Facebook rolled out a minor update to Messenger for Windows Phone today. The latest version of the chatting app supports video messages, both capturing and playback. The app also makes several under-the-hood improvements. Facebook Messenger for Windows Phone is free to download from the Windows Phone Store. Facebook users will need to download the separate app in order to send messages, as Facebook is discontinuing messaging support in the main Facebook app shortly.
Microsoft today said it has enabled Foursquare recommendations within Cortana, the virtual personal assistant that's part of Windows Phone 8.1. Cortana will now proactively showcase local recommendations on handsets, though the feature must first be enabled by device owners. Users can click on the items to discover more information about the nearby venues, but the separate Foursquare application is required to access that info. There is no need to update or download anything to see the recommendations within Cortana, as Cortana's Foursquare integration comes from Microsoft's servers. It is free to use.
BlackBerry today indicated it has agreed to buy a small German company called Secusmart. Secusmart specializes in voice and data encryption. BlackBerry plans to use Secusmart's technology to further shore up its own enterprise and government offerings. Secusmart is already being used by government officials in Canada and Germany. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. BlackBerry has retreated from its consumer-chasing tactics and is focusing efforts on selling secure devices and mobile device management tools to businesses and governments.
Facebook has begun reminding mobile users about its upcoming plan to carve the messaging feature out of the main app in favor of the stand-alone Messenger application. Facebook initially announced the change in April. The company believes users will be better served by the separate app, which is more robust than the in-app messaging client. Users will still receive notifications about new messages in the Facebook mobile app. Facebook didn't say when it will make the hard switch.
The European Union has given the green light to Apple's proposed acquisition of Beats Audio. Apple announced its plan to buy the music-focused company earlier this year in a deal valued at about $3 billion. The deal includes Beats' headphones business and music streaming service. U.S. regulators are still researching the deal. Beats was recently sued by Bose for infringing on noise cancellation technology. It's not clear if or how Bose's legal action will impact Apple's ability to close the acquisition of Beats.
T-Mobile today announced a promotional plan that undercuts AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon's offerings dramatically. T-Mobile says a family of four can sign up for a T-Mobile Simple Choice plan with 10GB of LTE data for $100 per month. T-Mobile says each line receives 2.5GB of data in addition to unlimited talk, text, free 2G international data, and unlimited streaming music. The promotional price is good until January 2016 and is available beginning July 30 through September 30. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon all charge $160 per month for similar four-line plans.
Though Microsoft plans to eventually can the Nokia X platform, the company today announced an update that adds several new features to the operating system. According to Microsoft, the improved OS now includes an app switcher for multitasking. It also integrates Outlook.com, OneDrive, and OneNote into the platform, which provide Outlook email, cloud storage, and note-taking tools, respectively. Last, the update makes significant improvements to the Nokia Store, which now includes content from third-party app stores and a new home screen Spotlight widget. The update is available to the Nokia X, X+, and XL handsets. It can be downloaded and installed over-the-air.
Scientists at Stanford University believe they have solved one of the major issues facing lithium battery technology. The researchers contend a pure lithium battery is best. "Of all the materials that one might use in an anode, lithium has the greatest potential. Some call it the Holy Grail," said Stanford Professor Yi Cui. "It is very lightweight and it has the highest energy density. You get more power per volume and weight, leading to lighter, smaller batteries with more power." The problem, however, is that lithium anodes form dendritic and mossy metal deposits that can cause batteries to crack, lose ions, and possibly ignite fires. In order to solve this problem, the researchers coated the lithium anode with a monolayer of interconnected amorphous hollow carbon nanospheres. The researchers say this helps isolate the lithium metal depositions and stabilizes the battery entirely. "The ideal protective layer for a lithium metal anode needs to be chemically stable to protect against the chemical reactions with the electrolyte and mechanically strong to withstand the expansion of the lithium during charge," said Cui. The solution could apply to lithium batteries used in smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even cars, vastly extending battery life.
Samsung today further delayed the launch of its first Tizen phone in Russia. The company said it needs to "further enhance [the] Tizen ecosystem" before the phone can be released, which strongly suggests there aren't enough apps for the platform. The device was expected to debut at a developer conference in Moscow earlier this month, but its unveiling was scrapped at the last moment. At the time, Samsung said, "The smartphone will appear on the Russian market later, when we can offer our users a fullest portfolio of applications." Tizen is Samsung's home-grown smartphone platform based on Linux and other open standards. The company planned to launch a Tizen device in Japan early this year, but that launch, too, was cancelled at the last minute. Samsung did not say when it plans to launch its Tizen phone, which was supposed to reach the market this quarter. Without apps, Samsung's Tizen device won't be able to compete with established competitors.
The U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously passed bill S517, which makes it legal once again for consumers to unlock their cell phones. The Senate passed the bill on July 15. With both arms of congress approving the bill, it is up to President Obama to sign it into law. Unlocking phones became illegal in early 2013 when the Library of Congress allowed an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to expire. The bill still falls under the purview of the DMCA and leaves the ultimate decision regarding unlocking up to the Library of Congress. If Obama signs the bill into law immediately, it will be legal to unlock cell phones only for a period of about 14 months before the policy must be reviewed once again by the Library of Congress. The wording of the bill mandates the policy be reviewed once every three years. The NTIA and the FCC have each separately mandated that wireless network operators make it easier for consumers to unlock their devices. Most of the largest carriers have already begun putting policies in place that allow customers to unlock their devices once terms of their agreement are met.
Verizon Wireless plans to use its Network Optimization policy later this year in order to manage its heaviest users. The change in policy applies only to subscribers with an unlimited LTE monthly data plan, who were previously grandfathered in and essentially unrestricted in their use of mobile data. According to Verizon this change only applies to the top 5% of users, who typically consume more than 4.7GB of data per month. Rather than use straight throttling, Verizon will prioritize the traffic of subscribers who pay for tiered data plans (2GB per month, 4GB per month, etc.) The prioritization scheme will be put to work in high-traffic areas when cell sites become congested. The change goes into effect October 1. Verizon has applied similar network management techniques to its 3G customers since 2011.
Amazon's Fire Phone has one of the more interesting user interfaces to reach consumers this year. Here's an in-depth look at how FireOS, Dynamic Perspective, and FireFly really work.
Google recently made it possible to connect Google Voice phone calls through Hangouts on the web. When using Google Voice in a desktop browser, the phone tool now lists Hangouts as an option when making calls. Googler Alex Wiesen explained that it works even if the user isn't using Hangouts in Gmail, and it doesn't require a Google+ account. The change does not apply to either the Android or iOS mobile apps. Google Voice has been neglected of late and its future as a Google service is in question. This recent change marks another transitional step for the service, and expands the functionality of Google Hangouts.
Verizon Wireless is trialling a new policy on the LG G3 that allows owners to remove bloatware. Like many smartphones, the G3 ships with preloaded applications selected by Verizon. Device owners have no say in which apps are preloaded and may find them useless or uninteresting. Typically, preloaded apps cannot be removed from smartphones. That changes with the LG G3. According to Verizon, preloaded "applications can be completely and entirely uninstalled by the customer via the standard uninstall process." Customers need to use the built-in Android app manager to delete any unwanted apps. Deleting apps frees phones of clutter and clears valuable storage space. Verizon didn't say if it will expand the trial to other devices.
Google today rolled out an update for its Gmail app for iOS devices. The update carries over a feature given to the Android app earlier this month: the ability to share files from Google Drive. iPhone and iPad owners can now insert documents from their Drive account into emails as they compose them on their device. The app makes it easy to save email attachments from Gmail to Drive, too. Gmail for iOS allows users to change their Gmail account picture, and those with multiple Gmail accounts can choose which signed-in accounts they want visible in the app. Gmail is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google today delivered a new beta version of its Chrome browser to the Android platform. The chief new feature of the updated app is broader support for Google account sign-in. According to Google, users who sign into the Chrome browser on their Android device will automatically be signed into all their other Google services, as well. The sign-in feature supports multiple accounts, and can sync the settings and bookmarks of those accounts, too. Chrome beta for Android also adds in some elements of Material Design, the new design language Google is using to define Android Release L, which is due later this year.
The FCC has published the rules regarding Auction 97, which will see 1,614 spectrum licenses sold by the government to wireless network operators. The auction will start November 13, with a trial auction scheduled for November 10. The spectrum includes 65MHz in the 1695-1710MHz, 1755-1780MHz, and 2155-2180MHz -- or AWS-3 -- bands. The lower of the three blocks will be sold unpaired in 5MHz blocks, while the upper two bands will be sold in 10MHz paired blocks (with a couple of exceptions). The collective reserve price for the lower block is $580 million and the collective reserve price for the upper blocks is $10.07 billion. Of the 1,614 licenses offered in Auction 97, 880 will be Economic Area (EA) licenses and 734 will be Cellular Market Area (CMA) licenses. Dish Networks and T-Mobile wanted the unpaired and paired licenses to be auctioned separately, but the FCC decided against splitting the bidding process in favor of efficiency for all parties involved. The FCC has another auction, for 600MHz spectrum, scheduled for mid 2015.
AT&T today said Windows Phone 8.1 is now available to the Lumia 1520. Customers can use the onboard tools to download and install the OS over the air, which includes Cortana, Internet Explorer 11, and the Action Center. AT&T also revealed a green variant of the Lumia 1520 in a promotional video. The green Lumia 1520 will be available soon.
Visa today announced Visa Cloud Payment Solutions, a tool that device makers can use to add mobile payments capabilities to their hardware. Visa claims the Cloud Payment Solution will reduce fraud because it replaces the standard 16-digit credit card number with a digital token. The token can be built securely into smartphones, tablets, wearables, and appliances so consumers can make wave-, scan, and click-to-buy payments virtually anywhere. The tokens negate the need to share personal credit card data; can be restricted to specific merchants, devices, or types of purchases; can be easily replaced without changing account numbers; and can be processed easily by merchants and retailers. Visa has been forging ahead aggressively to enable mobile payments via mobile devices. Portions of the Visa Cloud Payment Solutions toolset are available beginning today, though the full set won't be available until January 2015. Visa plans to launch an extended Developer Center in early 2015 with all the related SDKs, APIs, specifications, and guidelines.
HTC has recently pulled some of the core applications out of its Sense user interface and made them available separately through the Google Play Store. Both the Sense keyboard and Sense clock apps have appeared in the Play Store in recent days, which can now be updated independent from full OS upgrades. Google and Motorola have taken similar steps with some of their apps, such as their camera apps. HTC already offers a handful of other apps via the Play Store, including Gallery, Blinkfeed, Sense TV, and Dot View.
Google hopes Android and iOS Maps users will take advantage of a new tool for exploring their surroundings. Google is adding a new button to Maps called Explore, which will tell people what's nearby. According to Google, the tool can be set to show what's as close as a 5-minute walk and what's as far as a 20-minute drive and everything in between. The Explore function doesn't just provide a list of nearby places, it is also contextually aware. For example, it will consider information such as the time of day and the weather so it doesn't send users to shops that are closed or to parks during a thunderstorm. The updated Maps app is being pushed out this week. It is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Uber today made available a version of its mobile application for the Windows Phone platform. Uber lets Windows Phone users request rides through its on-demand taxiing service. The Windows Phone app supports credit card payments and provides rate comparisons, allows users to set pickup locations, see the progress of their pending taxi, and receive emailed receipts. Uber runs on all Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 smartphones. The application itself is free to download from the Windows Phone Store. The app was available last year, but was yanked from the store in August 2013.
Sony plans to make a large investment its in imaging business and will increase production of CMOS sensors for mobile devices. The company will spend as much as $345 million to improve the capacity of its sensor-making facilities. Sony has already purchased several new manufacturing plants. The company currently makes about 60,000 sensors a month. It will improve those yields to 68,000 by August 2015 and eventually 75,000 by the end of 2015. Sony makes CMOS sensors for its own smartphones and tablets, but also for other manufacturers, such as Apple.
Skype today announced version 5.0 for the Android platform and added one big feature: the ability to cross-integrate contacts between Skype and the phone. Skype 5.0 can scan the local phone address book for other registered Skype users and will then automatically add them to the Skype app's people list. Skype will also be able to sync the Skype address book with other Microsoft services to make sure it finds and adds all possible Skype users. Android users will be able to turn this feature off if they wish, or pick and choose which contacts are added to Skype. Users' actual phone number will not be shared as part of their public profile. Skype said similar features will soon appear in its apps for other platforms, such as iOS and Windows Phone.
Verizon Wireless today announced it will sell the HTC One Remix beginning July 24 for $99 with a new contract. The One Remix is a rebranded version of the HTC One mini 2, which was announced earlier this year. The Remix relies on the same design language as the full-sized HTC One (M8), but is considerably smaller. The Remix features a 4.5-inch 720p display, 13-megapixel camera, quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, and HTC Sense 6.0 with Blinkfeed. In addition to the contract price, Verizon will also offer the HTC Remix via its Edge monthly payment program.
Microsoft today revealed the Lumia 530, a new entry-level Windows Phone that succeeds last year's 520. The device features the same colorful design language common to Lumia models and includes interchangeable rear shells for personalization. The Lumia 530 runs Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana, MixRadio, and HERE Maps. The 530 features a 4-inch 854 x 480 display, is powered by a quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 200 processor, and includes a 5-megapixel camera. Connectivity is limited to HSPA at 21Mbps, but it includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and aGPS. System memory is limited to 512MB and storage is limited to 4GB. The Lumia 530 supports microSD cards up to 128GB and will be sold in a dual-SIM variant in select markets. The Lumia 530 will be available globally and begins shipping in August. The target price point is about $130. T-Mobile is the only U.S. carrier to voice support for the 530, which it said will go on sale later this year.
Motorola today announced the availability of a digital tattoo that can be used to unlock the Moto X. The tattoo is actually an adhesive based on VivaLnk’s eSkin technology. It is about the size of a nickel and adheres to the skin for about five days. Users need only tap the Moto X against the digital tattoo, which has a shimmery, metallic design, to unlock their device. According to Motorola, the tattoo is waterproof and can be used during activities such as swimming and jogging. The digital tattoo was created by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group in cooperation with VivaLnk. VivaLnk sells the tattoos in packs of 10 for $10. It was first announced last month.
Skype today said it is preparing a version of its mobile communications application for Amazon's Fire Phone. The Fire Phone runs FireOS, a forked version of Android. The Skype app will launch alongside the phone when it goes on sale. Skype said it designed the app with the Fire Phone's user interface in mind, including a widget for the Fire carousel, and it will offer an experience that feels natural to Fire Phone owners. Skype said its 3D icon and notification badge make use of the Fire Phone's Dynamic Perspective technology, which provides a 3D-like experience through the use of four user-facing cameras. AT&T will begin selling the Fire Phone later this month.
Sprint recently announced that it is rolling out Wi-Fi calling to the HTC One and HTC One Harmon Kardon Edition. The Wi-Fi calling feature makes it possible to connect voice calls and send messages via local Wi-Fi networks rather than through Sprint's cellular network. International Wi-Fi calling will also be available in the coming weeks. It allows customers to make calls and send texts via Wi-Fi in more than 100 countries. Only a handful of Sprint's phones support Wi-Fi calling, but Sprint said more will be updated with the feature throughout the year. HTC One owners will receive the update over the next few weeks.
Amazon recently released a mobile wallet application for Android-based smartphones. The app, which Amazon has labeled a beta, lets people store gift cards, loyalty cards, and membership cards, which can be scanned or typed directly into the app. Amazon touts the app as a way to reduce clutter in wallets and purses. The wallet can reveal bar codes for scanning at a number of different merchants to make gift card-based payments. The wallet app does not connect to a bank account or credit card, however, and cannot be used to make tap-and-go payments via NFC. The app is free to download from the Amazon Appstore and the Google Play Store. Amazon did not immediately say if a similar app will be available to its own Fire Phone.
Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA subscribers will soon have access to PlayPhone's socially-connected gaming portal, says PlayPhone. The platform will allow Boost and Virgin subscribers to find and play mobile games with their online friends, and share scores and achievements across various social networks. Boost and Virgin's prepaid subscribers will be able to make in-game purchases through their account, rather than with credit cards. Purchases will be billed directly to their wireless plan. The platform will be available later this summer, though Boost and Virgin declined to say exactly when it will launch and which devices will support it. Verizon adopted PlayPhone's platform earlier this year.
Xiaomi today announced the Mi4, an Android-powered smartphone that offers high-end specs for a low price point. The Mi4 uses a blend of steel, glass and plastic in its design and has a 5-inch full HD display with narrow bezels. The Mi4 includes a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 3GB of RAM, and it comes in 16GB/64GB variants. The main camera captures 13 megapixels with an aperture of f/1.8 and 4K video. The user-facing camera captures 8 megapixels and also has an aperture of f/1.8. The Mi4 includes a 3,080mAh battery and swappable rear covers for personalization. The Mi4 is one of the first Xiaomi phones to support worldwide LTE bands, and it includes an IR blaster for controlling home theater equipment. The Mi4 costs approximately $320 for the 16GB version.
Yahoo today announced that is has agreed to purchase Flurry for an undisclosed sum. Flurry offers mobile app developers a variety of tools to improve and monetize their applications. According to Yahoo, the acquisition will allow it to further refine is mobile offerings to advertisers. Flurry's existing services and staff will remain in place. The deal is expected to close later this year.
Facebook today announced a new feature that will allow users to save content for later viewing. The tool can be used to earmark links, places, movies, TV, and music. Facebook Save is headed to the web, as well as Android and iOS apps. Users will be able to save content on one platform and view it on another. Saved items will only be visible to the account holder unless they choose to share it with others. Facebook said it will periodically remind users about their saved content if it sits unread. Facebook Save is being rolled out slowly to all users over the next few days.
Verizon Wireless today announced the pending launch of Verizon Smart Rewards, a program that will give customers points for performing different account-related activities. The program kicks off July 24 for Verizon's postpaid customers. Those who sign up will receive 10,000 points automatically, and will then earn more points for activities such as signing into the My Verizon tool, selecting paperless billing, paying their bill, and other interactions. According to Verizon, the reward points can then be redeemed as discounts up to 40% with more than 200 brands across a variety of product categories, including groceries, travel, hotels, dining, and goods. Verizon Smart rewards will cover Verizon goods and services, too, such as gift cards and opportunities to win NFL football tickets. Last, the program will include daily deals, auctions, and sweepstakes. It is free to enroll in Verizon Smart Rewards, though Verizon notes customers may also have to also enroll in its Verizon Selects marketing insights program.
BlackBerry today said it has appointed Marty Beard to the post of Chief Operating Officer. Beard worked for LiveOps and Sybase before joining BlackBerry. Beard will be responsible for marketing, application development, and quality and customer care. The COO post had been vacant since Kristian Tear left last November. BlackBerry CEO John S. Chen also hails from Sybase.
Sony recently made the Xperia Z2 available to U.S. buyers via its web store. The Z2, which was announced in January, costs $699 and is being sold unlocked. The Z2 has a 5.2-inch full HD display, 20.7-megapixel camera with 4K video capture, quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor with 3GB of RAM, and various sensors/radios. It is also water and dust resistant. The Z2 is compatible with the LTE networks of both AT&T and T-Mobile. Sony typically offers its smartphones through its web store when they aren't sold by wireless network operators.
A new phone accessory allows users to create their own long-range wireless network between two or more phones. The goTenna is a six-inch wand that pairs with a phone via Bluetooth LE. goTennas connect to each other at 151-154 MHz, a frequency low enough to reach up to 50 miles with the 2-watt radio in the goTenna (but more typically, 3-10 miles.) Communication is limited to text messaging and location sharing, via the included app, which is available for both iOS and Android. Messages can be sent an individual, a group, or broadcast to all goTenna users in range. All messages are encrypted. The device is intended for people traveling in remote areas where mobile networks may be unavailable, such as hikers or camping families. The device is dust-tight, water-resistant, and has an integrated nylon strap. It is also useful for large events where the mobile network may become overloaded, such as concerts, festivals, and sports matches. The devices will retail for $300/pair in the fall, but can currently be pre-ordered for half-off, or $150/pair.
Google this week released a new version of Google Wallet that can capture, store, and manage gift card info. Users can add gift cards via the camera or keyboard, then show a barcode on the screen to redeem the card. Select retailers - including AMC, Best Buy, Nike, Sephora, Toys-R-Us, TGI Friday’s, and Whole Foods - have linked their systems with Google Wallet to allow the app to display remaining balances on the virtual gift cards. The app can also alert the user when they are near one of those locations. The new version of the app also adds Spanish language support and a feature to request money from friends via Gmail.
Amazon is finally ready to unleash its first phone, the Fire. An exclusive to AT&T, this unique phone sports a spiffy interface totally new to the phone world, and a few fancy hardware and software features. Read on for our hands-on first impressions.
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