Thom Holwerda Archive

Google pulls Huawei’s Android license

Big news over the weekend. Following The United States government’s ban on importing products from Huawei, Google had to suspend Huawei’s Android license. Alphabet’s Google has suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday, in a blow to the Chinese technology company that the U.S. government has sought to blacklist around the world. Holders of current Huawei smartphones with Google apps, however, will continue to be able to use and download app updates provided by Google, a Google spokesperson said, confirming earlier reporting by Reuters. This means that from now on, Huawei only has access to the AOSP parts of Android – it no longer has access to the Google Play Store and other Google Play Services. This is a major blow to Huawei’s business in the United States. Other companies, like Intel and Qualcomm, have also complied with the US government’s ban and are also blacklisiting Huawei. Huawei’s response doesn’t say much: Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry. Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products, covering those that have been sold and that are still in stock globally. It’s important to note that the US government has as of yet been unable to provide any evidence that Huawei devices contain backdoors or are somehow used to spy on people. That being said, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine such a scenario – all countries spy on all other countries, and China is in a unique position, as the manufacturing centre of the world, to do so. I do wish to point out, though, that devices from other companies – Apple, Google, Dell, and virtually everyone else – are manufactured in the same factories by the same people led by the same managers owned by the same Chinese government as Huawei devices. Singling out Huawei, while trusting your Pixel 3 or iPhone X which rolls off the same assembly line, seems naive, at best. China will, probably, retaliate, especially since Chinese people themselves seem to solidly back Huawei. The totalitarian government has many ways it can strike back, and with a growing sentiment in China to boycott Apple, it wouldn’t be surprising to see China target Apple, specifically, in its response.

Translating an ARM iOS app to Intel macOS using Bitcode

What is Bitcode? Well, bitcode with a small b is an architecture-specific intermediate representation used by LLVM, and capital-B Bitcode pertains to a set of features allowing you to embed this representation in your Mach-O binary and the mechanisms by which you can provide it to Apple in your App Store submissions. Of course, the specter of macOS on ARM has been in the public psyche for many years now, and many have pondered whether Bitcode will make this transition more straightforward. The commonly held belief is that Bitcode is not suited to massive architectural changes like moving between Intel and ARM. I was unconvinced, so I decided to test the theory! By Steven Troughton-Smith, so you know you’re going to learn more than you bargained for.

Wide color photos are coming to Android

Android is now at the point where sRGB color gamut with 8 bits per color channel is not enough to take advantage of the display and camera technology. At Android we have been working to make wide color photography happen end-to-end, e.g. more bits and bigger gamuts. This means, eventually users will be able to capture the richness of the scenes, share a wide color pictures with friends and view wide color pictures on their phones. And now with Android Q, it’s starting to get really close to reality: wide color photography is coming to Android. So, it’s very important to applications to be wide color gamut ready. This article will show how you can test your application to see whether it’s wide color gamut ready and wide color gamut capable, and the steps you need to take to be ready for wide color gamut photography.

IBM 360 Model 20 rescue and restoration

In late April of 2019 Adam Bradley and Chris Blackburn were sitting in a pub on a Monday night when Chris happened across a somewhat unusual eBay listing for an IBM 360 Model 20. This eBay listing was unusual mainly because it didn’t actually list the computer as an IBM 360, but rather as an “seltene Anlage “Puma Computer IBM 2020” which roughly translates from German into “rare plant “Puma Computer IBM 2020”. Amazing story.

Three big reasons why Americans aren’t upgrading their phones

Last month, Verizon and AT&T made official something you’ve probably been aware of for a while: American smartphone owners are upgrading a lot less than they used to. In fact, they’re hitting record lows at the two biggest US carriers, with people apparently more content than ever to keep hold of their existing device. This is a global trend, as the smartphone market is reaching maturity and saturation in many developed nations, and yet it’s most pronounced in the United States for a few reasons particular to the country. The article focuses on the United States, but correctly points out this is a global trend in the developed world. Not only are phones quite expensive, they have also been more than good enough for quite a few years now, and there’s very little in the sense of revolutionary progress being made form generation to generation. Earlier this year, I dropped my OnePlus 6T on a sharp rocky edge, and it broke the glass back. I sent it in for repairs – €40, not bad – and while it was being repaired, I dusted off my old Nexus 6P and used it instead. I was surprised by just how perfectly fine and usable it was – sure, it was a little slower here and there, the screen isn’t as nice, those sorts of things, but as a whole, if I hadn’t had the 6T to compare it to, I would be none the wiser. It makes perfect sense for general consumers to stick with their expensive phones for longer, especially now that the market has pretty much saturated.

How the first smartphone came out in 1994, but flopped

Silicon Valley’s favorite mantra goes “Fail often, fail fast.” It captures the tech industry’s long history of dismantled startups, lost jobs, demoralization, and bankruptcy. One casualty was General Magic, an offshoot of Apple that strove to develop the next level in personal computing: a handheld computer. At the time they considered the project an advanced PDA, but today we’d recognize it as a smartphone. Before the iPhone, General Magic created the operating system for the Sony Magic Link in 1994. Sandy Kerruish and Matt Maude’s new documentary General Magic details the colossal failure that ensued. Apple, Microsoft, General Magic, and Palm were all working on PDAs at the time. Only one of them succeeded.

The 101 of ELF files on Linux: understanding and analysis

Some of the true craftsmanship in the world we take for granted. One of these things is the common tools on Linux, like ps and ls. Even though the commands might be perceived as simple, there is more to it when looking under the hood. This is where ELF or the Executable and Linkable Format comes in. A file format that used a lot, yet truly understood by only a few. Let’s get this understanding with this introduction tutorial! Some light reading for the weekend.

Introducing Translatotron: an end-to-end speech-to-speech translation model

In “Direct speech-to-speech translation with a sequence-to-sequence model”, we propose an experimental new system that is based on a single attentive sequence-to-sequence model for direct speech-to-speech translation without relying on intermediate text representation. Dubbed Translatotron, this system avoids dividing the task into separate stages, providing a few advantages over cascaded systems, including faster inference speed, naturally avoiding compounding errors between recognition and translation, making it straightforward to retain the voice of the original speaker after translation, and better handling of words that do not need to be translated (e.g., names and proper nouns). As a translator, I feel less and less job-secure every time Google I/O rolls around.

Sony and Microsoft set rivalry aside for cloud gaming alliance

Sony and Microsoft, bitter rivals in the video game console wars, will team up in on-demand gaming to better compete with newcomers like Google as the industry’s main battlefield looks poised to shift to the cloud, Nikkei learned Thursday. During a recent trip to the U.S., Sony President and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on a strategic tie-up. While details have yet to be hammered out, the partnership will center on artificial intelligence and the cloud, according to an announcement by Microsoft early Friday Japan time. They must be quite worried about Google Stadia to actually work together to try and counter it. Enemy of my enemy and all that.

It’s time to pay attention to Intel’s Clear Linux OS project

Intel’s Clear Linux Project has been on my radar for months, mainly because of its sheer dominance over traditional Linux distributions — and often Windows — when it comes to performance. From time to time I check in on the latest Phoronix benchmarks and think to myself “I really need to install that.” Up until recently though, the installer for Clear Linux was anything but intuitive for the average user. It also looked considerably dated. Version 2.0 gives the installer a complete overhaul. Aside from the fact it runs Gnome – which is not something I’d want to use – the main issue I have with this project is that it’s from Intel. The processor giant has had many Linux projects in the past, but it often just abandons them or doesn’t really know what to do with them.

Behind Twitter’s plan to get people to stop yelling at one another

Over several days this spring, BuzzFeed News met with Twitter’s leadership and watched as twttr’s team worked on its first big push: helping people better understand what’s being said in often chaotic conversations. The team thinks that if people took more time to read entire conversations, that would help improve their comprehension of them. Maybe they wouldn’t jump to react. Maybe they’d consider their tone. Maybe they’d quit yelling all the time. Or maybe, not even thousands of deeply studied, highly tested product tweaks will be enough to fix the deep-seated issues with a culture more than 13 years in the making. I don’t think hippy ideals such as described will fix Twitter – or online discourse in general. There are bad actors actively stirring up trouble and pitting us against each other, and no amount of UI changes or whatever is going to fix that.

WhatsApp voice calls used to inject Israeli spyware on phones

A vulnerability in the messaging app WhatsApp has allowed attackers to inject commercial Israeli spyware on to phones, the company and a spyware technology dealer said. WhatsApp, which is used by 1.5bn people worldwide, discovered in early May that attackers were able to install surveillance software on to both iPhones and Android phones by ringing up targets using the app’s phone call function. The malicious code, developed by the secretive Israeli company NSO Group, could be transmitted even if users did not answer their phones, and the calls often disappeared from call logs, said the spyware dealer, who was recently briefed on the WhatsApp hack. I never answer phone calls from telephone numbers I am not familiar with, let alone when the incoming callers his their number blocked. Apparently, though, not even protects you from attacks such as these.

Supreme Court says Apple will have to face App Store monopoly lawsuit

The Supreme Court is letting an antitrust lawsuit against Apple proceed, and it’s rejected Apple’s argument that iOS App Store users aren’t really its customers. The Supreme Court upheld the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Apple v. Pepper, agreeing in a 5-4 decision that Apple app buyers could sue the company for allegedly driving up prices. “Apple’s line-drawing does not make a lot of sense, other than as a way to gerrymander Apple out of this and similar lawsuits,” wrote Justice Merrick Garland Brett Kavanaugh. Apple’s argument that users of the App Store aren’t Apple’s customers was completely bonkers to begin with, and obviously solely designed in service of Apple’s new services narrative. Remember – with the new Apple-as-a-Service, Apple’s isn’t really interested in just selling you a product – the company wants to milk you for all you’re worth. Giving customers any sort of stronger position in the App Store and similar services only serves to detriment Apple’s services story to Wall Street.

Google warns that ADB backup and restore may be removed in a future Android release

ADB backup and restore is a handy tool that allows you to do more than some built-in backup options. You can save private data and installed applications without needing root, depending on whether or not the app allows it. Unfortunately, it looks like ADB backup and restore may be going away in a future Android release. A commit in AOSP is titled “Add deprecation warning to adb backup/restore.” A warning will be shown whenever the user runs the tool in the latest ADB tools release telling them that the feature might not stick around. A useful tool, and I’m sad to see it go.

Google acknowledges Fuchsia is a thing that exists

It’s a miracle! Google has finally actually mentioned Fuchsia a few times during Google I/O… Without really saying much of anything at all. Head of Android and Chrome, Hiroshi Lockheimer, said during a live taping of The Vergecast: “We’re looking at what a new take on an operating system could be like. And so I know out there people are getting pretty excited saying, ‘Oh this is the new Android,’ or, ‘This is the new Chrome OS,’” Lockheimer said. “Fuchsia is really not about that. Fuchsia is about just pushing the state of the art in terms of operating systems and things that we learn from Fuchsia we can incorporate into other products.” He says the point of the experimental OS is to also experiment with different form factors, a hint toward the possibility that Fuchsia is designed to run on smart home devices, wearables, or possibly even augmented or virtual reality devices. “You know Android works really well on phones and and you know in the context of Chrome OS as a runtime for apps there. But Fuchsia may be optimized for certain other form factors as well. So we’re experimenting.” That’s all still quite cryptic, and doesn’t really tell us anything at all. Still, it’s the first time Google has openly said anything about Fuchsia at all. Fuchsia also gets a short mention in a Google blog post about Flutter for the web, so maybe Google is finally going to be a bit more open about its plans for the operating system going forward.

Next generation Plasma notifications

There is something very exciting I have to show to you today: a completely rewritten notification system for Plasma that will be part of our next feature update 5.16 to be released in June. There’s so many new and improved things here it’s hard to pick a favourite, but KDE finally getting proper do not disturb support is a big one for me. All my devices – phones, workstation, laptop, tablet – have do not disturb rules set up, but ever since switching my laptop and desktop over to Linux with KDE (from Windows 10), I’ve really been missing this feature. This first iteration does not yet have support for automated rules, but those will come in a future release.

Technical details on the recent Firefox add-on outage

Recently, Firefox had an incident in which most add-ons stopped working. This was due to an error on our end: we let one of the certificates used to sign add-ons expire which had the effect of disabling the vast majority of add-ons. Now that we’ve fixed the problem for most users and most people’s add-ons are restored, I wanted to walk through the details of what happened, why, and how we repaired it. An in-depth look at the cause and fixes for the devastating extensions bug that hit Firefox users over the weekend, written by Firefox CTO Eric Rescorla.

Facebook co-founder: it’s time to break up Facebook

The last time I saw Mark Zuckerberg was in the summer of 2017, several months before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. We met at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., office and drove to his house, in a quiet, leafy neighborhood. We spent an hour or two together while his toddler daughter cruised around. We talked politics mostly, a little about Facebook, a bit about our families. When the shadows grew long, I had to head out. I hugged his wife, Priscilla, and said goodbye to Mark. Since then, Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook have taken a nose-dive. The company’s mistakes — the sloppy privacy practices that dropped tens of millions of users’ data into a political consulting firm’s lap; the slow response to Russian agents, violent rhetoric and fake news; and the unbounded drive to capture ever more of our time and attention — dominate the headlines. It’s been 15 years since I co-founded Facebook at Harvard, and I haven’t worked at the company in a decade. But I feel a sense of anger and responsibility. This New York Times articles, written by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, is an absolute must-read. Facebook – along with Apple, Google, and possibly Amazon and Microsoft – must be broken up to reduce their immense power. Hughes quotes John Sherman, who said in the late 19th century on the floor of US Congress, “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale of any of the necessities of life.If we would not submit to an emperor, we should not submit to an autocrat of trade with power to prevent competition and to fix the price of any commodity.” He was right then, and he’s still right now.

Dynamic System Updates will bring temporary bootable images to Android

This process will no doubt sound familiar to those of you who have used Linux. Most Linux distributions offer bootable images that can be flashed to a USB drive or burned to a CD/DVD. When the computer boots from the Linux drive, a complete desktop environment is present, allowing the user to easily test applications and perform other tasks. Nothing is installed to the computer’s internal drive, and all data is deleted when Linux shuts down. Android Q will include similar functionality, which is currently being called ‘Dynamic System Updates’ (though ‘Live Images’ and ‘Dynamic Android’ were also being used to refer to it). A temporary system partition is created, and an alternative Generic System Image (GSI) can be installed to it. A notification appears when the process is done, and tapping it reboots the phone into the GSI. When you’re done, simply reboot the phone, and you’re returned to your phone’s regular build of Android. This will be a very welcome feature not just for developers, but also for people like me who would love to test public beta releases before committing.

US senator introduces bill to ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) today announced a bill that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in “games played by minors”, a broad label that the senator says will include both games designed for kids under 18 and games “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions”. Loot boxes are clearly gambling, and ought to be treated as such. I’m by no means enough of a lawyer to determine if this specific proposed bill does enough – or possibly too much – to curtail the predatory practices in games, but it’s a good sign people are paying attention. We sure won’t be able to count on Google or Apple, since both of them profit greatly from these predatory practices.