This Week in Tech 675: This Show Does Not Care About Humans

Amazon’s juggernaut, HBO vs Netflix, Musk madness, and more.

–Do Apple’s new MacBooks fix the company’s keyboard woes?
–Amazon Prime Day starts tomorrow. Will it be worth the hype? Will it push Amazon’s share of the e-commerce market past 50%?
–Folding tablets. Phones with 9 cameras. What is next?
–Will AT&T destroy HBO by trying to expand it?
–Fortnite takes the World Cup Final by storm.
–Balance is restored to Reddit.

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The New Screen Savers 124: iPhone 8 Plus vs. Galaxy Note 8

On this week’s episode of The New Screen Savers for Saturday, September 30, 2017:
– Leo Laporte and Megan Morrone discuss Twitter doubling tweet length, Ikea acquiring TaskRabbit, and how Elon Musk wants to rocket you anywhere on Earth in less than an hour.
– Megan and Leo have a little showdown between the new iPhone 8 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
– How do you feed your dog with tech? Sol Lipman joins us to explain how his new subscription service YaDoggie uses a smart scoop.
– In our Call for Help, we’ll talk ways to work seamlessly from PC to Mac and choosing a Surface.
– Jason Howell will lay down some sick tunes and review a portable mini DJ console from Numark.
– ‘Bad Gamer’ Padre has a review of two 2D platformers – Cuphead and Splasher.

Android powers 81% of smartphones sold, report says

Devices running Google’s Android operating system accounted for 81 percent of all smartphones sold worldwide in the third quarter of 2013, according to a study released last week by IDC.

Of the more than 261 million units shipped, just under 140 million were Android phones, the report said. Samsung was far and away the most dominant vendor among Android makers, accounting for about 40 percent of the total, while competitors were restricted to single digits.

Windows Phone gains slowly

Still, author Ramon Llamas downplayed concerns that Samsung’s dominance could have negative effects on the Android ecosystem as a whole.

“As strong as Samsung has been, it still needs smaller vendors for a comparison point both from a feature set perspective and a price point perspective. Depending on who these smaller vendors are, these also help Samsung maintain an aspirational position in the market, leading to sales and market share,” he told Network World.

Android\’s numbers are record-setting, say Llamas and co-author Ryan Reith, but the operating system wasn’t the fastest-growing in the quarter. That title went to Windows Phone, which saw its sales numbers grow by 156 percent on a year-over-year basis to 3.6 percent of the total. BlackBerry’s slide into obscurity continued, having sold 4.5 million devices during the quarter, or less than half of Windows Phone’s 9.5 million.

In spite of Windows Phone’s strong showing, however, Llamas says there’s nothing to suggest that it’s going to overtake Android or iOS anytime soon.

“Triple digit growth is difficult to sustain, even starting from a smaller base,” he says. “The good news is that Windows Phone is making continued progress from where it was a year ago, and that\’s what we need to see.”

“We see Windows Phone having about 10 percent market share by the end of 2017 while Android and iOS will still be very far out,” Llamas added.

Apple’s iPhones saw their market share shrink slightly, dropping to just under 13 percent of the total, or roughly 27 million devices. The fact that 9 million of those sold in a single week at the end of September, however when the iPhone 5S and 5C were released suggests that Apple\’s fourth quarter figures could be considerably more robust.

Apple sales were high despite some indicators trending against its premium-priced devices: Average sale price declined in the third quarter, according to the researchers, reaching $317 a 12.5 percent drop from the previous quarter.

via Android powers 81% of smartphones sold, report says | TechHive.

Samsung’s growth isn’t in your hand, it’s in your laundry room

Analyst events aren’t something we often cover, as they largely feature tedious talk about revenue and dry terms like “compound annual growth rate.” But they can also offer outsiders a peek at new products and technologies. Samsung hosted its 2013 Analyst Day yesterday in Seoul, and the company used the event to lay out a surprisingly cohesive message: more.

We’ve spent plenty of time covering Samsung’s mobile initiatives; the company dominates in smartphones of all shapes and sizes, it has a portfolio of tablets that rivals any competitor’s in scope, and it even has an impressive selection of notebooks. Dominance in the premium television segment has also been a priority, and Samsung now commands much of the smart TV and large TV market. Samsung has even become a leader in the premium home appliance market, providing high-end refrigerators, laundry machines, vacuum cleaners, and kitchen appliances to those with the means and the desire to buy an appliance with a Wi-Fi-enabled touchscreen.

A big part of its successes in these markets has had to do with vertical integration, a term that applies to companies that produce both a consumer product and the components that go into that product. Samsung can drive its own product advances by producing the displays, processors, memory, flash storage, software, and services that go into its lineup of devices, but it has also become a go-to component supplier for its consumer electronics competition; even when you don’t buy a Samsung product, you’re probably getting some Samsung components.

What is clear from its Analyst Day presentations is that Samsung plans to both expand the market segments it’s involved in and to drive innovation through a renewed investment in software, not just hardware.

Samsung

Having moved over 100 million Galaxy S and Note devices during 2013, Samsung hopes the buyers of those products will look its way when choosing their next refrigerator or television. And in a page taken from Apple, Samsung is focusing on premium products, eschewing the low end. Samsung’s expectation is that, having established brand value in the minds of Galaxy handset buyers, the high prices on its other products will seem justified.

Samsung

Samsung would also like a bigger presence in enterprise markets. In just a few years, Samsung SSDs have become coveted parts both in the consumer and the server space. The company’s mobile memory solutions have also been incredibly popular, and Samsung consistently leads in advancing new technologies and standards.

Samsung’s semiconductor arm, Samsung LSI, has also garnered industry praise for its ARM-based SoCs, which have seen steady growth in premium products and even bigger growth in low-power, low-end products. Yesterday, Samsung revealed its plans for a server-bound, 64-bit ARM SoC, which marks a big move into the data center. Power efficiency is a leading concern for data centers, and Samsung believes that its advances in memory technology and wider memory interfaces, packaged with a desktop-class, 64-bit SoC, will provide a value, performance, and power advantage over its competitors. Several of those competitors already have ARM-based server plans of their own, as with HP’s Project Moonshot. If history is any indicator, though, Samsung’s components will still find homes alongside server SoCs from Marvell and Qualcomm.

When it comes to the consumer experience, Samsung believes that the future is about software, and Kevin Tofel at GigaOm laid out part of Samsung’s strategy in a post highlighting the company’s first developer conference. Samsung President and CFO Sang-Hoo Lee focused on software during his remarks, and Oh-Hyun Kwon, Samsung vice chairman and CEO, said that half of the company’s research and development budget is steered toward software—and he expects that figure to grow. An annual R&D budget of $3 billion represents an enormous commitment to improving the company’s code. A big part of that process will be developing in-house media and software services, both for consumers and developers, possibly placing Samsung into competition with the likes of Amazon, providing data services while also giving users access to media.

Samsung

Samsung already owns an enormous chunk of the smartphone market, but that isn’t a recipe for future growth unless you have other products to sell to all those existing buyers. Samsung’s approach will be to encroach further into our lives with more services—and more product segments—all sporting the Samsung logo.

via ArsTechnica

Rumor: Microsoft offering to drop Windows Phone license fee for HTC

It’s hard to see an area at Microsoft that isn\’t going through some degree of transition, and Windows Phone is definitely no exception. Having carved out a small piece of the market, Microsoft has taken some big steps to improve the position of its still fledgling mobile operating system. Its first step was to develop a close relationship with Nokia; the second step seems to have been to buy Nokia\’s handset division outright. But that move has spawned much speculation that Microsoft\’s handset partners are disgruntled and considering eliminating their Windows Phone portfolio. According to a report from Bloomberg, Microsoft may be making a big move to stem the tide by cutting or eliminating its licensing fee.

Bloomberg reports that conversations between HTC and Microsoft have revolved around the idea of HTC putting Windows Phone onto its Android handsets as an alternative. It\’s unclear how this would work, but it could mean that users would choose a handset model and then choose an operating system, similar to being able to choose between Windows and Linux in some notebook models. The prospect of a dual boot solution seems ludicrous and impossible to implement, but Bloomberg\’s reporting leans strongly in that direction. As enticement to pursue this strategy, the report states that Microsoft has offered to cut or eliminate the licensing fee.

Whether it\’s a dual boot solution or something more sensible, the move would require Microsoft to broaden the supported hardware specifications of Windows Phone to support the higher-end hardware that\’s de rigueur in Android handsets. Evidence for such an expansion of hardware support can be gleaned from the near certainty that this fall\’s GDR3 update to Windows Phone will include options for 1080p displays.

Microsoft has long derided the free operating system strategy, even going so far as to brag that licensing issues with Android have resulted in handset manufacturers needing to negotiate licensing deals with it—effectively saying that Android isn\’t free, it\’s just that Microsoft collects the money. For Microsoft to eliminate the licensing fee for Windows Phone would be a huge shift in strategy and might help revive the somewhat dormant Windows Phone lines from the likes of Samsung or HTC. At the same time, it would help repair any damaged relationships that Microsoft may have incurred in becoming a first-party handset manufacturer with the purchase of Nokia.

HTC may be a ripe target for such a deal. Its unaudited quarterly results, announced yesterday, demonstrate how tough things have been financially. After laying off a big chunk of its US staff, HTC reported a quarterly loss for the first time in the company\’s history. While it has had some design wins with the HTC One and One mini handsets, it has also had its share of weak spots, including the HTC First handset, which it made in partnership with Facebook. The last Windows Phone handset that HTC released was the HTC 8XT, a decidedly mid-range handset that hasn\’t delighted users the same way last year\’s HTC 8X did.

At press time, neither HTC nor Microsoft had any comment regarding these rumors, though Microsoft\’s representative did stress that conversations with their device partners are confidential. We will report further as this story develops.

via Rumor: Microsoft offering to drop Windows Phone license fee for HTC | Ars Technica.

“World’s most secure smartphone” looks like snake oil, experts say

Do you want a phone that secures all of your data and communications, and can’t be hacked by even the savviest of criminals and governments? Of course you do. But if you’re a realist, you’d probably say that while strong security can be achieved with discipline, perfect security doesn’t exist.

Yet, perfect security was the promise of a company called QSAlpha when it recently sent me an e-mail titled “Un-hackable Superphone to be Unveiled via Kickstarter.” QSAlpha is seeking $2.1 million to build a phone it dubs the Quasar IV. Pledges starting at $395 would reserve backers a phone estimated for an April 2014 delivery.

A draft of the Kickstarter page and an accompanying video shared with Ars calls it the “world’s most secure smartphone,” featuring “unprecedented security with a military-grade encryption.” Those kinds of claims—coupled with a lack of technical detail—make security experts who reviewed the Kickstarter page suspicious.

The phone a ninja would use

QSAlpha says it started by asking the question, “If a ninja had a phone, what would it look like?”

“The essence of digital security is the ability to operate in stealth mode, moving about undetected, leaving no trace in the digital world, the same way that a ninja leaves no trace in the real world,” CEO and founder Steve Chao said in the video.

QSAlpha describes Chao as “an internationally recognized pioneer in digital security, communications and augmented reality.” He said he previously built a now-defunct mobile search engine, Cgogo, which was used by China Mobile.

His encryption technology is called “Quatrix.” Besides encrypting phones, QSAlpha says it plans its own app store where developers can distribute applications signed by Quatrix.

A preview of the Kickstarter link was temporarily live but is offline as of this writing. QSAlpha was planning to start the crowdfunding campaign this week, but said because of a backlog at Kickstarter it’s been delayed until September 12.

Based on Android 4.3 and with various modifications to improve security, the Quasar IV uses a hardware-level encryption module. The contents of the phone are encrypted, and your communication with other users of Quasar IV phones are encrypted as well using public and private keys. Android phones can already be encrypted using a standard setting, but Chao says Quasar does it better.

“Instead of having a third-party hosting or giving out the public key, we have managed to create what we call a seed public key matrix that produces all possible keys up to 10^77 of keys for all the users out there,” Chao told Ars in a phone interview. The chip contains both the public key matrix and the user’s private key. When initiating communications with another user, the Quasar IV uses the recipient’s identity to calculate their public key and encrypt the data. Once received, the user decrypts it with their private key.

All e-mails, text messages, and VoIP calls can be encrypted, he said. Quasar IV can still communicate with users of other phones and devices, but not in an encrypted manner.

If you don’t use a Quasar phone, you’re basically doomed, QSAlpha CTO Ben Vaughan said in one of the company’s videos. “Every time you visit a website, every time you send an e-mail, and every time you make a phone call, you are exposing yourself to criminal activity,” he said.

Full Story: “World’s most secure smartphone” looks like snake oil, experts say | Ars Technica.

Malware-like program lets your Android phone spy on you

A security firm has figured out how to turn an Android smartphone into a surveillance device that would make Q, the fictional gadget master in the James Bond movies, proud.

The Security Labs of Kindsight, a part of Alcatel-Lucent, has built a proof-of-concept program capable of tracking the user’s location, intercepting messages, recording conversations, and taking pictures.

“Effectively, it turns the Android device into a spy phone,” Kevin McNamee, lab director for Kindsight, said Friday. McNamee plans to present the espionage tool at the Black Hat USA conference next month.

Runs inside any app

The technology, codenamed DroidWhisper, can be hidden as a component within any Android app and run covertly in the background, booting up automatically when the device is turned on.

Once installed, the spyware would receive instructions from a command-and-control (C&C) server, which could communicate either over the Internet or through the phone’s Short Message Service used for text messaging.

From a control panel on the server, criminals or government spies would be able to control the phone’s camera, video and still, and make use of its microphone and recording capabilities. The panel also would be used to collect all the recorded content and images, as well as any personal information on the phone.

“The smartphone is an excellent platform, if you want to launch an insider attack against a corporate network or government network,” McNamee said. “The device has all the capabilities that it needs. It has Internet access over the air, it can take pictures [and] it can record sound—a very powerful surveillance platform.”

While not part of the proof-of-concept, the spyware platform could be used to download tools for scanning a corporate network for vulnerabilities when an employee logs into a Wi-Fi network, McNamee said.

“[The phone] has a completely fully functional network stack, so if it has access to the corporate Wi-Fi, yes, it can scan the network,” he said.

Anti-malware programs may halt it

The most likely ways the spyware could be installed secretly is through an email-carried link to a malicious website, or an app provided through an online store. For example, the component could be injected in a bogus version of a popular game.

While Google Play, the official Android store, scans for malware, most third-party stores do not. Roughly three in five of such stores originate in China and Russia, notes the latest mobile threat report from Juniper Networks.

As of March 2013, more than 90 percent of the mobile malware detected by Juniper targeted the Android platform, nearly double the percentage in 2011.

To install and run Kindsight’s component on a device, the criminal would have to find a way to bypass Android’s built-in security features. By default, applications do not have the permission needed to perform operations impacting other apps or the device in general. Such permissions would have to be granted by the user.

Assuming that the spyware penetrated those defenses, then the next mode of detection for businesses would be in catching the network traffic between the component and the command-and-control servers.

via Malware-like program lets your Android phone spy on you | TechHive.

Samsung acknowledges Galaxy S4 wi-fi connection problem

Handset maker Samsung has acknowledged that there is a problem using the Galaxy S4 on some wi-fi networks that use D-Link routers.

The company confirmed to ZDNet that the Galaxy S4 had problems connecting to, or staying connected to wi-fi networks that used some D-Link model routers.

“This is a problem caused by firmware stored on a specific access point in D-Link routers. Customers should update their firmware to the latest version or reboot the access point,” a Samsung spokeswoman said.

Samsung Galaxy S4 owners have taken to a number of online forums to complain of the problem, which seems to most often affect D-Link model DIR-655 and DIR-855 routers, among others. Users in a number of different countries, or with different mobile operators and broadband providers, complained of the same issues.

“Is anyone experiencing wi-fi connection problems with the S4? Picked mine up yesterday and when I connected to my home wi-fi, it would connect fine and work for a few minutes then completely drop the connection. I would need to disable and re-enable wi-fi for it to connect again only to have it drop after a few minutes again. This has been going on all night yesterday and all day today,” Will822 wrote on Samsung’s GalaxyS4forums.net.

Other users also reported similar issues, which seem to be able to be mitigated by changing the security encryption type to TPK, which can have a detrimental effect on other devices connected to the network.

“Have tried several firmware [builds] for the router, all with the same problem. If the fault lies with D-Link or Samsung I don’t know, but the S4 is the first to have these problem,” user Brochs wrote on the XDA Developers Forum.

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“Same problem with a DIR-655. The router keeps locking up, even on a wired connection I can’t get anywhere until I turn off the wi-fi on the GS4,” eshomsky wrote, also on the XDA Developers forum.

“I confirm the same problem with a Samsung S4 and a D-LINK DIR-855. Setting the cypher type to ‘TKIP’ solves it for Samsung but it breaks it for an older Sony laptop,” EnF70 wrote on the XDA forum.

D-Link acknowledged the issue and said it was actively looking into the cause of the problems.

“Recently, a limited number of customers have reported connection issues between their D-Link wireless router, including the DIR-855 and DIR-655, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 handset. Problems include intermittent disconnection from the wireless network, especially while browsing YouTube. Other devices continue to function normally. The problem has also been reported with wireless routers from other manufacturers, “a spokesman for the company told ZDNet.

“D-Link is actively researching this issue now to determine the cause.”

The company suggested that customers using the DIR-655 or the DIR-855 could mitigate the problem in the meantime by logging into the web interface and disabling the Wireless Multimedia Extensions (WME, also known as Wi-Fi Multimedia or WMM).

via Samsung acknowledges Galaxy S4 wi-fi connection problem | ZDNet.

HTC One review: It’s now or never again

It’s been a hard year for HTC. The Taiwan-based phone manufacturer had a great beginning in the Android world, but it’s been struggling to keep up appearances and convince the public to buy its handsets. Some analysts believe that the HTC brand is in trouble and that the company’s struggles stem partly from the public not really recognizing it as the maker of the Android handset to buy. Not anymore, at least.

Now that Samsung is in the top spot, HTC has a lot of ground to make up. The company’s CEO, Peter Chou, famously said that he will step down if the One doesn’t succeed, but the phone hasn’t exactly had the best start: it has suffered manufacturing snafus caused by a component shortage, which came about partly because HTC is no longer considered a “tier-one customer” in manufacturing land. But in spite of branding and supply chain problems, the HTC One is still a very solid Android handset.

Body, build, and display

Specs at a glance: HTC One

Screen 1920×1080 4.7-inch (468 ppi) Super LCD 3 with RGB Matrix

OS Android 4.1.2 with Sense 5

CPU Quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600

RAM 2GB

GPU Qualcomm Adreno 320

Storage 16 or 32 GB NAND flash

Networking 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, wireless HDMI

Ports Micro-USB, headphones

Camera 4MP rear camera with “UltraPixel” image sensor, 2.1MP front camera

Size 5.41″ × 2.69″ × 0.37″ (137.4 × 68.2 × 9.3 mm)

Weight 5.0 oz. (143 g)

Battery 2300 mAh

Starting price $99 at Sprint, $199.99 at AT&T, $99.99 at T-Mobile

Sensor Accelerometer, gyroscope, digital compass, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor

Other perks Infrared

At 5.41 × 2.69 × 0.37 inches, the HTC One is only a bit bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S 4. Its smooth aluminum backside somewhat resembles the finish on Apple’s MacBook Pro, and it features white accents around the edges, with a few stripes continuing on the back and ending abruptly at the camera lens. It’s an interesting design, one that HTC says is made through “zero-gap” construction, a term that refers to the phone being carved out of a piece of aluminum (you’ll find an image of the chassis design in our gallery below).

The One feels sturdy and well-built—more so than any of the plastic body phones I’ve used before. It’s also a testament to HTC’s marketing strategy: rather than dial it back to cut on costs, HTC has gone full-force by showing that its design capabilities mirror that of top-tier handset makers like Apple. What we have here is a fashionable and sturdy device; its aluminum chassis and matte white trim makes it look unlike any other Android handset on the market right now.

Inside, the HTC One features a 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 32 or 64 gigabytes of storage. Unfortunately, there is no microSD expansion slot, nor is there a removable backing. The micro-SIM slot sits on the left-hand side of the phone, with the volume rocker and power button on the right and top sides of the device, respectively. There is also a micro-USB slot on the bottom, though it’s placed on the right side rather than in the middle as it is on most other handsets. One benefit to this minor design decision is that you can actually use the phone to type horizontally while it’s charging without bumping the cord.

Full Story: HTC One review: It’s now or never again | Ars Technica.