Millions of us have busted our smartphone displays, and then suffered through the unconnected days that followed until we could replace our screens or phones. But there aren’t many who crash the screen on the eve of a critical week of back-to-back meetings. Which is what I just did – the night before the start of CES early this month. But guess what? I managed to stay connected. I was already wearing what I needed to get by, just like Dorothy. But my pair of ruby-red slippers was a smartwatch, which I used as a portal into the phone. You could do it too – and with a little planning, fare better than I did. Here’s how.
Privacy and security have been hot buttons of mine, as regular readers no doubt have picked up. As a consequence, I’m asked to check out authentication apps nearly as often as I’m asked if I want fries with that.
Authentication technologies that restrict access to smartphones and tablets are becoming an increasingly important tool for IT in the unending quest to protect valuable digital assets. More employees are using mobile devices as portals into company data, which makes them tempting targets for hackers. The challenge for IT is to find authentication software that is both secure enough to be an effective gatekeeper and convenient enough that employees won’t mind using it.
That combination has proven to be elusive. Most of the apps out there employ the device’s rear-facing camera for face recognition, which is cool when it works. But it can be downright infuriating when it doesn’t. And you can rest assured that, sooner or later, it won’t work. Lighting can challenge the apps, as can glasses, hats, haircuts, scarves and sunburns.
Face recognition isn’t alone in that regard; just about every biometric authentication source invariably confronts challenging environments that confound the algorithms. One weekend a few months back, for example, I painted my little boat trailer with Rust-Oleum and the fingerprint scanner on my Samsung Galaxy S5 didn’t know it was my hands for three days.
Late last year, I got the first pitch I’ve heard that acknowledges that face recognition does not perform well in all situations. Sensory, which develops voice and vision biometric technology for consumer products, approached me about its new authentication app called AppLock. AppLock, which is available beginning today on the Android Play Store, leverages the smartphone’s microphone as well as the camera to employ both voice and vision to authenticate users. (If you’re having trouble with the link on your smartphone or tablet, just search the Play Store for “Applock Sensory.”)
That’s a critical distinction. When you challenge the app by wearing a Stetson at dusk, AppLock doesn’t get stuck. It quickly moves onto Plan B and summons voice recognition. And if you happen to be in a place where it’s inconvenient or embarrassing to cite your passphrase aloud, AppLock will always let you enter a PIN, pattern or password.
One cool thing is that the app learns from those situations. If you unlock an app with your voice or pass phrase, AppLock figures out that the last view of you was a good one. So it incorporates it into its decision-making smarts. I’ve been using AppLock for a few weeks now, and have watched it get progressively more adept at identifying me. I haven’t tried the Stetson, but AppLock now knows what I look like with sunglasses.
If convenience takes a back seat to security, you can change the settings so that AppLock requires both face and voice recognition. It also lets you choose which apps you want AppLock to guard.
AppLock is more of a demonstration vehicle than an end-game for Sensory, which licenses technologies to a wide variety of companies, including smartphone makers, wireless carriers, PC manufacturers and even toy companies. AppLock is built around its latest biometric recognition technology, called TrulySecure. Thus far, the Sensory has only released AppLock as an Android app. But it has TrulySecure SDK’s for iOS, Windows and Linux as well as for Android.
With its dual biometric factors, AppLock comes closer to the security-and-convenience ideal than I’ve ever seen. And with its ability to learn from its mistakes, it’s getting closer to that ideal all the time. That’s a critical piece of the puzzle. Take it from me: the last thing you want to do when you wake up is comb your hair into place just so you can read email on your phone.
Qualcomm announced here at CES that a dozen audio hardware and service providers are hopping onto the AllPlay bandwagon. They’re planning new products that connect to each other over WiFi to create instant sound systems, and music apps and services that take advantage of the systems.
Assuming my math is correct, the news will bring the number of hardware brands under the AllPlay umbrella to 15, and 18 music streaming apps and platforms. Building momentum by adding new supporters is vital at this stage of this white-hot market, because there is a sizable stable of competing wireless plug-and-play platforms all trying to build critical mass.
The alternatives fall into two camps, those that offer open approaches like AllPlay and Play-Fi from DTS, and closed systems such as those from Apple, Bluesound, Bose and Sonos. Sonos is the clear incumbent in the space, though I expect an interoperable platform to play a dominant role as well.
I’ve been playing with a pair of AllPlay speakers for the past couple of weeks. More precisely, I’ve been playing with two speakers: the compact PlayLink 4 speaker from Lenco and its big brother, the PlayLink 6. The speakers, which were announced late last year, can be configured as left-and-right stereo speakers – each one can play either role – or as a pair of multi-room systems. In the latter mode, the speakers can play the same song or separate streams. You can play music from your tablet or smartphone, and select songs stored on your device or streamed from the growing list of services.
The speakers also underscore the need for a better home network. I tried the devices using an older 802.11g router that was also supporting a few other devices. One speaker worked just fine. But when I added a second, I experienced gaps and delays that signaled the old router was sucking wind.
At home, with a comparatively more sophisticated 802.11n router that sports some quality-of-service features – but also supports far more devices than the 802.11g network – the system had no trouble playing songs in stereo through the speakers. There were a few annoying gaps when each speaker played independent music streams.
The jury is still out on which standard will prevail. But in addition to gaining some momentum with new hardware and services, AllPlay has something going for it that none of the others do: it’s part of the broader AllJoyn framework for the Internet of Things. That means services can tie more than just speakers and players together over the WiFi network. They could also use the living-room TV to display album cover art, for example. Or they could tap motion sensors so it could let your music follow you throughout the house.
So if you haven’t tried configurable WiFi music systems like the Lenco AllPlay speakers, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy it can be to put the music you want in the place you want it. The software is just as plug and play as the hardware. But be forewarned: make sure you’ve got a wireless router that’s beefy enough to support it. The more speakers – and the more streams you want to play over those speakers – the more network performance you’re going to need.