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printed July 28, 2014
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T-Mobile Drops the Cost of Family Plans to $100

Today, 8:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today announced a promotional plan that undercuts AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon's offerings dramatically. T-Mobile says a family of four can sign up for a T-Mobile Simple Choice plan with 10GB of LTE data for $100 per month. T-Mobile says each line receives 2.5GB of data in addition to unlimited talk, text, free 2G international data, and unlimited streaming music. The promotional price is good until January 2016 and is available beginning July 30 through September 30. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon all charge $160 per month for similar four-line plans.


Microsoft Updates Nokia X Platform

Today, 8:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Though Microsoft plans to eventually can the Nokia X platform, the company today announced an update that adds several new features to the operating system. According to Microsoft, the improved OS now includes an app switcher for multitasking. It also integrates Outlook.com, OneDrive, and OneNote into the platform, which provide Outlook email, cloud storage, and note-taking tools, respectively. Last, the update makes significant improvements to the Nokia Store, which now includes content from third-party app stores and a new home screen Spotlight widget. The update is available to the Nokia X, X+, and XL handsets. It can be downloaded and installed over-the-air.

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Researchers Claim Lithium Battery Breakthrough

Today, 7:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Scientists at Stanford University believe they have solved one of the major issues facing lithium battery technology. The researchers contend a pure lithium battery is best. "Of all the materials that one might use in an anode, lithium has the greatest potential. Some call it the Holy Grail," said Stanford Professor Yi Cui. "It is very lightweight and it has the highest energy density. You get more power per volume and weight, leading to lighter, smaller batteries with more power." The problem, however, is that lithium anodes form dendritic and mossy metal deposits that can cause batteries to crack, lose ions, and possibly ignite fires. In order to solve this problem, the researchers coated the lithium anode with a monolayer of interconnected amorphous hollow carbon nanospheres. The researchers say this helps isolate the lithium metal depositions and stabilizes the battery entirely. "The ideal protective layer for a lithium metal anode needs to be chemically stable to protect against the chemical reactions with the electrolyte and mechanically strong to withstand the expansion of the lithium during charge," said Cui. The solution could apply to lithium batteries used in smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even cars, vastly extending battery life.


Samsung Delays Tizen Phone Yet Again

Today, 7:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today further delayed the launch of its first Tizen phone in Russia. The company said it needs to "further enhance [the] Tizen ecosystem" before the phone can be released, which strongly suggests there aren't enough apps for the platform. The device was expected to debut at a developer conference in Moscow earlier this month, but its unveiling was scrapped at the last moment. At the time, Samsung said, "The smartphone will appear on the Russian market later, when we can offer our users a fullest portfolio of applications." Tizen is Samsung's home-grown smartphone platform based on Linux and other open standards. The company planned to launch a Tizen device in Japan early this year, but that launch, too, was cancelled at the last minute. Samsung did not say when it plans to launch its Tizen phone, which was supposed to reach the market this quarter. Without apps, Samsung's Tizen device won't be able to compete with established competitors.


Phone-Unlocking Bill Clears Congress, Goes to Obama

Friday, 12:54 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously passed bill S517, which makes it legal once again for consumers to unlock their cell phones. The Senate passed the bill on July 15. With both arms of congress approving the bill, it is up to President Obama to sign it into law. Unlocking phones became illegal in early 2013 when the Library of Congress allowed an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to expire. The bill still falls under the purview of the DMCA and leaves the ultimate decision regarding unlocking up to the Library of Congress. If Obama signs the bill into law immediately, it will be legal to unlock cell phones only for a period of about 14 months before the policy must be reviewed once again by the Library of Congress. The wording of the bill mandates the policy be reviewed once every three years. The NTIA and the FCC have each separately mandated that wireless network operators make it easier for consumers to unlock their devices. Most of the largest carriers have already begun putting policies in place that allow customers to unlock their devices once terms of their agreement are met.


Verizon to Restrict Heaviest 'Unlimited' LTE Users

Friday, 11:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless plans to use its Network Optimization policy later this year in order to manage its heaviest users. The change in policy applies only to subscribers with an unlimited LTE monthly data plan, who were previously grandfathered in and essentially unrestricted in their use of mobile data. According to Verizon this change only applies to the top 5% of users, who typically consume more than 4.7GB of data per month. Rather than use straight throttling, Verizon will prioritize the traffic of subscribers who pay for tiered data plans (2GB per month, 4GB per month, etc.) The prioritization scheme will be put to work in high-traffic areas when cell sites become congested. The change goes into effect October 1. Verizon has applied similar network management techniques to its 3G customers since 2011.


Video Tour: Amazon Fire Phone

Friday, 11:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon's Fire Phone has one of the more interesting user interfaces to reach consumers this year. Here's an in-depth look at how FireOS, Dynamic Perspective, and FireFly really work.

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Google Expands Voice Calling to Hangouts

Friday, 7:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently made it possible to connect Google Voice phone calls through Hangouts on the web. When using Google Voice in a desktop browser, the phone tool now lists Hangouts as an option when making calls. Googler Alex Wiesen explained that it works even if the user isn't using Hangouts in Gmail, and it doesn't require a Google+ account. The change does not apply to either the Android or iOS mobile apps. Google Voice has been neglected of late and its future as a Google service is in question. This recent change marks another transitional step for the service, and expands the functionality of Google Hangouts.


Verizon Testing Unwanted App Removal on LG G3

Friday, 7:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless is trialling a new policy on the LG G3 that allows owners to remove bloatware. Like many smartphones, the G3 ships with preloaded applications selected by Verizon. Device owners have no say in which apps are preloaded and may find them useless or uninteresting. Typically, preloaded apps cannot be removed from smartphones. That changes with the LG G3. According to Verizon, preloaded "applications can be completely and entirely uninstalled by the customer via the standard uninstall process." Customers need to use the built-in Android app manager to delete any unwanted apps. Deleting apps frees phones of clutter and clears valuable storage space. Verizon didn't say if it will expand the trial to other devices.

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Gmail for iOS Adds Drive File Sharing

Thursday, 1:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today rolled out an update for its Gmail app for iOS devices. The update carries over a feature given to the Android app earlier this month: the ability to share files from Google Drive. iPhone and iPad owners can now insert documents from their Drive account into emails as they compose them on their device. The app makes it easy to save email attachments from Gmail to Drive, too. Gmail for iOS allows users to change their Gmail account picture, and those with multiple Gmail accounts can choose which signed-in accounts they want visible in the app. Gmail is free to download from the iTunes App Store.


Chrome Beta for Android Adds Material Design

Thursday, 1:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today delivered a new beta version of its Chrome browser to the Android platform. The chief new feature of the updated app is broader support for Google account sign-in. According to Google, users who sign into the Chrome browser on their Android device will automatically be signed into all their other Google services, as well. The sign-in feature supports multiple accounts, and can sync the settings and bookmarks of those accounts, too. Chrome beta for Android also adds in some elements of Material Design, the new design language Google is using to define Android Release L, which is due later this year.


FCC Lays Out Rules for AWS-3 Spectrum Auction

Thursday, 12:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC has published the rules regarding Auction 97, which will see 1,614 spectrum licenses sold by the government to wireless network operators. The auction will start November 13, with a trial auction scheduled for November 10. The spectrum includes 65MHz in the 1695-1710MHz, 1755-1780MHz, and 2155-2180MHz -- or AWS-3 -- bands. The lower of the three blocks will be sold unpaired in 5MHz blocks, while the upper two bands will be sold in 10MHz paired blocks (with a couple of exceptions). The collective reserve price for the lower block is $580 million and the collective reserve price for the upper blocks is $10.07 billion. Of the 1,614 licenses offered in Auction 97, 880 will be Economic Area (EA) licenses and 734 will be Cellular Market Area (CMA) licenses. Dish Networks and T-Mobile wanted the unpaired and paired licenses to be auctioned separately, but the FCC decided against splitting the bidding process in favor of efficiency for all parties involved. The FCC has another auction, for 600MHz spectrum, scheduled for mid 2015.


AT&T Pushing Windows Phone 8.1 to Lumia 1520

Thursday, 12:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 1:09 PM

AT&T today said Windows Phone 8.1 is now available to the Lumia 1520. Customers can use the onboard tools to download and install the OS over the air, which includes Cortana, Internet Explorer 11, and the Action Center. AT&T also revealed a green variant of the Lumia 1520 in a promotional video. The green Lumia 1520 will be available soon.


Visa to Put a Credit Card in Everything

Thursday, 10:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Visa today announced Visa Cloud Payment Solutions, a tool that device makers can use to add mobile payments capabilities to their hardware. Visa claims the Cloud Payment Solution will reduce fraud because it replaces the standard 16-digit credit card number with a digital token. The token can be built securely into smartphones, tablets, wearables, and appliances so consumers can make wave-, scan, and click-to-buy payments virtually anywhere. The tokens negate the need to share personal credit card data; can be restricted to specific merchants, devices, or types of purchases; can be easily replaced without changing account numbers; and can be processed easily by merchants and retailers. Visa has been forging ahead aggressively to enable mobile payments via mobile devices. Portions of the Visa Cloud Payment Solutions toolset are available beginning today, though the full set won't be available until January 2015. Visa plans to launch an extended Developer Center in early 2015 with all the related SDKs, APIs, specifications, and guidelines.


HTC Posts Keyboard, Clock Apps in Play Store

Thursday, 9:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC has recently pulled some of the core applications out of its Sense user interface and made them available separately through the Google Play Store. Both the Sense keyboard and Sense clock apps have appeared in the Play Store in recent days, which can now be updated independent from full OS upgrades. Google and Motorola have taken similar steps with some of their apps, such as their camera apps. HTC already offers a handful of other apps via the Play Store, including Gallery, Blinkfeed, Sense TV, and Dot View.


Google Adding Explore Function to Maps App

Thursday, 7:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google hopes Android and iOS Maps users will take advantage of a new tool for exploring their surroundings. Google is adding a new button to Maps called Explore, which will tell people what's nearby. According to Google, the tool can be set to show what's as close as a 5-minute walk and what's as far as a 20-minute drive and everything in between. The Explore function doesn't just provide a list of nearby places, it is also contextually aware. For example, it will consider information such as the time of day and the weather so it doesn't send users to shops that are closed or to parks during a thunderstorm. The updated Maps app is being pushed out this week. It is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.


Uber Finds Its Way Back to Windows Phone

Wednesday, 2:42 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Uber today made available a version of its mobile application for the Windows Phone platform. Uber lets Windows Phone users request rides through its on-demand taxiing service. The Windows Phone app supports credit card payments and provides rate comparisons, allows users to set pickup locations, see the progress of their pending taxi, and receive emailed receipts. Uber runs on all Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 smartphones. The application itself is free to download from the Windows Phone Store. The app was available last year, but was yanked from the store in August 2013.


Sony to Boost Smartphone Camera Sensor Production

Wednesday, 1:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sony plans to make a large investment its in imaging business and will increase production of CMOS sensors for mobile devices. The company will spend as much as $345 million to improve the capacity of its sensor-making facilities. Sony has already purchased several new manufacturing plants. The company currently makes about 60,000 sensors a month. It will improve those yields to 68,000 by August 2015 and eventually 75,000 by the end of 2015. Sony makes CMOS sensors for its own smartphones and tablets, but also for other manufacturers, such as Apple.

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