Apple

Apple Business Chat drives in-seat drink ordering at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland

Posted by | Apple, Apple Business Chat, Apps, chatbots, imessage, Mobile | No Comments

With LeBron James hundreds of miles west plying his trade for the Los Angeles Lakers these days, Cleveland Cavalier fans haven’t had a lot to cheer about this season — but Aramark (the stadium food and beverage vendor) and the Cavs have teamed up with Apple Business Chat to let fans order drinks right from their seats.

It’s a nifty system, first introduced to Phillies fans last summer. In this iteration, Cleveland fans can access a menu, order drinks and get them delivered directly to their seats using iMessage on their iPhones.

You start by opening the Camera app and scanning the QR code on your seat back. That brings up a prompt in Messages to “Hit send to start your order.” From there, you can interact with the order bot to order your beverages. To make it easier, you access a menu and make your selections.

When you’re finished, the bot prompts you for your seat number. You pay for your order with Apple Pay, and the beverages will be delivered directly to you without having to miss any of the game action.

It’s not clear how long you have to wait for the drinks to be delivered, but it beats standing in long lines and brings an entirely digital ordering process to fans. Kevin Kearney, district manager for Aramark’s Sports and Entertainment division, sees this as a way to integrate the mobile experience into the fan experience at the game in a highly accessible way.

“The integration of Apple Business Chat with the ordering process is not only fan-friendly and easily accessible, it’s reflective of fans’ changing expectations and behaviors and we’re looking forward to Cavs and Monsters (Cleveland’s AHL affiliate) fans giving it a try,” Kearney said in a statement.

The program is being piloted for the remainder of the season as the teams and Aramark see how the process works and how fans like using it. It may not take away the sting of LeBron leaving town, but it is a convenient way to get drinks while taking in a game.

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Apple launches new iPad Air and iPad mini

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, hardware, iPad, ipad air, iPad Pro | No Comments

Apple has refreshed its iPad lineup. The company is (finally) updating the iPad mini and adding a new iPad Air. This model sits between the entry-level 9.7-inch iPad and the 11-inch iPad Pro in the lineup.

All new models now support the Apple Pencil, but you might want to double-check your iPad model before buying one. The new iPad models released today work with the first-gen Apple Pencil, not the new Apple Pencil that supports magnetic charging and pairing.

So let’s look at those new iPads. First, the iPad mini hasn’t been refreshed in three and a half years. Many people believed that Apple would simply drop the model as smartphones got bigger. But the iPad mini is making a surprise comeback.

pic.twitter.com/Iqz1MHTg1p

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) March 18, 2019

It looks identical to the previous 2015 model. But everything has been updated inside the device. It now features an A12 chip (the system on a chip designed for the iPhone XS), a 7.9-inch display that is 25 percent brighter, a wider range of colors and works with True Tone. And it also works with the Apple Pencil.

Unlike with the iPad Pro, the iPad mini still features a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, a Lightning port and a headphone jack. You can buy it today for $399 for 64GB. You can choose to pay more for 256GB of storage and cellular connectivity. It comes in silver, space gray and gold.

Second, the iPad Air. While the name sounds familiar, this is a new device in the iPad lineup. When Apple introduced the new iPad Pro models back in October, Apple raised the prices on this segment of the market.

This new iPad Air is a bit cheaper than the 11-inch iPad Pro and looks more or less like the previous generation 10.5-inch iPad Pro — I know, it’s confusing. The iPad Air now features an A12 chip, which should represent a significant upgrade over the previous-generation iPad Pro that featured an A10X. The iPad Air works with the Smart Keyboard.

You can buy the device today for $499 with 64GB of storage. You can choose to pay more for 256GB of storage and cellular connectivity. It comes in silver, space gray and gold.

The $329 iPad with a 9.7-inch display hasn’t been updated today. It still features an A10 chip, 64GB of storage and a display without True Tone technology or a wider range of colors.

 

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U.S. federal court jury finds Apple infringed three Qualcomm patents

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, Intel, iPhone, lawsuit, Mobile, patent litigation, Qualcomm, san diego, smartphones, United States | No Comments

Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm has chalked up another small legal victory against Apple in another patent litigation suit.

A jury in a U.S. federal court in San Diego found Friday that Apple owes Qualcomm about $31M for infringing three patents, per Reuters.

As we reported earlier the San Diego patent suit relates to the power consumption and speed of boot-up times for iPhones sold between mid-2017 and late-2018.

Qualcomm had asked to be awarded up to $1.41 in unpaid patent royalties damages per infringing iPhone sold during the period.

The chipmaker has filed a number of patent suits against the iPhone maker in the U.S., Europe and Asia in recent years. The suits are skirmishes in a bigger battle between the pair over licensing terms that Apple alleges are unfair and illegal.

In a statement on on the San Diego trial outcome Qualcomm executive vice president and general counsel, Don Rosenberg, said:

Today’s unanimous jury verdict is the latest victory in our worldwide patent litigation directed at holding Apple accountable for using our valuable technologies without paying for them. The technologies invented by Qualcomm and others are what made it possible for Apple to enter the market and become so successful so quickly. The three patents found to be infringed in this case represent just a small fraction of Qualcomm’s valuable portfolio of tens of thousands of patents. We are gratified that courts all over the world are rejecting Apple’s strategy of refusing to pay for the use of our IP.

The iPhone models involved in the patent suit are iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and X, which were found to infringe two Qualcomm patents, U.S. Patent No. 8,838,949 (“flashless booting”), and U.S. Patent No. 9,535,490 (data management between the applications processor and the modem); and the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X which were found to infringe Qualcomm’s U.S. Patent No. 8,633,936 (high performance rich visual graphics with power management).

The patents are not contained in modems and are not standards-essential to cellular devices, Qualcomm said.

Reuters suggests the jury’s damages award could have wider significance if it ends up being factored into the looming billion dollar royalties suit between Apple and Qualcomm — by putting a dollar value on some of the latter’s IP, the San Diego trial potentially bolsters its contention that its chip licensing practices are fair, it said.

At the time of writing it’s not clear whether Apple intends to appeal the outcome of the trial. Reuters reports the iPhone maker declined to comment on that point, after expressing general disappointment with the outcome.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment.

In a statement provided to the news agency Apple said: “Qualcomm’s ongoing campaign of patent infringement claims is nothing more than an attempt to distract from the larger issues they face with investigations into their business practices in U.S. federal court, and around the world.”

Cupertino filed its billion dollar royalties suit against Qualcomm two years ago.

It has reason to be bullish going into the trial, given a preliminary ruling Thursday — in which a U.S. federal court judge found Qualcomm owes Apple nearly $1BN in patent royalty rebate payments (via CNBC). The trial itself kicks off next month.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also filed antitrust charges against Qualcomm in 2017 — accusing the chipmaker of operating a monopoly and forcing exclusivity from Apple while charging “excessive” licensing fees for standards-essential patents.

That trial wrapped up in January and is pending a verdict from Judge Lucy Koh.

At the same time, Qualcomm has also been pursuing several international patent suits against Apple — also with some success.

In December Apple filed an appeal in China to overturn a preliminary ruling that could have blocked iPhone sales in the market.

While in Germany it did pull older iPhone models from sale in its own stores in January. But by February it was selling the two models again — albeit with Qualcomm chips, rather than Intel, inside.

This report was updated with comment from Qualcomm

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Apple ad focuses on iPhone’s most marketable feature — privacy

Posted by | Apple, computing, digital media, digital rights, Facebook, hardware, human rights, identity management, iPhone, law, Mobile, privacy, TC, terms of service, Tim Cook, United States | No Comments

Apple is airing a new ad spot in primetime today. Focused on privacy, the spot is visually cued, with no dialog and a simple tagline: Privacy. That’s iPhone.

In a series of humorous vignettes, the message is driven home that sometimes you just want a little privacy. The spot has only one line of text otherwise, and it’s in keeping with Apple’s messaging on privacy over the long and short term. “If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.”

The spot will air tonight in primetime in the U.S. and extend through March Madness. It will then air in select other countries.

You’d have to be hiding under a rock not to have noticed Apple positioning privacy as a differentiating factor between itself and other companies. Beginning a few years ago, CEO Tim Cook began taking more and more public stances on what the company felt to be your “rights” to privacy on their platform and how that differed from other companies. The undercurrent being that Apple was able to take this stance because its first-party business relies on a relatively direct relationship with customers who purchase its hardware and, increasingly, its services.

This stands in contrast to the model of other tech giants like Google or Facebook that insert an interstitial layer of monetization strategy on top of that relationship in the forms of application of personal information about you (in somewhat anonymized fashion) to sell their platform to advertisers that in turn can sell to you better.

Turning the ethical high ground into a marketing strategy is not without its pitfalls, though, as Apple has discovered recently with a (now patched) high-profile FaceTime bug that allowed people to turn your phone into a listening device, Facebook’s manipulation of App Store permissions and the revelation that there was some long overdue house cleaning needed in its Enterprise Certificate program.

I did find it interesting that the iconography of the “Private Side” spot very, very closely associates the concepts of privacy and security. They are separate, but interrelated, obviously. This spot says these are one and the same. It’s hard to enforce privacy without security, of course, but in the mind of the public I think there is very little difference between the two.

The App Store itself, of course, still hosts apps from Google and Facebook among thousands of others that use personal data of yours in one form or another. Apple’s argument is that it protects the data you give to your phone aggressively by processing on the device, collecting minimal data, disconnecting that data from the user as much as possible and giving users as transparent a control interface as possible. All true. All far, far better efforts than the competition.

Still, there is room to run, I feel, when it comes to Apple adjudicating what should be considered a societal norm when it comes to the use of personal data on its platform. If it’s going to be the absolute arbiter of what flies on the world’s most profitable application marketplace, it might as well use that power to get a little more feisty with the bigcos (and littlecos) that make their living on our data.

I mention the issues Apple has had above not as a dig, though some might be inclined to view Apple integrating privacy with marketing as boldness bordering on hubris. I, personally, think there’s still a major difference between a company that has situational loss of privacy while having a systemic dedication to privacy and, well, most of the rest of the ecosystem which exists because they operate an “invasion of privacy as a service” business.

Basically, I think stating privacy is your mission is still supportable, even if you have bugs. But attempting to ignore that you host the data platforms that thrive on it is a tasty bit of prestidigitation.

But that might be a little too verbose as a tagline.

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Apple’s streaming service could feature content from partners

Posted by | Apple, apple news, apple tv, Entertainment, Gadgets, rumor | No Comments

A report from Bloomberg shares some of the details about the long-rumored video streaming service from Apple. The company should unveil this service at a press conference in Cupertino on March 25.

While Apple has been working on a ton of original content for its new streaming service, Bloomberg says that most of it won’t be ready for the launch later this month. Apple will probably share some teasers onstage, but the launch lineup will mostly feature third-party content.

Apple is probably talking with everyone, but many premium cable channels still have to decide about Apple’s streaming service. HBO, Showtime and Starz have to decide by Friday whether they want to be part of the launch.

It’s unclear if Apple is going to feature some or all content from those partners. Many of them already have a streaming service on their own, and you can access their libraries from the TV app on your Apple TV or iOS device.

Apple could streamline the experience by letting you subscribe to various content bundles in its own streaming service. Amazon already provides something similar with Amazon Prime Video Channels. Netflix and Hulu will likely remain independent services, as they compete directly with Apple’s original content effort.

When it comes to Apple’s other announcement, the company should also unveil its Apple News subscription on March 25. Apple acquired Texture last year and has been working on a digital magazine subscription for a while.

Unsurprisingly, it looks like Apple News’ magazine service is prepared to launch on macOS too pic.twitter.com/df0oyJXvjF

— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) March 12, 2019

Once again, details are still thin for this new service when it comes to pricing, availability outside of the U.S. and content.

Last month, the WSJ reported that Apple has been working with Goldman Sachs on a credit card that would integrate deeply with the Apple Wallet app. Given that Apple’s event is about services, let’s see if the company talks about this new product, as well.

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Apple could launch augmented reality headset in 2020

Posted by | Apple, AR, augmented reality, augmented reality headset, Gadgets, ming-chi kuo, rumor, TC | No Comments

According to a new report from Ming-Chi Kuo (via 9to5mac), a reliable analyst on all things Apple, the company has been working on an augmented reality headset and is about to launch the device. This pair of glasses could go into mass production as early as Q4 2019 and should be available at some point during the first half of 2020.

It’s still unclear what you’ll be able to do with this mysterious headset. Kuo says that it’ll work more or less like an Apple Watch. You won’t be able to use the AR headset without an iPhone as it’ll rely heavily on your iPhone.

The glasses will act as a deported display to give you information right in front of your eyes. Your iPhone will do the heavy lifting when it comes to internet connectivity, location services and computing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the AR headset relies on Bluetooth to communicate with your iPhone.

Kuo’s report doesn’t say what you’ll find in the headset. Apple could embed displays and sensors so that the AR headset is aware of your surroundings. An AR device only makes sense if Apple puts sensors to detect things around you.

Apple has already experimented with augmented reality with its ARKit framework on iOS. Developers have been able to build apps that integrate digital elements in the real world, as viewed through your phone cameras.

While many apps have added AR features, most of them feel gimmicky and don’t add any real value. There hasn’t been a ton of AR-native apps either.

One interested use case for augmented reality is mapping. Google recently unveiled an augmented reality mode for Google Maps. You can hold your phone in front of your face to see arrows indicating where you’re supposed to go.

Apple has also been rebuilding Apple Maps with its own data. The company isn’t just drawing maps. It is collecting a ton of real-world data using LiDAR sensors and eight cameras attached to a car roof. Let’s see if Apple Maps will play an important part in Apple’s rumored AR headset.

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5G phones are here but there’s no rush to upgrade

Posted by | 5g, Android, Apple, Asia, barcelona, broadband, Caching, China, deutsche telekom, donovan sung, Europe, european commission, european union, huawei, Intel, Internet of Things, iPhone, LG, Mobile, mwc 2019, Qualcomm, Samsung, singtel, smartphone, smartphones, south korea, TC, telecommunications, Xiaomi | No Comments

This year’s Mobile World Congress — the CES for Android device makers — was awash with 5G handsets.

The world’s No.1 smartphone seller by marketshare, Samsung, got out ahead with a standalone launch event in San Francisco, showing off two 5G devices, just before fast-following Android rivals popped out their own 5G phones at launch events across Barcelona this week.

We’ve rounded up all these 5G handset launches here. Prices range from an eye-popping $2,600 for Huawei’s foldable phabet-to-tablet Mate X — and an equally eye-watering $1,980 for Samsung’s Galaxy Fold; another 5G handset that bends — to a rather more reasonable $680 for Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 5G, albeit the device is otherwise mid-tier. Other prices for 5G phones announced this week remain tbc.

Android OEMs are clearly hoping the hype around next-gen mobile networks can work a little marketing magic and kick-start stalled smartphone growth. Especially with reports suggesting Apple won’t launch a 5G iPhone until at least next year. So 5G is a space Android OEMs alone get to own for a while.

Chipmaker Qualcomm, which is embroiled in a bitter patent battle with Apple, was also on stage in Barcelona to support Xiaomi’s 5G phone launch — loudly claiming the next-gen tech is coming fast and will enhance “everything”.

“We like to work with companies like Xiaomi to take risks,” lavished Qualcomm’s president Cristiano Amon upon his hosts, using 5G uptake to jibe at Apple by implication. “When we look at the opportunity ahead of us for 5G we see an opportunity to create winners.”

Despite the heavy hype, Xiaomi’s on stage demo — which it claimed was the first live 5G video call outside China — seemed oddly staged and was not exactly lacking in latency.

“Real 5G — not fake 5G!” finished Donovan Sung, the Chinese OEM’s director of product management. As a 5G sales pitch it was all very underwhelming. Much more ‘so what’ than ‘must have’.

Whether 5G marketing hype alone will convince consumers it’s past time to upgrade seems highly unlikely.

Phones sell on features rather than connectivity per se, and — whatever Qualcomm claims — 5G is being soft-launched into the market by cash-constrained carriers whose boom times lie behind them, i.e. before over-the-top players had gobbled their messaging revenues and monopolized consumer eyeballs.

All of which makes 5G an incremental consumer upgrade proposition in the near to medium term.

Use-cases for the next-gen network tech, which is touted as able to support speeds up to 100x faster than LTE and deliver latency of just a few milliseconds (as well as connecting many more devices per cell site), are also still being formulated, let alone apps and services created to leverage 5G.

But selling a network upgrade to consumers by claiming the killer apps are going to be amazing but you just can’t show them any yet is as tough as trying to make theatre out of a marginally less janky video call.

“5G could potentially help [spark smartphone growth] in a couple of years as price points lower, and availability expands, but even that might not see growth rates similar to the transition to 3G and 4G,” suggests Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, writing in a blog post discussing Samsung’s strategy with its latest device launches.

“This is not because 5G is not important, but because it is incremental when it comes to phones and it will be other devices that will deliver on experiences, we did not even think were possible. Consumers might end up, therefore, sharing their budget more than they did during the rise of smartphones.”

The ‘problem’ for 5G — if we can call it that — is that 4G/LTE networks are capably delivering all the stuff consumers love right now: Games, apps and video. Which means that for the vast majority of consumers there’s simply no reason to rush to shell out for a ‘5G-ready’ handset. Not if 5G is all the innovation it’s got going for it.

LG V50 ThinQ 5G with a dual screen accessory for gaming

Use cases such as better AR/VR are also a tough sell given how weak consumer demand has generally been on those fronts (with the odd branded exception).

The barebones reality is that commercial 5G networks are as rare as hen’s teeth right now, outside a few limited geographical locations in the U.S. and Asia. And 5G will remain a very patchy patchwork for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, it may take a very long time indeed to achieve nationwide coverage in many countries, if 5G even ends up stretching right to all those edges. (Alternative technologies do also exist which could help fill in gaps where the ROI just isn’t there for 5G.)

So again consumers buying phones with the puffed up idea of being able to tap into 5G right here, right now (Qualcomm claimed 2019 is going to be “the year of 5G!”) will find themselves limited to just a handful of urban locations around the world.

Analysts are clear that 5G rollouts, while coming, are going to be measured and targeted as carriers approach what’s touted as a multi-industry-transforming wireless technology cautiously, with an eye on their capex and while simultaneously trying to figure out how best to restructure their businesses to engage with all the partners they’ll need to forge business relations with, across industries, in order to successfully sell 5G’s transformative potential to all sorts of enterprises — and lock onto “the sweep spot where 5G makes sense”.

Enterprise rollouts therefore look likely to be prioritized over consumer 5G — as was the case for 5G launches in South Korea at the back end of last year.

“4G was a lot more driven by the consumer side and there was an understanding that you were going for national coverage that was never really a question and you were delivering on the data promise that 3G never really delivered… so there was a gap of technology that needed to be filled. With 5G it’s much less clear,” says Gartner’s Sylvain Fabre, discussing the tech’s hype and the reality with TechCrunch ahead of MWC.

“4G’s very good, you have multiple networks that are Gbps or more and that’s continuing to increase on the downlink with multiple carrier aggregation… and other densification schemes. So 5G doesn’t… have as gap as big to fill. It’s great but again it’s applicability of where it’s uniquely positioned is kind of like a very narrow niche at the moment.”

“It’s such a step change that the real power of 5G is actually in creating new business models using network slicing — allocation of particular aspects of the network to a particular use-case,” Forrester analyst Dan Bieler also tells us. “All of this requires some rethinking of what connectivity means for an enterprise customer or for the consumer.

“And telco sales people, the telco go-to-market approach is not based on selling use-cases, mostly — it’s selling technologies. So this is a significant shift for the average telco distribution channel to go through. And I would believe this will hold back a lot of the 5G ambitions for the medium term.”

To be clear, carriers are now actively kicking the tyres of 5G, after years of lead-in hype, and grappling with technical challenges around how best to upgrade their existing networks to add in and build out 5G.

Many are running pilots and testing what works and what doesn’t, such as where to place antennas to get the most reliable signal and so on. And a few have put a toe in the water with commercial launches (globally there are 23 networks with “some form of live 5G in their commercial networks” at this point, according to Fabre.)

But at the same time 5G network standards are yet to be fully finalized so the core technology is not 100% fully baked. And with it being early days “there’s still a long way to go before we have a real significant impact of 5G type of services”, as Bieler puts it. 

There’s also spectrum availability to factor in and the cost of acquiring the necessary spectrum. As well as the time required to clear and prepare it for commercial use. (On spectrum, government policy is critical to making things happen quickly (or not). So that’s yet another factor moderating how quickly 5G networks can be built out.)

And despite some wishful thinking industry noises at MWC this week — calling for governments to ‘support digitization at scale’ by handing out spectrum for free (uhhhh, yeah right) — that’s really just whistling into the wind.

Rolling out 5G networks is undoubtedly going to be very expensive, at a time when carriers’ businesses are already faced with rising costs (from increasing data consumption) and subdued revenue growth forecasts.

“The world now works on data” and telcos are “at core of this change”, as one carrier CEO — Singtel’s Chua Sock Koong — put it in an MWC keynote in which she delved into the opportunities and challenges for operators “as we go from traditional connectivity to a new age of intelligent connectivity”.

Chua argued it will be difficult for carriers to compete “on the basis of connectivity alone” — suggesting operators will have to pivot their businesses to build out standalone business offerings selling all sorts of b2b services to support the digital transformations of other industries as part of the 5G promise — and that’s clearly going to suck up a lot of their time and mind for the foreseeable future.

In Europe alone estimates for the cost of rolling out 5G range between €300BN and €500BN (~$340BN-$570BN), according to Bieler. Figures that underline why 5G is going to grow slowly, and networks be built out thoughtfully; in the b2b space this means essentially on a case-by-case basis.

Simply put carriers must make the economics stack up. Which means no “huge enormous gambles with 5G”. And omnipresent ROI pressure pushing them to try to eke out a premium.

“A lot of the network equipment vendors have turned down the hype quite a bit,” Bieler continues. “If you compare this to the hype around 3G many years ago or 4G a couple of years ago 5G definitely comes across as a soft launch. Sort of an evolutionary type of technology. I have not come across a network equipment vendors these days who will say there will be a complete change in everything by 2020.”

On the consumer pricing front, carriers have also only just started to grapple with 5G business models. One early example is TC parent Verizon’s 5G home service — which positions the next-gen wireless tech as an alternative to fixed line broadband with discounts if you opt for a wireless smartphone data plan as well as 5G broadband.

From the consumer point of view, the carrier 5G business model conundrum boils down to: What is my carrier going to charge me for 5G? And early adopters of any technology tend to get stung on that front.

Although, in mobile, price premiums rarely stick around for long as carriers inexorably find they must ditch premiums to unlock scale — via consumer-friendly ‘all you can eat’ price plans.

Still, in the short term, carriers look likely to experiment with 5G pricing and bundles — basically seeing what they can make early adopters pay. But it’s still far from clear that people will pay a premium for better connectivity alone. And that again necessitates caution. 

5G bundled with exclusive content might be one way carriers try to extract a premium from consumers. But without huge and/or compelling branded content inventory that risks being a too niche proposition too. And the more carriers split their 5G offers the more consumers might feel they don’t need to bother, and end up sticking with 4G for longer.

It’ll also clearly take time for a 5G ‘killer app’ to emerge in the consumer space. And such an app would likely need to still be able to fallback on 4G, again to ensure scale. So the 5G experience will really need to be compellingly different in order for the tech to sell itself.

On the handset side, 5G chipset hardware is also still in its first wave. At MWC this week Qualcomm announced a next-gen 5G modem, stepping up from last year’s Snapdragon 855 chipset — which it heavily touted as architected for 5G (though it doesn’t natively support 5G).

If you’re intending to buy and hold on to a 5G handset for a few years there’s thus a risk of early adopter burn at the chipset level — i.e. if you end up with a device with a suckier battery life vs later iterations of 5G hardware where more performance kinks have been ironed out.

Intel has warned its 5G modems won’t be in phones until next year — so, again, that suggests no 5G iPhones before 2020. And Apple is of course a great bellwether for mainstream consumer tech; the company only jumps in when it believes a technology is ready for prime time, rarely sooner. And if Cupertino feels 5G can wait, that’s going to be equally true for most consumers.

Zooming out, the specter of network security (and potential regulation) now looms very large indeed where 5G is concerned, thanks to East-West trade tensions injecting a strange new world of geopolitical uncertainty into an industry that’s never really had to grapple with this kind of business risk before.

Chinese kit maker Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, used the opportunity of an MWC keynote to defend the company and its 5G solutions against U.S. claims its network tech could be repurposed by the Chinese state as a high tech conduit to spy on the West — literally telling delegates: “We don’t do bad things” and appealing to them to plainly to: “Please choose Huawei!”

Huawei rotating resident, Guo Ping, defends the security of its network kit on stage at MWC 2019

When established technology vendors are having to use a high profile industry conference to plead for trust it’s strange and uncertain times indeed.

In Europe it’s possible carriers’ 5G network kit choices could soon be regulated as a result of security concerns attached to Chinese suppliers. The European Commission suggested as much this week, saying in another MWC keynote that it’s preparing to step in try to prevent security concerns at the EU Member State level from fragmenting 5G rollouts across the bloc.

In an on stage Q&A Orange’s chairman and CEO, Stéphane Richard, couched the risk of destabilization of the 5G global supply chain as a “big concern”, adding: “It’s the first time we have such an important risk in our industry.”

Geopolitical security is thus another issue carriers are having to factor in as they make decisions about how quickly to make the leap to 5G. And holding off on upgrades, while regulators and other standards bodies try to figure out a trusted way forward, might seem the more sensible thing to do — potentially stalling 5G upgrades in the meanwhile.

Given all the uncertainties there’s certainly no reason for consumers to rush in.

Smartphone upgrade cycles have slowed globally for a reason. Mobile hardware is mature because it’s serving consumers very well. Handsets are both powerful and capable enough to last for years.

And while there’s no doubt 5G will change things radically in future, including for consumers — enabling many more devices to be connected and feeding back data, with the potential to deliver on the (much hyped but also still pretty nascent) ‘smart home’ concept — the early 5G sales pitch for consumers essentially boils down to more of the same.

“Over the next ten years 4G will phase out. The question is how fast that happens in the meantime and again I think that will happen slower than in early times because [with 5G] you don’t come into a vacuum, you don’t fill a big gap,” suggests Gartner’s Fabre. “4G’s great, it’s getting better, wi’fi’s getting better… The story of let’s build a big national network to do 5G at scale [for all] that’s just not happening.”

“I think we’ll start very, very simple,” he adds of the 5G consumer proposition. “Things like caching data or simply doing more broadband faster. So more of the same.

“It’ll be great though. But you’ll still be watching Netflix and maybe there’ll be a couple of apps that come up… Maybe some more interactive collaboration or what have you. But we know these things are being used today by enterprises and consumers and they’ll continue to be used.”

So — in sum — the 5G mantra for the sensible consumer is really ‘wait and see’.

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Facebook admits 18% of Research spyware users were teens, not

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Certifigate, Facebook, Facebook Policy, facebook privacy, facebook research, Facebook Researchgate, Facebook Teens, Government, mark warner, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook has changed its story after initially trying to downplay how it targeted teens with its Research program that a TechCrunch investigation revealed was paying them gift cards to monitor all their mobile app usage and browser traffic. “Less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch and many other news outlets in a damage control effort 7 hours after we published our report on January 29th. At the time,  Facebook claimed that it had removed its Research app from iOS. The next morning we learned that wasn’t true, as Apple had already forcibly blocked the Facebook Research app for violating its Enterprise Certificate program that supposed to reserved for companies distributing internal apps to employees.

It turns out that wasn’t the only time Facebook deceived the public in its response regarding the Research VPN scandal. TechCrunch has obtained Facebook’s unpublished February 21st response to questions about the Research program in a letter from Senator Mark Warner, who wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg that “Facebook’s apparent lack of full transparency with users – particularly in the context of ‘research’ efforts – has been a source of frustration for me.”

In the response from Facebook’s VP of US public policy Kevin Martin, the company admits that (emphasis ours) “At the time we ended the Facebook Research App on Apple’s iOS platform, less than 5 percent of the people sharing data with us through this program were teens. Analysis shows that number is about 18 percent when you look at the complete lifetime of the program, and also add people who had become inactive and uninstalled the app.” So 18 percent of research testers were teens. It was only less than 5 percent when Facebook got caught. Given users age 13 to 35 were eligible for Facebook’s Research program, 13 to 18 year olds made of 22 percent of the age range. That means Facebook clearly wasn’t trying to minimize teen involvement, nor were they just a tiny fraction of users.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Warner asked Facebook “Do you think any use reasonable understood Facebook was using this data for commercial purposes includingto track competitors?” Facebook response indicates it never told Research users anything about tracking “competitors”, and instead dances around the question. Facebook says the registration process told users the data would help the company “understand how people use mobile apps,” “improve . . . services,” and “introduce new features for millions of people around the world.”

Facebook had also told reporters on January 29th regarding teens’ participation, “All of them with signed parental consent forms.” Yet in its response to Senator Warner, Facebook admitted that “Potential participants were required to confirm that they were over 18 or provide other evidence of parental consent, though the vendors did not require a signed parental consent form for teen users.” In some cases, underage users merely had to check a box to claim they had parental consent, and there was no verification of users’ ages or that their parents actually approved.

So to quickly recap:

Facebook targeted teens with ads on Instagram and Snapchat to join the Research program without revealing its involvement

The contradictions between Facebook’s initial response to reporters and what it told Warner, who has the power to pursue regulation of the the tech giant, shows Facebook willingness to move fast and play loose with the truth when it’s less accountable. It’s no wonder the company never shared the response with TechCrunch or posted a blog post or press release about it.

Facebook’s attempt to minimize the issue in the wake of backlash exemplifies the trend of of the social network’s “reactionary” PR strategy that employees described to BuzzFeed’s Ryan Mac. The company often views its scandals as communications errors rather than actual product screwups or as signals of deep-seeded problems with Facebook’s respect for privacy. Facebook needs to learn to take its lumps, change course, and do better rather than constantly trying to challenge details of negative press about it, especially before it has all the necessary information. Until then, the never-ending news cycle of Facebook’s self-made disasters will continue.

Below is Facebook’s full response to Senator Warner’s inquiry, and following that is Warner’s original letter to Mark Zuckerberg.



Additional reporting by Krystal Hu

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Apple removes VoIP app clones from the App Store

Posted by | App Store clones, app-store, Apple, Apps, Mobile | No Comments

Following my report from yesterday, Apple has removed many of the apps I pointed out. When you try to find them on the App Store, they are no longer available.

App Store Review Guidelines are very clear when it comes to app duplicates. According to rule 4.3, you can’t release the same app multiple times on the App Store as it is considered as spamming.

But that rule has been poorly enforced, and some companies have taken advantage of that. In my original report, I focused on one category in particular — VoIP apps that let you get a second phone number and send and receive calls and texts from that new number.

Developers release multiple versions of the same app so they can use different names, different keywords and different categories. This way, they can cover a wide range of keywords when you’re searching for an app in the App Store.

So let’s look at the developers I called out yesterday. It’s still unclear if some of these apps will reappear after some changes.

TextMe, Inc.

BinaryPattern and Flexible Numbers LLC

Appverse Inc.

Dingtone Inc.

This case illustrates once again that Apple holds the keys to the App Store kingdom. The company acts as a judge and can make or break some companies.

Some of those companies have released clones of their apps and benefited from that strategy for many years. The main issue here is that App Store rules aren’t enforced consistently.

Plenty of clones in other categories

The clone plague is far from over. Many categories also use this App Store optimization strategy.

JPEG Labs has released four different apps that let you print photos in Walgreens or CVS stores around you. They all do the same thing but have different names and keywords. (They also tell you to leave a review right after opening the app.)

Photo Prints: 1 Hour Photos

Print Photos: 1 Hour Prints

Printmatic 1 Hour Photo Print

Same Day Canvas Photo Prints

When you can’t beat them, acquire them

Another good example is MailPix, Inc. You can find multiple copies of the same app. The company is also slowly expanding its App Store footprint by acquiring competitors and changing those apps into duplicated versions of the main app.

MailPix acquired Photobucket’s printing app to turn it into a clone.

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Virtual phone number apps are gaming the App Store with duplicates

Posted by | app-store, Apple, Apps, Developer, Mobile | No Comments

If you’ve searched the App Store for an app to get a second phone number, chances are you found dozens of apps with very little differences. A handful of companies are spamming the App Store with duplicated apps. This strategy is against Apple’s rules.

The App Store Review Guidelines are detailed rules that define what you can and cannot do on the App Store. As soon as you sign up for a developer account and submit an app to the App Store review team, you agree to comply with those rules. It’s a long document, but rule 4.3 titled “Spam” is straightforward:

Don’t create multiple Bundle IDs of the same app. If your app has different versions for specific locations, sports teams, universities, etc., consider submitting a single app and provide the variations using in-app purchase. Also avoid piling on to a category that is already saturated; the App Store has enough fart, burp, flashlight, and Kama Sutra apps already. Spamming the store may lead to your removal from the Developer Program.

A tipster looked at a specific category in the App Store — VoIP apps that let you get a second phone number and send and receive calls and texts from that new number. I looked at that category myself, and here are the results of my investigation.

Companies don’t even try to hide the fact that have submitted multiple versions of the same app with different names and icons. But core features remain the same. Apple hasn’t enforced its own guideline properly and developers took advantage of that grey area.

Example 1: TextMe

As you can see on the company’s website, TextMe currently operates three apps and is open about it — TextMe Up, TextMe and FreeTone. These three apps all have an average of 4.7 stars in the App Store with hundreds of thousands of reviews in total.

The wording is slightly different for each app. TextMe Up lets you “call & text anyone in the world from your mobile, tablet, and computer,” while TextMe lets you “get a new phone number and start texting and making calls for free” and FreeTone is all about “[enjoying] free calls & texts to the phone numbers in the US and Canada.”

But if you look at the App Store screenshots, the company doesn’t even bother changing the screenshots or marketing copy.

“Our apps have a different marketing target,” TextMe, Inc. co-founder and co-CEO Patrice Giami told me in a phone interview. “They share the same code base, but we can activate or deactivate some features in order to differentiate the apps. We manage that depending on the competitive environment and if we need to optimize distribution.”

Giami also believes that his company complies with the App Store guidelines. “Apple is doing a very systematic review — we’re constantly scrutinized because we release a lot of app updates. We’ve never been flagged or contacted by Apple — they’ve never said that we’re releasing complete clones of the same app,” he said.

TextMe uses the same developer account for its three apps, Text Me, Inc. Apple could easily compare those apps if it wanted to.

Example 2: BinaryPattern and Flexible Numbers LLC

This case is a bit more sophisticated. The company behind these apps has two different developer accounts and tried to differentiate its App Store listings a bit. Similarly, buttons and colors vary slightly from one app to another, but it’s the same feature set.

Here are a few screenshots I took:

Texting/Calling Phone Burner

Smiley Private Texting SMS

Texting Shield – Phone Number

Burner Phone Numbers SMS/Calls

Business Line Phone Number

I’ve reached out to BinaryPattern/Flexible Numbers and haven’t heard back.

Example 3: Appsverse Inc.

This time, Phoner, Second Line and Text Burner all share the same developer account. Even though these apps let you do the same thing, Appsverse has released its app in three different App Store categories — utilities, productivity and social networking.

By doing that, the company’s apps appear in multiple categories. Text Burner is No. 88 in social networking, Second Line is No. 74 in productivity and Phoner is No. 106 in utilities.

It seems a bit counterintuitive as Appsverse splits their downloads between multiple apps. But I believe the main reason the company is releasing multiple apps is for keyword optimization and App Store search results. It then picks a different category for each app, but it’s a side effect.

Appsverse sent me the following statement:

The guideline promotes a healthy App Store ecosystem that is good for both developers and users. It prevents proliferation of similar apps that does not have a differentiation in business model, features, use cases and demographic appeal.

Example 4: Telos Mobile and Dingtone Inc.

On paper, Dingtone and Telos look like two different apps from two different companies. I downloaded the Dingtone app and signed up with my email address. I then downloaded the Telos app and signed up with the same email address. Here’s the message I got:

I’ve reached out to Telos/Dingtone and haven’t heard back.

A level playing field

These companies haven’t done anything illegal. They took advantage of Apple’s lack of oversight on an App Store rule. Releasing multiple versions of the same app is a great App Store optimization strategy. This way, you can pick a different name, different keywords and different categories. Chances are potential customers are going to see your app in their App Store search results.

While Apple is usually quite strict when it comes to App Store guidelines, it hasn’t enforced some of them. And this is unfair for app developers who play by the rules. They can’t compete as effectively with companies that know that they can ignore some rules.

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