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Amazon smartphone head-tracking and 3D UI detailed, possible device prototype leaks

Posted by Marshal , 16 April 2014 · 60 views

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As we told you this past weekend, The Wall Street Journal has it on good authority that the online retail giant Amazon is gearing up to launch its rumored smartphone with a 3D screen around September, after entering the crowded living room market with its own $99 set-top box, the Fire TV.

TechCrunch is now chiming in with new details regarding the handset’s head-tracking capabilities that are thought to offer up some “limited 3D effects” via a few built-in gestures. Also, a scoop from BGR claims to show a prototype Amazon smartphone device that may or may not have entered in production…

Citing a source with first-hand experience of the Amazon smartphone, TechCrunch writer Matt Burns is reporting that Project Smith – as the Amazon smartphone is referred to internally – involves a device code-named Duke that includes head-tracking.

WSJ previously said that the phone incorporates a screen capable of displaying 3D images without the need for special glasses, by using retina-tracking technology via its four front-facing cameras and now TechCrunch offers more by way of detail than is evident in WSJ’s story.


By way of four corner-mounted, front-facing cameras, a user can tilt the smartphone left or right to browse and access hidden side panels.

We’re told that the 3D feature is very limited out of the box. At launch, there will be just a couple of added gestures built into the operating system that utilize this system.

Contrary to previous reports, this is done through head tracking alone and does not use eye tracking at all. Amazon never worked on eye tracking for its smartphones, TechCrunch learned.


Duke is allegedly a flagship Amazon smartphone running “a heavily modified version of Android.” Amazon is typically all about low price so there may multiple models in the pipeline to cover a wide gamut of price points.

BGR claims that the handset will feature a custom 3D interface “unlike anything we have seen before on a smartphone,” starting with wallpapers on the lock screen that shift as you tilt the device, which reminds us of the iOS parallax effect.

The effect extends to Home screen icons and other UI elements.

We’re told that moving the phone while using the maps application will change the view of various objects on the screen.


Another smart use for the phone’s 3D effects is across Amazon’s various stores, such as its book store, music store and the main Amazon digital market. By shifting the position of the phone, users are able to see three-dimensional product images at different angles to reveal surfaces that cannot be seen in 2D photos.

Third-party developers should be able to take advantage of the phone’s 3D interface via a set of APIs.

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We don’t have a release date yet because Amazon has yet to formally announce its handset.

According to the WSJ, a few developers in San Francisco and Seattle have been given access to the device to produce some key apps in time for the launch. If the financial paper’s sources are correct, Amazon will unveil the phone by June and ship it by the end of September.

A TechCrunch source was able to confirm this schedule, indicating that the Amazon smartphone will take on Apple’s rumored 4.7 and 5.5-inch iPhones. Pretty much every handset maker out there will be releasing their high-end devices ahead of the holiday season so it’s going to be a crowded Fall, indeed.

Do you care about the Amazon smartphone and would you buy one if the price was right?


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iTunes Radio expanding to UK soon, iAd director meets with UK ad agencies

Posted by Marshal , 16 April 2014 · 64 views

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More signs are pointing to an imminent iTunes Radio launch in the United Kingdom. The company recently banned London-based music streaming service Bloom.fm from advertising on its iAd platform citing competitive reasons and now Apple’s iAd director is meeting with the country’s ad agencies, seemingly in preparation for iTunes Radio roll-out in the 63 million people market of United Kingdom…

According to a tweet by Omnicom Media Group’s (OMG) head of UK marketing Hannah Allen (via 9to5Mac), Apple’s iAd director Paul Wright met with OMG representatives ahead of iTunes Radio roll-out in the United Kingdom.

The executive apparently took OMD representatives through iAd and iTunes Radio.

“Can’t wait for that to hit UK,” Hannah enthused over the prospect of iTunes Radio in UK.




It’s interesting that Paul Wright – who, again, is Apple’s iAd guy – used to be a director at OMD. According to Wright’s LinkedIn profile, he is currently iAd director for the EMEIA region, which includes Europe, the Middle East, India and Asia.

iTunes Radio offers ad-supported radio stations on iOS devices and desktop iTunes, with iTunes Match subscribers getting ad-free listening experience with unlimited song skipping (if you’re jailbroken, there’s a tweak to take care of that).

The service is currently available in the United States and Australia and is said to expand to Canada, New Zealand and various Nordic countries in the first half of 2014.

According to Bloomberg, Apple hopes to be in 100 countries with iTunes Radio by late 2015.

Apple recently added NPR’s free streaming news channel to iTunes Radio so similar partnerships with content producers other than record labels remain a viable possibility.

According to Edison Research, iTunes Radio with its eight percent share has become the third most popular streaming music service in the United States, right behind #2 iHeartRadio (nine percent) and the nation’s most popular Internet radio service Pandora, which owns 31 percent of the U.S. streaming music market.

If the rumor-mill is right, Apple is toying with making iTunes Radio a standalone app in iOS 8 to help boost engagement and increase ad sales on the service.

Do you listen to iTunes Radio?


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Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner isn’t immune, can also be tricked like iPhone 5s

Posted by Marshal , 16 April 2014 · 147 views

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The fingerprint scanner on Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S5 is suffering from the same security flaw as the fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5s, creating a bit of a risk for owners.

Germany-based security blog H Security found that using a wood glue mold from the fingerprint already set on the Galaxy S5, someone else could gain unauthorized access to your phone. Given Samsung’s fingerprint scanner tie-ins with the PayPal app, this means not only contacts and photos are up for grabs, but mobile payments, as well.

H Security used the same mold as it did for the iPhone 5s’ Touch ID, but the Galaxy S5 has more security concerns. The mold was taken from a photo of a fingerprint on a smartphone screen, rather than directly from a person’s finger.

Apple requires users input their password one time after rebooting their iPhone 5s, however, the Galaxy S5 doesn’t require a password and lets you use your finger – or a spoof to gain unauthorized access – right off the bat. You don’t even need a password on the PayPal app on the Galaxy S5, once again, just your finger.




“Despite being one of the premium phone’s flagship features, Samsung’s implementation of fingerprint authentication leaves much to be desired,” a SRLabs researcher said in a video on Tuesday. “The finger scanner feature in Samsung’s Galaxy S5 raises additional security concerns to those already voiced about comparable implementations.”

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 has made it into the Fast Online Alliance that works to ensure mobile security, which essentially means Samsung isn’t sending your fingerprint to the cloud, and is instead storing it locally like on the iPhone 5s.

“While we take the findings from Security Research Labs very seriously, we are still confident that fingerprint authentication offers an easier and more secure way to pay on mobile devices than passwords or credit cards,” PayPal said in a statement to BGR on Tuesday. “PayPal never stores or even has access to your actual fingerprint with authentication on the Galaxy S5. The scan unlocks a secure cryptographic key that serves as a password replacement for the phone.”

While it may not sound likely that someone’s going to lift your fingerprint, the fact that there isn’t another safety check on the Galaxy S5 could be a cause for concern.


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Apple joins Google, HTC and others to curb smartphone theft

Posted by Marshal , 16 April 2014 · 48 views

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Apple has entered into the “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment” with HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and others, to curb the smartphone theft epidemic that has been plaguing many city streets.

Under the voluntary agreement, the manufacturers are planning to add several new security features to their smartphones going on sale after July 2015, to make for an industry standard.

Under the Commitment, manufacturers’ smartphones must:
  • Remote wipe the authorized user’s data (i.e., erase personal info that is added after purchase such as contacts, photos, emails, etc.) that is on the smartphone in the event it is lost or stolen.
  • Render the smartphone inoperable to an unauthorized user (e.g., locking the smartphone so it cannot be used without a password or PIN), except in accordance with FCC rules for 911 emergency communications, and if available, emergency numbers programmed by the authorized user (e.g., “phone home”).
  • Prevent reactivation without authorized user’s permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible (e.g., locking the smartphone as in 2 above).
  • Reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user and restore user data on the smartphone to the extent feasible (e.g., restored from the cloud).

While many of these features are already used by Apple, such a standard across all manufacturers could deter thieves if they know the phone they steal won’t be usable. Furthermore, the agreement gives the smartphone manufacturers backing from carriers to help execute the “kill switch” that would make the smartphone unusable once stolen.

Even with all these features on a smartphone, users must have them turned on. For example, Apple’s “Find My iPhone” feature allows users to play sound to find their device to find it, put it in “Lost Mode” that locks it with a password, and the ability to completely erase the phone data.

“We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen,” Steve Largent, CTIA President, said in a statement. “This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain. At the same time, it’s important different technologies are available so that a ‘trap door’ isn’t created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals.”

The full list of smartphone manufacturers and networks taking part include Apple, Asurion, AT&T, Google, HTC America, Huawei Device USA, Motorola Mobility, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung America, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, US Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. in conjunction with the CTIA wireless association.

New York York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in January 2013 that one in three robberies in the US involves a stolen smartphone, and pushed for the “smartphone kill switch” to be adopted by every manufacturer. Several other cities have worked to pass legislation to make the “kill switch” necessary.

“As the sponsor of pending legislation that seeks to mandate ‘kill switch’ technology on all smartphones sold in Chicago, I commend the smartphone industry for its cooperative efforts, but will remain watchful that these commitments are both upheld and result in the shared goal of reducing smartphone thefts citywide,” Edward Burke, a Chicago Alderman, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Until Google released the Android Device Manager in August 2013, Android users didn’t have a Google-backed way to track down their stolen smartphone, and had to rely on third-party solutions. The Android Device Manager has similar features as Apple’s tracking technology.

Even with the Google technology, the caveat is every Android manufacturer doesn’t pre-package tracking technology on their smartphones like Apple does, making it unknown to some users. That will soon change.


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Apple now refunding unwanted in-app purchases

Posted by Marshal , 25 March 2014 · 661 views

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Following numerous probes by government agencies and looming class action lawsuits the company is now facing around the world, Apple is finally reaching out to customers to inform them they may be entitled to refunds concerning unwanted in-app purchases made by minors due to weak iOS Restrictions at the time.

Last year, the iPhone maker reluctantly settled with the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding in-app purchases, agreeing to compensate consumers and modify its in-app billing system by March 31 to make things a little clearer for its customers…

Apple’s email communiqué provides refund instructions and reads as follows:

Dear iTunes account owner,

Apple is committed to providing parents and kids with a great experience on the App Store. We review all app content before allowing it on our store, provide a wide range of age-appropriate content, and include parental controls in iOS to make it easy for parents to restrict or disable access to content.

We’ve heard from some customers that it was too easy for their kids to make in-app purchases. As a result, we’ve improved controls for parents so they can better manage their children’s purchases, or restrict them entirely. Additionally, we are offering refunds in certain cases.

Please follow the steps to submit a refund request:

Find your in-app purchase records. Check your email for iTunes receipts or use a computer to sign in to your iTunes account and view your Purchase History.

Use this link to submit your refund request to Apple.

Provide the requested information and enter “Refund for in-App Purchases made by a minor” in the Details section.

Apple will review your request and contact you via email about your refund status. All refund requests must be submitted no later than April 15, 2015.



You can access your purchase history in iTunes for Mac or Windows by hitting the button with your Apple ID on it, choosing Account from a drop-down menu and then clicking the See All link under the Purchase History section.

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You can request a refund by contacting Apple here.

All requests must be submitted by April 15, 2015.

Following your request, Apple should get in touch with you via email.

As part of Apple’s understanding with the FTC, the firm has earmarked a total of $32.5 million for refunds. By the way, iOS 7.1 has brought out a minor refinement to the iOS In-App Purchase mechanism which now warns users of the 15-minute cut-off window for in-app purchase.

“You can now make additional purchase in any app for the next 15 minutes without reentering your password, reads the prompt.

That change is, however, purely cosmetic as Apple has yet to introduce necessary changes to how it handles in-app purchases ahead of the March 31 deadline.

On top of the FTC settlement, Apple is also dealing with a handful of class-action lawsuits from disgruntled parents, in one instance having issued individual refunds to parents of up to $6,000.

Parents can disable in-app purchases system-wide under Restrictions in iOS Settings.

Could have Apple handled this issue better before it blew up?


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RollerCoaster Tycoon coming soon to iOS

Posted by Marshal , 19 March 2014 · 211 views

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I’m what you would call a ’90′s’ kid. I grew up during the decade, watching cartoons like Doug and Rugrats and playing video games like Sim City. And over the years, I’ve seen a lot of these video games get remade for,or ported to, iOS—except for my favorite one: RollerCoaster Tycoon.

Well I’m happy to announce that this is going to change soon. Atari has confirmed via the original game’s landing page that it is working on a mobile version of RollerCoaster Tycoon, and it will be coming to the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch shortly. Oh and don’t worry, we have a trailer…




And here’s the accompanying text (via Cult of Mac):

Based on the beloved RollerCoaster Tycoon® franchise, RollerCoaster Tycoon® 4 Mobile™ is coming soon to your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch!

Create and share the coolest amusement park of your dreams and construct incredible roller coasters to keep your visitors excited. Build the best park, unlock new materials, and exchange roller coaster blueprints with friends to become the ultimate RollerCoaster Tycoon®!



For those unfamiliar with the original title, RollerCoaster Tycoon was a construction and management simulation game that simulated amusement park management. The goal was to build custom roller coasters and other attractions in an effort to make your park as profitable as possible.

As for the mobile version, we don’t know much about the game other than that it will feature 20 pre-designed roller coasters and other rides and a new touch-based UI for building your own. You’ll also be able to invite friends to your park and share your custom coaster builds with others.

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The mobile game is set for an ‘early spring launch,’ but we have yet to hear anything about pricing. To be honest, we’re crossing our fingers that it’ll come in between $5 and $10 so Atari doesn’t have to pollute it with in-app purchases. There’s also supposedly a new desktop game in the works.

So, who’s excited for RCT mobile?


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Apple named most valuable ‘billion dollar brand’ in the US

Posted by Marshal , 19 March 2014 · 505 views

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A new report was released yesterday by brand consulting agency Brand Finance, naming the top “billion dollar brands” in the United States. The list was compiled estimating the royalty rate that would be charged to use a company’s brand and combing that with expected future revenue.

Unsurprisingly, Apple was ranked number one by a long shot, with a value of $104.7 billion. The iPad-maker is the most valuable company in the world in terms of market cap, and has taken the top spot several times in other brand value lists. Google came in second place at $68.6 billion…

Here’s the breakdown of the top 10 most valuable companies via Brand Finance:
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Behind Google is Microsoft in third place, Verizon in second and General Electric in third, valued at $62.8 billion, $53.5 billion and $52.5 billion respectively. Interestingly enough, tech companies accounted for 5 of the top 10 spots and the heavyweight Coca-Cola brand came in 10th place.

I didn’t think there were many surprises in the top 10, but I was taken aback by the placement of some other companies in Brand Finance’s full top 500 list (you can view the full list here). For example, Dell and Yahoo! didn’t make it into the top 50, and Facebook barely made the cut.

Obviously you can’t put too much stock in a single report like this, but the fact that Apple has also been named #1 in other reports must mean it’s doing something right.

What do you think, is Apple the most valuable brand in the US right now?


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Flappy Bird developer confirms he’s bringing back the hit game

Posted by Marshal , 19 March 2014 · 373 views

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Watch out Flappy Bird copycats, the original is making a comeback. Developer Dong Nguyen has confirmed with fans on Twitter that he is restoring his hit game to its rightful place in the App Store, although he hasn’t given a specific launch date.

Nguyen is also on hand at this week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and several developers and gamers that have run in to him at the event have said the same thing: that Flappy Bird will be making its highly-anticipated comeback…


At the height of its popularity, Flappy Bird was earning more than $50,000 per day in ad revenue. And even since it’s been pulled, the game still earns Nguyen a healthy amount of money thanks to the millions of people still playing FB on their devices.

So why put a stop to such a lucrative business? In an interview earlier this month, Nguyen told Rolling Stone that he pulled Flappy Bird from the App Store due to all of the unwanted attention, but he did mention he was considering bringing the game back.

“Since taking Flappy Bird down, he says he’s felt “relief. I can’t go back to my life before, but I’m good now.” As for the future of his flapper, he’s still turning down offers to purchase the game. Nguyen refuses to compromise his independence. But will Flappy Bird ever fly again? “I’m considering it,” Nguyen says. He’s not working on a new version, but if he ever releases one it will come with a “warning,” he says: “Please take a break.”



Since the original was removed, thousands of Flappy Bird copycats have made their way into the App Store, and a handful have even taken turns at the top of the Top Charts. The fad seems to be dying out now, though, as there’s currently only 1 in the Top 10.


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You could be using your iPhone to pay for your burgers next month

Posted by Marshal , 19 March 2014 · 264 views

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Bloomberg is reporting this afternoon that Burger King, the second-largest burger chain in the US, is introducing an app next month that will allow customers to pay for their Whoppers with smartphones. The outlet says the move is part of an ongoing effort to lure in young diners.

According to a company spokesman, the program will launch in early April in select stores, and should be available in all of Burger King’s 7,000+ American locations within a “few months.” The chain is also looking at adding the ability to order food and drinks for in-store pickup…

Here’s Bloomberg’s Leslie Patton:

The program will be introduced next month and should be in all of Burger King’s more than 7,000 U.S. locations in “a few months,” Bryson Thornton, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement. The option to order food and drinks ahead of time for later in-store pickup may be added, he said. [...]

Burger King’s app, developed by Tillster Inc., will give customers coupons for deals, such as $1 any-size drinks and free fries, as well as nutrition facts. To pay with mobile phones, users can load value onto a virtual card within the app.



Starbucks has long allowed customers to pay for their orders with their iPhones, and some fast food chains like Subway even allow you to place your order from your phone ahead of time and pick it up in store. Other restaurants offer incentives in their apps like coupons and daily deals.

This is an important space to watch as rumors continue to bounce around that Apple is working on its own mobile payment service that would allow you to make similar transactions. It looks like companies got tired of waiting for a solution, so they’ve decided to come up with their own.


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Microsoft Office for iPad reportedly launching March 27

Posted by Marshal , 18 March 2014 · 580 views

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Last week, Reuters reported that Microsoft had a full version of its Office suite ready to release for the iPhone and iPad, it just wasn’t sure when the company would pull the trigger. Well it looks like we may have just found the answer: this month.

According to a pair of scoops by both The Verge and ZDNet, Microsoft has scheduled a March 27 press briefing to discuss “the intersection of cloud and mobile computing.” And it’s going to use the event to launch the long-awaited Office for iPad…

Here’s The Verge’s Tom Warren with more:

“Satya Nadella is planning to host his first press event as Microsoft CEO next week. The software maker has been inviting members of the media to a special cloud- and mobile-focused event in San Francisco on March 27th. Nadella is expected to discuss Microsoft’s ”mobile first, cloud first” strategy, and there will be some major news ahead of the company’s Build conference in early April. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the event will mark the introduction of Office for iPad.”



Warren goes on to say that Office for iPad will fully support document creation and editing in all included Office apps. Unfortunately, it sounds like it will require an Office 365 subscription, and offer similar features and UI to the current iPhone version.

Microsoft is also said to be readying a long-awaited update for its Office suite on the Mac, expected to be released sometime this year, and earlier today, the company launched its note-taking app OneNote in the Mac App Store. It’s free for a limited time.