We track mobile phones and soup them up for group video calling, before testing the strength of Apple's Lion.
Mac OS X 'Lion'
£20; System requirements: Intel Core 2 Duo or better; Apple Mac computer with minimum 2GB RAM; Available from July, for download only, from the Mac App Store
Version 10.7 of Mac OS X – or 'Lion', as it's informally known – is the biggest update to Apple's operating system for its Mac computers since 2006. Many of the changes are internal and largely invisible, although they might cause concern for existing users who are upgrading.
Lion won't run programs for PowerPC-based Macintoshes – only 'Universal' or Intel-specific apps will work. Java has gone, too, although Lion will automatically download it if you try to run a Java app. Lion requires 2GB of RAM and won't install on the first generation of Intel-based Macs with Core Solo or Core Duo chips. Finally, there's no special server edition – the workstation edition contains the full server functionality for an unlimited number of users, which for £20 is quite a bargain.
Lion doesn't look radically different from previous versions, but it has various refinements, mostly imported from the iPhone and iPad. Launchpad is an easy way to find and start programs, resembling the iPad's main screen. All of the component apps have been updated, with some, such as Mail and Address Book, reaching iPad-like simplicity. Similarly, many apps have a new fullscreen mode, hiding the Dock and menu bar for fewer distractions. Exposé, Spaces and Dashboard have all merged into 'Mission Control,' a handy overview for rapidly flipping between tasks.
There's also pervasive multitouch support if you have a suitable touchscreen or trackpad. If you have a plain old mouse, the most obvious aspect of this is that when you flick the scrollwheel of your mouse, windows scroll in the opposite direction to what you'd expect. This can be changed in System Preferences, however.
Other changes will require apps to be updated. When it's rebooted, Lion picks up exactly where you left off, with all the same programs and documents you were working on open in the same places. Linked to this are silent background saves of your files, so you don't need to periodically stop working and save. Should it save something you didn't want, you can also revert back to previous saved versions.
Mac OS X 10.7 is a major release and the biggest change the Mac has seen in half a decade. It's a welcome boost to Apple's Mac platform, which has been neglected in all the fuss over the iPhone and iPad. However, as with all major changes, not all will be welcome.
Group Video Calling
Remember all those adverts for 3G mobile phones, and how they would enable us to make video calls on the move? It didn't happen – but like the home videophone, which is finally becoming a reality of sorts thanks to software such as Skype, that is now changing.
It is not yet Skype that is taking it mobile, though. A few issues back (see http://bit.ly/ 11_04_software) we looked at Skype's Group Video Calling service and noted that what's now the videoconferencing arm of Microsoft still couldn't offer video calls via mobile phones. Instead, younger and more agile software developers have seized the initiative.
Israeli firm Fring has released Group Video Calling for the mobile phone, allowing up to four people to share a video conference. Available for Android and iPhone, it uses proprietary technology called DVQ to deliver video that is pretty good, even if it is unlikely to be the photo-quality video of Fring's adverts.
Of course, there are some caveats. An obvious one is that you need a phone with a front-facing camera, and many handsets only have a rear-facing one. You can get by with a mirror, just about, but it is not ideal!
The program is also quite sniffy about its connection, insisting on 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi, and nothing else. In one test it even refused to provide video over an HSDPA connection, even though HSDPA is a member of the 3G family – and an enhanced high-speed member at that.
Be warned too that it does require a fairly powerful handset. Fring's publicity says it works on 'Android devices', but on some pretty mainstream handsets, such as the HTC Wildfire, it will only offer audio calls. Fring's tech support says the Wildfire 'is not strong enough to run video calls'.
Mobile Security 10
With mobile phone malware in the news recently, and with Android in particular attracting attention from cyber criminals, it is time to consider protecting the phone. That is especially true if you also use it for work, so it has potentially valuable email and contact data on it as well as your e-banking passwords, or if it is used by a child.
Available for Android, BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian and Windows Mobile, BullGuard Mobile covers antivirus and anti-spyware tools, and also allows a parent to monitor a child's phone messages and photos. The Symbian and Windows Mobile versions have spam-filtering too.
Once installed and registered on the phone you can do some things locally, such as start a virus scan or backup your contacts and calendar to Bullguard's server. These and several more features can also be controlled from the Bullguard website. Here you can lock and unlock the phone, see what texts have been sent and received and check the call log, wipe its memory completely, locate it on the map (if it has GPS turned on), and turn on an audible alarm; the latter two are also useful if you can't remember where you left your phone, not only when it's stolen.
You can also see which apps are installed on the phone, and uninstall them remotely if you want.
The remote control features work via coded text messages sent to the phone, so will not work if it is out of coverage or switched off, plus the arrival of a gobbledegook text may alert its user that something is going on. It is also possible to uninstall the program, so a tech-savvy child or thief could do just that.
If all you want to do is find, protect and lock your Android phone, a simpler and cheaper alternative to Mobile Security 10 is Cerberus. This too gives remote control over the device, either via its Internet connection and the Cerberusapp website or by text messages from another phone; these texts do not show up on the receiving phone.
As well as the ability to sound an alarm, wipe both memory and the SD-card, see the call and text message logs, lock the device and locate it on the map, other useful features include the ability to tell it to record audio from the microphone or take a photo. Usefully, on newer devices running Android Gingerbread the program can turn the GPS receiver on if necessary.
It can also send you alerts if the SIM card is changed – including the new phone number, of course – and it can be hidden from the app drawer and protected against uninstallation. On a rooted phone – rooting is similar to iPhone jailbreaking, giving you 'superuser' access to Android – it can be protected to the extent that the only way to delete it is to give the phone new firmware.
In our testing, the app was very easy to use via the website, and tracking was remarkably quick, even indoors.
Be warned though that – like Bullguard – it cannot be totally thief-proof. For example, there are reports of fences encouraging thieves to remove the battery as soon as they steal a phone, to prevent it receiving a wipe or lock signal. The phone can then be restarted inside a Faraday cage to try and steal the data on it.