Smartphone spyware FinSpy is back and thriving

Cybersecurity vendor Kaspersky has reported that FinSpy, a piece of malware that allows private information to be stolen from smartphones, has made a reappearance.

FinSpy spyware is apparently made by German company Gamma Group and sold by its UK sub-division Gamma International to governments and state agencies so that they can spy on their citizens. It has been around for a few years but seems to be experiencing a renaissance, with activity recorded in Myanmar last month.

The recent appearance of FinSpy has brought to light the IOS and Android mobile implants that can install this spyware on mobile devices. This now enables the FinSpy spyware to collect personal information such as contacts, SMS/MMS messages, emails, calendars, GPS location, photos, files in memory, phone call recordings and data from some of the most used messenger services including Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype among others.

The greatest cause for concern is FinSpy’s ability to gain this information even if the phone’s user is running an encryption program. Talking about encryption, FinSpy’s developers have been improving their own encryption to reduce the risk of traceable activity being discovered, the Kaspersky report claims.

“The developers behind FinSpy constantly monitor security updates for mobile platforms and tend to quickly change their malicious programs to avoid their operation being blocked by fixes,” Alexey Firsh, a security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, told Cyberscoop. “We observe victims of the FinSpy implants on a daily basis.”

Kaspersky has also claimed that these implants were detected in almost 20 countries however it’s likely the real number is higher. These new implants appear to be a real threat, with the developers constantly updating the spyware by reducing its trace while improving it to the point where it can break through encryption. FinSpy along with Gamma group are thriving although Kaspersky says it is conducting further investigations to tackle this issue.

IBM and Red Hat seal the deal

The $34 billion acquisition of opensource enterprise software vendor Red Hat by venerable tech giant IBM has finally been completed.

The mega M&A was first announced last October and, given the size of it, seems to have gone through relatively quickly. Now begins the significant undertaking of integrating two such massive organisations that may well have quite distinct cultures.

IBM was founded in 1911 and has undergone several transformations to become the enterprise software and services company it is today. Red Hat only came into existence in 1993 and has always focused on the decidedly un-corporate open-source software community. IBM will be hoping some of its youthful vigour and flexibility will rub off, but that remains to be seen.

The official line is that the acquisition makes IBM one of the leading hybrid cloud providers as well as augmenting its software offering. There’s much talk Red Hat’s independence being preserved but, of course, it will now be taking orders from IBM.

“Businesses are starting the next chapter of their digital reinventions, modernizing infrastructure and moving mission-critical workloads across private clouds and multiple clouds from multiple vendors,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM chairman, president and CEO. “They need open, flexible technology to manage these hybrid multicloud environments. And they need partners they can trust to manage and secure these systems.”

“When we talk to customers, their challenges are clear: They need to move faster and differentiate through technology,” said Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat (what’s the difference?). “They want to build more collaborative cultures, and they need solutions that give them the flexibility to build and deploy any app or workload, anywhere.

“We think open source has become the de facto standard in technology because it enables these solutions. Joining forces with IBM gives Red Hat the opportunity to bring more open source innovation to an even broader range of organizations and will enable us to scale to meet the need for hybrid cloud solutions that deliver true choice and agility.”

That’s it really. There’s lots aspirational talk and general banging on in the press release, but you get the gist of it. Whitehurst will join the senior management team and report into Rometty, who seems to possess every senior management position worth having. IBM has been steadily increasing cloud as a proportion of total revenues and the pressure is now on to take that growth to the next level.

KaiOS gains Orange support in African drive

Orange has come out in support of KaiOS Technologies, as the telco contributed to the $50 million raised in total during its Series B funding round led by Cathay Innovation.

The cash itself will be used to fuel expansion of the feature phone operating system into new markets, introducing new features and further expanding the KaiOS developer community. To date, there are currently more than 100 million devices running on KaiOS, with a footprint in 100 countries.

“Our mission is to open up new possibilities for individuals, organizations, and society by bringing mobile connectivity to the billions of people without internet in emerging markets, as well as providing those in established markets with an alternative to smartphones,” said Sebastien Codeville, CEO of KaiOS Technologies.

Aside from fuelling an alternative to Google’s Android OS, the partnership between is also geared towards improving accessibility from a device perspective.

“Today the two main barriers to internet access are the lack of infrastructure, for which Orange is investing one billion euros per year, and the cost of the device,” said Alioune Ndiaye, CEO Orange Middle East & Africa.

“As part of our effort to overcome this second barrier, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to develop our partnership with Kai through a direct investment. Providing our customers with access to affordable devices is a crucial step in our ambition to democratise access to the Internet in Africa.”

During Mobile World Congress this year, Kai and Orange launched Sanza, a smart feature phone which incorporated voice-recognition, extended battery life and popular apps as the main features. However, most importantly, the device is sold for as little as $20.

As Ndiaye points out above, accessibility in terms of infrastructure and devices is an issue across the African continent fuelling the ever-expanding digital divide. Africa is a profitable region for Orange, but to grow these profits the telco will have to ensure the internet is accessible to the millions of people who aren’t surfing the digital highways today.

Huawei UK tries to calm fears about Android support

The news that Google may stop supporting Android on Huawei phones has inevitably hit their sales. But in the UK at least Huawei is fighting back.

The US state is pressuring any company that wants to stay on its good side to sever all business ties with Huawei, which it has decided is an abject security risk due to its presumed obedience to the Chinese state. A month ago it emerged that Google had bowed to this pressure and was suspending some dealings with Huawei, which raised the prospect of Huawei smartphones no longer receiving updates or security support for their Android operating systems.

Understandably this is likely to have a profound effect on Huawei smartphone sales as who would want to buy a phone, however powerful and shiny, with compromised software? Huawei’s UK consumer group has moved to address these concerns with a new website called ‘Huawei Answers’, which is set up in an FAQ style, designed to address consumer concerns about its phones by debunking rumours.

The main concern most prospective Huawei smartphone punters will have is whether or not their devices will be updated to the latest version of Android when it becomes available. “Our most popular current devices, including the P30 series, will be able to access Android Q,” announces Huawei Answers in its preamble, before tackling other ‘common points of confusion’. You might as well see the lot here.

RUMOUR #1 – Huawei smartphones and tablets will no longer get software or security updates.

Ongoing security and software updates will continue to be provided to keep all Huawei smartphones and tablets secure and up-to-date.

RUMOUR #2 – Android will be automatically uninstalled from Huawei smartphones and tablets.

Android will not be automatically uninstalled from Huawei smartphones and tablets. We continue to work closely with our partners to ensure our consumers can always enjoy the best possible experience.

RUMOUR #3 – Huawei users will not be able to download or use apps like WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram.

For all Huawei smartphones and tablets, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram apps can be downloaded and used as normal.

RUMOUR #4 – Windows will no longer work on Huawei PCs.

We can confirm that Huawei devices with Microsoft software will be upgraded and supported

RUMOUR #5 – If you reset your Huawei smartphone or tablet, you will lose access permanently to Android Services and Google Apps.

If you reset your Huawei smartphone or tablet to factory settings, Android Services and Google Apps can still be downloaded and used as normal.

RUMOUR #6 – The current situation impacts the warranty on Huawei smartphones and tablets.

Nothing has changed. Huawei provides after-sales service as before, in accordance with the existing warranty policy.

RUMOUR #7 – Huawei smartphones & tablets will offer reduced functionality.

All Huawei smartphones & tablets will continue to function as they currently do.

RUMOUR #8 – Huawei will no longer sell smartphones.

Huawei will continue to sell smartphones. Furthermore, we will continue to invest in research and development to deliver leading innovation and the best possible smartphone experience.

RUMOUR #9 – The P30 & the P30 Pro won’t get access to Android Q.

We are confident that our most popular devices, including the P30 series, will be able to access Android Q. We have been working with third parties for many months to ensure devices will be able to receive Android Q updates. Technical preparations and testing has already begun for over 17 devices. In fact our Mate 20 Pro has already been given approval to receive Android Q as and when it is released by Google.

Here is the list of the  products we have submitted to upgrade to Android Q

P30 Pro

P30

Mate 20

Mate 20 Pro

PORSCHE DESIGN Mate 20 RS

P30 lite

P smart 2019

P smart+ 2019

P smart Z

Mate 20 X

Mate 20 X (5G)

P20 Pro

P20

Mate 10 Pro

PORSCHE DESIGN Mate 10

Mate 10

Mate 20 Lite

It’s a game effort but, just as with broader concerns about security, Huawei is still asking people to take its word for this stuff. The use of hedging language such as ‘we continue to work closely’ and ‘we are confident that’ probably doesn’t help either.

This initiative is reminiscent of the Huawei Facts Twitter account, which also exists to present the company in a positive light. It recently revealed that, in spite of all this argie-bargie, Huawei has already shifted 100 million smartphone units this year. It managed over 200 million in the whole 2018 but it wouldn’t be surprising to see it fall short of that number this year as second half shipments fall off a cliff due to the above concerns.

Ericsson soups up its 5G software

Kit vendor Ericsson has released some new software designed to help operators with their move so standalone 5G NR when they eventually get around to it.

The early 5G we’re getting now still relies on a 4G core and hence is known as ‘non-standalone (NSA)’. It’s largely a way for the industry to start banging on about 5G a year or two earlier than it would otherwise have been able to. Proper 5G, known as ‘standalone (SA)’, will come with release 16 of the 5G standard, which won’t even be finalised until March next year.

Ericsson’s latest announcement is designed to equip its customers to jump on the SA bandwagon and also to augment its narrative about Existing Ericsson gear being software upgradable to 5G. The latest software not only supports what is expected to be SA architecture but also enables inter-band carrier aggregation, which will be handy for combining the coverage characteristics of low-frequency spectrum with the capacity potential of high-frequency beams.

“We continue to focus our efforts on helping our customers succeed with 5G,” said Ericsson Networks boss Fredrik Jejdling. “These new solutions will allow them to follow the 5G evolution path that fits their ambitions in the simplest and most efficient way.”

Not Fred’s most comprehensive canned quote, but it seems to cover the essence of the announcement. Ericsson also launched a couple of new radios to support mid-band 5G and refreshed its NFV infrastructure offering in ways the video below attempts to illustrate. Lastly it got some analysts to say how great all this is, which is nice.

 

It’s Red Hat, but not as we know it

Software vendor Red Hat is celebrating the launch of Enterprise Linux 8 and the approval of its acquisition by IBM with a change of wardrobe.

As arguably the best known company to be named after an item of clothing, the hat itself is central to Red Hat’s brand and image, so any decision to muck about with it, therefore, is not to be taken lightly. But when incoming CMO Tim Yeaton chatted to people about the logo he was distressed to hear they found the dude wearing the hat to be sinister and even evil.

Showing some of the qualities that presumably lead to his promotion Yeaton quickly concluded that having an ‘evil’ logo was a potential marketing liability and dedicated the next year and a half to resolving the matter in an appropriately open source way. This exhaustive process apparently came to a simple conclusion: ditch the dude, resulting in the dude-less logo you see above.

The evolution of the Red Hat logo coincides with a couple of other pretty significant milestones for the company. Tech giant IBM was recently advised that the US Department of Justice has concluded its review of the Red Hat acquisition and said it’s got no problem with it and as far as the US is concerned this is an unconditional green light. IBM apparently reckons the whole thing will be wrapped up later this year.

Lastly Red Hat recently announced the first major new version of its Enterprise Linux platform – RHEL 8. As a platform designed with datacenters in mind, RHEL is of increasing relevance to telcos as they move ever more of their stuff into the cloud and the edge. Red Hat is positioning RHEL 8 as the platform for the hybrid cloud era and name-dropped lots of other associated buzzwords like containers and devops. We wouldn’t even know which end of the box to open with this stuff, so hopefully this vid as well as some canned quotes will help you understand what the big deal is.

 

Stefanie Chiras, vice president and general manager, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat

“Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 embraces the role of Linux as IT’s innovation engine, crystallizing it into an accessible, trusted and more secure platform. Spanning the entirety of the hybrid cloud, the world’s leading enterprise Linux platform provides a catalyst for IT organizations to do more than simply meet today’s challenges; it gives them the foundation and tools to launch their own future, wherever they want it to be.”

Tibor Incze, technical lead, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Datacom Systems

“The capacity for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 to not only run multiple versions of the same application or database on a specific operating system but to also have a clear and efficient way to manage them is a significant benefit to Datacom and our customers. As we continue to execute on our internal DevOps strategy, we’re also pleased to see improved container capabilities in the operating system and extensive automation, all factors that will help us bring differentiated services to our end users.”

John Gossman, distinguished engineer, Microsoft Azure

“We have seen growth in applications being deployed using Red Hat Enterprise Linux on Azure, including Microsoft SQL Server, for cloud-native, hybrid, and cloud migration scenarios. We’re excited to see what customers will create with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 on Azure with continued integrated support from Microsoft and Red Hat, as well as the operating system’s new capabilities to build applications for workloads like AI.”

Arlen Shenkman, executive vice president, Global Business Development and Ecosystems, SAP

“Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 for SAP Solutions offers high availability capabilities, which are important for SAP workloads, and downtime is unacceptable for business critical applications such as S/4HANA. For more than two decades, we’ve worked with Red Hat on maintaining a stable, open foundation for SAP applications, helping our customers make smarter decisions, faster, across the hybrid cloud.”

Apple investors hope short-term pain will lead to long-term gain

16% growth in the steadily growing software and services business seems to be enough to rally investor confidence in the face of declining revenues.

Perhaps this is another lesson Apple can teach the world; how to effectively manage investor expectations. Total revenues are declining faster than the service division is growing, but with a 5.4% jump in share price in overnight trading, Apple investors seem to be buying into the short-term pain, long-term gain message from the technology giant.

For some the earning call might have been a shock to the system, explaining the immediate 1.93% drop in share price before markets closed. Total revenues for the quarter ending March 30 declined to $58 billion, down 5.2% year-on-year, while iPhone revenues dropped to $31 billion, a 17.8% dent in the same shipment figures from 2018. But the services division is the glimmer of hope.

“We had great results in a number of areas across our business,” said CEO Tim Cook during the earnings call. “It was our best quarter ever for Services with revenue reaching $11.5 billion.

“Subscriptions are a powerful driver of our Services business. We reached a new high of over 390 million paid subscriptions at the end of March, an increase of 30 million in the last quarter alone. This was also an incredibly important quarter for our Services moving forward.

“In March, we previewed a game-changing array of new services each of them rooted in principles that are fundamentally Apple. They’re easy to use. They feature unmatched attention to detail. They put a premium on user privacy and security. They’re expertly curated personalized and ready to be shared by everyone in your family.”

Although the Apple DNA is not rooted in the software and services world, this has to be the future. Overarching trends are indicating hardware is becoming increasingly commoditized, refreshment cycles are growing, and consumers are less likely to pay a premium for trusted brands. Apple is a company which defied these trends for a period, though not even the iLeader could deny the inevitable.

This is the critical importance of the software and services division; renewed, recurring and new revenues to replace the increasingly difficult, demanding and diversified hardware world, which is epitomised by the dreary global smartphone market.

Although Apple recently decided against releasing shipment figures during its earnings calls, it is still breaking out the revenues associated with products. The iPhone, the segment which drove growth in recent years, declined by 17.8% year-on-year. Part of this can be pinned on changing consumer behaviour, though you also have to look at the individual markets.

In China, Apple has been struggling. Canalys estimate smartphone shipments in the market have declined 3% year-on-year for Q1, though the locals are turning towards domestic brands. In years gone, Apple was a brand seen as somewhat of a status symbol, though it appears this is a concept which is quickly dissipating as the firm only collected 7.4% of market share over the first three months of 2019, a year-on-year decline of 30%.

Total revenues for China have not declined quite as dramatically, a 21.6% year-on-on-year dip to $10.2 billion, though Apple is not alone. OPPO, Xiaomi and Vivo also saw their year-on-year sales dip, with only Huawei coming out on the up. Here, Huawei managed to grow its shipments by 41%, taking 34% of the Chinese market share for Q1.

Another challenging market for Apple has been India. The story here is more forgiving however, as this is a much more cash-conscious market. Apple will of course want to maintain it position as a premium brand, therefore India, despite all the promise it offers, is not tailor made for its ambitions. Until consumer attitudes shift towards more premium devices, Apple will struggle.

Globally the smartphone market has not been helping either. According to Strategy Analytics, shipments decreased 4% year-on-year for the first quarter, with Apple slipping to third place overall.

Market share Q1 2019 Market share Q1 2018
Samsung 21.7% 22.6%
Huawei 17.9% 11.4%
Apple 13% 15.1%
Xiaomi 8.3% 8.2%
OPPO 7.7% 7%

These figures are not the end of the world, but it is a demonstration of consumer trends. There might still be an appetite for purchasing new devices, though there is seemingly a preference for those brands which might are cheaper. Such is the minimal differentiation between brands these days, why spend a premium when there is little need?

However, there is hope for Apple. Consumers might be getting frustrated over a lack of innovation in the hardware space, leading to longer refreshment cycles and a preference towards cheaper or refurbished devices, but the introduction of 5G might well change this.

With 5G devices being launched consumers will have something different to think about. Although 5G-capable devices are certainly not a necessity, and won’t be for a considerable amount of time, the ability to shout about something genuinely new might reinvigorate consumer appetite for purchasing new, and premium, devices. This could work in Apple’s favour.

That said, with Apple unlikely to release a 5G-capable device until 2020, the next few quarters could also demonstrate similar year-on-year declines. Apple seem to be happy to swallow this decline, sacrificing the ‘first to market’ accolade, but this how Apple traditionally approaches the market; it doesn’t aim to be first, but best.

For the moment, and the long-term health of the company, this does not seem to be the central point however. Apple is seemingly attempting to slightly shift the focus of the business, becoming more reliant on software and services, and it does seem to be working. As you can see from the table below, the ratio is shifting.

Product revenue Services Revenue Ratio
Q2 2019 46,565 11,450 81.3/19.7
Q1 2019 73,435 10,875 88.2/12.8
Q4 2018 52,919 9,981 84.1/15.9
Q3 2018 43,717 9,548 82.1/17.9
Q2 2018 51,947 9,190 85/15
Q1 2018 79,768 8,471 90.4/9.6
Q4 2017 44,078 8,501 85.9/16.1

The results in the table above do look quite confusing, though you have to consider that Q4 is usually the period for Apple’s flagship launch, skewing the figures towards the product segment, while Q1 accounts for Christmas, again tilting the figures. The general trend is looking favourable for the software and services division.

The last couple of months have seen Apple release several new services which will continue to bolster this division also. Whether it’s the content streaming service, news subscriptions, credit cards, iTunes or the App Store, the business is driving more investment and attention to this strange new world of software and recurring revenues. The ratio should continue to balance out, though we strongly suspect it will never get close to parity.

Another factor which you have to consider when it comes to the investors is the monetary gain. Yes, the long-term picture is looking healthier, but the firm has also announced it is increasing the dividend by 5%. This will keep cash-conscious and short-term investors happier, encouraging more to hold onto shares despite the downturn in revenues. The team has also announced a share buy-back scheme, up to $75 billion, which could be viewed as another move to protect share price. Although these could be viewed as short-term measures to cool the market, the overall business is looking healthier.

Apple is recentring the business, with more of a focus on software and services. The firm has defied the global hardware trends for some time, but they do seem to be catching up. What is important however is the management team recognising hardware will not be a suitable floatation device for Apple in the long-run. To continue dominating the technology world, Apple will have to spread its wing further into software, just as it is doing.

And perhaps the most critical factor of this transformation; investors seem to have confidence in the team’s ability to evolve.

Europe unveils its own attempt to address ethical AI

Addressing the ethical implications of artificial intelligence has become very fashionable in recent months, and right on cue, the European Commission has produced seven guidelines for ethical AI.

The guidelines themselves are not much more than a theoretical playbook for companies to build products and services around for the moment. However, any future legislation which is developed to guide the development of AI in the European Union will likely use these guidelines as the foundation blocks. It might not seem critical for the moment, but it could offer some insight into future regulation and legislation.

“The ethical dimension of AI is not a luxury feature or an add-on,” said Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip. “It is only with trust that our society can fully benefit from technologies. Ethical AI is a win-win proposition that can become a competitive advantage for Europe: being a leader of human-centric AI that people can trust.”

“We now have a solid foundation based on EU values and following an extensive and constructive engagement from many stakeholders including businesses, academia and civil society,” said Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. “We will now put these requirements to practice and at the same time foster an international discussion on human-centric AI.”

The seven guidelines are as follows:

  1. Human agency and oversight: AI systems should enable equitable societies by supporting human agency and fundamental rights, and not decrease, limit or misguide human autonomy.
  2. Robustness and safety: Trustworthy AI requires algorithms to be secure, reliable and robust enough to deal with errors or inconsistencies during all life cycle phases of AI systems.
  3. Privacy and data governance: Citizens should have full control over their own data, while data concerning them will not be used to harm or discriminate against them.
  4. Transparency: The traceability of AI systems should be ensured.
  5. Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness: AI systems should consider the whole range of human abilities, skills and requirements, and ensure accessibility.
  6. Societal and environmental well-being: AI systems should be used to enhance positive social change and enhance sustainability and ecological responsibility.
  7. Accountability: Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure responsibility and accountability for AI systems and their outcomes.

The Commission will now launch a pilot phase with industry and academia to make sure the guidelines are realistic to implement in real-world cases. The results of this pilot will inform any measures taken by the Commission or national governments moving forward.

This is one of the first official documents produced to support the development of AI, though many parties around the world are attempting to weigh in on the debate. It is critically important for governments and regulators to take a stance, such is the profound impact AI will have on society, though private industry is attempting to make itself heard as well.

From private industry’s perspective, the mission statement is relatively simple; ensure any bureaucratic processes don’t interfere too much with the ability to make money. Google was the latest to attempt to create its own advisory board to hype the lobby game, but this was nothing short of a disaster.

Having set up the board with eight ‘independent’ experts, the plan was scrapped almost immediately after employees criticised one of the board members for not falling on the right side of the political divide. This might have been an embarrassing incident, though the advisory board was hardly going to achieve much.

Google suggested the board would meet four times a year to review the firms approach to AI. Considering AI is effectively embedded, or will be, in everything which Google does, a quarterly assessment was hardly going to provide any actionable insight. It would be simply too much to do in a short period of time. This was nothing more than a PR plug by the internet giant, obsessed with appearing to be on the side of the consumer.

AI will have a significant impact on the world and almost everyone’s livelihood. For some, jobs will be enhanced, but there will always be pain. Some will find their jobs redundant, some will find their careers extinguished. Creating ethical guidelines for AI development and deployment will be critical and Europe is leading the charge.

Huawei’s software comes under renewed scrutiny

A leading UK cyber security expert has slammed Huawei’s software engineering as “very, very shoddy”.

The comments comes from the Technical Director of the National Cyber Security Centre Dr Ian Levy in an interview with the BBC. It was part of a documentary that will be broadcast this evening called Can We Trust Huawei? In it Levy says “The security in Huawei is like nothing else – it’s engineering like it’s back in the year 2000 – it’s very, very shoddy. We’ve seen nothing to give us any confidence that the transformation programme is going to do what they say it’s going to do.”

While it might seem like a bit of a bombshell, Levy is mainly reiterating the sentiments of the recent annual audit published by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre. We asked the NCSC if it had further comment on the matter and it pointed us towards the following official statement it made following the publication of the audit.

“Huawei’s presence in the UK is subject to detailed, formal oversight. This provides us with a unique understanding of the company’s software engineering and cyber security processes. We can and have been managing the security risk and have set out the improvements we expect the company to make.

“We will not compromise on the progress we need to see: sustained evidence of better software engineering and cyber security, verified by HCSEC. This report illustrates above all the need for improved cyber security in the UK telco networks which is being addressed more widely by the Digital Secretary’s review.”

The HCSEC is chaired by the CEO of the NCSC so it’s not surprising to see a fair bit of unanimity in their public statements. Huawei is fairly contrite about its software and knows it’s something that needs sorting out. But since the HCSEC has been flagging it up for a while you have to wonder why Huawei hasn’t done a better job of it so far.

This contrition is somewhat undermined by increasingly petulant public comments from senior Huawei execs, presumably encouraged by the Chinese state. Carrier BG boss Ryan Ding is quoted in the BBC piece questioning the validity of US security concerns when it barely uses Huawei gear, which seems to miss the point somewhat, before disingenuously concluding he’s got better things to than talk about this stuff anyway.

Huawei dies seem to have an ally in the form of ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao, however, who apparently told reporters he’s not happy with the absence of evidence that Huawei poses a security threat. “I would encourage Huawei to be given equal opportunities to bid for business, and during the operational process, if you find anything wrong, then you can charge them and accuse them,” he said. “But if we don’t have anything then to put them on the blacklist – I think this is not fair.”

So while there probably isn’t anything especially new in this BBC investigation, the fact that it has been given such prominence by the UK’s national broadcaster means Huawei is likely to come under even more pressure to get its software house in order. Since we’re talking about bespoke code, some of which has been kicking about for decades, that represents a substantial undertaking.

Qottab, Quindim or Quesito? Google releases Android Q beta

Every year Google releases a new version of Android, and while it is marginally entertaining to guess what sweetie it will be named after, it also provides a very useful roadmap for the future of mobility.

In controlling roughly 74% of the global mobile Operating System (OS) market share, Android is in a unique position to dictate how the ecosystem develops over the short- and medium-term. This year’s update appears larger and more wide-ranging than previous iterations, perhaps representing the significant changes to the industry in recent months.

“In 2019, mobile innovation is stronger than ever, with new technologies from 5G to edge to edge displays and even foldable screens,” said Dave Burke, VP of Engineering for Android. “Android is right at the centre of this innovation cycle, and thanks to the broad ecosystem of partners across billions of devices, Android’s helping push the boundaries of hardware and software bringing new experiences and capabilities to users.”

Privacy updates, gaming enhancements, features to accommodate for new connectivity requirements and addressing the foldable phone phenomenon, there is plenty for developers to consider this year.

Privacy as a product

New demands are being placed on developers around the world when it comes to privacy, but in truth, they have no-one to blame for the extra work than themselves.

This is not to say all developers have abused the trust of the consumer, but numerous scandals over the last 18 months and the opaque manner in which society was educated on the data-sharing machine has created a backlash. Privacy demands have been heightened through regulation and consumer expectations, meaning these elements are slowly becoming a factor in the purchasing process.

There are numerous privacy and security updates here which suggests Google has appreciated the importance of privacy to the consumer. Privacy could soon become a selling point, and Google is on hand with many of the updates based on its Project Strobe initiative.

Perhaps one of the most important updates here is more granular control of the permissions for individual apps. Users will not only have more control on what data is shared with which apps, but developers can no-longer request for consent for a catch-all data hoovering plan, while Google is also cracking down on un-necessary permissions. The team is updating its User Data Policy for the consumer Gmail API to ensure only apps directly enhancing email functionality have authorisation, while the same is being done for call functionality, call logs and SMS.

Data Privacy Survey

Source: GDMA: Global data privacy: What the consumer really thinks

Aside from the permissions updates noted above, users will also have more control over when apps can get location data. While some developers have abused the trust of users by collecting this data when irrelevant as to whether the app is open or not, users will now have the power to give apps permission to see their location never, only when the app is in use (running), or all the time.

There are other updates to the permissions side including audio collections, access to cameras and other media files. All of these updates represent one thing; privacy is a real issue and (theoretically) the power is being handed back to the consumer.

That said, Ovum’s Chief Analyst Ed Barton notes the critical importance of privacy features today, however, as Google could be considered one of the main contributors to the root problem, you must question how much trust the consumer actually has.

“It is noteworthy that privacy is something one might reasonably assume to have in most situations in modern life except in one’s digital life where the default expectation is that a vast digital platform knows more about you than your life partner and immediate family,” said Barton. “It is these circumstances which enables the concepts of privacy, personal data control and trust to be highlighted and used as marketing bullets.

“Privacy in something like an OS is meaningless unless you can trust the entity which made it so with Android Q the question, as always, is ‘how much do you trust Google’?”

Gaming enters the mainstream

Another major update to Android Q looks to target the increasingly popular segment of mobile gaming.

“Gaming remains one of the most popular genres on the app stores, while smartphones have allowed the industry to connect with the masses,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

“This has led to emergence of new games providers and a surge in casual and social gamers, while the arrival of 5G will open further opportunities for cloud based multiplayer games due to faster and more reliable connections and low latency. Mobile devices will be key in this new wave that also promises to bring virtual and physical worlds closer together providing users with immersive experiences.”

Capture

Source: KPMG: The Changing Landscape of Disruptive Technologies report

Here, there are two main updates which we would like to focus on. Firstly, Vulkan and ANGLE (Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine) to improve more immersive experiences. And secondly, improved connectivity APIs.

Starting with the graphics side, Android Q will add experimental support for ANGLE on top of Vulkan on Android devices to allow for high-performance OpenGL compatibility across implementations. The team is also continuing to expand the impact of Vulkan on Android, with the aim to make Vulkan on Android a broadly supported and consistent developer API for graphics.

In short, this means more options and greater depth when it comes to creating immersive experiences.

On the connectivity front, not only has Google refactored the wifi stack to improve privacy and performance, developers can request adaptive wifi in Android Q by enabling high performance and low latency modes. There are of course numerous usecases for low latency throughout the connectivity ecosystem, but from a consumer perspective, real-time gaming and active voice calls are two of the most prominent.

Gaming has slowly been accumulating more support and penetrating the mass market, and some of the features for Android Q will certainly help this blossoming segment.

Foldable phones; fad or forever?

Considering the euphoria which was drummed up in Mobile World Congress this year, it should hardly come as a surprise the latest edition of Android addresses the new demands of the products.

“To help your apps to take advantage of these and other large-screen devices, we’ve made a number of improvements in Android Q, including changes to onResume and onPause to support multi-resume and notify your app when it has focus,” the team said in the blog announcement.

There are of course a number of useful features which come with the increased real-estate, one of which is being able to run more than one app simultaneously without having to flick back and forth, as you can see from the image below.

Google Update

There are of course advantages to the new innovation, but you have to question whether there are enough benefits to outweigh the incredible cost of the devices. The power of smartphone and the astonishing tsunami of cash in the digital economy is only because of scale. With Samsung’s foldable device coming in at $1,980, and Huawei’s at $2,600, these are not devices which are applicable for scale.

Google is preparing itself should the foldable revolution take hold, but mass adoption is needed more than anything else. The price of these devices will have to come down for there to be any chance of these devices cracking the mainstream market, and considering recent trends suggesting the consumer is becoming more cash conscious, they will have to come down a lot.

The price might also impact the development of the subsequent ecosystem. Developers are under time constraints already, and therefore have to prioritise tasks. Without the scale of mainstream adoption, few developers will focus on the new form factor when creating applications and content. With little reward, what’s the point? Price will need to come down to ensure there is appetite for the supporting ecosystem to make any use of this innovation.

We’ve been complaining about a lack of innovation in the devices market for years, so it is a bit cruel to complain when genuine innovation does emerge, but a lot of work needs to be done to give foldable screens as much opportunity for widespread consumer adoption.