Why Apple would need to use ex-NSA workers to stop leaks

Apple CEO Tim Cook.Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Apple CEO Tim Cook.(Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

Apple (AAPL) is tired of leaks. And according to a report by The Outline’s William Turton, the company is employing individuals with experience through the likes of the N.S.A., F.B.I. and the U.S. military to stop its confidential information from being tomorrow’s big headline.

But in the irony to end all ironies, the information that Apple is trying plug its leaks comes from a leaked recording of an internal meeting about how to prevent leaks. So it’s a safe bet that Apple is quite unhappy right now.

The report not only touches on who is working with the tech giant, but also how successful its Global Security team has been in reducing leaks as of late.

Most interesting is the fact that Apple has cut leaks at its production facilities overseas so much that the main sources of information leaving the company are employees at its Cupertino, California headquarters.

We reached out to Apple and did not receive a response before publication.

Taking control

Naturally, Apple isn’t the only company dealing with internal leaks. So how do they keep proprietary information from walking out the front door? According to Gartner Vice President Avivah Litan, organizations need to take both technical and non-technical actions.

Non-technical controls include security awareness, which comes down to employees being alert to changes in their coworkers’ behaviors; and workforce management.

Technical controls, on the other hand, involve things like behavior analytics.

“It sounds really creepy, but basically you profile everything a user does, you put them in peer groups, you profile the peer groups, you profile other entries like desktops and databases and then you look at transactions relative to the profiles,” Litan explained.

The leakers who leak

Why would someone risk their livelihood to leak information about their employer’s future products? In countries where Apple manufacturers its products, the main reason is cash, Litan explained.

Leakers at Apple’s campuses, meanwhile, could be trying to retaliate against the company for a poor performance review.

But as Litan tells it, there isn’t just one kind of leaker. In fact, there are several including “pawns,” “goofs,” “collaborators” and “lone wolfs.” Pawns are employees who can be tricked into leaking information via phishing attacks or “honey pot” schemes, while goofs leak information through simple mix-ups without any ill intent.

Collaborators are individuals who work with other parties to steal or leak proprietary information, while lone wolfs are people who act on their own to leak company data.

What’s so bad about a little leaking?

So why is Apple so hung up on making sure its future products aren’t leaked to the press? Because, the company says, it hurts its bottom line.

That’s not exactly off base, either. The company makes the bulk of its cash off of iPhone sales. And while consumers might purchase the latest handset when it first launches, sales slowly trickle off throughout the year as more and more information about the next iPhone release leaks.

If Apple can keep a tighter lid on the flow of information about its next products, it might be able to sell more current-generation phones.

On the flip side, though, consumers should have a right to know that what they’re spending their hard-earned cash on is exactly the product they want. If they want to get a next-generation iPhone, they should be able to do jut that.

But if they hear that a newer more advanced version is coming next year, then they should have the ability to decide if they’ll wait for that handset to hit the market.

It’s also worth noting that Apple isn’t alone in its quest for product secrecy. Every major consumer manufacturer from video games to cars and trucks tries to keep their products under wraps for as long as possible. Apple, however, as one of the world’s richest companies, simply gets more attention.

It will be interesting to see if Apple can truly clamp down on leaks and turn its press conferences into the kind of incredibly surprising events they used to be. But chances are there will always be leakers ready and willing to share the information they have with the press regardless of their reasons.

More from Dan:

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

An ode to the best part of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin: the nipples

On the 20th anniversary of Batman & Robin, much has been said about the film’s legacy. As a piece of entertainment, the movie was widely panned by critics and fans alike; today, it still holds a 10 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But more enduring than any review score is the film’s true gift: the batnipples. Batman and his partner Robin both wore costumes that prominently displayed their headlights. It was, and it remains, an act of genius.

The costume choice now symbolizes the gaudiness of that superhero era, a time when Batman could be viewed as a wacky hero instead of a gritty one. To this day, director Joel Schumacher is asked about the costume quirk. And when he’s not directly interrogated, Schumacher takes the time to bring it up. Just last week, in an interview with Vice, the director gamely told the publication that he knows he’ll “always go down over the nipples on Batman” — which first appeared in Batman & Robin’s predecessor, Batman Forever.

Says Schumacher: “It’s going to be on my tombstone, I know it.”

Over at GQ, Kristen Yoonsoo Kim interviewed Schumacher about his feelings on Batman & Robin, going deeper into the story of the batnipple. Among some interesting chatter about the film’s legacy in gay cinema and Schumacher’s recent, misunderstood apology, there is, again, this delightful bit about those batsuit nubs. “It got so much attention,” Schumacher says. “So many talented people were working with rubber that we got the gift of having the suit being very slim and very body conscious. The suits became sexier. I never thought… I didn’t even know if people would notice.”

People noticed. I noticed.

I was eight years old when I saw Schumacher’s film, and frankly, I was charmed. I loved Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy, who looks like a knockoff Spice Girl. I wanted to be Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. And I considered Arnold Schwarzenegger’s truly awful puns the height of wit.

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The pair’s controversial nipple wear was utterly boring to me at the time, because how much does any eight-year-old think about someone’s nipples? But as time has worn on (and the batnip conversation has reemerged a bizarre number of times in my everyday conversations), I have to say it: I’m team batnip. Nipples are the stupidest body part to be cloaked in taboo; everyone’s got ‘em. But even today, you can’t show a bare one on Facebook and Instagram unless you want a strike for female nudity.

The Batman Forever / Batman & Robin era of the Dark Knight, love or hate it, rode hard on the idea that superhero movies could be fun — ridiculous, even. From the acting to the dialogue to the very costumes the characters wore, Batman & Robin has a playfulness that DC is failing so hard to find with films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or even Suicide Squad.

Superhero costumes are already ridiculous. They add steel-coated abs and boob-shaped breastplates (even though those would cause more harm than good). What is it about the batnipple that goes too far, other than some larger uncomfortableness with two fleshy little nubs?

Batman & Robin didn’t do a lot right, by the traditional critical lenses. But for once, we got to see something comically, joyfully, unapologetically weird. And in the process, we got something unexpected: Batman and his erect nipples were sexualized — like so many of his female counterparts were before and continue to be.

If Batman Forever gave us “Kiss From A Rose,” the best song ever produced, Batman & Robin reinforced this infamous (and truly revolutionary) look. So, only one question remains: Are you ready to embrace the batnipple?

Poll

Well, are you?

  • 73%
    #freethenipple

    (271 votes)

  • 26%
    None for me, thanks

    (97 votes)

368 votes total Vote Now

6 reasons why the OnePlus 5 is the Android phone to get

The long-awaited OnePlus 5 is here. And. It. Is. Glorious.

The OnePlus 5 is what you get when take a Google Pixel XL and marry it to the iPhone 7 Plus’s dual cameras. 

It’s the perfect phone for anyone who loves Android and wants the iPhone 7 Plus’s cameras, and hates iOS.

The OnePlus 5 didn’t just happen overnight. It’s the end product of years of iteration, and it really shows.

Not to mention, the OnePlus 5 is priced to kill — it’s far more affordable than the premium flagships Samsung and Apple sell.

For the full deep dive on all of the OnePlus 5’s features, you’ll need to read our review. For y’all who are TL;DR (seriously, come onnnn), here’s all that you need to know about the phone, and why you should care about it.

1. It feels incredible 

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Ignore the fact that it looks very similar to an iPhone 7 Plus. A phone is more than just its appearance. How it feels is just as important, and the OnePlus 5 feels incredible. Though it has the same 5.5-inch display, the OnePlus 5’s smaller footprint and its subtle curves make it a pleasure to hold in your hand and use. And, it has a headphone jack. Boom! 

2. Reading Mode will save your eyes 

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Studies suggest the blue light emitted from LCD screens can have a negative impact on your health, and severely hinder your ability to fall asleep. Phones with “night modes” adjust the color temperature of the screen to warmer tones to emit less blue light, and that’s great, but the OnePlus 5’s “Reading Mode” goes even further. 

Turn this setting on (you can also assign which apps automatically activate this feature) and the screen fades from color to black and white with a warmer color temperature. It’s like you’re reading a newspaper or on an e-reader, and it’s made my eyes feel a whole lot less strained.

3. Portrait mode is hot fire

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Yeah, yeah, it’s another feature copied from the iPhone 7 Plus. When you’ve reviewed as many phones as I have, you’ll get used to all the rampant copying — everyone copies (even Apple). 

All that really matters is photos look great. The regular 16-megapixel with f/1.7 lens takes amazing photos even in low light, but it’s the secondary 20-megapixel f/2.6 telephoto lens that takes your photos to a whole new level. Not only does it enable 2x optical zoom, but it also takes “Portrait mode” shots that blur out the background and make your photos really pop. Like the iPhone 7 Plus’ Portrait mode, the OnePlus 5’s version isn’t perfect, but it’s still really good and should get better over time. 

4. It’s sooo powerful and fast 

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Tech nerds, this is your phone. Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip, 6GB RAM with 64GB of storage or 8GB RAM with 128GB of storage, 3300 mAh battery that lasts 20% longer than the OnePlus 3T, and Android 7.1.1 Nougat. 16-megapixel selfie camera, 16-megapixel rear main camera and 20-megapixel telephoto camera.

If these specs make you hot and bothered — good! — because they come together to make the OnePlus 5 a ridiculously powerful, feature-packed, fast, and responsive phone. It feels faster than a Galaxy S8 and smoother than Google’s Pixel

5. Fingerprint sensor is wicked responsive 

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Fingerprint sensors have become really good over the last few years that pretty much all of the ones on flagships are excellent. The OnePlus 5’s front-positioned fingerprint sensor is — as on the OnePlus 3T — fast AF and unlocks in 0.2 seconds. It’s almost too quick, but I’ll take it.

6. Price destroys every other flagship 

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Besides building bitchin’ hardware, OnePlus has always stood for value. It sells premium phones without the premium price tag. Compared to an unlocked 64GB Galaxy S8 ($725) or 32GB — there’s no 64GB — Google Pixel XL ($770) or iPhone 7 Plus ($770), a 64GB OnePlus 5 costs hundreds less at $480. Even the 128GB OnePlus 5 ($540) costs way less than Apple, Samsung, or Google’s flagships. Use all the money you saved and put it towards into your piggybank for another day.

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Uber will pay drivers extra to put up with annoying teenagers

Just some teens out for a ride.
Just some teens out for a ride.

Image: Daniel Grill/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Hey there, loyal Uber driver! Feel like picking up some passengers today? Great! How about some rascally teenagers? 

No? Oh, well, hmm, what if we paid you $2 more?

Buried in the June 20 announcement that Uber will finally allow tipping was a little nugget sure to grab the attention of harried drivers everywhere: Uber will now pass on part of the surcharge for teen rides to drivers. 

“For teen account trips,” the company explained in an email sent to drivers, “$2 will be added to the base fare and you’ll earn more for those rides.”

That’s right, Uber is totally paying drivers more to put up with teenagers. This charge itself is not new, but Uber is now finally sharing that fee with its drivers. Apparently the company realized its drivers needed an extra incentive to pick up teen passengers. 

And what, exactly, are teen accounts? This past March Uber unveiled a new way for people under the age of 18 to hail rides. The idea is that kids over 13 years old can join their parents’ Family Profile, and parents are able track their children’s location as the kids ride. 

The program debuted in Seattle, Phoenix, and Columbus, and immediately generated some driver pushback. 

Tracking Riley's ride.

Tracking Riley’s ride.

Image: uber

“I certainly don’t have anything against teenagers,” one driver who opted out of picking up teenagers, Craig Gibson, told GeekWire at the time. “I have one, so nothing like that, but there is an increased liability when you’re driving somebody’s child around and the potential that could go bad there. If a child says you’ve done something inappropriate, the repercussions are almost immediately more serious and the shockwave quicker, so there is an increased risk there and Uber’s done absolutely nothing to lessen that.”

While Gibson’s concerns regarding chauffeuring around unaccompanied minors are certainly legitimate, perhaps he wasn’t aware of that sweet bonus $2 per ride he’d be getting?

We’re sure that news will make all the difference. 

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Uber for pooping is here, and we can never go back

New York City has a big problem: there aren’t many clean, reliable bathrooms available. If you need to pop off the busy streets for a pitstop, you probably won’t find a free toilet — and even the ones you pay for are more than likely gonna be icky.  

But we live in a time when we can instantly summon just about anything with our smartphones. Surely some enterprising innovator will soon introduce an on-demand, clean bathroom service to disrupt the Big Toilet industry.  

Enter Charmin. The toilet paper company is giving NYC a taste of toilet freedom with a two-day promotion for Van-GO, its new mobile-ordering bathroom experience, this week. The press-to-order service will send on-demand bathroom service to fulfill the dreams of germophobic pedestrians with overfilled bladders everywhere — or, at least the select neighborhoods the van will hit during its run.  

“At Charmin, we’re always looking to bring people the best bathroom experience, both at home with our tissue and in new and unexpected ways,” Charmin’s Associate Brand Director Janette Yauch said in an emailed release. “With the Charmin Van-GO, we are providing one of the largest, most-trafficked cities in the world a new way to Enjoy the Go … on the go.”

Yes, we will enjoy that go. This is the next generation of urban defecation. This, I daresay, is Püber. 

I was given a preview of the service before the bathroom rush begins. 

Hailing the Van-GO is simple: just pull out your smartphone and use your mobile browser to head to CharminVanGo.com. You’ll be greeted by one of Charmin’s anthropomorphic bathroom bears and a start menu, and after entering your first name, age, and phone number, you’ll be able to call for your own personal, portable porcelain throne.

That bear is ready to hit the toilet.

That bear is ready to hit the toilet.

Image: screenshot/charmin

I called for my Van-GO at the corner of Madison Avenue and 23rd Street, but we wound up having to meet on 5th Avenue and 2nd Street. Charmin reps told me that’s bound to happen in the busy city with so many people ordering the van — just like when your Uber driver winds up three blocks from your spot — so be ready to coordinate for your TP-time over text if you plan on calling for it during the promotion.

When I got to the van, there was a whole Charmin Squad on call if I needed any help using the facilities. Thankfully for them, I know exactly what I’m about in the bathroom. 

The Charmin Squad makes the mobile toilet experience even more extra.

The Charmin Squad makes the mobile toilet experience even more extra.

Image: haley hamblin/mashable

The interior of the van was cozy and super-clean, just what I was hoping for after a long walk on the NYC streets. A personalized LED light welcomed me in, helping me prepare to do my business in the middle of the bustling city.

My throne.

My throne.

Image: haley hamblin/mashable

After I got my bearings (pun intended), I gave the toilet seat a demo for our photographer. It was a solid seat, and while the traffic noise outside was a bit off-putting, I was ready. It was time. 

Just a quick pose -- shortly after, the door shut and the business went down.

Just a quick pose — shortly after, the door shut and the business went down.

Image: haley hamblin/mashable

You can imagine what went down next. Or maybe, it’s better that you don’t.

The decor is, as they say, on point.

The decor is, as they say, on point.

Image: Haley Hamblin/mashable

After using the Van-GO, I’m a changed man. Once you’ve had your own personal toilet delivered to you at your smartphone’s bidding, you won’t want to go back to your old life, either.

If you’re in NYC, you’ll be able to catch the Van-GO later this week on June 21 and 22, when the service is unleashed with black-ish star Anthony Anderson in tow to crack jokes while you do your business.

On Wednesday, the service will be available in Columbus Circle (W. 57th), Herald Square, and Bryant Park from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; on Thursday you’ll be able to hail a toilet around Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Plaza, Union Square, and the High Line during the same time frame.   

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Microsoft Expands Linux Container Support in Windows Server

Microsoft has decided to expand its support for Linux containers in the next release of Windows Server.

Linux containers and workloads will work natively on Windows Server, said Erin Chapple, general manager for the server operating system, in an online post last week.

The company also will extend Window Server’s Hyper-V isolation capability, which was introduced in the 2016 release of the operating system.

“This means customers will no longer have to deploy two separate container infrastructures to support both their Windows and Linux-based applications,” Chapple wrote.

What’s more, Windows Bash also is coming to the next edition of Windows Server. That’s good news for developers.

“This unique combination allows developer and application administrators to use the same scripts, tools, procedures and container images they have been using for Linux containers on their Windows Server container host,” Chapple explained.

Slimmer Nano Server

Microsoft also has improvements in store for the container performance of its Nano Server productm Chapple noted.

Nano Server, introduced in 2015, is a purpose-built operating system designed to run born-in-the-cloud applications and containers.

“The idea was to make it tiny, and allow each developer to add only the necessary elements for their specific micro-services to it,” explained Ben Bernstein, CEO of Twistlock.

“It’s more compliant, stable and secure,” he told LinuxInsider. “The image does exactly what the developer adds to it and nothing more — no weird under-the-hood elements.”

The next release of Windows Server will focus on making Nano Server the very best container image possible, Chapple wrote.

Customers will see Nano Server images shrink in size by more than 50 percent, which will decrease startup times and improve container density, she noted.

Targeting Pain Points

Reducing the size of an operating system inside a container is important for reserving resources for the primary application running in the virtual box.

“Ideally, you’d want the underlying operating system to be zero, because you want it entirely out of the way,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“This isn’t there yet,” he told LinuxInsider, “but it’s very thin and gets out of the way as much as possible.”

The size of Windows containers is one of three pain points with Microsoft’s implementation of the technology, noted Amir Jerbi, CTO of Aqua Security.

“The size of Windows containers compared to Linux containers is very big — over 1 gigabyte,” he told LinuxInsider. “This will reduce that by 50 percent.”

Running Linux containers natively on Microsoft server and Linux tools on Windows make things simpler for shops using both operating systems, Jerbi added.

Linux Dominates Containers

Microsoft’s container strategy aligns the company with current customer demand, Jerbi said.

” Organizations are looking to normalize operation processes and tools,” he noted. “Having a single platform that runs both Windows and Linux containers helps with that.”

Microsoft’s moves reflect its recognition of the state of the container space.

“In reality, 99 percent of container images are Linux images,” observed Twistlock’s Bernstein.

“Since we are talking about containers that act as micro-services and, in turn, engage with each others’ containers, a Windows-containers-only environment is not realistic,” he pointed out. “For Microsoft to bootstrap any usage of Windows containers, it must support usage of existing Linux images.”

Containers have become important for developing software in today’s application environments. They can shorten development cycles. They allow software to be run anywhere — on premises or in the cloud. They also can simplify the development process because of the multitude of ready-made images.

“Studies show that containers boost productivity,” Bernstein said, “which is why software product companies want to adopt them.”


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter
since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the
Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government
Security News
. Email John.

This company is using recycled materials to make magnets you didn’t know you needed

Urban Mining Company is cleanly manufacturing rare earth permanent magnets, which are need for everything from refrigerators to computers. These magnets are essential for modern technology to function, and this company is making them with recycled materials.

This $20 shower speaker could be what your bathroom’s missing

Image: neva tech

Turn groggy mornings into your own personal aquatic concert with the XXL Shower Speaker

A lively soundtrack during your shower can be a serious game changer for all you shower singing divas out there. The current methods for playing music, however, are less than ideal. The old phone-in-an-empty-cup hack disappoints every time, and even the majority of shower speakers lack the volume and fidelity to make your favorite tunes sound anything like they should.

The XXL Shower Speaker could solve these shortcomings for you. Aptly named, the XXL Shower Speaker claims to massively expand upon the basic features of other waterproof speakers. It packs a powerful 3-watt driver capable of louder volume with deeper bass and twinkling treble, as well as Bluetooth 4.0 functionality for better, more reliable streaming fidelity.

If you’ve got to take a call in the shower (real talk though: weird), its speakerphone function lets you communicate while you’re getting clean. Meanwhile, the XXL’s larger size provides more than just a cosmetic upgrade; its bigger suction cup means better mounting, and a bigger battery provides more uninterrupted listening between charges.

It’s normally available for $99.99, but you grab one today for just $19.99.

Sony and Marvel’s Spider-Man deal may create one universe, but two worlds

Spider-Man: Homecoming is due out in theaters on July 7th, kicking off the third solo Spider-Man franchise in 15 years. It’s a huge deal for the Hollywood studio system: Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment share the rights for the wallcrawler, meaning Spidey can appear in major Marvel projects, while Sony develops its own franchise around the character and his supporting cast.

But there’s some confusion as to how all this will work in practice. Homecoming exists squarely in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the massive storytelling vehicle that ropes all of Marvel Studios’ major movie superheroes into one interconnected narrative. Sony is working on Venom and Silver & Black, which don’t fit into that continuity. And Sony has every intention of building out its own MCU, focusing on Spider-Man characters that won’t cross over into Marvel’s other properties.

This is all weird, and it doesn’t have any filmmaking precedent, beyond the most cursory cameo events, like Disney and Warner Bros. characters appearing in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But there’s an easy way to think about what Marvel and Sony are trying to pull off: Spider-Man and his universe do technically exist in the MCU, but as a kind of unincorporated territory. His operating grounds have inherent ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since he’s appeared in Captain America: Civil War, while MCU characters will appear in Homecoming. But the rest of his world will operate independently. It’s a complicated game of rights management, and even if the logistics work, there’s no telling whether the resulting movies will be good.

Much of the confusion surrounding Sony’s Marvel Universe comes from seemingly contradictory statements from Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and Spider-Man executive producer Amy Pascal. In an interview with the French film site AlloCiné, Feige said, “No plans to include [Venom] in the MCU right now. That is Sony’s project.”

However, in an interview with FilmStarts, Pascal said, “Well, those movies [like Venom] will all take place in the world that we’re now creating for Peter Parker. They’ll all be adjuncts to it. They may be different locations, but it will still all be in the same world. They will all be connected to each other as well.”

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Pascal later waffled on whether Spider-Man himself will appear in these separate outings, but the fact that Sony is creating a world around Peter Parker is the key statement. Peter is becoming a fixture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Homecoming already acknowledges the presence of the Avengers. But even if Spider-Man doesn’t appear in a given story, his actions could have far-reaching impacts on the characters around him in a way that allows for whole movies to crop up without him as the star.

That makes sense from a character standpoint. Venom, in particular, is a dark reflection of Spider-Man. It’d be odd to entirely separate their stories, especially since they share most of the same powers: super-strength, agility, and sticking to walls. But placing them in the same conceptual universe means that the New York where Peter Parker and most of his supporting cast live must be the same across both Marvel and Sony’s films. And yet Sony’s stories won’t cross over. The thinking is that Spider-Man, whose rogues’ gallery is one of the most recognized in comics, can sustain his own separate, ongoing story continuity.

So Feige and Pascal are both right. Spider-Man can be an MCU character without Venom showing up in the MCU. That’s something of a shame; Venom has crossed paths with multiple Marvel superheroes over the decades, and the idea that he might have an on-screen run-in with Iron Man is enticing. But Sony’s hold over the rights means he, along with Black Cat and Silver Sable, will have their own stories that the Avengers will probably never be a part of, unless the studios’ deal changes at some point in the post-Infinity War future.

Marvel Studios already uses a similar template for its television projects. Netflix series like Daredevil and Iron Fist all exist within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but don’t interact with the films’ continuity in any meaningful way. Agents of SHIELD had deep ties to the films early in its run, but after Captain America: The Winter Soldier brought about the dissolution of SHIELD, the show hasn’t shown much of a connection to the film universe. And Inhumans, which started out as a movie project, is getting its own self-contained series this fall. The core of all this has to do with how rights are shared between Marvel’s film and TV divisions, but the effect is that Agent Coulson and Daredevil have stories so self-contained that they doesn’t ever have to collide with Iron Man’s.

And these divisions make some sense — so long as you keep the history of comic book crossovers in mind. Spider-Man might appear in major crossovers like Civil War II that have significant consequences for the entire Marvel universe. A month later, he can star in something like Clone Conspiracy, a solo event with significant consequences strictly aimed at his supporting characters. And based on that event, a character like Peter Parker clone Ben Reilly can get his own series, Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider, largely unrelated to anything going on in the larger Marvel Universe.

There are still a few things we don’t know about how Marvel and Sony will navigate their shared custody deal over Spider-Man. For one, how much will current Spider-Man Tom Holland be permitted to appear in Sony’s Marvel Universe, even if the entire experiment hinges on the character? This will be Sony’s first chance at launching a cinematic universe around Peter Parker, which has been a company goal since the failed Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Brokering a deal with Marvel Studios has paved the way for a Spider-Man movie that could potentially live up to Sam Raimi’s 2002 classic. The next step is proving Sony’s own cordoned-off Marvel universe can compete at the box office.

Don’t tell Apple: AirBar turns your MacBook Air into a touchscreen laptop

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Spend enough time using a touchscreen — any touchscreen — and you’re sure to try using gestures on every screen you encounter, even ones without touch.

I use a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 for work, an iPad Pro at home and the iPhone in my pocket. I live in a touch world, except when I use a Mac.

Apple will never make a touchscreen Mac because, as they told me earlier this year, it does not believe its customers want it. 

One company, Neonode, disagrees. The optical sensing startup has been building touch display technology for Kobo and Sony eReaders as well as some automotive touchscreens (Volvo) for years.

AirBar works particularly well with maps.

AirBar works particularly well with maps.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Last year, it unveiled a new device, the AirBar, a thin device that fits below any 15-inch Windows 10 laptop screen and adds touch and gesture-sensing to the display. Unlike traditional capacitive touchscreen technology that measures the conductivity from your fingers through the screen, AirBar projects a shallow infrared light field in the space in front of the display, and uses that to track hand and finger movements.

Because AirBar uses infrared light projected in front of the screen, it can do something capacitive screens can’t: recognize gestures above the display and ones that start just off the side of the screen (say a swipe in from the left or right).

Windows 10 was designed to be a touch system, so the work to integrate AirBar touch was easy. Apple’s MacOS is not designed for touch, so the work took a little longer. But now it’s done and you can finally add touch to one of Apple’s most popular laptops: the 13-inch MacBook Air.

Setting up the AirBar

The thin, wide and mostly aluminum AirBar ($99) is designed to fit on the MacBook Air’s roughly 1-inch deep bezel, just below the screen. It comes with tiny magnets that you affix to the bezel and that match up perfectly with the magnets on the back of the AirBar. While they use adhesive, they’re also easy to remove and the AirBar ships with a replacement set of magnets.

AirBar fits right below your MacBook Air screen and beams  the invisible, optical sensor rays straight up in front of it.

AirBar fits right below your MacBook Air screen and beams  the invisible, optical sensor rays straight up in front of it.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

There are also two thin printed lines on the AirBar that you use to align with each outer edge of the screen. You won’t be able to close the laptop with the roughly 1/4-inch-thick AirBar in place and, if you try to, the AirBar will see your hand touch the top edge of the laptop and emit an alarm. This is not a Bluetooth device. Instead, the AirBar uses a short cable to plug into the MacBook Air’s USB port.

On a Windows 10 system, AirBar is plug and play. On the Mac, you’ll have to install a driver. Once I had that installed and the AirBar plugged in and in place, it worked pretty much as advertised and, unlike gesture add-ons like Leap Motion, there’s no training required. It’s as if the MacBook Air finally shipped with a touchscreen. 

The aluminum chassis fits right in with the MacBook Air.

The aluminum chassis fits right in with the MacBook Air.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

I could touch even the tiniest button on the MacBook Air screen to click it, use one finger to scroll through a webpage or move around on a map, and a pinching gesture lets you zoom in and out on maps and photos. I can even draw in Paint 2 using just my finger. When I showed some of these tricks to my coworkers, there were literally “oohs” and “aahs.”

The gestures can get sophisticated, too. I could use a swipe from the left edge of the screen to reveal the Notification Center and a swipe up with three fingers to reveal Mission Control. (You can toggle on and off any of these controls in AirBar’s control center app.)

It’s all fairly impressive, but also frustratingly inconsistent. 

AirBar made the smart decision to emulate iOS in web browsing apps like Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox. However, it doesn’t always work as anticipated.

In Safari, for example, when I click on a link, swiping in from the left side of the browser screen should take me back to the previous webpage, but when I do it, nothing happens.

Sometimes the AirBar would mistake a pinch for a zoom or lose track of my fingertip and not respond to a tap. Yes, I could draw on screen, but, compared to the Microsoft Surface Pro or iPad Pro, the latency is, at best, inconsistent. Sometimes, the cursor is right there with your fingertip, other times it lags far behind.

AirBar works best with photos, maps, and websites, where tapping, scrolling, slideshows, and pinch and zoom are all you need for a good touch experiences.

If you love your MacBook Air, but are jealous of your Surface Pro friends, this is a good and affordable touch solution. It’s not perfect and, since you can’t close your laptop while it’s in place, a bit of a kludge, but when it works, which is often, it’s fast, fun and adds a new dimension of interaction to your MacBook Air experience.

AirBar

The Good

Adds touch to a MacBook Air Easy setup Precise

The Bad

Inconsistent operation Can’t close the laptop with it in place

The Bottom Line

AirBar is the worthwhile, though imperfect, realization of a dream: a touch MacBook