Ready for an unscratchable phone screen? Sapphire is coming | Digital Trends

By Jeffrey Van Camp — February 27, 2013

Earlier this month, a study showed that 23 percent of iPhone users have screens that are currently broken, and the average person has put up with their broken screen for six months. We can argue about the numbers all day, but chances are almost all of you are afraid of breaking your device screen. Drop your phone from just a few feet and you’re done. It’s over. Your screen has broke. Can you fix it? How do you fix it? Who do you contact? How much will it cost? These are the kind of questions that can ruin your day, your week, your month, or even your year.

We all carry around a smartphone and they’re all covered in highly breakable glass. Sometimes its soda-lime glass and sometimes its made of fancy Gorilla Glass, but even the best screens are still very easy to crack, break, and shatter. It’s no fun, but it may soon be a thing of the past. At Mobile World Congress, I stumbled upon one of the coolest new tech innovations in a very long time. And guess what? It’s as old as the earth itself.

GT Advanced Technologies is a company that manufacturers furnaces that melt down sapphire, and is at MWC this year to tell everyone that the sapphire industry is getting into the gadget screen business in a big way. Your next iPhone or Android device may very well have a sapphire screen. And it could save you a trip to some shady guy’s basement to fix your screen.

“Gorilla Glass is still glass, so the way that you break glass is that you score it, and then it breaks. So when you scratch your mobile phone, that’s why when you drop your mobile phone it breaks – because there are scratches in it,” Dan Squiller of GT Advanced told us as he let us scratch up a Gorilla Glass screen with a rock. “So, with sapphire, because you cannot scratch it, it doesn’t break. So if you drop your phone, or abuse it, it won’t break. It’s very very rugged. It won’t scratch; it won’t break … You could throw this phone against a cement wall and it won’t break … well, the phone might break, but the screen will stay intact.”

I was easily able to scratch the Gorilla Glass, and shatter it, but couldn’t make a mark on the sapphire. GT Advanced claims that its sapphire is about three times stronger than most chemically strengthened aluminosilicate glass, including Gorilla Glass, Dragontrail glass, soda-lime glass, and Xensation glass.

(I found Corning, maker of Gorilla Glass, at the show this week, but it had no representatives available for comment on how its glass compares to sapphire.)


GT Advanced demonstrations were compelling, and the science seems to back it up. Sapphire is a naturally growing crystal and is the second hardest substance on earth. It’s so hard, only diamond-tipped saws can cut it. GT Advanced grows sapphire and then melts and hardens them into ‘boules,’ which are 115 kilogram, or 254 lb. clear cylinders. Those cylinders are then cut into cubes, which are then chopped up into slices and shapes as thin and wild as you can imagine.

Sapphire can be made as clear as glass and as thin as you desire, and is the perfect material for a phone or tablet screen because almost nothing can scratch it. The crystal is regularly used in things like jewelry, watches, military windshields, LED TVs, and LED light bulbs, but the sapphire industry is a few years late to the game when it comes to mobile touchscreens.


“We’ve only just mounted the effort to sell it into the mobile space,” said Squiller. “We have won contracts with point-of-sale people like Motorola; they’ll be using it in their point-of-sale scanners. We didn’t realize what we had here, but the mobile industry has a huge problem with broken screens. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who come by the booth and take out their phone and show us their shattered phone.”

Right now, the only phone that uses a full sapphire screen is the Vertu TI, an $11,000 Android device . This is partially because of price: A sapphire screen costs a phone manufacturer about three times more than a Gorilla Glass screen, but GT Advanced doesn’t believe cost will be a barrier. Apple’s iPhone 5 uses a sapphire lens for its rear camera.

“Based on the conversations we’ve had with OEMS [Original Equipment Manufacturers], they’re willing to pay up to $15 or $20 for a better screen,” explained Squiller. “This will be $10 to $15 more expensive than Gorilla Glass. I think that [Gorilla Glass] display – that display that you just ruined – I think that was about $5 or $6 and we’re going to be at about $15 or so.”

But even if it takes a while to get phone and tablet makers like Apple and Samsung onboard, you won’t have to wait too long. Squiller already showed us prototype sapphire iPhone 5 screen protectors and replacement screens that will add next to no bulk to your device, and be available for anyone to buy “next year at this time,” or early 2014.

There are plenty of ways phones need to improve their durability in the years to come, but if sapphire screens take off, we might be able to scratch broken screens off the list. Or, then again, if today’s demonstration was any indication, maybe we won’t.

(Photos by Ben Nelson, Envision Studio )

WHO: Cell Phones and Cancer: Assessment Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans

A new World Health Organization report classifies radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use. (Credit: © fderib / Fotolia)

The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer1, associated with wireless phone use.

Background

Over the last few years, there has been mounting concern about the possibility of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless communication devices. The number of mobile phone subscriptions is estimated at 5 billion globally.

From May 24-31 2011, a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries has been meeting at IARC in Lyon, France, to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. These assessments will be published as Volume 102 of the IARC Monographs, which will be the fifth volume in this series to focus on physical agents, after Volume 55 (Solar Radiation), Volume 75 and Volume 78 on ionizing radiation (X‐rays, gamma‐rays, neutrons, radio‐nuclides), and Volume 80 on non‐ionizing radiation (extremely low‐frequency electromagnetic fields).

The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed the possibility that these exposures might induce long‐term health effects, in particular an increased risk for cancer. This has relevance for public health, particularly for users of mobile phones, as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children.

The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed and evaluated the available literature on the following exposure categories involving radiofrequency electromagnetic fields:

  • occupational exposures to radar and to microwaves;
  • environmental exposures associated with transmission of signals for radio, television and wireless telecommunication; and
  • personal exposures associated with the use of wireless telephones.

Story Continues -> WHO: Cell Phones and Cancer: Assessment Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans

Modders Make Android Work the Way You Want

By Mike Isaac

In one of many tweaks to the Android interface, a customized boot screen features scrolling lines of code. Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

CyanogenMod is one of the biggest hacks to ever hit the Android mobile platform.

It’s got an estimated 500,000 users. Many Android programmers use it as a starting point for their own coding projects. And according to the project’s founder, a number of Google employees have it installed on their Android devices.

Essentially, CyanogenMod is a tricked-out version of the software you’re already running on your Android phone.

Every Android-powered device comes running a version of the operating system, from 1.5 (Cupcake) all the way up to 3.1 (Honeycomb).

CyanogenMod replaces that stock OS with a custom build, letting you make adjustments to your phone that the official version prevents. It opens the door to more sophisticated custom wallpaper, changing the graphic that appears when the phone boots up, or more significantly, tethering your laptop to your phone’s data connection. With CyanogenMod installed, you can even overclock your phone’s CPU, so you can wring every last drop of processing power from it.

“You can customize the hell out of it,” says Steve Kondik, founder of the CyanogenMod project.

How a Hack Got its Start

Of course, it all began with a phone.

Debuting in 2007 as the flagship device for Google’s Android mobile platform, HTC’s G1 smartphone was the alternative to Apple’s immensely popular iPhone.

The G1 — also known as the HTC Dream — could be easily rooted, which meant giving you superuser access to the phone’s naughty bits. Essentially, it made customizing your G1 as easy as pie.

Steve Kondik had been waiting for a phone like the G1 for a long time.

“I had followed a few other Linux-based phones before,” says Kondik, citing offerings from Motorola and Nokia, “but they never had the sort of momentum that a company like Google could bring.”

And Google’s philosophy fit with what Kondik, a software developer working for a mobile content delivery company in Pittsburgh, was looking for: a more “open” platform for coders coming from a background in open source code, like Linux. Android, after all, is built on the Linux kernel.

fter each version of Android was made available for download to the public, Google published all of the code to an online repositorycalled Github, free for all to poke, prod and play around with. Developers could take any and all of that code and modify it to their heart’s desire.

Which is exactly what Kondik proceeded to do. “I had been using desktop Linux for ages,” he says, “and I just tried using some of those concepts to tweak the code. I had no idea what I actually wanted to do with the phone.”

After finishing his first version of CyanogenMod, Kondik posted the file to XDA forums, a popular message board in the Android modding community. “All of a sudden, my single-page thread is one hundred pages long,” Kondik says.

The Article Continues -> Modders make an Android work the way you want

Six rising threats from cybercriminals

Watch out for these cyberattacks that can turn smartphones into texting botnets, shut off electricity, jam GPS signals and more

By John Brandon

Computerworld – Hackers never sleep, it seems. Just when you think you’ve battened down the hatches and fully protected yourself or your business from electronic security risks, along comes a new exploit to keep you up at night. It might be an SMS text message with a malevolent payload or a stalker who dogs your every step online. Or maybe it’s an emerging technology like in-car Wi-Fi that suddenly creates a whole new attack vector.

hacker

Whether you’re an IT manager protecting employees and corporate systems or you’re simply trying to keep your own personal data safe, these threats — some rapidly growing, others still emerging — pose a potential risk. Fortunately, there are some security procedures and tools available to help you win the fight against the bad guys.

1. Text-message malware

While smartphone viruses are still fairly rare, text-messaging attacks are becoming more common, according to Rodney Joffe, senior vice president and senior technologist at mobile messaging company Neustar and director of the Conficker Working Group coalition of security researchers. PCs are now fairly well protected, he says, so some hackers have moved on to mobile devices. Their incentive is mostly financial; text messaging provides a way for them to break in and make money.

Khoi Nguyen, group product manager for mobile security at Symantec, confirmed that text-message attacks aimed at smartphone operating systems are becoming more common as people rely more on mobile devices. It’s not just consumers who are at risk from these attacks, he adds. Any employee who falls for a text-message ruse using a company smartphone can jeopardize the business’s network and data, and perhaps cause a compliance violation.

“This is a similar type of attack as [is used on] a computer — an SMS or MMS message that includes an attachment, disguised as a funny or sexy picture, which asks the user to open it,” Nguyen explains. “Once they download the picture, it will install malware on the device. Once loaded, it would acquire access privileges, and it spreads through contacts on the phone, [who] would then get a message from that user.”

In this way, says Joffe, hackers create botnets for sending text-message spam with links to a product the hacker is selling, usually charging you per message. In some cases, he adds, the malware even starts buying ring tones that are charged on your wireless bill, lining the pocketbook of the hacker selling the ring tones.

Another ruse, says Nguyen, is a text-message link to download an app that supposedly allows free Internet access but is actually a Trojan that sends hundreds of thousands of SMS messages (usually at “premium SMS” rates of $2 each) from the phone.

Article continues -> Six Rising Threats from cybercriminals

Six rising threats from cybercriminals

China''''s Rare-Earth Monopoly

An attractive material: Neodymium (shown here) is one of the rare-earth elements that are key to making very strong magnets for compact electric motors.  Credit: Hi-Res Images of Chemical Elements

The rest of the world is trying to find alternatives to these crucial materials.

By Adam Aston

For three weeks, China has blocked shipments of rare-earth minerals to Japan, a move that has boosted the urgency of efforts to break Beijing””s control of these minerals. China now produces nearly all of the world””s supply of rare earths, which are crucial for a wide range of technologies, including hard drives, solar panels, and motors for hybrid vehicles.

In response to China””s dominance in rare-earths production, researchers are developing new materials that could either replace rare-earth minerals or decrease the need for them. But materials and technologies will likely take years to develop, and existing alternatives come with trade-offs.

China apparently blocked the Japan shipments in response to a territorial squabble in the South China Sea. Beijing has denied the embargo, yet the lack of supply may soon disrupt manufacturing in Japan, trade and industry minister Akihiro Ohata told reporters Tuesday.

Rare earths are comprised of 17 elements, such as terbium, which is used to make green phosphors for flat-panel TVs, lasers, and high-efficiency fluorescent lamps. Neodymium is key to the permanent magnets used to make high-efficiency electric motors. Although well over 90 percent of the minerals are produced in China, they are found in many places around the world, and, in spite of their name, are actually abundant in the earth””s crust (the name is a hold-over from a 19th-century convention). In recent years, low-cost Chinese production and environmental concerns have caused suppliers outside of China to shut down operations.

Alternatives to rare earths exist for some technologies. One example is the induction motor used by Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Motors in its all-electric Roadster. It uses electromagnets rather than permanent rare-earth magnets. But such motors are larger and heavier than ones that use rare-earth magnets. As a rule of thumb, in small- and mid-sized motors, an electromagnetic coil can be replaced with a rare-earth permanent magnet of just 10 percent the size, which has helped make permanent magnet motors the preferred option for Toyota and other hybrid vehicle makers. In Tesla””s case, the induction motor technology was worth the trade-off, giving the car higher maximum power in more conditions, a top priority for a vehicle that can rocket from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. “The cost volatility going into the rare-earth permanent magnets was a concern,” says JB Straubel, Tesla””s chief technology officer. “We couldn””t have predicted the geopolitical tensions.”

More manufacturers are following Tesla””s lead to shun the rare-earth materials, although the move means sacrificing space and adding weight to vehicles. A week after the China dust-up began, a research team in Japan announced they had made a hybrid vehicle motor free of rare-earth materials, and Hitachi has announced similar efforts. BMW””s Mini E electric vehicle uses induction motors, and Tesla is supplying its drive trains to Toyota””s upcoming electric RAV 4. Given the volatility of rare-earth supplies, and the advantages induction motors offer in high performance applications, “It makes sense for car companies to give serious thought to using induction motors,” says Wally Rippel, senior scientist at AC Propulsion. Rippel previously worked on induction motor designs at Tesla and GM, where he helped to develop the seminal EV1.

Article Continues -> http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/26538/?p1=A2

Improving Phones through Surveillance

Apps that track how people use their phones could help make the devices more efficient.

By Tom Simonite

A cell-phone application that logs everything the phone”s user does–from sending e-mail to playing games–may not sound so desirable. But researchers are deploying the software to see if they can determine the best ways to improve the battery life of phones and uncover network dead spots.

Working with colleagues at Microsoft Research, Hossein Falaki, a PhD candidate at UCLA”s Center for Embedded Network Sensing, has developed software that records data use, phone use, and battery-charge levels. The software is designed to run on devices that use Windows Mobile or the Android operating system. The Android version can also track the data sent and received by individual applications.

“One major problem we all experience with smart phones is that the batteries don”t last long enough,” says Falaki, who will present a paper next month at the Internet Measurement Conference in Melbourne, Australia, on more than 2,000 days of data collected from eight Windows Mobile and 35 Android users. “By studying how people use [the phones], we can find ways to match devices and networks to people.”

For example, the tracking application uncovered data suggesting that a tweak to the hardware of two phones made by the Taiwanese manufacturer HTC– could save approximately 40 percent of the power consumed by their radios. These handsets automatically switch off the radio after being idle for 17 seconds, a tactic used by all handsets and often with a similar timeout value. But that is a poor match with the very “bursty” way that smart-phone users access data, says Falaki. “People take the phone out of their pocket, interact with it for a few minutes, and then don”t use it for a relatively long time after,” he says.

Logs of data use showed that after a burst of activity, users rarely needed more data in the subsequent 17 seconds, so the radio was often left on needlessly. In fact, some 95 percent of data packets were sent or received within 4.5 seconds of the last one. Resetting the device so that the radio powered down after 4.5 seconds would consume 40 percent less power without affecting performance, says Falaki.

“These ”tail times” are larger than they need to be,” says Arun Venkataramani, an assistant professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst who studies power use in mobile devices. “From an application and user perspective, there”s significant room for improvement.” The Microsoft-UCLA data agrees with results from his own experiments looking at the energy costs of cell-phone timeout periods, he says.

Article Continues -> http://www.technologyreview.com/communications/26524/?p1=Headlines

App allows users to view electrocardiograms on smartphones

The new IMEC/Holst Center ECG app

By Bridget Borgobello

Gone are the days when we simply used our mobile phones for calling people – now, we can conduct our own ECGs. We’ve already seen iPhone and Android applications that can create ultrasound images and that measure air pollution. Now tech companies IMEC and the Holst Center, together with TASS software professionals, have released a new heart rate monitoring application. This application follows on the heels of a heart rate monitoring webcam and mirror recently developed by MIT students, but will offer more portability.

The IMEC/Holst Center application is designed for Android, and it uses small monitoring sensors which can be easily placed on the user’s body. The sensors are connected to a necklace that will wirelessly transmit the heart rate data to your Android phone.

Within minutes you will receive your ECG (electrocardiogram) heart rate monitoring report, that can easily be stored or emailed to your doctor. The sensors are unobtrusive and can remain on the user’s body all day if constant monitoring is required. The application would be suitable for athletes, patients wishing to be monitored from home, and heart disease sufferers.

The small Android interface uses low power and is based on the Linux kernel, and is thus easily compatible with other Linux-based devices, such as PDAs or laptops. It also has the ability to integrate with all the features available on Google’s operating system, such as SMS, e-mail and data transmission over the Internet.

Follow link for video -> http://www.gizmag.com/app-to-view-electrocardiograms-on-smartphones/16664/