The smartphone market has reached technical maturity and there's not really that much left to argue about cellphones
So, BlackBerry 10 is as dead as a can of Spam, Windows Phone is rapidly following it into the dustbin of tech history, and the only real choice in mobile today is between Google's Android and Apple's iOS (which is also, notably, losing market share). And, let's face it, nothing is likely to come of Canonical's belated Ubuntu phone initiative. But does anybody really care anymore?
In the early days of a new technology it seems like there's something exciting coming out every week. There are worthy debates to be had about technological directions, microprocessors, user interface choices, development languages, everything.
But then, over time, the market sorts out the men/women from the boys/girls (delete as applicable), standards are decided and almost everything begins to look the same.
PCs turn into boring beige boxes all running pretty much the same operating system, smartphones turn into black or white rectangles, again most of them running the same operating system. The radical design of the BlackBerry Passport seems to have been roundly rejected by the market.
That's not to say that the world of smartphones has become entirely moribund. Apple's 64-bit ARM-based microprocessor developments, for example, could lead to genuinely converged platforms, or maybe Microsoft will get there first. But these are somewhat peripheral to the smartphone itself.
Sure, whenever we write about smartphones there are always plenty of fanboys who come out of the woodwork to support their favourite operating system or company, including, quite remarkably, BlackBerry fans. Yes, they're still around. This is an attitude I find mystifying - we're talking about profit-making companies and what are ultimately inanimate tools - but to each their own.
Yet the operating system battles that pitted Symbian and its various derivatives, Apple, Android, FirefoxOS, PalmOS, WebOS, Windows Mobile/Phone and Tizen against each other are as good as over. Quite simply, smartphones have largely ceased to be interesting. What more of consequence is there to say or to obsess over?
Smartphone hardware platforms are all pretty similar, the form factors of the devices are all more or less the same and they all do much the same in pretty much the same way. All the great artists have wisely copied the best from each other.
Sure, if you want the best camera a Microsoft Lumia 950 is terrific, and BlackBerrys remain top-class for email with the Messaging Hub. But whatever feature you want, pretty much any smartphone will do it competently with only the most trivial of operating system twists depending on how much you want to spend. So what's there to get excited about?
All that's left for the fanboys to squabble over is the vanity of petty differences, which perhaps explains why some of them can be so vociferous (or 'passionate', if you prefer). But arguing the toss over smartphones will soon be as big a waste of time as arguing in favour of DR-DOS over MS-DOS.
The tech wagon is already moving on. Indeed soon, perhaps, the fanboys will argue about cloud providers and machine learning, if they can get their heads around it, and debate the various merits of one brand of robots compared with another.
A woman from Cairns, Australia, used Siri to call an ambulance for her one-year-old daughter when she stopped breathing.
Stacey Gleeson grabbed her iPhone and ran to the child's room to help her but dropped it as she turned on the light.
She shouted at the handset to activate Siri and told it to get the emergency services on speakerphone as she began CPR.
Ms Gleeson told the BBC she feels it may have saved her daughter's life.
She instructed Siri to call an ambulance on speakerphone and was able to communicate with the emergency services while resuscitating Giana.
Giana, who had been battling a chest infection and bronchiolitis, was breathing again when the ambulance arrived,
The child made a full recovery and doctors have told Ms Gleeson there was no lasting damage, but that every second had been vital.
It happened in March but the story has now gone viral after Ms Gleeson contacted Apple, who alerted Australian news outlet 7 News.
"As cheesy as it sounds I wanted to say thank you," she told the BBC.
"I've only had the phone since the start of the year.
"I had played around with Siri, I thought it was a fun feature. Now I have that feature turned on all the time and it will never be turned off again."
She had previously used it to call her husband Nic, who is in the Navy, on loudspeaker while getting the children ready for bed.
The function doesn't work on all iPhone models but Ms Gleeson has an iPhone 6S.
She said that even if she hadn't dropped the phone, she may have struggled to dial the number in the heat of the moment. "Saving me the trouble of having to physically dial emergency services was a godsend."
Soon enough, robots may wander permanently in our sewers, just below our homes and neighbourhoods, analyzing our diets and our health as they suck up what we flush down.
It's already started under the streets of Cambridge, Mass., venerable home of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Canadian architect Newsha Ghaeli oversees a team of lab-coated MIT research fellows staring down an open manhole cover into the oozing sludge below. Down there are the answers, and the hope of detecting viral outbreaks long before doctors are even called, using a system of sensors that quickly and inexpensively monitors public health.
Robots like this one are being lowered into city sewers to sample human waste. In doing so, they may be able track people's health and look for diseases in different neighbourhoods. (CBC)
The team works on a project called Underworlds. They lower Luigi — a tube-like robot — to just above the sewage. Then, controlled by a smartphone app, Luigi drops tubes into the stream. A small pump sucks up the liquid and runs it through a filter.
Subsequent analysis in the laboratory typically finds 50,000 different bacteria, a host of viruses and other matter that, until a short time earlier, were inside a person.
"We are learning about the people that live in each of those neighbourhoods," researcher Jessica Snyder explains. The data can provide information about the residents' health habits, nutrition, and their lives.
By the time sewage sludge reaches a treatment plant, it's been watered down and is useless as a sample. But where it exits homes, as much as 70 per cent can be human waste and a rich source of biological information.
Salt intake test
MIT has partnered with Kuwait City in this project. Its residents have some of the highest salt intakes in the world, which can lead to a variety of health problems. The Kuwaiti government is working to change that — but needed a way to measure salt intake honestly and widely. So Luigi analyses poop and — over time — can tell if neighbourhood salt levels are declining.
Salt worse than sugar, says Canada's leading sodium doctor The researchers now run specific projects manually, measuring repeatedly in the same spot over several weeks or months. They need to take the robots back to the lab to analyze the samples.
Newsha Ghaeli robot
Canadian architect Newsha Ghaeli holds the sewer robot Luigi. Once it has been lowered into the sewers, it's controlled by a smartphone app. A small pump sucks up sewage samples and runs them through a filter. (CBC)
In the future, however, they plan to have self-propelled robots with extremely long battery lives, capable of navigating among neighbourhoods, analyzing sewage contents while in the sewer itself and relaying information wirelessly to a central authority.
"One of the holy grails of this project during its inception was to identify viral outbreaks," says Snyder.
Long before people visit a doctor's office, they visit the toilet. So a highly contagious pathogen, such as norovirus or Ebola, could be identified soon after infection — and treatment could be targeted at that neighbourhood.
And once patterns of sickness are visible for certain illnesses, such as the seasonal flu, says Snyder, "medical support would be able to anticipate these outbreaks and help mitigate them."
But the work on virus identification is in its earliest stage. It will be years before science is able to quickly identify specific viral dangers hidden in the mass of excrement, urine and wastewater. Work is being done in New York City and Shanghai to isolate and categorize the thousands of micro-organisms.
Tracking illegal drug use
More immediately though, the city of Boston is now using Luigi (and its predecessor Mario, both named after the protagonists of the sewer-based video game Super Mario Bros.) to identify neighbourhoods where heroin use is spiking. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh then plans to focus law enforcement and health resources on those areas.
Right now, samples need to be brought back to the lab for analysis. But in the future, researchers hope the robots will be able to do the analysis right in the sewers and report back to them wirelessly. (CBC)
In Europe, a continent-wide study of sewage revealed cocaine and ecstasy use was greatest in large cities on weekends, but cannabis and methamphetamine use was more evenly distributed throughout the week.
In Chicago, work is being done on a battery-powered sensor housed inside a suitcase-sized casing that runs DNA amplification reactions. It can search for 385 commonly found organisms — such as different kinds of bacteria, in a single sample of wastewater — and transmit the findings via Bluetooth.
Few cities are using the Smart Sewer technology worldwide, but as the capabilities of robots expand to work longer underground with the ability to rapidly analyse micro-organisms, more are expected to adopt the idea.
Vast distances in space mean speed is essential for exploration beyond our solar system
The announcement this week of a plan to send a fleet of small, light-powered spacecraft to our nearest neighbouring star, Alpha Centauri, shows that starships of the future won't carry hundreds of crew, as they do in science fiction. If you want to go far and fast, you have to go small.
The plan, called Breakthrough Starshot, is being funded by billionaires Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg. Support is coming from astrophysicists Stephen Hawking and Freeman Dyson, who worked on a starship project in the 1970s called Daedalus.
But unlike Daedalus, or fictional starships such as the Enterprise of Star Trek fame, which are huge vessels carrying hundreds of crew, the Breakthrough project involves a fleet of tiny spacecraft. Each one is only a few centimetres across and would be blown across space on a powerful laser beam, like leaves scattered by a leaf blower.
The extremely lightweight craft could potentially reach 20 per cent of the speed of light and arrive at the nearest star to our sun in just two decades.
While this concept has its challenges, such as building the world's most powerful laser, pointing it skyward while telling everyone it's not a space weapon or making sure the high velocity craft are not destroyed by a passing piece of space dust, the idea of sending something very small, very far away, has a lot of merit.
Britain Extraterrestrials Russian tech entrepreneur Yuri Milner wants to deploy thousands of tiny spacecraft to travel to our nearest neighbouring star system. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)
Space is so vast that if you want to go anywhere beyond our solar system, you need to travel extremely quickly.
Otherwise, it will take longer than your lifetime to get there. And when it comes to speed, small, light objects take much less energy to move than massive vessels that have to act as space colonies to keep the crew alive during the voyage.
You can also send a lot of small ones, so if some are lost, the mission can still succeed. A giant starship has all the eggs in one basket, so to speak.
Hard on the human body
The other reason to go small is for the health of the crew.
Astronauts such as Scott Kelly, who just spent a year aboard the International Space Station, have shown that spaceflight is hard on the human body.
Bones lose calcium, the immune system is depressed and vision problems can appear, in addition to the psychological stress of living in a tin can, separated from family, friends and the great outdoors for long periods of time.
Setting out on a journey that would take decades makes little sense from a health point of view. Instead, we can explore remotely, with tiny machines that carry artificial versions of our senses, to find out what's out there.
hi-852-starship-enterprise-rtr1g12y Future long distance space travel is unlikely to look like the Starship Enterprise. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)
So, until faster-than-light travel is invented — which, so far, defies the laws of physics — interstellar ships will be small.
That raises an interesting question: Have other civilizations on other planets come to the same conclusion? Are there fleets of tiny alien spacecraft, wandering among the stars, that are too small for our telescopes to detect?
Maybe tiny alien spaceships do exist
In science fiction, alien spaceships are usually portrayed as large vessels, usually saucer-shaped, that carry strange-looking occupants of some kind.
But from an efficiency standpoint, that is not the best way to explore the galaxy. Perhaps tiny, robot, alien spaceships are passing by all the time, but they are too small to show up in our telescopes or we mistake them for interstellar space dust, micro-meteoroids or small asteroids.
I was thinking about this one warm summer evening, when a small insect began buzzing around my head. At one point, it hovered motionless right in front of my face, then made a series of very precise motions involving 90-degree angles.
I wondered, "Is this an alien spaceship checking me out?"
123456 is tops again, but lots of new entries are longer or Star Wars themed
If your password is on this list, you better change it ASAP. The 25 worst passwords of 2015 have been released by Los Gatos, Calif.-based SplashData.
The company, which makes password management software, compiles the annual list from the most common passwords leaked online each year — more than two million in 2015.
Fake answers make online security questions less secure Think 1qaz2wsx is a strong password? Think again. It's based on the first two columns of keys on a standard keyboard, and it made No. 15 on this year's list.
It was among several new and longer passwords on the list for the first time, along with qwertyuiop and 1234567890. They suggest users and websites may be making more of an effort to make their passwords more secure, SplashData said.
"But they are each based on simple patterns that would be easily guessable by hackers," the company added in a news release, making their extra length "virtually worthless as a security measure."
Of course, not everyone is even making an effort.
The password 123456 and "password" itself remain the top two commonly used passwords, respectively – as they have every year since SplashData started compiling the annual list in 2011.
"Baseball" and "football" both made the top 10, as usual, but football (#7, up from #10) overtook baseball (#10, down from #8) in popularity.
Three new popular passwords on the list may be blamed, in part, on this year's release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens: starwars, solo and princess.
"As we see on the list, using common sports and pop culture terms is also a bad idea," SplashData CEO Morgan Slain said in a statement.
Three other new appearances were welcome, login and passw0rd.
Passwords: 7 ways to make them stronger
Here's the complete list, along with each word's place last year in brackets:
Facebook founder's privacy breach demonstrates how bad many of us are at keeping data protected
Even tech billionaires get hacked sometimes.
Case in point — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's Twitter and Pinterest accounts were recently compromised.
And according to CBC Radio technology columnist Dan Misener, it's a cautionary tale for all of us.
How did Mark Zuckerberg get hacked?
You might remember that back in May, LinkedIn confirmed that more than 100 million passwords had been leaked.
If you have an account on LinkedIn, you might have received an email about this. And it seems Mark Zuckerberg's LinkedIn password was part of the breach.
According to the group claiming responsibility for the hack, his password was pretty weak — "dadada." It was known that he'd recently become a father, so that's not a hard password to guess.
So it seems hackers were able to gain control of his Twitter and Pinterest accounts, by using that same password.
The implication is that Mark Zuckerberg, like many of us, used the same password for a number of different sites and services.
Are there other password leaks we should be worried about?
During the same weekend news broke about the Zuckerberg hack, news emerged that the social network VK was also hacked, and 100 million passwords were leaked. VK isn't big in here in Canada, but it is the largest social network in Europe, and it's especially popular in Russia.
These VK passwords were reportedly stored in plain text, with no encryption. And that leak gives us some interesting insight into the kinds of passwords people choose.
Spoiler alert: most people's passwords are not very strong.
The most popular leaked password was "123456." The second most popular password was "123456789." And in the third spot: "qwerty."
Another major breach came to light in May, when the website LeakedSource — which maintains a searchable database of leaked records — said more than 360 million MySpace accounts were being shopped around on dark web marketplaces.
Once again, the Myspace breach gives us a peek into our collective bad password hygiene. Among the most popular passwords were "password1," "abc123," and the ubiquitous "123456."
I'm not Mark Zuckerberg and I don't use LinkedIn. Do I need to worry about these breaches?
Yes. Even if you're not a high-profile target like Mark Zuckerberg, and even if your own personal password never gets leaked, these types of data breaches affect us all.
When millions of passwords get leaked — as we've seen with LinkedIn and MySpace and VK — that information helps hackers get better at their jobs, according to Carleton University computer science professor Anil Somayaji.
"In order to crack passwords, they have to guess passwords," he said.
"What's the best way of guessing a password, other than having examples of passwords? It's no question that these big data dumps teach the password crackers what kind of passwords people pick."
So even if your personal details aren't leaked, these massive data breaches have negative security consequences for everyone, because it's one more tool in the hackers' toolkit.
How do I know if my password has been part of a leak?
There are tools out there that can help with this. My favourite is a site called HaveIBeenPwned.com.
It's a searchable database of accounts that have been compromised in data breaches. You go to the website, enter your email address or username, and it searches through almost a billion records of accounts that have been leaked.
What I like most about the site is that it has an option to notify you about future breaches. So if, for instance, next month there's a major data breach of a social network, and your account is part of it, they'll email to let you know. And that, of course, is a good indication you should change your password immediately.
What can I do to keep my accounts safe?
It seems that Mark Zuckerberg's Pinterest and Twitter accounts got hacked because he used the same weak password across more than one site. So rule number one: don't re-use passwords. You want a unique password for every site and service you use.
Second, Anil Somayaji suggests that you turn on two-factor authentication for your most important accounts.
That may involve, for example, entering a code that's sent to you by text message along with your usual username and password combination.
"Do it for the ones that you really care about — your email accounts, which are generally the foundation of your online identity, and your financial institutions," he recommends.
Finally, you want a good strong password. That means easy for you to remember, difficult for someone else to guess.
Five years ago, you had to have a couple of Michelin stars, your own TV show, or have concocted the next big food trend to earn a publishing deal that launched your new cookbook.
Now it's all about your followers on social media.
Thirteen-year-old Californian food blogger Chase Bailey - who has autism - has just written his first cookbook after gaining more than 200,000 views for his YouTube page, Chase 'N Yur Face.
His weekly posts see him cooking new recipes, working with established chefs and teaching his thousands of subscribers to cook soups and macaroni cheese dishes.
"Food influencers like Chase have definitely changed how we look for new authors," Chase's publisher, James Fraioli of Culinary Book Creations, tells the BBC.
US teenager Chase Bailey has just published his first cookbook "Blogging and vlogging [video blogging] provide an additional and invaluable resource for connecting with people - it's information and trends that we might have otherwise missed."
The fact that publishers are increasingly thinking like this is an indication of how the digital economy is creating new types of jobs and shaking up the way traditional industries operate.
Where's the beef?
Food vloggers and bloggers are the new ones to watch.
Madeleine Shaw, author of cookbook Get The Glow, started by blogging her healthy recipes on her website.
As a nutritional adviser she built up her followers via social media. Now, with 40,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 250,000 on Instagram, her second cookbook, Ready, Steady, Glow, has just been released and she also regularly works with brands such as Brita, the water filter company.
Nutritionist Madeleine Shaw started by blogging about healthy recipes on her website
Brands are seeing the benefits of tapping in to these ready-made audiences.
For example, fast-food giant McDonald's recently worked with "food, travel and lifestyle" vlogger Doug Armstrong to tell the story of how McDonald's burgers are made.
The company allowed Mr Armstrong to record a video where he visited a beef farm, meat-processing factory, and kitchen. The aim was to promote directly to his fans how the Big Mac burger is made.
Although he was paid to make the video, Mr Armstrong was given full editorial control, McDonald's insists. That said, it's hard to imagine the video appearing had Mr Armstrong ended up advocating vegetarianism.
As it was, the video attracted more than 2.2 million views.
Doug Armstrong's video about a McDonald's Big Mac has had more than 2.2 million views "Influencers single-handedly build a relationship with their audience based on expertise, authenticity, and trust," says Arya Alatsas, director at digital influencer agency, Nuffnang.
"They voluntarily give up their privacy, spend countless hours creating content and engaging with others, and passionately share what they care about by granting us an insight into their lives, thoughts, and interests."
Agencies like Nuffnang are popping up all over the world to make the most of popular people on social media.
This benefits the brand but also the influencer - allowing both of them to gain more followers on social media platforms.
"With social media and technology flooding the internet with over 200 million pieces of content a minute, it's essential that brands find a way to break through the noise," says Kirsty Sharman from online marketing agency, Webfluential.
"Influencer marketing is one of the proven ways to do this," she says. "In 2015, Google actually classified the search phrase 'influencer marketing' as a breakout trend - which means it experienced growth of over 5,000%."
Cook up a career
The sharing economy is also having an impact on the world of food.
VizEat is an online service that hooks up cooks who are happy to prepare meals in their own homes, with diners who fancy a unique, more intimate experience - like AirBnB for great homemade meals.
VizEat encourages food influencers from all over the world to tuck in - the social dining platform allows users to eat in hosts' houses all over the world, and encourages food bloggers and Instagrammers to sign up as hosts.
VizEat dinners are informal, intimate occasions - another example of the sharing economy Alla Driksne, a VizEat host, doesn't just cook for guests every week, but also uses the app to promote herself online and offline.
The VizEat app combines her social media profiles and food vlogs, resulting in more shares, "likes" and exposure for her.
Recently one of her YouTube videos gained two million views in just a couple of weeks.
Ms Driksne sees it as a platform on which to be seen by others.
"It allows me to connect with a new, wider audience - outside of my networks. It is a means of advertising a service that I offer as well as helping me to boost my public profile - hopefully leading to me being able to do what I love full time."
Most people in the industry will tell you they expect this trend to continue, and that brands will push these popular bloggers and vloggers to spearhead international campaigns.
"What the industry will see more of in 2016 is influencer marketing strategies that span across different continents," says Webfluential's Ms Sharman.
Alla Driksne says being a VizEat host helps raise her profile
"One of the great things about influencer marketing is that brands producing global messaging can work with local influencers, in different markets, to localise the content and share the message in a way that's unique to each country."
The tricky part for influencers and brands is making sure they don't fall foul of local advertising regulations - making it clear to viewers and readers when content is paid-for promotional material, for example.
And influencers have to be careful not to associate themselves with brands that might lose them followers rather than gain them. But however the digital economy develops, there can be little doubt that food will remain a perennially popular topic with people around world.
More than 30 north London teenagers who became trapped by rising coastal tides were rescued after using their mobile phones as distress beacons.
The 34 youngsters and two adults from the Ahavat Yisrael Community Centre were on a half term trip to the Kent coast. They got lost in an area prone to rock falls and called Kent Police for help.
Mark Finnis, coxswain of Dover RNLI, said the group had passed "nine warning signs" deterring them from the walk. "It could have ended up a whole lot worse," Mr Finnis told BBC London.
"None of the people we took on board our lifeboat were dressed in any attire that you would associate with clambering over rocks."
The youngsters used their phone lights to help rescuers find them
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said the group were advised to use the lights from their phones to aid the search for them. A rescue helicopter based in Lydd was involved in the operation, along with three lifeboats - two from Dover and one from
"The group was located by one of the Walmer lifeboats in the area of active cliff falls and also spotted by a helicopter using the forward-looking infra red camera," said Richard Cockerill, UK Coastguard's senior maritime operations officer. "All 36 people were recovered to safety by lifeboat and helicopter."
In a statement, the community centre in Stamford Hill, north London, said it was "hugely grateful" to the coastguard, whose "swift actions ensured that everyone was returned to the shore safe and well".
It promised a full investigation to "ascertain the facts".
The group was rescued from an area prone to cliff rock falls
Five of the group were airlifted to safety, but most were taken ashore by lifeboat It is understood the group had descended on to the beach from a coastal path between St Margaret's Bay and Dover when they were caught by rising waters, a coastguard spokeswoman said.
After being spotted using night-vision cameras, 31 members of the group were taken ashore and the remaining five were airlifted to the Dover Coastguard station.
All members were accounted for by 23:00 and were "safe and well".
"Thankfully, the quick and well co-ordinated search and rescue response meant all 36 were rescued and were lucky to escape without serious injuries, but they've had a traumatic experience," Mr Finnis said.
The Port of Dover later tweeted that the group's rescue "was a lesson to us all to be careful around water and check tidal information".
Google is going to pit its world-famous "AlphaGo" AI against humanity's current world number one Go player, according to Ars Technica, which cites a report from Chinese state news agency Xinhua that was published on Sunday.
The self-learning program, developed by Google-owned AI lab, DeepMind, successfully defeated Go grandmaster Lee Se-Dol over a five-match tournament in March, but Ars Technica writes that Lee was only ranked number four in the world at the time.
The world's best Go player, based on their "Elo score," is in fact an 18-year-old called Ke Jie, who turned pro in 2008 when he was just 10-years-old.
Go is a two-player turn-based strategy game. Each player puts down either black or white stones in an attempt to outmaneuver and surround the other player. It's easy to pick up but takes years to master.
Despite being relatively simple, it has been notoriously difficult for computers to master because of the sheer number of potential moves. While AI programs began being able to beat humans at chess decades ago, the best Go players in the world have always been able to outsmart Go-playing software — until recently.
Back in March, after AlphaGo beat Lee for the first time, Ke reportedly said: "I don’t want to compete with AlphaGo because judging from its matches with Lee, AlphaGo is weaker than me. I don’t want AlphaGo to copy my style."
He reportedly did a bit of showing off on his Weibo account too, writing: "Even if AlphaGo can defeat Lee Se-dol, it can’t beat me."
After watching AlphaGo continue to take on Lee, Ke changed his mind. He reportedly said: "AlphaGo was perfect and made no mistake. If the conditions are the same, it is highly likely that I can lose."
Citing Xinhua, Ars Technica says the match will take place before the end of the year. The publication reportedly said discussions are ongoing and both sides are "inclined to make it happen."
A Google DeepMind spokesperson told Ars Technica: "We're still exploring options for AlphaGo's next steps, but don't have anything to share at this time."