2018 has started off with a busy week in the world of technology. Popular messaging app WhatsApp suffered an outage of about an hour as the new year rang in, leaving its billion-odd users a convenient means to send their wishes to friends and family. Nevertheless, 75 billion messages – including 13 billion images and 5 billion videos – were sent worldwide on New Year’s eve via WhatsApp, of which India accounted for 20 billion.
The WhatsApp outage was just the start of bad news for 2018’s first week though. Two new bugs – named Meltdown and Spectre – have been discovered, putting nearly all the smartphones and computers across the world at risk of being hacked. The effect of Meltdown is limited to products powered by Intel chips only, but a patch to fix the issue is underway and expected to be pushed to consumers next week. A report claims the fix will slow down the chips by as much as 30 percent. Spectre is said to be more difficult to fix, but also more difficult for hackers to exploit and so is not being considered an immediate threat. Apple also said all Mac and iOS devices are affected, but you can expect patches to be issued in the next few days.
Meltdown, Spectre Chip Flaws: Who’s Affected
A separate Android Trojan that targets banking apps as well as cryptocurrency apps was discovered as well. Named ‘Android.banker.A9480’, the malware targets 232 banking apps worldwide, including several apps in India; these include apps by the likes of Axis Bank, SBI, HDFC Bank, IDBI Bank, and Union Bank, among others. The Android malware can steal login data to the banking apps, contacts, SMSes, GPS location, etc. As it can read SMSes, it will be able to read any bank OTPs received on the handset.
Google removed a rogue extension with as many as 100,000 users from the Chrome Web Store this week. The Archive Poster extension was deleted from the store for deploying an in-browser cryptocurrency miner without the knowledge of its users. The cryptjacker to mine Monero cryptocurrency was present in at least four updates of the extension; a ‘safe’ version of Archive Poster, however, is still available to download.
In other Google news, the company is now testing charging users for high-speed data on its Wi-Fi network at railway stations. A Redditor posted screenshots showing the Google Station monetaisation options — users will be provided high-speed data for the first 30 minutes, after which they choose to pay either Rs. 19 for 24 hours of high-speed data or Rs. 149 for a week for faster data.
In other news, it became easier for people across India to link their Aadhaar number with mobile phone number for SIM re-verification, via IVR. Telecom subscribers need to dial a centralised number — 14546 — and follow the instructions on the IVR to easily link their and Aadhaar and mobile phone number. Airtel, Vodafone and Idea have already put the system in place. Separately, there was a report claiming Aadhaar data of India’s 1 billion people can be purchased for as little as Rs. 500, though UIDAI rubbished the report. The Aadhaar-governing agency claims there was no breach, and users’ biometric data «remains fully safe and secure.»
Jio will give a price cut to its popular plans with 1GB data per day on Tuesday. This will bring down the prices to the Rs. 199, Rs. 399, Rs. 459 and Rs. 499 plans to Rs. 149, Rs. 349, Rs. 399, and Rs. 449, respectively. The details of the plans, such as the bundled data, validity and the freebies, will remain the same as before. Reliance Jio will also launched a host of new plans with 1.5GB data per day on Tuesday, priced at Rs. 198, Rs. 398, Rs. 448, and Rs. 498.
Airtel earlier this week started offering 3.5GB data per day at Rs. 799, up from the original 3GB per day. This move undercuts the value of arch rival Reliance Jio’s Rs. 799 plan, which still has 3GB daily data allocation and, thus, gives users 14GB less data compared to Airtel. Consumers also get unlimited calls, free roaming outgoing and 100 SMSes per day with the latter’s plan. At the lower end of the spectrum, Idea also launched the Rs. 93 plan with bundled calls (250 minutes a day, 1,000 minutes a week), and 1GB of high-speed data for 10 days to compete with a similar plan at Rs. 98 by the Mukesh Ambani-backed operator.
Vodafone and Airtel also announced new offers providing cashback on Rs. 1,500 on select smartphones by Samsung. Airtel will give cashback of Rs. 1,500 to existing and new subscribers using Samsung Galaxy J2 (2017), Galaxy J5 Prime, Galaxy J7 Prime, and Galaxy J7 Pro. Subscribers need to purchase recharges of Rs. 2,500 in the first 12 months, and another Rs. 2,500 in the next 12 months to get the cashback. Similarly, Vodafone users on Samsung Galaxy J2 Pro, Galaxy J7 Nxt, and Galaxy J7 Max will get Rs. 1,500 as cashback over a 2-year period on buying recharges of Rs. 198 each month for 24 months.
HDFC Bank has started offering cashback of up to Rs. 10,000 on iPhone, MacBook, iPad, and Apple Watch models. The offer is valid till March 11 and can be availed on both credit cards and debit cards. Buyers of MacBook models priced above Rs. 1 lakh and iPhone X will get Rs. 10,000 cashback under the offer, while iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus will accrue cashback of Rs. 7,000. There are other cashbacks of varying amounts on iPhone 7, iPhone 6S, iPhone 6, iPhone SE, iPads etc. as part of the offer.
In smartphone news, Xiaomi gave a permanent price cut to Mi MIX 2, its flagship smartphone in India. The Mi MIX 2 smartphone will now be available at a Rs. 3,000 discount in the country, down from Rs. 35,999 to Rs. 32,999. However, more competition for the handset is on its way, as Honor View 10 price has been revealed as Rs. 29,999. The AI-powered Honor View 10 smartphone goes on sale on Monday, January 8 as an Amazon-exclusive. It has a 5.99-inch bezel-less display with 18:9 aspect ratio, Face Unlock, Android 8.0 Oreo-based custom skin, AI-powered portrait mode, octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 970 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 128GB internal storage, up to 256GB microSD support, dual rear cameras, 13-megapixel selfie shooter, and 3750mAh battery.
Also launching next week is the Galaxy A8+ (2018), as Samsung started sending out media invites for the January 10 launch in India. The smartphone is expected to compete with OnePlus 5T, Nokia 8 etc. as well, and sports a 6-inch Infinity Display bezel-less design, water- and dust-resistant body, and 3500mAh battery. Other key features of Samsung Galaxy A8+ (2018) are octa-core processor, 16-megapixel rear camera, dual selfie cameras, microSD support up to 256GB, and two storage+RAM configurations (32GB + 4GB and 64GB + 6GB).
OnePlus had a busy week, as its flagship OnePlus 5T received Android 8.0 Oreo-based OxygenOS update and a new variant of the model was launched. OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T also received updates, while an update was cancelled for the OnePlus 5. The Android Oreo-based OxygenOS Open Beta 1 brings an upgraded launcher with optimised app shirtcuts, system-level changes, and the standard Oreo features. There is no word yet on the public release of the update yet. The OnePlus 5T Sandstone White variant was also launched at $559 (roughly Rs. 35,400), featuring the textured sandstone back panel in white colour, red Alert Slider, and only one configuration (8GB RAM and 128GB storage). Other features remain the same as the regular model.
The OxygenOS 5.0.1 update was released for OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T this week, which includes the December security patch too. Some of the key features introduced by the update include support for aptX HD, a new Wi-Fi hotspot device manager, an «adaptive mode» screen calibration, and other bug fixes and improvements. It is also said to be advising users to uninstall the FactoryMode app. On the other hand, the OxygenOS 5.0 update for OnePlus 5 was cancelled due to a bug; users will get the OxygenOS 5.0.1 build in the next few days instead.
Xiaomi Mi A1 also started receiving the Android 8.0 Oreo update, weighing 1107.4MB, this week. It brings Oreo features such as Picture-in-Picture mode, new Notification dots, Background limits, Auto-fill, and Smart text selection to the Xiaomi Android One smartphone. On the other hand, the Mi MIX 2 Android 8.0 Oreo Global Beta ROM is stuck in development due to lack of testers. Users have until 9:29pm IST, January 8 to sign up to become the beta tester for the beta ROM.
The company’s Redmi Note 5 was in the rumour mill once again, with the price, specifications and a tentative time for release was leaked online. An online report said the handset will be launched in the second quarter at cost more than its predecessor, Redmi Note 4; in fact, the base variant is said to cost CNY 1,599 (about Rs. 15,700). It claims the handset is delayed as Xiaomi is waiting for Qualcomm to announce the launch of Snapdragon 632 processor. As for the other specifications, the Redmi Note 5 is said to have a 5.99-inch full-HD+ display, MIUI 9, and two variants — 32GB + 3GB and 64GB + 4GB.
One rival for the handset will be the Nokia 6 (2018), which was launched rather unceremoniously earlier this week. Compared to the original, there’s not much new in Nokia 6 (2018) are not too many differences, except that the processor has been upgraded to Snapdragon 630 and the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back. Other features of the original Nokia 6, such as the 5.5-inch display, 16-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel selfie camera, 4GB RAM and 3000mAh battery, have been carried forward to the 2018 model. As for the price, buyers will have to shell out CNY 1,499 (approximately Rs. 14,600) for the 32GB variant, and CNY 1,699 (around Rs. 16,600) for the 64GB model. It will go on sale starting Wednesday, January 10.
There seem to be a host of Nokia phones on the way, likely at Mobile World Congress 2018 in late February. One of these is the Nokia 3310 4G variant, which has been spotted on Chinese certification website TENAA once again, featuring a dual-core processor, 512MB storage onboard, and Android-based YunOS 5.2.0 software. Separately, the Nokia Camera app has revealed the Nokia 4 and Nokia 7 Plus are in the works as well, along with Nokia 8 (2018), Nokia 9, and Nokia 1.
Lenovo also made its presence felt in the first week of 2018 with a price cut for Moto C Plus in India, and the launch of its K320t smartphone in China. The Moto C Plus price cut is only temporary, and brings down the price to Rs. 5,999, making it better positioned to battle the Redmi 5A. The company’s new Lenovo K320t smartphone is available in China at CNY 999 (roughly Rs. 9,900) and is its first smartphone with a bezel-less display. The specifications of K320t include a 5.7-inch HD+, 1.3GHz quad-core Spreadtrum processor, 2GB of RAM, dual rear cameras, 8-megapixel front camera, 16GB internal storage, up to 128GB microSD support, and 3000mAh battery.