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printed December 7, 2016
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FitBit Buys Pebble's Intellectual Property

Today, 9:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

FitBit today said it has acquired key personnel and intellectual property related to software and firmware development from Pebble. FitBit did not buy Pebble's hardware assets. FitBit says the acquisition will allow it to bring products to market faster and will speed up its ability to develop customized solutions and support third-party applications. Pebble was an early entrant in the smartwatch market and made low-cost, platform-agnostic wearables that focused on usability. It got its start through several successful Kickstarter campaigns. FitBit is the market leader for health and fitness wearables. It has an entire line of trackers and smart devices that work with Android and iOS devices. FitBit did not immediately say what will happen to Pebble's hardware products. Two devices, the Pebble Time 2 and Pebble Core, are still active on Kickstarter. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction was completed December 6.

Chrome 55 for Android Enables Downloads for Offline Use

Today, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Following its recent release for desktop machines, Google has made Chrome 55 available to Android smartphones and tablets. Chrome 55 introduces a handful of new features. Chiefly, Chrome 55 makes it possible to download music, videos, and web pages for offline viewing. Downloads can be viewed and shared within Chrome. The updated browser also lets people see misspelled words in text fields and makes improvements to the contextual search user interface. Chrome 55 contains performance, memory, and stability fixes, as well. The browser is free to download from the Google Play Store.

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Pandora Reveals Its Premium Streaming Service

Today, 8:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pandora has taken the wraps off Pandora Premium, its $10-per-month music streaming service that will compete with Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play Music. Like similar products, Pandora Premium offers ad-free, all-you-can-eat streaming of millions of tracks. It includes unlimited skips and downloads for offline listening. Pandora Premium competes with Pandora's own $5 monthly product, which is also ad-free and allows for some skipping. The major difference between the two is the recommendation engine. Pandora Premium relies on the data Pandora has collated via the Music Genome to the tune of one billion data points per day. It also takes advantage of users' own "thumbs up" activity and will create playlists based on those songs. The Premium product will be more aggressive about pushing recommendations, particularly when users reach the end of a play list or album. Pandora expects to launch Pandora Premium for mobile devices and the web early next year.

Google Improves Duo's Video Performance

Today, 8:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google updated its Duo video chatting app this week and made a small number of enhancements to the program. Most importantly, the update introduces significant video quality improvements so chats are clearer. The update smoothes over the camera behavior when the phone is rotated. Google also cleaned up the signup process and resolved a bug that impacted sound during video calls. Duo is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Apple Settles Hazardous Waste Violations for $450,000

Today, 8:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple has agreed to pay a fine of $450,000 for improperly operating a hazardous waste facility in California. The company ran a plant in Cupertino that processed some 1.1 million pounds of hazardous waste. The plant was closed in 2013 and moved to Sunnyvale. California's Department of Toxic Substances Control alleged that Apple ran the facility without the state's knowledge. Apple blamed the transgression on "an oversight in paperwork." The state accused Apple of mishandling some toxic dust, but no one was harmed and neither was the environment. Apple made clear that its own safety standards are more strict than the law demands.

Apple Launches Single Sign-On for Some TV Apps

Yesterday, 4:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Signing into TV and other video apps should be less painful thanks to the launch of Apple's Single sign-on service. Single sign-on allows people to enter their cable provider's credentials just once and then automatically be signed in to all that TV and video apps that require those credentials. At launch, the service is limited to CenturyLink, Prism, DirecTV, Dish, GTA, GVTC, Hawaiian Telcom, Hotwire, MetroCast, and Sling TV. Notable absences include Verizon's FiOS TV service, Comcast, Time Warner, and CableVision. Moreover, the initial batch of apps that support the service are limited, too. For example, A&E supports Single sign-on for iOS, but not tvOS. Similarly, NBC supports Single sign-on for tvOS, but not iOS. Major channels, including CBS and Disney aren't yet supporting Single sign-on. It is up to TV providers to voluntarily update their apps with support for Single sign-on, which is not mandated by Apple. Single sign-on requires iOS 10 and tvOS 10 or later.

Google Makes Play Store Apps Smaller to Download

Yesterday, 3:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 4:08 PM

Google today said it has implemented an approach it calls file-by-file patching to cut down the size of app updates. The technique can, on average, reduce the download size by 65% when compared to the original app. It's able to cut down some app downloads by as much as 90%. According to Google, the Play Store now sends Android devices a patch that details what's different between the old version and new version of the app. It then downloads only the bits needed to make those changes. In total, Google expects the effort will save Android device owners around the world an aggregate 6 petabytes of mobile data per day. Google hopes smaller app downloads will help improve uptake for app developers. File-by-file patching replaces the bsdiff algorithm previously used by Google, which was able to reduce app downloads by as much as 47%. People will not need to take any action to make use of the new updating process. Apple's iOS does something similar with apps downloaded from the iTunes App Store.

EU Approves Microsoft's LinkedIn Acquisition

Yesterday, 2:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The European Union today approved Microsoft's proposed $26.2 billion purchase of LinkedIn. The Union set several conditions in allowing Microsoft to proceed. For one, it must allow other professional networks to link into Office, and must let PC makers choose whether or not to preinstall LinkedIn on their machines. Last, Microsoft must let rival networks access the Microsoft Graph for mining data. The U.S. has already approved the transaction, which can now move forward.

Google Play Store Begins Adding 4K Movies

Yesterday, 12:46 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 12:48 PM

Google today said the Google Play Movies & TV store is now offering a small selection of 4K (Ultra HD) movies. About 125 titles can be purchased or streamed in 4K. Google is charging $8 for 4K rentals and between $25 and $30 for 4K purchases. Earlier this year, Google updated its Google Chromecast product with support for 4K, and other Google-compatible devices, such as the Xiaomi Mi Box, can also stream 4K content. Google didn't say how quickly it will ramp up its 4K library. The company did mention that the Google Play Movies & TV app is now available on 2016 model Samsung Smart TVs

Google Redesigns Search App with Columns

Yesterday, 11:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today began rolling out an update to its Android Search app that separates information into two streams. Previously, the app displayed a long column of data, including calendar appointments, weather, news stories, and so on. Now, the app is dividing this information into two categories: upcoming events and current topics. The events section will contain details about travel, meetings, and important dates culled from the user's email and calendar. The topics section will contain a list of stories (news, weather, sports) that Google thinks the user will be interested in. The redesigned search app hits Android devices today and will reach iOS devices soon.

Samsung Handed Major Victory In Patent Fight with Apple

Yesterday, 11:02 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. Supreme Court today vacated a $399 million reward that Samsung had been ordered to pay Apple for violating the iPhone maker's designs. The court agreed with Samsung's position that it should not be forced to forfeit all the profits from the infringing devices because their design is just one aspect. The court said the lower courts had improperly calculated the fine and sent the case back to those courts for further deliberation. The case dates back to April 2011, when Apple first sued Samsung over its smartphones. An initial trial found Samsung guilty of willfully infringing on Apple's designs and rewarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages. That reward has been whittled down over the years in subsequent hearings.

Instagram Gives Users More Control Over Comments and Followers

Yesterday, 10:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today expanded the number of tools people can use to control their experience within the app. First, Instagram will allow people to turn off comments on their posts. The feature will be added to the advanced settings menu. Instagram says people will be able to turn comments back on whenever they wish. The social network also plans to let people "like" comments by tapping a heart icon that will appear alongside comments. Users will soon be able to remove followers from private accounts, too. People will not be notified if/when they are removed. Instagram believes this is a better alternative to blocking. Last, Instagram is adding a way for people to anonymously report posts that suggest a user may injure themselves. Instagram says the new features are rolling out gradually through an update to its Android and iOS apps.

AT&T to Test '5G' In the Field with Intel

Monday, 4:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today announced an expansion of its 5G trials with its first business customer. Intel has agreed to test AT&T's mmWave technology at its own Austin-based offices. AT&T and its technology partner, Ericsson, claim to have reached peak download speeds of 14 Gbps with 4K HD video and real-time camera feeds. This field trial will put business-class use-cases to the test, including internet access, VPNs, unified communications, and 4K video streams in the 15 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum bands. "Mobile video streaming continues to be a vital aspect of our 5G work, and this trial gives us an opportunity to test 4K HD video streaming across further physical distances between pieces of equipment," said Tom Keathley, AT&T's senior vice president, wireless network architecture and design. AT&T says the field trial will bring it one step closer to deployment. Until now, it has been testing its 5G technologies in the lab and some real-world spaces in Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, and California. AT&T hopes its technological path will help it contribute to the international 5G standard, which has yet to be defined by the ITU.

Google Distributes Android 7.1.1

Monday, 1:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Monday, 2:29 PM

Google today made Android 7.1.1 Nougat available to Pixel and select Nexus devices. The refreshed operating system is available to the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, the Nexus 6P and 5X smartphones, as well as the Nexus 9 and Pixel C tablets. System images for side loading are already available online, and the over-the-air downloads will appear shortly. The most obvious new feature for end users is support for GIFs and animations within the keyboard. The Android keyboard can interact with third-party apps to create and apply stickers, videos, and other expressive content. Android 7.1.1 also adopts a 3D Touch-style interactive tool that will let people access up to five secondary actions or settings that can be reached directly from the launcher.

Apple Debuts Another Round of Betas

Monday, 1:21 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today released a handful of new beta versions of its core operating systems. These betas are specifically for developers, rather than public beta testers. App writers can download and test beta 6 of iOS 10.2, beta 5 of watchOS 3.1.1, and beta 5 of macOS Sierra 10.12.2. Previous beta releases of iOS 10.2 show the platform includes Unicode 9 with a fresh batch of emoji, as well as new wallpapers, iMessage screen effects, camera settings, video widgets, and emergency contact alerts. The newest betas of watchOS 3.1.1 and macOS Sierra 10.12.2 include stability improvements. Apple typically makes the public betas for these platforms available a day or two after the developer beta.

Google Allo Learns Hindi and Portuguese

Monday, 12:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its Allo messaging app with two new languages. Allo now supports Hindi and Brazilian Portuguese for both Google Assistant and Smart Reply. People can say "Talk to me in Hindi" or "Talk to me in Portuguese" to gain access to the alternate languages. Google says Smart Reply should show suggested responses in the language it hears. Last, Google added new local stickers for Brazil in Google Allo. Google says the Android and iOS Allo apps will see these new features in an update due to arrive in the next few days.

Verizon Pushing Security Update to Pixel and Pixel XL

Monday, 12:03 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today detailed a system update for its variants of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. The update primarily installs the latest security patches from Google, but also includes a number of software tweaks to improve performance. For example, it resolves several problems that prevented Pixel owners from seeing voicemail notification icons and accessing visual voicemail messages. It fixes a bug that impacted inbound call performance and another that garbled some on-screen text in the dialer. Last, the update lets people to choose cellular or WiFi as their preferred calling method when traveling overseas. The update is free to download and install over the air, but Verizon recommends users connect to WiFi first.

LG Names New CEO, Mobile Biz Head Stays Put

Monday, 10:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today promoted Jo Seong-jin, the head of its Home Appliance & Air Solutions business, to CEO of the entire company effective immediately. Jo will be responsible for all of LG Electronics' business units, which include mobile communications, home entertainment and vehicle components, and home appliances. LG promoted dozens of other executives in its annual review. Juno Cho, the head of LG's mobile division, will remain in place.

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