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iOS 12: What to expect

Apple this week announced iOS 12, bringing with it improved apps and promises of performance improvement on older devices, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Jose this week promised to make up for two years of underwhelming updates to iOS. 

The event was intended to give developers insight into the capabilities of the new version of Apple’s iOS, and what they can harness before the official release in September. Developers have access to the first iOS 12 beta now, while everyone else has access to the public beta at the end of the month. While this public beta might be tempting to install, Apple is notorious for releasing extremely buggy public beta versions of iOS which are not suitable if iPhone is your daily driver.

iOS 10 and 11 often introduced more bugs and performance issues than useful features and improvements. iOS 12 has been unveiled as the better version of iOS, which deals with these known issues and improves performance on the older iPhone and iPad models. This promise was solidified by offering the upgrade to every iOS device that runs iOS 11, which means that every iPhone from the iPhone 5S onwards can be upgraded. 

The performance upgrades were announced by using the 2014 iPhone 6 Plus as an example of an older device. Compared to iOS 11, iOS 12 is claimed to launch apps up to 40% faster, the keyboard displays up to 50% faster when requested, and the camera launches up to 70% faster from the lock-screen shortcut.

The only new iOS feature is grouped notifications. Users can group notifications by person or app if the person or app creates too many notifications on the iOS device. This feature has been a long time coming and has been a feature in Android since 2014.

True to its promise to jpin the fight against phone addiction, Apple introduced a new health app that doesn’t require any additional technology. The Digital Health Dashboard provides insights into how many times one picks up one’s phone, how much time one spends on particular apps and provides warnings when one is using an app too much. It can also be used by parents to monitor iPhone or iPad app time usage and block apps after a certain amount of time spent on them. 

For example, if you feel Instagram wastes a lot of time, you can prescribe an hour a day and no more than that. iOS will warn you when you have 5 minutes left to use it.

Animoji, the facial-tracking emoji videos on the iPhone X, has been improved by introducing tongue recognition. A new extension of Animoji called Memoji allows users to create virtual avatar-style emojis to use as an Animoji. This is clearly following in the footsteps of Samsung’s facial tracking AR Emoji.

Siri gets an update but not as great as one would expect. Siri Shortcuts is a new feature which allows users to create recipes for phrases, similar to the IFTTT app, which can be used to execute multiple actions. For example, one can create a Siri Shortcut to the phrase “I’m coming home” to turn on a smart home heater, begin boiling a smart home kettle, find the fastest route home in the Map app and start playing a favourite radio station via CarPlay.

CarPlay gets an upgrade, with the integration of third-party map apps like Waze and Google Maps. A great step forward in the direction of a great smart car experience with the iPhone.

Group FaceTime, a highly anticipated feature, has finally been made a reality. The update will bring the capability to host 32 participant FaceTime calls, with a promise of similar clarity to traditional 2-participant FaceTime calls.

AR Kit has also been improved and iPhones which support AR will receive an app called Measure. It allows a user to measure a line on any surface and get the length of a real-world object, without the need for a ruler. 

Finally, the Photos app receives smarter features, allowing users to share photos from events with everyone who was at the event, using the facial recognition software built into the app. The redesign makes the Photos app more user-friendly and provides the users with a glance at what happened a year ago and groups notable events. This brings the Apple Photos app closer to the powerful Google Photos app.

Overall, iOS 12 shouldn’t be anticipated for its new features but rather for its performance upgrades. This announcement has shown that Apple cares about its customers.

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Huge appetite for foldable phones – when prices fall

Samsung, Huawei and Motorola have all shown their cards, but consumers are concerned about durability, size, and enhanced use cases, according to Strategy Analytics

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Foldable devices are a long-awaited disrupter in the smartphone market, exciting leading-edge early adopters keen for a bold new type of device. But the acceptance of foldable devices by mainstream segments will depend on the extent to which the current barriers to adoption are addressed.

Major brands have been throwing their foldable bets into the hat to see what the market wants from a foldable, namely how big the screens should be and how the devices should fold. Samsung and Huawei have both designed devices that unfold from smartphones to tablets, each with their own method of how the devices go about folding. Motorola has recently designed a smartphone that folds in half, and it resembles a flip phone.

Assessing consumer desire for foldable smartphones, a new report from the User Experience Strategies group at Strategy Analytics has found that the perceived value of the foldable form does not outweigh the added cost.

Key report findings include:

  • The idea of having a larger-displayed smartphone in a portable size is perceived as valuable to the vast majority of consumers in the UK and the US. But, willingness to pay extra for a foldable device does not align with the desire to purchase one. Manufacturers must understand that there will be low sell-through until costs come down.
  • But as the acceptance for traditional smartphone display sizes continues to increase, so does the imposed friction of trying to use them one-handed. Unless a foldable phone has a wider folded state, entering text when closed is too cumbersome, forcing users to utilize two hands to enter text, when in the opened state.
  • Use cases need to be adequately demonstrated for consumers to fully understand and appreciate the potential for a foldable phone, though their priorities seemed fixed on promoting ‘two devices in one’ equaling a better video viewing experience. Identification and promotion of meaningful new use cases will be vital to success.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXIP and report author said: “As multitasking will look to be a core selling point for foldable phones, it is imperative that the execution be simplified and intuitive. Our data suggests there are a lot of uncertainties that come with foldable phone ownership, stemming mainly from concerns with durability and size, in addition to concerns over enhanced use cases.

“But our data also shows that when the consumers are able to use a foldable phone in hand, there is a solid reduction of doubt and concern about the concept. This means that the in-store experience may more important than ever in driving awareness, capabilities, and potential use cases.”

Said Paul Brown, Director, UXIP: “The big question is whether the perceived value will outweigh the added cost; and the initial response from consumers is ‘no.’ The ability for foldable displays to resolve real consumer pain-points is, in our view critical to whether these devices will become a niche segment of the smartphone market or the dominant form-factor of the future. Until costs come down, these devices will not take off.”

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New exploit exposes credit cards on mobile phones

Check Point Security has found that handsets using Qualcomm chipsets that hold credit and debit card credentials are at risk of a new exploit.

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Now it’s more important than ever to update your phone.
Check Point security has found a vulnerability in mobile devices that run Android, which allows credit card details to be accessed by hackers.

Mobile operating systems like Android offer a Rich Execution Environment (REE), providing a hugely extensive and versatile runtime environment, which allows apps to run on the device. However, while bringing flexibility and capability, REE leaves devices vulnerable to a wide range of security threats. A Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is designed to reside alongside the REE and provide a safe area on the device to protect assets and to execute trusted code. Qualcomm makes use of a secure virtual processor, which is often referred to as the “secure world”, in comparison to the “non-secure world”, where REE resides. 

But Check Point “fuzzed” a “hole” into this secure world 

In a 4-month research project, Check Point researchers attempted and succeeded to reverse Qualcomm’s “Secure World” operating system. Check Point researchers leveraged a “fuzzing” technique to expose the hole. Fuzz testing (fuzzing) is a quality assurance technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks. It involves inputting massive amounts of random data, called fuzz, to the test subject in an attempt to make it crash.

Check Point implemented a custom-made fuzzing tool, which tested trusted code on Samsung, LG, and Motorola devices. Through fuzzing, Check Point found 4 vulnerabilities in trusted code implemented by Samsung (including S10), 1 in Motorola, 1 in LG, but all code sourced by Qualcomm itself. To address the vulnerability, the runtime of Android needs to be protected from both attackers and users. This is typically achieved by moving the secure storage software to a hardware-supported TEE.

Check Point Research disclosed its findings directly to the companies and gave them time to patch vulnerabilities. Samsung patched three vulnerabilities and LG patched one. Motorola and Qualcomm responded, but have yet to provide a patch, and there is no confirmation of a release date yet.

Check Point Research has urged mobile phone users to stay vigilant and check their credit and debit card providers for any unusual activity. In the meantime, they are working with the vendors mentioned to issue patches.

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