Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler today reasserted his belief that AT&T and Verizon need to be restricted from purchasing too much 600MHz spectrum in the reverse auction planned for mid 2015. Wheeler's comments came in the form of a letter in which he responded to Representative John Barrow. "The Incentive Auction offers the opportunity, possibly the last for years to come, to make low-band spectrum available to any mobile wireless provider, in any market, that is willing and able to compete at auction," said Wheeler. "At the same time, a priority of the auction should be to assure that companies that already possess low-band spectrum do not exploit the auction to keep competitors from accessing the spectrum necessary to provide competition." AT&T and Verizon Wireless both hold significant blocks of 700MHz spectrum. Low-band spectrum is coveted for its propagation properties. Wheeler wants to make sure smaller companies, such as Sprint and T-Mobile, get a shot at the 600MHz airwaves. Wheeler's proposal involves reserving 30MHz in each market for companies that control less than one-third of the low-band spectrum in that market. This essentially precludes AT&T and Verizon from participating. AT&T believes the conditions are unfair and amount to the FCC picking the auction's winners and losers before it even starts. The company threatened to not participate, which could hurt the auction's ability to raise capital for a national safety network.
Microsoft has begun allowing developers to post responses to reviews of their application in the Windows Phone Store. For now, Microsoft is limiting this feature on a trial basis, though it will expand soon. The responses are emailed to the review author through Microsoft. Microsoft does not provide the developer with reviewer contact data. Microsoft thinks the ability to respond to user reviews will help developers improve their apps over time. Developers will be able to respond to reviews posted from devices running Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 only. The feature will be limited to the U.S. from the onset. Microsoft didn't say if it will expand review responses to more countries.
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Facebook today announced a new feature that will let people share their location with their friends. The tool, called Nearby Friends, is opt-in and needs to be turned on by users. It can be turned off at any time. Users will be able to share their location with all their friends, just close friends, or with specific lists of people. In order to see friends who are nearby, other users will need to have it on and share their location, too. The feature lets people share their exact location for a defined period of time, which is then visible on a map in order to make the person easy to find. Facebook suggests Nearby Friends be used by people to meet up when near one another. Nearby Friends will be added to the Android and iOS apps in the coming weeks.
Verizon Wireless today announced the LG Lucid 3, a low-cost Android smartphone. The Lucid 3 includes a 4.7-inch qHD display and a 1.2GHz quad-core processor. It features a 5-megapixel camera with full HD video capture and a VGA user-facing camera for self portraits. The phone runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat and comes with a wide selection of LG apps, such as Knock Code, QSlide and QuickMemo. Other features include Isis Mobile Wallet, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE 4G, and a removable 2,440mAh battery. The LG Lucid 3 is free with a new two-year agreement, $12.50 per month with Verizon Edge, or $300 at full retail. It is available beginning today.
Flickr today introduced completely new versions of its mobile app for Android and iOS devices. The revised photo app places a higher priority on capturing, sharing, and interacting with photos. The photo stream has been redesigned and is easier to navigate. The built-in camera has Instagram-like filters and all photos now have the ability to favorite, share, or comment on them. The app supports video capture and editing, and allows users to upload clips up to 30 seconds in length. It includes more robust editing functions, such as crop, rotate, and tools to fix contrast, exposure, and color. The app makes it a cinch to see metadata so users can examine the details of each photo. Flickr for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
AT&T indicated to the Federal Communications Commission this week that it disapproves of proposed rules for the upcoming incentive auction for 600MHz spectrum. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has floated a plan that would reserve spectrum in each market for companies that don't already have low-band spectrum. Thanks to its 700MHz spectrum holdings, AT&T would be restricted from bidding in about 70% of U.S. markets for the 600MHz spectrum. Wheeler's proposal has yet to be officially implemented, but AT&T's Joan Marsh said, "If the restrictions as proposed are adopted, AT&T will need to seriously consider whether its capital and resources are directed toward other spectrum opportunities that will better enable AT&T to continue to support high-quality LTE network deployments to serve its customers." If AT&T doesn't participate in the auction, it could hinder the FCC's goal of generating money to build a public safety network. The FCC is scheduled to vote on the incentive auction rules by May.
Google updated the YouTube application for Android devices recently and made a number of improvements. YouTube now lets users reply to comments, delete their own comments, and see if comments were shared publicly or privately. The app also improves video quality for devices running Android 4.2 and up, lets users share and like playlists, and moves playlists to the left-hand guide drawer. YouTube for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
AT&T is making Android 4.4.2 KitKat available to the LG G Flex starting today. The update includes new status and navigation bars, and improves battery life and processor performance. The update is free to download via Wi-Fi.
Google today announced the availability of Chrome Remote Desktop app for Android, a tool that allows Android devices to remotely access Windows and Mac computers. In order to gain remote PC access, users will need to download and install software on their PC as well as the Chrome Remote Desktop app on their Android device. Once configured, users should be able to access PC-based files from their Android device. The service is free to set up and use. Google said an iOS version of the Chrome Remote Desktop app us due later this year.
Google today released a separate version of the stock camera application that ships with many Android smartphones. The app, which can receive improvements outside of full OS updates, has a slightly revised user interface with larger buttons. Google Camera offers a handful of new features, such as Lens Blur mode, which adds depth-of-field effects to make subjects pop. Google Camera also includes Photo Spheres, panorama mode, and a 100% viewfinder so users see everything that will appear in their photos. Google Camera is available to devices running Android 4.4. KitKat and up.
Aio Wireless, which is owned and operated by AT&T, today announced new service plans that offer increasing discounts for adding lines to a single account. The Group Save plans are available today to accounts with two to five lines of service. According to Aio Wireless, a two-line account will pay full price for the first line and then receive a $10 discount on the second line. A three-line account will receive a $10 discount for the second line and a $20 discount for the third line. Four- and five line accounts will receive a $10 discount on the first line, a $20 discount on the second line, and a $30 discount on the fourth (and fifth) lines. The idea is similar to that of Sprint's Framily Plans, which offer increasing per-line discounts the more lines are added to a single account. AT&T is in the process of acquiring prepaid provider Cricket Wireless. The Aio Wireless brand will eventually be retired in favor of Cricket Wireless.
HTC today made available a preview of its dual-camera software developers kit. The SDK will allow developers to tap into the two-camera setup on the HTC One. With these tools, they can create their own apps that take advantage of the perspective information captured by the second camera on the One. The SDK is free to download for all developers.
AT&T today said owners of the BlackBerry Q10 and Z10 smartphones can download and install BlackBerry OS 10.2.1. This update adds a wide range of new features to the Q10 and Z10 handsets. Some include: a customizable pinch gesture for filtering BlackBerry Hub content; the ability to access BBM from within any app; improved sound for BBM voice/video chats; more lock screen notifications; picture password; and improved battery life monitoring. AT&T says the free update can be installed manually via Wi-Fi.
AT&T today announced the availability of the Android 4.4 KitKat operating system for the Samsung Galaxy S4. The update is being rolled out gradually, but owners can manually download using the system settings. The update is free.
The NFC Forum today announced the availability of nine revised technical specifications. According to the NFC Forum, the updated specifications will let hardware makers and developers improve interoperability, generate faster read and write performance, improve handovers, and reduce power consumption in devices/apps that use NFC technology. Despite the revisions, the NFC Forum says the new specifications are backward compatible with older versions. The updated specs are available to download for free.
Samsung has committed to releasing a smartphone based on its Tizen platform by the end of the second quarter. Speaking to Reuters, Yoon Han-kil, SVP of Samsung's product strategy, said two Tizen-based devices will arrive this year. The first will be a high-end handset and the second will target the middle of the market. It's unlikely either device will reach the U.S., however. "We had tried to launch (Tizen) with DoCoMo and Orange ... but couldn't because of poor market conditions. We have changed our strategy and will release the phones in a few countries where we can do well," explained Yoon. The company will target emerging markets where demand for top-notch equipment isn't as high. Samsung has delayed plans to release Tizen-based phones several times. Tizen is based on Linux. Samsung is working with Intel on the platform, which the company recently added to its Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches.
The CTIA Wireless Association today said a number of handset makers and wireless network operators have agreed to a basic framework that will eventually provide consumers with better anti-theft tools for their smartphones. The Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment is meant to deter theft while also giving phone makers and carriers room to innovate. All the companies agreed to implement a baseline anti-theft tool preloaded on (or downloadable to) all wireless smartphones manufactured after July 2015. This tool will let consumers: remotely wipe their data; render the smartphone inoperable to unauthorized users; prevent reactivation without owner's consent; and reverse the inoperability of the device as well as restore the data to the device in the event it is found by the owner. Consumers will also be free to use whatever third-party anti-theft tools they wish in addition to those provided by the phone maker. All signatories will make the baseline anti-theft tool available with all its core features. The initial batch of companies signing the commitment include: Apple; Asurion; AT&T; Google; HTC America; Huawei; Motorola; Microsoft; Nokia; Samsung; Sprint; T-Mobile; U.S. Cellular; and Verizon Wireless. Some of those who haven't signed include Kyocera, LG, Sony, ZTE. A number of lawmakers lauded the commitment, which arrives several months after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler mandated that wireless companies come up with such a solution or face regulatory intervention.
BlackBerry today indicated it has purchased a minority stake in healthcare IT firm NantHealth. The companies are working together to design a smartphone specifically for the healthcare market, which BlackBerry says has plenty of potential thanks to the need for security. The company said the device will be made available to anyone, but it will be optimized for viewing 3D images and CT scans. The company's expect the device to reach the market by the end of the year. "BlackBerry's capabilities align closely with NantHealth's," said BlackBerry CEO John S. Chen. "This investment represents the type of forward-looking opportunities that are vital to our future."