Posts tagged Apple

Surprise! Blockchain Bitcoin Wallet Returns To Apple App Store

More than six months after Apple’s controversial Bitcoin wallet ban, Blockchain is back in the App Store with a new wallet.

In February, Blockchain was the only Bitcoin wallet remaining in the App Store after Apple deleted Coinbase in November 2013 and BitPak back in 2012.

That is, until CEO Nicolas Cary got a message from Apple stating Blockchain had been “removed from the App Store due to an unresolved issue.”

See also: Apple Deletes Blockchain, The Last Remaining Bitcoin Wallet For iPhone

Apple never did elaborate further on that statement, but for reasons we can only speculate on, the tech giant relaxed its “purchasing and currency” policies this June immediately following its Worldwide Developer’s Conference 2014. The update states:

“Apps may facilitate transmission of approved virtual currencies provided that they do so in compliance with all state and federal laws for the territories in which the app functions.”

That shift was a signal to Cary to begin working on the next generation of the Blockchain wallet, he told Coindesk. Built from scratch, the new app not only allows users to exchange bitcoins from wallet to wallet like the former version, but also to make purchases from the growing list of merchants who now accept Bitcoin payments.

See also: Here Are All The New Ways To Spend Bitcoin While You Weren’t Paying Attention

With 1.9 million users, Blockchain is the most popular Bitcoin wallet available. However, Apple’s newly relaxed policy may lure competitors into trying to create a better one.

(Apple has not yet returned ReadWrite’s request for comment.)

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Apple Confirms iOS Backdoors, But Calls Them “Diagnostic Capabilities”

Apple acknowledged that its iOS operating system for iPhones and iPads contains several previously undisclosed “diagnostic capabilities”—services that an iOS forensics expert recently described as “backdoors” that could allow broad access to a user’s personal data on those devices under certain circumstances.

See also: Those “Backdoors” In Apple’s iOS—What You Need To Know

The issue involves problematic iOS services identified several months ago by Jonathan Zdziarski, the forensics expert who is also a one-time iOS jailbreaker and the author of several books on iPhone development. Zdziarski gave a presentation on his findings last weekend and published the slide deck to his talk, which drew wider attention to his findings. (See our FAQ about Zdziarski’s backdoor findings here.)

Through The Backdoor

The three backdoors Zdziarski highlighted in his talk are present in 600 million iPhones and iPads, and are capable of accessing a great deal of personal information and then dumping it off the phone to a “trusted” device, such as the desktop computers many iPhone users plug their devices into. The backdoors can only be accessed via such trusted devices, limiting the danger of exploit—although that trust mechanism itself could also be spoofed by a determined attacker.

Until last night, Apple had apparently never described these iOS services publicly. Zdziarski reported the services do not notify users when they begin accessing personal data; do not require the consent of users if they access personal data; and cannot be turned off by users.

In a support document released Tuesday night, Apple described the three backdoors as “diagnostic capabilities to help enterprise IT departments, developers, and AppleCare troubleshoot issues” and offered a few details about each:

1. com.apple.mobile.pcapd

pcapd supports diagnostic packet capture from an iOS device to a trusted computer. This is useful for troubleshooting and diagnosing issues with apps on the device as well as enterprise VPN connections. You can find more information at developer.apple.com/library/ios/qa/qa1176.

2. com.apple.mobile.file_relay

file_relay supports limited copying of diagnostic data from a device. This service is separate from user-generated backups, does not have access to all data on the device, and respects iOS Data Protection. Apple engineering uses file_relay on internal devices to qualify customer configurations. AppleCare, with user consent, can also use this tool to gather relevant diagnostic data from users’ devices.

3. com.apple.mobile.house_arrest

house_arrest is used by iTunes to transfer documents to and from an iOS device for apps that support this functionality. This is also used by Xcode to assist in the transfer of test data to a device while an app is in development.

Apple’s support document acknowledges that a third party can access these services wirelessly via Wi-Fi from a trusted device, as Zdziarski had previously reported. It neither confirms nor denies Zdziarski’s finding that these three services operate without the knowledge or explicit consent of the user.

Apple also claims a much more limited role for the file_relay service than Zdziarski found, saying it is used only for “limited copying  of diagnostic data from a device.” Zdziarski, by contrast, reported that file_relay has access to 44 data sources within an iPhone, including highly personal information as call records, SMS text messages, voicemail, GPS logs and more. Such personal information has little in common with diagnostic data in most cases.

In a blog post reply, Zdziarski criticized Apple for being “completely misleading” in some of its descriptions and for failing to address his other concerns such as user consent and notification. But he also acknowledged that Apple will probably begin fixing those issues behind the scenes:

All the while that Apple is downplaying it, I suspect they’ll also quietly fix many of the issues I’ve raised in future versions. At least I hope so. It would be wildly irresponsible for Apple not to address these issues, especially now that the public knows about them.

(Zdziarski’s blog is having server problems; here’s a cached version of his reply to Apple should you need it.)

I’ve asked Apple for further clarification, and will update if and when I hear back from the company.

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SearchCap: Apple Maps Choices, Google RTBF Solicitations & AdWords PLA Test

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web. From Search Engine Land: Reassess How You Prioritize Your E-Commerce PPC Campaign Builds Over the last couple of years, the prioritization of e-commerce PPC campaign builds has shifted…



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Apple Maps To Offer Choice Of Google, Others For Directions

According to Cult of Mac Apple is doing something very interesting with iOS 8 Maps. It’s giving people a choice of apps to use for directions. A GIF in the article shows that once a destination is located users will be able to choose directions from, presumably, any mapping-related app…



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Report: Apple Accelerating Crowdsourced Maps Improvements

According to a couple of reports (Reddit and MacRumors) Apple has stepped up the pace of map-data corrections and improvements. The MacRumors report, from a couple of weeks ago, says that changes are being implemented weekly. The Reddit thread says they’re happening nightly — at 3 am…



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Virtual 3D “City Tours” Coming To Apple Maps In iOS 8

One of the features in the forthcoming iOS 8 is apparently called City Tours. These are animated flyovers of various cities in Apple Maps. Mostly a novelty, they’ll take users on a 3D tour of key buildings and landmarks in a city. Google Maps/Earth have allowed developers to create animated…



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Apple Settles Ebooks Lawsuit, Although The Terms Aren’t Clear

Following a federal court ruling last year that Apple conspired with publishers to fix ebook prices, the tech company has agreed to settle a lawsuit seeking as much as $840 million in damages. Details of the agreement between Apple, U.S. states and consumers weren’t available, although a federal judge in Manhattan set a one-month deadline to file the settlement. 

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What Apple Should Learn From Tesla’s Patents

Every once in a while a company comes along that completely changes the world. Google is one such company, making the Internet accessible and meaningful to billions of people. So is Facebook, which increasingly connects those billions of people. And then there’s Apple, which has set the standard for what is possible with mobile devices.

Still, it’s too bad Apple can’t be more like Tesla, the electric car company founded by Elon Musk. Because Tesla, unlike Apple, is determined to share its innovations.

Opening Up Innovation

Up until this past week, Tesla was much like Apple. It sought and hoarded patents, proudly displaying its patents on the wall of its Palo Alto headquarters. But last Thursday, Tesla made a bold move: it open sourced its patents. Every single one of them. The reason? As Musk opined on the company’s blog, sharing innovation is better than stockpiling and suing over it:

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

Nor is this some unselfish act whereby Musk plays the part of global benefactor to others’ innovation at the expense of his balance sheet:

At Tesla, however, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales….

Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.

In other words, competitors haven’t caught up. They’re hardly in the game, and for Tesla to truly grow, it needs a vibrant, competitive market in which to build and sell its cars. A consumer that starts with a low-end competitor is more likely to then upgrade to Tesla’s premium brand. Hence, as he stresses, the market would benefit, “from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”

As for concerns over losing Tesla’s edge, Musk quashes that notion:

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

It’s a brilliant strategic move and it’s one that would be unfathomable a few miles south in Apple’s Cupertino.

The Mobile Patent Quagmire

Mobile computing has been a morass of patent suits and countersuits for years, nicely summarized by PC Mag’s infographic. With so much money at stake, the reasoning goes, of course companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft would engage in IP jockeying to lock in their share.

And, boy, have they ever. Apple, in particular, has been an active instigator of such suits, and has filed more than 350 cases with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office since January 2008. Steve Jobs was the heart and soul of Apple and he once famously accused Google of “grand theft” over Google’s Android operating system and threatened that he was “willing to go to thermonuclear war on this.”

Which is exactly what we’ve seen.

While Apple and Google’s former manufacturing arm Motorola thawed the mobile patent warfare in March, agreeing to drop the suits they’d launched against each other, years were lost while Apple and its competitors fought each other in court. 

Since the launch of the original iPhone, we’ve seen different screen sizes, more memory, faster chips and sharper resolution, all resulting in fat profits. But real, groundbreaking innovation equal to Apple’s original touchscreen? Not so much. In fact, in 2013 reports surfaced that Apple’s board was concerned by Apple’s slowed pace of innovation. 

There’s a very valid argument that Apple doesn’t need to constantly introduce new products, given how much it earns from existing products. Such earnings are fueled, in part, by the patent-encrusted moat Apple uses to defend its profits. No one can look at Apple’s balance sheet and credibly call it a failure.

Innovation Is The Best Protection

Apple should not be lauded for resting on its patented laurels. As Musk noted last week, “If a company is truly relying on patents it means they aren’t innovating, or not innovating fast enough. You want to be innovating so fast [that] you invalidate your prior patents.” 

Tesla is doing this. Apple could, too. Apple regularly wows the world with beautiful, brilliant products. Imagine the innovation we might have seen these past few years if Apple were forcing itself and the entire industry to look forward to new developments rather than constantly cashing in on old achievements. It could be advancing the mobile industry far faster while still plumping its bank balance if it, too, opened up its innovations as Tesla has done.

Tesla’s decision to open its patents isn’t dissimilar from what the open-source software world does. Years ago Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst pointed out that open source business models align customer and vendor interests by forcing vendors to “innovate or die.” In the open-source world, customers only pay for subscriptions when software is constantly being improved. They only pay when their vendors deliver real value.

That may be a scary proposition for Apple, but given its culture of innovation, it is one Cupertino should welcome.

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Sony’s PlayStation TV vs. Amazon’s Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, Ouya And More

Having appeased its core crowd of PlayStation gamers (so far, anyway), Sony is looking to cram everyone else into the proverbial living room—all while doling out more goodies to its devotees. At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the company revealed plans to release a new version of its PlayStation “micro-console” in North America later this year.

Although the PlayStation TV looks like just yet another $99 Web TV box, looks may be deceiving. Depending on what you want out of your streaming thing of choice, Sony’s PS TV packs more bells and whistles than much of the competition and—should it live up to its pre-release hype—stands to please hardcore, casual and perhaps even non-gamers alike.

Let’s take a look at how it stands up to its current competition.

Sony PlayStation TV: $99

The PlayStation TV (PS TV) is a handsome little streaming box with a lot going on. The tiny gaming console doesn’t need to connect to a PlayStation 4, but if you own one, it will enable you to beam your PS4 play to a different TV in the house—a pretty neat trick for settling battles over sofa real estate. 

The PS TV will make good use of Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Now cloud gaming network, with plants to support “hundreds” of PS3 titles as well as most PS Vita titles and PS1 and PSP classic games, thanks to the respectable specs it shares with the PlayStation Vita handheld console. Beyond that, the PS TV is expected to come equipped with streaming stalwarts like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, TuneIn and others, all already available on the handheld PS Vita, though its broader multimedia talents have yet to be confirmed.

The console works with PlayStation DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 controllers, and will sell as a standalone device or as a $139 bundle that includes a DualShock 3 controller, an 8GB memory card, and a virtual copy of the Lego Movie Videogame. 

Amazon Fire TV: $99

For living room streaming, the Fire TV is a compelling, if standard, choice. Naturally, it works best in Amazon’s own ecosystem with Amazon Instant Video, but it also stocks the now-standard streaming line-up (Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Pandora, Vevo, etc.).

With its own custom-designed gaming controller (sold separately for $40), the Fire TV might be the only other an hybrid media streaming/gaming box that can be taken seriously. Still, you’ll mostly be stuck with mobile games you could play on a tablet, like Minecraft Pocket Edition. Amazon is working on more original gaming content like Sev Zero, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Roku 3: $89

Technically, the Roku 3 lets you play games with its motion sensing remix of a classic remote, but with a limited selection and no dedicated controller, the feature comes off as an afterthought. For streaming TV and video, the Roku remains an elegant choice—for gaming though, not so much. Roku also sells the pared-down Roku Stick for $49, but you won’t be doing any motion gaming on it.

Apple TV: $99

The Apple TV still makes plenty of sense for anyone neck-deep in Apple’s iTunes and App Store ecosystems. Unless Apple ups its gaming game (and it may), the only way to “play” games on the device is to play compatible titles on an iPad, iPod or iPhone and mirror them on the big screen via AirPlay.

Ouya: $99

The Kickstarted Android-based box was an enthusiastic experiment in indie console gaming, but these days, things aren’t looking so good. The Ouya comes with a dedicated controller and lets you hack stuff like Netflix onto it, but in 2014, it’s purer in theory than execution.

Steam Machine: Price variable, starting at around $549 (Alienware) up to $6,000

Valve’s small army of third-party Steam consoles, now delayed until 2015, will run SteamOS and offer a custom controller for its stable of major league, console-level digital games. While the goal of emancipating PC gaming from the PC is noble enough, the pricing makes any Steam Box a truly niche device for dedicated console-averse PC gamers.

Google Chromecast : $35

If you want a price can’t be beat and just need the core set of streaming entertainment apps, there is no reason whatsoever to not buy a Chromecast. It’s $35 and streams music and video from a growing selection of compatible mobile apps to your TV, but it’s no game console.

The PS TV looks to set a new bar among streaming boxes with smaller dreams, but we’ll have to see it to believe it. Unfortunately, that means waiting until this fall while Sony builds out PlayStation Now and refines its little micro-console. 

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Resistance Is Futile: Apple And Google Are Going To Track Your Location No Matter What

The Platform is a regular column by mobile editor Dan Rowinski. Ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence and pervasive networks are changing the way humans interact with everything.

Google’s Android wants to know where you are and what’s nearby. Soon, it may also have the capability to automatically interact with people, places and things within your immediate vicinity. It’s a hint of things to come. Because before long, you won’t be able to hide your location from your smartphone—or from all the developers, marketers and advertisers that want to know where you are.

According to a report from Android Police, Google is working on a service called “Nearby” with features similar to those of Apple’s iBeacon, a Bluetooth-powered location-tracking system now catching on with retailers and other commercial outfits. Google’s Nearby would let your Android smartphone communicate with other devices in its area by proximity alone.

Android Police quotes the on-boarding screen of Nearby’s capabilities:

Nearby lets you connect, share, and do more with people, places, and things near you.

When Nearby is turned on for your account, Google can periodically turn on the mic, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and similar features on all your current and future devices. Google+ and other Google services need this access to help you connect, share, and more.

When you turn on Nearby, you’re also turning on Location History for your account and Location Reporting for this device. Google needs these services to periodically store your location data for use by Nearby, other Google services, and more.

Nearby will likely show up in a future update to Google Play Services, Android Police notes. It may be part of several anticipated announcements to the Android platform at Google’s I/O developer conference later this month.

Between Nearby and iBeacons, Android and iOS are making it increasingly difficult to hide from those that want to target you with “relevant” promotions, deals and ads.

Ambient Location, Beacons, Retailers And You

You’re not alone if your first reaction to Nearby’s capabilities is, “No way in hell.” In general, people don’t like the idea of companies tracking their location or of their phones deciding to turn on various sensors automatically just because they happen to be in the general vicinity of some other device with sensors. 

Quick Thought: Sony Wins The Platform Battle Of E3

I watched the E3 gaming conference from a casual distance. But from what I can tell of the reaction to Microsoft and Sony press conferences at E3, Sony came out (still) ahead.

Microsoft has been backtracking from its original plan to make the Xbox One the center of all your entertainment needs (for instance, by unbundling the Kinect). Its Xbox One presentation aimed to re-inspire its base with a laser focus on games, games, games.

Sony, meanwhile, not only marched forth with games, but firmed up its position as the go-to gaming spot with exclusive game maps and missions for anticipated titles like Destiny while also unveiling the potentially momentous PS Now game-streaming network and PlayStation TV set-top box.

The truth, however, is that most people aren’t really going to have a meaningful choice about whether location-based services are active or not. Sure, any user can opt out if he or she wants, but there’s going to be a constant siren song trying to lure them back in. People will hear of a new feature—maybe through their local retail store or something their friends are using—and they’ll sign up to for some service that prompts them again to turn Nearby or iBeacon back on.

Marketers want to track user behavior via location. Retailers want to track customers via location. Platform providers want to track retailers, marketers and users via location. Developers will build for these features. The average user doesn’t really stand a chance. Services like iBeacons and Nearby are going to become the norm, whether “customers” want it or not.

Smartphone users will soon be conditioned to these types of ambient location signals coming from their phones. And though Google is the king of tracking information about you on the Web and through your smartphone, it’s not leading the charge here—Apple is. Apple has quietly pushed its iBeacon indoor proximity feature in iOS, and retailers and developers are starting to adopt it everywhere, whether you know it or not.

Apple has also acted to hobble competing proximity-tracking technologies. Wi-Fi networks at, for instance, a retail store, can pick up a unique device identifier called the MAC address from smartphones that are scanning for a network connection—something most phones do automatically. That can be used to track shoppers.

In iOS 8, however, Apple struck back against this practice by randomizing the MAC addresses iPhones use when scanning for a connection, thus making it much harder to track individuals. You can look at this development two ways. Either it’s a consumer-friendly, privacy conscious move by Apple to protect its users from unwarranted spying—or perhaps Apple saw the tracking of MAC addresses as an rival to iBeacon adoption and decided to take it out. (My money’s on the latter.)

What Consumers Want? Or What Consumers Are Forced To Accept?

A recent study by push notification company Urban Airship says that 60% to 80% of users share their location with apps. 

“With an average 62% location opt-in rate and an average 51% of users opting in to receive push notifications, most apps can reach more than half of their users with location- and proximity-triggered push messages,” writes Urban Airship’s Corey Gault.

You should, however, take Urban Airship’s assumptions of the location-based market with a grain of salt. 

“Apps have become adept at incorporating location-based functionality that users value, contributing to high opt-in rates, just as the best apps do with push notifications: explaining their value, offering users control and using it in personally relevant ways,” Gault wrote.

The company published its own study and the results, of course, make Urban Airship’s product portfolio look terrific. Urban Airship stands to benefit greatly from the adoption of services like Nearby and as it is one of the only companies to make a third-party dashboard for iBeacon notifications. That being said, Urban Airship’s data may prove to be correct. 

Quote Of The Day: “I am not afraid … I was born to do this.” ~ Attributed to Joan of Arc

Think about how you use apps. You download an app and a dialogue box pops up wanting to use your location. Often enough, the app warns you that it won’t work well, or at all, without knowing your location. Lots of popular apps want to know your location, starting with Google Now, Facebook and Yelp. Many of these apps actually do work better if they know where you are.

Smartphone features like iBeacons and Nearby have marketers (and those that serve them) salivating. Urban Airship is just one of the companies going whole hog into iBeacons. Adobe has invested heavily in products for marketers over the last couple of years and has joined the proximity marketing bandwagon, as have companies like Qualcomm. Billions of dollars in research and development from a diverse set of giant companies have gone into tracking you with your smartphone and tying it to your browsing and shopping habits.

In the end, they will find you.

More On Google, Apple & Beacons

  • Mike Elgan at Computerworld breaks down some myths about iBeacon and notes it showing up in consumer apps.
  • BGR compares Nearby with iBeacon.
  • Part of the excitement for developers attending conference like Microsoft Build and Google I/O are the swag giveaways. The rumor for Google I/O later this month is that Google will be giving away Android Wear LG smartwatches, Android Authority reports.
  • More from Google I/O rumors: Pundits are speculating that Android 4.5 “Lollipop” is going to come at I/O this month with a new “Nexus 8″ tablet to go with it. I have a little knowledge of what is going to happen at I/O and I have not been able to pinpoint any specific rumors on the next build of the operating system. It seems more likely that Google will update Google Play Services with a variety of Android-like features than an actual new build of the OS.
  • Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch reports that a complete failure of project management led to Apple Maps being completely missing at WWDC last week.
  • Forbes writes that WWDC 2014 was where “Apple gets its groove back.”

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