Google's Project Fi, its WiFi-and-cellular wireless offering, is moving forward slowly. Google emailed those who signed up for the project and said it won't be able to accommodate everyones' requests for months. "Over the past few weeks, we've been happy to bring the first customers onto Project Fi and the initial feedback has been very positive," said Google in the email. "We're sending invites as quickly as we can, while ensuring a high-quality experience. Given the number of requests we've received, we currently estimate that it will take until mid-summer to get to everyone." Google concluded by saying it will provide a way for people to check the status of their invites in a few weeks. Project Fi requires the Nexus 6 handset and runs on WiFi and the cellular networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, adjusting on the fly in response to the best possible connection. The service is priced at $10 per gigabyte, and Google will refund customers for the unused portion of their data allotment each month.
HTC recently made the HTC Mail application available as a stand-alone app in the Google Play Store. By separating the app from its Sense user interface, HTC is now able to update the app with new features and resolve bugs more efficiently. Previously, such updates were limited to distribution with full OS rewrites. The version available today in the Play Store doesn't add any new features over what's available to devices running the latest version of Sense. HTC Mail is free to download.
Cyanogen today announced the Cyanogen Platform SDK, a new tool meant to make developing for Cyanogen easier. Cyanogen describes the Platform SDK as an open-source tool that lets developers use existing APIs within CyanogenMod's framework or to create their own APIs for the greater community. Cyanogen believes approaching its platform from an SDK/API perspective will be less daunting than approaching the platform as a whole. The organization is offering an alpha-level SDK with an introductory API for the Quick Settings Tile. Cyanogen hopes developers will take a look and eventually contribute to its platform. Cyanogen is based on Google's Android operating system, but the organization has broken away from Google's version in favor of its own. Earlier this year Cyanogen partnered with Microsoft and will include Microsoft's productivity apps in its operating system. Cyanogen has lots of documentation ready for developers and looking forward to community submissions to the Cyanogen Platform SDK.
Cricket Wireless recently added the ZTE Fanfare to its lineup of inexpensive handsets. The Fanfare has a 4.5-inch screen with 854 x 480 pixels. It is protected by Dragontail glass. The Fanfare is powered by a 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon 200 processor and comes with 1 GB of RAM and 4 GB of ROM. The Fanfare's main camera has a 5-megapixel sensor and can capture 720p HD video, and the user-facing camera has a VGA sensor. A 2,000mAh battery keeps the Fanfare running. The device has Google's Android 4.4 KitKat on board. Walmart is selling the ZTE Fanfare for Cricket Wireless. It is priced at $69.88.
Google today announced that it is adding tweets to search results. Tweets will now appear alongside standard results when users search from Google.com, from the Google app on Android and iOS devices, or from any mobile browser. Google believes bringing tweets to search results is a good way for people to read about things as they unfold. Google put tweets in search results several years ago but eventually removed them. For now this feature is limited to English. Google said it plans to add more languages over time.
Instagram today made its Layout application available to the Android platform. Available to the iPhone since March, Layout makes it easier to assemble collages through custom layouts, easy access to photos containing people, and a handful of tools such as pinch-to-zoom and other effects. Layout also features a photo booth function that lets users take pictures on the spot and create instant collages in the moment. Layout for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store. Instagram also updated its main app for Android with a new feature called Structure. According to Instagram, Structure helps bring out details and textures in photos. This feature will reach the iPhone soon. Instagram for Android is also free to download from the Play Store.
Microsoft today released a preview version of Office for Android smartphones. The latest renditions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint closely match those available to the iPhone. Microsoft said it made a lot of improvements to the apps based on feedback for the Android tablet version of Office. The apps are designed to be finger friendly and support many of the same features found on the full desktop versions. Users can create, open, edit, and save files to OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box. Microsoft's Office apps for Android are free to download from the Play Store, but Microsoft is requiring people to join the Office for Android Community in order to access them.
Samsung and Think Tank today introduced a beta app called Flow, which is meant to help people transition tasks from one Samsung device to another. It is similar in concept to Apple's Continuity feature for iOS and Mac hardware. Flow offers Samsung smartphone owners two distinct use-cases: transfer an activity or defer an activity. With transfer, people can work on a particular activity and then move it to another device and pick up right where they left off. For example, users can listen to clips on Soundcloud on their smartphone and then transfer the activity to their tablet without missing a beat. The deferring feature lets people defer an incoming activity request on one device if, for example, it's not the right device for that particular task. They can then pick up the activity on whichever other device they prefer when they're ready. According to Samsung, Flow supports existing applications through Android's share mechanism. Samsung expects to add more features, including notify, mirror, and divide, to Flow over time. For the moment, Flow is limited to the Galaxy S5, S6, and S6 Edge; Galaxy Alpha; Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge; and the Galaxy Tab S. The beta app is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Asus today said it will sell its 2015 flagship smartphone, the Zenfone 2, in the U.S. beginning May 19. Asus first revealed the Zenfone 2 at CES in January. The device has a 5.5-inch full HD screen and relies on a 64-bit Intel processor. The Intel Atom Z3580 chip has four cores clocked at 2.3 GHz, and is paired with a 533 MHz GPU, and 4 GB of dual-channel RAM. The chip includes integrated Cat 4 LTE-Advanced with Carrier Aggregation for compatibility with today's fastest 4G networks. The Zenfone 2 also includes a 13-megapixel camera with an aperture of f/2.0, Toshiba sensor, Super HDR, and dual-tone LED flash. Asus says the fast-charging mode can power the 3,000mAh battery to 60% capacity in 39 minutes. The device runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with Asus' ZenUI. It comes with a range of interchangeable rear covers, which Asus says consumers can use to personalize their handset. Asus is offering 100 GB of Google Drive storage to buyers of the device. The phone costs $299. (A slower version of the phone with 1.8 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM costs $199.) Asus plans to sell the device unlocked via Amazon.com, Newegg, Groupon, and B&H photo. It is compatible with AT&T's network.
Microsoft said it plans to take a more active role in making sure the existing base of Windows 10 smartphones has the latest code. The company is taking a page from Apple and will not rely on carriers to deliver operating system updates. Microsoft said, "We take our responsibility to keep Windows secure seriously. We [will] proactively update supported devices with necessary updates to address issues. And today, we're announcing this continuous update process applies to all Windows 10 devices, including phones." Microsoft confirmed to ZDNet that it will deliver security, performance, and feature updates to Windows 10 Mobile handsets itself, and the code will be pushed to all users simultaneously. The statement appears to apply to handsets that ship with Windows 10 Mobile, and not older devices. With Windows 8.1 and earlier, Microsoft relied on its carrier partners to approve and distribute system updates and it will continue to do so. As ZDNet points out, however, consumers with older handsets can join the Windows Insider program to maintain early access to new OS versions. Apple uses this same master distribution method for keeping its iOS devices up to date. Google still relies on its handset and carrier partners to update their individual devices to newer versions of Android.
Google today said a bunch of mobile video apps have been updated with support for its Chromecast product. Android device owners can stream video from the CBS All Access, FOX NOW, FXNOW, HGTV, Pluto TV, and Haystack TV apps on their handset or tablet to their TV via Chromecast. Chromecast is a WiFi-enabled HDMI dongle that plugs directly into TV sets. Chromecast already supports on-demand video apps such as HBO Go, Netflix, and Showtime. The latest versions of these apps are free to download from the Play Store, but many require accounts with cable providers to access the content.
HTC today provided a significant update to its Zoe photo/video editing and sharing app. The app now supports Google's Chromecast, which will let users cast a Zoe video from their phone to a Chromecast-equipped TV or other device. The app makes adjustments to the clip sequence user interface, too, which makes it easier to readjust, reorder, and remove clips from Zoes. The app also adds the ability to "retry" failed video uploads, and will now continue playback seamlessly when users rotate their phone (rather than restart from the beginning). HTC's Zoe app is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today updated its Google Fit health and fitness tracking app with some much-needed features. For example, the app now estimates how far people have walked based on the number of steps they've taken (and several other factors, such as height and gender). The app now estimates the number of calories burned, as well, and makes it easier to look through fitness data history in days, weeks, and months. Last, Google created a new widget for Google Fit and a dedicated Android Wear watch face so users can more easily view their fitness data. Google Fit is free to download from the Play Store.
Google today pushed out a small update to the iOS version of Google Maps. The update makes it easier for people to upload their own photos of places, and makes navigating to and from "home" and "work" more reliable. Google Maps is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google has added a feature to the Play Store that allows people to pre-register for applications. The first app offering pre-registration is a game from Glu called Terminator Genisys: Revolution. Consumers interested in the game can hit the registration button so they'll be alerted once the app becomes available. Users can unregister at any time.
Google has updated its mobile search tool to make it easier to order food for delivery. Users who search for restaurants can place orders directly from the search results as long as the restaurant in question uses Seamless, Grubhub, Eat24, Delivery.com, BeyondMenu, or MyPizza.com to make the actual delivery. The "place order" function is only available from these six providers in the U.S., but Google said it hopes to expand the service over time to more providers and more countries. The tool is meant to reduce the number of steps it takes for people to order food online, though it also gives Google greater visibility into end users' food purchasing preferences.
HTC has made updates available to its Lock Screen and Sense Home apps for the One M9 and other handsets. The Lock Screen gains a significant refresh thanks to Lollipop-style notifications, full-screen album artwork during music playback, and more detailed local weather information. The Lock Screen can now display Yelp reviews and BlinkFeed content, too. As for Sense Home, HTC improved the home screen widget and themes, and resolved a number of bugs and performance issues. Both HTC Lock Screen and Sense Home are free to download from the Google Play Store.
Home Depot hopes to offer Apple Pay to its customers following an upgrade of its in-store payment terminals. "It's something we'd like to do," said Home Depot spokesperson Steve Holmes to Bloomberg. Some Home Depot stores equipped with compatible terminals accepted Apple Pay for a short time, but the larger chain doesn't yet support Apple's mobile payment service. Home Depot is still negotiating terms with Apple and the deal is not yet final. With the new payment terminals, Home Depot may be able to accept other mobile payment services, such as Google Wallet and Samsung Pay. Home Depot did not say when it might launch support for Apple Pay. Support for Apple Pay has expanded rapidly through financial institutions, but has yet to grow its retail footprint significantly. Some of the country's largest retailers, including Target and Walmart, intend to support a competing mobile payment service still in development by the Merchant Customer Exchange.
Microsoft recently updated its OneDrive application for the Android platform with improved support for video content. OneDrive users can now stream videos stored online without leaving the OneDrive app. Other features added to the service include better tools for organizing and viewing photo albums, and the ability to open "share links" directly in the app. OneDrive for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has updated Google Maps and now lets users access more personal information regarding their locations with a quick search. Google Maps culls more data from users' Gmail accounts and will automatically make event details available to Maps. Google says users who make a flight or dinner reservation, for example, will be able to find those locations on a map by using the "my events" tool. Maps already searches through users' calendar to automatically add event locations to Maps. The new search tool makes the events easier to find. Google Maps for Android is free to download from the Play Store.
Motorola must pay Fujifilm $10.2 million for violating one of its imaging patents. Fujifilm sued Motorola in 2012 alleging the handset maker was violating four of its patents. The jury invalidated three of the patents, but agreed that Motorola used the fourth without permission. The patent pertains to converting color images to monochrome images. Fujifilm had sought as much as $40 million in damages and did not comment on the outcome of the trial. "We are pleased with the verdict related to three out of the four patents," said Motorola, "and are evaluating our options on the one patent on which we did not prevail." Lenovo purchased Motorola from Google last year.
Google today said it has acquired Timeful, a company that helps people manage their email, calendars, and schedules. Google said it believes adding Timeful to its suite of productivity apps will eventually help users better control how they interact with meetings and other work/life demands. "You can tell Timeful you want to exercise three times a week or that you need to call the bank by next Tuesday, and their system will make sure you get it done based on an understanding of both your schedule and your priorities," explained Google in a blog post. Google plans to add Timeful to its calendar-building team. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Google has updated the main search application for Android devices and expanded its ability to use voice commands with other installed applications. For example, users can say things like, "Ok Google, Shazam this song," or "Ok Google, listen to NPR" and it will do exactly that. Google provided a guide on the new things the voice-enabled search app can handle and many of the functions are quite useful. Travelers can simply ask Google the status of their flight followed by what there is to do in their destination city. The search app can also control base functions of the phone, such as turn on/off the flashlight, or WiFi and Bluetooth radios. Power users can take advantage of the tool to search through their email for specific messages, or to find attachments/photos. The latest version of Google Search is free to download from the Play Store. Some apps will also need updates of their own to make these functions work. Google said these updated apps will appear in the Play Store over the next few days.
TextNow Wireless today announced new pricing for its service plans and added two handsets to its lineup. TextNow Wireless offers all customers unlimited talk and text and up to 500MB of data for $18.99 per month. Similar to Google's recently-announced Project Fi, TextNow runs on Sprint's cellular network but defaults to WiFi connections whenever possible. The service is available to most any device (phone, tablet, PC) for WiFi-based calling and texting, and customers can use their TextNow number no matter which form factor they choose. Customers can upgrade to 1 GB of cellular data for $26.99 per month, 2 GB for $39.99, or 4 GB for $59.99. All plans include taxes and fees. In addition to the reworked plans, TextNow Wireless now sells the Google Nexus 5 ($249) and Motorola Moto X ($149). TextNow Wireless already offers a number of new and refurbished Sprint devices, including the Moto G, LG Optimus F3, Samsung Galaxy S3, and Samsung Galaxy S4.
HTC today rolled out an update to its camera application for the One M9 and One M8. The new camera application adds RAW camera mode to the one M9, which lets users capture, download, and adjust full-sized digital negatives. The app also adds a Crop-Me-In shooting mode to the One M8. Other new features for both the M9 and M8 include an adjustable divider in Split Capture mode, and the ability to add and remove camera shooting modes. The HTC camera application is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has pushed out an update to its Messenger application for Android devices and in so doing added a few new features. Messenger now has its own desktop widget for viewing conversations from Android home screen panels. The app adds support for animated GIFs to spice up conversations, as well as a handful of new quick replies for speedier responses. The update also resolves some performance issues. Messenger is Google's newest SMS/MMS application for Android devices. It is free to download from the Play Store.
Google has expanded the reach of the Chrome Dev channel to its Android mobile operating system. The Chrome Dev channel is not meant for general use by consumers; rather, it is intended for web developers seeking to test their sites against future versions of the Chrome browser. Consumers interested in testing pre-release versions of Chrome should stick to the Chrome Beta program, which lets people try new features before they are released to everyone. The Chrome Dev channel is already available to the Windows, Mac, Linux, and ChromeOS platforms. Google warns that Chrome Dev is "rocky at times" and installs in addition to the current public version of Chrome. Google pushes updates to the Chrome Dev channel at least once a week to resolve bugs and performance issues. At the end of the day, Google hopes bringing the Chrome Dev channel to Android will eventually result in a better mobile web experience for all users.
Delivering on a promise it made several weeks ago, Google today expanded the number of third-party apps able to create cards within the Google Now search function. Apps can now surface just-in-time information in Google Now across a range of topics. For example, ABC News and Feedly cards can offer breaking news alerts; Eat24 can ping users to impending food deliveries; and fitness apps such as Adidas and Jawbone can deliver fitness goal details and nudge those not moving enough throughout the day. Android smartphone owners will need to update to the latest version of the Search app to gain the expanded compatibility with third-party apps.
Google today announced Play Services 7.3, an update to the core functions of the Android platform. Play Services 7.3 will bring new features to Android devices thanks to an expanded range of tools being made available to developers. First, the update adds the recently-announced Android Wear features to third-party apps. A new Wear API for developers will eventually let people connect more than a single Android Wear device to their smartphone. The API makes it possible for developers to improve two-way data shared between Wear devices and smartphones, as well. Play Services makes changes to the Google Fit API, too. For example, apps will now be able to collect sensor data like current location and speed, store that activity data in Google Fit's open platform, and aggregate it into a single, digestible view for consumers. Fit also gains the ability to collect granular nutrition data, such as users' fat, protein, and cholesterol intake in order to help people adjust their diets to match their fitness goals. Google updated the Location API in a way that will improve battery life even when GPS functions are being used. Last, Google tweaked the way apps access Play Services APIs, which should make apps run better even when certain API calls aren't available. Google released the Play Services 7.3 SDK to developers today, but didn't say when it will begin pushing the update to end-user devices.
Facebook today said users of its Messenger application will soon be able to make free video calls to one another. The feature can be initiated with a single button and works over LTE 4G or WiFi. Video calls can be connected between Android and iOS devices with no problem. Facebook's Messenger app is already able to connect voice calls. The addition of video calls makes Messenger a more complete competitor with the likes of Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. Video calls will be available to the Android and iOS versions of Messenger in the days ahead. The feature is launching in select countries, including Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Laos, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, the U.K., the U.S., and Uruguay. Facebook said the feature will reach other regions and locales over the coming months.
Google has expanded the number of tools Android smartphone owners can access from their desktop web browser. It recently made it possible to find a lost Android phone by asking Google to "find my phone" in Google Search. Now, users can use the same method to send directions to their phone, set alarms on their phone, and send notes to their phone. Users need only type "set an alarm" or "send a note" in the search box and follow the steps thereafter. A drop-down menu lets people pick their Android device, and the tools for adjusting alarms or creating notes are simple.
Google today expanded the capabilities of its Keep note-taking application thanks to improved integration with Android Wear. Owners of Android Wear smartwatches can use voice prompts to open Keep, browse existing notes in Keep, or dictate new notes in Keep. Users can swipe up and down on the screen to see notes, tap to open notes, or tap the plus sign to create a new note. The Android Wear app supports recurring reminders, too. Google says the update to Keep on the Android Wear platform dovetails nicely with a recent update Google made to the smartphone version of the app. Keep on Android handsets supports labels and to-do lists to help users stay on top of their ideas and tasks. Google Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Microsoft today updated its Outlook for Android app and says the email program has graduated from preview status. Today's update marks the app's full release. According to Microsoft, it has updated Outlook for Android 17 times since the preview first launched in January. During that time it has: improved the look and feel of the app; added support for IMAP; improved the People (contacts) section; added a Directory Search tool; introduced a three-day view in the calendar; and bestowed the app with a handful of gestures for navigating between emails and folders. Microsoft says Outlook for Android is on even footing with its Outlook for iOS application, which it made available earlier this year. Outlook for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today announced Project Fi, which relies on a combination of cellular and WiFi networks to keep users connected wherever they roam. Google partnered with Sprint and T-Mobile to provide the cellular component. Google says Project Fi can automatically connect to over one million verified WiFi hotspots around the U.S, and all connections are encrypted. The goal is to make communicating simple no matter what device or network is being used. Calls made through WiFi connections will seamlessly hand-off to cellular networks with no interruptions. Google says Project Fi users' phone numbers "live in the cloud," so they can talk and text from just about any phone, tablet, or laptop. Project Fi takes a new approach with respect to billing. The basic plan costs $20 per month and includes talk, text, WiFi tethering, and international coverage in 120 countries. Google then charges $10 per gigabyte of cellular data in the U.S. and abroad. So, 1 GB of data costs $10 per month, 2 GB costs $20 per month, and so on. The unique idea here is that Google will refund people for the data they don't use. For example, subscribers who pay $30 for a 3 GB plan, but only use 1.4 GB, will receive a $16 refund from Google for the unused data. Google is offering Project Fi through an early access program. It requires the Nexus 6 smartphone at launch, which Google says was developed with Project Fi in mind. Nexus 6 owners can request invites starting today.
Google has updated the Android Wear app for smartphones ahead of the Android Wear system update for smartwatches. The smartphone Android Wear app has a brand new design that more closely matches Google's Material Design concepts. It also introduces new info cards for gleaning information about on-board watch apps. The phone app's settings tools, used to control nearby smartwatches, have been revamped entirely. One new features lets users sync only select (rather than all) calendars to the phone. Last, the app adds a Cloud Sync function, which will help the smartwatch provide notifications even when not connected to a nearby phone. This feature requires devices with the new Android Wear operating system, which is expected to arrive in a few weeks. Google's Android Wear smartphone application is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google is prepared to launch its wireless service as soon as tomorrow, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google's wireless service will rely on the mobile networks operated by Sprint and T-Mobile, in addition to WiFi. The service will only be available to the Nexus 6 smartphone at launch, which will be able to dynamically weave from network to network in order to find the strongest signal for calls, messaging, and mobile browsing. In what the Journal calls a key development, customers of Google's wireless service will only pay for the actual data they consume each month, rather than fork over money for buckets of data. Google confirmed last month that it is preparing a mobile service, but has not verified the Journal's details. Google's Sundar Pichai said during the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona the company's wireless service will be offered on an experimental basis. He likened it to the Nexus device program, about which he said, "Our goal here is to drive a set of innovations which we think the system should adopt." Specifics such as pricing are still unknown. Sprint and T-Mobile both have large MVNO programs, which is, in effect, how Google's service will operate. Sprint and T-Mobile may renegotiate with Google if its service gets too big.
Android users can now tap into push notifications from their favorite web sites. Google updated its Chrome browser this week with support for personalized notifications that come directly from the web. Google says some early adopter web sites (eBay, Pinterest, Vice News, and others) will begin offering the notifications to web surfers in the next few weeks. The notifications will behave just like those in native apps and can offer information such as breaking news or alerts to updated content. Google says web designers should be able to add the notifications to their own sites easily. The new version of Chrome also makes it simpler and faster to drop web sites onto the Android home screen thanks to new prompts that come directly from the web site itself. Google had been testing these features in a beta version of Chrome since last month. This latest release of Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has made changes to its YouTube application that breaks compatibility with certain devices. Specifically, Google updated the YouTube Data API so it can incorporate new features. The changes in the API make YouTube non-functional on iPhones from 2012 and earlier, as well as video-based hardware, such as the Apple TV, versions 1 and 2 of Google TV, and select smart TVs dating earlier than 2013. According to Google, iPhone owners running iOS 7 and up should not experience any trouble. If they do, downloading the current version of the app should resolve any problems. People who own newer versions of the Apple TV, newer smart TVs, and the Nexus Player,should have no trouble using YouTube. The change went into effect April 20.
Twitter today revealed adjustments to the Direct Message function of its service that will expand the ability for people to talk to one another in private. Moving forward, any user will be able to DM their followers. Users can opt to receive private messages from any Twitter user, regardless of who follows who, if they wish. Twitter now has broader support for group messaging, as well. Twitter said forthcoming updates to the Android and iOS apps will enable this feature, as well as make it easier to DM others with a dedicated button in user profiles. Twitter is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively. The changes reflect the competitive and critical nature of mobile messaging.
Google today announced a significant slew of new features will be available to Android Wear devices thanks to a forthcoming update. Most significantly, Android Wear will support always-on apps. This means users can choose to leave any app running on the screen without fear of the screen going dark if they lower their arm. The platform will also add support for WiFi, which will permit smartwatches to be more connected without nearby smartphones. As long as the phone has a data connection wherever it is and the watch is connected to WiFi, users will still be able to receive their notifications and messages. The platform also adds support for gestures. For example, users will be able to flick their wrist to scroll through the content in apps. Android Wear also makes it easier to use apps with a new app launcher that's available from the home screen. Last, users will be able to scribble emoji directly on their watch screen when replying to messages. (The Apple Watch has a similar feature.) Google said the update will reach most Android Wear devices over the next few weeks.