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.

Target accidentally sells demo iPad, consumer reacts without common sense

TUAW reports that Target sold a demo iPad unit to on Black Friday and instead of going to Target for an exchange, she contacted a local news agency.

Not only that, according to the original report, the customer noticed that it was a demo unit after inspecting the sticker on the bottom, but instead of simply returning it to Target she decided to call a local news agency. You know, for justice.

This is a simple case of an inventory mistake by Target. This woman chose to blow up the incident and insisted that the iPad belonged to a woman in California.

Crowley made the assumption that this iPad belonged to another real human being. However, she also noted that the label on the box said “demo.”

Media outlets picked up the incident and started spreading sensationalist headlines. CNET’s headline read: “Woman buys ‘new’ iPad Air (full of someone else’s stuff)”

A Google search turned up many news sites that used similar misleading headlines.

WhatsApp updated for iOS 7

The Next Web reports that WhatsApp has finally been updated for iOS 7.

Aside from a refreshed design that sports the iOS 7-style look, the app now lets users broadcast to lists to communicate to many people at once.

Image thumbnails are now larger, making it possible to see greater details in photos without having to open them.

WhatsApp might be losing the messaging race to Line and WeChat, but it is the first to roll out its iOS 7 design.

Apple patents facial recognition technology to control a device

Apple Insider reports that Apple has been awarded a patent for facial recognition technology that controls a device such as an iPhone, iPad or Mac.

For example, during an incoming phone call, an iPhone may be able to “sense” that someone is looking at the device’s screen. If the person is not an authorized user, the iPhone’s screen remains off and only a ringtone or vibration alert is provided. If the person is an authorized user, the usual incoming call UI is displayed.

In another example, an incoming email can be blocked from view unless the authorized user’s face is detected by the system. This implementation would be helpful for users who choose to display part of the message in the lock screen.

Is this linked to Apple’s purchase of PrimeSense?

Facebook’s new News Feed to promote quality posts

Digital Trends reports that Facebook’s new News Feed will give priority to quality posts.

“Starting soon, we’ll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook when people click on those stories,” Facebook says. ”This means that high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.”

Some memes generate more social engagements than a long article, and they might convey a more powerful message too.