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Zinio’s Magazine Newsstand Hits Kindle Fire, Gives New Users $25 Shopping Perk

Posted: 15 Nov 2011 03:21 AM PST


If you’re the proud owner of a (actually, pretty much any) tablet computer, you can install Zinio, which bills itself as the world’s largest newsstand. Starting today, you can also install the Zinio app, and thus gain access to its 5,000+ magazines, on Amazon’s Kindle Fire device.

Zinio’s app is available now on Amazon’s Appstore, free of charge and just in time for the Fire’s official debut.

Good news for new registrants, too: Zinio will be giving those a $25 credit (on any device) that can be redeemed across its entire global newsstand through March 2012.

They’ll also be able to read their favorite magazines across dozens of tablets, smartphones and PC devices running all flavors of iOS, Android, WebOS, Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems.

Siri Cracked Open, Theoretically Opening It Up To Other Devices (Or Even Android!)

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 03:11 PM PST


Serving as a stark reminder that there are people on the Internet who are way, way too damned clever, the guys over at the iPhone design/development house Applidium claim to have cracked open Siri to take an unsanctioned look at its (her? his?) inner workings. In a rare (but quite welcome. I mean, by us. Probably not by Apple) move, they’ve gone on to do a rather detailed debriefing of how they got through.

So, what does this mean to you? Theoretically, it means that support for Apple’s voice-powered portable assistant could be hacked not only onto devices like the iPhone 4, but to anything from laptops to Android phones as well. As the italics on “theoretically” imply, though, there’s a bit of a catch.

The catch: in the end, anything attempting to communicate with Siri’s backend needs to have a valid iPhone 4S identification string, unique to each 4S. In one-off experiments like this one, spoofing that string with one pulled from an actual 4S is somewhat simple — Apple wouldn’t (/couldn’t) ever really notice.

If someone were to hack together an Android app and distribute it, though, the massive influx of requests all originating from the same unique ID would almost certainly trigger a blacklisting. Unless the app had a massive pool of authentic unique IDs to rotate through, the fishy activity would be pretty easy to discern.

I’d highly recommend reading Applidium’s full rundown of the process, but here’s the tl;dr breakdown:

  • By connecting Siri to a local router and then dumping data as it came through, they realized that Siri was sending all of its data to a server that we’ll refer to as “Guzzoni”.
  • All trafic sent to Guzzoni was sent through the HTTPS protocol. With the “S” in HTTPS standing for “Secure”, this traffic wasn’t subject to simple packet sniffing. So they had a new idea: make a fake Guzzoni server, and see what came through on the other end.
  • After a good bit of ridiculously clever SSL certificate trickery, they got Siri sending commands to their fake server. With each command comes the “X-Ace-Host” string, which appears to be unique to each iPhone 4S.
  • After figuring out how Apple was compressing (read: not encrypting) the data, Applidium was able to decompress it and parse out a rough sketch of exactly what was being sent (including which audio codec Apple was using), and what Siri expected in return.

With that process done, Applidium attempted to talk to Siri without any iPhone 4S in the equation. Their first challenge? Speech-to-text from a laptop running a custom script. Sure enough: it worked. Siri chewed through the sound file (a recording of them saying “autonomous demo of Siri”), didn’t bat an eye (as their tool was using their iPhone 4S’ actual unique ID), and returned a mountain of data detailing what Siri heard and how sure it was about each word.

Incredible. The Applidium guys have provided a few tools for others to recreate their steps — but, as it currently stands, there’s not much that can be done to take this beyond a rather cool proof-of-concept.

The Death Of The Spec

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 01:14 PM PST


Earlier today, my colleague Matt Burns wrote a post noting that most tablet makers may be largely failing because they’ve sold their soul to Android and are now just in the middle of a spec war, which no one can win. I’m gonna go one step further in that line of thinking: the spec is dead.

There have been a few key stories from the past couple of weeks that highlight this new reality. Barnes & Noble unveiled the new Nook Tablet. Consumer Reports looked at the iPhone 4S. And the first reviews came in about the Kindle Fire.

On paper, the Nook Tablet is the Android-based reading tablet to buy. It has twice the RAM of the Kindle Fire, twice the built-in storage space, a better battery, and it’s lighter to boot. Yes, it’s $50 more expensive, but come on, the RAM difference alone is worth well more than that. Clearly, this is the better value for your money.

And yet, the Nook Tablet will not outsell the Kindle Fire. That’s the thing: “on paper” doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that the Kindle Fire comes with Amazon’s content ecosystem attached to it. Perhaps more importantly, it will be peddled like no other on the all-important homepage. The specs are secondary in this race at best. The reality is that they will be an afterthought. Or again, the Nook would win.

Next up, Consumer Reports’ take on the iPhone 4S. Hey, this time, they actually like it! And thank god, because as everyone saw the last time around, their damning report really hurt iPhone 4 sales — to the tune of all-time record sales of the device, leading Apple to their most profitable year ever.

More on that in a second. First, it’s important to note that while Consumer Reports liked the device, they didn’t like it as much as a few other Android devices. Why? Specs. Marco Arment ripped this apart last week already, but the thing reads like a bad joke. For example, they love the LG Thrill’s ability to capture stills and videos in 3D. This is one step short of knocking the iPhone 4S because it doesn’t have frickin’ laser beams mounted on the top of the device.

And such comparisons show just how clueless Consumer Reports has become. Last year, they milked “Antennagate” for the pageviews, not realizing that it could actually undermine their own credibility if the device still sold well. “Sold well” ended up being a major understatement. So in effect, they themselves highlighted that no one cares about Consumer Reports anymore. And why not? Because they Consumer Reports largely cares about specs. And consumers do not anymore.

The NPD Group just released their latest numbers. The number one selling smartphone last quarter was the iPhone 4. The over-a-year-old phone which Consumer Reports refused to endorse over a year ago, remember. Meanwhile, the number two phone for the quarter? The two-year-old iPhone 3GS. Does anyone really think that the LG Thrill is going to outsell the iPhone 4S this quarter? What about the Motorola Droid Bionic? Maybe the Samsung Galaxy S II?

Consumer Reports now matters just as much as specs do. Which is to say, not at all.

Finally, we have the Kindle Fire. This is likely to be the final nail in the coffin for the spec. By pretty much all accounts, this is a cheaply-built device. Spec-wise, it’s pretty ho-hum. But it’s a cheaply-built device that comes at a cheap price. That matters more — especially when paired with, as I previously mentioned.

The Kindle Fire outselling the Nook Tablet, even though the latter wins the spec argument, will be one thing. But if sales compete with the gold standard of tablets, the iPad, that will really be something. So far, no other tablet device has come close to remotely competing with the iPad. The Kindle Fire should. They’re clearly different devices — the iPad is a much larger form factor and a price that is more than double the Kindle Fire — but I have no doubt that for many people, the Kindle Fire will be a good enough tablet that they’ll at least wait on an iPad 3 (or iPad 2 HD, or whatever it will be called).

That’s a key thought: “good enough”. None of the initial reviews say that the Kindle Fire is better than the iPad — because it isn’t. It can’t match Apple’s product in either specs or polish. But it is $199 versus $499. That matters far more than any spec. You’re paying for something that’s perhaps half as good as the iPad, but it’s less than half of the cost. There’s at least perceived value there.

And “good enough” also speaks to where we’re at in the broader computing world. I used to get excited for Sunday inserts in the local paper so I could see what new machines were available at Best Buy, Circuit City, or CompUSA. The only thing I cared about were the specs. Which Intel chip did it have? What was the clock speed? How much RAM? How big was the hard drive? How fast was the CD burner? How much cache? Those things mattered.

Then three things happened. First, computers kept going more mainstream — the above listed specs look like gibberish to most people. Second, the web took over and most computers quickly became more than fast enough for the majority of users. Specs became a thing that PC gamers cared about. This contributed to the rebirth of the Mac, because it was never much of a gaming machine throughout the years — especially in the PowerPC years when it was getting smoked by Intel chips (which Apple, of course, eventually adopted). And third, buoyed by the first two things, new platforms arose.

During the PC years, specs also mattered because there was one common dominant force in computing: Microsoft. Because Windows was everywhere, you could fairly reliably gauge the performance of one machine against another. But with the rise of the Mac and more importantly, smartphones and tablets, you can’t as easily stack machines up against one another performance-wise.

My MacBook Air doesn’t have the specs of a brand new HP PC laptop — but it still feels faster. Maybe it’s OS X, or maybe it’s the solid state drive. Point is, consumers don’t and shouldn’t care. They care about which machine will boot faster and which will be easier to navigate. Time to web matters.

And now connected ecosystems matter more than specs. This again helps Apple and Amazon. Does the machine seamlessly integrate with the iTunes ecosystem? Does it have access to the App Store? Can it access the Kindle Bookstore or Amazon’s streaming video service?

We’re starting to see backlash against reviews of products that just do spec-by-spec rundown. Because really, who cares how the device sounds on paper? It’s how it feels that matters. Is the Kindle Fire smooth? Is the Nook Tablet fast? Is the iPad a joy to use? Drew Breunig spoke to these things last week in a post entitled “Device Specs have Become Meaningless“. Dustin Curtis put this more succinctly in two tweets last night:

dustin curtis
Electronics should always be reviewed from the user experience point of view, not the technology point of view… yet no one does that.

dustin curtis
The section headings for a Kindle Fire review should not be "battery, internals, screen;" they should be "reading, surfing the web," etc.

I agree. Why base reviews around specs when specs don’t matter?

You could certainly argue that Apple is the company which has ushered in this post-spec era. They’ve flourished in recent years despite (and maybe because of) being cagey with most spec information on their newer devices. Does the iPhone 4S have 512 MB or RAM or 1 GB? Apple refuses to say. But who cares? It’s the fastest iPhone yet. (It’s 512 MB, for the record.)

Apple is more traditional with the Mac when it comes to specs (undoubtedly due to legacy), but they still mostly bury that information. Whereas PC sites often trumpet the processor and other specs on the main landing page for their products (HP laptops, for example), Apple instead focuses on natural language descriptions: “The new, faster Macbook Air”.

But the post-spec era works both ways. If the iPad specs don’t matter when going up against the Motorola Xoom, they also don’t matter when going up against the Kindle Fire. What matters is how the device performs, the ecosystem, and the price. In other words, the way you compete in computing now is to do so by focusing on things that human beings understand. On things that matter.

Did The BBX-Powered BlackBerry London Just Break Cover?

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 12:54 PM PST


RIM has been caught in rough waters for the past few months, and RIM has made no secret of the fact that their hopes for the future are pinned on BBX and their new BlackBerrys. The Verge has managed to get a picture of what may be the company’s first BBX-powered BlackBerry, and — to my surprise — it’s a handsome piece of kit.

Code-named “London,” the device bears a slight resemblance to the heinous, Porsche-designed P’9981 that debuted last month because of its seemingly metallic body.

Thankfully, the London’s clean lines steer clear from that gaudy territory and impart it with an understated, premium look that previous BlackBerrys have never managed. The Verge also reports that the body is slightly boxy, much like the Future BlackBerrys we’ve seen RIM dream up already.

Unfortunately, the London’s specs don’t quite match up to the high bar its design has set. It reportedly sports a 1.5GHz TI OMAP processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front facer. While it’s an improvement over RIM’s current BlackBerrys, the London’s specs would have been bleeding edge a few months ago. As it stands, the London may end up looking downright quaint when its reputed June 2012 launch window rolls around.

On the software front, the device’s UI is reminiscent of the BlackBerry PlayBook — not exactly a surprise, due to their shared QNX underpinnings. The color scheme seems to have gotten a bit of a revamp, as do a few of the device’s icons, but nothing is set in stone yet. According to The Verge’s sources, the device itself is a non-functional dummy, so it’s still anyone’s guess as to what RIM will really trot out next year. Here’s hoping whatever it is will be worth the wait — otherwise, RIM may not be able to keep their heads above water.

Music Lovers’ Social Network Flowd Gets All New Mobile Apps

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 11:53 AM PST


The music lover’s social network Flowd, which recently arrived stateside after its European debut, just updated its mobile applications with a boatload of new features that make them worth a look. Up until now, Flowd was only mildly interesting, as it was primarily touting its 600 or so artists and DJs who had signed up for the network – a number which, in the grand scheme things, is merely a drop in the bucket of all things music.

But with the new mobile apps, Flowd is now aggregating artists’ activity from other social networks, including Twitter, YouTube, SoundCloud and, allowing users to access artist updates, bios and gig calendars, even if the artist is not on Flowd.

Although in testing, this added import/aggregation functionality didn’t mean that every artist profile page was now filled with data (it was still sort of hit-or-miss), there’s certainly more information than before. Plus, it should be noted that the problem with filing out profiles through automated means could be affected by the simple fact that some artists don’t have gig info online right now. In other words, nothing to pull in.

In the updated Flowd mobile apps, there are nifty Twitter-esque “follow” buttons which let you quickly build a stream of updates from your favorite bands in order to get details on new concerts and other news. In a way, the Flowd apps can serve as a Twitter client for those interested in music, without you having to…you know…actually use Twitter.

Also new in today’s app updates (iOS and Android) is a feature that lets Flowd scan your device to see what music is currently being played or the last track played. It can then post that info back to Flowd and optionally cross-post it to Facebook or Twitter. It’s not as elegant as the Spotify + Facebook integration (or MOG, Rdio, Rhapsody, etc. + Facebook), but it can serve as a path for social music sharing for those old-school people who still like to purchase MP3′s from services like Amazon or iTunes instead of paying for a music subscription. (And yes, there’s a lot of those people left yet).

The Flowd mobile apps are available for free on iTunes, Android and Ovi (Nokia), but the app updates are on iOS and Android only.

Flowd is a portfolio company of Digia Ventures, the venture division of leading Finnish technology services firm Digia, Plc with offices in Helsinki, Finland and Santa Clara, CA.

Google Music Store Images Leaked Ahead Of Official Launch

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 10:11 AM PST


Well, that didn’t take long. Invites to Google’s big music-related event only went out this past Friday, but the folks over at TecnoDroidVe have already gained access to Google’s new music store on an Inspire 4G and took a few screenshots for the rest of us to pore over.

There’s no word on how they managed to gain access in the first place (Google Translate tells me it was because of “tricks and beginner’s luck”), but the screenshots they managed to grab look pretty legitimate.

First things first, the Music Store seems to be nestled within the Android Market application instead of working from its own app. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise though, since the rest of Google has been offering movies for rental and purchase from within the Market app for months now.

TecnoDroidVe also makes it clear that the parts of the backend don’t actually work yet. Perusing through tracks and even playing samples reportedly work without a hitch, but everything fell apart when they attempted to purchase a song. Fortunately, the rest of the store seems to have undergone some last minute polish, including the addition of a “Free Song of the Day.”

Track prices seem to run the standard gamut between $.99 and $1.29, but here’s hoping that Google’s music catalog is rich enough to help it gain some much-needed early traction. CNet reported on Friday that Google has inked a licensing deal with Universal Music Group, but hasn’t had the same success with Sony Music or Warner Music Entertainment. Without those key partnerships, Google’s music store may not have the kind of musical pull necessary to draw new customers, but we’ll see for sure on Wednesday.

iTunes Match Launches Today

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 09:45 AM PST


As expected, the launch of iTunes Match is now upon us, with today’s release of iTunes 10.5.1, available from the iTunes website here. For those living under the proverbial rock, iTunes Match is the new service from Apple that gives you legal access to store all your music in iCloud – even those songs you didn’t originally purchase from iTunes. For $25 per year, iTunes Match will match tracks in your music collection to those in the iTunes catalog – a catalog that now includes over 20 million songs.

In theory, iTunes Match is meant to pair up the songs in your library you ripped from CDs, but in reality, it means your pirated tunes can now be made legal for a mere $25/year. And if you have an extensive collection of indie artists, local bands or DJs that live outside the i-Universe, iTunes Match will upload those MP3′s to iCloud, too. Once in iCloud, music can be streamed to any device and stored at 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality – even if the original song was pirated purchased at lower quality.

The new service is just one of the features in iTunes 10.5.1, which also includes baked-in iCloud support, enabling you to access your songs, apps and books across all your Apple devices, without having to manually re-download the purchases on each additional device you own. The iCloud service lets you access and download past purchases, too, on whichever device you want.

The update to iTunes is out now, but iTunes Match is available only for U.S. users (sorry, world). To enable the service, you’ll need to switch it on after iTunes is installed.

P.S. For those of you who remember the debate about whether or not what iTunes Match is doing can be called “streaming,” you may be interested to see that Apple now uses the word “streaming” on its website to describe the service: “Once your music is in iCloud, you can stream and store it to any of your devices…”

Pogoplug Cloud Launches With 5 GB Of Free Storage For Mobile Users

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 08:57 AM PST

pogoplug-photo 2

Cloud storage service and device maker Pogoplug is unveiling its latest offering today: a new service for mobile users that offers 5 GB of free online storage. To use “Pogoplug Cloud,” you first sign up directly from your mobile phone or tablet (iOS or Android 2.2+), then download the app and begin the upload process.

And that’s where Pogoplug really begins to shine: it automatically uploads the photos and videos from your device to the cloud – no sync required.

In testing (on the iPhone), the process was pretty straightforward. You go to from your mobile browser to sign up or login to the service and find the appropriate app for your device. You then launch the app, login and the upload just starts on its own. It really couldn’t be easier.

In the app’s Settings, you can also specify whether the uploads can run over 3G, Wi-Fi or both, and there’s a curious setting where you get to specify a “destination” – what other destination besides Pogoplug Cloud could there be? There aren’t other options at present, but it would be great if this app could one day serve as a funnel to other cloud services too. Fingers crossed!

As a company, Pogoplug has been experimenting with different ways to entice users to its online cloud storage service, a challenge in the era of Google Docs and Amazon’s Cloud Drive and the like, all of which offer their own freemium services attached to much more recognizable brand names. Pogoplug typically uses its competitors’ size and scope to its advantage, though, at least in terms of its marketing. Pogoplug is about doing it yourself, hosting your own cloud storage safely and securely outside the reach of the big co’s.

Today, there’s Pogoplug hardware, desktop applications, and now, this new mobile app, all of which attempt to funnel users into the Pogoplug Cloud instead.

Although the Pogoplug user interface isn’t quite as clean and pretty as those from Google, Amazon,, Dropbox, iCloud or others, it’s certainly handy to get 5 GB of storage for free. But where Pogoplug stumbles is the pricing, something it claims is more affordable than the rest. That’s only the case when you “host-your-own,” though – then it’s free. Otherwise, additional online storage is $9.95/mo for 50 GB and $19.95/mo for 100 GB.

Google, meanwhile, charges $5/year for 20 GB, $20/yr for 80 GB, $50/yr for 200 GB, $100/yr for 400 GB and $256/yr for 1 TB.

Amazon charges $20/yr for 20 GB, $50/yr for 50 GB, $100/yr for 100 GB, $200/yr for 200 GB, $500/yr for 500 GB and $1000/yr for 1000 GB.

And Apple’s iCloud is $20/yr for 10 GB, $40/yr for 20 GB and $100/yr for 50 GB. You see, it’s actually hard to compete with the big guys on the bottom line.

If anything, Pogoplug is more in line with Dropbox, which also offers 50 GB for $50/mo or 100 GB for $19.99/month.

That being said, if you’re looking for an additional backup destination for either iOS or Android (no single point of failure!), it doesn’t hurt to have another 5 GB to tap into somewhere. But when it comes time to switch over to the paid pricing tiers, Pogoplug may not make the cut.

Sprint Intros New Mobile Broadband Rate Plans, New Express Hotspot

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 08:45 AM PST


Sprint, always looking for a way to undercut their competitors, has just announced two new mobile broadband data plans that give you more bang for your buck. Mobile broadband customers can now play with 6GB of data per month for $49.99, while the truly adventurous can have 12GB of data per month for $79.99.

Hotspot and tablet-specific data plans have been reconfigured as well: tablet customers can score 1GB of data for $19.99 per month, while 3GB will cost users $34.99.

To accompany their new broadband plans, Sprint has also pulled back the curtains on a new Huawei mobile hotspot. Dubbed the Express, this no-nonsense hotspot is priced to move at $29 so certain Sprint customers will just be swimming in savings.

Sprint’s new data plans certainly seem like a better value than comparable plans on AT&T and Verizon, but there’s a catch: Sprint’s 4G WiMax network has seen better days. While Sprint has more-or-less confirmed that they and network partner Clearwire would continue working together for at least a little while longer, the rollout of new WiMax markets was slowed down dramatically in recent months. Long story short: if you don’t have Sprint’s 4G WiMax service already, there’s a very real chance that you won’t get it at all.

Still, it’s not a shabby deal if you’ve been bathing in Sprint’s WiMax signal for a while now. The plans are available to all new and existing mobile broadband customers, so you data-hungry Sprint customers should get on the horn and renegotiate your plans.

Samsung Backs Down, Won’t Block iPhone 4S Sales In South Korea

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 06:34 AM PST


The iPhone 4S launched in South Korea this past Friday to the delight of the country’s Apple fans, but according to The Chosunilbo, Samsung very nearly threw a wrench into it. Samsung and Apple have been locked in a ongoing patent war in jurisdictions the world over, but Samsung has reversed their previous decision to block iPhone 4S sales in South Korea.

Company brass apparently debated filing an injunction against iPhone 4S sales until the eleventh hour before ultimately deciding to back down.

“We concluded that we should engage in legal battles with Apple only in the global market, but not in order to gain more market share in Korea,” an unnamed Samsung executive said.

It’s certainly good news for Apple, considering that Samsung was previously considering an aggressive defense of their patent portfolio back in September. At the time, a Samsung representative said that just as soon as the new iPhone arrives in South Korea, “Samsung plans to take Apple to court here for its violation of Samsung's wireless technology related patents.”

So why the sudden about-face? Apparently, their hard-line stance against the iPhone 4S could make for a few PR issues. Even with all of Samsung’s clout in South Korea’s consumer electronics market, Apple fans wouldn’t take kindly to being deprived of their new iPhones. Samsung would be seen as throwing their considerable weight around to subdue competition, which is an image Samsung certainly wants to avoid at this point.

While the South Korean front seems to have grown a bit calmer, Apple and Samsung’s patent conflicts continue to escalate abroad. Samsung sought an injunction against Apple’s 3G products in Germany on Friday, while Apple was recently compelled to reveal the details of their Australian carrier agreements.