Following Thursday's vote, the Federal Communications Commission today initiated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would permit airlines to install equipment on aircraft that could safely expand the availability of in-flight mobile wireless services to passengers. "We propose to revise outdated rules and adopt consistent new rules governing mobile communications services aboard airborne aircraft," said the FCC. "These rule changes would give airlines, subject to applicable Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation rules, the choice of whether to enable mobile communications services using an Airborne Access System and, if so, which specific services to enable." The FCC believes that, if adopted, the new rules will be easier for everyone to understand when and where they can and cannot make cellular voice calls on aircraft, as well as provide the necessary protections for passenger safety. The FCC is also exploring the idea of allowing passengers to access mobile data through their existing wireless provider when airborne, but again, that would be up to individual airlines to decide. "While many airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi broadband services, the proposals in this Notice would give airlines the option to allow consumers to access broadband services when airborne through their existing wireless service providers, just as they would on the ground," explained the FCC. The FCC is accepting comments on the proposal.
Isis today announced that holders of Wells Fargo Visa cards will soon be able to use their cards with Isis' mobile payment service. Wells Fargo joins American Express and Chase as supporters of the Isis program, which is the mobile payment venture backed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Consumers with Isis-compatible devices can make contactless payments at 1.3 million retail locations around the country, including those operated by 24 of the top 100 merchants. The system uses a pin code for payments, and Isis says that customer banking data is safe. The service can be disabled if the device is lost or stolen. Isis also requires a special, secure SIM card that must be purchased from AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless.
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Samsung has reshuffled its internal structure and decided to add its wireless business division to its digital imaging division. The move is meant to help improve both the imaging capabilities of the company's smartphones, as well as improve the wireless powers of its digital cameras. "We will integrate the technical know-how of the two business divisions into competency for differentiating our smartphones," said the company. The change went into effect December 12. Cameras have become a key feature of today's leading smartphones. Companies such as Apple, HTC, and Nokia have worked hard to improve the performance of their smartphone cameras and Samsung believes this reorganization will help it to compete better.
Pebble has released PebbleOS v1.14, a firmware update for its smartwatch that adds several new features and fixes bugs. Pebble now lets users block notifications for a set period of time, such as at night, and lets users set multiple alarms, toggle alarms on/off, and edit alarms more easily. The alarm adds a snooze feature, as well. The firmware update gives users more control over notifications, such as which are displayed, and the notification menu system has been streamlined so it is easier to use. The update also makes improvements to the performance of the watch with iOS devices, to which it will send notifications faster. Pebble owners can update their smartwatch via either the Android or iOS Pebble applications.
Motorola has provided an update to its camera application for Android devices. The camera app, which is the one that comes on the Moto X, for example, now lets users control focus and exposure manually by dragging the focus ring around the viewfinder. The app now locks exposure during panorama capture and adds more languages. The update also fixes several bugs. The Motorola camera application is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Qualcomm today announced that it has promoted Steve Mollenkopf to Chief Executive Officer-elect and added him to the company's board of directors. He will serve as CEO-elect until March 4, 2014, when Qualcomm's current CEO Paul Jacobs will step aside and Mollenkopf will be given full control of the company. Jacobs will remain on the board as executive chairman. Jacobs has been Qualcomm's CEO for nine years.
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.
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.