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Apple, Android phones suffer from flaws

NEW YORK — Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized Friday for the company's error-ridden new mobile mapping service, pledging to improve the application installed on tens of millions of smartphones and, in an unusual mea culpa, inviting frustrated consumers to turn to the competition.

In a letter posted online Friday, Cook said Apple "fell short" of its own expectations.

"We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working nonstop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard," Cook said.

Apple released an update to its iPhone and iPad operating system last week that replaced Google Maps with Apple's own map application. But users quickly complained that the new software offered fewer details, lacked public transit directions and misplaced landmarks, among other problems.

Meanwhile, cellphones using Google's Android operating system are at risk of being disabled or wiped clean of their data, including contacts, music and photos, because of a security flaw that was discovered several months ago but went unnoticed until now.

Opening a link to a website or a mobile application embedded with malicious code can trigger an attack capable of destroying the memory card in Android-equipped handsets made by Samsung, HTC, Motorola and Sony Ericsson, rendering the devices useless, computer security researcher Ravi Borgaonkar wrote in a blog post Friday. Another code that can erase a user's data by performing a factory reset of the device appears to target only the newly released and top-selling Galaxy S III and other Samsung phones, he wrote.

Borgaonkar informed Google of the vulnerability in June, he said. A fix was issued quickly, he said, but it wasn't publicized, leaving smartphone owners largely unaware that the problem existed and how they could fix it.

Apple's Maps app's glitches, which include judging landscape features by their names, have drawn complaints and been made fun of on social media. The hulking Madison Square Garden arena in New York, for instance, shows up as green park space because of the word "garden."

Until the software is improved, Cook recommended that people use competing map applications to get around — a rare move for the world's most valuable company, which prides itself on producing industry-leading gadgets that easily surpass rivals.

Cook said Apple's Maps will get better as more people use the app and provide feedback.

Versions of the Android operating system that are vulnerable to cyberattacks include Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean, Borgaonkar said. He said the Honeycomb version of Android, designed for tablets, needs to be tested to determine if it is at risk, as well.

Borgaonkar, a researcher at Germany's Technical University Berlin, said the bug works by taking advantage of functions in phones that allow them to dial a telephone number directly from a web browser. That convenience comes with risk, however. A hacker, or anyone with ill intent, can create a website or an app with codes that instruct the phones linking to those numbers to execute commands automatically, such as a full factory reset.

The phone's memory card, known as a subscriber identity module, or SIM, can be destroyed remotely in the same way, Borgaonkar said.

Apple, Android phones suffer from flaws 09/28/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 28, 2012 8:02pm]
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