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  1. An explosive spyware report shows limits of iOS, Android security Amnesty International sheds alarming light on an NSO Group surveillance tool. The shadowy world of private spyware has long caused alarm in cybersecurity circles, as authoritarian governments have repeatedly been caught targeting the smartphones of activists, journalists, and political rivals with malware purchased from unscrupulous brokers. The surveillance tools these companies provide frequently target iOS and Android, which have seemingly been unable to keep up with the threat. But a new report suggests the scale of the problem is far greater than feared—and has placed added pressure on mobile tech makers, particularly Apple, from security researchers seeking remedies. This week, an international group of researchers and journalists from Amnesty International, Forbidden Stories, and more than a dozen other organizations published forensic evidence that a number of governments worldwide—including Hungary, India, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—may be customers of the notorious Israeli spyware vendor NSO Group. The researchers studied a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers associated with activists, journalists, executives, and politicians who were all potential surveillance targets. They also looked specifically at 37 devices infected with, or targeted by, NSO's invasive Pegasus spyware. They even created a tool so you can check whether your iPhone has been compromised. NSO Group called the research "false allegations by a consortium of media outlets" in a strongly worded denial on Tuesday. An NSO Group spokesperson said, "The list is not a list of Pegasus targets or potential targets. The numbers in the list are not related to NSO Group in any way. Any claim that a name in the list is necessarily related to a Pegasus target or potential target is erroneous and false." On Wednesday, NSO Group said it would no longer respond to media inquiries. NSO Group isn't the only spyware vendor out there, but it has the highest profile. WhatsApp sued the company in 2019 over what it claims were attacks on over a thousand of its users. And Apple's BlastDoor feature, introduced in iOS 14 earlier this year, was an attempt to cut off "zero-click exploits," attacks that don't require any taps or downloads from victims. The protection appears not to have worked as well as intended; the company released a patch for iOS to address the latest round of alleged NSO Group hacking on Tuesday. In the face of the report, many security researchers say that both Apple and Google can and should do more to protect their users against these sophisticated surveillance tools "It definitely shows challenges in general with mobile device security and investigative capabilities these days," says independent researcher Cedric Owens. "I also think seeing both Android and iOS zero-click infections by NSO shows that motivated and resourced attackers can still be successful despite the amount of control Apple applies to its products and ecosystem." Tensions have long simmered between Apple and the security community over limits on researchers' ability to conduct forensic investigations on iOS devices and deploy monitoring tools. More access to the operating system would potentially help catch more attacks in real time, allowing researchers to gain a deeper understanding of how those attacks were constructed in the first place. For now, security researchers rely on a small set of indicators within iOS, plus the occasional jailbreak. And while Android is more open by design, it also places limits on what's known as "observability." Effectively combating high-caliber spyware like Pegasus, some researchers say, would require things like access to read a device's filesystem, the ability to examine which processes are running, access to system logs, and other telemetry. A lot of criticism has centered on Apple in this regard, because the company has historically offered stronger security protections for its users than the fragmented Android ecosystem. "The truth is that we are holding Apple to a higher standard precisely because they're doing so much better," says SentinelOne principal threat researcher Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade. "Android is a free-for-all. I don't think anyone expects the security of Android to improve to a point where all we have to worry about are targeted attacks with zero-day exploits." In fact, the Amnesty International researchers say they actually had an easier time finding and investigating indicators of compromise on Apple devices targeted with Pegasus malware than on those running stock Android. "In Amnesty International's experience there are significantly more forensic traces accessible to investigators on Apple iOS devices than on stock Android devices, therefore our methodology is focused on the former," the group wrote in a lengthy technical analysis of its findings on Pegasus. "As a result, most recent cases of confirmed Pegasus infections have involved iPhones." Some of the focus on Apple also stems from the company's own emphasis on privacy and security in its product design and marketing. "Apple is trying, but the problem is they aren't trying as hard as their reputation would imply," says Johns Hopkins University cryptographer Matthew Green. Even with its more open approach, though, Google faces similar criticisms about the visibility security researchers can get into its mobile operating system. "Android and iOS have different types of logs. It's really hard to compare them," says Zuk Avraham, CEO of the analysis group ZecOps and a longtime advocate of access to mobile system information. "Each one has an advantage, but they are both equally not sufficient and enable threat actors to hide." Apple and Google both appear hesitant to reveal more of the digital forensic sausage-making, though. And while most independent security researchers advocate for the shift, some also acknowledge that increased access to system telemetry would aid bad actors as well. "While we understand that persistent logs would be more helpful for forensic uses such as the ones described by Amnesty International's researchers, they also would be helpful to attackers," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to WIRED. "We continually balance these different needs." Ivan Krstić, head of Apple security engineering and architecture, said in a statement that "Apple unequivocally condemns cyberattacks against journalists, human rights activists, and others seeking to make the world a better place. For over a decade, Apple has led the industry in security innovation and, as a result, security researchers agree the iPhone is the safest, most secure consumer mobile device on the market. Attacks like the ones described are highly sophisticated, cost millions of dollars to develop, often have a short shelf life, and are used to target specific individuals. While that means they are not a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users, we continue to work tirelessly to defend all our customers, and we are constantly adding new protections for their devices and data." The trick is to strike the right balance between offering more system indicators without inadvertently making attackers' jobs too much easier. "There is a lot that Apple could be doing in a very safe way to allow observation and imaging of iOS devices in order to catch this type of bad behavior, yet that does not seem to be treated as a priority," says iOS security researcher Will Strafach. "I am sure they have fair policy reasons for this, but it's something I don't agree with and would love to see changes in this thinking." Thomas Reed, director of Mac and mobile platforms at the antivirus maker Malwarebytes, says he agrees that more insight into iOS would benefit user defenses. But he adds that allowing special, trusted monitoring software would come with real risks. He points out that there are already suspicious and potentially unwanted programs on macOS that antivirus can't fully remove because the operating system endows them with this special type of system trust, potentially in error. The same problem of rogue system analysis tools would almost inevitably crop up on iOS as well. "We also see nation-state malware all the time on desktop systems that gets discovered after several years of undetected deployment," Reed adds. "And that's on systems where there are already many different security solutions available. Many eyes looking for this malware is better than few. I just worry about what we'd have to trade for that visibility." The Pegasus Project, as the consortium of researchers call the new findings, underscore the reality that Apple and Google are unlikely to solve the threat posed by private spyware vendors alone. The scale and reach of the potential Pegasus targeting indicates that a global ban on private spyware may be necessary. "A moratorium on the trade in intrusion software is the bare minimum for a credible response—mere triage," NSA surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted on Tuesday in reaction to the Pegasus Project findings. "Anything less and the problem gets worse." On Monday, Amazon Web Services took its own step by shutting down cloud infrastructure linked to NSO. Regardless of what happens to NSO Group in particular, or the private surveillance market in general, user devices are still ultimately where clandestine targeted attacks from any source will play out. Even if Google and Apple can't be expected to solve the problem themselves, they need to keep working on a better way forward. This story originally appeared on wired.com. An explosive spyware report shows limits of iOS, Android security
  2. Facebook advertisers are panicking after iOS cuts off key tracking data Facebook’s ads aren’t as effective after iOS privacy changes, advertisers say. Facebook’s ability to track users and show them certain ads appears to be tanking thanks to Apple’s “ask not to track” feature, according to some advertisers. Apple rolled out the privacy prompt in late April with iOS 14.5. Since then, nearly half of all iOS devices worldwide have at least version 14.5 installed, according to Statcounter, and a vast majority of these devices' users have chosen to deny Facebook and other apps the ability to track them. Nearly three months after the feature's launch, just 17 percent of users worldwide have opted in, according to analytics company Flurry. The changes could have a significant effect on Facebook’s bottom line. Eric Seufert, an analyst who writes Mobile Dev Memo, forecasts that if only 20 percent of users consent to tracking, Facebook’s revenue could drop 7 percent in the first full quarter that the opt-in prompt is active (the forthcoming third quarter). The company warned back in February that the iOS changes would curtail its ability to track users across the Internet. “It’s been pretty devastating for, I would say, the majority of advertisers,” Seufert told Bloomberg. “The big question is: Are we seeing just short-term volatility where we can expect a move back to the mean, or is this a new normal?” Enlarge / The Settings menu for managing tracking on a per-app basis in iOS. Samuel Axon It may be some time before advertisers have an answer to that question. Facebook initially appeared to be taking the low opt-in rate in stride, with media buyers not noticing significant changes. But that has apparently changed in recent weeks, with some buyers reporting that ad effectiveness began dropping this month. Some advertisers, like e-commerce sites, appear to be hit particularly hard. Many retailers run software like Shopify, which shares customer data, including details about purchases that customers make on the site, with Facebook. That allows Facebook to refine its “lookalike” audiences, which advertisers buy access to so they can target other people who may be interested in buying the same thing. One way Facebook could deepen its data pipeline would be to deepen its integration in retailer's online stores, which it appears to be doing with the rollout of Facebook Pay for e-commerce platforms like Shopify. Before the new iOS feature was rolled out, media buyers reported that Facebook could capture as much as 95 percent of sales made on their clients’ sites. Now, many media buyers are reporting that Facebook is capturing only 50 percent of sales. One buyer reports that, with one client, just 3 percent of sales are showing up in Facebook’s ad manager. Other people visit e-commerce sites without purchasing anything, and to close the deal, retailers will “retarget” those users, showing them ads on Facebook for an item they viewed but didn’t buy. Those ads aren’t possible when “ask not to track” is enabled. "We believe that personalized ads and user privacy can coexist, without the collateral damage caused by App Tracking Transparency," a Facebook spokesperson told Ars. "We're also working on our own solutions to help businesses and investing in privacy-enhancing technologies designed to minimize the data we process, while still allowing us to show relevant ads and measure ad effectiveness." As users have asked Facebook not to track them, the company’s feedback loop has broken for a portion of its audience, costing it a key source of data. Though iOS doesn’t run on a majority of mobile devices, it does have a significant footprint in some of the world’s largest advertising markets, including the US. The US market is so important to advertisers that Flurry breaks out the country’s iOS tracking opt-in rate separately. Just 10 percent of US users opt in to tracking, compared with 17 percent worldwide. By opting out at such high rates, US iOS users could have a particularly significant impact on Facebook’s revenue. In the US and Canada last year, the company made five times more advertising revenue per user than its worldwide average. What happens to that number in the third quarter will reveal the extent to which tracking opt-out threatens the company’s earnings. Facebook advertisers are panicking after iOS cuts off key tracking data
  3. Google Meet now lets you blur or replace your background on iOS Google rolled out last month the ability to blur or replace video chat backgrounds in Meet on Android. At that time, the search giant vowed to expand the feature to iOS sometime in the future. Today, the search giant made good on its promise as it announced the availability of the feature on Apple's mobile devices. You can now blur or replace your background with any image hand-picked by Google. This includes photos of office spaces, landscapes, and abstract backgrounds, among others. On top of Google's recommended image, you can also set your own photos as your meeting background. This is in contrast to how the feature is implemented in Android, where you can choose only from Google's pre-selected images. That said, the Mountain View-based giant promised to add the ability to select your personal images as your background on Android soon. The feature comes in handy if you want to customize your background or put your messy surroundings out of sight when videoconferencing. And like on Android, you will need to manually switch on the capability on iOS since it's turned off by default. You can head over to Meet's support page to learn how to enable the feature. In terms of compatibility, the feature works only with iPhone 8 and up, iPad 5th generation and up, or iOS 12 and later. It's now available to all Workspace and G Suite Basic/Business customers as well as those who are using personal Google accounts. Google Meet now lets you blur or replace your background on iOS
  4. iOS zero-day let SolarWinds hackers compromise fully updated iPhones Flaw was exploited when government officials clicked on links in LinkedIn messages. The Russian state hackers who orchestrated the SolarWinds supply chain attack last year exploited an iOS zero-day as part of a separate malicious email campaign aimed at stealing Web authentication credentials from Western European governments, according to Google and Microsoft. In a post Google published on Wednesday, researchers Maddie Stone and Clement Lecigne said a “likely Russian government-backed actor” exploited the then-unknown vulnerability by sending messages to government officials over LinkedIn. Moscow, Western Europe, and USAID Attacks targeting CVE-2021-1879, as the zero-day is tracked, redirected users to domains that installed malicious payloads on fully updated iPhones. The attacks coincided with a campaign by the same hackers who delivered malware to Windows users, the researchers said. The campaign closely tracks to one Microsoft disclosed in May. In that instance, Microsoft said that Nobelium—the name the company uses to identify the hackers behind the SolarWinds supply chain attack—first managed to compromise an account belonging to USAID, a US government agency that administers civilian foreign aid and development assistance. With control of the agency’s account for online marketing company Constant Contact, the hackers could send emails that appeared to use addresses known to belong to the US agency. The federal government has attributed last year’s supply chain attack to hackers working for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (abbreviated as SVR). For more than a decade, the SVR has conducted malware campaigns targeting governments, political think tanks, and other organizations in countries like Germany, Uzbekistan, South Korea, and the US. Targets have included the US State Department and the White House in 2014. Other names used to identify the group include APT29, the Dukes, and Cozy Bear. In an email, Shane Huntley, the head of Google's Threat Analysis Group, confirmed the connection between the attacks involving USAID and the iOS zero-day, which resided in the WebKit browser engine. “These are two different campaigns, but based on our visibility, we consider the actors behind the WebKit 0-day and the USAID campaign to be the same group of actors,” Huntley wrote. “It is important to note that everyone draws actor boundaries differently. In this particular case, we are aligned with the US and UK governments' assessment of APT 29.” Forget the sandbox Throughout the campaign, Microsoft said, Nobelium experimented with multiple attack variations. In one wave, a Nobelium-controlled web server profiled devices that visited it to determine what OS and hardware the devices ran on. If the targeted device was an iPhone or iPad, a server used an exploit for CVE-2021-1879, which allowed hackers to deliver a universal cross-site scripting attack. Apple patched the zero-day in late March. In Wednesday’s post, Stone and Lecigne wrote: After several validation checks to ensure the device being exploited was a real device, the final payload would be served to exploit CVE-2021-1879. This exploit would turn off Same-Origin-Policy protections in order to collect authentication cookies from several popular websites, including Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Yahoo and send them via WebSocket to an attacker-controlled IP. The victim would need to have a session open on these websites from Safari for cookies to be successfully exfiltrated. There was no sandbox escape or implant delivered via this exploit. The exploit targeted iOS versions 12.4 through 13.7. This type of attack, described by Amy Burnett in Forget the Sandbox Escape: Abusing Browsers from Code Execution, is mitigated in browsers with Site Isolation enabled, such as Chrome or Firefox. It’s raining zero-days The iOS attacks are part of a recent explosion in the use of zero-days. In the first half of this year, Google’s Project Zero vulnerability research group has recorded 33 zero-day exploits used in attacks—11 more than the total number from 2020. The growth has several causes, including better detection by defenders and better software defenses that require multiple exploits to break through. The other big driver is the increased supply of zero-days from private companies selling exploits. “0-day capabilities used to be only the tools of select nation-states who had the technical expertise to find 0-day vulnerabilities, develop them into exploits, and then strategically operationalize their use,” the Google researchers wrote. “In the mid-to-late 2010s, more private companies have joined the marketplace selling these 0-day capabilities. No longer do groups need to have the technical expertise; now they just need resources.” The iOS vulnerability was one of four in-the-wild zero-days Google detailed on Wednesday. The other three were: CVE-2021-21166 and CVE-2021-30551 in Chrome CVE-2021-33742 in Internet Explorer The four exploits were used in three different campaigns. Based on their analysis, the researchers assess that three of the exploits were developed by the same commercial surveillance company, which sold them to two different government-backed actors. The researchers didn’t identify the surveillance company, the governments, or the specific three zero-days they were referring to. Representatives from Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. iOS zero-day let SolarWinds hackers compromise fully updated iPhones
  5. Apple’s latest iOS and macOS betas undo some of Safari’s controversial new design A more consistent design Apple has released its third developer betas for the upcoming iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, and they bring some much-needed fixes to Safari — namely, undoing some of the more controversial changes introduced in the earlier betas. For macOS, that means a normal tab bar that goes back to the previous design, while iOS is getting a more consistent design when it comes to the URL bar. iOS 15 is still sticking with its new tab view and the moved URL bar on the bottom of the display, but the latest beta docked it there permanently, instead of bouncing it to the top of the screen when you selected it. Apple’s also added a new refresh option to the pop-over menu when you tap and hold the URL bar. Together, the changes help make the new design a lot more cohesive to use. The change to macOS is simpler: Apple seems to have just brought back part of its Big Sur design for Safari’s URL bar and tabs, ditching the combined tab/URL bar setup that it debuted in the earlier betas. In the latest beta, there’s once again a URL bar that lives at the top of each Safari menu, with a row of tabs beneath it. Each of those tabs still takes up a decently large piece of real estate — the overall Monterey design is the same in that regard — but it’s definitely an improvement over the original betas. That said, if you preferred the new design, that’s still an option too, according to 9to5Mac. Unchanged, at least for now, is the iPadOS version of Safari. Given that Apple isn’t expected to fully release its latest OS updates until the fall, though, there’s still plenty of time for additional changes to Safari across all of Apple’s platforms. Apple’s latest iOS and macOS betas undo some of Safari’s controversial new design
  6. All the New Privacy and Security Features Coming to iOS and macOS Improvements designed to keep your email private, crack down on data stealing apps, and help you find lost devices are on their way. As it does every year, Apple has used its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) to show off some of the changes coming to its software this year—and, unsurprisingly given Apple's track record, privacy and security are top of the agenda once more. The iOS 15 update for your iPhone and macOS 12 Monterey update for your Mac will arrive later in the year, along with improvements designed to keep your data and your devices safe from harm. A lot of these upgraded privacy and security features are due to be applied across both operating systems together. One of the apps getting a lot of attention this time around is Mail, Apple's default email client on mobile and desktop. A new feature called Mail Privacy Protection takes aim at the tracking pixels embedded in a lot of emails—when you open your messages, these pixels are loaded, and can filter back information such as your location and your choice of software platform back to the sender. Marketers, newsletter writers, and plenty of people in between use these tracking pixels to see how many people open their messages, but Mail Privacy Protection stops this data gathering. It won't be turned on by default, but it will be highlighted as an option when you upgrade to iOS 15 and macOS 12 Monterey. Also, because tracking pixels are just images, this protection applies to all remote-loading images in email. They're not “blocked” exactly, but routed through a relay that strips out that data gathering but intended to preserve your end experience. Similarly, Apple is enabling you to keep a closer eye on the apps you've installed with these software updates too. Through a feature called App Privacy Report, you'll be able to see how many times an app has accessed your location, photos, camera, microphone, and contacts during the last week. App Privacy Report tells you more about what your apps are up to. Photograph: Apple If you're wondering whether an app really needs the permissions that it's asking for, this Privacy Report should be able to tell you. The report will also list the domains the app is in contact with, and how often, giving users a better idea of just how much data grabbing and transmitting it's doing. As for Apple's digital assistant, Siri, more of the speech recognition work and command processing is going to be done on your specific device. This reduces the amount of data sent back to Apple and stored in the cloud, and meaning it's less likely that somebody else could be listening in, even if all you mostly do is check the weather, set alarms, and add items to your to-do list. Another new feature with a new name is iCloud+. If you pay for iCloud storage, then you're going to get iCloud+ along with it. The key tool here is iCloud Private Relay, Apple's take on a somewhat simpler VPN: It encrypts and routes your web traffic through a series of different locations, much like a VPN, keeping your location private and your data protected from eavesdroppers. There are two key stages in this rerouting, one of which is managed by Apple that encrypts your URL and deletes identifying data like your IP address, and a second one that is managed by what Apple calls a "trusted content provider." Those providers, yet to be identified publicly, will be a series of companies that will be responsible for assigning you a temporary IP address that's similar to your region and changes periodically, and then decrypting your URL so it can send you on to your destination site or service. The idea is that no one, not even Apple, can piece together the whole chain and figure out what you're accessing on the internet. Another part of iCloud+ is Hide My Email, which takes an idea from the Sign In With Apple service. It enables you to generate an unlimited number of unique, random email addresses for the purposes of signing up to new apps and services: Messages sent to these addresses will still come through to your main email addresses, but you can trash them any time you like to cut off communications. The feature will be built right into Mail, iCloud, and Safari. Gmail users can do this by adding qualifiers to their addresses (for example, setting up "[email protected]" for all your newsletter subscriptions, and filtering them to a folder for future reading, or to the trash when you have too many.) Hide My Email keeps your main email address well protected. Photograph: Apple The final part of iCloud+ is HomeKit Secure Video, which offers encrypted, secure storage for footage from your home security cameras. It also ensures any smart recognition processing is done locally, rather than being sent to the cloud. HomeKit Secure Video is actually already available, but more users will get access to it with iCloud+. Meanwhile, Apple Wallet is expanding its reach, and in "participating states" will be able to store your driver's license or state ID, in an encrypted and secure form. Apple says that it's working with the US Transportation Security Administration to get these digital IDs supported at airports by the time that iOS 15 rolls out. The future Apple Wallet will also have the capacity to support a broader range of digital keys too, from home keys to office keys to car keys. Of course, these are going to need to be supported by your door lock manufacturer, employer, or car maker before you can use them. There will also be a new set of functions in the Find My app when iOS 15 lands later this year. The app will be able to detect iPhones even if they're turned off or have been factory reset—they will continue to transmit a very low-power Bluetooth signal, a bit like an AirTag does, so you have more of a chance of recovering your Apple device if it goes lost or gets stolen. A host of smaller privacy and security updates are going to roll out with these updates as well, including a more secure form of copy and paste (to limit what apps can see on your clipboard), and an indicator in macOS 12 Monterey to tell you which apps are using your microphone or camera (as already happens in iOS.) All the New Privacy and Security Features Coming to iOS and macOS (may require free registration)
  7. Microsoft’s latest iOS Office Insider Preview build brings new features Microsoft has released a new update for Office for iOS Insiders. This version 2.50(21060200) adds a couple of new features for Word, Excel, PowerPoint. With the latest version installed, you’ll be able to use animated to 3D models in Office to create highly immersive documents. The new Office update will also let iOS users play GIFs in documents, worksheets, or presentations. You can read the full official changelog below. Changelog Word, Excel, PowerPoint Bring documents to life with 3D animations Animated 3D models can help you get creative, elevate your storytelling, and create highly immersive documents. Previously, 3D animations were static on iOS; now they’ve been brought to life with buttery-smooth animation playback. To try them out, open a file with an animated 3D model on your iPhone or iPad. Use the onscreen controls to play and pause the model and rotate it in 3D with animation. Play GIFs You asked for it! Up until now, even when your documents, worksheets, or presentations contained animated GIFs, they would only appear as static images. Now you can use the onscreen controls to play and pause your animated GIFs, enlivening any document or presentation. If you are an Insider, you can download the latest Office app updates on your iOS device and try out these new improvements. Microsoft’s latest iOS Office Insider Preview build brings new features
  8. Microsoft is improving the Large Gallery view in Microsoft Teams for iOS and Android Microsoft has announced that it will be improving the “Large Gallery” layout for meetings on Teams mobile. The view will become mobile-optimised, letting you easily swipe through all the participants in a meeting. The view now supports up to 10 participants per page on both phones and tablets. The improvement is coming to both iOS and Android, but only iOS devices with iOS 13 and above and Android devices with Android 9 or with 4GB of RAM and above will benefit, with handsets with the older version of the OS seeing the earlier experience. The update will be rolling out on the Teams iOS and Android app starting in mid-June and the rollout is expected to be completed in late July. Microsoft is improving the Large Gallery view in Microsoft Teams for iOS and Android
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  10. Apple expanding ‘Air Quality’ Weather app feature to more countries with iOS 14.7 One of the new features introduced with iOS 14 last year was the ability to see Air Quality in the Weather app, but this is restricted to only a few regions. However, with the first beta of iOS 14.7, the company is finally expanding this feature to more countries. As reported by multiple users on Reddit and Twitter, iOS 14.7 beta 1 brings the Air Quality feature in the iPhone Weather app to more regions. This includes cities in the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Spain. Other comments also mention that the feature is working in Canada as well. In the United States, the measurement of air quality is based on an Air Quality Index (AQI) that ranges from 0 to 500, where lower numbers represent better air quality and higher numbers are considered unhealthy. This information is displayed in a colored bar within the Weather app on the iPhone, and is also shown on Apple Maps. iOS 14.7 isn’t exactly a major update, but it does bring a great new feature for HomePod users, who can now set and stop timers using the Home app on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It’s unclear, however, when this update will become available to the public. Something that’s new in iOS 14.7 for Canada Air quality index in weather apps pic.twitter.com/D4FG8oM7oz — John Ee (@heyJohnEe) May 19, 2021 Source: Apple expanding ‘Air Quality’ Weather app feature to more countries with iOS 14.7
  11. Opera GX Mobile Beta for Android and iOS released When Opera Software launched its new Opera GX web browser last year, it did so only for desktop operating systems and not mobile operating systems. Opera GX turned out to be quite the success for Opera Software, and the company released several updates since the initial release that extended the browser's functionality. Updates introduced a network limiter, Discord support, background music playback, and more. The main idea behind Opera GX was to create a browser for gamers. Distinguishing factors are the colorful interface of the browser and the integration of game news and information. Today, Opera Software announced the beta launch of Opera GX Mobile for Android and iOS. Interested users can download the browser for their devices directly from the announcement blog post on the Opera website. The announcement highlights the following features: Looking beyond the bold, gaming-inspired design and different color themes, Opera GX Mobile comes with some truely unique features. First off, you get custom navigation with the Fast Action Button (FAB) and haptic feedback (vibrations). On top of this, you can easily sync your mobile and desktop browsers with the Flow feature – it lets you share files, notes, videos and gaming content like walkthroughs, tutorials and character builds between your devices. Plus there’s instant access to GX Corner – a one-tap space for gaming news, deals and a game release calendar. Opera GX Mobile displays a handful of important options on first start. You may enable ad-blocking and the blocking of cookie dialogs next to the blocking of cryptomining scripts, switch to another theme, and choose between standard navigation and what Opera Software calls Fast Action Button. All of these options can be changed in the settings later on. Tip: consider disabling the "extended usage statistics" option while you are in the settings, as it is enabled by default. Fast Action Button adds a button to the browser that enables users to control various features using it with a single activation of the button. Just long-tap on it to display its menu and search, open or close tabs, or switch to tabs quickly using it. Everything is in reach of the user's thumb. Vibrations are used when you activate the button. Opera GX Mobile displays game release information, news and other game related information on its new tab page just like the desktop version of the browser. The browser supports Opera Flow, a synchronization feature to sync data between different mobile and desktop versions. Here is a release video in case you are interested Closing Words Opera GX users who use the desktop version already may be inclined to switch to the mobile version of the browser as well. Maybe not right away, since it is a beta version, but eventually when the first final version is released. Source: Opera GX Mobile Beta for Android and iOS released
  12. Google Maps gets a bunch of new features and improvements Google today announced new updates for Google Maps at its ongoing I/O developer conference. The first of the improvements is mainly aimed at reducing hard-braking incidents while driving. Google Maps will use AI to find routes that are less likely to include areas where hard-braking can occur thereby reducing chances of an accident. Google says this update has the potential to eliminate 100 million hard-braking events in routes driven with Google Maps each year. Next up are enhancements to Live View. The feature is now available directly inside the Maps app and provides important information about establishments around a user, such as how busy they are, recent reviews, and relevant photos. It also includes "helpful street signs" for complex intersections that point users to their places of interest. The detailed street maps feature introduced last year uses AI to display where sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian islands are, along with the shape and width of a road to scale. This is especially useful when navigating on foot or for those with accessibility needs. The company today announced that the feature will be rolling out to 50 new cities by the end of this year, including Berlin, São Paulo, Seattle, and Singapore. Live busyness information - a feature that helps users ascertain if a select place of interest is busy or crowded - now shows the relative "busyness" of an entire area by selectively highlighting a neighborhood or part of town. The firm adds that this information will help users gauge how busy an area is, allowing them to save time or stay socially distanced during the pandemic. Lastly, Google Maps will now tailor its information based on your usage patterns and history, and show only the most relevant places based on time of the day and whether or not you’re traveling. For example, if you regularly open the app early in the morning, it will show you restaurants serving breakfast at that hour, rather than all available places around you. All of these features will roll out gradually to Android and iOS devices globally. Source: Google Maps gets a bunch of new features and improvements
  13. Apple says that more than 215,000 iOS apps were blocked by its App Store's App Review team for privacy violations in 2020, while another 150,00 were rejected because they were spamming or misleading iOS users. The company also blocked 48,000 applications from being published on the App Store due to using undocumented or having hidden features. Ninety-five thousand additional apps were also removed from the App Store for using bait-and-switch tactics where new features and capabilities were added to fundamentally change their functionality after being approved. In total, during 2020, almost 1 million problematic new apps and nearly 1 million app updates were removed or rejected by the App Review team — described as "an essential line of defense" — for various reasons and blocked from landing on the App Store. "In just the last few months, for example, Apple has rejected or removed apps that switched functionality after initial review to become real-money gambling apps, predatory loan issuers, and pornography hubs; used in-game signals to facilitate drug purchasing; and rewarded users for broadcasting illicit and pornographic content via video chat," the company said earlier this week. Apple: $1.5 billion in fraud prevented in a year Apple also says that it could protect its customers from $1.5 billion in potentially fraudulent transactions throughout 2020. It also prevented the use of over 3 million stolen cards on Apple's online store platforms and banned roughly 1 million accounts from ever making transactions again. "Financial information and transactions are some of the most sensitive data that users share online. Apple has invested significant resources in building more secure payment technologies like Apple Pay and StoreKit, which are used by more than 900,000 apps to sell goods and services on the App Store," Apple added. "For example, with Apple Pay, credit card numbers are never shared with merchants — eliminating a risk factor in the payment transaction process." Likely a response to Epic Games lawsuit claims While Apple hasn't exactly revealed the reason behind unveiling last year's fraud prevention efforts, the timing suggests that it is linked to its ongoing Epic Games lawsuit. The lawsuit was sparked by Apple removing Fortnite from the App Store in August 2020 after it was 'upgraded' with its own in-app payment system, designed to circumvent Apple's standard 30% fee of all App Store transactions. The presser was most likely issued to shed light on how its payment protection and App Review systems are defending customers and not stifling competition, as Epic Games said in court documents [PDF] filed last year. Epic Games has filed legal papers in response to Apple, read more here: https://t.co/c4sgvxQUvb — Fortnite (@FortniteGame) August 13, 2020 In the antitrust suit filed against Apple, Epic Games is not seeking any damages but only injunctive relief to force Apple to "allow fair competition" on the App Store. Source
  14. Brave browser for iOS now allows you save media and play it later with the new Playlist feature Brave browser for iPhone and iPad has a new feature called Playlist. This option allows you to save media content from around the web and play it later from a convenient list. Let's see how to use the Brave Playlist. You will need to be on the latest version of the iOS app, i.e. Brave browser 1.25, to access the playlist feature. Open the browser on your iOS device, and go to any site that contains an audio or video, e.g. YouTube. Aside from media streaming services, you may also open webpages that contain an embedded video, like blogs or social networks. But it really depends on the website, the Amazon Prime video website for example does not support Brave. Brave will display a banner prompting you to add the video to the playlist, tap on it to save the content for later. You can do this manually too, tap and hold your finger on the video that is being played, and you will see the Add to Playlist option appear in the context menu. To access your Brave playlist, tap on the three dot button in the top right corner of the browser's interface. Select the Playlist menu item, and the app will list display the content that you added to it. The playlist's GUI resembles a full screen video player. The playback controls lets you play, pause, rewind, fast-forward, and loop the video. You can change the playback speed by 1x, 1.5x and 2x times the normal speed. Cast the video on other devices with the AirPlay button. You can also control the playback from the iOS lockscreen, this is very useful for background playback. The PiP (Picture in Picture) button in the top right edge, can be used to play the videos in a compact video while you browse other sites, even if you switch to other apps, e.g. while you are chatting with a friend on a different app, using a social media app, or just on the device's homescreen. And yes, PiP mode works with YouTube videos too. The best part is that you can watch the content without ads. To manage your Brave playlist, tap the button in the top left corner. The browser lists your videos in a side-panel. You may rearrange the order of the videos by dragging and dropping them. The app places new videos at the top of the list. Brave Playlist downloads the media to your device for offline viewing/listening, that's why you see the video size in the side-bar. Head to the browser's menu, Playlist and toggle the setting called "Auto-save for offline". This will force the browser to stream the content instead of downloading it. There are a couple of interesting options that can resume the playback from the previous position, auto-play the playlist. According to the official announcement, Brave Playlist is also coming to Android and Desktop users later this year. Don't bother trying to sync the playlist between your iOS device and desktop version of Brave (it has a similar playlist button), I already did that and it doesn't work. Source: Brave browser for iOS now allows you save media and play it later with the new Playlist feature
  15. 96% of US users opt out of app tracking in iOS 14.5, analytics find Some of the first data on user behavior exceeds advertisers' worst fears. Enlarge / The Facebook iPhone app asks for permission to track the user in this early mock-up of the prompt made by Apple. Apple It seems that in the United States, at least, app developers and advertisers who rely on targeted mobile advertising for revenue are seeing their worst fears realized: Analytics data published this week suggests that US users choose to opt out of tracking 96 percent of the time in the wake of iOS 14.5. When Apple released iOS 14.5 late last month, it began enforcing a policy called App Tracking Transparency. iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV apps are now required to request users' permission to use techniques like IDFA (ID for Advertisers) to track those users' activity across multiple apps for data collection and ad targeting purposes. The change met fierce resistance from companies like Facebook, whose market advantages and revenue streams are built on leveraging users' data to target the most effective ads at those users. Facebook went so far as to take out full-page newspaper ads claiming that the change would not just hurt Facebook but would destroy small businesses around the world. Shortly after, Apple CEO Tim Cook attended a data privacy conference and delivered a speech that harshly criticized Facebook's business model. Nonetheless, Facebook and others have complied with Apple's new rule to avoid being rejected from the iPhone's App Store, though some apps present a screen explaining why users should opt in before the Apple-mandated prompt to opt in or out appears. This new data comes from Verizon-owned Flurry Analytics, which claims to be used in more than one million mobile apps. Flurry says it will update the data daily so followers can see the trend as it progresses. Based on the data from those one million apps, Flurry Analytics says US users agree to be tracked only four percent of the time. The global number is significantly higher at 12 percent, but that's still below some advertising companies' estimates. The data from Flurry Analytics shows users rejecting tracking at much higher rates than were predicted by surveys that were conducted before iOS 14.5 went live. One of those surveys found that just shy of 40 percent, not 4 percent, would opt in to tracking when prompted. Flurry Analytics' data doesn't break things down by app, though, so it's impossible to know from this data whether the numbers are skewed against app tracking opt-in by, say, users' distrust of Facebook. It's possible users are being more trusting of some types of apps than others, but that data is not available. 96% of US users opt out of app tracking in iOS 14.5, analytics find
  16. Twitter Rolls Out Taller Image Crops For Android And iOS Today Twitter today announced that it’s rolling out image crops for its Android and iOS apps that allow for taller, bigger, better images in posts. Of course better is really a subjective term. As there are surely some users who will not appreciate the taller image crops that Twitter has to offer. Nevertheless, this is a change that’s happening. Having said that it’s also a change that applies to the Android and iOS apps only. As taller crops don’t seem to be supported on Twitter for the web. Twitter also refrains from mentioning PC at all in its announcement. So it’s likely that this won’t be showing up for PC users. For mobile users, the change should already be visible. Twitter image crops on mobile are basically gone now As is the joy from posting any “open for the surprise” images. If you were a user that falls into this category, you can probably get around the change by posting really, really tall images. But for the majority of users, this is a positive change that brings in quality of life to the app experience. Now when you tweet you probably won’t have to worry so much about the dimensions of the image you include. Is your picture too tall? Who cares. Because image previews in the app should show all of or most of the image moving forward. See Twitter’s post below for an example of what this looks like. In short, or in this case tall, image previews are more forgiving. It also makes it possible for users viewing posts in their feed to preview an entire image without having to tap on it. Which in turn makes it easier to continue scrolling through the feed and consuming more content. no bird too tall, no crop too short introducing bigger and better images on iOS and Android, now available to everyone pic.twitter.com/2buHfhfRAx — Twitter (@Twitter) May 5, 2021 A better image experience overall on Android If you use the app more on Android than you do on the web, the experience of posting or viewing images using the mobile app is much better now overall. Twitter recently rolled out 4K image support for all mobile users. So in pairing with this new cropping change, you can post bigger taller images that may just be 4K resolution and they’ll be perfectly visible to all mobile users. The same goes for you when viewing photos like this posted by others. Source: Twitter Rolls Out Taller Image Crops For Android And iOS Today
  17. Apple fixes 2 iOS zero-day vulnerabilities actively used in attacks Today, Apple has released security updates that fix two actively exploited iOS zero-day vulnerabilities in the Webkit engine used by hackers to attack iPhones, iPads, iPods, macOS, and Apple Watch devices. "Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited," the company said in multiple security advisories published today. Webkit is Apple's browser rendering engine that is required to be used by all mobile web browsers in iOS and other applications that render HTML, such as Apple Mail and the App Store. These vulnerabilities are tracked as CVE-2021-30665 and CVE-2021-30663, and both allow arbitrary remote code execution (RCE) on vulnerable devices simply by visiting a malicious website. RCE vulnerabilities are considered the most dangerous as they allow attackers to target vulnerable devices and execute commands on them remotely. CVE-2021-30665 was discovered by Yang Kang, zerokeeper, and Bian Liang of Qihoo 360 ATA, while CVE-2021-30663 was reported to Apple by a researcher who wishes to remain anonymous. The list of affected devices includes: iPhone 6s and later, iPad Pro (all models), iPad Air 2 and later, iPad 5th generation and later, iPad mini 4 and later, and iPod touch (7th generation) macOS Big Sur Apple Watch Series 3 and later The zero-days were addressed by Apple earlier today in the iOS 14.5.1, iOS 12.5.3, macOS Big Sur 11.3.1, and the watchOS 7.4.1 updates. iOS 14.5.1 update This update also resolved a bug that prevented users from seeing App Tracking Transparency prompts within apps. "This update fixes an issue with App Tracking Transparency where some users who previously disabled Allow Apps to Request to Track in Settings may not receive prompts from apps after re-enabling it," stated Apple in their iOS 14.5.1 release notes. Apple has been dealing with a stream of actively exploited zero-day vulnerabilities over the past few months, with one fixed in macOS last month and numerous other iOS vulnerabilities fixed in the previous months. Source: Apple fixes 2 iOS zero-day vulnerabilities actively used in attacks
  18. Office app for iOS adds the ability to merge PDFs and more for Insiders Office Insiders on iOS are getting a handful of new capabilities for the unified Office app as well as PowerPoint with the latest updates to the apps, which bring them to version 2.49. The unified Office mobile app has the most news, starting with the ability to merge multiple PDF files, either those stored on your phone or in the cloud. You can merge PDFs from the Actions menu, from the Most Recently Used list through the triple-dot button, or by selecting Merge from the menu while a PDF file is open. Another addition to the Office app is a new Shared view on the home screen, so you can more quickly find files that were shared with you but that are saved on someone else's account. This change also recently rolled out to the Office app on Android, though Microsoft hasn't made any mention of it in its changelogs. Finally, there's a new Read mode, which is now the default when opening documents. The goal is to prevent accidental changes to documents if you're just trying to read them on the go. As for PowerPoint, there's only one new feature, and that's the ability to select multiple slides in a presentation. You can tap and hold on the first slide you want to select, then tap all the subsequent ones. These Insider builds are usually previews of next month's update for general users, so if you don't want to join the preview program, you can just wait a little longer to try them out. Otherwise, you can sign up for the previews using the TestFlight app, assuming there's still space for you, since TestFlight programs are limited to 10,000 testers. Source: Office app for iOS adds the ability to merge PDFs and more for Insiders
  19. iOS 14.5 out with Unlock with Apple Watch support, new privacy controls, and more After quite a few rounds of beta updates, Apple is today rolling out iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 to eligible devices, bringing with it a number of features. These include the new privacy controls that the company announced last year, the ability to unlock iPhones using an Apple Watch, a bunch of updates to Siri, new emoji, and more. One of the most noteworthy additions with iOS 14.5 is the ability for users to unlock their devices using their Apple Watch, bringing an easy way to unlock a device when wearing a mask. Albeit something that would have been a welcome addition earlier in the pandemic, the feature will be a boon for those that have been waiting for it. The way it works is that if Face ID detects a mask, it will allow you to unlock your phone with your Apple Watch via a prompt. The feature works with Apple Watch Series 3 or newer and requires an iPhone X or newer. The other significant addition to the OS is the App Tracking Transparency feature that mandates that apps request user permission before tracking their data across websites or sharing them with third-party vendors or advertisers. Users can also choose to tweak these permissions in Settings when needed. Siri is getting some improvements with the update as well, starting with new, diverse voice options. The virtual assistant is also gaining support for initiating Group FaceTime calls, announcing incoming calls on AirPods or “compatible Beats headphones”, and supports calling emergency contacts in case of emergencies. Other improvements to the OS include the addition of new emoji, the ability to report incidents on Apple Maps, support for the newly announced AirTags item tracker, the redesigned Podcasts app, 5G improvements for iPhone 12 models with Dual SIM capabilities, and enhancements to News, Fitness+, and Reminders apps. In addition to these features, there is the usual crop of bug fixes accompanying the major changes. Users can head to the Settings app, choose General, and choose Software Update to update their devices. Considering that the list of features for this minor update is long, it might be the last one before the Cupertino giant announces the next major update during its annual developer conference in June. Source: iOS 14.5 out with Unlock with Apple Watch support, new privacy controls, and more
  20. This iOS Game Secretly Turns Into a Gambling App Screenshot: John Biggs/Gizmodo Entrepreneur Kosta Eleftheriou has made it his life’s mission to expose scammy iOS apps, and his latest discovery is a doozie. He found a game called Jungle Run—basically a 2D coin running game —that turns into a cryptocurrency-funded casino in Turkey. The app is currently live on Apple’s App Store and claims to be a “fun running game.” When you install it, you see the app’s terms of service in what appears to be a website window inside the app. The terms, unusually, are stored on a Pastebin page that appears for a moment and then disappears. Once you start up the app, you’re presented with a game that looks like it was made by a grade-schooler: Screenshot: John Biggs/Gizmodo Normal users would delete this app instantly. But, there’s a surprise if you appear to be in Turkey based on your IP address. Instead of showing you the monkey game, a web-based casino appears asking you to fund your online wallet with cash and various cryptocurrencies. Baffled by this, I decided to try it myself. I downloaded the game and tried it in the U.S. Up came the awful monkey game as expected. I then changed my location via VPN using Proton VPN, and voilà: up comes a roulette wheel and a request to go around Apple’s in-app purchase system and fund a sketchy casino wallet. “Alternative App Stores that focus on security rather than revenue would do a much better job than Apple,” said Eleftheriou. “The iPhone already has enough system-level protections to make this work, and Apple needs to drop the security theater that’s harming consumers every day.” The app creator, Colin Malachi, was impossible to find online, but Eleftheriou said the scam has been running for months now. The app itself has no reviews and was last updated on January 23, 2021, presumably to add the janky terms of service screen. Here is a video of the app running before setting the IP address to Turkey and after. The app is still live as of this writing. “As an icing on the cake, people in the reviews say that they deposited large sums for the promise of a bonus, but they never received the promised payouts. Surprising no one, the scammers aren’t even operating a fair casino,” said Eleftheriou. We’ve requested comment from Apple, but it’s best to avoid this app, especially if you’re in Turkey. But since the scammers are not using Apple’s IAP, and an online casino could just be a website, why are they even going through the App Store? To take advantage of people’s misplaced trust due to Apple’s “Security! Privacy!” marketing. In fact, this *is* just a web view! pic.twitter.com/LqKHpSOw74 — Kosta Eleftheriou (@keleftheriou) April 15, 2021 Source: This iOS Game Secretly Turns Into a Gambling App
  21. Microsoft OneDrive app updates on Android and iOS with a host of feature improvements The iOS and Android OneDrive apps both updated today for their respective devices and each update was fairly significant with some fun improvements that go beyond the usual ambiguous and generic bug fixes. The iOS update, which brings the app up to Version 12.23.2, squashes two big bugs that were affecting OneDrive’s VoiceOver feature and re-enabled the ability to make writes to files. Here’s the full release notes: You can once again make writes to your OneDrive files from the iOS Files app. When using VoiceOver on the Plans page, there was no indication that some features required particular plans. This has been fixed and now VoiceOver will indicate when a feature is included with each plan. The app header would sometimes turn white after using the “Take a photo” command, making it very hard to use the + button, which is also white, in light mode. This has been fixed and the header will stay blue again, keeping the + button visible. The See All button in the Home view was appearing in English in all languages, which was puzzling. This has been fixed and now you can ‘see’ it appearing properly in ‘all’ our supported languages. VoiceOver will now read out the buttons in the sign in navigation bar. Some images would appear squished when viewed in a folder and cropped when tapped on and opened in the app. This has been fixed. Thank you to the observant customers who reported this to us and helped us improve. The update for the Android app, which is now at Version 6.27, added a new Home tab for improved productivity by better showing recently opened and offline files. This update also added the ability to reorganize parts of the settings section of the app. Here’s the full release notes for the Android OneDrive app update: We’ve added a new Home tab to help you pick up where you left off, fast. The new Home tab prominently features your Recent view for easy access to your files and an Offline Files section to quickly access and manage files you’ve downloaded for offline access. Find On this Day for OneDrive personal users, and Shared Libraries for work or school in Home as well. Plus reorder the sections in settings! Do you use OneDrive quite a bit? Check out our six tips for getting the best out of Microsoft’s cloud service and then follow us on Twitter for more Microsoft app updates. Download ‎Microsoft OneDrive Developer: Microsoft Corporation Price: Free+ Download Microsoft OneDrive Developer: Microsoft Corporation Price: Free+ Source: Microsoft OneDrive app updates on Android and iOS with a host of feature improvements
  22. Tweetbot 6 for iOS Gains Revamped Video Player With Picture in Picture Support Popular Twitter client Tweetbot 6 was today updated to version 6.1, introducing a redesigned video player, new custom icons, and more. The app features a redesigned video player that includes Picture in Picture support, so videos playing in the app can be watched even if you swipe out of the app. A video that's playing in Tweetbot can be shifted into Picture in Picture mode by tapping on the Picture in Picture icon in the top left. Once in Picture in Picture mode, the video will continue playing if you exit the Tweetbot app and open another app. According to the Tweetbot 6 release notes, today's update also includes new custom icons, a new high contrast light theme, and a number of bug fixes. Tweetbot can be downloaded from the App Store for free, and all features can be unlocked for $0.99 per month or $5.99 per year. [Direct Link] Source: Tweetbot 6 for iOS Gains Revamped Video Player With Picture in Picture Support
  23. Tim Cook Responds to Facebook Criticism of iOS App Tracking Transparency Changes, Says It's 'Hard To Argue Against' Privacy In a preview of an interview with The New York Times' Kara Swisher, set to be published on Monday, April 5, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he's "shocked" at the criticism Apple has received in recent months over upcoming privacy changes in iOS, and claimed that they're "hard to argue against." Apple plans to begin enforcing App Tracking Transparency (ATT) changes following the release of iOS 14.5, meaning all apps that access an iPhone's ad identifier, or IDFA, will need to ask a user's permission before tracking is allowed. The move has provoked criticism from some companies, particularly Facebook, which argues that the new changes will hurt small businesses. Facebook says that small businesses rely on tracking to provide personalized ads and that with ATT, those ads will be less effective. However, when asked in the interview how ATT will impact Facebook, Cook said he's "not focused on Facebook" and that he doesn't know. Swisher asked: "What is your response to Facebook's response — which is quite vehement — calling you essentially an existential crisis to their business?" Cook answered: " All we're doing, Kara, is giving the user the choice whether to be tracked or not. And I think it's hard to argue against that. I've been — I've been shocked that there's been pushback on this to this degree." Facebook initially went all out against ATT; however, the company has recently shifted its tone. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg now claims it's possible that the new change may benefit Facebook by giving it an upper hand in the online commerce space. It's possible that we may even be in a stronger position if Apple's changes encourage more businesses to conduct more commerce on our platforms by making it harder for them to use their data in order to find the customers that would want to use their products outside of our platforms. Cook's latest comments are just a snippet of the full interview set to be published on Monday in which the CEO discusses the removal of Parler from the App Store, the power of Big Tech, and what it's like being called "Tim Apple." Source: Tim Cook Responds to Facebook Criticism of iOS App Tracking Transparency Changes, Says It's 'Hard To Argue Against' Privacy
  24. Microsoft’s Cortana meets an untimely end on iOS and Android This is only the latest development in a series of cuts for Cortana. Cortana on an iPhone. Microsoft Microsoft's Cortana app for iOS and Android will soon shut down, the company has announced on a support page. This effectively puts a nail in Cortana's coffin for consumer use cases, at least as far as competing directly with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa goes. Here's what the announcement says: We will soon be ending support for the Cortana app on Android and iOS, as Cortana continues its evolution as a productivity assistant. As of March 31, 2021, the Cortana content you created—such as reminders and lists—will no longer function in the Cortana mobile app, but can still be accessed through Cortana in Windows. Also, Cortana reminders, lists, and tasks are automatically synced to the Microsoft To Do app, which you can download to your phone for free. After March 31, 2021, the Cortana mobile app on your phone will no longer be supported. This is no surprise. Microsoft had already begun deprecating Cortana on mobile in certain markets, and the writing seemed to be on the wall when the company announced that many of Cortana's consumer-focused skills would be getting the axe about a year ago. Support for third-party skills has ended, and the one and only smart speaker on the market to support Cortana pulled the plug on functionality related to Microsoft's assistant earlier this month. Microsoft announced the change coming to the mobile apps back in July. This is not the end of Cortana, however; Microsoft is just backing out of every area where Cortana wasn't gaining traction against competitors like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. But Cortana is still heavily integrated into Microsoft 365 in several ways; you can think of Cortana as the modern-day, much smarter equivalent of Clippy, in a way. A few years ago (not that long ago at all, actually) the smart-assistant craze began sweeping consumer electronics, and numerous large companies attempted to get their own assistants out there, from Google to Amazon, LG, Samsung, Microsoft, and Apple. Most of this was driven by smart speakers and some features on mobile devices, though the expansion of the smart home category played a part, too. But there was no way all of these smart assistant offerings were going to survive; consolidation was inevitable. Among other things, that's because it's an onerous burden for the numerous smaller tech companies to include support for all the myriad assistants in their hardware and software products. Over the past few years, Google and Amazon have achieved shared dominance in this wide-open space, with Apple's Siri filling a narrower role on certain devices. Remember Bixby? Like Samsung's Bixby (which still exists but isn't exactly making waves), Microsoft's Cortana just couldn't compete. And at least on the surface, that's too bad—it was hard not to root for the one with the audacity to be named after a character from the video game Halo, after all. Today, Google Assistant and/or Amazon Alexa can be found in a huge number of personal electronics products in some form or another. And while Apple's Siri hasn't made the same impact across the entire ecosystem, it has a massive install base in Apple's own products, and usage statistics suggest that users are leaning heavily on the assistant. Meanwhile, you can (at least for the immediately foreseeable future) still find Cortana hanging out inside Microsoft Office, answering your basic queries like a chat bot. Microsoft’s Cortana meets an untimely end on iOS and Android
  25. Apple will reveal the next versions of iOS, macOS at WWDC21, starting June 7 It will be entirely online again, as expected. Enlarge / Apple's splash image for WWDC 2021, which references a meme from last year. Apple Apple will host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on schedule this year, with the event kicking off on June 7 and concluding on June 11. Like last year, it will be an online-only affair as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. All the event's offerings will be free for anyone who has an Apple developer account. The company typically uses this event to announce new versions of its various operating systems (macOS, iPadOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS) and detail the software's new features and changes. WWDC is sometimes, though not always, used to announce new hardware products, too, and it's often the event Apple uses to explain very major changes in direction, should they be imminent. For example, Apple revealed the details of its custom-made silicon transition at last year's conference. Apple's press release notes that the usual components will be there. There will be a keynote to kick things off, followed by "state of the union" presentations that drill deeper on each platform. Then, Apple will offer video sessions on specific features—using the Metal graphics API to make augmented reality applications, in one hypothetical example—throughout the week. The conference will also include one-on-one lab appointments "offering technical guidance" to developers, Apple says. As is customary for announcements like this, Apple provided a statement from a company executive to coincide with the news. "We love bringing our developers together each year at WWDC to learn about our latest technologies and to connect them with Apple engineers," said Susan Prescott, Apple's vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations and Enterprise and Education Marketing. "We are working to make WWDC21 our biggest and best yet and are excited to offer Apple developers new tools to support them as they create apps that change the way we live, work, and play." WWDC21 will also see the return of the Swift Student Challenge, wherein students are encouraged to "create an interactive scene in a Swift playground that can be experienced within three minutes." Swift Playgrounds is a coding sandbox app for Macs and iPads Apple uses to introduce people to Swift, the Objective-C-derived programming language that is increasingly used to make apps for iPhones and other Apple devices. Winners of the Swift Student Challenge will receive "exclusive WWDC21 outerwear and a pin set," Apple's press release says. As always, we'll be covering the event and all its announcements live here at Ars Technica. Apple will reveal the next versions of iOS, macOS at WWDC21, starting June 7
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