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Mobile security company Lookout has continued to expand its list of Android Market applications that have been found to contain malicious code known as ‘RuFraud’. Researchers spotted 22 malicious apps by the start of the week, prompting Microsoft to offer victims free Windows Phone handsets, while five more have been discovered since then.

The titles include several horoscope apps, wallpaper utilities that offer pictures from movies such as Twilight and Moneyball, fake downloaders for popular Android games such as Angry birds, and fake free versions of other games.

Once downloaded, the apps trick users into agreeing to charges that will be applied to the bill due to SMS messages sent to premium numbers. The code appears to affect users in Europe and Asia, rather than North America.

Google has quickly pulled the offending titles from the app portal, however the situation has given credence to criticism of the mobile platform’s security features. The company’s open approach is said to make it easier for attackers to post malicious apps without encountering problems in the approval process. Fragmentation is also seen as a potential problem, as most Android handsets are running older OS versions that lack the latest security protection.

Thanks: Electronista

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When you come to talking about a major revision to the most popular smartphone operating system, it’s hard to find a place to start because there is simply so much to cover. Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” is perhaps the second largest step Android has taken in terms of major revisions, the largest of course being Android 2.0 back in 2009 which brought a wealth of new features.

Ice Cream Sandwich (or ICS) has included a huge amount of things to Android, from a new design and unified stylings to new functionality and features. Google has followed in the footsteps of Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” for tablets by shifting to blue as the primary color, as opposed to green in Android 2.3 “Gingerbread”. The blue design glows in a somewhat futuristic way, and interface elements are squarer and more angled than before.

Throughout all stock applications on ICS is seems like they have gone for several major styles, most of which differ to previous versions:

Sharp angles and lines are commonplace. In the app drawer, around the search bar, under the text entry bay and even in the onscreen buttons, smooth curves or gradients have been replaced with single-color lines and sharp corners. The Roboto font is modern and clean. Thanks to the 720p display on the Nexus, it appears very sharp and it’s very easy to read. The sans-serif and simple design makes it feel at home in a 2011/2012 world. Black, grey and blue are the colors used, along with transparency. The notification pane uses blue/grey icons on a black background, sliding it down reveals a semi-transparent background with blue highlights. In apps, buttons are grey on semi-transparent black with blue highlights.

For the first time in my history of using Android (and I’ve used it since the Google G1), a unification has been achieved. It is absolutely essential these days in a mobile operating system that moving between included applications feels like you are still “in” the OS, and never before has Google achieved this.

With Gingerbread Google may have updated the Calendar to a new style, but left Gmail with the same style from original Android. It was an awful mess of old and new, but going through ICS feels like everything is in place. I always see the same button styles, the same layouts, the same designs and the same colors used in every single included application, and it actually makes me smile at an Android design for once.

Now this may be somewhat controversial, but I really believe that the push to the ICS style was due to the threat of Windows Phone. Using Windows Phone’s style is simply outstanding because every single application uses the Metro design language, so browsing from Messaging to the Browser feels like you haven’t left Microsoft’s world. Fonts are crisp and clean, designs are angled and minimalistic and there is a focus on text over imagery.

Of course not everything in Metro has influenced Android, in fact many, many things are quite different, but it seems more obvious than ever before how influential Microsoft have been in the mobile space. In all honesty, I don’t care that Google borrowed some aspects of Windows Phone, such as the angular design, minimalist icons and swiping panes, because in the tech industry this happens all the time.

The point is Ice Cream Sandwich feels like the first Android revision that actually has a style. A proper, unified and beautiful style that feels modern, clean and even futuristic. I love it, almost to the point where it pushes out Windows Phone from my mobile OS design preference.

Thanks: Neowin & Tim Schiesser

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Motorola’s original Droid was one of the first Android-based smartphones when it launched at the end of 2008. Since then Android has exploded onto the smartphone market with lots of new smartphones using the OS. Motorola has released two more versions of the Droid since the original along with various spin-offs; indeed the Droid 3 was just launched last July.

Now comes word via Droid-Life.com that Motorola is about to launch the Droid 4, possibly as soon as December 8, via its long time wireless carrier partner Verizon. The pictures that have been leaked of the Droid 4 make it look very similar to the recently released and very thin Droid RAZR smartphone. Like previous versions of the Droid, the Droid 4 will come with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard for people who prefer to text and email via a physical keyboard.

The hardware specs for the Droid 4 include a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, compared to the Droid 3’s 1 GHz dual-core processor, and 1 GB of RAM (double what the Droid 3 has). Both phones have a 4-inch touchscreens and an eight megapixel rear camera. The biggest change is that the Droid 4 is the first in the Droid series that will link to Verizon’s faster 4G wireless network.

There’s no word yet as to the pricing for the Droid 4.

Thanks: Neowin

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The image of Android users as people who seek out danger and live on the edge may not be far from the truth. That’s the image that Verizon has been trying to project in some of their ads for the Droid Razr and a new study from Websense suggests that it’s an accurate portrait – but in ways that Verizon had rather not project.

The study suggests that while iPhone users are happy to stay within the bounds of Apple’s walled garden, enjoying music and video from legitimate sources, Android users spend more times exploring the web’s less reputable districts.

Unlike iPhone users, Android owners spend more time reading about guns and ‘exploding shuriken’ than they do playing Angry Birds, and many of them venture out in search of information on hacking and other ‘illegal or questionable’ activities, as shown in the chart below. Almost all iPhone users get their apps exclusively from Apple’s carefully crated App Store, but Android users have no problem getting their apps from a wide variety of unsanctioned (and sometimes illegal) marketplaces.

While a lot of fuss has been made about Google’s lack of tight control over what apps get into their marketplace, users are really sticking their neck out by getting their apps elsewhere. It’s remarkably easy for a legitimate looking Android app to be repackaged with malware and most users won’t know the difference until they are already infected.

A lot of questions have been raised about the security of Google’s mobile OS. McAfee recently reported that Android was shattering records for mobile malware, with almost all new viruses being targeted at it. While Microsoft’s Windows Phone and Apple’s iOS remain relatively safe, some security experts are suggesting that it might be wise to keep your Droid protected with security software, as reported over at Monsters & Critics. Some have gone so far as to call Android the ‘smartphone Windows of the future,’ referring to the high number of security threats targeting Microsoft’s venerable OS.

Thanks: Neowin

More Google services to shut down soon

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Google continues its efforts to streamline its business, announcing on its blog site this week that a number of its services will be closed over the next several months. One of them is Google Wave which launched as a web app for real time communication. Google has now announced that Wave will become read only after January 31, 2012 and will close completely after April 30.

Google Gears, which was designed as a way to make offline web apps via a browser extension will stop working on December 1 for Gears-based Gmail and Calendar offline. Later that same month the Gears browser extension won’t be made available for download at all.

Google Bookmark List, created to allow people to share their browser bookmark list with friends, will shut down on December 19. Google says, “All bookmarks within Lists will be retained and labeled for easier identification, while the rest of Google Bookmarks will function as usual.”

Google is also closing down its experimental energy division, which it called Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal. Google concentrated its efforts on improving solar power but has now decided that “other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level.” The company will continue its own efforts to conserve energy and use alternative energy sources in its own businesses.

Thanks: Neowin

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slightly backtracked on its plans to drop mobile Flash entirely Monday after it stated that there was one more version coming to support Android 4.0. Where it had previously said Flash 11.1 was the last version, the company told Pocket-lint one more version would come to support the Galaxy Nexus and future devices before the end of the year. An update was also coming for the Flash Linux Porting Kit on a similar schedule.

It’s not apparent why Adobe was making the exception. Adobe may be following up on an obligation to Google, which began promoting and bundling Flash on Android and the Chrome browser, respectively. Google has been a supporter of HTML5, but it may also want Flash for one last generation of phones.

The news will still rule out any support for Jelly Bean, the next major revision of Android after 4.0. While this will lead to many 2012 Android phones and tablets still supporting Flash, it will lead to some high-end phones in the second half of the year having to rely on web standards for video and complex web apps instead of the proprietary plugin.

Companies like HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and Toshiba may be the most affected by the switch. These have often made Flash a major and sometimes central focus of their marketing but will now have to compete more on their own features than on third-party extras they don’t control.

Thanks: Electronista

For the first time, Facebook has revealed details about how it tracks users across the web.

Through interviews with Facebook engineering director Arturo Bejar, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes, Facebook corporate spokesman Barry Schnitt and Facebook engineering manager Gregg Stefancik, USA Today‘s Byron Acohido was able to compile the most complete picture to date of how the social network keeps tabs on its 800 million users.

Here is what Acohido learned:

    • Facebook doesn’t track everybody the same way. It uses different methods for members who have signed in and are using their accounts, members who are logged-off and non-members.
    • The first time you arrive at any Facebook.com page, the company inserts cookies in your browser. If you sign up for an account, it inserts two types of cookies. If you don’t set up an account, it only inserts one of the two types.
    • These cookies record every time you visit another website that uses a Facebook Like button or other Facebook plugin — which work together with the cookies to note the time, date and website being visited. Unique characteristics that identify your computer are also recorded.
    • Facebook keeps logs that record your past 90 days of activity. It deletes entries older than 90 days.
    • If you are logged into a Facebook account, your name, email address, friends and all of the other data in your Facebook profile is also recorded.

Data about web searches and browsing habits could be used to figure out political affiliations, religious beliefs, sexual orientations or health issues about consumers. According to USA Today, this type of correlation doesn’t seem to be happening on a wide scale, but the concern of some privacy advocates is that selling data could become a tempting business proposition — both to social networks like Facebook and online advertising players such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo that similarly employ cookie tracking techniques.

Facebook told USA Today that it uses data collected via cookies to help improve security and its plugins and that it has no plans to change how it uses this data. It has, however, applied for a patent on a technology that includes a method that correlates ads and tracking data.

“We patent lots of things, and future products should not be inferred from our patent application,” Facebook corporate spokesman Barry Schnitt told USA Today.

Regardless of how Facebook is handling the data it collects through cookies, by doing so it has entered a very sticky debate about whether consumers should be able to opt out of being tracked by such methods. Aproposed law that would create this option was introduced in February.

While a recent poll found that about 70% of Facebook users and 52% of Google users were either somewhat or very concerned about their privacy, some argue that online commerce would suffer without online tracking.

Thanks: Mashable

 

As you know, we’re big fans of keeping your shopping experience easy — especially now that the holiday shopping season is here. Today, we’re starting to take all the great functionality and ease-of-use you’ve come to know with Google Checkout and merge it with Google Wallet to create a single wallet, whether you’re buying online or in-store. We’re also starting to integrate Google Wallet as the payment method on Android Market, YouTube, Google+ Games and many other Google sites.

For consumers: save time with Google Wallet online 
For all you busy holiday shoppers, Google Wallet provides a simple and safe way to make online purchases. When you shop with merchants that accept Google Wallet or Google Checkout, just use your Google Wallet username and password to complete your purchase — there’s no need to pull out your credit card or enter your shipping address with every transaction. Starting tomorrow, if you add a Citi MasterCard to the Google Wallet mobile app, it will also be available for use when you shop with Google Wallet online.

If you’re a current user of Google Checkout you can automatically transition your account to Google Wallet the next time you sign in or make a purchase online. All users can now access online purchase history and payment information at wallet.google.com/manage.

For merchants: no changes necessary
We’re committed to upgrading our payment solutions for merchants while ensuring they’re able to process payments without interruption during the holidays — so shoppers using Google Wallet will be able to make purchases seamlessly on merchant sites that accept Google Checkout. Early next year, we will work closely with our merchant partners to switch to the Google Wallet logo and share details on new and upcoming features.

If you have questions about this transition, please visit our Help Center to learn more. If you are looking for more information, you can visit google.com/wallet.

Thanks: Google Commerce

Retail outlets looking for new, innovative ways to get hands-on with their customers will soon have a new tool – the Samsung SUR40.

Companies are already using Microsoft Surface to give potential customers virtual tours of plane interiors, help them plan flights, provide them with the ability to create immersive photo books, and entice bank customers into brick and mortar branches. Those experiences only hint at how the new Surface device will be able to help businesses engage with customers, said Somanna Palacanda, director of Microsoft Surface.

“With what’s happening in the world of touch and the fact that touch is becoming ubiquitous, people are looking for more immersive relationships with screens,” he said. “The new Surface takes technology that’s always existed in the backs of stores and brings it front and center. So now customers and retailers can interact together, a doctor and a patient can have a more immersive consulting experience, and a banker and a customer can sit together and work on a simulation where in past the banker would be the only one in control.”

Samsung and Microsoft announced today that a new, more versatile Microsoft Surface device is now available for pre-order, the near final stop on its journey from lab to marketplace. Now, businesses in 23 countries can visit the Samsung website to find a local reseller and place an order for the Samsung SUR40. Shipments are expected to start early next year.

The Samsung SUR40 was just named a2011 “Best of What’s New” award winnerby Popular Science magazine and is featured in a special awards issue currently on newsstands. Corinne Iozzio, senior associate editor at Popular Science, said the magazine’s editors were impressed with the update to the original Surface, a 2008 “Best of What’s New” winner.

“We very much liked the idea of the package of the Surface, which had packed so much computing intelligence and so much sensor technology into such a thin package,” she said. “It’s a tabletop that can be put anywhere without harming the functionality and in fact makes a system like the Surface much more accessible.”

The Samsung SUR40 also earned strong praise by the likes of Forbes and Gizmodo when released at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.

Palacanda said the new Surface device incorporates all the key features of the original – a massive multi-touch screen, the ability to recognize fingers, blobs, and objects – as well as PixelSense, a new technology that lets LCD panels “see” without the use of actual cameras. The technology has helped slim down the second version of the Surface device and enables a new form factor – one that can be turned on its side. With a screen that’s only four inches thin, customers will have the option to use the Samsung SUR40 horizontally as a table, hang it on a wall, or embed it into furniture, Palacanda said.

“We listened to our partners and customers’ requests for a lighter and thinner form factor that gives them flexibility because there’s no one-size-fits-all in the retail space,” he said.

Several existing Surface customers, including Dassault Aviation, Fujifilm Corp. and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), plan to use the Samsung SUR40 in locations around the globe early next year. RBC is already using the first version of Surface as a new medium to engage with its customers, Palacanda said.

He explained that RBC is redesigning their stores to offer customers a new retail experience, where Surface is playing an important part. For example, RBC launched a direct mail campaign to invite their customers into their stores through a sweepstakes. When customers visit, they drop their brochure onto the Surface machine to find out if they’ve won a prize. At the same time, RBC employees can use Surface to highlight the bank’s products and services.

The results encouraged RBC, Palacanda said. A typical direct mail response rate is less than 1 percent; RBC is seeing a conversion of above 10 percent.

“We’ve always spoken about collaboration from a computing standpoint, but before Microsoft Surface we truly did not have a device where two or more people could actually engage together with the same piece of digital content,” Palacanda said. “I think this announcement is the first step in delivering a next generation device that improves even further on the original Surface experience, which enables two or more people to collaborate in a very meaningful way.”

The new device is also popular with developers, said Luis Cabrera-Cordón, senior program manager for Microsoft Surface. The Surface 2.0 software developer kit (SDK) was released at MIX11 in April, and already it’s been downloaded more than 7,000 times.

The SDK features an input simulator that enables developers to write Surface applications on any Windows 7 PC, an approach Cabrera-Cordón called “Write once, touch anywhere.”

“The SDK allows developers to write a single application that can adapt to all sorts of types of hardware,” he said. “That makes for a great investment: they can target Microsoft Surface hardware as well as any Windows 7 touch-enabled PC. This is a flexible platform so developers can create the best user interface for the person actually using the computer.”

Cabrera-Cordón encouraged developers to download the SDK and start building apps as the Samsung SUR40’s release date draws near.

“Touch apps are an area that is new. There is a lot to discover and innovate on,” Cabrera-Cordón said. “And I hope that by playing with the Surface 2.0 SDK, they’ll discover they can innovate and create things that we don’t have today.”

Thanks: Microsoft

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TP-Link has expanded its 802.11n router lineup with a new pocket router and a portable router for 3G modems. The pocket router enables users create a Wi-Fi network after connecting it to a network or modem via Ethernet. Users can also configure the device to work as a range extender or a wireless bridge to expand the connectivity of existing Wi-Fi networks.

The portable router provides a USB port that is compatible with many 3G modems that utilize HSPA, UMTS or EVDO standards. The device does not provide an internal battery, requiring power to be provided via USB or an external adapter. Aside from the 3G router functionality, it can also be used as a traditional Wi-Fi access point, range extender or bridge.

The pocket router is expected to ship on November 23 for $30, while the 3G router will not arrive until December 14 for $40.

Thanks: Electronista