BlackBerry is considering whether or not to shutter its operations in Sweden. About 100 people work at the facility, which helped develop some BlackBerry smartphones such as the Z10. The company has initiated conversations with the employee unions at the facility in question and will make a final decision in the weeks ahead. BlackBerry has been on a course of aggressive cost-cutting as it seeks to trim operations that it sees as non-vital to its enterprise device management business. Earlier this week it announced plans to acquire a secure file management company called WatchDox.
Verizon Wireless has resumed offering two large data plans for shared lines at a promotional rate. The first costs $80 per month for 10 GB of data and the second costs $100 for 15 GB of data. Verizon first offered these plans in November 2014, but pulled them in February. "We have different offers throughout the year, and right now the $80/$100 plans are available," said a Verizon spokesperson. The plans will be available for a limited time, but Verizon didn't say for how long. The prices don't include device access fees for smartphones, tablets, and hotspots. By way of comparison, AT&T's 10 GB plan costs $100 and its 15 GB plan costs $130.
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ARM has revealed the Cortex A72, its next-generation CPU core for high-end processors. The A72 builds on the foundation laid by the Cortex A57 core, ARM's current high-end processor. With the A72, ARM focused on improving speeds and power efficiency, while decreasing the die size. The core can be manufactured using 14 or 16 nanometer processes. ARM says the A72 can deliver a 20-60% increase in instructions-per-block when compared to the A57. Reduced latency in the core means clock speeds can reach 2.7 GHz, and the A72 is between 18-30% more power efficient than the A57. ARM doesn't actually make processors; instead, it licenses its core designs to companies such as Qualcomm. Qualcomm, in turn, put the cores in larger application processors like the octa-core Snapdragon 810. Qualcomm is itself developing a new CPU core design for the forthcoming Snapdragon 820 processor. Qualcomm hopes using its own core will help differentiate the 820 from competing chip designs from the likes of Samsung and Intel. ARM said it doesn't expect to see the A72 reach consumer devices until 2016.
Cricket Wireless today upgraded its $50 and $60 monthly plans to include unlimited international calling and messaging to Canada. Customers won't have to take any steps to activate the feature, Cricket is doing so automatically for all new and existing subscribers. The Canada calling plan is being offered at no additional charge. Cricket added free calling and messaging to Mexico earlier this year. Cricket customers can now call practically any number in North America for free as long as they subscribe to the $50 or $60 plan. Those looking to call numbers outside of North America can tack on the Cricket International Extra option for $15 per month, which lets customers receive unlimited landline calling and messaging to 35 countries plus 1,000 mobile-to-mobile minutes to 29 countries. Last, the Cricket International Roaming Mexico add-on lets customers make and receive calls and send messages when traveling in Mexico for $10. Taxes and fees are included, and customers can qualify for a $5 monthly discount on all plans by adding auto-pay.
Twitter recently introduced a feature called Highlights, which are push notifications calling attention to the day's best tweets. According to Twitter, it looks at what accounts users follow and which conversations are most popular among them, as well as topics and events trending in the user's area to create the highlighted tweets. The feature is opt-in and will deliver notifications twice per day. Tapping the notification opens the Twitter app and takes users directly to the Highlights page, where Tweets can be scanned by swiping left and right. When users reach the last highlighted tweet, the app will then take them to their home timeline. Twitter recently did away with the Discover and Activity tabs, and Highlights appears to have taken their place. Initially, the feature is only available in English to Android users.
Samsung's curvy S6 Edge is a fantastic Android smartphone that deserves your attention. Verizon's model is solid, but has a few surprising weaknesses. Here is Phonescoop.com's full report.
Google today expanded the capabilities of its Keep note-taking application thanks to improved integration with Android Wear. Owners of Android Wear smartwatches can use voice prompts to open Keep, browse existing notes in Keep, or dictate new notes in Keep. Users can swipe up and down on the screen to see notes, tap to open notes, or tap the plus sign to create a new note. The Android Wear app supports recurring reminders, too. Google says the update to Keep on the Android Wear platform dovetails nicely with a recent update Google made to the smartphone version of the app. Keep on Android handsets supports labels and to-do lists to help users stay on top of their ideas and tasks. Google Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Scientists suggest the naturally-occurring coating found on the wings of the glasswing butterfly could eventually lead to practical applications such as glare-free smartphone displays. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology found that irregular nanostructures on the butterfly's wings cause them to reflect very little light. The key is the irregularity of the pillar-like nanostructures, which vary in height between 600 and 800 nanometers and vary in distances apart between 100 and 140 nanometers. The KIT researchers were able to recreate the phenomenon in mathematical experiments to prove the theory. "In contrast to other natural phenomena, where regularity is of top priority, the glasswing butterfly uses an apparent chaos to reach effects that are also fascinating for us humans," said one of the researchers. Applying such a coating to the glass of mobile phone displays, lenses, or other glass surfaces could dramatically cut down on the amount of glare or reflection. Moreover, prototype experiments show the coating may also be water repellent and self cleaning. A coating that reduces glare, repels water, and cleans itself could be the Holy Grail of advancements in display technology. The KIT researchers say real-world application tests are in the concept phase.
Turing Robotic Industries today announced the Turing Phone, a handset that focuses on providing secure communications while wrapped in a futuristic design. Turing says the device is molded from Liquidmorphium, what it describes as "an amorphous alloy of zirconium, copper, aluminum, nickel, and silver that provides greater tensile strength than either titanium or steel." The materials protect the phone from screen breaks or other damage that might be caused by shocks. Turing claims Liquidmorphium can be produced with a near 100% yield and practically no waste, making it environmentally friendly. Other unique aspects of the design include a fingerprint sensor for user authentication on the side of the phone, and a magnetic charger that negates the need for ports. As far as communications go, the Turing Phone relies on decentralized authentication technology which lets it independently verify the identity of other Turing devices. Turing claims the end-to-end authentication "creates a protected communications network that is entirely insulated from cyber-threats and privacy intrusions." In other words, Turing phone owners can take solace in knowing their calls and messages are completely secure. The phone runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with Turing's user interface. The device features a 5.5-inch full HD display and it is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 3 GB of RAM and 64 or 128 GB of storage. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor and the front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. The device has a 3,000mAh battery and support a range of LTE networks around the world. The Turing Phone will launch in the U.S. and U.K. on August 10, with pre-orders starting July 9. The phone, sold unlocked, will cost $740 for 64 GB and $870 for 128 GB. Turing said carrier partnerships are still under development.
Republicans recently introduced a bill in the Senate that will extend the NSA's ability to collect and store phone call data through December 2020. As it stands today, the law (part of the Patriot Act) is slated to expire June 1. The Obama administration has asked for changes to the program, such as having telephone companies, rather than the NSA, store phone call data. The Obama administration also wants the program scaled back -- especially after the negative blowback following the program's revelation by Edward Snowden. Senate Republicans have, however, fast-tracked the bill by skipping committee deliberations and sending it straight to the Senate floor. Civil liberties groups such as the ACLU condemn the practice as an invasion of privacy and want the bill to expire as scheduled. It's unclear how member of the Senate and House of Representatives will vote on the bill.
Microsoft today updated its Outlook for Android app and says the email program has graduated from preview status. Today's update marks the app's full release. According to Microsoft, it has updated Outlook for Android 17 times since the preview first launched in January. During that time it has: improved the look and feel of the app; added support for IMAP; improved the People (contacts) section; added a Directory Search tool; introduced a three-day view in the calendar; and bestowed the app with a handful of gestures for navigating between emails and folders. Microsoft says Outlook for Android is on even footing with its Outlook for iOS application, which it made available earlier this year. Outlook for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
The U.S. ITC today cleared ZTE of violating a phone-related patent held by InterDigital. Late last year, ZTE was found guilty of infringing three different InterDigital patents. InterDigital is a patent-holding firm and has filed similar lawsuits against Nokia and Huawei.
Defense Mobile, an MVNO that targets military personnel, is coming out of beta status today with more coverage and more devices in its arsenal. During its beta trial, Defense Mobile resold access to AT&T and Sprint's networks. Now, it offers Verizon, too, and is in talks with T-Mobile. The company's service is meant exclusively for members of the U.S. armed forces, their families, and veterans. Defense Mobile is supported by a 100% veteran-staffed Member Care organization and offers perks to active members of the military. Individual plans start at $30 per month and have names such as Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Family plans start at $95 per month with names such a squad, platoon, and battalion. The handset selection varies from entry level phones such as the Motorola Moto G up to today's premium handsets such as the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The company offers bonus services for military members, such as a banking application associated with a pre-paid MasterCard, an app that helps military members and their families find veteran benefits, and a free email service that's associated with their branch of the armed forces. The company sells devices and services directly from its web site, but hopes to reach 25,000 retail distribution points around the country by the end of the year.
Google today announced Project Fi, which relies on a combination of cellular and WiFi networks to keep users connected wherever they roam. Google partnered with Sprint and T-Mobile to provide the cellular component. Google says Project Fi can automatically connect to over one million verified WiFi hotspots around the U.S, and all connections are encrypted. The goal is to make communicating simple no matter what device or network is being used. Calls made through WiFi connections will seamlessly hand-off to cellular networks with no interruptions. Google says Project Fi users' phone numbers "live in the cloud," so they can talk and text from just about any phone, tablet, or laptop. Project Fi takes a new approach with respect to billing. The basic plan costs $20 per month and includes talk, text, WiFi tethering, and international coverage in 120 countries. Google then charges $10 per gigabyte of cellular data in the U.S. and abroad. So, 1 GB of data costs $10 per month, 2 GB costs $20 per month, and so on. The unique idea here is that Google will refund people for the data they don't use. For example, subscribers who pay $30 for a 3 GB plan, but only use 1.4 GB, will receive a $16 refund from Google for the unused data. Google is offering Project Fi through an early access program. It requires the Nexus 6 smartphone at launch, which Google says was developed with Project Fi in mind. Nexus 6 owners can request invites starting today.
Facebook wants to make it easier for people to see who's calling and, if necessary, block those callers. The company today said it is testing a new app called Hello. The app sorts through Facebook data and will display info about incoming calls even if the number is not saved in the contact app. The caller ID information will be limited to that which is public on Facebook, or already shared directly with the call recipient. The app supports search functions for businesses and people, and can be used to connect calls directly from the search results. Last, Hello makes it easier for people to block unwanted calls. Users can block specific numbers as well as those commonly blocked by others. Blocedk calls go straight to voicemail and the details will still show up in the call history. Facebook said Hello is in testing and available to Android devices beginning today.
Google has updated the Android Wear app for smartphones ahead of the Android Wear system update for smartwatches. The smartphone Android Wear app has a brand new design that more closely matches Google's Material Design concepts. It also introduces new info cards for gleaning information about on-board watch apps. The phone app's settings tools, used to control nearby smartwatches, have been revamped entirely. One new features lets users sync only select (rather than all) calendars to the phone. Last, the app adds a Cloud Sync function, which will help the smartwatch provide notifications even when not connected to a nearby phone. This feature requires devices with the new Android Wear operating system, which is expected to arrive in a few weeks. Google's Android Wear smartphone application is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Four companies have expressed interest in acquiring Nokia's HERE Maps business, reports Reuters. A coalition of German auto makers, Audi, BMW, and Daimler, are weighing a joint bid, as are Facebook, Uber, and U.S. investment firm Hellman & Friedman. Nokia recently said it is considering strategic options for the mapping unit, formerly Navteq, which it acquired in 2008 for more than $8 billion. Nokia expects to bring in about $2.1 billion through a sale of the business. Nokia may use capital generated by the sale to help fund its recently-announced purchase of Alcatel-Lucent. Nokia did not confirm Reuters' report, which cited a German trade magazine. The other companies could not immediately be reached for comment.
Google is prepared to launch its wireless service as soon as tomorrow, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google's wireless service will rely on the mobile networks operated by Sprint and T-Mobile, in addition to WiFi. The service will only be available to the Nexus 6 smartphone at launch, which will be able to dynamically weave from network to network in order to find the strongest signal for calls, messaging, and mobile browsing. In what the Journal calls a key development, customers of Google's wireless service will only pay for the actual data they consume each month, rather than fork over money for buckets of data. Google confirmed last month that it is preparing a mobile service, but has not verified the Journal's details. Google's Sundar Pichai said during the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona the company's wireless service will be offered on an experimental basis. He likened it to the Nexus device program, about which he said, "Our goal here is to drive a set of innovations which we think the system should adopt." Specifics such as pricing are still unknown. Sprint and T-Mobile both have large MVNO programs, which is, in effect, how Google's service will operate. Sprint and T-Mobile may renegotiate with Google if its service gets too big.