Apple officially announced the next version of their mobile device operating system at the Worldwide Developer Conference on June 10th. The rumors of a redesigned interface proved to be true, as iOS 7 showed off a completely reskinned interface that features a more muted color scheme with “flattened” elements, a marked departure from the infamous “lickable” buttons and widgets of previous iterations. The new look was also backed by many updates to interface mechanics, expanded multitasking, redesigns of some of the built-in apps, and the launch of Apple’s own streaming music service, a direct competitor of similar services like Spotify, Pandora, and Google’s Music All Access.
What this means for you:
If you have an iPhone 4 or iPad 2 or newer, then the OS update will be automatically pushed out to you when it is released this Fall. Aside from the new look, iPhone users will enjoy the new “control center” function – a slide-up widget that allows you to access commonly used iPhone settings like toggles for Wifi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode. The expanded multi-tasking capabilities will now grant the ability to all apps to work in the background (iOS 6 restricted this capability to a handful Apple apps only) without significant drains on the battery, so content-based apps can grab content as it becomes available (push-based) versus when requested by the user (pull-based).
If you are an Android user, you may be scratching your head and wondering why it’s taken Apple so long to bring features like the above to the iPhone. To be fair, Apple has been focusing their energy on a foolproof OS, which sometimes means making compromises on capabilities, but with an eroding marketshare and Samsung hot on their heels, the gloves have come off in the smartphone wars. For a full list of features, you can visit Apple’s iOS 7 website.
Proving that sometimes our Congress people come by their paychecks honestly, a bi-partisan privacy caucus led by Joe Barton (Rep. TX) sent a list of questions to Google’s CEO Larry Page, asking him point blank about several privacy issues, including whether or not Google would allow the use of facial recognition technology on the device.
Supposedly, Google has maintained from the start that facial recognition would never be implemented without “strong privacy protections in place.” In a Google+ post Friday, they reiterated this position and stated that Google “…won’t be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time.”
What this means for you:
By default, Android OS-based devices can only install software via Google’s Play store. Software distributed via Play must go through Google’s approval process, much like apps on Apple’s iTunes store, so you can assume that Google will be true to their word and prevent distribution of facial recognition apps simply by not approving them. However, unlike iPhones, many versions of Android allow “sideloading” of apps with a simple settings change. Sideloading in the Android ecosystem is well established – Amazon.com has an app store that requires sideloading to be enabled, and instructions for enabling this capability are easily found on their website and many, many others.
Bottom line: this is yet another Pandora’s box that won’t be closed. Facial recognition is a reality, and portable, undetectable devices capable of performing this function are only a step away from today’s consumer technology. Technology (and scientific progress in general) advances despite legal or cultural ramifications. One could argue that society only advances in light of controversial technologies like Google Glass. We are only beginning to glimpse the potential of an always connected and much less private world. Google Glass is only one step in a long, uphill climb.
Apple has joined the growing ranks of digital services enabling two-factor authentication as a means to protect their customers from account theft. Two-factor authentication has long been a staple of secure corporate and government networks, and employs a basic mechanic of password plus a randomly-generated authentication code that is delivered to a device that you must have in your possession at the time of authentication. In the past, this device has traditionally taken the form of keychain fobs and cards whose sole purpose was to generate numeric keys constantly, but this same functionality can now be delivered through apps that are installable on smartphones, via SMS message to registered cell phones, or even via automated voice calls to your home or office phone.
What this means for you:
In Apple’s case (as with services like Gmail, Facebook, and many massive, multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft), two-factor authentication is an opt-in service, and is not enabled by default with your Apple ID/iTunes account. Enabling the extra security requires you register one or more cell phones with Apple that will receive your authentication code via SMS. Should you do this? If you use services that require an AppleID (iTunes, iCloud, Mac.com, etc.) with any frequency, and especially if you have iTunes credit banked, you should absolutely enable two-factor authentication, especially if the account is tied to a core service you rely on, such as a Mac.com email address, or iCloud for your iPhone and other Apple devices. Two-factor security makes your AppleID (or any other account like Gmail, etc.) that much harder to hack. There will be some inconvenience, especially if you are in a hurry to access your account and have to hassle with the extra security code entry, but imagine the alternative if your account is hacked.
With greater security comes less convenience, a fact of life in this digital age, and not something that will change in the foreseeable future without a significant evolution in security technology.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Kaspersky Labs just released their quarterly threat report for Q3 2012, and it’s dry reading for most folks not fascinated by IT security as I am. There are some notable trends that their research has surfaced, and I thought you might find some of these data points interesting:
- You are least likely to be infected by a fellow countryman in the nation of Denmark. (The US is in the lower first quartile, in case you were wondering.)
- Russia has overtaken the US as having the most websites hosting malware software.
- The most commonly found smartphone virus is designed to steal money from you by texting premium-rate numbers without you noticing.
- The most common way to get a virus infection is via drive-by infections, ie. visiting a dodgy website and getting infected when your browser loads pages that have embedded viruses.
- Of the top 10 most commonly found software vulnerabilities, 2 are found in Oracle software (Java), 5 from Adobe (Flash, Shockwave & Acrobat), 2 from Apple (Quicktime and iTunes), and 1 from Winamp.
- Over half of the detected malware infections came from Java vulnerabilities.
- For the first time in many years, Microsoft did not make the Top 10 list of vulnerabilities!
What this means for you:
Keep your software up to date. The java vulnerabilities have been patched, but many people ignore (or aren’t even aware) that Java needs to be kept up to date just like any other software installed on their machine. Keep your browser up to date, and if you have the choice, use the latest version of IE, or even better, Google’s Chrome browser. However, nothing will keep you safe if you don’t have proper malware protection installed, updated and ACTIVE. If you use an Android phone, see my previous article on the dangers of side-loading questionable apps. As of the moment, buying smartphone anti-virus software isn’t at the same state of “must-have” as computers, but we may be fast approaching that point. If you are careful about the apps you install on your phone, you don’t need it…yet.
CORRECTION: iOS 6 will work on iPhones from the 3GS version up. Thanks to Dave McAdams for catching that!
Apple will begin pushing the iOS6 update to its mobile device platforms on Wednesday, September 19, 2012. Along with the expected performance improvements and bug fixes, there are a handful of features that may of interest to Apple users who are not purchasing an iPhone 5.
Here are the most important changes:
- Google Maps will be replaced by Apple’s own Maps application
- Passbook is a brand new Apple app that they intend to replace paper ticketing for things like travel, movies, loyalty cards and more
- Facebook is now integrated into most of Apple’s native applications
- Siri’s search capabilities have been expanded to include things like sports scores, movie times, restaurant reservations and launching apps. It will also work on the latest iPad and the iPhone 4s, but not on older mobile devices.
- You can sync your Safari tabs between your mobile device and desktop Macs via iCloud.
- You can share photo streams with other iOS 6 users, as well as stream your photos to your Apple TV.
- Facetime can now be used on cellular networks, not just wifi.
What this mean to you:
If you are using an Apple mobile device that is NOT an iPhone
5, 4s 3GS or newer, or the 3rd generation iPad, then there’s nothing you need to worry about, as iOS 6 is not available for your device. However, if you do have a qualifying device, the upgrade will come in “over the air” if you already have iOS 5 installed. You will need to upgrade your iTunes software to version 10.7 if you plan on plugging your device into your computer. Before you upgrade, make sure you backup all of your important data (contacts, music, photos, etc.) as upgrades can go wrong, and if they do, it usually means wiping your device in order to restore it to functionality. Wiping = erasing all your personal data = disaster without a proper backup. If you rely on your phone as a critical business tool, including some 3rd-party apps, you may want to wait until you have some business downtime, just in case the upgrade goes sideways, or causes problems with your apps.