Android

Google Says 64 Percent of Chrome Traffic On Android Now Protected With HTTPS, 75 Percent On Mac, 66 Percent On Windows (techcrunch.com) 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Google's push to make the web more secure by flagging sites using insecure HTTP connections appears to be working. The company announced today that 64 percent of Chrome traffic on Android is now protected, up 42 percent from a year ago. In addition, over 75 percent of Chrome traffic on both ChromeOS and Mac is now protected, up from 60 percent on Mac and 67 percent on ChromeOS a year ago. Windows traffic is up to 66 percent from 51 percent. Google also notes that 71 of the top 100 websites now use HTTPS by default, up from 37 percent a year ago. In the U.S., HTTPS usage in Chrome is up from 59 percent to 73 percent. Combined, these metrics paint a picture of fairly rapid progress in the switchover to HTTPS. This is something that Google has been heavily pushing by flagging and pressuring sites that hadn't yet adopted HTTPS.
Google

How Google's Pixel 2 'Now Playing' Song Identification Works (venturebeat.com) 122

An anonymous reader shares a report from VentureBeat, written by Emil Protalinski: The most interesting Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL feature, to me, is Now Playing. If you've ever used Shazam or SoundHound, you probably understand the basics: The app uses your device's microphone to capture an audio sample and creates an acoustic fingerprint to compare against a central song database. If a match is found, information such as the song title and artist are sent back to the user. Now Playing achieves this with two important differentiators. First, Now Playing detects songs automatically without you explicitly asking -- the feature works when your phone is locked and the information is displayed on the Pixel 2's lock screen (you'll eventually be able to ask Google Assistant what's currently playing, but not yet). Secondly, it's an on-device and local feature: Now Playing functions completely offline (we tested this, and indeed it works with mobile data and Wi-Fi turned off). No audio is ever sent to Google.
Programming

Profile of William H. Alsup, a Judge Who Codes and Decides Tech's Biggest Cases (theverge.com) 48

Sarah Jeong at The Verge has an interesting profile of William H. Alsup, the judge in Oracle v. Google case, who to many's surprise was able to comment on the technical issues that Oracle and Google were fighting about. Alsup admits that he learned the Java programming language only so that he could better understand the substance of the case. Here's an excerpt from the interview: On May 18th, 2012, attorneys for Oracle and Google were battling over nine lines of code in a hearing before Judge William H. Alsup of the northern district of California. The first jury trial in Oracle v. Google, the fight over whether Google had hijacked code from Oracle for its Android system, was wrapping up. The argument centered on a function called rangeCheck. Of all the lines of code that Oracle had tested -- 15 million in total -- these were the only ones that were "literally" copied. Every keystroke, a perfect duplicate. It was in Oracle's interest to play up the significance of rangeCheck as much as possible, and David Boies, Oracle's lawyer, began to argue that Google had copied rangeCheck so that it could take Android to market more quickly. Judge Alsup was not buying it. "I couldn't have told you the first thing about Java before this trial," said the judge. "But, I have done and still do a lot of programming myself in other languages. I have written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times or more. I could do it. You could do it. It is so simple." It was an offhand comment that would snowball out of control, much to Alsup's chagrin. It was first repeated among lawyers and legal wonks, then by tech publications. With every repetition, Alsup's skill grew, until eventually he became "the judge who learned Java" -- Alsup the programmer, the black-robed nerd hero, the 10x judge, the "master of the court and of Java."
Android

Samsung To Let Proper Linux Distros Run on Galaxy Smartphones (theregister.co.uk) 218

An anonymous reader shares a report: Samsung has announced it will soon become possible to run actual proper Linux on its Note8, Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones -- and even Linux desktops. Yeah, yeah, we know Android is built on Linux, but you know what we mean. Samsung said it's working on an app called "Linux on Galaxy" that will let users "run their preferred Linux distribution on their smartphones utilizing the same Linux kernel that powers the Android OS." "Whenever they need to use a function that is not available on the smartphone OS, users can simply switch to the app and run any program they need to in a Linux OS environment," Samsung says. The app also allows multiple OSes to run on a device. Linux desktops will become available if users plug their phones into the DeX Station, the device that lets a Galaxy 8 run a Samsung-created desktop-like environment when connected to the DeX and an external monitor.
Android

ZTE Launches Axon M, a Foldable, Dual-Screened Smartphone (theverge.com) 61

ZTE's new Axon M is a full-featured smartphone with a hinge that connects two full-size displays, making the Axon M a flip phone of sorts. "Its front screen is a 5.2-inch, 1080p panel, it has last year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 20-megapixel camera," reports The Verge. "But flip the phone over and there's an identical 5.2-inch display on the back, making the Axon M anything but run-of-the-mill." From the report: The M's hinge allows the rear screen to flip forward and slot right next to the main display, creating an almost tablet sized canvas. You can stretch the home screen and apps across the two displays for a larger working area, or you can run two different apps at the same time, one on each screen. You can also "tent" the phone, and mirror the displays so two people can see the same content at the same time. ZTE says that it is utilizing Android's default split-screen features to enable many of the dual-screen functions, and it has made sure the "top 100" Android apps work on the phone. In the "extended" mode, which stretches a single app across both screens, the tablet version of the app is presented (provided there is one, which isn't always a guarantee with Android apps). It's even possible to stream video on both screens at the same time and switch the audio between them on the fly, which might be useful if you want to watch a sports game and YouTube at the same time, I guess.
Android

Android Oreo Helps Google's Pixel 2 Smartphones Outperform Other Android Flagships (hothardware.com) 86

MojoKid highlights Hot Hardware's review of Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones: Google officially launched it's Pixel 2 phones today, taking the wraps off third-party reviews. Designed by Google but manufactured by HTC (Pixel 2) and LG (Pixel 2 XL), the two new handsets also boast Google's latest Android 8.0 operating system, aka Oreo, an exclusive to Google Pixel and certain Nexus devices currently. And in some ways, this is also a big advantage. Though they are based on the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor as many other Android devices, Google's new Pixel 2s manage to outpace similarly configured smartphones in certain benchmarks by significant margins (Basemark, PCMark and 3DMark). They also boot dramatically faster than any other Android handset on the market, in as little as 10 seconds. Camera performance is also excellent, with both the 5-inch Pixel 2 and 6-inch Pixel 2 XL sporting identical electronics, save for their displays and chassis sizes. Another notable feature built into Android Oreo is Google Now Playing, an always-listening, Shazam-like service (if you enable it) that displays song titles on the lock screen if it picks up on music playing in the room you're in. Processing is done right on the Pixel 2 and it doesn't need network connectivity. Another Pixel 2 Oreo-based trick is Google Lens, a machine vision system that Google notes "can recognize places like landmarks and buildings, artwork that you'd find in a museum, media covers such as books, movies, music albums, and video games..." The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are available now on Verizon or unlocked via the Google Store starting at $649 and $849 respectively for 64GB storage versions, with a $100 up-charge for 128GB variants.
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, Movie Studios Sue Over TickBox Streaming Device (arstechnica.com) 130

Movies studios, Netflix, and Amazon have teamed up to file a lawsuit against a streaming media player called TickBox TV. The device in question runs Kodi on top of Android 6.0, and searches the internet for streams that it can make available to users without actually hosting any of the content itself. An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The complaint (PDF), filed Friday, says the TickBox devices are nothing more than "tool[s] for mass infringement," which operate by grabbing pirated video streams from the Internet. The lawsuit was filed by Amazon and Netflix Studios, along with six big movie studios that make up the Motion Picture Association of America: Universal, Columbia, Disney, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.

"What TickBox actually sells is nothing less than illegal access to Plaintiffs' copyrighted content," write the plaintiffs' lawyers. "TickBox TV uses software to link TickBox's customers to infringing content on the Internet. When those customers use TickBox TV as Defendant intends and instructs, they have nearly instantaneous access to multiple sources that stream Plaintiffs' Copyrighted Works without authorization." The device's marketing materials let users know the box is meant to replace paid-for content, with "a wink and a nod," by predicting that prospective customers who currently pay for Amazon Video, Netflix, or Hulu will find that "you no longer need those subscriptions." The lawsuit shows that Amazon and Netflix, two Internet companies that are relatively new to the entertainment business, are more than willing to join together with movie studios to go after businesses that grab their content.

United States

Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody's Counting (bloomberg.com) 411

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Over the past two years, after decades of declining deaths on the road, U.S. traffic fatalities surged by 14.4 percent. In 2016 alone, more than 100 people died every day in or near vehicles in America, the first time the country has passed that grim toll in a decade. Regulators, meanwhile, still have no good idea why crash-related deaths are spiking: People are driving longer distances but not tremendously so; total miles were up just 2.2 percent last year. Collectively, we seemed to be speeding and drinking a little more, but not much more than usual. Together, experts say these upticks don't explain the surge in road deaths. There are however three big clues, and they don't rest along the highway. One, as you may have guessed, is the substantial increase in smartphone use by U.S. drivers as they drive. From 2014 to 2016, the share of Americans who owned an iPhone, Android phone, or something comparable rose from 75 percent to 81 percent. The second is the changing way in which Americans use their phones while they drive. These days, we're pretty much done talking. Texting, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are the order of the day -- all activities that require far more attention than simply holding a gadget to your ear or responding to a disembodied voice. By 2015, almost 70 percent of Americans were using their phones to share photos and follow news events via social media. In just two additional years, that figure has jumped to 80 percent.
Android

Essential Is Getting Sued For Allegedly Stealing Wireless Connector Technology (gizmodo.com) 43

"Keyssa, a wireless technology company backed by iPod creator and Nest founder Tony Fadell, filed a lawsuit against Essential on Monday, alleging that the company stole trade secrets and breached their nondisclosure agreement," reports Gizmodo. Keyssa has proprietary technology that reportedly lets users transfer large files in a matter of seconds by holding two devices side by side. From the report: According to the lawsuit, Keyssa and Essential engaged in conversations in which the wireless tech company "divulged to Essential proprietary technology enabling every facet of Keyssa's wireless connectivity," all of which was protected under a non-disclosure agreement. More specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Keyssa "deployed a team 20 of its top engineers and scientists" to educate Essential on its proprietary tech, sending them "many thousands of confidential emails, hundreds of confidential technical documents, and dozens of confidential presentations." Essential ended this relationship after over 10 months and later told Keyssa that its engineers would use a competing chip in the Essential Phone. But Keyssa is accusing Essential of including techniques in its phone that were gleaned from their relationship, despite their confidentiality agreement. Central to this lawsuit is one of the Essential Phone's key selling points: the option to swap in modular add-ons, made possible thanks to the phone's unique cordless connector. In short, if Keyssa's claims hold water, then one of the phone's defining factors is a product of theft.
Microsoft

Microsoft Has Already Fixed the Wi-Fi Attack Vulnerability; Android Will Be Patched Within Weeks (theverge.com) 135

Microsoft says it has already fixed the problem for customers running supported versions of Windows. From a report: "We have released a security update to address this issue," says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. "Customers who apply the update, or have automatic updates enabled, will be protected. We continue to encourage customers to turn on automatic updates to help ensure they are protected." Microsoft is planning to publish details of the update later today. While it looks like Android and Linux devices are affected by the worst part of the vulnerabilities, allowing attackers to manipulate websites, Google has promised a fix for affected devices "in the coming weeks." Google's own Pixel devices will be the first to receive fixes with security patch level of November 6, 2017, but most other handsets are still well behind even the latest updates. Security researchers claim 41 percent of Android devices are vulnerable to an "exceptionally devastating" variant of the Wi-Fi attack that involves manipulating traffic, and it will take time to patch older devices.
Input Devices

What Will Replace Computer Keyboards? (xconomy.com) 302

jeffengel writes:Computer keyboards will be phased out over the next 20 years, and we should think carefully about what replaces them as the dominant mode of communicating with machines, argues Android co-founder Rich Miner. Virtual reality technology and brain-computer links -- whose advocates include Elon Musk -- could lead to a "dystopian" future where people live their lives inside of goggles, or they jack directly into computers and become completely "de-personalized," Miner worries.

He takes a more "humanistic" view of the future of human-machine interfaces, one that frees us to be more expressive and requires computers to communicate on our level, not the other way around. That means software that can understand our speech, facial expressions, gestures, and handwriting. These technologies already exist, but have a lot of room for improvement.

One example he gives is holding up your hand to pause a video.
Google

Google Slashes Prices of Its USB-C Headphone Dongle Following Minor Outrage (mashable.com) 198

At its hardware event last week, Google unveiled its two new flagship smartphones: the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. While these devices feature high-end specifications and the latest version of Android, they both lack headphone jacks, upsetting many consumers who still rely heavily on wired headphones. To add insult to injury, Google announced a USB-C adapter for a whopping price of $20 -- that's $11 more than Apple's Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. This resulted in some minor outrage and caused Google to rethink its decision(s). As reported by 9to5Google, Google decided to slash the price of the dongle by over 50%. It is now priced at a more reasonable $9.
Iphone

Apple To Ditch Touch ID Altogether For All of Next Year's iPhones (macrumors.com) 135

Earlier this week, a report said that Apple is planning to equip next year's iPad Pro with the hardware necessary for Face ID. Now, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, it appears the company is taking that one step further with its 2018 iPhones. All of the iPhones Apple plans to produce next year will reportedly abandon the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in favor of facial recognition. Mac Rumors reports: According to Kuo, Apple will embrace Face ID as its authentication method for a competitive advantage over Android smartphones. Kuo has previously said that it could take years for Android smartphone manufacturers to produce technology that can match the TrueDepth camera and the Face ID feature coming in the iPhone X. Face ID, says Kuo, will continue to be a major selling point of the new iPhone models in 2018, with Apple planning to capitalize on its lead in 3D sensing design and production. Kuo's prediction suggests that all upcoming 2018 iPhones will feature a full-screen design with minimal bezels like the iPhone X, meaning no additional models with the iPhone 8/iPhone 8 Plus design would be produced. That would spell the end of the line for Touch ID in the iPhone, which has been available as a biometric authentication option since 2013.
Google

Google Is Really Good At Design 187

Joshua Topolsky, writing for The Outline: The stuff Google showed off on October 4 was brazenly designed and strangely, invitingly touchable. These gadgets were soft, colorful... delightful? They looked human, but like something future humans had made; people who'd gotten righteously drunk with aliens. You could imagine them in your living room, your den, your bedroom. Your teleportation chamber. A fuzzy little donut you can have a conversation with. A VR headset in stunning pink. A phone with playful pops of color and an interface that seems to presage what you want, when you want it. It's weird. It's subtle. It's... good. It's Google? It's Google.

It was only a few years ago that Google was actually something of a laughing stock when it came to design. As an aggressively engineer-led company, the Mountain View behemoth's early efforts, particularly with its mobile software and devices, focused not on beauty, elegance, or simplicity, but rather concentrated on flexibility, iteration, and scale. These are useful priorities for a utilitarian search engine, but didn't translate well to many of the company's other products. Design -- the mysterious intersection of art and communication -- was a second-class citizen at Google, subordinate to The Data. That much was clear from the top down.

Enter Matias Duarte, the design impresario who was responsible for the Sidekick's UI (a wacky, yet strangely prescient mobile-everything concept) and later, the revolutionary (though ill-fated) webOS -- the striking mobile operating system and design language that would be Palm's final, valiant attempt at reclaiming the mobile market. Duarte was hired by Google in 2013 (initially as Android's User Experience Director, though he is now VP of design at the company), and spearheaded a complete reset of the company's visual and functional instincts. But even Duarte was aware of the design challenges his new role presented. "I never thought I'd work for Google," he told Surface Magazine in August. "I had zero ambition to work for Google. Everybody knew Google was a terrible place for design." Duarte went to work on a system that would ultimately be dubbed Material Design -- a set of principles that not only began to dictate how Android should look and work as a mobile operating system, but also triggered the march toward a unified system of design that slowly but surely pulled Google's disparate network of services into something that much more closely resembled a singular vision. A school of thought. A family.
Google

Google Permanently Disables Touch Function On All Home Minis Due To Privacy Concerns (bbc.co.uk) 48

Big Hairy Ian shares a report from BBC: Google has stopped its Home Mini speakers responding when users touch them. It permanently turned off the touch activation feature after it found that sensors primed to spot a finger tap were too sensitive. Early users found that the touch sensors were registering "phantom" touches that turned them on. This meant the speakers were recording everything around them thousands of times a day. Google said it disabled the feature to give users "peace of mind." Google's Home Mini gadgets were unveiled on October 4th as part of a revamp of its line of smart speakers. The intelligent assistant feature on it could be activated two ways -- by either saying "OK, Google" or by tapping the surface. About 4,000 Google Home Mini units were distributed to early reviewers and those who attended Google's most recent launch event. Artem Russakovskii from Android Police first discovered the issue with his unit, ultimately causing Google to "permanently [nerf] all Home Minis" because his spied on everything he said 24/7.
Android

Down the Rabbit Hole With a BLU Phone Infection (threatpost.com) 43

msm1267 writes: BLU phones, marketed as affordable Android devices, have recently been pulled from Amazon and other retailers after allegations the devices were infected with spyware and posed a privacy threat to users. This is the tale of one such victim who purchased 11 devices that instantaneously began serving pop-up ads and downloading unwanted applications. The phones were analyzed and the root of the issue in this case was uncovered.
Android

Is the Chromebook the New Android Tablet? (computerworld.com) 182

An anonymous reader shares a report from Computerworld, where JR Raphael makes the case for why it's time to call the Chromebook the new Android tablet: What does a traditional Android tablet do that a convertible Chromebook doesn't? No matter how long you mull, it's tough to come up with much. Nowadays, a Chromebook runs the same apps from the same Google Play Store. It has an increasingly similar user interface, with a new touch-friendly and Android-reminiscent app launcher rolling out as we speak. It's likely to have an Android-like way of getting around the system before long, too, not to mention native integration of the Google Assistant (which is launching with the newly announced Pixelbook and then presumably spreading to other devices from there). But on top of all of that, a Chromebook offers meaningful advantages a traditional Android tablet simply can't match. It operates within the fast-booting, inherently secure, and free from manufacturer- or carrier-meddling Chrome OS environment. The operating system is updated every two to three weeks, directly by Google, for a minimum of five years. That's a sharp contrast to the software realities we see on Android -- and if you think the updates on Android phones are bad, let me tell you: The situation with Android tablets is worse.

In addition to the regular selection of Android apps, a Chromebook also gives you a desktop-caliber browser experience along with a laptop-level keyboard and capable trackpad. (And, as a side perk, that means you've got a built-in multi-mode stand for your tablet, too.) It's the best of both worlds, as I've put it before -- a whole new kind of platform-defying, all-purpose productivity and entertainment machine. And while it won't immediately lead to the outright extinction of traditional Android tablets, it certainly makes them seem like a watered-down and obsolete version of the same basic experience.

Android

Failed Palo Alto Startup Pivots From Trying To Be an 'Android Killer' To Self-driving Tech (bizjournals.com) 71

A Palo Alto startup that stopped trying to be an "Android killer" last year after raising $185 million has apparently pivoted to developing autonomous vehicle technology. From a report: The company now known as Cyngn has changed its name from Cyanogen and recently got a permit to test its self-driving tech on California roads, according to a report Wednesday on Axios. It's being led by Lior Tal, the former chief operating officer who took over as CEO last fall when Kirt McMaster left. The rest of the startup's current team of about 30 people appear to have joined since the strategy shift, Axios reported, citing LinkedIn records. Some of them are former Facebook people, like Tal, and alumni of automakers who include Mercedes-Benz. No new funding has been disclosed for the reinvented company. It lists on its website investors who backed it before it pivoted, including Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Index Ventures, Qualcomm and Chinese social networking company Tencent. The company was the center of acquisition talk in 2014, when companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung and Yahoo expressed interest in the company.
Operating Systems

OxygenOS Telemetry Lets OnePlus Tie Phones To Individual Users (bleepingcomputer.com) 164

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: OxygenOS, a custom version of the Android operating system that comes installed on all OnePlus smartphones, is tracking users actions without anonymizing data, allowing OnePlus to connect each phone to its customer. A security researcher going by the pseudonym of Tux discovered the abusive tracking in July 2016, but his tweet went largely unnoticed in the daily sea of security tweets sent out each day. The data collection issue was brought up to everyone's attention again, today, after British security researcher Christopher Moore published the results of a recent study on his site.

Just like Tux, Moore discovered that OxygenOS was sending regular telemetry to OnePlus' servers. This is no issue of concern, as almost all applications these days collect telemetry data for market analytics and to identify and debug application flaws. The problem is that OnePlus is not anonymizing this information. The Shenzhen-based Chinese smartphone company is collecting a long list of details, such as: IMEI code, IMSI code, ESSID and BSSID wireless network identifiers, and more. The data collection process cannot be disabled from anywhere in the phone's settings. When Moore contacted OnePlus support, the company did not provide a suitable answer for his queries.

Google

Google Paid $7.2 Billion Last Year To Partners, Including Apple, To Prominently Showcase Its Search Engine and Apps on Smartphones (bloomberg.com) 57

A reader shares a Bloomberg report: There's a $19 billion black box inside Google. That's the yearly amount Google pays to companies that help generate its advertising sales, from the websites lined with Google-served ads to Apple and others that plant Google's search box or apps in prominent spots. Investors are obsessed with this money, called traffic acquisition costs, and they're particularly worried about the growing slice of those payments going to Apple and Google's Android allies. That chunk of fees now amounts to 11 percent of revenue for Google's internet properties. The figure was 7 percent in 2012. These Google traffic fees are the result of contractual arrangements parent company Alphabet makes to ensure its dominance. The company pays Apple to make Google the built-in option for web searches on Apple's Safari browsers for Mac computers, iPhones and other places. Google also pays companies that make Android smartphones and the phone companies that sell those phones to make sure its search box is front and center and to ensure its apps such as YouTube and Chrome are included in smartphones. In the last year, Google has paid these partners $7.2 billion, more than three times the comparable cost in 2012.

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