Archive for June, 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.


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.

How do you make your phone battery last four times longer and charge it in a field?


Long day in the city and run out of juice? Heading to a festival and need to stay connected to your buddies? Vacation coming up and the thought of the kids’ iPads running out is filling you with dread?

Fear no more. Proporta is offering 25% off its award-winning TurboCharger until this Sunday, June 22nd.

Last week, Tom from Brighton walked 166.4kms across the South Downs and told us, “I cannot travel without it. I knew that my iPhone and Garmin 620 GPS Watch would need charging over the 40-hour continuous charity walk. In total, the TurboCharger gave me two full charges for my watch and charged three iPhones, all with two cells left to use! Without it, I would’ve been unable to track the whole journey and my phone would’ve been dead. I’ve also taken it on a camping trip; charging phones, my Wireless Sound Bar and my iPad. I can’t imagine going anywhere without it right now. If you need a charging solution for your gadgets, this is it. Highly recommended.”

The TurboCharger fully charges any Smartphone, such as an iPhone or Galaxy S5, in under one hour wherever you are. Connect it to any USB port and it’s ready to do it all over again. Its dual ports also mean you can charge your Tablet at the same time, so it’s perfect for camping, commuting, power hungry apps or just yomping 100 miles – like Tom did.

Offer valid until midnight June 22nd, 2014.

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?

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.


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”.