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."
Google today added a feature to the desktop browser-based version of Gmail that simplifies the process of sharing photos stored on Android smartphones. The new Insert Photo button is able to tap into images that have been automatically uploaded and/or backed up to Google+. The photos are listed in reverse chronological order, beginning with the most recent shot. Google believes this will make it even easier to share photos taken with smartphones. In order for the feature to work, users have to use the automatic backup tool that's part of Google+ Photos on their phone. The tool also makes it possible to share entire albums, and even crop or resize images before sending. Once enabled, Gmail users on the web will be able to share their smartphone photos from their computer.
Jason Mackenzie, president of HTC America, today said via his official Twitter account that the company will update the One (M7) smartphone to Sense 6.0 by May. Sense 6.0 is what shipped with the this year's One (M8). It includes an updated version of Blinkfeed, new camera software, and other features.
Verizon Wireless has added two refreshed LG handsets to its lineup of inexpensive phones. The LG Optimus Zone 2 and Extravert 2 are both sequels that improve specs and features. They are limited to Verizon's 3G network, as neither supports LTE 4G.
- Zone 2: This entry-level smartphone (pictured) runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat and includes a 3.5-inch screen with 480 x 320 pixels, 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 3-megapixel camera, 1,700mAh battery, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth 4.0. Some of LG's software and apps are aboard, including QuickMemo and Guest Mode. The full retail price is $200, but Verizon is offering the device for just $50.
- Extravert 2: This updated feature phone is a sideways slider that includes a touch screen on the front and a full QWERTY keyboard underneath. It has a 3.2-inch display with 400 x 240 pixels and LG's touch-based user interface for feature phones. Other features include a 2-megapixel camera with video capture, Bluetooth 3.0, media apps, Verizon content, and the Opera Mini web browser. The Extravert 2 costs $200 with no contract, $80 with a two-year agreement, or $8.33 per month with Verizon Edge.
Verizon Wireless today said it will allow more customers to switch to its More Everything plans. Beginning April 17, customers who have month-to-month service can switch to a More Everything plan in order to take advantage of the monthly service savings. According to Verizon, phones moved to More Everything plans with less than 8GB of data will save $10 per month, while those moved to More Everything plans with 10GB (and up) will save $25 per month. Further, Verizon will also allow customers to add a compatible phone they already own to More Everything plans for either $15 or $30 per month, depending on options. Verizon says four smartphones with 10GB of data will run $160 per month - the same as AT&T. The ability to switch to More Everything plans is a limited-time promotion, but Verizon didn't say when the promotion will end.
T-Mobile today announced that it will abolish the practice of charging overage fees beginning in May. The change will apply to all T-Mobile customers, no matter what plan they subscribe to. Overage fees are generally charged when a customer surpasses their monthly limit for voice minutes, messaging, or data use. Further, T-Mobile CEO John Legere challenged AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon to do the same thing. "Charging overage fees is a greedy, predatory practice that needs to go," said Legere. "Today I'm laying down a challenge to AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint to join T-Mobile in ending these outrageous overage penalties for all consumers – because it's the right thing to do." Legere kicked off a Change.org petition and is asking consumers to sign it in order to force change at T-Mobile's competitors.
Microsoft today made available a preview version of Windows Phone 8.1. The operating system is in its penultimate form and available to developers for testing purposes ahead of the general release. Members of Microsoft's developer community may download the preview for free. It includes all the features that are part of the revised operating system, including Cortana, the personal assistant, new Start screen, and Action Center. Microsoft warns that the update may void device warranties. Carrier and manufacturer software updates are not included in the developer preview. Microsoft expects to release Windows Phone 8.1 to the general public over the summer.
Isis recently issued an update to its Android mobile wallet application and added several new features. Isis now works better with location data and can help the owner find offers and stores near them that accept Isis. The app also works more closely with the credit card issuer, which can notify users of special offers available only to them. The app has a new icon, as well. Isis Mobile Wallet is free to download from the Google Play Store, but requires a major credit card from select issuers to use for tap-and-go payments at participating retailers. Isis is a joint venture backed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless.
PayPal today made a new version of its mobile app available explicitly for the Samsung Galaxy S5. The app, first announced in February, lets GS5 owners make payments across the web by swiping their finger on the GS5's fingerprint sensor. PayPal says the feature can be used with most online merchants and mobile apps that accept PayPal, in addition to select retail stores. Further, PayPal launched a separate app for Samsung's Gear 2 and Gear Fit smartwatches. The watch-based app lets people save and redeem offers, check their balance, receive payment notifications, and check-in at local stores. Both the smartphone and smartwatch apps are free to download.
AU Optronics recently unveiled a high-resolution screen for smartphones. The AMOLED panel measures 5.7 inches across the diagonal and has QHD (2560 x 1440 pixels) resolution. AU says the panel has a pixel density of 513 pixels per inch. To put that in perspective, Apple's iPhone 5s has 326 pixels per inch and the Samsung Galaxy S4 has 441 pixels per inch. The new screen makes use of in-cell touch technology, which helped AU Optronics keep the thickness at 0.57mm. The drivers for the panel allow for up to 10 points of touch input. AU Optronics didn't say when the panel would reach mass production for devices. The company also revealed a high-contrast 1.6-inch AMOLED for wearable devices. AU Optronics claims both screens are power efficient.
Sprint today revealed a new handset meant for children called WeGo, which is paired with location tracking and parental controls for Mom and Dad's peace of mind. The WeGo has a simple LCD screen, a single button on the front, and volume buttons on the side that double as scrolling tools for the user interface. The device is rugged and water resistant. Using the online portal, parents have full control over the device and its use. The service plan for WeGo costs $10 per month and it includes 1,000 voice minutes and 1,000 text messages. The WeGo can store up to 20 contacts and parents can determine when those contacts can call or message the WeGo, as well as when the child can make outgoing calls or send one of several pre-determined text messages to those contacts. The WeGo service offers notifications that can be sent to parents if the phone has low battery, is powered down, if the panic button is activated, or if the device exceeds a certain speed. Parents are able to pinpoint the WeGo on a map and track its location at scheduled intervals or continuously. The phone offers easy access to 911 emergency services and a loud alarm that sounds when the ripcord is pulled. WeGo costs $120 with a contract or $5 per month via installment plan. It cannot be added to Framily plans and must be paired with at least one regular line/account. It is available starting today.
Samsung indicated via its web site that developers will soon be able to buy a developer edition of the Galaxy S5. The device will be compatible with Verizon's network. Samsung didn't say how much the developer edition will cost, nor what special tools might be included, nor exactly when it will go on sale. The standard edition Galaxy S5 launches at most carriers today.
The USB Implementer's Forum recently released the first images of the new Type-C reversible USB connector that is planned to replace micro-USB. While similar in size to a current micro-USB connector, the new plug can be inserted either way, much like Apple's Lightning connector. The new connector will also support faster data transfer - up to 10 Gbps - in the form of SuperSpeed USB 3.1. It also provides increased power for charging using extended 5-volt current ranges and up to 100 watts with USB Power Delivery standard. The standard is expected to be finalized by July and should appear in devices by the end of 2014.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today approved Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp. The FTC said, however, that it will hold both companies to a 2012 agreement Facebook made with the FTC. Together, Facebook and WhatsApp will have to notify consumers and obtain their consent before collecting private information beyond what they allow through the services' current privacy settings. If WhatsApp doesn't follow this proposal, the FTC could find both companies in violation of the law. WhatsApp is a third-party messaging service that allows mobile device users to communicate without using SMS - or text - messages. Instead, WhatsApp passes messages through the phone's data connection. Facebook already offers its own, separate messaging service for mobile devices called Facebook Messages.
Google today said it is taking a new measure to protect Android devices and their owners against bad apps. Google already uses a program called Verify Apps to scan them before they are installed on handsets. Beginning today, Google will continually scan devices to make sure all apps are behaving in a safe manner, even after they've been installed. Google said most people will never see a warning or any other indication that this additional layer of protection exists; however, Google noted that it expects warnings to show up on some phones here and there. Owners of Android-based devices do not need to take any steps to receive this protection from Google.
Samsung's Download Booster, a feature of the Galaxy S5 meant to improve file download speeds, has been removed from the device by AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless. The companies did not provide a reason for cutting the app. T-Mobile will be the only major U.S. carrier to support the feature. Download Booster splits file downloads between Wi-Fi and LTE in order to create faster speeds. AnandTech reports that Download Booster only works with files from apps such as the Google Play Store, YouTube, Facebook, and the browser that are larger than 30MB. Download Booster's usefulness will vary depending on local network connections.
T-Mobile today announced the second of three new initiatives meant to help lure in customers. The company is targeting tablet customers with its latest offer, which will give current voice subscribers a total of 1.2GB of free tablet data until the end of the year. T-Mobile already offers 200MB to all tablets for free and is adding 1GB to that pot. Second, T-Mobile is selling LTE-equipped tablets at the same price as their Wi-Fi-only counterparts. That means a 16GB Apple iPad Air with LTE will cost $499 instead of $629 when purchased through T-Mobile. T-Mobile is carrying over its Contract Freedom initiative to tablets, as well, and will pay the ETF for customers who break their tablet contract and switch to T-Mobile. Last, T-Mobile is offering tablets for $0 down with corresponding monthly payments for those who prefer to finance their hardware.
HTC said the One (M8) should be available in carrier retail stores (AT&T, Sprint, etc.) around the country beginning today. It was previously only at Verizon stores.
Real Networks today announced a new service it hopes will help revive the market for ringback tones. Listen is an Android application that lets users replace the ring tone their callers hear with either music or status updates. Listen allows users to choose different tracks/messages for everyone in their contact list. Listen offers auto-set functionality for holidays or special occasions, and includes the latest music selections. Real Networks goes so far as to call Listen a productivity took, suggesting it be used by the subscriber to explain to callers why they can't answer the phone and even offer times when it would be good to call back. At launch, Listen is only available to T-Mobile subscribers.
Google Play Music for Android devices can now cast to Sonos devices. This means users of Google's music service can connect to their Sonos music system and play tracks from their Google Music library through Sonos without using the dedicated Sonos app. Further, Sonos is adding support for Play Music to its own app. Either way, Sonos says users can blend their Play Music and Sonos libraries and control them from anywhere in their house through the new apps. Google Play Music lets users store up to 20,000 songs in an online library, as well as stream more than 22 million tracks.
BlackBerry CEO John S. Chen today clarified comments he made about dropping the company's smartphone business. Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, Chen said, "If I cannot make money on handsets, I will not be in the handset business." Chen insists this comment was taken out of context and that the resulting story, which suggested BlackBerry might soon sell its handset unit, is not accurate. "I want to assure you that I have no intention of selling off or abandoning this business any time soon. I know you still love your BlackBerry devices. I love them too and I know they created the foundation of this company. Our focus today is on finding a way to make this business profitable," said Chen in a post to the company's blog today. "We will do everything in our power to continue to rebuild this business and deliver devices with the iconic keyboard and other features that you have come to expect from this brand. Rest assured, we continue to fight. We have not given up and we are not leaving the Devices business." Sales of BlackBerry handsets have plunged in recent years amidst stiff competition. In the last several quarters older BlackBerry 7 devices have outsold newer BlackBerry 10 devices. BlackBerry has already inked a deal with Foxconn to design and manufacture low-cost smartphones.
Facebook today confirmed plans to remove Facebook Messenger functionality from within the Android and iOS mobile apps for smartphones. Facebook hopes users will instead use its stand-alone, dedicated Facebook Messenger application. Messaging will remain within the Windows Phone Facebook app, and tablet versions of the Facebook app. Further, Facebook told The Verge that low-end smartphones with memory constraints may still be able to run Facebook with Messaging intact. Facebook said this change will happen across all countries in the near future, but didn't spell out exactly when. Facebook believes the stand-alone app provides a better messaging experience.
Sprint today said a small software update being pushed to the tri-band Sprint Spark-compatible variant of the Galaxy S4 adds Wi-Fi calling. Wi-Fi calling is a free service and includes voice calls and messaging when connected to Wi-Fi networks. The Spark GS4 is the fourth handset to earn its Wi-Fi calling wings from Sprint. Sprint says it will add Wi-Fi calling to other devices in the coming months.
Dropbox today revealed a number of new mobile products at an event in San Francisco. First, the company announced that its Mailbox application for iOS devices will be available to Android devices beginning later today. Mailbox, which integrates Dropbox online storage, is being offered to desktop machines, too. Further, the company introduced a new photo-organizing service and app called Carousel. The application automatically uploads, stores, and organizes photos based on time/location to make for easier sharing. Albums can be viewed on mobile devices, but the files are all stored on Dropbox's servers. Carousel supports private messages and makes it possible to share entire albums as well as save photos that others have shared. Carousel is available for Android and iOS starting today.
Motorola today named Rick Osterloh as the company's President and COO. He replaces former CEO Dennis Woodside, who left the company after Google announced plans to sell Motorola to Lenovo. Osterloh will run Motorola's day-to-day operations until the sale with Lenovo closes. It's unclear what Osterloh's role will be after Lenovo acquires Motorola's phone business. Osterloh reports directly to Google's board of directors.
T-Mobile today introduced a new low-cost plan for customers who don't need international messaging nor large buckets of data. The Simple Starter plan will be available beginning April 12 and it includes unlimited voice minutes, unlimited domestic messaging, and 500MB of LTE data (with tethering) for $40 per month. The plan is capped at 500MB. Customers who surpass 500MB in a 30-day billing cycle will see their data service suspended for the remainder of the cycle. However, T-Mobile will warn customers once they reach 450MB and offer them the option to buy a 500MB daily pass for $5 or a 1GB weekly pass for $10. According to T-Mobile, the company will still cover the ETFs of customers who switch to this new plan. The company is also offering its Jump device upgrade plan to Simple Starter subscribers. The promotional plan will be available for a limited time, though T-Mobile didn't say for how long.
AT&T and Transit Wireless today announced plans to expand their current project, which is bringing wireless service to New York City's subway stations. Transit and its partners have already lit up service at 30 stations, mostly in midtown Manhattan, with several sprinkled throughout the Chelsea neighborhood, as well. Transit is already working on Phase Two of its project, which will add cell service to 29 underground stations in the borough of Queens and 11 more in Manhattan by the end of summer. AT&T and Transit said they will eventually offer service in an additional 242 stations around the city, though they didn't provide a timeframe for the expansion or details on exactly which stations. Transit also partners with Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, but they haven't yet announced plans to offer expanded coverage.
Sony today announced the availability of its Lifelog application, which runs on its Android smartphones and interacts with Sony's wearable devices, such as the SmartBand. Together, Lifelog and the SmartBand can track the wearer's daily activity and over time be used to spot trends and patterns to behavior and sleep. Lifelog and the SmartBand are optimized for the Xperia Z2, which has yet to launch in the U.S., but they also work with the Xperia Z Ultra, Xperia Z1, and Xperia Z1 Compact handsets from Sony. Sony said though the initial feature list of the app is rather short, it will be updating Lifelog over the next few weeks with more functionality.
Kyocera announced the Verve today, which will be sold by both Sprint and Boost Mobile. The Verve is a feature phone that has a traditional number pad on the front and slides sideways to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard underneath. Some of the hardware features include a 2.4-inch display, 2-megapixel camera, Bluetooth 2.1, speakerphone, and a stereo headset jack. The feature phone operating system is ideal for heavy texters, according to Sprint. The phone is limited to CDMA 1X-Advanced and does not support LTE. Sprint is offering the Kyocera Verve for $0 down and 24 monthly payments of $5.42. Sprint's Framily plans start at $55 per month for the Verve. The Sprint model can be ordered online and via telesales beginning April 11. Boost Mobile will sell the Verve for $50 and offers no-contract plans starting at $50 per month. It will reach Boost stores May 6. Sprint said that the Verve will also be sold by Virgin Mobile's payLo brand, beginning May 13, as the Kyocera Contact. It will cost $40 from payLo.
Twitter today said users will soon have access to a redesigned Twitter experience on the web. Twitter announced the redesign earlier this year, but is just now rolling it out. The redesign highlights Best Tweets, which are those that have seen a lot of activity, and allows users to pin their favorite tweet to the top of their profile. The redesign also includes filtered viewing, which can be used to show all tweets, tweets with photos, tweets with replies, and so on. Only a few users will see the change today, as Twitter said it is rolling out the redesign slowly.
Nokia today said it has received approval from the People's Republic of China to sell its handset business to Microsoft. The deal, first announced last September, has already been approved by the European Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and other regulatory bodies. Nokia competitors Samsung and Google had asked Chinese regulators to ensure the deal wouldn't lead to higher licensing fees, but the regulators did not place any restrictions on the transaction. Nokia and Microsoft expect the sale to close this month.
Sprint has indicated via filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it will cease operating its WiMax network by the close of 2015. The company had previously committed to running its first-generation 4G network through 2015 and it is making good on that promise. At one time Sprint's WiMax network had about 17,000 sites operating. It has already repurposed about 5,000 sites for TD-LTE and plans to repurpose another 5,000 - all for its tri-band LTE Sprint Spark service. Sprint has launched Spark in about 20 markets and plans to reach 100 by the end of 2016.
Boost Mobile today said a new promotion will allow customers of its Boost Mobile Wallet service to save money thanks to reduced fees. Between now and September 30, customers can send money to others for $0 in fees. The service is also offering free check loads with instant access to funds during the same period. Boost Mobile Wallet does not require account activations, does not charge monthly account maintenance fees, and does not charge overdraft fees. The service is meant to help make it easier for customers to perform select banking functions as well as send cash to others.
U.S. Cellular today announced several new initiatives it hopes will lure potential customers to the smaller operator. First, it is offering three new service plans. Customers can choose plans that cost $40, $50, or $60 per month. The first plan is for feature phones and includes unlimited voice and messaging, as well as an unspecified amount of simple web browsing. The second and third plans are for smartphones. The $50 option includes 500MB of data before throttling and the $60 option includes 2GB before throttling. U.S. Cellular added a device installment plan, too. Customers can choose to pay full price for their phone or break the device payments up over time. U.S. Cellular is not offering early upgrades, however. Last, U.S. Cellular will, for a temporary time, compensate new customers up to $350 if they switch from another carrier and join its Shared Connect plan with a device installment payment. U.S. Cellular's changes mirror those made by other companies in recent weeks, including Sprint and T-Mobile.
Cover today announced that it has been acquired by Twitter. Cover released a lock screen replacement app last year for Android devices. Cover believes in helping users get more out of their smartphones through contextual awareness and its app provided dynamic content that changed depending on the user's whereabouts, schedule, and so on. Cover said though it is joining Twitter, the Cover Android app will continue to be available from the Google Play Store. Details of the transaction were not provided.
Cincinnati Bell today announced that it has agreed to sell its spectrum licenses to Verizon Wireless for a total of $210 million. Verizon will pay Cincinnati Bell $194 million in cash and provide an additional $16 million to cover select Cincinnati Bell debts. Once the transaction is complete, Cincinnati Bell will lease its former assets for a period of 8 to 12 month as it winds down operations and assists in transitioning customers to Verizon Wireless or other providers. Cincinnati Bell operates a GSM-based network in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio region. The transition period is necessary because its GSM/WCDMA technology isn't compatible with Verizon's CDMA/LTE technology. Cincinnati Bell will continue to operate its wireline telephone and television businesses. The deal is subject to regulatory approval and other considerations.
Nokia today announced a new app called Pocket Magnifier. The application uses the camera on Nokia Lumia smartphones to enlarge small and difficult-to-read text on real-world items such as pill bottles, timetables, magazines, and so on. Pocket Magnifier lets people pinch-to-zoom in order to make the text larger, as well as adjust the background and font colors to ease readability. The app can also make use of the camera's flash to provide lighting in environments where it is too dark to read. Nokia Pocket Magnifier is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
C Spire Wireless recently revealed that it will begin selling the Samsung Galaxy S5 as soon as May. The company didn't share pricing details, however. The GS5 reaches most major carriers this month.
Qualcomm today announced two additions to its family of Snapdragon processors. The 810 and 808 are the company's premiere chips and incorporate three key technologies: 64-bit processing, LTE-advanced networks, and carrier aggregation up to 60MHz. Both use 20nm processing, include LTE Category 6, and can support 3 x 20MHz carrier aggregation. Qualcomm says these technologies together allow the 810 and 808 to support theoretical download speeds of up to 300Mbps. The 810 uses two quad-core arrays with a bank of ARM Cortex A57s and a bank of A53s. It includes the new Adreno 430 GPU and supports 4K video capture and image sensors up to 55-megapixels. The 808 uses a dual-A57 and quad-A53 processor configuration. It supports 2K displays and includes an Adreno 418 GPU. Qualcomm expects the 810 and 808 to sample during the second half of 2014 and reach consumer devices during the first half of 2015.
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