Software

WeChat is ubiquitous

People that have never lived in China might never understand the importance of WeChat in the Chinese market. It is truly ubiquitous, as messenger, service provider, payment system, and general app for the everyday life. If you build a business in China, building on the WeChat platform is already the next evolution step of mobile first: it is “WeChat first”.

 

WeChat had already morphed beyond its roots as a chat service to become a one-stop app for everything, from banking to shopping to dating to dining. With each new feature and service it adds, users have fewer and fewer reasons to leave it, or to download other apps. Mini programs may eliminate the need altogether.

WeChat’s App Revolution

The first iPhone hacker is building a self-driving car

Fascinating Bloomberg article about former-iPhone-hacker George Hotz who has outfitted his Acura with cameras, lidar, and computing power to go for autonomous driving. His plan is to prove that he is able to build better technology and algorithms than companies like Tesla or other car manufacturers.

 

The technology he’s building represents an end run on much more expensive systems being designed by Google, Uber, the major automakers, and, if persistent rumors and numerous news reports are true, Apple. More short term, he thinks he can challenge Mobileye, the Israeli company that supplies Tesla Motors, BMW, Ford Motor, General Motors, and others with their current driver-assist technology. “It’s absurd,” Hotz says of Mobileye. “They’re a company that’s behind the times, and they have not caught up.”
Bloomberg

 

In fact, Hotz has turned down an offer from Elon Musk to work for Tesla.

 

Hotz, though, broke off the talks when he felt that Musk kept changing the terms. “Frankly, I think you should just work at Tesla,” Musk wrote to Hotz in an e-mail. “I’m happy to work out a multimillion-dollar bonus with a longer time horizon that pays out as soon as we discontinue Mobileye.” “I appreciate the offer,” Hotz replied, “but like I’ve said, I’m not looking for a job. I’ll ping you when I crush Mobileye.” Musk simply answered, “OK.”
Bloomberg

 

Hotz plans to get more data and experience with his prototype and then demonstrate it by “filming a video of the Acura outperforming a Tesla across the bridge, and then follow that up by passing the final test on I-405 in Los Angeles where Musk lives.”

Tesla remains skeptic on the success of Hotz, releasing a statement on their website accordingly:

 

We think it is extremely unlikely that a single person or even a small company that lacks extensive engineering validation capability will be able to produce an autonomous driving system that can be deployed to production vehicles. It may work as a limited demo on a known stretch of road — Tesla had such a system two years ago — but then requires enormous resources to debug over millions of miles of widely differing roads.
Tesla

 

Inside of Georg Hotz' Acura - Photographer: Peter Bohler for Bloomberg Businessweek

Inside of George Hotz’ Acura – Photographer: Peter Bohler for Bloomberg Businessweek. http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2015-george-hotz-self-driving-car/

Different approaches towards the (fully) automated car

Google Chauffeur patent - source: Reilly Brennan https://twitter.com/reillybrennan/status/643846750718033920

Google Chauffeur patent – source: Reilly Brennan https://twitter.com/reillybrennan/status/643846750718033920

The race towards the fully automated car has only just begun. Car makers and their new potential competitors from the Tech industry have different views on the best approach for a driverless future.

While car OEMs like BMW or Daimler (and even newcomers like Tesla) are adding more and more driver assistance features such as lane-departure warning, brake assist, traffic jam assist, or parking pilot, in order to increase automation step by step over the next years, Tech industry companies like Google think of “leap-frogging” to as much automation as possible.

There are good reasons for both approaches. The classic step-by-step approach is very much in line with technology development and refinement, and with the slow moving other stakeholders such as governments and insurances. Ultimately a fully autonomous car would challenge the existing regulations and insurance schemes intensively, bringing up many unsolved issues of liability. What happens, for example, if a malfunctioning autonomous car hits a pedestrian? Driver or car maker liability?

The fully autonomous car, though, has the potential to be much safer than a car steered by a human, so naturally there is some incentive to go to as many automated functions as fast as possible. Especially as there are some indications that drivers in a only partly-automated car might be too slow to take over control in a situation that the partial automation cannot handle. As Chris Urmson, Head of Google’s Self Driving Car program, said in a recent article: “The better the technology gets, the less reliable the driver is going to get.”

 

Depending on the level of automation and intensity of alert, some drivers took an average of 17 seconds to respond to a takeover request and regain control of the vehicle, in a study just released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and supported by Google and several leading automakers and suppliers. In that time, a car traveling at 60 miles per hour would travel more than a quarter of a mile.
Automakers, Google take different roads to automated cars

 

The current state of the Android ecosystem

If you are about to launch a new app or service for mobile devices, doing that for Android is kind of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can access a vast community of users based on the sheer number of Android installations world-wide. On the other hand, this massive amount of users are not running a homogeneous Android base or devices. Vast differences in performance, screen size, installed Android version, and more,  makes it extremely difficult for developers to fully exploit the potential of the platform.

In addition, there is always a latent security risk of having devices running old and outdated versions of Android. A very prominent – and extremely severe – example has just happened with the Stagefright bug, allowing an attacker to get control of the Android device by simply sending a multimedia text message to the target. This vulnerability concerns millions of Android devices in the market, which haven’t received an appropriate security update. However, due to the nature of the Android update process – an update is developed by Google and given to the handset manufacturers and to the telecom providers, which have to roll the update out to the users – this security update either has not happened, or even is not going to happen at all.

Analysts from opensignal have created an extremely interesting overview map of the current state of Android fragmentation by devices, OS version, and brands, based on data of 682,000 devices worldwide. The first chart below show the over 24,000 distinct device types of the study. The second chart show the differences between iOS and Android, and the fragmented state of OS versions developers for the platform have to consider – from both application/service and data security point of view.

 

Android Device Fragmentation - opensignal.com

Android Device Fragmentation – opensignal.com

 

Comparison with iOS - opensignal.com

Comparison with iOS – opensignal.com

Inside the failure of Google+

Mashable reports on the current state of Google’s Facebook “Killer” Google+. Four years after the launch in June 2011 it is unclear what the future will bring for Google’s Social Network. The situation makes it obvious that without key differentiation it is pretty tough to establish a new product – even for giants like Google.

 

“When it launched we were like, ‘This looks just like Facebook. What was the big deal? It’s just a social network,'” a former Google employee not on the team recalls thinking after seeing the product for the first time. Says another Google exec who did work on the team: “All this fanfare and then we developed something that in the end was quite ordinary.”
Inside the sad, expensive failure of Google+

 

With Bradley Horowitz as its new executive manager, the service will now very likely to see further changes.  In a blog post – suitably titled ‘Everything in its right place‘ Horowitz indicates that not everything will be at its place for long. Google+ profile will not be needed anymore to access Google services, and core elements of Google+ seem to get carved out into own applications.
Horowitz’ title as “VP of Streams, Photos, and Sharing” seem to indicate already that we might see very distinct individual products instead of an overall Google+ service.

 

At the same time, we’ll also move some features that aren’t essential to an interest-based social experience out of Google+. For example, many elements of Google+ Photos have been moved into the new Google Photos app, and we’re well underway putting location sharing into Hangouts and other apps, where it really belongs. We think changes like these will lead to a more focused, more useful, more engaging Google+.
Everything in its right place

 

GM O(w)nStar

After the Fiat-Chrysler uConnect vulnerability it is now GM that has to fix a certain security flaw in their OnStar system. In contrast to the uConnect hack, this exploit takes place using a flaw in the RemoteLink mobile phone companion app of OnStar. The researcher Samy Kamkar uses a self-built device called OwnStar to get access to the user’s credentials by using a combination of wifi spoofing and man-in-the-middle attack.

 

The book-sized gadget he developed, which he calls “OwnStar” in a reference to the hacker term to “own” or gain control of a target computer, is designed to be hidden under the chassis or bumper of a GM vehicle the attacker is targeting. When the car’s owner uses the OnStar RemoteLink app within Wi-fi range of the car, OwnStar exploited an authentication flaw in the app to intercept the user’s credentials and send them wirelessly to the hacker.

Patch Your OnStar iOS App to Avoid Getting Your Car Hacked

 

“If I can intercept that communication, I can take full control and behave as the user indefinitely,” says Kamkar, a well-known security researcher and freelance developer. “From then on I can geolocate your car, go up to it and unlock it, and use all the functionalities that the RemoteLink software offers.”

This Gadget Hacks GM Cars to Locate, Unlock, and Start Them

 

Thankfully, GM seems to have resolved the problem with a change to its server software and update to its OnStar RemoteLink iOS app. Kamkar is scheduled to talk in detail about his hack at this year’s DefCon conference.