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.
Google today announced updates to its Android and iOS Translate apps that make having real-time conversations between two different languages much easier. First, Google Translate now lets users instantly translate text using the camera. When the camera is pointed at signs or text in French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, or Spanish, it will instantly overlay the words in English (and vice versa). Previously, users had to take a picture to get text translation. Now translation occurs in real time. Further, Google has improved the performance of its real-time conversation mode, which allows two people to speak directly to one another using different languages. The app can recognize when two different languages are being spoken and translate them back and forth during a face-to-face conversation. Google said the new versions of Google Translate for Android and iOS should arrive in the next few days. Google pointed out that this is the first time it has offered some of the advanced features -- camera and spoken translation -- to the iOS app. Google Translate is free.
AllCast recently brought its media-sharing app to the iTunes App Store. AllCast lets iOS device owners cast content from their camera roll, Google Drive (Google+, Picasa), or DropBox on their iPhone or iPad to an AppleTV, Chromecast, FireTV, Roku, or Xbox. AllCast also supports music casting, though the files must be stored locally on the iPhone or iPad. AllCast duplicates some of the features of Apple's own AirPlay. AllCast is free to download from the iTunes App Store. AllCast is already available to Android devices.
Google today published a version of its Chrome Remote Desktop application on the App Store for iOS devices. The app allows iPhone and iPad owners to remotely access their home computers. It requires users to download and install an extension in the Chrome browser on their PC. Together the app and the extension permit people to control their connected desktops and laptops from afar. Chrome Remote Desktop is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google is no longer plugging security holes in older versions of Android, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google quietly implemented the policy change in late 2014. When told of a flaw impacting the internet browser on some older phones, Google told a security researcher, "We generally do not develop the patches ourselves but do notify partners of the issue." The policy affects the standard browser in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean (released mid-2013) and earlier. Google is providing security updates to the browsers in Android 4.4 KitKat and Android 5.0 Lollipop. The Journal points out that approximately two-thirds of the billion Android devices still in active use run Android 4.3 or older, so the policy change leaves an enormous number of handsets unprotected as holes are discovered. One way around the issue is to download and use Google's Chrome browser, which Google updates regularly, or use other third-party browsers such as Opera, Firefox, or Dolphin.
BlackBerry today showed off BBM for Android Wear. With BBM on your wrist, Android Wear owners will be able to read incoming BBM messages, review and accept BBM invites, scan through the BBM inbox, and respond with either canned messages or dictated messages via Google Now. BlackBerry said BBM for Android Wear will be available soon -- and that the company has other cross-platform wearable apps in the pipeline.
Google recently updated its Google Hangouts application for iOS devices and added several useful new features. Most importantly, Hangouts can now display SMS messages and voicemails sent to the user's Google Voice number. Hangouts for iOS now also supports location sharing, status messages, phone number search, and improved video call performance. Google was sure to resolve some ongoing bugs, as well. Hangouts is free to download from the App Store.
Sony today announced several new initiatives surrounding its wearable devices and services. Fist, the company revealed a new stainless steel version of the Smart Watch 3, which will be available in the weeks ahead. The company is soon going to sell a holder for the Smart Watch 3 that makes it compatible with standard 24mm watch bands. Sony plans to push to exclusive apps to the Smart Watch 3 in the weeks to come, including Golfshot and iFit. The company also talked about pending improvements to its Lifelog application, which will be accessible from any web browser (desktop, tablet, smartphone). Through the web, users will be able to see a more visually appealing representation of their health and fitness data. The company is working with If This Then That, Habit Monster, and Withings to further expand the functionality and appeal of Lifelog. Lifelog is free to download from the Google Play Store. Sony said it is partnering with with Virgin Atlantic to explore possible SmartWear initiatives that Sony and Virgin Atlantic customers can use "to support operational activities" in the months ahead. Sony showed off a Smart Eyeglass Developer Edition, which is a single lens that can be attached to standard glasses for unique sports and entertainment purposes. Last, Sony debuted the Smart B-Trainer Prototype, which is a waterproof headset with multiple sensors meant for runners. It provides voice coaching, music playback, as well as tools to help runners analyze their workouts and performance.
ZTE unveiled a new version of its hotspot projector today with several improvements on board. This device can project a 720p HD image or video up to 120 inches large (across the diagonal) onto a wall or screen. At 200 lumens, it's twice as bright as the first-generation device, and it can connect to smartphones, tablets, and laptops via Bluetooth, HDMI, or USB. The device has its own Android operating system with a 5-inch touch screen and a refined user interface that makes it easier to use. ZTE said it can be used to stream just about any content directly from the web, including Google Play Store purchases, such as movies and television shows. The device is powered by a 2.1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, has 2GB of ROM, 16GB of internal storage, and supports microSDXC cards up to 2TB. The battery is good for three hours of projection time, or up to 10 hours as a mobile hotspot. ZTE said the device will be sold by the nation's two largest carriers at some point during the second quarter of the year. Pricing wasn't disclosed.
Volkswagen today took the diplomatic route with respect to enabling smartphone connectivity in its cars. Beginning with select models later this year, Volkswagen's second generation modular infotainment platform will support Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay platforms, in addition to the platform-agnostic MirrorLink spec. The company said Android Auto will support devices from the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG, and Sony, while CarPlay will support Apple's iPhone. The services will allow smartphone owners to access their device content, apps, and services through the infotainment console of their Volkswagen. The Volkswagen Golf will be the first model to support these connectivity platforms.
Google is asking U.S. regulators to make huge swaths of wireless spectrum available for unlicensed use. Specifically, Google is targeting the 3.5GHz band, which has about 150MHz of semi-open spectrum. The band is currently being used by the U.S. Navy, but Google says interference can be avoided by creating three tiers of access to the spectrum. The top tier would be for the government, the middle tier for select companies in limited geographical areas, and the rest open for all to use. Google envisions the spectrum could be utilized by startups or other small companies looking to offer wireless broadband to parks and other public areas in cities. Google's goal is to reduce the cost of internet access, which may in turn lead to more peoples selecting its online services when using their mobile devices. The FCC plans to vote on what to do with the 3.5GHz spectrum band later this year.
Qualcomm today said more hardware makers and app developers have voiced support for its AllPlay media streaming technology. For example, Bayan Audio, Goodmans, House of Marley, Inkel/Sherwood, Optoma Nuforce, SVS, TCL Communications, and TP-LINK will add AllPlay to their gear over the coming year. Similarly, popular apps such as SoundCloud, KT Music, QQ Music, and Tidal have announced that they will integrate AllPlay into their streaming music offerings. AllPlay is a competitor technology to DLNA, Apple's AirPlay, and Google's Cast for Audio.
Google today announced Cast for Audio, a new version of its Chromecast technology that will allow people to cast audio content from their device to properly equipped speakers, receivers, and soundbars. According to Google, compatible audio equipment from Sony, LG, and HEOS by Denon will arrive in the U.S. this spring, with others to follow. The audio equipment will have built-in radios that can receive cast content and/or access it from the web. The initial batch of apps to support Cast for Audio include Deezer, Google Play Music, iHeartRadio, NPR One, Pandora, Rdio, and TuneIn Radio. Google says many more are on the way. The technology competes with Apple's AirPlay.
SanDisk today announced the SanDisk Ultra Dual USB Drive 3.0, a flash drive that features a standard USB connector for computers and a microUSB connector for mobile devices. Android device owners can connect the drive directly to the USB port of their phone and transfer content from the phone to the drive or vice versa. The Drive 3.0 supports USB 3.0 with the standard connector, with data transfer speeds of 130Mbps. When users connect the drive to their smartphone (or tablet) it launches the SanDisk Memory Zone app. The app, which is free to download from the Google Play Store, lets users locate, organize, transfer, and back-up their data. SanDisk said the microUSB connector is extra long to account for cases or unique phone designs. The SanDisk Ultra Dual USB Drive 3.0 is available in 16GB to 64GB capacities with price tags ranging from $23 to $65.
Rockstar Consortium, a patent-holding company headed by Apple, has agreed to sell more than 4,000 mobile patents for about $900 million. Apple and partners Microsoft, BlackBerry, Ericsson, and Sony paid $4.5 billion for more than 6,000 patents from Nortel four years ago in order to help protect against litigation. The companies are selling two-thirds of the patents to RPX Corp., which is another patent-focused company that protects companies from lawsuits. RPX plans to license the patent portfolio to a syndicate of 30 technology companies, including Google and Cisco, according to the Wall Street Journal. The syndicate members contributed the bulk of the $900 million in order to purchase the patents. In addition to the patent sale, Rockstar will settle patent-related lawsuits it has filed against Android device makers, including Samsung, Huawei, HTC, and LG. Terms of those settlements were not disclosed. Rockstar Consortium will hold onto about 2,000 of the old Nortel patents, which the Journal described as the "most valuable" of the bunch.
Yahoo today updated its Aviate launcher for Android devices and made it easier to perform searches. According to Yahoo, Aviate users can now search through apps, people, and the web directly from the home screen without requiring them to open a new window first. Aviate gains new compatibility with the Motorola Nexus 6 and adds support for live wallpapers, too. Last, Aviate received several performance improvements and bug fixes. The Aviate launcher is free to download from the Google Play Store. It is compatible with devices running Android 4.0 and up.
Google recently updated its Google+ app for iOS devices. The latest version of Google+ adds support for the screen sizes and resolutions of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The revised app makes it easier to vote on polls and share a wider range of content/media with Google+. The app also makes several performance improvements and bug fixes. Google+ is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google was unable to convince a San Jose judge to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit filed against the search giant over preinstalled apps. The judge expressed concern over some the the plaintiffs' claims, which allege Android handset makers are forced to use Google's apps in lieu of competitive apps/services. For example, Google is the default search engine on Android handsets instead of Microsoft's Bing. The judge will dismiss some of the arguments, but wants to see more evidence from the plaintiffs before making a final decision on the antitrust complaint. Google did not comment on the decision.
Microsoft recently updated its Xim app and added compatibility with a wide range of media streaming devices. Microsoft first released Xim in October. It's a cross-platform app that allows people to easily share photos without requiring them to physically hand their phone to someone else. People use Xim to create a connection directly between devices for sharing photos from sources such as the camera roll, Instagram, and Facebook Today's update allows people to share photos not only with other phones, but with streaming media devices, including Chromecast, Apple TV, Xbox One, and Amazon Fire TV. Xim users need only connect to the WiFi network associated with the streaming media device for it to show up in the list of sharing options within the Xim app. Xims are impermanent, sort of like Snapchat, and expire after a short period of time. The updated Xim app is available from the iTunes App Store, Google Play Store, and Windows Phone Store.
Google is hoping to convince a San Jose judge to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. over its app-bundling practices on Android smartphones. Two plaintiffs allege Google restricts the use of competing apps, made by companies such as Microsoft, in favor of its own apps and services on Android handsets. For example, Google is the default search engine on Android handsets, rather than Microsoft's Bing. Google believes the suit should be dismissed because consumers are free to use whichever apps they want. The plaintiffs disagree, stating most people don't know how to change the default apps, and many of those who do won't go through the trouble of doing it. The plaintiffs argued Google apps "are widely used on Android by requiring default placement and other mechanisms for disadvantaging competing apps." Reuters reports that if the lawsuit is allowed to move forward, lawyers will gain access to internal emails and contracts between Google and its handset partners. The initial hearing is set to take place later today.
Google today provided updates to its Maps and Inbox apps for the Android platform. Inbox works better on tablets, adds compatibility with Android Wear (view messages and notifications, reply via voice), and improves suggestions while users type. Google Maps now lets users filter search results by cuisine type, see their Google contacts when searching for addresses, and lets business owners claim and manage their listing pages. Both apps also include bug fixes. Inbox and Google Maps are free to download from the Google Play Store.
Yahoo today pushed out updates to its Weather app for both the Android and iOS platforms. According to Yahoo, the revised app brings with it more live weather graphics, such as fog, rain, heat, snow, lightning, and frost, to the Android app. Yahoo says "instead of reading about the stormy conditions, you'll actually see lightning flash across your screen." The iPhone app has been more fully optimized for the screen sizes and resolutions of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Yahoo Weather is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google recently updated the Google Drive app for both the Android and iOS platforms. The Android version gains support for Google Now-style voice search to help find files. Both versions gain support for a wider range of imported file formats. The iOS version can now upload files to Drive from more apps across iPhones and iPads. Google Drive is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google and Verizon Communications today entered into a multi-year patent cross-licensing agreement. The companies said the agreement covers a "broad range of products and technologies" and will help them "reduce the risk of future patent litigation." Both companies expressed interest in making similar patent-protection agreements with other high-tech businesses. Verizon Communications is the parent company of Verizon Wireless.
Google recently made some significant improvements to its Google Wallet app for the iPhone. To start, the app adds a bill-splitting feature. According to Google, users can add the people with whom they want to split a bill, choose how to divide it, and send each person a request for their share of the total. Wallet for iOS also adds support for Touch ID, which will allow users to open the app and make purchases using their fingerprints. The app now supports the native screen resolutions for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and lets users see their loyalty cards even when offline. Google Wallet for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google today pushed out updates to its Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps for Android devices and added a few new features along the way. According to Google, Docs now offers more control over line spacing; Sheets adds scrollbars for simpler navigation; and Slides permits users to insert, move, resize, and rotate text boxes/shapes. Further, all three apps are more compatible with their Microsoft Office counterparts. Google's productivity apps are free to download from the Google Play Store.
BlackBerry today pushed out BBM 2.6 to the Android and iOS platforms, as well as its own BlackBerry platform. All three versions of the app gain new features, including support for stickers within group chats and a 60-second option for time chats. The Android version of BBM tackles Android 5.0 Lollipop and adds landscape mode. BBM for iOS 8 adds compatibility with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus screens. BBM for BlackBerry OS now lets users share multiple pictures and attachments at the same time. BBM 2.6 is free to download from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, and BlackBerry World.
Google recently updated its Google Fit and Google Translate applications for Android devices. Google Fit gains several new and compelling features, including support for more than 100 new activities, experimental step detection (for walking when the watch isn't connected to a phone), and improved compatibility with Android Wear. The app also sees some bug fixes and performance improvements. Google Translate is now compatible with 90 languages from around the world. The recent update added 10 new ones, including Chichewa, Malagasy, Sesotho, Malayalam, Myanmar, Sinhala, Sudanese, Kazakh, Tajik, and Uzbek. Both apps are free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today updated Google Search for iOS devices. Google refreshed the application with its Material Design language, which has been optimized for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus with bigger photos. As far as new features go, iOS users will be able to see their most recently visited pages more easily, start new searches with a single tap thanks to the new search button, and explore nearby places and points of interest thanks to Google Maps integration. Google Search is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google recently updated its Chromecast application for Android devices and refreshed it with Material Design. Beyond the new look Chromecast now supports guest mode, which Google says makes it easier for others to cast content from their Android device to Chromecast. Chromecast owners will need to active guest mode via the settings tools first. Once they do, any nearby Android device can cast directly to Chromecast without first joining the associated WiFi network. Chromecast is a thumb-sized media player that connects to HDTVs. The app is free, but the player itself costs $35.
Microsoft today expanded the availability of its MSN-branded apps beyond Windows Phone, adding them to the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. The apps, which have evolved on the Windows Phone platform this year, include MSN Food & Drink, MSN Health & Fitness, MSN Money, MSN News, and MSN Sports. These five are available to both Android and iOS today. The MSN Weather app is available to Android today, too, and will be available to iOS soon. Of note, Microsoft said its MSN Health & Fitness app makes use of Apple's HealthKit tools, which will allow iPhone owners to track steps and other fitness goals. Microsoft has targeted Android and iOS aggressively this year with its own applications and services, including MS Office, its core productivity suite, and other utilities such as OneNote and OneDrive. All the apps are free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Sprint today said it plans to install the Uber application on most of its Android smartphones moving forward. Uber is a ride-seeking app that lets people discover and request rides. Sprint and Uber are offering new customers $20 toward their first ride when they create a new Uber account. Uber requires payment via credit card, but customers can use the app to keep track of their driver as he/she approaches, as well as see estimated costs for their ride. Sprint customers who don't have Uber preinstalled on their device are still eligible to receive the discount. Uber is available from the Google Play Store, the iTunes App Store, and the Windows Phone Store.
Google today updated its Android Wear app for smartphones and wearables, adding a significant number of new watch faces. Google said Android Wear device owners can now download watch faces directly from the Play Store. In conjunction with the new faces, Google updated the accompanying phone app to make browsing, downloading, and switching watch faces easier. Google said the Android Wear app updates, both for phones and smart watches, are rolling out to devices slowly over the next few weeks. Last, Google today made the Watch Face API available to developers. The API gives developers far more creative control over watch faces they can design.