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Google

Alphabet Donated Its Employees' Holiday Gifts To Charity (fortune.com) 314

The employee perks at Google are legendary, and they've always included an over-the-top holiday gift for every employee. In the past, the company has surprised its 70,000 employees with Nexus phones, Android smartwatches, and Chromebooks. Fortune adds:This year employees speculated they might get Google's new Pixel phones or a Google Home unit, the company's competitor to Amazon's Echo. But they forgot: They don't work for Google anymore. They work for Alphabet. Instead of a shiny new gadget, Alphabet employees got an email. On Thursday Bloomberg published a bruising story about the new, cost-conscious regime of Alphabet, driven by its corporate re-organization and its ex-Wall Street CFO, Ruth Porat. Shortly after the story hit, employees were informed that their holiday gift this year was a donation to charity, Fortune has learned. Alphabet donated $30 million worth of Chromebooks, phones, and associated tech support to schools on its employees' behalf.
Android

Verizon Says It Will Not Push Samsung's Update That Disables Galaxy Note7 Because Of User Inconvenience (verizon.com) 165

Samsung confirmed on Friday that it will indeed release an update to Galaxy Note7 smartphones in the United States to "prevent US Galaxy Note7 devices from charging and will eliminate their ability to work as mobile devices." In a new wrinkle to this whole situation, Verizon said today it will not be releasing Samsung's software update to Galaxy Note7 users on Verizon network. In a blog post, Verizon said: "Verizon will not be taking part in this update because of the added risk this could pose to Galaxy Note 7 users that do not have another device to switch to. We will not push a software upgrade that will eliminate the ability for the Note 7 to work as a mobile device in the heart of the holiday travel season. We do not want to make it impossible to contact family, first responders or medical professionals in an emergency situation." To recall, the Galaxy Note7 remains banned on airlines by the FAA and has also been prohibited from being used on many other public transit services in the United States. Elsewhere in the world, similar bans have been imposed on the phone.
Android

Google Further Shrinks the Size of Android App Updates (engadget.com) 50

Google says it has found and implemented a new way to make app updates on Android smaller. From a report on Engadget: They're introducing a new approach to app updates that promises to radically shrink the size of updates with "file-by-file" patching. The resulting patches tend to be about 65 percent smaller than the app itself, and are sometimes over 90 percent smaller. In the right circumstances, that could make the difference between updating while you're on cellular versus waiting until you find WiFi. The technique revolves around spotting changes in the uncompressed files (that is, when they're not squeezed into a typical app package). Google first decompresses the old and new app versions to determine the changes between files and create a patch. After that, updating is just a matter of unpacking the app on your device, applying changes and compressing it again.
Android

Google Is Rolling Out Android 7.1.1 (engadget.com) 75

Google is rolling out Android 7.1.1 for Pixel and Nexus smartphones, including the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus Player, Pixel C and General Mobile 4G (Android One). You can download it over-the-air when it becomes available "over the next several weeks" or flash it yourself. Engadget details some of the new features found in Android 7.1.1: As for what you can find from a feature perspective, Google has added support for its "image keyboard" that lets you easily find and send pictures and GIFs without leaving your messaging app of choice. Google says it'll work inside of Hangouts, Allo, and the default Messaging app. Ironically enough, the feature has been available in the Gboard iOS keyboard that Google launched in the spring, but it's good to see it coming to more Android phones now. Android 7.1.1 also includes Google's latest set of more diverse emoji, specifically focused on showing a "wider range of professions" for women. And it also contains the excellent app shortcut feature that originally launched on the Pixel -- if you press and hold on an app's icon, a sub-menu of shortcuts will show up. You'll be able to quickly send a message to a specific contact or navigate to a saved location using these shortcuts, for example. They're very much like the "force touch" shortcuts found on the iPhone, but that doesn't make them any less useful.
Displays

Panasonic Announces 1,000,000:1 Contrast Ratio LCD Panel To Rival OLED (androidauthority.com) 103

OLED panels have always been known to have higher contrast ratios than LCD panels, but that may be about to change with Panasonic's recently announced LCD IPS display. The display boasts a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, which is up to 600 times more contrast than some of the company's conventional LCD panels that tend to offer around 1800:1 ratios, and rivals OLED specifications. Android Authority reports: Panasonic has accomplished this through the use of its new light modulating cell technology, which allows the company to switch off individual pixels in the display using a secondary control layer. Typically, LCD backlights mean that either the entire or only large parts of the display can be dimmed at any one time. OLED panels switch off lights entirely for a black pixel to offer very high contrast ratios, and this new LCD technology works on a very similar principle. This is particularly important for reproducing HDR video content, which is becoming increasingly popular. Furthermore, this new light modulating cell technology allows Panasonic to increase the peak brightness and stability of the display, which can reach 1,000 cd/m2 while also providing HDR colors. Many other HDR TV panels top out in the range of 700 to 800 cd/m2, so colors, highlights, and shadows should appear vivid and realistic. Panasonic plans to ship the new display starting in January 2017 with sizes ranging from 55 to 12 inches.
Media

Netflix Keeping Bandwidth Usage Low By Encoding Its Video With VP9 and H.264/AVC Codecs (slashgear.com) 76

Netflix announced last week that it is getting offline video downloads support. The company has since shared that it is using VP9 video compression codec to ensure that the file sizes don't weigh a lot. An anonymous reader shares an article on Slashgear (edited): For streaming content, Netflix largely relies on H.264/AVC to reduce the bandwidth, but for downloading content, it uses VP9 encoding. VP9 can allow better quality videos for the same amount of data needed to download. The challenge is that VP9 isn't supported by all streaming providers -- it is supported on Android devices and via the Chrome browser. So to get around that lack of support on iOS, Netflix is offering downloads in H.264/AVC High whereas streams are encoded in H.264/AVC Main on such devices. Netflix chooses the optimal encoding format for each title on its service after finding, for instance, that animated films are easier to encode than live-action. Netflix says that H.264 High encoding saves 19% bandwidth compared to other encoding standards while VP9 saves 36%.
Google

New Google Trusted Contacts Service Shares User Location In Real Time (onthewire.io) 89

Reader Trailrunner7 writes: Google has spent a lot of time and money on security over the last few years, developing new technologies and systems to protect users' devices. One of the newer technologies the company has come up with is designed to provide security for users themselves rather than their laptops or phones.

On Monday Google launched a new app for Android called Trusted Contacts that allows users to share their locations and some limited other information with a set of close friends and family members. The system is a two-way road, so a user can actively share her location with her Trusted Contacts, and stop sharing it at her discretion. But, when a problem or potential emergency comes up, one of those contacts can request to get that user's location to see where she is at any moment. The app is designed to give users a way to reassure contacts that they're safe, or request help if there's something wrong.

Android

Multiple Vulnerabilities In AirDroid Opens At Least 10 Million Android Users To MITM Attacks, Hijackings (androidpolice.com) 30

AirDroid is a popular Android application that allows users to send and receive text messages and transfer files and see notifications from their computer. Zimperium, a mobile security company, recently released details of several major security vulnerabilities in the application, allowing attackers on the same network to access user information and execute code on a user's device. Since there are between 10 and 50 million installations of the app, many users may be imperiled by AirDroid. Android Police reports: The security issues are mainly due to AirDroid using the same HTTP request to authorize the device and send usage statistics. The request is encrypted, but uses a hardcoded key in the AirDroid application (so essentially, everyone using AirDroid has the same key). Attackers on the same network an intercept the authentication request (commonly known as a Man-in-the-middle attack) using the key extracted from any AirDroid APK to retrieve private account information. This includes the email address and password associated with the AirDroid account. Attackers using a transparent proxy can intercept the network request AirDroid sends to check for add-on updates, and inject any APK they want. AirDroid would then notify the user of an add-on update, then download the malicious APK and ask the user to accept the installation. Zimperium notified AirDroid of these security flaws on May 24, and a few days later, AirDroid acknowledged the problem. Zimperium continued to follow up until AirDroid informed them of the upcoming 4.0 release, which was made available last month. Zimperium later discovered that version 4.0 still had all these same issues, and finally went public with the security vulnerabilities today.
Earth

Earthquake-Sensing Mobile App 'MyShake' Detects Over 200 Earthquakes Large and Small (techcrunch.com) 25

Back in February, researchers at UC Berkeley released an app called MyShake that detects strong earthquakes seconds before the damaging seismic waves arrive. Several months have passed since its release and app has already detected over 200 earthquakes in more than ten countries. TechCrunch reports: The app has received nearly 200,000 downloads, though only a fraction of those are active at any given time; it waits for the phone to sit idle so it can get good readings. Nevertheless, over the first six months the network of sensors has proven quite effective. "We found that MyShake could detect large earthquakes, but also small ones, which we never thought would be possible," one of the app's creators, Qingkai Kong, told New Scientist. A paper describing the early results was published in Geophysical Research Letters -- the abstract gives a general idea of the app's success: "On a typical day about 8000 phones provide acceleration waveform data to the MyShake archive. The on-phone app can detect and trigger on P waves and is capable of recording magnitude 2.5 and larger events. The largest number of waveforms from a single earthquake to date comes from the M5.2 Borrego Springs earthquake in Southern California, for which MyShake collected 103 useful three-component waveforms. The network continues to grow with new downloads from the Google Play store everyday and expands rapidly when public interest in earthquakes peaks such as during an earthquake sequence." You can download the app for Android here.
Businesses

Cyanogen Inc and CyanogenMod Creator Steve Kondik Part Ways (ndtv.com) 75

bulled writes: In the middle of a press release discussing the move of employees from Seattle to California, Cyanogen Inc notes that it has parted ways with Steve Kondik. It is unclear what this means for the future of CyanogenMod. NDTV reports: "Kondik took to the official CyanogenMod developer Google+ community recently where he voiced what he thought were the reasons behind Cyanogen's plight and blamed Kirt McMaster, Cyanogen's Co-Founder. 'I've been pretty quiet about the stuff that's been going on but I'm at least ready to tell the short version and hopefully get some input on what to do next because CM is very much affected,' wrote Kondik in a private Google+ community first reported by Android Police. According to Kondik's version, Cyanogen's turmoil is way far from being over. He claimed that Cyanogen had seen success thanks to the efforts by the community and the company. Though, this also changed how the company worked. Explaining how it all started to come down, Kondik wrote, 'Unfortunately once we started to see success, my co-founder apparently became unhappy with running the business and not owning the vision. This is when the 'bullet to the head' and other misguided media nonsense started, and the bad business deals were signed. Being second in command, all I could do was try and stop it, do damage control, and hope every day that something new didn't happen. The worst of it happened internally and it became a generally shitty place to work because of all the conflict. I think the backlash from those initial missteps convinced him that what we had needed to be destroyed. By the time I was able to stop it, I was outgunned and outnumbered by a team on the same mission.' Kondik also seemingly confirmed a report from July which claimed Cyanogen may pivot to apps. He further wrote, 'Eventually I tried to salvage it with a pivot that would have brought us closer to something that would have worked, but the new guys had other plans. With plenty of cash in the bank, the new guys tore the place down and will go and do whatever they are going to do. It's probably for the best and I wish them luck, but what I was trying to do, is over.'"
Android

Motorola Has No Plans For a New Smartwatch (theverge.com) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Lenovo Moto today confirmed that it will not be releasing a new smartwatch for the launch of Android Wear 2.0, due early next year. The company had earlier said it would not be releasing a new smartwatch in 2016, but it is now saying that it doesn't plan to put out a new device timed to the arrival of Google's newest wearable platform, either. Shakil Barkat, head of global product development at Moto, said the company doesn't "see enough pull in the market to put [a new smartwatch] out at this time," though it may revisit the market in the future should technologies for the wrist improve. "Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year," Barkat said, and indicated that smartwatches and other wearable devices will not be in Moto's annual device roadmap. Whether or not Moto does jump back into the smartwatch market is still up in the air, but Barkat is leaving the possibility open. "We believe the wrist still has value and there will be a point where they provide value to consumers more than they do today," Barkat said. But it doesn't appear that we'll be getting a new Moto 360 or other smartwatch any time in the near future. Google announced back in September that it would be delaying the launch of Android Wear 2.0 from this fall to next year. LG and Huawei have also confirmed that they would not be releasing new smartwatches until at least next year.
Microsoft

Nokia Dials Back Time To Sell Mobile Phones Again (bbc.com) 128

Nokia said Thursday mobile phones carrying its brand will make a comeback via a new venture that will reunite the Nokia brand with veteran Nokia execs who aim to move into smartphones capitalizing on an existing operation that sells low-cost basic phones. From a report on BBC: It's thanks to a deal with a small team based at a business park on the fringes of Helsinki, who are engaged in what will seem to many a foolhardy mission. They call themselves HMD Global -- and they believe they can make Nokia a big name in mobile phones once again. I met Arto Nummela, Pekka Rantala and Florian Seiche in a cafe on what is still the Nokia campus. That very day Arto and Pekka had stopped working for the Nokia Windows mobile phone business owned by Microsoft -- because they had acquired both it and the Nokia brand to start their new business. Yes, it is complicated, but so is the recent history of what was just a few years back Europe's technology superpower and the biggest force in mobile phones. After the launch of the iPhone in 2007, Nokia faltered and by 2011 was on what its first American chief executive, Stephen Elop, called a burning platform. Then, the phone business was sold to Microsoft, which soon found it had made a disastrous purchase as the Nokia Windows combination failed to claim a significant slice of a market dominated by Apple's iOS and Android. Now, the Finnish business -- which remained a big force in telecoms infrastructure after the sale of the mobile unit -- has licensed the Nokia brand to HMD Global, which aims to take it back to the future.
Windows

Wielding Their Windows Phones, Microsoft Shareholders Grill CEO Satya Nadella On Device Strategy (geekwire.com) 157

At a meeting with shareholders Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was asked numerous times what the company is doing about Windows Phones, and why do they keep hearing that Microsoft is abandoning smartphone manufacturer business. The stakeholders also asked why the company is seemingly focusing more on Android and iOS rival platforms instead of its own. From a report on GeekWire: Microsoft shareholder Dana Vance, owner of a Windows Phone and a Microsoft Band, said he received an email about the Microsoft Pix app but was surprised to learn that it was available for iPhone and Android but not Windows Phone. Ditto for Microsoft Outlook. He also alluded to reports that Microsoft has put the Band on the back burner. Given this, he asked Nadella to explain the company's vision for its consumer devices. As part of his response, Nadella said Microsoft's Windows camera and mail apps will include the same features as in Microsoft's apps for other platforms. "When we control things silicon-up, that's how we will integrate those experiences," Nadella said. The company will "build devices that are unique and differentiated with our software capability on top of it -- whether it's Surface or Surface Studio or HoloLens or the phone -- and also make our software applications available on Android and iOS and other platforms. That's what I think is needed in order for Microsoft to help you as a user get the most out of our innovation." Another shareholder, who says he uses his Windows Phone "18 hours a day," said he has heard Microsoft is "stepping away from mobile." He asked, "Can you calm me down ... and tell me what your vision is for mobile?" Nadella answered, "We think about mobility broadly. In other words, we think about the mobility of the human being across all of the devices, not just the mobility of a single device. That said, we're not stepping away or back from our focus on our mobile devices," Nadella said. "What we are going to do is focus that effort on places where we have differentiation. If you take Windows Phone, where we are differentiated on Windows Phone is on manageability. It's security, it's Continuum capability -- that is, the ability to have a phone that can act like a PC. So we're going to double-down on those points of differentiation."
Android

More Than 1 Million Android Devices Rooted By Gooligan Malware (onthewire.io) 42

Reader Trailrunner7 writes: A new version of an existing piece of malware has emerged in some third-party Android app stores and researchers say it has infected more than a million devices around the world, giving the attackers full access to victims' Google accounts in the process. The malware campaign, known as Gooligan, is a variant of older malware called Ghost Push that has been found in many malicious apps. Researchers at Check Point recently discovered several dozen apps, mainly in third-party app stores, that contain the malware, which is designed to download and install other apps and generate income for the attackers through click fraud. The malware uses phantom clicks on ads to generate revenue for the attackers through pay-per-install schemes, but that's not the main concern for victims. The Gooligan malware also employs exploits that take advantage of several known vulnerabilities in older versions of Android, including Kit Kat and Lollipop to install a rootlet that is capable of stealing users' Google credentials.Although the malware has full remote access to infected devices, it doesn't appear to be stealing user data, but rather is content to go the click-fraud route. Most users are being infected through the installation of apps that appear to be legitimate but contain the Gooligan code, a familiar infection routine for mobile devices.
Media

Netflix Finally Gets Download Option (netflix.com) 105

For years, people asked Netflix to give them the ability to download movies and TV episodes. Though this might not seem like that big of a deal in many regions where internet connectivity is cheap and omnipresent, same is not the case everywhere, especially in developing regions. Netflix is finally addressing this need: the on-demand media streaming service said Wednesday that people can now download shows on their Android and iOS devices . From the company's blog post: Just click the download button on the details page for a film or TV series and you can watch it later without an internet connection. Many of your favorite streaming series and movies are already available for download, with more on the way, so there is plenty of content available for those times when you are offline.It's worth pointing out that the offline playback -- or the ability to download videos isn't available on desktop platforms. Also, it appears that a heck lot of shows currently don't have this feature -- as of today.
Privacy

Jolla's Sailfish OS Now Certified as Russian Government's First 'Android Alternative' (techcrunch.com) 98

The future for one of the few remaining alternative mobile OS platforms, Jolla's Sailfish OS, looks to be taking clearer shape. Today the Finnish company which develops and maintains the core code, with the aim of licensing it to others, announced Sailfish has achieved domestic certification in Russia for government and corporate use. TechCrunch adds:In recent years the Russian government has made moves to encourage the development of alternatives to the duopoly of US-dominated smartphone platforms, Android and Apple's iOS -- flagging Sailfish as one possibility, along with Tizen. Although Sailfish looks to have won out as the preferred Android alternative for Russia at this point. The government has said it wants to radically reduce its reliance on foreign mobile OSes -- to 50 per cent by 2025 vs the 95 per cent of the market garnered by Android and iOS in 2015. Sailfish's local certification in Russia also follows an announcement earlier this year that a new Russian company, Open Mobile Platform (OMP), had licensed the OS with the intention of developing a custom version of the platform for use in the domestic market. So, in other words, a Russian, strategic 'Android alternative' is currently being built on Sailfish.
Google

Morgan Stanley: Pixel Phone Will Generate Google Almost $4 Billion In Revenue Next Year (9to5google.com) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from 9to5Google: With initial Pixel pre-orders exceeding expectations and promising activation numbers from Verizon, Google is on track to sell three million phones with revenues of $2 billion in 2016. The Morgan Stanley estimate comes as the Pixel reportedly captured 10% of the premium smartphone market in India. Unsurprisingly, the 128GB Pixel XL has the largest gross profit margin at 25%, while the cheapest 32GB Pixel is at 22%. Morgan Stanley also estimates that, compared to the iPhone, the Pixel will be half as profitable. Morgan Stanley expects Google to sell 5-6 million Pixel and Pixel XL devices in 2017 to the tune of $3.8 billion in revenue. Google is also expected to make money from increased usage of services like Android Pay and mobile search. Google's big gains were possibly due in part to Samsung's Note 7 debacle, with the company's marketshare falling to 23%. Apple captured the number one position at 66%. Additionally, Google benefitted from running a number of promotions, including cashback and exchange programs. The company also heavily advertised in newspapers, with billboards, and for the first time displays in large retail stores.
AT&T

AT&T Unveils DirecTV Now Streaming TV Service With Over 100 Channels (theverge.com) 80

ATT has officially unveiled its DirecTV Now internet TV streaming service, which launches Wednesday, November 30th, in the U.S. on iPhone, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and PC/Mac, starting at $35 per month. The Verge reports: Like its over-the-top rivals, DirecTV Now will let customers stream live programming on smartphones, tablets, and PCs -- no cable box necessary -- and requires no long-term contracts or commitments. For a limited time, ATT will offer the "Go Big" channel tier with 100 channels for $35 per month. If you sign up in time, the offer will remain valid each month until you cancel. But that $35 rate is not the long-term pricing for 100+ channels. DirecTV Now offers step-up subscriptions that include other channels and content for a higher monthly cost. ATT has signed programming agreements with nearly all major networks with the exception of CBS and Showtime; negotiations with those companies remain ongoing. DirecTV Now allows customers to watch up to two streams simultaneously. HBO and Cinemax can be added to any of these packages for just $5 extra (each) per month. DirecTV Now is "zero rated" for the company's wireless customers, so regardless of how much time they spend streaming, that activity will have no impact on data usage for their monthly bill. Importantly, while these are the subscription rates as of today, the company is being straightforward about the possibility of increases in the future. ATT also plans to air original shows including a Taylor Swift series.
Windows

VLC Media Player Previews 360-degree Video Support (videolan.org) 17

VideoLAN has released a technical preview of VLC Media Player 3.0 with 360-degree video support. The new build handles videos following the Spatial Video format, and photos and panoramas following the Spherical spec (the official test page has sample files). More on this: The files play back just like any other video, but you can now left-click and drag within the screen or use the numeric keypad arrows to look around. VideoLAN says there are multiple display modes -- Zoom, Little Planet and Reverse Little Planet -- although we couldn't immediately see how they were activated. This initial release is only available for Windows and Mac, but eventually 360-degree support will arrive for Android, iOS and Xbox One, with VR headset support likely to arrive in 2017.
Android

Android Malware Used To Hack and Steal Tesla Car (bleepingcomputer.com) 118

An anonymous reader writes: By leveraging security flaws in the Tesla Android app, an attacker can steal Tesla cars. The only hard part is tricking Tesla owners into installing an Android app on their phones, which isn't that difficult according to a demo video from Norwegian firm Promon. This malicious app can use many of the freely available Android rooting exploits to take over the user's phone, steal the OAuth token from the Tesla app and the user's login credentials. This is possible because the Tesla Android app stores the OAuth token in cleartext, and contains no reverse-engineering protection, allowing attackers to alter the app's source code and log user credentials. The OAuth token and Tesla owner's password allow an attacker to perform a variety of actions, such as opening the car's doors and starting the motor.

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