BlackBerry today said it has closed its acquisition of Secusmart, a security company based in Germany. Secusmart specializes in voice and data encryption. BlackBerry plans to use Secusmart's technology to further shore up its own enterprise and government offerings. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. BlackBerry also reported its third-quarter earnings today. Revenue declined from $1.19 billion in the year-ago period to $739 million in the period ending Nov. 29. Excluding one-time charges, the company posted a small profit and generated positive cash cash flow. Earlier this week the company launched a new phone, the BlackBerry Classic. BlackBerry believes the phone will appeal to its core business customers thanks to its physical QWERTY keyboard.
Samsung plans to shutter its ChatON messaging application early next year. The service will go dark in international markets on Feb. 1, and will wind down in the U.S. by the end of March. ChatON is an over-the-top messaging service similar to WhatsApp and others. Samsung preinstalled the free app on most phones it sold since 2011, though it began to vanish from U.S. handsets in recent months. Despite the app's wide availability it never gained much traction. Samsung said it plans to focus on "health, mobile commerce, and other platforms" moving forward.
The FCC today granted T-Mobile's petition that the agency "provide guidance on the application of the commercial reasonableness standard" with respect to data roaming rates. T-Mobile filed the petition earlier this year in order to help it and other carriers negotiate better roaming rates with larger rivals AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Since 2011, the FCC has mandated that all carriers allow competing devices to roam onto their networks at fair prices. The FCC did not suggest or otherwise imply what those fair prices should be. T-Mobile argued the FCC's 2011 mandate did not provide enough guidance for setting rates and the result has been what T-Mobile calls exorbitant fees charged by AT&T and Verizon to roam onto their networks. Sprint and other members of the Competitive Carriers Association supported T-Mobile's position, while AT&T and Verizon Wireless opposed it vehemently. The two larger carriers argued any such guidance could result in reduced rates over the long term and would serve as unnecessary regulation. After weighing the arguments, the FCC agreed with T-Mobile's position that it should offer guidance on reasonable pricing. Specifically, the FCC will adopt T-Mobile's four proposed benchmarks when assessing the reasonableness standard: 1. retail rates; 2. international roaming rates; 3. MVNO/resale rates; and 4. roaming rates charged by other providers. "In our view, the additional guidance we provide under the standard set forth ... will facilitate the ability of parties to negotiate successful data roaming agreements, which in turn will promote the provision of high quality advanced broadband services by multiple service providers in urban, suburban, and rural areas to the benefit of American consumers," said the FCC.
Google was unable to convince a San Jose judge to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit filed against the search giant over preinstalled apps. The judge expressed concern over some the the plaintiffs' claims, which allege Android handset makers are forced to use Google's apps in lieu of competitive apps/services. For example, Google is the default search engine on Android handsets instead of Microsoft's Bing. The judge will dismiss some of the arguments, but wants to see more evidence from the plaintiffs before making a final decision on the antitrust complaint. Google did not comment on the decision.
Microsoft today said that it will begin pushing the Lumia Denim system update to its Windows Phones en masse beginning next month. The update is already trickling out to a few phones in select markets, but all Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone 8.1 will see the update at some point next month. According to Microsoft, improved imaging is the most significant new feature of the update. Notably, the camera app should function much faster, especially on devices such as the Lumia 930, 830, 1520, and Icon. In addition to speed, the camera will gain a feature called Moment Capture, which records 4K video at 24 frames per second with each and every frame saved as an 8.3-megapixel image. Users can snag a single frame from the video as a stand-alone image if they wish. Another new camera function is called Rich Capture. With it, the camera takes over settings such as auto HDR, dynamic flash, and dynamic exposure so users can focus on getting the shot and not on futzing with the camera app. Microsoft also notes the camera app makes use of new algorithms to improve focus and exposure. The Denim update also adds live folders, SMS merging, and other improvements. Microsoft first announced Lumia Denim in September.
Verizon Wireless today announced that its customers can send Starbucks eGift cards to one another from within the Verizon Messages application. The application lets users pick a background, amount ($5, $10, or $25), and enter a short message. The eGift card can then be redeemed by the recipient at Starbucks locations, or added to an existing Starbucks card account. It is free to use the service, and the cost of the eGift card is added directly to the subscriber's monthly bill. Verizon Messages is preinstalled on most Verizon Wireless smartphones.
Microsoft today announced it has agreed to sell the Lumia MixRadio service to Line for an undisclosed sum. MixRadio is a music-streaming service available to Lumia smartphones. It offers curated radio stations and also allows users to create their own. MixMusic chief said, "MixRadio fans can expect the same level of commitment to bring a personalized music experience to Lumia smartphones, thanks to MixRadio's recently launched recommendation engine." MixRadio's development team will remain in the UK. Line believes its platform is a good place for MixRadio to expand its user base. Microsoft and Line expect the deal to be completed next year.
Microsoft recently updated its Xim app and added compatibility with a wide range of media streaming devices. Microsoft first released Xim in October. It's a cross-platform app that allows people to easily share photos without requiring them to physically hand their phone to someone else. People use Xim to create a connection directly between devices for sharing photos from sources such as the camera roll, Instagram, and Facebook Today's update allows people to share photos not only with other phones, but with streaming media devices, including Chromecast, Apple TV, Xbox One, and Amazon Fire TV. Xim users need only connect to the WiFi network associated with the streaming media device for it to show up in the list of sharing options within the Xim app. Xims are impermanent, sort of like Snapchat, and expire after a short period of time. The updated Xim app is available from the iTunes App Store, Google Play Store, and Windows Phone Store.
Google is hoping to convince a San Jose judge to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. over its app-bundling practices on Android smartphones. Two plaintiffs allege Google restricts the use of competing apps, made by companies such as Microsoft, in favor of its own apps and services on Android handsets. For example, Google is the default search engine on Android handsets, rather than Microsoft's Bing. Google believes the suit should be dismissed because consumers are free to use whichever apps they want. The plaintiffs disagree, stating most people don't know how to change the default apps, and many of those who do won't go through the trouble of doing it. The plaintiffs argued Google apps "are widely used on Android by requiring default placement and other mechanisms for disadvantaging competing apps." Reuters reports that if the lawsuit is allowed to move forward, lawyers will gain access to internal emails and contracts between Google and its handset partners. The initial hearing is set to take place later today.
Amazon has begun to distribute a significant system update to the Fire Phone. Fire OS 3.6.5 adds a wide range of new features to Amazon's smartphone, as well as the expected series of performance improvements and bug fixes. One of the new features is the ability to translate text and identify artwork using Firefly, Amazon's visual search tool. The camera gains a feature called Best Shot, which quickly takes three pictures in succession, allowing users to select the best of the bunch. Other new features include the ability to turn on/off SMS character counts, use more keyboard languages, block phone numbers, add custom ringtones, see more info on the lock screen, write and edit documents with WPS Office, connect to corporate VPNs, and sync calendars across Amazon devices. Amazon says the update also makes improvements to battery life. Fire OS 3.6.5 can be downloaded via WiFi or installed from a computer. The update is free.
Google today provided updates to its Maps and Inbox apps for the Android platform. Inbox works better on tablets, adds compatibility with Android Wear (view messages and notifications, reply via voice), and improves suggestions while users type. Google Maps now lets users filter search results by cuisine type, see their Google contacts when searching for addresses, and lets business owners claim and manage their listing pages. Both apps also include bug fixes. Inbox and Google Maps are free to download from the Google Play Store.
Yahoo today pushed out updates to its Weather app for both the Android and iOS platforms. According to Yahoo, the revised app brings with it more live weather graphics, such as fog, rain, heat, snow, lightning, and frost, to the Android app. Yahoo says "instead of reading about the stormy conditions, you'll actually see lightning flash across your screen." The iPhone app has been more fully optimized for the screen sizes and resolutions of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Yahoo Weather is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
BlackBerry's Classic smartphone harkens back to the devices of yesteryear. Its defining feature is a physical QWERTY keyboard, something phone makers have left in the past for good reason. Here are our first impressions of the Classic.
Facebook today said it has updated the Rooms app for iOS devices to version 1.2. The update claims to make it easier for users to discover new Rooms to join. An 'explore' button lets users scan through Rooms and enter those that appeal them. Rooms are confined spaces that are specific to certain subjects or topics. Facebook hasn't said if or when it will expand Rooms to other platforms.
AT&T today said it will support the BlackBerry Classic, though pricing and availability aren't yet available. BlackBerry is already selling the phone directly to consumers for $449.
BlackBerry today officially launched the BlackBerry Classic smartphone. BlackBerry has been talking about the phone for the better part of six months, but fully revealed its feature set during an event in New York. The phone has a 3.5-inch touch screen with a 1:1 aspect ratio and 720 by 720 pixels. BackBerry made this device to appeal to its legacy customers, such as the finance sector, and brought back the physical QWERTY keyboard for composing messages. BlackBerry also resurrected its legacy control buttons, including an optical trackpad, and capacitive send/end and back/menu keys. The phone has an 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture and a 2-megaixel user-facing camera. The phone has a 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage with support for microSD cards up to 128GB. The phone runs BlackBerry OS 10.3.1, which features the BlackBerry Hub. The BlackBerry Classic boasts 22 hours of battery life. Connectivity options include LTE, dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, FM radio, NFC, as well as geo-location services. Blackberry is selling the Classic directly to consumers through Amazon.com and its web site for $449.
AT&T recently pushed out a system update to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini. The primary new feature added to the phone is support for AT&T's VoLTE service. The update must be downloaded and installed via WiFi, but it is free. AT&T expanded the availability of its VoLTE service earlier this week. It is now available in select regions across 18 states.
Google recently updated the Google Drive app for both the Android and iOS platforms. The Android version gains support for Google Now-style voice search to help find files. Both versions gain support for a wider range of imported file formats. The iOS version can now upload files to Drive from more apps across iPhones and iPads. Google Drive is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
The FCC is prepared to hit Sprint with a massive fine over alleged cramming practices, according to the Wall Street Journal. The FCC says Sprint played a "willful" role in charging customers for text message alerts, horoscopes, sports scores, ring tones, and other unwanted services. The FCC said Sprint was hit with 35,000 complaints over cramming charges during a three-month window in the middle of 2013. The FCC hasn't finalized the fine against Sprint, but three of the five commissioners are prepared to vote in favor of the penalty. AT&T settled with the FCC for a similar amount over cramming earlier this year, and the FTC is suing T-Mobile for the same practice.
Instagram today pushed out an update to the Android and iOS versions of its mobile photography application. The app adds five filters, the first new ones to appear in several years. The filters are named Aden, Crema, Ludwig, Perpetua, and Slumber. Beyond the filters themselves, Instagram now allows users to manage the filters. Users can rearrange the order in which the filters appear, as well as hide filters they don't like. Instagram for Android and iOS is free to download from the Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Google and Verizon Communications today entered into a multi-year patent cross-licensing agreement. The companies said the agreement covers a "broad range of products and technologies" and will help them "reduce the risk of future patent litigation." Both companies expressed interest in making similar patent-protection agreements with other high-tech businesses. Verizon Communications is the parent company of Verizon Wireless.
T-Mobile today offered some details about its LTE network. To start, it has expanded its LTE service footprint to cover 260 million POPs -- an increase of 10 million POPs over the last two months. T-Mobile also said it has begun deploying LTE on its 700MHz spectrum holdings. T-Mobile customers in several markets, including Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., can access LTE on 700MHz with properly equipped devices. The 700MHz coverage joins T-Mobile's AWS coverage, and provides better in-building coverage and capacity. T-Mobile says its 700MHz spectrum covers 190 million POPs around the country. T-Mobile didn't say how long it will take to light up LTE covering those 190 million POPs. Further, T-Mobile CEO John Legere said it will replace all its GSM/EDGE coverage with LTE across its AWS and PCS spectrum where it remains. T-Mobile aims to complete replacing GSM/EDGE with LTE by next year.
T-Mobile today announced Data Stash, a way for customers to retain unused data from month-to-month. Rather than allow unused data to expire, T-Mobile will let customers keep access to that data for up to a year. For example, customers who have a plan with 5GB of data access per month, but only use 3GB, will see the unused 2GB added to their monthly allotment for the following month for a total of 7GB. Further, to kickstart the whole service, T-Mobile is putting 10GB of data in each customer's "data bank." T-Mobile is requiring a minimum level of service in order to qualify for Data Stash. Data Stash will be available for free to T-Mobile customers with a postpaid Simple Choice plan who have purchased at least 3GB of phone data or 1GB of tablet data per month. T-Mobile said there's no limit to how much data users can collect and store in Data Stash. The company said "you won’t lose data you don't use."
Sprint today said fans of Windows Phone will soon have the option to buy the Lumia 635 through several different Sprint brands. Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA will begin selling the Lumia 635 online on Dec. 23 and in stores Jan. 9 for $99. Sprint postpaid customers will have a shot at the Lumia 635 starting on Jan. 16, though pricing for the postpaid version has yet to be determined. Sprint says the Lumia 635 is the first Windows Phone 8.1 handset to grace its retail shelves. Moreover, it's the first Lumia Windows Phone to be sold by Sprint's prepaid brands. Microsoft first announced the Lumia 635 in April. It features a ClearBlack 4.5-inch LCD screen, interchangeable back panels, dual-camera with 5-megapixel main shooter, and Nokia apps. It is powered by a quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor and includes 512MB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, and support microSD cards up to 128GB.
Apple Pay has garnered more support from banks and retailers around the country, according to the New York Times. SunTrust, Barclaycard, and USAA have already agreed to support Apple Pay with their cards, and 10 more banks, including TD Bank North America and Commerce Bank, are adding support for Apple Pay beginning today. With the new financial institutions on board, a significantly larger percentage of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners can use Apple Pay to make mobile payments at participating retailers. More retailers are interested in Apple Pay, too. Staples will begin accepting Apple Pay at its 1,400 stores beginning today, and Amway Center, where the Orlando Magic basketball team plays, will begin accepting Apple Pay at concessions stands during games. Apple Pay uses an NFC radio embedded in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus to power tap-and-go payments at more than 220,000 retail outlets around the U.S. iPhone owners use their fingerprint to approve purchases, which are secured thanks to unique codes assigned to each transaction. Apple Pay launched Oct. 20. Competing services, such as Softcard, are available to select Android and Windows Phones sold by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless.
Google recently made some significant improvements to its Google Wallet app for the iPhone. To start, the app adds a bill-splitting feature. According to Google, users can add the people with whom they want to split a bill, choose how to divide it, and send each person a request for their share of the total. Wallet for iOS also adds support for Touch ID, which will allow users to open the app and make purchases using their fingerprints. The app now supports the native screen resolutions for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and lets users see their loyalty cards even when offline. Google Wallet for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Opera today announced Coast 4.0, a new version of its browser for the iPhone and iPad. According to Opera, the idea behind the new browser is to make it easier for iOS device owners to find content. For example, it introduces the Discover feature, which helps users find stories and news from all over the internet. It uses Opera Turbo Compression to reduce the size of web pages as they transit networks and deliver them to devices faster. A new sharing button makes it simple to push content in the browser to social networks. Last, the app adds compatibility with iOS 8's continuity tool, which allows Coast users to browse on one device and pick up right where they left off on another device thanks to web session syncing. Opera's Coast 4.0 for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Microsoft recently made a beta app available that permits Windows Phone users to control their devices without touching them. The new Lumia Gestures Beta app lets users: answer a call by picking up their phone and putting it to their ear; mute their mic during a call by placing the phone on a flat surface with the display facing down; put the call on speaker by placing the phone on a flat surface with the display facing up; and silence incoming calls by flipping the phone display down. Some of these gestures have been available to devices from other OEMs, such as HTC, for more than a year. Microsoft didn't say if or when they will be added to Windows Phone handsets on a permanent basis.
Google today pushed out updates to its Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps for Android devices and added a few new features along the way. According to Google, Docs now offers more control over line spacing; Sheets adds scrollbars for simpler navigation; and Slides permits users to insert, move, resize, and rotate text boxes/shapes. Further, all three apps are more compatible with their Microsoft Office counterparts. Google's productivity apps are free to download from the Google Play Store.
BlackBerry today made BBM 2.0 available to the Windows Phone platform. The updated app is now more in line with the Android, BlackBerry, and iOS versions of BBM thanks to several new features. For example BBM for Windows Phone now includes timed messages (which expire after they're seen/read) and message retraction (for recalling unread messages). BBM for Windows Phone also added a wide number of stickers for enlivening conversations. BBM 2.0 for Windows Phone is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
T-Mobile today said it has expanded the availability of Wideband LTE service to a total of 26 major U.S. cities and 120 small metro areas. The newest additions include all of New York City, Long Island, and northern New Jersey. T-Mobile said central New Jersey and Westchester County, N.Y., will have Wideband LTE coverage very soon. According to T-Mobile, NYC customers are reporting peak download speeds of 100Mbps with average download speeds hovering around 22Mbps. "Wideband LTE" specifically refers to 15x2 or 20x2MHz LTE over T-Mobile's AWS or PCS spectrum, depending on the market in question.
Skype today announced a minor update to its Qik app for the Android and Windows Phone platforms. With the update installed, users will be able to save their Qik videos from the app to their device's camera roll if they wish. Videos can also be sent or deleted. Skype Qik is similar to Snapchat in that it allows users to send semi-ephemeral videos to one another. The videos are limited to 42 seconds in length and expire after two weeks. Qik also lets users pre-record five-second Qik Fliks, which Qik describes as canned video responses to use when there's no time to record a new video. The Skype Qik update is available to Android and Windows Phone devices today, and will be available to the iPhone in the near future.
BlackBerry today pushed out BBM 2.6 to the Android and iOS platforms, as well as its own BlackBerry platform. All three versions of the app gain new features, including support for stickers within group chats and a 60-second option for time chats. The Android version of BBM tackles Android 5.0 Lollipop and adds landscape mode. BBM for iOS 8 adds compatibility with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus screens. BBM for BlackBerry OS now lets users share multiple pictures and attachments at the same time. BBM 2.6 is free to download from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, and BlackBerry World.
Cricket Wireless is hoping a $100 bill credit will convince customers of Cincinnati Bell, MetroPCS, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Sprint, and T-Mobile to hop on over to Cricket. New customers must switch from the aforementioned carriers, purchase a new device, and activate a new line of service on a qualifying rate plan in order to receive the credit. The credit will be applied at the end of the first billing cycle. Cricket's service plans cost $40-$60 per month, depending on options. Cricket offered a similar promotion over the summer months, but only targeted Sprint and T-Mobile. The current promotion runs through Dec. 31.
Google recently updated its Google Fit and Google Translate applications for Android devices. Google Fit gains several new and compelling features, including support for more than 100 new activities, experimental step detection (for walking when the watch isn't connected to a phone), and improved compatibility with Android Wear. The app also sees some bug fixes and performance improvements. Google Translate is now compatible with 90 languages from around the world. The recent update added 10 new ones, including Chichewa, Malagasy, Sesotho, Malayalam, Myanmar, Sinhala, Sudanese, Kazakh, Tajik, and Uzbek. Both apps are free to download from the Google Play Store.
Verizon Wireless today said it is delivering a minor update to the Motorola Droid Turbo. The update adds VoLTE capabilities, as well as simultaneous voice and data usage. Verizon said the update is being pushed out gradually in waves, but can be snagged manually.
The FCC today adopted a Public Notice regarding the reverse auction for 600MHz television spectrum, currently scheduled to take place in early 2016. The FCC wants input regarding the auction's specifics, such as how it should set opening prices, what its spectrum targets should be, and how best to measure the impact of potential interference. The agency is also seeking feedback about how best to set the conditions that must be satisfied before the auction can conclude. The FCC will accept comments until Jan. 30, 2015. It wants to have the final rules regarding the auction in place no later than October or November of 2015. The auction will see television broadcasters give up their 600MHz spectrum holdings, which will then be auctioned off to mobile broadband companies. Participation is voluntary.
The head of Iowa's Department of Transportation recently said the state is preparing a mobile app that residents will be able to use as their driver's license. The app will be free and can supplement a traditional, plastic driver's license if residents so choose. Speaking at the state's budget meeting earlier this week, DOT Director Paul Trombino said law enforcement, as well as airport screeners, will accept the digital driver's license as a valid form of ID. "We are really moving forward on this," said Trombino. "The way things are going, we may be the first in the nation." Trombino said the app would be secure and protected by a PIN. "It is basically your license on your phone," he said. Trombino didn't mention what platforms the app would support, nor exactly when it might be available. Iowa already allows residents to use their smartphone as proof of auto insurance during traffic stops.
Google today updated Google Search for iOS devices. Google refreshed the application with its Material Design language, which has been optimized for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus with bigger photos. As far as new features go, iOS users will be able to see their most recently visited pages more easily, start new searches with a single tap thanks to the new search button, and explore nearby places and points of interest thanks to Google Maps integration. Google Search is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google recently updated its Chromecast application for Android devices and refreshed it with Material Design. Beyond the new look Chromecast now supports guest mode, which Google says makes it easier for others to cast content from their Android device to Chromecast. Chromecast owners will need to active guest mode via the settings tools first. Once they do, any nearby Android device can cast directly to Chromecast without first joining the associated WiFi network. Chromecast is a thumb-sized media player that connects to HDTVs. The app is free, but the player itself costs $35.
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