Why Does Android Have No Killer Apps? (ContributorNetwork)

April 11th, 2011

Why Does Android Have No Killer Apps?
(ContributorNetwork)

That's basically the question John Gruber tried to answer, in his essay, "Where Are the Android Killer Apps?" Because while Google makes some compelling reasons to go Android, if you leave out Google's apps there aren't any that make you feel like you're missing out if you don't have an Android phone. They're either available for the iPhone too, or they just aren't all that compelling.

Why is that?

Fragmentation

That's the word most people use to describe the diversity in the Android world. See, they're used to the iPhone world, where Apple makes everything. But in the Android world, handset makers like HTC can use the Android operating system to make phones without paying Google a license fee. So it seems to outsiders like Android is "fragmented" between manufacturers, when the reality is that it's a freely-available component that companies use to make phones.

The problem starts when you compare Android phones with each other. Can the low-end HTC Wildfire play Angry Birds? Can the Atrix buy apps from Amazon's "Appstore?" If you think that's confusing, it's even more confusing for app developers, who get flooded with reviews saying "it doesn't work on my phone."

You'll find most "name-brand" apps on Android, because big companies can afford to pay people to deal with this problem. Indie app developers are turned off by it, though, and the developers who do write apps for Android consider it a problem. Partly because it means more work for them, and partly because the compromises they make — to put apps on phones with wildly different screen sizes and processing power — often result in apps that look terrible.

Monetization

For a variety of reasons (although some of these have changed over time), people just aren't making as much money on the Android Market as they are on the App Store. A lot of the money they are making comes from ads on free apps, instead of app sales, suggesting that Android phone owners aren't as willing to part with their money.

That's all on the Android Market, though. It's not the only place to buy Android apps, and the Amazon Appstore is adopting a lot of the policies and features that made Apple's profitable, plus combining them with Amazon.com's massive marketing engine. It may become a force to be reckoned with. It's unlikely to replace the Android Market anytime soon, though … for now, it's just another part of the "fragmentation" problem.

Differentiation

By that, I mean "what sets Android apart." And the problem is, it's not much, or at least not much that's easily explainable. Hardware keys? Home screen widgets? Open-source programming code? How do you tell anyone why they want these things, if they don't already know?

App developers are facing the same problem. What reason is there for them to write Android apps, instead of apps for anything else? Is there anything they can do on Android that they can't anyplace else? As it turns out, there is, but it involves low-level system things like making the home screen look different. And while that's a boon to manufacturers like HTC, which use custom-designed home screens, it's not the kind of feature that makes you want to run out and buy an Android phone.

The upshot is that the only non-Google apps that are only for Android are the kind that wouldn't work anyplace else, and they tend to only be attractive to hardcore customizers. Android is a haven for them, but there's a lot else that it's missing out on.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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S. Korea leader urges protection of client data

April 11th, 2011

S. Korea leader urges protection of client data

S. Korea leader urges protection of client data

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak called Monday for strict protection of personal information after a hacker broke into the computer system of a major financial firm and stole customers' data.

"As society becomes more information-oriented, protection of personal information is ever more important," Lee told a meeting of senior aides, according to his office.

Hyundai Capital, a financial arm of South Korea's top automaker Hyundai Motor, called in police last Thursday after an email from the hacker demanded a payoff.

The firm transferred 100 million won ($92,250) to an account designated by the hacker, Yonhap news agency said, adding police had acquired CCTV footage showing a man withdrawing money from a Seoul ATM.

So far the hacker had withdrawn 47 million won, it said.

A Hyundai Capital spokeswoman confirmed money was transferred but declined to confirm details of the Yonhap report.

"After consultations with police, our company sent money to an account designated by the hacker. It's aimed at helping investigators to track the hacker," she said.

Hyundai Capital has about 1.8 million customers and specialises in personal loans, home mortgages and auto financing.

The company said Sunday that it had lost personal data on 420,000 customers such as names, residential registration numbers, mobile phone numbers and email addresses.

About 13,000 passwords also appeared to have been hacked from customers' loan accounts, it said, asking those affected to change their passwords.

Police said more than one hacker was believed to be involved in the case, which prompted South Korean financial firms to conduct security checks on their computer systems.

They said hackers might have used servers in the Philippines and Brazil to gain access to Hyundai Capital's computer.

The Financial Supervisory Service said it would launch a special probe.

South Korea is one of the world's most wired societies, with 95 percent of homes using broadband Internet.

In March last year authorities launched a probe into the security systems of major retailer Shinsegae and 24 other companies after private data on 20 million customers was leaked.

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Analysis: Alliance Data may face high Epsilon breach costs

April 11th, 2011

Analysis: Alliance Data may face high Epsilon breach costs

Woman uses computer in lounge area of Chaos Communication Congress (25C3) in Berlin

BOSTON/BANGALORE (Reuters) – Alliance Data Systems Corp could face costs and lost sales of $100 million or more as it tries to recover after hackers stole reams of names and email addresses from its Epsilon marketing unit.

The estimate by technology analysts is slightly less than 4 percent of the Dallas company's revenue last year, but it underscores the rising threat from hackers and comes as Washington considers imposing tougher data-security rules.

The figure is also much higher than the direct costs financial analysts expect Alliance Data to pay for measures such as system upgrades and audits, showing how complex quantifying data security expenses can be.

Alliance Data first disclosed the breach on April 1, followed by a wave of customer notifications from Epsilon clients, including Citigroup Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Alliance Data has said the breach will have a minimal impact on its finances, without giving many specifics. It says its biggest risk is the potential loss of clients.

TD Ameritrade Holding Corp, said on Friday it has temporarily stopped using Epsilon to send emails to customers, at least until it learns more about the breach.

"We felt it prudent," spokeswoman Kim Hillyer said.

Several technology experts interviewed by Reuters based their estimates on past breaches, such as the roughly $160 million Massachusetts retailer TJX Cos Inc spent after thieves stole millions of payment-card numbers.

The records stolen from Epsilon involved only names and email addresses, which are less valuable and will not require expensive steps such as the re-issuance of consumer credit cards.

But other costs will resemble past cases and include new security software and technology audits, said Josh Shaul, Chief Technology Officer of Application Security in Massachusetts.

"When you add it all up, this one isn't going to be cheap," Shaul added.

40 BILLION E-MAILS

Shaul said the scale of the Epsilon breach could far exceed previous cases. Epsilon sends more than 40 billion emails a year. Security site threatpost.com counts over 50 companies that have notified customers of the breach, including Best Buy Co Inc.

Michigan data-security consultant Larry Ponemon estimates Alliance Data faces a cost of at least $20 per compromised record, including lost future business. Ponemon and other analysts say a conservative estimate is that thieves obtained the names or email addresses of 100,000 customers at each of 50 clients. At $20 per record, that amounts to $100 million.

That estimate is cautious another way. In a widely followed study released in March, Ponemon calculated the average cost of U.S. breaches at $214 per record in 2010, up from $204 in 2009, reflecting that many include financial data.

Deepak Taneja of Aveksa Inc cautioned costs could be higher if clients charge or sue Alliance Data for things like alerting customers. Competitors such as Silverpop of Atlanta have also been breached, however, which could limit client switching.

Alliance Data said on Wednesday it expects "minimal if any impact" on its financial performance from the breach. In 2010 it earned $194 million on revenue of $2.79 billion.

The company referred questions about costs to an outside spokesman, Larry Meltzer. He declined to give specifics, but cautioned the company's business model is complex. For its email, he said: "There's not a production cost like you would have if you were selling laundry detergent or automobiles."

Alliance Data shares dropped just slightly this week. Analysts who follow Alliance Data have cited the risks of lost business, but say they see few signs of massive expenses.

"There are always going to be indirect costs like customer retention issues, IT issues, and more client hand holding," said JMP Securities analyst David Scharf.

But he does not expect many clients to pare back their use of Epsilon's email service, a rare area of growth in the marketing industry.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber and Brenton Cordeiro; editing by Ros Krasny, Edwin Chan and Andre Grenon)

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New app calculates calories through photos of food

April 11th, 2011

New app calculates calories through photos of food

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) – Worried about how many calories you are going to consume in that slice of pizza, chocolate cake or bag of fries? A new iPhone application may help.

After taking a picture of the meal with the phone, the app gives a calorie read-out almost instantly.

The app, called MealSnap, was developed by DailyBurn, a fitness social network that has created several other fitness and diet-related iPhone applications.

Within minutes of taking a picture of a meal and matching it to a database of some 500,000 food items, the app sends users an alert with a range of calories for the meal that was photographed.

"The database can quickly help identity the food, how many calories there are, proteins, fat, carbs, vitamins, whatever you may want to know," said DailyBurn CEO Andy Smith. "Users can then choose to share what they've eaten on Twitter or FourSquare, leading to social accountability."

Smith added that calorie counting can be a very time consuming process. But the app makes it easier to track the calories in food.

"The pure act of tracking something can cause a psychological change that can help people on their health and fitness journey," he explained. "Just the simple fact of logging it makes me more aware of what I'm eating."

Additionally, MealSnap can serve as a food diary, allowing users to keep a visual log of the meals they have eaten.

"It's like a food journal, but easier. All you do is take the picture," Smith said.

MealSnap is available on the iTunes store for $2.99.

(Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr., editing by Patricia Reaney)

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5 Creative iPhone Accessories That Could Be Made With Your Help [VIDEOS] (Mashable)

April 9th, 2011

5 Creative iPhone Accessories That Could Be Made With Your Help [VIDEOS]
(Mashable)

Kickstarter’s crowdsourced funding service has already seen success for entrepreneurs with a penchant for Apple’s mobile with the Glif iPhone tripod. We were interested to see what other iPhone-themed projects are in the works.

We’ve found five fabulous iPhone accessories that are currently live on Kickstarter that we think might be worth investigating, including a couple of excellent accessories for iPhotographers and a fun Wii-themed music game.

Have a look through our exciting selection of (hopefully!) coming-soon iAccessories and let us know which ones you’d consider pledging cash to — and more importantly why — in the comments below.


1. Invisible Instrument


Got an iPhone? Got a Nintendo Wii? Got a computer? Like music games? Then, boy, do we have the perfect Kickstarter project for you! The "Invisible Instrument" takes an iPhone (or iPod touch) and Wiimote, adds in an app and some computer software and spits out a gesture-based musical device capable of reproducing the sound of multiple instruments.

So far the confirmed instruments include a drum set, violin, cello, bass, keyboard, guitar and theremin, but others are planned and suggestions are welcome.

With the aim to create an "affordable musical tool" that bridges classical instrumentation and computer music, it’s a project with lots of potential applications from just plain fun for kids to an actual composition tool for musicians.

Minimum pledge to receive product (with all instruments): $25


2. GoPano Micro


This product is due to cause some real excitement among iPhone videographers as its functionality allows the creation of 360-degree panaromic videos using just your iPhone.

The lens records everything it can "see" all at once, so when you review the video (on the app or the website) you can zoom in and out and pan around to see what’s happening around the camera, something the demo video above explains well.

Best of all, it’s super-simple to use. The lens just snaps onto the case, and thanks to the free companion app, it’s just a matter of hitting record to make futuristic video footage.

Minimum pledge to receive product: $50


3. iPhly


Created by a radio-controlled airplane enthusiast, the iPhly is arguably pretty niche. However, it’s a breakthrough product that could potentially bring R/C toys into the iAge.

Rather than the bulky controllers that currently exist for R/C models, the much smaller iPhly attaches to the iPhone, the frequency module of your existing remote slots in the back, and then thanks to the companion app, it can take command of your R/C toy via gesture control.

As well as airplanes, it will work with multiple models of radio-controlled helicopters, boats and cars, and can store profiles along with a pic for quick-glance operation.

Minimum pledge to receive product: $70


4. Tembo Trunks


Tembo Trunks are a great option for iPhone owners on the go, especially those travelling to more exotic climes.

Using horn acoustics, the power-free "speakers" amplify the sound from your iDevice’s earbuds to as much as three times the unadulterated volume.

Additionally, they’re made of silicone rubber, so they’re waterproof, and fold down for easy packing. They seem pretty much indestructible. Due to be available in some fun colors, we think they’re a great addition to anyone’s iAccessory arsenal.

Minimum pledge to receive product: $39


5. Jawcase Tiburon


The Jawcase Tiburon is of particular interest in what can easily be described as an overcrowded iPhone accessory market. It offers a variety of different functions.

As you’ll see in the video above, the Tiburon’s clever construction means it can be used for protection, as an all-round, multi-angle landscape and portrait stand, a desktop tripod for photography or video and even, in a pinch, a car mount.

Made out of aluminum and due to be available in a range of finishes, it’s a striking, yet minimalist, unisex option for iPhone 4 owners that do a lot with their device and want a case-come-stand to keep pace.

Minimum pledge to receive product: $80


Interested in more iPhone resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

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Report: Apple Investigates Verizon IPad 2 Problem

April 9th, 2011

Report: Apple Investigates Verizon IPad 2 Problem

Apple is reportedly investigating complaints from iPad 2 owners who say they can't connect to Verizon's cellular network, according to a story on the All Things Digital blog on Friday.

Apple said a small number of iPad 2 users have connectivity issues with Verizon's 3G network and that it is investigating the problem, according to the story.

Verizon declined to comment, referring questions to Apple. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The story points to several pages of complaints from users on the online Apple support forum. The users say when they try to connect to the Verizon network, the device says it is searching but never connects. Several users say they have returned the tablets to Apple stores, and in some cases the issue has been temporarily fixed only to reappear later.

Others have swapped for a new tablet and discovered the same problem.

The iPad 2 went on sale in March and is available in a 3G version from both AT&T and Verizon.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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iPad 2s Are Being Held Back at Best Buy for a Promotion (NewsFactor)

April 8th, 2011

iPad 2s Are Being Held Back at Best Buy for a Promotion
(NewsFactor)

Best Buy is acknowledging reports that its employees are holding back inventories of Apple's fast-selling iPad 2. But the electronics retail chain said it was doing so for an upcoming promotion, and insists its relationship with Apple is fine.

A series of published reports citing Best Buy employees said Apple was upset that customers were being turned away from the stores that are famous for their oversized yellow price-tag signs.

The Richfield, Minn.-based chain has about 1,150 stores and has managed to weather the recession, unlike competitors like Circuit City, which closed its stores, in 2009 but still sells online.

CrunchGear said employees at some Best Buys were keeping sales quotas and telling customers the iPad 2, which went on sale last month, was sold out when those quotas were reached. As a result, the report said, Apple is holding off on shipping more of the devices to Best Buy.

Best Buy didn't respond to our requests for comment by phone and e-mail as of publication on Friday, and Apple didn't respond to e-mails seeking comment.


'Great Partnership'

But BoyGenius Report on Friday published a statement from the retail chain saying, "Best Buy continues to receive iPad 2 inventory from Apple on a regular basis. As we've said previously, we are fulfilling customer reservations first. Our stores have been asked to temporarily hold non-reserved iPad 2 inventory for an upcoming promotion … Best Buy enjoys a great partnership with Apple and we're delighted by customer response to iPad 2."

The blog said it independently confirmed that employees at two outlets were told to sell no iPads other than pre-orders, and it published what it said was an internal communication about the hold saying, "Can't tell customers we're holding them, either."

Last month it was reported that Apple told employees at its own retail stores to hold arriving inventory for sale the following day in an effort to better control supply and prevent hoarding by resellers.


Going Fast

Early reports suggest the iPad 2 may be a bigger hit than its predecessor. Taiwan-based manufacturing journal DigiTimes estimates 2.6 million of the tablets were sold in March. Apple sold about one million original iPads in the first month, beginning last April.

Retailers like Best Buy are an important component of the sales channel, said Susan Kevorkian, who tracks the mobile connected-devices market for IDC Research.

"Apple also needs to have a broad-based distribution strategy," Kevorkian said. "Traditional retail accounts for somewhat over half of units shipped into the channel. So although Apple's own stores and online stores are important components, especially because they are a beautiful showcase for the products, retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart are expected to be more important this year."

Best Buy's statement offered no details about its upcoming promotion. Apple sets limits on the price point for its products, but some stores offer incentives such as in-store gift cards or free accessories.

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Time Warner, Viacom go to court over TV-streaming iPad app (Digital Trends)

April 8th, 2011

Time Warner, Viacom go to court over TV-streaming iPad app
(Digital Trends)

"Time-Warner-Cable-app-ipad-Viacom"Media behemoths Time Warner Cable and Viacom Inc have filed lawsuits against each other over an iPad app that allows users to stream live TV, the Associated Press reports.

The companies have asked a New York judge to decide whether Time Warner has the right to distribute channels on its cable network via the Apple tablet, rather than through a traditional TV set, without negotiating additional deals with the cable networks.

Time Warner was forced to pull 11 channels from the app after complaints from the parent companies. Those channels include Viacom’s MTV, VH, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central, as well as channels owned by News Corp and Discovery Communications. (For a full list of omitted channels, click here.)

These companies claim that porting TV to the iPad is a violation of their programming contracts. They are seeking to negotiate new contracts with Time Warner to allow the cable provider to stream their shows onto the iPad.

Viacom argues that Time Warner owes them more money for the “substantial and irreparable injury” to business caused by the app, which Time Warner says has been downloaded over 360,000 times.

Time Warner, conversely argues that it shouldn’t make a difference what category device they broadcast to, and that customers should be able to watch its programming on whatever screen they choose.

“We have steadfastly maintained that we have the rights to allow our customers to view this programming in their homes, over our cable systems, without artificial limits on the screens they can use to do so, and we are asking the court to confirm our view,” said Time Warner executive vice president and general counsel Mar Lawrence-Apfelbaum in a statement on Thursday.

Another cable television giant, Cablevision, recently launched its own iPad app for streaming programming. The Optimum app offers users 300 channels, and allows for up to three iPads to be used on a single account. It is not yet clear whether Cablevision will receive the same kind of objections brought against Time Warner. Considering they are offering nearly identical services, however, such opposition seems likely.

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Malware Detection Will Be Added To Chrome Browser (NewsFactor)

April 7th, 2011

Malware Detection Will Be Added To Chrome Browser
(NewsFactor)

Users of Google's Chrome browser will soon receive alerts telling them that files they're about to download may contain malicious software. The search giant and growing software pioneer announced on its Online Security Blog this week that a new feature, available first to developers, will work with its Safe Browsing Application Programming Interface, which enables client applications to check URLs against Google's blacklists of suspected phishing and malware pages. That list is regularly updated.


Social Engineering

"It's easy to find sites hosting free downloads that promise one thing but actually behave quite differently," wrote Moheeb Abu Rajab of the Google Security Team on the blog. "These downloads may even perform actions without the user's consent, such as displaying spam ads, performing click fraud, or stealing other users' passwords. Such sites usually don't attempt to exploit vulnerabilities on the user's computer system. Instead, they use social engineering to entice users to download and run the malicious content."

Growing detection methods may be turning the tables on spammers and hackers. Madrid-based cloud-security company Panda last month reported a decrease in infected computers detected by its online ActiveScan, from 50 percent in January to 39 percent the following month. Trojan programs were the most common threat at 61 percent, with more common viruses at 11.59 percent, and worms at nine percent.

The highest rates of infection were in China, Ukraine, Thailand and Taiwan. The U.S. ranked in the middle of the scale, while Australia had the lowest rate.

Google's update will begin small, as an experiment for certain users who subscribe to the Chrome development release channel, with later inclusion planned for the next stable release of Google Chrome. "We hope that the feature will improve our users' online experience and help make the Internet a safer place," Rajab said.

Google has invested heavily in security for Chrome, paying out thousands of dollars for exploit tips from non-employees, and those efforts paid off last month when no participant in the PWN2OWN hacking contest attempted to exploit the browser.


'Known Destinations'

"I think Google is taking the right approach," said Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser at Sophos Canada, a consulting firm. "They are sort of following in our footsteps by chasing after the 'known malware destinations,' as we call them in SophosLabs."

Wisniewski said that given the staggering volume of web sites being infected daily, it's nearly impossible to keep track of them, but the downloads themselves change less frequently, "making the payload an easier target."

While Chrome is not hackproof, Google is trying hard, he added. "They were the first to introduce HSTS support, they are a founding member in stopbadware.org, and they seem to understand the importance of trust on the web. There seems to be a race between Microsoft, Mozilla and Google in the security space, and I heartily welcome the competition to do right by their customers."

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Time Warner, Viacom take iPad app feud to NY court

April 7th, 2011

Time Warner, Viacom take iPad app feud to NY court

NEW YORK – Time Warner Cable Inc. and Viacom Inc. have taken their dispute over what content can be put on the cable company’s iPad app to a federal court in New York City.

The companies filed lawsuits against each other on Thursday, asking the court to decide the issue. The lawsuits were filed after Time Warner agreed to drop a dozen cable channels from the popular tablet computer sold by Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Inc.

News Corp.’s Fox Cable Networks, Viacom and Discovery Communications Inc. asked Time Warner to pull their programming from its iPad app. They said putting the programs on it was violating their programming contracts.

The media companies say Time Warner should pay more money to distribute on devices other than television sets. Time Warner says existing contracts already provide it with the necessary rights.

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