Silent Circle today said it has purchased the Blackphone assets from partner Geeksphone. Silent Circle and Geeksphone together launched the Blackphone, a secure smartphone based on a forked version of Google's Android platform, last year. Geeksphone, based in Spain, created the hardware and Silent Circle, based in Switzerland, provided the secure communications services. Today, Silent Circle bought out SGP Technologies, which was the joint venture formed between the two companies. Silent Circle now fully owns the Blackphone and its associated services. Silent Circle said the move will result in operating efficiencies and an integrated product roadmap. The company also said it intends to introduce new devices, software, and services at the upcoming Mobile World Congress trade show. More information will be available in the days ahead.
LG today announced a variant of its Watch Urbane smartwatch that adds support for LTE and NFC. Because Google's Android Wear platform doesn't yet support LTE and NFC, the Watch Urbane LTE runs LG's proprietary wearables platform. LG said its own platform offers most of the same features found on the Android Wear version of the Watch Urbane. With LTE, the Watch Urbane can make and receive phone calls, send and receive messages, enable carry out push-to-talk conversations, and perform other network-centric tasks without requiring a nearby smartphone. The Watch Urbane LTE has a 1.3-inch 320 x 320 P-OLED display, Qualcomm 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB of RAM and 4GB of storage, and a bevy of sensors for tracking motion and other metrics. LG significantly increased the size of the battery from 410mAh to 700mAh to accommodate the LTE radio's power requirements. LG claims the watch can last for days in standby mode. The Watch Urbane LTE is protected from water and dust thanks to its IP67 rating. LG didn't disclose pricing or availability.
Google pushed out an update to its calendar app for Android devices today and added several features requested by users. For example, the calendar now offers a seven-day view and pinch-to-zoom. Users can now add Google Drive files directly to events and control whether or not birthdays are shown from Google+. The calendar can also show week numbers and import .ics files from within Gmail and other apps. Google Calendar for Android devices is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today updated its Android for Work initiative to better woo corporate users. Android for Work is a set of tools that allow businesses to better manage employee devices. For example, work profiles isolate work data (including email, calendar, contacts) from personal data. Companies can protect the work data, but can't touch the personal data. This works natively in Android 5.0 Lollipop. In devices running Ice Cream Sandwich through KitKat, the Android for Work application houses corporate communications in a separate container that acts like a profile where it can be managed securely. Google Play for Work allows businesses to deploy and manage corporate apps securely, and can prevent unauthorized app downloads. Last, Android for Work includes Google's Docs productivity suite, with additional support for Microsoft Exchange and Notes. Google hopes these tools will convince more businesses to adopt Android.
Softcard today indicated that the Windows Phone version of the Softcard mobile payment application will be discontinued. "The Softcard for Windows Phone app will be terminated. A specific termination date will be provided soon," said Softcard in a statement on a new FAQ web site published today. Softcard was developed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Supported devices, including a handful of Windows Phones sold by AT&T and Verizon, can use Softcard to make tap-and-go mobile payments at participating retailers. Google purchased Softcard's assets from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon earlier this week to bolster its own Google Wallet application. The three carriers have agreed to preload Google Wallet on their Android handsets moving forward. Wallet competed with Softcard. Softcard didn't indicate how soon the Windows Phone app will be deactivated. Without it, Windows Phone handsets won't have the same mobile payment options available to Android and iOS devices.
Google today more than doubled the amount of storage available to users of its Play Music service. Beginning today, users can upload as many as 50,000 songs from their personal library (previous limit was 20,000). Once uploaded, the songs can be accessed from any Android device, as well as from the iPhone, iPad, and from web browsers. The upgraded storage and basic service are free. Consumers can pay $10 per month for access to Google's entire library of music.
Apple was found guilty of infringing on three patents held by a company called Smartflash and must pay the firm $532.9 million. A federal jury in Texas reached the verdict Tuesday and said Apple violated the patents willfully. According to Smartflash, Apple's iTunes software uses its patented technology for storing and retrieving music, movies, and games. Apple was disappointed with the verdict and railed against Smartflash, which is a patent holding firm. "We refused to pay off this company for the ideas our employees spent years innovating and unfortunately we have been left with no choice but to take this fight up through the court system," said Apple in a statement provided to Reuters. Smartflash has filed similar lawsuits against Google, HTC, and Samsung.
Google today announced that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have agreed to preload Google Wallet on their Android smartphones later this year. The mobile wallet will come on all devices running Android 4.4 KitKat and higher. At the same time, Google is purchasing intellectual property from Softcard -- the mobile payment service created by the same three carriers -- to help improve Wallet's performance. Softcard said its users will be able to continue to make tap-and-go payments at supporting retailers for the time being. Both Google and Softcard said more information will be made available in the coming weeks. Google is looking to revive its mobile wallet product after seeing Apple's success with Apple Pay, which is only available to the iPhone. Google Wallet has been around since 2011.
Google today announced YouTube Kids, what it calls a family-friendly video app for children. The app has narrowed down the focus of content available to what's appropriate for younger viewers. Google said the app is brighter and has bigger user interface elements to make it easier for kids to use. Some parental controls are built in, as well, permitting parents to limit viewing time and set sound and search parameters. Google has worked with a wide variety of content producers to highlight programming from DreamWorks TV, Jim Henson TV, Mother Goose Club, Talking Tom and Friends, National Geographic Kids, Reading Rainbow, and many more. YouTube Kids is available in the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store beginning today.
By all accounts, both Apple and Google have bold ambitions in the automotive space. But an Apple or Google Car is many years away. What's available today are CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which take a major new step in integrating your phone with your car. They're remarkably similar, both extending your phone's interface to the touch screen in your dash, but relying mostly on voice interaction for safe use while driving. In the this in-depth hands-on, we take a look at how they work, their striking similarities, and how they differ.
Google is seeking help from its carrier and hardware partners to revitalize its flagging Google Wallet service. According to sources cited by the Wall Street Journal, Google is waving more cash in front of network operators to feature the app on their Android smartphones. Google told investors last month that it is prepared to launch a "fully functional payment system" that goes "beyond just tap and pay" at its I/O Developer Conference, scheduled for late May. Google's efforts won't be easy. Google doesn't enjoy the same level of control that Apple does, which manages the hardware and software of the iPhone. Google has to work with the carriers, handset makers, and financial institutions to make it all work. Apple cut carriers out of Apple Pay and only had to work with banks. Google's efforts are being undermined by its own partners. Earlier this week, Samsung purchased LoopPay to help it create its own competitor to Apple Pay; meanwhile, the bulk of Samsung's handsets run Google's Android platform. Moreover, the carriers have their own mobile payment service in place, called Softcard, and actively prevented Google Wallet from accessing the secure portions of their smartphones. According to the Journal, Google is offering carriers a bigger cut of ad dollars for promoting Google Wallet. Further, Google is in talks with carriers to purchase Softcard, which could help resolve some of the issues at play. Google declined to comment on the Journal's story.
Google is prepared to release a version of YouTube designed specifically for kids, according to the Wall Street Journal. The app will stand apart from the main YouTube app and will be free. Sources familiar with Google's plans told the Journal the app will be announced on Monday, when YouTube exec Malik Ducard speaks at the Kidscreen Summit. The app will feature big buttons, limited scrolling, and kid-friendly content from popular TV shows, such as Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine. The Journal points out that Google will have to comply with laws regarding the privacy of children, and it's unclear how Google will generate revenue from the app. The app will initially only be compatible with Android devices. Google declined to comment on the Journal's story.
Google today released versions of its Inbox application that work with Android tablets and the iPad. The app, which can be used instead of Gmail, was previously limited to smartphones. In addition to support for tablets, Google also made Inbox available in the desktop versions of Firefox and Safari. It was previously limited to Chrome on the desktop. Inbox categorizes emails into certain groups, which Google says helps people reach important messages quicker. Inbox is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
Samsung today said it has agreed to purchase LoopPay, a mobile payments startup, for an undisclosed sum. With the acquisition, Samsung can bring a mobile payment service to market to compete with Apple Pay, Softcard, and Google Wallet. LoopPay's technology would allow Samsung handset owners to use their devices as mobile wallets and make purchases with associated credit or debit cards. One thing that sets LoopPay's service apart is that it doesn't require NFC. LoopPay works with existing magnetic stripe readers already installed in the bulk of retailers. It won't require merchants to upgrade their in-store hardware. Samsung and LoopPay believe this gives them an edge over competitors. Samsung may announce its mobile payment service as soon as March 1, when it is holding a press conference during the Mobile World Congress trade show. It will be a hallmark feature of the Galaxy S6, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Pebble has updated it smartwatch operating system and Android application in recent days and given its device the ability to interact with Android Wear notifications. Users will need to make sure they have Pebble OS 2.9 installed on their watch and version 2.3.0 of the Pebble Android app installed on their smartphone. Together, these will allow users to reply and act on in-coming notifications, set user-defined responses, and send messages through any Android-based SMS app. Pebble is the first non-Android Wear smartwatch that's able to work with Google's wearable platform. The updated Pebble Android app also resolves an issue with WhatsApp notifications and fixes a handful of other bugs. The updated Pebble OS makes devices compatible with Android handsets running systems as old as Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It also resolves several bugs. Both the app and the OS are free to download and install.
Sprint today said owners of the LG G3 should be able to update their devices to Android 5.0 Lollipop beginning today. Lollipop adds a wide range of new features, including Material Design, improved notifications, updated lock screen, upgraded Google Services, integrated messaging, and support for Google TV. The update also improves battery performance. Users can download and install the update over the air.
LG today unveiled the Urbane, its latest smartwatch based on Google's Android Wear platform. The Urbane's most compelling feature is the design. It trades the plastic shell seen on the LG G Watch R for a metallic enclosure that comes in gold or stainless steel. The Urbane has a thinner profile than the G Watch R, giving it a classier, more polished look that LG says works for both men and women. The specs are almost identical to those of the G Watch R. It has a 1.3-inch 320 x 320 P-OLED display, Qualcomm 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage, 410mAh battery, and a bevy of sensors for tracking motion and other metrics. The Urbane is protected from water and dust thanks to its IP67 rating. LG said more details, such as pricing and availability, will be announced on a market-by-market basis later this year.
HTC has pushed out an update to its Zoe photo sharing application with several new features on board. The app has a new engine for editing photos with themes, effects, and transitions. It allows users to download and save their Zoes to their camera roll. The Discovery Feed has been revamped and now highlights popular local content. Last, the app adds support for Android 5.0 Lollipop, and the Nexus 6 phone and Nexus 9 tablet in particular. HTC Zoe is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Microsoft recently updated its Next Lock Screen application for Android devices with several security tools. Users can now set either a pattern lock or PIN code to secure their devices. Previously, the app offered only a password. The app also adds support for Spanish and Mandarin, and disables the home button to prevent accidental unlocks. Microsoft's Next Lock Screen is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Xiaomi today said it plans to launch an e-commerce web site in the U.S. in the months ahead, but it won't sell any smartphones. The company will first offer some of its branded accessories, such as its fitness band, portable batteries, and headphones. The company isn't yet ready to sell phones stateside, despite its successes in its home market of China. "We intend to launch here in the U.S. in a few months," said Hugo Barra, Xiaomi's VP of international marketing. "It will not include any phones or tablets" for which the company has "no timeline, it's not in our plan at this point." Barra used to work on Google's Android team. Xiaomi doesn't sell devices through carriers; instead, it sells them directly to consumers. Its handsets are based on Google's Android platform, but Xiaomi's MIUI user experience is updated as often as once per week, and often with user-requested features. The company sells phones in eight countries and hopes to expand to more later this year.
Microsoft and Samsung have come to terms ending a dispute over patents and royalty fees. Google's Android operating system uses a number of patented Microsoft technologies and Android handset makers pay Microsoft a fee to use them. Samsung abruptly halted making payments after Microsoft acquired Nokia, claiming the company violated the terms of their agreement by becoming a direct hardware competitor. The dispute has been on-going for months, but is now resolved. "Samsung and Microsoft are pleased to announce that they have ended their contract dispute," said the companies. Terms were not disclosed.
Skype today quickly followed its new iOS app update with one for Android. Skype 5.2 for the Android platform introduces a handful of new features, most significantly the ability to send photos to others even when they are offline. Previously, both the sender and recipient needed to be signed in to share photos. Now, people can share even if the recipient is offline. Other new features include picture-in-picture view on phones for multitasking, reduced chat loading times, and call quality improvements. Skype 5.2 is free to download from the Google Play Store.
LG today announced the VR for G3, a custom version of Google's virtual reality cardboard headset made for the G3 smartphone. LG is offering the VR for G3 for free to people who buy the G3 smartphone. According to LG, the G3 is suited well to Google Cardboard thanks to the positioning of the buttons on the back surface rather than the side. Google Cardboard, as the name implies, is a foldable piece of cardboard that creates a virtual reality headset. The headset relies on a smartphone, which is placed inside the cardboard. The headset has special lenses that interact with VR apps and games on the screen. In addition to the free headset, LG is offering a free VR game download. The VR for G3 will be made available in select markets later this month.
Google has acquired an application that lets Android and iOS smartphone owners automatically backup and share their photos. The app, called Odysee, has been withdrawn from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, but it will continue to function for existing users until Feb. 23. After that time, users' photos will become available as downloadable archives. According to Odysee, the app will be folded into Google+. Google already offers a service for backing up and sharing photos via Google+ and the company was mum on its plans for Odysee. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Google recently pushed out minor updates to Google Maps and Google Play Music for Android devices. Google Maps gained a Local Guides feature that prioritizes reviews and information provided by local experts. Anyone can earn the local guide badge by submitting at least 50 reviews of businesses and/or points of interest. Such reviews are called out in Google Maps with a specific icon to let users know. Google tweaked Play Music with more Material Design elements, new artist pages, and new animations. Menu pages also load faster. Google Maps and Google Play Music are both free to download from the Google Play Store.
Twitter has struck a deal with Google that will allow Google to publish tweets in search results. Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the deal, says Google will have access to Twitter's "firehose" -- or all the data generated by Twitter's 284 million users. Google will be able to publish results with tweets in real time. Google used to display tweets in search results between 2009 and 2011, but Twitter allowed the deal to lapse. The company has had a change of heart as it is under pressure from investors to increase its user base, which has grown slowly over the last two quarters. The two companies have not announced the deal yet and did not comment on Bloomberg's article.
Microsoft's Garage team recently released a new app for Android handsets called the Picturesque Lock Screen. The lock screen adds Bing's home page images to Android devices. Users can easily change up the image by shaking their phone or swiping side to side. The image changes daily on its own. Picturesque also allows people to search Bing right from the lock screen, view the latest news and weather, see missed calls or messages, and view upcoming calendar appointments. Last, Picturesque includes controls for the camera, phone, and other basic tools, such as WiFi and Bluetooth radios, volume, brightness, and flashlight. Picturesque is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Verizon Wireless today said owners of the Samsung Galaxy S5 can expect to see Android 5.0 Lollipop hit their device in the days ahead. The update carries with it Google's Material Design, including improved notifications, as well as some Samsung-made changes. For example, Samsung added a short cut to the phone on the home screen. Samsung added the Material Design floating action button to its own Touch Wiz user interface, too. The update includes new ways to manage incoming interruptions and also makes improvements to multitasking. Android 5.0 Lollipop is free to download and install. The update is being pushed out in phases and may take time to reach all users.
HTC today warned owners of its handsets that it likely won't meet its self-imposed 90-day deadline to deliver Lollipop to existing handsets. Several years ago, HTC promised customers it would update its handsets to the latest version of Android within 90 days of that vesion's general release. According to HTC, however, things aren't going so smoothly with Android 5.0 Lollipop. "We've been working hard in the labs with Google and our carrier partners ever since the code release and are making great progress so far, but if you've been following the progress of this rollout you will know that Google has had to address several issues with this release," said HTC in a blog post. "We've been diligently working to fix some of them on our end and incorporating Google's fixes as quickly as possible, but despite everyone's best efforts some carrier versions of the HTC One (M8) and HTC One (M7) will not meet our 90 day goal, which is February 1st." HTC concluded by saying it would prefer to deliver the update correctly rather than quickly. It said it will continue to provide updates as more information about Lollipop rollouts become available.
Google Now will soon show cards from third-party apps. Google is prepared to update its learning search tool and allow about 30 select apps to deliver information and other results to Android devices. Some of those with early access include Airbnb, eBay, and Lyft, according to the Wall Street Journal. As long as Android device users have signed into Google Now and have the third-party apps installed, they'll be able to surface relevant content in the form of cards within Google Now. Users will have to give the third-party apps permission to access Now in order for them to work. According to Google, more than 40 new Cards will become available within the Google Now application. The updated Google Now service is rolling out to Android users beginning later today. Google didn't say if or when it will open up Now to more third-party apps.
Nokia recently updated its Z Launcher for Android devices. The application replaces the home screen on smartphones and adjusts what it displays throughout the day based on the user's behavior. The update adds preliminary support for icon packs, which will allow for more customization. The launcher also gains an easy way to uninstall or hide apps with a long press, and improved handwriting recognition with the scribble tool. Nokia made adjustments to the user interface and the carousel widgets. The update also fixes bugs and resolves other issues. Nokia's Z Launcher for Android is still in beta, but is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Microsoft has agreed to invest an unknown dollar figure in Cyanogen, which offers a version of Android devoid of Google's strictures. Cyanogen recently raised $70 million in funding, of which Microsoft is playing a minority role say sources cited by the Wall Street Journal. Neither Microsoft nor Cyanogen commented on Microsoft's involvement with the Android software maker, but Cyanogen has big goals. Last week, Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster said, "We're going to take Android away from Google." Cyanogen is working with handset makers to have its version of Android preinstalled on devices rather than Google's. It has succeeded with Micromax in India and is working to win over others. Google may offer Android to OEMs for free, but the search giant places strict requirements for handset makers to access the Play Store and other Google services. Cyanogen claims 50 million people have installed its variant of Android on devices, most of whom are enthusiast users who root their device and sideload the operating system.
BlackBerry CEO John S. Chen penned a blog post concerning net neutrality. Chen does not think the FCC should reclassify broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. He believes the FCC can come up with other ways to ensure an open, competitive market. Perhaps more interesting, however, are Chen's thoughts on "application neutrality." Chen believes application developers and content providers should be required to make their apps and services available to all mobile devices, including BlackBerries. "Not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality," wrote Chen. "Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple's iMessage messaging service. Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. Therefore, neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer's mobile operating system." Both the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store are home to more than one million apps each. The number of apps available to BlackBerry and Windows Phone devices is much, much less.
Google today pushed out updates to its suite of mobile productivity apps for both the Android and iOS platforms. The Android version of Docs, Sheets, and Slides gains offline printing, easier file creation, and improved context menus for accessibility, in addition to bug fixes. More specifically, Docs gets line spacing controls, Sheets gets scrollbars for easier navigation, and Slides gets shape manipulation. The iOS version of Docs, Sheets, and Slides gains support for Touch ID for protecting documents. More specifically, Docs gains live spellcheck, Sheets lets users hide/show rows and columns, and Slides allows users to group objects together. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
Amazon has informed users of the Amazon Wallet application that it will shut down the app and remove it from the Appstore today, reports CNET. Amazon launched the app as a beta service in July. Amazon Wallet let people store gift cards, loyalty cards, and membership cards. Amazon originally pitched the app as a way to reduce clutter in wallets and purses. The wallet app did not connect to bank accounts or credit cards and couldn't be used to make tap-and-go payments. "We have learned a great deal from the introduction of the Wallet and will look for ways to apply these lessons in the future as we continue to innovate on behalf of our customers," said Tom Cook, an Amazon spokesperson. Amazon said customers will be able to use the balances of any gift or loyalty cards stored in the app, but it will no longer track balances. Amazon didn't say if the app will return at some point in another form. Consumers are able to use alternate services, such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Softcard, to make contactless payments at participating retailers around the country.
Google today delivered a new version of Chrome to iOS devices. The latest rendition of Google's browser for iPhones and iPads carries over Material Design from the Android version and builds in better support for iOS8 and the larger screen sizes of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Chrome for iOS now also includes support for handoff from Chrome to users' default desktop browser. Chrome is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Facebook plans to add voice-to-text transcription to its Facebook Messenger application, said David Marcus, Facebook's vice president of messaging products. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Marcus said the company is already testing the system using machine-to-machine learning, though he declined to say when the feature might be added to the app. Facebook expects the feature to be popular across Asia and other regions where typing various languages on mobile devices is more of a chore. Apple, Google, and Microsoft already provide their own voice-to-text services, which are built into the iOS, Android, and Windows Phone operating systems, respectively. Marcus didn't say how Facebook's transcription service will differ from what's already available to consumers. Marcus said 500 million people use Messenger monthly and it hopes to grow that number to 1 billion. Marcus indicated Facebook is exploring ways to monetize Messenger, but the company wants to avoid advertising. Facebook also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, which have 700 million and 300 million monthly users, respectively. Facebook said it will monetize Messenger before WhatsApp. Facebook has an "ambitious" roadmap for Messenger, and will add other features over the course of the year.
Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe have agreed to new payout terms to settle a lawsuit over hiring practices in Silicon Valley. In 2011, former workers alleged the companies conspired to not poach one another's employees in order to avoid a salary war. In so doing, they unfairly limited their workers' ability to find better-paying jobs between 2005 and 2009. The four companies have agreed to pay a total of $415 million after a judge rejected their initial offering of $324 million. The reward will be disbursed to some 64,000 workers, who will receive about $5,000 each after attorney's fees. The plaintiffs support the $415 million proposal, but it still needs to be approved by the court. The companies involved admitted no wrongdoing and said they chose to settle only to avoid costly litigation.
Google recently updated its Maps application for both the Android and iOS platforms. The new version of Maps allows people to filter search results by cuisine, see current weather information for cities around the world, drop pins within navigation routes, and add transit directions directly to the calendar. Maps also gains some bug fixes. Google Maps is free to download from the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store.
Google today provided an update concerning its Project Ara modular smartphone. The company is moving ahead slowly, though it plans to launch a trial version of the phone during the second half of the year. The test device will only be available in Puerto Rico through the OpenMobile and Claro carriers. People who buy the phone will have access to the Ara Marketplace and Ara Configurator apps, along with 20 to 30 modules for customizing their handsets. Google said it needs to fully test what it's doing right and what it's doing wrong with the platform before it considers a wider launch. Project Ara head Paul Eremenko said is working hard to make sure the modules are robust and hot-swappable with its Spiral 2 platform. Once Spiral 2 is on solid ground, it will push forward with Spiral 3 and improve modules with more advanced capabilities. Only after Spiral 3 is tested will Project Ara be ready for a full market pilot. Google updated the Project Ara developer tools last months.