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Need more buttons for your PS4 controller? This gadget adds two on the caboose – TechCrunch

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When you play games on your PS4, it’s fair to say that your thumbs and index fingers are generally doing most of the work. Why not put the rest of your lazy digits to work with this accessory that puts two programmable buttons on the rear of the DualShock 4 controller?

Called, imaginatively, the Back Button Attachment, the gadget plugs into the PS4’s accessory port and adds three interactive items to the back end of the controller. There are two paddle-style buttons that seem suited for middle fingers to hit easily, each of which can be programmed to be any of the ordinary buttons.

There’s also a little OLED screen that provides “real-time” information on what the buttons are set to. It doesn’t seem like there’s ever much urgency to find that information out or show others, but hey. The screen also doubles as a button for switching between configurations or changing the settings on the fly.

Great idea from Sony, right? Wrong! The rear button thing has been done for some time by high-end third-party controller makers like Scuf and Astro, which with their customizable sticks and buttons have been adopted widely by pro gamers. (Microsoft, for its part, has a patent for a Braille display and input on the back.)

It doesn’t look good to have all the performance-oriented gamers using third party gear, but with the PS5 around the corner and a new controller coming with it, it doesn’t make much sense to put out a stopgap “DualShock 4.5” with extra buttons. So this accessory makes a lot of sense. (Don’t worry, it has a 3.5mm headphone jack pass-through, so you can still use a headset.)

And the price is reasonable, too: $30. That makes it a fairly easy impulse buy for anyone who likes the idea of the extra buttons but doesn’t want to drop a bill or more on a Scuf or Astro controller.

The Back Button Attachment won’t be available in time for the holidays, though — not until January 23. Chances are we’ll see it on display at CES before that, though.

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All the little things that add up to make iPadOS productivity a pain

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Rumor has it a new iPad Pro is around the corner, which means Apple is about to make another big pitch for the iPad as a productivity and content-creation device.

But while we’ve found in our iPadOS reviews that Apple has done a marvelous job with the big-picture changes to the OS aimed at making it real-work-friendly, there are still a bunch of minor annoyances or “nope, you can’t do that” limitations that sabotage Apple’s intentions.

For that reason, it makes sense to preempt that upcoming marketing push with a few key caveats—especially since Apple likely won’t announce a major iPadOS software update alongside new hardware in March. Significant new OS changes probably won’t be discussed until the company’s developer conference in June, and said updates probably won’t reach the public until September or October.

Most of these are tiny problems, but they add up. iPads won’t be a real laptop replacement for everyone until most of these issues are addressed.

Webcams and multitasking

It won’t take you long in current computing use cases to notice this one: the front-facing camera on the iPad shuts off when you swipe away from whatever app is using it, Zoom included. Reviewers have brought this up again and again when reviewing recent iPads—us included. But 12 iPadOS updates later, it’s still an issue.

Granted, some applications will show your camera view in a small, picture-in-picture window over other apps when you switch spaces. But you don’t always want to see that—screen real estate is at a serious premium on iPads—and not every app does it.

Where third-party apps don’t support the picture-in-picture view, Apple needs to find a way to incentivize them to do so. But better yet: allow users to enable background video capture on a per-app basis in Settings.

A lot of people are spending a great deal of time on video calls these days, for obvious reasons. It’d be great if Apple’s flagship mainstream dedicated computing product actually did that well.

Audio-source management

Obviously, the iPad does support background audio. Apps like Apple Music or Spotify can play in the background, as can some (but not all) video apps. The problem is that it’s all too easy for the currently active app to silence the one in the background, because two audio sources usually cannot play at the same time.

So for example, if you are watching a Twitch stream in the background but an autoplaying video with audio comes up on a webpage, your Twitch stream will stop. You’ll have to stop the video on the Web, then go back to the Twitch app to start it up again. And sometimes, websites or apps take over your audio even if they aren’t apparently making any sound at present.

At a minimum, the iPad should either not stop the first audio source when this happens or at least resume playing whatever was playing in the background once the new audio sources starts. But the ideal situation would be a panel for managing multiple audio sources at once by app, including their levels.

External monitors

When Apple first announced that the iPad Pro would be able to work with external monitors via USB-C as part of an overall pitch of the Pro as a heavy-duty productivity and content-creation device, many users expected something very different than what they got.

Yes, you can hook your iPad Pro up to an external USB-C monitor. But typically, all it does is mirror the iPad’s display. It doesn’t give you more spaces for apps, and it doesn’t even adopt the aspect ratio of the screen you’re sending the image to.

There is a very small number of iPad apps, like iMovie, that let you use the external monitor a little differently. But the vast majority don’t, making external monitor support essentially useless on Apple’s tablet.

The limitations of the USB-C port

The move to USB-C from Lightning in recent iPads is a welcome one, even if it means some people had to buy some new cables. The ecosystem of USB-C accessories—like external storage devices, monitors, music production tools, and so on—is quite robust compared to what we get on Lightning.

Enlarge / The iPad Pro has USB-C instead of Lightning as its one port.

So we’re not knocking USB-C here. We’re knocking how many USB-C ports there are. The iPad Pro only has one, and all too often, it doesn’t play nicely with external USB-C hubs that you might normally use with a Mac. Users complain of constant disconnects and inconsistent behavior. Some hubs just don’t work at all.

If Apple can’t rely on other companies like CalDigit to do this well, and if it really must insist on not adding at least one more port, then it needs to release its own USB-C dock that is guaranteed to work smoothly with the iPad.

It certainly didn’t help that Apple removed the headphone jack from recent iPads. Some of the advertising around the iPad Pro centered on music production, but good luck producing music when you can’t easily connect both an instrument and headphones at the same time.

You’ll need a dongle, which is expensive and a hassle, and a whole lot of them don’t work well.

Pro app support

A computer is only as good as the apps it can run, of course. And while the iPad has many excellent apps for consumers of content, many good productivity apps, and several good tools for hobbyists in various creative disciplines, users of apps that are popular in certain professional contexts face a significant gap between iPadOS and either macOS or Windows.

And it’s not just from third parties. Apple’s own Final Cut, Logic, and Xcode are not available on the iPad. There aren’t a ton of great options from other companies either. Yes, Adobe has been working on fairly robust versions of both Photoshop and Illustrator for the iPad. But we haven’t heard a word about Premiere, for example.

And there are numerous widely used pro apps from other companies that aren’t available. There’s no Maya, no Blender, no Unity, no Visual Studio. There is an AutoCAD app, but it’s minimally functional compared to the desktop version.

If Apple is going to keep calling the iPad a device for professional content creators, it needs to convince these third parties to release more functional iPad apps. And at least as importantly, it needs to adapt its own software for the device.

How likely are we to see these changes?

For years, Apple has moved further away from the idea of more ports, large feature sets, and so on—particularly on mobile devices like the iPad. So in the past, we wouldn’t have expected most of these things to actually happen.

However, the world of Apple devices looks noticeably different in the wake of reliable reports that new MacBook Pro laptops later this year will include SD cards or HDMI ports. Apple seems to be changing course to better court high-end and certain pro use-case customers. Well, at least as far as the Mac is concerned.

The company has also moved aggressively in other ways on the iPad front, at least in terms of software—just maybe not as fast as everyone would like. It seems plausible to us that multitasking issues (like those with webcams and audio sources) may be fixed in the future. And at this point, never say never to iPad versions of Logic or Final Cut.

We’re less bullish on the idea of a multiport iPad Pro, though, and there’s only so much Apple can do to attract third parties to make more robust apps for the platform.

Apple is expected to announce a new iPad Pro before the end of March, so we’ll have a hint at what’s to come soon enough.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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Hard-coded key vulnerability in Logix PLCs has severity score of 10 out of 10

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Rockwell Automation

Hardware that is widely used to control equipment in factories and other industrial settings can be remotely commandeered by exploiting a newly disclosed vulnerability that has a severity score of 10 out of 10.

The vulnerability is found in programmable logic controllers from Rockwell Automation that are marketed under the Logix brand. These devices, which range from the size of a small toaster to a large bread box or even bigger, help control equipment and processes on assembly lines and in other manufacturing environments. Engineers program the PLCs using Rockwell software called Studio 5000 Logix Designer.

On Thursday, the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Administration warned of a critical vulnerability that could allow hackers to remotely connect to Logix controllers and from there alter their configuration or application code. The vulnerability requires a low skill level to be exploited, CISA said.

The vulnerability, which is tracked as CVE-2021-22681, is the result of the Studio 5000 Logix Designer software making it possible for hackers to extract a secret encryption key. This key is hard-coded into both Logix controllers and engineering stations and verifies communication between the two devices. A hacker who obtained the key could then mimic an engineering workstation and manipulate PLC code or configurations that directly impact a manufacturing process.

“Any affected Rockwell Logix controller that is exposed on the Internet is potentially vulnerable and exploitable,” said Sharon Brizinov, principal vulnerability researcher at Claroty, one of three organizations Rockwell credited with independently discovering the flaw. “To successfully exploit this vulnerability, an attacker must first obtain the secret key and have the knowledge of the cryptographic algorithm being used in the authentication process.”

Brizinov said that Claroty notified Rockwell of the vulnerability in 2019. Rockwell didn’t disclose it until Thursday. Rockwell also credited Kaspersky Lab and Soonchunhyang University researchers Eunseon Jeong, Youngho An, Junyoung Park, Insu Oh, and Kangbin Yim.

The vulnerability affects just about every Logix PLC Rockwell sells, including:

  • CompactLogix 1768
  • CompactLogix 1769
  • CompactLogix 5370
  • CompactLogix 5380
  • CompactLogix 5480
  • ControlLogix 5550
  • ControlLogix 5560
  • ControlLogix 5570
  • ControlLogix 5580
  • DriveLogix 5560
  • DriveLogix 5730
  • DriveLogix 1794-L34
  • Compact GuardLogix 5370
  • Compact GuardLogix 5380
  • GuardLogix 5570
  • GuardLogix 5580
  • SoftLogix 5800

Rockwell isn’t issuing a patch that directly addresses the problems stemming from the hard-coded key. Instead, the company is recommending that PLC users follow specific risk mitigation steps. The steps involve putting the controller mode switch into run, and if that’s not possible, following other recommendations that are specific to each PLC model.

Those steps are laid out in an advisory Rockwell is making available to customers, as well as in the above-linked CISA advisory. Rockwell and CISA also recommend PLC users follow standard security-in-depth security advice. Chief among the recommendations is ensuring that control system devices aren’t accessible from the Internet.

Security professionals universally admonish engineers to place critical industrial systems behind a firewall so they aren’t exposed to the Internet. Unfortunately, engineers struggling with high workloads and limited budgets often don’t heed the advice. The latest reminder of this came earlier this month when a municipal water treatment plant in Florida said that an intruder accessed a remote system and tried to lace drinking water with lye. Plant employees used the same TeamViewer password and didn’t put the system behind a firewall.

If Logix PLC users are segmenting industrial control networks and following other best practices, it’s unlikely that the risk posed by CVE-2021-22681 is minimal. And if people haven’t implemented these practices, hackers probably have easier ways to hijack the devices. That said, this vulnerability is serious enough that all Logix PLC users should pay attention to the CISA and Rockwell advisories.

Claroty has issued its own writeup here.

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Google’s Smart TV software will have a “dumb TV” mode

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The new Google TV is a fine smart TV interface, but when it gets integrated into some TV sets later this year, its best feature might be that you can turn it off. A report from 9to5Google details an upcoming “Basic TV” mode that will be built into Google TV, which turns off just about all the smart TV features. Right now, Google TV is only available in the new Chromecast, but Google TV will be built into upcoming TVs from Sony and TCL. Basic mode means we’ll get smart TVs with a “dumb TV” mode.

The rise of smart TVs has led to the extinction of dumb TVs—today, basically every TV has some kind of computer and operating system built into it. If you’re actually expecting to live with a TV for several years, the problem with smart TVs is that the dirt-cheap computers inside these TVs don’t last as long as the display does. When your smart TV is a few years old, you might still have a perfectly good display panel, but you’ll be forced to interact with it through a slow, old, possibly abandoned integrated computer. Companies should sell dumb TVs without any of this crap permanently integrated into them, but if they refuse, letting consumers turn off the software is the next best thing.

When the new feature rolls out, you’ll be asked to choose between “Basic TV” or “Google TV” at setup. 9to5Google says that with basic mode, “almost everything is stripped, leaving users with just HDMI inputs and Live TV if they have an antenna plugged directly into the TV. Casting support, too, is dropped.” The UI notes that you’ll be turning off all apps, the Google Assistant, and personalized recommendations.

9to5 found this feature via the ADT-3 development set-top box and the Android 12 developer preview, so it’s not entirely clear how it will work when it’s running on a real TV. It seems like basic mode will only show a minimal set of icons for things like input-switching and settings. There’s also a big banner advertising Google TV mode, which you’ll presumably just have to learn to ignore. A Google spokesperson told the site that this feature is destined to hit TVs sold with integrated Google TV in the future.

If you’re wondering what the difference is between “Android TV” and “Google TV,” Google TV is kind of like the next version of Android TV. Google TV is just the Android TV codebase with a new interface, which offers things like a unified search. The upgrade path for existing Android TV devices is Google TV, assuming your device manufacturer is actually shipping updates. By 2022, Google says TV manufacturers won’t be allowed to ship Android TV and will instead ship Google TV. There are some product lines that Google just loves to rebrand every few years, and Android TV/Google TV is one of them.

Google TV will be in Sony’s entire Bravia XR 2021 lineup and select TCL TVs later this year.

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