Spotify today reduced the cost of its family plan and made it competitive with offerings from Apple and Google. Moving forward, the Spotify family plan costs $14.99 per month and supports up to six individual users. Each user is able to create and manage their own playlists. The old plan cost $30 per month for five users. Spotify's family plan now costs the same as the family plans sold through Apple Music and Google Music. The Spotify family plan offers on-demand, ad-free, and offline music. Spotify is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
AT&T today added a handful of new handsets to a buy one, get one free offer the carrier has had in place since February. The extended BOGO promotion now applies to the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, the Microsoft Lumia 950, the HTC One A9, and the Kyocera DuraForce. The other handsets already included in the offer are the Apple iPhone 6s, 6s Plus; Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, S6 Active, and Note 5; and LG G5 and V10. The offer lets new and existing customers buy one phone at full price and receive a second one for free. The two handsets must come from the same manufacturer. AT&T says both phones must be purchased via its AT&T Next installment plan. The first phone can be a new line or an upgrade, but the second phone must be a new line purchased with an AT&T Next 24 plan (req's 30 payments). Both phones must be added to a qualified plan, such as Mobile Share Value, which starts at $70 for two lines. Customers will need to pay sales tax on the two phones at the time of purchase and may need to make several monthly payments on both before AT&T credits up to $650 for the second phone spread out over the 30 months. The offer is available through June 30.
Sprint today launched a buy one, get one free promotion for Apple's latest iPhones. The offer includes both the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus. Customers must have an eligible upgrade and initiate at least one new line of service in order to qualify for the offer. Sprint said customers may purchase the iPhones on a monthly installment plan, lease the iPhones, or lease one and buy the other. However customers choose to pay for the iPhones, the cost of the second handset will be offset by a service credit applied each month. Sprint is also offering to cut $200 from the price of the latest iPads for customers who buy a new iPhone and iPad together on an installment plan. Sprint didn't say how long the buy one, get one offer will be available. It has offered similar programs for the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5 smartphones.
MCX, the consortium of retailers including Walmart and Target, has postponed the national rollout of its mobile payment service, called CurrentC. MCX tested CurrentC in several markets and has decided to step back from the roll out for the time being. "Utilizing unique feedback from the marketplace and our Columbus pilot, MCX has made a decision to concentrate more heavily in the immediate term on other aspects of our business including working with financial institutions, like our partnership with Chase, to enable and scale mobile payment solutions," said CEO Brian Mooney in a statement provided to TechCrunch. The company plans to lay off some staff in the meantime. Walmart, Target, and other retailers have shied away from Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay as they worked to develop CurrentC. It's not clear if any of these retailers will adopt competing mobile payment services to fill the gap.
Apple today made iOS 9.3.2 available to iPhones, iPads, and iPods. The update mainly addresses bugs. For example, it resolves an issue that impacted Bluetooth audio quality on the iPhone SE. It also fixes a problem that prevented people from searching through the dictionary. The update adds one new function, allowing people to use Night Shift and Low Power Mode at the same time. iOS 9.3.2 is free to download and install over the air.
Google and Microsoft have fielded new keyboard apps — GBoard and Word Flow, respectively — for the Apple iPhone. GBoard includes search tools, while Word Flow lets you create your own themes. Here is a quick rundown on these alternative keyboard apps for iOS users.
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.
Apple today said it has partnered with SAP to help developers create better business apps for the iPhone and iPad. The idea is to combine the tools offered by Apple and SAP so developers can create native iOS apps that are able to reach into SAP's business intelligence systems. "Millions of SAP users will have access to critical data with more ease, speed, and efficiency than ever before," explained Apple. The companies are preparing a new SAP HANA Cloud Platform SDK that will give businesses the ability to quickly and efficiently build their own iOS apps for the iPhone and iPad based on SAP HANA Cloud Platform. Apple believe this new partnership with SAP will help it win over more business customers and convince them to adopt the iPhone or the iPad.
Dish today launched a new service called Smart Phone Repair that involves technicians making house calls. Smart Phone Repair is available to Dish and non-Dish consumers. Dish charges a $35 travel fee to send a tech, who can replace broken screens or dead batteries for the Apple iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6 and 6 Plus. Dish says techs can fix one or many phones once on site, and pricing for the repairs will be the same nationwide. Dish plans to expand the service to other handsets over time. Dish mentioned that it uses "respected third-party replacement parts," which means it does not use genuine Apple screens or batteries. Dish offers next-day appointments, available seven days a week, in all 50 states. The company is pitching the service as a more convenient way to deal with phone repairs. Pricing varies by model.
Apple recently updated its Apple Music application for the Android platform and added access to music videos. Apple says thousands of music videos are now available to Android users, allowing subscribers to browse through new videos or search for specific songs or artists. The updated app also makes it possible to sign-up for or upgrade to a Family Membership, which supports up to six family members. Apple Music costs $10 per month for a single user or $15 for families. The app itself is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Apple and partners are making the first wave of CareKit apps available today. Apple announced CareKit at a media event last month. It is similar to ResearchKit and helps healthcare providers and organizations create health-focused applications for the iPhone. The first four apps include Glow Baby for maternity, Glow Nurture fertility tracker, One Drop diabetes monitor, and Start depression medication tracker. CareKit is composed of four modules that interact with one another. It can be used to help people manage wellness, track disease symptoms, log fitness metrics and/or statistics and then share that data directly with their healthcare provider. On the backend, the health data can be managed and viewed through customizable dashboards. While these four CareKit-based apps are being made available to consumers via iTunes, CareKit itself is a developer tool. Apple plans to release CareKit to developers via GitHub.
Apple is now offering consumers the option to select its iPhone Upgrade Program when purchasing an iPhone via the Apple web site. Apple first rolled out the program last year with the debut of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. It packages together the price of an iPhone and AppleCare into a single monthly device payment. After 12 months, consumers can trade in the iPhone for a new one. Pricing for the 16 GB iPhone 6s starts at $32.41 per month, while pricing for the 16 GB 6s Plus starts at $36.58 per month. Prices for higher capacity models are a bit more. The iPhone SE is not included in the iPhone Upgrade Program, but Apple is accepting trade-ins toward the SE that can knock the monthly price to as little as $10.
Apple warned developers that by June 1 all apps submitted to the App Store for the Apple Watch must be native apps built with the watchOS 2 SDK or later. Native apps run on the Apple Watch itself, rather than on an iPhone. Apple added support for native apps to watchOS last fall. Native apps perform better on the wearable.
The Justice Department said it received help unlocking an iPhone involved in a drug case in New York City and has withdrawn its lawsuit against Apple. The government originally sought to compel Apple to unlock the device. In March, a magistrate judge sided with Apple and ruled the government can't force companies to hack their own products. The government initially appealed that decision. This week, however, the case took a turn. "[Thursday] evening, an individual provided the passcode to the iPhone at issue in this case," said the Justice Department in a letter sent to the presiding judge. "The government used that passcode by hand and gained access to the iPhone. Accordingly, the government no longer needs Apple's assistance to unlock the iPhone, and withdraws its application." Federal prosecutors didn't say who provided the passcode. The owner of the phone, who has already been convicted, claimed he didn't remember the phone's passcode. This is the second time the government was able to unlock an iPhone after initially saying it couldn't. The other, more prominent case involved the device owned by the suspects in the San Bernardino shooting. Apple declined to comment.
The HTC 10 may be the first Android smartphone to ship with support for Apple's AirPlay protocol, but HTC is adding the feature to its older handsets, too. HTC has updated its HTC Connect application for devices such as the One A9, M9, and M8. With the updated app aboard, these older phones are now able to stream audio content to AirPlay connected speakers. HTC is licensing AirPlay from Apple. HTC Connect supports a wide range of streaming protocols, including Chromecast, DLNA, and Miracast. Consumers who own HTC phones can update HTC Connect for free from the Google Play Store.
The HTC 10 smartphone, which runs Android, is the first to officially license Apple's AirPlay media streaming technology. The phone ships with a wide range of media streaming protocols as part of its HTC Connect software feature, including Google's ChromeCast, Qualcomm's Miracast, DLNA, and DisplayPort. AirPlay is one of the options in HTC Connect, which can be accessed quickly with a three-finger swipe. HTC said its AirPlay license allows the 10 to stream audio to AirPlay-connected speakers. Apple hasn't said if other Android phone makers plan to offer similar functionality.
The U.S. Department of Justice says it has appealed a ruling that prevents it from forcing Apple to unlock an iPhone in a New York drug case. The Justice Department said, "The government continues to require Apple's assistance in accessing the data that it is authorized to search by warrant." It has filed the appropriate paperwork with the court overseeing the case in Brooklyn. This matter is different from the case the FBI brought against Apple over the San Bernardino shooter's phone. In that case, a third party helped the FBI decrypt the contents of the device. The FBI says, however, the method used to access the San Bernardino phone does not work on the New York phone. A magistrate judge ruled in February that the court can't force Apple to assist in the New York case. The Justice Department has already asked a more senior judge to review the decision. Today's appeal is in addition to that action.
A new bill introduced by members of the House and Senate would force smartphone makers to crack encryption on devices any time law enforcement asks. A draft of the bill, submitted by Senators Diane Feinstein of California and Richard Burr of North Carolina, says tech firms "must provide in a timely manner responsive, intelligible information or data, or appropriate technical assistance to obtain such information." Feinstein and Burr have been threatening such legislation since last year, but the notion has taken a new direction ever since the FBI asked Apple to help decrypt an iPhone and Apple refused. The bill doesn't spell out criminal or civil penalties that might be involved for companies that refuse. If passed into law, the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016 would largely negate the benefits of using encryption on mobile devices, which are meant to protect personal information.
Microsoft's Garage team has made a productivity-minded keyboard available to Apple's iOS devices. The keyboard, says Microsoft, works in tandem with an Office 365 account for tapping into OneDrive, Office, and other Microsoft account information. Microsoft suggests users toggle between the standard iOS keyboard and Hub Keyboard when needed, using Hub to grab and share URLs of Office documents or contact details from the phone or associated Office 365 account. It also has an enhanced copy-paste function for doing text between apps, documents, and files. The Hub Keyboard is first available in English for the U.S. and will expand to more languages and countries over time. Microsoft's Garage team focuses on creating apps for Android and iOS devices. It released Hub to the Android platform in February. The app is free to download.
WhatsApp today updated its service with full end-to-end encryption. Now, the latest version of the app protects calls, messages, photos, videos, files, and voice messages by default. Users don't need to take any action to enable it. Encryption applies to messages sent to individuals and groups. The company says no one but the recipient(s) will be able to read the messages. WhatsApp itself cannot see message contents. The update covers all versions of WhatsApp, including the Android, iOS, and Windows apps. WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, says more than one billion people use the app to communicate. The change follows the widely publicized FBI case against Apple, which ordered the company to unlock an iPhone. Apple refused, but the FBI was able to unlock the device using another method. WhatsApp says the government will not be able to read WhatsApp messages.
Walmart today said customers can save big bucks on Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy phones for the next three months. Walmart has cut the price of all iPhones by $100 (including the new iPhone SE) and all Galaxy phones (including the Galaxy S7) by $150. The rollback begins today and lasts through the end of June. The reduced prices will be available only in Walmart stores, and only to customers of AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless. T-Mobile is not participating in the rollback program.
Verizon Wireless today confirmed to Phonescoop that it plans to charge customers $20 to upgrade to new devices beginning April 4. The fee will apply to customers who buy handsets with installment plans, or buy phones at full price. Verizon will assess the fee at third-party retailers, too, such as purchases made at the Apple Store or Best Buy. "The upgrade fee helps cover our increased support costs associated with customers switching devices," explained a Verizon spokesperson to Phonescoop via email. "Customers can pay the charge when they upgrade, bill it to their account, or trade in an old device to offset the cost. The fee for upgrading on device payment is still half of the two-year contract upgrade fee." Verizon charges contract customers $40 when upgrading devices. AT&T instituted its own device upgrade fee of $15 last year. Sprint recently lowered its upgrade fee from $36 to $30. T-Mobile charges $20 for a SIM card starter pack, which is widely seen as an upgrade fee. Verizon's new $20 upgrade fee was first uncovered by MacRumors.
Apple today made a minor update available to iPhones and iPads in order to fix a browser-based bug. In particular, iOS 9.3.1 addresses an issue that caused apps to sometimes hang or crash completely after users tapped links in the browser or other apps. iOS 9.3.1 is free to download and install over the air.
Google today announced VR view, a way for developers to add virtual reality content to mobile apps and web sites. Google believes VR images and video — accessed through Google's Cardboard viewer for phones — can be used to create interactive and enriching experiences within apps. Such content would be engaging for travel or real estate services, for example, allowing people to explore potential destinations or homes. The latest Cardboard SDK makes it possible to embed VR in Android and iOS apps with a few lines of code. Google updated the Cardboard SDK today with the tools needed for VR view, and made the Cardboard SDK available to Apple's iOS platform for the first time.
Foxconn has agreed to acquire a 66% stake in Sharp for $3.5 billion, said the companies today. The sale price is considerably less than the $5 billion Foxconn offered earlier in the month. Foxconn is a Chinese company known mostly for building Apple products. Sharp, based in Japan, chiefly makes displays. It has suffered from financial problems for years. Foxconn believes adding Sharp's display technology to its own product mix will help it earn more manufacturing business from companies like Apple.
The FBI today said it has unlocked the iPhone involved in the San Bernardino shooting case without Apple's help. An outside organization offered to help open the locked iPhone for the FBI last week after Apple refused to help. The FBI put its case against Apple on hold pending the viability of the third-party's claim. After assessing the method, the FBI was able to unlock the iPhone in question and is now examining the contents within. Apple did not immediately offer comment on the FBI's apparent breakthrough. The FBI has dropped its case against Apple.
Apple was forced to pull a build of iOS 9.3 for older iPhones after it was found to cause activation problems on the iPhone 5s, 5, 4s, and 4. "Updating some iOS devices to iOS 9.3 can require entering the Apple ID and password used to set up the device in order to complete the software update," explained Apple. "In some cases, if customers do not recall their password, their device will remain in an inactivated state until they can recover or reset their password." In response, Apple pulled the build of iOS 9.3 specific to these older iPhones. The company patched the problem and has made the update available once again. Customers who downloaded the faulty version and are experiencing authentication issues can work around them using steps spelled out on Apple's support site.
AT&T customers who have newer iPhones can now make WiFi calls when traveling abroad. The company enabled international WiFi calling with the iOS 9.3 update from Apple and refreshed carrier settings. AT&T says international calls made via WiFi will be charged at its standard rates. The feature also allows people to send text messages via WiFi, which are counted the same as regular text messages. WiFi calling, which must be turned on in the system settings, is available to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, and 6s Plus. WiFi calling has been available for domestic calls since last year and can provide voice/messaging connectivity in areas with poor cellular coverage.
The U.S. Department of Justice may have found a way to unlock the San Bernadino shooter's iPhone without Apple. "An outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking [Syed] Farook's iPhone," said the Justice Department in a court filing Monday. "Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook's iPhone. If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case." In response, the Justice Department asked the judge overseeing its case against Apple to cancel the hearing planned for March 22. The Justice Department's request was granted and the hearing rescheduled for April 5, should it be necessary. Earlier on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook reiterated the company's intent to fight the government's request. "We believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and protect your privacy," said Cook. "We owe it to our customers and we owe it to our country. We will not shrink from this responsibility." The government hopes to know within a couple of weeks if the third-party method will work.
Apple said iPhone and iPad owners will be able to download and install iOS 9.3 starting today. iOS 9.3 is a more significant point update than normal. It adds Night Shift to help reduce eye fatigue at night. It reduces blue light on the screen. The platform brings education tools to teachers and school admins, such as Managed IDs, and support for multiple sign-ins on a single device. iOS 9.3 also adds protected Notes, to secure files via Touch ID. Fitness and health data is more accessible thanks to a revised dashboard in Apple Health. The platform expands News functionality by adding support for landscape video playback on the iPhone, as well as more targeted article suggestions. iOS 9.3 is free to download and install over the air, or via iTunes.
Apple today announced the iPhone SE, a smaller, less-expensive alternative to the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. The SE's defining feature is the 4-inch display, which helps keep the footprint in check; the design is similar to that of the iPhone 5/5S. The SE runs on the Apple A9 chip with M9 co-processor, same as the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. The M9 co-processor enables low-energy sensor tracking and always-on "Hey, Siri" functionality. The SE has a 12-megapixel camera with focus pixels, true tone flash, and support for Live Photos. The user-facing camera has a Retina Flash for low-light selfies by flashing the display. The iPhone SE includes a wide range of LTE bands for better international roaming and VoLTE and 802.11ac WiFi for quick local networking. The SE also boasts Touch ID, an NFC radio with Secure Element, and Apple Pay. The SE will cost $399 (16 GB) and $499 (64 GB). Apple will begin accepting preorders for the iPhone SE March 24. The device will reach stores March 31.
Apple today permanently dropped the entry-level price of the Apple Watch from $399 to $299. Apple said it is dropping the price to make it appealing to a wider range of consumers. Apple also revealed new wristbands for the Apple Watch, including a woven nylon band, but did not update the Watch hardware itself.
Apple today announced CareKit, a tool that will work with mobile apps to help people track and manage various conditions and diseases. The app can be used to collect data points for a range of afflictions and then shared with family members or medical professionals. The first disease being targeted with CareKit is Parkinson's. The company has forged several partnerships with research centers and medical facilities to help spur engagement. Apple will release CareKit to app developers later this year.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Samsung's petition regarding its patent-based litigation with Apple. Samsung made the request in December and hopes the Supreme Court will reverse lower courts' decisions regarding the damages owed to Apple over the latter's design patents. Apple is seeking reimbursement for profits earned by Samsung for allegedly copying its smartphone designs. The case has been winding its way through various courts for five years now. Granting Samsung's request to hear the case doesn't mean Samsung has won anything; however, the Supreme Court can set precedent in how the victors in patent cases are awarded damages. It's not clear when the Supreme Court will review the Samsung/Apple case, nor when a decision might be made.
T-Mobile today said baseball fans will be able to watch every regular season Major League Baseball game on their smartphones for free. T-Mobile partnered with MLB and is providing customers with a free year of MLB.TV Premium. T-Mobile customers can stream every out-of-market regular season game to their Apple or Google smartphone and tablet. Moreover, MLB.TV Premium falls under T-Mobile's Binge On program, so streaming games over cellular won't count against users' data packages. The deal also provides a free subscription to At Bat Premium, a mobile sports app for watching home and away broadcasts. At Bat Premium does not fall under Binge On and will be counted against data plans. The free year-long subscriptions will expire February 28, 2017. T-Mobile says people will be able to use the subscriptions on more than a single device. Interested fans will need to sign up during Opening Week, between April 3 and April 10.
Apple today released iOS 9.3 Beta 7 for both developers and public testers. iOS 9.3's major features include Night Shift to help with sleep issues and multi-user login for education accounts. Several apps are slated for new functionality, too, such as Apple News, which gains landscape view on the iPhone as well as faster updates and personalized recommendations. The Apple Health app gains a new activity view, and Apple Notes adds password protection for individual entries. Apple has been testing iOS 9.3 along with betas for watchOS 2.2, tvOS 9.2, and Mac OS X 10.11.4. Apple has an event scheduled for March 21, which means today's iOS 9.3 beta is likely to be the last ahead of iOS 9.3's general release. Apple didn't call out specific updates to the latest beta. It can be downloaded over the air for registered developers and public testers.
iPhone owners can now use Apple Pay to purchase gas at some 6,000 Exxon Mobil stations around the country. Exxon Mobil updated its Speedpass+ mobile app today and added support for Apple Pay. Users need only select Apple Pay as a payment method and can secure the transaction with Touch ID. The app doesn't offer tap-and-go payments; instead, users need to open the app, find the station, authorize the pump (which can be scanned via QR code), and then fill the tank. The app negates the need to pull out a wallet or credit card to pay for the gasoline. Exxon Mobil Speedpass+ is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
The U.S. Department of Justice resubmitted a case against Apple today after a magistrate judge recently sided with Apple. The Justice Department wants a higher-ranking judge to consider the issue. This case involves a suspected drug offender in New York. The magistrate judge said Apple shouldn't be compelled to unlock the iPhone. This is a separate, yet similar, matter to the one being argued in California over the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone. Apple argues in both cases that giving the FBI the tools in needs to unlock these iPhones imperils the safety of all iPhone users.
Google today updated its Photos app for iOS devices and added support for Live Photos. This means iPhone owners will be able to backup and view their Live Photos (moving images similar to GIFs) to Google Photos. The app also gains improved navigation, support for iPad split view and the iPad Pro, as well as several performance improvements. Google Photos for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
The U.S. Supreme Court today said it will not review an appeal made by Apple over its role in raising the price of e-books. In June, a lower court ruled Apple conspired with five book publishers to increase the cost of electronic books in violation of antitrust regulations. Amazon and others commonly sold e-books for $9.99, but prices climbed to $12.99 and $14.99 for many titles after Apple launched its own iBook store. Since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Apple's case, the lower ruling stands as-is. With its legal recourse exhausted, Apple is now on the hook for a $450 million settlement with attorneys general in 33 states.