Apple today made iOS 7.1 available to iPhones, iPads, and iPods Touch. The operating system update resolves a significant bug that soft reset iOS devices when being used. iOS 7.1 also adds support for CarPlay, Apple's recently-announced in-car software. The update tweaks the behavior of a wide range of functions, such as the ability to control Siri manually by pressing and holding the home button. Siri gains more natural-sounding voices for Chinese, UK English, Australian English, and Japanese. iTunes Radio was improved with new placement of the search bar, and the ability to buy albums directly from the Now Playing screen. The Calendar app gains the ability to display events in the month view, as well as view country-specific holidays. Accessibility has been improved with a bold font option, and the Reduce Motion function now applies to more apps, including weather and messages. iOS 7.1 also adds new HDR camera tools, improves iCloud Keychain support, automatically clears FaceTime calls, improves Touch ID on the iPhone 5s, improves performance of the iPhone 4, and provides other UI teaks. iOS 7.1 is free to download from Apple.
Sony today announced Xperia Themes, which are downloads that allow owners of Sony's Xperia smartphones to customize the look and feel of their device. Xperia Themes go far beyond adding new wallpapers. Users can adjust the appearance of icons, fonts, lines and boxes, and UI elements such as switches, sliders, buttons, and even the on-screen Android control buttons. According to Sony, the themes let people customize their device in a way that previously required third-party launchers. It should be easy for most people to use. There are about a dozen themes available starting today, but Sony said that many more are on the way. Xperia Themes are available to all Xperia devices running Android 4.3 and higher. They can be downloaded from the Google Play Store.
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Samsung today highlighted some of the third-party applications it plans to install on the Galaxy S5 smartphone, and claims their total value exceeds $600. Most of the freebies take the form of limited-time memberships to web sites or services that would otherwise charge for their use. For example, the Galaxy S5 will include a six-month subscription to the Wall Street Journal and a 12-month subscription to Bloomberg/BusinessWeek. It will also include a $50 voucher for PayPal merchants, 50GB of Box storage for six months, 50GB of DropBox storage for two years, and 1TB of Bitcasa storage for three months. Several fitness subscriptions will be included, as will gaming credits. Smartphones are often sold with third-party apps and services pre-loaded. The Samsung Galaxy S5 will go on sale worldwide in April.
Google's Sundar Pichai, who heads the company's Android and Chrome teams, told attendees at the SxSWi conference in Austin today that it will soon release a software developer kit for wearable devices. The SDK will make use of Google's Android platform and the company hopes developers will use it for devices such as smartwatches in much the same way as developers have accepted Android for smartphones and tablets. Pichai didn't provide too many specifics, but indicated the company will lay out its "vision" for wearables and release the SDK in about two weeks. Google suggested it wants to offer the SDK long before devices arrive so there's plenty of time for developers to provide feedback. Several reports, including one from CNET, have suggested Google plans to introduce its own smartwatch, made by LG, at its I/O developer conference, slated for June. Google has not yet confirmed such plans.
AT&T today announced changes to its Mobile Share Value Plans, which are available to one or two lines. Under the old plan, a single 2GB Mobile Share Value line cost $80 per month ($55 for 2GB bucket plus $25 device access charge). Beginning March 9, the 2GB Mobile Share Value Plan drops to $65 per month ($40 for 2GB bucket plus $25 device access charge) - a savings of $15 per month. Under the new pricing, two lines will cost a total of $90 per month ($40 for 2GB bucket plus $25 access charge for each device). The Mobile Share Value plans include unlimited voice minutes and unlimited national and international messaging. AT&T said that both new and existing customers will be able to take advantage of these new rates, no matter what method used to purchase their device (contract, AT&T Next, etc.). Last, all Mobile Share Value customers can sign up to receive 50GB of free cloud storage using AT&T Locker. AT&T recommends that customers needing three or more lines use its Mobile Share Family Plans, which offer three lines 10GB of data and unlimited voice/messaging for $145.
T-Mobile tonight announced changes to its existing Simple Choice plans. At the lowest tier - people currently paying $50/month for the first line - the high-speed (4G) data cap doubles from 500 MB to 1 GB. The next tier also sees an increase, from 2.5 GB to 3 GB. However the third data tier - which starts at $70/month for the first line - will change from unlimited to a new cap at 5 GB, although existing customers will be grandfathered and keep unlimited data. Unlimited data for new customers will now only be available with a new tier starting at $80/month for the first line. Also, while Simple Choice plans already offered free global roaming in 115 countries for text and basic data, they will now also include free unlimited texting from the U.S. to other countries, and the number of countries has grown to 122. As before, extra lines cost $30/month for the second line and $10/month for lines 3-5. Also, extra data (such as $30/month for unlimited) is multiplied by the number of lines. Existing Simple Choice customers will automatically be upgraded to the new plans on March 23 for post-paid, or April 26 for pre-paid.
Pebble today officially released Pebble 2.0 for Android devices. The app update, which follows closely on the heels of a beta release earlier this week, adds the Pebble Appstore and gives Android device owners new powers over their Pebble smartwatch. Pebble 2.0 has been available to the iPhone since earlier this year.
AT&T recently added the LG A380 to its roster of entry-level flip phones. The A380's features suggest that its target market could be seniors, as it includes an enhanced audio mode to make phone calls louder, and a text-to-speech engine that reads text messages aloud. The A380 also includes a 2.4-inch display, 1.3-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, speakerphone, and support for microSD cards. The A380 costs $20 with a contract or $190 without a contract.
Samsung today launched a free music streaming service explicitly for owners of its Galaxy-branded smartphones and tablets. The service, called Milk, is powered by Slacker and includes more than 200 curated radio stations, as well as the ability for people to create, listen to, and save their own stations. The service doesn't cost anything, and doesn't include ads. Milk is only available to Samsung phones and tablets, and can be downloaded directly from the Google Play Store.
Motorola today announced the College Collection, a series of pre-designed Moto X handsets that reflect the colors of more than 40 colleges and universities. Motorola also added nine more back colors and three new accent colors to allow for further customization of the Moto X. In addition to the expanded color palette, Motorola is selling clear cases with school logos and team names, which can accompany the matching handset. Last, college students who register with a .edu email address will receive a $60 discount on the price of their College Connection Moto X. The Moto X can be customized for $399, but is available for just $49 with a two-year agreement with select carriers.
Verizon today announced that customers of both its wireless and wireline services can receive $20 off their total monthly bill by combining accounts. In order to get the discount, customers must subscribe to Verizon Wireless and Verizon's FiOS triple-play bundle, which includes FiOS home internet, television, and home phone service. Customers will receive $10 off their wireless bill and $10 off their FiOS bill for a period of two years, providing a maximum discount of $480. The promotion is available starting today and it runs through April 19.
Sprint today indicated that it has rearranged the executives who manage its network business. Both Steve Elfman, president of network operations, and Bob Azzi, senior vice president of networks, will leave the company. The changes are effective immediately, according to Sprint spokesperson Kelly Schlageter, who confirmed the shakeup to Fierce Wireless. Azzi is retiring effective March 14, while no date was given for Elfman's departure. In their place, Sprint has promoted John Saw, formerly the company's senior vice president of technical architecture, to the position of Chief Network Officer. Before joining Sprint, Saw was CTO at Clearwire, which Sprint acquired last year. Sprint is in the middle of deploying its LTE network across the U.S., including Sprint Spark, which depends on tri-band LTE coverage to improve speeds and service. Sprint has been slow to get its LTE network up and running, and blamed the delay on its network equipment providers.
AT&T has improved its LTE network in Chicago and several other markets by using an LTE-Advanced technique called Carrier Aggregation. GigaOm confirmed the soft launch with AT&T SVP of Network Technologies Kris Rinne. With Carrier Aggregation, AT&T has combined the channels of its existing spectrum to double the capacity. AT&T is running LTE in both the 700MHz and AWS bands in Chicago. By aggregating the channels together, AT&T can deliver theoretical peak download speeds of 110Mbps to devices with the proper radio support. At the moment, AT&T is selling only one device with Carrier Aggregation, the Unite mobile hotspot. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is expected to be the first smartphone to support Carrier Aggregation in the U.S. AT&T did not name the other two markets that have access to Carrier Aggregation, but said that more markets on are on the way. Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless are all in various stages of deploying Carrier Aggregation in their own LTE networks.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson today said the company expects to close its acquisition of Leap Wireless by the end of the month, and that it will use the pre-paid carrier's brand to shake things up. "We're going to be fairly aggressive [there]," said Stephenson, to "see if we can be a little disruptive down at that end of the market." Stephenson made the remarks at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. He explained that though Cricket has a strong brand, potential customers often avoid it due to its limited network coverage. Once AT&T acquires Cricket, that story will change. "All of a sudden overnight, Cricket is going to have nationwide coverage," he said. AT&T didn't announce any specific plans regarding Cricket. Stephenson also noted that the AT&T Next program, which lets customers pay for their devices over time, has become very popular. By the end of December, 20% of new device sales were being financed through AT&T Next rather than subsidized with a standard two-year contract.
Opera today made a new version of its mobile browser available for Android devices. Thanks to the inclusion of WebRTC, Opera 20 for Android permits users to conduct live, two-way video chats in the browser without the need for additional software or apps. The browser can be used to control the camera and the sound during chats, allowing users to fine-tune their experience. The update also introduces a new look for Speed Dial; the ability to adjust the browser navigation bar to suit individual tastes; improvements to search functionality; and a number of bug fixes. Opera 20 for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Motorola made a small update available to its Touchless Control application. The improved software adds several new features, chief among them the ability to respond to a "What's Up" or "Read Notifications" voice command, prompting the device to read new notifications aloud. The notifications feature is available in English, Spanish, and Italian, with other languages are supported in beta. The update also improves the software's ability to detect the end of speech for better accuracy and faster responses. Touchless Control is available to the Moto X, Droid Ultra, Droid Max, and Droid Mini. It requires Android 4.4 KitKat.
Apple's request to ban an array of Samsung smartphones and tablets was denied by a U.S. District Judge. Apple already won a guilty verdict against 26 different Samsung devices that were found to infringe on its patents. A jury awarded Apple more than $1 billion in damages, but Apple still sought to prevent Samsung from selling the infringing products in the U.S. Though Apples' request was denied, the damages owed to Apple by Samsung were finalized by the judge overseeing the case. The Korean company must now fork over about $930 million for violating Apple's patents.
Sprint today said it has expanded efforts to help prevent the resale of stolen phones by using Recipero's CheckMend online tool. CheckMend maintains a global database of stolen phone IDs. All Sprint stores will check the ID of used cell phones against CheckMend's database to determine if they are stolen. Devices listed as stolen cannot and will not be activated on Sprint's network. Sprint will also submit the ID of any Sprint device reported lost or stolen by customers to CheckMend to further improve the database's accuracy. Because CheckMend is available online, consumers can use it to check the validity of a used phone's ID before they purchase it. CheckMend can also be used by law enforcement. U.S. carriers all participate in a national registry of stolen device IDs.