Canonical today announced the launch of the MX4 Ubuntu Edition, made by its handset partner Meizu. Ubuntu is Canonical's version of Linux. Its latest build is based on a feature Canonical calls Scopes, which are a new way to interact with music, social, web, and photo apps directly on the home screen. Canonical explains, "The richness and unfragmented experience delivered by Ubuntu Scopes is a world away from burying content and services inside multiple apps in an icon grid." Canonical says there are more than 1,300 Scopes available to handset owners in the Ubuntu Store. The phone itself has a 5.36-inch retina display made by Sharp that is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. The MX4 Ubuntu Edition has a 20.7-megapixel main camera with dual LED flash and a 2-megapixel front camera. The device has 16 GB of storage and will be available in silver or gold. The Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition will only be sold in Europe, and requires an invitation. The price is approximately $335. Canonical does not yet plan to make the phone available to U.S. buyers.
Sharp has engineered a 4K (Ultra HD) screen for smartphones. The prototype measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal and includes 3860 x 2160 pixels, giving it a pixel density of 806 pixels per inch. By way of comparison, the iPhone 6 Plus's 5.5-inch screen has 1920 x 1080 pixels, or 401 pixels per inch. The prototype LCD relies on Sharp's IGZO technology, but the company is not sure if the prototype will ever be used. "Currently there are no driver ICs for small 4K panels, so the panel is not ready for mass production at this point," said Sharp spokeswoman Miyuki Nakayama in an email to Computerworld. Some of today's flagship devices (LG G4, Motorola Nexus 6, Samsung Galaxy S6) have jumped from full HD to quad HD, or 2560 x 1440 pixels. The majority of high-end phones still use full HD screens, while mid-range phones have moved to 720p screens. Entry-level phones generally offer 800 x 480 or 960 x 540 resolution displays.
Sharp is hoping it will be able to spin off a portion of its LCD panel business. The company wants to unload the piece of its display unit that makes small- and mid-sized displays for devices such as smartphones and tablets. The company hasn't been able to compete with rivals LG Display and Japan Display in the market for small screens. The company hopes to sell off this business to a government-supported investment fund, though it hasn't made any final decisions. Sharp has been struggling for years and is undergoing a larger restructuring that it hopes to present to investors in May. The company sells one smartphone in the U.S., the Aquos Crystal, which has a unique borderless display.
Seniors Wireless, a Sprint MVNO, announced a new service that gives subscribers direct phone access to a doctor at all times. TeleMED Assist provides customers with unlimited calls to doctors for emergency, urgent, or non-urgent purposes 24/7. Over-the-phone medical consultations are included in the service, which costs $30 per month for singles or $40 per month for couples. TeleMED Assist is a separate service and does not require a Seniors Wireless telephone account. Seniors Wireless offers a handful of standard service plans ranging from $10 to $30 per month. The company has several handsets, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, S5 and Note 3, the Sharp Aquos Crystal, the LG Vigor, and the Apple iPhone 4. Seniors Wireless competes with GreatCall, which also offers access to health professionals over the phone. Both target the over 55 set.
Boost, Sprint, and Sprint Prepaid today revealed launch details for the Sharp Aquos Crystal. Boost is selling the Aquos Crystal beginning today for $150. Boost does not require contracts. Sprint will sell the Aquos Crystal beginning October 17 for $0 down and 24 payments of $10 with Sprint Easy Pay, or $240 outright. Last, Sprint Prepaid is selling the Aquos Crystal at Best Buy locations today for $150, and will sell it at RadioShack stores beginning October 21. The Sharp Aquos Crystal features a nearly borderless design, 5-inch display, 8-megapixel camera, and Harmon Kardon music enhancements.
ZTE today announced it is bringing the Nubia 5S mini with LTE to the U.S. The 5S mini is a compact handset that's part of ZTE's premium line of Android smartphones. It has a 4.7-inch 720p HD IGZO display from Sharp, and it is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor with an Adreno 305 GPU. The phone is equipped with a 13-megapixel main camera and a bevy of advanced controls for focus, light metering, and white balance. The five-element f/2.2 lens is protected by sapphire, and the camera has three shooting modes: Fun, Auto, and Pro. The 5S mini has a 5-megapixel user-facing camera, too, and can capture 720p HD video. Other hardware features include 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a memory card slot; Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, and support for AT&T/T-Mobile LTE; and a 2,000mAh battery. ZTE is offering the Nubia 5S mini with LTE directly to consumers via Amazon, where the device costs $280 and ships unlocked. The phone is available for order today, and ships starting August 27.
Sharp debuted its first phone for the U.S. market in years this week. The Aquos Crystal boasts a nearly bezel-less design in a compact form factor. Here are our initial impressions.
Sprint today announced the Sharp Aquos Crystal, a mid-range handset that it will sell later this year. The Sharp Aquos features a nearly bezel-less design, with narrow edges running along the top and sides of the phone. The screen measures 5 inches and offers 720p HD resolution. The device offers a handful of software features developed by Sharp, including Clip Now, which takes screen shots with a swipe and makes them easily sharable via link. Speaktoit Assistant is a natural language assistant that can perform a number of tasks, such as answer questions, open apps, place calls, and send texts. The device comes with Harman Kardon Clari-Fi and LiveStage audio technologies for improved music reproduction, and Direct Wave Receiver technology, which uses the display panel to create sound for phone calls. The device runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat and includes the usual suite of Google services, in addition to OfficeSuite for editing Microsoft documents. Other hardware features include a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor with 1.5GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. The Aquos supports microSD cards up to 128GB. The camera captures 8-megapixel still images and 1080p HD video. It also has a 1.2-megapixel camera for selfies. The Aquos will cost $240 at full retail, or $0 down and 24 monthly payments of $10 with Sprint. Sprint subsidiaries Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA will also sell the device at the price of $150. Virgin and Boost do not require contracts.
SoftBank, which owns Sprint, today said it has chosen Sharp to supply it with low-cost smartphones. The handset deal with Sharp includes Sprint, which will also sell phones made by Sharp. The first such device is a handset called the Sharp Aquos Crystal, which the company revealed today. The Crystal features an edgeless design. SoftBank believes its combined scale with Sprint will allow it to sell the Sharp Aquos Crystal at a low cost. SoftBank's announcement coincides with a Sprint event scheduled for August 19. The event invite reads "Time to take the Edge Off," which could be a reference to the edgeless design of the Aquos Crystal. According to Sharp, the Crystal includes a 5-inch 720p HD screen, Snapdragon 400 processor, and runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat. Sharp has not sold handsets in the U.S. for several years.
Microsoft has joined the AllSeen Alliance, an effort backed by Qualcomm to provide a standard for connecting the Internet of Things. The alliance already has 50 companies on board, including LG, Panasonic, and Sharp. The group's goal is to make it easy for devices to interact with one another by devising a single standard through which they can communicate. Qualcomm's rivals, however, are prepared to form their own group, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters. The competing consortium may launch as soon as next week, and will seek to create its own standard for connecting the Internet of Things. Apple has already announced HomeKit, its own protocol for connecting smartphones and tablets to devices around the home. Further, Google recently released an SDK for its Nest thermostat, which will eventually allow smartphones, tablets, and other apps to interact with Nest. Multiple standards may make it more difficult for consumers to find devices that work with one another. Reuters didn't say which companies are going to support the competitor to AllSeen.
Google today announced Android TV, a new platform that will bring certain features of the Android operating system to smart TVs. The platform can be embedded in HDTVs, as well as installed in stand-alone boxes. It lets Android smartphones and tablets connect directly to TVs and control them. Android TV supports Play Store content, including games, and third party apps. Some of the initial batch of apps that will work on Android TV include Netflix, Plex, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, and others. Further, Android TV supports casting, which will let Android smartphone and tablet owners push content from their mobile device to Android TV. The Google Play store for television sets will launch in the fall, as will Android TV set top boxes. Television makers such as Sony and Sharp will incorporate Android TV into their 2015 lineup. Google also talked about its Chromecast product. Chromecast is a thumb drive plug-in for HDTVs that can project audio and video content from Android devices to TVs. Until today, Chromecast required users to connect via the same Wi-Fi network. Chromecast is being updated, however, with the ability to cast from separate Wi-Fi networks. This means people can push content to a TV even when they aren't there or even nearby. The tool uses Google's cloud for authentication. Chromecast also adds the ability to exactly mirror what's on the screen of Android smartphones and tablets. The new features for Chromecast will arrive later this year.
Sharp is prepared to alter one of its manufacturing facilities so that it can make more IGZO displays for smartphones. Sharp uses its Kameyama plant to manufacture television set screens, but will sacrifice TV production in order to produce more screens for mobile devices. The company believes it can cut down costs by making large IGZO sheets that can be cut into multiple displays. To-date, few devices outside of Sharp's home market of Japan include IGZO displays. IGZO, or indium gallium zinc oxide, display screens are thinner and use dramatically less energy than the OLED displays. Earlier this year, Samsung invested $110 million in Sharp's display business. Samsung primarily uses AMOLED displays in its smartphones. Sharp's increased production of smartphone-sized IGZO screens paves the way for Samsung to adopt the technology.
Samsung has bought a 3% stake in Sharp, one of its competitors, in order to widen is supply base, reports Reuters. Samsung's $110 million investment follows a $120 million investment made in Sharp by Qualcomm in December. Sharp has struggled in recent years, and needs the influx of cash. Sharp's most promising product is high-resolution indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) display screens, which are thinner and use dramatically less energy than the OLED displays Samsung currently favors in its mobile devices. Qualcomm also wants to work with Sharp to bring its IGZO displays to market, which would be ideal for smartphones and tablets. Last, Sharp is one of Apple's key suppliers, and this investment gives Samsung a stake in the company as Apple winds down its reliance on Samsung for components.
Google today announced that Android smartphone owners will be able to push YouTube content directly to more TVs beginning this year. In November, Google enabled Android smartphones and tablets to connect to Google TV boxes (via Wi-Fi) and push YouTube videos directly to the Google TV box (and ultimately the attached TV). Moving forward, Android YouTube fans will be able to do the same thing, but without the Google TV box. New television sets from Bang & Olufsen, LG, Panasonic, and Sony, to be announced at the Consumer Electronics Show next week, will ship with support for this YouTube feature built in. Google expects more TVs from Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, Vizio, and Western Digital to arrive with the same feature later in the year. Android phones and tablets can also act as a remote control for the YouTube video, and control play, pause, fast-forward, and other functions.
Qualcomm and Sharp have struck an agreement that will see the two companies co-develop LCD panels for smartphones, reports Reuters. Qualcomm is investing approximately $61 million in Sharp's display unit, which will use its indium-gallium-zinc oxide (IGZO) technology to make energy efficient displays for mobile devices. Qualcomm will make a second $61 million investment once Sharp has made "significant progress" with the displays. Qualcomm spent years developing its own low-power Mirasol displays, but they never got any traction in the market. Qualcomm ceased production of Mirasol displays in July of this year. According to Reuters, more details of the Qualcomm-Sharp deal are likely to be provided on Tuesday. Neither company has confirmed Reuters' report.
Sony recently announced that it will open its PlayStation Mobile Store for Android smartphones on October 3. The store will first be available in the U.S., Japan, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Australia. It will launch with about 30 titles from a handful of genres. More countries and more titles will be added over time. Sony also announced that Sharp and Fujitsu have joined its PlayStation Certified program, which means they will be able to add the PlayStation Mobile Store to their own devices in time. Last, Sony plans to make the PlayStation Mobile SDK available in select countries in November.
Microsoft today announced that it has reached a patent-licensing agreement with Sharp. Specifically, Sharp is licensing the Extended File Allocation Table (exFAT) patent held by Microsoft for use in some of its Android smartphones. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Microsoft licenses smartphone patents to most manufacturers of Android smartphones, with Motorola being the most notable exception.
Sharp today announced a new display design that promises to bring dramatic improvements to mobile device screens. The company has developed a new indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) semiconductor technology with high crystallinity. This will allow Sharp to create touch displays that have higher resolutions, lower power consumption, narrower bezels, and better performance. Sharp says the cost of altering its production lines to make use of the new material will be minimal, and it expects to update its manufacturing later this year. The new material will be used in LCD displays for mobile devices such as smartphones.
Google today announced that it has revised Google Maps to version 6.5. Google says that it has redesigned the Google Maps home page (for devices running Android 4.0) and made it easier to access user favorites by swiping left or right. The new version for all Android variants is optimized to take advantage of the higher resolution screens of select devices, and will render sharper, clearer maps. Google Maps 6.5 for Android also lets users select their preferred methods or routes of travel, such as public transportation. Google Maps for Android is a free download from the Google Play Store.
Sharp today announced the RJ63YC100, a new back-illuminated CMOS camera sensor for devices such as smartphones that comes in a slim package at 5.7mm thick. The small size will help the sensor fit better into thin devices. The sensor rates 12.1 megapixels, can capture 1080p HD video, includes optical image stabilization and autofocus, and has a lens speed rating of f/2.5. Samples of the camera module will be available starting December 2. The chip will go into production in January.
Handset makers HTC, ZTE, and Sharp have joined the NFC Forum at various levels of membership, announced The NFC Forum today. In addition to the hardware vendors, Barclaycard and Isis also joined the forum. Isis' membership is notable, as it is the joint venture created by AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless to launch mobile payments in the U.S. The NFC Forum a non-profit industry association that advances the use of near field communication (NFC) technology. Isis and others hope to offer tap-and-go mobile payments on cell phones by tying bank accounts to the NFC chips in devices.
LightSquared today announced that it will collaborate with hardware maker Sharp to bring Long Term Evolution 4G-enabled smartphones, tablets, and other devices to market. The devices can be marketed and/or sold by LightSquared's growing list of wholesale customers, which plan to use LightSquared's forthcoming LTE network to offer their own goods and services. LightSquared has signed more than a dozen such partners, though it is currently still resolving interference issues related to the U.S.'s GPS systems and equipment. The Federal Communications Commission has yet to grant LightSquared definitive permission to operate its LTE network, which will be deployed in L-band spectrum.
Wal-Mart has quietly made the Sharp FX Plus handset available from its web site. The FX Plus is a successor to last year's FX, and makes a big leap by graduating from quick-messaging device to full-fledged smartphone with Android 2.2 Froyo on board. The FX Plus features a 3.2-inch touch display, slide-out QWERTY keyboard, 3 megapixel camera with video capture, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Other features include a 3.5mm headset jack, support for microSD cards up to 32GB (2GB card included), 3G data speeds up to 7.2Mbps, and GPS. The FX Plus is available exclusively from Wal-Mart for free on contract, or for the full retail price of $349.99.