Americans can unlock their phones again…legally!

by Joey deVilla on August 1, 2014

it's legal again

It’s official: President Obama will sign the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which brings back an important exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that lets customers and authorized third parties modify a phone’s firmware and thus removing restrictions that most carriers put on their phones. The White House blog explains how this change was brought about in greater detail, but for those of you who’d rather not get into all the legal stuff, here’s the practical upshot:

You can now unlock your phone (or hire a service to do it for you) so that you can switch carriers, all without getting fined or sued.

Have a happy Friday!

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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Amazon’s Fire Phone: Made up of $205 of parts and so-so reviews

fire phone - 205 in parts

In their latest “teardown”, research firm took apart an Amazon Fire Phone, looked at its components and tallied up their total cost to be $205. As of this writing, it sells for $649 without contract on Amazon’s site. This is more than the cost of parts in the current iPhones (according to IHS, the parts for an iPhone 5C cost $173, and for an iPhone 5S, the cost is “at least $199″), and less than the cost of parts for a Samsung Galaxy S5 (which IHS says is about $256).

Upon examining the Fire Phone’s components, IHS analyst Andrew Rassweiler says that it’s “a pretty standard mid-range phone from a hardware perspective”, with the notable exception of its “Dynamic Perspective” feature, which is enabled by additional sensors in each corner. Dynamic Perspective uses the sensors to determine the phone’s orientation in relation to the user’s head combined with some imaging tricks to make pictures on the screen look almost three-dimensional:

Among the parts found in the Fire Phone were a member of the Qualcomm Snapdragon chip family as its main processor, which also power Samsung’s Galaxy S5, Nokia’s Lumia 1520, and ZTE’s Grand S II, and a 720p display, which at $27, is considerably cheaper than the display in the iPhone 5S ($43) or the Galaxy S5′s ($63).

If you’re more concerned about the reviews of the Fire Phone in action rather than its innards:

Expect to see more 64-bit phones on the market next year

qualcomm parts

Right now, Apple has the only devices with 64-bit processors: the iPhone 5S and the 2013 family of iPads, and that development is said to have created a lot of concern among the competition. In an interview with Dan Lyons, an unnamed Qualcomm employee is quoted as saying:

“The 64-bit Apple chip hit us in the gut. Not just us but everyone, really. We were slack-jawed, and stunned, and unprepared. It’s not that big a performance difference right now, since most current software won’t benefit. But in ‘Spinal Tap’ terms it’s like, 32 more, and now everyone wants it.”

When we talk about “32-bit” and “64-bit” processors, we’re talking about the number of bits — that is, BInary digITs — that the processor can use to access memory. A 32-bit processor can access 232 memory locations, which corresponds to 4 gigabytes. There’s no point to putting more than 4GB of RAM in a 32-bit device — it wouldn’t be able to use access any more than the first 4 gigs. That’s the 64-bit advantage: A 64-bit processor can access 264 memory locations, or 16 exabytes, where an exabyte is a billion gigabytes. Being able to access more memory means than programs can be larger (and more feature-filled), and can perform even more complex tasks. Keep in mind that we’re talking about active memory, or RAM, which the CPU uses to perform its tasks, and not the storage or “hard drive” space.

That situation is expected to change next year with the release of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 series of chips, their first 64-bit mobile processors. Aimed at high-end “flagship” phones, you should start seeing them appear in top-of-the-line 2015 smartphones and tablets, with the usual “trickle-down” effects appearing in less expensive devices over time.

Faster RAM for mobile devices on the way

cheetah

Not only will mobile devices be able to access more memory soon, they’ll also be able to do so much faster. It’s expected that LP-DDR4 technology, a low-power version of the DDR4 RAM already seen in today’s better desktop and laptop computers, will go mainstream in 2016, which is two years earlier than projected. Samsung estimates that the new memory technology will be 50% faster and 40% more power-efficient than the current LP-DDR3 technology used in to smartphones, and will offer data transfer speeds of 17 gigabytes per second — 34 gigabytes a second for 64-bit devices. As one might expect, Qualcomm have already announced support for LP-DDR4 technology in the Snapdragon 810 chipset.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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Charge your smartphone in 15 minutes with the Ultrapak

15 minutes to full charge

Sometimes it happens: you’ve been making heavy use of your phone or tablet, and now it’s low on power. Sometimes, you get lucky and have both the time and nearby outlet to get enough power to carry on. For those other times when you’re short on both time and a convenient power source, you might want to have an Ultrapak handy. Farhad Manjoo reports on his experience with the Ultrapak in a New York Times piece, where he calls it “a lifesaver” and closes with “If there’s a better way to power up quickly, I haven’t seen it.”

Find out which hotels have the best wifi at HotelWifiTest.com

hotel wifi rating site

There’ve been many times where I’ve had to get work done from my hotel room or in the lobby or cafe and found myself packing up for the nearest Starbucks after getting frustrated with the wifi speed. While there are many sites that rate hotels on many dimensions, wifi connectivity hasn’t been one of those criteria. Luckily for us, there’s HotelWifiTest, a site that provides speed test results for various hotels around the world. The database is a bit small as of this writing: it covers 160 hotels in New York, 42 in San Francisco, and 52 in London, England for starters, but since it lets users run tests and submit results from their hotels, it’ll become more useful as it becomes more popular. (You can also use their speed test to check the wifi speed anywhere, including your home and office.)

Hilton hotels switching to smartphone-enabled locks

your phone is your key

The Wall Street Journal may have hidden this story behind their paywall, but other sites such as Gizmodo are reporting this news: the Hilton Hotel chain is upgrading its rooms and equipping them with smartphone-enabled door locks. Not only will you be able to use your smartphone as your room key, you’ll be able to bypass the whole front desk check-in dance entirely. They expect to have the majority of their hotels upgraded by 2016.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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Millennials are BYOD’s biggest rulebreakers, but there’s a method to their misdemeanors

Millennials — the generation born between the early 1980s and early 200s — already have a bad enough reputation in the workplace:

It turns out that they’re also the employees who break companies’ BYOD rules most often, and they’re doing it to work more effectively. A survey conducted by Trackvia, a company that makes a platform to let non-programmers create their own mobile business apps, reveals the following observations from 1,000 respondents interviewed in June:

  • 60% of the Millennial respondents “aren’t concerned about corporate security when they use personal apps instead of corporate-approved apps” because those apps aren’t up to the job. They’d much rather use apps that they believe are better.
  • 69% of the Millennial respondents say they never work in conjunction with IT department when selecting new business apps.35 percent of Millennials use their own apps because corporate-approved apps cannot be used across different devices.
  • 35% of the Millennial respondents say they use their own apps because corporate-approved apps can’t be used across different devices.
  • While nearly 70% of respondents from the Baby Boomer generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) said they never use “outside” apps to support their work, only 31% of the Millennials said the same. In other words, the percentage of Baby Boomers who didn’t use outside apps is about equal to the percentage of Millennials who did use them.

For more from the survey, see Trackvia’s report, titled Rebels With a Cause, and the infographic below:

trackvia - rebels with a cause

Vectra Networks/LinkedIn Information Security Community study: Nearly four-fifths of organizations lack a BYOD policy

Gold Key Opening a Gold Lock (with Clipping Path)

In another BYOD study — this one conducted jointly by security platform company Vectra Networks and LinkedIn’s Information Security Communty group — over 1,100 IT professionals were interviewed about BYOD in their workplace. Here are some of the statistics:

  • 79% have “not fully implemented” BYOD policies, processes, and infrastructure”.
  • 24% did not even have a mobile device policy.
  • When it came to protecting company data, respondents were most concerned about these:
    • Business data (74%)
    • Customer/employee data (69%)
    • Documents (66%)
  • The most common security measures for mobile devices used at respondents’ companies were:
    • Passcode protection (67%)
    • Remote wiping of data (52%)
    • MDM (43%)
    • Encryption (43%)
    • Endpoint security tools (39%)
    • Network access controls (38%)

For more from the study, see Vectra Networks’ 2014 BYOD and Mobile Security Report.

Mobile is the new desktop

With just about as many mobile subscriptions as there are people worldwide, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people are adopting mobile devices for every aspect of their lives, including work. The problem is that with increased use of mobile devices, especially personal ones, come increased security risks. Many organizations have been slow or resistant in adopting mobile technologies, but as InformationWeek’s Dark Reading blog puts it, “it’s happening, whether IT or security teams believe it or not”. 

The infographic below was created by mobile security vendor BlueBox and shows mobile device use at work, and the gap in concerns about mobile that separates employees from IT:

mobile is the new desktop

The Apple/IBM partnership may help alleviate enterprise BYOD pain

iphone and blackberry

The unexpected is happening at a “well-known investment firm” in New York City: nearly 60% of them are encountering enough frustration with their BYOD devices that they want to return to two phones — one for personal use, one for work — and are saying “I want my BlackBerry back”. It turns out that the MDM has been draining their devices’ batteries and interfering with their work (one example: one MDM app didn’t let them send email from within a Salesforce app or open a PDF with GoodReader), and their BYOD policies are skewed too heavily in favor of the company’s rights over employees’ privacy.

AppleInsider suggests that the recently-announced enterprise mobility partnership between Apple and IBM may solve these problems, with its promised IBM-developed “device management native to iOS” and a new “end-to-end procurement and lifecycle management services allow employees to manage their own mobile devices” may alleviate these problems. They’re not available yet, and if you’re thinking of adopting a BYOD policy at your organization, you have to consider the trade-offs that exist in the here and now.

Special thanks to Phil Caruso, Director, Channel Programs at GSG, for helping with this article!

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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shopify application development

Michael Larkin has been helping people build online shops with Shopify for years in all sorts of ways. He’s helped people set up shops, he’s taken stock Shopify stores and hot-rodded them with all sorts of customizations, and he co-authored one of the first Shopify apps, FetchApp, which makes it possible to sell downloadable digital goods with Shopify. He recently wrote Packt Publishing’s Shopify Application Development, a quick read that’ll walk you through the process of building Shopify apps with Ruby on Rails, following good practices like test-driven design while you’re doing it. Among the things you’ll do by following the book’s exercises are:

  • Learn how to configure your Rails development environment for building Shopify apps, testing them with RSpec and FactoryGirl, and deploying them to Heroku
  • Connect an app to Shopify, and work with Shopify’s API and Webhooks
  • Build both private apps for use by a single store, and public apps, which any number of stores can use
  • Publish your app to the Shopify store so that you can sell it to vendors and make some money for your efforts

It has a number of technical reviewers, including one you might have heard of:

joey devilla tech reviewer

The book’s a mere 109 pages and should be a good starting-off point for your Shopify app development. You can order the ebook version directly from Packt for under $20; the paper book version (which comes with the ebook for free is about $30. It’s also available on Amazon, with the Kindle version priced at just under $10, and the paper book version under $30.

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A first look at Swift’s new access levels

by Joey deVilla on July 23, 2014

privacy

swift kickC# and Java programmers are used to working with class member access level modifiers like public, private, and protected. With the latest version of Swift (which came with the latest version of Xcode), we got access level modifiers too. They’re just a little bit different.

Prior to Xcode beta 4, there was one and only one level of access in Swift. Now there are three:

  • private – accessible only from within the source file where it’s defined,
  • internal – accessible only from any file within the target where it’s defined, and
  • public – accessible from any file within the target where’s it’s defined, and from within any other context that imports the current target’s module.

In case you’re not clear on what’s meant by a target: it’s the end result of doing a build in Xcode. For most of us, this is likely an app, but it could also be a library, framework or unit test bundle.

These levels of access are file-based rather than class-based. To help make things clear, I’ve put together some illustrations.

The default access level: internal

The first level of access I’ll cover is internal

internal

An internal entity can be “seen” within the file where it’s defined, as well as from any other file in the same application or framework.

internal is the default level of access, and the only access level in versions of Swift prior to beta 4. If an entity — that is, a variable, constant, enum, struct, or class — doesn’t have a specified access level, its access level is internal.

The locked-down access level: private

The next level of access is private

private

private entity can be “seen” within the file where it’s defined, and only within that file. It’s invisible from outside that file.

If you’re used to the sort of access C# or Java programmer, you’re used to the idea of a private entity being one that can’t be “seen” outside the class. In Swift, access level is about files, not classes, meaning that a Swift private entity is one that can’t be seen outside its own file. Two Swift classes in the same file would be able to access each other’s private variables, methods, and so on. This approach will make it possible to encapsulate related classes in a single file, with “internal use only” classes marked as private. It also gets around having to use access kludges like C++’s friend functions and classes.

The “putting myself out there” access level: public

Just as private is a little bit different from what you might expect, so is public

public

public entity can be “seen” within the file where it’s defined, from any other file in the same application or framework, and by another file any other application or framework that imports the application or framework where the public entity was defined.

Once again, if you’re a C# or Java programmer, this may seem weird. Swift’s internal is closest in spirit to C#’s and Java’s public; Swift’s public exposes entities to outside code that imports our application or framework. This should come in particularly handy for those of you who are writing libraries: you can choose which classes and methods to expose to clients by marking them as public.

Trying out the new access levels

The following is a copy-and-paste from some code I wrote while taking these new access levels for a spin. I created a file called RelatedClasses.swift that contain classes named SomeClass, SomeOtherClass, and HiddenClass:

// RelatedClasses.swift

class SomeClass {
  
  internal func doSomethingInternal() -> () {
    println("SomeClass::doSomethingInternal() called.")
  }
  
  func doSomethingDefault() -> () {
    println("SomeClass::doSomethingDefault() called.")
  }
  
  private func doSomethingPrivate() -> () {
    println("SomeClass::doSomethingPrivate() called.")
  }
  
}

class SomeOtherClass {
  
  let someClassInstance = SomeClass()
  private let hiddenClassInstance = HiddenClass()
  
  func usePrivateMethodInSameFileDifferentClass() -> () {
    someClassInstance.doSomethingPrivate()
  }
  
}

private class HiddenClass {
  
}

Note that:

  • SomeClass has two internal methods: doSomethingInternal() and doSomethingDefault(). doSomethingInternal()‘s internal access level is explicit, and doSomethingDefault()‘s internal access level is explicit. Both these methods are callable from inside RelatedClasses.swift, or from any file inside the application or framework containing RelatedClasses.swift.
  • SomeClass also has a private method: doSomethingPrivate(). It’s accessible from within SomeClass, but also from anywhere else inside RelatedClasses.swift, including from within the other two classes. You can’t call this method from outside RelatedClasses.swift
  • SomeOtherClass contains an instance of SomeClass and HiddenClass. Note that because HiddenClass is private, any instance of HiddenClass must also be declared private.
  • SomeOtherClass has a method with the rather long name usePrivateMethodInSameFileDifferentClass(), and it lives up to its name. It can access SomeClass' doSomethingPrivate() method even though it’s private because it’s in the same file, and Swift’s access control is more file-based than class hierarchy-based.
  • HiddenClass is a private class. Since SomeClass and SomeOtherClass are in the same file, they can “see” it and create instances of it. Its definition is “invisible” outside the file, and thus you can’t create a HiddenClass instance outside of RelatedClasses.swift.

As you can see, Swift’s access control is different from C#’s and Java’s, which will lead to different coding patterns. We typically see the one-class-per-file approach in C# and Java, but Swift’s different kind of private access will likely give rise to larger-scale type of encapsulation, with related classes in the same file. public may change the way people write libraries and frameworks — I’m more of a library/framework user than a writer, so I’ll leave it to others to deliver more informed comment on that. It’ll be interesting to see the approaches that programmers come up with as they use Swift.

Recommended Reading

The online Swift documentation has been updated to cover the addition of access control in beta 4. There’s also some interesting discussion about Swift’s access levels in the Human Friendly’s blog, in an article titled Swift Access Controls are like C’s (and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

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Apple’s long shadow

by Joey deVilla on July 22, 2014

apple casting a long shadow

Creative Commons photo by Rob Tiggelman. Click the photo to see the source.

After the release of the first-generation iPhone a little over seven years ago (June 29, 2007), the mobile industry would never be the same again. Sure, there were some naysayers who said it would never take off:

but in the end, the iPhone not only redefined what a smartphone was, but helped drive the convergence of mobile computing, wireless, and the internet, which in turn helped change the telecom industry’s business model from a voice-based one to a data-based one.

We’ve seen Apple’s long shadow in a couple of bits of recent news as well…

In the enterprise: The Apple/IBM partnership

ginni rometty and tim cook

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Apple CEO Tim Cook

We’ve covered this before, but it’s worth mentioning again, as it means that Apple’s iDevices — which have somewhere in the area of 90% penetration in the enterprise already — are getting paired up with IBM’s business services and big data expertise.

On the higher end: Samsung

If you wanted to get an idea of how fierce the competition between Samsung and Apple is, you need only to watch Screen Envy, Samsung’s latest ad:

Many of Samsung’s ads poke fun at Apple users and devices, but this one’s a little different. This time, the target of their fun-poking is the iPhone 6, which not only hasn’t been released, it hasn’t even been announced. There’s been word about Apple asking manufacturers to get ready for a record-breaking initial production run of iPhones in new sizes and the usual set of reports from reasonably reliable sources, but there’s still no confirmed list of features nor is there a release date.
That’s how competitive the mobile device industry is: you have to pre-emptively advertise against competitors’ products that don’t even yet exist.

On the lower end: Xiaomi

xiaomi logo and mascot

Xiaomi (pronounced “SHAO-mee”) may be a non-entity here in the U.S., but they’ve been called “The Apple of China”. The comparison is an apt one in many ways, not the least of which is that they’re a threat to Samsung — just from the lower end of the pricing spectrum. The underlying tech in their latest products can easily hold their own against Apple’s and Samsung’s flagship devices, and China alone can provide them with enough customers to make them a big player. Their devices are also cheaper than Samsung’s, which may be a threat as they expand beyond China and into the world market. As Business Insider’s Steve Kovach observed:

…that’s a big problem for Android manufacturers like Samsung. Apple has a great mobile ecosystem with iOS that you can only get on iPhones and iPads, but there isn’t a big difference between what a Samsung Android phone can do versus a Xiaomi Android phone. So, why spend twice as much when you can get a high-end gadget that does the same thing for half the price?

Here’s Xiaomi’s most recently-announced phone, the Mi4, which looks suspiciously like an iPhone, right down to the metal body and chamfers on the edges:

xiaomi mi4

And if that weren’t enough copycattery, here’s their tablet, the MiPad (yes, you read that right: MiPad). It does boast graphics chips on par with an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 under the hood, but that hood looks oh-so-familiar:

xiaomi mipad

The Apple-aping at Xiaomi doesn’t just stop at the products. Like Apple, their marketing points out their attention to design and detail. Their CEO, Lei Jun, is a bit of a Steve Jobs fan and according to Wikipedia “carefully cultivates a Steve Jobs image, including jeans and dark shirts, and Jobs’ style of product announcements.”

He’s even gone so far as to “borrow” this old “Stevenote” trick at a recent presentation:

xiaomi one more thing

Photo from Sascha Pallenberg’s Twitter account. Click the photo to see the source.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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