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.

Posted on January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

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.

Posted on January 9, 2017 at 5:25 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

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

Posted on December 20, 2016 at 10:14 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · One Comment
In: Mobile Technology · Tagged with: , ,

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.

Posted on December 8, 2016 at 10:06 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · One Comment
In: iOS, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: , ,

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.”

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

HTML 5.1 Now an Official Web Standard

Sean Michael Kerner,, 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.

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

Mobile internet use passes desktop for the first time, study finds

, TechCrunch, 11/13/16

More users around the world are accessing the internet from mobile devices than from desktop computers for the first time, according to internet monitoring firm StatCounter. The combined traffic from mobile and tablet devices tipped the balance at 51.2 percent, vs. 48.7 percent for desktop access, marking the first time this has happened since StatCounter began tracking stats for internet usage.

It’s a huge moment for the web overall: this means going forward, companies that haven’t yet decided to focus on a mobile-first approach to their internet services and web properties really should, as the trend line is unlikely to reverse.

StatCounter also found that the maturity of the market impacts which is the dominant means of access, and as you might have guessed, mobile platforms are far and away the method of choice for internet access when it comes to emerging markets like India, where they account for 75 percent of use. More mature markets including the UK, the US and Ireland still see use swinging in favor of desktop, but the trend is still showing a narrowing gap.


This is not surprising news, given other recent milestones. In April last year, for instance, comScore found that the number of internet users who employ mobile platforms exclusively has surpassed those who only connect via desktop in the US (this doesn’t consider users who access via both methods). And Google revealed that more searches through its engine are being conducted via mobile platforms than on desktop as of last May.

This may have been a long time coming, but it’s still astounding how many major brands (including possibly our own) favor the desktop first and prioritize mobile web second. Maybe now that this tipping point has been achieved, that will start to change a lot faster.

Posted on November 13, 2016 at 8:18 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology

Faster Wi-Fi will be in smartphones and laptops next year

Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge, 10/25/16

Wi-Fi is about to get much, much faster. The Wi-Fi Alliance is now beginning to certify smartphones, laptops, routers, and other devices that include a super-fast Wi-Fi standard called WiGig, which nearly doubles Wi-Fi’s current top speed. The Alliance says it’ll be in “marquee” smartphones and laptops next year.

WiGig only works over a short range — about 33 feet (or 10 meters), according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. That means even once you get a router and a phone or laptop that support it, you’ll probably only get those speeds within the room the router is located in. “We talk about it as an in-room technology,” says Kevin Robinson, who is VP of marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance.

That’s a big limitation for WiGig, but it still opens up a lot of possibilities — perhaps the most exciting of which is for VR. Right now, if you want to use a virtual-reality headset with a game console or PC, it needs to be tethered using a series of thick cables because current wireless standards just aren’t fast enough. That constrains movement and limits how immersed you can be in a VR experience.

WiGig, on the other hand, should be fast enough to support VR. The Wi-Fi Alliance also suggests its high speeds will be useful for augmented reality, 4K video, and streaming phone and laptop displays to desktop monitors.

The technology could also be used out of the home by internet providers or public access points. WiGig relies on the same millimeter wave frequencies that Alphabet’s Access(formerly Google Fiber) and Starry, an internet startup from the founder of Aereo, are looking into using to deliver high-speed internet from streets to homes without using cables. Robinson also says WiGig could find applications in sports stadiums and other large venues.

In addition to WiGig, there’s one other wonky term you’ll want to get used to: 802.11ad. That’s the new wireless standard that includes support for WiGig. Most modern phones, laptops, and routers support 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which tops out (in theory) at speeds of 4.5 Gbps, while these forthcoming 802.11ad devices are (theoretically) supposed to reach speeds of 8 Gbps.

We’re already starting to see the first of these 802.11ad devices hit the market — some routers supporting it were announced earlier this month.

WiGig itself isn’t brand new — it’s been used here and there over the past few years, and, as those routers illustrate, is already on the market in some key products. But what’s happening today, with the announcement of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification program, is essentially the starting gun for the deployment of WiGig. Major members of the tech industry, who make up the Alliance, have all agreed that it’s time to move forward with WiGig. Over the next few years, we should see that happen.

Posted on October 25, 2016 at 2:16 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology · Tagged with: 

Android phones rooted by “most serious” Linux escalation bug ever

oodin, Ars Technica, 10/25/16

New rooting technique is believed to work against every version.

There’s a new method for rooting Android devices that’s believed to work reliably on every version of the mobile operating system and a wide array of hardware. Individuals can use it to bypass limitations imposed by manufacturers or carriers, but it could also be snuck into apps for malicious purposes.

The technique comes courtesy of a Linux privilege-escalation bug that, as came to light last week,attackers are actively exploiting to hack Web servers and other machines. Dirty Cow, as some people are calling the vulnerability, was introduced into the core Linux kernel in 2007. It’s extremely easy to exploit, making it one of the worst privilege-elevation flaws ever to hit the open-source OS.

Independent security researcher David Manouchehri told Ars that this proof-of-concept code that exploits Dirty Cow on Android gets devices close to root. With a few additional lines, Manouchehri’s code provides persistent root access on all five of the Android devices he has tested.

“It’s very easy for someone who’s somewhat familiar with the Android filesystem,” Manouchehri said of the exploit. “From what I can tell, in theory it should be able to root every device since Android 1.0. Android 1.0 started on [Linux] kernel [version] 2.6.25, and this exploit has been around since [Linux kernel version] 2.6.22.”

A separate security researcher who asked to not be identified said he and several other people developed a separate rooting exploit. It’s based on this publicly available Dirty Cow exploit that they modified to make work on Android and to give it additional capabilities.

“We are using a rather unique route on it that we can use elsewhere in the future as well,” the researcher said when asked why he didn’t want to disclose the code or want his name published. “I don’t want Google or anyone shutting down that route.”

The video below shows the researcher using his app to root an Android-powered HTC phone, which is connected to a computer by a USB cable. The first ID and su commands show that the device is unrooted. After running “moo”—the name of the file containing the exploit code—and then running the su and ID commands again, it’s clear that the device has been rooted.

Double-edge blade

Both of the exploits allow end users to root Android phones so they have capabilities such astethering that are often restricted by individual manufacturers or carriers. By gaining access to the core parts of the Android OS, owners can bypass such limitations and vastly expand the things their devices can do. The darker side of rooting is that it’s sometimes done surreptitiously so that malicious apps can spy on users by circumventing application sandboxing and other security measures built into Android.

Just as Dirty Cow has allowed untrusted users or attackers with only limited access to a Linux server to dramatically elevate their control, the flaw can allow shady app developers to evade Android defenses that cordon off apps from other apps and from core OS functions. The reliability of Dirty Cow exploits and the ubiquity of the underlying flaw makes it an ideal malicious root trigger, especially against newer devices running the most recent versions of Android.

“I would be surprised if someone hasn’t already done that this past weekend,” Manouchehri said.

Dirty Cow came to light a few days before the release of a separate rooting method for Android devices. “Drammer,” as the latter exploit has been dubbed, is significant because it targets the “Rowhammer” bitflipping hardware bug, which allows attackers to modify data stored in device memory. Google plans to release a patch in November that makes Rowhammer much harder to exploit.

Now that the Dirty Cow hole has been patched in the Linux kernel, it’s only a matter of time until the fix makes its way into Android, too. But the soonest it will be available is with the release of next month’s Android patch batch. Of course, that’s not available for a large number of devices, mostly because of limitations set by manufacturers and carriers.

Posted on October 25, 2016 at 2:13 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

Google rolls out Chrome Canary experimental web browser to Android

Yahoo! News, 10/21/16

An unstable and experimental version of the Chrome web browser, going by the name of Chrome Canary, is now available for Android. This latest Chrome edition is destined to give users an idea of what’s in store from future versions of the browser for smartphone and tablet.

Already available for Windows and macOS, Google Chrome Canary has now landed on Android. Designed primarily for developers and early adopters, this version of the browser features brand new functions, many of which are still experimental.

Like any product of the kind, Chrome Canary is prone to crashing and should be used with caution. What’s more, Google releases updates on an almost daily basis, which can prove laborious for users and consume large amounts of data. Evidently, this version of Chrome can be used alongside the official application, which promises perfect stability.

Note, however, that Google isn’t officially announcing all of the new functions it gradually introduces to the experimental browser. The firm is above all seeking to check that the system can still operate once the functions are integrated, before rolling them out to the developers’ edition of Chrome.

In total, there are four different versions of Google Chrome: Chrome, Chrome Beta, Chrome Dev and Chrome Canary.

For anyone interested in taking a look, Google Chrome Canary is available to download free from Google Play.

Check out Google Chrome Canary:


Posted on October 21, 2016 at 1:02 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology