Cellphones

Surface Phone Speculation Spurred By New Phone APIs In Windows (arstechnica.com) 72

Microsoft has been rumored to be working on a "Surface Phone" for years now, with little concrete evidence that such a device actually exists. "But the latest Windows 10 Insider Preview has given new fuel for the speculative fire, it has a set of new APIs for cellular phones," reports Ars Technica. From the report: Windows has had integrated support for cell modems since Windows 8, but this has been restricted to supporting data connections. Telephony -- dialing numbers, placing calls -- has always required either Windows Phone or Windows 10 Mobile. This has made the full Windows 10 unsuitable for a phone. That may be changing. Windows 10 build 17650 -- a preview of Redstone 5, the next Windows update after the delayed April update -- includes some telephony APIs. The new APIs cover support for a range of typical phone features: dialing numbers and contacts, blocking withheld numbers, support for Bluetooth headsets and spearphone mode, and so on and so forth. There also looks to be some kind of video-calling support, suggesting support for 3G or LTE video calling.
Intel

Intel Is Giving Up On Its Smart Glasses (theverge.com) 41

Intel is planning to shut down the New Devices Group (NDG), and cease development on the Vaunt smart glasses project that was revealed earlier this year. The glasses are unique in that they use retinal projection to put a display in your eyeball. "There is no camera to creep people out, no button to push, no gesture area to swipe, no glowing LCD screen, no weird arm floating in front of the lens, no speaker, and no microphone," reports The Verge.

Intel issued a statement announcing the plans: "Intel is continuously working on new technologies and experiences. Not all of these develop into a product we choose to take to market. The Superlight [the codename for Vaunt] project is a great example where Intel developed truly differentiated, consumer augmented reality glasses. We are going to take a disciplined approach as we keep inventing and exploring new technologies, which will sometimes require tough choices when market dynamics don't support further investment." From the report: It was always unclear how precisely Intel intended to bring the Vaunt glasses to market, though sources indicated that Intel wanted to find a partner with retail expertise to partner with. Jerry Bautista, the lead for Vaunt, told me back in December that Intel was "working with key ecosystem hardware providers -- whether they're frames or lenses and things like that. Because we believe there's a whole channel to people who wear glasses that's already there." The story was first reported by The Information.
Iphone

New iPhone SE Could Launch In May With Touch ID and A10 Fusion, Without 3.5mm Headphone Jack (macrumors.com) 126

Mac Rumors reports, citing Japanese website Mac Otakara, that Apple will release an updated iPhone SE next month with a similar form factor as the previous model. It is expected to retain Touch ID, but will drop the 3.5mm headphone jack. From the report: Also like the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the new iPhone SE will supposedly be powered by Apple's last-generation A10 Fusion chip, up to 40 percent faster than the A9 processor in the current iPhone SE. The chip will likely enable support for the HEIF image format and HEVC video compression standard. The report speculates that the new iPhone SE may have a glass back with wireless charging capabilities, like the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, but evidence is said to be inconclusive at this time.
AT&T

AT&T, Verizon Under US Investigation For Collusion To Lock In Customers (nytimes.com) 39

bongey writes: AT&T and Verizon are currently under investigation for colluding with the GSMA standards group to thwart eSIM technology and hinder consumers from easily switching wireless carriers. eSIM technology lets people remotely switch wireless providers without having to insert a new SIM card into a device. According to The New York Times, the two companies "face accusations that they colluded with the GSMA to try to establish standards that would allow them to lock a device to their network even if it had eSIM technology." The Justice Department opened the investigation roughly five months ago after at least one device maker and one wireless carrier filed formal complaints. Compare cell plans at Wirefly to see the current plans being offered by AT&T and Verizon.
Desktops (Apple)

Users Don't Want iOS To Merge With MacOS, Apple Chief Tim Cook Says (smh.com.au) 155

Rebutting a widespread speculation, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the company is not working toward building an operating system that both Macs and iPhones could share. From his interview on Sydney Morning Herald: Later, when I ask about the divide between the Mac and iOS, which seems almost conservative when compared to Microsoft's convertible Windows 10 strategy, Cook gives an interesting response. "We don't believe in sort of watering down one for the other. Both [The Mac and iPad] are incredible. One of the reasons that both of them are incredible is because we pushed them to do what they do well. And if you begin to merge the two ... you begin to make trade offs and compromises. "So maybe the company would be more efficient at the end of the day. But that's not what it's about. You know it's about giving people things that they can then use to help them change the world or express their passion or express their creativity. So this merger thing that some folks are fixated on, I don't think that's what users want." A surprising comment, considering rumours from well-connected reporter Mark Gurman of Bloomberg, who wrote the company is working on a project called "Marzipan", which involves merging the codebase of macOS and iOS apps.
Google

Google Is 'Pausing' Work On Allo In Favor 'Chat,' An RCS-Based Messaging Standard (theverge.com) 145

An anonymous reader shares an exclusive report from The Verge about Google's next big fix for Android's messaging mess: Instead of bringing a better app to the table, it's trying to change the rules of the texting game, on a global scale. Google has been quietly corralling every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting technology to replace SMS. It's going to be called "Chat," and it's based on a standard called the "Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services." SMS is the default that everybody has to fall back to, and so Google's goal is to make that default texting experience on an Android phone as good as other modern messaging apps. As part of that effort, Google says it's "pausing" work on its most recent entry into the messaging space, Allo. It's the sort of "pause" that involves transferring almost the entire team off the project and putting all its resources into another app, Android Messages. Google won't build the iMessage clone that Android fans have clamored for, but it seems to have cajoled the carriers into doing it for them. In order to have some kind of victory in messaging, Google first had to admit defeat. Some of the new features associated with Chat include read receipts, typing indicators, full-resolution images and video, and group texts. It's important to keep in mind that it's a carrier-based service, not a Google service. It won't be end-to-end encrypted, and it will follow the same legal intercept standards. The new Chat services will be switched on in the near future, but ultimately carriers will dictate exactly when Chat will go live. Also, you may be persuaded to upgrade your data plan since Chat messages will be sent with your data plan instead of your SMS plan.
Android

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence For Its Smartphones (arstechnica.com) 139

New submitter krazy1 shares a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. government is going after another Chinese Android device maker. After shutting down Huawei's carrier deals and retail partners, the government is now pursuing ZTE. The U.S. Department of Commerce has banned U.S. companies from selling parts and software to ZTE for seven years. ZTE was caught violating U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by "making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the U.S. Government," according to the Department of Commerce.

The latest news from Reuters raises even bigger issues for ZTE, though. A source told Reuters that "The Commerce Department decision means ZTE Corp may not be able to use Google's Android operating system in its mobile devices." Android is free and open source and will probably remain free for ZTE to use without Google's involvement. Reuters' source is probably referring to the Google apps, which aren't sold to device makers but are carefully licensed to them in exchange for other concessions. The Google apps package includes popular services like Gmail and Google Maps, and it also unlocks the Play Store, Google Play Services, and the entire Android app ecosystem. For a market-viable Android device, the Play Store is pretty much mandatory in every country other than China. So while ZTE could conceivably source hardware components from non-U.S. sources, being locked out of the Play Store would devastate ZTE's smartphones worldwide.

Robotics

Apple Has a New iPhone Recycling Robot Named 'Daisy' (techcrunch.com) 39

Apple has unveiled a new robot called Daisy that's designed to recycle nine different versions of the iPhone. The new robot is an update to Liam, the recycling robot the company announced back in 2016. TechCrunch reports: Daisy was developed in-house by Apple engineers, using some of Liam's parts -- a recycling of sorts. The industrial robot is able to disassemble nine different versions of the iPhone, sorting all of their reusable components in the process. In all, Daisy is capable of taking apart a full 200 iPhones in a given hour, proving a solid alternative to traditional methods that can destroy valuable components in the process. Along with Daisy, Apple's also using the occasion to announce GiveBack, an addition to its recycling program. For every device customers turn in or trade from now until April 30, the company will make a donation to Conservation International, a Virginia-based environmental nonprofit. Eligible devices will still qualify for an in-store or gift card credit.
Microsoft

Microsoft Has Run Out of Windows Phone Stock (venturebeat.com) 81

Even if you really wanted to buy a Windows phone, Microsoft has run out of Windows Phone devices to sell to you. From a report: I've been watching the number of Windows Phone options on the Microsoft Store website dwindle for over two years now. I was honestly expecting them to disappear completely more than six months ago. It's 2018, and there are still two remaining phones. Last night, they both flipped over to "out of stock." The HP Elite x3 with dock, normally $799 but on sale for $299, and the Alcatel Idol 4S, normally $299 but on sale for $99.99, are officially out of stock. The third option for $169, the Alcatel Idol 4S with VR Goggles, is of course also out of stock.
Wireless Networking

Planet Fitness Evacuated After WiFi Network Named 'Remote Detonator' Causes Scare (windsorstar.com) 168

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Windsor Star: A Michigan gym patron looking for a Wi-Fi connection found one named "remote detonator," prompting an evacuation and precautionary search of the facility by a bomb-sniffing dog. The Saginaw News reports nothing was found in the search Sunday at Planet Fitness in Saginaw Township, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) northwest of Detroit. Saginaw Township police Chief Donald Pussehl says the patron brought the Wi-Fi connection's name to the attention of a manager, who evacuated the building and called police. The gym was closed for about three hours as police responded. Pussehl says there's "no crime or threat," so no charges are expected. He notes people often have odd names for WiFi connections. Planet Fitness says the manager was following company procedure for when there's suspicion about a safety issue.
Android

Google Appears To Be Testing iPhone X-Style Gesture Navigation In Android P (androidpolice.com) 18

A new screenshot that Google recently shared (and since deleted) is stirring up theories about a possible iPhone X-like gesture navigation interface for Android P. Android Police reports: What we see is a decidedly odd navigation layout, with this short little bar in place of the expected home button, a back arrow that's now hollowed-out, and an app-switcher that seems utterly absent. So how would Google's presumably screen-only implementation work? Well, not only does that home bar look like a narrower version of the bar you'll find on the iPhone X, but we hear that the Android version may function in a quite similar way, with users swiping up to access their home screens. While we still haven't heard any details about how app switching might work with this new regime, the back button will reportedly only appear when needed, disappearing on the home screen, for example. As to other controls we can only speculate, like how you would gesture to conjure up the Google Assistant.
Businesses

Apple Sued an Independent iPhone Repair Shop Owner and Lost (vice.com) 139

Jason Koebler, reporting for Motherboard: Last year, Apple's lawyers sent Henrik Huseby, the owner of a small electronics repair shop in Norway, a letter demanding that he immediately stop using aftermarket iPhone screens at his repair business and that he pay the company a settlement. Norway's customs officials had seized a shipment of 63 iPhone 6 and 6S replacement screens on their way to Henrik's shop from Asia and alerted Apple; the company said they were counterfeit. Apple threatened to take action, unless Huseby provided the companies with copies of invoices, product lists, and a plethora of other things. The letter, sent by Frank Jorgensen, an attorney at the Njord law firm on behalf of Apple, included a settlement agreement that also notified him the screens would be destroyed. [...] Huseby decided to fight the case. Apple sued him. Local news outlets reported that Apple had five lawyers in the courtroom working on the case, but Huseby won. Apple has appealed the decision to a higher court; the court has not yet decided whether to accept the appeal.
Firefox

Firefox 11.0 For iOS Arrives With Tracking Protection On By Default (venturebeat.com) 16

The new version of Firefox 11.0 for iOS turns on tracking protection by default, lets you reorder your tabs, and adds a handful of iPad-specific features. The latest version is currently available via Apple's App Store. VentureBeat details the new features: Tracking protection means Firefox blocks website elements (ads, analytics trackers, and social share buttons) that could track you while you're surfing the web. It's almost like a built-in ad blocker, though it's really closer to browser add-ons like Ghostery and Privacy Badger because ads that don't track you are allowed through. The feature's blocking list, which is based on the tracking protection rules laid out by the anti-tracking startup Disconnect, is published under the General Public License and available on GitHub. The feature is great for privacy, but it also improves performance. Content loads faster for many websites, which translates into less data usage and better battery life. If tracking protection doesn't work well on a given site, just turn it off there and Firefox for iOS should remember your preference.

Tracking protection aside, iOS users can now reorder their tabs. Organizing your tabs is very straightforward: Long-press the specific tab and drag it either left or right. iPad users have gained two new features, as well. You can now share URLs by just dragging and dropping links to and from Firefox with any other iOS app. If you're in side-by-side view, just drag the link or tab into the other app. Otherwise, bring up the doc or app switcher, drag the link into the other app until it pulses, release the link, and the other app will open the link. Lastly, iPad users have gained a few more keyboard shorts, including the standard navigation keys from the desktop. There's also cursor navigation through the bookmarks and history results, an escape key in the URL bar, and easier tab tray navigation (try using the keyboard shortcut Command + Option + Tab to get to and from the tabs view).

Iphone

Cops Around the Country Can Now Unlock iPhones, Records Show (vice.com) 98

Law enforcement agencies across the country have purchased GrayKey, a relatively cheap tool for bypassing the encryption on iPhones, while the FBI pushes again for encryption backdoors, Motherboard reported on Thursday. From the report: FBI Director Christopher Wray recently said that law enforcement agencies are "increasingly unable to access" evidence stored on encrypted devices. Wray is not telling the whole truth. Police forces and federal agencies around the country have bought relatively cheap tools to unlock up-to-date iPhones and bypass their encryption, according to a Motherboard investigation based on several caches of internal agency documents, online records, and conversations with law enforcement officials. Many of the documents were obtained by Motherboard using public records requests.

The news highlights the going dark debate, in which law enforcement officials say they cannot access evidence against criminals. But easy access to iPhone hacking tools also hamstrings the FBI's argument for introducing backdoors into consumer devices so authorities can more readily access their contents.

Software

New Navigation App 'Live Roads' Promises 1.5m-Accuracy With Standard Cellphone Hardware (arstechnica.com) 80

Jonathan M. Gitlin from Ars Technica reviews a new navigation app called Live Roads, which promises 1.5m-accuracy via your current smartphone without the need of any extra hardware. In a nutshell, the app provides more accurate mapping/navigation than what's currently available via Google Maps or Apple Maps, but it's still not quite as accurate as a true "HD map." HD maps are accurate to within a centimeter or two and are usually made by a combination of traditional surveying and lidar scanning. Here's an excerpt from the report: A few weeks after talking with the company, I was delivered a Samsung S7 loaded with Live Roads. I'll be honest: I'm not that familiar with Android, and this isn't really a review of the app. I used it enough to check that it does what it claims, but I didn't use it as my sole method of navigation. However, this brief bit of user-testing did let me check out the claims in that email. I don't think I'd equate the app with the HD maps that autonomous vehicles will need. For one thing it's readable by a human being; for another it's not quite that accurate. But the spatial resolution was indeed better than it should be on a consumer phone, and Live Roads was able to locate me down to a specific lane on a multi-lane road. Various navigation apps give you lane-specific instructions -- for instance, telling you to stay in the middle two lanes if you're approaching a complicated intersection. Where Live Roads differs is that it can also tell which lane you're actually in. Whether this is enough of a feature to build a business model around is an open question; I'm quite happy using Google Maps on iOS, with occasional forays into Waze (running in the background to warn of speed traps) and Apple Maps (if I'm driving something with CarPlay and the infotainment's built-in navigation sucks).

But it left me wondering: how does it work? Paul Konieczny, CEO of Live Roads, gave me an explanation -- up to a point. "Primarily it is based around sensor fusion and certain probabilistic models -- we call it the Black Box," he said. "The current release of the app that is available in the Play Store has an earlier revision of our Black Box. This initial version is missing some of the functionality of the full-fledged system and thus has a spatial resolution of ~2.5m. This compares favorably to standard GPS that has a resolution of 4.0 m+." By summer, Konieczny hopes that the system will be fully operational and that accuracy will be down to under 1.5m. Assuming a large enough user base, that should let it offer lane-specific traffic data, "as well as introducing an entire ecosystem of 3D objects that users will be able to interact with," he told me.

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