrangling and embarrassment earlier this year, the FBI forked over $ 1.3 million to have the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone hacked into. Just a few weeks ago, Scotland Yard actually “mugged” a suspect. In that instance, British cops waited until their target was on a call before physically snatching the phone and continually swiping it to keep the screen unlocked while they apprehended their guy.

The Florida case shows a flip in the opposite direction from 2015’s ruling by a Pennsylvania federal court, which decided the authorities can’t force someone to surrender his or her phone’s passcode. Just as he opposed the Pennsylvania court decision, I’m sure law professor and SCOTUS blogger Orin Kerr would agree with Florida’s judges that a code isn’t in itself incriminating.

“For example, imagine the government orders you to turn over any and all crystal meth in your possession,” Kerr opined about Pennsylvania’s passcode ruling. “In response to the order, you hand over a plastic bag filled with some substance. Your response effectively testified that you think the item in the bag is crystal meth and that it is in your possession. That’s admitting to a crime — possession of crystal meth — so you have a Fifth Amendment right not to have to produce the item in response to the order.”

Here, the judge hasn’t asked Florida’s creeper of the year, Aaron Stahl, to turn over any and all upskirt photos. Just the passcode.

The decision will likely lead to further challenges, but different courts around the United States are tackling the iPhone-evidence conundrum. Judge Black’s opinion will no doubt influence how others rule.

“Providing the passcode does not ‘betray any knowledge [Stahl] may have about the circumstances of the offenses’ for which he is charged,” Black said, writing for the Florida court’s three-judge panel. “Thus,” he said, “compelling a suspect to make a nonfactual statement that facilitates the production of evidence for which the state has otherwise obtained a warrant … does not offend the privilege.”

This is a compelling argument for handing over Stahl’s passcode. But then again, it’s also compelling because he’s such a blatant scumbag about all of this. Maybe it’s a false equivalency, though I’m inclined to believe it’s the rest of us who’ll pay for this guy’s troll-like behavior. He brazenly violated a woman’s privacy and expects his privacy protections to be upheld so he can get away with it. He’s not all that different from the guy on Twitter claiming death and rape threats are protected free speech.

This ruling is supposed to be about the greater good, but there’s nothing that feels great or good about it.

We’ll probably wade through a hodge-podge of law-enforcement rules across the nation until this gets ironed out, while precedents are set that aren’t thought through. In the meantime, we can be sure bad cops will collect passcodes and see what else they can get into with them. Because, thanks to security fatigue, people reuse the same passwords and PINs wherever possible.

It doesn’t take the mind of a hacker to figure that someone’s four-digit cellphone PIN is probably the same as her ATM and voicemail PIN codes.

So look: It’s not that cops and border guards and probably stormtroopers can’t demand access to people’s phones and computers nearly everywhere else in the world, because they can. It’s just that here, we’ve been living in an arrogant fantasy that we were somehow immune to that type of control. Rest assured that countries on every other continent circling our shaky blue orb don’t live in this fantasy.

We might be inclined to think that the world has gotten more fascist. No. It’s just that we’re losing our virginity, and effectual consent is bad for authoritarianism. Welcome to the rest of the world. It’s time to quit whining about Android vs. Apple security, or how broken the password model is, and realize your cutesy privacy island never existed in the first place.

Laws like these might be what we deserve, after years of remaining relatively ignorant to the realities of how tech tools like cellphones and Facebook are used by authoritarian leaders and surveillance-happy police. We’re about to enter a future where our president embraces letting government off the leash when it comes to surveilling citizens.

I remember when Google’s Eric Schmidt said, “If you have something you don’t want anyone to know, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” And when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said that if you’re not doing anything “wrong” then you don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to losing your privacy. It’s starting to look like these weren’t just harmless words from eccentric tech billionaires.

All I’m saying is that this is all connected, and the road that led to cops being able to search your entire life during a traffic stop is one paved with greed, perverse ideals and nightmarish lapses of empathy. Of course, some of us tried to raise the alarm back then, but we were written off as bad people with something to hide because we wanted boundaries.

But this story, the one about the Fifth Amendment and passcodes, is supposed to be about fairness and justice. Except with bad guys like Aaron Stahl, it’s a fairness that feels so cynical we barely understand how we got here.

Images: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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The best lenses for iPhone photography

By Erin Lodi

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After more than 16 hours of research during which we considered 70 lens attachments and tested 15 models (with hands-on shooting that included a hiking trip through the Cascade Mountains and sightseeing on a Grand Canyon road trip), we found that Moment’s Tele and Wide mobile-photography lenses are the best for avid smartphone photographers. They offer image quality as good as that of anything we tested, along with a straightforward attachment system that doesn’t lock you into using a case you don’t like (unlike most of the competition).

Who should get this

By adding extra optics directly on top of your phone’s existing camera, lens attachments allow you to appear either closer to your subject or farther away from it without reducing resolution. This mimics the effect you’d get from switching lenses on a DSLR or mirrorless camera. But because you’re putting additional lenses in front of an existing lens, many lens attachments produce photos with noticeable blurriness and color distortion around the edges of the frame. So you still have plenty of good reasons to go with an actual DSLR or mirrorless camera, especially if you plan on printing your photos. But smartphone lens kits are fun to play around with for photographers of all skill levels, and the best among them can produce surprisingly sharp images.

How we picked and tested

We considered a wide swath of iPhone lens accessories. In a clockwise spiral from top left: CamKix, iPro, Manfrotto, Moment, Ztylus, ExoLens, AGPtek, Olloclip, and Photojojo lenses. Photo: Erin Lodi

We looked for a mobile-photography lens that would fit the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 7, and iPhone 7 Plus—though not every lens will work with the latter, and we’re keeping our eyes open as more become available that will.

Above all, we wanted a portable, affordable, easy-to-use lens attachment to help produce amazing photos. We focused on finding a good wide-angle option and a good telephoto option, as those are the most commonly available choices and often the most practical applications of iPhone lenses. For more details on how we picked and tested, and a note on lenses for the iPhone 7, see our full guide.

We took each lens out for some real-world testing around Seattle. Photo: Erin Lodi

For this guide, we read up on every recommended smartphone lens attachment we could find on the Internet, including considering what highly respected review sites such as The Phoblographer, CNET, Fstoppers, Cult of Mac, and Macworld had to say. We also asked friends of various levels of smartphone-photography prowess what they would want out of such an attachment.

Since 2015, we’ve conducted hands-on testing with 15 iPhone lens models. We toted these lenses around Seattle, testing them in some everyday shooting situations. We filled our backpack with them and put them to work while hiking in the Cascade Mountains. And we brought them along on an epic summer road trip to see the Grand Canyon.

Our pick

Moment’s .63x-magnification wide lens (18mm equivalent) and a 2x telephoto lens (60mm equivalent). Photo: Erin Lodi

Moment’s Tele and Wide lenses stood above the competition thanks to their impressive image quality, their simple attachment method (which works with many third-party iPhone cases), and their ease of use and portability. We tested both the .63x-magnification wide-angle lens (about 1.5 times as wide as the standard iPhone lens, an 18mm equivalent) and the 2x telephoto lens (60mm equivalent). If you have an iPhone 7 Plus, you won’t need the tele option, because your phone already has a similar built-in lens, but the Wide is still a great option.

A bayonet-style mount on a metal plate that adheres to your phone allows you to attach your Moment lenses with just a quick turn. Photo: Erin Lodi

In our tests, images came out crisp and clear, with very little distortion and no vignetting. We noted only minimal chromatic aberration (a common problem with cheaply made lenses in which colors fringe and blur, especially at high-contrast edges).

The Moment 0.63x lens is about half again as wide as an iPhone’s standard lens. Photo: Erin Lodi

Moment lenses attach to your phone via a stainless steel mounting plate that sticks to the back of your iPhone using a strong but not permanent 3M adhesive. A bayonet mounting system on the plate lets you twist the lens on. The mounting ring is small enough that you can use it through the camera opening on many slim phone cases, including our pick for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the Incipio NGP, which means your favorite method of iPhone protection should work with Moment lenses. If you’re careful, the lens attachment will remain mounted until you unscrew it. But we recommend removing the lens from the mount before stowing your handset in a bag or backpack to avoid having it dislodge, and to prevent any uncovered lens surfaces from attracting dust or smudges.

Budget pick

The Aukey lens-and-case set offers great quality for its current price of $ 15, but it doesn’t hold up next to our main pick. Photo: Erin Lodi

If you’re not willing to spend almost $ 100 on a smartphone accessory, or if you just don’t think you’d use a high-quality lens attachment often enough to justify such a cost, the Aukey PL-WD03 110° Wide Angle Lens & Case Set is a bargain entry-level lens-and-case combo for the iPhone 6/6s and iPhone 6/6s Plus. (The company has no plans for an iPhone 7 case, but this model does come with a clip mount that isn’t as secure but works on any phone.) The set’s slim black case snaps over your phone and allows you to screw on a lens attachment. The image quality was noticeably worse when we compared it closely with that of the Moment lenses, but compared with other low-cost lenses we tested, the Aukey delivered better-quality images with less distortion or vignetting.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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Algoriddim squeezes its djay Pro app into the iPhone

For the past 10 years, DJ software maker Algoriddim has been steadily updating its djay app, adding fresh features as software and technology have improved. It started out in Apple’s eco-system on the Mac, adding the iPhone and iPad as it went, even letting Android join the party eventually. Last year its fully-outfitted Pro version added video mixing alongside sampling, effects and four decks. This comprehensive party software hit iPads last year, but starting today the backbreaking work of hauling laptops and tablets around is over, with the newly laid out djay Pro for iPhone. Yep, you new get a fully capable DJ package, with access to Spotify’s pool of tracks, four decks, effects and video mixing in a pocketable format. If you’re intrigued, now’s the time to try it, with a limited time launch price of $ 4.99.

This revamped version of djay Pro isn’t much different from before. Most of the changes are subtle, aimed at improving accessibility on a small screen. There are some new features that take advantage of 3D-Touch and haptic feedback capabilities, though. You can now feel left, right and center spots on the crossfader as little nudges, plus cue marks can be created on the fly by hard presses on the screen. Also impressive, is the ability to feel each kick as you’re scrubbing through waveforms, which helps bring a semblance of actual record queuing back into the process.

In my opinion, DJing with just an iPhone isn’t necessarily the most pleasant experience. I suppose tiny fingers could help — perhaps it’s purpose-built for the emerging generation — but, with the combination of 3D-Touch and haptic feedback, it’s definitely workable. Djay Pro for iPhone makes the best of available space with its subtly adjusted layout, offering easy access to effects, filters and tracks with centrally placed buttons.

Spotify integration is onboard as expected, but the browse function is a new addition, helping you search out new selections by mood, genre or popularity. It’s a great way to have access to a pool of tracks without building up your own collection, plus it’s a lifesaver if you find yourself in need of songs that fit a vibe you absolutely didn’t prepare for in advance.

For those adventurous enough, the video mixing capability is great, and it’s surprising to have access to such rich features from a device that fits in your pocket. You can use AirPlay to stream both music and video to to compatible systems, making it a pleasantly wireless experience. On top of this, if you have an Apple Watch, the watchOS 3 updates offer mix control from your wrist with improved ultra-low latency. While small fingers may help, the watch interface is intuitive and easy to use.

What could be the perfect on-the-go combo, is to pair the mobile app with Algoriddim’s latest hardware collaboration called Mixtour. This ultra-portable DJ controller manufactured by Reloop is definitely bag friendly and lets you run most of the app’s standard features from its larger interface. It takes a bit more forethought to carry one of these around on the off chance you’ll be playing some tunes, but it could help you avoid hunching over your phone when you’re in the mix.

If you’re not using one of Apple’s latest handsets, don’t worry, you can still use djay Pro for iPhone if you have an iPhone 5 or later running iOS 10, but you’ll have to do without the haptic and 3D-Touch perks. You can pick up a copy of the app on iTunes starting today and save 50 percent off the regular price for a limited time.

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Apple’s tiny, totally wireless AirPods get meticulously torn down

After having been delayed for months — for reasons never publicly confirmed, no less — Apple’s AirPods are finally here. And really, what better to way to celebrate one of the most curious delays in Apple history than by tearing those things apart? The folks at iFixit have done just that (as always), and the end result is a fascinating look at $ 160 worth of meticulously crafted silicon and audio parts. Spoiler alert: there’s more glue in them than you’d think.

As you might imagine, the tiny scale of Apple’s work and all the glue sealing everything in place make the AirPods a nightmare where repairs are concerned. In fact, all the components are so tightly packed in there that the idea of replacing parts or fixing them in general is downright laughable. Still, this kind of surgery does a great job illustrating the insane, compact origami that goes into modern consumer gadgets. And if nothing else, iFixit’s strangely gorgeous imagery more thoroughly explains the importance of the AirPods’ most questionable design choice: those stems that dangle out of your ear.

People stare, but they probably don’t realize that those stems are mostly all battery — their charge capacity works out to 1 percent of the iPhone 7’s — with long antennas glued to them to maintain a strong connection between the Pods themselves and the phone. (For what it’s worth, we’ve had a pair of AirPods for months and the multiple wireless connections were more-or-less rock-solid the entire time.)

Knowing that doesn’t make the stems look any better, though, as evidenced by all the shade thrown at me by coworkers whenever I wear these things. Also nestled deep within there is what makes the AirPods really tick: the minuscule W1 chip. It’s responsible for the Pods’ dead-simple pairing and power-sipping tendencies, which so far have been the big reasons our review units have seen such consistent use. The level of tension subsides when attention is turned to the AirPods’ charging case, but make no mistake: if you’re a fan of lilliputian tech, this is one teardown you have to see.

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