Apple Seeds New HomePod Firmware Alongside iOS 11.2.5 Beta

Apple today released a developer beta for iOS 11.2.5, and alongside it, the company seeded new firmware for HomePod.

Of course, the HomePod isn’t even out yet. As such, the new firmware isn’t available via the Developer’s Portal. Instead, it’s only available to install by early HomePod testers — which, at this point, is basically just people who work at Apple.

Apple employees have been testing the smart speaker in their own homes for quite a while now, which has led to some HomePod devices being spotted in the wild around the Cupertino area. These employees are, presumably, testing the HomePod to help Apple work out any kinks before the speaker launches in early 2018.

While it is downloadable by the public through third-party platforms, the firmware update is basically useless for anyone without a HomePod. That hasn’t stopped enterprising developers from poring over the data contained within, however.

In July, Apple unwittingly released HomePod firmware to the public, which inadvertently revealed a plethora of details about the smart speaker, as well as features of the then-unannounced Apple TV 4K and iPhone X — such as its facial-based recognition system and its sensor notch.

Currently, it’s unclear whether the new firmware will reveal any other secrets or features of HomePod. It’s worth noting that it probably won’t reveal any secrets about other upcoming Apple products since no new iOS devices are on the horizon. In October, another firmware version of HomePod was seeded with no product spoilers.

HomePod was first unveiled in June at Apple’s WWDC ’17 event. It’s a Siri-based smart speaker that’s more music-oriented than other competitors, featuring a 7-tweeter array, a proprietary 4-inch upward-facing woofer, and Apple’s own A8 chip. That chipset will allow for advanced features like spatial awareness and smart acoustical tuning.

Apple originally planned to release the smart speaker in December, but in November the product’s launch was delayed until “early 2018.”

No new features or forward facing changes have been discovered in iOS 11.2.5 beta. It’s reasonable to assume this update includes security patches and under the hood fixes only. Beta testers can download it now as an over the air (OTA) update.

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Disney Acquires 21st Century Fox, Paving the Way for Netflix Competitor

The Walt Disney Company has struck a deal with media mogul Rupert Murdoch to acquire 21st Century Fox, which includes the Twentieth Century Fox Film and Television studios and its cable and international TV businesses, in exchange for $ 52.4 billion in stock.

The deal is likely to be very consequential in the media industry, expanding Disney’s already-considerable reach in the entertainment market, adding franchises like “Avatar”, “X-Men”, and “The Simpsons” to a catalog that boasts films from Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and Pixar Animation Studios.

Disney will also gain the rights to 22 regional sports broadcasting networks in the US, international Fox assets like India’s Star TV network, as well as a stake in European broadcaster Sky plc. The Fox Broadcasting network, which includes the Fox News Channel and Fox Business News, will be spun off into a new company.

“The acquisition of this stellar collection of businesses from 21st Century Fox reflects the increasing consumer demand for a rich diversity of entertainment experiences that are more compelling, accessible and convenient than ever before,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger in a press release. “The deal will also substantially expand our international reach, allowing us to offer world-class storytelling and innovative distribution platforms to more consumers in key markets around the world.”

Under the terms of the all-stock deal, Fox shareholders will receive 0.2745 Disney shares for each Fox share held. Disney will also assume approximately $ 13.7 billion in Fox debt. Rumors of the deal, which first surfaced in November, sent Fox shares surging by 30 percent. Upon confirmation of the deal on Thursday, the shares climbed 5 percent further.

The acquisition also paves the way for the entertainment conglomerate to compete with streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon, by offering content exclusively on its own streaming service. Disney announced earlier this year in August that its distribution deal with Netflix is due to end sometime in 2019. The company plans to launch an ESPN-branded sport video streaming service in 2018, followed by a Disney-branded streaming service in 2019.

“The deal illustrates the huge strategic challenge traditional media companies face and how they need to reinvent their business models to compete with digital, online competitors such as Netflix, Google and Amazon,” said Nick Jones, partner and head of technology at Cavendish Corporate Finance, to Reuters. “(It) helps Disney dramatically reduce its reliance on traditional television, a business that has declined over the last two decades.”

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Apple Releases Final Cut Pro X 10.4 with 360-Degree VR Video Editing

Apple has released Final Cut Pro X 10.4 on Thursday, alongside the arrival of the iMac Pro. In addition, the company also released updates for Logic Pro X, Motion and Compressor.

Final Cut Pro X 10.4 includes a suite of new tools and features, including, for the first time, 360-degree video editing. Users can now import and edit 360-degree video in a wide range of formats and frame sizes. The new 360 video tools will allow editors to create virtual reality content, and view their projects in real-time with a connected VR headset.

“Final Cut Pro gives video editors the tools to create stunning, next-generation content,” said Apple’s Susan Prescott. “When combined with the performance of Mac hardware, including the all-new iMac Pro, Final Cut Pro provides an incredibly powerful post-production studio to millions of video editors around the world.”

The new version of Final Cut Pro also includes new advanced color grading tools, direct import of iMovie for iOS timelines, and support for HDR and Apple’s new HEVC video format. Standard photos and videos can also be added to Final Cut Pro VR projects, and 360-degree videos can be shared directly to platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.

Like Final Cut Pro, Motion has also been updated to support 360-degree, VR motion graphics. Users can now import 360-degree video, design VR titles and effects, and output their creations to a connected VR headset. Of course, it also adds support for playback and editing of Apple’s new HEVC video and HEIF photo formats.

Apple has also released a new update to audio editing app Logic Pro X. It includes optimized performance for iMac Pro users, including support for up to 36 cores with hyperthreading. It also includes various minor performance and stability improvements.

Apple’s Compressor compression and encoding app — which integrates tightly with Final Cut Pro — has also been improved with performance and stability enhancements.

The new versions of Final Cut Pro X, Logic Pro X, Motion and Compressor are now available in the Mac App Store.

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Suspicion Arises After Internet Traffic Was Rerouted Through Russia

Something really strange happened to the internet on Wednesday — and the currently unexplained incident is bringing up some troubling questions.

Reportedly, on Dec. 13, internet traffic sent to and from major tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft was briefly routed through a Russian internet provider. The incident involved the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), which funnels high-level traffic among internet backbones, ISPs and large networks, ARS Technica reported.

Researchers have called the event both highly suspicious and very likely a deliberate action. And many have called out the reliability of BGP communications: while BGP handles highly sensitive and large amounts of data, its security is usually based on simple trust and word of mouth.

According to a blog post, internet monitoring service BGPMon detected two hijack events that lasted a total of six minutes and affected 80 separate address blocks. The first event started at 4:43 UTC and lasted for three minutes, while another hijacking that started at 7:07 UTC lasted another three minutes.

Another internet monitoring service, Qrator Labs, also detected the strange incident. In their own blog post on the matter, Qrator reported that they detected an event that lasted for a total of two hours. During that time, hijacked address blocks varied from 40 to 80.

Why This Is Suspicious

While similar rerouting events in BGP are usually the result of simple human error, researchers at BGPMon called Wednesday’s incident “suspicious.”

For one, the data belonged to highly prominent companies (Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft), but also included Twitch, NTT Communications, and Riot Games. A few targets were seemingly handpicked, and researchers said that hijacked IP addresses were broken down into smaller and more specific blocks than announced by impacted companies — in other words, a sign that the hijacking was “intentional.”


The rerouting was performed by an autonomous system in Russia, AS39523, which added entires to the BGP tables claiming it was the origin of the 80 block addresses. Because of that, a lot of traffic got sent through that Russian system before reaching its destination.

Stranger still, AS39523 hasn’t been active in years — except for one BGP incident in August that involved Google traffic.


It’s not clear what AS39523 engineers could do with the terabytes of data they collected. Generally, that type of communications data is encrypted. There’s not currently a precedent for BGP hijackers decrypting data, but it’s certainly possible.

Worryingly, the Russian provider could have collected and copied the data for storage in case a method for decryption is developed in the future.

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GymKit for Apple Watch Is Officially Rolling Out in the U.S.

Apple’s new GymKit functionality is officially launching this week. The new Apple Watch feature was first unveiled at WWDC ’17 in June, and it’s now starting to roll out in the U.S. — but it might be a while before you can use it yourself.

What Is GymKit?

GymKit, put simply, is an NFC-based system that lets the Apple Watch interface and sync with a wide range of gym equipment. It’s designed to be extremely simple: just tap your Apple Watch to an NFC label on a GymKit-compatible machine, wait for the haptic feedback, and you’re good to go.

If you forget to tap at the beginning of the workout, on the other hand, that’s okay. As long as you tap anytime during the workout, the gym equipment and the Apple Watch will sync all of their recorded data thus far and will ensure current workout data is recent and accurate.

With the GymKit functionality, the Apple Watch and the gym equipment itself share tracking duties. A treadmill, for example, will keep track of pace, incline and distance, while a user’s Apple Watch will track calories burned and heart rate. All of this information will be synced across both devices and sent to Apple’s proprietary health apps.

Obviously, since standard gym equipment and wearable devices differ in their tracking capabilities, the GymKit synchronization will allow for the most accurate workout data possible — particularly since Apple’s health ecosystem should already know a user’s height, weight and minute-by-minute heart rate. The Apple Watch’s data will be supplemented by things that a treadmill is better at tracking, such as incline and distance.

Since the data is synced, you’ll be able to see information collected by an Apple Watch — like current heart rate and a more accurate caloric burn — on a supported treadmill’s display.

What Gym Equipment Will Be Compatible?

Apple’s gym equipment partners include LifeFitness, Cyber, TechnoGym, Matric, Star Trac, StairMaster and Schwinn. Together, these OEMs account for about 80 percent of the entire gym equipment marketplace. So, in time, your own gym should support GymKit.

Currently, GymKit works with four types of cardio equipment: treadmills, ellipticals, stair steppers and indoor bikes. Additional cardio-based equipment, like rowing machines, may be coming in the future.

Similarly, Apple Watch users will need to be running watchOS 4.1 to use GymKit.

Where Is It Rolling Out?

The main sticking point with GymKit currently is that it’s seeing an initially limited rollout. As of the writing of this article, GymKit-supported equipment is only available at one location in the U.S.: the Life Time Athletic center at Sky club in New York City, The Verge reported. Similarly, even though GymKit has already launched in the U.K. and Australia, it’s only available at one location in each country.

This will change in the future, however. Life Time Athletic, one of Apple’s first club partners, has announced that it will include GymKit machines in 14 of its new clubs in 2018. Similarly, Equinox has promised to outfit its new clubs opening in 2018 with GymKit equipment.

The other downside is that Apple’s current partners, Equinox and Life Fitness, are relatively expensive clubs. If you’re at a different gym, there’s currently no timeline as to when GymKit will come to your club. For that to happen, more gym equipment manufacturers and gym locations will need to get on board.

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Why the iMac Pro Will Be Apple’s Most Secure Desktop Ever

Apple’s $ 4,999 iMac Pro has already established itself as the company’s most powerful, advanced, and capable desktop computer. And while it technically won’t be available to order until early Thursday, December 14, some of the web’s most prominent reviewers have already been given hands on time with it, revealing that Apple’s five thousand-dollar iMac Pro is not only the company’s most powerful computer, but also its safest and most secure — thanks to the inclusion of a dedicated T2 chip.

What Is a T2 Chip?

According to iOS and Mac developer, Cabel Sasser, who was among the first tech experts to receive and review Apple’s new iMac Pro, the machine comes equipped with a next-generation T2 chip. It’s described as a next generation “security enclave” for iMac Pro, used to store encrypted passwords on the all-in-one desktop — and effectively acting as the machine’s personal “hardware encryption engine.”

“This new chip means storage encryption keys pass from the secure enclave to the hardware encryption engine in-chip — your key never leaves the chip,” Sasser explained in a Tweet. “And, it allows for hardware verification of OS, kernel, boot loader, firmware, etc.”

Apple began using these secure enclave chips back in 2013, when they were first featured in the company’s iPhone 5s. The T2 chip being used in Apple’s iMac Pro, however, is a “much more advanced” iteration of the original chips — and rightly so, being the first to appear in [an incredibly expensive] flagship Mac desktop.

Joining the iMac Pro are Apple’s latest MacBook Pro models featuring the OLED Touch Bar, which inherently boast Apple’s T1 chip to help facilitate Touch ID authentication. It’s unknown how the T2 chip, being second-generation, is more advanced than the T1 — however iMac Pro, unlike MacBook Pro, does not feature Touch ID technology. So we’ll really just have to wait and see what functional advantages the T2 chip has to offer iMac Pro users.

Startup Security Utility

Interestingly, Apple’s official iMac Pro spec sheet makes no mention of the T2 chip, whatsoever— though the machine itself ships running a unique build of macOS High Sierra, which encompasses a new Startup Security Utility.

As Casser noted, Apple’s combined hardware/utility solution provides iMac Pro users with a seamless yet sophisticated array of security settings, allowing for the “hardware verification of OS kernel, boot loader, firmware and more,” while the advanced security features can be tweaked, enabled or disabled at any time.

Another benefit, according to Apple Insider, is that “users can turn on a firmware password to prevent a computer from starting up from a different hard disk, CD or DVD without the password.”

In addition to its list of advanced components and technologies, Apple’s iMac Pro was originally rumored to ship with an A10 Fusion SoC co-processor to help facilitate Apple’s always on ‘Hey Siri’ functionality on the high-end desktop — however it’s yet to be confirmed whether the A10 SoC is in fact on board.

Otherwise, early reviews of the Space Gray-tinged iMac Pro have for the most part been glowing — as the machine is expected to go up for sale within a matter of hours.

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‘Top 5’ Phone Maker Mass-Ordered In-Display Fingerprint Readers

Interface tech company Synaptics announced on Tuesday that it has begun “mass production” of a display-embedded fingerprint sensor for a “top five” manufacturer.

The company’s new Clear ID FS9500 family is a series of optical, in-display fingerprint sensors. Notably, Synaptics said they’re specifically designed for edge-to-edge, bezel-free “infinity displays” similar to the one on the iPhone X and recent Android flagships. As far as how it works, the company states that its display-embedded sensors “magically activate” only when needed.

Synaptics has been working on display-embedded fingerprint technology for some time and announced its first working version — the Clear ID FS9100 — back in December of last year. The FS9500 announced today is an upgraded version of that technology.

The human interface company added that its fingerprint sensors work with wet, dry and cold fingers. Because it’s built under the display glass, it’s waterproof and scratch-proof. And, performance-wise, Synaptics said that it’ll work “twice as fast” as 3D facial recognition systems (which, at this point in time, is basically calling out Face ID).

Who Is the Fingerprint Sensor For?

Of course, the big question about Synaptics’ announcement is which smartphone maker has tapped them for the under-display fingerprint sensors. Synaptics did not specify beyond saying that it’s a “top five” OEM.

While it’s worth noting that Synaptics is a known Apple supplier, the Cupertino iPhone-maker has long relied on its own proprietary solution for its Touch ID tech. It’s also unclear whether or not future iPhones will even sport a Touch ID sensor — it’s been left off of the company’s newest iPhone X flagship, and Apple engineers have explicitly stated that Face ID is the future.

Combine that with rumors of Face ID coming to Apple’s entire iPhone lineup and possibly its iPad Pro lineup in 2018, and that makes the “top 5” OEM unlikely to be Apple.

It’s more probable that Synaptics is referring to an Android manufacturer, especially since a full-fledged, 3D facial recognition system is still forecasted to be a few years off for Android makers. As far as which Android manufacturer, Samsung, Oppo, Vivo and Huawei are all candidates.

Before the iPhone X’s unveiling in September, Apple was long rumored to be working on its own display-embedded fingerprint sensor technology. While several Apple staff have disputed those rumors, it’s still not clear whether Apple spent any energy exploring an in-display solution before settling on Face ID. While Apple could include a relocated, display-embedded Touch ID sensor in a future iPhone, it’s a bit far-fetched at this point.

On that note, knowing how Android manufacturers operate, it’s certainly looking likely that one of the major OEMs will “borrow” Apple’s rumored idea and debut a flagship with a relocated, under-display fingerprint sensor next year.

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Apple Releases iOS 11.2.1 with Fix for Critical HomeKit Vulnerability

Apple released iOS 11.2.1 on Wednesday, the eighth official update to the iOS 11 operating system and the first update to iOS 11.2. Notably, the new update fixes a critical security flaw within HomeKit.

Of course, more accurately, the bug re-enables remote access to shared users in Home. Apple intentionally disabled that feature last week when a pretty significant security vulnerability was discovered. iOS 11.2.1 turns that feature back on, and presumably, patches the vulnerability on Apple’s servers.

The zero-day vulnerability, which was first spotted on Dec. 7, could have allowed hackers to gain remote, unauthorized access to a wide range of HomeKit-enabled smart devices and accessories. Most worryingly was the ability to gain control of smart locks and smart garage openers, potentially allowing attackers to enter a home without a physical key or Home access.

The vulnerability was first reported by 9to5Mac, which had the security flaw demonstrated to it firsthand. Currently, it’s unclear how the security vulnerability worked or what elements of HomeKit it exploited. But reportedly, Apple had been aware of similar issues since October.

Of course, with the security implications so critical, Apple quickly introduced a temporary server-side by disabling remote access for shared users in the Home app. iOS 11.2.1 introduces a full patch for the vulnerability, and it reinstates remote access for shared users in the Home ecosystem.

Other Fixes

Other than the HomeKit fix, no major features were released in iOS 11.2.1, according to Apple’s release notes.

The update might have minor, under-the-hood changes, but apparently none substantial enough to warrant inclusion in the release notes. That’s justified because of the severity of the security vulnerability, however.

You can think of iOS 11.2.1 as an emergency update that you should install even if its feature list is pretty sparse.

How to Download iOS 11.2.1

iOS 11.2.1 is now available as a free, over-the-air update for all iOS users. To download and install the update, navigate to Settings > General > Software Update on your iOS device.

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T-Mobile Announces Its Own TV Streaming Service for 2018

T-Mobile on Wednesday announced that in 2018 it will launch its own internet TV service — a culmination of the Un-carrier’s recent acquisition of digital content pioneer, Layer 3 TV.

Calling it the “next phase” of his company’s mobile video strategy, T-Mobile CEO John Legere headlined the official announcement, noting how the upcoming service will be built using Layer 3’s technology to provide people who love TV, but hate their providers, a better option.

What Is Layer 3?

According to T-mobile, Layer 3 “seamlessly integrates the best of television, streaming online video content and social media.” And while it’s only available in limited number of markets across the U.S., at present, in acquiring Layer 3, T-Mobile ultimately hopes to tap into “the amazing content available from creators today” so as to change the present Cable TV distribution method for the better.

“People love their TV, but they hate their TV providers. And worse, they have no real choice but to simply take it – the crappy customer service, clunky technology and outrageous bills loaded with fees! That’s where we come in. We’re gonna fix the pain points and bring real choice to consumers across the country,” said Legere, T-Mobile USA’s President and CEO. “It only makes sense for the Un-carrier to do to TV what we’re doing to wireless: change it for good! Personally, I can’t wait to start fighting for consumers here!”

“No market needs Un-carrier-ing more than pay TV, so we’re completely stoked to join T-Mobile in disrupting the status quo,” added Jeff Binder, CEO of Layer3 TV, Inc. “Together with T-Mobile, we’re going to ditch everything you hate about cable and make everything you love about TV better.”

Additional Details

The service will reportedly be built from the ground up for customers who enjoy the benefits of cable TV, but want to free themselves from the service contracts, confusing bills, rocketing costs, outdated technologies, and “lousy customer service” they’d get from most of today’s TV providers.

T-Mobile cites the University of Michigan’s latest American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which reveals that of the 10 biggest American companies who received the lowest customer satisfaction score in 2017, eight are cable and TV providers.

“We’re in the midst of the Golden Age of TV, and yet people have never been more frustrated by the status quo created by Big Cable and Satellite TV,” said T-Mobile’s Chief Operating Officer, Mike Sievert. “That’s because the world is changing – with mobile video, streaming services, cord cutting, original content and more — and yet, the old guard simply can’t – or won’t – evolve.”

“It’s time for a disruptor to shake things up and give people real choice like only the Un-carrier can.”

Additional details about the service, including when it will launch in 2018 and how much it’ll cost, remain unknown at this time. However it’s definitely worth pointing out that T-Mobile is entering a highly-competitive market by pursuing its own mobile TV service — and while we certainly can’t compare or contrast it to the likes of Hulu, Netflix, YouTube TV or others at this time, we just hope T-mo is ready to put up a good fight.

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