Google today added several features to its Play Book reading application that make it better for consuming nonfiction material. The revised app, for example, allows users to skim or flip through pages, as well as add bookmarks throughout the text. The new skimming view makes it a breeze to jump from section to section, or scan through individual sections. Prior to this update, books needed to be read from front to back, with minimal support for jumping chapters or sections. Play Books also adopts Google's Material Design, which is the new design language of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Google Play Books is free to download from the Play Store.
Samsung and its carrier partners announced availability and pricing details for the Gear S smartwatch today. AT&T and Sprint will offer the device starting November 7, but T-Mobile won't sell it until November 9. Pricing for the wearable varies by carrier. The full retail price is $350. AT&T is offering it for $200 with a two-year contract and $10 monthly service charge. Sprint says customers can get the Gear S with $0 down followed by 24 monthly payments of $16. Sprint's Gear S plan also costs $10 per month. T-Mobile is selling the Gear S for $0 down followed by payments of $14.58 for 24 months. T-Mobile's Gear S service plan costs $5 per month. Verizon has yet to announce its pricing and service plan details. The Gear S requires a service plan because it can access 3G networks and make voice calls independent of a smartphone. The Gear S is based on Samsung's Tizen platform and features a 2-inch, curved Super AMOLED display with 360 x 480 pixels. In addition to 3G, the Gear S includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Samsung says it can transition between cellular and Bluetooth connections seamlessly. It includes Samsung's S Voice service for voice commands, and has an on-screen keyboard for composing messages. Other features include Samsung's S Health and fitness apps, music player and gallery apps, and the ability to receive notifications from a variety of services. The Gear S is powered by a dual-core 1.0GHz processor with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It has a 300mAh battery, which Samsung claims provides for two days of usage per charge.
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Google recently updated the Google Drive application for Android devices. The revised app improves search tools by adding autocomplete as users type in the search box. Drive now allows users to attach email messages to shared files. The app has a brand new PDF viewer, which allows users to search for and select text within PDF documents. Last, Drive was updated with Material Design, the new design language for Android 5.0 Lollipop. Google Drive for Android is free to download from the Play Store.
Skype today updated its iPhone application to version 5.7. The refreshed app mostly addresses user complaints in order to improve performance and ease-of-use. Skype 5.7 lets iPhone users press-and-hold photos within chats to save to their camera roll; reduces chat load times; adds avatars to all chat sessions, including groups, and updates them frequently; and simplifies the people list search and filter options, making it quicker to find contacts and initiate chat sessions. Skype 5.7 is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Microsoft today announced Microsoft Health, a new platform that's similar in basic approach to Apple's HealthKit and Google's Google Fit programs. Microsoft Health relies on a cloud-based service where consumers and the industry both store health and fitness data. The Microsoft Health application is available today for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices. It collects information from third-party apps and services and saves the data to the cloud, where it can help users manage their health and fitness goals. Microsoft Health doesn't combine data points from apps locally on smartphones, which both HealthKit and Fit do. Instead, the data is analyzed by Microsoft's Intelligence Engine online, which can be used to generate graphs, charts, and other ways to assess the data. For example, Microsoft Health can tell people which exercises burn the most calories, or calculate the quality of users' sleep. Though Microsoft Health works with select third-party devices, such as Jawbone Up, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Band wearable. The band was designed to be worn all day long. It has 10 sensors inside that track steps, calories burned, heart rate, and more. Together with the Microsoft Health app, the Microsoft Band offers guided workouts created by Gold's Gym, Shape, and others. The band also includes notifications for incoming calls, messages, or social networking updates. The Band is available from Microsoft's web site and retail stores beginning today for $199. Last, Microsoft is offering SDKs and APIs to health providers and app developers so they may hook their products into Microsoft Health.
Samsung today indicated it plans to tackle anew the entry-level and mid-range smartphone segments after reporting a 60% drop in profits for its most recent financial quarter. The weakened profits reflects sluggish sales of its high-end smartphones, such as the Galaxy S5 and Note 4. Samsung's hold on the smartphone market has sunk three quarters in a row, forcing the company to reevaluate its strategy. "The mid-to-low end market is growing rapidly, and we plan to respond actively in order to capitalise on that growth," said Samsung Senior Vice President Kim Hyun-joon. The company said it would boost the appeal of its entry-level and mid-range devices by improving materials and features, while remaining competitive on price. Samsung has lost marketshare to low-cost rivals such as Xiaomi and Meizu in emerging markets, which represent the best opportunity for growth. The company recorded $3.9 billion in profits thanks to sales of televisions and memory chips.
Sony today said it will replace Kunimasa Suzuki, who leads the company's smartphone business. Effective November 16, Hiroki Totoki will be the new president of Sony Mobile Communications. Totoki already serves as Sony's corporate planning director and is a close confidant of CEO Kazuo Hirai, according to Reuters. The change is a reaction to slow sales of Sony's Xperia smartphones and tablets, which have negatively impacted the company's financial performance. Sony has already lowered sales forecasts for the year, and investors fear it will lower its outlook again when it reports earnings on Friday.
LG Display today announced a new LCD panel that practically eliminates the bezel. The panel measures 5.3 inches across the diagonal with full HD resolution. The bezels along the side edges of the screen measure just 0.7mm thick. LG said it accomplished this with what it calls "Neo Edge" module processing and an in-cell touch panel. It uses an adhesive instead of double-sided tape to attach and seal the edges of the screen's circuit board, backlight, and touch panel. These help eliminate a plastic guide panel, which would otherwise be required to hold everything together. The Neo Edge technology is dust and waterproof, blocks light leakage, helps prevent corrosion, and improves durability thanks to the flexibility of the the adhesive. LG said it will begin to produce the new panel in volume next month.
Google has completed its sale of Motorola to Lenovo. Google first announced plans to sell Motorola in January. The deal was valued at about $2.9 billion. Google purchased Motorola in 2012 for more than $12 billion, in part for its treasure trove of 17,000 patents. Since then, Google has retooled Motorola's products and released innovative devices such as the Moto X, Moto G, and Moto E in 2013. During the last several months Motorola delivered a range of new handsets, including the second-generation Moto X and Moto G, the Droid Turbo, and the Nexus 6. Motorola's devices all feature stock Android operating systems with unique and helpful additions, such as Active Display and Moto Voice. Lenovo plans to keep the Motorola brand intact and will use it to grow its own presence in the market. According to Motorola chief Risk Osterloh, Motorola will remain headquartered in Chicago and will continue to develop its Moto and Droid lines of hardware with a focus on quick OS upgrades and technology that solves real-world problems. "In Lenovo we have a partner that shares our mission and that brings global scale, a diverse product portfolio and a track record of seizing strategic opportunities and making the most of them," said Osterloh in a blog post. "Together we will go farther, faster. With an impressive portfolio of smartphones, wearables and PCs, our two companies will be uniquely positioned to push the boundaries of choice and value, and bring exciting new experiences to people everywhere."
Consumer Cellular today announced the availability of the Moto G. The G has a 5-inch 720p HD screen, 8-megapixel camera, and quad-core processor. Consumer Cellular is selling the device for $150. The company does not require contracts.
The Google Nexus 6 is essentially a Moto X on steroids. It's huge, well-made, and has an appealing design. This full-sized phablet may impress, but it's not for everyone. Here are our initial impressions about Google's newest Nexus.
MCX took to its company blog today to "set the record straight" on what its forthcoming CurrentC product will and won't entail. First and foremost, MCX said participation in its payment service is voluntary. "MCX merchants make their own decisions about what solutions they want to bring to their customers; the choice is theirs. When merchants choose to work with MCX, they choose to do so exclusively. Importantly, if a merchant decides to stop working with MCX, there are no fines." In other words, companies that pick CurrentC to power mobile payments in their stores will not be permitted to accept alternate mobile payment services, such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet. MCS will not penalize members that decide to switch allegiances. According to MCX, CurrentC will work with most Android or iOS devices and will offer loyalty programs, coupons, and payments all in a single transaction. It claims to meet the industry standard when it comes to fraud protection, and will allow consumers multiple different payment methods (credit card, merchant card, bank account). MCX claims consumers will be in control of their personal data (including location) and they can share as much or as little as they want with retailers. The company believes its QR code-based system will work well at retail locations, and points to the success Starbucks has had with a similar system. It said it might add other payment options, such as Bluetooth, down the road. MCX came under fire this week after CVS and Rite-Aid, which support CurrentC, ceased accepting Apple Pay and Google Wallet. CurrentC is currently being tested in select markets and won't fully launch until next year.
Google today announced a new version of the Play Movies app for Android devices. The most significant new feature is support for info cards that appear on the user's smartphone or tablet when watching content via Chromecast or Android TV. The info cards will pop up on the mobile device during movie or TV show playback to provide info about the actors involved and other details. The app has also been updated with Material Design, which is the new design language Google is using for Android 5.0 Lollipop. The new Google Play app will roll out over the next few days.
Google today began accepting preorders for the Nexus 6 smartphone via the Google Play Store. However, Google almost immediately sold through its initial supply of the phone. Google says it is "out of inventory" and interested consumers should "check back soon." The phone, made by Motorola, comes in indigo blue or white, and either 32GB or 64GB variants. None of the four models is available. Google didn't say when it will replenish its inventory. Google only offers the unlocked model, which starts at $649. The phone will be sold by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless in the weeks ahead. The carriers will offer the phone with contract and monthly installment pricing.
WhatsApp has been forced to delay its planned mid-2014 launch of voice calling until next year. The company said it is still working to overcome some technical hurdles, such as functionality over 2G networks and gaining access to select smartphones' microphones for novice-cancellation purposes. WhatsApp is an over-the-top messaging application that lets smartphone owners avoid carrier-based messaging fees. It was acquired by Facebook earlier this year for $21 billion. The company now says the voice calling service should go live during the first quarter of 2015.
Sprint today launched its Spark service in 17 new markets scattered around the country. Spark uses three different spectrum bands to ensure the best possible LTE connection and speed. The new markets include Sacramento, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; Bay City, Flint, Midland, and Saginaw, Mich.; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; Henderson, N.C.; Cleveland, Columbus, Mount Vernon, New Philadelphia, Tiffin, and Youngstown, Ohio; Ogden, Utah; Seattle, Wash.; and Sheboygan, Wisc. Sprint says Spark is available in 46 markets and will meet its goal of covering 100 million POPs by the end of the year. Sprint sells 38 devices that are compatible with Spark.
Google today made available Google Fit, a new app for Android devices that takes advantage of the sensors found within smartphones to track activity and exercise. The app can automatically sense walking, running, hiking, and cycling. It syncs with a handful of third-party fitness apps and can display all the information generated by those apps in easy-to-understand graphs and charts. Google Fit can be accessed from Android smartphones and tablets, Android Wear devices, and via the web. It is free to download from the Play Store.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today filed a lawsuit against AT&T alleging the company has deceived consumers by throttling the speeds of subscribers to its unlimited plan. AT&T has throttled wireless speeds since 2011, but the FTC says it hasn't properly informed customers about the parameters that trigger it. According to the FTC, AT&T has slowed down broadband speeds of 3.5 million subscribers a total of 25 million times. Subscribers to its unlimited plans have filed thousands of complaints, accusing the company of using bait and switch tactics. The FTC found AT&T throttled data speeds of unlimited customers after they used as little as 2GB. Speeds were often reduced by 80 or 90%, making many network-based activities unusable. "AT&T promised its customers 'unlimited' data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. "The issue here is simple: 'unlimited' means unlimited." The agency is charging AT&T with violating the FTC Act for changing the terms of service while customers were still under contract. AT&T no longer offers unlimited plans and instead requires customers to purchase data by the bucket. Most carriers throttle the speeds of those who use the network excessively. "The FTC's allegations are baseless and have nothing to do with the substance of our network management program, said AT&T general counsel Wayne Watts. "It's baffling as to why the FTC would choose to take this action against a company that, like all major wireless providers, manages its network resources to provide the best possible service to all customers, and does it in a way that is fully transparent and consistent with the law and our contracts."