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Pebble Time Steel, smartstraps unveiled
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-03-03 18:44:50

Following the hugely successful campaign for the new Pebble Time, Pebble is back with two new products: smartstraps and a whole new Pebble, the Pebbble Time Steel. Let's start with smartstraps - an idea so simple it's almost silly that Google and Apple didn't come up with it first.

Rather than trying to shove every sensor and doohickey into the Pebble Time, we decided to keep the watch simple and functional and give our incredible maker and developer community the opportunity to build from there. Up until now, if you wanted it all you had to compromise... On battery life, size, design or feature set. Not anymore.

That's why we created Pebble smartstraps. It's simple: straps can now contain electronics and sensors to interface directly with apps running on Pebble Time.

Second, the Pebble Time Steel. It's a more luxurious, metal version of the Pebble Time, but aside from its more premium feel and design, it also sports a larger battery (10 days of use instead of 7 days) and its screen is bonded with the glass. For the rest, it's identical to the Time. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm totally loving the gold version with the red band - for a square watch, it simply looks really, really good.

In fact, for me, that specific model is the first Pebble I'd consider wearing. It combines an attractive design with Pebble's superior (over Wear and the Apple Watch) functionality. This could be a winner.

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Apple Pay: a new frontier for scammers
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-03-03 18:44:04

Criminals in the US are using the new Apple Pay mobile payment system to buy high-value goods - often from Apple Stores - with stolen identities and credit card details.

Banks have been caught by surprise by the level of fraud, and the Guardian understands that some are scrambling to ensure that better verification and checking systems are put in place to prevent the problem running out of control, with around two million Americans already using the system.

The crooks have not broken the secure encryption around Apple Pay's fingerprint-activated wireless payment mechanism. Instead, they are setting up new iPhones with stolen personal information, and then calling banks to “provision” the victim’s card on the phone to use it to buy goods.

Criminals, uh, find a way.

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Life after cancer: how the iPhone helped me
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-03-03 18:42:09

I've been struggling to get back in shape after chemo.

Since being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma (Stage IV) in late 2011, my life changed. Beyond the psychological and emotional consequences of how cancer affected me, my family, and my relationships, it is undeniable and abundantly clear that cancer took its toll on me from a physical perspective.

Last year, I decided to regain control of my body, my life habits, and my health. I started tracking everything I could about my activities, my exercise routine, the food I ate, and the time I spent working with my iPad instead of walking, sleeping, or enjoying time with my family. Since then, I've made a decision to not let cancer and its consequences define me any longer.

I want to be healthier, I want to eat better, and I want to take the second chance I was given and make the most of it. What started as an experiment has become a new daily commitment to improve my lifestyle and focus.

And it wouldn't be possible without my iPhone.

Between all the pointless bickering, we sometimes forget how much technology can mean to people when facing hardship like this.

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Inside the post-Minecraft billionaire life of Markus Persson
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-03-03 18:39:10

For the better part of the last five years the 35-year-old Swede was that guy, a man who constantly stressed about his creation, Minecraft, the bestselling computer game of all time. Even calling it a game is too limiting. Minecraft became, with 100 million downloads and counting, a canvas for human expression. Players start out in an empty virtual space where they use Lego-like blocks and bricks (which they can actually “mine”) to build whatever they fancy, with the notable feature that other players can then interact with it. Most players are little kids who build basic houses or villages and then host parties in what they’ve constructed or dodge marauding zombies.

Truly obsessed adults, though, have spent hundreds of hours creating full-scale replicas of the Death Star, the Empire State Building and cities from Game of Thrones. The word "Minecraft" is Googled more often than the Bible, Harry Potter and Justin Bieber. And this single game has grossed more than $700 million in its lifetime, the large majority of which is pure profit.

Rare interview with Persson.

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Google confirms plans to launch its own mobile service
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-03-02 23:11:57

Google's Sundar Pichai has essentially confirmed reports that the company will become a wireless provider of sorts in "the coming months." During his appearance at Mobile World Congress today, Pichai acknowledged that Google is working with "existing partners" to create its own MVNO, but stopped short of confirming that Sprint and T-Mobile are those partnering networks, as has been rumored. But he did reveal that Google has been in contact with Verizon Wireless and AT&T about its plans - likely to head off any potential ugly conflict between Mountain View and the largest, most powerful providers in the United States. "Carriers in the US are what powers most of our Android phones, and that model works really well for us," he said.

Additionally, The Verge has an interesting article about just how far along Google's Project Loon is.

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Ubuntu MATE becomes official member of Ubuntu
By special contributor robertson on 2015-03-02 23:03:26

As of the release of Ubuntu 15.04 Vivid Vervet Beta 1, Ubuntu MATE is now officially a Canonical project, alongside the likes of Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and friends. MATE is the continuation of GNOME 2.

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Jolla shows Sailfish OS 2.0
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-03-02 22:59:42

Jolla has "introduced" Sailfish OS 2.0. It didn't really introduce it though as it's not available to anyone right now - it's only potentially available to OEMs.

The independent Sailfish OS is soon reaching a major milestone as it is scaling from smartphones to tablets with the introduction of the Jolla Tablet. The first shipments of Jolla’s second Sailfish OS product are expected to start in Q2/2015. At this point, Sailfish OS is maturing to the next generation, 'Sailfish OS 2.0', and is introducing e.g. a new enhanced user interface, support for Intel architecture, and previously unseen software integration capabilities for partners.

The new interface is interesting - it greatly simplifies all the gestures and seems to function much more like Harmattan on the N9. As awesome as all this sounds, this still doesn't address the biggest concern: applications. Some may be content running Android applications (poorly) on Sailfish, but I want the real deal. However, without - still - any word on paid applications, it doesn't seem like this issue will be addressed any time soon.

That being said - I'm an early backer for the tablet, and can't wait for it to arrive this May. I hope Sailfish OS 2.0 will find its way to my Jolla phone at around the same time.

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New Lollipop devices not encrypted by default
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-03-02 17:21:54

Big news a few months ago: Google announced that all new devices which ship with Lollipop would have encryption enabled by default. Fast forward to today, and aside from Google's own Nexus devices, none of the new Lollipop devices actually seem to have encryption enabled by default. It turns out that Google has quietly relaxed this requirement in the Android Compatibility Definition, from 'MUST' to 'very strongly RECOMMENDED'.

Why? Performance, supposedly.

Our best guess at this point is that the encrypted-by-default requirement was relaxed to give OEMs more time to prepare their hardware for the transition. The performance problems can be offset by using faster flash memory, faster file systems like F2FS, and chips that are better at encrypting and decrypting data quickly, but phones and tablets take long enough to design that OEMs will need time to make these changes. Whether the change in policy was prompted by external pressure or an internal decision isn't clear, but the performance explanation makes the most logical sense.

Ouch. It's pretty clear Google wanted to quickly gain some positive press, especially after Apple announced it would turn encryption on by default in iOS, but failed to look at any possible performance repercussions. Sleazy move.

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Chip makers will merge in deal worth $11.8 billion
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-03-02 09:14:58

NXP Semiconductors said on Sunday that it would buy a smaller peer, Freescale Semiconductor, in an $11.8 billion deal that would create a big maker of chips for industries as varied as automobiles and mobile payments.

The merger will also offer some relief to the private equity firms that bought Freescale at the height of the leveraged buyout boom, only to see the financial crisis bring the company low.

NXP is Dutch, and I have to admit, seeing a Dutch chip maker acquire Freescale makes me feel a little bit proud. Together with ASML, my little swamp does contribute at least something to the world of computing.

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Samsung unveils Galasy S6, S6 Edge
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-03-01 19:10:15

Samsung, naturally, is hoping to put the Galaxy S series back on people's radar as a top device, and it's doing so by starting afresh with the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge. Though it numerically follows the GS5, the Galaxy S6 bears little resemblance to the previous model, and marks a pretty significant change in the way Samsung designs phones. At the same time, the S6 edge picks up the fun parts of the Galaxy Note Edge and leaves behind the poor software experience.

There's a brand new design philosophy in play with the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, starting with the radical hardware change and flowing into a more considered software experience. These are the phones that Samsung's hoping will change the perception of its devices in 2015 - let us show you what they're all about.

After HTC, Samsung was up. Most of the information regarding the new Galasy S6 and Galasy S6 Edge were leaked before their official unveiling, so we already knew what to expect. I'm particularly pleased with Samsung greatly simplifying TouchWiz, and the simplified camera interface and performance are very welcome too. The all-metal construction is nice, and I personally really like the Edge's curved display - not because of any software functionality, but because it just looks really nice and ergonomic.

During the unveiling event, one thing really stood out: confidence. Rarely have I seen Samsung personnel being this genuinely enthousiastic and confident about their new phones. They didn't resort to crazy antics or heavy buzzword dropping - they showed the device, its strengths, and that was it. For the first time, it felt as if Samsung truly believes the S6 and S6 Edge can stand on their own merit, instead of being held up by marketing and similar tricks.

My contract renewal is up later this year, and the S6 looks quite intriguing, and I haven't found any Samsung phone even remotely intriguing since the SII.

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