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printed May 25, 2016
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AT&T's GoPhone Service Adds More Data to Plans

Yesterday, 4:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today made its GoPhone prepaid service plans more attractive by adding more high-speed data without changing the price points. The $45 plan improves from 2 GB of LTE data each month to 3 GB, and the $60 plan improves from 5 GB to 6 GB. The latter also includes unlimited talk and text from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada, as well as talk, text, and data roaming in the same two countries. The new data allotments will be applied to all accounts automatically. Customers who enroll in auto-pay will receive a $5 service credit each month.

E Ink Reveals Full-Color ePaper Display

Yesterday, 4:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

E Ink today announced Advanced Color ePaper (ACeP), which is a full-color reflective display. E Ink says this is the first time an electrophoretic display can produce color in every pixel without the use of a color filter array. The ACeP includes all eight primary colors using colored pigments in a single layer of fluid; each pixel is capable of displaying all eight colors. The fluid is controlled using voltages that work with traditional TFT backplanes. E Ink says its ACeP maintains the same paper-like readability and low-power features of its monochrome ePaper screens. E Ink has been able to create ACeP screens up to 20 inches with resolutions at 1600 by 2500 pixels. For now, E Ink says the ACeP display technology will target signage and other use cases. The company didn't say if it might create versions of the ACeP for mobile devices, such as cell phones. Powering displays requires a lot of energy, so battery-based mobile devices could benefit from a color ePaper screen.

Toyota and Uber Partner On Ridesharing

Yesterday, 3:48 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Toyota and Uber today announced a partnership that will see the two companies collaborate on several new initiatives. The idea is to establish new services that can benefit Toyota and Uber's shared customers. For example, the companies plan to create new leasing options for car purchasers who can cover their vehicle payments through Uber-generated earnings. The companies are also looking at a car-based application that can assist Uber drivers. Toyota and Uber did not disclose the financial terms of the partnership.

Google's Speech-to-Text App Gains New Powers

Yesterday, 3:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently updated its Text-to-Speech app for Android devices and gave the tool a handful of new features. The app adds support for Bengali, Danish, English, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, and Mandarin. The 14 supported languages each has six voices, three mail and three female. Google says the voices can be processor intensive and are not available to all devices. The app also improves its voice for Indian English. Last, the speech app can read aloud any text that is highlighted on the screen. Google's Speech-to-Text app is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google Maps to Host Ads In the Form of 'Promoted Pins'

Yesterday, 3:27 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it plans to place advertisements in Google Maps on mobile devices. The change is meant to help Google's business customers promote their own businesses to people who search through Google Maps. Google says advertisers can take advantage of location extensions to showcase their locations on maps as promoted pins. Google is experimenting with a variety of ad formats, and will relaunch local business pages so they are more appealing and include special offers and the ability to browse product inventory at any given store. The introduction of advertising will come to both the Android and iOS versions of Maps, but Google didn't say exactly when. The new advertising push is part of Google's attempt top shore up its core business.

Huawei Sues Samsung Over Patents

Yesterday, 1:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Huawei has filed lawsuits against Samsung in the U.S. and China, alleging the smartphone maker is using its patented technology without permission. Specifically, Huawei believes Samsung is infringing on a patent related to LTE wireless technology. "We hope Samsung will stop infringing our patents and get the necessary license from Huawei," said the company in a statement. Samsung did not immediately comment on the matter. This marks the first time a Chinese phone maker has filed a lawsuit against foreign firms; typically, Chinese firms have been the defendants in patent cases. Handset manufacturers often resort to patent lawsuits to force negotiations for royalties.

LG Begins Selling G5 Friends Directly Online

Yesterday, 10:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today made the G5 Friends accessories available for purchase from its web site. Consumers can buy the CAM Plus ($70), 360 CAM ($200), 360 VR goggles ($200), and Tone Platinum headphones ($200) to go with their G5. LG is also selling battery packs and battery charging cradles. The CAM Plus adds a camera grip, dedicated buttons, and extended battery to the G5 via its modular hatch. The 360 CAM captures 360-degree video, while the 360 VR goggles allow people to view virtual reality content.

Twitter to Make Exceptions to Help Expand Tweet Length

Yesterday, 9:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter today said it plans to change how it handles certain characters and content in an effort to make the service somewhat easier to use. Over the next few months, Twitter will drop @names, photos, quoted tweets, and other media attachments from the character count. It's also going to stop requiring a period before usernames when tweeting. This means people will be able to respond to people on Twitter as well as include photos or GIFs and still have 140 characters to write what they want. The restrictions will be removed one at a time so developers will have the opportunity to update their apps accordingly. Twitter hopes the changes will make the service easier to use for newcomers and less frustrating to seasoned veterans.

Pebble Reveals Two New Watches and 3G Connected Button

Yesterday, 9:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pebble today announced the Pebble 2 and Time 2 smartwatches, as well as the Core connected button. The two wearables target fitness users and include heart rate monitors for tracking workouts and monitoring sleep. Pebble recently updated its health tools, and the Pebble 2 and Time 2 are able to take advantage of the upgraded software. Both devices serve notifications, show the owner's schedule, control music, run some 13,000 apps, and perform simple tasks. Each has an e-paper display and is water resistant down to 30 meters. The Pebble 2 can run for seven days and costs $99, while the Time 2 can run for 10 days and costs $169. They work with Android an iOS smartphones. The Core is a 3G-enabled fob that Pebble says acts as a smartphone when on the go. The device has two buttons that can be programmed to do anything, such as start/stop streaming Spotify playlists. The Core has Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS radios, and can act as a relay to the internet for Pebble smartwatches. It can be paired with Bluetooth headsets and accept voice commands, serve as a hotspot, and sync with select fitness apps. The Core costs $99. All three devices are available for pre-order via Kickstarter. The Pebble 2 ships in September, the Time 2 ships in November, and the Core ships in early 2017.

Freetel Kiwami and Priori3 Up for Preorder

Monday, 11:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Freetel Wireless today made the Kiwami and Priori3 handsets available for preorder. The Kiwami is a flagship-class device with a 6-inch quad HD screen and 21-megapixel camera. The device costs $350. The Priori3 is more of an entry-level device with a 4.5-inch screen and 8-megapixel camera. The Priori3 costs $89. Both phones support LTE in the 2, 4, 7, and 17 bands, which means they are partially compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile's 4G networks. Freetel said the devices will ship beginning in June. The Freetel Musashi flip phone will be available later this summer.

AT&T to Revamp Phone Purchasing Options

Monday, 10:38 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said it intends to reduce the number of handset financing options from four down to two. Beginning June 9, AT&T will offer new and existing customers the AT&T Next Every Year plan and the AT&T Next plan. The first will allow customers to upgrade to a new device every year, as long as 50% of the phone is paid off at the time of upgrade. Device payments are broken up over 24 months, but customers trade in the device at 12 months for a new phone. The second option, AT&T Next, lets customers upgrade every two years as long as 80% of the device is paid off at the time of upgrade. Device payments are broken up over 30 months. AT&T said customers can always choose to trade in old phones for credit toward new devices, and may also choose to make a down payment on new phones to help reduce monthly payment amounts. Customers who cancel service will need to make the balance of device payments. Customers with low credit may need to leave a deposit.

Spotify Debuts New $15-Per-Month Family Plan

Monday, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Spotify today reduced the cost of its family plan and made it competitive with offerings from Apple and Google. Moving forward, the Spotify family plan costs $14.99 per month and supports up to six individual users. Each user is able to create and manage their own playlists. The old plan cost $30 per month for five users. Spotify's family plan now costs the same as the family plans sold through Apple Music and Google Music. The Spotify family plan offers on-demand, ad-free, and offline music. Spotify is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

AT&T Resurrects the 'Cingular' Brand for Flip Phone

Monday, 7:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T recently added the Cingular Flip to its lineup of inexpensive feature phones. The phone is made by TeleEpoch and bears the model number M3620, but AT&T named it the Cingular Flip to give it some visibility. The Flip is a basic feature phone with a large keypad, 2.8-inch screen, and 2-megapixel camera with video capture. The phone has user-programmable keys, large text options, and a basic web browser. Other features include Bluetooth 2.1, UMTS 3G, and a single-core MediaTek processor with 64 MB of RAM and 128 MB of storage. The Cingular Flip runs the Nucleas Plus 2.1 operating system and simple apps such as calendar, alarms, address book, and text messaging. The Cingular Flip is available online and in stores for $60.

Google's Project Ara Launch On Target for This Year

Friday, 1:39 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 1:53 PM

Google today said its modular phone, called Project Ara, will reach developers during the fourth quarter of this year. The company delayed the project last summer after running into trouble with the modules. The platform lets people hot-swap various modules, such as cameras, batteries, speakers, and screens. The modules all connect to a central frame. Google also said it plans to release a version of Project Ara for consumers some time in 2017. Google execs said the company will manufacture the Project Ara phones itself.

ZTE Brings Dual-Camera Grand X Max 2 to Cricket

Friday, 1:21 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today announced the Grand X Max 2 for Cricket Wireless, an inexpensive handset that includes two rear cameras. The phone boasts a 6-inch full HD display protected by Gorilla Glass 3. The camera ensemble features 13- and 2-megapixel sensors on the back that ZTE says capture more detailed images. The camera boasts features such as bokeh, panorama, multiexposure, and manual modes. The front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor; both cameras can capture full HD video. The Grand X Max 2 is powered by a 1.5 GHz octa-core Snapdragon processor and ships with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal storage. The phone adopts the USB Type-C connector and the 3,400mAh battery supports Quick Charge 2.0 for rapid charging. Other hardware features include LTE, GPS, memory card support, and standard headphone jack. ZTE loaded Google's Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system on the device, which includes a variety of Google and Cricket apps and services, such as Deezer and Dolby Audio. The ZTE Grand X Max 2 is available at Cricket stores starting today for $199.99.

AT&T Adds More Phones to Extended BOGO Promo

Friday, 10:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today added a handful of new handsets to a buy one, get one free offer the carrier has had in place since February. The extended BOGO promotion now applies to the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, the Microsoft Lumia 950, the HTC One A9, and the Kyocera DuraForce. The other handsets already included in the offer are the Apple iPhone 6s, 6s Plus; Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, S6 Active, and Note 5; and LG G5 and V10. The offer lets new and existing customers buy one phone at full price and receive a second one for free. The two handsets must come from the same manufacturer. AT&T says both phones must be purchased via its AT&T Next installment plan. The first phone can be a new line or an upgrade, but the second phone must be a new line purchased with an AT&T Next 24 plan (req's 30 payments). Both phones must be added to a qualified plan, such as Mobile Share Value, which starts at $70 for two lines. Customers will need to pay sales tax on the two phones at the time of purchase and may need to make several monthly payments on both before AT&T credits up to $650 for the second phone spread out over the 30 months. The offer is available through June 30.

Sprint Rolls Out BOGO Offer for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus

Friday, 9:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today launched a buy one, get one free promotion for Apple's latest iPhones. The offer includes both the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus. Customers must have an eligible upgrade and initiate at least one new line of service in order to qualify for the offer. Sprint said customers may purchase the iPhones on a monthly installment plan, lease the iPhones, or lease one and buy the other. However customers choose to pay for the iPhones, the cost of the second handset will be offset by a service credit applied each month. Sprint is also offering to cut $200 from the price of the latest iPads for customers who buy a new iPhone and iPad together on an installment plan. Sprint didn't say how long the buy one, get one offer will be available. It has offered similar programs for the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5 smartphones.

Hands On with Android Wear 2.0

May 19, 2016, 2:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google released a developer preview of Android Wear 2.0. This new platform, which touts a wholly refreshed user interface, is the biggest update yet for Google smartwatches. Here is a quick look at this early version of Android Wear 2.0 on the Huawei Watch.

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Android Apps Headed to Google's Chromebooks

May 19, 2016, 1:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said its Chrome operating system will soon have access to the Google Play Store and the Android apps therein. ChromeOS will support all Android phone and tablet apps, including games, productivity apps, and social networking. Android apps can run in three different window sizes in ChromeOS and users will be able to move the windows around and multitask as needed. Keyboard, mouse, and touch input will all work together within Android apps, and Android-based notifications will be pushed to Chromebooks as well as phones. Moreover, users will be able share files seamlessly between Chrome and Android devices through a new Files app. Google says developers can add admin-level network support to their Android apps for Chrome so businesses and schools can control options such as Bluetooth and WiFi. Android games should run very well on Chromebooks, according to Google. Google Play for Chrome will be available to developers on the Asus Chromebook Flip, Acer Chromebook R 11, and the Chromebook Pixel with a wider launch expected later this year. Google says it will add support for Android apps to more Chromebooks over time. ChromeOS is Google's light-weight, browser-based operating system that runs on inexpensive laptops.

Google Shows Off YouTube VR App for Daydream

May 19, 2016, 11:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced YouTube VR, a version of YouTube dedicated to virtual reality. It will be among the first apps to support Daydream, Google's new VR platform for Android devices. YouTube says the VR app will support voice search, browsing/discovery, and playlists. Google says all YouTube content — whether captured in 360-degree/3D or not — will be available via YouTube VR. Google is working with content creators and camera makers to ensure that plenty of 360-degree content is available when the app launches. Google expects YouTube VR to arrive with Daydream in the fall. It will only work with Android phones. Google didn't say if YouTube VR will be compatible with other VR headsets, such as Gear VR or Oculus.

Awareness API from Google to Power Contextually Aware Apps

May 19, 2016, 11:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Developers will soon be able to make their apps aware of their surroundings thanks to the new Awareness API. The API can support up to seven different signals at once, including time, location, places, beacons, headphones, activity, and weather, to deliver contextually aware information. Google says the API is able to process signals from these sources intelligently for accuracy and efficiency, and do so without chewing through battery life. "Your app can combine these context signals to make inferences about the user's current situation, and use this information to provide customized experiences. For example, suggesting a playlist when the user plugs in headphones and starts jogging," explained Google. WebOS, developed by Palm, was able to handle some contextually aware situations, such as recognizing when the user's location didn't match their calendar appointments. Developers can sign up for early access to the Awareness API. Google didn't say when the API will be made more widely available, nor how or when it will be added to Android handsets.

Sprint Customers Can Stream Soccer Tourney for Free

May 19, 2016, 11:05 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today said its customers will be able to stream all the 2016 Copa América Centenario soccer matches on their phones of free. The tournament, which is being held in June, will be streamed via the fuboTV app. Sprint is giving its postpaid and Boost/Virgin prepaid customers free access to the fuboTV app for 60 days. After the trial ends (60 days for Sprint, 30 days for Boost/Virgin), customers can continue the subscription for $9.99 per month, or drop the app. In addition to free access to the live matches, Sprint will not count streamed games against customers' data buckets. Sprint is sponsoring the tournament, which is taking place in the U.S. for the first time, and will have an on-site presence at all the games. The sponsorship includes several giveaways and awards that customers can access through the fuboTV app.

Bank of America ATMs to Support Android Pay

May 18, 2016, 7:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Bank of America today said it will add Android Pay support to some 5,000 ATMs around the country. Bank of America customers who have added their BofA debit card to the Android Pay app will be able to tap their NFC-equipped phone to compatible ATMs to withdraw cash and perform other account interactions. The company plans to start with 2,400 ATMs, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, and eventually expand to 5,000. The idea is to allow BofA customers to access their account and cash without their actual debit card. Users will still need to enter their PIN code to earn access to their account. Bank of America tested the technology in Boston, Charlotte, New York, and San Franciso earlier this year.

Google Play to Improve Beta App Discovery

May 18, 2016, 4:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google plans to make it easier for people to find and test beta applications in the Google Play Store. Google said it will begin to surface beta apps within search results in order to improve visibility. Users will be able to opt-in and send feedback to developers more directly. Google said it will begin bundling apps together in theme collections, as well. For example, a collection might feature a home finder app as well as a mortgage finder and real estate agent search tool. Google is also offering developers with more behind-the-scenes tools to assess beta apps and make fixes thanks to diagnostic reports.

Android N Lets Users Edit Quick Settings Panel

May 18, 2016, 3:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Android N will allow people to edit the arrangement of the Quick Settings panel. Phone manufacturers have permitted people to edit the Quick Settings panel for years, but now this feature will be available in the stock version of Android. People will be able to move the settings around however they wish. Moreover, Android N will remember the most-used Quick Settings tools and automatically place them in a separate bar across the top of the Quick Settings panel. Android N, with the improved Quick Settings panel, is expected to arrive later this summer.

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Google Play Services 9.0 Powers Video Capture, Beacons and Gaming

May 18, 2016, 3:14 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today outlined some of the new features in Google Play Services 9.0. Specifically, there are a handful of new APIs that will let developers add more functionality to their apps. For example, the Video Recording API will allow developers to add video recording the their own apps, as well as make those videos easy to share via YouTube or other apps. The updated Nearby API will let apps scan for nearby Bluetooth low energy beacons without additional permissions. This will give beacon owners (and the developers who wrote the apps for them) more leeway to send messages to Android devices as they roam near beacons. Play Services 9.0 makes changes to the Player Stats API, which lets developers gain more insight to gameplay, what actions gamers are likely to pursue, and whether or not they'll spend more money. In a related change, Play Services 9.0 makes improvements to how developers can integrate ads and ad campaigns into their apps. Google didn't say when Play Services will be distributed to end-user devices.

Google to Simplify Android Pay for Developers

May 18, 2016, 3:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it has streamlined the developer tools needed to add Android Pay support to mobile apps and web sites. The company revised the APIs used by developers, who should now be able to enable Android Pay with just a few lines of code. Google hopes easing the process will convince more developers to adopt the burgeoning mobile payment service. Google recently expanded Android Pay to the UK, and plans to reach Australia and Singapore soon. Android Pay will soon add loyalty cards and promotions, as well.

Android Auto to Benefit from Android N Features

May 18, 2016, 2:57 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google offered a few details on what the future holds for Android Auto. The platform will be expanded thanks to Android N. To start, Android Auto will soon be available to Android devices — sans car. The phone-based app will be updated with the same user interface and functionality found on the in-dash experience, allowing people who drive older cars to enjoy the benefits of Android Auto even if their car doesn't support it. Some of the tools included are voice-enabled calling, media payback, messaging, and navigation. Android N brings support for AM/FM radios, HVAC controls, Bluetooth calling/media streaming, multi-channel audio, and digital instrument clusters. Google says more carmakers are selecting Android Auto as the base for their in-car systems. Moreover, Android Auto will soon gain connectivity independent of a phone thanks to Qualcomm's modular Snapdragon 820 Automotive Platform. The Android Auto platform will soon add Waze, hotwording, and support for apps and services directly from carmakers, including Honda and Hyundai.

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Android Instant Apps Let Apps Run Even When Not Installed

May 18, 2016, 1:49 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated May 18, 2016, 2:02 PM

Google today showed off what it calls Android Instant Apps. The idea here is to allow people to access content that's buried within apps that are not installed on their phone. For example, when people send a link to content that's contained within an app, the recipient will be able to click the link and view the content. Instant Apps will install only the bits of the app needed to run the requested content. Android Instant Apps are technically based on deep linking, explained Google, but still allow for most of the app's features to work even when the app is not on the phone. Google sees this as a way to convince more people to access or use content they might otherwise ignore because they don't have or use the specific app in question. Developers will need to configure their apps to perform instantly using Android Studio.

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HTC Says Android N to Reach Most Recent Phones

May 18, 2016, 1:44 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC today said some of its phones will be updated to Android N. The devices include the HTC 10, One A9, and the One M9. These are HTC's more powerful, high-end handsets. HTC didn't say when the update might be pushed out.

Android Wear 2.0 Adds Standalone App Support

May 18, 2016, 1:27 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated May 18, 2016, 1:31 PM

Google today provided a preview of Android Wear 2.0, which it says was developed with end users in mind. Watch faces, for example, will be able to show data from other apps, such as fitness info. This leads to greater personal customization of watch faces. Messaging sees updates, too, thanks to better handwriting recognition, voice controls, and keyboards. Android Wear 2.0 will also enjoy expanded fitness tools, such as automatic activity recognition and easier music streaming. The platform brings with it support for standalone apps that don't require a nearby cellphone to function. Developers can download a preview of Android Wear 2.0 today, but the public release isn't expected until the fall.

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'Daydream' to Serve as VR Platform for Android

May 18, 2016, 1:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced Daydream, a brand new platform for expanding virtual reality to more devices. The Daydream spec will be defined so hardware makers can make sure they create compatible phones. Android N will be able to tell if phones are Daydream ready based on the sensors, display, and processor within. Android N brings improvements to performance VR thanks to low latency (20ms) and the simplified system user interface. At the same time, Google created a blueprint for Daydream-compatible headsets. It will share the headset / controller blueprints with device makers. Google believes a secondary controller (like a small remote) will help the Daydream VR experience. Google expects Daydream-ready devices, including phones from Samsung, Alcatel, and Asus, to reach the market by fall.

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Google Talks Up Android N Performance and Security

May 18, 2016, 1:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated May 18, 2016, 1:12 PM

Google today provided an update to Android N at its I/O developer conference. The next-generation mobile operating system includes support for Vulkan to improve graphics performance for games, but it also improves the Android runtime to speed up daily use. For example, apps should install 75% faster while requiring 50% less code. On the security front, N introduces file-based encryption to better isolate and protect individual users. It also hardened the media framework to prevent attacks. Last, Android N offers seamless security updates that happen automatically in the background with no user action required. As for productivity, Google make improvements to the multitasking function. Moving forward, Android N will show only the most recent seven apps. Moreover, Android N moves the "clear all" tool to the top of the screen to prevent accidental closings. Android N uses two multi-window tools, one called multi-screen (two windows used side-by-side) and picture-in-picture to let video play while users perform other tasks. Google imagines the PIP feature will be used most on Android TV. Android N overhauls notifications, providing direct control over silencing certain types of notifications. The new platform adds Unicode 9.0 for an expanded set of emoji, including skin-tone variations. Last, Android N bakes in more direct support for virtual reality. Google is asking the public to help name Android N, and has set up a web site to take suggestions. Android N is available in beta form beginning today and should reach final release status later this summer.

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Duo is Google's New Video Chat App

May 18, 2016, 12:51 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated May 18, 2016, 1:05 PM

Google today showed off a video calling app called Duo. The app is a companion to the Allo messaging app. It includes a feature called Knock Knock, which lets people see the caller — and the caller's situation --before answering. The app supports the same end-to-end encryption found in Allo. It relies on WebRTC to power instant video and improve video call quality. It can seamlessly switch between WiFi and cellular depending on network quality. The UI fades away so people can focus on the video conversation, rather than the controls. Duo will be available later this summer.

Google Debuts 'Allo' Messaging App

May 18, 2016, 12:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated May 18, 2016, 1:05 PM

Google today announced Allo, a messaging application that expands the ability for expression by tapping into the new Google Assistant, all while keeping conversations secure. The app supports emoji and stickers, and a tool called "whisper shout" that lets people shrink or expand the size of text to convey volume or impact. Allo supports drawing tools, for marking up or annotating photos. It uses machine learning to guess or suggest responses that could be appropriate for the conversation — all without requiring users to type. For example, Allo was able to automatically suggest that a photo of a dog was cute. This feature is called Smart Reply. The app includes search tools similar to the GBoard keyboard app that Google recently made available to the iPhone. The app permits people to converse directly with the Google Assistant to, in effect, perform searches, such as sports scores and headlines. As for privacy and security, Google created an incognito mode for Allo that are encrypted end-to-end. It offers private notifications and expiring chats, and when incognito conversation threads are deleted they are gone forever. Allo will be the first home for the new Google Assistant. Allo will be available later this summer.

Google Announces the Google Assistant

May 18, 2016, 12:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated May 18, 2016, 12:29 PM

Google today announced the Google Assistant, a conversational assistant with two-way dialog capabilities meant to help people search and find answers. The Assistant takes what Google Now can already do to a new level. Google says it already handles vast amounts of voice search every day. The product, meant to compete more directly with Siri, Cortana, and Alexa, was announced on stage during the Google I/O developer conference. Google Assistant can answer questions about movie play times and eventually buy tickets through the conversation. "We like to think of Google Assistant as an ambient experience that extends across devices," said Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Google said the Google Assistant will eventually baked into devices for the home, such as Chromecast. The company is creating a specific product called Google Home that resembles its On-Hub wireless routers. Google Home is similar to Amazon's Alexa. It has a built-in speaker and supports Google Cast technology so it can accept music from other nearby devices. Home can be used to manage everyday tasks, such as alarms and timers. It will also connect with internet-of-things hardware to control lights, environmental settings, and entryways. Google Home will be available later this year. Google didn't say how much it might cost.

Samsung Pay Adds Support for Loyalty Cards

May 18, 2016, 10:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today updated its Samsung Pay service in the U.S. to include merchant membership and loyalty cards. Samsung says Pay users can easily add loyalty cards to the app and use them during checkout to redeem rewards or discounts. Stored cards can be called up and scanned at the point of payment. The app can now also store personal identification and insurance cards for safe keeping. Samsung Pay is free to download from Samsung, though it is limited to high-end phones such as the Galaxy S6, S7, and Edge.

Nokia-Branded Phones to Make a Comeback

May 18, 2016, 9:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia and Microsoft today put in motion a series of deals that will eventually lead to Nokia-branded handsets returning to the market. Microsoft has agreed to sell its feature phone business to FIH Mobile Limited, a subsidiary of Foxconn, for about $350 million. The deal will include the transfer of select assets, such as manufacturing facilities and about 4,500 employees. At the same time, Nokia has agree to license its brand to Finland-based HMD global Oy, which has partnered with FIH Mobile to make smartphones and tablets. HMD expects to spend $500 million over the next few years to increase its ability to make and market mobile devices. Nokia said in addition to branding rights, it will supply HMD with cellular standard essential patent licenses in return for loyalty payments. Nokia itself will not invest in HMD. FIH Mobile's parent company, Foxconn, manufacturers the iPhone for Apple.

T-Mobile Adds to List of Supported Binge-On Video Services

May 17, 2016, 10:50 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today increased the number of video apps that are available through its Binge-On streaming video program. The new services include Google Play Music (music videos), Great Big Story, NBC, Ligonier Ministries, Noggin, Qello Concerts, Radio Disney (music videos), Univision, Univision Noticias, Spotify (music videos), Tidal (music videos), and Toon Goggles. T-Mobile customers can stream an unlimited amount of video content from these and other providers without impacting their monthly data bucket. Binge-On video quality is capped at 480p. The company claims its customers have streamed some 377 million hours of video since Binge-On launched in December.

CurrentC, an Apple Pay Competitor, Is Delayed

May 17, 2016, 9:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated May 17, 2016, 2:23 PM

MCX, the consortium of retailers including Walmart and Target, has postponed the national rollout of its mobile payment service, called CurrentC. MCX tested CurrentC in several markets and has decided to step back from the roll out for the time being. "Utilizing unique feedback from the marketplace and our Columbus pilot, MCX has made a decision to concentrate more heavily in the immediate term on other aspects of our business including working with financial institutions, like our partnership with Chase, to enable and scale mobile payment solutions," said CEO Brian Mooney in a statement provided to TechCrunch. The company plans to lay off some staff in the meantime. Walmart, Target, and other retailers have shied away from Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay as they worked to develop CurrentC. It's not clear if any of these retailers will adopt competing mobile payment services to fill the gap.

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