4 cameras and a mirror-like finish make the midrange Honor 9 Lite stand out

Not content with launching the Honor 7X and the Honor View 10 at the end of 2017, Honor has already announced its first smartphone for 2018 — the Honor 9 Lite. While it takes the name of Honor’s stunning Honor 9 smartphone, it shares more of a visual resemblance to the Honor 7X while carrying over over one of the Honor 9’s best design features — the beautiful mirrored rear cover.

Honor says it has applied a nanoscale optical coating made of glass to the rear panel  to give it that distinct mirrored finish. Unlike the Honor 9, the Honor 9 Lite has an 18:9 aspect ratio screen under a 2.5D piece of glass on the front, which measures 5.65 inches, and a 2160 x 1080 pixel resolution. This gives it a bezel-less appearance, which Honor has embraced with all of its most recent phone releases. While the design will turn your head, it’s the camera setup that makes the Honor 9 Lite interesting.

The phone has four camera lenses — yes, four — two on the front and two on the back. Both have the same dual-lens 13 megapixel and 2 megapixel sensors. Honor uses its dual-lens cameras to produce a blurred background bokeh effect, which can be re-created in regular shots taken with the rear camera, and with selfies taken with the front camera. The front cams have an f/2.0 aperture, and a new beauty mode so you always look your best.

This is a midrange smartphone, so it doesn’t use Huawei’s high performance Kirin 970 chip like the Honor View 10. Instead, it has the Kirin 659 inside, just like the Honor 7X. The fingerprint sensor is set in the top center of the rear panel, and Honor says it’ll unlock your phone in 0.25 of a second. There’s no word yet on face unlock, or other technical features like RAM or storage space. The Honor 9 Lite has already been announced in China, and the version coming to the U.K. has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, plus a MicroSD card slot.

Finally, the Honor 9 Lite comes with Android 8.0 Oreo installed with version 8.0 of Huawei’s EMUI user interface over the top. This is the same as what’s installed on the Honor View 10 and the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. If you’re wondering about the price and release date for the Honor 9 Lite, it will be sold in the United Kingdom starting February 6 through various retailers including Amazon for just 200 British pounds — less than the Honor 7X — or around $280 when converted over. An Honor representative told Digital Trends there are no current plans for a U.S. release; but Honor has consistently released its phones in the United States recently, so this could change.

Editors’ Recommendations

Tinder is launching a new location-based feature set this year


Tinder will launch a series of new features based on location in 2018, its parent company Match Group revealed during this week’s Q4 2017 earnings. The dating app maker has been fairly vague on what these new features will entail, having only described them previously as something that will blur the “distinction between digital and real-life dating, and dating and simply engaging in your social life.”

This hints at further efforts at expanding Tinder into more of social network for young singles, rather than an app whose sole focus is on creating relationships.

Tinder has also said before that its plans around location had the potential to bring in “a new audience,” as they “expand the definition of dating.” That could imply the company is thinking about how Tinder could be used to simply help people make new connections, including those that may only turn into friendships, not dates.

The company has also said the location-based feature set will include releases where each new feature builds on top of the prior one, but hasn’t offered any details around how they will work.

While Tinder today lets you scout for matches by distance from you, or set your location to a different city through the paid feature, Tinder Passport, users have often requested enhancements like sorting matches by location or visualizing matches on an in-app map.

Alternately, other dating apps have leveraged users’ location for “missed connections” type features, as with the app Happn. Match Group’s own namesake app, Match.com, even rolled out its own take on missed connections back in January 2017.

In its case, the feature doesn’t show a user’s real-time location or precise last location, for privacy purposes. Instead, it shows users at intersections that are within one block of a past location. And other users can only view this location data for a few hours, for safety’s sake.

Tinder won’t say if it’s planning something similar, though it seems that some sort of toggle for temporarily sharing a live location may make sense for those who want to use the app when they’re out and about, and looking to meet people. This is something people already do in the app as something of a hack by setting their distance settings to under a mile –  as surely Tinder knows.

There’s also definitely room for the app to better connect people who are on Tinder with the same goals. Tinder’s description of the new location features say they take “user intent” in mind, so potentially some ability to either display or filter out certain types of matches could come into play.

Tinder barely touched on its plans for the upcoming location-based feature set during the earnings call this week. After mentioning products it’s testing, such as the A.I.-powered Super Likable and those that aim to improve the post-match experience, Tinder confirmed a new, location-based feature set is in the works for 2018.

“We’re also actively developing a series of location-based features which we believe have the ability to meaningfully enhance the Tinder experience,” said Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg on the investor call. “Tinder has incredible scale given its viral growth and the dating context provides a level of intent that traditional social networks can’t capture. And overlaying location as a vector could be compelling, especially to a young, mobile and very social audience.”

Ginsberg added that Tinder is being intentionally vague about the new additions because it believes they’ll be a competitive advantage.

“But we didn’t want people to lose sight that it is a focus for us,” she added.

The features were also noted within the Q4 2017 slides, released alongside the earnings.

It does sound like whatever Tinder is building in this area will be free, as the company confirmed that it won’t be rolling out new monetization features until the second half of 2018. Tinder also pointed to the success of its premium product, Tinder Gold, as providing a revenue stream that allows it to develop more free features that make its app appealing to a wider audience.

Tinder today remains one of the biggest drivers of revenue for Match Group, accounting for around 30 percent of its parent company’s revenue in 2017.

The dating app added 1.5 million paid subscribers in 2017, up from about 900,000 in 2016. It now has more than 3 million paid subscribers in total, thanks to the addition of 544,000 in Q4 2017.

Match Group as a whole reported revenue of $378.9 million for the quarter, up from $295 million a year earlier. However, the company reported a net loss of $9 million for the quarter, or 3 cents a share, down from profit of $73.8 million a year ago. This was attributed to a charge of $92 million due to the U.S.’s new tax law. Had the law not been in place, net income would have been $83 million, or 29 cents per share.

Check out 30 of the best iPhone games you need to be playing

If you’re a gamer, there is no better phone to buy than the iPhone. Both the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus brought bigger screens to iOS, but it’s the success of the App Store that makes the iPhone such a great platform for gaming. With more than a million apps, the gaming options on the iPhone are nearly limitless. But finding the best iPhone games isn’t always easy.

Not every game in Apple’s massive library is worth a $1 — or your time, for that matter. Lucky for you, we’ve taken on the burden of sorting through the sea of titles to bring you some of our best iPhone games, whether you’re looking for a casual puzzler or something a bit more biblical. For more ideas, check out the best Android games, because most of them are available for the iPhone as well, and if you want to switch off that screen, the best board games could offer a welcome alternative.

Trivia games

HQ

best iphone games hq

HQ is a live trivia game where you have the chance to win cash prizes, but only if you make it through all 12 rounds. The show airs every day at 9 p.m. ET with additional shows on weekdays at 3 p.m. ET.

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iTunes

Trivia Crack

best iphone games triviacrack

With Trivia Crack, you can play your friends, random opponents, or even yourself. By spinning the wheel, you’ll land on a category such as entertainment, sports, geography, and more. Once you collect all of the different icons, you win the game.

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iTunes

Sporcle

best iphone games sporacle

Sporcle provides you with a variety of different brain teasers to solve across a wide range of topics like television, geography, and sports. There are also new quizzes and challenges added every day.

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iTunes

Jeopardy

best iphone games jeopardy

With Jeopardy! World Tour, you can take Alex Trebek and his challenging questions with you. You can play random opponents, answer questions from thousands of clues and categories, and earn free power-ups along the way.

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iTunes

QuizUp

best iphone games quizup

QuizUp is not only a destination for all things trivia, but it also has a social media flair to it. You can play based on questions asked about your favorite topics and also post your thoughts and interact with others via the QuizUp newsfeed.

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iTunes

Action and Adventure games

Dragon Hills 2 ($3)

In Dragon Hills 2, you get to fight against the zombie apocalypse on a mechanical dragon. Discover lands filled with dragons, giants, zombies, and more, while sliding down hills and destroying everything in your path.

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iTunes

Marvel: Contest of Champions 

In Marvel: Contest of Champions, your favorite superheroes and villains face off the ultimate showdown. You can build your own team or create one with friends to form an alliance. Throughout the game, you also have the chance to expand your pool of characters, level up, and receive synergy bonuses.

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iTunes

Limbo ($4)

best iPhone games: limbo

A terrific, touch-controlled platform game, Limbo is a stunning saga of a boy who wanders through a haunting industrial jungle. There’s no explanation, no dialogue, and no shortage of horrendous surprises. It’s the kind of game that stumps you for hours until something clicks and you suddenly realize how simple the answer was.

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iTunes

Ocmo ($5)

Ocmo is a game that’s a bit on the darker side — you’re tasked with killing ragdoll rabbits as you control Ocmo through different environments. As you advance throughout the game, the obstacles become more difficult as you try to navigate Ocmo towards the rabbits without killing Ocmo yourself. With 80 levels and over ten hours of gameplay, you’ll have plenty of time getting to know the little creature and how to successfully complete each level.

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iTunes

Vikings: an Archer’s Journey ($3)

best iPhone games: Vikings: an archer's journey

In Vikings: an Archer’s Journey you control the character Nott, a Valkyrie who has been sent to the Underworld by the Viking gods. You must use your keen archery skills to conquer the enemies you encounter along the way.

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iTunes

Life Is Strange ($3)

Originally released in 2015 on PC and consoles, Life Is Strange is available for iOS. In the game, you’ll follow the story of Max Caulfield who finds herself, alongside her best friend, investigating the disappearance of a student at their high school. The five-part episodic game allows you to rewind time which then affects the past, present, and future.

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iTunes

Old Man’s Journey ($5)

old man's journey

Like To the Moon, Old Man’s Journey is a game that sets out to tell a very specific story about life and the choices we make (or don’t). You follow the titular Old Man as he travels across the country, aiding him along the way by altering the hills and landscapes in front of him, and interacting with the objects and people he meets. Gorgeous locations, brought to life with hand-drawn art and animations, will ensure your attention never diverts from the story being told. It’s short, simple, and may be a welcome change of pace from other games that have debuted this year.

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iTunes

Puzzle games

Frost ($5)

Frost is a visually stunning puzzle game filled with vibrant colors and powerful background music. Within each level, you’re presented with an orb of a specific color along with a swarm of other colors. Depending on what color the orb is, your job is to guide the same color within the swarm towards the orb. Since the game isn’t specific about what you’re supposed to do, part of the challenge is figuring out the concept as you advance from level to level.

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iTunes

hocus. ($1)

Based on the drawings of graphic artist — M.C. Escher — hocus features 100 mind bending levels to solve. Each puzzle is made up of minimalist 3D shapes in the form of cubes or lines. As an added bonus, there’s also relaxing music and sounds playing in the background.

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iTunes

Poly Bridge ($5)

best iPhone games: poly bridge

There’s something satisfying about coming up with a design for a bridge, building it, then sending a car to the other side without your bridge comically collapsing. Of course, it’s also just as entertaining to see how ridiculous your crashes can be, and how absurd your bridge designs can get. Fortunately, Poly Bridge lets you accomplish all of these things, and you can compare your bridges and achievements to other players around the world, because surely someone made something better (or worse) than you.

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iTunes

GNOG ($5)

With GNOG, you can interact with each puzzle through different motions — pulling, sliding, grabbing, pressing, clicking, and rotating. With each movement, you uncover what is hidden inside each quirky-looking monster head. The game also has optional augmented reality support, which allows you to bring each toy to life on a flat surface.

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iTunes

TypeShift

best iPhone games: typeshift

Part word search, part crossword puzzle, part anagram, TypeShift challenges your vocabulary and your ability to recognize words in jumbled letters. It presents rows and columns of letters that can be “shifted” up and down to form words between three and seven characters long. In the game’s traditional mode, all letters need to be used at least once before you can progress, while the more difficult Clue Puzzles provides a crossword-style list of hints to guide you to the proper answers. If you’re a fan of crosswords, word searches, or simply discovering new words, TypeShift is a game you need to check out.

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iTunes

Monument Valley 2 ($5)

best iPhone games: monument valley 2

The sequel to 2014’s Monument Valley, Monument Valley 2 puts players in control of Ro, as she guides her child through overwhelmingly beautiful, yet impossible architectural structures that continue to be inspired by the likes of M.C. Escher. You don’t need to play the first game to enjoy its successor, which is sure to captivate, amaze, and leave you puzzled for hours. Read our Monument Valley 2 review to learn more.

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iTunes

Linelight ($2)

Linelight is a very minimalist puzzle game that can become complex very quickly. You control a simple line in a world made of lines, and it’s up to you to navigate a series of puzzles that will challenge your problem-solving skills. The game’s soothing music will keep you calm and relaxed, while subtle hints and other objects in the world attempt to teach you what needs to be done to progress. Linelight can be played by children and adults and, with 6 worlds and over 200 puzzles, you’ll have plenty to keep your mind occupied.

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iTunes

The Witness ($10)

The Witness is a single-player game with over 500 puzzles has stunning graphics and immersive sound effects. The plot begins with waking up alone on a deserted island and having no recollection of how you got there. To find your way back home, you have to discover clues and solve all the different puzzles.

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iTunes

Prune ($2)

The plot behind Prune is as soothing as the graphics. By swiping your finger, you get to grow your own tree under the sunlight and care for it as it grows over time. You’ll get to trim branches and watch flowers bloom, while also protecting it from poison. As you excel throughout the game, you’ll be exposed to pollination and be able to grow more trees as well. As the levels become more intense, as do the trees which start to grow to a much larger size as its branches begin to twist and intertwine.

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iTunes

San Giorli 

Set in the city of San Giorli, your mission is to bring back the cyberpunk atmosphere it once had. Through a series of 23 physics-based puzzles, players orbit the spacecraft, remove obstacles, analyze circuits, and more. The unique and vibrant graphics are also accompanied by musical composition to complement the storyline.

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iTunes

Role-playing games

Stranger Things

Any die-hard Stranger Things fans will be happy to know the adventure doesn’t end with the last episode. In the mobile game, you get to explore Hawkins, collect Eggos, and unlock areas you haven’t seen before. While you originally start out playing as Jim Hopper, progressing through the game gives you the opportunity to play as Lucas, Nancy, and all the other characters.

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iTunes

Solitairica ($4)

Solitairica is similar to Solitaire in the sense that it’s essentially a card game. You’re supposed to get rid of other cards by playing one that is of a lower or higher number but as you continue playing, the enemy will attempt to make it harder for you to clear your cards. As you continue to progress in the game, you are introduced to all different types of cards, spells, and weapons.

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iTunes

Platforming games

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Nintendo has officially released a mobile version of Animal Crossing, but it’s a little different than past versions. With Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, you’ll trade in the title of mayor for campsite manager. In order to help decorate your campsite, you’ll have to complete tasks for animals who reward you with currency and crafting materials.

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iTunes

Super Mario Run

best iPhone games: super mario run

Nintendo’s first official release for iOS sees the mustachioed marvel in a new role — namely, flying through levels at maximum velocity. The free version is a bit lacking, but a one-time investment of $10 unlocks the whole Mushroom Kingdom for your speed-running pleasure.

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iTunes

Robot Unicorn Attack 2

best iPhone games: robot unicorn attack 2

The second installment of the tongue-in-cheek Robot Unicorn Attack sports more than just updated visuals. New challenges and customization add depth to the endless runner, one set to Erasure’s Always.

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iTunes

Strategy games

Reigns: Her Majesty ($3)

Reigns: Her Majesty is the sequel to last year’s Reigns. But with this version, you have to make important decisions as queen — ones that could alter your dynasty or your reputation on the throne. By swiping left and right through a deck of cards, you’re asked to make decisions by a variety of different characters when it comes to raising taxes or even abolishing alcohol. Be careful though, some of your choices could lead the queen to death.

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iTunes

The Elder Scrolls: Legends – Heroes of Skyrim (Free)

There’s no shortage of fantasy collectible card games thanks to the likes of Hearthstone, Gwent, and now, The Elder Scrolls: Legends. If you’re at all familiar with Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls series, specifically Skyrim, you’ll recognize many of the dragons and characters that populated the world. The game offers hours upon hours of things to do, be it the solo story mode, playing against friends and strangers in ranked play, drafting a deck, or creating your own to find unique card combinations. Whether collectible card games are your forte, or you’re new to the concept, The Elder Scrolls: Legends – Heroes of Skyrim will make you feel right at home.

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iTunes

Clash of Clans

best iPhone games: clash of clans

Build up your settlement, plan your defenses, raise an army, and guide your tribe to victory against nasty goblins or other clan leaders. It’s a good combination of slow planning and quick, chaotic battles. Unfortunately, the pay-to-win structure is irksome.

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iTunes

Editors’ Recommendations

France outlaws texting while driving, even when you’re at a red light

We know you’re not so reckless as to still be texting while you’re driving, but now, the French government is looking to be even more sure that this dangerous habit is eliminated for good. A court in the European nation has ruled that it is illegal for drivers not only to text while driving but basically to text while they’re in the car at all. Even if you’ve pulled over, stopped at a red light, or have your hazard lights turned on, you better not have your smartphone in hand. If you want to run the risk, you could be looking at a fine of up to 135 euros, or about $167.

Anytime you aren’t parked in a designated parking lot (or your own driveway), your phone now has to be put away in France. In addition to the fine, French drivers will also face three points on their driving license for three years (think of it as a demerit), which is the same punishment doled out to folks who are caught actually texting while driving.

But before you cry foul and say that the laws have gone too far, you might consider the challenges France has faced in attempting to make their roads safer. Road mortality in the nation has been on the rise for the last three years in a row, which marks the longest period of continued increase since 1972. In 2016, the death toll resulting from motorist accidents reached 3,469. We should point out, however, that this is still markedly lower than numbers in the U.S. — in 2016, the number of reported casualties at home as a result of car accidents was 40,000.

As such, it comes as little surprise that governments are doing everything they can to reduce injuries and fatalities in whatever ways they can.

Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule. If you’re driving in a car with Bluetooth audio (or any other hands-free method), you’re welcome to make calls or otherwise operate your smartphone, as long as you can do it with only your voice. And naturally, if your car breaks down on the side of the road, you’re not forbidden from taking out your phone to call for help.

Editors’ Recommendations

Flux brings its digital loyalty stamps to U.K. challenger bank Starling


Flux, the London fintech startup founded by former early employees at Revolut, has deepened its partnership with U.K. challenger bank Starling to add Flux-powered loyalty points to Starling’s mobile banking app.

It builds on earlier Flux integration that sees Starling support item-level digital receipts powered by Flux and supported merchants (to date, this includes all 111 EAT stores in the U.K. and Bel-Air).

Here’s how the new loyalty functionality works: Once you’ve enabled Flux within the Starling app, you simply spend at supported merchants using Starling and any loyalty rewards you earn are automatically displayed in your Starling account alongside a fully item-level digital receipt. After you have accrued enough loyalty to qualify for a free item, Flux will send cash-back to your Starling account on behalf of the Flux retailer.

The idea is to make loyalty stamps digital in the same way as receipts, which not only reduces cumbersome use of paper, but also speeds up the checkout process and makes loyalty something you — as the customer — never have to really think about.

This tallies with research undertaken by Deloitte, which Flux is citing, that says although 41 percent of U.K. consumers use brand loyalty schemes, an estimated 10.3 million people possess unused loyalty points which total more than £4.5 billion.

(Of course, if everybody did redeem their free items, you have to wonder what the net effect on the loyalty schemes on offer would be, but that is probably a discussion for a different day).

Now of course, Flux/Starling isn’t the first to offer digital loyalty, even for in-store as opposed to online purchases. Card linking has been around for a while, with major banks also jumping on that bandwagon. Meanwhile, services like Yoyo Wallet are making a digital loyalty play via a bespoke app and payment method (Yoyo has also integrated with Starling).

However, what makes Flux interesting is the way it wants to integrate at the banking app level in order to offer a consolidated view of your earned loyalty points across all your bank accounts.

This means in theory that if you earn Flux points with one bank card, they’ll be displayed in and can be redeemed from any other bank cards/accounts that you have also linked Flux to. This small pieces, loosely joined approach is at the very heart of Open Banking and Flux’s longer term strategy as an FCA authorised AISP (Account Information Service Provider).

The fintech startup is already working with Barclays and Monzo, in addition to Starling. I’m told that providing consolidated views across payments accounts with enriched data is key to Flux’s strategy for the year.

The Strava social exercise app can reveal your home address

The Strava social exercise app can be used to locate a user’s home.

A new report claims that the activity-tracking social network Strava — already knocked off stride when it was revealed that its users were unwittingly mapping out secret U.S. military bases overseas — has a major privacy problem: it can publicly reveal where its users live.

To make matters worse, the report from the mobile-security firm Wandera says this problem occurs when users try to mark their homes or other sensitive spots as private, not because of any failure to enable the right privacy settings.

In fewer words, people who followed the company’s advice about how to keep their home addresses private may have instead made them easier to find.

A Venn diagram of risk

The post by Wandera, one of a new crop of firms specializing in mobile security, explains how Strava’s “Privacy Zones” feature can pinpoint a runner or cyclist because these zones are represented as identical circles of on a map. The circles then block out where you start or end a run.

(Warning, geometry ahead.)

“Using the ending points of an activity, it is possible to determine which radius option was selected by the user and then to triangulate the exact location of the selected address,” the report says. “As the privacy zone is of equal size in each activity, it’s possible to represent this graphically by increasing the radius of circles around each activity end marker until three or more circles intersect.”

Think of the Venn diagrams that have become their own internet meme, except that in this case they let other people know where you live, or at least where you keep your expensive, carbon-fiber road bicycle.

“The re-identification strategy discussed here (points on a circle) appears to be effective and quite problematic,” said Stacey Gray, policy counsel with the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. “It might be unique to Strava … I’m not aware of any other fitness app that allows similar radius-based zones of privacy.”

Strava’s sole comment on privacy issues after the military-bases story broke — along with the subsequent documentation by developer Steve Loughran of how to track a stranger on Strava by uploading a fake activity-route log — had been a January 29 open letter posted on Strava’s site by CEO James Quarles.

The post says the San Francisco-based company is “reviewing features that were originally designed for athlete motivation and inspiration to ensure they cannot be compromised by people with bad intent” and is working on “simplifying our privacy and safety features.”

But on Wednesday, Strava spokesman Andrew Vontz addressed Wandera’s report specifically. “While Strava’s engineering team has been working to augment and improve privacy options well before we were contacted by this company and others, we appreciate their interest in our platform,” he said. “In the coming weeks Strava will be rolling out more privacy options for users.”

What Strava could do instead

Wandera has ideas of its own about how to fix this problem.

“Strava should look at randomizing the distance that their privacy zone uses for each activity so that the radius can’t be used to determine the exact hidden location,” wrote Dan Cuddeford, director of systems engineering, in an email forwarded by a publicist.

For example, he said, Tinder suffered from the same issue until Include Security documented how the dating app’s implementation of a location feature could help an attacker pinpoint a Tinder user’s location to within 100 feet.

“Tinder has since updated the app and now it only shows a rounded distance rather than a precise distance,” Cuddeford said.

Cuddeford added that Wandera offered this recommendation to Strava when it disclosed this research to the company last year. Wandera says Strava’s response was more or less, the “privacy zones were working as intended and users could opt-out entirely if required.”

He had some counterintuitive advice for Strava users — Wandera employees are among them — to use the app more privately: Turn off privacy zones. Instead, he recommended an analog implementation of a privacy zone: “Don’t start/stop Strava activities until you are a random distance from your sensitive location.”

Strava’s other usability problem

Wandera, however, skips over another usability failing with Strava: To use Privacy Zones at all, you have to set aside the mobile app in which you’d otherwise exclusively interact with the service and instead go to its web site.

Gray — after noting that Strava’s privacy options overall seem “to be at or above the industry norms in most respects”—did not approve of that omission. Nor did she endorse Strava’s app not giving users a way to opt out of having their activity aggregated into the heatmap.

But, she added, even if an app puts privacy-protecting options in plain sight, that doesn’t mean its users will stop to consider and use them: “Most consumers do not understand this aspect of data practices of apps that collect location.”

Related Video:

Watch original series, sports, and more on go90.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

 

Rumored Chrome UI update could use darker grays to make it look cleaner

A second generation of Google’s “Material Design” user interface overhaul for the Android operating system is rumored to be in the works, with the suggestion that it could be darkening colors and tweaking iconography. The purpose of the update, if it is enacted as it appears, would be to improve readability on devices, as well as tweak the way Android responds to touch inputs.

The original Material Design user interface was implemented in 2014 with the launch of Android Lollipop. It introduced a clean color palette and subtle physics to give the Android OS and associated apps more of a real-world feel. Google has made it easier over the years for other developers to adopt the design choices, too. Although little is known about a successor, a few mentions on the Chromium Gerrit do suggest that Material Design 2 is being actively developed.

None of the changes noted are drastic, as XDA-Developers explains, but they would lead to a subtle alteration in how Android looks. Specifically, grays and reds would appear slightly darker, as well as changes in the layout and size of certain interface elements. They also change aspects of the standard Chrome toolbar, making it brighter than the existing light gray color scheme, and in fact nearly white.

On a more functional level, Google also appears to be tweaking the way touch support works with the Chrome web browser on Chrome OS. There are references to touch optimization elements within the Material Design 2 notes, though they don’t go into any detail.

All of this is mere speculation at this point, because no official announcement has been made by Google regarding the Chromium commits and Material Design 2. However, shortly after this story first broke, the original commits were made private, which would suggest they weren’t intended for public release. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are legitimate, but it adds a little more weight to the idea that Google has something up its UI design sleeve.

When you consider too that 9to5Mac received tips just over a year ago about a potential successor to Material Design, it seems quite likely that at some point in the future Google will be making some subtle but substantial changes to how Chrome looks on various devices.

Editors’ Recommendations

Instagram tests resharing of others’ posts to your Story


Instagram purposefully lacks a “Regram” button to promote original sharing, but it’s easing up on that philosophy when it comes to Stories. Instagram now confirms to TechCrunch that it’s testing an option that lets you share public feed posts from other users to your Story. This could let you add commentary and overlaid stickers to a meme, celebrity post or even a friend’s photo. For users whose lives aren’t so interesting, resharing could give them something to post.

Instagram confirmed the test and TechCrunch sent it a screenshot posted by Zachary Shakked. The company tells us “We’re always testing ways to make it easier to share any moment with friends on Instagram.” The feature is currently only testing with a small percentage of users, but it seems like a sensible addition that I bet will get rolled out further.

For privacy, users with public accounts can go to their Settings to turn off the ability for others to reshare their posts. Even if you don’t have the reshare option yet, you can still find the privacy setting now. Then again, people could still just screenshot their posts. In fact, this was such a common activity that it likely encouraged Instagram to formalize it with resharing. Instagram was rumored to be testing a Regram button for sharing feed posts back to the feed, but that appears to have been false, or at least never rolled out.

Tagging friends in memes and posts has become one of Instagram’s most popular emergent behaviors. Those long comment threads of people’s handles weren’t that useful though, so Instagram made it simple to send someone else’s post as a Direct message. The new test expands that idea from private sharing to close friends into broadcasting.

You can see the re-sharing feature in action here:

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Now that Snapchat is growing more swiftly after yesterday’s blockbuster earnings report, Instagram needs to be on its toes. That means constantly adding new features that truly improve the app’s experience without bloating it with so many niche options that Instagram becomes confusing.

Featured Image: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Critics Love HomePod’s Sound but Rap Its Smarts

By John P. Mello Jr.
Feb 7, 2018 9:59 AM PT

Critics have begun weighing in on Apple’s HomePod smart speaker, and they’re loving the device’s sound but don’t have much affection for its smarts.

The HomePod’s sound outclassed top-shelf competitor SonosOne, according to Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch.

“The HomePod was the ‘best’ sounding. It’s nuanced and subtle with great separation and clarity across all kinds of music,” he wrote.

“The One, for instance, had decent mid range but an overly bright high-end with just the out of the box calibration,” Panzarino continued. “At maximum volume, the One became shrill and painful where the HomePod maintained balance.”

Pumped out through a woofer with custom amplifier and seven tweeters, the audio also impressed Brian X. Chen, who reviewed the HomePod for The New York Times.

“The result is a speaker with a deep bass and rich treble that is loud enough to fill a large room with superb sound,” he wrote. “HomePod makes the Amazon Echo and Google’s Home sound muffled and tinny in comparison.”

‘Embarrassingly Inadequate’

However, Chen was less complimentary about the performance of Apple’s digital assistant, Siri, on the HomePod.

“Siri on HomePod is embarrassingly inadequate, even though that is the primary way you interact with it,” he wrote.

“Siri is sorely lacking in capabilities compared with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant,” Chen continued. “Siri doesn’t even work as well on HomePod as it does on the iPhone.”

For example, Siri on the HomePod can’t be trained to recognize different speakers.

“Unlike ‘Hey, Siri’ on your phone, the HomePod responds to everyone,” wrote Megan Wollerton for Cnet.

“That makes it easier for the whole family to use,” she explained, “but hurts its customizability across multiple users, since it can’t recognize a specific voice to allow purchases.”

Speaker Blindness

Not recognizing speakers may not sound like a big deal, but it can be if you’re the kind of person who blindly rushes through setup prompts.

“If you just click yes during all the setup prompts, literally anyone can ask the HomePod to send or read your text messages,” wrote Nilay Patel for The Verge.

“Seriously, it’ll just read your texts to anyone if your phone is anywhere on the same WiFi network, which usually reaches far beyond the same room as the HomePod,” he pointed out.

While Siri can’t distinguish speakers, it is good at recognizing speech, even distorted speech, according to Nicole Nguyen, who reviewed the HomePod for BuzzFeed.

“Siri could hear me while I was wearing my retainers (“Hayy Sheeree, remind me teh bring mah headphonez toomerow”), brushing my teeth, or cooking with the overhead vent turned on,” she wrote.

Failing to Keep Up With the Alexas

Though disappointing, Siri’s so-so performance as a smart speaker digital assistant was expected.

“Siri has not kept pace with Alexa and Google Assistant in capabilities,” Tirias Research Principal Analyst Kevin Krewell told TechNewsWorld.

Apple has never taken Siri seriously, noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, treating it more as a feature than a platform.

“Amazon, Google and even Microsoft take AI far more seriously and are putting millions into their related efforts,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Apple is starting behind, and their lack of focus on this capability suggests they’ll fall farther back and not catch up.”

Despite its shortcomings, Siri has an advantage over its rivals in the smart home context because it supports more languages than they do, said Jonathan Collins, a research director at ABI Research.

“As the smart home voice-control market continues to grow, this will be a key benefit its rivals will have to match,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Apple Music Exclusivity

Another sore point with critics was the lack of support for services outside the Apple ecosystem.

“The HomePod also doesn’t really know that Pandora exists or Tidal or Google Play Music or SiriusXM or TuneIn Radio or SoundCloud or any of a thousand other music services that you might use throughout the course of listening to music in your lifetime,” wrote The Verge‘s Patel.

“It’s an incredibly frustrating limitation,” he continued. “Amazon owns Amazon Music, but lets you set Spotify as the default on the Echo. Google runs Google Play Music and YouTube, but lets you set Spotify as the default on the Google Home.”

Apple hasn’t been courting third-party apps as aggressively as Amazon and Google, said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

“Today, HomePod is being sold into the base of Apple Music subscribers,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It’s a decent market to sell into — it has 40 million subscribers — but it’s limited compared to Echo’s and Google’s addressable market.”

Dampening Audiophiles’ Interest

It could be a difficult hill to climb if Apple should decide to expand its service offerings in the future.

The HomePod’s initial exclusivity will “make it harder for the product to move out of the Apple loyalist space,” Enderle maintained.

Many of the customers outside of Apple’s base might already have bought Amazon Echos, he reasoned. Getting them to pay a hefty price for a product they could see as redundant would be problematic.

The absence of the HomePod’s seamless support for non-Apple music services will put a damper on interest on the part of serious music listeners, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“If you’re an Apple fan who mainly wants a Siri-activated solution to stream Apple Music files, you’ll love the HomePod. If you’re looking for a serious Apple-based competitor to Amazon Alexa or Google Home-based devices, you’re likely to be disappointed,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Then again, Apple has a long history of initially aiming new products at its dedicated customers, then adding in other features and functions over time,” King added.

Sell It and Developers Will Come

While Apple doesn’t have the volume of third-party relationships that some of its competitors have, it does have a significant base of HomeKit certified smart home device providers that will support smart home control through the HomePod, ABI’s Collins noted.

“There is every reason to believe that the pull of the Apple user base — especially given the close integration of the HomePod with iPhones — will be enough to attract a wide range of third-party support over time,” he maintained.

However, even the HomeKit experience on the HomePod could use some improvement, wrote The Verge‘s Patel.

“Siri as a smart home controller on the HomePod works fine if you have compatible devices and have done the work of setting up HomeKit, but nothing about HomeKit is particularly simple or fun to use,” he observed. “But that’s basically the state of every smart home system, so I don’t think Apple’s too far behind there.”



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.

Highfive raises $32M Series C for its video conferencing platform


Highfive, a startup that’s building an integrated software and hardware video conferencing solution, today announced that it has raised a $32 million Series C round, which brings the Redwood City-based company’s total funding to $77.4 million. The lead investor for this round was Dimension Data, a major global technology integrator and managed services subsidiary of Japan’s NTT Group. Existing investors Lightspeed, General Catalyst and Andreessen Horowitz also participated in this round.

Highfive tells us that its annual recurring revenue grew by over 100 percent in the last year and that its users now hold more than 140,000 meetings that last a total of 16 million minutes per month. Current Highfive users include Paperless Post, The Atlantic, Warby Parker, and the Girl Scouts of Northern California.

The most interesting investor here is Dimension Data. Besides its cloud computing, security and various managed services offerings, Dimension also focuses on helping business set up their conferencing services. As such, its focus is mostly on Cisco’s services, but it also works with Polycom, Avaya and Microsoft. What’s most important for Highfive here, though, is that it also signed a global distribution deal with Dimension data — and to support that, Highfive has scaled its global data center presence to 18 AWS regions around the world.

“Our growth reflects the continued need for video conferencing that’s easy-to-use and deployable across every meeting room,” said Shan Sinha, Co-Founder and CEO of Highfive, in today’s announcement. “With Dimension Data’s thirty years of industry experience, we see the company’s investment as validation for what we’ve built at Highfive, and our vision for how we can make companies work better together.”

Highfive will use the new funding to scale its sales and marketing teams and fuel its global expansion.