The CTIA Wireless Association today said a number of handset makers and wireless network operators have agreed to a basic framework that will eventually provide consumers with better anti-theft tools for their smartphones. The Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment is meant to deter theft while also giving phone makers and carriers room to innovate. All the companies agreed to implement a baseline anti-theft tool preloaded on (or downloadable to) all wireless smartphones manufactured after July 2015. This tool will let consumers: remotely wipe their data; render the smartphone inoperable to unauthorized users; prevent reactivation without owner's consent; and reverse the inoperability of the device as well as restore the data to the device in the event it is found by the owner. Consumers will also be free to use whatever third-party anti-theft tools they wish in addition to those provided by the phone maker. All signatories will make the baseline anti-theft tool available with all its core features. The initial batch of companies signing the commitment include: Apple; Asurion; AT&T; Google; HTC America; Huawei; Motorola; Microsoft; Nokia; Samsung; Sprint; T-Mobile; U.S. Cellular; and Verizon Wireless. Some of those who haven't signed include Kyocera, LG, Sony, ZTE. A number of lawmakers lauded the commitment, which arrives several months after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler mandated that wireless companies come up with such a solution or face regulatory intervention.
AU Optronics recently unveiled a high-resolution screen for smartphones. The AMOLED panel measures 5.7 inches across the diagonal and has QHD (2560 x 1440 pixels) resolution. AU says the panel has a pixel density of 513 pixels per inch. To put that in perspective, Apple's iPhone 5s has 326 pixels per inch and the Samsung Galaxy S4 has 441 pixels per inch. The new screen makes use of in-cell touch technology, which helped AU Optronics keep the thickness at 0.57mm. The drivers for the panel allow for up to 10 points of touch input. AU Optronics didn't say when the panel would reach mass production for devices. The company also revealed a high-contrast 1.6-inch AMOLED for wearable devices. AU Optronics claims both screens are power efficient.
T-Mobile today announced the second of three new initiatives meant to help lure in customers. The company is targeting tablet customers with its latest offer, which will give current voice subscribers a total of 1.2GB of free tablet data until the end of the year. T-Mobile already offers 200MB to all tablets for free and is adding 1GB to that pot. Second, T-Mobile is selling LTE-equipped tablets at the same price as their Wi-Fi-only counterparts. That means a 16GB Apple iPad Air with LTE will cost $499 instead of $629 when purchased through T-Mobile. T-Mobile is carrying over its Contract Freedom initiative to tablets, as well, and will pay the ETF for customers who break their tablet contract and switch to T-Mobile. Last, T-Mobile is offering tablets for $0 down with corresponding monthly payments for those who prefer to finance their hardware.
Apple has acquired a company called Novauris, which develops automatic speech recognition technology. Novauris was founded by several employees from Dragon Systems, a more well-known speech recognition firm. The acquisition took place last year, and Apple would only confirm that it occasionally buys small companies. Novauris told TechCrunch that it is no longer a stand-alone company and now works for Apple. The company's main project was to develop a speech recognition system with a large vocabulary that could be stored locally on devices such as smartphones or tablets, as well as operate from the cloud. The acquisition could boost the performance and availability of Siri, Apple's voice-activated personal assistant.
Microsoft today announced new tools that will make it easier for developers to create web apps that work on Windows, Windows Phone, Android, and Apple devices. The tools rely on a wide range of new functions that are part of Internet Explorer 11. Microsoft believes developers should be able to create web apps that work across all platforms, and this will benefit users of the Windows Phone 8.1 platform once it becomes available.
Microsoft today updated Office for the iPhone and Android smartphones and made the application suite free for home users. Previously, the app required a subscription to Office 365, which carried a monthly fee. iPhone and Android smartphone owners can now open, edit, and create Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files on their smartphone for no charge. Business users will still need to subscribe to Office 365 in order to access Office on their smartphone. The change comes just after Microsoft announced Office for the Apple iPad. Office for the iPad is free to download, but is limited to read-only unless iPad owners subscribe to Office 365.
Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said the company is prepared to expand the availability of HD Voice to the entire country on or about July 1. HD Voice provides clearer voice calls between two HD Voice-compatible phones. The service is available in a few markets and on more than a dozen devices, including the Apple iPhone 5s/5c, LG Nexus 5, and Samsung Galaxy S4 and Note 3. Sprint had hoped to expand HD Voice to more markets last year, but is now on track to deliver on that commitment by July.
Google today announced several updates to its Play Games service that will benefit both Android and iOS devices. To start, Google said it is bringing a new service to Play Games called game gifts. With game gifts, players will be able to send virtual, in-game objects to anyone in their gaming circles. Gamers can now send multiplayer invites directly, making it easier for players to find one another. Google is expanding the gaming section in the Play Store with 18 new categories to further refine the searching and browsing experience. Further, Google is expanding multiplayer support to Apple's iOS, which will let Android and iOS device owners play one another in real-time. Google said developers can access a new version of the Play Games Unity Plug-in to enable cross-platform multiplayer support, as well as an updated Play Games C++ SDK to help with achievements and leaderboards. Google said it is improving statistics via the Google Play Developer Console, which gives developers a dashboard to let them visualize engagement with their apps on a daily basis. Game developers can find more information about these new tools via Google's developer portal.
Sprint today relaunched its own-branded prepaid service, which used to run under the name Sprint As You Go, but is now called Sprint Prepaid. The initial list of devices being offered by Sprint Prepaid includes the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini (Spark compatible), Samsung Galaxy S3 (LTE compatible), Motorola Moto G (3G only), and the Apple iPhone 4S (refurbished). According to Sprint, more smartphones will be available soon, and feature phones will launch on Sprint Prepaid next month. Smartphone plans start at $45 per month, which includes unlimited voice minutes and messaging, but only Wi-Fi data. Spending $60 per month gains users unlimited cellular data (speeds throttled after 2.5GB) in addition to unlimited voice/messaging. Sprint Prepaid does not require credit checks or contracts, but it still eligible for the Sprint Buyback program for turning in or recycling old phones for a discount on new devices. Sprint Prepaid is available beginning today. Sprint is still offering its Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA prepaid brands.
The European Parliament today approved legislation that will require all mobile device makers to use a single, interoperable charger that works with any smartphone or tablet. Europe already requires that all mobile phones use the same charge port (microUSB), and today's legislation expands that to tablets, as well. Individual countries in the European Union have two years to adopt the EU legislation internally, and then manufacturers will have another year after that to comply. Toine Manders, with ALDE Group, said, "This legislation will bring benefits to consumers and will reduce waste." Those who introduced the legislation believe it will save European consumers 300 million Euros annually, as well as cut down the amount of electronic and paper waste. The rules also help to ensure that mobile devices and their chargers don't interfere with one another, while also maintaining Europe's safety requirements. Many manufacturers have already adopted microUSB as the standard for charging their devices, but some, such as Apple, use their own, proprietary ports and cables. In order to comply with European law, Apple now supplies an adapter with iPhones. It's unclear how it will comply with the new laws.
Apple recently cut the trial period during which consumers can return an iPhone with no financial penalty. Apple used to offer a generous 30 days, but cut that down to 14 days effective today. The 14-day window mirrors that offered by wireless network operators to sample new devices and service before they are locked in.
Ting, an MVNO that uses Sprint's network, is now allowing customers to bring their own iPhone 5 and activate it on Ting. The iPhone 5 must be a Sprint-compatible version. Ting offers refurbished iPhones through its partner, Glyde. Ting does not yet support the iPhone 5s or 5c, but will later this year.
Apple recently updated its Remote application, which lets iOS devices interact with and control the Apple TV. The new version of the app adds the ability to access iTunes Radio on the Apple TV, as well as browse through purchased movies and TV shows directly on the device before playing them back on the Apple TV. Apple Remote 4.2 is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Apple today made iOS 7.1 available to iPhones, iPads, and iPods Touch. The operating system update resolves a significant bug that soft reset iOS devices when being used. iOS 7.1 also adds support for CarPlay, Apple's recently-announced in-car software. The update tweaks the behavior of a wide range of functions, such as the ability to control Siri manually by pressing and holding the home button. Siri gains more natural-sounding voices for Chinese, UK English, Australian English, and Japanese. iTunes Radio was improved with new placement of the search bar, and the ability to buy albums directly from the Now Playing screen. The Calendar app gains the ability to display events in the month view, as well as view country-specific holidays. Accessibility has been improved with a bold font option, and the Reduce Motion function now applies to more apps, including weather and messages. iOS 7.1 also adds new HDR camera tools, improves iCloud Keychain support, automatically clears FaceTime calls, improves Touch ID on the iPhone 5s, improves performance of the iPhone 4, and provides other UI teaks. iOS 7.1 is free to download from Apple.
Apple's request to ban an array of Samsung smartphones and tablets was denied by a U.S. District Judge. Apple already won a guilty verdict against 26 different Samsung devices that were found to infringe on its patents. A jury awarded Apple more than $1 billion in damages, but Apple still sought to prevent Samsung from selling the infringing products in the U.S. Though Apples' request was denied, the damages owed to Apple by Samsung were finalized by the judge overseeing the case. The Korean company must now fork over about $930 million for violating Apple's patents.
Apple today announced CarPlay, a bridge that will let drivers user their car's infotainment center to access and interact with their iPhone. In order to work, CarPlay must be installed by the car manufacturer and a separate app must be installed on the iPhone. Drivers can use the car-based controls, such as steering wheel buttons, to launch Siri (Apple's voice-activated assistant), which can then access contacts, make calls, and listen to voicemails. Siri will read incoming messages aloud at the user's request, as well as dictate spoken messages for replies. CarPlay ties into Apple Maps, and can access recent trips, or addresses buried within emails or text messages, as well as plan and route turn-by-turn directions. Apple Maps will appear on the car's built-in display. CarPlay also gives drivers access to all their music, audiobooks, iTunes Radio, and podcasts with on-screen navigation or through Siri. According to Apple, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo will be the first to add CarPlay to their vehicles. Other car makers, including BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki, and Toyota, will follow down the road. CarPlay will be enabled in iPhones through a system update.
Google has released Google Hangouts 2.0 for the Apple iPhone and iPad. The app has been optimized for iOS 7 and given a visual refresh. Google added several new features, including the ability to record and send 10-second video messages, send animated stickers to contacts, send a map of current location to contacts, and see picture-in-picture video chats. The app also integrates better with iOS's contacts application, and makes it easier to start video chats from within an existing conversation. Google Hangouts for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
A German court today dismissed a lawsuit filed by IPCom against Apple over smartphone patents. The patent in question covered technology that prioritized emergency calls even when cellular networks were overloaded. IPCom was seeking more than $2 billion in damages against Apple. Courts in Germany have dismissed similar claims made by IPCom, which is a patent holding company. The court did not provide a reason for today's dismissal.
The U.S Department of Justice today halted an investigation into Samsung's use of standard essential patents in litigation. The Justice Department was looking to ascertain if Samsung was abusing its standard essential patents, which must be licensed at fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory rates. The Justice Department had opened the investigation after Samsung sued Apple via the U.S. International Trade Commission. The ITC initially ordered a ban of select Apple products in the U.S., but the ban was overturned by the Obama Administration in September. Since the ban was overturned, the Justice Department's invesgiation became moot. The Justice Department will, however, continue to monitor Samsung's patent litigation in the U.S.
IPCom, a patent-holding company based in Germany, today accused Apple of violating one of its patents. The patent, which IPCom bought in 2007, pertains to how cellular calls to emergency services are prioritized on mobile networks. IPCom filed its claim in Germany and is seeking $2 billion from Apple to use the patent. According to the Wall Street Journal, the patent is a "mandatory element of the UMTS and LTE cellphone standards." Patents deemed standard essential must be licensed at fair and reasonable rates. The Journal did not say if IPCom attempted to reach such an agreement with Apple prior to filing its lawsuit.
Apple recently published updates to its core productivity applications for the iPhone and iPad. Pages, Apple's word processor, has a significant number of new features. The app now lets users share password-protected documents via iCloud or export them to .docx files. The app supports charts with date, time, and duration values, and makes it easier to start lists with new characters. The app also improves support for bidirectional text, ePub export, and compatibility with Microsoft Word 2013 documents. Keynote, Apple's presentation app, includes many of the same improvements and also adds a new remote feature to control slideshows on other devices, adds new transitions, improves presenter display options, and adds custom number formats. Numbers, Apple's spreadsheet app, now permits spreadsheets to be viewed and edited in landscape orientation, adds iCloud sharing and .xlsx file export for secure documents, and improves compatibility with Microsoft's Excel program. Each app costs $9.99, but the update is free for customers who've already purchased the apps.
Rockstar, a patent consortium jointly owned by Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry, Ericsson, and Sony, has dropped its patent infringement lawsuit against Huawei. The suit was originally filed last year, and included co-defendents Google, Samsung, and HTC. Rockstar believes the companies are violating its patents. Neither Rockstar nor Huawei indicated why the suit was dropped, nor whether or not Huawei signed a licensing agreement with Rocktar. The lawsuit still stands against the other companies. Google, in particular, is accused of infringing on seven different patents that pertain to internet search terms and advertising. Rockstar is seeking damages from Google, which it says is violating the patents willfully. Rockstar is a group of companies that together purchased thousands of patents from bankrupt Nortel. The firms spent a total of $4.5 billion on the patents.
Apple today indicated that it is working to resolve a bug that plagues the iPhone home screen. "We have a fix in an upcoming software update for a bug that can occasionally cause a home screen crash," said Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller. The bug doesn't cause full system-level crashes, but does reboot the home screen. Apple recently released a new beta version of iOS 7.1, signifying that the public release is near. Muller didn't specifically state that iOS 7.1 would resolve the issue, though the likelihood is high. Muller indicated that the update will be available soon.
Apple was handed two minor victories by the judge overseeing the forthcoming patent case between the iPhone maker and Samsung. Federal Judge Lucy Koh, who has handled the bulk of the litigation between the two companies in the U.S., ruled that some Samsung devices infringed on an Apple patent for word recommendations, or auto-correct. Further, Koh deemed another Samsung patent, pertaining to multimedia syncing across devices, invalid. Samsung expressed frustration with the decisions. The rulings put Apple in a better legal standing ahead of the trial, which is scheduled to start in March. The March trial is separate from the one that took place in August 2012, and covers Samsung's more recent devices, including the Galaxy S III.
Motorola recently updated is data-migration tool for Android handsets to make it easier to switch from an iPhone. The company already makes it fairly simple to install iPhone data (contact, calendar, etc.) on a Motorola smartphone via Moto Maker. Now, owners of Motorola devices, such as the Moto X, Moto G, Droid Maxx, Droid Ultra, and Droid Mini, can use the Motorola Migrate application to grab the data directly from Apple's iCloud servers. Motorola Migrate is free for Motorola devices to download and use.
Google today made a version of its Play Movies & TV application available to iOS devices. The app will allow owners of the Apple iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch to access, download, stream, and play their Google Play Movies & TV purchases. Video content can only be streamed over Wi-Fi, says Google, and not 3G/4G. The app also interacts with Google's Chromecast device, which lets users push the content to their TV set. The app itself is free to download from the iTunes App Store, but the price of content varies.
Apple today indicated that it has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S Federal Trade Commission regarding in-app purchases made by children. The details, shared with Apple employees in an email from CEO Tim Cook, indicate that Apple will pay the FTC $32.5 million to drop the lawsuit. Apple already settled a class-action lawsuit filed by consumers whose children unknowingly rang up hundreds of dollars of in-app purchases. Apple has since altered its in-app purchase polices and is in the process of reimbursing some 37,000 claimants in the original case. Cook felt the FTC's follow-up lawsuit was unfair and smacked of double-jeopardy, but settled anyway to avoid "a long and distracting legal fight."
Apple was cleared in a patent case brought on by Google's Motorola unit. Apple was accused of using Motorola patents in the iPhone. The U.S. International Trade Commission found that Apple hadn't violated the patents in April 2013. Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld that decision.
The leaders of both Apple and Samsung have agreed to meet one another next month to discuss settling their on-going patent battles. They are scheduled to enter the courtroom in March anew concerning a second batch of patents. The meeting will be an attempt to settle their differences amicably ahead of that trial. The two companies have faced one another countless times over patents during the course of the last few years. Apple has won about $930 million in damages from Samsung already. The trial scheduled for March is an entirely new case, however, and will likely drag out for months if the companies can't agree to terms.
Yahoo today made a number of announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show. First, the company revealed that it has purchased Aviate, which makes a launcher for Android devices. Aviate is a learning launcher that uses contextual clues to customize the content that appears on the home screen throughout the day. Yahoo said it plans to use Aviate's user interface ideas in its own Android products later this year. Second, the company announced Yahoo News Digest, an application for the Apple iPhone that delivers news in small chunks twice per day. The app lets users customize the news items they want to receive, and delivers them to the phone automatically. The app is free to download and use, and is available starting today from the iTunes App Store. Yahoo also announced that it is adding a new Yahoo Tech section to its online news reporting, and it launched a new advertising platform for its mobile products.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone today released a new social search application that resembles the notion of "lazy web." The app, called Jelly, lets people submit queries to their Twitter and Facebook social circles to find answers. Users can submit text questions or photos and ask their social network for help in finding an answer. The application is available to Google's Android platform and Apple's iOS platform.
Apple has confirmed the purchase of SnappyLabs, makers of the SnappyCam app for iOS. SnappyCam lets an iPhone take unusually high-speed burst photos, up to 60 per second. The app also claims to support 6x lossless digital zoom.
BlackBerry today filed a patent infringement lawsuit against a start-up called Typo. Typo, which was founded by Laurence Hallier and Ryan Seacrest, announced the pending availability of a keyboard accessory that attaches to the Apple iPhone. The accessory is meant to help iPhone owners type on their device. According to BlackBerry, Typo lifted its design from BlackBerry. "This is a blatant infringement against BlackBerry's iconic keyboard, and we will vigorously protect our intellectual property against any company that attempts to copy our unique design," said the company. BlackBerry contends that its physical keyboards are one of its market differentiators. The lawsuit was filed in California.
Google has filed a patent lawsuit against Rockstar, the company formed by Apple, Microsoft, and BlackBerry to manage major communications patents bought from Nortel. Google accuses Rockstar of being a patent troll targeting the whole mobile industry. Google is asking the court to specifically declare that its Nexus devices do not infringe, which could set precedent in favor of all manufacturers of Android devices. Rockstar has made patent claims against most major Android players, including Samsung, LG, Huawei, ZTE, HTC, Pantech, and Asus. Rockstar bought the patents in 2012 for $4.5 billion, with $2.5 billion contributed by Apple.
Apple recently added the ability to gift books from the iBookstore. Gifting has long been available to Apple's other digital content stores, but this is the first time the company has offered the feature for digital books. The tool works just as it does for gifting music or movies, and lets people send gifts along with a short note to other iOS users who reside in the same country that they do.
Apple informed developers this week that all applications must be optimized for iOS 7 no later than February 1. The apps will need to be built with Xcode5 and matched against iOS 7's human interface guidelines. The result should be a more seamless experience for users.
Eight U.S. tech companies have sent a joint letter to President Obama and Congress asking for changes in the way governments collect personal data through the web. Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, and AOL all believe that the bulk collection methods used today have gone too far. Referencing details that were exposed by Edward Snowden earlier this year, the companies said, "This summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual–rights that are enshrined in our Constitution." The companies want governments to target individuals rather than everyone, and suggest that consumers and businesses alike will not use technology they don't trust. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it," said Brad Smith, general counsel for Microsoft. Microsoft recently said that it would increase the encryption it uses in an attempt to prevent government snooping. In the letter, the companies suggest five principles of reform, including the use of an independent way to oversee national security and more freedom to offer details about government record requests publicly.
Apple plans to launch its iBeacon service at 254 of its U.S. stores today, reports the Associated Press. iBeacon uses Bluetooth transmitters inside Apple Stores to track the exact location of shoppers. Customers must download the most recent version of the Apple Store application, and turn their Bluetooth radios on in order for iBeacon to track them. When shoppers move about the Apple Store, iBeacon can sense if they are standing next to a table of iPhones, for example, and will send a message to ask if the customer is interested in an upgrade. The app can also direct shoppers to the check-out counter, or alert them when purchases are ready for pickup. Apple Stores will also be able to send alerts concerning sales or deals to shoppers in the vicinity. iOS device owners need to agree to allow Apple to track them in order for iBeacon to work. Apple has not updated the Apple Store application since early November, and it is unclear exactly when iBeacon will come online.
Verizon Wireless has activated LTE 4G on its AWS spectrum in dozens of markets, reports GigaOm. Verizon Wireless lit up AWS-based LTE in New York City earlier this year, but has recently expanded the number of markets to include many of the major metro areas east of the Mississippi River, as well as a number along the west coast. In the majority of these new markets on the east coast (Atlanta, Boston, Washington, D.C., et al.), Verizon has tripled capacity, while in several western markets (Los Angeles, San Francisco) it has boosted capacity by 150%. This means more people can connect to the network in the same location and can access data at faster speeds. A handful of Verizon's existing smartphones (Apple iPhone 5s and 5c, Samsung Galaxy S4, Motorola Droid Maxx, Mini, and Ultra) can already access Verizon's AWS-based LTE network, and Verizon said software updates will add this functionality to others. Moving forward, most new Verizon smartphones will be able to reach LTE in both the AWS and 700MHz bands.
Consumer Cellular today announced that it will soon offer the Apple iPhone 5s, 5c, and 4s. The devices, which can be paired with most of Consumer Cellular's service plans, will require down payments of $150, $100, and $50, respectively. Customers are then expected to make payments of $25 per month until the remaining balance of the phone is paid off. The iPhone 5s, 5c, and 4S will go on sale Friday, December 13.