This Week in Tech 616: That’s Not a Hot Dog

Is Apple just pretending to be innovative? Does AlphaGo’s latest victory mean that general AI is around the corner? Who knows more about you, Facebook or Google? Should the NSA stockpile exploits? How long can Tesla stay on top of the EV market? Are robot cops coming? And… Is that a hot dog?

–Clayton Morris recommends Cosmic Disclosure for the latest in UFO conspiracies.
–Dan Patterson recommends Gerrit Lansing for the latest in political data analytics.
–Tim Stevens knows that if you gaze long at the Cap’n Crunch, the Cap’n Crunch also gazes at you.

This Week in Tech 612: Sky Pirates of Silicon Valley

Apple slashes affiliate commissions and stops paying Qualcomm royalties. Google’s founders each have their own flying contraptions in the works. Amazon’s new Echo Look wants pictures of your clothes. Uber wants all of your data. WikiTribune wants to fight fake news. Hackers just want money from Netflix. The Juicero was just a bad, bad idea.

–Ashley Esqueda has the last three pairs of chunky hot pink LA Eyeworks glasses in existence
–Greg Ferro points out that American blimps used safe, non-explosive helium.
–Devindra Hardawar begs you not to see The Circle

This Week in Tech 611: Bezel Come Back

At the F8 Developer Conference, Facebook shows off its hot new augmented reality technology – which looks a whole lot like Snapchat. Apple is secretly working on non-invasive blood sugar detection, which could be a boon to millions of diabetics. Apple also wants to save the Earth by using 100% recycled materials in its products, covering its headquarters in solar panels, and manufacturing its own sweat. Wait, what? Google, which has made billions in ad revenue, is working on an ad blocker. The Samsung Galaxy S8 came out this week and has yet to explode. Bixby, Samsung’s voice assistant, seems to be fizzling. According to Qualcomm, the first Windows PC using an ARM chip could be out later this year. in completely unrelated news, Intel has canceled the Intel Developer Forum. HTC’s newest phone, codenamed Ocean, will have a squeezable frame and a questionable logo. Steve Ballmer’s new site makes government spending more accessible. Another bad week for Uber. And McDonald’s new uniforms highlight the techno-dystopia we all live in.

Chrome to drop support for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and older Mac OS X versions in 2016

By | Neowin

Google Chrome, by some estimates the world’s third most popular desktop web browser, will cease to support older versions of Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s OS X operating systems.

In a recent blog post, Google announced that it intends to discontinue support for Chrome on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Mac OS X versions 10.6, 10.7, and 10.8 by April 2016 because “these platforms are no longer actively supported by Microsoft and Apple.” Google did not release a specific date when for when it intends to discontinue support.

The recent blog post follows the company’s previous announcement made earlier this year that it would continue to support Windows XP by providing updates to its Chrome web browser in spite of Microsoft’s discontinuation of support for that operating system in 2014. Google stated that this was because Windows XP had substantial market share.

While Microsoft intends to support Windows Vista until April 11, 2017, Google’s previous reprieve for Windows XP clarifies its recent decision to discontinue support for Chrome on Windows Vista before that date: the operating system does not have substantial market share.

Google notes that current versions of Chrome “will continue to function on these platforms” after support for Chrome is discontinued, but the company encourages users to upgrade to newer operating systems so that they may continue to use the latest versions of the web browser.

Macs can be remotely infected with firmware malware that remains after reformatting

When companies claim their products are unhackable or invulnerable, it must be like waving a red flag in front of bulls as it practically dares security researchers to prove otherwise. Apple previously claimed that Macs were not vulnerable to the same firmware flaws that could backdoor PCs, so researchers proved they could remotely infect Macs with a firmware worm that is so tough to detect and to get rid of that they suggested it presents a toss your Mac in the trash situation.

Corey Kallenberg, Xeno Kovah and Trammell Hudson will present “Thunderstrike 2: Sith Strike” at Black Hat USA on August 6. “Although several attacks have been presented against Mac firmware, unlike their PC counterparts, all of them required physical presence to perform,” they wrote in the description of their talk. “Interestingly, when contacted with the details of previously disclosed PC firmware attacks, Apple systematically declared themselves not vulnerable. This talk will provide conclusive evidence that Macs are in fact vulnerable to many of the software-only firmware attacks that also affect PC systems. In addition, to emphasize the consequences of successful exploitation of these attack vectors, we will demonstrate the power of the dark side by showing what Mac firmware malware is capable of.”

The researchers previously used LightEater when they presented “How Many Million BIOSes Would you Like to Infect?” After they revealed that about 80 percent of PCs have firmware vulnerabilities, Apple claimed Macs did not. But Kovah said that’s not true; he told Wired, “It turns out almost all of the attacks we found on PCs are also applicable to Macs.” In fact, the researchers said five of the six vulnerabilities studied affect Mac firmware.

Firmware runs when you first boot a machine; it launches the operating system. For Apple computers, the firmware is called the extensible firmware interface (EFI). Most people believe Apple products are superior when it comes to security, but the researchers want to “make it clear that any time you hear about EFI firmware attacks, it’s pretty much all x86 [computers].” Attackers need only a few seconds to remotely infect Mac firmware. Macs infected with Thunderstrike 2 would remain infected even if a user were to wipe the hard drive and reinstall the OS, as that doesn’t fix a firmware infection.

Read More: Macs can be remotely infected with firmware malware that remains after reformatting | PCWorld.

Apple takes almost all of the smartphone industry’s profits

With the release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last September, Apple finally decided to cater to a myriad of customer demands, such as NFC payments and larger screens, that it had neglected over the past years, allowing smartphone manufacturers like Samsung to enjoy high sales in those niches. With the inclusion of these features, however, Apple experienced formidable growth, with 43% more sales year over year compared to last year.

While these sales figures alone are staggering, what is even more dumbfounding is how much Apple makes off each phone. According to a recent report by The Wall Street Journal, with only 20% of the smartphone market, Apple rakes in over 90% of all the industry profits; among a 1,000 companies in the industry, Cupertino takes almost all the money. That’s almost 30% of growth, compared to its share of 65% just last year.

The only other company coming anywhere close is Samsung, which accounted for 15% of industry, a sharp decline from almost 50% in 2013. Most of the other players actually made significant losses, which is why Apple and Samsung’s cumulative profit share actually exceeds 100%. Blackberry barely broke even, while Microsoft was able to scrounge together 4%. The report was unable to account for the profits of privately owned companies like Xiaomi but given their tradition of selling at cost, it’s unlikely that their inclusion would shift the balance significantly.

Apart from a thaw in the sales of the Apple Watch, Apple is experiencing success across all its products, with the iPad still reigning supreme among tablets and the company’s notebook line spurring growth across the industry. This trend is unlikely to stop either; Apple is already expecting sales of its iPhone 6S to break previous records and has already ordered over 90 million phones.

Source: The Wall Street Journal (needs subscription)

via Apple takes almost all of the smartphone industry’s profits.

Apple Watch gets its first software update

Apple has released the first update for its Watch to address performance issues and support seven new languages.

The Apple Watch went on sale last month and the company has already issued a software update for the operating system powering the device to improve performance of certain applications, display new Emoji and support new languages.

It is unlikely for a software update to fix the recently discovered problem faced by tattooed Watch users, but most other issues seem to be fixed in this update by Apple for now.

According to the changelog, the following features have been implemented in the version 1.0.1 of Watch OS:

Improved performance for:

Siri

Measuring stand activity

Calculating calories for indoor cycling and rowing workouts

Distance and pace during outdoor walk and run workouts

Accessibility

Third party apps

Display support for new Emoji characters Additional language support for:

Brazilian Portuguese

Danish

Dutch

Swedish

Russian

Thai

Turkish

The 51.6 MB update is already rolling out but in order to install, users need to use the Apple Watch app on their iPhone and follow the instructions.

via Apple Watch gets its first software update.

Android and iOS apps on Windows: What is Microsoft doing—and will it work?

At its Build developer conference last week, Microsoft made a pair of announcements about Windows development that were more than a little surprising: Windows will support applications developed for iOS and Android.

This immediately felt like a dangerous move. Windows will not be the first operating system to run foreign applications. Famously, IBM advertised OS/2 as a “Better Windows than Windows” in the 1990s, boasting that its platform would run all your existing Windows applications with greater stability and performance. More recently, BlackBerry 10 included support for Android applications, with BlackBerry licensing the Amazon App Store and using it as its gateway to a world of Android-compatible software.

Neither OS/2 nor BlackBerry 10 has made a success of this capability. There are two major problems with supporting foreign applications on a niche platform. The first is straightforward: it removes any incentive for developers to bother with the native platform. Investing in developing for a minor platform is already something of a gamble, and by telling developers “Oh hey, you can just use your existing Win16 or Android program…” as IBM and BlackBerry (respectively) did, you’re implicitly sending them a message. “Don’t bother learning our platform or writing native apps for it.”

It turned out as expected for both platforms. While a few true OS/2 applications were created—and similarly there are some true BlackBerry 10 apps—they’re relatively unusual. After all, what’s the point? If IBM is going to boast about just how well OS/2 will run Win16 apps and those Win16 apps can be sold both to OS/2 users and to Windows 3.1 users, why would a developer write anything other than a Win16 app?

This capability cedes a lot of control. By being dependent on apps developed for a third-party platform, you give the owner of that third-party platform the power to choose how to evolve its APIs and add new features. This bit OS/2 hard: while IBM was busy promoting how well OS/2 could run 16-bit Windows applications, Microsoft was busy encouraging developers to create new 32-bit Windows applications and end-users to buy the 32-bit capable Windows 95. This new world of 32-bit software wouldn’t run on OS/2, and so the big OS/2 feature that IBM heavily marketed was rendered semi-useless. OS/2 found some niche success, but it was ultimately a failure.

Supporting Android apps creates similar risks. If Android software constitutes a major part of a platform’s software ecosystem, any changes to Android (new APIs or capabilities, say) that Android software expects to be able to take advantage of have to be replicated. This is, however, tempered by Android’s uniquely poor update situation. Most Android phones don’t have access to the latest and greatest version of Android or the latest and greatest Android features, so most Android software has to refrain from demanding such capabilities. This means an Android-compatible platform could trail Google’s cutting edge by a year or more and still be highly compatible with Android apps.

Read More: Android and iOS apps on Windows: What is Microsoft doing—and will it work? | Ars Technica.

Review: The absolutely optional Apple Watch and Watch OS 1.0

If you’re wondering whether to buy an Apple Watch, consider your computing life as a hierarchy of needs:

At the bottom sits your must have device—a computer, tablet, or phone—capable of independently accessing the Internet and storing useful quantities of data. And one step above that is Internet access itself. You need a device to use it, but your device can’t do much without it.

Every tier similarly builds upon the one below it. Next comes useful apps—browsers, productivity software, whatever you need to work and play—and these all extend your device’s functionality in basic, useful ways. Services for work (Dropbox, Office 365) and entertainment (Spotify, Netflix) follow. The line between software and services is increasingly blurry (especially if we’re talking about software-as-a-service) but most of them feel more optional. Everyone needs a browser. Not everyone needs Dropbox and Netflix and Facebook.

The Andrew Cunningham Tech Hierarchy of Needs. Note the Mickey Mouse watch face at the very, very top.

Finally, we get to the top of most users’ needs—accessories. This encompasses anything that wouldn’t work (or would be drastically less capable) without everything toward the bottom of the pyramid: standalone cameras, iPods, printers, scanners, input devices, and—yes—watches.

Make no mistake, the Apple Watch is a thoroughly optional accessory. Even if you think you want it, wait if there’s a shadow of a doubt in your mind—if not for the inevitable hardware revision, then at least for the OS and the surrounding app ecosystem to firm up. A $349-or-more pricetag is still a lot of money to spend on a question mark.

But after spending a week with an Ars-purchased 42mm space gray model (and spending a substantial amount of time with Android Wear), I can tell you that unnecessary things can still be useful. If you buy or like using your Apple Watch, you’re not an idiot who is wasting both your money and your precious time on this earth.

So the Apple Watch isn’t something you need, but does it make things “quick” and “convenient,” as Apple’s own marketing suggests? As the heir apparent to the smartwatch throne, does it live up to its advance billing? And as a version 1.0 product, what still needs to be fixed—and how?

Read More: Review: The absolutely optional Apple Watch and Watch OS 1.0 | Ars Technica.