Since we last met, a lot has happened in the world of personal technology. From Apple’s ongoing battle with the FBI, to the new legal tug-and-war on call drop penalties, it has been an exciting week for tech enthusiasts in India and across the world.
Possibly the biggest news of the week was the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge in India. The South Korean giant priced the Samsung Galaxy S7 at Rs. 48,900 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge at Rs. 56,900, and put the smartphones up for pre-orders alongside. Separately, Samsung, ahead of the global launch of the smartphones on Friday, announced that pre-orders for the two new Galaxy flagships had been better than expected.
Samsung’s biggest rival in the mobile sphere, Apple, also had a major announcement this week. The company started sending invites for a March 21 event that is anticipated to see the launch of the much-awaited 4-inch iPhone, thought to be called the iPhone SE. The event is also expected to see the launch of a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, as well as new Apple Watch models ahead of a proper refresh later.
Of course, Apple was part of a lot more news this week, thanks to its ongoing battle with the US government over the unlocking of an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the recent San Bernardino terrorist attacks. The most recent development on that front is from Thursday, when the US Justice Department submitted a filing with a California federal court that accused Apple of making “false” statements.
The US DoJ said that Apple’s rhetoric was misleading, and that the company had attacked the FBI investigation as “shoddy” and portrayed itself as “the primary guardian of Americans’ privacy.” Apple reacted strongly to the accusations, with lawyer Bruce Sewell saying the prosecutors were trying to “smear” the company by trafficking in “desperate” and “unsubstantiated” claims.
The US DoJ earlier this week also appealed a separate ruling by a New York judge that said Apple wasn’t required to pry open a locked iPhone, calling it “an unprecedented limitation” on judicial authority. Separately, France this week also cleared a bill that could force companies like Apple to unlock terror data.
Back in India, telecom operators are battling with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in the Supreme Court with the aim to squash call drop penalties. Legal counsel of the two industry bodies of telecom operators on Thursday called the call drop compensation policy a ‘populist’ measure.
Also in India, Uber set up its first engineering centre in Asia in Bengaluru. The centre’s aim is to come up with solutions to the very unique problems faced in emerging markets like India. While it has less than 10 engineers at the moment, Uber CTO Thuan Pham said the company is looking to expand aggressively in the country.
Isro on Thursday launched its sixth navigational satellite, as part of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System – meant to be the homegrown counterpart of the United States’ GPS. The 1,425-kg IRNSS-1F satellite was injected into space by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C32) rocket, and becomes the sixth of seven satellites required to make the navigational system operational.
And before you think we forgot, Google, much to everyone’s surprise released an early preview of Android N to developers. The latest version of Android, anticipated to be called Android 7.0 Nutella, comes with several new features that are already visible in the preview – these include multi-window support, a revamped notifications pane, and improved Doze functionality. The search giant alongside introduced the Android Beta Program, which allows users with eligible devices to try out pre-release builds of the latest version of Android.
Google (and its holding company Alphabet) made the headlines on other fronts this week, with its subsidiary DeepMind in the news for pitting its AlphaGo AI against one of the foremost Go players in the world – Lee Sedol. With three matches remaining to go, AlphaGo already has a 2-0 lead. You can catch the remaining matches on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday.
In the meanwhile, Google hired Christopher ‘Moot’ Poole, the founder of the infamous image forum 4Chan, to work on its Photos and Streams products. Google also released a Search feature for mobile users called Destinations, meant to help users plan every aspect of their vacation. The company also announced another search related feature that would let brands and celebrities post directly to search results.
The search giant this week also joined Facebook’s Open Compute Project initiative, with the combined aim of innovating data centres for efficiency. Microsoft also made big news, by announcing it would be submitting its Linux-based Sonic database software to the Open Compute Project as open source.
Talking about Facebook, the social network this week had two announcements. It released a Material Design revamp of its standalone messaging app Messenger, and, also announced the usage statistics of its app for emerging markets – Facebook Lite. The company revealed that Facebook Lite has seen incredible adoption of the app, hitting 100 million monthly active users within 9 months of launch. In fact, Facebook has had a busy week. It also fixed a flaw that could have let anyone access anyone’s account, released WordPress plugin for Instant Articles, and also announced its acquisition of face swapping app Masquerade.
Back in India, ride-hailing apps Uber and Ola launched their bike taxi pilots in Bengaluru. Things soon turned sour for them, with Karnataka’s Regional Transport Authority deeming the services to be illegal, and saying the firms had not sought the authority’s permission to offer the services. This resulted bike taxis in fact being seized by local law enforcement for violating the Motor Vehicles Act. This week, Ola quietly shut down the service by removing the listing from its app. The company also shut down its Ola Store and Ola Café services, which had been running for a while.
Amazon also got into the air cargo delivery business by leasing 20 Boeing 767 wide body freighter aircraft. The aim is to handle more of its own deliveries in the United States. The deal comes at a time when the world’s biggest online retailer is offering ever-faster, and increasingly free, deliveries for millions of online orders.
WhatsApp, arguably the world’s most popular messaging app, released two separate updates for its Android and iOS apps. While the former got a revamped settings page with a greater emphasis on user profiles and removal of a payment option, the latter got a fix for a bug that took up unused storage space on some devices.
Separately, Samsung also unveiled two new budget smartphones globally, with no details about pricing or availability. These were the Samsung Galaxy J1 (2016), and the Galaxy J1 mini, both of which were listed on country-specific company sites.
On the security front, there were three major happenings this week. Researchers at the Michigan State University have found a way to unlock your fingerprint-secured smartphone using things like an off-the-shelf inkjet printer. Devices tested and found to be vulnerable to this exploit included a Samsung Galaxy S6 and Huawei Honor 7, while researchers were only able to achieve ‘mixed results’ on an iPhone.
In the world of Android security, we saw Google release the March Android security update, and we also saw researchers publish a report about a new type of Android malware called ‘accessibility clickjacking’ that could affect roughly 500 million devices. Apple’s OS X on the other hand got its first known ransomware called KeRanger, transmitted through an infected copy of BitTorrent-based P2P file transfer network called Transmission
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