All posts in “iPhone”

Apple makes an unexpected deal to improve cell service in Puerto Rico

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The ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico is making some strange bedfellows.

On Wednesday, Apple announced that it will, with AT&T’s help, enable the 900 MHz Band 8 ban cell service on many iPhones in Puerto Rico. That band can only connect to Google’s Project Loon.

“We are working with AT&T to activate cellular service for iPhone users in Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria. Apple engineers have created a special carrier settings update which users connected to Wi-Fi or who are connected to a cellular network will automatically be prompted to download throughout the week,” said Apple in an official statement.

Devastated on an almost unprecedented scale by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has struggled to rebuild core parts of its infrastructure, including basic communication technologies. Many people reported being unable to contact friends and families via cellphones and the internet. 

900 MHz (a 3G Extended GSM network) is not the normal band for cell communications and is not even one licensed for use in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. However, it is the communication band supported by Google’s Project Loon project. 

Earlier this month, Google got the okay to float its still-experimental, helium-balloon-based connection technology over the storm-ravaged island. The Loon balloons are designed to provide internet connectivity for rural areas and operate, more or less, as unmoored cell-towers, floating in the stratosphere and staying aloft for six months. A network carrier, like AT&T, communicates from the ground with the nearest Loon balloon and the balloons communicate with each other. Google’s balloons can provide up to a 10 Mbps LTE connectivity for cellphone owners on the ground.

However, before AT&T iPhone owners (iPhone 5c and above running iOS 10 and higher) can connect to Google’s Loon balloons, they need a crucial carrier update which will enable the 900 MHz Band 8. The iPhone’s mobile broadband radio already supports the provisional band, it’s just not enabled on the phone so the device doesn’t waste battery power scanning for a band that usually doesn’t have service.

The update is comparatively tiny (it can be measured in kilobytes), but the question remains: If there’s limited connectivity, how are Puerto Rico’s iPhone users going to download it?

According to StatusPR, a governmental web site dedicated to tracking Puerto Rica’s infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Maria, more than half of the U.S. territory’s cell towers are out of commission and 75% of cell antennas are still not functional.

There are pockets of connectivity and, overall, StatusPR reports 61% of the Puerto Rican telecommunication system is back online. This, however, includes wired and wireless systems. It’s not clear if AT&T iPhone customers can also download that carrier update from wired systems.

We’ve contacted AT&T for clarification and will update this story with their response.

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Apple reportedly isn’t producing enough iPhone X units for first weekend sales


According to a new report from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is still facing supply chain constraints for the upcoming iPhone X. The company will have around 2 to 3 million units before the launch on November 3rd, which shouldn’t be enough to meet demand.

While Apple didn’t disclose exact numbers for first weekend sales last year, the company sold 13 million iPhone 6s units during the first weekend, 10 million iPhone 6 units and 9 million iPhone 5s/5c units. The iPhone 8 is already available, which could mitigate demand for the iPhone X, but it sounds like many buyers will be disappointed by Apple’s initial stock.

In many ways, the iPhone X packs more innovative components than your average new iPhone. Apple usually adds cutting-edge components when its suppliers can produce tens of millions of them. But multiple parts of the iPhone X are generating supply chain issues.

According to KGI Securities, Apple now uses a flexible printed circuit board for the antenna. This is not your average circuit board, so Apple has had issues finding suppliers that can produce those components at scale. Murata was supposed to be the main supplier for this part, but it sounds like the company can’t meet Apple’s strong requirements. Since then, Apple has found a new supplier, which created some delays.

On the camera front, Apple is using a different circuit board for each sensor. Other phone makers only use one circuit board. This custom design has also been a challenge.

Finally, the iPhone X features a ton of sensors on the front of device. Apple has packed a tiny Kinect in the notch of the device. One component in particular projects a network of infrared dots to create a 3D map of your face based on the reflection of those dots on your face. Apple has had issues finding a supplier that can produce enough dot projectors for the iPhone X.

iPhone X pre-orders start on Friday, October 27th at midnight Pacific time. If you plan on getting the new phone, you shouldn’t delay your pre-order. Chances are that shipping estimations are going to slip to multiple weeks after just a few minutes.

Production should ramp up in the coming weeks, but it sounds like it could take months before you can just walk in an Apple store and buy a new iPhone X. It’s going to be interesting to hear Tim Cook’s comments on those supply chain issues when Apple announces its quarterly earnings in a couple of weeks.

Apple responds to Senator Franken’s Face ID privacy concerns


Apple has now responded to a letter from Senator Franken last month in which he asked the company to provide more information about the incoming Face ID authentication technology which is baked into its top-of-the-range iPhone X, due to go on sale early next month.

As we’ve previously reported, Face ID raises a range of security and privacy concerns because it encourages smartphone consumers to use a facial biometric for authenticating their identity — and specifically a sophisticated full three dimensional model of their face.

And while the tech is limited to one flagship iPhone for now, with other new iPhones retaining the physical home button plus fingerprint Touch ID biometric combo that Apple launched in 2013, that’s likely to change in future.

After all, Touch ID arrived on a single flagship iPhone before migrating onto additional Apple hardware, including the iPad and Mac. So Face ID will surely also spread to other Apple devices in the coming years.

That means if you’re an iOS user it may be difficult to avoid the tech being baked into your devices. So the Senator is right to be asking questions on behalf of consumers. Even if most of what he’s asking has already been publicly addressed by Apple.

Last month Franken flagged what he dubbed “substantial questions” about how “Face ID will impact iPhone users’ privacy and security, and whether the technology will perform equally well on different groups of people”, asking Apple for “clarity to the millions of Americans who use your products” and how it had weighed privacy and security issues pertaining to the tech itself; and for additional steps taken to protect users.

Here’s the full list of 10 questions the Senator put to the company:

1.      Apple has stated that all faceprint data will be stored locally on an individual’s device as opposed to being sent to the cloud.

a.      Is it currently possible – either remotely or through physical access to the device – for either Apple or a third party to extract  and obtain usable faceprint data from the iPhone X?

b.      Is there any foreseeable reason why Apple would decide to begin storing such data remotely?

2.     Apple has stated that it used more than one billion images in developing the Face ID algorithm. Where did these one billion face images come from?

3.     What steps did Apple take to ensure its system was trained on a diverse set of faces, in terms of race, gender, and age? How is Apple protecting against racial, gender, or age bias in Face ID?

4.     In the unveiling of the iPhone X, Apple made numerous assurances about the accuracy and sophistication of Face ID. Please describe again all the steps that Apple has taken to ensure that Face ID can distinguish an individual’s face from a photograph or mask, for example.

5.     Apple has stated that is has no plans to allow any third party applications access to the Face ID system or its faceprint data. Can Apple assure its users that it will never share faceprint data, along with the tools or other information necessary to extract the data, with any commercial third party?

6.      Can Apple confirm that it currently has no plans to use faceprint data for any purpose other than the operation of Face ID?

7.     Should Apple eventually determine that there would be reason to either begin storing faceprint data remotely or use the data for a purpose other than the operation of Face ID, what steps will it take to ensure users are meaningfully informed and in control of their data?

8.      In order for Face ID to function and unlock the device, is the facial recognition system “always on,” meaning does Face ID perpetually search for a face to recognize? If so:

a.      Will Apple retain, even if only locally, the raw photos of faces that are used to unlock (or attempt to unlock) the device?

b.      Will Apple retain, even if only locally, the faceprints of individuals other than the owner of the device?

9.      What safeguards has Apple implemented to prevent the unlocking of the iPhone X when an individual other than the owner of the device holds it up to the owner’s face?

10.   How will Apple respond to law enforcement requests to access Apple’s faceprint data or the Face ID system itself?

In its response letter, Apple first points the Senator to existing public info — noting it has published a Face ID security white paper and a Knowledge Base article to “explain how we protect our customers’ privacy and keep their data secure”. It adds that this “detailed information” provides answers “all of the questions you raise”.

But also goes on to summarize how Face ID facial biometrics are stored, writing: “Face ID data, including mathematical representations of your face, is encrypted and only available to the Secure Enclave. This data never leaves the device. It is not sent to Apple, nor is it included in device backups. Face images captured during normal unlock operations aren’t saved, but are instead immediately discarded once the mathematical representation is calculated for comparison to the enrolled Face ID data.”

It further specifies in the letter that: “Face ID confirms attention by directing the direction of your gaze, then uses neural networks for matching and anti-spoofing so you can unlock your phone with a glance.”

And reiterates its prior claim that the chance of a random person being able to unlock your phone because their face fooled Face ID is approximately 1 in 1M (vs 1 in 50,000 for the Touch ID tech). After five unsuccessful match attempts a passcode will be required to unlock the device, it further notes.

“Third-party apps can use system provided APIs to ask the user to authenticate using Face ID or a passcode, and apps that support Touch ID automatically support Face ID without any changes. When using Face ID, the app is notified only as to whether the authentication was successful; it cannot access Face ID or the data associated with the enrolled face,” it continues.

On questions about the accessibility of Face ID technology, Apple writes: “The accessibility of the product to people of diverse races and ethnicities was very important to us. Face ID uses facial matching neural networks that we developed using over a billion images, including IR and depth images collected in studies conducted with the participants’ informed consent.”

The company had already made the “billion images” claim during its Face ID presentation last month, although it’s worth noting that it’s not saying — and has never said — it trained the neural networks on images of a billion different people.

Indeed, Apple goes on to tell the Senator that it relied on a “representative group of people” — though it does not confirm exactly how many individuals, writing only that: “We worked with participants from around the world to include a representative group of people accounting for gender, age, ethnicity and other factors. We augmented the studies as needed to provide a high degree of accuracy for a diverse range of users.”

There’s obviously an element of commercial sensitivity at this point, in terms of Apple cloaking its development methods from competitors. So you can understand why it’s not disclosing more exact figures. But of course Face ID’s robustness in the face of diversity remains to be proven (or disproven) when iPhone X devices are out in the wild.

Apple also specifies that it has trained a neural network to “spot and resist spoofing” to defend against attempts to unlock the device with photos or masks. Before concluding the letter with an offer to brief the Senator further if he has more questions.

Notably Apple hasn’t engaged with Senator Franken’s question about responding to law enforcement requests — although given enrolled Face ID data is stored locally on a user’s device in the Secure Element as a mathematical model, the technical architecture of Face ID has been structured to ensure Apple never takes possession of the data — and couldn’t therefore hand over something it does not hold.

The fact Apple’s letter does not literally spell that out is likely down to the issue of law enforcement and data access being rather politically charged.

In his response to the letter, Senator Franken appears satisfied with the initial engagement, though he also says he intends to take the company up on its offer to be briefed in more detail.

“I appreciate Apple’s willingness to engage with my office on these issues, and I’m glad to see the steps that the company has taken to address consumer privacy and security concerns. I plan to follow up with Apple to find out more about how it plans to protect the data of customers who decide to use the latest generation of iPhone’s facial recognition technology,” he writes.

“As the top Democrat on the Privacy Subcommittee, I strongly believe that all Americans have a fundamental right to privacy,” he adds. “All the time, we learn about and actually experience new technologies and innovations that, just a few years back, were difficult to even imagine. While these developments are often great for families, businesses, and our economy, they also raise important questions about how we protect what I believe are among the most pressing issues facing consumers: privacy and security.”

Why is your dongle called a ‘dongle?’

Dongles have become a pervasive aspect of our existence. 

New iPhone users who refuse to abandon the headphone jack are common dongle users. Dongle streaming devices are regularly employed in our homes, drooping from the television. Even Google is making more dongles now, to accompany its new Pixel 2 phones

Yes, Google, which earlier this week declared its massive, all-in commitment to developing devices that employ sophisticated AI technology, is also in the dongle-making business (it was already making Chromecasts).

As we settle into a dongle-filled society, it’s an appropriate moment to ponder the origin of such a silly word being used to describe a device with a purely technical purpose. Simply put, a dongle adds functionality to another device. 

However, the word “dongle” is not new. If first appeared in print in New Scientist, in 1981:

“The dongle is an extra piece of memory that is plugged into the computer, without which the program refuses to run.”

Only later did it become popularized and perhaps thought of as new, which is typical.

“What you find is most words that you think of as new, aren’t new,” Sarah Ogilvie, a linguist and lexicographer at Stanford University, told Mashable. “A lot of new words have much older histories than you would have thought.”

But what transpired some 40 years ago to create such a curious new word?

“As for its actual origin, I think it’s just a playful alteration of ‘dangle’,” lexicographer and “all-around word nut” Ben Zimmer told Mashable.

This explanation seems like a plausible answer, as dongles often do dangle. It’s also conceivable that “dongle” derived from “dong,” which also naturally dangles. 

“Whether the phallic suggestion of ‘dong’ was in the minds of the word’s creators and early adopters, I cannot say, but it’s very possible,” explained Zimmer.

Ogilvie isn’t sold on any particular theory — just yet. “All theories are as plausible as one another. It’s hard to know,” she said. 

Ogilvie, however, believes there’s a good lead: the Commodore PET computer. This archaic machine was one of the earliest personal computers, released in 1977, and it accepted a dongle-like device to give it more memory. Perhaps an early Commodore developer might be able to shed light on who first named the dongle. 

The company is now defunct, but Mashable will update this story if we can find any early Commodore developers.

Does the 1977 Commodore PET Personal Computer hold the secret to the origin of the dongle?

Does the 1977 Commodore PET Personal Computer hold the secret to the origin of the dongle?

Image: Wikimedia

There is one certainty about the word “dongle”: its meaning has expanded in the last four decades. Linguists have a superb term for this, “semantic broadening.” After its semantic broadening, “dongle” now has a “general meaning of anything that plugs into a computer that provides additional functionality,” Ogilvie said.

While it’s typical for words to change in meaning and scope over time, “dongle” has experienced semantic broadening at an accelerated pace. According to Ogilvie, 1,000 years ago the word “bird” (Old English) referred exclusively to young birds. It took centuries for the meaning to encompass “all birds.”

Dongle, meanwhile, saw its meaning broadened in just a few decades time. Where will it go next?

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