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printed February 14, 2016
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Google to Sit Out Incentive Auction

Friday, 3:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google will not participate in next month's spectrum auction, says the company. The deadline to file applications for the auction passed on February 10. "Like all those interested in improved connectivity and equitable access, we'll be following the upcoming spectrum auction closely. That said, we have not filed to participate," explained a spokesperson in a statement provided to Reuters. Carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have all indicated an interest in the auction, although Sprint will not participate. The reverse auction will see television broadcasters sell their 600 MHz airwaves to wireless network operators. Google did participate in the 700 MHz auction several years ago.

Google to Shutter Picasa In Favor of Google Photos

Friday, 1:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it plans to retire Picasa, which has long served as its online photo management service, in favor of the newer Google Photos product. Google hopes to accomplish the transition over the next few months and said it is taking pains to ensure users' photos and memories are preserved. Picasa users will be able to access, manage, and add to their existing Picasa web albums via Google Photos immediately. Google says people who are not interested in using Google Photos can still access their Picasa web albums, but will no longer be able to add to or manage them, aside from downloading the image library. The Picasa desktop app will continue to function, but Google says it will not be updated after March 15. Picasa and Google Photos users can instead make use of the Photos uploader tool for adding images to their online library. Google stresses that these changes are not happening immediately. The general transition away from Picasa will begin May 1, giving users plenty of time to download, move, or otherwise manage their Picasa web albums.

ENCRYPT Act Aims to Stop States from Banning Encryption

Friday, 11:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Lawmakers in California and New York want to ban the sale of encrypted mobile devices, but two members of Congress are fighting back. Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Blake Farenthold of Texas introduced the ENCRYPT Act this week, a federal law that would prevent states or other local governments from mandating weak handset security. Law enforcement officials want the ability to break into the phones of suspects. Devices running Android and iOS are encrypted by default, and Apple and Google refuse to decrypt them. The ENCRYPT Act is a response to bills introduced in California and New York. "Different rules in different states create a myriad of issues and will actually make it more difficult for law enforcement officials," said Rep. Farenthold. "We need a unified approach to this issue that both protects security and privacy while enabling law enforcement to keep us safe. The California and New York proposals do not solve the problem." Farenthold said backdoors could be exploited by hackers, thereby rendering the very idea of encrypting devices useless. Farenthold and Lieu hope their act will ensure the conversation regarding encryption is handled at the federal level.

Sprint and Alcatel Debut Ride-Fi for In-Car Hotspot

Friday, 10:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint and Alcatel today made the Ride-Fi available for purchase. This mobile hotspot, first announced last month, was made specifically for cars and plugs into vehicles' DC power port for in-car connectivity. It can get power from USB-2 ports, as well. The Ride-Fi supports up to eight devices through Sprint's LTE 4G network. The device costs $168, but can be purchased via installment plan for $7 per month, or with a contract at no charge.

AT&T Rolls Out Smartphone BOGO Offer

Friday, 9:02 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 9:17 AM

AT&T is allowing new and existing customers to buy one phone at full price and receive a second one for free. The two handsets must come from the same manufacturer. Qualifying devices include: Apple iPhone 6, 6s Plus; Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, S6 Active, and Note 5; and LG G4 and V10. 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 month AT&T Next 24 plan. Subscribers who leave AT&T before they've made the 30 payments will need to pay for the remaining balance of the phone. The iPhone BOGO deal is running for a limited time, but AT&T didn't provide an end date.

Immersion Hits Apple with 3D Touch Lawsuit

Friday, 8:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Immersion has filed multiple lawsuits against Apple and AT&T, claiming the two violate its haptic feedback patents. Specifically, Immersion believes the Apple iPhone 6/6 Plus, iPhone 6s/6s Plus, Apple Watch, Watch Sport, and Watch Edition make use to two patents pertaining to "haptic feedback system with stored effects" and "method and apparatus for providing tactile sensations." The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are further accused of infringing a third patent for "interactivity model for shared feedback on mobile devices" — or 3D Touch, the defining feature of the two phones. Immersion didn't immediately make clear AT&T's role in the complaint. The company filed lawsuits with the U.S. International Trade Commission seeking a ban on the devices, as well as a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware seeking monetary damages. Immersion develops and makes touch-based feedback systems for mobile devices.

AT&T: Our 5G Network Will Be 100 Times Quicker than LTE

Friday, 8:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today revealed its plans to test and eventually deploy 5G wireless technology, which it says will offer performance 10 to 100 times faster than today's LTE. AT&T is working with Ericsson and Intel to test 5G in its labs during the second quarter of the year, with field tests to follow over the summer months. AT&T and its partners hope to offer some level of 5G service to "fixed locations" in Austin before 2016 comes to a close. They will use technologies including millimeter waves, network function virtualization (NFV), and software-defined networking (SDN) to guide their path. AT&T claims 5G will deliver speeds measured in gigabits per second, not megabits, and latency will drop to 1 to 5 milliseconds. AT&T says 5G will be ideal for bandwidth-hungry applications, as it will support multiple radio interfaces and make better use of spectrum via SDN and NFV. The International Telecommunications Union and 3GPP have not defined what 5G will actually be, and AT&T said it expects the trials will help guide its recommendations to the ITU and set what may become part of the standard. The standards bodies aren't expected to complete the basic spec for 5G until 2018, with the standard reaching final form in 2020. AT&T believes its work on 5G now will allow it to deploy 5G in large scale when the technology is ready. In the mean time, AT&T will continue to evolve its LTE 4G network to meet the growing demands of customers.

Pandora Weighing Potential Sale

Thursday, 4:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pandora Media may sell itself and has met with Morgan Stanley to help broker such an action, reports the New York Times. The music-streaming service has seen its stock value drop by 60% over the last few months and the company is facing increased competition from the likes of Apple Music and Spotify. Pandora is the largest music-streaming service in terms of raw users with north of 75 million subscribers. Apple Music has 10 million subscribers and Spotify claims to have more than 20 million. Apple Music launched in June of last year and Pandora's user base has eroded since then. Last year, Pandora spent $450 million for Ticketfly and $75 million for Rdio. The company said it made those purchases to improve its product offering, but the Times' source did not make clear what Pandora expects to get from a sale of itself. Pandora did not comment on the Times' story.

Facebook Testing SMS Functionality in Messenger

Thursday, 4:34 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook is exploring the possibility of allowing people to send SMS messages through the Facebook Messenger application on Android devices. "We are always trying to create new ways for people to communicate seamlessly with everyone," said Facebook in a statement provided to TechCrunch. "Right now, we're testing the ability for people to easily bring all their conversations — from SMS and Messenger — to one place. It's a really simple way to get, see and respond to all your SMS messages in just one app. By choosing to access your SMS messages in Messenger, they're right alongside all the other enhanced features that Messenger offers." Facebook Messenger has morphed plenty over the years. Originally it was part of the main Facebook app, but Facebook broke it out in 2014 to make it more robust. Messenger has, at times, supported sending Facebook messages to other users via SMS. Facebook is now reimagining how the feature will work by placing full SMS/MMS functionality into Facebook Messenger. The messaging app was also recently updated with support for multiple accounts. Facebook is testing the feature on a small number of users in the U.S. and didn't say if or when it will expand the tool to more people.

Instagram to Reveal How Many Times Videos Are Watched

Thursday, 1:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today said users will soon see how many views their video posts receive. Instagram says it is adding this data because view counts are "the most widely expected form of feedback on video." The view count will appear where previously the app showed the number of likes. Likes will still be visible by tapping the view count. Instagram said the feature is rolling out slowly over the next few weeks to its Android, iOS, and Windows Phone mobile apps. Vine, which is owned by Twitter, already displays view counts for user videos. Instagram says more video-focused features are on deck for later this year.

OmniVision's Latest Sensor Captures Standard and Infrared

Thursday, 1:03 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 3:56 PM

OmniVision today announced a new imaging sensor that can be used for facial recognition as well as standard imaging. The OVT2744 is a 1.4-micron PureCel sensor that uses OmniVision's RGB-Ir technology to capture 1080p HD video at 60 frames per second, 720p video at 90 frames per second, or 2-megapixel still images. The infrared images, where are output as 10-bit RAW files, can be paired with biometric security tools, such as facial recognition, to protect or lock handsets. The module measures 5mm by 5mm by 3mm, supports HDR video capture, and features a low-power mode to conserve battery. OmniVision says the OVT2744 is ideal for smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices that need a front-facing camera. By combining RGB imaging and infrared imaging into a single sensor, phone makers can design handsets with one camera module on the front rather than two. This saves internal space. The OVT2744 is already sampling and OmniVision expects to be producing it en masse before the end of the first quarter.

Samsung's Gold and Platinum Smartwatches Go On Sale Feb. 12

Thursday, 12:43 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung said the Rose Gold and Platinum variants of its Gear S2 Classic smartwatch go on sale February 12. The Rose Gold version comes with a white leather band, while the Platinum comes with a black leather band. Each includes the rotating bezel for controlling the Tizen operating system. The wearables will be available at, BestBuy,, Macy's, and other retailers around the U.S. The watches are priced at $449.99.

Sprint Ups the Ante with $150 Unlimited Family Bundle

Thursday, 11:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 12:00 PM

Sprint today announced a new promotion that will give a family of four unlimited talk, text, and data for $150 per month. A single line for the unlimited plan costs $75 per month. Two lines cost $120 per month, three lines cost $150, four lines cost $150 (fourth is free), and lines five through 10 cost $30 each. In addition to the calling, messaging, and LTE 4G access, the unlimited plan includes 3 GB of mobile hotspot and Sprint Global Roaming with unlimited 2G data and text messaging in select countries. Sprint's new unlimited pricing will be available beginning February 12 for a limited time. Sprint also extended its 50% rate plan promotion for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless customers through March 31.

Google Keep's Web and Mobile Settings Merged

Thursday, 8:51 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has updated its Keep note-taking app for Android devices and on the web. Now, the app and web offer a more consistent experience for creating notes, setting reminders, sharing, and managing lists. With the same control panel appearing online and on mobile devices, Keep users should have an easier time managing their notes. Users can now also set specific start times for morning, afternoon, and evening, rather than rely on Google's definitions for those periods. Last, web users can add a shortcut to Google Keep to their account panel. Google Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Chrome for Android Gains Eddystone Beacon Smarts

Thursday, 8:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google says the latest release of Chrome for Android supports Eddystone Bluetooth beacons and can surface what's known as "physical web" content to nearby devices. Google's Eddystone beacons can now broadcast web content, such as URLs, to Android devices within range. Google says this means developers will be able to make Android users aware of this content through notifications, which will let people see a list of web sites pertaining to nearby points of interest. For example, the Golden State Warriors basketball team is pushing highlight videos and other content to fans who attend games at Oracle Arena. This new capability is reaching Chrome 49 in the beta channel first. It will eventually be pushed out to all Android devices through the Plat Store.

Snapdragon Wear to Serve as Qualcomm's Smartwatch Platform

Thursday, 8:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today announced Snapdragon Wear, a new platform for wearable devices. The Snapdragon Wear 2100 system-on-a-chip is the first product in the Snapdragon Wear platform and is meant to improve next-generation smartwatches. The Wear 2100 replaces the Snapdragon 400. The new SoC is 30% smaller than the Snapdragon 400, which can lead to slimmer designs, and reduces power needs by 25%, which can help improve battery life. The Wear 2100 includes a low-power sensor hub for managing input, and can be paired with WiFi and LTE radios for connectivity. The system-on-a-chip supports Google's Android Wear operating system, as well as Android itself. Qualcomm sees the Snapdragon Wear 2100 forming the core of advanced smartwatches and basic smartwatches alike, as well as smart bands, smart eyewear, and headsets. Qualcomm says Snapdragon Wear 2100 is available to its hardware partners immediately.

Qualcomm Intros a Trio of Snapdragons and an LTE Modem

Thursday, 8:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today announced a handful of processors alongside a new LTE modem for mobile devices. The Snapdragon 625, 435, and 425 all support LTE with carrier aggregation, 802.11ac with MU-MIMO, Quick Charge, and Qualcomm's TruSignal and Hexagon technology for better call and audio quality. The 625 is made with Qualcomm's 14nm process, which drops power use by 35%. It runs eight ARM Cortex A53 cores, and includes Qualcomm's X9 LTE modem supporting peak uploads of 150Mbps. It can handle 4K video capture in low light, and cameras up to 24 megapixels on the back and 13 megapixels on the front. It is paired with an Adreno 506 GPU. The Snapdragon 425 also runs eight ARM Cortex A53 cores, but drops to an X8 LTE modem. It can deliver peak uploads of 100Mbps and supports full HD video capture with a maximum 21-megapixel camera. It is paired with an Adreno 505 GPU. The 425 is the new mass-market processor from Qualcomm and includes four ARM Cortex A53 cores, an X6 LTE modem, and an Adreno 308 GPU. It pushes max uploads of 75Mbps and supports full HD video with cameras up to 16 megapixels. Qualcomm also debuted the X16 LTE modem, which supports Licensed Assisted Access, and LTE Advanced Pro 3GPP Release 13 for next-generation LTE 4G networks. Qualcomm says the X16 can reach gigabit-class LTE speeds thanks to 4x4 MIMO, and 3x20MHz carrier aggregation with throughputs of 75Mbps to 100Mbps per channel. The Snapdragon 625, 435, and 425 processors, and the X16 modem are expected to ship during the second half of the year.

Microsoft Makes Fresh Windows 10 Preview Available

Wednesday, 1:21 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today released a new technical preview of Windows 10 Mobile for Windows Insiders. Build 10586.107 is a cumulative update and only makes some bug fixes and performance improvements. Microsoft called out adjustments to missing Start screen tiles, narrator behavior, and the reset experience. Microsoft also noted it will release technical previews in three stages moving forward, rather than two. Before today, it offered updates first to Windows Insiders in the Fast Ring followed by Insiders in the Slow Ring. Now, it has added the Release Preview ring, which Microsoft says is "best for Insiders who enjoy getting early access to updates for the Current Branch, Microsoft applications, and drivers, with minimal risk to their devices." The latest preview will hit the Lumia 950 and 950 XL first. Microsoft is still working to bring Windows 10 to existing Windows 8.1 handsets, which it was expected to do late last year.

Twitter Tweaks Timelines Yet Again

Wednesday, 9:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter is debuting a change to how its timeline works that will include more "best" Tweets at the top of users' feeds. The idea is similar to the "while you were away" function that Twitter added to the service last year, but it includes a broader array of Tweets displayed in reverse chronological order. Twitter is making use of algorithms to impart the change, which is aimed at making the service more appealing. The idea is to let heavy users who follow lots of people see what they may have missed from their favorite accounts since they last used the app. "Our goal was to refine the product and make it absolutely delightful for our core users — the people for which Twitter plays a great role in their life — and if we're able to make it even more powerful for them they become our microphone," said Jeff Seibert, Twitter's head of consumer product. The revised timelines will show a dozen or so "best" Tweets to users when they first open the app, which is more than the five Tweets it shows via the "while you were away" tool. The changed timeline is opt-in for now, and users who scroll down far enough will encounter their regular timeline.

T-Mobile Selling LG K7 for $140

Wednesday, 9:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today made the LG K7 available for sale from its web site. The phone, announced last month, has a 5-inch screen, quad-core Snapdragon 210 processor, 5-megapixel main camera, 5-megapixel selfie camera, and LTE 4G. T-mobile is selling the handset for $139.99 at full retail or for $5.84 for 24 months. Boost Mobile is selling the K7 as the Tribute 5.

Alcatel Windows 10 Fierce XL Hits T-Mobile's Site

Wednesday, 8:55 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile has made the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL with Windows 10 available from its web site. The phone, announced earlier this year, has a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen, a 1.1GHz quad-core Snapdragon 210 processor, an 8-megapixel main camera with flash, and a 2-megapixel front camera. The Fierce XL supports LTE 4G along with VoLTE, HD voice, and WiFi calling. T-Mobile is selling the phone for $139.99 or 24 payments of $5.84. T-Mobile hasn't indicated yet if the Fierce XL with Windows is available in stores. T-Mobile also sells an Android variant of the Fierce XL.

Walmart Adds 10GB Plan and 'Binge On' Service

Wednesday, 8:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Walmart Family Mobile has rolled out a new plan that includes unlimited talk, text, and 10GB of LTE 4G data for $49.88 per month. Users who surpass the 10 GB cap will be throttled down to 2G speeds. In addition to the high-capacity plan, Walmart Family Mobile also debuted a feature called Data Saver, which mimics T-Mobile's Binge On service. With Data Saver enabled, Walmart Family Mobile customers can watch compressed, DVD-quality video to reduce data consumption. Data Saver can be turned on or off at will. Walmart Family Mobile is an MVNO that operates on T-Mobile's network. The new 10 GB plan with Data Saver will be available only for a limited time. Walmart Family Mobile also offers a 1 GB plan for $30 per month and a 5 GB plan for $40 per month.

LG Teases the G5's 'Always On' Feature

Wednesday, 8:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG touted another aspect of the unannounced G5, which will boast an "always on" display. In a picture posted to its Facebook page, the silhouette of a mobile device shows the clock, date, and notifications on the lock screen, similar to Motorola's Active Display. LG's own V10 handset has an always-on screen, though it is limited to a small, secondary panel above the main display. LG is expected to fully reveal the G5 at an event planned for February 21.

Opera Sings Praises for Chinese Buyout Bid

Wednesday, 8:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A consortium of Chinese companies has bid $1.2 billion for Opera Software, maker of web browsers and other mobile services. The collection of companies includes game-maker Kunlun, security firm Qihoo, and private investment firms Yonglian and Golden Brick. Qihoo has its own browser and would combine Opera's technology with its own. Opera's board unanimously recommended the company accept the deal. "There is strong strategic and industrial logic to the acquisition of Opera by the consortium," said Opera CEO Lars Boilesen in a statement. "We believe that the consortium, with its breadth of expertise and strong market position in emerging markets, will be a strong owner of Opera, [will] serve our users, and [will] accelerate our plans of expansion and growth." Opera also offers data compression products directly to mobile network operators, and consumer-grade compression through its Opera Max app. The Opera browser is the sixth-most popular browser in the world.

Gmail to Call Out Insecure Emails

Feb 9, 2016, 12:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is hoping to protect Gmail users by making them more aware of secure and insecure messages. Moving forward, Gmail will display an open lock icon for Google Apps users who receive messages from email services that don't support an encrypted connection. The same applies when users are about to send an email through unprotected servers. Google says people sending messages between Google-hosted domains won't see the open lock icon because Gmail operates through secure servers. Further, if Google can't authenticate the sender of an email via Sender Policy Framework or DKIM, it will replace the sender's profile photo with a question mark. Google believes these visual clues will help people tread more carefully when opening and responding to emails. Google also suggests Gmail users take advantage of two-step verification, activate Data Loss Prevention, check and fine-tune spam settings, and enforce mobile device policies. These changes will role out to Google Apps users (business accounts) over the next few weeks.

Twitter to Place Higher Priority On Ads

Feb 9, 2016, 10:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter today is rolling out a new product for advertisers that will give them the top spot in users' timelines. Called First View, the marketing product will push promoted video Tweets to the top of feeds on mobile devices, visible when users first open the app. Twitter calls this its "most valuable real estate" and will sell it at a premium to brands looking to make a big impact. The advertising product is rolling out in the U.S. first, with global markets to follow over time. Twitter didn't say if users will be able to opt-out of the video ads, which can drive up mobile data use, or set them to auto-play only when on WiFi.

Instagram App Now Supports Multiple Accounts

Feb 8, 2016, 2:25 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today updated its Android and iOS apps with support for multiple accounts. Once the latest version is installed, users can add a second account and then quickly jump between them. Instagram says it clearly shows the profile pic for each account so people know which account is the one currently being used. Instagram 7.15 will be made available to Android and iOS devices over the next few days.

Apple Pushes Out New iOS, WatchOS, tvOS Betas

Feb 8, 2016, 1:48 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today made several new beta operating system available to developers. First up is iOS 9.3 beta 3. Apple didn't spell out what's new in build 13E5200d, aside from performance tweaks. iOS 9.3's previously disclosed new features include richer tools for education, Night Shift to reduce eye strain, as well as new behaviors to Notes and Health. WatchOS 2.2 beta 3 updates the map app and makes it possible to pair the Apple Watch with more than a single iPhone. Last, tvOS 9.2 adds support for Bluetooth keyboards. The betas are available to developers to download starting today. Apple generally makes public betas available to consumers a day or two after it releases developer betas.

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CTIA Issues RFP for Stolen Device Database

Feb 8, 2016, 12:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The CTIA is looking for companies to help it with the Mobile Device Information Portal and issued a request for proposal to that effect. The portal is to be a central tool that consumers, carriers, and law enforcement can use to ascertain whether or not phones have been reported lost or stolen. The idea is curb phone thefts by making it easy for everyone involved to report missing devices and check that database, thereby limiting the black market for resale of stolen goods. The Mobile Device Information Portal was recommended by the FCC's Mobile Device Theft Prevention Working Group as a key facet of reducing theft. The CTIA will oversee the Mobile Device Information Portal.

Sprint Offering $200 In Credit for Trade-Ins

Feb 8, 2016, 10:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today is kicking off a limited promotion that will reward new and existing customers with $200 in credit towards a new device when they trade in a working smartphone. The credit can be applied to the Samsung Galaxy S6 or Galaxy Note 5. Sprint says the $200 credit drops the monthly lease cost of the GS6 to $9.76 per month and the Note 5 to $16.67 per month. The $200 trade-in credit is available to shoppers at Sprint's retail stores starting today, and will be available online and via phone by the end of the week. Sprint says the device being traded in cannot be a lease, and existing customers must be upgrade-eligible to score the $200 trade-in credit. The offer can be combined with Sprint's current half-off rate plans to customers who switch from AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless.

Pebble Watches and Apps Updated for Android and iOS

Feb 8, 2016, 9:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Pebble recently pushed out a significant update to its Pebble Time smartwatches and the associated Android and iOS apps. The smartwatches gain new health-tracking powers thanks to the revised Pebble Health API, which makes tracking workouts more accurate. It also allows users to switch between miles and kilometers. The watch platform shows more information with incoming MMS messages, too, and makes various improvements to watch, battery, and stability performance. On the handset side of the equation, the Pebble app for Android now lets owners initiate text messages from their smartwatch as well as reply to incoming calls via SMS. The Pebble app for iOS devices adds the ability to set custom text replies. Both mobile apps also pick up performance and stability tweaks.

Google Hangouts Now Enables Peer-to-Peer Calls

Feb 8, 2016, 8:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The latest version of Google Hangouts allows mobile devices to establish a peer-to-peer connection when possible in order to improve the quality of phone calls. Older versions of Hangouts passed calls through Google's servers. Google says the direct connection is more efficient and offers a boost in audio and video quality. Google Hangouts is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Verizon Zero-Rates Its Go90 Video App

Feb 5, 2016, 4:27 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today updated its go90 video app and will allow customers to stream all the go90 content they want over LTE without it impacting their data bucket. The go90 app is making use of Verizon's FreeBee Data 360 sponsored data service, which Verizon launched last month. The go90 app includes music, sports, TV shows, original series, and live concerts. Verizon says go90 version 1.4 is available in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Verizon's foray into zero-rating go90 follows similar behavior from T-Mobile, which allows customers to stream music and video content from select partners without pulling from their monthly data allotment.

BlackBerry Trims More Workers

Feb 5, 2016, 2:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry has cut an unspecified number of employees at two facilities. The company confirmed that it let employees go at its Waterloo headquarters, as well as at a plant in Sunrise, Fla. "As BlackBerry continues to execute its turnaround plan, we remain focused on driving efficiencies across our global workforce," said the company in a statement. "This means finding new ways to enable us to capitalize on growth opportunities, while driving toward sustainable profitability across all parts of our business. As a result, a small number of employees have been impacted. It also means that BlackBerry is actively recruiting in those areas of our business that will drive growth." BlackBerry CEO John Chen has focused on BlackBerry's core BES communications and device management business while winding down its phone business. Chen recently said BlackBerry will release as few as one or two new handsets per year if it stays in the hardware game. Chen has been vocal about killing off its smartphone business entirely if it can't turn a profit. BlackBerry didn't say what areas of the company were affected by today's job cuts.

Apple Accepting Broken iPhones As Trade-Ins

Feb 5, 2016, 12:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple will now accept damaged iPhones as trade-ins when people wish to upgrade to a new iPhone. Previously, Apple only accepted working iPhones as trade-ins, but will now take in iPhones with "damaged displays, cameras, and buttons within reason." Apple will credit people who turn in a damaged iPhone 5s with $50. The company will credit people $200 for a broken iPhone 6 and $250 for a broken iPhone 6 Plus. Phones that don't have cracked screens or broken buttons may be worth up to $350. Apple hopes the change in policy will convince people holding onto older, possibly busted devices to upgrade. The new Apple trade-in policy is available at Apple's retail stores, but not online.

Sharp and Foxconn to Settle Takeover Soon

Feb 5, 2016, 9:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Foxconn expects to seal a takeover deal with Sharp by the end of February. Executives from both companies met on Thursday and agreed on a number of items, but didn't sign any final agreements. Foxconn has been courting Sharp for a while now, and has offered $5.5 billion to buy the company. Sharp is also entertaining an offer from Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, a government-backed fund, but INCJ's offer is much lower than Foxconn's. Foxconn's CEO says the two cleared 90% of the hurdles during Thursday's meeting, but at least one legal issue prevented them from closing the deal. The two CEOs believe they can work out the remaining issues before the end of the month.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Clears FCC with Single Approval

Feb 4, 2016, 1:44 PM   by Rich Brome

The FCC this week approved a pair of new Samsung phones that are almost certainly the new Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge (or equivalent). Unlike previous generations of the flagship phone, Samsung was able to have all U.S. carrier variants approved under a single FCC ID, indicating a new level of hardware standardization for the company. The phone will still come in specific variants for each carrier, each restricted to certain LTE bands, among other differences. The FCC documents reveal much about the network band and feature support of each variant. The phones are widely expected to be announced at a Samsung event scheduled for February 21st.

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Android Wear Gains Wider Support for Phone Calls

Feb 4, 2016, 12:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced Android Wear 1.4, which adds a fistful of new features. Chiefly, Android-based smartwatches can now make and take calls via Bluetooth when the wearable itself includes a speaker. Google says this is limited to the Huawei Watch and the ASUS ZenWatch 2 at the moment, but it expects more watches to ship with speakers and calling support over time. Watches with speakers can also be used to listen to audio messages from apps such as Glide. Android Wear 1.4 also expands the number of apps able to use voice actions to dictate and send messages, which now includes, Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp. Last, Google added a few new wrist gestures to the platform. For example, Android smartwatches can now expand cards, bring up the app drawer, or return home with a push, lift, or shake, respectively. Google says Android Wear 1.4 is rolling out to Android smartwatches over the next few days.

Verizon Improves Prepaid Data Buckets

Feb 4, 2016, 10:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today increased the appeal of its prepaid plans by adding in a bit more data. The company offers two main Verizon-branded prepaid plans. The first costs $45 per month and includes up to 2 GB of data, while the second costs $60 and includes up to 5 GB. Customers who choose to enroll in auto-pay can score an extra 1 GB, which increases the $45 plan to 3 GB total and the $60 plan to 6 GB total. Both plans include unlimited talk and text in the U.S., as well as unlimited texting to Canada and Mexico.

Apple Pay Surges to 2 Million Retail Locations

Feb 4, 2016, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Owners of newer iPhones can make mobile payments at more than 2 million retail stores, according to Apple. Some of the latest adoptees include Au Bon Pain, Chick-fil-A, and Crate & Barrel. The service is gaining traction within third-party apps, too, as companies including Zappos add Apple Pay to their own applications. Using Apple Pay within apps makes it easier to pay, as consumers don't have to fill in credit card details each time they make a purchase. Apple Pay launched at 700,000 locations in 2014. The company met its goal of reaching 1.5 million locations by the end of 2015, and is pushing for broader adoption by retailers around the globe. Apple Pay is available to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, and 6s Plus.

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