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BlackBerry Sending March Security Patch to Its Android Phones

Mar 8, 2017, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry is pushing the March security patches from Google to its BlackBerry Priv, DTEK60, and DTEK50 smartphones. Google made the security patches available to its own Nexus and Pixel devices earlier this week. The combined March 1 and March 5 patch plugs a significant number of vulnerabilities, including at least 10 classified as critical. Critical holes can lead to remote code execution, which means hackers can take control over devices from afar. BlackBerry says Priv, DTEK60, and DTEK50 owners should see the update appear over the next few days. Alternately, users can seek the update manually via their phone's system settings.


TCL Reveals the BlackBerry KEYone Smartphone

Feb 25, 2017, 2:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

TCL today announced the KEYone, a BlackBerry smartphone that combines a large screen, full QWERTY keyboard, and hardened Android software in an aluminum body. TCL first teased the phone at CES last month, but has now shared all the KEYone's details. To start, the phone is a large slab with a 4.5-inch full HD screen with Gorilla Glass 4 filling the top two-thirds of the face. A physical keyboard below the screen offers trackpad functionality, app shortcuts, and a fingerprint reader in the space bar. The phone has rugged aluminum frame and a soft-touch faux leather rear panel. Internal specs include a Snapdragon 625 processor with 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, and space for a microSD card up to 1 TB. The battery measures 3,505mAh for beyond a full day of use, and it charges rapidly (50% in 36 minutes) thanks to support for Quick Charge 3.0. The rear make makes use of the 12-megapixel IMX378 sensor from Sony with large pixels, f/2.0 lens, PDAF, 4K video capture, and two-tone flash. The front camera boasts an 8-megapixel sensor with an 84-degree field of view, selfie flash, and full HD video capture. The phone runs Android 7.1 with BlackBerry Hub+ and the company's DTEK security software. The KEYone will be sold in several variants around the world. TCL says two versions of the phone will work well in the U.S., including on the networks operated by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. The company plans to launch directly to consumers in Canada first, with the U.S. to follow shortly thereafter. TCL hopes to sell the device through carrier partners late in the year. The BlackBerry KEYone costs $549.

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Hands On with the BlackBerry KEYone

Feb 25, 2017, 2:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The BlackBerry KEYone is here, a big smartphone that includes a large display, physical keyboard, and BlackBerry's hardened version of Android. The phone is big and has middling specs, but are importantly, it pulls at the heartstrings of those raised on BlackBerry's old corporate mini-machines. Here are our initial impressions of the KEYone.

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BlackBerry Sues Nokia Over Patents

Feb 15, 2017, 8:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Nokia this week. BlackBerry claims Nokia is using its patented technology in select telecommunications equipment that Nokia sells to network operators, such as T-Mobile, without the proper licenses. The 11 patents in question were originally held by Nortel Networks and, in a bankruptcy sale, later sold to Rockstar Consortium, a patent-holding collective including Blackberry, Apple, and Microsoft. Many of the patents are said to be standard essential. BlackBerry isn't looking to block Nokia's use of the patents. Moreover, BlackBerry is obligated to license them at fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms. "BlackBerry seeks to obtain recompense for Nokia’s unauthorized use of BlackBerry’s patented technology," said the company in a statement, but it didn't specify what sort of recompense or damages it is seeking. BlackBerry filed the complaint in Delaware.


BlackBerry Hub Adapts to the Dark

Feb 7, 2017, 10:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today pushed out an update to its BlackBerry Hub application for Android devices. The most obvious change is the addition of a dark theme. The Hub has long been limited to a white screen with black text. Now, users can change the background to black and view white text. This is easier on the eyes and, on devices with OLED screens, saves battery life. BlackBerry Hub also gains support for an attachment view to make it easier to find and open emails with attachments, and adds support for WeChat and Line notifications. BlackBerry Password Keeper, a separate app from the Hub, also gains the new dark theme. BlackBerry Hub and Password Keeper for Android are free to download from the Google Play Store.


BlackBerry Signs Licensing Deal with India's Optiemus

Feb 6, 2017, 8:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today said it has licensed its smartphone brand to Optiemus, a smartphone maker based in India. The deal represents the third such agreement forged by BlackBerry with other hardware manufacturers. The most notable licensing deal is with TCL, the parent company of Alcatel, though BlackBerry has a similar deal in place with a joint venture in Indonesia called PT BB Merah Putih. Like the first two agreements, this third licensing deal means Optiemus will design, build, and sell Android-based, BlackBerry-branded handsets in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh. BlackBerry says the deal conforms with India's "Make In India" program, which requires the creation of local jobs and facilities. Optiemus did not immediately announce any new smartphones under the BlackBerry brand. The move is strategically important for BlackBerry because it now has distribution channels into the world's three largest smartphone markets: China, India, and the U.S. TCL, which distributes BlackBerry devices to North America, is expected to fully reveal the BlackBerry Mercury smartphone later this month at the Mobile World Congress trade show.


Hands On with TCL's New BlackBerry Smartphone

Jan 4, 2017, 11:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jan 4, 2017, 11:41 AM

TCL today showed off a unique BlackBerry smartphone that includes both a physical QWERTY keyboard and a touch screen. This large slab is meant to help reinvigorate sales of BlackBerry smartphones to businesses. Here is a quick look at the latest from TCL.

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TCL Outlines Alcatel and BlackBerry Handset Strategy

Jan 4, 2017, 11:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

TCL, the parent corporation of Alcatel, unveiled its new handset strategy moving forward. The company will continue to build its Alcatel-branded smartphones that target the low/value end of the market. These devices will run Android and will generally be sold via carriers and the open market. The company will also work closely with BlackBerry to design BlackBerry-branded handsets for North America and other markets. TCL will make the hardware, but it will rely on BlackBerry's hardened version of Android with government-grade security and business software on board. TCL sees its new partnership with BlackBerry as a way to get its phones into the high-end and enterprise segments of the market. BlackBerry and TCL hope to regain the trust of corporations that have in recent years turned to Apple and Samsung for employee devices. TCL plans to work with BlackBerry's sales team to sell BlackBerry-branded handsets directly to businesses, but it also intends to forge new carrier deals to reach consumers via carrier stores over time. TCL's Steve Cistulli says the BlackBerry DTEK50 and DTEK60, which are rebranded variants of the Alcatel Idol 4 and 4S, are performing well and have helped level off the decline of BlackBerry sales in North America. TCL believes it can reverse that decline over time with a range of unique BlackBerry handsets. The company also revealed its first entirely new BlackBerry smartphone that is scheduled to debut later this year. The phone is a slab with a physical QWERTY keyboard and touch screen. TCL did not announce the phone's name, nor its specs. BlackBerry said it will continue to support BBOS 10, and pointed out that it recently released BBOS 10.3.3 for older phones such as the BlackBerry Classic.


TCL to Be Sole Maker of BlackBerry Phones

Dec 15, 2016, 12:37 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today said moving forward TCL Communications, the parent company of Alcatel, will be responsible for designing, manufacturing, selling, and supporting all BlackBerry-branded smartphones. The companies struck an agreement that sees TCL licensing BlackBerry's security software and service suite along with the BlackBerry brand. TCL has already made two BlackBerry smartphones, the DTEK50 and DTEK60, which are variants of the Alcatel Idol 4 and Idol 4S, respectively. BlackBerry said it will continue to control and develop its security and software solutions, as well as serve enterprise customers' needs. BlackBerry called the agreement "a key step in our strategy to focus on putting the 'smart in the phone' by providing state-of-the-art security and device software on a platform that mobile users prefer and are comfortable with. We are confident that BlackBerry-branded products developed and distributed by TCL Communication will address the needs of BlackBerry users and expand the availability of BlackBerry Secure products throughout the world." BlackBerry has been winding down its own hardware business for some time and in September announced plans to halt making smartphones altogether. At the time, BlackBerry had not yet named a manufacturing partner.


BlackBerry Pushing Updates to Priv, DTEK50, DTEK60

Dec 1, 2016, 12:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry's trio of Android smartphones can now download a series of system and software updates that add features and bolster performance. BlackBerry Hub+, for example, now allows users to hide specific accounts or stop them from syncing, as well as create custom views for emails from specific contacts. The BlackBerry Keyboard app has been improved with easier switching between languages, expanded Chinese language input, and support for fingerprint authentication (DTEK60 only). The BlackBerry Launcher has a new dark theme, and BlackBerry Password Keeper introduces a built-in browser, autofill tweaks, and support for non-Latin characters. Google says Priv, DTEK50, and DTEK60 owners should receive notifications once the updates are available to their handset.


Verizon's Priv Lands Marshmallow Update

Nov 7, 2016, 8:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today made Android 6.0 Marshmallow available to its version of the BlackBerry Priv. The new system software makes a significant number of changes to many apps and services on the phone. To start, it adds WiFi Calling, Now On Tap, and the Marshmallow runtime permissions. It also improves the BlackBerry Keyboard, floating phone icon, launcher, camera, and contact apps. The launcher, in particular, now allows owners to separate their work and personal apps from one another. Android 6 Marshmallow for the BlackBerry Priv is free to download via WiFi. AT&T updated its Priv to Marshmallow in July.


Google's Daydream VR Headset Ships Nov. 10

Nov 1, 2016, 12:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said its Daydream virtual reality headset will go on sale November 10. The goggles will cost $79 and will be available at Best Buy and Verizon Wireless stores. Daydream is Google's new virtual reality push. Only a few handsets are initially compatible with Daydream, including the Pixel and Pixel XL, and the Nexus 6P. A number of Google's partners have prepared content for Daydream ahead of launch, such as the Wall Street Journal, Star Chart, YouTube, the New York Times, Google Play Movies, and several gaming companies. People who preordered the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones from Google in October will be given a promotional code for a free Daydream VR headset.


T-Mobile Outs Windows 10 VR Phone From Alcatel

Oct 26, 2016, 9:39 AM   by Rich Brome

T-Mobile today listed the "Alcatel IDOL 4S with Windows 10 VR" on its web site. The unique version of the Idol 4S not only runs Windows 10, but sports many of the upgrades available in the related BlackBerry DTEK60, such as the high-end Snapdragon 820 processor, 21-megapixel camera, and USB Type-C connector, none of which are in the standard Idol 4S. The Idol 4S with Windows 10 also includes free VR goggles (for a limited time) for use with "pre-loaded games and videos". Curiously, while the standard Idol 4S includes a Quad-HD display ideal for VR, this version steps down to a full-HD display, according to T-Mobile's specs. The Idol 4S with Windows 10 also supports Windows Continuum, which lets you connect a screen and keyboard to turn the phone into a full Windows 10 computer. Other features of the phone include a memory card slot, stereo speakers, 8-megapixel front camera, and 4 GB of RAM. T-Mobile's specs do not mention NFC. Pricing and release date have yet to be announced. Microsoft is


BlackBerry DTEK60 Boasts Fingerprint Sensor and Top Specs

Oct 25, 2016, 8:21 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Oct 25, 2016, 8:23 AM

BlackBerry today announced the DTEK60, the company's new flagship non-keyboard phone. The DTEK60 is based on the Alcatel Idol 4S and looks similar, but actually has significantly upgraded specs in nearly every respect. (The DTEK50 is essentially a rebranded Alcatel Idol 4.) The DTEK60 sports a fingerprint sensor, Quad-HD 5.5-inch display, 3,000 mAh battery, NFC, and a memory card slot. Unlike the Idol 4S, it also packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 GB of RAM, 21 megapixel camera, and a USB Type-C connector with Quick Charge 3.0. The DTEK60 maintains the same 7mm thin profile as the Idol 4S, although with a larger camera bump for the upgraded sensor. As with all of BlackBerry's new phones, the DTEK60 runs Android with BlackBerry messaging and security software added. The phone supports LTE networks including those of T-Mobile and AT&T (including band 29.) The DTEK60 is available today directly from BlackBerry for $500 unlocked. Customers who order within the next two weeks will receive a free "soft shell" case and rapid charger.


BlackBerry Updates Hub+ and Other Android Apps

Oct 20, 2016, 9:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today announced an update to its Hub+ subscription service for Android devices. Hub+ users will now be able add Facebook Messenger to Hub+ and manage Messenger communications directly in the Hub. Hub+ also makes it easier to save inline images and improves support for admin-defined signatures for business users. Beyond Hub+, BlackBerry updated the BlackBerry Android Keyboard, BlackBerry Launcher, and Password Keeper apps. The Keyboard gains new ways to switch languages and global gesture support. The Launcher now includes a dynamic calendar icon that will show the current date. BlackBerry's Password Keeper adds secure lists and support for fingerprint sensors, and makes organizational changes to the settings panel. In addition to the new features, all the apps gain performance improvements. BlackBerry's own Priv and DTEK50 handsets will see speed enhancements in the camera app. BlackBerry's Hub+ and other Android apps are available from the Google Play Store. Hub+ requires a monthly subscription.


T-Mobile Giving Away Free LTE Roaming Until 2017

Sep 28, 2016, 8:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today said its postpaid customers will have access to free, high-speed mobile data throughout South America and select European countries for the rest of 2016. T-Mobile customers will not have to take any action to enjoy free international roaming in these countries. Travelers will have unlimited high-seed data, unlimited texting, and low-cost voice calls when abroad. The free roaming applies to all of South America, as well as Armenia, Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom in Europe. The promotion runs through Dec. 31, 2016. T-Mobile's Simple Global program has given travelers free access to 2G mobile data since 2013.


BlackBerry to Kill Off Smartphone-Making Business

Sep 28, 2016, 7:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today said it will no longer make and sell its own smartphones. Instead, it will rely on original device manufacturers to design and make devices that will carry BlackBerry branding and software. The company employed this strategy earlier this year with the DTEK50, which was a rebranded Alcatel Idol 4. BlackBerry uses Google's Android platform as a base and hardens it with respect to bugs and security. It then packages this with its BlackBerry Suite of apps and services. "We are reaching an inflection point with our strategy," said CEO John Chen. "Our financial foundation is strong, and our pivot to software is taking hold. Under this strategy, we are focusing on software development, including security and applications. The company plans to end all internal hardware development and will outsource that function to partners." BlackBerry calls this its Mobility Solutions strategy. The company has already forged a licensing agreement with a telecom joint venture in Indonesia. BlackBerry announced the news along with its fiscal 2017 second quarter earnings report. The company generated $352 million in revenue, of which $156 million came from its software business.


BlackBerry Expands Hub+ to More Android Phones

Sep 8, 2016, 12:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today made its BlackBerry Hub+ suite of enterprise applications available to a wider range of devices. At the same time, it added five more apps to the suite. BlackBerry released Hub+ last month as a free trial for Android Marshmallow devices, but it was limited to the Hub, Calendar, and Password Keeper apps. Today, Hub+ becomes available to devices running Android 5 Lollipop and low-res Android 6 phones. Moreover, Hub+ now includes BlackBerry's Contacts, Tasks, Device Search, Notes, and Launcher apps. Hub+ is being offered to Android users for a free 30-day trial period and for 99 cents a month thereafter. For those not interested in the monthly fee, an ad-supported version of BlackBerry Hub, Calendar, Password Keeper, and Launcher will remain available. The Hub+ is the same software BlackBerry's own Priv and DTEK50 smartphones use for communications. The Hub+ provides a central place to manage email, text, IM, and social media messages. BlackBerry said it is still working to bring Hub+ to iOS.


AT&T Spearheading Robocall 'Strike Force'

Aug 19, 2016, 9:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T and dozens of other companies are escalating the war on robocalls with a new Strike Force aimed at disrupting spammers' ability to call and pester consumers. AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson says carriers, device makers, OS developers, network designers, regulators, and lawmakers will all need to work together to create a play book to tackle the problem. "In parallel with technological solutions, we need our regulatory and law enforcement agencies to go after the bad actors. Shutting down the bad guys is a necessary step, and a powerful example to others. Our goal isn't complicated: Stop unwanted robocalls. Easy to say. Hard to do," said Stephenson in remarks made at the FCC's first meeting of the Robocall Strike Force. Industry player are gathering today to discuss initial plans and are expected to report back with more solid short- and long-term plans on October 19. Some of the companies participating in the Strike Force include AT&T, Apple, Blackberry, Comcast, Ericsson, Google, LG, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon.


BlackBerry Delivers Significant Update to Priv and DTEK50

Aug 3, 2016, 11:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today began rolling out a series of software updates to its Android-based handsets, the Priv and DTEK50. The upgraded software adds new features and improves functionality across various apps. The Hub gains pinch-to-filter, quick send, Viber integration, and Twitter refresh along with WhatsApp and other, general performance improvements, such as quicker load times for long email threads. BlackBerry tweaked the BlackBerry keyboard with quicker language switching, Chinese support, and an on-screen pointer mode for the Priv. The camera app now includes remote shutter triggering, video preview imagery, manual control settings, and a toggle for managing video capture resolution. The calendar adds support for free/busy suggestions for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync users and cleans up the event invite user interface. BlackBerry said Priv and DTEK50 owners can update these apps individually via the Google Play Store.


BlackBerry Offers Its Secure Hub to Android Phones

Aug 3, 2016, 8:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today announced BlackBerry Hub+, a software offering that brings the company's BBOS 10-based messaging control center to all Android devices running 6.0 Marshmallow and up. The bundle includes BlackBerry Hub, Calendar, and Password Keeper and is available on a trial basis for free for 30 days. After the trial ends, people can continue to use the suite for free as long as they agree to view some ads. Alternately, people can subscribe to BlackBerry Hub+ for $0.99 per month. The for-pay subscription adds Contacts, Tasks, Device Search, Notes, and Launcher to BlackBerry Hub+. The Hub+ is the same software BlackBerry's own Priv and DTEK50 use for communications. The one-stop-shop provides a central place to manage email, text, IM, and social media messages. BlackBerry says BlackBerry Hub+ will reach the Google Play Store later today. BlackBerry said it is working to bring Hub+ to devices running Android Lollipop and iOS.


Hands-On with the BlackBerry DTEK50

Jul 27, 2016, 2:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry's DTEK50 may be a rebadge of the Alcatel Idol 4, but it still manages to look and feel like a BlackBerry. This slim slab should appeal most to those who need enterprise-class security for their business smartphone. Here are Phonescoop's first impressions of the DTEK50.

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BlackBerry DTEK50 Is A Secured, Rebadged Alcatel Idol 4

Jul 26, 2016, 10:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jul 26, 2016, 10:22 AM

BlackBerry today announced the DTEK50 smartphone, a slab-style handset that runs Android and features BlackBerry's signature communications and security software. BlackBerry says the DTEK50 features FIPS-2 hardware encryption, rapid security patching, secure boot process, and a hardened Android OS core. It includes Android for Work and Google Play for Work, as well as support for BlackBerry's full enterprise mobility management suite. Other features include BBM, BlackBerry Hub, the BlackBerry intelligent keyboard, and a customizable action key. The hardware is a rebadged version of the Alcatel Idol 4, which was announced earlier this year. The DTEK50 has a 5.2-inch full-HD LCD display, Snapdragon 617 processor with 3 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. It has a 13-megapixel camera main camera, 8-megapixel front camera, NFC, Cat 6 LTE, memory card slot, and Quick Charge 2.0. The phone ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. The DTEK50 is available for preorder in the U.S. and other countries starting today for $299. BlackBerry said it will reveal shipping dates on a regional basis over the coming weeks.


AT&T Pushing Marshmallow to BlackBerry Priv

Jul 14, 2016, 7:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T is rolling out the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update to its variant of the BlackBerry Priv smartphone. The update includes core Marshmallow features, such as Doze and Now On Tap, as well as the June security update from Google. BlackBerry made its own security improvements, updated the keyboard and notifications, and refined battery life. The update is free download over the air.


Google Details July Security Patch

Jul 6, 2016, 2:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today provided some information about its July security patch for Android devices. Notably, the patch will be separated into two moving forward. As per normal, the standard patch plugs a number of security holes that threaten all Android devices. Google found 22 vulnerabilities, of which it classified two as critical, or able to remotely execute code. Google is pushing a patch dated July 1 to cover these vulnerabilities. As always, it is pushing the patch directly to Nexus-branded devices and has already provided factory images for download. BlackBerry was among the first OEMs to commit to offering the patch to its own hardware. Google, however, detailed a second set of patches dated July 5 that cover hardware vulnerabilities on Nexus devices. For example, the July 5 patch fixes issues with Qualcomm, MediaTek, Nvidia, and other hardware drivers specific to Nexus phones, seven of which were classified as critical. Google said that, as far as it is aware, none of these holes have been exploited for nefarious purposes. Google has already given the patch to its OEM partners. It will be up to them to offer the patch to their own devices.


BlackBerry Puts the Classic to Pasture

Jul 5, 2016, 8:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jul 5, 2016, 8:12 AM

BlackBerry today said it will cease manufacturing the BlackBerry Classic handset. The Classic debuted in December 2014 and is one of the last devices from BlackBerry to run BlackBerry OS. The device featured a traditional BlackBerry design with a touchscreen and physical QWERTY keyboard. "It has been an incredible workhorse device for customers, exceeding all expectations," said BlackBerry. "But, the Classic has long surpassed the average lifespan for a smartphone in today's market. We are ready for this change so we can give our customers something better – entrenched in our legacy in security and pedigree in making the most productive smartphones." BlackBerry says it will continue to support the Classic and expects to roll out BBOS 10.3.3 in August. The device is still available online from select retailers. BlackBerry's most recent smartphone is the Priv, which runs Android. The Priv debuted in late 2015.


Facebook Says It Will Prioritize Posts from Friends

Jun 29, 2016, 9:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Responding to user feedback, Facebook plans to change how it ranks posts that appear in the news feed. Facebook says items posted by family and friends will be ranked higher than other content and thus should appear higher up in the news feed. Facebook explained how it approaches the news feed with a system of values. For example, friends and family come first. Facebook also wants the news feed to inform and to entertain — things its research says people want. At the same time, Facebook believes the news feed should be a platform for all ideas that generates engaging conversations while still leaving users in control. "Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook," said the company in a blog post. The latest iteration to the news feed will roll out to all users over the coming weeks.


Google Search to Improve Symptom Search Results

Jun 20, 2016, 11:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google plans to change the results shown when people search for symptom-based information. Moving forward Google will show a list of related conditions to symptoms like stuffy nose, cough, or headache. The results will provide a description of the symptom itself, list possible self-treatment options, and alert when symptoms warrant a doctor visit. "Our goal is to help you to navigate and explore health conditions related to your symptoms, and quickly get to the point where you can do more in-depth research on the web or talk to a health professional," explained Google in a blog post. Google created a list of symptoms based on medical conditions that are often included in search results. The list was checked by medical professionals at the Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic in order to associate individual symptoms with potential ailments. Google warns that its search results are for informational purposes only and should not replace in-person consultations with physicians or other healthcare providers. The changed symptom-based search results will appear on mobile devices in the coming days.


Apple Overhauls iMessage to Compete with Snapchat and Messenger

Jun 13, 2016, 1:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jun 13, 2016, 1:43 PM

Apple today showed off a new version of iMessage bound for iOS 10 that should help the app compete with the likes of Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. The new iMessage app makes it far easier to find and use emoji, which now appear bigger on the screen. A tool can automatically find every word that can be "emojified" and a simple tap will convert those words to the corresponding emoji. iMessage gains new emotion bubbles that convey the intensity of messages with small, medium, large, and huge text/animations. Users can create new stylized photos, and recipients can now react to those photos with "likes" and such. Apple Music previews shared through iMessage are playable without leaving iMessage. Most importantly, iMessage is now open to third-party developers. Apple believes developers can do really interesting things by adding their own extensions and functions to iMessage. For example, iMessage can support stickers that can be moved around and placed on photos before they are shared. Apple also showed off an app that makes it possible to collaborate on a lunch order through iMessage. The new iMessage is available on the iPhone and iPad, while the Mac and Apple Watch can receive (though not create) the richer messages.

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Lenovo Shows Off the Phab 2 Pro Project Tango Phone

Jun 9, 2016, 12:48 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jun 9, 2016, 12:53 PM

Lenovo today announced the Phab 2 Pro, a smartphone aimed at helping people capture virtual and augmented reality content. It builds on the foundation set by the first Project Tango tablet, but is a smaller and more refined device. Lenovo designed the Phab 2 Pro in partnership with Google, which heads Project Tango. The device is a premium handset with an aluminum design, a 6.4-inch quad HD display, and a Snapdragon 652 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. The phone has four cameras: an 8-megapixel selfie camera, a 16-megapixel main camera, a depth camera, and a motion-tracking camera. Lenovo says these latter two are core to helping create virtual/augmented reality content. The phone includes Dolby Atmos sound and is able to capture audio with Dolby 5.1 for more immersive sound. The Phab 2 Pro includes a 4,000mAh battery with rapid charging. It runs Android and will be available in September at Best Buy stores for $499.

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Verizon to Delete Its Paid Visual Voicemail Service

Jun 8, 2016, 9:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless said it will discontinue its $2.99 Visual Voicemail service come July 8. All customers who use the Visual Voicemail app will be transitioned to Verizon's free, basic voicemail service. Verizon says customers won't lose their existing voicemails, but may need to make room in their voicemail inbox, as well as reset their voicemail greeting. The list of phones impacted by the change is significant, including old and new models from BlackBerry, Casio, HTC, Kyocera, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Pantech, and Samsung. Verizon did not say why it is discontinuing the Visual Voicemail service.


'ForcePhone' Tech Brings 3D Touch to All Phones

May 27, 2016, 8:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Researchers at the University of Michigan have created software that adds 3D Touch-like functionality to just about any device. The software emits a high-frequency sound from the speaker and uses the microphone to listen to and analyze the sound. The sound changes as people interact with the device and can tell the difference between a light touch and a more firm press, or what happens when the phone is squeezed in various pattern. The benefit of the ForcePhone software is that it doesn't rely on special sensors or technology, and instead uses what's already available inside the phone. "Now this functionality can be realized on any phone," said Kang Shin, Professor of Computer Science in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "ForcePhone increases the vocabulary between the phone and the user. I think we're offering a natural interface, like how you turn a knob. It's the next step forward from a basic touch interface and it can complement other gestured communication channels and voice." Tung plans to demonstrate the technology next month, but hasn't announced any plans to commercialize it. The idea is nearly identical to one implemented by Elliptic Labs earlier this year.


BlackBerry Makes Improvements to Priv's Camera and Keyboard

May 26, 2016, 3:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today made software updates available to the Priv smartphone. The revised apps mostly fixes bugs, but also improves how well the camera and keyboard perform. For example, the camera app now includes manual mode so lets users adjust shutter speed, ISO, focus, white balance, and exposure. BlackBerry created some physical keyboard shortcuts for the camera, too, such as press-and-hold the letter A to return to auto mode, and press the spacebar to take a picture. The Priv's keyboard gains support for new languages, such as Vietnamese and Korean, and shortcuts such as CTRL + B to bold text or CTRL + U to underline text. BlackBerry says the new apps are available in the Google Play Store and will reach Priv devices over the next few days.


PayPal to Kill Off Its Windows Phone and BlackBerry Apps

May 25, 2016, 3:42 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

PayPal today said it will sunset its Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and Amazon Fire Phone apps on June 30. After that date, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and Fire Phone users will not be able to login to or use the Paypal mobile app. PayPay says these users will be able to sign in to PayPal.com via the browser of their device and conduct transactions online. PayPal further said all Android and iOS users of its mobile app need to upgrade to version 6.0 between June 3 and June 30. Version 6.0 of the PayPal mobile app has a fresh design. PayPal said it gave more prominent placement to features its customers use most, such as send and request money, PayPal balance, and transaction history. PayPal is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.


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.


FCC, FTC Query Carriers and Phone Makers Over Security

May 9, 2016, 12:59 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC and FTC today asked carriers and phone manufacturers how they handle security updates for their devices. The FCC sent letters to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and other carriers, while the FTC queried Apple, Blackberry, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, Motorola, and Samsung. In particular, the agencies want to know: the factors carriers/OEMs consider in deciding whether to patch a vulnerability on a particular phone; data on the specific phones sold in the U.S. since August 2013; the vulnerabilities that have affected those devices; and whether and when the company patched such vulnerabilities. The government said the line of inquiry is to help it further understand how these companies do or do not protect consumers. "Consumers may be left unprotected, for long periods of time or even indefinitely, by any delays in patching vulnerabilities once they are discovered," said the FCC. "To date, operating system providers, original equipment manufacturers, and mobile service providers have responded to address vulnerabilities as they arise. There are, however, significant delays in delivering patches to actual devices — and that older devices may never be patched." Google provides monthly security updates to Nexus-branded Android devices, but individual phone makers lag badly. Apple provides occasional updates.


BlackBerry Names New Device Chief

May 9, 2016, 9:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today said Ralph Pini will serve as the company's new Chief Operating Officer and General Manager for Devices. That puts Pini in charge of BlackBerry's smartphones. Pino takes over for Ron Louks, who recently left the company. Pini's priorities, according to BlackBerry, are to support customers using BlackBerry 10 handsets but also increase the selection of Android smartphones. The company believes it can rely on its security tools to increase the appeal of its smartphones over competitive devices. "BlackBerry is uniquely positioned to elevate Android as a more viable, hardened option to meet the demands of government and enterprise customers who need the highest levels of security. The bottom line, I want to give enterprise decision-makers everything they need," said Pini. Pini, who previously helped design the Motorola RAZR, reports to BlackBerry CEO John S. Chen.


Microsoft Testing Advanced Pre-Touch Sensing On Phones

May 6, 2016, 8:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft recently demonstrated new touchscreen technology that can anticipate users' actions and call up different controls, options, or menus to suit the current task. Pre-touch sensing helps the phone determine how the user is gripping the phone, as well as where the user's fingers are approaching the display. Using these cues, the device is able to provide adaptive user interfaces that are specific to the context of how the phone is being held and used. In a video, Ken Hinckley, principal researcher at Microsoft, shows how users can access video controls that vary depending on if the phone is being held in one or both hands. Pre-touch sensing can also help better differentiate between flicking gestures, selecting text, and highlighting content. The technology is in a developmental stage and Microsoft hasn't said if or when it may bring pre-touch sensing to consumer devices.


ITC to Investigate 8 Phone Makers Over Patent Claims

May 6, 2016, 7:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. International Trade Commission has agreed to investigate a complaint from Creative Technology / Creative Labs that accuses eight different smartphone makers of infringing on patents. The ITC is prepared to look at phones made by BlackBerry, HTC, Lenovo, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony, and ZTE. Creative Labs says these companies are violating a patent related to media playback on mobile devices. The ITC did not say when it might make an initial ruling on the matter. Companies often use the ITC as a venue to settle trade disagreements because the ITC has the power to institute import bans.


BlackBerry Adds Swipe Typing to Priv's Keyboard

May 3, 2016, 8:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry Priv smartphone owners can now swipe across the keyboard to input text, rather than press individual letters. BlackBerry says Priv owners have to turn on Type By Swipe manually, and can choose to swipe either on the software keyboard or the physical keyboard. Turning on swipe, however, disables the existing swiping gestures (for accessing symbols, deleting entire words, etc.) that are part of the Priv's physical keyboard. BlackBerry said it is looking at ways to allow Type By Swipe and its other swiping gestures to work at the same time. The Type By Swipe input tool was added to the Priv with the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update. Privs still running Android 5.1 can access these features by installing a new version of the BlackBerry keyboard app, available in the Google Play Store.


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