Happy anniversary, Android

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5S and 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Pixel

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

FCC angers cities and towns with $2 billion giveaway to wireless carriers

A Verizon construction engineer inspects a pair of radio heads on a mock small cell attached to a pole.

The Federal Communications Commission’s plan for spurring 5G wireless deployment will prevent city and town governments from charging carriers about $2 billion worth of fees.

The FCC proposal, to be voted on at its meeting on September 26, limits the amount that local governments may charge carriers for placing 5G equipment such as small cells on poles, traffic lights, and other government property in public rights-of-way. The proposal, which is supported by the FCC’s Republican majority, would also force cities and towns to act on carrier applications within 60 or 90 days.

The FCC says this will spur more deployment of small cells, which “have antennas often no larger than a small backpack.” But the commission’s proposal doesn’t require carriers to build in areas where they wouldn’t have done so anyway.

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Despite data caps and throttling, industry says mobile can replace home Internet

An illustration of several smartphones hovering above a table.

AT&T and Verizon are trying to convince the Federal Communications Commission that mobile broadband is good enough for Internet users who don’t have access to fiber or cable services.

The carriers made this claim despite the data usage and speed limitations of mobile services. In the mobile market, even “unlimited” plans can be throttled to unusable speeds after a customer uses just 25GB or so a month. Mobile carriers impose even stricter limits on phone hotspots, making it difficult to use mobile services across multiple devices in the home.

The carriers ignored those limits in filings they submitted for the FCC’s annual review of broadband deployment.

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Dealmaster: Breaking down the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max’s pre-order situation

The lock screen on the iPhone XS.

Update (9/14/2018 12:15am ET): Added details regarding AT&T’s pricing and pre-order promotions.

Original story: It’s iPhone season, which means it’s once again time for millions of Apple diehards to drop what they’re doing and immediately upgrade their daily drivers.

To be clear, we recommend waiting for the Ars review of the new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max—which go up for pre-order at 3am ET on Friday and begin shipping to customers on September 21—before throwing more cash in Tim Cook’s direction. But we also recognize that a whole lot of people decided they would buy one of the new handsets as soon as Apple introduced them.

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AT&T and Verizon want to manage your identity across websites and apps

A smartphone app showing an option to confirm or deny a login attempt.

The four major US mobile carriers have unveiled a system that would let them manage your logins across any third-party website or app that hooks into it.

Project Verify” from a consortium of AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile US, and Sprint, was unveiled in a demo yesterday. It works similarly to other multi-factor authentication systems by letting users approve or deny login requests from other websites and apps, reducing the number of times users must enter passwords. The carriers’ consortium is putting the call out to developers of third-party apps and websites, who can contact the consortium for information on linking to the new authentication system.

“The Project Verify app can be preloaded or downloaded to the user’s mobile device,” a video describing the technology says. “And then when they face a login screen on their favorite sites and apps, they select the verify option. That’s it—Project Verify does the rest.”

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Apple, AT&T, Amazon, Google among tech giants called to Senate Commerce Committee

If you weren’t done watching tech giants get grilled by lawmakers, mark your calendar for September 26 in what’s expected to be another riveting round of questioning.

Policy chiefs from AT&T and Charter, along with senior executives at Apple, Amazon, Google and Twitter will face questions from the Senate Commerce Committee later this month about how each company approaches safeguards to consumer privacy. The tech and telco companies will be asked to “discuss possible approaches to safeguarding privacy more effectively,” among other things.

Noticeably absent is Facebook; though the committee says the witness list is subject to change.

Committee chairman Sen. John Thune ssaid the hearing will allow the companies to “explain their approaches to privacy, how they plan to address new requirements from the European Union and California, and what Congress can do to promote clear privacy expectations without hurting innovation.”

Beyond that, it’s not clear exactly what the point of the hearing is.

A congressional source told TechCrunch to expect each company to explain for one what they could do to protect privacy outside of the law, and what role Congress can play in creating a single set of privacy requirements.

This will be the latest in a string of hearings in recent months following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which embroiled Facebook in an exposure of millions of users’ data.

This will be the second Senate Commerce Committee hearing this year focused on the issue. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify in April and later the Senate Intelligence Committee has held several hearings to discuss election security and disinformation campaigns around the 2018 midterm elections.

Apple Online Store Security Flaw Exposed PINs of T-Mobile Customers

A security flaw in Apple’s online store exposed the account PINs of more than 72 million T-Mobile customers, reports BuzzFeed News.

The vulnerability was discovered by security researchers Phobia and Nicholas “Convict” Ceraolo, who also found a similar flaw in the website for phone insurance company Asurion that exposed AT&T account PINs.

Both Apple and Asurion fixed the website flaws that left the PINs vulnerable after learning about them from BuzzFeed News. Apple opted not to provide further comment on the situation, but told BuzzFeed News that it is “very grateful to the researchers who found the flaw.”

The page on Apple’s site that let hackers brute force PINs, via BuzzFeed News


PINs, or passcodes, are numbers that are used as an additional account security measure by many carriers in the United States. Mobile device PINs are typically a last line of defense for a cellular account as both carrier websites and support staff will ask for the PIN for confirmation before making account changes.

SIM hacking, which uses social engineering to get carrier support staff to transfer a person’s phone number to a new SIM, has become increasingly prevalent due to the number of accounts (bank, email, social media, etc.) that are tied to a person’s phone number. A PIN is used as a defense mechanism against SIM hacking, which means exposed PINs can be particularly dangerous.

Accessing the T-Mobile PINs on Apple’s website involved a brute force attack where a hacker used software to input multiple different numeric combinations to guess the proper one.

As BuzzFeed News explains, after initiating a T-Mobile iPhone purchase on the Apple online store and selecting monthly payment options through T-Mobile, Apple’s site directs users to an authentication form asking for a T-Mobile number and account PIN or last four digits of a social security number (which most carriers use in place of a PIN when one has not been set).

The page allowed for infinite entry attempts into the PIN field, enabling the brute force attack that let hackers guess PINs associated with a T-Mobile phone number.

The security vulnerability appears to have been limited to T-Mobile accounts, as the same validation page for other carriers on Apple’s site uses a rate limit that locks access to the form for 60 minutes after five to 10 incorrect entries. Given that the other carrier pages had rate limiting enabled, it’s likely Apple made an error on the T-Mobile page.

According to Ceraolo, the vulnerability is likely due to an engineering mistake made when connecting T-Mobile’s account validation API to Apple’s website.

A similar vulnerability on Asurion’s website exposed an unspecified number of AT&T account PINs. An AT&T spokesperson said that it is working with Asurion to investigate the issue and will “take any additional action that may be appropriate.”

A phone number was required for both of these attacks, limiting the number of people who may have been impacted, but AT&T and T-Mobile customers who are concerned about their account safety should choose a new PIN.

Tags: T-Mobile, AT&T

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DirecTV beats $4B lawsuit that alleged it tricked customers into paying more

AT&T-owned DirecTV has defeated the bulk of a $4 billion lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, which wasn’t able to convince a judge that DirecTV ads deceived customers about the price of service.

The FTC sued DirecTV in March 2015, alleging that the nation’s largest satellite TV provider used deceptive advertising to get consumers to agree to price increases of up to $45 per month and early cancellation fees of up to $480. The FTC was seeking refunds for affected consumers.

But a judge’s ruling on Thursday gutted the FTC’s case against DirecTV, which has been an AT&T subsidiary since July 2015. “The FTC’s ambition in attempting to show that over 40,000 advertisements were likely to deceive substantially exceeded the strength of its evidence,” wrote Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr. of US District Court for the Northern District of California. “This case did not involve the type of strong proof the Court would expect to see in a case seeking nearly $4 billion in restitution, based on a claim that all of DirecTV’s 33 million customers between 2007 and 2015 were necessarily deceived.”

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