Published on September 29 2016

Apple logs every iPhone user’s text message contacts, new leak claims

Apple likes to make boasts about how secure its Messages app is, but new revelations from The Intercept detail how Apple keeps a log of every iPhone user's texting contacts that they will readily share with law enforcement authorities when served with a court order.

Now this isn’t a Snowden level leak by any means, nor does it imply or suggest that Apple has access to the content of any privately sent messages, but in today’s age where user privacy is a hot-button issue, it can never hurt to be cognizant of what information might be shared with the police.

According to leaked documents, any time an iOS user begins a text communication, Apple will take note of the target number and see if it corresponds to an iOS device capable of receiving a blue-bubbled iPhone message. While this isn't new information in and of itself, what was not previously known is that every number Apple checks against their iMessage database is kept in a log for 30 days.

This log also includes the date and time when you entered a number, along with your IP address — which could, contrary to a 2013 Apple claim that “we do not store data related to customers’ location,” identify a customer’s location. Apple is compelled to turn over such information via court orders for systems known as “pen registers” or “tap and trace devices,” orders that are not particularly onerous to obtain, requiring only that government lawyers represent they are “likely” to obtain information whose “use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

To be clear, the logs in question are not stored perpetually on Apple’s servers. On the contrary, they are removed and cleared every 30-days, barring of course, a court order that would compel Apple to extend a particular log’s existence.

The underlying purpose of these logs, from a law enforcement perspective, is that it provides them with a clearer picture of who a given individual may have been in contact with. In a broader sense, it helps law enforcement authorities establish a communication network for whomever they happen to be investigating.

Commenting on the matter, Apple issued the following statement:

When law enforcement presents us with a valid subpoena or court order, we provide the requested information if it is in our possession. Because iMessage is encrypted end-to-end, we do not have access to the contents of those communications. In some cases, we are able to provide data from server logs that are generated from customers accessing certain apps on their devices. We work closely with law enforcement to help them understand what we can provide and make clear these query logs don’t contain the contents of conversations or prove that any communication actually took place.

As far as privacy issues are concerned, this is hardly something to be worry about or be righteously indignant about. Still, it can never hurt to know exactly what a company knows about its user base and how information may or may not be shared with authorities.

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Published on September 29 2016

This crazy new feature might be coming to the Galaxy Note 8

There’s really one thing Samsung has to improve by this time next year to make the Galaxy Note 8 an exciting device: the battery. Making one that doesn't explode is a good first step. But Samsung will bring other new features to its next-gen phablet, and a redesigned S Pen stylus with a crazy new feature might be one of them.

The stylus is the iconic feature of the Galaxy Note family, a device that lets Samsung offer phablet fans a series of software tricks that aren’t available on other devices. The Galaxy Note 7’s S Pen brings over a slew of improvements compared to its predecessor, but Samsung has no plans to stop refining it.

A newly discovered patent indicates that Samsung is toying with the idea of including a speaker in the S Pen stylus of the future.

First seen by Patently Mobile, the patent describes a speaker system that would work differently depending on the position of the stylus. When the S Pen is docked, the sound will be emitted from the bottom of the stylus. When in use, the sound will come from the S Pen enclosure.

Such a creation would help Samsung free up space inside the Galaxy Note, as it could do away with the speaker and speaker grille that are found on the current Galaxy Note. The extra space could be used to boost battery capacity or house additional components.

As is the case with other patents, the technology described in this new Samsung patent might never find its way to commercial products. However, it’s still interesting to see Samsung looking to extend the use of one of the best Galaxy Note features.

Meanwhile, Samsung still has to clean up after its Galaxy Note 7 debacle. No matter how nifty its new stylus features might be, batteries that don’s explode are sexier.

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Published on September 29 2016

Why Xiaomi's new handsets won't give it an edge in the smartphone market

Xiaomi's new handsets might provide good value for money for customers, but analysts reckon they might not be enough to help the company close in on the world's largest smartphone vendors.

The Chinese smartphone maker on Wednesday introduced two new successor handsets to its flagship Mi 5 smartphone model - Mi 5s and Mi 5s Plus. The handsets, which are going to be available in China starting September 29, cost relatively less than other high-end smartphones, but offer similar features.

The Mi 5s costs 1,999 yuan ($299.64), while the Mi 5s Plus is priced at 2,299 yuan. By comparison, the suggested starting price for Apple 's new iPhone 7 is $649.

"The new phones look nice, but the problem that Xiaomi, and all of these vendors are facing, is that we're seeing a slowdown in major innovations," said Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis Research, told CNBC's " The Rundown " on Wednesday.

"Everybody nowadays is bringing out slightly better cameras, slightly faster processors and other relatively minor improvements," O'Donnell said, adding incremental features are not going to drive dramatic upgrades at a time when users were sticking to the same smartphone for a longer duration of time.

Xiaomi packed more power into the new handsets, with a new Snapdragon 821 processor; it introduced a larger 5.7-inch screen and a dual camera system comprising two 13-megapixel sensors for the Mi 5s Plus, while putting a Sony CMOS image sensor, usually found in compact digital cameras, in the Mi 5s for better quality pictures.

The stand-out feature introduced was the ultrasonic fingerprint sensing technology, which Xiaomi said could read a user's fingerprint using ultrasonic waves when the user placed a finger on the sensor. This allowed Xiaomi to put their fingerprint sensor under the top glass of the phones, which eliminated the need for a ridge button or touch pad that is common in other handsets including the Samsung Galaxy S7.

"In theory, this would be more accurate since dirt will not affect the finger print being read here," IDC's senior market analyst, Xiaohan Tay, told CNBC by email.

"Xiaomi has never failed in its messaging of delivering phones with good specifications at a low-cost. My thoughts are that consumers will still see it as a low-cost alternative to Apple's newest iPhones," she said.

The new Mi 5s and 5s Plus handsets may not give Xiaomi the kind of boost in the smartphone market that it was hoping for, both O'Donnell and Tay agreed.

"I think smartphones peaked in fourth quarter 2015, and this year's going to be relatively flat, and perhaps even down," said O'Donnell, alluding to sales figures. "I'm not so sure if these new phones are going to make a dramatic difference for them."

The gap between Xiaomi and the world's largest smartphone makers has widened this year.

Data from research firm Gartner showed in the second quarter of 2016, Xiaomi held a 4.5 percent market share as the fifth largest vendor worldwide, compared to a 4.7 percent share a year earlier. In contrast, market leader Samsung increased their market share in the second quarter to 22.3 percent, from 21.8 percent a year earlier.

IDC numbers, on the other hand, showed the smartphone maker was pushed out of the global top five by Chinese rivals OPPO and vivo this year, while rival Huawei consolidated its third spot on the table.

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Published on September 29 2016

What Apple thinks about Blackberry killing its phone business

Over the past few years, much has been written about BlackBerry’s historic fall from grace. In a turn of events that already has the trappings of a classic Business School 101 case-study, the famed Canadian tech giant once ruled the smartphone market with an iron fist before Apple swooped in out of nowhere and pushed them to the brink of irrelevance.

Once it became clear that Apple’s take on the modern-day smartphone was where the entire industry was headed, BlackBerry tried to implement all sorts of gimmicks, strategy re-shifts, and executive shuffling in an effort to stay afloat. Alas, there was nothing that BlackBerry could do to remain relevant in a smartphone market that quickly became a two-horse race between Apple and Android.

Amid mounting losses, BlackBerry earlier today signaled its intention to stop developing BlackBerry smartphones in-house. Instead, the company will pivot (yet again!) and will now focus its efforts exclusively on security and software while leaving the hardware to third parties.

Interestingly enough, Apple now appears to be taking up more and more ground in the enterprise, an area that BlackBerry once dominated. In the wake of Apple inking a new and sweeping iPhone/iPad deployment deal with Deloitte, the Financial Times asked Tim Cook about BlackBerry’s aforementioned announcement.

Not one to mince words, Cook said: "I think their sales have been fairly low for a while. We are very focused on the opportunity and we see it as massive."

Indeed, with Apple looking for more ways to grow the iPhone line, the company in recent years has been paying increasingly more attention to the enterprise.

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Published on September 18 2016

Microsoft will close its Skype office in London

The London office is a key part of Skype’s history, since it was the primary engineering site and headquarters of the company before Microsoft acquired it, and it also survived Skype’s strange interlude under the ownership of eBay before it was acquired by the big M.

While the move is no doubt a blow to London’s tech scene, some former insiders told the FT that it’s also not a surprise to see it go, largely because a steady stream of executive departures over the last few years have foretold a shift in the locus of power at the company. Post-acquisition, Microsoft has also done a lot of product work on Skype, with plenty of integration with Office 365 and a number of feature introductions that bring it closer in line with Slack.

Microsoft likely now intends to build Skype from Redmond, which should help further align its strategic vision across its software products.

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Published on September 18 2016

Apple, Samsung struggle in face of Chinese competition

The global launch of the iPhone 7 on Friday is crucial to Apple's fortunes in China, but both it and its biggest rival Samsung, hit by a recall over exploding batteries, are struggling in the face of upstart local competitors.

The US and South Korean firms were relegated to fourth and fifth place respectively in the Asian giant's smartphone market in the first half of this year, according to consultancy Canalys.

Ahead of them came three Chinese firms, leader Huawei with a 16 percent share, then two companies little known elsewhere, Vivo and Oppo.

Apple faces "a lot of challenges and pressures? in China from local manufacturers who are "developing medium- to high-end handsets and offer a lot of flagship products", said Canalys China analyst Jessie Ding.

The iPhone 7 -- which comes with an improved camera, a water resistant body and minus an earphone jack -- "doesn't have many innovative features", she said, pointing out that its double camera function was available on a Huawei smartphone six months ago, and it lacks wireless charging capabilities.

In its most recent quarterly results, Apple said Greater China dropped from second to third place among its markets in the April-June period -- when market research firm IDC says its iPhone sales collapsed by 32 percent year-on-year.

For its part, Samsung has had to recall 2.5 million of its flagship Galaxy Note 7 handsets after faulty batteries caused some to explode during charging.

The company has handled the issue badly, said Neil Mawston of Strategy Analytics, with slow decision-making, poor communications and a lack of coordination, and its image risks suffering.

"Brand loyalty is not as strong in China as in other markets," he told AFP. "It's a very crowded, fragmented market and fiercely competitive, with rivals undercutting each other with price and design. So it's not a market you can afford to falter in."

Low-priced Chinese competitors have been "particularly troublesome" for Samsung, which has in the past sought to offer phones across all price ranges, he added.

It has responded by trying to focus on the mid- and high-end sector with improved models, which could make the recall especially damaging.

And now, he added, "the Chinese companies are producing higher-end smartphones as well -- and with a large degree of success.

"In the last three or four years, local Chinese brands have been on a roll, fuelled by a swell of national pride in 'brand China'."

- Aggressive marketing -

Chinese manufacturers' great advantage remains price: Huawei's P9 boasts similar capabilities to the iPhone 7 but is almost a third cheaper.

There is no official ranking of smartphone sales in China, and several different consultancies put out figures.

Oppo -- an unknown in the West -- has experienced a meteoric rise since it launched in 2011, and according to Counterpoint Research, it became China's number one smartphone brand in June, when its market share jumped to 23 percent.

It is aiming squarely for the low end of the market.

"Oppo has adopted a simple but effective strategy, going after the offline market... using aggressive marketing, promotions and sponsorships... beyond tier-2 and tier-3 cities," said Counterpoint Research director Neil Shah.

Vivo, part of BKK Electronics, the same conglomerate that owns Oppo -- employs similar methods, investing heavily in marketing to build up its brand image, and on a vast distribution network that extends to China's smaller and poorer cities and towns.

- Blocked services -

Apple still benefits from its luxury image and "the strong loyalty of its long-time users" in China, said Fu Liang, an independent analyst based in Beijing.

"The enduring image of Apple brand products as well as existing customer loyalty will continue very strongly," he said.

But the Californian firm sometimes has to contend with the country's Communist authorities, despite regular visits from chief executive Tim Cook, who has made two so far this year and promised in August to open a large research and development centre in the country.

Apple's iTunes Movies and iBooks services launched in China earlier this year, but were then promptly blocked by Beijing.

The firm has sometimes been targeted by state-owned Chinese media on issues of customer service, and they have prominently reported alleged security vulnerabilities on Apple devices.

More broadly, said Mawston of Strategy Analytics, "Samsung -- and Apple -- face similar challenges in China.

"There are serious distribution challenges, the fact that Chinese consumers tend to favour Chinese brands, as well as Chinese-language software that links well with Chinese social networks."

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Published on September 12 2016

Never before has the world seen a video editor that not only gives you power over the technical aspects of video production, but also gives you the tools that you need to unleash your creative side! I'm talking about AV Video Morpher, the revolutionary software program that will change the way you work with video.

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Published on September 12 2016

It seems that every day, more and more of your precious hard drive space is eaten away. Some of the reasons for this are obvious (like huge media files), but there are also unseen forces at play, like unused and temporary files, and even duplicate files that you aren't even aware of. You'd like to clear up some space, but you're worried about deleting something important! What you need is an effective way to manage disk space usage, one that begins with FolderSizes!

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The latest and greatest version of FolderSizes offers native 64-bit support enabling scalability -- enough to run scans on the hugest of networks with ease. Plus, you can now save multiple snapshots of file system analysis data to XML for later research and comparison. And as networks grow in size and complexity, FolderSizes has evolved to meet these challenges, with new support for analyzing multiple file system paths concurrently!

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Published on September 12 2016

How many times have you tried using a personal information manager, thinking that it would make your life easier, and instead wound up wasting countless hours struggling through the help file? Why is it so hard to make a flexible, secure, powerful notes organizer that is actually easy-to-use?

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Published on September 9 2016

How the iPhone 7 Plus compares with Samsung's Galaxy Note7

The iPhone 7 Plus is Apple's biggest and best iPhone ever. Apple introduced a ton of features including a new Jet Black model, water resistance, dual rear cameras, and increased performance — all of which are very respectable.

But how does the iPhone 7 Plus stack up against the Samsung Galaxy Note7, the current best Android phone (when they're not exploding)? Let's find out.

How the iPhone 7 Plus compares with Samsung's Galaxy Note7

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