FBI won’t be forced to reveal San Bernardino iPhone hacking tool

The Associated Press, USA Today and Vice News have failed in their attempt to reveal the hacking tool the FBI used to access San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook’s iPhone. Judge Tanya Chutkan denied their request in a summary judgment ruling issued late on September 30th, arguing that the risks involved in naming the vendor (and thus the tool) or the price paid are too serious to honor a Freedom of Information Act request. It would make the company a target for retaliatory hacks and exploits that it likely couldn’t withstand, Judge Chutkan said, while the price would tell “adversaries” how readily the FBI can use the tool in the future.

She also rejected the argument that former FBI director James Comey’s mention of a “very high” price equated to official disclosure that compelled a wider release. The information had to be more specific than that, according to the ruling. And while Comey noted that the tool was only effective against an iPhone 5c running iOS 9, the FBI could theoretically find a way to expand its usefulness or ask the developer to build a similar implementation. If the vendor is exposed, Judge Chutkan said, this could “hurt the FBI’s future efforts to protect national security.”

This isn’t going to please privacy advocates concerned that the FBI has such power, especially as it might be maintaining this power solely through obscurity — it might get into your phone only because an outside security researcher hasn’t discovered the flaw yet. And is the theoretical future usefulness of the tool a good enough excuse to keep it under wraps? At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the likelihood that any public disclosure would likely invite some kind of retaliation. The judge had to strike a difficult balance, and it’s not necessarily clear that it’s the right balance.

Source: ZDNet, DocumentCloud

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Leaked Apple warranty guide shows what it will and won’t repair

It’s pretty tough for individuals and even third-party shops to repair Apple products, and often hard to predict whether Apple itself will repair, decline to fix or replace a busted iPhone. However, Business Insider has unearthed a 22-page “Visual/Mechanical Inspection Guide,” or VMI, that shows what qualifies as an “eligible repair.” It’s reportedly used to conduct a physical damage inspection and assess cost, “basically half the training for iPhone techs,” an anonymous Genius told BI.

Image obtained by Business Insider

Most of the guidance is common-sense, but some things stand out. If a tech spots a dead pixel, for instance, he’s not obligated to fix it unless the customer asks — an arguably shady practice. Apple also has a detailed procedure to check for water or liquid damage, something that’s not very surprising if you own an model prior to the water-resistant iPhone 7 or 7 Plus.

It’s also interesting that Apple will repair, under warranty, a single hairline crack to the front glass, provided that it’s not “accompanied by enclosure damage in the proximity of the crack,” the VMI states. Apple will fix screen damage beyond that out of warranty for a $ 129 or $ 149 fee, depending on the model, and AppleCare covers it for a fixed $ 29 charge.

On the other hand, Apple will shun if you have a bad accident or try to repair the device yourself. In those cases, it’s looking for “intentional tampering or damage,” “disassembled unit or missing parts,” non-Apple batteries and “catastrophic damage.”

Apple has been recalcitrant in the past to even acknowledge product problems, but is arguably improving in that area. It might have changed its tune after the infamous iPhone 6 “touch disease,” dented its quality-control reputation and resulted in lawsuits. In recent months, Apple quietly extended the warranty on first-gen Watch models, for instance, and has been replacing iPad 4s with newer iPad Air 2 models.

As BI points out, the VMI is just a guide, and Apple techs will occasionally make exceptions. “There are always those one-off issues that the phone is technically not covered under warranty but we swap the phone anyway under warranty,” one said.

Source: Business Insider

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Apple’s AirPods won’t be ready for the holidays

Apple announced the AirPods during September’s “See You” event with a scheduled launch at the end of October. But late that month, the company delayed shipments without setting a release date in the future. Well, the tech titan’s wireless headphones still haven’t come out and it’s unclear when they’ll finally be ready for the public. For a company that places enormous emphasis on the pageantry of dramatically unveiling and releasing its products to a ravenous public, this is an unusual and humbling letdown.

It’s the first product postponement since the white iPhone 4 back in 2010, which Apple claims was delayed due to manufacturing challenges. But the company has kept mum about why they’re withholding the AirPods from store shelves. It’s likely caused by their added complexity, a source familiar with their development told The Wall Street Journal. Unlike normal wireless headphones, which receive signal over Bluetooth in only one earpiece, both AirPod pieces do. That means Apple’s product must reconcile any delays and sync audio between them, while also addressing what happens if one of the pair’s battery dies or is lost.

Apple’s silence is tough luck for folks hoping to snag a pair for a Christmas gift. But as we noted when the AirPods were first delayed, their iPhone 7-interfacing W1 chip is present in two models of Beats headphones, the Solo3 and Powerbeats 3. Otherwise, Apple’s loss is their competitors’ gain: Wireless headphones finally outsold wired in the first half of 2016. Technically, people are still buying more pairs of wired ones, but Bluetooth headphones’ high prices mean the money has finally tipped into that camp. Just how much Apple lost out by failing to make its $ 160-per-unit AirPods available this holiday season is anyone’s guess.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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Snapchat’s Spectacles won’t make you look like a Glasshole

You would have thought that after the spectacular failure of Google Glass and the virulent public rejection its users experienced, other companies would be wary of developing and marketing camera glasses. But 2016 has been that kind of year. Earlier this week, Snapchat, they of the wildly popular messaging app, began rolling out its first wearable, Spectacles, through a series of pop-up vending machines. The $ 130 glasses are already a hot commodity, fetching upward of $ 900 on eBay. I managed to get my hands on a pair (don’t ask how) and have some thoughts on the matter.

The Spectacles are sunglasses first and foremost, and they function well in that role. The plastic frames are lightweight with circular lenses and come in a variety of increasingly loud colors: black, aqua and fire-engine red. I personally prefer a nice wayfarer or aviator shape, but the Spectacles still performed an admirable job of shielding my eyes from the sun’s damaging UV rays.

The camera itself is mounted on the tip of the left temple arm, where it meets the eye wire. The camera unit is entirely self-contained and runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. And, like Apple’s wireless AirPods, the Spectacle’s case doubles as a charging station that can fully fill a dead battery in about 90 minutes. The camera, while not nearly as powerful as what you’d find on an iPhone 7 or Android Pixel, is good enough for what most people use Snapchat for.

And what they lack in image quality they make up for in ease of use. By not requiring you to have your phone in hand, the Spectacles can be used in a much wider range of situations. Suddenly, all of those action sports shots for which you previously had to break out the GoPro can be done in 10-second increments. Really, any two-handed activity would benefit from using these glasses. Take note, however: The glasses are not waterproof and are also susceptible to temperature extremes, so be sure to leave them back at the ski lodge this winter.

Pairing the Spectacles to the Snapchat app is super-simple. You simply put on the Spectacles, look at your snapcode and tap the “record” button on the glasses. Downloading data from the specs is straightforward, too. Just navigate to the Memories screen, pick the Specs tab from the top bar and select the correct Snap from the list. We’re not sure if there’s an upper limit to how many Snaps you can record on the device before syncing with the app, but we got north of 10.

I noticed that the app routinely failed to properly download video from the glasses to the phone, but usually did so on the second try. It’s a bit of a hassle, but an easily remedied one. Aside from being unable to actively monitor what I’m recording or reframe a shot, using Spectacles wasn’t all that different from using my phone. At least with the Specs, I never had to worry about my thumb covering the lens. Plus, if the worst happens, I’d rather drop a pair of $ 130 novelty camera-glasses than my $ 600 smartphone.

Now, whether I, as a 35-year-old attention-averse adult, would ever be caught dead wearing them in public is an entirely different question. See, I remember the dark days of the Google Glasshole. Even in techtopias like San Francisco, Glass wearers were publicly mocked. One lady was even physically assaulted at a bar in the Lower Haight. Many fine drinking establishments throughout the city still ban them outright. Granted, the Spectacles can capture only 10 seconds of video at a time, but I’d be very hesitant to show up to a place like Molotov’s or the Lucky 13 with these on my face.

Another question is: Where do you actually use them? They’re clearly geared for people who are out and about in the daylight hours (hence the sunglasses the camera’s built into). But what of Snaps taken indoors or at night? The camera is subtle enough that you won’t attract attention, but the bright-ring LED that flickers on to indicate that you’re recording — not to mention that you’re wearing electric-blue sunglasses in a bar at 11PM — is likely enough to draw quizzical looks from other patrons and questions from management.

Overall, though, these are a clever, relatively inexpensive wearable. They’re a tenth of the price of Google Glass, they actually function beyond serving as a way to strap a camera to your face and, depending on your age bracket, they could even be considered stylish. Getting your hands on a pair is going to be a challenge in the immediate future, but for those of us with active Snapchat followings, these Specs will prove invaluable.

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WSJ: This year’s iPhone won’t feature big changes

If you’re eagerly awaiting a load of new features for this year’s iPhone, you might be a bit disappointed come fall. The Wall Street Journal reports that the upcoming models will offer only modest changes from the current iPhone 6S and 6S Plus rather than a more robust redesign. Apple has been trotting out new designs every two years with the “S” models offering mostly internal tweaks in between. According to WSJ’s sources though, that won’t be the case this year.

WSJ reports that both the 4.7- and 5.5-inch models will return, and they’ll do so without a 3.5mm headphone jack. Rumors have gone back and forth on whether or not Apple will ditch the port entirely, and we’ve even caught a glimpse of alleged iPhone 7 parts that indicate the jack is staying. The rumblings about the company’s preference for Lightning connectivity for headphones began late last year and has been the most discussed tweak for the new models. Nixing the 3.5mm port is said to not only improve the phone’s water resistance, but also allow for a thinner handset.

Apple is planning a massive overhaul for 2017’s 10th anniversary of the iPhone, according to WSJ. Those updates are said to include an edge-to-edge OLED display while nixing the iconic home button entirely. Sources say that the Touch ID security features would be part of the display itself. Of course, that release is well over a year away, so things could change significantly between now and then.

What’s the reason for not having a major update this year? Apple’s coming off its first quarter of sales decline in the iPhone’s history, but WSJ reports that the reason for subtle changes is due to tech that’s currently in the works taking more time to finish. While the iPhone 5S featured the addition of Touch ID, last year’s 6S and 6S Plus focused largely on internals with 3D Touch and improved cameras. Both kept the same overall design as the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 the year before. Nixing the headphone jack wouldn’t be a small change though, especially if you’ve already invested in a set of wired headphones.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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