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printed October 4, 2015
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Siri May Get a Boost Thanks to Apple's Acquisition of VocalIQ

Friday, 4:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today said it has purchased a startup called VocalIQ. The U.K.-based firm has been working on artificial intelligence and human-computer interactions. Its software employs deep learning to help computers speak in a more natural way by taking cues from their interactions with humans. Adding VocalIQ's technologies to its own could help Apple improve the way Siri responds to and interacts with iPhone owners. Siri is Apple's voice-activated personal assistant. Apple confirmed the acquisition, but did not say what it intends to do with VocalIQ.

Stagefright Bug Returns for Sequel Thanks to MP3 Flaw

Friday, 4:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google may have issued several patches to plug the security hole known as Stagefright, but the bug is back thanks to a newly-discovered vulnerability in MP3 and MP4 files. Zimperium Labs, which discovered the first version of Stagefright in April, says phones tricked into running specially crafted audio/video files can be taken over remotely. Zimperium suggests phones could be attacked by simply previewing the MP3 or MP4 files in a browser, which makes for a fairly easy way for hackers to gain access. The bug makes use of two vulnerabilities, one affecting Android 1.x - 4.x, and another affecting devices running Android 5.0 and up. The vulnerability can lead to remote code execution, which can then be used to commandeer the phone. Zimperium Labs has reported the issue to Google, which has already assigned a case number to the first vulnerability. Earlier this year, Google said it would begin issuing security patches outside of full system updates. Google hasn't said when it will offer a fix for this new bug.

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Apple Took Steps to Protect New iPhones from Liquids

Friday, 3:44 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Apple iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are more resistant to water damage than their predecessors, according to iFixit. The company tore down the new iPhones and discovered the frame supports a gasket that helps protect against liquid ingress. Moreover, cable connectors on the logic board — a weak link in any electronic device — are sealed with silicon. iFixit notes that Apple did not take any apparent measures to protect the speaker nor the SIM card tray, which still allow some liquid to seep in. The subtle changes made by Apple do appear to help the phone survive quick dunks in water, as evidenced by various videos posted across social media, but Apple is making no claims about the new iPhones being waterproof or even water resistant.

Phone Passcodes Fall Under Fifth Amendment Protection

Friday, 3:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Law enforcement cannot force suspects to reveal the passcodes that protect their phones, according to a federal judge. The ruling was part of a case against former Citi employees accused of insider trading. The Securities and Exchange Commission believes proof of the insider trading details exists on the employees' smartphones. The employees refused to hand over their passwords to unlock the phones. U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney of Pennsylvania said the SEC's argument, that documents might be stored on the smartphones, does not compel the defendants to turn over their passwords. "We find, as the SEC is not seeking business records but Defendants' personal thought processes, Defendants may properly invoke their Fifth Amendment right" against self-incrimination. The ruling is the latest in myriad cases concerning the legality of data — and the accessibility thereof — that may or may not be stored on peoples' smartphones.

Wireless Companies Agree to Support More Remote Wipe Tools

Friday, 1:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The CTIA today announced that a number of member companies have agreed to take on additional measures to help prevent cellphone thefts. Following recommendations made by the FCC, wireless companies will make anti-theft tools available to all consumers that also respect consumer choice and privacy. All new phones made after July 2016 will "make readily available to the authorized user an option that allows the authorized user to enable or disable the anti-theft solution at any time that the smartphone is connected and is in the authorized user's possession." Beyond this baseline tool, consumers will have the option to use other, third-party solutions to locate, wipe, or reinstate their devices if they so wish. Companies that have agreed to this include Apple, Asurion; AT&T; BlackBerry; Google; HTC; Huawei; LG; Microsoft; Motorola; Samsung; Sprint; T-Mobile USA; U.S. Cellular; Verizon, and ZTE. In response, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, "CTIA members' ... enhanced voluntary commitment to adopt anti-theft features and educate consumers demonstrates their resolve in combatting it. I am hopeful that this new voluntary commitment will make a meaningful difference for consumer safety. As the enhanced commitment recognizes, these solutions work only if they are adopted widely. The FCC will remain vigilant in this area by pushing for further improvements to the theft-prevention toolbox, and also by monitoring closely whether the efforts of industry and others are producing meaningful results." Apple's iOS and Google's Android already contain features that let device owners find and protect their mobile devices. The FCC hopes allowing people to download and use the protective measure of their choice will help encourage consumers to make broader use of the tool.

Motorola Commits to Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Friday, 10:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Motorola today voiced its support for Android 6.0 Marshmallow in a blog post and outlined some of the changes headed to its devices. First and foremost, Motorola will update the following handsets to Android 6.0 Marshmallow: 2015 Moto X Pure Edition, Style, and Play; 2014 Moto X Pure Edition in US, Latin America, and Europe: Moto G 3rd edition, 2nd edition, and 2nd edition with LTE; Droid Turbo, Moto Maxx, and Moto Turbo; and the Google Nexus 6. Motorola said it is in no hurry to deliver Android 6.0, however, and will do so only when everything is fully prepared. When Marshmallow does arrive, it will drop several Motorola-specific features. For example, the "Do Not Disturb" most in Android 6.0 is similar in functionality to Motorola's Moto Assist app. As such, Motorola will remove Moto Assist from handsets being updated to Marshmallow. Similarly, Android 6.0 adds new backup, reset, and data-transfer functions, so Motorola will pull Motorola Migrate and Moto Connect from its Marshmallow phones. "Both of these products were valuable in their time but the world has moved on and they no longer add enough value to justify taking up space in your device," said Motorola. The company said it will have more news to share in the weeks ahead.

Android TV Adds More Content

Friday, 8:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made more content available to its Android TV product, including programs from CBS, HBO, and Showtime. The streaming television service has also gained access to Disney Movies Anywhere, EPIX, WWE, and UFC. The apps associated with these content providers are now available in the Android TV app store. In addition to the expanded content selection, Google has partnered with more companies to enlarge the Android TV ecosystem. For example, Hisense, TCL, and several other smart TV manufacturers have added Android TV to their offerings. Last, Google teamed up with set-top box makers Pace, Sagemcom, and Technicolor, all of which will allow cable TV providers to incorporate Android TV content into their services.

Asus to Preload Microsoft Apps Thanks to Licensing Deal

Friday, 8:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Asus and Microsoft has expanded the scale of an existing patent-licensing agreement between them and expect the change to benefit customers. The cross-licensing deal will allow Asus and Microsoft to use one another's technologies in their own products. Moreover, Asus said it will let the two work closer together on products down the road. Last, the deal will result in Microsoft's Office productivity suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) being preloaded on Asus Android smartphones and tablets. Samsung also preloads Office on some of its Android devices. Terms of the agreement between Asus and Microsoft were not disclosed.

AT&T Says Sprint, T-Mobile Breaking FCC WiFi Calling Rules

Friday, 7:58 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T recently filed a complaint with the FCC over WiFi calling services on the iPhone, which it says it cannot offer due to certain regulations. AT&T competitors Sprint and T-Mobile have offered WiFi calling for the better part of a year, and AT&T insists they are doing so against FCC regulations. "AT&T intended to introduce WiFi calling services [on Sept. 25] in competition with ... T-Mobile and Sprint," said AT&T in its filing. "Those carriers have been offering WiFi calling services for a significant period of time. Neither of those carriers has approached the FCC to request a waiver of the TTY rules. Because the commission has not granted AT&T's waiver petition, we are not in a position to provide WiFi calling services to our customers even while our competitors provide those services in defiance of the commission's rules." AT&T requested a waiver from the FCC in June, but is still waiting for approval. AT&T says WiFi calling is not 100% reliable with TTY technology and wants to use RTT technology instead. Technically, AT&T says the FCC has to approve the technology switch before it can offer the service and remain in compliance with the law. In a rebuttal, T-Mobile said RTT technology is not necessary and the company has thus offered WiFi calling since last year. "AT&T urges the commission to seize this opportunity to grant AT&T's waiver request without further delay," said AT&T. "Doing so will enable AT&T to offer its customers Wi-Fi calling capabilities and correct the asymmetry that today exists between AT&T and its mobile services competitors." iOS 9, which Apple recently distributed to iPhone owners, has built-in support for WiFi calling. AT&T customers are unable to use the service, however, until AT&T gets the waiver from the FCC.

Skype Refreshes iPhone and iPad Apps for iOS 9

Friday, 7:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Skype has released updates to its iPhone and iPad mobile applications, adding support for iOS 9 to each. Both apps gain the ability to reply to Skype messages from the lock screen notification. Skype says Skype contacts will now show up in Spotlight queries so users can begin Skype conversations directly from Spotlight search results. On the iPad, Skype gains support for split-screen multitasking. Skype for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

Nextbit Surpasses Goal, Closes Kickstarter Campaign

Friday, 7:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nextbit's Robin smartphone won the financial support of more than 3,600 people who invested $1.36 million in the Kickstarter campaign. Nextbit said it received enough interest in the Robin to move forward with manufacturing. It has closed the Kickstarter campaign and is now working to bring the device to market, expected during the first quarter of 2016. According to Nextbit, most of the investment came from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, the U.K., and Singapore. The Robin is an Android phone that uses the cloud to manage on-board storage availability. It can seamlessly offload and reload content — including applications — when needed to free up space. It was designed by former HTC employees and costs $399. The phone will be available in GSM and CDMA variants, supporting the networks of AT&T and T-Mobile, and Sprint and Verizon.

Dish's Designated Entities Give Up 197 Spectrum Licenses

Friday, 7:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless LicenseCo surrendered 197 AWS-3 spectrum licenses and paid a $413 million fine to the FCC for defaulting on their $3.3 billion payment. Dish Networks participated in this year's auction through Northstar and SNR. Dish hoped the smaller stature of the designated entities would qualify them for a discount on the spectrum licenses. Together, they won $13.3 billion worth of licenses and expected to receive a discount of $3.3 billion. The FCC later concluded that Dish held a controlling interest in the designated entities and they did not qualify for the small business discount. As such, the entities were on the hook for the full $13.3 billion. The companies paid the FCC $10 billion, but missed the deadline for paying the final $3.3 billion. As such, they have returned the spectrum licenses and paid the resulting fine. The FCC will re-auction the licenses after next year's 600MHz incentive auction, though Dish, Northstar, and SNR will be on the hook to cover the balance if the licenses don't win $3.3 billion when put back on sale. Dish and the smaller companies held onto some 505 spectrum licenses won during the AWS-3 auction, for which they have paid in full.

Sprint to Cut Headcount and $2.5 Billion in Costs

Friday, 7:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint is prepared to reduce expenses by as much as $2.5 billion over the next year, reports the Wall Street Journal, and is likely to cut jobs to help it reach that goal. An internal memo sent to staff by CFO Tarek Robbiati obtained by the Journal said the cuts "inevitably will result in job reductions." Sprint had about 31,000 employees as of March. Robbiati said the company is still exploring how best to reduce costs. "The main thing to consider when requesting to spend money is to take an owner's mindset by treating every dollar as if it were your own," he said. Sprint has already trimmed expenses by about $1.5 billion over the last 12 months. The company recently said it will not participate in next year's 600MHz incentive auction, citing its existing spectrum resources and the cost to obtain more spectrum. Sprint has struggled in recent years to compete with AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

T-Mobile Customer Data Exposed in Hack

Thursday, 4:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 5:36 PM

T-Mobile today said the personal data of some 15 million customers and applicants was lifted through a hack of Experian, a third-party credit agency that performs services for T-Mobile. According to T-Mobile, the hack exposed customer and potential customer records, including names, addresses, birthdates, and social security numbers between September 2013 and September 2015. T-Mobile said it is working with Experian to take protective steps for the affected customers as swiftly as it can. "Obviously I am incredibly angry about this data breach," said T-Mobile CEO John Legere. "Right now my top concern and first focus is assisting any and all consumers affected. I take our customer and prospective customer privacy very seriously." T-Mobile said its system was not breached in the hack. The company is offering customers two years of free credit monitoring through Customers who feel their data may be involved in the breach can reach out to T-Mobile customer service. "At T-Mobile, privacy and security is of utmost importance, so I will stay very close to this issue and I will do everything possible to continue to earn your trust every day," concluded Legere. T-Mobile said the 15 million records impacted may not all be customers, as the data includes credit applications filed by potential customers.

Hands On with the LG V10

Thursday, 12:54 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 12:59 PM

LG's new V10 smartphone offers some unique features, including a secondary screen for shortcuts and notifications, and a pair of user-facing cameras for more fun with selfies. Here are our first impressions of this new phone from LG.

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Google to Refresh YouTube Kids with Better Parental Controls

Thursday, 12:49 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it plans to release a new version of YouTube Kids that will address some complaints about the app. The intent behind YouTube Kids was to give younger views a simpler way to watch videos curated for education and entertainment purposes. Parents and the FTC later alleged the app allowed kids to find inappropriate content, was difficult to manage, and often showed advertising content that was hard to distinguish from normal shows. Google says it has taken that feedback to heart in helping develop a new version of YouTube Kids. To start, Google Kids will add support for Chromecast, AppleTV, and game consoles for sharing on the big screen. Youtube Kids will add guest-curated playlists and more original content from kid-focused studios. Moreover, the app will add a how-to section so parents can fully learn to use the app, as well as password controls for managing permissions. The new Google YouTube will roll out over th next few weeks.

Verizon's Go90 Video Service Launches for All

Thursday, 10:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon today made its go90 mobile video service available to anyone who wants to use it. The service had been in only a handful of markets on a trial basis, but is now usable around the country. With go90, video content is supported by advertisements. The free programming comes from providers such as Comedy Central, Food Network, ESPN, Discovery Network, VH1, Maker Studios, Machinima, StyleHaul. Verizon says it has between 100 and 200 hours of exclusive content from online video services such as AwesomenessTV. Verizon hopes the service will score well with younger consumers. It is available to Verizon and non-Verizon customers alike, and is compatible with Android and iOS devices. The apps are free to download from the Play Store and iTunes App Store.

AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Commit to Selling LG V10

Thursday, 10:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today said the V10 will be sold in the U.S. by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Pricing and availability will be announced individually by each carrier. The phone is expected to arrive in the weeks ahead.

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