T-Mobile tonight announced changes to its existing Simple Choice plans. At the lowest tier - people currently paying $50/month for the first line - the high-speed (4G) data cap doubles from 500 MB to 1 GB. The next tier also sees an increase, from 2.5 GB to 3 GB. However the third data tier - which starts at $70/month for the first line - will change from unlimited to a new cap at 5 GB, although existing customers will be grandfathered and keep unlimited data. Unlimited data for new customers will now only be available with a new tier starting at $80/month for the first line. Also, while Simple Choice plans already offered free global roaming in 115 countries for text and basic data, they will now also include free unlimited texting from the U.S. to other countries, and the number of countries has grown to 122. As before, extra lines cost $30/month for the second line and $10/month for lines 3-5. Also, extra data (such as $30/month for unlimited) is multiplied by the number of lines. Existing Simple Choice customers will automatically be upgraded to the new plans on March 23 for post-paid, or April 26 for pre-paid.
Pebble today officially released Pebble 2.0 for Android devices. The app update, which follows closely on the heels of a beta release earlier this week, adds the Pebble Appstore and gives Android device owners new powers over their Pebble smartwatch. Pebble 2.0 has been available to the iPhone since earlier this year.
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AT&T recently added the LG A380 to its roster of entry-level flip phones. The A380's features suggest that its target market could be seniors, as it includes an enhanced audio mode to make phone calls louder, and a text-to-speech engine that reads text messages aloud. The A380 also includes a 2.4-inch display, 1.3-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, speakerphone, and support for microSD cards. The A380 costs $20 with a contract or $190 without a contract.
Samsung today launched a free music streaming service explicitly for owners of its Galaxy-branded smartphones and tablets. The service, called Milk, is powered by Slacker and includes more than 200 curated radio stations, as well as the ability for people to create, listen to, and save their own stations. The service doesn't cost anything, and doesn't include ads. Milk is only available to Samsung phones and tablets, and can be downloaded directly from the Google Play Store.
Motorola today announced the College Collection, a series of pre-designed Moto X handsets that reflect the colors of more than 40 colleges and universities. Motorola also added nine more back colors and three new accent colors to allow for further customization of the Moto X. In addition to the expanded color palette, Motorola is selling clear cases with school logos and team names, which can accompany the matching handset. Last, college students who register with a .edu email address will receive a $60 discount on the price of their College Connection Moto X. The Moto X can be customized for $399, but is available for just $49 with a two-year agreement with select carriers.
Verizon today announced that customers of both its wireless and wireline services can receive $20 off their total monthly bill by combining accounts. In order to get the discount, customers must subscribe to Verizon Wireless and Verizon's FiOS triple-play bundle, which includes FiOS home internet, television, and home phone service. Customers will receive $10 off their wireless bill and $10 off their FiOS bill for a period of two years, providing a maximum discount of $480. The promotion is available starting today and it runs through April 19.
Sprint today indicated that it has rearranged the executives who manage its network business. Both Steve Elfman, president of network operations, and Bob Azzi, senior vice president of networks, will leave the company. The changes are effective immediately, according to Sprint spokesperson Kelly Schlageter, who confirmed the shakeup to Fierce Wireless. Azzi is retiring effective March 14, while no date was given for Elfman's departure. In their place, Sprint has promoted John Saw, formerly the company's senior vice president of technical architecture, to the position of Chief Network Officer. Before joining Sprint, Saw was CTO at Clearwire, which Sprint acquired last year. Sprint is in the middle of deploying its LTE network across the U.S., including Sprint Spark, which depends on tri-band LTE coverage to improve speeds and service. Sprint has been slow to get its LTE network up and running, and blamed the delay on its network equipment providers.
AT&T has improved its LTE network in Chicago and several other markets by using an LTE-Advanced technique called Carrier Aggregation. GigaOm confirmed the soft launch with AT&T SVP of Network Technologies Kris Rinne. With Carrier Aggregation, AT&T has combined the channels of its existing spectrum to double the capacity. AT&T is running LTE in both the 700MHz and AWS bands in Chicago. By aggregating the channels together, AT&T can deliver theoretical peak download speeds of 110Mbps to devices with the proper radio support. At the moment, AT&T is selling only one device with Carrier Aggregation, the Unite mobile hotspot. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is expected to be the first smartphone to support Carrier Aggregation in the U.S. AT&T did not name the other two markets that have access to Carrier Aggregation, but said that more markets on are on the way. Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless are all in various stages of deploying Carrier Aggregation in their own LTE networks.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson today said the company expects to close its acquisition of Leap Wireless by the end of the month, and that it will use the pre-paid carrier's brand to shake things up. "We're going to be fairly aggressive [there]," said Stephenson, to "see if we can be a little disruptive down at that end of the market." Stephenson made the remarks at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. He explained that though Cricket has a strong brand, potential customers often avoid it due to its limited network coverage. Once AT&T acquires Cricket, that story will change. "All of a sudden overnight, Cricket is going to have nationwide coverage," he said. AT&T didn't announce any specific plans regarding Cricket. Stephenson also noted that the AT&T Next program, which lets customers pay for their devices over time, has become very popular. By the end of December, 20% of new device sales were being financed through AT&T Next rather than subsidized with a standard two-year contract.
Opera today made a new version of its mobile browser available for Android devices. Thanks to the inclusion of WebRTC, Opera 20 for Android permits users to conduct live, two-way video chats in the browser without the need for additional software or apps. The browser can be used to control the camera and the sound during chats, allowing users to fine-tune their experience. The update also introduces a new look for Speed Dial; the ability to adjust the browser navigation bar to suit individual tastes; improvements to search functionality; and a number of bug fixes. Opera 20 for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Motorola made a small update available to its Touchless Control application. The improved software adds several new features, chief among them the ability to respond to a "What's Up" or "Read Notifications" voice command, prompting the device to read new notifications aloud. The notifications feature is available in English, Spanish, and Italian, with other languages are supported in beta. The update also improves the software's ability to detect the end of speech for better accuracy and faster responses. Touchless Control is available to the Moto X, Droid Ultra, Droid Max, and Droid Mini. It requires Android 4.4 KitKat.
Apple's request to ban an array of Samsung smartphones and tablets was denied by a U.S. District Judge. Apple already won a guilty verdict against 26 different Samsung devices that were found to infringe on its patents. A jury awarded Apple more than $1 billion in damages, but Apple still sought to prevent Samsung from selling the infringing products in the U.S. Though Apples' request was denied, the damages owed to Apple by Samsung were finalized by the judge overseeing the case. The Korean company must now fork over about $930 million for violating Apple's patents.
Sprint today said it has expanded efforts to help prevent the resale of stolen phones by using Recipero's CheckMend online tool. CheckMend maintains a global database of stolen phone IDs. All Sprint stores will check the ID of used cell phones against CheckMend's database to determine if they are stolen. Devices listed as stolen cannot and will not be activated on Sprint's network. Sprint will also submit the ID of any Sprint device reported lost or stolen by customers to CheckMend to further improve the database's accuracy. Because CheckMend is available online, consumers can use it to check the validity of a used phone's ID before they purchase it. CheckMend can also be used by law enforcement. U.S. carriers all participate in a national registry of stolen device IDs.
Isis today announced another promotion with the goal of coaxing smartphone owners into using its tap-and-go mobile payment service. The promotion will give American Express card holders who've registered their card with Isis a statement credit when they use Isis to pay for a ride in a medallioned New York City yellow cab. Isis will credit users back for 50% of the fare up to a maximum of $100. Isis is a joint venture backed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. About two dozen different Android devices are compatible with the system, which requires a secure SIM card, NFC, a credit card from a participating financial firm, and the Isis mobile application. The iPhone requires a separate case, which costs $70, to use Isis. It is free to sign up for Isis.
Flipboard today announced that it has acquired Zite from CNN for an undisclosed sum. Flipboard said it will integrate Zite's personalization technology and recommendation engine into its own digital magazine application. Further, Flipboard announced that its users will soon have access to CNN's content through Flipboard. CNN created three new magazines just for Flipboard, including Fareed Zakaria's GPS Daily, The Lead with Jake Tapper, and John King's Go Inside Politics. CNN says it will add more customized magazines to Flipboard over the coming months. Flipboard hooks into smartphone and tablet users' social networks and newsfeeds and delivers the content in a slick, magazine-like package.
Sprint today said it will update a handful of its Samsung smartphones to Android 4.4 KitKat. The company is already pushing KitKat to the Galaxy S4 and Note 3, but will also deliver updates to the Galaxy Note II, GS4 mini, GS III, Galaxy Mega, and Galaxy Tab 3 7.0. According to Sprint, the update includes the standard check list of KitKat goodies, and also adds a new lockscreen shortcut to the camera. The timing of the updates will vary by device.
Google today announced an update to its Gmail app for the iPhone and iPad. The most significant feature of the update is support for background email fetching. This means the emails will be downloaded in the background as they arrive and available for immediate viewing upon opening the app. Previously, new emails were not fetched from the servers until users opened Gmail. Gmail for iOS now also supports single sign-in with other Google apps, such as Maps, Chrome, and YouTube. Gmail for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store, but it requires iOS 7.
FreedomPop today announced the Privacy Phone, what it bills as a secure smartphone to protect users from hackers, government agencies, and spyware. The Privacy Phone uses 128-bit encryption to secure voice calls and text messages. It provides anonymous internet browsing and prevents online marketers from tracking web activity. The Privacy Phone also prevents data monitoring from third parties, and bypasses web site restrictions so it can connect to any site. FreedomPop says the Privacy Phone shields users from viruses and malware, blocks malicious web sites, and prevents phishing attacks. The Privacy Phone is a Samsung Galaxy S II that FreedomPop has refurbished with its own software. The device costs $189 and is offered without a contract. FreedomPop is providing three months of unlimited voice and messaging with 500MB of data for free, after which the service plan will cost $10 per month.