Elgato Smart Key tracks your car and keys

With Bluetooth low energy (BLE) appearing in an incresing number of devices, it’s not surprising to see devices being developed to take advantage of the technology. Similar to competitor Tile, the Elgato smart key aims to help you solve the common problem of forgotten car keys, or finding your car in a large parking lot.

Powered by a single CR2032 battery, the Elgato smart key has enough juice to last a good six months. Common and useful situations for the device include:

  • Tracking when your luggage has arrived on the airport conveyor belt
  • Tracking where your car is parked
  • Notifying you when you’ve left your keys behind

As Apple deploying its Bluetooth iBeacons in all of its stores and apps such as Newstand, Bluetooth is going to be increasingly prominent in 2014, so pay close attention to this space.

The Elgato Smart Key taps Bluetooth LE to help find your keys and remember where your car’s parked

There are many interesting use-cases for this, beyond that of finding lost keys or remembering where you parked your car. For example, you can put it in your suitcase, so that when it arrives on the conveyor belt in the airport, your iPhone will buzz to tell you it’s within range. You can just sit back, sup a coffee and let everyone else stand staring at that same orange monstrosity that keeps doing the rounds on the baggage carousel.

Carl Icahn is now asking for $50 billion instead of $150 billion from Apple

Wall Street Journal reports that Carl Icahn has softened his stance on Apple’s cash

The activist billionaire had originally urged the technology company to repurchase $150 billion of its stock immediately. He called a previously announced buyback by Apple, which the company said was the biggest buyback authorization in history, too small and too slow.

Now, he is asking for $50 billion in buybacks on top of Apple’s previous program, according to people familiar with his latest overture to Apple. The proposal would call for the buybacks to be done by the end of September, these people said.

That is a big reduction in the amount he is asking for. But the new figure is probably something that Apple would be more likely to consider.

Apple products are most wanted this holiday season

Parks Associates announced a research showing that Apple topped the list of purchase intentions for multiple categories.

Apple was the number one brand for desktops and tablets, and its Apple TV was the top streaming media device. Apple replaces Dell as the most wanted desktop brand.

“Apple topped the list of intended brands for desktop purchases for the first time this year,” said John Barrett, director, Consumer Analytics, Parks Associates. “In 2011 and 2012, Dell was the top desktop brand, but Apple has displaced it, making Apple now the most popular brand across even more key CE categories.”

iBeacons used to provide location-based access to iOS Newsstand publications

Darrell Etherington writes for TechCrunch about the use of iBeacons to deliver location-based access to iOS Newsstand publications.

The tech is very handy in a number of scenarios, as in a coffee shop for instance, where the establishment could subscribe and enable access to full magazines to patrons who come in. It’s made even more convenient with the addition of iBeacons on iOS, as the whole digital handshake can happen automatically, providing the user with the best possible and most frictionless experience. Another possible use is in modernizing the doctor’s office, offering up publications in the waiting room that are more useful and more current than five-year old issues of Good Housekeeping.

When iBeacons for iOS 7 was announced, there was talk of using the technology to provide location-based marketing and triggers. It can also be used to help with indoor navigation. Incidentally, Apple’s recent acquisition of PrimeSense also points towards the possibility of Apple moving into indoor mapping and navigation.

The use of iBeacons is still in its infancy. I’m very excited by the prospect of what it can bring in the future. Imagine walking into a restaurant and the menu is pushed to your phone. You get to place your order on your phone and you get billed via your digital wallet.

Mint app comes to Windows and Windows Phone

Business Insider reports that popular finance app Mint is now available on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.

The biggest difference with this app compared to the Android and iOS alternatives is it takes advantage of a core element within the Windows 8 operating system: Live Tiles, which are app icons that update in real time with information.

Google unveils cloud service to challenge Amazon

ReadWriteWeb reports that Google Ups The Ante Against Amazon’s Cloud, And That’s A Good Thing For Business – ReadWrite.

Google has spent $2.9 billion on hardware alone to get its service up and running. The company says it designed its Compute Engine to be simple enough for people to understand and manage, much the same way they manage their Gmail accounts, upload videos to YouTube, and share files within Google Drive.

To entice business people to use its Compute Engine, Google is offering a 10% discount for standard services; support for more Linux operating system types; and improvements to its maintenance services including an “automatic restart” feature should there be a major catastrophe.

Amazon is leading the cloud-computing market, with forecasts suggesting that Amazon Web Services will bring in over $3 billion in revenue.

Apple patents wireless charging system

Patently Apple reports that Apple has been granted a patent for a wireless charging system.

Apple has been granted a patent today for their invention that relates to a system, method, and apparatus for wirelessly providing power from a wireless power supply to any of a plurality of peripheral devices.

Generally the patent relates to techniques and apparatus for providing useful amounts of power wirelessly to devices within a wireless charging environment. In one embodiment, the wireless charging environment can include various computing devices along the lines of a desktop computer, a laptop computer, net book computer, tablet computer, etc. In some cases, a wireless power supply will be able to be used to provide power wirelessly to various electronic devices such as and iPhone that includes a portable power supply for mobile operation.

This will make Apple devices so much more convenient. No more tangling with wires.

Twitter’s little experiments to boost engagement

WIRED.com reports that Twitter is making tweaks to its interface to encourage users to communicate with each other.

The main thing I’ve found using the new version is that the way you send and receive direct messages, see what your friends are up to, and take part in public conversations are all lot more obvious. That’s especially true of messages. That dedicated button for messages (which Twitter, interestingly, isn’t calling direct messages) is glaring at you all the time, inviting action.

It’s a big change. Twitter had buried the direct message in previous versions of the app. It was hard to find, and hard to understand how to compose a new one. Now it’s front and center, and meant to get you talking to people, directly, one-on-one, just as the Notifications tab is meant to get people interacting with each other publicly. Between Notifications and Messages, half of the app’s buttons are devoted to conversations.

Messaging is a big way for companies to keep users in the app. Facebook messages is the main pull for me to get onto the social network. When using Facebook messages on desktop and iPad, I find myself invariably drawn into going through my News Feed. No wonder Instagram is rumoured to be interested in messaging too.

How big is messaging? Tencent’s WeChat and QQ messaging apps boast of more than a billion users. Even LINE outnumbers Twitter with its 300 million users. Although Twitter has 883 million accounts, only 232 million are active users. But is Twitter too late to jump onto the messaging bandwagon?

How Apple’s Touch ID works

WIRED.com writes about Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint reader.

Fingerprint reading is accomplished through a complex method.

Touch ID is composed of an 8 x 8 millimeter, 170-micron-thick capacitive sensor located just beneath the home button on the 5s. This is used to capture a 500-pixel-per-inch (ppi) resolution image of your fingerprint. The sensor can read pores, ridges, and valleys. It can identify arches, loops, and whorls. It can even recognize fingerprints oriented in any direction.

When you place your finger or thumb on the sensor, it looks at the fingerprint pattern on the conductive sub-dermis layer of skin located underneath the dermis layer. It also measures the differences in conductivity between the tops of the ridges and the bottoms of the valleys in your prints in this layer. This is more accurate than looking at the dead surface of the skin alone, which is constantly changing and isn’t conductive.

Touch ID needs a good database of fingerprint records to ensure that the fingerprint is quickly recognised.

Apple partially gets around the small sensor issue using the enrollment process, which includes rolling your finger around to try to capture every microscopic nook and cranny on your finger. Then, at least, it has a large source to pull from, even if it’s only scanning a section of that each time you tap your finger.

It doesn’t stop learning.

Apple’s Touch ID algorithm is designed to learn and improve over time — with each scan, it checks if it is a better reading than what is stored, and can update the master data for your print this way. This algorithm could certainly be changed or improved through iOS updates, as well.

So what can go wrong when you use Touch ID?

There are a variety of small things that could be going on to interrupt a successful Touch ID experience. First, for it to work properly, your finger needs to make contact not just with the sapphire of the home button, but also the stainless steel ring surrounding it. Next, the sensor itself works by measuring electrical differences between the ridges and valleys of your fingerprints. If your hands are too dry, it’s going to be difficult for your print to be recognized (this could be a growing problem in the dry winter months ahead). Conversely, if your fingers are too moist or oily, recognition can also fail, as those valleys get filled. If the button gets dirty, as it likely will over time, you’ll also want to clean it to keep Touch ID working properly. Apple suggests using a clean, lint-free cloth.

I was barely a few days into using Touch ID and I found myself wondering how I ever lived without it. Unlocking my phone is now quick and intuitive. To quote Steve Jobs, “It just works.”

Data hijacked through massive security hole in the internet

WIRED.com reports that data was hijacked through a security vulnerability in the traffic-routing system.

In 2008, two security researchers at the DefCon hacker conference demonstrated a massive security vulnerability in the worldwide internet traffic-routing system — a vulnerability so severe that it could allow intelligence agencies, corporate spies or criminals to intercept massive amounts of data, or even tamper with it on the fly.

Earlier this year, researchers say, someone mysteriously hijacked internet traffic headed to government agencies, corporate offices and other recipients in the U.S. and elsewhere and redirected it to Belarus and Iceland, before sending it on its way to its legitimate destinations. They did so repeatedly over several months. But luckily someone did notice.

And this may not be the first time it has occurred — just the first time it got caught.

How big of an issue is this? Whoever siphoned the data is able to read unencrypted data including email, spreadsheets, credit card numbers and other sensitive information.