Happy 10th anniversary, Android

Happy 10th anniversary, Android

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5X and Huawei 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Google Pixel (2016)

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

The rise and fall of the Essential phone

In 2017 Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, debuted the first fruits of his new hardware startup studio, Digital Playground, with the launch of Essential (and its first phone). The company had raised $300 million to bring the phone to market, and — as the first hardware device to come to market from Android’s creator — it was being heralded as the next new thing in hardware.

Here at TechCrunch, the phone received mixed reviews. Some on staff hailed the phone as the achievement of Essential’s stated vision — to create a “lovemark” for Android smartphones, while others on staff found the device… inessential.

Ultimately, the market seemed to agree. Four months ago plans for a second Essential phone were put on hold, while the company explored a sale and pursued other projects. There’s been little update since.

A Cambrian explosion in hardware

In the ten years since its launch, Android has become the most widely used operating system for hardware. Some version of its software can be found in roughly 2.3 billion devices around the world and its powering a technology revolution in countries like India and China — where mobile operating systems and access are the default. As it enters its second decade, there’s no sign that anything is going to slow its growth (or dominance) as the operating system for much of the world.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Google’s Wear OS gets a new look

Google’s Wear OS gets a new look
Wear OS, Google’s smartwatch operating system that was once called Android Wear, is getting a new look today. Google says the overall idea here is to give you quicker access to information and more proactive help. In line with the Google Fit redesign, Wear OS now also provides you with the same kind of health coaching as the Android app.
In practice, this means you can now swipe through multiple notifications at once, for example. Previously, you had to go from one notifications card to the next, which sound minor but was indeed a bit of a hassle. Like before, you bring up the new notifications feed by swiping up. If you want to reply or take any other action, you tap the notification to bring up those options.

Wear OS is also getting a bit of a Google Now replacement. Simply swipe right and the Google Assistant will bring up the weather, your flight status, hotel notifications or other imminent events. Like in most other Assistant-driven interfaces, Google will also use this area to help you discover other Assistant features like setting timers (though I think everybody knows how to use the Assistant to set a time given that I’m sure that’s 90% of Assistant usage right there).

As for Google Fit, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Wear OS is adapting the same circle design with Hear Points and Move Minutes as the Android app. On a round Wear OS watch, that design actually looks quite well.
While this obviously isn’t a major break from previous versions, we’re definitely talking about quality-of-life improvements here that do make using Wear OS just that little bit easier.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

‘Unhackable’ BitFi crypto wallet has been hacked

‘Unhackable’ BitFi crypto wallet has been hacked
The BitFi crypto wallet was supposed to be unhackable and none other than famous weirdo John McAfee claimed that the device – essentially an Android-based mini tablet – would withstand any attack. Spoiler alert: it couldn’t.
First, a bit of background. The $120 device launched at the beginning of this month to much fanfare. It consisted of a device that McAfee claimed contained no software or storage and was instead a standalone wallet similar to the Trezor. The website featured a bold claim by McAfee himself, one that would give a normal security researcher pause:

Further, the company offered a bug bounty that seems to be slowly being eroded by outside forces. They asked hackers to pull coins off of a specially prepared $10 wallet, a move that is uncommon in the world of bug bounties. They wrote:
We deposit coins into a Bitfi wallet
If you wish to participate in the bounty program, you will purchase a Bitfi wallet that is preloaded with coins for just an additional $10 (the reason for the charge is because we need to ensure serious inquiries only)
If you successfully extract the coins and empty the wallet, this would be considered a successful hack
You can then keep the coins and Bitfi will make a payment to you of $250,000
Please note that we grant anyone who participates in this bounty permission to use all possible attack vectors, including our servers, nodes, and our infrastructure
Hackers began attacking the device immediately, eventually hacking it to find the passphrase used to move crypto in and out of the the wallet. In a detailed set of tweets, security researchers Andrew Tierney and Alan Woodward began finding holes by attacking the operating system itself. However, this did not match the bounty to the letter, claimed BitFi, even though they did not actually ship any bounty-ready devices.

Something that I feel should be getting more attention is the fact that there is zero evidence that a #bitfi bounty device was ever shipped to a researcher. They literally created an impossible task by refusing to send the device required to satisfy the terms of the engagement.
— Gallagher (@DanielGallagher) August 8, 2018

Then, to add insult to injury, the company earned a Pwnies award at security conference Defcon. The award was given for worst vendor response. As hackers began dismantling the device, BitFi went on the defensive, consistently claiming that their device was secure. And the hackers had a field day. One hacker, 15-year-old Saleem Rashid, was able to play Doom on the device.

Well, that's a transaction made with a MitMed Bitfi, with the phrase and seed being sent to a remote machine.
That sounds a lot like Bounty 2 to me. pic.twitter.com/qBOVQ1z6P2
— Ask Cybergibbons! (@cybergibbons) August 13, 2018

The hacks kept coming. McAfee, for his part, kept refusing to accept the hacks as genuine.

The press claiming the BitFi wallet has been hacked. Utter nonsense. The wallet is hacked when someone gets the coins. No-one got any coins. Gaining root access in an attempt to get the coins is not a hack. It's a failed attempt. All these alleged "hacks" did not get the coins.
— John McAfee (@officialmcafee) August 3, 2018

Unfortunately, the latest hack may have just fulfilled all of BitFi’s requirements. Rashid and Tierney have been able to pull cash out of the wallet by hacking the passphrase, a primary requirement for the bounty. “We have sent the seed and phrase from the device to another server, it just gets sent using netcat, nothing fancy.” Tierney told TheNextWeb. “We believe all conditions have been met.”
The end state of this crypto mess? BitFi did what most hacked crypto companies do: double down on the threats. In a recently deleted Tweet they made it clear that they were not to be messed with:

I haven’t really been following this Bitfi nonsense, but I do so love when companies threaten security researchers. pic.twitter.com/McyBGqM3bt
— Matthew Green (@matthew_d_green) August 6, 2018

The researchers, however, may still have the last laugh.

Claiming your front door has an unpickable lock does not make your house secure. No more does offering a reward only for defeating that front door lock, and repeatedly saying no one has claimed the reward, prove your house is secure, especially when you’ve left the windows open.
— Alan Woodward (@ProfWoodward) August 14, 2018

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

HTC is gone

HTC is gone
Gather around, campers, and hear a tale as old as time.
Remember the HTC Dream? The Evo 4G? The Google Nexus One? What about the Touch Diamond? All amazing devices. The HTC of 2018 is not the HTC that made these industry-leading devices. That company is gone.
It seems HTC is getting ready to lay off nearly a quarter of its workforce by cutting 1,500 jobs in its manufacturing unit in Taiwan. After the cuts, HTC’s employee count will be less than 5,000 people worldwide. Five years ago, in 2013, HTC employed 19,000 people.
HTC started as a white label device maker giving carriers an option to sell devices branded with their name. The company also had a line of HTC-branded connected PDAs that competed in the nascent smartphone market. BlackBerry, or Research in Motion as it was called until 2013, ruled this phone segment, but starting around 2007 HTC began making inroads thanks to innovated touch devices that ran Windows Mobile 6.0.
In 2008 HTC introduced the Touch line with the Touch Diamond, Touch Pro, Touch 3G and Touch HD. These were stunning devices for the time. They were fast, loaded with big, user swappable batteries and microSD card slots. The Touch Pro even had a front-facing camera for video calls.
HTC overlayed a custom skin onto Windows Mobile making it a bit more palatable for the general user. At that time, Windows Mobile was competing with BlackBerry’s operating system and Nokia’s Symbian. None was fantastic, but Windows Mobile was by far the most daunting for new users. HTC did the best thing it could do and developed a smart skin that gave the phone a lot of features that would still be considered modern.

In 2008 HTC released the first Android device with Google. Called the HTC Dream or G1, the device was far from perfect. But the same could be said about the iPhone. This first Android phone set the stage for future wins from HTC, too. The company quickly followed up with the Hero, Droid Incredible, Evo 4G and, in 2010, the amazing Google Nexus One.
After the G1, HTC started skinning Android in the same fashion as it did Windows Mobile. It cannot be overstated how important this was for the adoption of Android. HTC’s user interface made Android usable and attractive. HTC helped make Android a serious competitor to Apple’s iOS.
In 2010 and 2011, Google turned to Samsung to make the second and third flagship Nexus phones. It was around this time Samsung started cranking out Android phones, and HTC couldn’t keep up. That’s not to say HTC didn’t make a go for it. The company kept releasing top-tier phones: the One X in 2012, the One Max in 2013 and the One (M8) in 2014. But it didn’t matter. Samsung had taken up the Android standard and was charging forward, leaving HTC, Sony and LG to pick from the scraps.
At the end of 2010, HTC was the leading smartphone vendor in the United States. In 2014 it trailed Apple, Samsung and LG with around a 6 percent market share in the U.S. In 2017 HTC captured 2.3 percent of smartphone subscribers and now in 2018, some reports peg HTC with less than a half percent of the smartphone market.
Google purchased a large chunk of HTC’s smartphone design talent in 2017 for $1.1 billion. The deal transferred more than 2,000 employees under Google’s tutelage. They will likely be charged with working on Google’s line of Pixel devices. It’s a smart move. This HTC team was responsible for releasing amazing devices that no one bought. But that’s not entirely their fault. Outside forces are to blame. HTC never stopped making top-tier devices.
The HTC of today is primarily focused on the Vive product line. And that’s a smart play. The HTC Vive is one of the best virtual reality platforms available. But HTC has been here before. Hopefully, it learned something from its mistakes in smartphones.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Apple slapped with $6.6M fine in Australia over bricked devices

Apple slapped with .6M fine in Australia over bricked devices
Apple has been fined AUS$9M (~$6.6M) by a court in Australia following a legal challenge by a consumer rights group related to the company’s response after iOS updates bricked devices that had been repaired by third parties.
The Australian Competitor and Consumer Commission (ACCC) invested a series of complaints relating to an error (‘error 53’) which disabled some iPhones and iPads after owners downloaded an update to Apple’s iOS operating system.
The ACCC says Apple admitted that, between February 2015 and February 2016 — via the Apple US’ website, Apple Australia’s staff in-store and customer service phone calls — it had informed at least 275 Australian customers affected by error 53 that they were no longer eligible for a remedy if their device had been repaired by a third party.
Image credit: 70023venus2009 via Flickr under license CC BY-ND 2.0
The court judged Apple’s action to have breached the Australian consumer law.
“If a product is faulty, customers are legally entitled to a repair or a replacement under the Australian Consumer Law, and sometimes even a refund. Apple’s representations led customers to believe they’d be denied a remedy for their faulty device because they used a third party repairer,” said ACCC commissioner Sarah Court in a statement.
“The Court declared the mere fact that an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple did not, and could not, result in the consumer guarantees ceasing to apply, or the consumer’s right to a remedy being extinguished.”
The ACCC notes that after it notified Apple about its investigation, the company implemented an outreach program to compensate individual consumers whose devices were made inoperable by error 53. It says this outreach program was extended to approximately 5,000 consumers.
It also says Apple Australia offered a court enforceable undertaking to improve staff training, audit information about warranties and Australian Consumer Law on its website, and improve its systems and procedures to ensure future compliance with the law.
The ACCC further notes that a concern addressed by the undertaking is that Apple was allegedly providing refurbished goods as replacements, after supplying a good which suffered a major failure — saying Apple has committed to provide new replacements in those circumstances if the consumer requests one.
“If people buy an iPhone or iPad from Apple and it suffers a major failure, they are entitled to a refund. If customers would prefer a replacement, they are entitled to a new device as opposed to refurbished, if one is available,” said Court.
The court also held the Apple parent company, Apple US, responsible for the conduct of its Australian subsidiary. “Global companies must ensure their returns policies are compliant with the Australian Consumer Law, or they will face ACCC action,” added Court.
We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the court decision and will update this post with any response.
A company spokeswoman told Reuters it had had “very productive conversations with the ACCC about this” but declined to comment further on the court finding.
More recently, Apple found itself in hot water with consumer groups around the world over its use of a power management feature that throttled performance on older iPhones to avoid unexpected battery shutdowns.
The company apologized in December for not being more transparent about the feature, and later said it would add a control allowing consumers to turn it off if they did not want their device’s performance to be impacted.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Some low-cost Android phones shipped with malware built in

Some low-cost Android phones shipped with malware built in

Avast has found that many low-cost, non-Google-certifed Android phones shipped with a strain of malware built in that could send users to download apps they didn’t intend to access. The malware, called called Cosiloon, overlays advertisements over the operating system in order to promote apps or even trick users into downloading apps. Devices effected shipped from ZTE, Archos and myPhone.

The app consists of a dropper and a payload. “The dropper is a small application with no obfuscation, located on the /system partition of affected devices. The app is completely passive, only visible to the user in the list of system applications under ‘settings.’ We have seen the dropper with two different names, ‘CrashService’ and ‘ImeMess,’” wrote Avast. The dropper then connects with a website to grab the payloads that the hackers wish to install on the phone. “The XML manifest contains information about what to download, which services to start and contains a whitelist programmed to potentially exclude specific countries and devices from infection. However, we’ve never seen the country whitelist used, and just a few devices were whitelisted in early versions. Currently, no countries or devices are whitelisted. The entire Cosiloon URL is hardcoded in the APK.”

The dropper is part of the system’s firmware and is not easily removed.

To summarize:

The dropper can install application packages defined by the manifest downloaded via an unencrypted HTTP connection without the user’s consent or knowledge.
The dropper is preinstalled somewhere in the supply chain, by the manufacturer, OEM or carrier.
The user cannot remove the dropper, because it is a system application, part of the device’s firmware.

Avast can detect and remove the payloads and they recommend following these instructions to disable the dropper. If the dropper spots antivirus software on your phone it will actually stop notifications but it will still recommend downloads as you browse in your default browser, a gateway to grabbing more (and worse) malware. Engadget notes that this vector is similar to the Lenovo “Superfish” exploit that shipped thousands of computers with malware built in.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch