US will reportedly seek criminal case against Huawei for stealing tech secrets

According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, U.S. federal prosecutors are preparing a criminal indictment against Huawei for stealing trade secrets. The report, which cites sources with knowledge of the indictment, specifically mentions Huawei’s actions surrounding a T-Mobile smartphone testing tool known as “Tappy.” The report notes that the current investigation is far enough along that an indictment may come soon.

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of Tappy. In 2014, T-Mobile sued Huawei for allegedly gaining access to a company lab outside of Seattle and photographing and attempting to steal parts of the robotic smartphone testing device. In May 2017, T-Mobile won $4.8 million against Huawei, only a fraction of the $500 million the U.S. mobile carrier sought. The current federal criminal investigation reportedly arose from that civil suit.

The Chinese phone maker has faced increased scrutiny, escalating to open hostility from U.S. agencies and lawmakers who believe that Huawei poses a security threat due to its close relationship with the Chinese government. The tension escalated considerably last December, when Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S. Meng was charged with fraud for deceptive practices that allowed the Chinese company to avoid U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Huawei, now the world’s number two smartphone maker, trails only Samsung when it comes to mobile device sales, beating Apple for the second slot in late 2018.

Xiaomi’s five-year plan is a $1.5 billion bet on smart homes

Xiaomi, the Chinese company best known for budget phones, is betting big on a future of connected homes. It plans to plough at least 100 billion yuan, or $1.48 billion, into the so-called “AIoT” sector over the next five years, founder and chief operating office Lei Jun announced on Friday.

AIoT, short for “AI + IoT,” is an upgrade from devices connected to the internet, known as the Internet of Things. AIoTs are intelligent, run on automated systems and can learn from users’ habits, like lights that automatically turn on when you get home.

“We see a future where all home devices will be connected to the internet and controlled by voice. A wave of home appliances will be replaced by smart devices. There will be an AIoT network that infiltrates every second and scenario of people’s lives, collecting mountains of users, traffic and data,” said Lei in his annual address to employees.

The plan is to get all sorts of gadgets, not just handsets, onto Xiaomi’s operating system so the company can hawk services through these devices. The move comes as Xiaomi, the world’s fourth-largest smartphone vendor, copes a weakening market. Smartphone shipments in China were down more than 15 percent year-over-year in 2018, according to a government-backed research institute.

Phones remain strategically important to Xiaomi as it looks to lower-end phones for growth. On Thursday, the company announced it has split up (not spin out) its budget phone brand, Redmi, in hope of launching “red rice” — what Redmi means in Chinese — to Xiaomi’s “little rice” stardom. The strategy is similar to how Huawei operates sub-brand Honor for its line of cheaper phones.

Xiaomi’s new billion-dollar pledge is a continuation of a plan in 2013 to back 100 startups over the course of five years. These portfolio companies, in turn, helped make Xiaomi products, which now count 132 million total devices among which 20 million are active daily. Meanwhile, Xiaomi’s voice assistant Xiao Ai has hit 100 million installs.

These gadgets, along with an assortment of lifestyle products like suitcases and umbrellas, became the largest revenue driver for Xiaomi in the second quarter of last year, the company’s earnings report shows.

Xiaomi is in a land grab with other Chinese tech giants like Baidu to enter people’s homes. It’s becoming something akin to a department store, but it can’t make everything itself. Recently, the giant made a big push in TVs through a partnership with a veteran Chinese home appliance manufacturer. It’s also teamed up with IKEA on a 100 million yuan ($14.8 million) fund for third-party developers, which will enrich Xiaomi’s inventory as consumers in China may soon be able to buy many Xiaomi-powered furniture from the Swedish retailer.

Nissan’s new Leaf e+ is packing more than just 226 miles of range

Electric vehicle competition is heating up and it’s pushing some of the first entrants to add range and other features in hopes of keeping up with automakers that are just bringing EVs to the market.

Nissan has been in this EV game for nearly nine years now. The company has sold more than 380,000 Leaf vehicles globally since the EV first went on sale in 2010. And while it debuted a refreshed version of its all-electric Leaf just 16 months ago, the automaker is back with another Leaf variant that’s packing a lot more range and power, as well as several other new features.

Nissan unveiled this week at CES 2019 the Leaf e+, a version of the Leaf all-electric hatchback with 40 percent more range. The Leaf e+ has a 62 kilowatt-hour battery pack that has a range of 226 miles. That puts the Leaf e+ just under the Chevy Bolt EV, which has a 238-mile range, the upcoming Kia Niro EV with 239 miles and the Tesla Model 3 mid-range variant with 264 miles.

Pricing for the new Leaf e+ hasn’t been announced for the North American or European markets. In Japan, it will start at ¥4,162,320, which is around $38,000.

Consumers might have trouble distinguishing the Leaf and Leaf e+. Other than a 5-millimeter increase in overall height (16-inch wheels), the car’s exterior and interior dimensions are unchanged. The Leaf e+ has a revised front fascia with blue highlights and an “e+” logo plate on the underside of the charge port lid. Inside, drivers might notice the blue contrast stitching on the steering wheels, seats and door trim.

nissan leaf e+

The Leaf e+ is also equipped with advanced driver assistance technology known as ProPILOT and a one-pedal driving mode feature that allows the driver to start, accelerate, decelerate and stop using only the accelerator pedal.

ProPILOT is an in-lane semi-autonomous driving technology that can automatically adjust the distance to the vehicle ahead (some call it adaptive cruise control), using a speed preset by the driver. The system can also help the driver steer and keep the vehicle centered in its lane. ProPILOT Park, which is available only on Japan and EU models, is a system that can provide vehicle acceleration, braking, handling, shift changing and parking brake operation to guide the car into a parking spot.

Leaf e+ models in North American and EU will have a larger full-color 8-inch display, with an updated navigation system that can be linked to a compatible smartphone. This thin film transistor display features smartphone-like operation, including swiping, scrolling and tapping. Applications, maps and firmware are updated over the air, instead of having to manually update by USB or at a Nissan dealership, the company said.

Other new features include “Door-to-Door Navigation,” which syncs the vehicle’s navigation system with a compatible smartphone for driving and walking directions.

Nissan Leaf e+ interior

The big story here, of course, is the increased range and power. The Leaf e+ has a new electric powertrain that, combined with the battery, produces 160 kw of power and 340 Nm of torque. This means the Leaf e+ will have the get up and go required for merging and passing slower-moving vehicles on the highway.

Nissan says the Leaf e+ is 13 percent quicker when accelerating from about 50 mph to roughly 74 mph. The top speed has increased by about 10 percent.

The battery pack in the Leaf e+ is almost the same size and configuration as the one in the standard Leaf despite a 25 percent increase in energy density and increase in energy storage capacity.

The Leaf e+ also has a high-speed charging package — for those who want to pay for that feature — that will let drivers charge up to 80 percent of its range in 40 minutes. Based on early testing, Nissan Leaf e+ owners can expect similar charging times when hooked up to a 100 kW charger as current Nissan Leaf owners do with a 50 kW charger, despite a 55 percent larger battery storage capacity, the company said.

The new variant is expected to hit Nissan dealerships in Japan in late January. U.S. sales are expected to begin in the spring of 2019, and European sales will start in mid-2019.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

GM is smartening up its Bolt EV smartphone app

GM is sprucing up its smartphone app for owners of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt through a collaboration with charging network companies EVgo, ChargePoint, and Greenlots.

The idea is to take aggregate dynamic data from each of the EV charging networks so owners can have a “more seamless charging experience.” In short: GM wants to make it easier and more intuitive for Bolt EV owners to find and access charging. Removing hurdles from the charging experience can go along way in convincing more people to buy the Bolt EV, or any EV for that matter.

The partnership with EVgo, ChargePoint, and Greenlots is a notable start considering that collectively that means more than 31,000 charging ports.

“GM believes in an all-electric future, and this is a significant step to make charging easier for our customers,” said Doug Parks, General Motors vice president of Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Programs. “By collaborating with these three companies, we expect to reduce barriers to create a stronger EV infrastructure for the future. This is an important step toward achieving GM’s vision of a world with zero emissions.”

GM plans to take the aggregate charging data from EVgo, ChargePoint, and Greenlots and use it to improve the myChevrolet app. For instance, owners will be able to see if a charging station is available and compatible with the Bolt EV. It will also provide real-time data on charge station to report if a charging station is working.

GM plans to create an app interface that will streamline the enrollment process for each of these networks. The automaker wants owners to be able to activate a charging session using the app instead of a membership card, but didn’t say when that feature would be rolled out. .

GM recently made a few updates to the myChevrolet app that lets owners project the energy assist to the vehicle’s infotainment system via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for drivers with model year 2017 or newer Bolt EVs.

This means Bolt EV drivers can access information through their infotainment system like vehicle range, charging station locations and search, as well as route planning that takes into consideration charging stops along the way if the destination is out of range.

Original purchasers of new Bolt EVs will have access to these features at no additional cost for five years from the vehicle delivery date, according to GM.

GM doesn’t provide updates about the Bolt EV, and more broadly its electric vehicle program at the same pace and frequency as say Tesla. But the company is still ramping up and expanding. GM recently expanded a battery lab and a new LG Electronics plant in Michigan has come online.

The LG Electronics facility in Hazel Park started making battery packs this fall to supply GM’s Orion Assembly Plant, where the automaker builds the all-electric Chevrolet  Bolt.

GM’s plan to launch 20 new all-electric vehicles globally by 2023 and increase production of the Chevy Bolt.

In major TV push, China’s Xiaomi buys 0.5% stake in TCL

A veteran TV maker just got a notable refresh as it enters the age of connected devices. Xiaomi, the Beijing-based firm best known for budget smartphones, has bought 65.2 million shares, or 0.48 percent, of Chinese home appliance maker TCL, said TCL in a statement to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange on Sunday.

Shares of TCL, the world’s third-largest LCD TV manufacturer, jumped nearly 4 percent in morning trading on Monday, giving the company a market cap of $36 billion.

The financial gesture deepens an existing alliance between the duo. On December 29, the companies signed a strategic partnership that would see them collaborate on various fronts, including R&D in integrating smart devices with “core, high-end, and basic” electronic parts. To put in layman’s terms, the joint effort focuses on chips and will make it easier for TCL devices to incorporate into Xiaomi’s operating system, where an expanding universe of third-party gadgets reside. The partners may also make co-investments in the hardware field.

The tie-up provides “tremendous help” for Xiaomi as it ups the ante in home appliances, wrote Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun on Weibo, China’s closest answer to Twitter, in a reply to TCL’s CEO Li Dongsheng. During the third quarter of 2018, smart TVs helped drive revenue growth for Xiaomi’s non-smartphone hardware segment, shows the company’s financial results.

“[Our partnership] helps facilitate the transformation and upgrade of China’s manufacturing industry,” wrote Li, whose company started in 1981 as a cassette manufacturer.

Xiaomi has long been keen to team up with manufacturers to make its own branded devices instead of producing them itself. By early 2018, Xiaomi reached nearly 100 such partners, many of which Xiaomi had invested in to harness bargaining power in the supply chain, from what a smartphone should look like to how much it’s priced at. Xiaomi’s retail stores — available online and in physical manifestations — have also opened doors to third-party brands in an effort to broaden product selection.

Xiaomi’s close ties with its ecosystem partners result in an inventory of affordable products rivaling the likes of Fitbit and Apple. During the third quarter of 2018, Xiaomi topped the global chart by shipping 6.9 million units of wearables. Apple and Fitbit came in second and third with 4.2 million units and 3.5 million units, respectively, according to market research firm IDC.

Xiaomi derives most of its revenues from smartphones, though Lei Jun has long envisioned a future in which internet services will be the firm’s main force. This segment, which Xiaomi has marketed as its key financial differentiator against other phone brands, includes sales from mobile games, internet finance, paid content among a slew of services available through Xiaomi’s connected devices.

Huawei reportedly punishes staff for New Year’s Eve tweet sent from an iPhone

As predicted, Twitter’s subtle new feature showing which clients tweets are sent from is already embarrassing brands.

Following on from a Korean boyband sponsored by LG and Apple’s own Music staff, Huawei is the latest to be embarrassed after it sent a New Year’s Eve message using an iPhone.

A since-deleted message included the embarrassing tell-tale detail: “Twitter for iPhone” indicating that the Huawei account had tweeted from an iPhone. The tweet was replaced by another sent from Twitter Media Studio client, which is developed for brands and advertisers and isn’t a fierce rival’s smartphone, but the damage was done.

The internet being the internet, the gaffe was noticed and preserved by many keen people who were to point out the contradiction. The mistake also gained lots of attention on Chinese social network Weibo.

Embarrassed by the episode, the Chinese smartphone firm has slapped those responsible with a fine.

That’s according to Reuters, which got its hands on an internal memo which reveals that two employees responsible have had their salaries reduced by 5,000 yuan, that’s around $730. In addition, one of the pair — reportedly Huawei’s digital marketing director — will have their income “frozen” for a year. While we don’t know their full salary packages and a $730 drop may be less than the cost of an iPhone, it is still bound to sting.

Worst of all, perhaps, it seems that they were not directly at fault for the mistake, which Huawei senior VP Chen Lifang said had “caused damage to the Huawei brand.”

The incident, Reuters reports, was due an error by an agency hired by Huawei:

The mistake occurred when outsourced social media handler Sapient experienced “VPN problems” with a desktop computer so used an iPhone with a roaming SIM card in order to send the message on time at midnight, Huawei said in the memo.

The irony here is that Apple’s near-blanket ban on VPN apps means it would probably have been easier to get access to Twitter using an Android phone. Instead, the agency apparently went to the trouble of acquiring a Hong Kong-based SIM card in order to hop over the Great Firewall and send this ultimately ill-fated missive.

It’s fun to joke about consumer companies relying on their archrivals, but the incident comes at a particularly challenging time for Huawei.

The company’s CFO is currently on bail in Canada where she awaits extradition to the U.S. on charges of fraud that could see her jailed for up to 30 years. But its core business is also under pressure.

Huawei may be best-known for its smartphone business, which ranked second in Q3 2018 with 14.6 market share according to IDC, but its telecom equipment unit has always been its biggest seller and now its future is uncertain. Intelligence leaders from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S — the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ — are reported to have agreed to a ban on all equipment from Huawei and fellow Chinese firm ZTE, and that’s something that allies such as Japan appear to be joining in on.

New e-commerce restrictions in India just ruined Christmas for Amazon and Walmart

The Indian government is playing the role of festive party pooper for Walmart and Amazon after it announced new regulations that look set to impede the U.S. duo’s efforts to grow their businesses in India.

Online commerce in the country is tipped to surpass $100 billion per year by 2022 up from $35 billion today as more Indians come online, according to a report co-authored by PwC. But 2019 could be a very different year after an update to the country’s policy for foreign direct investment (FDI) appeared to end the practice of discounts, exclusive sales and more.

The three main takeaways from the new policy, which will go live on February 1, are a ban on exclusive sales, the outlawing of retailers selling products on platforms they count as investors, and restrictions on discounts and cashback.

Those first two clauses are pretty clear and will have a significant impact on Amazon — which has pumped some $5 billion into India — and Walmart, which forked out $16 billion to buy India-based Flipkart.

Both online retailers have been able to make a splash by tying up with brands for exclusive online sales, particularly in the smartphone space where, for example, Amazon has worked with Xiaomi and Flipkart has collaborated with Oppo. The new guideline would appear to end that practice, while adding further restrictions to complicate relationships with vendors. From February, brands will be forbidden from selling more than 25 percent of their sales via any single e-commerce marketplace.

Walmart bought Flipkart for $16 billion, but already both founders of the Indian company have left [Photo by AFP/Getty Images]

Beyond restricting companies like Oppo — Xiaomi prioritizes its own Mi.com site for sales — that 25 percent ruling is a headache for Amazon, which operates a number of joint ventures with Indian retailers. Those JVs were designed to circumvent a 2016 ruling that prevented foreign e-commerce businesses from owning inventory, but now they seem outlawed.

Cloudtail India (a 49:51 JV between Amazon and Catamaran Ventures) is Amazon’s biggest seller while another major one is Appario Retail, a collaboration with Patni Group. Together, both sell more than 25 percent of product on Amazon, use exclusive deals and are part-owned by Amazon. That’s three strikes.

Those rules will have Amazon and Walmart-Flipkart working to find alternatives, but there’s more with restrictions on discounts and cashback offers, which could massively cramp the appeal of online commerce, which has been to undercut brick and mortar retailers with heavy subsidies.

Here’s the relevant part of the note:

E-commerce entities providing marketplace will not directly or indirectly influence the sale price of goods or services and shall maintain level playing field…

Cash back provided by group companies of marketplace entity to buyers shall be fair and non-discriminatory.

Exactly what constitutes a “level playing field” or “fair” may be open to interpretation, but clearly this update gives offline retailers a route to protest pricing on online retail sites.

The first thought is that these new updates are focused on the core business model tenants that make e-commerce what it is today.

“It will kill competition and there will be nothing for online retailers to differentiate on,” Amarjeet Singh, a partner at KPMG, href="https://qz.com/india/1508340/indias-new-e-commerce-fdi-rules-may-hurt-amazon-flipkart/"> told Quartz in a comment.

The new regulation is widely seen as a response to concerns from smaller sellers, who feel marginalized and powerless compared to larger organizations. Now, with capital-intensive policies such as discounts, exclusive sales relationships and strategic investment off the table, smaller players will gain a foothold and be able to do more from e-commerce, that’s according to Kunal Bahl, CEO of Snapdeal — a niche e-commerce firm that once competed head-to-head with Flipkart and Amazon.

It’s shaping up to be a very different year for e-commerce in India in 2019.

We finally started taking screen time seriously in 2018

At the beginning of this year, I was using my iPhone to browse new titles on Amazon when I saw the cover of “How to Break Up With Your Phone” by Catherine Price. I downloaded it on Kindle because I genuinely wanted to reduce my smartphone use, but also because I thought it would be hilarious to read a book about breaking up with your smartphone on my smartphone (stupid, I know). Within a couple of chapters, however, I was motivated enough to download Moment, a screen time tracking app recommended by Price, and re-purchase the book in print.

Early in “How to Break Up With Your Phone,” Price invites her readers to take the Smartphone Compulsion Test, developed by David Greenfield, a psychiatry professor at the University of Connecticut who also founded the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. The test has 15 questions, but I knew I was in trouble after answering the first five. Humbled by my very high score, which I am too embarrassed to disclose, I decided it was time to get serious about curtailing my smartphone usage.

Of the chapters in Price’s book, the one called “Putting the Dope in Dopamine” resonated with me the most. She writes that “phones and most apps are deliberately designed without ‘stopping cues’ to alert us when we’ve had enough—which is why it’s so easy to accidentally binge. On a certain level, we know that what we’re doing is making us feel gross. But instead of stopping, our brains decide the solution is to seek out more dopamine. We check our phones again. And again. And again.”

Gross was exactly how I felt. I bought my first iPhone in 2011 (and owned an iPod Touch before that). It was the first thing I looked at in the morning and the last thing I saw at night. I would claim it was because I wanted to check work stuff, but really I was on autopilot. Thinking about what I could have accomplished over the past eight years if I hadn’t been constantly attached to my smartphone made me feel queasy. I also wondered what it had done to my brain’s feedback loop. Just as sugar changes your palate, making you crave more and more sweets to feel sated, I was worried that the incremental doses of immediate gratification my phone doled out would diminish my ability to feel genuine joy and pleasure.

Price’s book was published in February, at the beginning of a year when it feels like tech companies finally started to treat excessive screen time as a liability (or at least do more than pay lip service to it). In addition to the introduction of Screen Time in iOS 12 and Android’s digital wellbeing tools, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube all launched new features that allow users to track time spent on their sites and apps.

Early this year, influential activist investors who hold Apple shares also called for the company to focus on how their devices impact kids. In a letter to Apple, hedge fund Jana Partners and California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) wrote “social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible, as many of their original creators have publicly acknowledged,” adding that “it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone.”

The growing mound of research

Then in November, researchers at Penn State released an important new study that linked social media usage by adolescents to depression. Led by psychologist Melissa Hunt, the experimental study monitored 143 students with iPhones from the university for three weeks. The undergraduates were divided into two groups: one was instructed to limit their time on social media, including Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, to just 10 minutes each app per day (their usage was confirmed by checking their phone’s iOS battery use screens). The other group continued using social media apps as they usually did. At the beginning of the study, a baseline was established with standard tests for depression, anxiety, social support and other issues, and each group continued to be assessed throughout the experiment.

The findings, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, were striking. The researchers wrote that “the limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group.”

Even the control group benefitted, despite not being given limits on their social media use. “Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baselines, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring,” the study said. “Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes a day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.”

Other academic studies published this year added to the growing roster of evidence that smartphones and mobile apps can significantly harm your mental and physical wellbeing.

A group of researchers from Princeton, Dartmouth, the University of Texas at Austin, and Stanford published a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that found using smartphones to take photos and videos of an experience actually reduces the ability to form memories of it. Others warned against keeping smartphones in your bedroom or even on your desk while you work. Optical chemistry researchers at the University of Toledo found that blue light from digital devices can cause molecular changes in your retina, potentially speeding macular degeneration.

So over the past 12 months, I’ve certainly had plenty of motivation to reduce my screen time. In fact, every time I checked the news on my phone, there seemed to be yet another headline about the perils of smartphone use. I began using Moment to track my total screen time and how it was divided between apps. I took two of Moment’s in-app courses, “Phone Bootcamp” and “Bored and Brilliant.” I also used the app to set a daily time limit, turned on “tiny reminders,” or push notifications that tell you how much time you’ve spent on your phone so far throughout the day, and enabled the “Force Me Off When I’m Over” feature, which basically annoys you off your phone when you go over your daily allotment.

At first I managed to cut my screen time in half. I had thought some of the benefits, like a better attention span mentioned in Price’s book, were too good to be true. But I found my concentration really did improve significantly after just a week of limiting my smartphone use. I read more long-form articles, caught up on some TV shows, and finished knitting a sweater for my toddler. Most importantly, the nagging feeling I had at the end of each day about frittering all my time away diminished, and so I lived happily after, snug in the knowledge that I’m not squandering my life on memes, clickbait and makeup tutorials.

Just kidding.

Holding my iPod Touch in 2010, a year before I bought my first smartphone and back when I still had an attention span.

After a few weeks, my screen time started creeping up again. First I turned off Moment’s “Force Me Off” feature, because my apartment doesn’t have a landline and I needed to be able to check texts from my husband. I kept the tiny reminders, but those became easier and easier to ignore. But even as I mindlessly scrolled through Instagram or Reddit, I felt the existentialist dread of knowing that I was misusing the best years of my life. With all that at stake, why is limiting screen time so hard?

I wish I knew how to quit you, small device

I decided to talk to the CEO of Moment, Tim Kendall, for some insight. Founded in 2014 by UI designer and iOS developer Kevin Holesh, Moment recently launched an Android version, too. It’s one of the best known of a genre that includes Forest, Freedom, Space, Off the Grid, AntiSocial and App Detox, all dedicated to reducing screen time (or at least encouraging more mindful smartphone use).

Kendall told me that I’m not alone. Moment has 7 million users and “over the last four years, you can see that average usage goes up every year,” he says. By looking at overall data, Moment’s team can tell that its tools and courses do help people reduce their screen time, but that often it starts creeping up again. Combating that with new features is one of the company’s main goals for next year.

“We’re spending a lot of time investing in R&D to figure out how to help people who fall into that category. They did Phone Bootcamp, saw nice results, saw benefits, but they just weren’t able to figure out how to do it sustainably,” says Kendall. Moment already releases new courses regularly (recent topics have included sleep, attention span, and family time) and recently began offering them on a subscription basis.

“It’s habit formation and sustained behavior change that is really hard,” says Kendall, who previously held positions as president at Pinterest and Facebook’s director of monetization. But he’s optimistic. “It’s tractable. People can do it. I think the rewards are really significant. We aren’t stopping with the courses. We are exploring a lot of different ways to help people.”

As Jana Partners and CalSTRS noted in their letter, a particularly important issue is the impact of excessive smartphone use on the first generation of teenagers and young adults to have constant access to the devices. Kendall notes that suicide rates among teenagers have increased dramatically over the past two decades. Though research hasn’t explicitly linked time spent online to suicide, the link between screen time and depression has been noted many times already, as in the Penn State study.

But there is hope. Kendall says that the Moment Coach feature, which delivers short, daily exercises to reduce smartphone use, seems to be particularly effective among millennials, the generation most stereotypically associated with being pathologically attached to their phones. “It seems that 20- and 30-somethings have an easier time internalizing the coach and therefore reducing their usage than 40- and 50-somethings,” he says.

Kendall stresses that Moment does not see smartphone use as an all-or-nothing proposition. Instead, he believes that people should replace brain junk food, like social media apps, with things like online language courses or meditation apps. “I really do think the phone used deliberately is one of the most wonderful things you have,” he says.

Researchers have found that taking smartphone photos and videos during an experience may decrease your ability to form memories of it. (Steved_np3/Getty Images)

I’ve tried to limit most of my smartphone usage to apps like Kindle, but the best solution has been to find offline alternatives to keep myself distracted. For example, I’ve been teaching myself new knitting and crochet techniques, because I can’t do either while holding my phone (though I do listen to podcasts and audiobooks). It also gives me a tactile way to measure the time I spend off my phone because the hours I cut off my screen time correlate to the number of rows I complete on a project. To limit my usage to specific apps, I rely on iOS Screen Time. It’s really easy to just tap “Ignore Limit,” however, so I also continue to depend on several of Moment’s features.

While several third-party screen time tracking app developers have recently found themselves under more scrutiny by Apple, Kendall says the launch of Screen Time hasn’t significantly impacted Moment’s business or sign ups. The launch of their Android version also opens up a significant new market (Android also enables Moment to add new features that aren’t possible on iOS, including only allowing access to certain apps during set times).

The short-term impact of iOS Screen Time has “been neutral, but I think in the long-term it’s really going to help,” Kendall says. “I think in the long-term it’s going to help with awareness. If I were to use a diet metaphor, I think Apple has built a terrific calorie counter and scale, but unfortunately they have not given people nutritional guidelines or a regimen. If you talk to any behavioral economist, not withstanding all that’s been said about the quantified self, numbers don’t really motivate people.”

Guilting also doesn’t work, at least not for the long-term, so Moment tries to take “a compassionate voice,” he adds. “That’s part of our brand and company and ethos. We don’t think we’ll be very helpful if people feel judged when we use our product. They need to feel cared for and supported, and know that the goal is not perfection, it’s gradual change.”

Many smartphone users are probably in my situation: alarmed by their screen time stats, unhappy about the time they waste, but also finding it hard to quit their devices. We don’t just use our smartphones to distract ourselves or get a quick dopamine rush with social media likes. We use it to manage our workload, keep in touch with friends, plan our days, read books, look up recipes, and find fun places to go. I’ve often thought about buying a Yondr bag or asking my husband to hide my phone from me, but I know that ultimately won’t help.

As cheesy as it sounds, the impetus for change must come from within. No amount of academic research, screen time apps, or analytics can make up for that.

One thing I tell myself is that unless developers find more ways to force us to change our behavior or another major paradigm shift occurs in mobile communications, my relationship with my smartphone will move in cycles. Sometimes I’ll be happy with my usage, then I’ll lapse, then I’ll take another Moment course or try another screen time app, and hopefully get back on track. In 2018, however, the conversation around screen time finally gained some desperately needed urgency (and in the meantime, I’ve actually completed some knitting projects instead of just thumbing my way through #knittersofinstagram).

Two-factor authentication can save you from hackers

Getty Images

If you find passwords annoying, you might not like two-factor authentication much. But security experts say it’s one of the best ways to protect your online accounts.

Simply put, two-factor authentication adds a second step in your usual log-in process. Once you enter your username and password, you’ll be prompted to enter a code sent as a text message or an email, or sometimes as a push notification on your phone.

In all, it usually only adds a few extra seconds to your day.

Two-factor authentication (sometimes called “two-step verification”) combines something you know — your username and password, with something you have — such as your phone or a physical security key, or even something you are — like your fingerprint or another biometric, as a way of confirming that a person is authorized to log in. You might not have thought much about it, but you do this more than you think. Whenever you withdraw money from an ATM, you insert your card (something you have) and enter your PIN (something you know) — which tells the bank that it’s you. Even when you use your bank card on the internet, often you still need something that you know — such as your ZIP or postal code.

Having a second step of authentication makes it so much more difficult for a hacker or a thief to break into your online accounts.

Why is two-factor important?

Gone are the days where your trusty password can protect you. Even if you have a unique password for every website you use, there’s little in the way to stop malware on your computer (or even on the website!) from scraping your password and using it again. Or, if someone sees you type in your password, they can memorize it and log in as you.

Don’t think it’ll happen to you? So-called “credential stuffing” or brute-force attacks can make it easy for hackers to break in and hijack people’s online accounts in bulk. That happens all the time. Dunkin’ Donuts, Warby Parker, GitHub, AdGuard, the State Department — and even Apple iCloud accounts have all fallen victim to credential-stuffing attacks in recent years. Only two-factor accounts are protected from these automated log-in attacks.

Two-factor also protects you against phishing emails. If someone sends you a dodgy email that tries to trick you into logging in with your Google or Facebook username and password to a fake site, for example, two-factor can still protect you. Only the legitimate site will send you a working two-factor code.

Enabling two-factor is a good start, but it’s not a panacea. As much as it can prevent hackers from logging in as you, it doesn’t mean that your data stored on the server is protected from hackers breaching a server elsewhere, or a government demanding that the company turns over your data.

And some methods of two-factor are better than others. As you’ll see.

The best way to two-factor your accounts

Let’s get something out of the way real quick. Even if you want to go all-out and secure your accounts, you’ll quickly realize many sites and services just don’t support two-factor. You should tell them to! You can see if a website supports two-factor here.

But as credential-stuffing attacks rise and data breaches have become a regular occurrence, many sites and services are doing everything they can to protect their users.

There are four main types of two-factor authentication, ranked in order of effectiveness:

A text message code: The most common form of two-factor is a code sent by SMS. It doesn’t require an app or even a smartphone, just a single bar of cell service. It’s very easy to get started. But two-factor by text message is the least secure method. These days, hackers can easily exploit weaknesses in the phone networks to steal SMS two-factor codes. Because SMS messages aren’t encrypted, they can also just leak. More recently, researchers found that this can be done on a massive scale. Also, if your phone is lost or stolen, you have a problem. A text message code is better than not using two-factor at all, but there are far more secure options.

An authenticator app code: This works similarly to the text message, except you’ll have to install an app on your smartphone. Any time you log in, you’ll get a code sent to your app. There are many authenticator apps to choose from, like Authy, Duo, and Google Authenticator. The difference here is that they are sent over an HTTPS connection, making it near-impossible for anyone to snoop in and steal the code before you use it. But if you lose your phone or have malware on your phone — especially Android devices — those codes can be stolen once they arrive on your device.

A biometric: Smile! You’re on camera. Often, in industrial or enterprise settings, you’ll be asked for your biometrics, such as facial recognition, an iris scan or, more likely, a fingerprint. These usually require specialized hardware (and software) and are less common. A downside is that these technologies can be spoofed — such as cloning a fingerprint or creating a 3D-printed head.

A physical key: Last but not least, a physical key is considered the strongest of all two-factor authentication methods. Google said that it hasn’t had a single confirmed account takeover since rolling out security keys to its staff. Security keys are USB sticks that you can keep on your keyring. When you log in to your account, you are prompted to insert the cryptographically unique key into your computer and that’s it. Even if someone steals your password, they can’t log in without that key. And phishing pages won’t work because only the legitimate sites support security keys. These keys are designed to thwart even the smartest and most resourceful attackers, like nation-state hackers.

There are several security keys to choose from: Google has its Advanced Protection Program for high-risk users, like politicians and journalists, and its Google Titan key for everyone else. But many security experts will say Yubikey is the gold standard of security keys. There are a few things to note. Firstly, not many sites support security keys yet, but most of the major companies do — like Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Twitter. Usually, when you set up a physical key, you can’t revert to a text message code or a biometric. It’s a security key, or nothing. A downside is that you will have to buy two — one as a backup — but security keys are inexpensive. Also, if one is stolen, there’s no way to determine your account from the key itself. But, if you lose them both, you might be done for. Even the company that stores your data might not be able to get you back into your account. So, be careful and keep one safe.

That’s what you need to know. You might want to create a checklist of your most valuable accounts, and begin switching on two-factor authentication starting with them. In most cases, it’s straightforward — but you can always head to this website to learn how to enable two-factor on each website. You might want to take an hour or so to go through all of your accounts — so put on a pot of coffee and get started.

You should see two-factor as an investment in security: a little of your time today, to save you from a whole world of trouble tomorrow.

Check out our full Cybersecurity 101 guides here.

The top smartphone trends to watch in 2019

This was a bad year for the smartphone. For the first time, its seemingly unstoppable growth began to slow.

Things started off on a bad note in February, when Gartner recorded its first year-over-year decline since it began tracking the category. Not even the mighty Apple was immune from the trend. Last week, stocks took a hit as influential analyst Ming-Chi Kuo downgraded sales expectations for 2019.

People simply aren’t upgrading as fast as they used to. This is due in part to the fact that flagship phones are pretty good across the board. Manufacturers have painted themselves into a corner as they’ve battled it out over specs. There just aren’t as many compelling reasons to continually upgrade.

Of course, that’s not going to stop them from trying. Along with the standard upgrades to things like cameras, you can expect some radical rethinks of smartphone form factors, along with the first few pushes into 5G in the next calendar year.

If we’re lucky, there will be a few surprises along the way as well, but the following trends all look like no-brainers for 2019.

5G

Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – DECEMBER 06: Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. The three-day conference opened on Thursday, with the theme of 5G network. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? It’s a bit tricky — after all, plenty of publications are going to claim 2019 as “The Year of 5G,” but they’re all jumping the gun. It’s true that we’re going to see the first wave of 5G handsets appearing next year.

OnePlus and LG have committed to a handset and Samsung, being Samsung, has since committed to two. We’ve also seen promises of a Verizon 5G MiFi and whatever the hell this thing is from HTC and Sprint.

Others, most notably Apple, are absent from the list. The company is not expected to release a 5G handset until 2020. While that’s going to put it behind the curve, the truth of the matter is that 5G will arrive into this world as a marketing gimmick. When it does fully roll out, 5G has the potential to be a great, gaming-changing technology for smartphones and beyond. And while carriers have promised to begin rolling out the technology in the States early next year (AT&T even got a jump start), the fact of the matter is that your handset will likely spend a lot more time using 4G.

That is to say, until 5G becomes more ubiquitous, you’re going to be paying a hefty premium for a feature you barely use. Of course, that’s not going to stop hardware makers, component manufacturers and their carrier partners from rushing these devices to market as quickly as possible. Just be aware of your chosen carrier’s coverage map before shelling out that extra cash.

Foldables

We’ve already seen two — well, one-and-a-half, really. And you can be sure we’ll see even more as smartphone manufacturers scramble to figure out the next big thing. After years of waiting, we’ve been pretty unimpressed with the foldable smartphone we’ve seen so far.

The Royole is fascinating, but its execution leaves something to be desired. Samsung’s prototype, meanwhile, is just that. The company made it the centerpiece of its recent developer conference, but didn’t really step out of the shadows with the product — almost certainly because they’re not ready to show off the full product.

Now that the long-promised technology is ready in consumer form, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing a number of companies exploring the form factor. That will no doubt be helped along by the fact that Google partnered with Samsung to create a version of Android tailored to the form factor — similar to its embrace of the top notch with Android Pie.

Of course, like 5G, these designs are going to come at a major premium. Once the initial novelty has worn off, the hardest task of all will be convincing consumers they need one in their life.

Pinholes

Bezels be damned. For better or worse, the notch has been a mainstay of flagship smartphones. Practically everyone (save for Samsung) has embraced the cutout in an attempt to go edge to edge. Even Google made it a part of Android (while giving the world a notch you can see from space with the Pixel 3 XL).

We’ve already seen (and will continue to see) a number of clever workarounds like Oppo’s pop-up. The pin hole/hole punch design found on the Huawei Nova 4 seems like a more reasonable route for a majority of camera manufacturers.

Embedded Fingerprint Readers

The flip side of the race to infinite displays is what to do with the fingerprint reader. Some moved it to the rear, while others, like Apple, did away with it in favor of face scanning. Of course, for those unable to register a full 3D face scan, that tech is pretty easy to spoof. For that reason, fingerprint scanners aren’t going away any time soon.

OnePlus’ 6T was among the first to bring the in-display fingerprint scanner to market, and it works like a charm. Here’s how the tech works (quoting from my own writeup from a few months ago):

When the screen is locked, a fingerprint icon pops up, showing you where to press. When the finger is in the right spot, the AMOLED display flashes a bright light to capture a scan of the surface from the reflected light. The company says it takes around a third of a second, though in my own testing, that number was closer to one second or sometimes longer as I negotiated my thumb into the right spot.

Samsung’s S10 is expected to bring that technology when it arrives around the February time frame, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of other manufacturers follow suit.

Cameras, cameras, cameras (also, cameras)

What’s the reasonable limit for rear-facing cameras? Two? Three? What about the five cameras on that leaked Nokia from a few months back? When does it stop being a phone back and start being a camera front? These are the sorts of existential crises we’ll have to grapple with as manufacturers continue to attempt differentiation through imagining.

Smartphone cameras are pretty good across the board these days, so one of the simple solutions has been simply adding more to the equation. LG’s latest offers a pretty reasonable example of how this will play out for many. The V40 ThinQ has two front and three rear-facing cameras. The three on the back are standard, super wide-angle and 2x optical zoom, offering a way to capture different types of images when a smartphone camera isn’t really capable of that kind of optical zoom in a thin form factor.

On the flip side, companies will also be investing a fair deal in software to help bring better shots to existing components. Apple and Google both demonstrated how a little AI and ML can go a long way toward improving image capture on their last handsets. Expect much of that to be focused on ultra-low light and zoom.