Is the Apple HomePod a Non-Starter?

Apple’s got a new Siri powered speaker…

I’ve been chewing on this one for since Apple’s WWDC keynote and I just don’t get it.  Apple’s HomePod is a Siri powered speaker that connects to  your iTunes library and your Apple Music Account.  Specifically, according to Apple:

  • HomePod is a powerful speaker that sounds amazing, adapts to wherever it’s playing, and together with Apple Music, gives you effortless access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. All controlled through natural voice interaction with Siri.1 It takes the listening experience to a whole new level. And that’s just the beginning.
  • Built to bring out the best in Apple Music, HomePod is a key part of an incredibly deep and intuitive music ecosystem that lives everywhere you do.1 With Siri intelligence and access to virtually all the world’s recordings, it’s like having a musicologist who helps you discover every song you’d ever want to hear.

HomePod does more than play music.  It’s very much like the Amazon Echo. It can help with questions and tasks. It can also connect to HomeKit related devices used to control your connected home’s heating, cooling lighting, locks, etc. It can be the center of your home, just like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa powered Echo and Dot.

The HomePod may be a superior speaker, providing rich, full sound; but it doesn’t have one thing that made the Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot – The Amazon Store.

The Amazon Echo was originally intended to be a way for users to order or reorder items you normally buy from Amazon.  All you have to do is ask Alexa to order you <something> and a few days later, the item(s) show up at your door.  It’s really that easy.  This was the main purpose of the device – to provide Amazon with an easy revenue stream.  The thought was that with a vocal path to your order history and your Amazon account, vocally ordering something from Amazon, without actually viewing your account, the prices, etc. would make you more likely to order or reorder items. It’s not “real” when you don’t necessarily see how much it costs.

This product ordering backbone provided Amazon with a reason for the product. Everything else that it does – play music, read books, control your home’s compatible products, etc. is a byproduct.  However it’s a byproduct that the Apple HomePod doesn’t have.

The Amazon Echo does everything that the Apple HomePod does and is $179.99.  The HomePod is $349.  You can literally get 2 Echo’s for the price of a single HomePod; and you’ll be able to order all the books (and other Amazon provided goodies) until your credit card maxes out.  However, the Echo’s won’t sync their playback as the HomePods will, providing better overall audio quality during playback.  You also can’t order Apple products and accessories with the HomePods.

I’m not entirely certain I get the reason behind the HomePod. The Echo is easy – It’s a verbal gateway to Amazon’s product catalog.  While Siri is more sophisticated and intelligent on the HomePod, she can’t order you any Apple products and have them delivered.

In short, the HomePod is twice as expensive and does (literally) half as much as the Echo does.  While I’m certain that Apple will sell a great deal of them, I don’t see them hanging around in the long term.  This just doesn’t seem like a core Apple product like the iPhone or the iPad.

Am I missing something here; or is the Apple HomePod a total non-starter?  Will it be successful, or is it just a flash in the pan product that Apple released in order to insure that they weren’t missing out on a market that both Amazon and Google were competing in ?

Someone please tell me… I’m really wanting to know, because I don’t think that I get the HomePod and don’t want to – nor can I afford to – buy one.  I don’t have an Echo or Google Home device and wasn’t planning on purchasing either, even though I order products from Amazon all the time.

This is where I need your help.

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area and give me your take on the Echo, the Home and the HomePod.  I don’t do any home automation, so getting one of these would really be nothing more than an audio speaker that could play music and audio books. It could also keep my granddaughter company.  She talks to Siri all the time and has complete conversations with her for hours at a time on her iPad.  At least with the HomePod, and under iOS, Siri is (supposed to be) a lot more intelligent.

Here’s to hoping the HomePod is a lot more than just a very expensive, very sophisticated wireless speaker… but I have my misgivings.

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Apple Seeds 5th Beta macOS Sierra 10.12.1

Developers and public beta testers got new bits to play with…

macOS Sierra is one of the biggest updates to Apple’s desktop operating system, likely since the implementation of OS X. Or at least, it will be once the (big) bugs are gone and the new Apple File System gets implemented.

macos sierra

On 2016-10-19, Apple seeded the fifth beta of macOS Sierra 10.12.11 to both developers and public beta testers. Developers can get it from the Apple Developer Center and both developers and public testers can get the bits through the Software Update mechanism in the Mac App Store.

Version 10.12.1 is a bug fix release that smooths out performance hiccups and addresses other issues that have been reported since the operating systems initial release just a short time ago. The release doesn’t provide much in the “new features” department, however. Though support for Apple’s iPhone 7/ 7 Plus’ Portrait Mode, being introduced with iOS 10.1, is included in the desktop OS’ Photos app.

Other than that, I wouldn’t expect too much more.

Apple recently announced a new media event scheduled to take place on 2016-10-27 where it is expected it will introduce a number of new Macs and MacBook Pros to the market. That’s just eight (8) days away from the time of this writing. I would expect both iOS 10.1 and macOS 10.12.1 to be released to the public by that time. It makes sense to have the new OS version hit the streets the same day as the new computers that will run it. So if you’re a Mac, get ready for a new computer, or at least get ready for the upgrade dance again.

I haven’t upgraded my top of the line, 15″ Late 2013 MacBook Pro to macOS Sierra just yet. I’ve got too many mission critical apps on it that I’m afraid won’t function correctly without major upgrades from their developers. I’m also waiting for a number of the bigger issues to shake out, so I don’t have to deal with them. This is usually when the 10.X.1 release is made available, and most will agree that this is the best time to upgrade, especially if you’re on the early adopter schedule, like me. (Though, to be very honest, jumping on at the X.Y.1 release really ISN’T early adoption…)

Are you a Mac? Have you upgraded to macOS Sierra 10.12 yet? Are you running the 10.12.1 beta? What do you think of the software? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below and give me your thoughts?

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Apple Releases iOS 9.3.5

A hacking group exposed some nasty holes that Apple has patched with an emergency fix.

ios 9.3.5

Over the past few days, Apple has released a point-release to iOS 9.3 – iOS 9.3.5 – that was released to patch vulnerabilities exploited by the Pegasus malware. Pegasus, a set of tools that is branded as “lawful intercept” spyware by the NSO Group and has sold to some nation states for up to $1M USD. It could be used to remotely jailbreak iPhones and then use the device’s microphone to eavesdrop on suspected dissidents and its cameras to capture images of them.

iOS 9.3.5 was released to specifically thwart this malware.

Pegasus was highly sophisticated, silently installing itself via a link sent to an unsuspecting user via text message. Once installed, Pegasus can do more than just spy on you, it can also intercept cellular calls, Facetime audio and video calls, text messages, email and more. The software has been nicknamed an attack “lookout.”

Security Analysis firm Lookout indicates that Pegasus can take advantage of the following security weaknesses in iOS 9.x:

The malware exploits three zero-day vulnerabilities, or Trident, in Apple iOS:
CVE-2016-4655: Information leak in Kernel – A kernel base mapping vulnerability that leaks information to the attacker allowing him to calculate the kernel’s location in memory.
CVE-2016-4656: Kernel Memory corruption leads to Jailbreak – 32 and 64 bit iOS kernel-level vulnerabilities that allow the attacker to silently jailbreak the device and install surveillance software.
CVE-2016-4657: Memory Corruption in Webkit – A vulnerability in the Safari Webkit that allows the attacker to compromise the device when the user clicks on a link.

Pegasus is one of the most advanced set of malware tool sets available today because its customizable. It can be used to track a wide range of communication items from its victims and it uses strong encryption to protect itself and avoid detection. Both Lookout and Citizen Lab helped identify and inform Apple about the malware. Apple was able to work quickly to develop and test an update that patched the exploits in under two weeks.

While individuals in the US are very unlikely to be exposed or vulnerable to Pegasus, its highly recommended that you download and install this update to iOS 9.x immediately. If you have jailbroken your iOS 9.x powered iDevice, this will quickly and neatly place you back within Apple’s walled garden.

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WWDC 2016 Part 1 – macOS Sierra

A lot came out of the WWDC Keynote…

Apple WWDC16

There was a great deal of information that came out of Apple’s software only keynote address to press and WWDC 2016 developer attendees.  In this article, I’m going to concentrate on macOS Sierra.

macOS Sierra concentrates on a few different things. The ones that really caught my eye include Continuity, iCloud and Mac Fundamentals.

Continuity blends the lines between your devices. Your entire computing experience with you logging into and unlocking your computer. macOS Sierra now allows you to auto unlock your Mac by simply opening up your Mac while wearing your Apple Watch.  Apple Watch users can simply open the lid of their Mac laptop while wearing their Watch, and the Mac auto unlocks. Proximity and time of flight networking technology insures that it really is YOU opening up your Mac laptop.

Apple is also implementing a universal clipboard that works between your Mac, and all of your iDevices.  When you find something on your phone that you might want to use on your Mac, you don’t have to email or text it to yourself.  Now, the data is in your clipboard, and all you have to do is paste it.  One of the things missing here – at least as of this writing because I haven’t had time to play with Sierra yet – is clipboard history: the ability to remember a set, number of items copied to your clipboard.  Sierra may support this, it may not.

iCloud Drive makes documents available across all of your connected Apple devices whether they be Macs or iDevices, it doesn’t matter.  With Sierra and iOS 10, you get not only all of your documents, but your desktop and its contents available too.

iCloud Drive also now includes a feature called Optimized Storage.  Modern computers – laptops especially – come with SSD’s.  Unfortunately, most of those SSD’s are smaller than the spinning disk hard drives that everyone is used to.  Macs come with 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD’s; and even with half a terabyte, your drive can fill up quickly. iCloud Drive will now intelligently make room for new files on your Mac by moving older files from your Mac to the cloud, allowing you to access them there, instead.  iCloud Drive now only REALLY keeps the data that you’re working on, locally on your Mac.

Apple Pay now works on the web through Continuity.  When you’re buying something online on your Mac, you can use your iPhone to pay for it through Apple Pay via Continuity.  All you need is your iPhone handy, and you should be good to go.

For Mac Fundamentals, Apple has taken a logical, straight forward approach.  For example, tabbed windows now appear on every app, Apple created and included with Sierra or third party app.  This change comes at the OS level and no additional third party developer support is needed.

Picture in Picture (PiP) support is now also included at the OS level.  That means you can be writing a really great Mac article (like this one…) while also watching a video in a POP window that will travel with you from Space to Space and will work with full screen apps as well.

Siri is also included as part of Mac Fundamentals. Siri has her usual sass, but includes the ability to ask the system complex queries that you can pin to Notification Center. From there you can even drag and drop them into a document.  The seamless integration of it with other new and existing Apple features make the complete package very compelling, if not ungodly expensive…  However, if you ARE all Apple all the time, AND you have a compatible Mac, then you’re really going to love what you can do with all of your Apple gear.

You can see demos on all of this (as well as the rest of the Apple WWDC Keynote) here.

Speaking of compatible Mac hardware, Apple has also released the Mac hardware compatibility list for macOS Sierra.  Those computers include the following:

2009 and later

  • MacBook
  • iMac

2010 and later

  • MacBook Air
  • MacBook Pro
  • Mac mini
  • Mac Pro

While this list seems pretty decent, there are some pretty obvious computers missing from this list.  In the pre-2010 list, it seems that only MacBooks and iMacs get Sierra love.  Missing from that list are ANY kind of MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, Mac minis and Mac Pros.

For me, this means that my wife will be eligible for the upgrade, but my son-in-law with his Late 2008 Aluminum Unibody MacBook, will be left out in the cold. All of the other Macs in the house – my daughter’s Late 2015 13″ MacBook Pro, my Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro and Mid 2012 13″ MacBook Air – will all get updates.

As of this writing, I’m installing macOS Sierra Developer Beta 1 on the MBA.  I’ll do my best to put it through its paces and then have some kind of write up in the coming weeks.

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Uninstall QuickTime for Windows – QUICK!

That is, if you want to remain virus free…

Uninstall QuickTime for Windows

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been a bit absent from Soft32.com, not because I wanted to and not because there wasn’t cool stuff to write about, but because real life intruded.  It’s always an interesting time when real life gets in the way, especially for those of us that have routines.  Thankfully, though, I didn’t have THIS problem to deal with – more malware.

However, if you’re an iDevice user on the Windows side of things, you’ll remember that iTunes historically always wanted you to install QuickTime for Windows. It used to play all video out of iTunes via QuickTime.

That, my friends, has changed.

Apple is no longer using QuickTime for Windows to play video in iTunes and apparently, has also stopped issuing security patches for it as well. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t tell anyone about this.  This was picked up and reported by Trend Micro and their Zero Day Intuitive; and has been making quite the stir ever since.

Trend Micro released the following statement on the issue:

“Apple is deprecating QuickTime for Microsoft Windows. They will no longer be issuing security updates for the product on the Windows Platform and recommend users uninstall it… Our Zero Day Initiative has just released two advisories ZDI-16-241 and ZDI-16-242 detailing two new, critical vulnerabilities affecting QuickTime for Windows. These advisories are being released in accordance with the Zero Day Initiative’s Disclosure Policy for when a vendor does not issue a security patch for a disclosed vulnerability. And because Apple is no longer providing security updates for QuickTime on Windows, these vulnerabilities are never going to be patched. We’re not aware of any active attacks against these vulnerabilities currently. But the only way to protect your Windows systems from potential attacks against these or other vulnerabilities in Apple QuickTime now is to uninstall it.”

While nearly everyone should have seen a number of third party reports to this effect, there’s no information on Quick Time for Windows’ demise coming from Apple.  They just seem to have flushed it, and moved on.

Those Mac users in the audience don’t have anything to worry about. Apple doesn’t seem to be deprecating or ending support of Quick Time for Mac, just the Windows variety.

It is highly recommended to everyone who uses Quick Time for Windows, to remove it from their Windows PC’s immediately.

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Government Cracks the iPhone 5c

The FBI was successful in jailbreaking, uh, I mean, cracking that iPhone 5c they have…

iphone 5c_unlockBefore I get into it, let me say, this is (probably) the best possible outcome of this whole crazy mess.

Early Monday evening, Chicago Time, the Department of Justice announced that its efforts to crack the iPhone 5c used by Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Milik. I’ve tried my best to cover this story while it has been going on. Just to recap:

Back door..?!? We don’ need your stinkin’ backdoor..!
The DoJ to Apple Computer – Byte Me…
The All Writs Act is an All Access Pass
Apple Tells the FBI to go Pound Bits

It’s not been exactly our best moments… with grandstanding and posturing on both sides. However, with the phone cracked and the data “safely” in the hands of the FBI, the DoJ has moved to vacate its court order compelling Apple to provide aid in giving them access to the phone in their ongoing investigation. Now that they’ve got a way in, they don’t need Apple to build them that back door.

Melanie Newman, a DoJ spokesman, provided the following statement via Twitter on their plans:

“It remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety, either with cooperation from relevant parties, or through the court system when cooperation fails… We will continue to pursue all available options for this mission, including seeking the cooperation of manufacturers and relying upon the creativity of both the public and private sectors.”

Apple has issued a brief statement, as reported by Buzz Feed’s John Paczkowski:

“From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought.

We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated.

Apple believes deeply that people in the States and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk.

This case raised issues which deserve a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy. Apple remains committed to participating in that discussion.”

There are a number of groups, that are calling for the government to disclose information on the actual exploit that was used to gain access to the iDevice in question, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, there are two takeaways here that everyone should be cognizant of, and that are near certainties:

1. The government isn’t going to share the information
If they disclose the method used to access the iDevice, Apple will certainly plug the hole, preventing the government from using it on other iDevices in the future. Besides, they’re probably a little more than miffed at Apple for not giving them what they wanted without putting up a fight.

2. Apple is going to devote a great deal of time hardening iOS
Apple is going to make certain that it goes on a big enough bug hunt that it squashes any and all security holes it finds. Its then going to go and improve the encryption and other security features in iOS to insure that end user data that is supposed to be private, remains private.

So, how is this likely the best outcome, given the above, and other developments?

That’s easy – because no one had to force their hand…

Simply put, the government didn’t have to (really) try to make Apple comply, and Apple didn’t have to refuse. The debate on the case, isn’t far from over, however, as I’m certain that its likely to come to a boil before Apple has a chance to release a version of iOS with “uncrackable” encryption.

What do you think of all of this? Is this the outcome you were hoping for? Are you Team Apple or Team DoJ? Should Apple build the back door the government was initially asking for, or should it harden iOS to the point where no one can get it without the proper password or biometric data?

I’d love to hear from you. Why don’t you sound off in the Discussion area, below and let me know what you think of all of this?

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Do I have the AceDeceiver Malware?

Most – if not all – iPhone users, can relax…

AceDeceiver-Malware

There’s but a great deal of hub-bub over the latest revelation that non-jailbroken iPhones can be breached with a man in the middle attack (MitM) that comes to iDevices via flaws in Apples DRM system, FairPlay.

Apple’s FairPlay DRM (digital rights management) system insures that only authorized users can get access to purchased content (apps, music, movies, etc.) through a given AppleID. However, this MitM attack allows hackers to install malware on iOS devices without a user’s knowledge or consent, bypassing Apple security measures.

According to PaloAlto Networks,“In the FairPlay MITM attack, attackers purchase an app from App Store then intercept and save the authorization code. They then developed PC software that simulates the iTunes client behaviors, and tricks iOS devices to believe the app was purchased by the victim.”

While this has previously been used just to pirate iDevice apps in the past, this is the first time this particular attack has been used to install and spread malware.  Victims first download a Windows program called Aisi Helper which is supposed to provide jailbreaking, system back up and device management and cleaning services.  Once installed, it installs malicious apps to any and all iDevices that are ever connected to the PC.

From that point forward, the malicious app redirects App Store requests to a malicious store, where your AppleID and password WILL be phished.  So, what does this mean for YOU, the iPhone user right now?

Honestly, not much; and there are two really big reasons why:

  1. Currently, this effects users in China
    … and that’s about it right now. So unless, you’re an iPhone user, in China, at least for the moment, you’re safe.
  2. This is currently a Windows only Attack
    So, if you’re a Mac, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It all starts on the desktop, as I noted above.  If you’re using a Windows PC, then be vigilant; but again, unless you’re a Windows user that actually uses a Chinese localized version of Windows (and actually resides IN China), then you don’t’ have anything to worry about.
  3. If you’re OTA Only
    …Then don’t sweat it at all. If you NEVER connect your iPhone to a Windows machine, like…EVER… then you’re perfectly safe.  Apple’s on device security measures have already covered for this, and you have nothing to worry about.

So, what can you do to protect yourself, if you’ve been to China recently, use a Windows PC, and think maybe you might-could, possibly be infected??  That’s really easy.

  1. Don’t Jailbreak your iPhone
    I know, I know, I know… I said earlier that this attack hit NON-jailbroken iDevices. The whole thing starts, though on the desktop through the program Aisi Helper. While you may not be interested in its jailbreaking services, it can be used to backup, and clean cruft from your iDevice.Here’s a piece of advice – the only thing you need to use to back up your iDevice is iTunes. Period. If you don’t connect to iTunes on your computer through a USB cable and are OTA only, then use iCloud to back up your device. If you think you need to reset your, iDevice, then use only Apple provided tools (iTunes or the Reset functionality in your iDevice’s Settings).  Using third party tools for any of this is just an invitation to trouble
  2. Uninstall the Desktop Software
    If you have Aisi Helper on your PC, uninstall it. Period.  Don’t ever install any third party tool to backup, clean, or manage content on your iDevice, unless you REALLY trust the developer. And then, it’s really, REALLY risky.
  3. Run a Virus Scan
    After its gone, run a full virus scan with the tool of your choice, and then  make sure you quarantine and then remove any threats that are found.

This development is interesting, and monitoring for it on your iDevice and outside of China (where it’s the only place this is currently a threat) isn’t a bad idea.  However, at this point, for everyone else, this isn’t too big of a deal.  The biggest thing you have to keep in mind though, is that jailbreaking your iDevice is risky, no matter how much you might hate Apple’s walled garden.

While you may not be able to do everything you might want to do with your iDevice in terms of customization and side loading applications, with the threat of malware that steals your personal information that can lead to identity theft, the cool factor and the value in breaking free largely lose their appeal.

What do you think? Is jailbreaking still a thing?  Does it really offer you the options you’re looking for?  Is it too risky?  Do you have a jailbroken iDevice?  Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below, and let me know?

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Apple Releases Sixth Beta’s of its Operating System Suite

That suite includes iOS 9.3, watchOS 2.2 and OS X 10.11.4...

appleBeing in the beta business isn’t always the most glamorous of jobs. On the contrary – it’s often very difficult. In fact, beta testers tend to see not only the good and bad, but the downright ugly.

It’s one of the reasons why, after approximately 20 years of beta testing for both Microsoft (mostly) and Apple (most recently), I’m NOT jumping on that train on any of my production-level equipment. It’s just not worth it any more.

It used to be that when an operating system hit the BETA stage, it was pretty much operational. You could count on that version of (whatever it is) holding its own. While there would obviously be problems, those problems nearly always came with some level of (reasonable) work around that wouldn’t take your PC/ mobile device out of the picture.

That’s not the case now a days. More often than not, you could be taking your PC’s life into your hands if you aren’t careful.

So with this light of caution CLEARLY flashing in our faces, you may be interested to know that Apple has released the sixth beta of iOS 9.3, and OS X 10.11.4, both of which are available to both developers and public beta testers. Apple released watchOS 2.2 Beta 6 to its registered developers only.

This latest round of releases comes just six (6) days after Beta 5 of all three OS’. Prior to that, beta four (4) was released eight (8) days earlier. Everything prior to beta 4 was released on a strict biweekly schedule.

At this point, there are no new features; and while I haven’t had a chance to look at the seed notes for these beta 6 releases, I’d be very surprised if there were any remaining known, open issues. We should be very close to final release.

iOS 9.3 will add such as a Night Shift mode, secure Notes, and extra 3D Touch shortcuts to the mobile operating system, among other things. As of Beta 5, OS navigation via Apple Pencil has been restored to iPad Pro.

OS X 10.11.4 will include the ability to individual encrypt items in Notes and support for Live Photos (from iPhone 6s) in Messages among other things

watchOS 2.2 (when paired with an iPhone running iOS 9.3) will allow users to pair more than one Apple Watch to a single iPhone and also introduces a new look for Maps in Glances.

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