This is Our Dream iPhone

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Huawei starts showing ads on smartphone lock screens

Image: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

PCMag.com is a leading authority on technology, delivering Labs-based, independent reviews of the latest products and services. Our expert industry analysis and practical solutions help you make better buying decisions and get more from technology.

Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei has started showing ads for hotel reservation website Booking.com on the lock screens of their phones.

As Android Police reports, the P30 Pro, P20 Pro, P20, P20 Lite, and Honor 10 in the UK, Netherlands, Ireland, South Africa, Norway, and Germany have all been affected. 9to5Google adds that Huawei seems to have snuck advertising wallpapers into the default “Magazine Unlock” folder on users’ devices, which means anyone not changing their default wallpapers will see them.

Deleting the backgrounds from the phone, or changing to a non-default image, gets rid of the ads.

Huawei declined to say how this issue occured, instead saying that “we have taken down these lock-screen images from our servers, as they should not be appearing on lock-screen interfaces.

“We will continue to improve our services and brings [sic] you excellent user service,” it added.

Huawei’s official German Twitter account also tweeted a half apology.

One Reddit user posting in the /Huawei subreddit said Huawei “first blamed a third-party app” and then the Booking.com app, although the Reddit user claimed to not have it installed. The Booking.com app does come pre-installed on a number of Huawei devices, including the P30 Pro and P20 range, as well as numerous phones from Honor, a subsidiary of Huawei.

Huawei’s reputation is already suffering from accusations that it could be pressured by the Chinese government to conduct surveillance on foreign users. Trade disputes mean the Trump administration also put Huawei on a blacklist.

Although having ads pop up on users’ smartphones is in a different league to spyware, customers are sure to be concerned by the practice. If Huawei wants to build trust, this certainly isn’t the way to go about it.

Editor’s Note: Updated at 11:45 a.m. ET with comment from Huawei.

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A widely used infusion pump can be remotely hijacked, say researchers

A hospital infusion pump widely used in hospitals and medical facilities has critical security flaws that allow it to be remotely hijacked and controlled, according to security researchers.

Researchers at healthcare security firm CyberMDX found two vulnerabilities in the Alaris Gateway Workstation, developed by medical device maker Becton Dickinson.

Infusion pumps are one of the most common bits of kit in a hospital. These devices control the dispensing of intravenous fluids and medications, like painkillers or insulin. They’re often hooked up to a central monitoring station so medical staff can check on multiple patients at the same time.

But the researchers found that an attacker could install malicious firmware on a pump’s onboard computer, which powers, monitors and controls the infusion pumps. The pumps run on Windows CE, commonly used in pocket PCs before smartphones.

In the worst case scenario, the researchers said it would be possible to adjust specific commands on the pump — including the infusion rate — on certain versions of the device by installing modified firmware.

The researchers said it was also possible to remotely brick the onboard computer, knocking the pump offline.

The bug was scored a rare maximum score of 10.0 on the industry standard common vulnerability scoring system, according to Homeland Security’s advisory. A second vulnerability, scored at a lesser 7.3 out of 10.0 could allow an attacker to gain access to the workstation’s monitoring and configuration interfaces through the web browser.

The researchers said creating an attack kit was “quite easy” and “worked consistently,” said Elad Luz, CyberMDX’s head of research, in an email to TechCrunch. But the attack chain is complex and requires multiple steps, access to the hospital network, knowledge of the workstation’s IP address, and the capability to write custom malicious code.

In other words, there are far easier ways to kill a patient than exploiting these bugs.

CyberMDX disclosed the vulnerabilities to Becton Dickinson in November and to federal regulators.

Becton Dickinson said device owners should update to the latest firmware, which contains fixes for the vulnerabilities. Spokesperson Troy Kirkpatrick said the pump is not sold in the U.S., but would not say how many devices were vulnerable “for competitive reasons.”

“There are about 50 countries that have these devices,” said Kirkpatrick. He confirmed that eight countries that have more than 1,000 devices, three countries have more than 2,000 devices, but no country has more than 3,000 devices.

The flaws are another reminder that security issues can exist in any device — particularly life-saving equipment in the medical space.

Earlier this year, Homeland Security warned about a set of critical-rated vulnerabilities in Medtronic defibrillators. The government-issued alert said the device’s proprietary radio communications protocol did not require authentication, allowing a nearby attacker in certain circumstances to intercept and modify commands over-the-air.

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You've accepted the notch. Now prepare to accept the square camera bump.

You'll be seeing a lot of phones like this one soon.
You’ll be seeing a lot of phones like this one soon.
Image: Google/Twitter

It’s official: Google’s Pixel 4 will have a large, square camera bump on the back. 

We don’t know its exact dimensions or just how big of a bump it’ll be, but judging from the company’s own render of the device (above), it’ll definitely rise above the phone’s back surface, and it won’t be small.

Camera bumps are not a new thing, and neither is the trend to increase the number of rear cameras on phones (the Pixel 4 will, for the first time, have two). But this look will likely become a big trend soon, because all signs are suggesting that the upcoming iPhone 11 will have a similar, square-shaped camera bump on the back. 

Like it or not, once both Apple and Google embrace a certain look for their smartphones, the rest of the industry will follow. 

Don’t believe me? Just remember the iPhone notch. When Apple first came up with the notched screen on its iPhone X, the look was ridiculed, then accepted, then copied en masse. Now, most phones have some sort of screen notch, though we’re slowly transcending that phase, with Samsung ushering in the hole-punch camera trend and some upcoming phones getting rid of the camera notch altogether. 

Interestingly, Google was one of the slowest companies to adopt the notch, which was first featured on its Google Pixel 3 XL, which came out in 2018. Now, however, the company seems to be embracing the new, square bump trend before most manufacturers (with the notable exception of Huawei, who did it a year before everyone else with its Mate 20 Pro). 

The reasoning behind the large camera bump isn’t hard to fathom: Cameras are a huge selling point for phones, and as they get bigger and more advanced, it’s getting harder to squeeze them into the back of the phone without a bump for some extra space. 

Don’t be a square

The square look is a bit harder to understand. When Huawei did it, at least it was symmetrical, with the square camera bump located in the middle, with Leica branding directly above and Huawei’s logo on the bottom. The bump was there but it was very gentle, and the three cameras and the flash were, again, symmetrically positioned within the bump. 

This is cool. Upper left corner... less cool.

This is cool. Upper left corner… less cool.

Image: Stan Schroeder/Mashable

Although I’m fully aware that tastes differ and that I’m no ultimate arbiter on what looks good, I have to say that the look on the Pixel 4 and the upcoming iPhone (if the leaked renders are accurate) is far less pretty. The devil is in the details, and I’m sure both Apple and Google will niceify the camera bump (one rumor even claimed that the cameras in iPhone 11’s bump will be all but invisible thanks to a new, special coat of paint). But a perfect look, it is not.

Fear of the copycats; Samsung to the rescue

This has little to do with Apple or Google themselves, but when other manufacturers start copying this trend, it’ll be awful. We’ve barely had time to get used to the notch and all its glitches on Android (especially on Chinese phones, which typically have their own, in-house UI), and now we’ll probably be flooded by a ton of phones with unsightly, asymmetrically positioned square camera bumps. 

Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about it. With the Pixel 4’s look confirmed, and if the iPhone 11 renders are real (there’s still a small chance that they aren’t), most manufacturers will follow. 

One big, important phone maker that might not follow, however, is Samsung. The company never accepted the notch on its premium phones, which made them refreshingly different from most other smartphones. And despite the fact that Samsung has introduced phones with three and even four rear cameras, it never went for the square bump, instead aligning the lenses in a straight (vertical or horizontal) line. 

Granted, the Samsung A9’s look wasn’t exactly perfect, either. But there’s hope for the company’s upcoming Note 10, which leaked just days ago. It appears that phone will have a centered hole-punch selfie camera on the front, and three, vertically positioned rear cameras on the back, with only a modest bump (or no bump at all). Hopefully, Samsung will keep doing its own thing, making its phones stand out in a sea of square camera bumps.

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ARM shows SoftBank does tech PE the right way

Private equity firms get a bad rap — and not without reason. In the prototypical example, a bunch of men in suits (and these folks always seem to be men for some reason) swoop in from Manhattan with Excel spreadsheets and pink slips, slashing and burning through an organization while ladening the balance sheet with debt in an algebraic alchemy of monetary extraction.

Vultures, parasites, octopuses — these are folks who almost certainly won popularity contests in high school and now seem to be shooting for most unpopular person to be compared to a crustacean in the Finance section of the WSJ (and there is some damn strong competition in those pages).

Sometimes that restructuring can save an org, and yes, many companies need a Marie Kondo armed with a business plan. But it’s a model that works best for, say, retail chains, and traditionally has been wholly incompatible with the tech industry.

Tech is a tough place for private equity buyouts, since the biggest expense for most companies is talent (i.e. R&D), and cutting R&D is usually the quickest path to cutting the valuation of the asset you just acquired. Unlike retail or manufacturing, there are just less cost levers to manipulate to make the numbers look better, and so PE firms have generally shied away from big tech acquisitions.

So it was interesting talking to Simon Segars this week in New York. Segars is the CEO and longtime executive at ARM Holdings, the UK-headquartered chip designer that powers billions of devices worldwide. Over the past two decades, ARM has had just an incredible run: last year, its designs were imprinted on 22.9 billion chips, thanks largely to the now ubiquitous adoption of smartphones across the world.

That success has been under stress though. As Brian Heater analyzed in his State of the Smartphone, smartphone growth has slowed in most markets as consumers extend their upgrade cycles and the pace of innovation has slowed. Add in the on-going trade kerfuffle between the U.S. and China, and suddenly being the worldwide leading designer of smartphone chips isn’t as enviable as it was even just a few years ago.

As a public company facing this landscape, ARM would have faced incredible pressure from investors to meet short-term revenue targets while cutting back on R&D — the very source of future growth the company has relied on its entire history. But ARM isn’t a public company — instead, SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son bought out the company entirely in 2016 for $32 billion.

Rather than being pegged to its stock price or a quick return to a PE shop, ARM is now seemingly evaluated on growth in its intellectual property and strategy for capturing new markets. “I’m in a very fortunate position where, despite the slowing of the smartphone market, … I’ve got an owner that says, invest, you know, invest like crazy to make sure you capture these ways of growth in the future, which is what we’re doing,” Segars explained to TechCrunch.

The company could have just doubled down on its existing product lines, but SoftBank’s ownership has opened the floodgates to explore other areas that could use ARM expertise. The company is now focused (if one can focus on many things) on everything from 5G and networking to IoT and autonomous driving. “We look to be in the right place at the right time with the right technology to catch the upswing into the future,“ Segars said.

That strategy requires some serious audacity though. ARM’s EBITDA was $225 million last year (21% lower than the year before) on $1.8 billion in net sales, which year-over-year grew a paltry 0.2% according to SoftBank’s latest financials. Meanwhile, operating expenses are up from the addition of hundreds of new employees and a new headquarters campus in Cambridge outside London. R&D isn’t cheap, nor does it payoff quickly.

Yet, that is exactly how Son and SoftBank approach this take-private transaction. “During the acquisition process, Masa said to me, ‘You run the business, I only care about long-term strategy, not going to interfere, you know, you know what you’re doing.’ … [and] Masa has been absolutely true to his word on that,” Segars said. “From a day-to-day basis, SoftBank leaves us completely alone.”

And unlike the bean counters that plague most PE shops, Son isn’t interested in detailed operational data from the firm. “When I give tactical updates… he’s asleep, [but] try stopping him when he’s talking about long-term strategy,” Segars said.

And unlike the PE model of dumping a bunch of high-interest corporate debt on the balance sheet to eke out returns, SoftBank has — at least, so far — avoided that particular tactic. While there were ruminations that SoftBank was considering cashing out some dollars from ARM using loans early last year, such rumors have apparently not panned out. Segars confirmed that “we have none” when we asked about leverage, which has otherwise plagued much of the rest of SoftBank Group and its various entities.

While ARM clearly has a bullish owner who somehow uses financial wizardry to give the company the resources it needs to grow, Son doesn’t have an infinite timeline for the company. Much like classic PE firms with 5-7 year time horizons to harvest returns, Son has already spoken out loud about pushing ARM back into the public markets in roughly five years time.

“I’m pretty sure, the night before we go public again, I’m going to be thinking ‘Man, I wish we’d had more time, you know, five years sounds like a lot,” Segars said. But “the way I talk about it within ARM is we’re in an investment phase now … and the goal is that by the time we re-list, … the revenues from these new markets are taking off and that’s flowing to the bottom line and we get back to a world of growing top line and expanding margins.”

In other words, ARM is a classic PE deal, but with the focus on actually getting the fundamentals in the business right without that financial alchemy and employee firing sadness. Maybe the plan will work, or maybe it won’t, but it is the right approach to handling the growth of a tech company.

How many other tech companies could use such an approach? How many other companies are currently languishing if only they had more focused owners with a true growth mindset to invest in the future? Silicon Valley has created trillions of dollars in market value over the past two decades, but there is even more waiting to be unlocked. And the best part is, it doesn’t even require an Excel macro to make it happen.

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