Archive | 2:49 pm

Apple set to launch cloud-based music service ahead of Google

22 Apr

It’s the rumor that wouldn’t die, and Reuters is now reporting that Apple is finally set to launch a cloud-based music service — presumably putting its massive North Carolina data center to some real work at long last.

Details are still fairly light beyond that, but Reuters says that Apple’s service will actually launch ahead of Google’s similar cloud-based option, which it reports is now “stalled,” citing “several people familiar with both companies plans.”

According to Reuters, the service will let folks store their music (and only music, apparently) on Apple’s servers and then access it on any device with an internet connection — and a copy of iTunes, we presume.

Electronic Gadgets

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Sony Ericsson slaps Walkman logo on X8, renames it W8

22 Apr

Take one Xperia X8, add a dash of color, paint a “W” on it and, voilà, you have the first Walkman phone running Android — the W8 electronic gadgets. We’re not seeing it on the US Sony Ericsson site yet, but a quick visit to the company’s German page reveals the decidedly low-end specs:

a 3-inch, 320 x 480 touchscreen, a 600MHz processor, 168MB of RAM and Android 2.1. The W8 may not recapture the luster the Walkman brand enjoyed in its TPS-L2 heyday, but at least it’ll update your Twitter status. Gallery below.

Source from Engadget

Razer’s Hydra Motion Controller Gets Priced And Dated

22 Apr

We first saw the Hydra, then called the Sixense (after the company that originally developed it) back at CES 2010 almost a year and a half ago. I was impressed with it then, as it felt more natural and responsive than a Wiimote (what doesn’t now?), and used a genuinely different and powerful technology. It’s based on magnetic detection of the controller, instead of optical, and it felt great then, though they had some work to do on latency. It seems like they’ve finished polishing it off, because it’s headed our way in June.

It’ll detect position and rotation quite accurately, and each Wii Nunchuk-like controller has an analog stick and four buttons.

The Hydra controller tech gadgets will be open for pre-orders in May, and it comes in a special Portal 2 bundle; they actually worked with Valve to make this thing work extra well with Portal 2, and have done so (they told me back in the day) with a number of other big games and developers. It says 125 games are compatible out of the box, and they’re listed here.

The Portal 2 Bundle includes the game, the Hydra (base and two controllers), and some special DLC levels, and will set you back $140; no word on the non-bundle version, but I’d guess it’ll cost around $90 or $100. There’s more information at the Hydra minisite.

Source from CrunchGear

Samsung Galaxy Tab

22 Apr

We know it’s unfair to compare the Galaxy Tab to the iPad – just look at their relative sizes – but compare them we must. Samsung takes much of the blame by trying to go head to head with Apple for price: £529 inc VAT for the 16GB version with 3G tech gadgets; £599 for 32GB with 3G However, since launch it’s dropped to a far more reasonable £469 inc VAT.

The tablets’ disparate sizes make a big difference. For a start, you can fit the Tab into a jacket. You can also comfortably hold the 385gTab in portrait mode and use your thumbs to type. Thanks to Samsung including Swype – a brilliant way to enter text by swiping across the onscreen keys rather than hitting each one – we were able to reach quick typing speeds too.

It holds other advantages over the iPad: Samsung bundles a pair of good-quality in-canal earphones complete with a discreet microphone, so you can make a call using the Tab without looking a fool. A 1.3-megapixet camera on the front allows video calls, whiles the Tab’s rear 3-megapixel camera, complete with LED flash, is surprisingly good in natural light.

Samsung also makes it easy to use your choice of SIM card: slip one in and the Tab reboots. Wait ten seconds and the system is up and running, all settings correctly configured. Next to the SIM slot sits one for microSDHC cards, allowing you to add up to 32GB of storage.

When it comes to fit and finish, however, the iPad wins hands down. While the Galaxy Tab is well built, it’s plastic and lacks its rival’s gadget allure. The same is true when you turn it on, with Android’s interface looking basic by comparison; the fonts are blocky, with none of the i Pad’s finesse. This is when it strikes you the Tab really is just an overgrown Android phone tech gadgets.

Fortunately, it’s an overgrown phone with a rather nice screen. Measuring 7in diagonally, its biggest strength is sheer brightness. Pump it up to full and photos pack a real punch, so much so it could fool you into thinking it’s a Super AMOLED panel rather than a plain-old TFT.

That 7in diagonal is a big improvement over the typical 3-4in of an Android phone. The 1,024 x 600 resolution adds a surprising level of detail, making a huge difference when web browsing. Along with support for Flash, this opens up the ability to access countless Flash games and education resources, but don’t expect the Tab to keep up with fast-moving videos on BBC Sport’s website: football clips appeared more like a slideshow than a match.

This juddering sometimes stretches into daily use; too, as moving from one home screen to another can cause the Tab to stutter. We suspect this is an optimization problem, because the Tab’s 1GHz ARM-based processor proved more than ample for the supplied You Tube app. Games look brilliant too, with the 3D effects and sheer gameplay of Asphalt 5 HD hooking us just as much as driving games on a PC.

Expect a battery life of around four hours per charge, dropping down to three if you use the screen on full brightness. That’s a long way behind the iPad tech gadgets, and means we’d always take the communication cable with us: the Galaxy can charge up over the (proprietary) USB connection without problems.

So, the Galaxy Tab has its flaws, but there’s a huge amount to like about it. The problem for Samsung remains the price. Until it can match the iPad’s smooth interface and rich selection of HD apps, it needs to be priced accordingly.

Your iPhone’s watching you. Should you care?

22 Apr

Your iPhone’s watching you. Should you care?

Researchers announced today that they found what look like secret files on the iPhone that track user location and store it on the device, without the permission of the device owner. It’s unclear what the data is used for and why Apple has been collecting it in iOS electronic gadgets that carry a 3G antenna for nearly a year now.

Alasdair Allan, senior research fellow in astronomy at the University of Exeter, and writer Pete Warden, who discovered the log file and created a tool that lets users see a visualization of that data, say there’s no evidence of that information being sent to Apple or anybody else. Even so, the pair note that the data is unencrypted, giving anyone with access to your phone or computer where backups may be stored a way to grab the data and extrapolate a person’s whereabouts and routines.

Who are the researchers and how did they find this?
Warden, who used to work at Apple (though not on the iPhone), and Allan had been collaborating on some location data visualization projects, including a visualization of radiation levels over time in Japan after the earthquake, when Allan discovered the file on an iPhone. “After we dug further and visualized the extracted data, it became clear that there was a scary amount of detail on our movements,” they wrote in a blog post.

When did this start and what devices are tracking this data?
According to Allan and Warden, the tracking did not begin until iOS 4, which was released in late June 2010. This was the first version of iOS to drop support for devices like the original iPhone, with devices like the iPhone 3G and second-generation iPod Touch getting a more limited feature set. Along with iPhones, 3G-enabled iPads are also keeping track of the data, though it’s unclear if this is true for people who have 3G electronic gadgets without active cellular subscriptions.

The tracking data itself was actually discovered last year. A tool by French programmer Paul Courbis, that’s similar to the one released by Allan and Warden, is able to plot up to 10,000 of these data points from the database file to a Google Map. The issue was known in forensics circles but not widely, Allan and Warden said in a news conference this afternoon at the Where 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. An application they released that allows people to see what data is on individual devices makes the abstract tracking concept more real.

Did they contact Apple on their findings?
The researchers said they had contacted Apple’s Product Security team, but hadn’t heard back.

Where is this data being stored?
The database of location information is stored primarily on your phone, though due to the iOS device backup system in iTunes, these files can also end up on your computer. When iTunes saves these backups, which are set by default to be stored every time you sync an iOS device, the data file goes along with it.

What’s curious is that this log can extend across multiple devices as long as those electronic gadgets use the same restore point. Allan and Warden noted that the database used as part of the project spanned an iPhone 3GS and an iPhone 4, the latter of which had used a restore point.

The researchers have more technical details and the downloadable application to see a visualization of the data collected from your phone over time here. The application does not work with iPhones on Verizon, the researchers said.

What’s inside this data?
A database of cell tower coordinates and timestamps to indicate when your device was connecting with them. This includes what operator you’re on and the country code. The research also found that Apple was tracking data about what Wi-Fi networks you were connecting to, which also included slightly less accurate location information, but continued to track that data by time. The researchers’ visualization app shows large blue dots for frequent activity and smaller red or orange-colored dots for less frequent activity. However, it’s unclear exactly what is triggering the logging, they said.

Is there an easier way to see that information than a giant database form?
Yes, Allan and Warden created an open-source software program that is able to go through the data from the database file and turn it into a visualization of what towers your device connected to based on the dates and times. The pair say the application intentionally cuts down on the accuracy of this data to keep the software from being used for bad things. You’re also likely to see points in places you haven’t been, since the tracking tools within the iPhone make use of nearby cell towers to triangulate location. “As a data geek I was excited to have this data set, but I don’t want anyone else to have this data,” Allan said.

What is the harm with this data being collected and stored on the device?
“By passively logging your location without your permission, Apple [has] made it possible for anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements,” the researchers wrote in their FAQ.

While acknowledging that there is no need to panic, the researchers noted that if someone gets hold of the device, they can access the unencrypted data. “Your cell operator has this information,” they said in the news conference. Anyone who wants it has “to get a court order to get that from a provider. But now, all you have to do is lose your phone electronic gadgets in a bar.”

Apps on the device cannot access the data, because it is “sandboxed,” the researchers said. However, it could be accessed by software on the computer that holds the backup, they said.

How do I protect this data from being seen by others?
The data file itself is completely unencrypted, meaning anyone who gets hold of it can access the data freely. On the iTunes side, there’s an option to encrypt your backups, which will keep someone who gets access to a backup file while rummaging through your hard drive from being able to dig through it and pull out the database file.

To enable that feature, click on the device icon when it’s plugged into iTunes, then check the “Encrypt iPhone Backup” item in the “Options” area. As for your iPhone, or iPad with 3G, your best bet is to keep someone else from getting it in the first place, and then using Apple’s free “Find My iPhone” app to do a remote wipe if it’s lost or stolen.

How do I turn this tracking off?
Right now there’s no way to turn the tracking off, since it’s baked into the operating system. Turning off GPS will make the device less functional for location-based services such as mapping.

Can Apple do this?
According to the iTunes terms and conditions, yes. The company pretty clearly spells out its right to “collect, use, and share” location data any time it pleases.

That said, the company made a big kerfuffle about making third-party application providers–as well as the built-in Google Maps application–alert users when location was being used by including an arrow in the status bar that is required to appear whenever the phone is sending or receiving location data. This feature came as part of iOS 4, which is when the company began the tracking process.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs also made it a point during an interview at the D8 conference last year that privacy was a topic of utmost importance to the company. “Before any app can get location data, they can’t just put up a panel asking if it can use location, they call our panel and it asks you if it’s OK,” Jobs said. “That’s one of the reasons we have the curated App Store. A lot of the people in the Valley think we’re old-fashioned about this. But we take it seriously.”

Why is Apple doing this?
Apple has not responded to requests for comment. Allan and Warden suggest the company has been using this tracking technology as a precursor to extended location-based services it plans to add as a part of a future version of iOS.

Backing that claim up is an Apple patent application that surfaced back in February, which showed that Apple was considering a service called “Places.” Based on the filing, the service would offer Apple electronic gadgets owners a way to locate one another using GPS. While there are third-party applications like Loopt, Foursquare, and Beluga that let people do this, such a feature would presumably be a built-in part of the phone, and rely on geodata logging for any past history features.

“There are legitimate use cases here, but the matter underscores the need for vendors to be clear about what data they collect and what they are doing with it,” said Kevin Mahaffey, chief technology officer of mobile security provider Lookout in a call with CNET.

Is Apple the only one doing this?
Android does not appear to do this, sources familiar with the platform said. A Google spokeswoman said the company had no comment on the matter. A Microsoft representative told CNET that the company’s Windows Phone platform does not store location history, and that the “Find My Phone” service only keeps the phone’s most recent location.

Source from CNET