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I was reading last night about Blackphone, one of the most interesting things presented at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This new handset is being developed by a Spanish startup (Geeksphone) in partnership with the US-based security firm Silent Circle. The whole system appears to be based on a security-enhanced version of Android known as PrivatOS.

This phone is clearly a very interesting idea and a product to consider, specially because it is the first time someone does an actual step towards ensuring privacy of communications for smartphone users. However, I would like to have more details on how everything work. Blackphone claims that it can do encrypted voice calls, but something tells me that this is probably only possible among Blackphones and you cannot have an encrypted call with a “normal” phone. Moreover, this is not something new, as there are apps out there that allow to do the same things on, for example, an Android phone. The only privacy concern with those is whether the server running the app in the background gets to “see” the messages or not. And the same question applies to the Blackphone. I am assuming that, if the crypto is well done, everything stays within the phones involved in the “secret call”. But, again, having more tech details would be helpful.

On top of secured calls and messages, which can already be done with several well known apps (for example RedPhone), Blackphone has other interesting features, such as a fine-grained control of the permissions each app gets. On top of that, Blackphone does very simple things automatically, such as configuring WiFi in a way that it is not trying to connect to any hotspots it senses (avoiding potential Man-in-the-Middle attacks). It also seems to offer a way to remotely wipe the device without requiring a centralized service (like the Find My Phone feature from iCloud). I wonder how they do this, though, and how they address the wipe command from an arbitrary place in the Internet (i.e. my home computer) to the Blackphone without a server somewhere in between that keeps an open connection with the phone.

All in all, a very interesting phone, yours for 629$.

blackphone

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My brother recently forwarded me the information on Fairphone, a new smart phone that claims to put social values first. According to its description, it is priced right, letting the user know exactly what she/he is paying for. Also, Fairphone is sourcing raw materials that don’t fund armed forces or violent conflicts, from mines that treat people like the human beings they are. The phone is assembled in China, where a fair wage and fair benefits are provided for the workers.

From the mines to the factories, we want every worker involved in creating this smartphone to earn a fair wage. Beyond monetary benefits, our ultimate goal is to ensure that employees work in safe conditions that comply with environmental regulations.

For our first phone, we’ve focused on our factory in China, including creating a fund to improve worker’s wages and working conditions and open discussions between workers and their employers.

In terms of technical specifications, it is actually a quite interesting phone. It is compatible with all GSM bands and can pump up to 40MBps with HSPA+ compatibility. However, no LTE radio. The phone does not have NFC, but it is equipped with all the typical gadgets you expect from a high-end smart phone, such as sensors, a decent camera, etc. I find particularly interesting that it allows to install two SIMs, so you can keep using it when you travel abroad with a second, local, SIM without removing yours. Or perhaps you could use the same phone as a BYOB at work, having a leisure persona and a work persona. Something similar to AT&T’s Toggle.

In terms of security, though, the phone is rooted by default. This will allow people to do cool stuff with it and install the OS they want. However, I bet there is going to be a bunch of these phones getting infected by malware and trojans. And the end result will always be the same, surprises when you get your monthly bill or your phone turned into a spammer. After all, rooted phones are like candy for mobile fraudsters.

Anyhow, a very interesting and cool phone if used securely and cautiously.

blue-screen-standing

Tomorrow is the day chosen by Apple to unveil its new iPhone and, probably, a new set of colorful “low-cost” iPhones for emerging markets. Despite most believe that the new devices will just be an iPhone 5 with an improved processor, a better camera and iOS7 (so, not really any innovations), some rumors indicate it might come with a fingerprint reader at the home button.

What is clear is that no wearable device will not be presented (except for a major surprise), so Apple will this time be behind Samsung and their new smart watch, the Samsung Galaxy Gear.

Follow live the iPhone 5S presentation at any of these sites:

Apple will announce whether they stream the event live on www.apple.com

EDIT: Updated links. Go check the new iPhones out!

Apple is expected to introduce today it’s newest iPad, the so called iPad mini. Despite the fact that Steve Jobs used to claim that a smaller iPad made no sense, it seems that Apple wants to start pushing its competition with the release of a smaller tablet. And if they price it close to the “usual” 200$ for smaller tablets, I am getting one!

Follow live the iPad mini presentation:

UPDATE: It seems that this time Apple is broadcasting the event on a live video. Go to Apple’s website to follow the event live on video.

Finally back to write a bit here. I have been out of town for a week attending a conference and, as I often do, I kept myself disconnected from the world while on the road. I plan on writing a post on the conference soon, but for today I just want to say that, included in the (exaggeratedly overpriced) conference registration, we got a Blackberry Playbook “for free”. I have been willing to get a tablet for a while, an iPad most likely, but since I knew I’d get this one “for free”, I waited.

The Playbook, already a commercial failure, reminds me a lot to the Kindle Fire I got for my brother last Christmas. Pretty much the same size, color, weight… the only difference is that the Playbook has cameras, both front and rear facing. However, one CANNOT run Skype on it, which is, in my humble opinion, stupid. Among other reasons, I want my tablet to allow me Skype mama and papa and other important people while I am on the road. I have not run anything too “heavy” on it yet, but I have heard that it has a pretty fast processor that allows running processes in parallel.

I am somehow satisfied and, for a while, I will give it a try. After all, it is smaller than an iPad and I like that. However, I have to say that the options in the Blackberry app market are extremely limited and there is literally no interesting apps to download on it. And, personally, I do not enjoy throwing angry birds against weird constructions or to cut fruits in half ninja style, so I am not sure when can I use it for. I am also a bit disappointed with the on screen keyboard. Either my fingers are very floppy or it just does not like me. It also seems to be even more annoying (if that is even possible) when trying to auto-correct me all the time while typing.

Having said that, I woke up this morning to a nice phone call and some cool news. Microsoft, the traditionally software company, has unveiled a – very cool looking – new tablet, the Microsoft Surface. Not many details are known yet (or at least I could not find much yet), but it looks like a very cool device.

 

Ok, back to work now. I’ll write more another day about the conference I attended.

I came across this yesterday when browsing through the IEEE Spectrum Magazine’s website. In the context of a reportage on robotics trends in 2012, I learned about this very cool idea. Three friends from childhood decided one day it would be cool to build a robot that used a smart-phone as brain. Many hours of work later, they came up with Romo, the first smart-phone based robot.

Despite it is a very simple idea, it is very well implemented and Romo is offered as an open source platform in the sense that users can create their custom applications on it. I am seriously considering to buy one…

Before wrapping up, I want to quote here what Romotive, the Vegas-based company behind Romo, offer as compensation for those lucky ones that are hired by them:

If we like you, work with you on a project and decide to hire you, then we will do the following:

  1. Send you two Romos programmed to congratulate you on joining the coolest damn team on the planet and then breakdance
  2. Send you a copy of Probabilistic Robotics by Sebastian Thrun, the Dune trilogy by Frank Herbert, and the extended Lord of the Rings DVD Trilogy (for your catatonic 10-hour viewing pleasure)
  3. Pay you more money than you can possibly imagine
  4. Offer you a chance to reshape all of human technology
  5. Give you a really ok healthcare package

Yesterday Apple finally unveiled its latest creation. As promised by the press invitation, a new iPad was presented. As usual with Apple products, this “new iPad” is very cool and a magnificent piece of technology but, once again, I am a bit disappointed. And I am not the only one.

When a new version or model of a product is released, one expects the obvious increase in processing power, etc. Apple, however, has always characterized itself by going way beyond that and introducing a new breakthrough each time a new release of an existing product is introduced. This year, though, when everyone was expecting the iPhone 5 and the iPad 3, they introduced the iPhone 4S (which, in essence is an iPhone 4 with Siri, a better camera and an obvious enhancement in processing power) and “the new iPad”.

In my humble opinion, the main problem of the new iPad is its name. It has no name. It is just “the new iPad”. There is so many things that are wrong with that. The most obvious one is the following: April 2013. Apple has recently released the iPad 3. As usual, the previous model’s price has been reduced, so I decide to buy the previous model. As I walk into the Apple store I get a greeting from one of those kids in blue. Then I ask for the new iPad. And, obviously, they bring me an iPad 3. Why calling the new iPad “the new iPad” if in a year it will not be the new iPad anymore?

Anyways, enough babbling and to the point: (from NY Times Bits blog)

Apple updated the iPad on Wednesday with a high-definition screen, a faster wireless connection and several other refinements, all packaged in a device without any major design changes.

As recent history has shown, though, Apple may not need a bold overhaul of the look of its tablet computer to attract waves of new buyers.

The company said the new iPad would go on sale on March 16 at a starting price of $499, unchanged from the last generation of iPads. The product will have a screen that provides a comparable level of clarity to the iPhone’s “retina display,” with higher resolution than conventional high-definition televisions, according to Apple executives.

The new tablet, called simply the new iPad, with no numbers or letters after the name, is an effort to keep growth chugging along in a two-year-old business that has turned into a major franchise for the company. Apple’s $9.15 billion in iPad sales over the holiday quarter was almost double the amount of revenue Microsoft reported from its Windows software and not far from Google’s total revenue as a company during the same period.

Its tech specs: (from Engadget)

So, what’d you have in the office pool? iPad 3, iPad 2S, iPad HD? Doesn’t matter, really. All that matters is that it’s here! This is the next generation of Apple’s iOS slate and, as usual, she’s a beaut — and yes, she’s still rockin’ a physical button. As was rumored this thing is packing a Retina display, potentially making this the most pixel-packed slate on the market. The 9.7-inch screen plays host to 3.1 million pixels in a 2048 x 1536 arrangement — that’s 264ppi. It’s not just a higher resolution though, the screen also boasts improved color saturation. Of course, what would a new iPad be without some updated guts. The new model has an A5X processor and quad-core graphics chip. Apple even claims its newest sliver of silicon can deliver four times the performance of a Tegra 3 — we’d say dems fightin’ words.

There’s also a new iSight camera on board that’s quite similar to the version inside the iPhone 4S. It’s only five-megapixels, but it does have a backside illuminated sensor with a five element lens. It’s also capable of capturing 1080p video, which should come as no surprise. We’re also excited to see the keyboard sporting a brand new dictation key that lets you speak instead of type — yes, just like on Android. The new software inside will also let you use the slate as a portable WiFi hotspot… so long as the carriers are game. It even has the ability to recognize at least some bezel gestures, as revealed during its iPhoto demo.

Perhaps most exciting though, is the new connectivity options — you guessed, LTE! The new iPad is sporting 21Mbps HSPA+, but it’s also rocking an LTE radio capable of pulling down 73Mbps on both Verizon and AT&T here in the US. Outside of the states Rogers, Bell and Telus will also be scoring 4G flavors of the iOS tablet. Amazingly enough, even with an LTE antenna on board, Apple is still claiming to get 10 hours of battery life. That’s probably partially do to the slightly increased weight of 1.4lbs, though the 9.4mm thickness is nothing to sniff at.

(UPDATE) iPad Air presentation (10/22/2013): If you are looking for the live presentation of the iPad Air this is the link you need.

(UPDATE) iPad mini live presentation: If you are looking for the live presentation, check this post. (the one you are currently looking at was for the new iPad a few months ago)

Today is a day that many are expecting. Apple send an invite to the press that promised news about the iPad. Everyone is pretty positive that today will be the day we get a first glimpse to the new iPad 3.

Starting at 9.30am (PT) 12.30pm (ET), you can follow one of the many live blogs that will be covering the event live with pictures and comments:

iPad 3 live blog by Engadget

iPad 3 live blog by CNET

The Samsung Focus Flash is a Windows-OS smart-phone that was released last November 2011. It would be just another (good) smart-phone with Windows OS if it wasn’t because, to my knowledge, it is the first cell-phone ever to come equipped with an antenna matching network.

A matching network is a portion of the RF circuit that matches the antenna impedance to the rest of the system (typically 50 ohms). When a cell-phone antenna is tested in an anechoic chamber, it is done considering very specific user scenarios using phantom heads and hands. However, if a specific case or hand grip is not tested and this happens to be a specially bad condition for the antenna we may end up in troube. Our skin is slightly conductive so, when touching an antenna, it will slightly change its impedance and it might mess up its matching with the RF chain. If you happen to bridge with your finger two different antennas or sections of the same antenna, then is when the whole matching gets messed up and Apple goes mainstream for an actual design mistake.

Actually, anything conductive getting into the near-field of the antenna (about a fraction of the wavelength) will potentially disrupt the impedance matching. I will not go into too many details but, when an antenna is well matched most of the RF power is actually transferred and radiated from to the antenna.  But if the matching is bad the less power is transmitted/received independently of how good the signal level is. There are hundreds of examples of people showing this with an iPhone 4 in YouTube.

A tunable matching network adapts to these changes in a dynamic environment to make sure that the impedance matching of the antenna is optimum at all times. This network is intelligent enough to help the antenna to be matched to the system in any user scenario! This is when s smartphone gets really smart.

In the case of the Samsung Focus Flash, the matching network is build by an Orange County-based RF programmable solutions manufacturer, Wispry. You can read this article for more details of the A2101 tuning module based on MEMS. I am surprised that Samsung is not advertising this cool feature for their phone…I think it may be a good selling point!

Very cool stuff… the iPhone 4 might not have had all those antenna problems had it had one of this inside…

From wiSpry:

Using WiSpry’s core digital capacitor technology and tunable digital capacitor arrays (TDCA), WiSpry can support its customers with development of tunable impedance matching networks. Implementing inductors in a variety of ways, WiSpry’s front-end matching networks are capable of matching networks with up to 19:1 VSWR. TIM’s feature low voltage operation, high linearity, accuracy, and high Quality factor (Q) performance coupled and small size.
TDCA’s available for implementation into TIM’s range from standard 5pF, 10pF & 20pF arrays up to custom configurations (~30pF +) for higher capacitance values. Both series and shunt capacitors are available so that virtually any network topology can be implemented.

Teardown: Samsung Focus Flash.

I have a friend working for Microsoft who asks me every day when will I write about the new Nokia phone. It took me some time, but here I am.

A couple of days ago, Nokia unveiled their new line of smart phones, the first result of their recent partnership with Microsoft. Experts wonder if this will boost up Windows Phones into the market – with a current 1% of penetration in the US -.

I must say that I was not specially pleased when checking the official Nokia website for one of the new phones – the Lumia 710 – the first piece of information I am given in the “product tour” is that you can change it’s cover to make it be in different colors depending on your mood or whatnot.

Among the features of the Lumia 710, they are equipped with a 3.7 inch screen that reduces glare and can be seen even in the sun. It has a 5Mp camera with flash, wifi, Bluetooth and only 8Gb of memory with no slot for micro-SD cards. It is a single CPU device that connects to EDGE, WCDMA, HSUPA, HSDPA. So, all in all, it looks to me like a “low-budget” smart phone. But very cool. Check its review with detailed specs at CNET.

The Lumia 800 has clearly more horsepower. It comes with a fancy 12Mp camera that records HD video and a 3.5 inch display. In this case, the device has 16Gb of storage space that can be increased by means of micro-SD cards. Check CNET’s review here.

All in all, a very cool phone. Specially the 800. I will try them and let you know.

From CNET: Can Nokia’s Lumia line save Windows Phone?

About me:

Born in Barcelona, moved to Los Angeles at age 24, ended in NYC, where I enjoy life, tweet about music and work as a geek in security for wireless networks.
All the opinions expressed in this blog are my own and are not related to my employer.
About me: http://rogerpiquerasjover.net/

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