06 November 2006

Undercover recovers stolen MacBook Pro

Since the launch of Undercover, hundreds of Mac users have emailed us, asking for some real-world recovery stories. Thus far, we posted one - very unusual - recovery story on this blog. Does this mean that Undercover is not effective in recovering stolen Macs? Not at all.

As outlined before, the problem with recovery stories is that they could violate the privacy of the victims and of the thief. The last thing we want is to give the thief a chance to sue the victim or us for violating his/her privacy. This might sound crazy, but it's a real concern....

That being said, I would like to share another recovery story without violating the privacy of the victim or thief, while still giving enough details to keep the story interesting. Since I thought this story would not only be of interest to the readers of this blog, but to all (prospective) Undercover users, I created a new section on the Undercover website. Enjoy our 2nd recovery story.

11 September 2006

post-WWDC season

This blog has been quiet for some time: I have been attending WWDC, Apple's developer conference in San Francisco. It's been my fifth WWDC in a row, probably one of the best and definitely the most crowded of all.

The funny thing is that over the past 5 years, a similar phenomenon occurs after every WWDC keynote: end users are mostly underwhelmed by the announcements. Thereby, many people forget that WWDC is a developer conference, aimed at informing developers of new technologies and APIs. It's then up to developers to take advantage of these APIs and create some stunning apps that weren't possible before (or would have taken twice as much time). From that perspective WWDC has been a home run: Apple announced an endless array of new technologies that enable developers to integrate their apps even more with the OS and with each other, and to make their applications faster, easier to use and even more elegant. Sorry, I can't give more details here, as all sessions are under NDA, but I can tell you that we have some great new ideas for Undercover, based on this new technology. Moreover, Apple has given their developer tools a complete makeover, especially Interface Builder, making Cocoa application development more enjoyable than it already was. Even with the announcements made thus far, Leopard will be a stunning release, combining great new features for end users (Time Machine, Spaces, ...) with inspiring possibilities for developers (e.g. Core Animation). These developer focused features will ultimately benefit end users as well.

There is more, however, as Apple has not unveiled everything at WWDC. They are still sitting on some top-secret features they can't show us right now. My guess is that some of these featues could be linked to a future hardware announcement (probably as early as tomorrow?). Other of these top-secret features could be interface-related or Finder related (just my wild guesses, this is no rumor site and I have no reliable sources ;-))

Enough speculation, time to go back to work and making Undercover shine on Leopard.

18 July 2006

Undercover's 1/2 birthday

It has been exactly 6 months since Undercover has been released and a lot has happened since then... time for an update.

The Undercover concept of using the built-in iSight to secretly transmit pictures of the thief makes a great news or blog story. As a result, Undercover has gotten tons of media attention, much more than we ever hoped. Our theft recovery application managed to make it to the Digg homepage. It also received its own entry on Slashdot and Ars Technica. Of course, Undercover was mentioned many times in the international Mac press as well. For example, Undercover has been listed among the 47 hot new Mac things by Macworld.

Undercover has been reviewed three times thus far. The first review was carried out by Mac360. A second review recently appeared in Applicando, the leading Italian Mac journal (Undercover received an awesome 4.5/5 score) and finally the Austrian National Radio praised Undercover for it's ease of use and innovative features. We are still working to have Undercover reviewed by a mainstream US Mac magazine.

Succes stories
Many Mac users are interested in protecting their Macs with Undercover. Before committing to the software, however, they want to know if Undercover really works (which is something I'd be asking myself too, if I weren't the developer). As a result, we have received literally hundreds of requests for Undercover succes stories. Thus far, we have published only one - unusual - recovery story. This ostensible lack of succes stories is mainly caused by our respect for our users' privacy and for the secrecy of the investigations. Although computer theft may not seem like a big deal at first, it's often accompanied by burglary, violence, or even homicide. And even if it's 'only' a computer theft, it's still a crime that requires police investigations. The last thing we want to do is to ruin an investigation by prematurely releasing information (or iSight pictures) of a thief. On the other hand, we really want to show our (prospective) customers that Undercover really works. Therefore, we are preparing to publish more success stories in the weeks and months ahead, as well as some more general things we have learned. Keep an eye on this weblog, because we have some amazing Mac-recovery stories we would like to share...

19 June 2006

Undercover on the Austrian national radio (ORF)

Yesterday evening, the ORF (the Austrian National Radio) reviewed Undercover for their Matrix magazine, a radio show dedicated to computers and new media. Sonja Bettel from ORF tested Undercover in a Vienna-based Mac store by simulating a real theft. While my knowledge of the German language is not good enough to understand everything, I could get most of it and I must say that this show is both informative and entertaining. If your German is better than mine, you should listen to the mp3 version of the show or check out the show's webpage.

15 May 2006

Undercover in Macworld

Undercover is among the 47 hot new Mac things being discussed in the June issue of Macworld. The description on page 58 reads: "If your credit card gets stolen, police can track it down by finding out where the thieves use it. Orbicule's Undercover 1.5 does the same thing for laptops. When you install the app, it registers a unique ID for your Mac on a server and checks in periodically. If your machine is stolen, the system transmits its internet location; Orbicule will then cooperate with law enforcement officials to locate the system physically and recover it. The latest version even adds support for iSight cameras, so your Mac can snap a mug shot of the miscreants."

Needless to say, we are very pleased to see Undercover being selected and discussed by one of the leading Mac magazines!

24 April 2006

Introducing TheftSensor

Today we are unveiling TheftSensor, a brand new application designed for the new MacBook. Taking a page from the car alarm, MacBook Pro owners can enable TheftSensor by pressing the play button on their Apple Remote. When enabled, TheftSensor will start a loud alarm whenever the MacBook is moved, lifted or when its lid is closed. The alarm can be disabled by pressing the play button a second time. Head over to the TheftSensor page and see it in action!

TheftSensor might sound very similar to other applications out there (e.g. iAlertU). I want to stress, however, that we planned this functionality for Undercover 2.0, many months ago. While designing Undercover 2, we decided to spin off TheftSensor as a separate application because many Apple laptops don't have a built-in sudden motion sensor (SMS) just yet. Adding this functionality to Undercover would increase the application's footprint while it would add no functionality for 85% of our user base, so that's why we decided to release this as a separate app. That way, we can get as much feedback as possible from the Mac community. As more and more Apple laptops with SMS become available, we will integrate this functionality into Undercover.

07 April 2006

Are you a beta tester?

We could use some help while working on the next generation Undercover version. If you have a MacBook Pro and if you are interested in testing, drop us an email. Selected testers will receive a free household license. We only need a couple of testers, so we are going to have a deadline of Friday 7 April (that's today) @ 11.59 PM GMT. Note that you do need to have a MBP!


05 April 2006

What's next for Undercover?

If you are an Undercover user, you might have already asked yourself this question. Here is a summary of our Undercover plans for the months ahead.

The next version will be the 1.6 update that will make Undercover significantly smarter while consuming even less bandwidth (not that Undercover is currently a network-intensive app, but any improvement in this area goes a long way). I can't go into more detail right now, but development is going well and we hope to release this update before the end of June.

At the same time, we are working on a method that will enable you to closely monitor Undercover. Many people asked for such a piece of software. It's coming, although it might not be ready to be released alongside the 1.6 update.

Finally, we are currently planning the 2.0 release. This second version of Undercover will most likely be released in 2007. We do have a couple of ideas ourselves of course, but we are also wondering what features you would want to see in this release. If you have any ideas for great new features in Undercover 2, please let us know and/or post a comment.

29 March 2006

The big Apple

The Undercover presentation was a unique experience: it's very satisfying to present your own software in one of Apple's flagship stores. Unfortunately, we could not use the store's theatre as they are rebuilding it and making it even bigger, but the temporary location worked out quite well. The Apple store staff was amazingly friendly and helpful to make sure everything ran as expected. Maybe we will come back to NYC once the theatre reopens...

Another great surprise was that my cousin Sali flew in from the Florida Keys, just to attend my presentation. It was great to see her back after 18 months. Sali is a very gifted illustrator / designer. Make sure to check out some of her work and her weblog. We hope to see her soon in Belgium.

It was my first trip to New York and I'm still quite impressed... I have visited a couple of other 'big cities' (London, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Paris,...). While they are all attractive for different reasons, New York really seems to be a class of its own. At least when it comes to the number of skyscrapers, corporate headquarters and other landmark buildings (such as the U.N.).

There are many things I liked about NY: Ellis Island, walking across the Brooklyn bridge, the MOMA, the Natural History museum, the NYBG, Central Park, the view from the top of Rockefeller center, ... all in all, it's an amazing city and we definitely plan to visit it again.

14 March 2006

New York Undercover

This is not the title for a new TV show, just an announcement that we have been invited to present Undercover at the Soho Apple store in New York! Needless to say, we were excited to accept this invitation. The Undercover demonstration will take place on Tuesday March 21st @ 7 p.m. in the beautiful SoHo Apple store. We hope to meet you there!

03 March 2006

Undercover reviewed

Many people asked us how Undercover behaves in case of theft and whether this system really works. We always tell them that we have done extensive testing of all steps involved and that we did quite a few real-world simulations.

Starting today, we have a more convincing answer: the fine folks at Mac360 have done an independent review of Undercover. For this review, we simulated a real theft. The review describes the different stages Undercover goes through when the Mac is stolen and how each stage works. You can read the review here: part I and part II. Now all people wondering whether Undercover really works no longer have to take our word for it.

23 February 2006

The amazing success story

It has taken a bit longer than anticipated, but I'm finally posting the full story on the London theft. The reason for the delay is that I waited for the 'crime scene' pictures to arrive. Since they still haven't arrived yet, I decided to go ahead and just post the story for your reading pleasure. Additionally, I did not want to interfere with the investigation, or even ruin it by posting the story on our weblog.

I won't keep you waiting any longer. Below is the original theft story as sent to me by Amit Tida, victim of the theft, whose Powerbook had been stolen on February 6th. As you will read, Undercover plays a pivotal role in the recovery of the stolen PB, but in a slightly different way than you would think. Here is the unedited story:

Hi, my name is Amit Tida, I'm a student at SAE institute in London where I'm studying Digital filmmaking and special effects. On 6th on feb, after returning home from shopping, I found that home had been burgled, finding that my powerbook along with other personal possession, had been stolen. After going through the normal procedure with the police and all that, I e-mailed orbicule, with my ID and telling them what happened, so they could black list my powerbook. Within 1 hour or less, I was contacted by Orbicule and they told me that they have started the search and also gave some useful advice. Upset that I was I wanted to carry on with my life, and having uni the next day, I carried on as usual.

During the day I got a call from my mum saying that Orbicule had contacted my home to get more details on the case, so they could contact my local authorities, so I then decided to go home. After reaching home, I decided to go to the back of my house to look for any clues or anything the thieves might have dropped or left. Upon reaching the back gate, I saw my powerbook and seeing it I was so happy, but at the same time a bit confused, (as the night before, when the robbery took place, the police had searched up and down my garden and back gate and found nothing).

Almost at the same time, the investigation team arrived. After taking the powerbook inside my house, and after they searched for finger prints, and all that, they basically turned on the powerbook and searched through it, as they felt that the thieves might have used it, and they came to the conclusion that someone had actually used the powerbook, as they where able to, some how checked some sort of log which said what time the last login was, and said that someone had login in after 4.3 hours after the burglary had been reported. They also came to the conclusion the thief had come back to house near early morning and placed the powerbook at the back of the garden next to the broken gate (where they had supposedly escaped) in fear that they would get caught. As I had stuck a sticker which I made inside my power saying "ORBICULE PROTECTED.... SO DROP IT", when I first got Undercover installed.

That's my story; I'm just so happy as I now have my powerbook and all my work back and able now to give in my coursework on time. If you want to ask me more questions e-mail me at thedirector.akt@gmail.com

I think you'll agree that this is an amazing story. The thieves came back to return the stolen Powerbook because they found the "Orbicule protected" label on the Powerbook. FYI: this label was made by Amit himself, he's an art/creative/filmmaking student after all. The thieves were scared that this Powerbook would lead the police to their home.

While I don't think it would be a good idea to label all Undercover-enabled Macs -- because Undercover relies on the fact that it is a hidden application -- this story does show that theft can be reduced or prevented just by installing Undercover. This could be especially true in schools and corporations where the students/employees know that their Mac is protected.

The most important thing, however, is that I'm very glad Amit got his Powerbook back and that he could submit his assignment on time!

07 February 2006

The proof of the pudding...

This morning, we received an email from a London-based student to alert us that his Powerbook had been stolen and that he had Undercover installed on it. This was the first theft report we received after launching Undercover 20 days ago. Of course we were sad to hear this news, while on the other hand we were very eager to see how Undercover would behave in a real-world theft and we were quite confident that Undercover would help us trace the Powerbook.

A few seconds ago, we received an email from this student to tell us that his Powerbook has been found, thanks to Undercover. This whole story might sound a bit weird, especially since we are releasing a major update to Undercover today, but trust me this is not a joke or a cheap marketing trick. We can't provide more information at the moment, but we will - of course - follow up on this story and inform you as more information becomes available.

Needless to say, we are extremely happy. In the first place we are glad this student can just continue his assignments without going through all the insurance hassle. And secondly, we think this proves how useful a theft recovery application can be!

To be continued.....

[UPDATE: a full story is coming. It will be published as soon as we receive the pictures made by the London Police Department. Please stay tuned.]

It's here! Grab your 1.5 update.

Undercover 1.5 is out and we are really excited about it. As I announced in the previous post, iSight support is the major new addition to Undercover. We had to do some fine-tuning to make sure we get the best image quality out of the camera, especially with the classic auto-focus iSights (the auto-focus obviously needs a few seconds to provide an optimal image). We have carried out many tests, both internally and with beta testers worlwide and they were all amazed by the efficiency of the iSight feature. All in all, I think this feature will prove to be very valuable when identifying the thief and working with law enforcement. The rapid addition of iSight support would not have been possible without Tim Omernick and his excellent CocoaSequenceGrabber framework. Because Undercover has no 'About box', I would like to use this post to thank Tim for providing this framework to the Cocoa community.

However, iSight support is not the only difference with Undecover 1.0. Security and reliability were two aspects we focused on for this first update and I think this really payed off (see the separate post on hacking Undercover).

The update can be downloaded for free from our Undercover web site.

Hacking Undercover

Undercover has generated a huge amount of buzz on the web. This has resulted in great coverage (overall very positive), but also in one or two weird "reviews" in which all kinds of claims are made, based on a 'taking the application apart' approach. While some of these claims were correct, many more are absolutely false and that's why I'm not linking them here. More importantly, none of these claims are still true for Undercover 1.5.

We really want Undercover to be the best and most secure theft-recovery application on the planet, so we did not stop after fixing the few issues that were raised. We wanted our software to be really, really secure..... therefore we hired a hacker. Not just some teenage wannabe, a real one named Mike. We sent him a license key and let him play with the Undercover 1.5 beta. We were delighted to learn that he only found one issue and something that could be easily fixed.

Conclusion: we are pretty confident that Undercover 1.5 is one of the most secure applications on your Mac. It is absolutely impossible for a thief to remove the application without knowing the Admin password. You don't have to take our word for it, you can try it yourself.

24 January 2006

Help us out... (and get Undercover for free)

As mentioned in the previous post, iSight support will be the major new feature in the next version of Undercover. Development is going great, but for our test phase, we are looking for someone with an iMac Core Duo. Basically, the only thing you'll need to do is help us test/verify a couple of things. As we see it now, it won't take you more than one hour.

Some rules:
- We only need one person / iMac
- You must have an Intel iMac (iMac Core Duo). no PPC iMac, no MacBook and of course err... no Dell
- If interested, send us an email and include a screenshot of the About Panel of your iMac Core Duo.
- The first reply we get, wins. I apologize in advance to all other participants.

In return, you'll get a free Undercover household license (a $44 value).
Start emailing.... now

[UPDATE: Brian Warren was the first to contact us. The contest is now closed (it only lasted for 29 minutes)]

iSight insight

Almost a week after the release of Undercover 1.0, I can say that the application has been very well received, both by the press and by our users. What makes us even happier, is that there have been zero support incidents to date. Of course, we have received many questions, suggestions and comments (which is great!) but none of our customers have had trouble installing the application.

Of the suggestions we received, almost 50% were about one specific feature: iSight support. Many users would be delighted to see Undercover taking pictures of the thief (and his surroundings). Today, I can confirm that we are working on this feature and that we are very far along on this. It will be part of the next Undercover update (which will be free for all registered users, of course).

Even during the planning phase of Undercover, iSight support was high on our list already: the major new feature I wrote about in my previous post was referring to iSight support as well. iSight support did not make it into the 1.0 because we wanted to get an Intel-compatible theft-recovery application out as soon as possible. Now that 1.0 is out of the door, we are ramping up development efforts to release Undercover 1.5 by the time the MacBook Pro will hit the market.

18 January 2006

Unveiling Undercover

It's here! After months of hard work, fine-tuning and beta-testing Undercover is now available to everyone (at least, to everyone using a Mac with Tiger, that is). I won't discuss the product's features here, as you can get all the information you need on the Undercover pages.

Instead, I'd like to stress that this is just the beginning for Undercover. This morning, we started working on the first Undercover update, in which we will introduce a major new feature that will set us even more apart from the other solutions out there. I can't be more specific as the competition is probably reading this blog too, but I hope to post more information as development progresses. Needless to say, the update will be free for all registered users.

I promised not to talk about Undercover features just two paragraphs ago, but I'd like to mention one thing that I don't really consider as a feature: Undercover is a universal binary. In English, this means that Undercover runs natively on both PowerPC and Intel based Macs, so it can be used to protect your new iMac or MacBook. Since Undercover is the first theft recovery application to be universal, I thought it was worth pointing out.

Lastly, I would like to thank a couple of people: in the first place, I would like to thank all beta testers. Special thanks to Dan Wood, Vincent Merckx and Jan Morren for their great suggestions, they really improved the product. I'd also like to thank Geert from Easyware for providing me with everything I needed to test and debug Undercover on Intel.

13 January 2006

Post #1

Since this is my first post to the brand new Orbicule blog, I would like to briefly introduce myself and the company. I'm Peter Schols (28) and I'm living in Heverlee, a small town close to Leuven, Belgium, Europe. On January 3, 2006, I have founded a new company: Orbicule.

Orbicule is dedicated to developing innovative, high-quality and fun software for Mac OS X. Although Orbicule is barely three weeks old, these are not my first steps into the world of software development. Back in 2001, while doing a PhD at the University of Leuven, I studied Cocoa and developed a couple of scientific apps, mainly for in-house use. During my PhD, I also started the BioCocoa project, an open-source Cocoa framework for biology and bioinformatics. After my PhD, I started development of iMap, which has been honored with an Apple Design Award during WWDC 2005. Getting this recognition from Apple was a big step: it helped me in taking the decision to start as a full-time, independent, Mac OS X Cocoa programmer.

I will use this blog to talk about our products, but also about being an indie Mac developer and about everything that's going on in the Mac universe. Feel free to leave comments and link to this blog. I hope you will enjoy!