Google unveils Android’s latest technological tricks

The upgrade will give Android’s personal assistant, Google Now, expanded powers of intuition that may be greeted as a great convenience to some and a tad too creepy for others.

Google’s next version of its Android operating system will boast new ways to fetch information, pay merchants and protect privacy on mobile devices as the Internet company duels with Apple in the quest to make their technology indispensable.

The upgrade will give Android’s personal assistant, Google Now, expanded powers of intuition that may be greeted as a great convenience to some and a tad too creepy for others.

Most of the renovations unveiled Thursday at Google’s annual developers’ conference won’t be available until late summer or early fall, around the same time that Apple is expected to release the latest overhaul of the iOS software that powers the iPhone and iPad.

The annual changes to Android and iOS are becoming increasingly important as people become more dependent on smartphones to manage their lives. Android holds about an 80 percent share of the worldwide smartphone market, with iOS a distant second at 16 percent, according to the research firm International Data Corp.

Both Google and Apple are vying to make their products even more ubiquitous by transplanting much of their mobile technology into automobiles and Internet-connected televisions and appliances. Google hopes to play a prominent role in the management of home security and appliances with a new operating system called Brillo that will interact with Android devices.

Here’s a closer look at some of the key features in the upcoming Android upgrade, currently known simply as “M”:

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NOW ON TAP

Google Now currently learns a user’s interests and habits by analyzing search requests and scanning emails so it can automatically present helpful information, such as the latest news about a favorite sports team or how long it will take to get to work.

With the M upgrade, users will be able to summon Google Now to scan whatever content might be on a mobile device’s screen so it can present pertinent information about the topic of a text, a song, a video clip or an article.

The new Android feature, called “Now on Tap,” will be activated by holding down the device’s home button or speaking, “OK Google,” into the microphone. That action will prompt Now on Tap to scan the screen in attempt to figure out how to be the most helpful. Or, if speaking, users can just say what they are seeking, such as “Who sings this?”

Google is hoping to provide Android users with what they need at the precise moment they need it without forcing them to hopscotch from one app to another.

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MOBILE PAYMENT DO-OVER

Android M will include an alternative to the mobile payment system that Apple introduced last fall. Google’s response, called Android Pay, will replace Google Wallet for making mobile purchases in stores and applications. Google Wallet, which came out in 2011, will still work for sending payments from one person to another.

Like Apple’s system, Android Pay can be used to store major credit and debit cards in smartphones that can be used to pay merchants equipped with terminals that work with the technology. Android Pay will also work on devices running on the KitKat and Lollipop versions of Android released the past two years.

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PROTECTING PRIVACY

Android M will be compatible with fingerprint scanners so device users can verify their identities by pressing a button instead of entering a passcode. Apple’s iPhones began using a fingerprint reader in 2013.

Besides supporting fingerprint scanners, Android M will make it easier to users to prevent mobile applications from grabbing their personal information. Permission will only need to be granted to each app if the access is needed for a specific action. That means Android users won’t be asked to share information about their contact lists, photo rolls or locations until an app won’t work without it.

–Associated Press

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Experts bust Android security myths

A set of mobile security experts provides insight on the current state of Android security.

Thanks to its inherent “openness,” the open source Android OS is vulnerable to a variety of security risks, but how often do people you know actually fall victim to Android malware or other attacks?

Is the Android security risk overstated? Is the Android risk really greater than the risks posed by its iOS and Windows Mobile counterparts? And what can users, and the enterprise IT departments that support them, do to better protect their Android devices?

We asked these questions, and more, to a variety of mobile security experts from companies including Cisco, Dell and Lookout. Here’s what they had to say:

Android security threat is real

Android malware that affected U.S. users increased by 75 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to security firm Lookout’s “2014 Mobile Threat Report.”

“That’s a significant jump, predominantly driven by an increase in ransomware, a nasty form of malware that locks a person’s device and demands money in exchange for reinstated access,” says Michael Bentley, Lookout’s senior manager of security research and response.

Android devices were the targets of 97 percent of all mobile malware in 2014, according to Pulse Secure‘s “2015 Mobile Threat Report.” And the Android security risk level “increased substantially year-over-year,” says Troy Vennon, director of Pulse Secure’s Mobile Threat Center. In 2012, there were 238 specific Android malware threat “families,” and that number jumped to 804 in 2013 and 1,268 in 2014, according to Vennon.

At least 15 million mobile devices were infected with malware in September 2014, according to a report from Alcatel-Lucent’s Kindsight Security Labs. Of those devices, 60 percent were Android smartphones and about 40 percent were Windows PCs that connected to the Web via mobile networks. Windows Mobile, iOS, BlackBerry and Symbian devices represented less than 1 percent of mobile malware infestations.

Symantec’s 2015 “Internet Security Threat Report” says 17 percent of all Android apps (nearly a million) are malware in disguise. In comparison, Symantec uncovered approximately 700,000 Android malware apps in 2013.

Android more vulnerable than iOS, Windows Mobile

Android is more vulnerable than iOS because of its OS fragmentation, according to Geoff Sanders, cofounder and CEO of LaunchKey.

“Even when Google releases a security patch, it’s ultimately up to the [device] manufacturer to provide this patch to end users,” Sanders says. “This puts many more users at risk as their devices age.”

The overall risk level for Android is also higher because it’s the most popular mobile OS, according to Bojan Simic, CTO of HYPR Corp.

Apple deploys iOS only on its own devices, so the company has “far better control and knowledge of risk,” Simic says. Apple’s app verification system is also significantly more rigorous than Google’s process in the Play store, and it results in less malware, according to Simic.

Windows Mobile users are safer due to the rule of “security by obscurity,” Simic says. “Most hackers will direct their efforts where the biggest payoff is, and right now that target is Android due to its sheer amount of users.

Documented high-profile Android attacks

During the past year or so, a number of high-profile Android-based attacks and vulnerabilities made headlines.

Bottom of Form

Operation Emmental, which targeted 34 European banks, is probably the highest profile attack that used Android malware as a key component, according to Simic.

“The sophisticated attack was used to bypass two-factor security implementations that banks had deployed to protect their users,” Simic says. “Throughout the attacks, it is estimated that about $1 billion was stolen.”

The WebView bug in Android 4.3 (and older versions) was also widely reported, according to Gleb Sviripa, an Android developer at KeepSolid, and it left around 930 million Android devices vulnerable to potential attacks. WebView let “apps display Web pages without launching a separate app, and the bug could open up affected phones to malicious hackers,” Sviripa says.

Google launched security patches for Android 4.4 and above but said it wouldn’t develop patches for earlier OS builds. Instead, it encouraged the development community to step in. Google’s head Android security engineer said the decision was due to “the complexity of applying patches to older branches of WebKit,” according to ZDNet.

AndroidLocker, another very real threat, is “a new malware variant discovered last year by Dell, which mirrored the functionalities of ransomware,” says Swarup Selvaraman, senior product manager at Dell SonicWALL. “The malware would lock down mobile devices, claiming to be the FBI, and demand users pay a ‘fine’ within a certain time to unlock their devices and avoid criminal charges.

In 2014, Dell also discovered an Android Trojan that targeted South Korean banks, Selvaraman says. “When users would download the malware, it would appear in their app drawer as ‘googl app stoy,'” Selvaraman says. “If opened, it would show an error message, shut down, and seemingly uninstall itself. However, it was secretly still running in the background, specifically monitoring South Korean financial apps.”

Android security threat is real but ‘overblown’

The mobile security threat exists, but it is “overblown,” according to new research from Damballa. For its spring 2015 report, the company monitored about 50 percent of U.S. mobile traffic (including but not limited to Android). Damballa concluded that mobile users are 1.3 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to have their mobile devices compromised by malware.

“This research shows that mobile malware in the Unites States is very much like Ebola – harmful, but greatly over exaggerated, and contained to a limited percentage of the population that is engaging in behavior that puts them at risk for infection,” said Charles Lever, a Damballa senior scientific researcher, in a press release on the company’s website.

Mark Hammond, senior manager for Cisco Security Solutions, agrees the Android threat has been greatly exaggerated. “The threat of Android malware is also directly associated with the source. If the average user is sticking with a well-regulated app store, like Google Play, then the risk of malware diminishes significantly.”

The mobile malware threat is “really minimal,” according to John Gunn, vice president of VASCO Data Security. While many people have some sort of malware on their computers, “few know anyone who has had malware on their mobile device,” he says.

Verizon’s 2015 “Data Breach Investigations Report” also concluded that “mobile threats are overblown,” and “the overall number of exploited security vulnerabilities across all mobile platforms is negligible.”

The risk of malware making its way into a native Android app is lower than ever thanks to Google’s automated scanning and other new security improvements, according to Terry May, an Android developer with Detroit Labs. Google “reinforced the Android sandbox with SELinux and enhancements to the Google Play services library that can scan for vulnerabilities on the local device and not just the apps in the store,” May says. “This means that even apps that have been side-loaded can be scanned.”

Less than 1 percent of Android devices had a potentially harmful app (PHA) installed in 2014, and the number of PHAs on Android devices dropped by 50 percent between the first and fourth quarters of last year, according to a Google Online Security Blog post published by Android security lead engineer Adrian Ludwig in April 2015. Less than 0.15 percent of devices that only installed apps from Google Play had a PHA installed last year, Ludwig wrote.

The bottom line is that malware attacks “are increasing because users are spending more time on mobile devices than ever before, the value of the data on mobile keeps increasing, and a single OS (Android) dominates the market, increasing the footprint for attackers,” says Domingo Guerra, president and cofounder of Appthority.

However, mobile malware isn’t necessarily more prevalent. “Although the number of mobile malware apps is definitely booming, so is the number of good and benign apps,” Guerra says

CIO.com

Hyundai becomes first to use Android Auto in production cars

Hyundai claims Android Auto will increase driver safety

Hyundai announced it will begin using Android Auto in vehicles this year, making it the first carmaker to enable vehicles to mirror a connected Android smartphone to the car’s dashboard infotainment system.

Android Auto is premiering on the 2015 Sonata with navigation capabilities at dealerships nationwide, and will later become available on other Hyundai models, the company said.

Android Auto enables Google maps navigation.

They first dug up Social Security data, dates of birth and street addresses through other sources.

Ultimately, Android Auto developer Google believes vehicles will become just another mobile device platform as more and more natively have mobile OSes embedded in them.

First announced in June 2014, Android Auto (compatible with version 5.0 “Lollipop” and later) is supported by the Open Automotive Alliance, a group made up by Audi, General Motors, Honda and Hyundai, as well as Google and several technology companies.

Android Auto competes with Apple’s CarPlay, and other open source standards such as MirrorLink or GENIVI, all of which enable vehicle infotainment centers to mirror a version of a smartphone OS onto a vehicle’s head unit. By mirroring the mobile OS, drivers can use mobile applications, such as Google Maps or iTunes through the vehicle’s infotainment system.

In the past, Hyundai also said that Apple CarPlay would be offered as an option on the 2015 Sonata.

Hyundai first announced its alliance with Android Auto a year ago.

“Android Auto aligns with Hyundai’s core interior design principles of safety, intuitiveness and simplicity,” Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski said in a statement. “We launched this highly anticipated feature on our best-selling Sonata, adding to our promise of value. With the launch of Android Auto, we provide more owners with the experience of cutting-edge technology.”

Hyu

Hyundai

This is how Google Maps will appear on the Hyundai Sonata’s infotainment center.

Hyundai argues that allowing vehicle infotainment systems to mirror the Android OS not only offers real-time navigation updates, search and entertainment, but will increase safety by removing the desire to look at a smartphone while driving.

Hyundai claims 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.

“Android Auto helps keep drivers’ eyes and attention on the road by integrating the advanced driving-related functions of the user’s smartphone with the familiar centralized screen, physical controls and microphone of their car,” Hyundai said in a statement. “Furthermore, the smartphone’s screen becomes “locked,’ so drivers are not tempted to look down and interact with their phones directly while Android Auto is in use.”

How Sir Jony Ive might use iOS 8 to remember his passport

Location is everything

Geofencing is an iOS feature that’s likely to see significant improvement within iOS 9, as Apple introduces new frameworks for connected (“Internet of Things”) devices; so how might Jony Ive use the feature to help him travel?

Travelling man

A short definition: Geofencing uses Core Location in iOS 8 to monitor where a user happens to be and then offer reminders or other prompts if that user enters or leaves a previously specified area.

In the case of Apple’s recently promoted Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive, geofencing in iOS could remind him to check he has his passport with him when he reaches the airport to board his private jet to the UK to attend the school play (should that kind of Transatlantic existence be what Ive’s recent promotion is really about).

To enable geolocation

Enabling geolocation takes just two steps.

  • First you must turn on Background App Refresh in Settings>General>Background App Refresh.
  • Secondly you should toggle Reminders to the on position in Settings>Privacy>Location Services.

geo

To use geolocation

With location services enabled Apple’s top designer can easily set up a Reminder to check he is carrying his passport when he gets close to the airport.

  • Launch the Reminders app, tap + and create a “Get passport” reminder.
  • Tap circled “i” to the right of that item on the list.
  • In the subsequent Details screen choose ‘Remind me at a location’ and a new screen appears.
  • On this screen you see a map, some pre-chosen destinations and a search bar. Choose the location from which to set a location center.
  • In the map at the bottom of this page your chosen location will appear surrounded by a blue circle with a black dot. The circle defines the boundaries of your geolocation zone, you can extend the radius of this by dragging the dark dot to the right of the circle.
  • (In this case I extended the radius to 5km from San Francisco airport, so Ive gets the time he needs to pick up that forgotten passport.
  • Once you’ve chosen the location you can set the Reminder to launch when you enter or leave the area.

In future, whenever the Apple designer is 5km from the airport he’ll be reminded to check his passport. Which would be a little annoying until the inevitable happens and he does forget the document.

Life beyond Ive

It may or may not be true that now he has been freed of day to day management responsibilities, Ive intends using his new freedom to travel, but the scenario does provide an apt illustration of how to use this iOS feature. There are lots of ways anyone can use geolocation Reminders to get things done:

  • To check you have your keys on leaving the house
  • To remember essential documents
  • To shop for items when near an appropriate shop
  • To call friends when you are nearby

Design for life

iOS developers make extensive use of geofencing when working with iBeacons and/or retail apps. If you happen to use the Starbucks app then you’ll have seen its icon appear at bottom left of your iPhone when you pass a store – that’s an example of geofencing and location services in action over beacons.

Geofencing also has implications in the home – so iOS-controlled Phillips Hue lamps can be set to switch on or off as you enter or leave a room. That’s an example of how indoor mapping will be used within the control system for the smart home, of which we expect to learn much more at WWDC (and perhaps get a hint at the future of the iPhone).

It will be interesting to see if Jony Ive will want to tell developers a little more about Apple’s design direction at the annual event, as he adopts a more strategic role within the company.

ComputerWorld

iMbrief briefcase’s feature list is anything but brief

By Stu Robarts

There are two types of people who will likely be interested in Magicubie’s iMbrief (pronounced “I’m brief”) briefcase: those in high-powered, fast-moving, security-sensitive jobs and those who want to pretend they’re a spy. Its host of features will surely satisfy either camp.

The iMbrief is designed to function as a mobile office and is aimed at being fashionable, secure and versatile. First thing’s first, of course, it provides users with a means of storing and transporting documents securely, with an LED light inside to illuminate the contents.

Access to the iMbrief is via a fingerprint scanner or the accompanying mobile app, which is available for both iOS and Android and connects to the case via Bluetooth. It has a Kensington lock slot (those chunky locks often used to secure electronic devices in shops and offices), allowing it to be secured at a location, and siren to warn users of any unauthorized access attempts and to try and scare off any would be thieves.

The iMbrief also has an SD card slot for internal data storage. This can be used to save, store and share digital files and its capacity checked using the mobile app. A Wi-Fi SD card provided with the bag allows data to be accessed wirelessly, making it quick and simple to transfer files.

Mobile devices can be charged both internally and externally using the in-built 5,000 mAh primary battery. The iMbrief has four USB charging ports in total – two on its exterior and two in the inside compartment. An optional and removable 18,000 mAh second battery can also be used to provide additional power for devices.

A GPS sensor allows the location of the iMbrief to be tracked. This means it can be located if lost or stolen. Location is also recorded to create a historical map of the bag’s whereabouts, allowing a user to retrace a journey if needs be.

The iMbrief can be use to play music via its built-in Bluetooth speakers. The speakers are also used to provide reminders of calendar appointments, which can be set using the mobile app. The speaker is used as the security siren as well.

brief

The case is charged via a USB port and takes around two hours for a full charge of the 5,000 mAh primary battery. A full charge can apparently last for over a month if only the fingerprint scanner is being used, but if it runs out of power, it must be charged before it can be opened again.

The briefcase has an aluminum-alloy shell and is will be offered in grey, black and burgundy if it reaches the market. It weighs around 4 lb (1.8 kg) and measures 450 x 330 x 95 mm (17.7 x 13 x 3.7 in). It is available with a detachable shoulder strap.

An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is underway for the iMbrief. At the time of writing, individuals who pledge from US$299 in support can receive one of the briefcases, assuming all goes to plan with the campaign and roll-out. Shipping is expected from January 2016.

The video below is the Indiegogo pitch for the iMbrief.

Source: Magicubie

Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant is coming to iPhone and Android

Microsoft has announced that it intends to bring Cortana to iOS and Android devices later this year. Up until now the digital assistant app has been restricted to Windows Phone devices, but, as we already knew, it will also be extending its reach across desktops and laptops when Windows 10 launches to the public in the next few months.

It’s a move that’s been widely predicted as Microsoft focuses on getting its products out to as many platforms as possible: the company’s flagship Office suite of apps has also appeared on Apple and Google-powered handsets in the last few months. This multiple-device approach is epitomized by Windows 10, which is coded to run the same apps across computers, smartphones, tablets and the Xbox One.

MS1

“… many people use iPhones or Android phones, and we want them to enjoy some of their Windows experience and content while away from their Windows 10 PC,” says Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore in a blog post. The Android release is slated for the end of June with the iOS version following “later this year.”

Just like on Windows Phone, you’ll be able to ask questions of Cortana through iOS and Android. Notifications are going to be supported, so you can set up reminders to get milk or check up on your flight status. Your Cortana notebooks will also be synced across all platforms.

Phone companion

The Cortana app rollout is part of a new Phone Companion service arriving with Windows 10 – it’s designed to get iPhones and Android phones working smoothly with the likes of OneDrive and Microsoft’s Music app. It’s distinctly different from Apple’s approach, which doesn’t make any apps for competing mobile platforms, and a bit more like Google’s cross-platform approach.

MS2

Most of Cortana’s smart functionality will be carried over to the iOS and Android apps, but because it’s not going to have the deep integration it enjoys on Windows Phone, you won’t be able to launch apps or toggle settings using the personal assistant.

There’s no official release date for Windows 10 yet but it could come as early as July. While you wait, the video below shows Joe Belfiore explaining how the operating system will hook up with your smartphone, whatever platform it happens to be running.

Source: Windows Blog

Better Re battery pack gives new life to old phone batteries

By Heidi Hoopes

If you’re like a lot of phone junkies and replace your phone as soon as the latest thing comes along, you’ll know that often the hardware in the old phone is perfectly fine, even the battery. But fancier new screens and more powerful processors mean that battery life usually remains a problem, making battery packs a popular accessory. Enlighten’s Better Re lets you get some more use out of your old phone’s battery, by allowing it to slot into an adjustable external battery charger for your new phone.

Enlightened has already received awards for the design of its “upcycling power pack”, which it is now seeking to fund through Kickstarter. The idea is simple: create a case to house an old cellphone battery and create a sleek external charger. Go crazy and stack multiple expansion packs connected via magnet to provide even more charge capacity. The case adjusts to accommodate batteries of sizes up to 58.5 x 97.8 x 6.5 mm, which Enlighten says is the biggest battery currently on the market.

Enlighten argues that the average turnover of a cellphone is 1.3 years, while after two years of use, a battery is still around 80 percent efficient. Additionally, many mobile phone users who have a phone with a removable battery buy extra batteries to ensure they aren’t caught short. While reports from Recon Analytics in February 2015 suggest that mobile phone turnover rates are slowing, from 22.4 months in 2013 to an anticipated 28.4 months this year, there are still a lot of extra batteries out there.

bat

How much charge you could get off a Better Re will of course depend on the capacity and condition of your old battery (for example, a Galaxy Note battery is 2,500 mAH), as well as what rate your current phone can charge at.

With an output of 5 V and 2 A, the company says the Better Re should charge an iPhone 6, with its 1,810 mAh battery, in just under 55 minutes, while an iPad Air 2 and its 7,340 mAh battery will take just over 220 minutes. A Galaxy S6 (2,550 mAh) and Galaxy Note 4 (3,220 mAh) should take 76 and 96 minutes, respectively.

If you don’t use phones with removable batteries such as iPhones, Samsung Galaxy models, an LG3, or a Note, Enlighten has a pledge package that includes a recycled phone battery. It also plans to produce batteries of its own.

The Kickstarter campaign offers the Better Re for a US$39 pledge, with an additional $20 for an expansion case. If everything goes to plan, delivery is estimated for November 2015.

Enlightened’s video pitch for the Better Re can be viewed below.

Source: Enlightened