AT&T today boosted the footprint of its LTE 4G network by 12 markets. The new markets include Durango, Colo.; Kauai, Hawaii; Burley and Twin Falls, Idaho.; Terra Haute, Ind.; Poplar Bluff and Sikeston, Mo.; Elmira, N.Y.; Pottsville, Pa.; and Appleton, Fond du Lac, and Oshkosh, Wisc. According to AT&T, its LTE network now reaches 488 markets in total.
Meizu, a Chinese handset manufacturer, today announced plans to enter the U.S. smartphone market. The company will use the Consumer Electronics Show, scheduled to take place in January, as its launch point. The company said it believes there is room in the market for another player, and it will show off its line of devices at the trade show. Meizu did not announce specific devices for the U.S, nor did it say anything about distribution agreements with the country's wireless network operators.
BlackBerry today announced that it has struck an agreement with LG to preload its BlackBerry Messenger application on some of LG's smartphones. The first device to include BBM is the LG G Pro Lite. Others will follow. In addition to the preloading agreement with LG, BlackBerry also said that updates to the Android and iOS versions of BBM will add features such as BBM Channels, as well as support for BBM Voice calling and BBM Video calling. BlackBerry said these updates will appear in the coming months.
Apple recently added the ability to gift books from the iBookstore. Gifting has long been available to Apple's other digital content stores, but this is the first time the company has offered the feature for digital books. The tool works just as it does for gifting music or movies, and lets people send gifts along with a short note to other iOS users who reside in the same country that they do.
Apple informed developers this week that all applications must be optimized for iOS 7 no later than February 1. The apps will need to be built with Xcode5 and matched against iOS 7's human interface guidelines. The result should be a more seamless experience for users.
Motorola today began offering bamboo as an option for customized versions of the Moto X. Though the company originally said a handful of different wood materials would be available, bamboo is the only option listed on the site as of today. Choosing bamboo instead of plastic adds $100 to the cost of the Moto X and 14 days to the manufacturing time. Motorola did not say if more wood options would become available. Aside from the wooden back covering, all the standard options are still available for customizing the Moto X.
Revol Wireless has indicated that it is closing up shop and will cease operations on January 16. The company has already shuttered about half its retail stores between Cleveland and Indianapolis. It's unclear what will happen to Revol's CDMA-based wireless network, though Sprint recently purchased 12 PCS licenses from Revol. Boost Mobile, one of Sprint's prepaid units, is offering Revol customers a free phone and free month of service if they switch to Boost before December 24. Revol thanked its customers for their business.
BlackBerry today announced a significant update to the Twitter client for devices running BlackBerry OS 10 and up. Twitter 10.2.2 adds a handful of features, including the ability to see photo previews when images are embedded within posts; the ability to set BBM status from within Twitter; the ability to reply to Tweets with a new composition tool; and improved search results. Twitter for BlackBerry 10 is free to download from BlackBerry World.
Sprint today announced that it is partnering with Dish Networks to offer LTE 4G-based broadband in Corpus Christi, Texas. Dish will be responsible for installing the satellite dish and in-home networking gear, and Sprint will deliver TDD-LTE via its 2.5GHz spectrum. Sprint expects the trial to be up and running by the middle of 2014. The companies will consider expanding the service to other markets depending on the success of the trial. Clearwire, which Sprint now owns, offered similar in-home broadband service over its WiMax network.
Sony has appointed a new president in charge of its U.S. division. Michael Fasulo has been named president of Sony's U.S. operations, as well as the executive vice president in charge of sales. Fasulo replaces Phil Molyneux, who is scheduled to become non-executive chairman of the board effective January 1, 2014. Sony CEO Kaz Hirai hopes the changes will bolster sales of Sony devices in the U.S., including its smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions, and other equipment.
Samsung today announced that it is expanding the compatibility of its HomeSync storage device beyond its own hardware. Non-Samsung devices can download the HomeSync application from the Google Play Store and use that to interact with the HomeSync remotely. Previously, HomeSync compatibility was limited to just a handful of Samsung devices. The HomeSync includes 1TB of internal storage and connects to HDTVs via HDMI. HomeSync supports up to eight separate accounts and can be used to store music, videos, and photos, as well as play that content on an HDTV. The HomeSync also allows devices to access their stored content when they are away from home. Samsung HomeSync went on sale earlier this year. It costs $299.
Facebook today announced that it has begun testing video ads in users' news feed. The ads will play automatically when users scroll to them. As with other video content in the news feed, the ads will play without sound. Users who don't want to watch the ad can just scroll past it. If the video is clicked or tapped, it will play in full-screen mode with sound. Once the video ends, users can choose to watch more marketing videos or return to their news feed. According to Facebook, all videos that begin playing on mobile devices will have been downloaded in advance when the device was connected to Wi-Fi. Facebook configured it this way in order to avoid adding to users' monthly wireless data consumption. Once downloaded, those ads will be able to playback with or without a wireless connection. Facebook didn't say how large the video ad files will be that it stores on users' devices. For now, the testing is limited, but Facebook expects to expand the program over time.
Samsung today announced the GamePad, a gaming accessory for its Android smartphones. The GamePad resembles a gaming control unit from today's living room gaming consoles. It supports a number of Samsung smartphones, cradling devices with screens ranging from 4 inches to 6.3 inches. It connects to smartphones via Bluetooth and an associated application. The GamePad provides physical controls for games, and connects to TVs through an HDMI cable or AllShare Screen Mirroring. The GamePad requires Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and Samsung recommends it be used with devices such as the Galaxy S III and S4, and the Note II and Note 3. The GamePad includes support for NFC for easy device pairing. The Mobile Console app for the GamePad is available for download through the Samsung App store. The Samsung GamePad is launching first in European markets with others to follow in the coming weeks. Samsung has not shared specific plans to offer the GamePad in the U.S. yet.
AT&T today announced that it has closed its agreement to lease 9,100 of its cell towers to Crown Castle for $4.83 billion. Under the terms of the agreement, AT&T also sold 600 cell towers to Crown Castle. Crown Castle now has exclusive rights to operate and maintain the cell towers, with most towers leased for a period of 28 years. After the leases expire, Crown Castle will have the option to purchase them for an additional $4.2 billion. AT&T will sublease the towers for at least 10 years beginning at $1,900 per month. AT&T may also reserve additional capacity on the towers for potential future use. AT&T called the deal a good move for the company, as it brings in a significant chunk of cash while leaving room for AT&T to add capacity to its network over time.
Sprint today announced a significant expansion of its LTE 4G footprint. The company says 70 new markets have access to its faster data network, including Birmingham, Ala.; Little Rock, Ark.; San Diego, Calif.; Orlando and Panama City, Fla.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Louisville, Ky.; and Green Bay and Madison, Wisc., among others. Sprint said that its LTE network now reaches 300 markets. The company continues to roll out HD Voice, which it says will be available to 85 million POPs by the end of the year. Sprint also continues to upgrade its network, with more Sprint Spark and LTE network coverage planned for 2014.
Sony today announced the availability of the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update to the Xperia Z1 and the Xperia Z Ultra. In addition to the core system update, Sony is modernizing its own apps across both devices. For example, it is adding the Sony Smart Social Camera application to the Z Ultra, and adding improved versions of Messaging, MyXperia, Smart Connect, Small apps, TrackID, Sony Select, and the Sony Walkman app to both phones. Last, Sony is launching Xperia Themes, which are user interface theme packs that allow users to tweak the appearance of their device. Sony said the exact availability of the system update will vary by region and carrier.
Nokia today released a beta version of the Nokia Camera application that is compatible with more devices. The full app only works on select PureView devices, such as the 1020 and 1520. This new beta will work on all Lumia devices running Windows Phone 8. In order to get the app, interested consumers will need to create a Nokia account and download the app from Nokia Beta Labs. Nokia says that most features should work, though it warns about the potential for bugs. Nokia said it will add experimental features over time that may or may not be added to the full application. Nokia Camera is a combination of its Pro Camera and Smart Camera applications. Both the full version and beta version are free to download. It is compatible with the Lumia 520/521, 620, 625, 720, 810, 820, and 822, and requires either the Amber or Black system updates.
Verizon Wireless today completed its planned acquisition of select assets from U.S. Cellular. Specifically, Verizon is snagging some of U.S. Cellular's spectrum, networking gear, and customers in the St. Louis, Mo., metropolitan area. The spectrum licenses cover approximately 110,000 POPs in an area greater than 1,700 square miles. U.S. Cellular customers in the affected region will receive a welcome letter from Verizon in the coming weeks. Verizon will continue to operate the assets as U.S. Cellular until Verizon completes its LTE build-out in the region, which is expected by mid-2014. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Sprint is in the early stages of deciding whether or not to purchase smaller rival T-Mobile, according to The Wall Street Journal. Citing sources familiar with Sprint's plans, the Journal says Sprint is examining the possible regulatory roadblocks it might encounter were it to make such a bid. The idea is being pushed forward by Masayoshi Son, the CEO of SoftBank, which owns more than 80% of Sprint. SoftBank's Son has been vocal about expanding in the U.S. market. A combined Sprint/T-Mobile entity would still have fewer subscribers than larger rivals AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and it would further consolidate the industry. Federal regulators shot down AT&T's attempt to purchase T-Mobile two years ago. T-Mobile has since purchased MetroPCS. The Journal notes that T-Mobile doesn't want to waste any time treading water waiting for another deal to pass government muster. The government may not want just three large companies serving the country. Sprint's plans are not final and may be scrapped.
Motorola today updated the Touchless Control application that's found on the Moto X. The improved application accepts more Google Now commands without requiring users to unlock their phones first. According to Motorola, personal information, such as emails and messages, are still protected by the PIN code, but users can speak their PIN code to unlock the device via Touchless Control. The app also offers a new alert tone when users say "OK Google Now." This version of Touchless Control is available only to devices running Android 4.4. KitKat and up.
Google today made a wide range of updates available to core applications for the Android platform. Gmail was updated with improved sync and outbox behavior, new contact photo behavior, and a new look. Google Calendar was updated with bug fixes and performance improvements. Google Translate was updated with wider device support for voice input, improved stability, and improved discovery of the keyboard. Last, Google Maps was updated with the ability to see flight, hotel, and restaurant reservations from Gmail. All four apps are free to update from the Google Play Store.
Following Thursday's vote, the Federal Communications Commission today initiated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would permit airlines to install equipment on aircraft that could safely expand the availability of in-flight mobile wireless services to passengers. "We propose to revise outdated rules and adopt consistent new rules governing mobile communications services aboard airborne aircraft," said the FCC. "These rule changes would give airlines, subject to applicable Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation rules, the choice of whether to enable mobile communications services using an Airborne Access System and, if so, which specific services to enable." The FCC believes that, if adopted, the new rules will be easier for everyone to understand when and where they can and cannot make cellular voice calls on aircraft, as well as provide the necessary protections for passenger safety. The FCC is also exploring the idea of allowing passengers to access mobile data through their existing wireless provider when airborne, but again, that would be up to individual airlines to decide. "While many airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi broadband services, the proposals in this Notice would give airlines the option to allow consumers to access broadband services when airborne through their existing wireless service providers, just as they would on the ground," explained the FCC. The FCC is accepting comments on the proposal.
Isis today announced that holders of Wells Fargo Visa cards will soon be able to use their cards with Isis' mobile payment service. Wells Fargo joins American Express and Chase as supporters of the Isis program, which is the mobile payment venture backed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Consumers with Isis-compatible devices can make contactless payments at 1.3 million retail locations around the country, including those operated by 24 of the top 100 merchants. The system uses a pin code for payments, and Isis says that customer banking data is safe. The service can be disabled if the device is lost or stolen. Isis also requires a special, secure SIM card that must be purchased from AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless.
Samsung has reshuffled its internal structure and decided to add its wireless business division to its digital imaging division. The move is meant to help improve both the imaging capabilities of the company's smartphones, as well as improve the wireless powers of its digital cameras. "We will integrate the technical know-how of the two business divisions into competency for differentiating our smartphones," said the company. The change went into effect December 12. Cameras have become a key feature of today's leading smartphones. Companies such as Apple, HTC, and Nokia have worked hard to improve the performance of their smartphone cameras and Samsung believes this reorganization will help it to compete better.
Pebble has released PebbleOS v1.14, a firmware update for its smartwatch that adds several new features and fixes bugs. Pebble now lets users block notifications for a set period of time, such as at night, and lets users set multiple alarms, toggle alarms on/off, and edit alarms more easily. The alarm adds a snooze feature, as well. The firmware update gives users more control over notifications, such as which are displayed, and the notification menu system has been streamlined so it is easier to use. The update also makes improvements to the performance of the watch with iOS devices, to which it will send notifications faster. Pebble owners can update their smartwatch via either the Android or iOS Pebble applications.
Motorola has provided an update to its camera application for Android devices. The camera app, which is the one that comes on the Moto X, for example, now lets users control focus and exposure manually by dragging the focus ring around the viewfinder. The app now locks exposure during panorama capture and adds more languages. The update also fixes several bugs. The Motorola camera application is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Qualcomm today announced that it has promoted Steve Mollenkopf to Chief Executive Officer-elect and added him to the company's board of directors. He will serve as CEO-elect until March 4, 2014, when Qualcomm's current CEO Paul Jacobs will step aside and Mollenkopf will be given full control of the company. Jacobs will remain on the board as executive chairman. Jacobs has been Qualcomm's CEO for nine years.
The Federal Communications Commission today voted 3-2 in favor of lifting the ban that prevents airplane passengers from making cellular voice calls while in flight. The FCC has purview over the techincal limitations, and has decided that today's technologies permit safe, in-flight cellular calls on properly equipped planes. However, the Department of Transportation today said that it is considering a ban on making phone calls from airplanes. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the DoT has heard from various groups, including airlines, flight attendants, and passengers, "who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight—and I am concerned about this possibility as well." The DoT is weighing whether or not to ban the practice of making cellular phone calls from planes, despite the techincal clearance granted by the FAA and FCC. "Being able to logon to text and email is useful for passengers, but it's just unnecessary to have potentially dozens of phone conversations occurring during a flight," said Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican. "When it comes to mobile devices on planes, tap, don't talk."
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler today announced that the agency has reached an accord with wireless network operators that will make it easier for consumers to unlock their phones. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless have all agreed to the unlocking policies. First, carriers will post to their web site clear details that define what phones can and cannot be unlocked. Second, carriers will unlock all phones upon request as long as customers have fulfilled their contractual obligations. Third, prepaid devices will be unlocked no later than one year after their initial activation date. Fourth, carriers will unlock devices within two days after customers request that their phones be unlocked, or initiate a request with the OEM to unlock the device, or explain to consumers why their device cannot be unlocked. Fifth, carriers agree that they will notify customers proactively once their devices are eligible to be unlocked. Sixth, carriers will unlock the devices of all deployed military personnel who are in good standing. Each of the carriers above must adopt at least three of these above policies within three months and all of them within 12 months.
Google today announced that it has changed how Gmail handles image attachments within emails. Until today, Gmail asked users to verify that the sender was trusted before downloading remote images. Now, Google serves all images from its own, secure servers. The change means that images embedded in Gmail posts will automatically be visible in emails viewed on desktop machines, as well as Android and iOS devices. Google said the functionality will roll out over the coming days.
Instagram today announced Instagram Direct, a new service that lets users send one another text and picture messages privately. The new service includes an inbox where users can see photos and videos that people have sent them. Users will have the option to publish photos/videos to all their followers or to only specific people when composing their posts. Private photos/videos offer read receipts and their own private threads for comments and likes. Photos and videos that users receive from people they follow will appear in the inbox immediately. For content that comes from people users don't follow, they'll receive a request and can choose to view it or ignore it. Instagram 5.0 for Android and iOS will be available in the Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively, beginning today. Instagram says the direct messaging service is still in beta for Windows Phone, but should be available soon.
The Alliance for Wireless Power, one of three standards groups vying for victory in the wireless charging space, has branded its technology. Moving forward, A4WP-certified products will go by the name "Rezence" - a combination of the words resonant and essence. The A4WP's standard differs slightly from the others in that it allows charging from a slightly removed distance, meaning devices don't have to align perfectly with magnetic poles in order to charge. The A4WP is officially launching Rezence-certified products early next year, and claims to have a technology lead over competing standards from the Wireless Power Consortium and the Power Matters Alliance. So far, no clear victor has emerged. All three standards have support from various companies in the wireless space, with many companies participating in all three groups.
Facebook pushed out an update to its iOS application that enables auto-play for videos embedded in newsfeed posts. The videos will play silently until the user taps the screen to turn on sound. The update is free.
U.S. wireless network operators and the Federal Communications Commission are on the brink of forging a plan that will make it easier for consumers to unlock their cell phones. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler recently suggested to network operators that they come up with a system for unlocking phones voluntarily before the end of the year, lest the FCC look to regulate the matter. Reuters reports that the companies are still working to surpass a few issues, but should get past them soon. Specifically, the carriers and the FCC have yet to agree on how quickly the new unlocking policy should go into effect, as well as how prepaid devices should be treated and how to prevent unlocked phones from becoming a black market commodity. It has been illegal to unlock cell phones without carrier permission since early this year when the CTIA convinced the Library of Congress to allow an exemption that permitted unlocking to expire. The FCC believes consumers should be able to unlock their devices as long as they are not beholden to a carrier contract, and that carriers should either unlock them automatically or notify consumers that their devices are eligible for unlocking. The FCC wants carriers to unlock devices within two business days once a consumer makes the request.
Google recently updated Maps for iOS devices. The most significant new feature included in Google Maps 2.5.0 is the ability to sign in to automatically see flight, hotel, and restaurant reservations from Gmail. The update also introduces several bug fixes. Google Maps for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google today pushed out a minor update to its Gmail application for Android devices. Gmail now supports all file attachment types. The update also adds controls for vacation auto-responders, and gives KitKat devices the ability to print directly from Gmail. Last, Gmail for Android has been optimized to run better on devices with less memory. Gmail is free to download from the Play Store.
Google today released an application that lets Android device owners manage the security of their other Android devices. The Android Device Manager application takes advantage of the web-based tool that Google released earlier this year and brings it to mobile devices. The app lets users locate any Android devices associated with their Google account, reset the device screen lock PIN, as well as erase those devices remotely. In order to function properly, users need to enable the device managing feature in each phone or tablet's individual settings. Android Device Manager is free to download and use.
Spotify today announced that it is bringing free music streaming to mobile devices for the first time. Before today, smartphone and tablet owners were required to pay $10 per month for the right to listen to music on their devices. The new service uses advertisements in lieu of the monthly fee to cover costs. Spotify still offers an ad-free service for $10 per month. Spotify also announced that it is the only streaming service that offers the entire Led Zeppelin catalog, which went live today. Spotify for Android and iOS is free to download and use.
Google recently updated the Play Books application for Android devices. The newest version of the app makes it possible to upload e-pub or PDF books from the on-device library to the cloud-based library, regardless of where the digital books came from. The app also makes adjustments to performance so books open more quickly, improves the look and feel of notes, adds lower brightness settings, makes it easier to dismiss book recommendations, and makes it possible to read any book in landscape view. Google Play Books is free to download from the Play Store.
Asus CEO Jerry Shen said that the company is developing a PadFone for a U.S. network operator. Shen made the revelation in an interview with Engadget. To-date, Asus has only made its PadFone products available in Asian markets. The company wants to expand its smartphones to the U.S. and Europe, and is targeting the U.S. first. The PadFone includes a tablet and phone that work together as one, with the phone docking in the tablet. "Once this product is launched [in the US], we will definitely have no problem tackling Europe with the same product, because this U.S. operator is very big," said Shen. The device is set to arrive during the second quarter of 2014, but Shen didn't provide any specifics, such as the name of the network operator.
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