Tag Archives: iphone

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iPhone 5s Touch ID sensor is a Big Deal

Updates (September 12, 2013):

Since this post was published, more information has become clear. First, this MacWorld article has details about the Touch ID fingerprint reader. It’s very interesting.

Second, Apple pulled the iCloud Keychain feature from iOS 7 GM. This makes Touch ID a lot less useful. It looks like access to Touch ID is also not yet allowed for third party apps. This is a shame. My guess is that these two things have been delayed, not cancelled. Perhaps iOS 7.1 released alongside OS X Mavericks, which still lists iCloud Keychain as a feature?

Security vs Convenience

There is always a battle between security and convenience. Not only when it comes to technology, but in every aspect of our lives. Otherwise we wouldn’t have locks in our house doors that force us to carry keys everywhere.

When it comes to personal computing, the importance of security has increased exponentially. Smartphones are computers that have lots of personal data and that we carry with us everywhere. Contacts, email, apps with financial info, photographs of our family with embedded GPS coordinates… Someone with malicious intent can do a lot of damage if they get to your phone.

Not only do we carry all this with us, but we keep a lot of personal information online. Some websites may be good about safeguarding it. But many aren’t. Stolen databases are scarily common.

To make things worse, most people re-use the same password (or a few of them) everywhere. And to make things even worse, computer power and sophisticated tools for brute-force cracking of passwords are more effective than you would think, especially if you aren’t using particularly strong passwords.

Why do we do this? It’s the battle. We have limited human memories, and typing strong passwords on a phone is a pain in the ass. Tools like 1Password (I’m a big fan) are very helpful but they still add a layer of inconvenience to the user experience.

Fixing the security issue while adding convenience

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Touch ID is a new fingerprint sensor that lives inside the home button of the iPhone 5s. Someone who doesn’t understand security may think it’s boring. But this both improves security (put your finger on the button, the software fills in a unique strong password for you) and removes inconvenience.

Other iPhone 5s features are important but incremental improvements: better camera, faster processor… this one is a leap in functionality. It’s a solution to one of the most annoying usability aspects of smartphones: typing passwords at all times. And it’s a solution to the most glaring problem with most user’s security: reusing weak passwords.

Why wasn’t it done before

Surely you’ve seen Lenovo or Dell laptops with fingerprint readers. Why didn’t anyone slap one on a phone before?

Because they sucked. They are large, slow, require a swipe, in a specific direction and are inaccurate. I don’t know of anyone who uses his other than when mandated by work. Just read this.

Now see the video about Touch ID.

All these technical challenges had to be solved in order to embed a fingerprint sensor into the iPhone 5s. There is a special new sensor, a sapphire crystal button, special co-processor hardware in the A7 chip for storing and decoding fingerprints, and code in the operating system to integrate the functionality. No other company could pull something like this off. Not Google, not Microsoft, not Samsung.

Mapping it all out

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Anyone who is tech-savvy enough to read this blog has undoubtedly heard about the “Apple Maps debacle”. The press has written lots and lots about it – some justified, most over-simplified link bait, as follows:

  1. Apple hates Google ‘cuz they copied the iPhone
  2. Apple wants Google off the iPhone so it created its own Maps, got rid of Google Maps
  3. Apple Maps suck.

The reality is, of course, much more complicated. Since their negotiations happen behind closed doors, all we can do is use what we know and speculate on the rest. My take follows.

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Sprint LTE sightings in Austin

LTE service has been randomly popping up on my iPhone 5 in the North Austin area these past couple of days. Note that Sprint LTE has not yet launched in town.

It only lasts for a few minutes, and the speeds may differ from what we’ll get once it goes live. But the fact that they are testing is a sign that the launch is imminent.

Proof:

Obviously, when I saw LTE, I had to run a speed test. Speeds were a little disappointing compared with what I’ve read about LTE; but are about a million times better than the notoriously slow Sprint 3G service. Boy I hate CDMA.

For comparison’s sake, here are other results I’ve gotten. They vary from run to run and each run depends on a lot of factors, like how far you are sitting from the cell phone tower or WiFi station, or how much other network traffic there is at the moment. But they do provide a good idea of what to expect:

Provider Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Sprint LTE (Austin, test) 76 7.77 0.71
Sprint 3G (Austin) 332 0.21 0.44
Sprint LTE (Woodlands) 56 7.95 9.44
Home (Time Warner Cable) 85 16.90 2.18
Work (jealous?) 48 48.35 23.76
AT&T LTE (Austin) 57 30.05 19.45

As you can see, 3G is soooo slow you can almost hear this. Can’t wait for LTE to go live.

Update: Reader Rolando O. sent a screenshot of SpeedTest results in AT&T LTE. They are amazing. I’ve added the numbers to the table.

Google is not making any friends

From Counternotions:

For over a decade, Microsoft — the monopolist of its era — treated its customers on Macs as second-class. Its Office suite never achieved parity with its Windows sibling, even when the differences were not dictated by platform architectures. Whether it was document compatibility, font-metrics, macros, integration with other Microsoft software or myriad other gotchas, Mac versions were always lacking. Every new version of Office promised better compatibility but never really delivered it. Worse, Microsoft never quite integrated Apple-grown technologies into Office to better blend it into the Mac ecosystem, claiming it would break cross-platform compatibility with the Windows versions.

Sadly, this wasn’t an occasional inconvenience but a source of daily frustration for millions of paying customers, corporations and individuals alike. With business so dependent on Office, Microsoft’s message was loud and clear: if you want the real thing switch to Windows.

Sufficiently annoyed by all the trouble, some users did.

Most didn’t, and haven’t forgiven Microsoft ever since.

Therein lies a lesson for Google

I should not need to spell out the analogy they are making, but here it goes anyway:

“Google Maps is to iOS is what Microsoft Office is to Mac OS”

To be fair, Mac users resent Microsoft for more than that. After all, Microsoft ripped off Apple’s groundbreaking user interface whole-heartedly when they created MS Windows.

Oh, wait…

Samsung vs Apple

The Samsung vs Apple trial opened today. Apple is accusing Samsung of “slavishly copying” its designs, specifically for the iPhone and the iPad.

Samsung is a gigantic company that can put together impressive high-technology products like almost no other company in the world. They build components (screens, chips) and they build end products. They should be admired for this.

But it’s obvious to me that there is a deeply ingrained culture of copying other companies’ successful designs and not respecting their intellectual property. They make the highest quality, most reputable KIRFs. The phone market is probably where this shows the most obvious. This is not new and is not just about Apple.

Examples:

Does this phone remind you of any other phone? Perhaps one that was quite successful a just few years ago? If you can’t see how this phone is a close copy of Blackberry, then let me convince you: coincidentally, this phone was named “Blackjack“. Is that close enough?

Here’s a slightly older model. Its thin flip-phone form factor may remind you of a very popular phone made by Motorola in the mid-2000s: the RAZR. It could have been worse, of course… they could have called it Samsung BLDE. Instead Samsung kept all the vowels and called it Blade. To avoid confusion, of course.

And here is the Samsung Galaxy at the heart of the lawsuit, next to an iPhone. Even the background color of the phone app icon is the same! At least they did not call it sPhone or iSamsung. So… copy or gigantic coincidence?

There’s many more examples floating around the web: cables, packaging, their tablet. We’ll see how it develops. Samsung may get away with it because what they did is still legal as defined by the law. But nobody should pretend that there’s no copying going on.

iOS 6.0 feature request

In 2007 I posted a long list of “seemingly obvious” missing software features on the iPhone, which ran what was then known as OS X Mobile and today Apple calls iOS. Since then, most were either implemented (video, VoIP, games, etc.) or are no longer desired (Flash, Java).

I thought I’d revisit now, a month away from WWDC where there is a good chance that iOS 6.0 will be announced, even though I don’t think any of these are “seemingly obvious” anymore.

  • Better Maps
    The Maps app has not evolved that much since 2007. Android has a lot more feature including crude 3D and driving instructions. Since Apple has purchased a bunch of mapping-related companies and the rumors point to it, this one may come soon.
  • Live Home Screen
    I had this in the original list as “Dashboard / Widget support”. Apps should have the ability to display live information on the Home Screen without the need to launch them. Right now only Calendar updates the date and items inside Newsstand update the front page. And I guess apps can show badges. Not enough. In addition, it would be nice if the icons could be of different sizes (1×2, 2×2, 2×3, etc.) for added flexibility.
  • 3rd party Notification Center additions
    3rd party apps should be able to display stuff inside Notification Center similar to how Stocks and Weather do it today.
  • AirPlay receiver
    It would be cool if you could not just send, but receive audio and video using AirPlay. This can be done through an app that you need to open, that’s cool.
  • 3rd party Siri integration
    This may be the most obvious one, but allowing apps to add feature to Siri can be really useful: “Weightbot, save today’s weight as 162.4″. “Domino’s pizza, order the usual to my house to be delivered at 8 PM”.
  • Unified Contacts
    The ability to gather and consolidate all your contact information from multiple sources, like Facebook, Twitter, iCloud, etc. WebOS has (had?) this as “Synergy“.
  • Simplified logins
    Have you ever restored your phone? You need to go to several different places to enter your password several different times. iMessage, FaceTime, GameCenter, AppStore, Home Sharing… it’s terrible! This should be streamlined!

Do you have any other suggestions?