Google-backed password-killer crosses major milestone

Russell Brandom, The Verge, 12/11/14

Today, the infrastructure behind that gadget is taking a big step forward. It’s called FIDO (short for Fast Identification Online), and today the group is releasing the 1.0 version of its open standard. There had been earlier versions, like the one Google’s USB key is based on, but this one is more efficient and more stable, providing a cryptographic backing for any service or authenticator device you want to plug in. As a result, life just got a lot easier for anyone who wants to make a phone with a fingerprint reader or an app that requires a fingerprint before it opens up.

So far there are just a handful of products built on FIDO — but with the new spec, that’s about to change. Google’s security key was one example, and another was Samsung’s fingerprint reader, which could log you directly into the native PayPal app. (Samsung and PayPal were both early FIDO members.) But the company anticipates a flood of new phones and authenticator widgets now that the spec is complete. The iPhone’s TouchID sensor will also work with the new spec, thanks to some clever coding by a software company called Nok Nok, which has built a program adapting Apple’s now-open API to the FIDO protocols.

That means if you want to build a chat app that only opens with the user’s fingerprint, you don’t have to worry about writing a new program for every different phone. If a phone doesn’t have a fingerprint reader, you could use the same system through voice authentication or a token like Google’s security key — just as long as it’s not a password. Nok Nok says it has over 15 product trials in the works for various applications. The hope is that, as the number of phones with fingerprint scanners and other authenticators grows, there will be more and more apps that want to jump on board. “Now people have something they can code to,” said Phil Dunkelberger, Nok Nok’s CEO. “This is the start line, not the finish line.”

Like any standard, FIDO will succeed or fail by adoption: FIDO-friendly fingerprint readers will inspire more FIDO-friendly apps, and vice versa. But the group already has major companies signed on from nearly every group it needs: manufacturers like Samsung, Qualcomm, and Blackberry; service companies like Google, Microsoft, and Netflix; and financial companies like Bank of America, PayPal, and Visa. Coming on the heels of major hacks at Sony and Target, the group is betting the industry will be ready to move on from passwords. With the completed spec finally available, there’ll be nothing to stop them. “We now really are within range of seeing the world changing,” FIDO Alliance president Michael Barrett told The Verge, “and that’s the exciting part.”

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Posted on December 11, 2014 at 1:58 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Google’s latest tool makes building Android apps even easier

, Engadget, 12/11/14

In early 2013, Google announced Android Studio, a WYSIWYG environment that’d help you create Android applications with a lot less hassle. Now, the company is finally ready to put Version 1.0 into the hands of would-be creators across the world. The package comes with plenty of helpful templates for the first-time developer, including example media recorders, notification systems and even an instant messaging platform. Given that Android is now found almost anywhere (phones, tablets, smartwatches, TV, Google Glass and cars), the software enables you to tailor the experience across every device. Fans of GitHub are also catered to, since Android Studio will let you import samples of code from the online repository straight into your project.

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Posted on December 11, 2014 at 1:57 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Verizon gets ready to shut down its 3G networks as LTE takes over

, Engadget, 12/5/14

Verizon may not be releasing its first LTE-only phones until 2016, but it’s already preparing for the day when its legacy CDMA and EV-DO networks ride into the sunset. Wireless tracker Milan Milanovic has discovered that the carrier is now using LTE data in Cleveland and Manhattan on 1,900MHz frequencies that were previously reserved for EV-DO (3G) service. Don’t expect more bandwidth in your neck of the woods just yet, though. Verizon tells GigaOM that this is just a test — it’s not yet ready to make an official transition.

It’ll be a while before there’s a complete switchover. While Verizon’s LTE service is pervasive enough that it’s finally letting prepaid phones in on the action, about 41 percent of the devices on its network don’t have LTE at all. Big Red is more likely to scale back CDMA and EV-DO as demand goes down, and cut them off only when it’s sure that almost every device is 4G-ready. As it stands, you won’t see quicker, more reliable service until Verizon has gear that supports LTE on the 1,900MHz band. Like it or not, your Droid Turbo isn’t going to download files any faster when 3G goes away.

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Posted on December 5, 2014 at 8:19 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Firefox Could Soon Come To iOS

, TechCruch, 12/5/14

For more than a year now, Mozilla has categorically stated that it wouldn’t release a version of Firefox for iOS because Apple won’t let it use its own web engine on its platform. With a new CEO on board, however, it looks like Mozilla’s position may be changing. At an internal Mozilla event in Portland today, the organization talked about the need to get its browser onto iOS.

“We need to be where our users are,” Firefox release manager Lukas Blakk wrote on Twitter today (quoting Mozilla’s VP for Firefox Jonathan Nightingale, we think). “So we’re going to get Firefox on iOS.”

Update: Mozilla has now officially acknowledged that it is experimenting with the iOS platform:
“At Mozilla, we put our users first and want to provide an independent choice for them on any platform. We are in the early stages of experimenting with something that allows iOS users to be able to choose a Firefox-like experience. We work in the open at Mozilla and are just starting to experiment, so we’ll update you when we have more to share.”

Apple has been very restrictive with regard to third-party browser engines on its platform. Current third-party iOS browsers like Chrome or Opera can only operate on iOS because they use Apple’s own JavaScript and rendering engines, for example — or, as in the case of Opera, by rendering sites on a server and then sending them to the device.

It’s unclear how Mozilla plans to bring Firefox to iOS, but given that Apple isn’t likely to open up its platform for third-party browser engines, it’ll likely have to work with Apple’s technology. With that, it can still support Firefox accounts, its bookmark-syncing tools and all the other features that Firefox for Android currently offers.

Next year is going to be an important one for Firefox — and one that will hopefully bring a bit of a resurgence for the browser. Users today want to use the same browser on all of their devices. That makes keeping bookmarks and passwords in sync quite a bit easier, after all. For a while, Mozilla offered Firefox Home on iOS for exactly this reason, but then it abandoned that project two years ago.

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Posted on December 5, 2014 at 8:17 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology

Canonical’s Ubuntu Touch for Mobile Devices Almost Ready

The VAR Guy, 12/4/14

Canonical still hasn’t finished “convergingUbuntu Linux across PCs, servers, phones and tablets, but it’s now closer than ever with a new development release of Ubuntu Touch, which partners Meizu and Bq are using to build the open source mobile devices that should appear in the new year.

On Nov. 10, Canonical developers announced the release of version 10 of Ubuntu RTM. That’s the software Canonical’s hardware partners are using to test Ubuntu as they prepare mobile devices based on the operating system for the market.

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Posted on December 4, 2014 at 8:31 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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4G/LTE Guide: How To Max Your Data And Save Money

Jay McGregor, Forbes, 11/24/14

Tethering. A sublime idea that’s hindered by some major drawbacks.

For short term use, tethering makes perfect sense. You can turn your smartphone into a Wi-Fi hotspot with a few swipes, and stream some much needed browser time to your laptop in lieu of a proper connection. But in practice, it’s stifled by a limited data plan and battery drain.

Mobile carriers are perhaps the worst offenders when it comes to tethering, they simple don’t want you to do it. Some carriers flat out don’t offer tethering on their pay-as-you-go voice and data plans (Three in the UK for example). Even on unlimited data plans, it’s likely that your connection will be throttled if you start rapidly absorbing huge amounts of data.

Very few people genuinely have an unlimited data plan, too. “Unlimited” often means ‘unlimited until you reach your limit’. So when you’re wondering why your connection is so slow when your laptop is tethered to your phone, chances are that your connection is being throttled.

This is where a mobile hotspot steps in. Yes, before you shriek away from your screen in disgust, I know carrying more devices is regressive. But tethering is the one instance where your smartphone doesn’t reign supreme. Here are three reasons why hotspots make a good alternative.

Choice

Consumers can pick and chose between different carriers and plans. So if you’re travelling, and you want to move to a carrier that has better coverage in that particular area, you can do that by switching out the sim card. Or you could pick up the Uros Goodspeed hotspot that can hold up to 10 different sim cards at once.

This is where a mobile hotspot steps in. Yes, before you shriek away from your screen in disgust, I know carrying more devices is regressive. But tethering is the one instance where your smartphone doesn’t reign supreme. Here are three reasons why hotspots make a good alternative.

There’s also some good innovation in the mobile hotspot arena. Pay-as-you-go provider Karma Go offers 100MB of free data to everyone who connects to your Karma hotspot. So if you share your signal, you’ll earn data, and the strangers who join will only pay for what they use – your account won’t be impacted by their usage.

Reliability

An important reason is that dedicated hotspots can be more reliable. The point at which you need that guaranteed connection will be different for everyone. But it still exists, and, sometimes, being let down by your smartphone simply isn’t an option. Speaking to The Wire Cutter in a comparison piece of hotspots, mobile analyst Sascha Segan said “The hotspot function on smartphones is often not as reliable as a dedicated hotspot”. She continued “We’ve seen a lot of phones with hotspot mode tend to drop [signal]. [It] has to do with firmware of phones; the signal doesn’t drop, but the connection is less reliable.”

Battery

Using your smartphone as a mobile hotspot will rapidly drain your battery. And if you’re working remotely, chances are you need your phone charged and ready to receive calls. This is where a dedicated hotspot becomes handy, especially if you’re going to need a good connection for a few hours. One of the top rated hotspots – the Verizon Jetpack MHS291L – lasted 14 straight LTE streaming hours in PCMag’s review.

Of course, dedicated hotspots have their flaws too. Typically, data-only plans are more expensive than home broadband and costs can easily spiral. But it is usually cheaper than hotel or public Wi-Fi. Upfront costs for the hotspot device can be steep, too. For example, the Karma Go will set you back $149 upfront. Whereas the Verizon Jetpack will cost $39 upfront, but that comes with a two year contract and a pricey monthly payment.

There’s also the issue of having to carry around the extra device. We’re supposed to be reducing the amount we carry with us, not adding. These dedicated hotspots aren’t small either. If, however, you’re happy walking around with a 4G hotspot then you could save money by getting a cheaper data plan for your mobile, and using the 4G on the hotspot when you need it.

 

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Posted on November 24, 2014 at 9:53 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Office for Android updated with Dropbox support

Tom Warren, The Verge, 11/24/14

Microsoft first unveiled its Dropbox support for mobile versions of Office earlier this month, but despite the iOS apps getting updated soon after, Android has lagged behind until this week. The latest update to Office Mobile for Android adds Dropbox as an online storage application, allowing Office users to save and edit documents from Dropbox on their Android phones. Effectively, Android phone owners can edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents stored on Dropbox without ever paying Microsoft anything as Office Mobile is now free to use.

This latest version of Office Mobile for Android phones is still a very limited and basic offering. Office Mobile for Android is identical to the previous iOS version, and similar to the experience offered on Windows Phone. It’s surprising to see Microsoft update this particular version of Office Mobile on Android, while killing the same product on iOS in favor of a combined tablet and phone version that’s far superior. An improved version for Android is on the way, and the tablet part of that update will enter preview in the coming weeks. Once Microsoft ships an updated touch-optimized version of Office with Windows 10, all three mobile operating systems will offer a similar Office experience that doesn’t leave Windows users out in the cold.

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Posted on November 24, 2014 at 9:46 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Small cells: hurdles and potential

, GigaOM, 11/24/14

As the consumption of mobile data continues to soar, carriers are hard-pressed to serve the needs of end-users via traditional macrocell networks. As an alternative, businesses, municipalities, and other organizations look to small cells to provide voice and data services where legacy towers fail to provide optimal service.

While various flavors of small cells meet a number of increasing needs, growth inhibitors could derail mass adoption if left unaddressed.

Key findings from this report include:

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Posted on November 24, 2014 at 9:42 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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A new mobile browser called Wildcard restructures the web into easily swipable cards

, GigaOM, 11/15/14

Cards are an emerging way to structure web information so that it’s easier to for mobile devices to parse and display in a stream — when you simply like an article online and its headline and art appear on your Facebook in a neatly organized module, that’s an example of what cards can do.

Wildcard, a New York-based startup, has built a browser for iOS where cards — not HTML webpages — are the standard unit that users interact with when surfing the internet.  The first version of Wildcard is now available from the App Store.

Cards aren’t just a design innovation for marketers — many people believe they could become one of the default design elements for computers with smaller and smaller screens. It’s not hard to see the start of the card takeover on mobile devices: The latest version of Google Android displays notifications as a set of “cards,” each with information and potential actions the user can take. Apple Watch, expected early next year, probably won’t have a full browser, but well structured cards could be one of the best ways to show a little nugget of information on such a small screen.

Some are hopeful that cards could become one of the primary ways that apps interact with each other on your phone. But developing for cards is harder than simply adding tags to existing content and systems. “Think of a card as a native receptacle for structured information,” Wildcard co-founder and CEO Jordan Cooper told me in an interview. “Cards are a data effort.”

Of course, cards don’t matter if users don’t end up interacting with them. So Wildcard’s mobile browser, which pulls its cards from third-party APIs — an example of what Cooper calls a “third-party card interface” — is the company’s first step to making cards mainstream.

When you first open the app, you’re confronted with six trending searches, and when you scroll down, you find other cards you might be interested in — for instance, a “collection” of cards about brewing great coffee, or a recent article from a publisher who supports cards. In many ways, the app resembles Google Now, which is perhaps the most famous card-based interface currently in wide use to date. Browsing is snappy, with new cards loading immediately.

I didn’t find the automatically surfaced, editorially picked content in Wildcard particularly compelling — and there’s a little too much emphasis on commerce at the moment (one of the first card actions most people implement is a button to buy or install something) but as it is right now it could be a great lightweight feed replacement for Twitter for many people. Wildcard generally looks and feels very slick. It is designed by Khoi Vinh, who was a New York Times digital design director and founded Mixel.

Wildcard’s non-consumer facing projects could end up being even more important to the company. For now, various card implementations, like Facebook‘s Open Graph, or Pinterest’s Rich Pin, don’t really work with each other. Until there’s a standard for cards, Wildcard’s own standard wants to fill that gap. Many websites have already implemented cards, for services like Twitter or Facebook, and Wildcard will provide tools and an SDK to translate those cards and make them interoperable.

There are other companies looking at the same problems with cards: CITIA is another startup with an advertising focus for cards, and the big tech companies are working on their own card technology too.

Wildcard has $10 million in funding from various investors, including General Catalyst Partners. For revenue, it doesn’t plan to monetize the commerce that takes place in its browser, but rather hopes to place ads against its card search that it’s developing in-house.

“The worst user experience is the mobile browser,” Cooper said. “We’re aspiring to replace Safari or Chrome with something better.”

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Posted on November 15, 2014 at 8:36 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, iPhone, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

Why having a mobile site is now even more important

, Mashable, 11/13/14

In the last few years, Google has been communicating the need for mobile ready sites. Forward-thinkers are already reaping the benefits of creating a mobile-friendly website. If your company hasn’t taken the plunge, Google has publicly stated its intent to make mobile-friendly websites standout in its search results, which may lead to a new ranking factor. Google has always strived for the best user experience and, clearly, mobile-friendly websites are front and center when mobile search volume is starting to pull ahead of desktop search.

Ultimately, Google can’t control whether a website is mobile-friendly or not. It also takes time to develop a mobile ranking factor that provides the best user experience and doesn’t alienate important websites that may not have become mobile-friendly yet. With this challenge in mind, Google began testing an icon that alerts users to mobile-friendly websites in their search results. This icon may prove to be valuable in driving search traffic to mobile-friendly websites. Along with the trend of mobile search growth, it is imperative that every website implements a mobile-friendly website.

Is mobile Internet taking over desktop usage?

According to recent research provided by comScore, the majority of consumers are multiscreening. It doesn’t mean that mobile alone is winning, but multiple devices are being utilized by the same visitor at the same websites. This is a key reason to have consistent experiences across multiple devices.

It is clear a standard site on a mobile device provides poor user experience: fonts are too small, there’s an overwhelming amount of information on one screen, and it’s very difficult to navigate. Unless the standard website is the only source of information the user is seeking, they will definitely bounce and choose a mobile-friendly website to visit.

A colleague provided a great example on how you can get an edge on a competitor by being proactive with a mobile-friendly website. He was on the runway at JFK and remembered a birthday for his friend was coming up. He did a search for “gift delivery New York.” As most users would, he immediately clicked on the top result and thought this would be quick and painless. The company he was directed to didn’t have a mobile-friendly website and his frustration brought him right back to Google to find another company with satisfactory user experience. The second result was a Belgian chocolate gift delivery service with a mobile-friendly website, so guess what his friend got for her birthday? And guess who just missed a sale (and who knows how many before that)?

Google has stated that a website should offer the same user experience regardless of the device used by the viewer. Larry Page, Google co-founder and CEO, expressed strong feelings against having multiple sites for multiple devices and believes webmaster shouldn’t be designing for mobile. Thus, Google officially endorsed responsive design as the preferred method of building a mobile-friendly website. Responsive design is a web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience — easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling — across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors).

The emergence of mobile voice search

Another reason to have a mobile-ready site is mobile voice search. Mobile voice search is an emerging technology that combines the power of mobile with a voice recognition algorithm. This algorithm gives users the ability to search Google by speaking their request in a conversational manner. Google has made great progress on this by utilizing the Knowledge Graph to power the search results. Google hosts the largest informational dataset in the world, and providing the correct answer to any question is integral to their success as a search engine.

To feed the Knowledge Graph for local search results, Google uses both information from Wikipedia and the business website. Consequently, it is very important to keep the following information up-to-date: logo, address, phone number, key people and other important information related to be business. Implementing schema on your website is ideal for providing search engines with this important information. Schema markup helps search engines understand the context of information on webpages, allowing them to provide richer results through the Knowledge Graph.

Google also announced a new search platform in September 2013, Hummingbird. The name comes from being “precise and fast” and is designed to better focus on the meaning behind the words. Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words.

In a recent survey commissioned by Google, teens have overwhelmingly integrated voice search into their normal search behavior, whereas adults have yet to adopt it into their search lifestyle. Most of the voice searches noted in the study involve directions, phone calls and homework questions. However, the number of searches regarding local businesses, products, and reviews have increased exponentially in the last year.

Mobile traffic is growing at exponential rates and the steps Google has taken is a clear indicator that every company must have a mobile strategy. Google’s recent tests, like mobile icons, may not become standard in the search results. However, it is clear that having a properly optimized site for mobile search is not optional anymore. Always consider what Google’s ultimate goal is, a quality user experience, and make sure your website is built with that very goal in mind.

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Posted on November 13, 2014 at 9:03 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology