Android’s instant tethering is now officially available

Mariella Moon, Engadget, 2/13/17

But still only for Pixel and Nexus devices running Nougat.

Instant tethering started making its way to some Android users in late January, allowing them to set up an automatic hotspot connection between devices. Now that the feature is officially available, more people should have access to it — but it still only works with Pixel and Nexus devices. The new FAQ section dedicated to the feature confirms what was reported before: Pixel and Nexus phones running Nougat can act as hosts or the source of internet connection. Tablets like the Pixel C and Nexus 9, as well as phones running Android Marshmallow, however, can only use shared data connections and can’t act as hosts.

To be able to use the feature, all your devices must share the same Google account. You can then activate Instant Tethering in the Settings menu: tap “Provide data connection” to set up a host device or tap “Get data connection” to set up a non-host phone or tablet. After the initial setup, your non-host devices will automatically connect to your host devices when you need an internet connection. It’s a pretty sweet deal if you’re always busy on the go, since manually tethering devices all the time can be time consuming. Another plus is that your receiving device will automatically disconnect after 10 minutes of no activity to save power and make sure your tablet/phone doesn’t die too quickly.

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Posted on February 13, 2017 at 9:51 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android · Tagged with: 

Majority of Android VPNs can’t be trusted to make users more secure

n, Ars Technica, 2/13/17

Study of nearly 300 apps finds shocking omissions, including a failure to encrypt.

Over the past half-decade, a growing number of ordinary people have come to regard virtual private networking software as an essential protection against all-too-easy attacks that intercept sensitive data or inject malicious code into incoming traffic. Now, a comprehensive study of almost 300 VPN apps downloaded by millions of Android users from Google’s official Play Market finds that the vast majority of them can’t be fully trusted. Some of them don’t work at all.

According to a research paper that analyzed the source-code and network behavior of 283 VPN apps for Android:

Apps that intercepted and decrypted TLS traffic.

Enlarge / Apps that intercepted and decrypted TLS traffic.

The researchers—from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the University of New South Wales, and the University of California at Berkeley—wrote in their report:

Our results show that—in spite of the promises for privacy, security, and anonymity given by the majority of VPN apps—millions of users may be unawarely subject to poor security guarantees and abusive practices inflicted by VPN apps… Despite the fact that Android VPN-enabled apps are being installed by millions of mobile users worldwide, their operational transparency and their possible impact on user’s privacy and security remains terra incognita even for tech-savvy users.

Apps that failed to encrypt.

Enlarge / Apps that failed to encrypt.

Not every behavior called out in the report is an automatic indication of a privacy or security failing. A variety of VPNs have been called out in the past for leaking IPv6 and DNS traffic. In some cases, the shortcomings may compromise only anonymity, rather than allowing attackers to monitor or manipulate traffic to and from a phone. Still, most security and privacy experts agree that at a minimum, the behaviors found in the study are things that should be avoided by VPN developers.

VPNs with trackers

Enlarge / VPNs with trackers

One of the few apps to be lauded in the study was F-Secure Freedome VPN, made by the Finnish security company F-Secure. In keeping with F-Secure marketing promises, the app blocks all traffic from a pre-defined list of Web- and mobile-tracking domains, including Google Ads, DoubleClick, Google Tag, and comScore. The researchers found at least one site, nytimes.com, where Freedome interfered with embedded content video because the app blocked some of the JavaScript served by the domain. Other than that, one of the researchers told Ars, Freedome had no issues. App licenses cost $50 per year for use on three devices which, in addition to Android, can run Windows, MacOS, or iOS.

VPNs with a malware presence as indicated by VirusTotal

Enlarge / VPNs with a malware presence as indicated by VirusTotal

The research was based on Google Play apps that, as of November, used a permission called BIND_VPN_SERVICE, which allows apps to intercept and take full control of all traffic flowing over an affected phone or tablet. The results don’t take into account apps that have been added, removed, or modified since then. Still, however the Google Play offerings have changed in the past two months, the findings should serve as a wakeup call for anyone using a VPN app on an Android device. Those relying on an app that isn’t Freedome should consider dumping it or at least suspending use of it until they have reviewed the app’s performance.

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Posted on February 13, 2017 at 9:49 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: 

Google Voice gets a new look for its first major update in years

Chris Welch, The Verge, 1/26/17

Google just announced the new and improved Google Voice that the company teased a few weeks ago. Today you’ll find updated versions of Voice available for Android, iOS, and on the web. The service has been given a much-needed visual refresh, bringing it in line with Google’s other apps. According to Google’s blog post on the changes, “your inbox now has separate tabs for text messages, calls and voicemails. Conversations stay in one continuous thread, so you can easily see all your messages from each of your contacts in one place.”

Aside from simply bringing Voice up to date aesthetically, the upgraded app carries over some features that until now were only available for users who had switched to Hangouts for some Voice functions like texting and voicemail. For one, photo MMS is now supported by Google Voice on all platforms and across pretty much all major carriers. Images show up inline in your conversations, and firing off your own is as easy as any other texting app. That sounds like basic functionality, but MMS has been a longtime sore spot for Voice. No more emails with MMS attachments or other weird workarounds.

Group texting has also been added to the main Voice apps — no Hangouts required. This is another crucially important feature to many people that Google Voice has been bad at until now. With today’s update, group conversations are labeled very clearly and should work as you’d expect them to.

Voicemail transcriptions are still in there too. And with this update, Google is introducing voicemail transcriptions for Spanish. Other nice touches I’ve noticed in a few days spent testing the new Google Voice include: in-notification replies on Android (but sadly not iOS), 3D Touch support for iPhone (mostly in Messages view), and a user experience that finally feels less like a relic from the early App Store days. This is what the Android version looked like in the year 2017 before today’s redesign:

Those days are thankfully over. Speaking of which, Google claims it’s committed to preventing Voice from falling into the neglected state it was stuck in prior to today. The company says users can expect “regular” updates and new features for the mobile apps and web client, though it offers no estimate on how often they’ll arrive. Let’s just say that Google has a lot to prove if it wants to convince anyone that Voice is a priority again. One thing a spokesperson has already confirmed to The Verge is that Google is working to implement RCS messaging in Voice.

But today is just step one, a redesign that seems more about making up for lost time than reinventing what Google Voice is. If you’ve already moved your Voice account into Hangouts (and you actually still use Hangouts), the blog post says there’s “no need to change to the new apps, but you might want to try them out as we continue to improve and add more features.”

These Google Voice updates will launch first today on Android, followed by iOS in a couple days. Once your mobile app is updated, the web client will automatically change over to the new design. Everyone should have it within a couple weeks, according to Google.

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Posted on January 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, iOS, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

Google’s Instant Tethering Makes It Easier to Share Your Phone’s Connection

Eric Ravenscraft, LifeHacker, 1/26/17

Many Android phones can create handy hotspots to share your phone’s internet connections, but they can be tedious to set up. Google wants to fix this with its new Instant Tethering feature.

The new feature is currently rolling out as an update to Google Play Services. When you have multiple devices logged into the same account and one loses a connection, it will automatically offer to share another device’s internet connection.

For now, the feature is very limited. Only Nexus and Pixel devices running Android 7.1.1 are supported. Furthermore, only phones like the Pixel and Pixel XL will be able to share their internet connection with tablets like the Nexus 9 and Pixel C, not the other way around. One Pixel phone can share its connection with another Pixel phone, however. It seems that Google is still testing to this to see how well it will work. However, if this works out it should make staying online much easier.

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Posted on January 26, 2017 at 5:25 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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HTC outs an always listening, dual-screen smartphone with its own AI assistant

, TechCrunch, 1/12/17

Just when you thought HTC might be ready to hang up on its smartphone efforts, the Android underdog is turning up the volume and announcing what it describes as a “new direction” — in the form of a series of smartphones preloaded with its own AI assistant.

While mobile phones were originally a device for talking to other humans, before smartphones plus touchscreens turned devices (and people) into texting machines, analysts are spying signs of a renaissance for voice — as a control mechanism to speed up interacting with increasingly complex devices.

Every major smartphone device and OS maker has their own AI these days, from Apple’s Siri, to Microsoft’s Cortana, to Samsung’s Viv, to Amazon’s Alexa, to Google’s Assistant. HTC is finally following suit, unveiling what it’s calling the “HTC Sense companion” at a launch event today.

The company teased the launch of the new U series smartphones last month, hinting at the “For U” personalization it had in the pipeline. Today it announced two new Android handsets preloaded with the AI assistant: the HTC U Ultra, a 5.7 inch flagship phablet clad in glass on the front and back; and a more mid-tier option called the HTC U Play, with a 5.2 inch display.

A spokeswoman for the company confirmed the AI assistant uses HTC’s “own in-built AI software”, but added it is also compatible with Google Now.

HTC says the Sense AI learns from the user’s “daily phone habits” to push relevant suggestions — giving examples such as reminders to charge your phone to avoid it running out of juice, or a prompt to wear warm clothes when the weather is cold, or suggestions for a restaurant for a forthcoming date.

A small second screen above the main panel is used to display suggestions from the Sense companion, and also for showing other personalized notifications — such as messages from priority contacts and favourite apps.

HTC says the idea with the dual display is to free up the main screen for uninterrupted browsing, though it looks to offer a pretty incremental benefit in terms of the quantity of screen real estate that will not be periodically obscured by notifications. (But, depending on how intelligent its prompts are, it might help cut down on some navigation-related swiping).

The U Ultra flagship also includes four omnidirectional microphones to power an always listening feature aimed at making it easier for users to interact with the device and the AI via their voice. We’ve asked HTC for more details on how this functions — in terms of trigger word, and how it’s processing and storing users’ voice data — and will update this story with any response. (You can read the company’s privacy policy here.)

HTC is also launching a premium, “ultra-hard”, sapphire glass edition of the Ultra, which comes with 128GB internal storage.

Elsewhere, HTC lauds the “ultra thin” design of the new U series glass-clad devices, which both have a waist measurement that’s 7.99mm at its thickest.

Both also have a front facing camera that can switch between 16MP high resolution images and a 4MP ultra pixel mode to suit lightning conditions. And there’s a new ‘selfie panorama’ mode option to offer a software alternative to wielding a selfie stick. Expect the usual smartphone color options (plus pink).

Also in the box: headphones that HTC claims can adapt to the ambient noise levels to auto adjust for the correct volume.

The company says the U Ultra and U Play will be arriving in multiple European markets next month. Pricing has yet to be announced.

Timing for any US launch is also not clear, though the company has tweeted the U Ultra will launch globally in Q1.

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Posted on January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Intel’s 5G modem makes its debut at CES, but there’s a lot of 4G tech behind it

Ed Oswald, Yahoo!News, 1/9/17

There’s a continuing argument in the wireless industry over 5G — even what it actually will look like — but that’s not stopping companies like Intel from pushing forward with efforts to at least attain 5G speeds during 2017.

Intel is showing off at CES 2017 a sample of its 5G modem, which according to press materials will attain speeds of over 5Gbps. While no speed standard has been set by the industry, it’s generally agreed that 5G networks will offer multigigabit-per-second connections. Intel’s 5G modem also attains the ultra low latency and bandwidth aggregation sought by the industry as part of transition to 5G.

In more layman’s terms, in order for our wireless networks to attain those crazy speeds, devices will need to mesh together several channels of downstream data to do so. At the same time, to make all of these new technologies truly work over wireless — say augmented reality or AI-infused autonomous vehicles — you’ll need to reduce lag to almost nil to make them viable in real-time applications.

Intel hopes to have samples ready by the second half of this year, with full production starting soon after. But in the interest of accuracy, we should mention that this “5G” is really just an effort to make today’s technology work in a next-generation like manner rather than a full-blown new standard.

“Today’s communications systems weren’t designed to accommodate the massive bandwidth required to support such an evolution, or the ultra-low latency needed to allow devices or even vehicles to react to split-second events,” said Aicha Evans, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel’s Communication and Devices Group.

What the Intel 5G modem does is take several different current technologies, including both sub-6Ghz and mmWave capabilities and MIMO. Some of these are key parts of the 3GPP 5G new radio technology, and the company says that’s by design.

“Our goal is to support both early trials and to lay a foundation enabling accelerated development of products that will support the 3GPP NR specification and help drive global adoption of the 3GPP 5G standard,” Evans adds.

Standard or not, it’s clear the industry is clamoring for 5G. When we actually get there though is another question — and it’s likely that we won’t see true 5G for many more years to come.

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Posted on January 9, 2017 at 5:25 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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5G, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, claims wireless comms expert

Graeme Burton, The Inquirer, 12/20/16

5G vision is flawed, claims Professor William Webb, and mobile operators can’t afford it anyway

THE 5G WIRELESS VISION is flawed because technological advances are insufficient to deliver it, users won’t pay extra for the higher data rates and don’t need the greater capacity it is expected to provide – and because mobile operators can’t afford to implement it anyway.

That is the claim of mobile entrepreneur Professor William Webb, deputy chair at Cambridge Wireless, CEO of the Weightless SIG, and co-founder of cloud company Neul.

“Despite the clearly flawed case for 5G, it is not in the interests of any of the stakeholders to point this out because they all benefit from the interest, funding and potential that 5G promises,” claims Webb.

He believes that the development of standards capable of delivering “consistent connectivity everywhere” would be more beneficial than “unnecessarily fast speeds in city centres”.

Webb makes the claims in a new book, ‘The 5G Myth‘.

“Current mobile data speeds are more than adequate for all foreseeable uses. Data growth is slowing and may plateau around 2027, with only around two-times growth occurring during the 5G era. With 5G predicated predominantly on higher speeds and also on its ability to deliver substantially enhanced data capabilities, this suggests 5G may not be targeting the right areas,” he claims.

With demand for mobile data starting to plateau, network enhancements are being delivered via more antennas at the base station and in the device, many more small cells, or dense deployments in completely new frequency bands.

“The advent of 4G effectively provided a capacity enhancement of around two-and-a-half-times at very little extra cost. The same will not happen for 5G. Relatively low-cost capacity enhancements will likely provide less than two-times improvements. Going beyond this will come at a very high cost due to the very large number of additional small cells that will need to be deployed,” he claims.

Furthermore, mobile networks aren’t the money-spinners that they used to be, with companies struggling to maintain their historic profitability, with revenues depressed while investment needs to be maintained at relatively high levels. “The only rationale for mobile network operators to invest in new technology is to prevent subscriber churn to their competitors,” suggests Webb.

“In practice, most visions can be adequately achieved with existing technology, such as evolved 4G, evolving Wi-Fi and emerging Internet of Things technologies,” he concludes.

Webb was one of the youngest ever Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and is also a Fellow of the IEEE – the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is currently involved in the development of standards for wireless machine-to-machine communications.

He has published 14 books, more than 100 papers and has 18 patents to his name. He is also Visiting Professor at the 5G Innovation Centre at Surrey University, Southampton University and Trinity College, Dublin. µ

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Posted on December 20, 2016 at 10:14 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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T-Mobile is trying to revolutionize the way you use your phone number

Daniel Howley, Yahoo!News, 12/8/16

T-Mobile has introduced a new service it hopes will reinvent how you use your phone number. Called Digits, the initiative lets you use your regular old number across multiple devices; we’re talking Android phones, iPhones, tablets, computers, smart watches, the works.

Conversely, you’ll also be able to add multiple phone numbers to a single device, which means you won’t have to carry around a personal and work phone anymore, since you can use both phone numbers on one device.

Digits is currently in a closed beta and available to only a limited number of T-Mobile customers. T-Mobile hasn’t announced pricing for the service, though representatives were keen to point out that it will be “disruptive.”

So how will Digits work? Good question. Say you have a T-Mobile iPhone and an old Verizon phone sitting in your drawer, or even your current work phone. You sign up for Digits and, in the instance of that old Verizon phone, download the Digits app to your Verizon handset. From then on, you’ll be able to place calls and send messages using your T-Mobile number on that Verizon phone through the Digits app.

If you’ve got a work phone and want to leave it behind, you can simply add the number to your personal device via Digits. That way you’ll be able to make calls and send text messages to work contacts without having to deal with two different handsets.

Since Digits also works with your laptop and desktop, you can also make calls and send messages via your web browser in the event that you forget your phone at home or it dies and you can’t find a charger. To do that, you’ll simply have to log into your T-Mobile account from your computer. Once you’re logged in, you’ll have access to all of your contacts and text messages.

There are certainly other services similar to Digits out there, such as Google Voice, Verizon’s One Talk and AT&T’s NumberSync. But, according to T-Mobile, those don’t let you use multiple numbers on your device, while also letting you use your number on other companies’ handsets, tablets and desktops.

If you do put your number on multiple devices, T-Mobile says they’ll each ring at the same time, to ensure you don’t miss your call. There’s no word if you’ll be able to silence specific devices, though, being unable to do so would be downright ridiculous. You don’t want to hear your phone, tablet, laptop and watch ring all at once. That would drive you nuts.

If you’re interested in signing up for the Digits beta, you’ll need to have an Active T-Mobile postpaid account and an Android phone running Android 5.0 or newer, an iPhone running iOS 9 or newer and either Firefox or Chrome for your Mac or PC. Unfortunately, T-Mobile says Apple’s iMessage won’t work with the Digits beta, so if you manage to get in, you’ll have to disable it and use a standard texting app.

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Posted on December 8, 2016 at 10:06 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Google is rolling out RCS, the successor to SMS, on the Sprint network

Kyle Wiggers, Digital Trends, 11/13/16

In a mobile world full of capable messaging apps such as Allo, Snapchat, Line, WeChat, and others, plain old text messaging seems a bit antiquated by comparison. Due to the technological constraints imposed by simple messaging service (SMS), the cellular standard which powers basic text messaging, cellular messaging lacks support for the sort of animations, videos, and stickers which most clients boast. But that’s about to change. On Friday, Google announced that it will begin rolling out an advanced texting standard called rich client messaging, or RCS, to Android phones on the Sprint network.

RCS is best described as text messaging on steroids — basically, it’s a modernized version of SMS that brings the aging standard up to par with clients like iMessage and Facebook Messenger. It supports features like group chats, read receipts (timestamps that indicate when a message has been received and seen), high-resolution photo sharing, and typing indicators (the animations that indicate when chat participants are pecking out sentences). It can transmit images and videos up to 100 times larger than multimedia text messaging, the outgoing standard that currently performs that legwork. And it features robust support for group messaging, including the ability to name groups, add new members, and leave existing groups.

The upgrade will begin in earnest later this year. Sprint subscribers with Android devices running KitKat 4.4 will see RCS become available in the coming weeks, provided they’ve installed Google’s Messaging application from Android’s Play Store app market and selected it as their default messaging app. Select LG and Nexus phones, meanwhile, will be “automatically upgraded” to RCS through a forthcoming app update. And owners of Google’s Pixel devices, which ship with Messenger preloaded, will have access to RCS as long as they don’t switch their default messaging app to another client.

Eligible users will be notified via popup message when RCS becomes available. From within Messenger, they’ll be able to toggle a few of the standard’s features including read receipts, typing indicators, and whether or not data’s used for messaging.

Taking advantage of RCS won’t be nearly as complicated in the future. Beginning next year, all Android devices sold by Sprint will come with Messenger configured as the default texting app.

The launch is the fruit of Google’s Jibe Mobile purchase. The company’s technology, which Google acquired late last year, forms the framework of Google’s Universal RCS platform, a standardized text messaging platform the company announced at Mobile World Congress in February. In a speech to attendees, a Google representative promised a “consistent” and “inter-operable” version of the RCS spec that would work with non-Android devices and integrate with third-party APIs and open source tools.

Indeed, Google’s RCS ambitious extend far beyond the Sprint network. The company intends to bring the spec to other carriers in the coming months, though it declines to say which.

But its hands are tied. RCS, unlike the messaging technologies behind internet-based clients like Facebook Messenger, requires support at the cellphone carrier level, and the uptake has been slow: only 49 carriers worldwide have adopted RCS since its debut in 2007. (A notable holdout in the U.S. is Verizon, the nation’s largest cellular provider.) Worse yet, fragmentation is beginning to emerge: many of those carriers are on an older version of RCS that’s only partial compatibility with the flavor that Sprint and others plan to implement.

And then there’s the elephant in the room: Google’s own internet-based messaging platforms, all of which eschew support for RCS in favor of older or proprietary alternatives. Google’s new Allo client, which comes pre-installed on Pixel phones, lacks robust support for cellular messaging. And Hangouts, the company’s all-in-one messaging client, has yet to implement RCS.

But all the same, the search giant appears committed, at least in part, to moving toward the promised future of RCS: platform-agnostic advanced text messaging. “[Text messaging] is one of the most ubiquitous forms of communication today, used by billions of people worldwide,” Amir Sarhangi, head of Google’s RCS efforts, wrote in a blog post. “We’re excited to see this first launch of RCS come to life, providing a better carrier messaging experience for millions of people in the U.S.”

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Posted on November 13, 2016 at 8:30 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: , , , ,

HTML 5.1 Now an Official Web Standard

Sean Michael Kerner, InternetNews.com, 11/13/16

The lead up to the official debut of HTML 5 in October 2014 was a very big deal. Now two years later HTML 5.1 was declared an official standard on November 1.

With HTML 5 work was ongoing for more than seven years and the standard replaced HTML 4.x which had been in place for a decade. HTML 5.1 in contrast is a very incremental step up, dealing with minor items that fell out from the original HTML 5 approach.

The features that HTML 5.1 add are:

•    The picture and srcset attributes allow responsive image selection.
•    The details andsummary elements enable authors to provide extended information that users can choose whether to read.
•    The menuitem and type=”context” attribute value enable authors to add functionality to the browser’s context menu.
•    The requestAnimationFrame API allows for more efficient animation.
•    enqueueJob and nextJob help explain Promise resolution in terms of microtasks.
•    The rev attribute for links, primarily to support RDFa (previously defined in HTML 4).
•    HTMLMediaElement and srcObject objects.
•    Enable cross-origin track and EventSource and cross-origin content for ImageBitmap in canvas.
•    event-source-error, event-track-error and event-track-load events for media fetching.
•    onrejectionhandled and onunhandledrejection and APIs for tracking promise rejection.
•    HTMLTableCaptionElement, HTMLTableSectionElement, HTMLTableRowElement, for HTML table elements.
•    history.scrollRestoration to control where a users’ view is directed when navigating through their history.
•    IDL [SameObject], for some objects that return collections.
•    Add “noopener” to rel and window to allow for browsing contexts to be separated.
•    nonce attribute on script and style to support the use of Content Security Policy.

A few interesting things, but nothing really groundbreaking and nothing that will actually impact the end-user experience today either. As was the case with the debut of HTML 5, browser vendors have long since moved waiting for the W3C before using new web technologies.

The big push now from the web vendors is in support of native code, things like ‘C’ in the browser, which has been talked about for many years, but has never been implemented in a truly standardized way.

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Posted on November 13, 2016 at 8:22 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology · Tagged with: