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Aurich Lawson / HBO

This week, as revelations about the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) spying continued to unfold, Ryan Gallagher brought us an article about the types of hardware that agencies outside of the NSA use to gather information from mobile devices. These agencies, which include local law enforcement as well as federal groups like the FBI and the DEA, use highly specialized equipment to gain information about a target. Still, the details about that hardware is largely kept secret from the public. Gallagher summed up what the public knows (and brought to light a few lesser-known facts) in his article, Meet the machines that steal your phone’s data.

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Original author: 
Cesar Torres


Tumblr Creative Director Peter Vidani

Cesar Torres

New York City noise blares right outside Tumblr’s office in the Flat Iron District in Manhattan. Once inside, the headquarters hum with a quiet intensity. I am surrounded by four dogs that employees have brought to the workspace today. Apparently, there are even more dogs lurking somewhere behind the perpendicular rows of desks. What makes the whole thing even spookier is that these dogs don’t bark or growl. It’s like someone’s told them that there are developers and designers at work, and somehow they’ve taken the cue.

I’m here to see Tumblr’s Creative Director Peter Vidani who is going to pull the curtain back on the design process and user experience at Tumblr. And when I say design process, I don’t just mean color schemes or typefaces. I am here to see the process of interaction design: how the team at Tumblr comes up with ideas for the user interface on its website and its mobile apps. I want to find out how those ideas are shaped into a final product by their engineering team.

Back in May, Yahoo announced it was acquiring Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Yahoo indicated that Tumblr would continue to operate independently, though we will probably see a lot of content crossover between the millions of blog posts hosted by Tumblr and Yahoo’s search engine technology. It’s a little known fact that Yahoo has provided some useful tools for UX professionals and developers over the years through their Design Pattern Library, which shares some of Yahoo’s most successful and time-tested UI touches and interactions with Web developers. It’s probably too early to tell if Tumblr’s UI elements will filter back into these libraries. In the meantime, I talked to Vidani about how Tumblr UI features come to life.

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Original author: 
Florence Ion

Sometimes, we're not always satisfied with the experience that Android offers us. However, the beauty of being an Android user is that you can make a choice to do something different. Before you head off into the weekend, check out Everything.me and its unique Home screen experience. Or, if you've been envious of Facebook's Chat Heads and wish they existed for other apps, download Floating Notifications to get a similar experience.

The Google Play store is chock full of applications that allow us to customize our phones, tack on new features, or just check the score for our favorite team. Here are just a few of those apps we discovered this week that can make those things happen.

Everything.me, Free

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Florence Ion

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Although Google's keynote at the I/O conference this week focused heavily on the APIs and behind-the-scenes development of the Android operating system, it looks like there's a lot more in store. This idea was especially apparent in a panel discussion today involving eleven members of the Android development team. The team sat for a forty-minute question and answer session, and while they dodged most inquiries about forthcoming features for Android, they did offer a bit of insight into what the future of Android might look like, what developers could do to help further the platform, and what they’ve learned from their journey thus far.

The conversation began with a question relating to whether or not the Android team would have done anything differently from the beginning. Senior Android Engineer Dianne Hackborn said the team "should have had more control over applications. A big example is the whole settings provider, where we just let applications go and write to it... it was a simple thing that we shouldn’t have done." Ficus Kirkpatrick, one of the founding members of the Android team and the current lead for the Google Play Store team, added that “you’re never going to get everything right the first time. I don’t really regret any of the mistakes we’ve made. I think getting things out there at the speed we did…was the most important thing.”

The team also briefly touched on fragmentation and how they’re working to combat the issue—it was even referred to as the “F” word. "This is something we think about a lot,” said Dave Burke, engineering director of the Android platform. He explained that many silicon vendors take the open source code, break it apart, and create their own Board Support Packages (BSPs) to make their hardware compatible with the software. To streamline the process, the Android team made the code for the platform more layered, so if a vendor needs to make changes, they have a clean abstraction layer to do so without affecting the entire operating system.

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I'm a little embarrassed to admit how much I like the Surface RT. I wasn't expecting a lot when I ordered it, but after a day of use, I realized this was more than Yet Another Gadget. It might represent a brave new world of laptop design. How can you not love a laptop that lets you touch Zardoz to unlock it?

Zardoz-surface-unlock

(I'll leave the particular unlock gestures I chose to your imagination. Good luck hacking this password, Mitnick!)

I have an ultrabook I like, but the more I used the Surface, the more obsolete it seemed, because I couldn't touch anything on the screen. I found touch interactions on Surface highly complementary to the keyboard. Way more than I would have ever believed, because I lived through the terror that was Pen Computing. If you need precision, you switch to the mouse or touchpad – but given the increasing prevalence of touch-friendly app and web design, that's not as often as you'd think. Tablets are selling like hotcakes, and every day the world becomes a more touch friendly place, with simpler apps that more people can understand and use on basic tablets. This a good thing. But this also means it is only a matter of time before all laptops must be touch laptops.

I've become quite obsessed enamored with this touch laptop concept. I've used the Surface a lot since then. I own two, including the touch and type covers. I also impulsively splurged on a Lenovo Yoga 13, which is a more traditional laptop form factor.


Yoga-13-rotation

One of the primary criticisms of the Surface RT is that, since it is an ARM based Tegra 3 device, it does not run traditional x86 apps. That's likely also why it comes with a bundled version of Office 2013. Well, the Yoga 13 resolves that complaint, because it's a Core i5 Ivy Bridge machine. But there is a cost for this x86 compatibility:

 Surface RTSurface ProYoga 13

weight1.5 lb2.0 lb3.4 lb

volume27"39"78"

runtime8 hr6? hr5.5 hr

display10.6" 1366×76810.6" 1920×108013.3" 1600×900

memory2 GB / 32 GB4 GB / 64 GB4 GB / 128 GB

price$599$999$999

The size comparison isn't entirely fair, since the Yoga is a 13.3" device, and the Surface is a 10.6" device. But Surface Pro has x86 internals and is otherwise as identical to the Surface RT as Microsoft could possibly make it, and it's still 44% larger and 33% heavier. Intel inside comes at a hefty cost in weight, battery life, and size.

You do get something for that price, though: compatibility with the vast library of x86 apps, and speed. The Yoga 13 is absurdly fast by tablet standards. Its Sunspider score is approximately 150 ms, compared to my iPad 4 at 738 ms, and the Surface RT at 1036 ms. Five hours of battery life might not seem like such a bad tradeoff for six times the performance.

I like the Yoga 13 a lot, and it is getting deservedly good reviews. Some reviewers think it's the best Windows 8 laptop available right now. It is a fine replacement for my ultrabook, and as long as you fix the brain-damaged default drive partitioning, scrape off the handful of stickers on it, and uninstall the few pre-installed craplets, it is eminently recommendable. You can also easily upgrade it from 4 GB to 8 GB of RAM for about $40.

But there were things about the practical use of a touch laptop, subtle things that hadn't even occurred to me until I tried to sit down and use one for a few hours, that made me pause:

  1. The screen bounces when you touch it. Maybe I just have hulk-like finger strength, but touching a thin laptop screen tends to make it bounce back a bit. That's … exactly what you don't want in a touch device. I begin to understand why the Surface chose its "fat screen, thin keyboard" design rather than the traditional "thin screen, fat keyboard" of a laptop. You need the inertia on the side you're touching. The physics of touching a thin, hinged laptop screen are never going to be particularly great. Yes, on the Yoga I can wrap the screen around behind the keyboard, or even prop it up like a tent – but this negates the value of the keyboard which is the biggest part of the touch laptop story! If I wanted a keyboardless tablet, I'd use one of the four I have in the house already. And the UPS guy just delivered a Nexus 10.
  2. A giant touchpad makes the keyboard area too large. On a typical laptop, a Texas size touchpad makes sense. On a touch laptop, giant touchpads are problematic because they push the screen even farther away from your hand. This may sound trivial, but it isn't. A ginormous touchpad makes every touch interaction you have that much more fatiguing to reach. I now see why the Surface opted for a tiny touchpad on its touch and type covers. A touchpad should be a method of last resort on a touch laptop anyway, because touch is more convenient, and if you need true per-pixel precision work, you'll plug in a mouse. Have I mentioned how convenient it is to have devices that accept standard USB mice, keyboards, drives, and so on? Because it is.
  3. Widescreen is good for keyboards, but awkward for tablets. A usable keyboard demands a certain minimum width, so widescreen it is; all touch laptops are going to be widescreen by definition. You get your choice between ultra wide or ultra tall. The default landscape mode works great, but rotating the device and using it in portrait mode makes it super tall. On a widescreen device, portrait orientation becomes a narrow and highly specialized niche. It's also very rough on lower resolution devices; neither the 1366×768 Surface RT nor the 1600×900 Yoga 13 really offer enough pixels on the narrow side to make portrait mode usable. You'd need a true retina class device to make portrait work in widescreen. I began to see why the iPad was shipped with a 4:3 display and not a 16:9 or 16:10 one, because that arrangement is more flexible on a tablet. I frequently use my iPad 4 in either orientation, but the Yoga and Surface are only useful in landscape mode except under the most rare of circumstances.
  4. About 11 inches might be the maximum practical tablet size. Like many observers, I've been amused by the race to produce the largest possible phone screen, resulting in 5" phablets that are apparently quite popular. But you'll also note that even the most ardent Apple fans seem to feel that the 7" iPad mini is an inherently superior form factor to the 10" iPad. I think both groups are fundamentally correct: for a lot of uses, the 3.5" phone really is too small, and the 10" tablet really is too big. As a corollary to that, I'd say anything larger than the 10.6" Surface is far too large to use as a tablet. Attempting to use the 13.3" Yoga as a tablet is incredibly awkward, primarily because of the size. Even if the weight and volume were pushed down to imaginary Minority Report levels, I'm not sure I would want a 13.3" tablet on my lap or in my hands. There must be a reason the standard letter page size is 8½ × 11", right?
  5. All-day computing, or, 10 hours of battery life. The more devices I own, the more I begin to appreciate those that I can use for 8 to 10 hours before needing to charge them. There is truly something a little magical about that 10 hour battery life number, and I can now understand why Apple seemed to target 9-10 hours of battery life in their initial iPad and iPhone designs. A battery life of 4 to 6 hours is nothing to sneeze at, but … I feel anxiety about carrying the charger around, whether I've charged recently or not, and I worry over screen brightness and other battery maximization techniques. When I can safely go 8 to 10 hours, I figure that even if I use the heck out of the device – as much as any human being reasonably could in a single day – I'll still safely make it through and I can stick it in a charger before I go to bed.

To appreciate just how extreme portrait mode is on a widescreen tablet, experience it yourself:

Yoga-13-landscape-small

Yoga-13-portrait-small

This isn't specific to touch laptops; it's a concern for all widescreen devices. I have the same problem with the taller iPhone 5. Because I now have to choose between super wide or super tall, it is a less flexible device in practice.

The Yoga 13, if representative of the new wave of Windows 8 laptops, is a clear win even if you have no intention of ever touching your screen:

  • It boots up incredibly fast, in a few seconds.
  • It wakes and sleeps incredibly fast, nearly instantaneously.
  • The display is a high quality IPS model.
  • A rotating screen offers a number of useful modes: presentation, (giant) tablet, standard laptop.
  • Touchpad and keyboard work fine; at the very least, they're no worse than the typical PC laptop to me.
  • Does the prospect of using Windows 8 frighten and disturb you? No worries, smash Windows+D on your keyboard immediately after booting and pretend you're using Windows 7.5. Done and done.

It's a nice laptop. You could do far worse, and many have. In the end, the Yoga 13 is just a nice laptop with a touchscreen slapped on it. But the more I used the Yoga the more I appreciated the subtle design choices of Surface that make it a far better touch laptop. I kept coming back to how much I enjoyed using the Surface as the platonic ideal of what touch laptops should be.

Yes, it is a bummer that the only currently available Surface is ARM based and does not run any traditional Windows apps. It's easy to look at the x86 performance of the Yoga 13 and assume that Windows on ARM is a cute, temporary throwback to Windows NT on Alpha or MIPS which will never last, and understandably so. Do you see anyone running Windows on Alpha or MIPS CPUs today? But I'm mightily impressed with the Tegra 3 SOC (system-on-a-chip) that runs both the Surface RT and the Nexus 7. Upcoming Tegra releases, all named after superheroes, promise 75 times the performance of Tegra 2 by 2014. I can't quite determine how much faster Tegra 3 was than Tegra 2, but even if it is "only" ten times faster by 2014, that's … amazing.

I think we're beginning to uncover the edges of a world where lack of x86 compatibility is no longer the kiss of death it used to be. It's unclear to me that Intel can ever reach equivalent performance per watt with ARM; Intel's ultra-low-end Celeron 847 is twice as fast as the ARM A15, but it's also 17 watts TDP. In a land of ARM chips that pull an absolute maximum of 4 watts at peak, slapping Intel Inside will instantly double the size and weight of your device – or halve its battery life, your choice. Intel's been trying to turn the battleship, but with very limited success so far. Haswell, the successor to the Ivy Bridge CPUs in the Surface Pro and Yoga 13, only gets to 10 watts at idle. And Intel's long neglected Atom line, thanks to years of institutional crippling to avoid cannibalizing Pentium sales, is poorly positioned to compete with ARM today.

Still, I would not blame anyone for waiting on the Surface Pro. A high performance, HD touch laptop in the Surface form factor that runs every x86 app you can throw at it is a potent combination … even if it is 44% larger and 33% heavier.

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Wait, Chrome Dev Tools could do THAT?

Your browser is one of the most and best instrumented development platforms -- you may just not realize it yet. In this episode we'll take a whirlwind tour of how to analyze network performance, rendering and layout pipeline, as well as detecting memory leaks in your Javascript code, and using audits and extensions to build faster and better apps!
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Welcome to Ars Technica's Windows 8 deep dive. This page is where you'll find the various explorations of Windows 8 and related technologies that we conduct over the next several days. You can find those articles listed in reverse chronology below.

Windows 8 is a truly significant undertaking. So much so that when we sat down many months ago to plan our coverage of Windows 8, we quickly decided that rather than writing one monolithic review, we would do a series of investigations, knowing that interest in Windows 8 would be widely varied depending on where and how our readers interact with it. Some might be focused on the user interface, others on gaming performance, still others on what Windows 8 offers to the enterprise. And many of you will want it all. We are happy to say that we plan to provide the most depth and breadth of Windows 8 coverage you will find anywhere. And we have already kicked that off with our in-depth exploration of WinRT, as well as our extensive review of the Microsoft Surface tablet.

At the very end of this list you will find a brief Q&A on our approach.

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Less than 24 hours after a Russian hacker pocketed $60,000 by exploiting a previously unknown critical vulnerability in Google Chrome, company developers released an update removing the security threat.

The quick turnaround underscores one of the key advantages of Google's open-source browser: the speed in which highly complex bugs are fixed and updates are pushed out to users. By contrast, Microsoft, which must run updates through a battery of rigorous quality-assurance tests, often takes months to fix bugs of similar complexity.

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