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Apple goes back to its old future

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Last week Apple went back to its old future, with a 4” iPhone that looks like a 5s but with 6s insides. Confused? So is Apple, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When marketing hype for a new product emphasises adjectives over facts and benefits, it’s usually a sign that its creators may be running out of ideas.

Last week’s unveiling of the new iPhone SE with 4-inch screen coincided with World Poetry Day, which seemed to be the cue to wax lyrical. The official announcement made less of the phone’s features than of the “beloved compact aluminium design that has been updated with matte-chamfered edges, a colour-matched stainless steel Apple logo, and four gorgeous metallic finishes, including rose gold”.

The facts are that the phone looks similar to the iPhone 5c released in 2013 with a 4” screen, but with iPhone 6s insides. From a 12MP camera (compared to 8MP on the 5s) and 2GB RAM (vs 1GB) to Apple A9 processor (vs A7) and 14 hours talk-time (vs 10 hours), it is clearly a far more powerful device. But then, it should be, given a 30-month period since the 5c release, in which time smartphone performance has been dramatically ramped up by most manufacturers.

Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, called the iPhone SE “an exciting new idea”, justifying this puzzling statement by saying Apple “started with a beloved, iconic design and reinvented it from the inside out”.

“The result,” he said, “is the most beautiful and powerful phone with a four-inch display in the world.” By now, the official Apple line trotted out with each new iPhone release – “the most powerful iPhone ever”, “the best iPhone ever” – is wearing thin. If each new release were NOT the best or fastest yet, THAT would be news.

There is one claim made by Schiller that we can swallow more easily: “Everyone who wants a smaller phone is going to love iPhone SE.”

But therein lies the real problem for Apple. It held off global demand for bigger screens for several years after Samsung began leading the market into larger displays with the Galaxy S3 in 2012. It only gave in with the iPhone 6 in late 2014, by which time it had lost massive market share to the South Korean manufacturer.

It also produced a large-format version, the 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus, which was positioned precisely to compete with Samsung’s 5.7” Note “phablet” format. There it jostles for attention with numerous players in the phablet space, from the LG G4 to the Huawei Ascend Mate S to the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium. Low-cost players like Xiaomi, Alcatel also compete vigorously in this format, and we even have a homegrown manufacturer, Mint, that is beginning to pick up significant market share with larger displays.

It is ironic, then, that Apple is not trying to differentiate itself by going in the opossite direction, producing a phone that is smaller than almost anything in the mid-market. For some time, Samsung and Sony have appeared to be giving users an equivalent to the 4” iPhone, with their Mini and Compact ranges, but with slightly bigger screens at 4.5” and 4.6”.

Even more ironic,  the entry-level smartphone market is beginning a transition from 3.5” to 4.5” phones. There are three reasons for this: as volume of production rises, the cost of the larger display is coming down in price rapidly, to the extent that it will soon be more conomical to produce larger screens; an increasing use of video and images on phones and in apps makes larger screens more comofrtable and appropriate; and larger phones ha e higher perceived value.

The most unlikely reason for the new device is the argument by some that, because a large proportion of iPhone users still have 4” devices and have not yet upgraded, they are clearly waiting for new, more powerful 4” model. That is no doubt Apple’s fondest hope, but it appears unlikely. Again, given the rise of video as a primary content platform on phones, users are not only upgrading for the sake of hardware, but also for a better software and content experience.
That said, the new device has given fans of the 4” format a significant boost in power and quality. It shoots HD video with support for 4K, with a resolution of 3840 x 2160. Video capture goes up to 60fps for 1080p video and 240fps for slo-mo, and includes time-lapse with video stabilisation.

A Retina Flash is claimed to make the display three times brighter with True Tone lighting technology, and the phone includes the iPhone 6s camera features, like panorama photos up to 63MP in size.

All of which supports the argument that this is the most powerful 4” phone in the world. The competition is hardly formidable, though: low-end devices from Sony, Samsung, LG, Huawei, Lenovo and ZTE, and entry-level phones from numerous no-name brands.

However, in its price range – it retails at $399 in the USA, meaning It will cost somewhere between R7 000 and R10 000 in South Africa – it may well be the only 4” premium phone in the world.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Password managers don’t protect you from hackers

Using a password manager to protect yourself online? Research reveals serious weaknesses…

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Top password manager products have fundamental flaws that expose the data they are designed to protect, rendering them no more secure than saving passwords in a text file, according to a new study by researchers at Independent Security Evaluators (ISE).

“100 percent of the products that ISE analyzed failed to provide the security to safeguard a user’s passwords as advertised,” says ISE CEO Stephen Bono. “Although password managers provide some utility for storing login/passwords and limit password reuse, these applications are a vulnerable target for the mass collection of this data through malicious hacking campaigns.”

In the new report titled “Under the Hood of Secrets Management,” ISE researchers revealed serious weaknesses with top password managers: 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass and LastPass.  ISE examined the underlying functionality of these products on Windows 10 to understand how users’ secrets are stored even when the password manager is locked. More than 60 million individuals 93,000 businesses worldwide rely on password managers. Click here for a copy of the report.

Password managers are marketed as a solution to eliminate the security risks of storing passwords or secrets for applications and browsers in plain text documents. Having previously examined these and other password managers, ISE researchers expected an improved level of security standards preventing malicious credential extraction. Instead ISE found just the opposite. 

Click here to read the findings from the report.

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MWC: Next generation of inflight connectivity to be unveiled

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Next week at Mobile World Congress, the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal progress on its mission towards enabling the next generation of inflight connectivity. This follows a significant start for the Alliance, which has seen membership increase five-fold since the first meeting in June of last year. The Alliance has a new research laboratory setup and continues progress through its three working groups, writing specifications for the technology, requirements, and operations.

These developments represent a huge leap towards the goal of making connectivity as easy and enjoyable in the skies as it is on the ground. Appearing as part of the Airbus stand (Hall 6, stand 6G34), the Seamless Air Alliance will reveal specification topics that have been completed and published to its membership.

“The passenger experience with inflight connectivity remains one of the great technology challenges. From Day One we have been determined to deliver on our mission to bring industries and technologies together to make the inflight internet experience simple to access and a delight to use,” said the Alliance’s Chief Executive Officer, Jack Mandala.

“I have been tremendously encouraged by the enthusiastic and committed response we have seen and the widening areas of expertise we can call upon as more and more companies and organisations continue to join us,” he added.

Announced during MWC 2018, the Seamless Air Alliance has since grown to twenty-three membercompanies with more than one-hundred key personnel from across the membership participating in its three working groups, with numbers continuing to increase.

The Seamless Air Alliance was created by founding members Airbus, Airtel, Delta Air Lines, OneWeb and Sprint, and quickly joined by Air France KLM, Aeromexico, and GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes and global technology leaders including Astronics, Collins Aerospace, Comtech, Cyient, iDirect, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Latecoere, Nokia, and Panasonic. 

Today, the Alliance is pleased to announce five additional new members: Adaptive Channel, Etihad Airways, GlobalReach Technology, Safran, and SITAONAIR.

“We are extremely pleased to have these companies join and be a part of the companies driving the next generation of connectivity.” said Mr Mandala.

The Seamless Air Alliance will enable travelers boarding any flight, on any airline, anywhere in the world, to use their own devices to automatically connect to the Internet with no complicated login process nor paywall to scramble over.

The Alliance is also announcing the release of a new research study on the economic benefit of standardization on the inflight connectivity market at Mobile World Congress. This report is available for download at https://www.seamlessalliance.com/publications/

The Alliance is moving rapidly towards an expected demonstration of the technology later in 2019 and anticipates massive interest in Barcelona from the whole communications eco-system.

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