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The revelation that a major FaceTime bug can effectively turn your Apple devices into a hot mic, allowing a caller to hear or even see you before you pick up, would be a massive embarrassment no matter which company was involved. It’s an absolutely crazy security fail.

But when that company is Apple – which has been ceaselessly pushing privacy of late – it becomes so cringeworthy we’re going to have to invent a whole new scale just to measure it …

I mean, I get it. Bugs happen. No-one intends them, but coding is complex, and software engineers are human. It’s just a fact of life that some bugs will make it through, and that this will include security vulnerabilities.

Software testing is also complex, given the massive number of variables involved. This particular FaceTime bug occurs only when someone does something completely illogical and unexpected: adds themselves to a call they initiated. I appreciate this would have been a tricky scenario to anticipate and include in testing.

But when you are Apple, a company which has talked of little other than privacy over the past few months, then you don’t get a pass on this. And if you think I’m holding Apple to too high a standard, let’s take a look at some examples.

FaceTime Bug vs. Privacy

October 2, Tim Cook talks privacy to Vice.

I’m not a pro-regulation guy, but when the free market doesn’t produce a result great for society, you have to ask yourself what we need to do. We’ve got to figure out a way to take it to the next level and change some things.

The way we go into product design is we challenge ourselves to collect as little as possible. We challenge ourselves to make it not identifiable. We don’t read your email, your messages. You are not our product. It’s not the business we’re in.

October 23, Cook gives a keynote address at the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels.

We at Apple can—and do—provide the very best to our users while treating their most personal data like the precious cargo that it is. And if we can do it, then everyone can do it.

October 24, Cook says many companies can’t be trusted on privacy, and federal regulation is needed.

In this case, it’s clear that the amount of things that can be collected about you, without your knowledge, maybe with your consent – although it’s a 70-page legal piece of paper, just isn’t reasonable. These things can be used for such nefarious things, we’ve seen examples of this over the last several years and we think it’s time now to take this thing and put it under control, because if we don’t, the problem gets so large that it may be impossible to fix

November 18, Cook talks privacy with HBO.

Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of regulation. I’m a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here.

January 5, an Apple billboard in Vegas claims ‘What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.’

January 24, Cook writes an op-ed for Time in which he says that ‘data breaches seem out of control.’

Consumers shouldn’t have to tolerate another year of companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives.

Apple Standards

The standard to which I’m holding Apple today is one the company set for itself, very loudly and very frequently.

Difficult or not, the testing work to prevent a security vulnerability of this magnitude has to be done. Every variable has to be tested, whether it’s someone adding themselves to a call they made, adding contacts in reverse alphabetic order or asking Siri to initiate a call while standing on your head in a west-facing room on a Thursday evening.

Apple has responded by disabling group FaceTime calls. That’s a responsible course of action. And I have no doubt that it will quickly release an update to fix the bug.

But this FaceTime bug is an absolutely massive fail. Apple either needs to be able to overhaul its software development and testing regime such that it can be certain nothing of this seriousness can ever occur again, or it needs to cease throwing quite so many stones from what turns out to be a glass house.

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Comment: Apple’s Satellite Project Is Not Sci

We learned today about Apple’s satellite project: a team working on ways to establish direct two-way connections between iPhones and satellites.

If that sounds like crazy science-fiction, it’s actually not. The technology to do it exists today and has been proven to work with today’s phones. You shouldn’t, however, expect to have ubiquitous access from anywhere on the planet, nor for satellite connections to replace your existing mobile data plan.

The technology has significant limitations…

A company called Lynk (originally Ubiquitilink) proved the tech works by creating what it called ‘the first cell tower in space.’ It created a prototype satellite that was assembled on the International Space Station and subsequently attached to the nose of the Cygnus resupply spacecraft for a live test back in February. It worked, as TechCrunch reported at the time.

The theory became a reality earlier this year after Ubiquitilink launched their prototype satellites. They successfully made a two-way 2G connection between an ordinary ground device and the satellite, proving that the signal not only gets there and back, but that its Doppler and delay distortions can be rectified on the fly.

“Our first tests demonstrated that we offset the Doppler shift and time delay. Everything else is leveraging commercial software,” Miller said, though he quickly added: “To be clear, there’s plenty more work to be done, but it isn’t anything that’s new technology. It’s good solid hardcore engineering, building nanosats and that sort of thing.”

If it sounds incredible that one of today’s iPhones can transmit into space, especially when there are still mobile dead-spots around on ordinary mobile networks, Lynk says it’s really not. Remove ground obstacles from the equation by beaming directly to and from space, and stick to low-frequency signals, and they can travel a long way.

“That’s the great thing — everybody’s instinct indicates [that it’s impossible],” said Ubiquitilink founder Charles Miller. “But if you look at the fundamentals of the RF [radio frequency] link, it’s easier than you think.”

The issue, he explained, isn’t really that the phone lacks power. The limits of reception and wireless networks are defined much more by architecture and geology than plain physics. When an RF transmitter, even a small one, has a clear shot straight up, it can travel very far indeed.

There are, however, some important caveats that would apply to Apple’s satellite project.

First, you can’t communicate with satellites in geosynchronous orbit – that’s simply too high. The maximum range is around 300 miles, which is extremely low in satellite terms. At that height, satellites can’t remain in orbit at one fixed point above the Earth: they need to orbit much faster than the Earth’s rotation, which means coverage from any one satellite won’t last long.

You’ll have no signal for 55 minutes, then signal for five.

So you’d need at least a thousand satellites to ensure there will always be at least one within range. That would be a massive undertaking, even for Apple.

Second, low-frequency signals mean low bandwidth. What Lynk has demonstrated so far is 2G communication, meaning that it’s suitable for things like text messages but not much more than that. The company does talk grandly about 3G, LTE, and 5G being subsequent stages, but that’s all just talk so far – and it’s hard to see how those kinds of speeds could be achieved over that kind of range through the atmosphere.

Third, it’s unlikely that Apple will sell you a data plan based on low-Earth satellite connections. This is tech which is most likely to be sold through existing mobile carriers as an additional roaming option in areas of the planet that are not served by conventional base stations.

If you want to understand more about how the tech works, the full TechCrunch piece is worth reading, and Lynk has links to other coverage on its website.

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Comment: Apple’s Original Content Needs These Things To Succeed

As Apple continues to sign orders for various TV shows, there is growing speculation about how the company will release those shows to the public. We’ve highlighted a few possibilities in the past, but these are some of the things I think are crucial to the success of Apple’s streaming TV offerings…

Binge releases

Part of what makes modern television on platforms like Netflix so enticing are the binge releases. By this, I’m referring to how Netflix releases an entire season of a show at once, rather than rolling it out episode-by-episode of the course of months.

All-at-once releases allow users to choose their own pace for watching a TV show, whether it be gradually, or binging the entire series in one swoop. Furthermore, they create more of a social buzz, which could be beneficial to Apple’s marketing for its TV shows.

Apple Music + Apple TV subscription

We’ve heard several different possibilities for how Apple plans to monetize its original content. Personally, I think the best option here is to offer an Apple Music + Apple Originals TV combo subscription. That’s not to say it couldn’t offer a standalone subscription for those non-Apple Music users, but pairing the two together would make it more enticing for people who already pay for Apple Music.

As for specific pricing, I’d love to be able to get Apple Music and Apple’s TV shows for right around $15 per month. For instance, you can get Hulu + Spotify for $12.99 per month – an offer that is hard to refuse when the two standalone services push close to $20 individually.

To acquire or to not acquire?

One of the biggest questions right now is if Apple is plotting a major media acquisition to help its content efforts. I go back and forth on this topic as part of me would really like Apple’s subscription to include more content than just its own, but Apple isn’t generally one to make major acquisitions (save for Beats).

One alternative here is this: Included in your subscription, you get access to a certain amount of content from iTunes, as well. This could include TV, movies, and more, and would help people justify the subscription cost.


Whatever the case may be for Apple’s subscription offering, I think there has to be an ad-free tier. If Apple wants to offer an ad-based tier, that’s totally fine, but I personally would much rather pay a few extra dollars per month for an ad-free experience.

Cross platform availability

Much like Apple Music, if Apple wants its TV shows to garner mainstream success, I think they have to be offered cross-platform. This means availability on Android, as well as Windows.

One area where I do think Apple could maybe get away with exclusivity is in the set-top box market. Having exclusive access to original content would be a strong selling point for Apple TV in comparison to competitors like Roku.

Family Friendly?

Last year, a report suggested that Apple wants its original content to family friendly a suitable to be shown in an Apple Store. This means it’s looking for broad appeal for both its dramas and comedies.

When this report first emerged in October, I was skeptical of this strategy, and I still am today. Part of what makes content from the likes of Netflix so popular is that it doesn’t have to conform to typical regulations for TV content. I absolutely support Apple wanting to have family friendly content, but I don’t think it needs to blanket all of its TV as family friendly.

Wrap up

These are just a few things I think Apple’s original content ambitions need to succeed. It’s no secret that the streaming TV market is incredibly crowded, with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and others all creating original shows that are very, very good.

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Android Bug Lets Apps Make Rogue Phone Calls

A vulnerability present in most Android devices allows apps to initiate unauthorized phone calls, disrupt ongoing calls and execute special codes that can trigger other rogue actions.

The flaw was found and reported to Google late last year by researchers from Berlin-based security consultancy firm Curesec, who believe it was first introduced in Android version 4.1.x, also known as Jelly Bean. The vulnerability appears to have been fixed in Android 4.4.4, released on June 19.

However, the latest version of Android is only available for a limited number of devices and currently accounts for a very small percentage of Android installations worldwide. Based on Google’s statistics, almost 60 percent of Android devices that connected to Google Play at the beginning of June ran versions 4.1.x, 4.2.x and 4.3 of the mobile OS. Another 13 percent ran versions 4.4, 4.4.1, 4.4.2 or 4.4.3, which are also vulnerable. Version 4.4.4 had not been released at that time.

Any call, any time

The issue allows applications without any permissions whatsoever to terminate outgoing calls or call any numbers, including premium-rate ones, without user interaction. This bypasses the Android security model, where apps without the CALL_PHONE permission should not, under normal circumstances, be able to initiate phone calls.

The flaw can also be exploited to execute USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), SS (Supplementary Service) or manufacturer-defined MMI (Man-Machine Interface) codes. These special codes are inputted through the dial pad, are enclosed between the * and # characters, and vary between different devices and carriers. They can be used to access various device functions or operator services.

“The list of USSD/SS/MMI codes is long and there are several quite powerful ones like changing the flow of phone calls (forwarding), blocking your SIM card, enabling or disabling caller anonymisation and so on,” Curesec’s CEO Marco Lux and researcher Pedro Umbelino said Friday in a blog post.

A different Android vulnerability discovered in 2012 allowed the execution of USSD and MMI codes by visiting a malicious page. Researchers found at the time that certain codes could have been used to reset some Samsung phones to their factory default settings, wiping all user data in the process. Another code allowed changing the card’s PIN and could have been used to lock the SIM card by inputting the wrong confirmation PUK (Personal Unblocking Key) several times.

Slow patch rate extends vulnerability window

The new vulnerability might be exploited by malware for some time to come, especially since the patching rate of Android devices is very slow and many devices never get updated to newer versions of the OS.

“An attacker could, for instance, trick victims into installing a tampered application and then use it to call premium-rate numbers they own or even regular ones and listen to the discussions in the range of the phone’s microphone,” said Bogdan Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst at Bitdefender who confirmed the bug found by the Curesec researchers Monday. “The premium-rate approach looks more plausible, especially since Android does not screen premium-rate numbers for voice as it happens with text messages.”

The attack is not exactly silent, as users can see that a call is in progress by looking at the phone, but there are ways to make detection harder.

A malicious app could wait until there is no activity on the phone before initiating a call or could execute the attack only during nighttime, Lux said Monday via email. The app could also completely overlay the call screen with something else, like a game, he said.

The Curesec researchers have created an application that users can install to test whether their devices are vulnerable, but they have not published it to Google Play. As far as Lux knows, Google is now scanning the store for apps that attempt to exploit the vulnerability.

The only protection for users who don’t receive the Android 4.4.4 update would be a separate application that intercepts every outgoing call and asks them for confirmation before proceeding, Lux said.

Lux and his team have also identified a separate vulnerability in older Android versions, namely 2.3.3 to 2.3.6, also known as Gingerbread, that has the same effect. Those Android versions were still used by around 15 percent of Android devices as of June, according to Google’s data.

The Best Ways To Make Your Own Gifs

First introduced to the world by Compuserve in 1987, the graphics interchange format—better known as the GIF—is having a real moment. Your mom loves ’em, your social media feed loves ’em, even politicians are getting in on the action, because who doesn’t need the tiny distractions that good GIFs provide? And in case you’re thinking that you could never make a viral masterpiece, I’m here to tell you it’s entirely doable. Here are the easiest ways to go from beginner to GIF kween.


Screenshot it

Whether you pronounce it with a soft “g” like the peanut butter or with a hard “g” (the cool way), there are a plethora of apps out there for recording snippets of your favorite videos—almost like taking a series of screenshots—to create the lossless, compressed graphics of your dreams. Two of my personal favorites, owned by the Facebook and Twitter of the GIF-world, not only allow you to make your own graphics, but also house your creations within their image libraries for interweb posterity.

Giphy Capture

Over the past few years, Giphy—the multimedia company that put GIFs on the map—has expanded beyond its humble roots as a GIF-hosting platform. These days, it includes a suite of desktop and mobile apps that take the hassle out of GIF-making. After acquiring a widely popular Apple application called Gifgrabber, the company re-launched the tool early last year as Giphy Capture. This app is a great low-effort way to make a good GIF, but for the time being, it’s only available on Macs.

Giphy Capture overlay window Mallory Johns / Popular Science

After downloading and opening the app for the first time, you’ll see a green-tinted overlay window, which looks similar to your standard screenshot window on a Mac. The great thing about this is that you can place this window over any video player, whether it’s in a browser (like a YouTube video) or not (like a file on your computer). Once you’ve decided on the perfect snippet, hit record; press it again to finish recording. Pro Tip: Take multiple “screenshots” of your favorite clip so you’ll have different versions of varying lengths to work with. This will all make sense for the next step.

Sup Liz, and Liz, and Liz, and Liz. Mallory Johns / Popular Science

After you’ve finished recording, a handy control panel will open up underneath your overlay window, allowing you to edit each clip—and initiate GIF magic.

Purple sliders for the win! Mallory Johns / Popular Science

From here, you can put the final touches on your masterpiece:

Adjust the size of your GIF, which is especially important if you’d like to share it across social media. Pro Tip: Twitter caps out at 3MB, while Tumblr recommends GIFs no larger than 1MB.

Use the slider to adjust the length

Change the looping pattern

Adjust the frame rate (if you’re going to post the GIF on social media, keep it on the standard to low-res side of things)

Add a caption or subtitle

Once you’re satisfied, press “DONE,” and you can decide where this work of art will live—on social media, on Giphy, or on your computer to share at a later date. Pro Tip: If you create a Giphy account, you can get all the credit for your work, and others won’t steal it.

Share your GIF with the world! PopSci


GIF Brewery

With that, let’s assume for a moment that you’ve mastered the art of the Giphy Capture approach and move onto the more intermediate GIF Brewery method for turning your video files into GIFs.


When you first open the app, you’ll see a dialog window that displays the different ways you can create a GIF using GIF Brewery. For the purposes of this demo, select “import video” and choose your favorite video file.

Such majesty. Very GIF Brewery. Mallory Johns / Popular Science

From here, you’ll visit this editing window. Don’t be intimidated. You got this!

WHAT. IS. THIS? Mallory Johns / Popular Science


In this editing window, you can do a number of different things to prep your video for GIF stardom.

From the bar at the top you can crop or adjust the size of your GIF, and add captions. Pro Tip: If you’re uploading to Tumblr or Twitter, you’ll want to keep things on the small side.

(Super)size it! Mallory Johns / Popular Science

Crop it like it’s hot. Mallory Johns / Popular Science

Oh look, a caption about a caption. Mallory Johns / Popular Science

Repositioning. Reticulating splines. Mallory Johns / Popular Science

Slide to the left. Slide to the right. Everybody clap your hands! Mallory Johns / Popular Science

Still with me? Ok, good. After you’ve placed your captions, sized your GIF, and set your “in” and “out” points, it’s time to place the final touches. Press the “Settings” button on the top right to initiate the next phase of your GIF-education.

But wait, there’s more! Mallory Johns / Popular Science

From this panel, you can do the following:

Adjust the number of frames in your GIF. Pro Tip: Adding more frames will give your GIF greater clarity.

Tweak the frame delay.

Speed up (or slow down) your GIF.

Select the type of loop and loop count you’d like for your GIF (i.e. Normal, Reverse, or Palindrome).

Alter the color spectrum for your GIF.

When you’re satisfied with the results, press “CREATE” and watch your video frames magically compress into a GIF. (Woo!)

To the cloud

Now you’re a screenshot-GIF-creator. But what if you’re too lazy and would rather let machines do all the work? Meet CloudConvert—your new best friend. CloudConvert is a freemium service—you get a certain number of file conversions free, but after that, you have to create a paid account—that allows you to convert any file type into an entirely different one. This means that it can take you mere seconds to convert your favorite video files into GIFs.

Rule the clouds! Mallory Johns / Popular Science

It’s magic, ya know! Mallory Johns / Popular Science

Once you’ve selected your presets, press “select files” to upload your video, and press the “start conversion” button at the bottom of the page. Voila! You’ve just made a GIF in seconds. Now download it and share it with the world.

And now a GIF showing you how to make a GIF. Mallory Johns / Popular Science

Go mobile

You’ve (hopefully) mastered the basics of making GIFs on your computer. Now it’s time to take your show on the road and bring GIF-making to your smartphone. Here are two of the best apps to download for this purpose.

GIPHY CAM for iPhone and Android

GIPHY CAM, created by the aforementioned company Giphy, squeezes everything great about Giphy Capture into an easy-to-use smartphone app. But it has two notable differences: It’s available in the Google Play Store (Android users, rejoice!), and you can use both existing and on-the-fly footage to create your tiny masterpieces.

GIPHY CAM(era) Mallory Johns / Popular Science

When you first open GIPHY CAM, a camera window will appear, allowing you to record footage on either the front-facing or the rear-facing camera. For on-the-fly videography, press the record button, and your footage will magically transform into an editable GIF.

GIPHY CAM editing window Mallory Johns / Popular Science

In the end—after you press the “right arrow”—both methods will take you to your final pit stop before the fun begins. From here, you can add Instagram-esque filters and stickers to your creation before you share it with the world. Pro Tip: It’s okay to GET WEIRD.

Put a filter on it. Mallory Johns / Popular Science


BOOM(erang)! Instagram

Ready? Wait for it. Here goes: Download the app. Open the app. Switch your camera between front-facing or rear-facing. Toggle the flash (in the upper right hand corner) on or off. Press record. BOOM(erang).


And there you have it, folks. Now, go forth and GIF!


Apple’s Studio Display’s Poor Webcam Quality Is Not A Software Bug After All

When Apple announced Studio Display, it promised “sensational” webcam quality. However, as customers got their hands on the product, they noticed that the images captured by the built-in camera were not good. Apple is now rolling out a beta software that promises to fix some of these issues – but the thing is, Studio Display’s poor webcam quality is not a software bug after all.

The complaints

According to pretty much every Studio Display owner, the webcam images are pretty bad compared to the front camera on other Apple devices. In most cases, the images look blurry, are washed out, and have a lot of noise.

In his review for The Verge, Nilay Patel wrote that the Studio Display’s camera looks “awful in good light, and downright miserable in low light.” Joanna Stern at The Wall Street Journal likened the camera performance to that of an “old BlackBerry.” Gizmodo had similar complaints, saying that the Studio Display’s webcam is “noisy” and “not great.”

Soon after the first Studio Display reviews criticizing its 12-megapixel webcam were published on the web, Apple told the press that it was working on a software update to improve the quality of the image captured by the built-in camera.

Nearly two months after Studio Display was announced, Apple today released a beta firmware to developers that brings enhancements to the image processing of the company’s built-in display webcam.

Right now, the update is only available to those running the latest beta of macOS Monterey, and it’s unclear when the update will be released to the public. However, some Studio Display users have already installed the firmware update to see what it actually changes. And it turns out, the update doesn’t change much.

As noted by Jason Snell, Apple has made some adjustments to make the Center Stage cropping less aggressive. At the same time, James Thomson also noted that there’s much less noise in the webcam images after the update, as well as a bit more contrast, but the quality is still “quite washed out” compared to other webcams.

Comparing the 15.5 (1st pic) and 15.4 (2nd pic) firmware for the Studio Display camera. There’s a _lot_ less noise, and a touch more contrast, but it’s still quite washed out compared to the iMac Pro camera (3rd pic, taken last month). chúng tôi James Thomson (@jamesthomson) April 26, 2023

The update doesn’t seem to miraculously improve the quality of the Studio Display’s webcam, and there’s a reason for that.

It’s all about the ultra-wide lens

Apple proudly says that the Studio Display has a 12-megapixel camera, which should be enough for sharp images. After all, the iPhone and other Apple devices also have 12-megapixel front-facing cameras. But why is the Studio Display webcam so different in terms of image quality?

While most Apple devices have a regular wide front camera, Studio Display has an ultra-wide lens. This is because it has Center Stage, a feature that uses machine learning to always center the image on a person during a video call or video recording. Since this camera has no optical zoom, Center Stage digitally crops the image to center the people in the frame.

So while an iPhone is capable of taking a real 12-megapixel selfie, Center Stage cameras capture images at 12 megapixels using the ultra-wide lens and then digitally crop them to look like a regular photo or video. This process results in less-sharp images.

For instance, my third generation iPad Air has a seven-megapixel front-facing camera. When I compare it to my iPad mini 6 (which has Center Stage), the old iPad’s images look sharper.

The thing is, the ultra-wide lens is 12MP at its full size. It basically zooms in on you with digital cropping to make the image look like a regular photo, so you’re losing quality. Not to mention that the ultra-wide lens has a smaller aperture, so it gets less light. chúng tôi Filipe Espósito (@filipeesposito) April 26, 2023

As another example, I took the same picture using the wide and ultra-wide rear lens on my iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Both lenses have 12-megapixel resolution, but then I cropped the photo captured by the ultra-wide lens to make it look like the photo from the wide lens, simulating what happens with photos taken by a Center Stage camera. The result, as you can see below, is a much worse quality photo.

Is there a solution?

Unfortunately, no matter what Apple does in terms of software updates, there’s nothing that will dramatically improve the Studio Display webcam.

The only two possible solutions to solve this problem are to use a higher resolution sensor, so that the cropped image is at least 12 megapixels, or a larger sensor to capture more light – which would help reduce noise in the image.

However, as you may have guessed, both solutions require a hardware upgrade, which means that owners of the first generation Studio Display will have to deal with the webcam the way it is.

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