Monthly Archives: May 2016

OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X will be officially available on Amazon

OnePlus today announced that its OnePlus 2 smartphone is now sold directly via Amazon UK, and can be delivered in under an hour to Amazon Prime customers. According to Android Central, the company will also partner with Amazon US, where you should soon find not just the OnePlus 2, but also the OnePlus X.

Of course, if you’re searching for the OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X on Amazon US, you can already find them. However, at the moment, the handsets are offered only by third-party vendors, which are selling them at inflated prices. Apparently, they haven’t heard that both devices are now cheaper ($299 and $199, respectively), and customers can get them at these lower prices from OnePlus.net.

Having the OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X available on Amazon should really help OnePlus in its attempt to sell as many phones as possible. Sure enough, right now, you may not be tempted to purchase any of the two devices, as the OnePlus 3 is likely going to be released in the coming months. Nevertheless, the OnePlus 2 and OnePlus x remain viable choices for anyone looking for a decent smartphone at an accessible price.

sources: OnePlus UK (Twitter), Android Central

Does this mean that the 2017 iPhone will come with an edge-to-edge display?

Apple could have a serious problem later this year. With all indications that the 2017 iPhone is going to be quite the looker, how will it get people to give the Apple iPhone 7 a second glance? That is the issue that KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo discussed earlier this year when he said that the phone wouldn’t have too many “attractive selling points.” During 2017, Apple (and many fans no doubt) will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Apple iPhone. With this milestone, Apple is expected to redesign the handset.

The 2017 iPhone is rumored to include a curved OLED screen with an edge-to-edge design. Besides bezels, the home button will also disappear. Both the button and Touch ID will be found under the display. The Nikkei Asian Review, a well respected publication, reports that the device (which might be called the Apple iPhone 8 instead of the iPhone 7s), will contain a tiny high-performance motor that will create complex tactile vibrations on the display. This would copy the current mechanical tactile feedback that iPhone users have been used to. As a result, iPhone 7s/8 buyers will still feel as though they are pressing the home button even when it is the screen that is being tapped.

Why would Apple replace the feel of the home button/Touch ID fingerprint scanner being pressed, with a digital substitute? The quick and dirty answer is that the home button is being removed. And why would Apple remove the button? So that it could create a glass screen that covers the entire front of the phone.

source: Nikkei via BGR

Are we there yet? Google Maps may soon let you share your ETA with friends

No one likes showing up late to an engagement, but even when we do our best to plan ahead and try to arrive on time, fate has a nasty habit of throwing us a curve ball. Whether we’re talking about traffic jams or public transit delays, there’s a lot that can go wrong and slow us down when we’re on our way somewhere important. But now it looks like Google Maps could be about to pick up a tool that will at least help us keep people informed as to our progress, with evidence surfacing for upcoming ETA alerts.

Yesterday we took a look at the new Google Maps v9.26.1 for Android, including updated search-along-route tools for multiple transit modes. And beyond the features that were going live in that release, we also learned about unused code in the app that appeared to reveal work on in-development features like a new “Discover” mode. It turns out those were just the tip of the iceberg, and the app’s files also include references to a new way of sharing ETA info.

The tool appears to give users the option to share both their destination and estimated time of arrival with interested parties – there’s even a mode that will let them know about the general traffic conditions (light/heavy/usual) you’re facing.

In addition to manually triggering such notification messages, the app should also have a a way to automatically send out updates throughout your journey.

Hiding within the lines of that APK are even more upcoming features just waiting to be fleshed out: warnings about accessibility, location history maps, shortcuts to frequently used destinations, and more. As always, it’s up to Google to decide on when it’s going to finish work on these abilities and make them accessible to the Maps-using public.

source: XDA-Developers via BGR

Putting a price on security: meet the $14,000 Solarin phone

Putting a price on security: meet the $14,000 Solarin phone

What’s a little peace of mind worth to you? In a world full of gated communities, unlisted phone numbers, and private security firms, people are obviously willing to pay pretty well in order to keep themselves and their information safe and secure. And with as much of our lives connected to our mobile devices as they are, it shouldn’t be any surprise that smartphone users have similarly found themselves seeking out handset solutions that put a priority on security – even if that protection comes at a serious premium. We’ve already seen this with phones like the BlackBerry Priv and Silent Circle’s Blackphone models, and now we’re learning about a new handset making bold claims of security while dangling a luxury-only price tag, as Sirin Labs reveals its Solarin phone.

The Blackphone 2 and Priv were at the upper end of flagship pricing when they both landed, but they’ve got nothing on the Android-running Solarin, which starts for around $14,000.

What does that kind of money get you? Well, Sirin Labs co-founder Moshe Gogeg is clear that his company isn’t about delivering phones that are heavy on the bling but light on features, and the Solarin instead goes with a (comparatively) reserved design free of over-the-top ornamentation. That said, there are a number of material options to choose from, each with their own look.

Instead, the emphasis is on the phone’s security. Gogeg is light on details about exactly how his handset will be markedly more secure than other Android-based “secure” phones out there, and seems to put as much emphasis on the privacy-friendly Swiss laws governing the operations at Sirin Labs as any technical measures actually hardening the phone against attack. We do know that the handset includes a number of secure messaging apps, in addition to a standard-looking assortment of Android security features.

That’s asking a lot of faith, especially with this much money on the line, and it remains to be seen both if these promises of no-compromise security will actually deliver, as well as if shoppers are quite so eager to drop this kind of cash on a secure phone.

The Solain phone runs last year’s Snapdragon 810 SoC, has a 5.5-inch 2560 X 1440 display, and a 24MP/8MP camera pair. There’s 4GB of RAM, an impressive 128GB of flash storage, and a very nicely sized 4,040mAh battery. All in all, that makes for quite the solid-sounding phone, but again – is it solid to the tune of $14,000?

source: Sirin Labs via Engadget

BlackBerry says it is working on a way for software updates to reach the unlocked AT&T Priv

For those who purchased the unlocked AT&T branded version of the BlackBerry Priv, receiving software updates requires the phone to have an AT&T SIM card placed inside. If you have the device running on another carrier, you are going to miss both security updates and the update to Android 6.0 (and future builds). The good news is that a fix is in the works.

According to a new post on the BlackBerry Knowledge Base, the company is currently working on a way to bring those with the device the latest software updates even if there isn’t an active AT&T SIM card inserted in the phone. As it is an unlocked GSM handset, a T-Mobile SIM card will run the device in the U.S.

The unlocked version of the AT&T branded Priv has been the subject of some fabulous deals including one from back in April that offered the phone for only $450. The regular price of the device is $649, which includes a $50 permanent discount that also took place in April. Assuming that many T-Mobile customers took advantage of the lower price, the good news is that their updates could soon be freed from limbo.

source: BlackBerry via Crackberry

Court: No Warrant Needed to Pull Carrier-Based Location Data

Hiking (cough – ‘Exploring’) with the Microsoft Band 2

I suppose I should start with the name – the Band 2 and the Health application call this function ‘Explore’, but that could be misinterpreted (e.g. exploring a tourist attraction or a cave or even something online!), so I’m going keep calling it the ‘hiking’ tile, as that gets the sense of it over best, I’m sure you won’t mind!

Health/Explore Band 2 in action

It’s a perfectly vaild question to ask what was wrong with the ‘Run’ tile – after all, isn’t the difference between a run and a hike just a question of speed? Which is true in a way, but the monitoring software (in the Band) has a slightly different job to do.

The most important is to eke the Band 2’s battery out longer, meaning that it has to check heart rate and GPS less often (every fifteen seconds at a guess – it’s hard to tell exactly since the act of powering on the screen to check is artificial!). But there are other functions which might be of use to someone walking (and not running):

  • an approximate ‘moving map’ showing your GPS track in that hiking session
  • the ability to set points of interest (e.g. a bridge or picnic site or whatever)

Both aimed at helping you find your way back to your starting point and finding stuff again later on, on a map. You wouldn’t have time to use either of these extra functions on a run, in all probability, at least not if you were a serious runner – I suspect that casual joggers may find that the ‘Explore’ tile here has uses after all!

Here’s the ideal scenario for the tracking feature:

Health/Explore Band 2 in action

I’ve tried doing my own tracks and photographs thereof, on my Band 2, though they involve more straight lines and less obvious ‘out on the trails’ artistry, plus the +/- zoom control is very coarse – it’s either in or out, I’m sure Microsoft will fix this in an update. Here’s an example from one of my own walks, it’s nowhere near as ‘obvious'(!), not helped by the lack of visibility of the relatively weak AMOLED screen out in the sun:

Tracking

The ‘Explore’ feature and its UI are optimised for longer hikes, I think, many hours and over many miles. Which is fair enough, Microsoft, only a writer like me would be testing this thing around a local beauty spot that it’s impossible to get lost in! Real world users would be out in the wilds somewhere?

Mid-point!

Setting a ‘point of interest’ (here the observation stage by the lake) is done by powering on the Band 2 screen with the main (centre) button and then double pressing the (right) action button. This prompts the creation of a point of interest with a simple ‘Y/N’ tapped response. You’ll see what becomes of these later on, though they can in theory be used, in conjunction with the track view itself to find your way back to a particular spot, as shown off so well in the video promo at the bottom of this feature.

In addition to the ‘track’ view, there are the same statistics for your activity as when running, in terms of duration, distance peak and average heart rates, and so on. You can bring up the screen and swipe from side to side to see the various views and, when your hike is over, there’s a big ‘End session’ button that you have to remember to swipe to and tap unless you want all your stats to be skewed by the two hours down the pub after the walk!

Of course, it all gets synced to Microsoft Health on your Windows 10 Mobile (or Android or iOS) phone the next time you boot up this application. There’s no real server-side analysis needed, since Health and the phone have all the data they need, so you can dive into the stats immediately (unlike with, for example, the sleep tracking, which seems to take a fair few minutes while Microsoft’s servers take a look at your heart rate and other sensor information from the previous night).

Here’s a walkthrough of the Microsoft Health presentation after my mile or two round our local beauty spot (spoiler: most of it isn’t that beautiful, don’t make the trip specially!)

The ‘Explore’/hiking tile appears in the main strip of activities, of course, with distance covered per day (just as with running):

Health/Explore screenshot

A single tap through and there’s much more information:

Health/Explore screenshot

The share icon, top right, indicates that your hike is easily shareable (via a public Microsoft Health dashboard online), then you can swipe up to go through all the usual essential stats. The mini-map overview is pretty and well-annotated, but you can see it in much more detail by tapping on it directly:

Health/Explore screenshot

Now this park is well known to me and, considering that ‘GPS Power Saver’ is always on when hiking (to keep battery life decent), I was surprised that the track was so (relatively) accurate. The map’s zoomable in the usual multi-touch way too, though do allow a few moments for all the aerial imagery to come in from Microsoft’s map servers:

Health/Explore screenshot

Here, my walk comprised:

  • entering the park (at which point the Band 2 finally acquired GPS lock) and adding a point of interest marker (‘1’)
  • climbing a small hillock (marked as a ‘peak altitude’ blue icon above)
  • a pause to take photos (the pause icon in blue above)
  • marking a bridge with a point of interest marker (‘2’)
  • marking the next bridge with another point of interest marker (‘3’)
  • climbing to the highest point in the park (marked as another ‘peak altitude’ blue icon above)
  • stopping lake-side to take photos and mark another point of interest marker (‘4’)
  • return to the actual starting point of the walk

The mapping of all the various elements onto the aerial imagery is very good indeed considering that the GPS was only being used in a pulsed mode and considering the usual slight mismatches between (3D) GPS coordinates and 2D mapping.

Zooming right in on the map gives a clue as to the granularity of this tracking in the hiking GPS power saving mode. Fixes are often about every 10-30 metres or so (depending on how fast you’re walking!) and joined with straight lines but, on a decent walk or hike this level of approximation is absolutely fine. The screengrab below, shown with the map view zoomed right in, is probably worst case and even then you can make out that I went to the side of the lake, wandered off to the right to shoot a photo and then resumed my walk in a SW direction:

Health/Explore screenshot

These tracks and POIs can all be exported from the Microsoft Health web dashboard, by the way, but that’ll be another article for the future – here I’m just covering what you can do and see on the phone and Band 2 itself.

Then there are the other stats and views, with some rather nice illustrations of your sampled heart rate throughout the walk, showing where you put in the most effort (e.g. going up an incline):

Health/Explore screenshot

The Band 2 is also logging altitude and this forms another interesting view of the hike, and with the helpful addition of your points of interest, laid out in linear fashion:

Health/Explore screenshot

You’ve probably gathered by now that I’m enthusiastic about the ‘Explore’ tile, it’s already my most used tile on the Band 2 (I’m not big on weight-lifting and other gym-based exercise, I don’t play golf, and the thought of swiping past emails and even texts on the tiny screen isn’t a pleasant one) and has given the wearable a new lease of life (for me).

Comments welcome – have you used this function yet on a decent length hike? The specifications show that the Band 2, fully charged in the morning, should be able to log GPS data all ‘day’ (“12 hours” is quoted) in this power saving mode – does your experience bear this out?

PS. The ‘Explore’ tile isn’t available for the original Microsoft Band, presumably because its hardware and firmware don’t support sufficient GPS power saving to last for a day’s hike. The original Band wasn’t much more than a prototype though, as I said at the time – the Band 2 is a much more polished product.

PPS. Just for completeness – and because I like it so much – here’s the original Microsoft promo video for the Band 2 and the new ‘Explore’ tile:

Rumours of Windows 10 Mobile’s death ‘have been greatly exagerated’

You’ve seen the headlines over the last 12 months, since Nadella’s refocussing. “Windows Phone is now dead” and “Microsoft’s gives up smartphone plans”, that sort of thing. Will we still be reading the same headlines at Christmas 2016? How much longer can journalists keep saying something’s dead and buried before someone sticks their hand up and says “Hang on, if this thing really is dead then why do you keep on writing about it?” 

The truth is that the tech media loves to see something/somebody in trouble and to then pile on the hate. It’s a sure fire way to pile on the traffic and clicks. And because of its past dominance and corporate attitudes, Microsoft is a fond target for criticism. But the tech media are (in part) missing the big picture. And will therefore be surprised by the various Windows 10-running phones that keep popping up between now and Christmas.

Although this is fundamentally an apologetics piece, I’m not blind to the realities of the consumer smartphone space. I’m often seen out and about with an Android phone and Rafe usually has an iPhone in this pocket (don’t worry, we each have multiple SIMs and multiple pockets, so I have a Lumia 950 on me at all times and I believe Rafe still uses a Lumia 830 as his ‘personal’ phone).

Back in 2011 at that infamously badly orchestrated Mobile World Congress press event, Nokia chose to go all-in on “Windows Phone” (they should, in my opinion, have developed Meego more and wound Symbian down a lot more gradually, but let’s not go there again!), with the aim of helping Microsoft’s new rewritten OS and interface become the ‘third ecosystem’, a valid competitor to iOS and Android. The strategy was to produce a wide range of ‘Lumias’ across all price points, a scatter-gun approach if you will. 

Over time, it became apparent that, at the top end, only die-hard enthusiasts (raise your hand, gentle reader) were buying the top-end Lumias (and usually for the imaging capabilities) – most people with £500+ to spend were opting for iPhones and flagship Samsung Galaxy devices. The only real success in terms of sales numbers was at the low end, where the responsiveness of the Lumia 520, 630 and then 640 with Windows Phone 8.1 impressed on a £100 pay-as-you-go phone, compared to the Android competition of the time. 

Nokia Lumia 520 and 620

Sadly, there’s very little profit at the budget end of the market and you can see where this was going to end up, can’t you? Famously, Nokia started running into financial trouble, so Microsoft stepped in to buy the Devices division to ensure that the dominant devices using its mobile OS would carry on being made and supported.

Only a short term solution, of course, since the Windows Phone 8.1 space wasn’t exact generating any profit for Microsoft. If the platforms had stayed they were in 2014 then 8.1 would have been shot in the head by now and Microsoft would have given up on a first party mobile OS forever.

But that’s not what happened.

Windows 10 is a whole new vision, a new OS, a new concept, one of the most ambitious the computing world has seen, I’d argue. One operating system and application suite, kept patched up to date forever, as a service, and running on everything from augmented reality visors to tablets to Xbox consoles to laptops to desktops and, yes, to phones. In fact, the phone OS images and updates are now kept pretty much in lockstep with the Intel-compiled images and updates supplied to laptops across the world.

Windows 10 Mobile is integral to Microsoft’s intentions with Windows 10 and it’s not a massive amount of effort needed to keep this SKU going. Admittedly there’s quite a bit of fiddling about with sorting out phone-specific drivers and pushing the right language and custom-app versions to the right network variants across the world, but the core software is the same as on the desktop and it’s not a totally separate venture – think about the size of Google’s Android team or Apple’s iOS team – here Microsoft can easily leverage existing work being done by the central Windows 10 team.

Windows 10

It’s important to draw a distinction between this OS, i.e. Windows 10 (Mobile), and Lumias, i.e. Microsoft first party hardware. One can be going strong while the other falters. With the latest sell-offs (of the feature phone business) and layoffs (from the redundant Lumia manufacturing capability), along with the prospect of no new Lumia devices, it’s clear that, despite Microsoft’s statement about supporting all current customers with Lumias, the first party hardware plans have been severely curtailed. For the time being, at least.

Yet, just because Microsoft is not planning any more first party Windows 10 Mobile phones for the rest of 2016 doesn’t mean the OS is dead. far from it – the schedule for the Redstone ‘Anniversary Update’ release is going ahead this summer on time (along with the desktop/Xbox and more), ditto the schedule for the Redstone 2 release in 2017. It’s just that new devices from now on in 2016 will have to come from Microsoft’s partners.

You may think I’m splitting hairs. I’m not – Windows 10 Mobile does not equal ‘Lumia’. And the sooner that message gets out into the blogosphere and tech world, the better. Maybe the headlines will change, at least?

And, just as Microsoft has stated, time and time again, their support for all current customers with Lumias (still in the many tens of millions), so AAWP will be unstinting in bringing you reviews of new apps, services and, yes, even devices through the rest of 2016….

Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Wear 1100 processor launches for low-power wearables

Mobile hardware isn’t one-size-fits-all, and different device form factors have differing needs when it comes to processing power, thermal limits, and battery consumption. That’s especially true when we’re dealing with the constraints inherent to wearables, yet so far many of the most popular smartwatches have been based around chips initially designed for larger phones. Earlier this year we learned about Qualcomm’s efforts to finally do something about that, announcing the Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC – one engineered with the specific needs of wearables in mind. Now Qualcomm’s sharing word of its latest entry in the new Snapdragon Wear family, its new 1100 chip.

Like the 2100 before it, the main benefits of the Snapdragon Wear 1100 are its low power consumption and small physical size.

But while the 2100 is intended for more general-purpose wearables like smartwatches, Qualcomm is positioning the 1100 for slightly lower-demand use cases such as fitness trackers, notification bands, and other applications where the 2100 might be overkill.

Don’t let those suggested product types have you thinking that the Snapdragon Wear 1100 is underpowered; the chip boasts features like hardware security (for possible mobile payment purposes) and an advanced location-tracking engine.

We’re not yet sure who will be the first manufacturers to build wearables around the 1100, but we shouldn’t have to wait long to find out; Qualcomm reports that the chip is available for use immediately, and is shipping to interested companies as of today.

source: Qualcomm via Pocketnow

Apple is sued by Caltech over the use of four Wi-Fi patents

Just the other day, we told you that Apple’s legal team had its hands full with portfolio holding company VirnetX. The latter had won a jury award of $625 million against Apple, and was seeking an additional $190 million. It also asked the judge to force Apple to shut down its iMessage and FaceTime features.

Now, Apple’s attorney’s are being called on again to defend the company in another patent infringement case. California Institute of Technology, known as Caltech, is suing both Apple and chipmaker Broadcom over the use of four patents relating to Wi-Fi. According to the suit, a Broadcom chip used in all Apple devices since the Apple iPhone 5, copies certain Caltech technology. As a result, the school is seeking damages and a ban on the devices using the chip.

Apple’s legal team will have its work cut out for it. While Broadcom is the company that produced the infringing chip, Apple is its largest customer accounting for 14% of the firm’s revenue. In addition, the jury isn’t likely to lump a school like Caltech in with odious patent trolls.

Considering that Broadcom’s chips are crucial for Apple’s devices to connect with 802.11n and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, it might be in Apple’s best interests to cut a check quickly to settle the matter before a jury sympathetic to Caltech gets its hands on the case.

source: TheVerge via Engadget