The Federal Communications Commission today voted 3-2 in favor of lifting the ban that prevents airplane passengers from making cellular voice calls while in flight. The FCC has purview over the techincal limitations, and has decided that today's technologies permit safe, in-flight cellular calls on properly equipped planes. However, the Department of Transportation today said that it is considering a ban on making phone calls from airplanes. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the DoT has heard from various groups, including airlines, flight attendants, and passengers, "who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight—and I am concerned about this possibility as well." The DoT is weighing whether or not to ban the practice of making cellular phone calls from planes, despite the techincal clearance granted by the FAA and FCC. "Being able to logon to text and email is useful for passengers, but it's just unnecessary to have potentially dozens of phone conversations occurring during a flight," said Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican. "When it comes to mobile devices on planes, tap, don't talk."
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler today announced that the agency has reached an accord with wireless network operators that will make it easier for consumers to unlock their phones. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless have all agreed to the unlocking policies. First, carriers will post to their web site clear details that define what phones can and cannot be unlocked. Second, carriers will unlock all phones upon request as long as customers have fulfilled their contractual obligations. Third, prepaid devices will be unlocked no later than one year after their initial activation date. Fourth, carriers will unlock devices within two days after customers request that their phones be unlocked, or initiate a request with the OEM to unlock the device, or explain to consumers why their device cannot be unlocked. Fifth, carriers agree that they will notify customers proactively once their devices are eligible to be unlocked. Sixth, carriers will unlock the devices of all deployed military personnel who are in good standing. Each of the carriers above must adopt at least three of these above policies within three months and all of them within 12 months.
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Google today announced that it has changed how Gmail handles image attachments within emails. Until today, Gmail asked users to verify that the sender was trusted before downloading remote images. Now, Google serves all images from its own, secure servers. The change means that images embedded in Gmail posts will automatically be visible in emails viewed on desktop machines, as well as Android and iOS devices. Google said the functionality will roll out over the coming days.
Instagram today announced Instagram Direct, a new service that lets users send one another text and picture messages privately. The new service includes an inbox where users can see photos and videos that people have sent them. Users will have the option to publish photos/videos to all their followers or to only specific people when composing their posts. Private photos/videos offer read receipts and their own private threads for comments and likes. Photos and videos that users receive from people they follow will appear in the inbox immediately. For content that comes from people users don't follow, they'll receive a request and can choose to view it or ignore it. Instagram 5.0 for Android and iOS will be available in the Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively, beginning today. Instagram says the direct messaging service is still in beta for Windows Phone, but should be available soon.
The Alliance for Wireless Power, one of three standards groups vying for victory in the wireless charging space, has branded its technology. Moving forward, A4WP-certified products will go by the name "Rezence" - a combination of the words resonant and essence. The A4WP's standard differs slightly from the others in that it allows charging from a slightly removed distance, meaning devices don't have to align perfectly with magnetic poles in order to charge. The A4WP is officially launching Rezence-certified products early next year, and claims to have a technology lead over competing standards from the Wireless Power Consortium and the Power Matters Alliance. So far, no clear victor has emerged. All three standards have support from various companies in the wireless space, with many companies participating in all three groups.
Facebook pushed out an update to its iOS application that enables auto-play for videos embedded in newsfeed posts. The videos will play silently until the user taps the screen to turn on sound. The update is free.
U.S. wireless network operators and the Federal Communications Commission are on the brink of forging a plan that will make it easier for consumers to unlock their cell phones. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler recently suggested to network operators that they come up with a system for unlocking phones voluntarily before the end of the year, lest the FCC look to regulate the matter. Reuters reports that the companies are still working to surpass a few issues, but should get past them soon. Specifically, the carriers and the FCC have yet to agree on how quickly the new unlocking policy should go into effect, as well as how prepaid devices should be treated and how to prevent unlocked phones from becoming a black market commodity. It has been illegal to unlock cell phones without carrier permission since early this year when the CTIA convinced the Library of Congress to allow an exemption that permitted unlocking to expire. The FCC believes consumers should be able to unlock their devices as long as they are not beholden to a carrier contract, and that carriers should either unlock them automatically or notify consumers that their devices are eligible for unlocking. The FCC wants carriers to unlock devices within two business days once a consumer makes the request.
Google recently updated Maps for iOS devices. The most significant new feature included in Google Maps 2.5.0 is the ability to sign in to automatically see flight, hotel, and restaurant reservations from Gmail. The update also introduces several bug fixes. Google Maps for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google today pushed out a minor update to its Gmail application for Android devices. Gmail now supports all file attachment types. The update also adds controls for vacation auto-responders, and gives KitKat devices the ability to print directly from Gmail. Last, Gmail for Android has been optimized to run better on devices with less memory. Gmail is free to download from the Play Store.
Google today released an application that lets Android device owners manage the security of their other Android devices. The Android Device Manager application takes advantage of the web-based tool that Google released earlier this year and brings it to mobile devices. The app lets users locate any Android devices associated with their Google account, reset the device screen lock PIN, as well as erase those devices remotely. In order to function properly, users need to enable the device managing feature in each phone or tablet's individual settings. Android Device Manager is free to download and use.
Spotify today announced that it is bringing free music streaming to mobile devices for the first time. Before today, smartphone and tablet owners were required to pay $10 per month for the right to listen to music on their devices. The new service uses advertisements in lieu of the monthly fee to cover costs. Spotify still offers an ad-free service for $10 per month. Spotify also announced that it is the only streaming service that offers the entire Led Zeppelin catalog, which went live today. Spotify for Android and iOS is free to download and use.
Google recently updated the Play Books application for Android devices. The newest version of the app makes it possible to upload e-pub or PDF books from the on-device library to the cloud-based library, regardless of where the digital books came from. The app also makes adjustments to performance so books open more quickly, improves the look and feel of notes, adds lower brightness settings, makes it easier to dismiss book recommendations, and makes it possible to read any book in landscape view. Google Play Books is free to download from the Play Store.
Asus CEO Jerry Shen said that the company is developing a PadFone for a U.S. network operator. Shen made the revelation in an interview with Engadget. To-date, Asus has only made its PadFone products available in Asian markets. The company wants to expand its smartphones to the U.S. and Europe, and is targeting the U.S. first. The PadFone includes a tablet and phone that work together as one, with the phone docking in the tablet. "Once this product is launched [in the US], we will definitely have no problem tackling Europe with the same product, because this U.S. operator is very big," said Shen. The device is set to arrive during the second quarter of 2014, but Shen didn't provide any specifics, such as the name of the network operator.
New York State's attorney general has sent letters to the CEOs of the top five wireless network operators in the U.S. with questions about their failure to adopt anti-theft features in their phones. Law enforcement officials in New York and San Francisco are spearheading an effort to reduce phone-related crimes. Samsung developed a kill switch that would let smartphone owners brick their lost or stolen device remotely. San Francisco's district attorney saw emails between Samsung and the carriers that suggest the carriers didn't want to put kill switches in their phones because they fear it might cut into the profits they make from selling insurance programs. "If carriers are colluding to prevent theft-deterrent features from being preinstalled on devices as means to sell more insurance products, they are doing so at the expense of public safety and putting their customers in danger," said New York's attorney general. He alleges the top carriers all reached the decision to reject the kill switch at about the same time this year and wants to know if they spoke with one another, Asurion (phone insurance provider), or the CTIA Wireless Association about the matter. The CTIA has opposed the idea of kill switches. New York wants each carrier to explain the business rationale behind its decision and submit responses by December 31. According to The New York Times, thefts of the iPhone and iPad alone accounted for 14% of all crime in New York City last year.
Twitter made updates to both its Android and iOS mobile apps available today. The most significant new feature added to Twitter is the ability to send pictures via direct message to other users. Both apps have a refreshed look and feel, and users can access the Home, Activity, and Discover tabs by swiping through their timelines. Users can also choose to view replies, retweets, and favorites from only people they follow, and can choose to receive push notifications from select people. Twitter for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Sprint today said that it will begin offering a new version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 that is compatible with Sprint Spark. Spark is Sprint's tri-band LTE service that offers better performance. Right now, Spark is limited to Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Tampa right now, but will expand to 100 markets over the next year. The new version of the GS4 should become available over the course of the next few weeks. It will cost $199 with a new contract after a $50 mail-in rebate, or $25 per month with Sprint One Up. The existing GS4 that Sprint has been selling since April is not fully compatible with Spark.
Google today made a Play Edition variant of the Sony Z Ultra available for sale in the Play Store. The Z Ultra has all the same specs as the standard version, but like the Play Edition HTC One and Play Edition Samsung Galaxy S4, it runs stock Android 4.4 KitKat. Google is selling the Play Edition Z Ultra for $649. It comes unlocked and is compatible with the LTE networks of both AT&T and T-Mobile.
Canonical has struck its first partnership to provide the Ubuntu Touch operating system to a maker of phones, reports CNET. Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth told CNET that its mobile Linux operating system will appear on high-end smartphones next year, though he didn't name the manufacturing partner. Shuttleworth also said the company is in discussions with other manufacturers. "We are now pretty much at the board level on four household brands. They sell a lot of phones all over the world, in emerging and fully emerged markets, to businesses and consumers," he said. Ubuntu Touch OS is based on Linux and has a number of core apps already developed. Canonical released version 13.10 of the OS and a software developers kits in October. Ubuntu Touch will be competing against other up-and-coming operating systems, such as Firefox OS, Tizen, and Jolla.