Why Do Android Flashlight Apps Need Dozens of Permissions?


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No one should be downloading a flashlight app in the Year of Our Lord 2019 — that’s why both Google and Apple have integrated the ability into their devices as part of the base operating system. Avast security researcher Luis Corrons decided to evaluate the security of flashlight apps after the wave of concern around the Russian-owned Faceapp software. According to his work, there are still 937 flashlight applications on Google Play, despite the fact that Flashlight capabilities are baked into the Android OS. Many of these applications request far more permissions from end users than they ever need to function.

Instead of being limited to the functions you’d expect a flashlight to need (access the LED flash itself, download ads from the internet, and lock-screen access so the flashlight can be turned on or off without unlocking the device), many of these apps request far more. The average number of permissions requested by app is 25. 408 applications request 10 permissions or fewer, but 262 of them require 50 permissions or more. The table below shows the worst offenders:

Now, just because an application is requesting a lot of permissions doesn’t necessarily mean it is requesting them for nefarious purposes. But when Corrons dug deeper, the issues kept getting worse. A massive number of applications request permission to kill background processes, access your fine-grained location data, control Bluetooth connections, record audio, download data without notification, and write to your contacts list. A few even process incoming calls.

As Corrons discusses, the reason these apps have such ludicrous permissions isn’t because they’re actually trying to hook you up with Nigerian princes with large fortunes to dispose of. It’s undoubtedly so they can gather data and then sell it to other firms as part of their efforts to endlessly monetize all of human existence. He steps through how some of these apps are developed by studios with multiple multi-million downloads on the app store. All of the apps require the same invasive permissions, and they’re almost certainly funneling data to the same invisible group of partners.

Google, of course, could stop this kind of garbage in its tracks by forcing app developers to only request permissions that they can plausibly prove they need, and by tightening the approval process to make this kind of rampant data-collecting against its own terms of service. Google doesn’t, because that would alert people to how much of their own daily device usage is uploaded to third-party corporations in the first place. The companies that take advantages of loose user permission requirements aren’t exploiting a loophole; they’re using the system in the manner in which it’s intended to operate. Corrons notes that it’s extremely important for users to be aware of what kind of permissions their applications request. This is true, but it also puts the impetus of fixing the problem solely on the end-user.

Google has allowed its app store to be abused by people who are running massive data harvesting regimes — and it’s on Google to fix that problem, not end-users. Nobody should be downloading a flashlight app on a modern device. But Google shouldn’t be allowing applications to request permissions that they have no business requesting, either.

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AppleCare+ Is Now Billed Monthly by Default and Costs More That Way


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As its iPhone sales have fallen, Apple has begun focusing on alternative sources of revenue, like its lucrative Services division. Much of the company’s presentation for the iPhone 11 was spent demonstrating games and projects related to Apple TV. Apple wants to be a major media provider and it’s hoping you’ll reward it with lots of content purchases.

One change to AppleCare+ flew a bit under the radar. Up until now, AppleCare was a 24-to-36-month extended warranty available from Apple on various iDevices like MacBooks, iPhones and iPads. The company has typically billed a single flat rate for the service interval, though many repairs still cost money, even if you’ve purchased AppleCare+.

Now, Apple is making a change to the program. The good news is, you’ll be able (in theory) to buy AppleCare+ for a longer period of time. The bad news is, it’s going to cost you more by default even for the period of time that the program normally covers if you choose to pay by the month.

AppleCare-Pricing-Watch-XR

Image credit: 9to5Mac

The screenshot above by 9to5Mac shows pricing for AppleCare+ for the Apple Watch Series 5 and the iPhone XR. Paying month-to-month (you’ll be re-upped automatically) is essentially a subscription, even if Apple isn’t calling it that. But if you do the math, you’ll see that the month-to-month program costs significantly more. Over two years, you’ll pay $95.76 instead of $80 for AppleCare+ if you slap it on the Apple Watch. As for the iPhone XR, the two-year fee comes out to $191.76, up from $150. That’s roughly 1.2x more over the same period of time. The up-front pricing on the iPhone 11 is $149, while up-front cost on the iPhone 11 Pro is $199.

Apple’s legal document states:

For Monthly Plans, your Plan Term is one (1) month. Your Plan will automatically renew each month unless cancelled as set forth in the “Cancellation” Section 9 below, including in the event that Apple is no longer able to service your Covered Equipment due to the unavailability of service parts, in which case Apple will provide you with thirty (30) days’ prior written notice of cancellation, or as otherwise required by law.

There’s no more option to buy a fixed-term service plan and then pay for it at a monthly reduced rate. Instead, you can pay for 24 months of coverage upfront at one price or simply go on the month-to-month program. While the end result of this is that people will be able to have AppleCare+ for longer periods of time on the same device, it’ll also mean paying Apple more money for the privilege of doing so.

If anything, we suspect this change is a nod to the fact that users often keep their devices for longer periods of time these days. Reports have suggested that Americans now only replace their iDevices closer to every three years, rather than every two. Converting customers to a small monthly fee for AppleCare+ gives Apple a steady monthly revenue stream that replaces some of the sales revenue it loses when it sells fewer iPhones. The fact that customers are being billed monthly would also help smooth revenue quarter-over-quarter — people only buy a new device every few years, but if they pay you $8 a month, that’s revenue you can count on. Multiply that by some millions of customers, and you’ve got a hefty chunk of reliable income. Apple, these days, is all about reliable income.

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Gmail App’s Dark Theme Is Finally Rolling Out


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Google has been on a tear lately, updating all its mobile apps with the new Material Theming design style. In practice, that means a lot of blindingly bright apps. There is, unexpectedly, a method to Google’s madness. Moving to the new Material Theme is necessary to implement dark app themes. Gmail, one of the most popular Google apps, finally has a dark theme on Android, but not all phones have it right away. 

Gmail has been blinding smartphone users longer than most apps. As a largely text-based experience, there’s always been ample white space all through the inbox and emails themselves. Google made Gmail even brighter when it rolled out the big redesign a while back. The red accent colors were replaced with, you guessed it, more white. 

Dark themes have been a running joke among Android enthusiasts because of the way Google keeps teasing it. The last few Android betas have included a dark theme that didn’t make it to the final version. Finally, Android 10 (previously known only as Android Q) finally has a real dark theme. The Gmail rollout is only the latest example of Google apps picking up a dark theme that plugs into Android 10. 

The first version of Gmail that has a dark UI mode is 2019.08.18.267044774, but even having that version doesn’t guarantee you’ll have the dark theme. There’s also a server-side component that rolls out at Google’s behest. So far, a small number of users have the feature, but everyone should be able to flip to dark mode soon enough. 

Gmail’s Dark Theme, image via 9to5Google

Gmail’s dark theme uses a very dark gray rather than completely black, which can actually make reading white text straining. The inbox and most emails should use this same color scheme. One notable exception would be emails that include HTML. Those will probably still render with other colors, probably white. 

If you’re on Android 10 (almost no one is), you’ll be able to automatically flip to the dark theme when you enable the system-level toggle. In addition to that option, the Gmail app includes a manual light and dark toggle. So, even if you’re on an older version of Android, you can manually change Gmail to the dark them by digging into the settings. This is a step in the right direction, but plenty of Google apps still lack a dark theme. Even the newly white-themed Play Store is still lacking dark mode. 

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Zyl raises $1.1 million to resurface old memories from your photos – gpgmail


French startup Zyl has raised $1 million (€1 million) in a round led by OneRagtime. The company has developed an app that uses artificial intelligence to find the most interesting photos and videos in your photo library.

Now that smartphones have been around for a while, many people have thousands of unsorted photos on their iPhone or Android device. And chances are you don’t often scroll back to look at past vacations and important life events.

Zyl is well aware of that. That’s why the company does the heavy lifting for you. The app scans your photo library to find important memories and photos you may have forgotten. It has even registered patents for some of its algorithms.

But identifying photos and videos is just one thing. In order to turn that process into a fun, nostalgia-powered experience, the app sends you a notification every day to tell you that Zyl has identified a new memory — they call it a Zyl. When you tap on it, the app reveals that memory and you can share it with your friends and family.

You then have to wait another 24 hours to unlock another Zyl. That slow-paced approach is key as you spend more time looking at Zyls and sharing them with loved ones.

It’s also worth noting that Zyl processes your photo library on your iPhone or Android device directly. Photos aren’t sent to the company’s server.

Up next, Zyl plans to enrich your collection of Zyls with more photos and videos from your friends and family. You could imagine a way to seamlessly share photos of the same life event with your loved ones, even if they are currently spread out over multiple smartphones.

With today’s funding round, the company wants to improve the app and reach millions of users. Zyl already has impressive retention rates with 38% of users opening the app regularly during 5 weeks or more.


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Samsung’s PlayGalaxy Game Streaming Is Live on the Note 10


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The Galaxy Note 10 got most of the attention at Samsung’s recent Unpacked event, and quite understandably. Samsung also talked about its upcoming PlayGalaxy Link game streaming platform. PlayGalaxy wasn’t available when the Note 10 launched, but it has now started rolling out as a beta. This is your chance to (kind of) play desktop games on your smartphone. 

Samsung’s PlayGalaxy Link is similar to Nvidia GameStream — the game renders on your computer. The PlayGalaxy client encodes the video and streams it to your mobile device over the local network or the internet. Your control inputs go back to the PC, allowing you to play the game. It’s like a fancy, low-latency remote desktop. 

The get set up, you’ll need the desktop PlayGalaxy Link client, which is only available for Windows 10. You also need a reasonably powerful GPU (at least NVIDIA GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 550), a Core i5 or higher, 8GB of RAM, and a gigabit router. The app strongly suggests having your PC wired to the router rather than connected via Wi-Fi.  The client should detect games on your PC, but it only spotted one for me. You can manually add more by directing it to the EXE files. On the phone side, there’s a PlayGalaxy Link app available in Samsung’s Galaxy Store.

PlayGalaxy Link is still in beta, and it only works on the Note 10 and Note 10+ for the time being, More Samsung phones will get support soon, though. There’s support for wired and Bluetooth game controllers, which make desktop games playable on a phone. If you choose to use the on-screen controls, well, good luck. Even on the gigantic Note 10+, the screen is too small to play a complex game with on-screen buttons effectively. 

There’s no additional cost to use PlayGalaxy Link since you already own the games and are running them on your PC. However, don’t expect miracles right now. The app truly earns its beta label right now. The client connects and launches games reliably, but the video lag is substantial from my testing. You’d have little hope of playing a real-time game, but something turn-based might be feasible. 

If Samsung can get the kinks worked out, PlayGalaxy Link could be an additional selling point for the company’s high-end phones. It’s tough to get people to drop $1,000 on a phone, and every little bit helps.

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Apple unveils new iPhones – gpgmail


The Daily Crunch is gpgmail’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Here’s everything Apple announced today at the iPhone 11 event

The biggest announcement was a new lineup of iPhones, including the iPhone 11, with a new dual-camera system, as well as two iPhone Pro models with three cameras each. Cameras galore!

In addition, the company announced new iPads and Apple Watches, as well as pricing and launch dates for Apple Arcade (launching September 19) and Apple TV+ (November 1).

2. California passes landmark bill that requires Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees

The bill says that if a contractor’s work is part of a company’s regular business, then they must be designated as employees. And thus, these workers will get access to more protections such as minimum wage, the right to unionize and overtime.

3. Peloton plots $1.2B Nasdaq IPO

In an amended S-1 filing released Tuesday afternoon, the developer of internet-connected stationary bikes and treadmills announced a proposed price range of $26 to $29 per share, allowing the company to raise as much as $1.2 billion in its public offering.

4. Uber lays off 435 people across engineering and product teams

Speaking of Uber, the company laid off about 8% of the workforce, with 170 people leaving the product team and 265 people leaving the engineering team.

5. Mozilla launches a VPN, brings back the Firefox Test Pilot program

The Test Pilot program allows users to try out new features before they are ready for mainstream usage.

6. Aerospace Corp CEO Steve Isakowitz to talk how to raise non-dilutive capital at Disrupt SF

Aerospace Corp is not that widely known outside space circles, but its 59-year-old R&D legacy is remarkable. The nonprofit works with the U.S. Air Force and other government space programs to identify emerging technologies from the commercial sector that could apply to future space programs.

7. What the iPhone 11 says about Apple’s present — and future

Let’s wrap this up with some thoughts on what yesterday’s announcements mean for Apple’s strategy — particularly the company’s growing focus on content and services, and its new thinking on how to position the iPhone. (Extra Crunch membership required.)


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iFixit gives Fairphone 3 a perfect 10 for repairability – gpgmail


Here’s something the hermetically sealed iPhone can’t do: Score a perfect 10 for repairability.

Smartphone startup and social enterprise Fairphone’s latest repairable-by-design smartphone has done just that, getting 10/10 in an iFixit Teardown vs scores of just 6/10 for recent iPhone models.

The Fairphone 3, which was released in Europe last week with an RRP of €450, gets thumbs up across the board in iFixit’s hardware Teardown. It found all the internal modules to be easily accessible and replaceable — with only basic tools required to get at them (Fairphone includes a teeny screwdriver in the box). iFixit also lauds visual cues that help with disassembly and reassembly, and notes that repair guides and spare parts are available on Fairphone’s website.

iFixit’s sole quibble is that while most of the components inside the Fairphone 3’s modules are individually replaceable “some” are soldered on. A tiny blip that doesn’t detract from the 10/10 repairability score

Safe to say, such a score is the smartphone exception. The industry continues to encourage buyers to replace an entire device, via yearly upgrade, instead of enabling them to carry out minor repairs themselves — so they can extend the lifespan of their device and thereby shrink environmental impact.

Dutch startup Fairphone was set up to respond to the abject lack of sustainability in the electronics industry. The tiny company has been pioneering modularity for repairability for several years now, flying in the face of smartphone giants that are still routinely pumping out sealed tablets of metal and glass which often don’t even let buyers get at the battery to replace it themselves.

To wit: An iFixit Teardown of the Google Pixel rates battery replacement as “difficult” with a full 20 steps and between 1-2 hours required. (Whereas the Fairphone 3 battery can be accessed in seconds, by putting a fingernail under the plastic back plate to pop it off and lifting the battery out.)

The Fairphone 3 goes much further than offering a removable backplate for getting at the battery, though. The entire device has been designed so that its components are accessible and repairable.

So it’s not surprising to see it score a perfect 10 (the startup’s first modular device, Fairphone 2, was also scored 10/10 by iFixit). But it is strong, continued external validation for the Fairphone’s designed-for-repairability claim.

It’s an odd situation in many respects. In years past replacement batteries were the norm for smartphones, before the cult of slimming touchscreen slabs arrived to glue phone innards together. Largely a consequence of hardware business models geared towards profiting from pushing for clockwork yearly upgrades cycle — and slimmer hardware is one way to get buyers coveting your next device.

But it’s getting harder and harder to flog the same old hardware horse because smartphones have got so similarly powerful and capable there’s precious little room for substantial annual enhancements.

Hence iPhone maker Apple’s increasing focus on services. A shift that’s sadly not been accompanied by a rethink of Cupertino’s baked in hostility towards hardware repairability. (It still prefers, for example, to encourage iPhone owners to trade in their device for a full upgrade.)

At Apple’s 2019 new product announcement event yesterday — where the company took the wraps off another clutch of user-sealed smartphones (aka: iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro) — there was even a new financing offer to encourage iPhone users to trade in their old models and grab the new ones. ‘Look, we’re making it more affordable to upgrade!’ was the message.

Meanwhile, the only attention paid to sustainability — during some 1.5 hours of keynotes — was a slide which passed briefly behind marketing chief Phil Schiller towards the end of his turn on stage puffing up the iPhone updates, encouraging him to pause for thought.

“iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 are made to be designed free from these harmful materials and of course to reduce their impact on the environment,” he said in front of a list of some toxic materials that are definitely not in the iPhones.

Stuck at the bottom of this list were a couple of detail-free claims that the iPhones are produced via a “low-carbon process” and are “highly recyclable”. (The latter presumably a reference to how Apple handles full device trade-ins. But as anyone who knows about sustainability will tell you, sustained use is far preferable to premature recycling…)

“This is so important to us. That’s why I bring it up every time. I want to keep pushing the boundaries of this,” Schiller added, before pressing the clicker to move on to the next piece of marketing fodder. Blink and you’d have missed it.

If Apple truly wants to push the boundaries on sustainability — and not just pay glossy lip-service to reducing environmental impact for marketing purposes while simultaneously encouraging annual upgrades — it has a very long way to go indeed.

As for repairability, the latest and greatest iPhones clearly won’t hold a candle to the Fairphone.


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What the iPhone 11 says about Apple’s present — and future – gpgmail


No matter how much polish and Apple magic the company put on today’s big event, there was one unshakable truth that colored the event: phones just aren’t selling like they used to. And unlike other industry-wide trends, Apple isn’t immune. The large scale slowdown of smartphone sales has had an undeniable impact on the company’s bottom line.

Casual observers may not have noticed, but that harsh truth impacted nearly every mobile announcement on stage today at the Steve Jobs theater. Two elements in particular really stood out, however:

  1. Content and services taking center stage
  2. Apple rethinking how the iPhone is positioned.


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iPhone 11 Pro hands-on – gpgmail


More than any other iPhone event in recent memory, today’s big launch was content-first. Apple began the show with several gaming demos from Arcade, before moving along to TV+ premieres. The new iPhone didn’t necessarily take a backseat, but there’s little question that this event was a key piece in shifting messaging for the company.

The big announcement also saw a shift in iPhone positioning against a backdrop of declining smartphone sales. There are a number of reasons why device sales are down across the board, of course — I along with everyone else in the industry have written about them dozens if not hundreds of times. Price creep is a big one, and the iPhone 11 finds the company readjusting accordingly.

The device takes the spot of the R line — a big seller for Apple. This time the entry-level “flagship” is $699, while the Pro and Pro Max step in for the premium-tier devices, priced at $999 and $1,099, respectively. Apple set those prices with the iPhone X two years ago and hasn’t looked back.

Apple has also really settled into a style. The 11s are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors, head on. The screens have been souped-up to “Super Retina XDR” on the Pros. Both are 458 PPI, at 5.8 and 6.5 inches, respectively.

The notch remains, even as companies like Samsung push into a subtler cut-out model (not to mention all of those companies currently experimenting with pop-up cameras). Ditto, unfortunately, for the Lightning port. Apple’s ditched it for USB-C on the iPad Pro and, honestly, I can’t wait for it to follow suit on the iPhone. I go through what feels like a Lightning cable a month, due to wear and tear on the connection.

That will have to wait until 2020 (fingers crossed). So, too, will 5G, though the company did allude to “faster cellular” in a quick rundown of all the features it didn’t have time to announce onstage. Ditto for the rumored improved FaceTime camera. That should work faster and from more angles, so you’ll (theoretically) be able to check messages while the phone is laying flush on a table. Huge, if true.

Apple iPhone 11 8245 4CCE AEA3 A3CC65F5E188

Speaker of cameras, that’s the biggie here, of course. It continues to be the last vestige for smartphone innovation. Again, hardware is just kind of good on smartphones. There doesn’t appear to be a ton of room for innovation, but for the camera. The iPhone 11 ditches telephoto, for wide and ultra-wide-angle lenses. The Pros, meanwhile, add telephoto it back in.

The three cameras on the Pros are as follows:

12MP wide angle camera (26mm f/1.8), a 12MP ultra wide (13mm f/2.4), plus a 12MP telephoto camera (52mm f/2.0). All are capable of shooting 4K video at 60FPS.

They’re in an odd square array (versus, say, the three down vertical on Samsung’s latest). In fact, all versions of the iPhone 11 have a camera box bump on the rear, for the sake, one imagines, of aesthetic uniformity. As we’ve noted before, most of the innovation in smartphone cameras is happening on the software side, and that appears to be the case here. The big feature is Deep Fusion.

iPhone 11 Apple

It works similarly to HDR photos, creating a massive composite. Here it uses nine photos, with the optimal pixels chosen by on-board machine learning for super-fancy photos that should greatly reduce image noise.

The devices are the first to sport Apple’s new A13 chip, which promises much faster processing — the “fastest ever on a smartphone,” according to the company. That, naturally, means more and better gaming, bringing us right back around to the content play we were discussing at the top of this story.

Understandably, what you can do with the phone has become a much larger selling point for Apple than the phone itself. You’ll be able to get your hands on the device starting September 20. 


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Apple Announces New 10.2-inch iPad, Apple Watch Series 5, and More


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Apple’s annual product refresh has just wrapped up, and it was a big one. Apple announced new online services, and updated versions of several mobile devices. We’ve already got a full rundown of the new iPhone 11, but here’s everything else Apple announced including the new iPad, Apple Watch, and more. 

The new iPad

Apple’s fall event usually focuses on the iPhone and Apple Watch, but the company also squeezed in a new tablet: the 10.2-inch iPad (above). Surprisingly, this device keeps the physical home button and larger bezels than the current iPad Pro models. 

Apple is notoriously bad at providing details and specifications in events, so it’s unclear if the new iPad has a Lightning port, but that seems likely. The device will have a Smart Keyboard case and support for the first-gen Apple Pencil. The new one charges wirelessly on the iPad Pro, so it won’t work with this tablet. Inside, the new iPad has the A10 Fusion chip, which is just a bit less powerful than the A10X Fusion in the iPad Pros. 

This device will replace the current 9.7-inch entry-level iPad, which sold for $329. This tablet will cost the same, but education customers can get it for $299. It will sit between the iPad Mini and the iPad Air in Apple’s lineup. It’s also the first iPad made from 100 percent recycled aluminum. You can pre-order the new iPad today, and it will ship at the end of the month. 

In addition, Apple announced its redesigned iPadOS (above) will launch on Sept. 30. Original revealed earlier this year, iPadOS will add tons of new features to make Apple’s tablets feel more like a “real” computer. There’s a desktop version of Safari, a more power files app, and better multitasking. iPadOS will launch on the new 10.2-inch iPad, but it will come as an update to all iPads from the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and fifth-gen iPad or later. 

Apple Watch Series 5

Apple might have been late to the wearables game, but the Apple Watch has effectively crushed the competition year after year. The Series 5 has the same measurements as the Series 4, but it adds an always-on display mode. So, you can see the time without lifting your wrist. This is one of the few features that the Apple Watch lacked compared with its competitors. 

Apple says the Series 5 watch has the same 18-hour battery life rating as the Series 4, and that’s with always-on mode activated. This substantial battery life improvement is apparently thanks to a new low-temperature polysilicon and oxide display and low-power display driver. 

This is also the first time Apple has offered an Apple Watch made from recycled material. You can get the device in recycled aluminum or titanium, in addition to the stainless steel and ceramic options carried over from the Series 5. 

The Series 5 starts at $399 for the standard model and $499 for LTE. They go on sale Sept. 20. The Series 3 will stick around at a lower $199 price, and the Series 4 is going away. 

TV and games

Everyone seems to be launching their own streaming service lately, and Apple is no different. Today’s event also included the final launch details for the company’s Apple+ streaming video platform. It’s launching on November 1st for just $4.99 per month. 

Apple TV+ focuses on original content like Jason Moma’s See and Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston’s The Morning Show. The catch, however, is that you’ll need an Apple device like the Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, or a Mac at launch. The Apple TV+ app will come later to Samsung TVs, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and others. If you buy a new Apple device, it will come with a year trial of Apple TV+ as well. 

The event also included more information about Apple’s iOS game subscription service, known as Apple Arcade. The service launches on Sept. 19 worldwide and includes more than 100 games, all of them exclusive to iOS. It too will run you $4.99 per month. There will be no ads, and you can share a subscription with up to six family members. 

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