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Apple Malware Outbreak: Infected App Count Grows

Apple Malware Outbreak: Infected App Count Grows | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

The number of apps infected in the first large-scale Apple App Store malware outbreak is far higher than was first believed, according to the cybersecurity firm FireEye, which reports that at least 4,000 apps were infected with XcodeGhost malware.

In the wake of the discovery of a six-month malware campaign last week, early estimates were that dozens of apps had been infected with the XcodeGhost malware, which could be used by attackers to steal data from devices, including users' Apple passwords, as well as launch phishing attacks.

But FireEye now reports that the number of infected iOS apps is far higher than researchers initially suspected. "Immediately after learning of XcodeGhost, FireEye Labs identified more than 4,000 infected apps on the App Store," the company says in a Sept. 22 blog post.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on that report and has so far declined to respond to questions about how many apps may have been infected.

FireEye has not released a full list of all infected apps, but spokeswoman Darshna Kamani tells Information Security Media Group that most of them are aimed at Chinese-language users. Previous reports, meanwhile, had warned that such popular apps as the WeChat messaging app and the Didi ride-hailing app were infected, and that infected apps were used not just by Chinese users, but globally.

The malware attack was perpetrated by attackers offering for download a pirated version of Apple's free Xcode software - which is used to build iOS and Mac OS X applications - that added malware to every app when it was compiled. An anonymous developer has claimed credit for the attack campaign, saying it was a "mistaken experiment," although numerous security experts have dismissed that claim.

Apple Squashes Bad Apps

Apple says that it has seen no evidence that any personal information was compromised. The company says it has been excising all apps that were built using a malicious version of Xcode and working with developers to ensure that they only use the official Xcode tool.

"We have no information to suggest that the malware has been used to do anything malicious or that this exploit would have delivered any personally identifiable information had it been used," Apple says in an XcodeGhost FAQ. "We're not aware of personally identifiable customer data being impacted and the code also did not have the ability to request customer credentials to gain iCloud and other service passwords. ... Malicious code could only have been able to deliver some general information such as the apps and general system information."

But other security firms have warned that the malware could have been used for malicious purposes. "XcodeGhost is reported to be the first instance of the iOS App Store distributing a large number of trojanized apps," FireEye says. "The malicious apps steal device and user information and send stolen data to a command and control server. These apps also accept remote commands, including the ability to open URLs sent by the [C&C] server. These URLs can be phishing webpages for stealing credentials, or a link to an enterprise-signed malicious app that can be installed on non-jailbroken devices."

Chinese social media and gaming giant - and WeChat developer - TenCent published a report on Sept. 20 warning that the malware could be used to remotely control devices and launch man-in-the-middle attacks against users. It also found that at least 76 of the top 5,000 apps in Apple's China app store were infected with XcodeGhost.

In its XcodeGhost FAQ, Apple has listed the top 25 most popular infected apps - which include WeChat, Didi, Railroad 12306, Baidu Music and NetEase Music - noting that "after the top 25 impacted apps, the number of impacted users drops significantly." It has also promised to make it easier - and quicker - for Chinese developers to download Xcode, because the difficulty of obtaining the official software reportedly drove developers to obtain it from non-official sources.

China is a massive and growing market for Apple, accounting for $13.2 billion in revenue in its last financial quarter, compared to $20.2 billion in the United States and $10.3 billion in Europe. In January 2014, Apple reported that Chinese developers had already launched 130,000 apps via Apple's app store.

Before this malware attack, only five malicious apps had ever successfully made it into the App Store, according to cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks.

Timeline: XcodeGhost Discovery

On Sept. 14, China's Computer Emergency Response Team issued a warning about the danger of using unofficial versions of Xcode. Just days later, Chinese researchers began reporting that at least a handful of apps had been infected with XcodeGhost malware, after which the count of infected apps has continued to skyrocket.

On Sept. 20, the XcodeGhost-Author account-holder on China's Weibo social media platform claimed credit for the malware campaign, saying the ability to trojanize the Xcode software had been an "accidental discovery," and that it had been distributed as "a one-time, mistaken experiment" to see if it could be used to push advertisements to infected devices, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The message claimed that the capability had never been exploited and noted that the malware was only ever designed to collect basic user and device data. "And 10 days ago, I actively shut down the server and deleted all the data, so it will not have any effect on anyone," it said.

While it is impossible to verify those claims, many security experts have dismissed them, saying the attacker's intentions were obviously nefarious. "The entire process was plotted and planned," mobile Internet security expert Lin Wei told China Central Television, pointing to a campaign that used multiple Internet accounts to make the software available - via multiple websites - over a six-month period, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Recommendation: Uninstall Apps

Pending updates from every developer that shipped an infected app, information security experts recommend that users uninstall all apps that were known to be infected. "Developers are releasing updated, clean versions of their apps. The best fix, if one of your apps is listed, is to uninstall it," says Lee Neely, a senior IT and security professional at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in a recent SANS Institute newsletter.

Neely says that both iOS developers and Apple are to blame for the XcodeGhost malware outbreak. "This malware made it into the Apple App store due to social engineering of developers and a shortfall of Apple's code review process," he says. "When you own the compiler/IDE [integrated code environment], you own the apps created with it."

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Skype for Business arrives on Windows Phone, but lacking a key feature for Office 365

Skype for Business arrives on Windows Phone, but lacking a key feature for Office 365 | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Although Microsoft has now brought Skype for Business to Windows Phone, its own business customers—those who subscribe to Office 365—may be disappointed to learn that one key feature hasn’t yet been implemented: conversation syncing.

Skype for Business has already replaced Lync on desktop PCs and the Web, and Windows Phone 8.1 phones will automatically download the new Skype for Business app to replace Lync 2013. (Windows Phone 8.0 users can continue using Lync 2013 or Lync 2010; those phones won’t be able to update to the new app.) 

Given the fact that a phone has limited space with which to work, one change that Microsoft has made to the app is to “wall off” extraneous conversations. If a new message arrives on your phone, you’ll have the option to answer it without other clients' grabbing the conversation, Microsoft said. Microsoft has also encrypted your conversation and voice mail history by default.

One of the complaints Skype users have had, however, is that conversations that roam between various platforms don’t sync appropriately, meaning that you might end up with notifications being sent to your PC some time before they arrive on your phone. Microsoft apparently solved that problem, provided you’re running the latest server software—just not for Office 365 users. That capability will be coming soon, the company said.

Otherwise, the new Skype for Business app for Windows Phone features the Skype UI and 100 new emoticons, to give it a bit of extra punch.

Last week the Skype for Business team previewed a “broadcast” feature that will allow meetings to be shown to up to 10,000 participants. The app now also works with traditional telephones, so that users can simply dial in to conference calls.

Why this matters: To its credit, Microsoft has launched Skype for Business on Windows Phone, ahead of iOS and Android—not always the case, to be sure. Still, I suspect that some IT admins wish that Microsoft would get its ducks in a row before releasing the Windows Phone app. Not knowing where you are in a business conversation can give the appearance that you’re unprofessional—and it’s also just plain annoying.

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Samsung proposes an Android phone that transforms into a Windows laptop

Samsung has been thinking up new ways to transform smartphones into laptops. In a patent application filed last week, first spotted by Patently Mobile, Samsung describes a mobile device that runs Android and is able to switch over to Windows when inserted into a dock. Individually, these ideas aren't new — dual-OS devices and docking smartphones have been tried a number of times over the past several years — but they haven't been put together in a particularly straightforward way. Of course, this is only a patent application, so there's no guarantee that Samsung will actually make it.


Even so, Samsung actually goes into quite a bit of detail on how such a device would work. The core would be a smartphone or a tablet, which would hold everything needed to run both Android and Windows. The dock would have a keyboard, a large display, and possibly a trackpad. Those final two items are where it gets interesting. The dock may not need a trackpad because the smartphone's touchscreen could be used instead (given the state of Windows trackpads, this could even be a benefit). Alternatively, if the dock includes a trackpad, the smartphone could be used as a second display. Samsung proposes that it could display Android at the same time that the dock displays Windows, or that it could be an extension of the Windows desktop.

The patent application notes that other operating systems could be used in place of Windows and Android, but those are the two that it focuses on. That's not really a surprise: they're the dominant mobile and desktop operating systems, and Samsung has even played around with transitioning between the two of them before. In 2013, it introduced the Ativ Q, which could switch between functioning as a Windows notebook and an Android tablet. Of course, making both form factors actually good to use is difficult, especially when all of their power is coming from a mobile device. Still, the idea that a single device could eventually serve as the core of all our computing isn't unreasonable, and it's clearly something that Samsung is thinking about.

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4 Ways Technology Is Making You Age Faster

4 Ways Technology Is Making You Age Faster | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

You can't deny technology has made many things easier. But, like with so many good things, too much can be a bad thing. And with people using their smartphones, tablets and laptops for nearly everything, including work, scheduling and socializing, sometimes there's hardly a moment of the day we aren't connected.

We're living in the first era of such connectivity and only starting to discover the downside of our connectedness. Technology has not only made us less active, but it also has the ability to age us faster than we'd like. Here are four innocuous ways technology is actually making us older:

1. It's making you lose sleep.
Of course the constant pinging of emails and text messages will keep you up at night, but studies have shown that using tablets, smartphones or your laptop near bedtime can disrupt your natural sleep schedule. A study published last year by the Brigham and Women's Hospital concluded that using these light-emitting devices suppresses your melatonin levels, making it harder to fall asleep and get more restful sleep.

And besides feeling sluggish the next day, poor sleep can cause dark circles, a lackluster complexion and fine lines, thanks to elevated cortisol levels which can lead to collagen breakdown. A solution: make your bedroom a technology-free zone and create a bedtime ritual which involves putting away your gadgets before you go to sleep.

2. It's causing "tech neck."
In 2014, researchers discovered that staring down at your phone as you text puts five to six times the weight pressure on your neck, creating posture problems and added stress to your spine.

"The problem of wrinkles and sagging of the jowls and neck used to begin in late middle age but, in the last 10 years, because of 'tech neck', it has become a problem for a generation of younger women," Christopher Rowland Payne, a dermatologist, told The International Business Times.

Besides, hunching over only makes you look older. The study's author, Kenneth Hansraj, says it's important to keep your neck straight and to bring your phone up to meet your eyes.

3. It's aging your eyes.
Whether you notice it or not, you're probably not blinking nearly enough when you're furiously texting or shooting off emails. Some doctors say you blink around half as much as you normally do when you're not staring at computer or smart phone screens. Not blinking enough can contribute to problems like dry eyes, blurry vision and even headaches.

Plus, if you're having trouble reading your phone, you're probably squinting, which can cause fine lines and wrinkles, especially around the eyes.

To combat the stress, there are several things you can do. Make your font size bigger so you don't have to strain your eyes to read. Make a conscious effort to blink more. Take a break from your screens every 20 minutes for around 20 seconds (or more) and focus on something far away. Or even better, get up from your desk, and take a quick lap around the office.

4. It may be affecting your memory.
Remember the good old days when you used to know all your friends' phone numbers by heart? These days, it's a miracle if we don't forget our own, thanks to the contacts you store on your phone. In addition, the use of a GPS to help you navigate means we're relying less on our own brain power.

A McGill University study found that people who use spatial navigation (things like remembering landmarks, etc.) to get around had a higher hippocampus volume than people who relied on a GPS. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that processes and stores memories.

Another study found that taking photos of things can impair your memory. Researchers at Fairfield University had subjects go to an art museum and observe some objects without taking photos -- and then observe other objects while taking photos. What they found was that memories were weaker for the items that were simply photographed.

It's important not to be entirely reliant on your phone. Try to use the GPS sparingly. Try to memorize a couple of new phone numbers. Try to calculate how much to tip the waiter all on your own.

You can do it.

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Apple Could Release 3 New iPhones This Year

Apple Could Release 3 New iPhones This Year | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Well it looks as if Apple could release not two, but three new iPhones this year. Apple is expected to launch their new iPhone in the second half of 2015 and these new phones are said to be the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, and a smaller iPhone 6C.

The report indicates that the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus will be powered by Apple’s new A9 chip, whereas the iPhone 6C will have the older A8 chip.

The lower-cost iPhone 6C could also come with a smaller 4-inch screen. As always we will keep you updated on Apple and iPhone news as it comes out.!

Samsung chip could bring 128GB storage to cheaper phones

Samsung chip could bring 128GB storage to cheaper phones | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Samsung Electronics has developed flash memory storage that could help bring 128GB capacity to smartphones and tablets in the middle and low end of the price spectrum.

The new 3-bit NAND-based Embedded MultiMediaCard (eMMC) 5.0 storage is the industry’s highest-density architecture of its kind and will put larger storage capacities into mass market mobile devices, the company said Thursday.

The development adds to the allure of budget smartphones, which have recently improved in features and capabilities to such an extent that they may make it hard to decide whether buying higher-end models is worthwhile.

The most expensive versions of smartphones and tablets such as the iPhone 6 or iPad Air have 128GB storage, and are currently available for about US$200 more than the 16GB editions. Samsung would not say how much the 128GB eMMC 5.0 would cost and how that might affect device pricing.

The eMMC storage is already found in less expensive mobile devices. The new Samsung technology has some nifty features such as 260 megabytes per second of sequential data reading and it can support HD video processing. The storage is already in mass production and available to device manufacturers, Samsung said.

An embedded non-volatile memory system, eMMC consists of integrated flash memory and a flash memory controller. It’s designed for use in phones, tablets, car navigation systems and other devices.

“We expect to see that mid-to-low-end smartphones will increasingly adopt 128GB of memory storage in the near future,” a Samsung spokesman said via email.

The JEDEC Solid State Technology Association recently approved eMMC version 5.1, which will allow flash drives to handle 4K streaming and other data-intensive tasks.

Tom Bryon's curator insight, March 25, 2015 11:29 PM

With smartphones now being able to store so much in so little space, imagine the possibility in the future. Especially if the chips become less expensive to produce, the market will absolutely see small technology with big storage capacity.!

Google has delayed its Android encryption plans because they're crippling people's phones

Google has delayed its Android encryption plans because they're crippling people's phones | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google is delaying plans to encrypt all new Android phones by default, Ars Technica reports, because the technical demands of encryption are crippling people's devices.

Encryption slowed down some phones by 50% or more, speed tests show. 

In September 2014, Google — along with Apple — said that it planned to encrypt all new devices sold with its mobile OS by default. This means that unless a customer opted out, it would be impossible for anyone to gain access to their device without the passcode, including law enforcement (or Google itself).

This hardened stance on encryption from tech companies came after repeated revelations about the NSA, GCHQ and other government spy agencies snooping on ordinary citizens' data.

Default encryption has infuriated authorities. One US cop said that the iPhone would become "the phone of choice for the paedophile" because law enforcement wouldn't be able to access its contents. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has floated the idea of banning strong encryption altogether — though the proposal has been slammed by critics as technically unworkable.

Apple rolled out default-on encryption in iOS 8 back in September. Google's Android Lollipop system was first released in November — but because the phone manufacturers, rather than Google itself, are responsible for pushing out the update, it can take months for a new version of the OS to reach the majority of consumers.

But as Ars Technica reports, Lollipop smartphones are now finally coming to the market, and many do not have default-on encryption. So what's the reason? The devices couldn't actually handle it.

Speed tests show that even Google's flagship phone, the Google Nexus 6, suffers serious slowdown when encryption is turned on. A "random write" test measuring writing data to memory showed that the Nexus 6 performed more than twice as fast with encryption switched off — 2.85MB per second as compared with 1.41 per second with it on. The difference was even more striking in a "sequential read" test to measure memory reading speeds. An unecrypted device achieved 131.65MB/s; the encrypted version managed just 25.36MB/s. That's a third of even the Nexus 5, the previous model, which came in at 76.29MB/s.

As such, Google is now rowing back on its encryption stance. Its guidelines now say that full-disk encryption is "very strongly recommended" on devices, rather than the necessary requirement promised. Users can still encrypt their devices (even if it slows them down), but it won't happen by default.

Google says it still intends to force it in "future versions of Android".

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Ikea is launching a new line of furniture that can charge your phone without wires

Ikea is launching a new line of furniture that can charge your phone without wires | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Ikea announced Sunday at Mobile World Congress it is introducing its first furniture line that offers wireless charging for phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

Ikea’s furniture, which it calls its “Home Smart” line, will integrate the popular Qi wireless charging technology into special “charging pads” on the furniture. People will then be able to buy and assemble the furniture and leave their Qi-supported devices on those pads for a quick battery charge. 

Smartphones that don’t support Qi will be incompatible with this furniture. The Qi wireless charging technology is controlled by the Wireless Power Consortium, which boasts 200-plus members including Samsung, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, HTC, Verizon Wireless, and others.

More than 80 different smartphones offer support for Qi, which is currently the most used wireless charging standard in the world. It works thanks to embedded magnetic coils that generate a small electromagnetic field — smartphones and tablets that support Qi then convert this field into energy to replenish the device’s battery.

Ikea says it will launch this new furniture line, which will include desks, lamps and bedside tables, in North America and Europe in April. 

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New Android Trojan fakes device shut down, spies on users

New Android Trojan fakes device shut down, spies on users | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

A new Android Trojan that tricks users into believing they have shut their device down while it continues working, and is able to silently make calls, send messages, take photos and perform many other tasks, has been discovered and analyzed by AVG researchers.

They dubbed it, and AVG's security solutions detect it as PowerOffHijack.

PowerOffHijack has been discovered in China, where it has already infected over 10,000 devices. It is apparently being propagated via third-party online app stores, but the researchers haven't mentioned what apps it masquerades as.

The Trojan is capable of infecting Android versions below v5.0 (Lollipop).

How does it work?

"After pressing the power button, you will see the real shutdown animation, and the phone appears off. Although the screen is black, it is still on," the researchers explained.

That's because the malware, after having previously obtained root access, is capable of injecting the system_server process that hooks the mWindowManagerFuncs object, and ultimately prevents the mWindowManagerFuncs.shutdown function to do its job, which is to first shut down radio service and then invoke the power manager service to turn the power off.

After keeping the power button pressed long enough to initiate the shut down procedure, the victims are presented with a fake pop-up that asks confirmation of the process, and see a fake shut down animation. The malware and the phone will continued working, but the screen will be black.

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Apple’s Activation Lock Leads To Big Drops In Smartphone Theft Worldwide

Apple’s Activation Lock Leads To Big Drops In Smartphone Theft Worldwide | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

The temptation of a smartphone for a thief is dropping, thanks to Apple’s decision to implement a remote kill switch via Find My Phone that can erase and disable a phone once it’s been stolen or gone missing. A new report from Reuters found that iPhone theft dropped by 50 percent in London, 40 percent in San Francisco and 25 percent in New York. The drops represent theft activity as measured during the 12 months following Apple’s introduction of the remote locking feature in September 2013 as part of iOS 7. With iOS 8, Apple made its so-called said “kill switch” active by default, in accordance with California regulation, and that should help the rates of theft continue to trend downwards.

Apple’s Activation Lock requires a user to authorize a wipe or fresh install using the existing iCloud credentials on record, ensuring that a thief can’t go ahead and just wipe the device easily to use it themselves or prepare it for sale on the secondary market. Apple is one of the first major manufacturers to switch to implementing the system by default, rather than through user opt-in, which means it should be present on far more devices. All new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus units, for instance, will have it on be default given that they shipped with iOS 8 pre-installed.

Stats from last year indicated that Apple’s implementation of the Activation Lock were having a significant effect, but Apple’s combined iOS 8 adoption rate (currently at over 70 percent) and the fact that it’s now on by default means that the risk associated with stealing a modern iOS device is even greater. The aim is to make smartphone theft ultimately as futile as stealing a credit card, whereby a user ‘cancelling’ their hardware renders it ultimately useless.

Smartphone theft is often theft of opportunity, meaning a thief weighs reward vs. risk, including factors like how difficult it is to recoup an investment on something they’ve taken. Activation Lock doesn’t automatically render smartphones using it worthless to thieves, but it skews the value proposition considerably, and reduces reward (an iPhone sold for parts is worth far less than a fully functional unity, for instance).

Apple seems committed to coming up with new ways to protect user devices and data when it comes to theft, given its early pioneering of phone tracking tech via Find My iPhone. Patents awarded Apple have also described systems whereby the phone requires positive ID of the user to even display an unlock prompt, and tech which can monitor and report on unidentified users in the background.

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Microsoft Has Built A Phone With A Battery That Lasts For A Month

Microsoft Has Built A Phone With A Battery That Lasts For A Month | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

There's a new mobile phone with a battery life that lasts for a month: Microsoft's Nokia 215, CNET reports.

It costs just £19, and goes on sale in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia in the first few months of 2015.

The Nokia 215 is a feature phone targeted at first-time buyers, people on a serious budget, and consumers in the developing world who want an entry-level phone at the lowest cost possible. Obviously, it's also useful for anyone who travels a lot or lives somewhere where recharging and electricity supply points are intermittent.

But its extremely long-lasting battery life will be of interest to everyone else simply because it proves that batteries can be made to last longer than a day. Or at least, that phones can be made that will nurse power for an extended period of time. One of the top complaints of iPhone users is how quickly they need to be recharged.

The phone runs on Nokia Series 30+ software, a platform that functions for an entire month on just one charge.

Of course, the phone's functions are limited — but not without merit. It's got room for dual SIM cards, so people can operate with two functioning numbers simultaneously. Using a single SIM, the battery will keep going on standby for 29 days; the second SIM option can last 21, with up to 20 hours of talk time, 50 hours of MP3 listening, and 45 hours of listening to the phone's built-in FM radio, CNET explains. 

It's also got the internet. Sort of. It's been designed with web connection — though not 3G — and includes basic apps such as Microsoft's Bing search, the Opera Mini browser, MSN Weather, Twitter, and Facebook. They won't run quickly — but they all come as standard in the £19 price tag. 

The Nokia 215 also boasts a VGA camera and a 32MB micro SD card, a torch, and comes in bright green, black and white.

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Samsung Touts Video Chops With Two More Big Screen Phones

Samsung Touts Video Chops With Two More Big Screen Phones | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

As expected (and amply leaked), Samsung has today whipped back the curtain on a pair of new flagship smartphones, announcing two new phablets: the Galaxy Note 5 (pictured above) and the Galaxy S6 Edge+ at press events in New York and London.

The focus for Samsung here is bigger handsets that can do more with multimedia content, letting the user make use of additional screen real-estate for video editing or livestreaming, or multitasking with multiple content windows on screen.

The Korean giant doesn’t normally drop flagship smartphones in August but is presumably hoping to hog the limelight by announcing new kit in what is typically a fallow month for tech news — before the hype cycle spins up again come September, when Apple typically unboxes new iPhones. (In the event, Chinese mobile maker Xiaomi stole a march on Samsung’s phablet new by announcing its own pair of newbies earlier today.)

Here’s a quick rundown of the new additions to Samsung’s handset Galaxy, which will be landing in some 7,000 retail stores in the U.S. for preview starting from tomorrow (but on sale globally later this month):

Galaxy Note 5

The Galaxy Note 5 is the sequel to the 5.7-inch display Note 4, which launched back in September 2014. The display remains the same size (and same quad-HD res), but RAM has been beefed up to 4GB.

The design has also been tweaked to be thinner and slimmer, with a narrower bezel and curved back. The rear camera is still 16MP, but there’s now 5MP on the front. Both are f1.9.

The S-Pen stylus has also had an update — with an “all new” design, and, says Samsung, improved writing capabilities (albeit it said that at the last Note update…), including the ability to jot down info even when the screen is off.

Users can also now annotate PDF files using the S-Pen, and capture a whole website from top to bottom using a Scroll Capture feature. And the pen is easier to extract from its kennel inside the Note, thanks to a “one click” extraction mechanism.

Available colorways for the Note 5 are “Black Sapphire” and “White Pearl”. There are 32GB and 64GB variants (but no microSD card slot — a factor that’s going to continue to grate on long-time Samsung fans).

Galaxy S6 Edge+

The Galaxy S6 Edge+ updates one of two new flagships Samsung unboxed back in March at the Mobile World Congress trade show — namely the S6 Edge.

The flagship feature of that handset was a screen with curved edges. Those curves spill over now to the S6 Edge+ but the overall size of the screen has also been increased to phablet size — so it’s been bumped up from 5.1 inches to 5.7 inches. As with the S6 Edge, the curved edges can be used as a shortcut from any screen to access top contacts and apps, by swiping along the edge.

As with the Note 5, RAM has also been increased to 4GB. And the rear camera is 16MP, with a 5MP lens on the front.

Available colorways for the S6 Edge+ are “Black Sapphire” and “Gold Platinum” (below). And there are also 32GB and 64GB variants (but again no microSD card slot).


Multimedia focus

Both devices sport improved video stabilization when shooting from the front or rear camera, according to Samsung.  There’s also a new video collage mode that allows users to shoot and edit short videos more easily, adding various frames and effects. And a 4K Video filming feature to record content for 4K TVs.

A full HD Live Broadcast option lets users instantly stream video straight from the phone to any individual, group of contacts, or through YouTube Live — a la live streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope. While Samsung touts other camera and audio improvements such as a quick launch feature (by double clicking the home button from any screen to jump into the camera), and support for UHQA for richer audio quality.

Both handsets also support Samsung Pay — the company’s forthcoming NFC and magnetic secure transmission mobile payment tech which it’s lining up as an Apple Pay rival.

There’s also embedded wireless charging on both, but wireless charger pads aren’t included — so that’s an additional accessory you’d have to have or buy yourself.

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Windows 10 likely to land at PC makers this week

Windows 10 likely to land at PC makers this week | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Microsoft keeps wending its way past the mile markers en route to getting Windows 10 out to the public on time.

The software titan is putting the finishing touches on the operating system software and will finalize its prerelease development by July 10, The Verge is reporting, citing people who claim to have knowledge of the company's plans. This version ofWindows 10, called "release to manufacturing," will then be sent to PC makers to be bundled into their products.

Windows 10, which is slated to launch on July 29, comes at a critical time for Microsoft. While Windows overall remains the dominant force in desktop operating systems, running on over 90 percent of computers worldwide, according to NetMarketShare, the last big release -- Windows 8 -- proved a marked disappointment. According to NetMarketShare, Windows 8 musters just 13 percent market share worldwide, far behind the 61 percent share for Windows 7 and just ahead the 12 percent share for the now ancient Windows XP.

The issues with Windows 8 were numerous, ranging from Microsoft's design choice, called Metro, to a steep learning curve for those used to the old days of Windows. Windows 8, which launched in 2012, also came as consumers and business users were increasingly attracted to tablets and smartphones, which typically ran either Apple's iOS software or Google's Android.

Microsoft tried to respond by offering its own tablet, the Surface, and partner with third-party tablet manufacturers. The efforts, however, have done little to kick Android and iOS from the top spots.

Realizing its own miscues and the changing market dynamics, Microsoft has tried to address its Windows 8 woes with Windows 10.

The Start button is back and the design a bit more traditional, while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made clear that Microsoft is a "mobile-first (and cloud-first)" company that will allow for Windows 10 to run on multiple device types without sacrificing features. To boost adoption, Microsoft will offer free upgrades to customers currently running Windows 7 and Windows 8 -- a first for the company. Microsoft has even softened its stance in its longstanding battle with pirates, saying that any pirated copy of Windows can be upgraded to Windows 10 free-of-charge.

For months now, Microsoft has been offering preview versions of Windows 10 to developers and consumers who want to take the operating system for a test drive. Operating systems go through a series of "builds," or versions, during their development phase. Once the company's development team has finalized the operating system, it goes into RTM phase, which means it's ready to be passed on to hardware vendors for bundling into the PCs they sell. Assuming the report is accurate, hitting the RTM phase this week would ensure Windows 10 would be available later this month, as anticipated.

That said, while Microsoft seems to be on-pace for a July 29 launch, the company has cautioned thatthe rollout could be slow going.

Microsoft said last week that it "will start rolling out Windows 10" on July 29, but will roll out the operating system "in waves" after that date.

"Each day of the rollout, we will listen, learn and update the experience for all Windows 10 users," the company said in a blog post. "If you reserved your copy of Windows 10, we will notify you once our compatibility work confirms you will have a great experience, and Windows 10 has been downloaded on your system."

The blog post seems to indicate that while Windows 10 may be released to PC vendors soon, it will continue to fine-tune the operating system after the July 29 launch date.

Microsoft has yet to say when its operating system will hit the RTM phase, but in the past, the company has announced the milestone on its site. Microsoft will likely do the same with Windows 10, once it has officially gone RTM.

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Google bursts into the wireless industry

Google bursts into the wireless industry | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google wants to be your wireless carrier.

The search giant on Wednesday announced its long-anticipated wireless service in the United States, called Project Fi.

Google hopes to stand out by changing the way it charges customers. Typically, smartphone owners pay wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon a bulk rate for a certain amount of data. Google says it will let customers pay for only what data they use on their phones, from doing things like making calls, listening to music and using apps, potentially saving them significant amounts of money.

For now, the program is invite-only and will only be available on Google's Nexus 6 smartphone.

"It's important that wireless connectivity and communication keep pace and be fast everywhere, easy to use, and accessible to everyone," Nick Fox, vice president of communications products at Google, said in a statement.

Google's new wireless service represents a shift in its efforts to remake the wireless industry. The company began in 2005, when it purchased the nascent Android mobile phone software, and began giving it away to handset makers like Samsung, LG and Lenovo. Competitors, like Microsoft, typically charged for their software. The plan worked: Today, Android powers more than 80 percent of the world's smartphones, and commands significant influence in the wireless industry.

The next step for the search giant is to expand into how the cellular and wireless connections themselves are delivered to you.

Google said it would offer one plan at one price. For $20 a month, you get voice, text, Wi-Fi tethering and international coverage in more than 120 countries. Then it's $10 per gigabyte per month. But if you don't use all of the data you bought, Google refunds you for what you didn't use. Their service won't require an annual contract.

Google isn't just offering a different way to charge customers. It will also offer a new technology to allow users to switch between cellular and Wi-Fi signals while on a call. The nascent technology will help Google to keep costs down, and help customers avoid relying on cellular networks that are often overburdened by wireless traffic. The program will also store your phone number on Google's servers, so yo'll be able to use your number to talk and text from a phone, tablet or laptop.

Google isn't building its own wireless network to do this. Instead, the Internet giant has made a deal with US carriers Sprint and T-Mobile to use their networks.

"We are proud to enable Google's entry into the wireless industry as a service provider," Sprint said in a statement.

Still, for wireless companies, Google's entrance to the market could be worrisome. Google, with its financial resources and influence, has the power to shake up the entire industry.

When Google product chief Sundar Pichai confirmed the wireless service in February, he sought to reassure the carriers. He said Google's wireless service was meant to be a small scale experiment. Google's rationale is said to be trying to innovate new practices and pricing models, and trying to get the wireless industry at large to follow suit.

"I think it will be a small market initially, but I have to believe [the carriers] going to be watching it closely," said Tim Bajarin, president of tech research firm Creative Strategies.

Google is the highest-profile company to do this, but it's not the only company that will offer this kind of service. Republic Wireless, a small North Carolina-based wireless company, will offer a similar service this summer.

Google has been dipping into the Internet access business in other ways too. The company began taking on the home-and-business Internet service providers in 2010 with a project it calls Google Fiber. The a service offered Internet connections to people's homes in cities like Kansas City and Austin for much less than larger rivals Comcast, AT&T and Verizon charge.

Google is also hoping to bring its service efforts to developing countries. The company has been building a way to beam Internet connectivity to rural populations via high-flying balloons with a project called Loon. Google is also experimenting with satellites for the same purpose.

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​Intel, Micron, Toshiba promise storage that's fast and roomy

​Intel, Micron, Toshiba promise storage that's fast and roomy | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Intel, Micron and Toshiba want to give you the best of both worlds when it comes to flash memory, the storage technology used in smartphones, tablets and higher-end laptops.

Today, smartphones and tablets often don't have enough room for all your apps, photos, videos and music. And laptop buyers have to decide between hard drives, which are cheap and roomy, but slow, and flash-based solid-state drives (SSDs) that are fast but expensive.

A partnership between Micron and Intel, though, is now beginning to yield flash chips with triple the capacity of the top alternative from Samsung. And Toshiba announced a competing chip that matches Samsung's capacity, a competitive move that should help maintain pricing pressure.

The new chips could mean a 3.5TB flash drive for PCs that's the size of a stick of gum, Intel said. Today's top-end laptops with 1TB SSDs are very expensive options, but more-affordable chips could help fast flash memory displace hard drives in lower-end PCs.

Both of the new chip designs -- as well as Samsung's chips introduced last year -- take a similar approach called 3D stacking to provide more bits. In essence, the idea is to emulate Manhattan's skyscrapers rather than the sprawl of Los Angeles.

"3D is going to be one of the ways to go to keep Moore's Law going," said Michael Jackson, an associate professor of microelectronic engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology, referring to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore's observation on steady advances in processor capabilities.

As with skyscraper apartment buildings, the number of cells you can put in a given area still matters. And so does the number of occupants you can put in each cell. The Intel-Micron approach offers two options for this latter characteristic: two bits per cell initially for chips that store 256 gigabits total and, later, three bits for 384-gigabit chips. Toshiba stores two bits per cell for its 128-gigabit chips.

Many of the gains made by flash memory have come by spreading more and more memory cells onto a two-dimensional chip surface. The Intel-Micron approach matches Samsung's with 32 layers of flash memory, and Toshiba goes a little farther with 48 layers. The companies are delivering the first samples today; Intel and Micron expect to ship final products later this year.

Several chips are mounted into the same package; a 16-chip, 768-gigabyte package is the size of a fingertip, according to Intel.

By comparison, today's top-end smartphones come with only 128 gigabytes. And Apple's new MacBook comes with two SSD options, 256GB and 512GB. The price difference is $400, though the higher price also covers a slightly faster processor. For a high-end Dell M3800 laptop, upgrading the SSD from 256GB to 512GB costs $434, and going up to 1TB costs $735. No wonder Intel, Micron and Toshiba are eager for a better showing in the market.

And they could all use a better showing.

Intel and Micron banded together to take on flash powerhouses like top-ranked Samsung, which held 28 percent of the flash-memory market in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to Statista. Micron has 14 percent and Intel has 8 percent. Toshiba is doing better with 22 percent, but its share has been slipping.

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Microsoft teams up with Samsung to squeeze out Google

Microsoft teams up with Samsung to squeeze out Google | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Microsoft on Monday announced a new and improved agreement with Samsung to pre-load Microsoft Office apps on Samsung's Android tablets.

Plus, Microsoft announced that it had lined up 11 other Android device makers to do the same, including close partner Dell. The apps include Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype.

This follows the agreement Microsoft and Samsung announced last month where Samsung would load certain Microsoft cloud apps on Samsung’s next flagship Android phones, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge. 

This is an interesting way for Microsoft to attack its old nemesis, Google.

Google controls the Android operating system and gives Android away for free to device makers. It makes money on Android from things like integrating search into these devices, getting a percentage when people buy apps, and by encouraging people to use these phones with its other paid services, like Google Apps.

XDA Jeshter2000A leak of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge shows the option of deleting Google apps

While Microsoft won't exactly be cutting off Google's ability to make money on Android, it's got a foot in the door with this Samsung deal.

That's because Samsung seems to be making good on its promise to let people delete unwanted apps from its Android devices.

A leak of the S6 edge on Android developer’s forum XDA on Saturday shows that the pre-loaded Microsoft apps can be removed. Those apps include OneNote (note-taking), OneDrive (storage), and Skype.

But so can the pre-loaded Google apps, including some services typically baked into Android like Gmail, Drive, even Google search.

XDA member Jeshter2000, who claimed to be in possession of an S6 Edge, posted a photo (see picture, right) showing the options to delete Google apps.

And that means, if you so wish, you can turn these next-generation Samsung phones into Microsoft friendly phones, and ditch Google.

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Wireless Charging May Not Be Doomed To Irrelevance

Wireless Charging May Not Be Doomed To Irrelevance | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Wireless charging is a decent idea that’s been held back for years by double and sometimes triple or quadruple vision: Instead of picking one standard that works well enough, the industry has fragmented itself among competing, incompatible implementations that may each flop and leave buyers stuck with useless hardware.

Yes, you’ve seen this format-war movie before… on Beta, Laserdisc, and HD-DVD.

But this year’s Mobile World Congress provided a little more room for optimism than before.

First off, Samsung’s debut of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge—each of which support both Qi and Powermat wireless charging, the two most widely deployed versions—means devices capable of wireless charging will soon occupy millions of pockets and purses.

Qi, pronounced “chee,” has been around for a while. A handout from the Wireless Power Consortium, the trade group behind the specification, cites 79 phones that are compatible. But none of these 79 phones has been a flagship model you could expect to find sold by all four major U.S. wireless carriers, or bought by millions of shoppers. Note that while the S6 and S6 Edge will be able to draw current from both Qi and Powermat chargers, Samsung told me its own wireless-charging accessory will be a Qi surface.

It’s also getting slightly easier to find Qi charging surfaces. Last October, Marriott began putting Qi hardware in the lobbies of some of its hotels, and at MWC Ikea announced that it would soon sell furniture with Qi chargers built in.

A new smartphone app by the Qi developer Aircharge aims to show off all the places that its wireless charging surfaces are available; in Manhattan, it only found three publicly accessible Qi locations, all Marriott properties. So much for progress in the Big Apple.

And as the S6’s ambidextrous wireless charging capability illustrates, there are two sides to this story. Powermat’s longstanding technology is being folded into a developing rival to Qi called Rezence, a name that alludes to its use of magnetic resonance instead of Qi’s inductive charging.

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How Google's New Wireless Service Will Change the Internet

How Google's New Wireless Service Will Change the Internet | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google says its new wireless service will operate on a much smaller scale than the Verizons and the AT&Ts of the world, providing a new way for relatively few people to make calls, trade texts, and access the good old internet via their smartphones. But the implications are still enormous.

Google revealed on Monday it will soon start “experimenting” with wireless services and the ways we use them—and that’s no small thing. Such Google experiments have a way of morphing into something far bigger, particularly when they involve tinkering with the infrastructure that drives the internet.

As time goes on, the company may expand the scope of its ambitions as a wireless carrier, much as it had done with its super-high-speed landline internet service, Google Fiber. But the larger point is that Google’s experiments—if you can call them that—will help push the rest of the market in the same direction. The market is already moving this way thanks to other notable tech names, including mobile carrier T-Mobile, mobile chipmaker Qualcomm, and serial Silicon Valley inventor Steve Perlman, who recently unveiled a faster breed of wireless network known as pCell.

At the moment, Google says, it hopes to provide ways for phones to more easily move between cellular networks and WiFi connections, perhaps even juggling calls between the two. Others, such as T-Mobile and Qualcomm, are working on much the same. But with the leverage of its Android mobile operating system and general internet clout, Google can push things even further. Eventually, the company may even drive the market towards new kinds of wireless networks altogether, networks that provide connections when you don’t have cellular or WiFi—or that significantly boost the speed of your cellular connection, as Perlman hopes to do.

Richard Doherty—the director of a technology consulting firm called Envisioneering, who is closely following the evolution of the world’s mobile networks—points out that the carriers still have clout of their own, and that in many cases they will push to keep wireless networking as it is. But he also says the carriers won’t stand by if looks like Google will eclipse their services. “Do they really want all this happening on Google, when they’re not getting a penny?” he asks.

‘In the Coming Months’

On Monday, at the massive Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Google big-wig Sundar Pichai revealed that the company will transform itself into a wireless carrier in “the coming months,” confirming earlier reports that it would sell wireless plans directly to smartphone buyers. And true to Google form, Pichai was careful to say that the company isn’t trying to compete with major carriers.

“Carriers in the US are what powers most of our Android phones,” he said, referring to the world of smartphones that run Google’s Android operating systems and all its associated Google apps. “That model works really well for us.”

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Google backtracks on Android 5.0 default encryption

Google backtracks on Android 5.0 default encryption | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

When the Nexus 6 handset arrived late last year, it came with full data encryption enabled out the box. Google also pushed its hardware partners to do the same at first, but now appears to have quietly changed the requirement with a strong recommendation to enable encryption by default, reports ArsTechnica.

The same site noted performance issues with Google’s Nexus 6 in November, particularly with regards to read and write disk speeds, which it attributed to the encryption. How much of an impact did the tests show? In some cases, the new Google Nexus 6 was slower than the Nexus 5 it was designed to replace, even though the handset had much improved internal components.

Google did say in September of 2014 that the then called Android L software — later to become Android 5.0 Lollipop — would have encryption enabled by default out of the box. New devices with Android 5.0, however, don’t have the security feature enabled: The new $149 Moto E with LTE, is a perfect example. So what’s changed?

According to Ars, Google’s Android Compatibility Definition document is what’s changed; specifically, the section on disk encryption with Google making emphasis on what it recommends:

If the device implementation has a lock screen, the device MUST support full-disk encryption of the application private data (/data partition) as well as the SD card partition if it is a permanent, non-removable part of the device. For devices supporting full-disk encryption, the full-disk encryption SHOULD be enabled all the time after the user has completed the out-of-box experience. While this requirement is stated as SHOULD for this version of the Android platform, it is very strongly RECOMMENDED as we expect this to change to MUST in the future versions of Android.

Essentially, Google has gone back to having encryption as an option for new Android 5.0 devices, not a requirement: They must support it but it isn’t necessary to enable it by default. However, the last sentence in the guidelines indicates that hardware partners should be ready for this to change back in a future version of Android.

From security standpoint, this is a bit of a disappointment. If encryption impacts performance, however, Google has little choice here.

The concern I have is that most mainstream Android users won’t know that they should enable encryption their device or simply don’t know how. My hope is that if Google reduced the requirements due to performance, it finds a way to address the root cause of the issue and then get device encryption back as a default option.

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Neptune Duo: a Phone on Your Wrist, a Screen in Your Pocket

Neptune Duo: a Phone on Your Wrist, a Screen in Your Pocket | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

We’re now used to the idea of smartwatches relaying information from our phones to our wrists. The Neptune Duo is turning the concept on its head: it’s a wearable smartphone with a secondary display you can stash in your pocket.

The Neptune Duo consists of two parts. The Hub is a device you wear on your wrist that runs Android Lollipop to make and receive calls. The Pocket is a 5-inch touch display that connects to the Hub, allowing you to view and interact with apps and content.

The thinking is that the Hub will be less easily misplaced than a traditional smartphone, meaning your primary mode of communication and the information you store on it is safer.

The Hub has a 2.4-inch touchscreen, a quad-core processor, 64GB of storage, supports 3G and 4G networks and runs off a 1,000mAh battery. Like most wearables, it’ll also track your health and fitness stats

The Pocket screen combines an 8-megapixel rear camera and 2-megapixel front-facing shooter with a 720p display. It’s also able to charge the Hub. When combined, the creators, promise “users should get a few days of normal usage from a single charge

Those specs are none too shabby, and could possibly make Neptune’s offering the first wrist-based phone that people will actually use. However, we’ll have to wait till the Duo begins shipping late this year to see if customers find the idea as intuitive as the company hopes.

This is the company’s second stab at building a wearable phone. Its first, the Pine, exceeded its funding goal on Kickstarter and all 3,000 orders were delivered to backers. It’s still being sold online, but remains an early-adopter’s delight and not much of a mainstream success.

If you’d like to try the Duo for yourself, you can reserve one now, paying nothing upfront and coughing up $798 when it arrives — or pledge $199 now and pay $399 later, saving $200 in the process.

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Report: Windows 10 for phones will debut on Lumia flagships, including the 1020

Report: Windows 10 for phones will debut on Lumia flagships, including the 1020 | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Good news, Windows Phone fans: Windows 10 for phones will reportedly be available on several popular smartphones—including the iconic Lumia 1020.

However, don’t expect the first build of Windows 10 for phones to have the same sort of spit and polish as Windows 10 for desktops, according to Windows Central, which reported the story using both its own sources as well as tweets from Jesse Leskinen, a Java and PHP developer.  

Leskinen’s information, however, remains unconfirmed by Microsoft—and, to be fair, it may all be wishful thinking at this point.

Why this matters: It’s almost certain that Windows 10 is being tested against the massive Lumia 1520, as well as the HTC One—both solid smartphones that have been embraced by Windows Phone fans. What’s less certain is how deep Microsoft plans to dig into its back catalog to support the upcoming Windows 10. Microsoft’s Lumia Denim/Lumia Camera update would seem ideally suited for the 41MP that the Lumia 1020’s camera packs, but Microsoft has disappointed customers by skipping over it. We can’t say for certain which phones Microsoft will support with Windows 10, but it would be in Microsoft’s best interests to include as many as possible.

What we know about Windows 10 for phones

Microsoft showed off several aspects of Windows 10 for phones at its Windows 10 event last month in Redmond. There, Microsoft demonstrated how information will sync between desktop Windows 10 PCs and phones running the new operating system, as well as a sneak peek at some of the new “universal” apps that will debut on the phones themselves. We haven’t yet seen the new versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel that will launch on Windows 10 phones, but they have been released for Windows 10 PCs

At this point, the only concrete information we have about which existing Windows phones will receive the Windows 10 Technical Preview comes from Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Operating Systems Group, who tweeted over the weekend that Windows 10 will be available for a broad swath of phones:

Microsoft has recently pushed to expand the Windows Phone lineup by adding a number of lower-cost phones, some of which have scrimped on available memory in an attempt to cut costs. In addition to the most popular Windows Phone, the Lumia 520, last year’s Lumia 530, 630 and 635 all have 512MB. 

As Belfiore noted, however, “features may vary” on these lower-memory phones. That sounds very similar to the language Microsoft used when describing the upgrades that owners of the Surface and other Windows RT tablets would receive when upgrading to Windows 10: specifically, they’ll receive "some of the functionality" of Windows 10, but not all of it.

Windows Central also seems to have obtained concrete information that, at least at this stage, the technical preview of Windows 10 for phones seems... well, like a technical preview. Windows Central said that the latest build contains numerous bugs, including a battery-draining bug that makes the phone run hot. Other issues include poorly optimized animations, and a non-functioning glance screen. Windows Central notes that the glance-screen bug is specific to the HTC One, however, apparently confirming that the phone is being tested against Windows Phone 10.

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Kodak is launching a line of Android smartphones in 2015

Kodak is launching a line of Android smartphones in 2015 | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Kodak has announced that it’s licensing its name to a range of mobile devices that make it easier to print and share images. The company’s first smartphone will be unveiled at CES in January followed by a "4G handset, a tablet, and a connected camera" arriving in the second half of 2015. The actual hardware will be built by Bullitt Group, an English company that makes a range of ultra-rugged smartphones for construction company Caterpillar and claims to create products "using the unadulterated DNA of the brands we work with."

There's no talk of megapixels - this is all about branding

"Kodak is one of the world's most recognizable brands. It is trusted by consumers as a marque of quality and innovation," said Bullitt Mobile CEO Oliver Schulte in a press release. "We've taken that heritage and used it to inspire a range of beautifully designed devices that will let users take great pictures and edit, share, store and print them in an instant." As Schulte suggests, the emphasis is very much on software solutions rather than quality hardware. Neither Kodak nor Bullitt mention any details about megapixels, sensor size, or the like, and instead both seem intent on selling the devices for their ease of use — even including remote management software that will let "family members and friends … provide help and support."

Licensing its brand is a strategy in keeping with the radical restructure that helped Kodak exit bankruptcy last September. The company spun off or shut down its various consumer divisions (including its digital photography team) and is instead concentrating on commercial printing. It won’t be the only struggling firm trying to jump on the mobile bandwagon either: back in September, Panasonic unveiled the experimental Lumix CM1 smartphone, equipped with a large sensor and Leica lens. Kodak can get people interested with its name alone, but it'll have to contribute more than just branding to actually win customers' respect.

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