All posts in “Software”

Google says to ‘count on’ a second-generation Pixel smartphone this year


Google’s Pixel smartphone this year was a significant reset for the company’s mobile hardware strategy – and one that earned a lot of praise from customers and critics. Good news for those who liked it: Pixel’s successor will arrive sometime in 2017, as confirmed by Google SVP of Hardware Rick Osterloh to Android Pit at MWC this year.

It sounds like the Pixel 2 will continue the tradition of the original – Osterloh said it’ll remain “premium” in its next iteration, and he added that the company isn’t interested in offering a low-cost version, preferring instead to let that segment be addressed by its external hardware partners.

While it was to be expected that Google would put out a smartphone this year, since the annual release cycle for hardware is hardly new, Osterloh’s confirmation tells us a few things about the company’s strategy that weren’t previously totally pinned down. First, we know Google’s staying the course with the new strategy it set out with Pixel, whereby it aims to compete more directly with the iPhone. Second, we know it’s not going to split its focus by simultaneously going after mid- and low-market opportunities at the same time.

This bodes well for Google’s smartphone strategy. The first Pixel is still the best Android smartphone available, in my opinion, and it’s good to see Google continuing along that path.

Kinetise now lets you download the code you make in their drag and drop app creator


The world of mobile development is a hairy one. You can code things yourself and hurt your brain on React Native or you can use a drag-and-drop editor and get locked into one platform forever. But now app development house Kinetise is offering the best of both worlds.

Kinetise, who I’ve talked about for years as an interesting alternative to coding your own Android and iOS apps, came to realize that their solution, while powerful, was a little scary for big IT teams. Creator Piotr Pawlak has simply added a $1,499 source code download option that lets you create your app in their browser-based interface and then click one button to download and deliver the code.

Why did they do it? Because they could.

“We’ve seen numerous builders, developers and founders asking for the source code to whatever apps they build. So we made it possible,” said Pawlak.

Why do you want this? Multiple reasons. Perhaps you’d like to do a security audit on the app before you launch or see how your data is being stored. Or maybe you just don’t like lock-in. This move has turned Kinetise from the locked-down but powerful Microsoft Access of the app dev world into something more akin to Visual Studio.

The system outputs Objective C for iOS and Java for Android. This means you could feasibly design in the app and then ship the code Kinetise sends you for testing.

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This isn’t the first app builder that produces source code – there’s also Dropsource and a few others – but Kinetise also has a robust API system that allows you to point to multiple data stores and even access their data via web apps. In short you get an app, the code, and peace of mind that your app won’t have to hit the dumpster since you can build on it even if you abandon the drag and drop editor.

DeepCoder builds programs using code it finds lying around


Like all great programmers I get most of my code from StackOverflow questions. Can’t figure out how to add authentication to Flask? Easy. Want to shut down sendmail? Boom. Now, thanks to all the code on the Internet, a robot can be as smart as a $180,000 coder.

The system, called DeepCoder, basically searches a corpus of code to build a project that works to spec. It’s been used to complete programming competitions and could be pointed at a larger set of data to build more complex products.

From the paper:

Building an IPS system requires solving two problems. First, the search problem: to find consistent programs we need to search over a suitable set of possible programs. We need to define the set (i.e., the program space) and search procedure. Second, the ranking problem: if there are multiple programs consistent with the input-output examples, which one do we return? Both of these problems are dependent on the specifics of the problem formulation. Thus, the first important decision in formulating an approach to program synthesis is the choice of a Domain Specific Language.

The system gets smarter as it keeps practicing, figuring out which snippets of code work best together and when to use a certain snippet in place of another. Because it “learns” the system can get faster and faster as it builds more programs.

Matej Balog at the University of Cambridge and Alexander L. Gaunt, Marc Brockschmidt, Sebastian Nowozin, Daniel Tarlow at Microsoft Research built the product and co-authored a paper on its use. Programmers note that a system like this can’t build larger projects out of small snippets of code which, to be fair, sounds like whistling past the graveyard.

Given that this is how many programmers work – cutting up code and repurposing it – this seems like an excellent use for deep learning systems. I can imagine this being a great solution for simple CRUD apps – the basic tools needed to update and add records to a database. In fact, it could mean the end of the entry level programmer job all together. I, for one, welcome our job-killing AI-powered robot overlords.

The Daily Show’s MakeTrumpTweetsEightAgain is political commentary at its geekiest


Whether you agree or disagree with his policies, one thing is certain: making someone’s Tweets look like they were written by a third-grader is really funny. The folks at the Daily Show proved this with their Chrome/Firefox plugin MakeTrumpTweetsEightAgain.

The extension is pretty simple: any Trump Tweet is automatically turned from a measured, well-crafted response to a pressing geopolitical issue into the scribblings of Walker, your 8-year-old nephew who is really into The Force Awakens. It works on Chrome and Firefox only – Safari users are SOL – and you can turn it off in case you need a dose of seriousness in your political discourse.

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This isn’t the first political Chrome extension and I doubt it will be the last. Obama had his share and and there’s even a whole-hog filter that removes the entire political spectrum from your browsing experience. Technology, it seems, is as good at filtering our experience as it is dumping a firehose of data down our gullets.

In the end Chrome extensions won’t sway popular opinion in either direction – I’m sure there are some readers who are itching to tell me off for suggesting that our president has the mind of someone who watches Just Add Magic un-ironically. My advice? Write a Chrome extension that turns off Twitter completely. We’ll all feel a lot better.

You can now use Signal for encrypted video calls


Open Whisper Systems, creator of encrypted communication platform Signal, released an update today as an open beta to enable encrypted video calling. The app previously offered fully end-to-end encrypted chat and voice calling, but the addition of video will make it even easier to convey information without compromising security. The update also promises to improve the existing, somewhat clunky, voice calling feature.

Signal, endorsed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, is used by a diverse group of users. Anyone in a compromised location can take advantage of the app’s security features to communicate with others safely and securely. But the app’s demographic goes considerably beyond activists and journalists. People who prioritize security more generally use Signal for more benign functions — even casual communication with GIFs and other less sensitive content.

Video capabilities should serve both groups, assuming it can perform at a level that matches more traditional, and less secure, services like Apple’s FaceTime and Google’s Hangouts. To that point, Open Whisper Systems is continuing to work on making it easier for developers to incorporate Signal into their products.

Additionally, users will be able to use CallKit in iOS 10 to answer calls directly from their lock screen. Calls via Signal are effectively treated the same way as calls received natively on iPhone. Unfortunately, this integration might create vulnerabilities for the particularly privacy conscious because it will sync call duration and destination with iCloud. This feature can be turned off within your phone’s settings though if you’d prefer to prioritize security over convenience.

Moxie Marlinspike, founder of Open Whisper Systems, doesn’t believe that video presents too many additional challenges on the technical side when it comes to encryption. The feature simply leverages the existing secure messaging channel Signal is built on.

“Real-time encryption is almost more straight forward in some ways,” explains Marlinspike. “A call is synchronous communication that’s somewhat ephemeral which makes cryptography easier.”

To try out the new features included in the update, you’ll need to go into your Signal settings and enable “video calling beta” under “advanced.” Just remember that calls won’t work if the person you’re trying to reach hasn’t also enabled video.

Featured Image: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Getty Images