All posts by Simon LR

Editor’s Pick of the Week: Skifta

Welcome to the third edition of Editor’s Pick of the Week. This week, our editor, Simon, tells us about a very nifty DLNA/UPnP app for Android – Skifta. 

With the recent trend of shipping devices with less and less local storage, in a very transparent attempt and pushing users towards the cloud, users are left with either giving up “owning” their media, or picking and choosing what to store directly on their devices. If you’re inclined enough to have set up a DLNA or UPnP media store in your home network, then you might want to take a look at Skifta for Android.

Skifta is much more than a DLNA/UPnP app. It is developed by Qualcomm Atheros, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, they make the chips that are likely powering the mobile device you’re reading this on. Skifta is DLNA certified (it was actually the first Android application to be DLNA certified), fully supports the UPnP standard, and if QCT has their way, will be pre-packaged in a wide range of devices.

Most DLNA/UPnP applications support client and server mode. That is, you can either host media and push it to a device in server mode, or you can use client mode, and pull media to your device. Skifta does both, but also has the addition of local storage support for when you’re offline or not within range of your home network.

Skifta is very straight forward to use, as you basically have 3 options before you start listening to music or watching movies. Firstly, where do you want to get this content from? Local or remote. Second, where are you playing it to? Local or remote. Third, what do you want to play? If you’re smart enough to answer those 3 simple questions, you’ll be enjoying your media wherever you want, in no time flat.

 

Upon selecting a file to play, Skifta will immediately attempt to buffer the entire song over whichever connection you have available to the media server. If you’re using an 802.11n network, this happens very quickly. Almost instantly. It would be nice if the application would load the next few songs in the album in order to reduce “seek” time when moving to, or skipping, a track. The lower blue indicator line indicates buffer status.

While Skifta does display embedded album art, this is only shown on the “now playing” screen. Instead of thumbnails when selecting tracks, a small placeholder icon is used to denote a folder, audio track, video file, or picture. While it doesn’t detract at all from usage, it would be a nice bit of polish to have.

Skifta also doesn’t seem to do any caching of any sort, even if the network was remembered. This means your entire library is polled every time you reconnect. This isn’t a large issue with the proliferation of fast wireless networks, but if you’re offloading media storage to a dedicated machine because your device doesn’t have enough local space, you’re going to be adding up the seconds that it takes to load a large library.

Like most 3rd party audio players, Skifta sticks itself into the notification drawer, but 2 icons are present. One indicates the network you are connected to, the other shows your media information about the media being played. Unfortunately there are no media controls, but tapping will bring you to the according screen.

All in all, Skifta might not be jam-packed with features and fluff, but it does a perfect job at pulling or pushing media around from a DLNA/UPnP server. If you’re looking for a fast and stable media player, Skifta by Qualcomm Atheros is a great app.

Nokia Continues Asset Liquidation; Qt to Digia, Patents to Vringo

With the Q2 earning numbers still looming, Nokia has been trimming weight like a boss and there seems to be nothing they won’t do to get some greenbacks in their pockets.

Digia, the company who agreed to licensed Qt from Nokia back in 2011, has just taken full custody of the red-headed stepchild project. That is, they’re going to acquire all Qt software technologies AND Qt business from both what Nokia was working on, and what Trolltech was doing. While Nokia had great dreams for the cross-platform UI framework, they never really managed to actually make a dent in the mobile platform race with Qt. They agreed to leave KDE alone, and in the event that everything hit the fan, they could essentially be ousted and KDE could release Qt under the BSD license. This agreement holds true with Digia, as they stated in a news post;

We also are committed to continuing the special relationship Qt has with the KDE community via the KDE Free Qt Foundation. We believe that this symbiosis is valuable for everyone involved.

Digia plans to release Qt for iOS, Android, and Windows 8, on the double. Nokia has lagged around with Qt long enough and it’s nice to see that Digia is looking towards the future. Hopefully they can get to work with the Jolla Mobile folk and hit the ground running.

 

Vringo has also been in talks with Nokia, but this is for the purchase of over 500 patents and patent applications. If you’ve never heard of Vringo, they describe themselves as “engaged in the innovation, development and monetization of mobile technologies and intellectual property.”. If you HAVE heard of Vringo, it’s likely because either you, or somebody you know, was dumb enough to subscribe to their premium video ringtone service. A fool and his money are soon parted.

It’s quite clear that Vringo is acting as a middleman for patent usage royalties, and possible upcoming patent infringement lawsuits. Apple and Samsung can’t have all the fun, can they? It’s said the patents are worth roughly $22 million, and Vringo sold off $31 million worth of their stock in order to pay Nokia.

Hopefully Nokia has plan which consists of more than “sell it all off, let Microsoft lead the way”. Even making the first Windows Phone 8 device likely won’t save them if the asset auction continues and the board is blinded by the incoming cash flux, not realizing they are losing their roots.

Source: Digia, Vringo

Renders and Details of Unreleased Sony Xperia Tablet Leak Out

Sony’s unannounced Xperia tablet has been leaked out. Rumoured to be released in September 2012, pictures and specifications of the successor to the Tablet S have been posted on XDA-Developers.

The renders show off what looks to be a ~10″ 1280×800 screen, along with a fairly thick bezel. The regular array of buttons, I/O, and cameras are present. Regular kit in this day and age for a tablet; power button, volume rocker, front facing 1MP camera, 8MP shooter with a cutout for an LED flash…

But look carefully at this next side-profile render. Sony has decided to go with what can only be explained as a “comb-over”. It’s what people do with their hair when they have no idea what the hell do with their hair. Sony must really be out of designs with this one. There’s no need for a large hump, an 8MP sensor is not thick enough to warrant a bump like that. The entire back section is likely housing a battery. The battery is flat, there’s no hump in the 6000mAh battery being used. It seems it’s purely aesthetics. Scratch that. Assthetics.

The Tegra3 powered tablet is reported to be announced in September, and will be available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB variants for $449, $549, and $649. The only upside to purchasing this tablet, should the render ring true, is that it will be coming with Ice Cream Sandwich.

If Sony’s track record tells you anything, it’s to learn to enjoy the release of Android that your unit ships with. When Google releases new code, Sony will most likely decide to skip your device updates in a transparent attempt and getting you to upgrade. Just be happy they didn’t put a Memory Stick Duo Pro slot in, instead of a microSD one.

Zeus Virus Variants Targeting BlackBerry and Android

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab have shed light on new variants of Zeus that have struck both Android and BlackBerry mobile platforms.

While the Zeus trojan isn’t new, the attacks have changed, and ‘ZitMo’ is now built for attacking the BlackBerry platform, in addition to Android devices. From analysis, researchers have deduced that the bot is controlled from 2 different numbers tied to an operator, Tele2, located in Sweden. Once installed on a handset, the application gives full remote device control to an attacker via the cellular control channel, in the form of an SMS.

Zeus doesn’t pack much in terms of malicious capabilities, but eavesdropping on text messages is the name of the game here. The main purpose of ‘ZeuS-on-Mobile‘ is to enable an attacker to remotely enable forwarding of SMS or block the user from receiving calls.

The Android variant of Zeus masquerades as a certificate or security application. Once installed, the application starts listening to incoming messages from the control number, and acts on requests. Installed as “Zertificate”, it doesn’t make any serious attempts at hiding itself. It’s not included with a game, or application that actually provides anything useful. It’s a simple command-driven bot. Kaspersky Labs have dissected the APK and found an included self-signed certificate with a validity date starting July 19th, indicating the application was likely built and deployed less than a month ago.

There haven’t been any new reports of devices being compromised in the wild, while the variants are newer, they are not more sophisticated. For a more in-depth look at “ZeuS-on-Mobile”, take a look at the Facts and Theories page.

Using good judgement, ensuring your applications come from a vetted location, and never installing anything you don’t trust, are generally safe practices that will help keep your mobile device free of malicious applications.

HP Still Hinting Towards Tablets

Although HP’s investment in Palm went down in glorious flames with the TouchPad, they clearly haven’t given up in the tablet market yet.

At the end of July, HP posted the “Make it Matter” commercial on YouTube. While the video is an entire minute of inspirational crud, at the 35 second mark there is a whitecoat clad chap sporting a tablet. So HP still wants to make tablets? That’s inspirational. A closer shot of the device can be seen right at the end of the video.

He may not have a shadow, or a soul, but he definitely has what might be the HP Slate 8. Oh look at that, so does she…

Given the style of the commercial, and some more recently seen advertisements that include the same device, Hewlett-Packard is very clearly going after both the small enterprising business owner, and large corporate crowd.

HP hasn’t officially talked about the tablet, so no specification are available. Looking at the pictures we can clearly see the 3.5mm auxiliary jack, a power button, and silent switch on the right portion, and what might be a lanyard or lock spot on the left side of the device. It’s a bit thick, looks to be around 10″ and largely uncomfortable to hold. The upper black portion is likely where the WiFi and/or cellular antenna would be housed.

Rumour is that the Slate will be running Windows 8. Well, what are the other options? Let’s see, use their open sourced webOS platform? Nope. License Android? Highly unlikely. They’ll probably ship with Windows 8, which recently hit RTM status. Wait, yes, of course they will ship with Windows 8. Meg Whitman specifically said so. So did these slides.

 

So there we go. HP Slate 8. Windows 8. Coming soon.

Box Brings Windows Phone App to Marketplace

If for some reason you’re not a fan of DropBox or SkyDrive on Windows Phone, then the fine folks at Box.net are here to save your day.

Box has announced and published their Windows Phone app – which allows you access to your cloud storage while mobile. If you can afford free, that is. In addition to their monthly plans for personal or business use, if your Fortune 500 company jumped on the “cloud” bandwagon and is riding it into the sky, you’ll get access to your company files while on the fly, with the Enterprise plan.

Following along with the Metro UI guidelines for Windows Phone apps, Box allows you to upload, download, and move files around in the cloud. As you can see from their banner (above) and some screenshots (below), they like to tout Word, Excel, and PDF document storage. Quite clear they are still aiming for the enterprise crowd.

In order to keep up with their tradition of free storage (Box gave 50GB to Android users, as well as 50GB to new iOS users) Box has partnered with Qualcomm to give out the staple 50GB again, except now it’s platform independent. Regardless if your new phone is running iOS, Android, or Windows Phone you’re covered with storage AND will get 50GB with their promotion. When you purchase a Windows 8 device in the future, if it’s powered by a Snapdragon SoC, you’ll also get 50GB of free cloud storage for life. Of course this is for new accounts only. Your own personal 50GB cloud, always above your head and right in your pocket.

The app is completely free, the storage is completely free, and it’s very cross-platform. Heck, you can even mount it right in Windows via WebDAV and get a seamless experience. So if you’re sick of gaming or needing referrals for getting more free DropBox space or if you think DropBox a is security risk due to their breach, Box gives you 50GB right off the bat, and is used and trusted by over 100,000 large corporations. Of course with any cloud service, you’re giving your data away and should understand the risks of doing so.

Carbon for Android Gets Release Date and Price (Free)

Yes, Carbon. The once not-widely used Twitter client for webOS is officially coming to Android next week.

In a post on their Google+ page, the Carbon for Android team has detailed exactly why they’ve been in beta for so long. It’s quite simple (and sad), Google doesn’t allow paid application submissions from the United Arab Emirates. After waiting weeks, with no resolution in sight, the team has decided that enough is enough. They will be publishing a completely free application in the Google Play store. No ads. No trials. No locked features. A complete build, free of charge.

Yes, there are a ton of free Twitter clients for Android that suck. Yes, there are a ton of Twitter clients for Android that cost money, and still suck. Yes, all of the Twitter clients for Android suck in comparison to almost any other platform. Carbon originated on webOS, where it became the de-facto client for many users. It’s polished, it’s complete, and the development team are always available and easy to reach. Might this change with the public Android release? webOS has a niche following of users who were genuinely smart and deeply involved with their platform. They have a tight-knit community, and developers are always happy to talk with users. Not quite the same in the Android camp.

The style of the application follows along with the webOS counterpart. Black theme, gestures with animations, and it’s fast! I hope some of the same features, such as powerscrolling and selectable notifications, are also available on the Android build.

Feel free to remove whichever crap client you’re currently using for Twitter, in preparation for the coming of Carbon. Or simply watch the video to tide yourself over.

RIM Ordered to Pay $147.2 Million Due to Patent Infringement

Research in Motion, makers of the BlackBerry, have been ordered by a judge in the San Francisco federal court to pay $8 for each mobile device connected to their enterprise server – a big red mark in their books for the amount of $147.2 million.

Back in 2002, Mformation, creators of a suite of mobile device management (MDM) software, filed for patent infringement claims against RIM citing they were using technology that allowed remote management “of a wireless device over a wireless network”. While this is something that almost all current smartphones allow, the method of getting messages to and from the device, is really what Mformation is concerned with.

This has been RIM’s bread and butter since the late 90s, when they were on top of the mobile e-mail market. They built an entire infrastructure around it. It’s one of their major selling points with BlackBerry devices. It’s what allowed them to reign supreme with enterprise customers for years. Until recently. Their stocks have plummeted and they have gone through laying off their talent in efforts to stay afloat.  While $147.2 million wouldn’t have been an absolutely huge deal 5 years ago, RIM seems to be skating on thin ice these days and this isn’t going to make things any better. Consumers have all but lost confidence in RIM, and companies have been leaving in droves for iOS and Android device that can be locked down. Now they are being targeted for the very patents that made them their money. Talking about being kicked while you’re down.

I hope that RIM will fight this verdict and attempt to have it overturned. The patents in question are laid out in the primary case docket, and while they are extremely specific with how the mobile device is managed, RIM has been using this technology for over a decade and it’s their main staple. Government contracts, large and small corporations, and hundreds of thousands of users are tied to a BES, and have been for years. $147.2 million is no chump change to RIM right now. They need all the cash they can hold onto while starving their existing users who wait for BlackBerry 10.

Good luck RIM, tighten up those fists.

Researchers Show Android 4.0 ClickJacking Demo

While Android is still one of the most rapidly growing mobile platforms, Google still has yet to address some of the more serious concerns regarding the security of their offerings. With devices being released and activated at a rate of 850,000 per day, coupled with the ability for users to use tools that allow for one-click rooting, Google has found themselves in one hell of a predicament. Google’s “Bouncer” is supposed to reduce the amount of malware present in the Play Store — which surprisingly has already been dissected by Duo Security.

Today, researchers from North Carolina State University have spilled the beans on clickjacking Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. In the demo, an application is installed on the phone which allows for redirecting application shortcuts. This means a user can launch an application, but another one is actually called instead — perhaps a malicious application. Instead of the stock Android browser launching, an identical browser launches, but all textbox entries are written out to a log file for later transporting to an attacker.

The demo device is a stock Google Nexus S running the last version of Ice Cream Sandwich available, 4.0.4.

If the name ‘Xuxian Jiang’ is familiar to you, it’s because he is also behind numerous research papers showing off the sad state of affairs with Android. While the chances that this has been fixed in the recently announced Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) is slim, Jiang has a good track record with Google, as he is the founder of the Android Malware Genome Project. For the time being, you should probably put your Android phone in a shoebox and go back to using a Nokia 3310.

Mozilla Moving Forward with Mobile Firefox OS

Mozilla has officially announced they have hardware partners for the new mobile platform that will be launching. Previously known as Boot to Gecko, Firefox Mobile OS is a complete HTML5 and web-technology based operating system. It was demoed and is available in a pre-alpha version for specific Android handsets, as a flashable image for those eager to test it out.

The first mobile devices to ship with the polished ‘Boot to Gecko’ project will be manufactured by TCL Communication Technology (better known as Alcatel) and ZTE. Both Alcatel and ZTE currently manufacture low-end Android smartphones and will likely ramp up production of devices built for Firefox Mobile OS. Mozilla has confirmed the devices will be using the popular Snapdragon SoC to power the Gaia UI.

In addition to hardware, Mozilla has also received backing from operators in many countries. Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Telenor have all been partnered with for the possible launch of Firefox Mobile devices and services. Hopefully this will also lead to a dramatic reduction in cost of data access for end-users.

Mozilla indicates once again, they are committed to creating a fully open and accessible platform that conforms to W3C standards. Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla, stated;

 “The introduction of the open mobile OS continues the Mozilla mission to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web for users and developers.  As billions of users are expected to come online for the first time in the coming years, it is important to deliver a compelling smartphone experience that anyone can use,”.

That last bit is a bit reminiscent of Nokia’s S40 and Meltemi plan for “the next billion” – and we know where that has gotten them. Many have tried, and many have failed, but if Mozilla can compete with the likes of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, then it will pave the way for true openness with mobile devices.

According to their roadmap schedule, their next milestone will be July 20th, which marks full completion of Gecko and Gaia functionality and moves towards more optimizations. Based on the timeline already completed, we might see a functional developer device within the next few months. Who knows, within the year, you might be staring at the below image while your phone boots up.