Chinese Phone Maker Xiaomi Deletes a Public MIUI vs Android One Twitter Poll After Voting Didn't Go Its Way ( 61

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, which sells handsets at razor thin margins, is increasingly dominating in its home market and emerging places such as India and Indonesia. To make money, the company relies on a range of homegrown software features in its Android-based MIUI operating system. In a surprising move earlier this week, the company asked its Twitter followers to choose between MIUI and Android One (which runs pure Android OS). Things didn't go as it had planned. From a report: Presumably the company was rather hoping that Twitter users would vote for its own MIUI which it could then rub in Google's face -- but the poll actually went against Xiaomi. Rather than leave the results of the vote up for anyone to see, the company decided to simply delete it and pretend it never happened. Take a look at the Xiaomi account on Twitter, and you'll see no hint that any such poll has ever taken place. But over on Reddit, there's a thread which was started by someone posting a link to the poll. In the comments, one Redditor noticed after a period of voting that: "So far it's 53-47 for android one."

Android Wear Is Getting Killed, and It's All Qualcomm's Fault ( 174

The death of Android Wear is all Qualcomm's fault, largely due to the fact that the company "has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips," writes Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo. This weekend marks the second birthday of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, which was announced in February 2016 and is the "least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device." Since Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade last year, and it doesn't seem like we'll get a new smartwatch chip any time soon, the entire Android Wear market will continue to suffer. From the report: In a healthy SoC market, this would be fine. Qualcomm would ignore the smartwatch SoC market, make very little money, and all the Android Wear OEMs would buy their SoCs from a chip vendor that was addressing smartwatch demand with a quality chip. The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips. For companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola, and Asus, it is absolutely crippling. There are literally zero other options in a reasonable price range (although we'd like to give a shoutout to the $1,600 Intel Atom-equipped Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45), so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches. Android Wear is not a perfect smartwatch operating system, but the primary problem with Android Wear watches is the hardware, like size, design (which is closely related to size), speed, and battery life. All of these are primarily influenced by the SoC, and there hasn't been a new option for OEMs since 2016. There are only so many ways you can wrap a screen, battery, and body around an SoC, so Android smartwatch hardware has totally stagnated. To make matters worse, the Wear 2100 wasn't even a good chip when it was new.

Researchers Are Developing An Algorithm That Makes Smartphones Child-Proof ( 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Researchers at the University of South Carolina and China's Zhejiang University have created an algorithm that can spot whether your kid is accidentally trying to, say, order from Amazon without your knowing. There are already plenty of activity-monitoring apps that aim to control what kids do on phones, but parents need to add them and turn them on, and they could be disabled by tech-savvy children. The researchers figured that automated age-range detection would make it easier for parents to hand their phones over to curious children without worrying that the kids will stumble upon an inappropriate website or get into a work e-mail account.

The researchers built a simple app and asked a group of kids between the ages of three and 11 -- and a group of adults between 22 and 60 -- to use it. The app had participants unlock an Android phone and then play a numbers-based game on it, so that the researchers could record a variety of taps and swipes. They also tracked things like the amount of pressure applied by a user's finger and the area it encompassed. The researchers used the resulting data to train an age-detecting algorithm that they say is 84 percent accurate with just one swipe on the screen -- a figure that goes up to 97 percent after eight swipes.


Rejoice: Samsung's Next Flagship Smartphone Looks To Keep the Headphone Jack Alive ( 193

Notorious smartphone leaker Evan Blass has leaked a couple press images of the Galaxy S9, giving us the first indication that it will still have a headphone jack. "The full information spill today is actually focused on a new Samsung DeX Pad, which appears to be an evolution of last year's DeX dock for the Galaxy S8," reports The Verge. From the report: Samsung, LG, and a couple of other companies like OnePlus have remained resolute in their inclusion of a headphone jack, but that was far from a certainty for the next Galaxy S iteration. This is a phone that will compete against the iPhone X, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and more niche rivals like Google's Pixel 2: all of them surviving sans a headphone jack. So Samsung could have dumped the analog audio output, but it seems to have opted against it, and that's worthy of commendation. USB-C earphones are all still either bad or expensive -- or both -- and phones that retain compatibility with 3.5mm connectors remain profoundly useful to consumers that aren't yet convinced by Bluetooth.

Android Messages May Soon Let You Text From the Web ( 48

Android Police dug into the code for the latest version of Android Messages and found two very intriguing features: Rich Communication Services (RCS) support and support for all the popular web browsers. From the report: Google is developing a web interface to run on a desktop or laptop, and it will pair with your phone for sending messages. Internally, the codename for this feature is "Ditto," but it looks like it will be labeled "Messages for web" when it launches. You'll be guided to visit a website on the computer you want to pair with your phone, then simply scan a QR code. Once that's done, you'll be able to send and receive messages in the web interface and it will link with the phone to do the actual communication through your carrier. I can't say with any certainty that all mainstream browsers will be supported right away, but all of them are named, so most users should be covered.

Another major move appears to be happening with RCS, and it looks like Google may be tired of letting it progress slowly. A lot of new promotional text has been added to encourage people to "text over Wi-Fi" and suggesting that they "upgrade" immediately. There's a lot of text in that block, but most of it is purely promotional. It describes features that are already largely familiar as capabilities of RCS, including texting through a data connection, seeing messaging status (if somebody is typing) and read receipts, and sending photos. Google does put a lot of emphasis that if it's handling the photos, that they are high-quality.
Android Police also notes the ability to make purchases via Messages.

VLC 3.0 Adds Chromecast Support and More as the Best Free Media Player Gets Even Better ( 131

Ian Paul, writing for PCWorld: The best free media player is getting even better. After three years of development, VLC 3.0 'Ventari' is rolling out to all platforms, and it's packed full of goodies such as Chromecast support. The latest version of VLC contains a lot of great additions, as well as a tweaked UI. Chromecast discovery tops the list. It's only available on Windows desktop and Android right now, but Videolan says the feature's coming to VLC's iOS and the Windows Store apps in the future. [...] VLC 3.0's refreshed UI isn't a fresh, new look from previous versions, but it is noticeably different. The icons at the bottom of the window are cleaner, and the small icons used within menu items are also new. Version 3.0 also adds support for 360-degree video and 3D audio, readying features for a VR version of VLC slated to roll out in mid-April. The new VLC also adds hardware decoding across all platforms for better performance and less CPU consumption, especially when dealing with more resource-intense video.

Meet the Tiny Startup That Sells IPhone and Android Zero Days To Governments ( 51

An anonymous reader writes: The story of Azimuth Security, a tiny startup in Australia, provides a rare peek inside the secretive industry that helps government hackers get around encryption. Azimuth is part of an opaque, little known corner of the intelligence world made of hackers who develop and sell expensive exploits to break into popular technologies like iOS, Chrome, Android and Tor.

Android Oreo Passes 1 Percent Adoption After 5 Months, Nougat Finally Takes First Place ( 98

According to Google's Platform Versions page, Android 8.0 Oreo mobile operating system finally has 1.1 percent adoption. Like Android Nougat before it, Android Oreo took five months to pass the 1 percent adoption mark. VentureBeat reports: On the bright side, Nougat this month has passed Marshmallow, meaning the second newest Android version is now the most widely used. The latest version of Android typically takes more than a year to become the most-used release, and so far it doesn't look like Oreo's story will be any different. Google's Platform Versions tool uses data gathered from the Google Play Store app, which requires Android 2.2 and above. This means devices running older versions are not included, nor are devices that don't have Google Play installed (such as many Android phones and tablets in China, Amazon's Fire line, and so on). Also, Android versions that have less than 0.1 percent adoption, such as Android 3.0 Honeycomb and Android 2.2 Froyo, are not listed. The two next-oldest Android versions are thus set to drop off the list sometime this year. The Android adoption order now stands as follows: Nougat in first place, Marshmallow in second place, Lollipop in third, KitKat in fourth, Jelly Bean in fifth, Oreo in sixth, ICS in seventh, and Gingerbread in last. All eyes are now on Oreo to see how slowly it can climb the ranks.

Google Enables Pixel Visual Core For Better Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp Photos ( 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's Pixel Visual Core, the hidden image-processing chip inside the Pixel 2 family of phones, is getting an update today that lets it work its machine learning magic in third-party apps. Already enabled via Android 8.1 for the Pixel 2's main camera app, the Visual Core is now going to be operational within any other camera app that employs the relevant Google APIs. That means your Instagram photography and Snapchat Stories will get the benefit of the same improvements in processing speed and efficiency. I have been using a Google Pixel 2 XL since before the Android 8.1 update that initially flipped the Visual Core to being active, and I can't say I've noticed a huge difference in the speed or operation of the camera. It was sterling before 8.1, and it's been the same since. But the way Google explains it, the Visual Core is likely to be more helpful and impressive in third-party apps because it will allow the company to run its proprietary HDR+ algorithm in those other apps: "Pixel Visual Core is built to do heavy-lifting image processing while using less power, which saves battery. That means we're able to use that additional computing power to improve the quality of your pictures by running the HDR+ algorithm."

Camera Makers Resist Encryption, Despite Warnings From Photographers ( 291

An anonymous reader shares an article from the security editor of ZDNet: A year after photojournalists and filmmakers sent a critical letter to camera makers for failing to add a basic security feature to protect their work from searches and hacking, little progress has been made. The letter, sent in late 2016, called on camera makers to build encryption into their cameras after photojournalists said they face "a variety of threats..." Even when they're out in the field, collecting footage and documenting evidence, reporters have long argued that without encryption, police, the military, and border agents in countries where they work can examine and search their devices. "The consequences can be dire," the letter added.

Although iPhones and Android phones, computers, and instant messengers all come with encryption, camera makers have fallen behind. Not only does encryption protect reported work from prying eyes, it also protects sources -- many of whom put their lives at risk to expose corruption or wrongdoing... The lack of encryption means high-end camera makers are forcing their customers to choose between putting their sources at risk, or relying on encrypted, but less-capable devices, like iPhones. We asked the same camera manufacturers if they plan to add encryption to their cameras -- and if not, why. The short answer: don't expect much any time soon.


Chrome OS Is Almost Ready To Replace Android On Tablets ( 61

Several news features rolling out to Chromebooks paint a picture of the future of Chrome OS as the rightful replacement for Android tablet software. Those include a new split-screen feature for multitasking while in tablet mode, and a screenshot feature borrowed from Android. The Verge reports: As it stands now, Chrome OS is very close to taking up the mantle there, and features like this push it ever closer to becoming the hybrid OS for all types of Google-powered screens. This has been in the works for quite a while as Google's Chrome and Android teams have coordinated closely to ensure the influx of low-cost, hybrid computing devices like 2-in-1 Chromebooks get the best of both worlds. There is, of course, Android app compatibility on Chrome OS, an initiative that first arrived somewhat half-baked last year and has taken months to fully jell as Google worked out the kinks. For instance, just last month Google added the ability for Android apps on Chromebooks run in the background. In July of last year, Google also began embarking on a touch-focused redesign of Chrome OS to make the software more functional in tablet mode. We're likely not getting the full-blown merging of the two divisions and their respective platforms anytime soon, or perhaps ever, as Google has played with the idea for years without ever seeming to decide that one platform should supersede the other. In essence, however, Android remains Google's dominant mobile OS, while Chrome OS has been taking on more responsibility as Chromebooks have steadily become more capable and tablet-like.

LG Settles Bootloop Lawsuit With $425 Cash Or a $700 Rebate Toward a New LG Phone ( 38

Early last year, a class-action lawsuit was filed against LG over bootloop issues affecting their G4 and V10 smartphones. Now, according to a settlement website set up by the law firm Girard Gibbs, members of the lawsuit have received a settlement offer. The only catch is that the settlement is only for plaintiffs of the initial case. Android Police reports: LG is offering plaintiffs either $425 as a cash settlement or a $700 rebate toward the purchase of a new LG phone. That's pretty generous, and it's clear that's going to help offset some of the anger LG's created with this whole incident. If you're one of the plaintiffs, you don't have to mail in your broken phone or anything, you just get the settlement offer, straight up. Members of the class will be contacted shortly with instructions on how to take advantage of the settlement. Payments will be distributed beginning in March.

Messaging App Telegram Pulled From Apple's App Store Due To 'Inappropriate Content' ( 86

An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple has removed Telegram's official app from its iOS App Store. The app disappeared yesterday, shortly after Telegram launched a rewritten Telegram X app for Android. Telegram X is currently in testing on iOS, and it was also removed from the App Store. "We were alerted by Apple that inappropriate content was made available to our users and both apps were taken off the App Store," says Telegram CEO Pavel Durov. "Once we have protections in place we expect the apps to be back on the App Store."

Google Chrome To Feature Built-In Image Lazy Loading ( 131

An anonymous reader writes: Future versions of Google Chrome will feature built-in support for lazy loading, a mechanism to defer the loading of images and iframes if they are not visible on the user's screen at load time. This system will first ship with Chrome for Android and Google doesn't rule out adding it to desktop versions if tests go as planned. The feature is called Blink LazyLoad, and as the name hints, it will implement the principle of "lazy loading" inside Chrome itself.

Google engineers reported page load speed improvements varying from 18% to 35%, depending on the underlying network. Other browser makers have been notified of the Chrome team's plan, but none have provided input if they plan to implement a similar feature. Compared to most JS-based lazy loading scripts that only target images, Google implementation will also target iframes.


Google Play Removed 700,000 Bad Apps In 2017, 70 Percent More Than In 2016 ( 38

Today, Google announced that it removed more than 700,000 apps that violated Google Play's policies, or 70 percent more apps than the year before. "Google does not share total Google Play app numbers anymore, so we have to rely on third-party estimates to put this 70 percent figure into perspective," reports VentureBeat. "Statista pegs the total number of apps on Google Play at 2.6 million in December 2016 and 3.5 million in December 2017, a 35 percent growth. How many of those were bad apps, however, is anyone's guess." From the report: All we know is that the number of bad apps removed grew faster than the total number of apps in the store, which makes sense if you take into account the next statistic Google revealed today: 99 percent of apps with abusive content were identified and rejected before anyone could install them in 2017. This was possible, Google says, thanks to its implementation of machine learning models and techniques to detect abusive app content and behaviors such as impersonation, inappropriate content, or malware. The company claims that the odds of getting malware is 10x lower via Google Play than if you install apps from outside sources.

Things Apple's $350 HomePod Smart-Speaker Can't Do: Answer Random Questions, Check Calendar, Work With an Android Phone, and More ( 246

In June last year, Apple announced the HomePod, its first smart-speaker which will battle Amazon's sleeper hit Echo speakers and Google's Home speakers. Apple being late to enter a product category is nothing new, but the HomePod has a few other strange things about it. Apple said it won't begin shipping the HomePod until December that year, in a departure of its own tradition. Then the device's shipment was delayed till "early 2018" -- February 9 is the current shipping date. Bloomberg has reported about the difficulties Apple engineers faced over the years to come up with the HomePod.

At any rate, Business Insider now has more information about the device, and is reporting the things that Apple's first smart-speaker won't be able to do. From the report (condensed): 1. HomePod can't pair with Android phones.
2. HomePod doesn't recognize different people's voices.
3. HomePod can't check your calendar.
4. HomePod doesn't work well with other streaming services besides Apple Music. (Spotify, Tindal, and Pandora users won't be able to use Siri.)
5. HomePod can't hook up to another device using an auxiliary cord.
6. HomePod can't make calls on its own. (In order to make a call using HomePod, you have to dial the person's number on your iPhone, then manually select that the call play through HomePod.)
7. The HomePod version of Siri isn't prepared to answer random questions like Alexa and Google Assistant.


DuckDuckGo App and Extension Upgrades Offer Privacy 'Beyond the Search Box' ( 48

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: DuckDuckGo is launching updated versions of its browser extension and mobile app, with the promise of keeping internet users safe from snooping "beyond the search box." The company's flagship product, its privacy-focused search engine, will remain the same, but the revamped extension and app will offer new tools to help users keep their web-browsing as safe and private as possible. These include grade ratings for websites, factoring in their use of encryption and ad tracking networks, and offering summaries of their terms of service (with summaries provided by third-party Terms of Service Didn't Read). The app and extension are available for Firefox, Safari, Chrome, iOS, and Android.

The ability to block ad tracking networks is probably the most important feature here. These networks are used by companies like Google and Facebook to follow users around the web, stitching together their browsing history to create a more accurate profile for targeted advertising.

DuckDuckGo calls it "a major step to simplify online privacy," adding that without it, "It's hard to use the Internet without it feeling a bit creepy -- like there's a nosey neighbor watching everything you do from across the street."

OnePlus Is Again Sending User Data To a Chinese Company Without User Consent ( 152

In October 2017, a researcher caught OnePlus silently collecting all sorts of data from its users. Now, a new report says that there's still a OnePlus app that can grab data from the phone and send it to servers in China without a user's knowledge or express consent. BGR reports: The French security researcher hiding behind the name Elliot Alderson on Twitter detailed OnePlus's data collection practices back in October, and he has now discovered a strange file in the OnePlus clipboard app. A Badword.txt file contains various keywords, including "Chairman, Vice President, Deputy Director, Associate Professor, Deputy Heads, General, Private Message, shipping, Address, email," and others. The file is then duplicated in a zip file called pattern alongside six other .txt files. All these files are apparently used in "in an obfuscated package which seems to be an #Android library from teddymobile." Now, TeddyMobile is a Chinese company that works with plenty of smartphone makers from China. The company seems to be able to recognize words and numbers in text messages. And OnePlus is apparently sending your phone's IMEI number to a TeddyMobile server, too. It looks like the TeddyMobile package might be able to grab all sorts of data from a phone. Even bank numbers are apparently recognized. OnePlus has yet to issue a statement on the matter.

Walmart Teams Up With Kobo To Sell EBooks and Audiobooks ( 35

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Later this year, you'll be able to buy ebooks and audiobooks straight from Walmart's website. The big box retailer has teamed up with Japanese e-commerce titan Rakuten to launch a business that can take on Amazon's Kindle offerings. Walmart will give its customers in the U.S. an easy way to access to Kobo's library -- Kobo is Rakuten's digital book division -- and its six million titles from tens of thousands of publishers. The company will also start selling Kobo eReaders, which will set you back at least $120, online and in stores sometime this year. Walmart said Kobo's titles will be fully integrated into its website, so the ebook and audiobook versions of the title you're searching for will appear alongside the listing of its physical book. However, you won't be able to access the digital files through random apps. You'll have to use the co-branded apps for iOS, Android and desktop that Walmart and Kobo will release in the future, though you'll of course be able access ebooks through a Kobo e-reader.

Longtime Google Engineer Quits; Says Company Can No Longer Innovate, Is Mired in Politics, and Has Become Absolutely Competitor-Focused ( 392

Steve Yegge, a longtime Google engineer who gained popularity after his rant on Google+ went viral, wrote another rant on Wednesday, in which he announced he has left Google. His rationale behind leaving Google, in his own words: The main reason I left Google is that they can no longer innovate. They've pretty much lost that ability. I believe there are several contributing factors, of which I'll list four here. First, they're conservative: They are so focused on protecting what they've got, that they fear risk-taking and real innovation. Gatekeeping and risk aversion at Google are the norm rather the exception. Second, they are mired in politics, which is sort of inevitable with a large enough organization; the only real alternative is a dictatorship, which has its own downsides. Third, Google is arrogant. It has taken me years to understand that a company full of humble individuals can still be an arrogant company. Google has the arrogance of the "we", not the "I". Fourth, last, and probably worst of all, Google has become 100% competitor-focused rather than customer focused. They've made a weak attempt to pivot from this, with their new internal slogan "Focus on the user and all else will follow." But unfortunately it's just lip service.

You can look at Google's entire portfolio of launches over the past decade, and trace nearly all of them to copying a competitor: Google+ (Facebook), Google Cloud (AWS), Google Home (Amazon Echo), Allo (WhatsApp), Android Instant Apps (Facebook, WeChat), Google Assistant (Apple/Siri), and on and on and on. They are stuck in me-too mode and have been for years. They simply don't have innovation in their DNA any more. And it's because their eyes are fixed on their competitors, not their customers.

Slashdot Top Deals