Microsoft today said the Universal Maps app for the Windows 10 platform is now available to phones running the Windows 10 Technical Preview. Device owners can download the Universal app via the Windows Insider program. As with all Universal apps, Maps works across phone, tablet, and PC form factors. It is responsive to touch input and includes satellite images, local search data via Bing, live traffic, and voice-guided navigation. It also supports downloadable maps, which are accessible even when the device is offline. According to Microsoft, it takes the best from both Bing Maps and HERE Maps and puts them together in a single application. Microsoft has also updated the Maps app for the desktop version of Windows 10, which now includes more 3D city renders and streetside panoramas. Maps for Windows 10 Technical Preview is free for Windows Insiders to download.
Microsoft today said Office Universal apps will be available to the Windows 10 platform for phones by the end of the month. The Office Universal apps work across desktop, tablet, and handset form factors. Microsoft only recently expanded the number of handsets able to run the Windows 10 Technical Preview. The preview will be required to install the early look at Office Universal. According to Microsoft, the Office Universal apps were built with touch-first usability in mind for phones and tablets. The Universal apps adapt to the smaller screens of phones and move the commands and controls to the bottom of the display for better one-handed editing and creating. The Universal apps produce documents, spreadsheets, and presentations that are fully compatible with the tablet and desktop versions of Office, which now share most features. Microsoft expects the preview of Office Universal for Windows 10 to go live within a few weeks.
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The FCC today voted unanimously to approve a Report and Order that will free up 150MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band. The idea had been floated by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last month. The federal government uses the 3.5GHz band now, but the FCC's plan to create a Citizens Broadband Radio Service will use a three-tiered sharing paradigm. The tiers will be separated in general access, short-duration licensees, and the incumbent government users. The FCC didn't indicate how long it might take to open the spectrum up for use.
Alcatel OneTouch today kicked off a limited pre-sale for the Idol 3 smartphone that drops the price by $50. The pre-sale starts immediately and runs through 11:59pm Pacific Time on April 20. Customers who order the phone during this initial pre-sale window will pay only $199.99 for the phone. After the pre-sale ends, Alcatel will begin accepting standard pre-orders on April 21 at the regular price of $249.99. Alcatel said the Idol 3 will ship in mid-May. The phone, which is compatible with the GSM networks operated by AT&T and T-Mobile, is being sold unlocked.
Amazon recently discontinued the ability test Android applications before purchasing. Launched in March 2011, TestDrive let Android device owners test for-pay apps before actually paying for them. According to Amazon, many apps have since changed to the "free to play" business model, which allows people to download and use most apps for free. Often, these apps only charge for additional features or services. This led to a significant decline in the number of people using TestDrive. Amazon shut down the TestDrive program, effective April 15.
Walmart Family Mobile, which is run by T-Mobile, today added 500MB of data to its plans. The extra data allotment is being offered free of charge, and is applied automatically for existing customers. The entry-level plan costs $29.88 per month and includes unlimited talk, text, and data, with access to 1GB of LTE 4G. For $10 more per month, customers will have access to 3GB of LTE 4G data each billing cycle. Customers who sign up for multiple lines can save $5 per additional line. The updated data offering goes into effect April 18. Walmart Family Mobile is a postpaid, no-contract service only available from Walmart.
Google today debuted the Works with Google Cardboard program, which it says should make it possible for any Cardboard viewer to work well with any Cardboard app. Google first revealed Cardboard last year. Cardboard is a foldable viewer that lets people experience virtual reality when paired with their smartphone. Google quickly realized that the optics involved in creating the viewers aren't necessarily the same, which can lead to incompatibility problems. Google wants Cardboard makers to define their viewer’s key parameters (focal length, input type, inter-lens distance) and to generate a QR code containing those parameters to place on the outside of the viewer. Smartphone owners scan the code, and Cardboard-compatible apps will be able to adjust accordingly to provide a better experience. Google is offering developers a new SDK and refreshed design guidelines in order to help make their apps functional with the broadest range of viewers and phones. For end users, Google said it is changing the visibility of Cardboard apps in the Play Store to make them easier to discover.
Google today updated its Chrome browser for the iOS platform. Three gestures are the chief new feature. According to Google, users can now pull straight down to reload any web site, pull down and to the left to open a new tab, and pull down and right to close a tab. The browser also lets iOS 8 users add Chrome to the Today View, which makes it possible to open a new tab from the notification panel. The app adds auto-suggestions when typing searches in the address bar, and now supports third-party password managers for saving usernames and passwords. Chrome for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
BlackBerry today said its BlackBerry Advertising Service will reach its end of life on June 16, 2015, after which the servers will be disabled and the APIs will no longer work. BlackBerry launched the service to help developers generate ad-based revenue via mobile applications. The company said, based on its continued efforts to realign its focus on enterprise customers, the BlackBerry Advertising Service is no longer a core offering. BlackBerry suggests developers remove their API calls from the service and explore other advertising options.
T-Mobile has suspended sales of the ZTE Zmax handset because customers are forcibly removing the non-removable battery. The back panel of the Zmax is clipped - but not glued - on. Some owners have taken to removing the back cover and cutting into the device to replace the battery. Doing this is dangerous, and T-Mobile strongly suggests Zmax owners take their device to a T-Mobile store if the phone is misbehaving. T-Mobile complained to ZTE, which is examining how to remedy the situation. T-Mobile hasn't said if or when it will resume sales of the Zmax.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless are limiting Microsoft's attempt to bulk up use of its mobile applications. Last month, Samsung agreed to preload Microsoft's OneDrive, OneNote, and Skype applications on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Verizon, however, won't pre-load any of the Microsoft apps on its versions of the S6 and S6 Edge. AT&T will include OneNote and Skype, but not OneDrive. The Sprint and T-Mobile versions of the S6 and S6 Edge are shipping with all three Microsoft apps aboard. Neither AT&T nor Verizon commented on their stance against the Microsoft-made apps. Even though the trio of apps won't be pre-loaded, people who buy the S6 and S6 Edge from AT&T or Verizon are free to download the apps, as well as Microsoft's Outlook email and Office productivity apps, from the Google Play Store for free on their own.
Yahoo today made it possible for Yahoo Mail users to add LinkedIn and Twitter profile details to their contact cards. Yahoo says contact cards can now show up-to-date work contact information and photos from LinkedIn, as well as recent Tweets from contacts who are active on Twitter. Yahoo Mail already displays information from Facebook. The new contact cards can be customized via Yahoo Mail's settings tools on the web. Yahoo didn't say if the new feature will make its way to Yahoo's mobile email application.
Boost Mobile today introduced a new calling plan that lets people in Miami call relatives and friends in Cuba. Cuba didn't have cell phones until 2008, and U.S. government sanctions against the country have only recently been relaxed. The Boost Mobile Cuba Monthly Connect plan costs $50. It includes unlimited talk and text, 5GB of high-speed data, and 15 minutes of voice calls to Cuban numbers. For a limited time, Boost will provide an additional 25 minutes of calling time to Cuba during the first month of service when customers port their number to Boost. Existing customers can score 50 minutes of Cuba voice minutes and unlimited international texting for $15 above and beyond their existing plan price. The Cuba Monthly Connect plan is only being offered at Boost Mobile retail stores in the greater Miami area.
LG today released an official teaser image of the G4, which the company is expected to fully reveal at an event later this month. The image shows a phone with what it described as a "vegetable-tanned leather cover." The device resembles the G3 and G2 in that it has buttons placed on the back, rather than the sides. LG has also said the phone will have a 5.5-inch quad HD display and a 16-megapixel camera with an aperture of f/1.8. The G4's debut is scheduled for April 28.
Verizon Communications, the parent company of Verizon Wireless, is prepared to launch a mobile video service later this year that will focus on college sports. The company is specifically targeting millennials with the offering, who it says prefer to consume video content on mobile devices rather than televisions or PCs. Verizon struck content deals with a number of college sports providers and will push the service through a "mobile-first solution" for Verizon Wireless data subscribers. The content providers include ACC Digital Network, Campus Insiders, CBS Sports, ESPN, and 120 Sports. While CBS and ESPN will air select live college football and basketball games, the others will offer mostly highlights, commentary, recaps, and some live events. Verizon didn't say when exactly the service will launch, nor what its potential cost might be.
Yahoo and Microsoft today have altered the terms of their search partnership moving forward. According to Yahoo, the agreement gives it more flexibility when it comes to its search business on desktop and mobile platforms, though Yahoo will still place Bing ads in its desktop search traffic. The companies have decided that Microsoft will sell ads only for its Bing Ads platform and Yahoo will sell ads only for its Yahoo Gemini platform. This way, they can integrate the sales and engineering teams within their own organizations to improve performance. Microsoft will continue to pay Yahoo a percentage of Bing Ads revenue generated by Yahoo searches, which rely on Microsoft's algorithms. Yahoo and Microsoft say the changes will improve the search experience for all users. The companies first forged the search partnership in 2009.
Google recently rolled out updates to its productivity suite of applications. Google Drive for Android now allows users to share files/photos directly from the notification panel once the file is finished uploading. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides for Android and iOS were also given new powers, such as the ability to accept, reject, or comment on suggestions in Docs. Docs also makes reviewing and acting on comments/suggestions easier from mobile devices, and includes the ability to track changes across document versions. The Docs app for iOS now allows users to edit tables. The Sheets app lets people move, resize, and delete charts, as well as reorder objects. Last, the Slides app is more compatible with PowerPoint files from Microsoft, and they should load quicker and scroll faster. Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides are free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Google said the updates will arrive over the next few days.
Cyanogen today said it has partnered with Microsoft to bring the latter's productivity apps to Cyanogen's operating system. Microsoft will create native integrations on Cyanogen OS. Cyanogen expects to include Microsoft's Bing, Skype, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, and Microsoft Office apps in a future version of the operating system. Cyanogen is looking to separate its version of Android, based on AOSP, away from Google's version of Android. Cyanogen needs a partnership like this one to make sure Cyanogen OS users have a full set of on-board productivity tools. Cyanogen didn't say how soon the integration might be completed. Microsoft has made an aggressive push to get its apps onto as many mobile platforms as possible. It already offers free versions of Office, Outlook, OneDrive, and others to the Android and iOS platforms.