App Mirroring Has Begun!

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App Mirroring Has Begun!

Last October we wrote about Microsoft’s expedition in linking mobile phones and computers to provide a seamless experience for users. Known as App Mirroring, the goal is to allows users to take any app they use on their phone and use it the same way on a desktop or laptop.  It was just a showcase idea at the time, but now the beta testing has begun!

App Mirroring:

We all love a fluid experience between our devices, yet up to this point in time there has been a noticeable gap between apps and how/if they can be accessed on a computer.  If you want to take your Snapchat conversation and continue it on a desktop, that can prove to be a feat.  With app mirroring the idea is that any app that you can use on a phone can be mimicked on a Windows screen.

We talked about how this could be exciting not only for users, but for developers too.  It could create another medium for experiences, and thus new types of apps could spring up.  Hard to say what, but that’s up the creatives of the world and I’m sure we’ll see some cool things.

Device Limitations:

App Mirroring is still a catchy term in my opinion, but the feature is currently named “Phone Screen”, and it has a few limitations.  Phone Screen will only be supported on certain types of hardware and requires users to use the latest beta Windows 10 Insiders build.  It will be compatible with Android phones running 7.0 or higher, so if you’ve bought a phone within the past few years you are probably in the clear there.

Additionally user’s PCs will need to support Bluetooth with Low Energy Peripheral mode. And with the Surface Go meeting these requirements, there will likely be a fair amount of compatibility between the app and tablet worlds as well.

Using Phone Screen:

To use Phone Screen as a beta tester you’ll simply open the Windows 10 Your Phone app.  In here you’ll be able to see a list of all your installed Android apps, and you can select any of them to open the same way you would a phone.

Currently only Windows Insiders running the latest test builds will be able to test app-mirroring (that’s how betas usually go), but it’s hard to say how long until its available to everyone.  Android users can already use the Your Phone app to see the last couple dozen photos they’ve taken on their phone.  So the first steps to bridging the gap are actually already here for all of us. It’s good to see that trend is continuing with App Mirroring

What are your thoughts on App Mirroring/Phone Screen?  Are there any apps it will be amazing to use on a desktop?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Monetizing Your Apps With Ads

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Monetizing Your Apps With Ads

App making is a beautiful things.  You can literally write down what you want to happen, and watch your creations come to life.  It’s both a science and an art.  Unfortunately sometimes app making alone doesn’t pay the bills.  It does if you work for a company or you freelance your skills to other people, but if you want to make apps on your own, you need to find a way to cover your costs.  Enter ads.

Of course, no one likes ads.  They’re an evil necessity though, allowing goods and services that would otherwise cost money to be enjoyed for free. The user gets a free experience, the company displaying ads gets publicity, and you the developer get money! It’s not a get rich quick scheme, but trust me, you’re going to get downloads a lot quicker if you can make your app free.

Who do I need to call?

Before you pick up the phone and start calling local companies to see if they want a spot in your app you should know its easier than you think. Rather than having to contract with advertisers yourself, Google does the heavy lifting.  AdMob is a mobile advertising company designed to link developer’s creations with companies looking to advertise.  All you the developer have to do is add a spot in your app for ads to appear, and Google takes care of the rest.

It doesn’t matter how they do it or what steps are involved, but Google will gather and distribute the advertisements companies have paid them for.  You may be advertising for Coca-Cola, or Tide.  You don’t really know and you probably don’t care.  Meanwhile every time an ad is displayed to a user and then clicked on you earn a couple pennies.  Not enough? Well get a few thousand downloads and then we’ll see how your bank account is doing.

How to get started?

A lot of job descriptions I’ve seen include “experience with AdMob” as if it’s something that takes a while to master.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  There are a few steps to get things set up initially, but the process isn’t complicated.  We walk you through creating an account, adding the necessary code, and publishing your app at on the Play Store.

Here’s AdMob’s website where you can create an account. Once you do that the two things you’ll need to do are update your xml to include a view for your ads, and then create a new AdRequest to load your ads.

One Size Fits All?

There are actually different kinds of ads that you can include in your app.  The instructions above are for Banner ads.  These are small ads that appear either at the top or bottom of the users screen while they are using the app.  User’s may not even notice them if you use them correctly.  Then there are other ads such as Interstitial ads.  These are much more invasive taking up the user’s entire screen for a short time.  User’s really don’t like these, so make sure you use them wisely (maybe in between levels in a game).

The bottom line is that ads can be really beneficial to you as the developer, and if done correctly hardly an inconvenience to users.  It’s a win-win.  We didn’t go into the weeds on anything here, but if there’s something else you want to know about ads or AdMob, just let us know in the comments below!

 

The Man In The Disk

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The Man In The Disk

If you’ve ever taken an introductory class on cyber security (or if you’ve explored the topic on your own), then you’re likely familiar with the term MITM.  Man-In-The-Middle attacks are security breaches where a 3rd party butts their way in-between two parties attempting to communicate.  Obviously, this is not an ideal situation for either party, and a new variation of MITM is taking Android users by storm.

MITD

Man-In-The-Disk (MITD) is the name that’s been flying around the past few days.  But before we get into its details, let’s discuss a little more of what MITM attacks entail.  A MITM attack is when an unknown party inserts itself between the two trying to communicate.  When this is done that malicious party is able to spy on the conversation happening.  Even worse they might altar what is being sent.

As an example let’s picture an everyday conversation between two friends.  Person 1 and 2 are talking to one another about their plans for tonight.  And let’s say person 3 is bitter they didn’t get invited.  Person 1 might send 2 a message online asking “Want to meet up at 8?”, but 3 intercepts it, changes it, and then forwards the newly modified message to 2.  Now when 2 opens the message it instead says “On second thought there are cooler people I’d rather spend my time with”.  (A riveting example, right?)

The idea is simply that a 3rd party can both invade and modify conversations between clients and servers.  And a lot of the time the invasion can be a lot more critical than hurt feelings.  MITM attacks can be avoided by taking proper precautions and such as certificate pinning.  But that deserves a whole post of its own.

So How Does It Happen?

MITD attacks are a specific type of MITM that takes advantage of careless storage on users phones.  MITD attacks can allow 3rd party users to access information that is stored on an android device’s external storage.  This is something that many apps don’t use, but researchers at Check Point recently found that many app developers (including Google itself) are not following the recommended security precautions for avoiding this vulnerability.

There are a couple different methods for storing information in Android apps.  Android’s developer website has a good page laying out the differences between them.  If you want to go deeper into when using each is appropriate PhonLab covers this in its Android Development Course.   For the most part Android security is very sound due to sandboxing.  This is the idea that each app silo’s its information and only makes it available to others if either the user allows it or if both apps are on board for sharing.

External Storage

External storage is essentially a part of the device’s storage card that is shared by all applications. Google suggests that developers should add extra validation if apps utilize this storage functionality.  And unfortunately it seems that a lot of apps currently aren’t doing this.  Due to prioritization of external storage, data coming in to the phone may be subject to MITM attacks before it even reaches the app meant to use it.

Ironically Google was not following this advice either.  Since the report came out they’ve addressed the places where they were falling short, but it seems many other apps have made the same mistake and will be named after they correct their issues.

In conclusion, there is a security scare going around for android apps, but don’t overhype it.  If developers take the proper precautions to prevent MITM attacks (something Google explains easily how to do on their site) then this danger fades away.  Security is an ever-changing field, but this breach is one that can be easily avoided if developers do their due diligence.

 

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