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Did Google confirm that Android L will be Lollipop?

If you believe that lollipops have business being on top of (or even in) cakes, then please disregard this piece of guesswork. People are buzzing (maybe with too much cake) because of Google’s 16th anniversary birthday cake which they posted yesterday. But instead of candy flowers or cupcake toppings, they used lollipops, fueling speculation that the upcoming Android L will indeed be named after the round candy on a stick treat.

Lollipop has been a frontrunner for the Android upgrade coming out before the end of the year. But suddenly, another sweet treat became the number 1 suspect for Android L: Lemon Meringue Pie. While that is a somewhat long name for a usually one-word name for updates, several sources and documents showed Android L being referred to as “lmp”, giving credence to the lemon meringue pie name. Google hasn’t yet made an official announcement since the build isn’t final yet. But yesterday’s 16th birthday cake may indicate that it came back to the original plan of using lollipop.

While the launch of Android L is still a few months away, not much is known until now, except for the things that Google teased during the I/O earlier this year. Initial leaks say it will allow multiple-user accounts in smartphones and tablets. The new Material design is being rolled out not just with the upgrade but with all Google products and some apps have already capitalized on this by updating their look and design. Android L will also have ART runtime by default.

We still have to wait a few more weeks maybe to find out which of our sweet tooth cravings will be satisfied, digitally. We’re still hoping out for Lime (Key) Pie, or maybe, based on Google’s birthday cake, Layer cake is even a possibility.

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Apple Says Majority Of OS X Users Are Safe From Bash Exploits

Apple has issued a public statement in response to the so-called Shellshock vulnerability, assuring OS X users that for the most part, they’re safe from any potential attacks. An Apple spokesperson provided the following to TechCrunch regarding the vulnerability, which affects bash, a Unix shell that’s part of Apple’s desktop OS:

The vast majority of OS X users are not at risk to recently reported bash vulnerabilities. Bash, a UNIX command shell and language included in OS X, has a weakness that could allow unauthorized users to remotely gain control of vulnerable systems. With OS X, systems are safe by default and not exposed to remote exploits of bash unless users configure advanced UNIX services. We are working to quickly provide a software update for our advanced UNIX users.

Earlier, we provided a guide regarding what you need to know about Shellshock to protect yourself, but as Apple notes here, in OS X you should be safe so long as you haven’t configured advanced access (which means probably most of our readers are okay). Apple will also issue an OS X update shortly to close the potential hole, so also just make sure you don’t go enabling any advanced UNIX options before that happens.

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10 things to know about Ello, the ad-free social network

By now, you’ve probably heard of Ello, the invite-only social network garnering attention for its radical approach to social networking. Find out why the site is seeing 35,000 hourly sign-ups, and why people are so willing to join yet another social network.

Why Ello is different

Ello is the anti-Facebook, and it has no problem stating that. The bare-bones, ad-free, so-minimalist-it-hurts social network was designed in response to the many controversial Facebook policies, especially the one that forces users to display their real names.

But when you look at Ello, it might not seem that much different than other social networks. It doesn’t go out of its way to use innovative approaches to organizing your friends, discovering content, or enriching your experience. Google+, for instance, introduced Circles, confusing users before they even had a chance to set up their profile.

What you get is a hybrid between Tumblr and Twitter. Like Tumblr, you can post photos and written thoughts, long or short. Like Twitter, you can @mention people, and those mentions show up on your profile, as well as theirs.

Unadorned and intentionally sparse, the users and their content are the focus, while other site elements generally go unnoticed.

The ad-free, privacy-first promise

Ello promises to uphold its proposition and remain ad-free forever. The reason goes back to Ello’s philosophy — the only way to sell ads is by harvesting user data, and the company does not intend on doing that. In fact, Ello allows users to opt out of Google Analytics tracking, and details the ways in which it anonymizes user data.

Plenty of folks are dubious, but Ello responded to the skepticism by asserting its plans to find other streams of income. In a post, its founders stated plans to offer paid feature upgrades, which could be things like data exporting or profile enhancements.

Is there a “like” button?

Nope. We looked high and low, but there’s no button to be found.

Remember that the Like button was created as a streamlined way to collect data about what users are interested in. It’s easier than analyzing written posts — if a user “likes” something, Facebook can easily package that sentiment for sale.

According to this post, it sounds like Ello will be adding its own version of this feature — a “Love” button (seriously) which will function as a way for you to save posts for later reading.

Signing up

Those who remember Gmail Beta will feel nostalgic when they find out that signing up for Ello requires an invitation. Each new users is allotted 25 invites.

The social network is supposedly attracting about 35,000 invites per hour, so your chances of getting an invitation are pretty good.

Once you’ve gotten a golden ticket, signing up is simple. Ello asks you to choose a username, which is also your URL. Although you should probably choose something you plan on sticking with, it’s good to know that you can change this at any time. You’ll also be asked to choose a display name, which you can change at any time. In the spirit of Ello, you may choose to make it entirely anonymous.

The only other required information is your e-mail address. (Compare this to Facebook’s sign-up, for example, which also requires a birth date and gender.)

Customizing (or not customizing) your profile

Like every other social network, you’ll get your own profile page, which can be accessed via Ello.co/(your user name). By default, this is accessible by anyone, whether or not they have an Ello account.

From your profile page, click the large circle to upload a photo. If you want it to look perfect, be sure to resize it to 340×340, or else Ello will automatically crop it. (And you probably won’t like it.)

If you scroll down, you’ll also see that you can upload a header image, for which the recommended size is 1,800×1,013. If you upload anything smaller or larger, Ello will do its best to make it fit. (Mine was much smaller than that, and it looks fine.)

You’re almost done customizing your profile! All that’s left to do is click the gear icon to the left of your profile picture, and fill in any blank fields, like a short bio or links. As long as you insert spaces, multiple links can be included.

Personal settings

Ello’s profile settings are minimal, but what they lack in quantity, they make up in importance. At the bottom of your settings page, take your time to consider each option. For example, Ello uses Google Analytics, which tracks visitors and anonymizes their activity. Unlike any other major social network, Ello lets you opt out of this activity.

You may also choose to disable the Public Profile option, which prevents people who are not members of Ello from seeing your profile. Note that anyone within the network can still see your profile and posts.

Finally, there’s a Delete button. When you click it, your profile will be removed from Ello. According to the Terms of Service, however, Ello retains the right to “store backups of your content, even after it is deleted or after you delete your account.”

Friends vs. Noise

Your Ello “news feed” can be filtered in two ways: Friends and Noise. When you’re viewing the Friends tab, you’ll see complete posts from anyone you’ve marked as a Friend. In the Noise tab, you’ll see a Pinterest-like grid of posts from people you’ve marked as Noise. It’s designed this way so that you can quickly scroll through content you’re less interested in.

You can categorize people as “Noise” or “Friend” from their profiles. When you click “Friend” on someone’s profile, you are simply following their posts, not sending them a friend request. In this way, it’s a lot like Twitter.

Anyone you mark as “Noise” won’t be alerted of your choice. You’re the only one who can see how you’ve categorized people.

Tip: You can toggle between the grid-style and full width-style within either filter by hitting Shift-5.

Posting and interactions

To create a post, click the black box and start typing. If you want to format your text with numbered lists, links, bold, italics, or even bullets, you can do that with markdown. Ello has a useful support page with tips on formatting. To mention a user, just add an @ symbol to the beginning of their username, and the post will appear on their page.

And even Ello has emojis, which you can insert with this markdown.

You can’t post videos (at least for now), but you can upload photos by clicking the double window icon just below the gray text box. Alternative, just drag a JPG, GIF, animated GIF or PNG file directly onto the black box. Photos are compressed but not resized, so don’t expect uniformity when uploading photos of varying dimensions.

So far, the posting process has been a little glitchy. I’ve uploaded photos that disappeared upon hitting “Post,” although I’ve never lost written content. Also, Ello will not warn you when you delete a post. Not a surprising scenario when you consider Ello is run by a handful of people and is still in beta.

Searching Ello

On the Discover page (also accessible from the left sidebar), there’s a search field at the top. Right now, it doesn’t work. You’ll probably end up being able to use it to find users or content.

Features

Ello is in beta, so expect a lot of bugs. Also expect to feel deprived of a lot of features, like user blocking or a mobile app. The company has a list of current and upcoming features you can check out here.

One in particular worth noting is the NSFW flagging option, which users can utilize when posting explicit content. Until that flagging feature is released, NSFW content is not allowed on Ello.

And then there’s the Ello Facemaker tool. It doesn’t seem to be working right now, but when it functions, it can be used to paste the Ello logo on your face, hiding your identity and becoming one with the Elloans.

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Apple Says iPhone 6 And 6 Plus Bending Complaints Number Less Than 10

Apple has responded to the various reports of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus bending, saying that it’s “extremely rare,” and that in fact, only nine people out of all the customers that bought devices thus far have complained. That would presumably mean nine out of the well over 10 million that have sold thus far.

Apple noted to TechCrunch that under normal use, the problem rarely occurs, which is in contrast to the demonstration videos hitting YouTube showing users deliberately trying to deform their devices in extremely artificial circumstances. Since the first reports had emerged, mostly in forum posts on Apple enthusiast sites, others including Wired contributor Mat Honan have also come forward noting that their devices had warped somewhat.

Apple also added that the newest iPhones are built with “steel/titanium inserts” to “reinforce stress locations,” and that they use “the strongest glass in the industry” in order to prevent any problems like those described. In addition to the use of high-quality materials, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus also underwent ample testing to ensure they can endure bending, sitting, torsion and other kinds of stress, even over prolonged periods, throughout their design and development. These kinds of tests are standard in the industry, and can be seen directly in this video from TechCrunch shot on location at Nokia’s gadget labs in 2008.

The echo chamber that is the tech blogosphere has perhaps contributed to blowing this problem out of proportion, which often happens when new hardware ships and a small but noteworthy issue comes to light. Apple has faced similar uproar in the past, particularly around bending with its devices since they switched to metal cases, but this time the amplification was especially loud.

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BlackBerry’s $599 Passport smartphone is available now with new Blend app for cross-platform device management

BlackBerry today unveiled its square-screened Passport smartphone after months of leaks running up to its official unveiling.

Just a couple of days ago, company CEO John Chen confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it was due to arrive imminently and would cost $599, making it cheaper than some of its rival flagship handsets in the US.http://cdn1.tnwcdn.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2014/09/passport_desk.jpg

Aside from its unusual square appearance created by a 4.5-inch (1440 x 1440 resolution) display, key hardware specs include a condensed version of BlackBerry’s signature Qwerty keyboard, a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 3GB RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. It’ll also support microSD cards up to 64GB. On the rear, there’s a 13-megapixel snapper, complimented by a 2-megapixel sensor for video chats and selfies on the front.

Under-the-bonnet, the phone is one of the first to arrive running the BlackBerry 10.3, which brings new features like a productivity-focused BlackBerry assistant, a new app called BlackBerry Blend and Amazon’s App Store, among a number of other visual and functional changes.

Mix and Blend

The Blend app allows users to more easily manage files and communications between a BlackBerry smartphone and Windows, iOS, Mac and Android-based devices, BlackBerry said. So, for example, all your BBM and SMS messages will be delivered from your phone into a hub available from your computer or tablet. It’ll also allow you to save files to your smartphone directly from a different device.

Naturally, as a company with a base of professional users, security is also pretty important when it comes to transferring files and accessing data. To that end, BlackBerry has also included an easy way for IT admins to ensure that Blend parameters match their own security guidelines.

While BlackBerry has struggled to adapt to changing market conditions in recent years, it’s encouraging to see it still trying out new designs and introducing new core OS features that could help it stand out from the crowd – whether or not it works in the long run, it’s arguably better than producing yet another forgettable slab of metal and plastic.

Say what you like about BlackBerry, but you can’t say this Passport looks like all the rest of the phones on the market. Whether or not the market will care (beyond BlackBerry’s loyal fan base) is a different question.

The company said that the Passport is “now available through local carriers around the world” and online at ShopBlackBerry.com and Amazon.com. The device will be available in more than 30 countries in total through BlackBerry’s portal and is priced at $599 in the US, $699 in Canada, £529 in the UK and €649 in Europe.

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Windows 9 Announcement Set for Next Week, Microsoft Exec Reveals

Earlier this month Microsoft confirmed plans for a press event on Sept. 30 where the company will discuss ”what’s next for Windows and the enterprise.” We’ve already been pretty certain that Microsoft will discuss Windows 9, and now it looks like one Microsoft exec may have accidentally confirmed our suspicions.

The news comes from Alain Crozier, the head of Microsoft France who, during a recent livestream on the company’s French website, said the new version of Microsoft’s desktop OS will be announced on Sept. 30. Crozier also referred to the software as “Windows 9,” essentially confirming the rumored name.

Microsoft has since downplayed the slip-up and told ZDNet.fr that Microsoft still hasn’t officially named its next OS. “We look forward to seeing you in late September, in San Francisco, for the future of Windows, which actually at this stage does not have a name as such,” said Microsoft France director of marketing and operations Nicolas Petit.

At this point it seems pretty clear that Microsoft will announce Windows 9 next week, though it’s possible the company could have a different name planned for the new operating system, and it’s likely we’ll hear it referenced as “Windows Technical Preview,” for now. Hopefully we’ll get the full story on Sept. 30, along with whatever else Microsoft has planned.

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Motorola “Shamu”/Nexus 6 finally gets more detailed leaks

Android L, and its reference Nexus device or devices, is just a month or so away. So naturally, rumors surrounding those new Nexus smartphone and/or tablet are starting to settle down. The Motorola “Shamu”, alternately referred to as the Nexus 6 and the Verizon Moto S, is also starting to take a more solid shape, a shape that closely resembles an overgrown and beefed up Moto X.

By overgrown, they mean a display size of 5.92 inches, practically 6 inches. And by beefed up, they mean that the screen will boast of a QHD resolution of 2560×1440 and will run on a 2.6 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 and have 3 GB of RAM. Storage size isn’t fixed yet, but as far as Nexus smartphones go, we can’t be blamed if we expect 16 and 32 GB configurations, without a microSD card to supplement. There will be a 13 megapixel camera on the back, capable of shooting 4K videos, and a 2 GB shooter on the front.

But that’s just for the innards. Outside, the Shamu/Nexus 6 is expected to also look a lot like the new Moto X, only bigger. One difference that 9to5Google expects, though, at least based on their mockup above, is that lock and volume buttons will be located further down the right edge. Definitely a strange position not found in most smartphones, but one that is theoretically easier to reach, especially for a device this big. On the back side, everything is as they should be, even the dual LED flash on the camera, unlike the split style that was leaked for the Verizon DROID Turbo. One thing the mockup doesn’t indicate well is branding, both the conventional Nexus name on the back as well as the hole that will be left by the absence of the large “M” that is present on the regular Moto X.

If these leaks and speculations do ring true, then Google would be truly entering the phablet world, which might eat into the Nexus 7 market. But then again, Google’s rumored next Nexus tablet will be a 9-inch one from HTC, so the two roads will still not meet. We will just have to wait for mid-October or early November to see if any of these come to pass.

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Chrome Apps for Mobile: Chromium Webview, more Google services

Lately you’ve heard of Google’s, as well as third party developers’, efforts to bring Android apps to Chrome, or to Chrome OS to be exact. Now Google is turning the tables around with an update to its Chrome Apps for Mobile tool that adds access to more Google Play services as well as the latest Chromium-based Webview for Chrome web apps that want to have a presence on both Android and iOS as well.

Chrome Apps for Mobile utilizes Apache Cordova to provide a wrapper around Chrome apps that will connect to Android and iOS platform APIs, making it possible to distribute those same web apps, mostly unchanged, on Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. This latest update adds API for a batch of Google Play Services that Chrome apps can hook into, including Google Cloud Messaging (GCM) which is used to send notifications and data from an app server to users, and rich notifications for displaying on Android’s notification panel, for example.

Somewhat more interesting perhaps is the inclusion of a Webview that uses Chromium instead of the original Android Web Browser component. Google itself switched the Android Webview to Chromium starting Android 4.4 KitKat, but that hasn’t been the case for older Android versions. What this update means for Chrome Apps for Mobile is that these web apps will be able to use a Chromium Webview even if they’re running on something as old as 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. This would somewhat address a recently exposed bug with the open source Android web browser that can bypass the Same Origin Policy (SOP) in order to allow javascript from, say, a hacker website to modify and access data on another website, like PayPal or a banking website.

As proof of concept, Google has released the quiz app Topeka on Google Play Store. The app was unveiled at I/O 2014 last June to showcase the new Material Design and Google’s Polymer web tool. Google has now taken this web app and packaged it into a Chrome App to demonstrate the new features of its updated Chrome Apps for Mobile tools. Hopefully, this could help Chrome app developers package their apps for distribution on Android, further bridging the gap between Google’s two different platforms.

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DxOMark ranks Xperia Z3 beside Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2

To be recognized by camera specialists DxOMark means that your camera is really good. Next to be on the spotlight is the latest Sony Xperia Z3 following the Xperia Z2 which topped DxOMark’s list earlier this 2014 after unseating the Nokia 808 Pureview. Note that the original Xperia Z1 was also recognized last year.

The new smartphone from Sony has once again impressed the judges after a series of benchmark tests. The Xperia Z3 joins the Samsung Galaxy S5 and its sibling, the Xperia Z2, on the top ranks. Specifically, the Xperia Z3 received an overall score of 79 from DxOMark.

Sony Xperia Z3’s still performance scored 81 just like the Nokia 808 Pureview and Xperia Z2. Some issues of the camera phone include color shading and flare in sunny backlit shots but it has really fast autofocus under bright light. The new-generation Xperia phone is also good with low noise levels according to DxOMark.

DxOMark tested the Sony Xperia Z3 camera smartphone and said its video is not as good as the Galaxy S5’s. It’s good enough but only scored 76 points compared to the latest Samsung flagship’s 79 points. When it comes to image stabilization, autofocus may be unstable but wins in this category.

sony xperia z3 dxomark score

The Xperia Z3 and Xperia Z2 are clearly very similar. Both feature great camera and impressive specs but of course, the newer model is thinner, lighter, and faster. If you’re thinking of getting an Xperia Z3, this information might finally convince you. Phone excels in Exposure and Contrast, as well as, Autofocus and Noise. Videos’ Exposure and Contrast is also excellent, thanks to Sony’s SteadyShot system that improved its Stabilization score.

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iPhone 6 Plus vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Aesthetics and design

Much has been said about Samsung’s unwavering love for plastic — even though the company has never really admitted it as such. Where Apple’s iPhone 5c launched with Jony Ive waxing about its “unapologetically plastic” construction, Samsung has simply stuck by its guns, iterating and improving the look and feel of its devices without straying from their polycarbonate construction.

That changed with the Galaxy Alpha, of course, but at this point that phone seems like something of an experiment. And, while the Note 4 takes yet another step toward a more luxe feeling, it isn’t head and shoulders above the phone I’ve been using daily for about six months now: the Galaxy Note 3.

Compared to my previous phone, the Note 2, the 3 was a revelation. The ridged, chromed plastic edges give it a reasonably premium look and feel for something made from a material that itself offers no such pretenses. To try and upgrade the back, Samsung went so far as to install faux stitching in a faux-leather print.

It’s hardly a convincing fake, and fake materials are almost necessarily tacky, but for whatever reason I like it. The texture and material feel legitimately good in the hand. Also, the stitches and shape mean you can hold it very securely: round shapes may be more comfortable, but they’re also easier to drop.

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That’s the polar opposite of the iPhone 6 Plus. The overall dimensions are roughly the same — a bit skinnier, a bit taller — but you’d almost never know it. The thinness is the most noticeable aspect, the iPhone being 2.5mm thinner, a difference that feels even greater thanks to those rounded edges. On its own, the Note 3 feels surprisingly slender. Put an iPhone 6 Plus in your other hand and everything changes.

Conversely, Apple’s lug of a phone seems heavier than the Note 3, despite the two being virtually the same weight. Just four grams separate the pair (172 for the iPhone, 168 for the Note), but the difference feels much greater. It must simply be the greater density of the iPhone throwing off my distinctly human perceptions.

And then there are the details. The discrete volume buttons on the iPhone are far more pleasing to the touch than the single slab on the Note, and the great tactility of the lock/silent switch just above it isn’t found on the Samsung. So, too, the solid, responsive “click” feeling of pushing in the buttons, vs. the softer, less positive button feel on the Note. That said, I rarely hear of someone dealing with a broken power switch on a Note or Galaxy S, and I know plenty of folks who’ve had button failures on past iPhones. Hopefully the 6 and 6 Plus prove more reliable.

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Plugging in the 6 Plus is also far more enjoyable. The Lightning cable has the obvious advantage of working in any orientation, but it’s also thinner and coils easier, so is better for packing. That said, the wider cable of the Note 3 means faster USB 3.0 data transfers — if your desktop or laptop is suitably equipped.

Then there’s headphone positioning, with the Note 3 featuring the 3.5mm jack up top and the iPhone putting it at the bottom. This one definitely boils down to personal preference, though I must say in general I prefer the bottom. This makes you less likely to stab someone with your headphone plug when standing on a crowded train or bus, and when you’re charging your phone while listening to music, all the cables are neatly coming out of one side.

Big things missing on the iPhone? I’ve already gushed about my love for the stylus in the first installment of this series, so I’ll refrain from mentioning that again. Another thing is the notification LED. This is something that I never think of when deciding which phone to buy, but I find myself missing it when living with a phone that lacks it.

And then, of course, there’s the big thing, the single biggest thing in the phone: the battery. It comes out. And, once it’s come out, you can put in a different one. The removable battery is a dying breed in modern smartphone design, declining in use thanks to the need to extract every fraction of a millimeter and fill every internal cavity.

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The Note 3’s battery life is already great, but still I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been two-thirds of the way through a 14- or 16- or 18-hour workday and was saved by swapping in a second battery. Meanwhile, the iPhone 6 Plus has battery life that seems even more promising — but not having that extra tank on reserve makes me nervous about truly relying on it as a business tool.

Just one of the many reasons I’m still on the fence between these two. Next time, we’ll delve a little deeper on the software, and we’ll look at the relative camera performance of the two as well.

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