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.