As the world watches on, the drama around Huawei’s newly released Mate 30 and its painful loss of Google’s full-fat Android software and services is now veering from bad to worse. In the latest sorry twist, users are being told of a newly shared workaround that installs a third-party backup onto new devices complete with Google’s array of offerings. Google’s Safetynet still fails, but otherwise “the whole service works great.”
The backup is from a device that was installed with Google apps back when the originally touted workaround still worked, before it was shutdown by some combination of Google and Huawei. It’s difficult to know where to start with this. The security implications for the average user are so alarming that they should be censored. With wave upon wave of malicious hacks targeting the Android community, sharing technical fixes that circumvent security protections—albeit for virtuous reasons—opens up so much risk that it needs clamping down.
The initial Google workaround was to install an unofficial Google installer app from an unknown Chinese developer, changing the core system setup on a Mate 30 to enable Google’s apps to be installed. It seemed fine, video tutorials instructed on the options to select. But when the workaround was unpicked, it became clear that the solution could only work if Huawei knowingly or unknowingly had left parameters open.Today In: Innovation
As soon as that became public, the workaround was shut down. At the time it seemed that any users who had applied there fix would come unstuck, although my colleague David Phelan has reported that lucky users who got in early might still be okay.
That LZPlay (as the Chinese workaround app was called) fix introduced significant risk. Granting core system access to an unknown app could have opened doors to more than Google Maps and Gmail. And the implication that somewhere between Huawei and Google there was a fix that circumvented the U.S. blacklist carried other risks. Whatever went on behind the scenes, the fix has been shut down.
Now, as explained by XDA-Developers in an October 8 post, the new “backup” fix “involves restoring a backup image from a device that managed to install Google apps using Google Services Assistant from back when the method worked.” As such, it is specific to the Mate 30 Pro—the device that applied the workaround at the time.
The use of the LZPlay workaround, replete with its Chinese language instructions, was complex enough. And this one “is not as simple,” and carries a caveat “that SafetyNet will continue to fail since that is a server-side change from Google.”
It is unclear what state a phone is in once this backup has been restored. A user would ordinarily set up a new device as a continuation of their last one, they would not reach for someone else’s backup, despite that backup being data-free. But for now, “if you are looking to install Google Apps… this new workaround is your best bet.”
And so for a typical user who wants a seamless Android experience, firmware updates and security patches, and assurance that there are no shocks down the road, spending $1000 on a device that might or might not survive the next set of firmware updates is a risk I would venture few will be willing to take. Unless Huawei had been able to launch its own click and install option for Google, there is no mass-market option. And that type of fix will not be available until the political situation changes.
Any workaround to enable an after-market Google load on a Mate 30 is opening up Google “stubs” deep within Huawei’s version of the Android open-source core to enable apps and services to be installed. As reported by John Wu in a Medium post when he unpicked this, “undocumented Huawei specific MDM APIs,” were used, “signed with a special certificate from Huawei, granting privileges nowhere to be found on standard Android systems.”
“Wait a minute,” Wu asked in his post, “does that mean either Google is sneaking the stubs to Huawei, or Huawei is blatantly stealing Google’s stub binaries? The sole purpose of the app is to install Google Services on a non licensed device, and it sounds very sketchy to me, but I’m no lawyer so I have absolutely no idea of its legality.”
And so to the issue. It is not in Google’s or Huawei’s interest to be seen to flaunt U.S. restrictions so publicly. When Huawei’s consumer boss hinted to the media—ahead of the Mate 30 launch—that such workarounds would come, it was shutdown by the company’s official communications channels. And when the initial workaround appeared and then disappeared, Huawei told me that the “Mate 30 series is not pre-installed with GMS, and Huawei has had no involvement with www.lzplay.net.”
It is entirely feasible for Huawei and Google to shut down any workaround as the firmware on the Mate 30 devices is updated. What works today can easily cease working tomorrow. And so any user that buys a device with a workaround in mind needs to bear this risk, unless they want to prevent their device updating or play a constant game of tag with the tech companies, applying fix after fix.
All of which kind of leaves us back where we thought we had started. Despite great devices, most analysts expect Huawei’s Mate 30 sales outside China to take a huge hit. And Huawei needs to turn to Beijing and the discussions with Washington to make this current nightmarish Google drama go away.
Former Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime announces new game company
Two years after stepping down as CEO at Blizzard, the game company he co-founded in 1991, Mike Morhaime is back with his next venture. It’s called Dreamhaven, and it’s a combination of a publisher and developer, with “a common goal to empower creators, help bring their ideas to life, and create original gaming experiences that foster meaningful connections between players.”
As part of the announcement, Dreamhaven also revealed its first two internal studios: Moonshot Games and Secret Door. Moonshot is headed by a trio of Blizzard veterans, including former Hearthstone lead Jason Chayes, StarCraft II director Dustin Browder, and Hearthstone creative director Ben Thompson. “Though it’s very early days, when we think about Moonshot, we imagine a studio that celebrates curiosity and courage,” Chayes said in a statement. “We aspire to be bold in our approach, and we think the best way to do that is to create a culture centered around trust.”
Secret Door, meanwhile, is similarly led by a team of former Blizzard developers, including Chris Sigaty (executive producer on Hearthstone), Alan Dabiri (technical director on Warcraft III and StarCraft II), and Eric Dodds (designer on World of Warcraft and Starcraft). No projects have been announced for either studio.
Morhaime stepped down as CEO of Blizzard in 2018, though he stayed on in a consultancy role until last year. In an interview with The Washington Post, he said that one of the goals of the new company was to build an environment focused on creators — something that was likely a challenge under Activision, which became Blizzard’s parent company in 2008.
“We’ve learned a ton about what goes into creating an environment that allows creators to do their best work, and we were very successful doing that for many years at Blizzard,” Morhaime told the Post. “We reached a crossroads where we reassessed what we want to do with the rest of our lives.”
Apple Loop: Shock iPhone 12 Details, Massive iOS 14 Problems, Macbook Pro Delay
Taking a look back at another week of news and headlines from Cupertino, this week’s Apple Loop includes surprising iPhone 12 benchmarks, big problems with iOS 14, two new iPads, Apple ignores MacOS, the “good/better/best” of the Apple Watch, the controversy around Apple One, and the Macs’ never changing system System Preferences.
Apple Loop is here to remind you of a few of the very many discussions that have happened around Apple over the last seven days (and you can read my weekly digest of Android news here on Forbes).
Just How Fast Is Your Next iPhone?
We might not have seen the iPhone 12 family as part of Apple’s virtual September launch event this week, but we have seen the benchmarks pop up on the AnTuTu website. That gives us a raw comparison of the numbers from last year’s iPhone to this year’s. Philip Michaels reports some pretty shocking numbers:
“Leaked benchmarks from Antutu, purportedly showing off an iPhone 12 Pro Max’s performance, may help fill in some of the blanks. MySmartPrice spotted the leaked numbers, which claim to show off a device with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage running iOS 14.1.
“According to the leaks, the iPhone 12 Pro Max tallied a score of 572,333 on Antutu’s test, which is a 9% gain over the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s 524,436 result on the same test. MySmartPrice says the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s reported tally would be the highest score ever posted by an iPhone, which you’d hope given that it’s a new model.
The Big Problem With iOS 14
Apple may not have announced a release date for the iPhone, but it did announce the release date of iOS 14. And that has caused problems. Normally Apple will provide a week’s worth of ‘heads up’ time to Developers so they can ensure their apps are ready for the jump up to the next major version of iOS. Not this year… developers had less than a days notice, and they are not happy. Matt Binder reports:
““Gone are the hopes of being on the store by the time users install the new iOS 14 and are looking for new apps. Gone is the chance to get some last-minute fixes into your existing apps to make sure they don’t stop working outright by the time users get to upgrade their OS,” explained Steve [Troughton-Smith from High Caffeine Content.”
““There are some developers who have spent all summer working on something new, using the latest technologies, hoping to be there on day one and participate in the excitement (and press coverage) of the new iOS,” he continued. “For many of them, they’ll be incredibly upset to have it end like this instead of a triumphant launch, and it can dramatically decrease the amount of coverage or sales they receive.””
Take Two Tablets And Call Your iPhone In The Morning
Taking the flagship spot away from the ‘missing presumed having a good time’ iPhone 12 was Apple’s new iPad Air. Beating the smartphone as the first device with Apple’s new A14 ARM-based processor. Samuel Axon and Jim Salter report for Ars Technica:
“The iPad Air gets the new A14 Bionic CPU, built on 5nm process technology. It’s a six-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four lower-power, more efficient cores for simpler background tasks. The A14 Bionic offers a 30 percent GPU performance boost compared to previous generations, and Apple says it puts up double the graphics performance of typical laptops.”
As well as the increased power, 2020’s iPad Air has a new design; USB-C has been added, the bezels have been trimmed away, the home button has been removed, and TouchID has been integrated into the power button. It;s not the only new iPad, as the entry-level iPad moves up rom the A10 to the A12 Bionic processor. Benjamin Mayo reports:
“The jump from A10 to A12 means Apple’s cheapest iPad will feature the Neural Engine for the first time. Apple says the A12 chip offers more than twice the performance of the top selling Windows laptop, 6x faster than the top-selling Android tablet and 6x faster than the best-selling Chromebook.
“The 8th-generation iPad keeps the same price as the 7th-gen: that’s $329 for general sale and $299 for education.”
Will Mac Owners Be Satisfied With Safari After macOS Delay?
If you were waiting for MmcOS Big Sur to drop for your Mac or MacBook, then you are out of luck. Apple’s event saw updates to iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS… but macOS has been delayed. The ‘Big Sur’ release is still in the future, but a small crumb (perhaps from a cookie) has been handed to Mac fans in the form of Safari 14, presumably to offer cross-OS support with other devices. Juli Clover reports:
“Safari 14 brings improved performance, customizable start pages, a Privacy Report to see which cross-site trackers are being blocked, and a new tab bar design that provides tab previews so you can see what you have open at a glance. Today’s update also removes Adobe Flash.”
The Apple Watch Strikes Three
Two new Apple Watch models were launched, and as the Apple Watch Series 3 remains, there is now a low-, a mid-, and a high-level smartwatch in the classic triplet that Apple was once famous for. Todd Haselton looks over the Series 6 Apple Watch for CNBC, including the headline ‘wellness’ features:
“The Series 6 also has Apple’s most advanced sensors. You can run the ECG app for an electrocardiogram, for example, a feature that’s not on the Apple Watch SE or Series 3. It’s also the only model with the new blood-oxygen app. I tried that and it told me my blood oxygen was 96%, which seems good.
“…Apple is careful to explain that this isn’t a medical device. You can use it if you’re curious about your blood oxygen when you’re hiking at high altitudes, but Apple isn’t making any promises about detecting low oxygen should you fall ill with coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, Apple has brought the ‘SE’ brand to the Apple Watch, again with the promise of a cheaper ‘mid-range’ slice of hardware that still delivers the core Apple experience. Chris Velazco has spent some time with the wearable to try and work out where it fits into the portfolio:
“For one, the SE uses the same S5 system-in-package (or SIP) that we got in last year’s Series 5, which in turn contains the same dual-core processor as the Series 4. Meanwhile, Apple has confirmed that the SE has the same compass and always-on altimeter as the Series 6, along with a very similar screen.
“From what I can tell, it’s the same bigger display we got in the Series 5, just without the always-on functionality enabled. And while the Series 4 was the first Apple Watch to come with heart-sensing ECG support, you simply don’t get that here. Ditto for the Series 6’s new blood oxygen measurement features.”
Bouquets and Brickbats For Apple One
Also announced alongside Apple’s hardware, and perhaps an indication of where Apple wishes to focus on the future, were new options for the various subscription services offered by Cupertino. Apple One takes the popular options and bundles them together while offering a discount. Brian Heater reports:
“It’s not quite mix and match yet, but there are three pricing tiers. Individual offers Apple Music, TV+, Arcade and iCloud for $15 a month. The Family version will get you those four services for $20 a month. For the hardcore, there’s the $30 a month Premier tier, which bundles iCloud, Music, TV+, Arcade, News+ and [the new service] Fitness+.“
“For those who have been putting off a given Apple subscription, such a bundle could certainly sweeten the pot — and make it even harder for users to escape the pull of the Apple software ecosystem.”
More at TechCrunch. Given Apple’s market position, using one service to pptentiallybolster another through a bundle has drawn the eye of the competition. Spotify – which has already filed an anti-trust complaint with the European Commission against Apple – drew attention to the issue shortly ager the end of the event.
“Once again, Apple is using its dominant position and unfair practices to disadvantage competitors and deprive consumers by favoring its own services. We call on competition authorities to act urgently to restrict Apple’s anti-competitive behavior, which if left unchecked, will cause irreparable harm to the developer community and threaten our collective freedoms to listen, learn, create, and connect.”
The look of the MacOS user interface has evolved since OSX was announced in 2000. One area has stayed relatively contestant, but the small changes highlight the thinking behind the OS over the years.
“The interface started glassy and skeuomorphic, mimicking the materials used on Macs. Over the decades, it went through significant revisions. One thing that seems to have remained relatively unchanged over the years is the System Preferences screen.
“But, at a closer glance, we’ll see that this mundane part of the operating system has changed quite a bit and hides some fun easter eggs and surprises.”
Apple Loop brings you seven days worth of highlights every weekend here on Forbes. Don’t forget to follow me so you don’t miss any coverage in the future. Last week’s Apple Loop can be read here, or this week’s edition of Loop’s sister column, Android Circuit, is also available on Forbes.
Apple reportedly acquires VR startup ‘Spaces’
Apple has now acquired another startup, Spaces, which has a team specialized in virtual reality technologies (VR). The acquisition was announced today by a Protocol report citing its own sources.
Spaces was created in 2016 by DreamWorks Animation veterans, and the startup has been developing VR products since then, including a Zoom add-on that allowed users to hold virtual reality video conferencing using animated avatars.
The company discontinued all its services last week without further details. The official Spaces website just mentions that the startup is now “heading in a new direction.”
Thank you to our users and partners who participated in our awesome VR video conferencing product and the many people who enjoyed our VR location-based entertainment attractions found at theme parks, theaters, and more.
According to the Protocol report, both Apple and Spaces did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the acquisition. The price paid by Apple on the Spaces startup is also unknown.
While it’s not certain that the team behind Spaces will join any VR related project at Apple, rumors suggest that Apple is working on AR and VR headsets for 2021 and 2022. Bloomberg says the headset will reportedly feature high-resolution displays and a “cinematic speaker system,” which should make it difficult for the user to notice the differences between real life and the virtual reality experiences the headset will provide.
As Apple continues to invest in its ARKit and new features such as the LiDAR scanner in the new 2020 iPad Pro, it’s plausible to expect that all of these technologies will be merged into a new product to offer advanced augmented and virtual reality capabilities.
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