Friday, January 30, 2015

Google Set to Offer More 3rd Party App Integration In Google Now

Google Now is widely considered one of the most popular features of the Google platform. The mobile assistant for Android devices (and Chrome) offers users quick views of relevant information they need the most.

Starting today Google is rolling out an update that will make Google Now an even more important part of your day by allowing third-party apps to integrate directly with the service. With this new update, apps like Airbnb, eBay, Lyft, and as many as 40 others will directly deliver information to you via your Google Now cards without you having to actually open up the app.

The entire list of the 40 different apps that Google Now currently supports can be found here, but some of the most noteworthy inclusions are Kayak, Pandora, TripAdvisor, Zillow and Ford. In addition to app integration you'll also see more Now cards from emails directed to you from your favorite sites that are utilizing Gmail and Google Now mark-up. This means you'll never miss those emails from sites like CheapTickets, or UrbanSpoon.

In order to see these new Google Now cards you'll still need to have the app installed, and for now this third-party app integration will only work on Android. However, Google has said they are working to expand integration with more 3rd party apps and they are likely looking to expand availability beyond Android.

For those interested in more details here is the full list of available apps and you can view a bunch of examples at Google Now's home page.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Apple Watch Coming In April, What We Know About The New Wearable

Details of Apple's "most personal device ever" are still awaiting final cuts, but thanks to Apple CEO Tim Cook we do finally have one major piece of the puzzle. Speaking during this week's major 1Q earnings report, Cook confirmed that the new Apple Watch, first introduced back in September, will begin shipping as early as April.

"We’re making great progress in the development of it," Cook said. He also revealed that Apple is encouraged by the response from developers and app makers so far, saying "We’re seeing some incredible innovation."

This week is the first time Apple has publicly commented on the product's release date beyond a vague window of "early 2015."

What we know about the Apple Watch so far!

Other than the tentative release date Cook did not reveal much of anything related to the device itself beyond reiterating a starting price point of $349 which we heard in September. So far what we know from the previous reports is that the Apple Watch will be made available in three styles: the regular model, an Apple Watch Sport version aimed at active consumers, and an ultra-premium Apple Watch Edition.

Much like many of the early entries into the wearable market Apple's first generation watch will be designed to be a companion device to the iPhone, and as such, it requires an iPhone to function. Sorry Android fans you likely won't see support EVER! According to Apple, they have designed the Watch specifically as a companion device because they initially want Apple Watch apps to be entirely powered by the iPhone to preserve battery life, something that has been speculated as an issue with the new device.

As for Apple Watch design details customers will have the option of either an ion-strengthened or flexible sapphire display (depending on model), which includes an HD Retina screen with sapphire-covered sensors built into the zirconia backing. There will be two face options featuring a rounded rectangular body in two separate sizes (38 and 42mm) that is able to snap easily into an array of interchangeable bands. In total, there are six different body options: Stainless Steel, Space Black Stainless Steel, Silver Aluminum, Space Gray Aluminum, 18-karat gold, and 18-karat rose gold.

On the technical side we know the smaller 38mm Apple Watch has a resolution of 272 x 340, while the larger 42mm Apple Watch has a resolution of 312 x 390. Powering the wearable will be a custom designed S1 processor chip built specifically for the Apple Watch, which integrates several different subsystems into a single module. The S1 chip is said to be similar in power to the A5 processor in the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4s. It houses a gyroscope and an accelerometer to measure activity, and a sensor that detects heart rate. Topping it all will be a new NFC chip to allow the devices to work with Apple's new Apple Pay mobile payment service.

For their new Watch OS, Apple has built an entirely new operating system, which combines a bit of the old and new featuring cues from iOS 7 and iOS 8. The new Watch OS performs several different functions, including displaying the watch face, the home screen, full on apps, and notifications or quick information, which Apple calls "Glances."

Watch OS will run any number of applications from the basics of sending/receiving messages and calls to playing music, reviewing mail or calendar entries to viewing maps and weather. More advanced features include using the Watch as a remote for an Apple TV or a remote for your iPhone's camera. Watch OS and =the Apple Watch will support third-party apps, however we have not seen many details as to which companies may or may not be offering those as of yet.

One thing is for certain, whether or not you like the wearable market, given their market share and consumerist view of Apple's products. Their impending entry to the market is certain to make big waves!

For more info view the Apple Watch landing page

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Microsoft Will Give Windows 7 and 8.1 Users Windows 10 For Free [Update]

During today's Windows 10 announcement Microsoft officially announced a free upgrade offer for the company's latest operating system.

For the first year after Windows 10 launches, any device running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, or Windows Phone 8.1 will be able to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft's OS — for free. The details on exactly how the program will work were not released just yet — we expect it'll certainly be subject to some sort of hardware requirements, particularly for older machines running Windows 7 and may have some other stipulation attached. Well have more details once they are available. 

Microsoft's Terry Myerson made the announcement with a vision of a more unified Windows — a world where asking "What version are you running" no longer makes sense. "We need our work in the hands of our customers." he said. Giving it away for free sounds like a good start.

The new upgrade will have a heavy focus on smart, Cortana-powered voice control. It will also feature a unified platform that uses the same code for the same apps on desktop and laptop PCs, tablets, phones and even game consoles. It's a better gaming platform — using that unified code to give PC gamers direct access to their friends on Xbox Live, enabling cross-platform multiplayer, game DVR features and even local, in-home streaming of Xbox One games to a nearby PC. Microsoft is even replacing Internet Explorer, yes that is a big shocker for us too.

If we can take anything from today's announcement it is that it will be a big UPDATE. As for now Microsoft has been pretty quiet on release dates, pricing for none-upgrades and any other information other than the fact that Windows 10 is said to feature a ton of new improvements over its predecessors. For those wanting to see a few you can still download the Windows 10 preview.

Update: A follow-up blog post from Terry Myerson offers a bit more detail as to what Microsoft's overall goal for Windows 10 and the new upgrade service will be. "Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10, we'll be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device. With Windows 10, we think of Windows as a service." writes Myerson.

In other words Windows 10 users will likely see a similar continuous stream of updates to what the technical preview folks are seeing today.  We'll see a new set of upgrade options varied to the consumers taste or needs. Once you add Windows 10 to your device, so long as you have that device, you'll see options to either be continually update with new features as soon as they're available, block all new gets new features, and most likely even see an option that allows administrators to roll out new features at their own pace. Security updates will be published at the same rate they are today. This new update scheme is an effort to balance delivering new features to consumers while not upsetting businesses that prefer to roll updates out more slowly.

Study Shows People Still Haven't Learned Their Lesson When It Comes To Bad Passwords

Geeks everywhere know the risks associated with using weak, obvious or easily guessed passwords. However, despite the uptick of data breaches, followed by numerous warnings, the general public still seems to remain totally oblivious to the risk!

According to a recent report from a company called SplashData, it appears as though we are still seeing widespread usage of  extremely obvious passwords such as "1,2,3,4,5, 6" (or a shorter combination) password, or even worse, general words like names and names of super heroes. Why are these worse you might ask, well because people wrongfully think they are safer and more secure when in fact they are much less secure. (More on that later though).

SpashData compiles the company's annual listing of the most popular passwords through a list of those leaked in high profile data breaches from the previous year. According to SplashData, the passwords evaluated for the 2014 list were mostly held by users in North America and Western Europe. In 2014, millions of passwords from Russian accounts were also leaked, but these passwords were not included in the analysis.

The top 25 list contains the following:
  1. 123456 (Unchanged from 2013)
  2. password (Unchanged)
  3. 12345 (Up 17)
  4. 12345678 (Down 1)
  5. qwerty (Down 1)
  6. 1234567890 (Unchanged)
  7. 1234 (Up 9)
  8. baseball (New)
  9. dragon (New)
  10. football (New)
  11. 1234567 (Down 4)
  12. monkey (Up 5)
  13. letmein (Up 1)
  14. abc123 (Down 9)
  15. 111111 (Down 8)
  16. mustang (New)
  17. access (New)
  18. shadow (Unchanged)
  19. master (New)
  20. michael (New)
  21. superman (New)
  22. 696969 (New)
  23. 123123 (Down 12)
  24. batman (New)
  25. trustno1 (Down 1)

“Passwords based on simple patterns on your keyboard remain popular despite how weak they are,” said Morgan Slain, CEO of SplashData. “Any password using numbers alone should be avoided, especially sequences. As more websites require stronger passwords or combinations of letters and numbers, longer keyboard patterns are becoming common passwords, and they are still not secure.”
For example, users should avoid a sequence such as “qwertyuiop,” which is the top row of letters on a standard keyboard, or “1qaz2wsx” which comprises the first two ‘columns’ of numbers and letters on a keyboard.

Other tips from a review of this year’s Worst Passwords List include:
  •   Don’t use a favorite sport as your password – “baseball” and “football” are in top 10, and “hockey,” “soccer” and “golfer” are in the top 100. Don’t use a favorite team either, as “yankees,” “eagles,” “steelers,” “rangers,” and “lakers” are all in the top 100.
  •   Don’t use your birthday or especially just your birth year -- 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992 are all in the top 100.
  •   While baby name books are popular for naming children, don’t use them as sources for picking passwords. Common names such as “michael,” “jennifer,” “thomas,” “jordan,” “hunter,” “michelle,” “charlie,” “andrew,” and “daniel” are all in the top 50.
Also in the top 100 are swear words and phrases, hobbies, famous athletes, car brands, and film names. None of these are truly secure or should be seen as viable passwords. Users get a false sense of security by changing from using traditional number only combination to using common words. Something that puts your information at extreme risk! Brute Force hacking using a database, often large collections of words from the dictionary. Therefore it is best to avoid common words entirely and use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters.

SplashData offers three simple tips to be safer from hackers online:
1.    Use passwords of eight characters or more with mixed types of characters.
2.    Avoid using the same username/password combination for multiple websites.
3.    Use a password manager to organize and protect passwords, generate random passwords, and automatically log into websites.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Folding@Home Now Lets Your Smartphone Cure Diseases While You Sleep

For most of the world, when you sleep your electronics do too. However, for those of us that are geeky enough to know you know that doesn't have to be the case. Thanks to some amazing distributed computing projects you can use those 'sleeping' devices to actually do some really important work!

Distributed computing uses the power of a network of connected devices to spread out the workloads needed to solve computational problems. One such problem is that of protein folding, which happens in only a few milliseconds, too fast for even the most powerful lab computer. While the immediate answer might be "build a more powerful computer", another solution is the more efficient use of building a DC project. Folding@Home is one such project.

While we are all aware of the raw computing power of our PCs, devices like your Sony PS3 actually pack a great deal of computing prowess. For years Folding@Home users have connected these devices to the distributed computing network to help Stanford University scientists studying Alzheimer's, Huntington's, Parkinson's, and many cancers by simply running a piece of software on their devices.

Now, thanks to a partnership between Sony and  Dr Vijay Pande, a doctor in biology and structural chemistry at Stanford, and a key member of the Folding@Home team – the collective power stored in your smartphone can be used to dramatically speed up the fight against diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The team hopes that the new Folding@Home Android app will significantly reduce the time needed to conduct their research. “In order to publish a new paper, something that represents a genuine step forward, we would need about 150,000 “phone – days”, according to Dr. Pande that’s one phone running 24/7. Split that up amongst 10,000 phones though and all of a sudden you’re looking at two weeks.

For now, the beta version of the Folding@Home Android app will only be compatible with Sony Xperia Z series smartphones as well as the Xperia T3, T2 Ultra, M2 Aqua and C3. It is available for download from Google Play here. Following the initial Beta release, it will be made available for all smartphones running Android 4.4 and above early in 2015.

For those of you that are looking for more information or would like to use your PC or PS3 checkout the Folding@Home Wiki or the Folding@Home main site. If like me you are a Samsung owner and want your phone to 'do good while it sleeps' you can checkout the Samsung Power Sleep app which is a similar project backed by Samsung and the University if Vienna.

Source: Sony Mobile Communications

Friday, January 02, 2015

PlayStation Plus Members Get Six Free Games to Kick Off 2015

Sony's PlayStation Plus subscription service has been a hit amongst gamers and for good reason. Last year alone gamers were given the opportunity to snag 71 free titles worth almost $1400. Not bad for an optional subscription which costs $49.99 when purchased annually.

For those that didn't get in on last year's freebies there is no time like the present! To kick off 2015 Sony has officially released the list of free games you gaming geeks can snatch up for January starting on Tuesday January 6, 2015.

There is a great mix of games for each of their three platforms with a great mix of a little something new and a few older classics.
  • PlayStation 4: Infamous: First Light and The Swapper
  • PlayStation 3: The Swapper, Prototype 2, DuckTales Remastered and Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition
  • On PS Vita, Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition and Woah Dave
inFAMOUS: First Light, is a standalone expansion to inFamous: Second Son that outlines the backstory of the troubled conduit, Fetch. The Swapper, is a highly reviewed puzzle game that allows gamers to solve puzzles in an attempt at exiting a space station. Prototype 2 is the sequel to Radical Entertainment’s best-selling open-world action adventure game of 2009. Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition is the definitive compilation of the landmark first-person shooter that includes enhanced versions of Duke Nukem 3D and three classic expansion packs, as well as the original version of the classic game.

If you want to see these titles in action, check out the video below.