TIME apps

Apple Takes a Cautious Step Towards Bitcoin

As part of its ongoing developer conference this week, Apple has added a section to its developer guidelines regarding apps for virtual currencies, including, possibly, Bitcoin.

If you look for Bitcoin apps in the App Store right now, you’ll notice most of them are tickers that monitor Bitcoin’s exchange rate. But if you use Bitcoin yourself and want to move some of that money around, there aren’t any apps that’ll let you do that just yet.

That may all change soon, provided that transmitting virtual currencies is allowed in your neck of the woods.

Apple’s new guideline reads as follows:

Apps may facilitate transmission of approved virtual currencies provided that they do so in compliance with all state and federal laws for the territories in which the app functions.

TechCrunch co-editor Matthew Panzarino posits that Apple will probably take a cautious approach with such apps:

Does this mean Apple will start accepting bitcoin apps that transmit currency in the App Store immediately? Probably not, unless there have been rulings declaring the currency “legal” in a given region. If there is no ruling, I wouldn’t count on it.

And note that Apple doesn’t explicitly mention Bitcoin by name — just “virtual currencies,” though Bitcoin is currently the highest-profile of the virtual currencies out there.

TIME Consumers

John Oliver’s Net Neutrality Rant Crashes FCC Servers


Former Daily Show funnyman John Oliver’s recent 13-minute net neutrality rant ended with a plea to Internet commenters the world over to “once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction.” Oliver used his new HBO comedy news show Last Week Tonight to try to convince people to take advantage of the FCC’s initial open commenting period regarding the net neutrality debate, which runs from May 15 to June 27.

Oliver’s call to action seems to have worked. The FCC’s comments section under the title “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet” currently has over 47,000 comments and counting, prompting the FCC’s Twitter account to send out two tweets yesterday saying that “technical difficulties” had been affecting its commenting servers.

Things seem to be running smoothly now, however.

TIME Videos

Here’s What’s Next from Apple (in Under Two Minutes)

Apple's WWDC keynote just wrapped up. Here's what's coming from the tech giant this fall.


More WWDC coverage here.

TIME apps

50 Best iPhone Apps, 2014 Edition

From mainstay essentials to notable newcomers, here's the 2014 edition of our 50 Best iPhone Apps list.

  • 1Password


    Using the same password for all your accounts is like taking a skeleton key that opens every secured thing you use or live in and hanging it around your neck with a sign that reads “rob me.” On the other hand, keeping track of hundreds of different passwords in an ad hoc way, say a document stored on a USB key or in the cloud, can be agonizing (and just as insecure).

    AgileBits’ 1Password app for the iPhone — arguably the finest, most versatile password management app in the field — lets you plug all your usernames and passwords into a single encrypted “vault” you can synchronize across almost any device (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android) and summon at will to access your login information. The iPhone version further supports locking on exit, forcing password requests after a set number of minutes and setting an optional pin code to let you more quickly access the app (without having to type in your much lengthier and confounding master password) if you already have iOS-level “auto-lock” enabled.

    1Password [iTunes]

  • Allrecipes


    All Recipes’ “dinner spinner” angle — which lets you shake your iPhone to roll random meals based on dish styles, ingredients and “ready in” categories — is arguably the least interesting aspect of this otherwise wonderfully helpful menu-planning app.

    Dinner planners are less than a penny a dozen, but All Recipes complements its iPhone app with a sprawling online backend, flush with tens of thousands of user-submitted recipes of all styles. The menu planner alone is invaluable: assign recipes to days of the week, tweaking servings as you like (or customizing each recipe to taste), then add them to your shopping list, and presto, All Recipes assembles a checkable list, sorted by grocery store section and in precise quantities that synchronizes with your iPhone in lieu of have to scribble items down by hand.

    Allrecipes Dinner Spinner [iTunes]

  • Any.DO


    There’s no shortage of to-do lists and task managers in the App Store, but Any.DO has a knack for tying important features together into an easy-to-use interface. You can type tasks the old fashioned way, or add them by voice if you’re feeling more adventurous. Everything gets synched to Any.DO’s site, and you can give your phone a satisfying shake to clear it of any tasks you’ve completed.

    Any.DO [iTunes]

  • Audible


    The reigning king of digital audiobooks, thanks in large part to Amazon’s pickup in 2008, Audible is still the best and most comprehensive site to get your spoken-word fix. The company’s iPhone app has improved by leaps and bounds over the years, now letting you download purchases direct to your iPhone, peruse an audiobook by chapter, set or queue to bookmarks, tap to back up at 30 second intervals, crank the narration speed (down to .75x or up to 3x), or bring up a clever “button-free” interface that lets you swipe left, down or right to either rewind, set a bookmark or leap ahead.

    Audible [iTunes]

  • Baby Monitor HD


    Baby Monitor HD by SunshineApps is really the jack-of-all baby monitors. It requires pairing with video capture hardware, say something like WiFi Baby’s superlative device, but supports the broadest array of models, allowing you to connect up to four devices simultaneously if you have multiple kids (or quadruplets!) and need to keep tabs on them all at once.

    You can set “home” and “away” profiles (the latter for viewing feeds through secure Internet channels, if you’re on the go), tweak audio settings (like whether to start up audio automatically or manually) and control whether the video feed reorients or remains fixed when you flip your iPhone between vertical and sideways orientations.

    Baby Monitor HD [iTunes]

  • Backdrops


    Most iPhone users probably have plenty of backgrounds to choose from just by pulling from photo rolls of family and friends, but if you want access to some of the highest quality images on the web, taken by professional photographers, Backdrops is a must. It links to InterfaceLIFT, arguably the finest editor-managed retina-quality image repository online — updated regularly — then lets you browse by metrics like date, popularity, location and artist.

    Backdrops [iTunes]

  • BaconReader for Reddit


    BaconReader is a slick and simple way to browse the self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet.” Pick a section that interests you, and you can move through each post with a swipe, or swipe up to view the comments. The app is free, but a $5 in-app purchase gets rid of the ads.

    BaconReader for Reddit [iTunes]

  • Beer Buddy


    Use the $4 Beer Buddy app to scan the UPC code on a bottle, can or case of beer and you’ll get instant info about its alcohol content, tasting notes and ratings from RateBeer.com. And if you find yourself drinking a beer you really like, rank it and add it to your favorite’s list so you can make sure to order another one (or several) in the future.

    Beer Buddy [iTunes]

  • Carousel by Dropbox


    Carousel automatically uploads photos and videos to Dropbox, and also makes it easy to share those photos with anyone in your contact list. It’s a less cumbersome alternative to sending photos by e-mail, and is more private than putting your photos on Facebook or Instagram. The app is free, though you’ll want to be mindful of how much Dropbox storage space you’re using.

    Carousel by Dropbox [iTunes]

  • Circa News


    With an almost unlimited number of news sources nowadays, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything that’s going on without a little help. Circa rounds up the most important news events and breaks each one down into a stream of bite-sized snippets, letting you see the latest updates first before flicking your way downward to get more of the back-story.

    Circa News [iTunes]

  • EasilyDo


    EasilyDo is the personal assistant you never knew you needed. It digs into your e-mail, contacts, social networks and calendar to automatically organize your life down to just about every last, granular detail. The app does so much that it can be overwhelming at first, but take the time to familiarize yourself with everything. You won’t regret it.

    EasilyDo [iTunes]

  • EndlessTV


    Need to kill a few minutes? EndlessTV lets you pick from well-known video sources such as Comedy Central and ESPN, and gives you a steady stream of clips with no ads. And if you don’t like what you see, you can swipe to the next video. It’s sort of like channel surfing, but on your phone, and it’s free.

    EndlessTV [iTunes]

  • Fantastical 2


    If you find the iPhone’s calendar app to leave you wanting more, check out Fantastical 2. The $5 app lets you set calendar events and reminders using plain-English phrasing such as, “Remind me to pick up dry cleaning tomorrow at 5pm.” You can dictate commands by voice or type them in the old-fashioned way, and the app plays nice with all the same calendars as the iPhone’s built-in version.

    Fantastical 2 [iTunes]

  • Feedly


    News aggregation can get messy, with dozens of feeds and categories to rifle through. Feedly’s iPhone app handles all of this as elegantly as anything could, given the iPhone’s limited screen space, maintaining the minimalist approach that earned studio DevHD plaudits on the web while giving you all the essential configuration options you’d want. Read immediately or save items for later, search by keyword, view by category, display by lists, titles or cards, share stories you find interesting, or try the “explore” option, which lets you swipe through recommended feeds that queue based on your prior reading or sharing habits.

    Feedly [iTunes]

  • Find My iPhone


    There are very few guarantees in life, but one of them is that you’ll misplace your gadgets. Some of you will merely misplace them in your couch cushions from time to time; some of you will leave them on the roof of your car as you careen down the highway. If you own multiple Apple devices, the company’s Find My iPhone app is a handy app to install, allowing you to track down your household’s missing iPhones, iPads, connected iPods and Macs on a map. Once you locate a missing iPhone, for instance, you can lock it, wipe all the data from it or send a message to the screen asking whoever found it to contact you.

    Find My iPhone [iTunes]

  • Flipboard


    Flipboard is no stranger to best-of apps lists. The slick service presents web content in an aesthetically pleasing layout, with stories selected by Flipboard’s editors or culled from your social feeds. You can build your own personal magazines, too, which can be perused by other Flipboard users or shared online with the rest of the world. If you do any sort of daily reading using your smartphone, Flipboard is a must-have.

    Flipboard [iTunes]

  • GasBuddy


    As mobile apps go, GasBuddy is something of an institution. If you spend any time in the car, this app should reside somewhere on your home screen. Pull it up and you’ll see all the nearby gas stations plotted on a map, along with their respective prices. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can submit prices yourself in order to help out the rest of the GasBuddy community.

    GasBuddy [iTunes]

  • Genius Scan+


    Expense reports are the bane of humankind’s existence. If nothing else, the $7 Genius Scan+ app lets you snap photos of your receipts on the fly, intelligently determining the corners and sides of each document. You can then send your scans by e-mail or save them to several popular cloud services, and multi-page documents can be scanned and compiled into a single PDF document.

    Genius Scan+ [iTunes]

  • Google Maps


    The reigning champion of helping you get from point A to point B, Google’s mobile Maps app is a must-download for just about any iPhone owner. Sure, the app helps you get where you’re going (or figure out where you are), but it also pulls in restaurant recommendations leveraged by Google’s purchase of Zagat, and real-time traffic information leveraged by Google’s purchase of Waze (another app on this list).

    Google Maps [iTunes]

  • Google Play Music


    If you’ve got tons of music and not enough space on your phone, why not stream those tunes instead? Google Play Music lets you store 20,000 songs in the cloud using the Music Manager desktop software, while the free iOS app lets you listen without taking up precious storage space. You can, however, download your favorite albums and playlists for offline listening.

    Google Play Music [iTunes]

  • Google Translate


    Google Translate does exactly what you’d think: Plug in some words — either by voice, text or handwriting — and the app can translate it into 80 other languages. You can also bookmark specific translations for quick offline access so you’ll never have trouble finding a bathroom in a foreign country.

    Google Translate [iTunes]



    With so many web-based services to take advantage of nowadays, a little automation goes a long way. Think of IFTTT (If This, Then That) as a middleman that sits between all of them, letting them interact with each other. You can get an e-mail when it’s raining, save your iPhone photos to a cloud-based storage service, or get a text message when your stocks go up or down.

    IFTTT [iTunes]

  • Instagram


    A bajillion square-photo-taking, filter-adding, online-sharing shutterbugs can’t be wrong. Instagram has quickly turned into the preeminent photo app for the mobile generation, letting users instantly upload photos for their friends to comment on, and a video recording mode for capturing quick moments where a single photo just won’t do.

    Instagram [iTunes]

  • Kayak


    Finding flights is generally about as fun as having your teeth worked on by a far-sighted dentist with the shakes. Kayak makes the experience (finding flights, not the dentist) bearable by returning clean, organized, deep results from the various airlines. You can book hotels and car rentals, too, and the app gives you quick access to flight info and customer support numbers.

    Kayak [iTunes]

  • Launch Center Pro


    Unless (or until) iOS gets the same powerful app shortcuts as Android and Windows Phone, Launch Center Pro is a pretty good stand-in. From this app, you can quickly call or message a particular contact, jump to the directions prompt in Google Maps, create new reminders and more. The app will set you back $5.

    Launch Center Pro [iTunes]

  • Mailbox


    Mailbox looks to tame your Gmail and iCloud inboxes by letting you quickly archive e-mails with a swipe or turn them into task-like entities to deal with later. The app’s design emphasizes speed and simplicity, helping you to slice through your mountain of messages in a matter of minutes. Yes, you’re basically engaging in digital procrastination, but at least it’ll help you feel somewhat organized. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of reaching inbox zero, if only for a short while.

    Mailbox [iTunes]

  • Microsoft Office Mobile


    Microsoft’s productivity suite used to cost $99 per year with an Office 365 subscription, but not anymore. The iPhone version is now free, so you can view Office documents in full fidelity and make light edits. (You’ll still need that subscription for the iPad version, however.)

    Microsoft Office Mobile [iTunes]

  • Mint


    Your various banking institutions and credit card companies may each have their own apps, but Mint.com’s app ties them all together and adds up your income and debt so you can put an exact number on the soul-crushing feeling of being constantly in the hole. There’s hope, though: The app helps you set a budget for yourself, tracks your spending and presents you with money-saving offers on financial services.

    Mint [iTunes]

  • Movies by Flixster


    Flixster, which picked up critic aggregator RottenTomatoes in 2010 and was then itself purchased by Warner Bros. in 2011, is what you want if you’re after a simple, efficient, no frills rundown of what’s playing in theaters or out on DVD — as well as what’s upcoming.

    With a tap of a category button, you’ll get an instant look at everything playing near you (using the iPhone’s location features, so no need to enter your zip code manually). It also sports a handy IMDb-like database of movies, actors and directors, say you need a quick bio on David Lynch, or want a filmography of all the films Daniel Day-Lewis has been in. That, and there’s a “My Movies” option that lets you list what you own, want to see, your movie ratings and an optional Facebook/Google connector that lets you check your friends’ ratings and reviews.

    Movies by Flixster [iTunes]

  • MyPermissions


    You’re signed up for various online services, and many of these services have additional services and apps hooked into them. The MyPermissions app lets you see how many apps have access to your personal information, sending you alerts when new apps connect and letting you quickly remove apps that you’re not okay with.

    MyPermissions [iTunes]

  • OpenTable


    OpenTable helps you skip all the nonsense of trying to make a restaurant reservation over the phone and get right to the point: what’s nearby, which times are available, and how are the reviews? Potential eateries can be filtered by cuisine, distance, price and more. Once you find a restaurant that looks good and has an available table, tap to reserve it. Done and done.

    OpenTable [iTunes]

  • Paper


    Facebook’s Paper app lets you peruse the popular social network as though it were assembled by a team of new-media art directors. It resembles a slick news app filled with the goings-on of your pals, but you can also add regular news sources spanning a wide array of topics — just in case you want to keep tabs on what’s going on outside your social circles.

    Paper [iTunes]

  • Pocket


    Pocket serves as a repository for all the articles you find on the web but either don’t have time to read right away or don’t want to sit in front of your computer to read. The service integrates nicely with web browsers and popular third-party apps to make saving articles a snap; once saved, they’re formatted for easy reading, can be downloaded for offline reading and can be accessed from a multitude of connected devices.

    Pocket [iTunes]

  • Quick Scan


    No smartphone owner should ever be without a good price-scanning app. Quick Scan uses your phone’s camera to scan the bar codes of products you find in real-world retail stores, returning price comparisons from competing retailers and letting you purchase items directly if you find them online for cheaper.

    Quick Scan [iTunes]

  • Rdio


    Rdio’s free app lets you create radio stations for artists and genres, with a five-point scale for how familiar or adventurous you want to be. And as you listen, Rdio also creates a “You FM” station that rolls all your musical tastes into one big playlist. For $10 per month, you can upgrade to full, on-demand listening of any song or album, and the service easily holds its own against rival Spotify.

    Rdio [iTunes]

  • Runmeter


    Runmeter’s selling point is its gorgeous multi-sectioned interface, presenting everything you need to see in a series of swipe-able readouts, from high level stuff like its real-time map, calories burned, pace-per-mile and elevation changes to historical info, ascent grade and percentile, and splits — all within easy swiping distance.

    You’ll have to spend $5 a year to add “Elite” trend analysis, check traffic or download additional voice types, but the base version is swarming with options, including graph breakdowns, announcement triggers, stop detection, a gazillion little exertion-related metrics and your choice whether to let the app override the iPhone’s lock screen if you want the screen to stay “on” at all times.

    Runmeter [iTunes]

  • Secret


    One of several apps that lets people anonymously air their dirty laundry, Secret digs through your contact list and builds a network of people you may or may not know. You’re then given an endless feed of secrets to read through, revealing people’s innermost fears, desires and impulses. It’s sort of addictive, but don’t believe everything you read.

    Secret [iTunes]

  • Shazam


    If you hear a new song that you like on the radio or in a bar or anywhere you encounter new music, Shazam will analyze the song’s waveform and match it with the artist and track information. You can then download the song or learn more about the artist. It’s one of those apps that leverages just about every piece of cool technology in that little handheld wonder of yours.

    Shazam [iTunes]

  • Shopular Coupons


    The mall isn’t generally considered the place to go to get the lowest prices on things, but that doesn’t mean you need to pay full price. Shopular’s app can tell when you’re at the mall — it finds your location based on cell towers and your phone’s Wi-Fi connection — and alerts you to daily-updated coupons for popular stores.

    Shopular Coupons [iTunes]

  • Songza


    Sometimes you don’t want to put too much thought into your music. In that spirit, Songza offers up mood-based playlists cobbled together by music professionals. Stream a mix for working out or driving or unwinding or singing in the shower. The moods can get as specific as you like, and the service is free and unlimited if you’re willing to put up with some ads here and there.

    Songza [iTunes]

  • Spotify


    If you haven’t checked out Spotify on smartphones lately, it’s worth another look. The recently-overhauled free version lets you listen to any playlist on shuffle–that’s far more generous than any other free streaming music service–while a $10 per month subscription gives you on-demand listening, offline playback and higher sound quality.

    Spotify Music [iTunes]

  • Sprout


    Sprout is a beautifully designed pregnancy status tracker that walks you through all three trimesters with realistic 3D renders of the (average) baby that change weekly and offer hotspot info-bites, like when the baby can first hear your voice, or when to expect those first kicks.

    Tap over to “the doc says” and you’ll get insightful tips on topics like travel, “starting to look pregnant” and “fundal height.” Or see upcoming routine events, like “second trimester screening tests” or the timeframe during which an ultrasound can determine your baby’s gender. Helpful extras include a “weight tracker,” “kick counter,” “contraction timer” and for papas-to-be in particular, a checklist for pulling together all the things you’ll need in your hospital bag when the big day arrives.

    Sprout [iTunes]

  • SwiftKey Note


    The next time you need to write a long note on your iPhone, give the free SwiftKey Note a try. The app has its own special keyboard with a row of word predictions that changes as you type and learns from your tendencies. You can then copy and paste your notes into another app or sync them to Evernote.

    SwiftKey Note [iTunes]

  • Team Stream


    Bleacher Report’s Team Stream app has a pretty fitting name. You pick your favorite sports teams and the app serves up a heaping helping of scores, tweets, articles, videos and photos in short order. You can set yourself up to get various notifications as they happen, and easily share updates over social media and via text messages to your friends.

    Team Stream [iTunes]

  • The Weather Channel


    The Weather Channel’s iPhone app recently traded its old left-right, tab-based interface for a seamless scrolling column of information packed with visually polished meteorological data. Now, instead of one screen sporting multiple levels of left-right tabbed information, you simply scroll downward from the default temperature view through a parade of features: hourly weather, the 10-day forecast, a radar square, a carousel of video stories, a feature for entering and perusing crowdsourced weather, a news carousel, a pollen index, current airport conditions for your area and a flu report. The column is intercut by a few tastefully unobtrusive banner ads, but that’s it.

    If you’re looking for the prettiest weather app on the market — and that includes Yahoo’s lovely-looking weather alternative — as well as one that wisely keeps ads and non-weather-related stories to a minimum, The Weather Channel’s latest is the one to beat.

    The Weather Channel [iTunes]

  • TripIt


    TripIt acts like a virtual travel assistant. When you book travel — whether planes, hotels, or car rentals — just forward the confirmation e-mails you get from those bookings on to TripIt, which will automatically organize the information into a mobile itinerary for you, complete with maps, directions and weather info. If you use Gmail and Google Calendar, the entire process can be automated, too.

    TripIt [iTunes]

  • TuneIn Radio


    Think of the free TuneIn app as being able to turn your iPhone into a radio capable of pulling in almost any station from anywhere in the world. The service boasts more than 100,000 live radio station feeds and more than 4 million podcasts to choose from.

    TuneIn Radio [iTunes]

  • Umano


    Believe it or not, sometimes there’s just too much stuff on the Internet to read every day. Umano picks out some of the gems and recreates them as audiobook-like pieces read by professional voice talent. It’s a nice way to get caught up at the end of each day, with articles from popular sources spread out across a wide array of content categories.

    Umano [iTunes]

  • Waze


    Waze is an incredibly useful app for anyone who spends a meaningful amount of time in the car. Aside from providing turn-by-turn GPS directions, you’ll be alerted to speed traps, accidents and slowdowns up ahead of you thanks to data gleaned from other Waze users just like you. You can play the hero yourself, too, by reporting incidents along the way.

    Waze [iTunes]

  • Yelp


    As smartphone apps go, Yelp could be considered an old-timer by now. But it’s still a must-have for finding the shops, restaurants and attractions located nearby, complete with ratings from Yelp’s army of loyal users. This app helps you find out where to go but — perhaps more importantly — often gives you an indication overpriced tourist traps and mediocre eateries to avoid.

    Yelp [iTunes]

TIME Acquisitions

The Apple-Beats Deal: 7 Things You Should Know

After weeks of rumors, the Apple-Beats deal has finally become official. Here’s what’s happening.

Which parts of Beats is Apple buying?

Apple is buying all of Beats, meaning the Beats Music streaming music service, and Beats Electronics, meaning the headphones and speakers. It’s a software, hardware and talent deal.

How much is Apple paying?

Both companies – Beats Music and Beats Electronics – are being scooped up (pending regulatory approval later this year, of course) for a total of $3 billion; $2.6 billion of that up-front, with a relatively miniscule $400 million to vest later.

When will the deal close?

Assuming it clears regulatory approval, we’re looking at sometime in fiscal Q4 of this year.

Will Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine be Apple employees?

Yes indeed. They’ll commute back and forth between Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. Their titles at Apple will simply be “Dre” and “Jimmy.” Iovine is leaving Interscope Records to join Apple full-time.

What will happen to the Beats brand?

It’ll live on as a standalone brand even though it’s owned by Apple — “a first for the company,” says the Wall Street Journal.

Why didn’t Apple just build its own streaming music service?

Tim Cook told Re/code’s Peter Kafka that he thinks Beats Music “is the first subscription service that really got it right.” Cook made no mention of Spotify, instead alluding to the human curation angle as being Beats Music’s biggest strength.

Cook continued, “The thing that Beats provides us is a head start. They provide us with incredible people, that don’t grow on trees.”

How big of a purchase is this for Apple?

Big. Cook told Kafka that Apple’s snapped up 27 companies between fiscal year 2013 and now, but the company’s second biggest buy after this $3 billion Beats deal was buying Steve Jobs’ NeXT Computer in 1997 for just north of $400 million.

Sources: Re/code, Apple, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press


30-Second Tech Trick: Sketchy Computer? Use a One-Time Facebook Password

Here's a quick and easy way to get Facebook to send you a self-destructing, one-time password that'll work for 20 minutes.

TIME Video Games

Here’s How Much Time People Spend Playing Video Games

The good news is that we’ve finally gotten our priorities in order. According to Nielsen, the average U.S. gamer age 13 or older spent 6.3 hours a week playing video games during 2013. That’s up from 5.6 hours in 2012, which was up from 5.1 hours in 2011. If you like fun, we’re trending in the right direction.

As for which systems were used most often in 2013, seventh-generation consoles (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) beat PCs by a percentage point – 34% to 33% – while mobile phones took a distant third at 10%. Tablets followed at 9%, dedicated gaming handhelds at 6%, eighth-gen consoles at 4% and “other” at 4%.

Also of note is that people who play games on consoles are starting to play games on their phones and tablets more, too. Half of Nielsen’s console respondents for the 2013 study said they also played games on mobile devices; that’s up from 46% in 2012 and 35% in 2011.

TIME Security

Apple iPhones, iPads Held for Ransom: What Happened and What You Can Do

Another week, another security breach. This one’s extra weird, though.

What happened?

People are reporting that their iPhones and iPads (some Macs, even) woke them up in the middle of the night with a message demanding between $50 and $100 in order to regain access to the devices. Most of these people are in Australia, though some reports are trickling in from elsewhere.

Apple has a feature called Find My iPhone that lets you locate, lock and erase your device if you lose it somewhere. It appears that whoever’s behind this has gotten ahold of people’s iCloud usernames and passwords, then used the Find My iPhone feature to remotely lock devices, demanding payment in order to unlock them.

The incident is being discussed at length in Apple’s support forums. Apple hasn’t officially responded yet. I’ve requested comment from its PR team and will update this post if I hear back. (Spoiler: I probably won’t hear back).

Who is affected?

What’s interesting is that this issue is mostly affecting users in Australia. It’s also affecting some users in New Zealand, some users from Australia who are currently travelling abroad outside Australia, and users from outside Australia who are in or have been in Australia for a while.

At least one person in the U.S. with no ties to Australia in any way claims his or her device has been compromised as well.

How did this happen?

That’s a great question, and we’re not really sure of the answer quite yet. There are a few main theories floating around, none of which have been proven.

Some are speculating that a hacker got ahold of a bunch of usernames and passwords, either from an email phishing scam or from a previous data breach. That’s an easy explanation, but it doesn’t really address why the issue seems mostly isolated to Australia. Several users are reporting that they used wholly unique usernames and passwords for their Apple accounts, too.

Some are speculating about a man-in-the-middle attack, where an Australian Internet service provider has been compromised to the point that traffic sent between Apple devices and Apple’s iCloud servers has been intercepted. The trouble with this theory is that the issue isn’t isolated to single service provider, and it’s apparently affecting a handful of users outside the country.

And some are speculating that Apple’s iCloud servers have been compromised. The Australia angle makes that a bit unlikely, and Apple’s got enough layers of protection – data sent back and forth is encrypted, for instance – that this seems like a longshot. Some users are reporting that they’ve used strong, long and unique passwords and have still been affected, so this theory can’t be totally thrown out.

For what it’s worth, the man-in-the-middle theory — or some derivation of it — seems the most plausible to me, but it’s still early. The handful of random outliers keep poking holes in each theory, which makes this whole case wonderfully weird and interesting.

What should you do?

For starters, if you’ve received this ransom message, don’t bother contacting your wireless provider. They’ll send you to Apple.

If you use a four-digit passcode on your device, you’ll be able to regain control of it: Simply do the old Slide-to-Unlock trick and enter your four-digit PIN.

Whether you’re in Australia or not, just to be on the safe side, you should change your Apple password if you use it elsewhere. Go to iforgot.apple.com to change it, and check out this video for tips on choosing a strong password you can actually remember:

If you don’t use a four-digit passcode on your device and you’ve been hit with the ransom note, you can restore your device to its last backup point. You’ll lose photos, videos and other items you’ve collected since you last backed up your phone, but at least you’ll have control of your phone again. Instructions for how to restore your device using Recovery Mode are as follows, per Apple:

Follow these steps if you never synced your device with iTunes, if you don’t have Find My iPhone set up, or if you can’t get to your own computer. You’ll need to put your device in recovery mode to erase the device and its passcode. Then you’ll restore your device.

  1. Disconnect all cables from your device.
  2. Turn off your device.
  3. Press and hold the Home button. While holding the Home button, connect your device to iTunes. If your device doesn’t turn on automatically, turn it on.
  4. Continue holding the Home button until you see the Connect to iTunes screen.
  5. iTunes will alert you that it has detected a device in recovery mode. Click OK, then restore the device.

Once you’ve restored your phone, change your Apple password by following the steps a few paragraphs up if you haven’t already.

If that doesn’t work, your best bet may be to bring your iPhone into your nearest Apple store. Make sure to bring your ID and receipt, if you still have it, as you’ll need to prove the phone belongs to you in order to get help unlocking it.

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