Archive for 2014

Are ‘kill switches’ the answer to phone thefts?

For many people, one of the most disastrous things that could happen to them when they’re out and about is if they were to get their smartphone stolen. These days, the gadgets are so much more than just a way of keeping in touch with your mates – they’re your camera, your shopping cart, your entertainment centre and your social hub. So when somebody steals it, it can be a real disaster.

And its a problem that’s been getting worse in recent years. A new report by the Office of the New York State Attorney General, in partnership with the Mayor of London’s office, revealed that in the UK capital, smartphones are one of the biggest drivers of theft, with nearly half of robberies last year involving a handset. Despite a successful 2012 crackdown on mobile device theft, the Metropolitan Police still received over 100,000 reports of stolen smartphones in 2013.

So with this being such a big issue, it’s not wonder authorities have been keen to crack down in on. Last year, Mayor of London Boris Johnson joined up with a US-led initiative called Secure Our Smartphones (SOS) to push for new technology to be added to all smartphones in order to crack down on the issue – a so-called ‘kill switch’. And it seems as though their campaign is having an effect.

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How does it work?

A kill switch is a feature on a phone that can shut down the device and prevent it from working when activated remotely – essentially turning an expensive piece of technology into a shiny black paperweight. There are two ways of achieving this – a ‘hard’ switch, with is favoured by legislators and groups like SOS, that renders a device permanently unusable, or a ‘soft’ switch that blocks unauthorised users, yet can be unlocked with the right code.

Soft switches might be less secure, but would mean that if a stolen phone is recovered, a user can pick it up and get on with their life without losing any of their data or having to get a new handset. However, these can come with their own sets of problems – such as an incident last month, when an enterprising hacker managed to break into Apple’s iCloud software and lock people’s phones by changing their Apple ID password, demanding a ransom in order to unlock them again.

Is it effective?

One company to embrace the idea of a kill switch in order to crack down on smartphone theft was Apple, which introduced an ‘Activation Lock’ feature last year as part of its iOS 7 update.

The New York State Attorney General’s report suggested this has had an immediate positive impact for owners of Apple devices. In London, it claimed iPhone thefts declined by 24 per cent in the six months after Activation Lock was added. And before you think this might be just down to a drop in crime overall, it also stated thefts of Samsung devices actually increased by three per cent over the same period. A similar story was also found in New York and San Francisco, where iPhone robberies fell by 19 per cent and 38 per cent respectively, while Samsung thefts also saw a rise.

SOS stated this is proof the technology works, but it wants to see it go further. At present, tools such as Activation Lock are opt-in, meaning users have to actually set it up in order for their phone to be locked.

“This configuration reduces participation and weakens the kill switch’s potential to deter crime. Given early signs that kill switches like Apple’s Activation Lock are effective, there is no excuse for letting unnecessary barriers impede widespread use,” the group said, calling for such features to be switched on by default.

What are the next steps?

Following the positive results seen in iPhone thefts, there have been calls for the technology to be made more widespread, and opinion is changing. Previously, one of the biggest voices opposed to the implementation of kill switches was the US trade association for mobile operators, the CTIA. It had stated this technology “isn’t the answer”, because of the potential for hackers to replicate the signal and remotely disable non-stolen phones, while ‘hard’ kill switches would still render a phone unusable even if a phone was later found.

However, it has since softened its stance and formally dropped its opposition to the technology earlier this year – paving the way for more phonemakers to implement kill switches in their devices. And this week, it was announced that both Google and Microsoft will incorporate kill switches in their next operating systems updates.

This means all three major phone platforms – iOS, Android and Windows Phone – will have such options available. And as these make up the vast majority of smartphones in use, it could be about to get a lot harder for phone thieves to make a profit.

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5 of the best apps for following the World Cup

Finally. After what seems like an interminable amount of build-up and hype, the 2014 World Cup is officially underway, and sports fans across the world are settling down in front of their flat-screen TVs or staking a permanent claim to their favourite spot in the pub in order to watch the festival of football.

Even if team USA do end up on an early flight back, there’s still plenty of talent get excited about, with the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar and Suarez all flaunting their stuff. But if you can’t get enough of your soccar fix during the games themselves, there are also a whole host of mobile apps available to make sure you’re always right up to date with the action, whether you’re on the couch, in the garden or taking a sneaky look in the office (we won’t judge, we’ve been playing World in Motion on a loop for about a week).

So to get you in the mood for the 31-day celebration of all things soccar, here’s our pick of the best iPhone and Android apps out there. And when that’s got you excited, why not show your support by creating a personalized phone case with your favorite country’s flag or logo?

5 of the best apps for following the World Cup

FIFA official app
The game’s governing body might not inspire much confidence at the moment but when it comes to making a decent mobile app, it turns out Fifa is surprisingly competent. The tournament’s official app offers a simple-to-use, clear design with comprehensive details on all the teams, players and matches, as well as a live blog offering up-to-the-minute information on what’s happening, and you’ll find exclusive text, photo and video coverage.

Onefootball Brasil
If you want the most knowledgeable, up-to-date info, Onefootball Brasil offers notifications for your favorite team and minute-by-minute commentary for every game, for those unfortunate occasions when poor planning means you can’t be in front of the TV. It also provides videos from press conferences and interviews, as well as pre and post match news coverage and a dedicated stats centre and leaderboards for goal scorers, yellow cards and much more – perfect for resolving any arguments about who the tournament’s top performers are.

BBC Sport
As you’d expect, the international broadcaster is going all out in Brazil and is promising 24/7 coverage of the World Cup – all of which will be available on its mobile app. Whether you need to know the latest fixtures, keep up-to-date with team news or learn the latest goings-on from team USA, it’ll all be at your fingertips. What’s more, you can also listen to BBC Radio 5 Live as you browse, so you never have to miss a minute of the action. Why not team it with the separate BBC iPlayer app for live TV coverage on your cell?

FIFA 14
If you think you can do better the next time Wayne Rooney inevitably belts a shot into row Z, now you can prove it – virtually, at least – with the mobile version of EA Sports’ official Fifa 14 game. Sure, it doesn’t have all the intricacies of the console versions – but then you aren’t paying $40 for it either, and it’s just been updated with all the World Cup teams, players and kits. With intuitive touch controls, some of the best graphics on mobile and enough depth to keep you playing long after all the real teams have packed up and gone home, this could be the perfect way to keep getting your soccar fix.

Panini Online Sticker Album
For those of us who’ve got fond memories of gathering on the schoolyard before the bell goes to swap stickers and bemoaning the fact you’ve got four copies of the Algerian goalkeeper, but don’t want to be fiddling around with real stickers, the online version of the iconic Panini football sticker album is a must have. The app lets you open new packs of stickers every day, add them to your collection and trade them with other users to complete your album. With over 2.4 million users, you’ve surely got more options available than if it’s just you and a couple of mates. Can you fill the book before the final on July 13th?

New phone roundup – Sony, LG and Samsung show off gadgets

One great thing about the mobile sector  – or one bad thing, depending on your point of view – is it’s never standing still. No sooner have you got used to all the bells and whistles on your latest shiny handset, then there’s a bigger, better version calling out for your attention.

And the last couple of weeks have seen a number of new devices unveiled for the first time, with big names such as Sony and Samsung launching gadgets they’ll be hoping will shake up the sector.

So we’ve put together a quick roundup of some of the new devices launched, leaked and expected in the last couple of weeks.

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A new system – Samsung Z

In amongst the procession of new Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices, Samsung’s latest handset stands out from the crowd, as it offers something a bit different for those who are with Google or Apple’s offerings. The Samsung Z is the first phone to run on the company’s own Tizen platform.

The device promises to offer users a simple-to-use and distinctive layout, with easy access to favourite apps and features. It also claims to provide fast performance for gaming and web browsing.

Whether it’ll be enough to convince people to ditch their Android or Apple device remains to be seen, but clearly Samung is hoing it will be a success and a new ecosystem will free it from being shackled to Google’s operating system.

Thinner than ever – Sony Xperia T3

Another major firm showing off its latest device recently was Sony, which unveiled its new Xperia T3 – said to be the world’s thinnest 5.3-inch smartphone. And at just 7mm thick and weighing in at only 148 grams, it’s certainly a slim gadget, perfect for carrying around comfortably in a pocket.

But its not all about the design. The Xperia T3 has also been designed with the snap-happy in mind. It’s packed with Cyber-shot camera technology and offers an 8MP camera featuring Exmor RS for mobile, allowing users to take exceptional pictures even in challenging lighting conditions.

A bundle of camera apps also help budding photographers get creative, such as timeburst features, creative effects and retouching tools for portrait. Users can also use social options to share their moments as they happen via Facebook.

Laser-sharp photo shooting – LG G3

But the Sony isn’t the only new option for photo fans, as LG is also looking to appeal to snappers with its new flagship G3. Among its highlights is a new laser-based auto focus, which the firm claims lets users take “stunningly sharp images” in just a fraction of the time that traditional cameras would need to get the shot looking right.

The function works by sending out a low-powered laser beam that lets the device measure its distance from the photo’s subject more accurately than standard methods. LG says it can focus an image in just 0.276 of a second – faster than the time it would take for a human’s brain to send a signal to their hand.

Other features of the device include a 5.5-inch quad-HD display, a lightweight and stylish metallic design and a simplifying user interface that should make using the device even more enjoyable, LG said.

Something yet to come – the Amazon phone

Though no official confirmation has yet been given, the much-rumoured Amazon smartphone is set to be unveiled for the first time later this month. The online retail giant has announced a mystery event for June 18th and, while it’s keeping its cards close to its chest, it’s expected the launch will officially unveil a smartphone for the first time.

Theres no word yet on what it will look like or what its specs will be, but the rumour mill is suggesting a 4.7-inch screen is likely to be included, while 3D capabilities could also be a big selling point.

Given Amazon’s previous success with its Kindle Fire range of tablets, you can also expect close integration with the firm’s digital entertainment offering such as ebooks and Amazon Prime Instant Video, while the smart money is on an affordable, high-spec device like Google’s Nexus 5 of the LG G2.

New iOS 8 leads Apple’s WWDC keynote reveals

It’s that time of year again when Apple’s legion of fans start to build up their excitement over what’s coming from the Fruit-themed purveyor of white metallic gadgets, as the company’s team of executives and ideas gurus decamp to San Francisco for their annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC).

The event, which is taking place from June 2nd to June 6th, is always the high point of the year for developers working with Apple’s products and it’s often a chance to get a first look at the latest innovations the firm is working on. And as is traditional, the general tone of WWDC was set out from the start with chief executive Tim Cook’s keynote address to the assembled masses.

This year, there was no earth-shattering new hardware like the iPhone or the iPad to headline the event. Even the much-rumoured iWatch has yet to make an appearance – though not for a lack of hints. But that doesn’t mean the company has nothing to say, with software set to be the big focus for WWDC 2014. So we’ve pulled together some of the key themes that lay out what to expect from Apple in the next few months.

New iOS 8 leads Apple's WWDC keynote reveals

A new OS – bigger, faster, better

Central to the keynote was the now-traditional update to Apple’s mobile iOS platform. The latest version of the software is iOS 8, and Apple is always touting it as the biggest update to the system since the launch of the App Store. To start with, there’s the usual tweaks to the user interface – though nothing on the level of the overhaul iOS 7 got, which split opinions among the fanbase.

Meanwhile, Apple’s also promising better connectivity between devices, with features such as Handoff, which allows users to start an activity on one device and then finish it on another – something that could be great for those who’ve equipped themselves with the full range of Apple gadgets, such as an iPhone, iPad and Mac.

But what iOS 8 is really about is a whole new generation of apps. Overall, the solution’s software development kit will contain around 4,000 programming tools to help with the creation of even more varied and powerful software for the platform. Mr Cook said: “It will give developers the capabilities and tools to make things they haven’t dreamed of, and to push to a whole new level.”

A new way to keep in touch

Among the bundled iOS apps that are getting a makeover is Apple’s Messaging service, which has come under increasing pressure in recent times from rivals like WhatsApp. New features of the offering include the ability to easily create and modify group messages, send voice clips with a single swipe, and even create and exchange short video clips.

Apple added that users can easily browse through all of the photos and videos within a conversation and share multiple photos and videos at once. You can choose to share your current location from within Messages for an hour, a day or longer.

Keep a check on your health

The updated OS also comes with a Health app, which lets you gather information from various fitness apps and devices, to deliver an easy-to-understand overview all in one place. So if you find yourself frequently pounding the pavement using your iPhone’s music player to keep you motivated and a step tracker to monitor your progress, iOS 8 should be able to offer you an even better insight into your performance.

Apple said: “With your permission, each app can use specific information from other apps to provide a more comprehensive way to manage your health and fitness. For example, the Nike+ apps using NikeFuel will be able to pull in other key HealthKit metrics such as sleep and nutrition to build a custom user profile and improve athletic performance.”

Watch out Dropbox

The keynote also signalled an intention for Apple to move into the growing cloud storage market. With users creating more photos, videos and docs than ever, tools like Dropbox are becoming increasingly popular as people look for new ways of safeguarding their most precious files and accessing them anywhere.

That’s why Apple unveiled the internet-based iCloud Drive storage app, which will not only allow users to upload files from their iOS or Mac devices, but also share and view them on their PC. Users will be able to make edits to documents on any device and see the most up-to-date version become instantly available across all gadgets with a connection to the iCloud. The firm said this “brings a whole new level of collaboration between apps, providing seamless access and the ability to work on the same file across multiple apps”.

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The perfect selfie – how not to look like an idiot

If you haven’t heard, sharing photos on social networking is now apparently very much the in thing. But forget carefully composed landscapes and worrying about apertures and focus – now all you need to do to be the next David Bailey is stretch out your arm as far as you can reach, pull a silly face and hope you don’t end up with someone gurning behind you when you click the shutter.

Yes, like it or not, the selfie will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest trends of the last few years. In fact, it’s become such a phenomenon the Oxford English Dictionary even named it their word of the year in 2013, with everyone from pop stars to presidents getting in on the trend.

Getting the perfect selfie can be the holy grail for many people – but it’s not as easy as it sounds. A bad one can not only make you look like an idiot in front of your friends, as tools like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter let your most embarrassing images wing their way around the world in seconds. So looking good needs some serious thought.

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Choose the right spot

Unless you’re Paris Hilton, no-one’s really that interested in a selfie where 95 per cent of the photo is taken up by your face, so a good backdrop is essential.

A recent survey by Suggestme found London is the most popular location for selfies among both tourists and locals, while the most commonly-snapped landmarks around the world include Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum. Nice, but a bit obvious – so something a bit more creative could help you stand out from the crowd.

Oh, and it should also go without saying, but sombre occasions like funerals are definitely out – something Barack Obama and David Cameron should have remembered before their grinning selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service hit front pages around the world.

Show off your best features

The trickiest part of any selfie -as with anything else in life – is making sure you look your best. But it’s sometimes not easy to tell how it’ll turn out when your screen’s held at arms length away from you, so what can you do to avoid creating a cautionary tale to be shared by others for all eternity?

It can’t be emphasised enough that the ‘duckface’ look is a big no – really, it can’t, no matter who you are. Not only has it been done to death by everyone, huge pouting lips have yet to make anyone look good.

You also need to think about the angle of your photo – a downward shot, or one where you tilt your head back, can give the impression of a double-chin – definitely unflattering. Keep the camera as level as possible makes sense, while also make sure you’re not staring directly down the lens like a serial killer’s arrest photo – a slight turn of the head is the most natural look.

Watch your surroundings

Even if you’ve found the perfect spot to get your snap, it can still be ruined by that idiot in the background who thinks photobombing is still cool, so make sure you know what and who around you could pose a problem.

Also, there’s a fine line between an exciting shot and getting too close, as this unfortunate chap found out to his cost when he tried to take a selfie with a train, and was taught a swift lesson in safety by the conductor.

And if you are taking the snap in your bedroom or bathroom mirror to show off your stylish new phone case, make sure the room is presentable. No-one wants to see your dirty laundry or a mirror smeared with toothpaste.

The right tools for the job

One of the biggest problems with selfies is that because they’re often taken with the phone’s lower-resolution front-facing camera, they can often end up being very poor-quality. However, some of the latest models – such as the HTC One – have recognised this problem and started to equip their phones with more powerful front cameras.

But if you don’t have this yet, there are still a few things you can do. Turning your gadget around to use the bigger rear camera might mean you don’t get to see exactly what you’re shooting, but with a bit of luck, the results will turn out better.

Also, remember to switch the flash off, as at close range, all it will do is white out your face so you look like you’re remaking The Blair Witch Project. A bit of fiddling about with lighting settings and filters can also transform a boring snap into one worthy of sharing, so don’t assume leaving your phone in its default settings is the way to go.

5 of the best music streaming apps

The big news from the tech world this week is that Apple is in advanced talks to buy Dr Dre-backed headphone maker Beats in a deal said to be worth up to $3.2 billion (£1.89 billion). This may seem like a lot for some headphones – no matter how cool they are – but what’s perhaps more interesting to Apple is the firm’s online streaming service, Beats Music.

While not yet available in the UK, it’s one of the latest entrants to an increasingly-crowded market – and one Apple has yet to really break into, despite having what you’d think would be the perfect launch platform in iTunes. So some analysts have suggested getting its hands on Beats’ technology is the main driver for the deal.

And it may need all the help it can get, as there’s a bewildering array of options out there for the keen music lover who wants to listen on the move. Whether you’re a fan of Beethoven, the Beatles or Beyonce, it’s easier than ever to find your favourite tracks. But how do you know which is the right one for you?

That’s why we’ve put together some of our top suggestions for music streaming on your mobile.

Spotify
The daddy of the sector, Spotify has been doing on-demand streaming longer than almost anyone, and has plenty of time to refine the concept. It’s got the biggest subscriber base, which means it can offer a huge library of more than 20 million tracks, an easy-to-use interface and strong social features. For £10 a month, you get unlimited access across all your devices – and this covers pretty much anything you can name, from your PC and smartphone to your car.

Google Play Music All Access
Ignore the mouthful of a name, Google’s entry into the streaming space offers all the refinement you’d expect from the web giant. It loses out slightly to Spotify on library size – a paltry 18 million – but it makes up for this by giving you the option to upload up to 20,000 of your own tracks, so you can listen to them anywhere. This locker is free, but for full access, including personalised recommendations and radio, it’ll also ask for £10 a month.

Deezer
For sheer size, France-based Deezer is hard to beat, with more than 30 million tracks available for streaming. It has the usual array of personalised radio stations and recommendations – and is currently offering its unlimited mobile app for just £4.99 a month – that’s 50 per cent off its normal price. For UK customers it also has special offers if you have an EE 4G contract.

Rdio
Perhaps Spotify’s closest rival in terms of library size, price and capabilities, Rdio suffers slightly from a lower bitrate for its tracks. But it more than makes up for this with a clean user interface, great options for sharing an account with family members and strong integration with social media, so you can always share you new favourite with your Facebook friends.

Last.fm
A little different from the services about, Last.fm won’t let you choose a specific track to play, but its personalised radio capabilities are sceond to none. As well as letting you choose stations by genre or artist, the software’s algorithm – known as ‘Scrobbler’ – learns your tastes in music from what you listen to on services such as iTunes and Spotify to build a full – and uncannily accurate – picture of your ideal playlist. Like Spotify, its had a few years to perfect its service, while a recent deal with its rival means users also have access to Spotify’s library as well.

Of course, you’ll want the best experience when listening to your favourite tracks on the go, so once you’ve made your decision about which service – or services – to plump for, don’t forget to check out our range of headphones to make sure you can enjoy it at the best quality.

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