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Huawei vs Apple: A tale of two smartphone worlds

The release of two flagship phones from the world’s number two and three smartphone brands highlighted a new divide, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Just when it looked as if the smartphone world was converging on a standard template of design, features and functionality, the trade war between China and the USA has created a new divide.

On the one side, Apple two weeks ago unveiled a new series of iPhones that take will full advantage of the latest version of its operating system, iOS, now in its 13th generation. On the other side, Huawei last week launched its new flagship Mate 30 series that has been forcefully cut loose from the Android operating system.

There is much talk of Huawei’s own Harmony operating system having been in development for more than five years. However, the US bar on Huawei accessing American technology still means it loses out on the massive feature benefits of an OS that has evolved over a decade via the efforts of both its owner, Google, and a global industry of Android phone makers.

This raises 2019’s key smartphone question: Can Huawei minus Android still compete with the iPhone 11 series, as well as the Samsung S10 and Note 10 ranges, which operate at the cutting edge of Android evolution?

The answer depends not so much on the technology in the phones, as on the ability of Huawei to convince its relatively new army of users that it is business as usual.

That was the thrust of last week’s launch. The Chinese company’s big unveil was not so much the phone itself, as the new role of HMS, or Huawei Mobile Services. This is a direct replacement of Google Mobile Services (GMS), which essentially represent the Android ecosystem. The Play Store is an integral element of GMS. Ironically, HMS is also available as a Google Play Store download. Huawei is presently not allowed to add GMS to new handsets, which means it also cannot preinstall the Google Play Store on its new phones. 

HMS includes its own advanced features, like App Gallery – a trimmed-down alternative to the Play Store, with 45,000 apps available – Huawei ID, push notifications, payments, Themes, Mobile Cloud, Phone Clone and Huawei Health.

However, the handset remains compatible with Android apps. Its operating systems is a version of Android based on the Android Open Source Project, which is not included in the US ban, as it is a global project, not owned by Google.

That, in turn, means that users will be able to download apps from the Play Store, but will have to go through a few extra steps to do so. The real loss is that of seamless integration with the store.

The individual apps won’t work without something called the Google Services Framework (GSF), which Huawei says it is not currently allowed to install on new devices. However, various websites offer advice on how to “sideload” the framework from unauthorized sources, and therefore run the Play Store. This does mean neither Google nor Android guarantees the services and performance, and it is the user’s responsibility if anything goes wrong. Read here for more details on the installation process.

That said, Huawei has developed its own versions of most key apps. Users who feel locked into Google Maps, the YouTube app and the Gmail app will not be happy moving across, and it is for them that sideloading would make sense.

Why go to all that trouble, and not just buy an Android phone from other brands? The Samsung S10 and Note 10 phones are every bit as good as the new Apple devices, and beat them in many departments.

The answer is simple: the Mate 30 phones are probably the best value for money of the current flagship phones, and the best phone cameras on the market. Huawei took the lead over its rivals in handset photography with the P20 Pro, and is not about to relinquish it.

The main rear camera is a triple-lens unit comprising a 40MP 27mm wide angle lens with f/1.6 aperture, meaning it has a wide image capture view and lets in as much light as other leading edge phone lenses, and 8MP 125mm telephoto lens, and a 20 MP  16mm ultrawide lens. It incorporates a 3D camera, Leica optics, dual-LED dual-tone flash, and HDR

Video with 2160p – that is high-res – shooting 30 frames per second, and ultra slow-motion at 720p shooting at 960 frames per second.

In comparison, the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max also offers a triple-lens cameras, but with a 12 MP f/1.8, 26mm wide-angle lens, a 12 MP 52mm telephoto lens and a 12 MP 13mm ultrawide lens. This suggests that Apple remains behind Huawei in camera technology, and one must look to the software settings for it to match image quality.

Huawei also outdoes itself with the selfie camera on the Mate 30 Pro, coming in at 30MP compared to the iPhone 11 Pro’s 12MP. The key difference is that Apple incorporates 3D functionality in the selfie lens, along with higher resolution and more options for video speed.

Both devices have around 6.5-inch displays and large batteries – 3696mAh on the iPhone and 4200 mAh on the Mate 30. However, the iPhone starts at 4GB RAM, while the Mate begins at 6GB, suggesting faster performance – all else being equal, which is not necessarily the case. The iPhone’s iOS 13 operating system is almost certain to be better integrated and function more smoothly, especially once the Google software is sideloaded onto the Mate.

The choice is not obvious, but it is highly likely that the cutting edge camera will convince enough of a hardcore of users to stick to Huawei to keep the brand at the forefront of the smartphone market. It may not be enough, though, to prevent Apple from regaining its second place in global market share.

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

Click here to read about the installation process for GMS on Huawei’s new phones.

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Lenovo unveils world’s smallest desktop PC

ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is powered by 8th generation Intel processors and SSD storage, catering to flexible working

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Lenovo has introduced the world’s smallest desktop PC, the ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano, to the South African Market. It says it is designed to support diverse workplaces with the power of a full-size desktop and the space-saving convenience of a laptop.

“The ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is further proof of Lenovo’s commitment to helping small businesses drive efficiency in their operations,” says Thibault Dousson, General Manager at Lenovo South Africa. “In South Africa, SMEs make up a third of the country’s GDP and play an integral part in boosting the economy and creating jobs. Lack of capital, investment, resources or support are among the major challenges faced by our country’s entrepreneurs. 

“Lenovo wants to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses through giving them better access to critical tools and services, such as our financial services offering and leasing option. The ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is ideal for small business owners as it is reliable and powerful yet compact and easily transportable.”

Delivering powerful performance in an ultra-portable size, the ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is the most compact commercial desktop series in the world. Compact models are one-third the size of the ground-breaking ThinkCentre Tiny, at just 0.35L in volume.

With fully functional USB Type-C Gen2 and USB 3.1 Gen2 ports located on the front and back of the device, multiple displays, docks and other hardware options can further boost productivity. The ability to be powered using just one cable to a USB Type-C monitor makes the M90n-1 Nano ideal for a clutter-free workspace, whether it be placed behind a screen or under a desk.

The ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano is MIL-810G SPEC tested – built to withstand extreme conditions including shocks, drops, dust and humidity. The desktop’s HW TPM 2.0 chip encrypts data to keep sensitive data secure, while its Kensington lock slot enables users to physically secure the device to an immovable object, protecting it from theft.

With its Modern Standby feature, users can receive emails, VoIP calls and instant messages while remaining in standby mode. When ready to commence work, the M90n-1 Nano resumes full functionality in under one second.

These features make the ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano an easy fit across all office environments, or wherever space is limited, and staff are mobile. The ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano also reduces energy consumption by as much as 30 percent annually over the ThinkCentre Tiny. 

Powered by the 8th generation Intel processors and backed by SSD (solid state drive) storage, the ThinkCentre M90n-1 Nano offers diverse connectivity and multi-user options to keep users connected.

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Hackers target hotels

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Kaspersky’s research of the RevengeHotels campaign aimed at the hospitality sector, has confirmed over 20 hotels in Latin America, Europe and Asia have fallen victim to targeted malware attacks. Even more hotels are potentially affected across the globe. Travelers’ credit card data, which is stored in a hotel administration system, including those received from online travel agencies (OTAs), is at risk of being stolen and sold to criminals worldwide.

RevengeHotels is a campaign that includes different groups using traditional Remote Access Trojans (RATs) to infect businesses in the hospitality sector. The campaign has been active since 2015 but has gone on to increase its presence in 2019. At least two groups, RevengeHotels and ProCC, were identified to be part of the campaign, however more cybercriminal groups are potentially involved.

The main attack vector in this campaign is emails with crafted malicious Word, Excel or PDF documents attached. Some of them exploit CVE-2017-0199, loading it using VBS and PowerShell scripts and then installing customised versions of various RATs and other custom malware, such as ProCC, on the victim’s machine that could later execute commands and set up remote access to the infected systems.

Each spear-phishing email was crafted with special attention to detail and usually impersonating real people from legitimate organisations making a fake booking request for a large group of people. It is worth noting that even careful users could be tricked to open and download attachments from such emails as they include an abundance of details (for instance, copies of legal documents and reasons for booking at the hotel) and looked convincing. The only detail that would reveal the attacker would be a typosquatting domain of the organisation.

phishing email sent to a hotel impersonating a booking request from an attorney’s office

Once infected, the computer could be accessed remotely not just by the cybercriminal group itself — evidence collected by Kaspersky researchers shows that remote access to hospitality desks and the data they contain is sold on criminal forums on a subscription basis. Malware collected data from hospitality desk clipboards, printer spoolers and captured screenshots (this function was triggered using specific words in English or Portuguese). Because hotel personnel often copied clients’ credit card data from OTA’s in order to charge them, that data could also be compromised.

Kaspersky telemetry confirmed targets in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Thailand and Turkey. However, based on data extracted from Bit.ly, a popular link shortening service used by the attackers to spread malicious links, Kaspersky researchers assume that users from many other countries have at least accessed the malicious link – suggesting that the number of countries with potential victims could be higher.

“As users grow wary of how protected their data truly is, cybercriminals turn to small businesses, which are often not very well protected from cyberattacks and possess a concentration of personal data. Hoteliers and other small businesses dealing with customer data need to be more cautious and apply professional security solutions to avoid data leaks that could potentially not only affect customers, but also damage hotel reputations as well,” comments Dmitry Bestuzhev, Head of Global Research and Analysis Team, LatAm.

To stay safe, travelers are recommended to:

  • Use a virtual payment card for reservations made via OTAs, as these cards normally expire after a single charge
  • When paying for a reservation or checking out at hotel desks, use a virtual wallet, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay, or a secondary credit card with a limited amount of debit available

Hotel owners and management are also advised to follow these steps to secure customer data:

  • Conduct risk assessments of the existing network and implement regulations regarding how customers data is handled
  • Use a reliable security solution with web protection and application control functionality, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. Web protection helps to block access to phishing and malicious websites while application control (in white list mode) allows to make sure that no application except the white listed ones can run on hospitality desk computers.
  • Introduce staff security awareness training to teach employees how to spot spear-phishing attempts and show the importance of remaining vigilant when working with incoming emails.

Read the full report, RevengeHotels: cybercrime targeting hotel desks worldwide, on Securelist.

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