Instagram today made a new version of its photo-sharing application available to Android devices. Instagram said that it worked hard to reduce the size of the app and the resources it needs to run, which means it is faster and more nimble on a wider range of devices. Instagram says users' profile screens should load twice as fast, for example. Instagram also said that it simplified visuals and design elements to make them more intuitive to use - while still retaining all the power and features that have always been part of the app. Instagram 5.1 is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Sony today announced Xperia Themes, which are downloads that allow owners of Sony's Xperia smartphones to customize the look and feel of their device. Xperia Themes go far beyond adding new wallpapers. Users can adjust the appearance of icons, fonts, lines and boxes, and UI elements such as switches, sliders, buttons, and even the on-screen Android control buttons. According to Sony, the themes let people customize their device in a way that previously required third-party launchers. It should be easy for most people to use. There are about a dozen themes available starting today, but Sony said that many more are on the way. Xperia Themes are available to all Xperia devices running Android 4.3 and higher. They can be downloaded from the Google Play Store.
Google's Sundar Pichai, who heads the company's Android and Chrome teams, told attendees at the SxSWi conference in Austin today that it will soon release a software developer kit for wearable devices. The SDK will make use of Google's Android platform and the company hopes developers will use it for devices such as smartwatches in much the same way as developers have accepted Android for smartphones and tablets. Pichai didn't provide too many specifics, but indicated the company will lay out its "vision" for wearables and release the SDK in about two weeks. Google suggested it wants to offer the SDK long before devices arrive so there's plenty of time for developers to provide feedback. Several reports, including one from CNET, have suggested Google plans to introduce its own smartwatch, made by LG, at its I/O developer conference, slated for June. Google has not yet confirmed such plans.
Samsung today launched a free music streaming service explicitly for owners of its Galaxy-branded smartphones and tablets. The service, called Milk, is powered by Slacker and includes more than 200 curated radio stations, as well as the ability for people to create, listen to, and save their own stations. The service doesn't cost anything, and doesn't include ads. Milk is only available to Samsung phones and tablets, and can be downloaded directly from the Google Play Store.
Opera today made a new version of its mobile browser available for Android devices. Thanks to the inclusion of WebRTC, Opera 20 for Android permits users to conduct live, two-way video chats in the browser without the need for additional software or apps. The browser can be used to control the camera and the sound during chats, allowing users to fine-tune their experience. The update also introduces a new look for Speed Dial; the ability to adjust the browser navigation bar to suit individual tastes; improvements to search functionality; and a number of bug fixes. Opera 20 for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today announced an update to its Gmail app for the iPhone and iPad. The most significant feature of the update is support for background email fetching. This means the emails will be downloaded in the background as they arrive and available for immediate viewing upon opening the app. Previously, new emails were not fetched from the servers until users opened Gmail. Gmail for iOS now also supports single sign-in with other Google apps, such as Maps, Chrome, and YouTube. Gmail for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store, but it requires iOS 7.
Google has released Google Hangouts 2.0 for the Apple iPhone and iPad. The app has been optimized for iOS 7 and given a visual refresh. Google added several new features, including the ability to record and send 10-second video messages, send animated stickers to contacts, send a map of current location to contacts, and see picture-in-picture video chats. The app also integrates better with iOS's contacts application, and makes it easier to start video chats from within an existing conversation. Google Hangouts for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google recently made a version of the Nexus 5's Google Now launcher available to all Nexus and Google Play Edition devices. The Google Now launcher, which debuted as part of the Nexus 5's user interface, includes Google Now as part of the home screen. Google Now was upgrade from a widget to one of the home screen panels. The launcher lets people trigger voice search or voice commands by saying "OK Google" when on their home screen. Further, with a full home screen panel, Google Now has more room to reveal info cards, which provide information about travel plans, scheduling, the weather, real-time traffic, and more. The Google Now launcher is free to download from the Google Play Store, but requires Android 4.4 KitKat and either Nexus or Play Edition devices.
Nokia today announced the Nokia X, Nokia X+, and Nokia XL, its first phones to run the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) platform. The phones run standard Android apps, available through a new Nokia Store, or side-loaded. The phones offer Microsoft services - such as Outlook, Skype, HERE Maps, and OneDrive - instead of Google services. The interface is a blend of Lumia and Asha, including re-sizeable live tiles like Windows Phone, plus FastLane from Asha. The Nokia store supports carrier billing and in-app purchases. Facebook is pre-loaded. The X and X+ include a 4-inch display. The X+ adds a memory card slot. The XL steps up to a 5-inch display and a 2-megapixel front camera. The Nokia X will sell for 89 Euros. The X+ will sell for 99 Euros, in Q2. The XL is coming in early Q2 for 109 Euros. Nokia will sell the X family globally, starting in "growth markets." Nokia also re-affirmed its commitment to Lumia and Windows Phone. The company expects to price all X family phones lower than its Lumia phones. It will also continue offering Asha touch phones, at even lower price points, such as the new Asha 230, which will sell for only 45 Euros.
Google today announced Project Tango, an initiative that involves an Android smartphone able to create 3D maps of the world around it. Google is offering adventurous app developers kits that include a 5-inch Android smartphone with a bevy of sensors on board that can track the full 3D motion of the device. The kit includes development APIs to provide position, orientation, and depth data to standard Android applications. Google wants some of the devices used for projects that explore indoor navigation, mapping, and single/multiplayer games that use physical space. The rest Google hopes will be used by developers who are "bold" and "creative" to write new apps not yet imagined. In order to get one of the 200 test kits, developers need to submit an application with proposal to Google. Google hopes to assign the 200 devices to testers by mid-March.
Microsoft today launched OneDrive, a renamed and improved version of its SkyDrive cloud storage service. OneDrive is available to most devices, including Windows Phone handsets, Windows machines, and Android and iOS phones and tablets. OneDrive offers 7GB of storage for free, and allows users to score more storage by recommending friends to the service. Microsoft is releasing new versions of the OneDrive app today, and the Android variant gains automatic photo backups. Microsoft said people who use the automatic camera backup feature will earn an additional 3GB of storage. Microsoft also offers higher storage increments to those who need more than 7GB for small monthly payments. OneDrive is free to download from the Windows Phone Store, Google Play Store, and iTunes App Store.
BlackBerry today made good on its promise to deliver a version of BBM for older Android handsets. BBM for devices running Android 2.3 Gingerbread is now available in the Google Play Store. It can be downloaded for free.
HTC Americas today announced HTC Advantage, a new commitment to its U.S. customers that includes repairs and operating system updates. Under the terms of the program, HTC will offer a one-time free screen replacement to all One series devices sold after February 18, including the One, One mini, and the One max, during the first six months of ownership. The repairs will be performed in Houston. Further, the company is committing to provide all One series devices core system level updates for a period of two years after the initial launch date for each device. Timing of updates will vary depending on carrier, but HTC will deliver them as soon as it is able. HTC Advantage also offers customers free online storage for back-ups. Owners of One series phones will enjoy 25GB of Google Drive storage at no extra cost for a period of two years. Last, HTC is offering free backups through its own HTC Backup program. HTC Advantage is only available in the U.S.
Dennis Woodside, who served as the CEO of Motorola while it was under Google's ownership, announced plans to leave the company next month. Woodside will step down on March 31. Google's Jonathan Rosenberg will step in as COO at Motorola Mobility as of April 1. "I'm excited about what the next chapter in Motorola's storied history will bring under the new ownership of Lenovo," said Woodside in a blog post. "While Google imbued simplicity and software sensibility into the company, Lenovo will bring it the scale it deserves. I have no doubt the two companies together will be a force for good in the mobile industry." Woodside will take the COO position with Dropbox after he departs Motorola.
Marriott today updated its mobile application for Android and iOS devices and added one significant new feature: the ability to check out of hotel rooms directly from the phone. As long as users agree to receive push notifications, they'll be alerted the day of check out that they can do so via the app. Marriott guests need to fill in their email address to receive the bill, leave the keys in the room, and can then bypass the lobby check out entirely. The app already lets users check in up to two hours ahead of their arrival. According to Marriott, mobile check out is available at 326 locations in North America starting today, with 22 international hotels to follow next week. Marriott said all 500 of its global properties will offer mobile check out by the end of the year. The Marriott application is available to Android devices via the Google Play Store and iOS devices via the iTunes App Store.
Google recently made a small update to its Play Music application available to Android devices. New features include microSD card support for offline music on KitKat devices, as well as the ability to shuffle all songs from a single artist when using All Access. The app also makes it easier to share links to songs, artists, or albums through social networks. Google Play Music is free to download and use, but All Access costs $10 per month.
BlackBerry today made an updated version of its BBM messaging product available to Android and iOS devices. The update is significant, and adds hallmark features such as BBM Voice and BBM Channels. BBM Voice lets users make free calls to other BBM users via Wi-Fi or cellular data networks. BBM Channels is a social network of sorts, and lets users subscribe to the channels of those who they find interesting. The update also makes it easier to share photos, videos, and documents; adds support for Dropbox for file sharing; and adds a wide array of new emoticons. BBM 2.0 for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively. BlackBerry is also making a small update available to the BlackBerry version of BBM, which adds Dropbox integration. It is free to download from blackBerry World.
Google recently updated the Google Search app for Android devices and added some new features for voice-based commands. Specifically, Google Now can understand relationships between the owner and their contacts. Google points out users can now say, "OK Google, call Mom" or "text my wife" and Google will be able to find the right contacts. Google Now will also help users set up these contextual relationships if they haven't already. Google also recently updated Google Play Books for Android devices. The revised version of Play Books adds the ability to upload PDF or e-pub files to your library from the device. The settings and help sections have been moved to the main navigation menu. Last, Google resolved several bugs, including a fix to prevent the screen from going dark when the app is reading text aloud. Both Google Search and Google Play Books are free to download from the Play Store.
Nokia plans to announce a smartphone later this month running Google's Android operating system, rather than Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. The device, reports The Wall Street Journal, was already under development when Microsoft made its bid to buy Nokia's handset business, a transaction that has yet to close. Nokia's Android phone is meant to target emerging markets and will run a modified version of Android that will not feature the Google Play Store. Instead, the phone will come with Nokia's own application store and apps, such as HERE Maps, and Mix Radio. The device is expected to make an appearance at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, according to the Journal's unnamed sources. Nokia did not confirm the Journal's report.
Google today further armed its business customers with more tools to help secure their employees' smartphones. Google made a version of its Google Admin app available to iOS devices. Business IT administrators can now add, edit, suspend, restore, and delete users and/or groups, as well as reset passwords, email members, and view group members. The app doesn't have the selective device wipe feature available for Android devices, but the basic set of tools give companies a greater degree of control over the devices being used by their employees. Google Admin for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google recently updated both the Hangouts and Newsstand applications for Android devices. The Hangouts app was updated in response to bugs when sending SMS and MMS messages. It should perform more consistently now at sending and receiving messages. The Newsstand app was also treated to bug fixes and given a new widget for Android home screens. Both Hangouts and Newsstand are free to download from the Google Play Store.
Intellectual Ventures today indicated that a Delaware jury was unable to reach a verdict in a patent case it brought against Google's Motorola unit. With no verdict, the court was forced to declare a mistrial. "Mistrials are an occasional fact of life, and it is disappointing that the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. But we are looking ahead to the retrial on these patents and also to our two other upcoming trials with Motorola Mobility later this year," said Melissa Finocchio, chief litigation counsel for Intellectual Ventures. The case involves Motorola hardware and features of the Google Play Store. Intellectual Ventures is a patent-holding firm.
BlackBerry today announced that updates will be available for both the Android and iOS versions of BlackBerry Messenger this week. The revised application adds several new features, chief among them the ability to find friends. The app can scan the device owner's contact list and determine if any of the contacts are already registered BBM users. Further, BBM users can send invites to those not using BBM through the finder feature via SMS or email. BBM for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Sony today announced that its Xperia Transfer application is now available worldwide in the Google Play Store. Xperia Transfer Mobile is a smartphone version of Sony's desktop app that makes it easier to port contacts and other data from one device to another. According to Sony, the new Android app negates the need to use a desktop machine at all, as it allows users to transfer personal data directly from an old phone to a new phone using a peer-to-peer connection or cable. Xperia Transfer can sync contacts, calendar, SMS, MMS, bookmarks, notes, photos, music, videos, and apps. The app can transfer data from another Android device or from an iPhone. Sony said if iOS apps aren't available in Android form, it will suggest comparable apps/services to replace them on the Xperia smartphone. Xperia Transfer is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today made a red version of the Nexus 5 available for sale via the Google Play Store. It has the same features and price as the black and white versions.
Google today provided an update to the iOS version of its Google Wallet and Google Maps applications. The changes to the Wallet app mirror those provided to the Android version last week. Google Wallet for iOS enables notifications from nearby merchants. The push notifications pop up to let users know when loyalty-based sales are available. Wallet makes adding loyalty programs easier via scanning the associated loyalty card. The app also makes several general performance improvements. Google also pushed out a minor update to Maps for iOS that enables real-time alerts when a faster route becomes available during navigation. Both Google Wallet and Google Maps are free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google and Cisco today announced that they have signed a patent cross-licensing agreement covering a wide range of technologies. The companies said the deal allows each to monetize their patents while at the same time protect one another from patent-based litigation. Terms of the agreement were not shared.
Google today said that Google Play Services 4.2 is now being pushed out to most Android devices worldwide. The latest version of Play Services includes the Google Cast SDK, which Google just released to app developers. Devices that have been updated to Play Service 4.2 will be compatible with apps that add support for Chromecast. Google pushed Play Services 4.1 out just last month.
Google today made a software developers kit available to application writers that will allow them to add Chromecasting ability to their apps. Chromecast is already available from a number of Android and iOS apps, and lets device owners push content from their phone or tablet to a Chromecast unit attached to their TV set. Google hopes that offering the SDK will expand the number of mobile apps taking advantage of Chromecast.
Sprint today expanded the number of handsets that are able to take advantage of its Direct Connect push-to-talk service. Sprint offers the service through a dedicated application called Direct Connect Now. Beginning today, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Note 3, the LG G2, G Flex, and Optimus F3, and the Kyocera Hydro Edge can all download the Direct Connect Now app from the Google Play Store and use it for PTT calls. Sprint plans to add more devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, Galaxy Mega, and GS4 with Sprint Spark, soon. Sprint says its Direct Connect Now app has been updated with a new user interface, and it is now interoperable with older Sprint Direct Connect phones. The app also has TeamDC and opt-in TeamDC closed group calling; call alerts to notify others you want to talk; displays contact image for speaker; syncs contacts with device address book; and lets users create favorite Direct Connect contacts. The app and service are free to download for most LTE 4G phones, though Sprint charges $5 per month for some handsets.
Google recently made an updated version of Google Wallet available to Android devices. The application makes several changes centered around users' loyalty programs. First, it enables notifications from nearby merchants that have a saved loyalty program. The push notifications pop up to let users know they are available. Wallet makes adding loyalty programs easier via scanning the associated loyalty card. The app also makes several general performance improvements. Google Wallet is free to download from the Play Store.
Google today announced that it intends to sell Motorola to Lenovo for $2.91 billion. Google CEO Larry Page said that Google will hold onto the vast majority of Motorola's mobile-related patents, and will continue to use them to defend Android's position in the smartphone ecosystem. Lenovo plans to keep the Motorola brand alive, just as it did with the ThinkPad brand it acquired from IBM in 2005. According to Page, Google believes Motorola needs a hardware company to truly succeed. "Lenovo has the expertise and track record to scale Motorola into a major player within the Android ecosystem. They have a lot of experience in hardware, and they have global reach," said Page in a blog post. "This move will enable Google to devote our energy to driving innovation across the Android ecosystem, for the benefit of smartphone users everywhere." The deal will need to be approved by regulators in China and the U.S., and will take some time. Page did not say when he expects the deal to close.
HTC today said it will miss its self-imposed deadline of updating the One within 90 days from the time Google released Android 4.4 KitKat. It originally committed to giving the One the latest version of Android by the end of January. According to HTC, KitKat is now undergoing carrier testing with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Though it will fall short of the 90-day cutoff, HTC expects the update will take only another week or two to complete for each carrier. HTC asked customers for patience as it finalizes the system update. More information should be available soon.
Google today revealed a new toolchain that developers can use to port their Chrome desktop apps to both the Android and iOS platforms. According to Google, the tool uses Apache Cordova (open-source web technologies) to create a software wrapper that packages Chrome apps in a format that can be used on mobile devices. The tool includes a number of the standard Chrome APIs, which means developers can offer fully-functional versions of their Chrome apps through the Google Play Store or iTunes App Store. Google is offering the tool as a preview to developers and provides instructions via the Chromium developer site.
Twitter recently pushed out an update to its Android application with improvements focused on the imaging functions. According to Twitter, the app makes it easier to mention other users when posting a photo, and tweaks the cropping and rotating features. The app also makes improvements to the login verification process, and adds pull-to-refresh for new recommendations. Twitter for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google has made a new version of its Chrome browser available to iOS devices. The updated app includes several new features, chief among them the ability to compress data in order to reduce usage. The browser also adds the ability to translate web sites, and revises the behavior of tabs to make them easier to use. Chrome for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Sprint today announced the availability of a new cloud-based storage service. Owners of Android and iOS devices can download the new app from the Google Play Store or iTunes App Store, respectively, beginning today. Spring is offering all customers 5GB of storage for free, but customers can upgrade to unlimited storage for $4.99 per month. Sprint says the service will be ideal for those seeking a place to backup photos, videos, and other files. The service is being backed by a company called Pogoplug.
Samsung and Google today announced that they have struck a wide-ranging patent-licensing agreement. According to the terms of the agreement, both companies will license both their existing patent portfolios, as well as patents to be filed over the course of the next 10 years. The patents are not limited to mobile technology, and instead cover a number of different product categories. "By working together on agreements like this, companies can reduce the potential for litigation and focus instead on innovation," said Google deputy general counsel Allen Lo.
Motorola today updated the Gallery application that's installed on its Android smartphones. The app has a refreshed design that offers larger thumbnails and faster, simpler navigation between galleries and photos. The Motorola Gallery, which is free to download from the Google Play Store, is available to devices running Android 4.4 KitKat, including the Moto X, Moto G, and the Droid Ultra, Droid Mini, and Droid Maxx.
Rockstar, a patent consortium jointly owned by Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry, Ericsson, and Sony, has dropped its patent infringement lawsuit against Huawei. The suit was originally filed last year, and included co-defendents Google, Samsung, and HTC. Rockstar believes the companies are violating its patents. Neither Rockstar nor Huawei indicated why the suit was dropped, nor whether or not Huawei signed a licensing agreement with Rocktar. The lawsuit still stands against the other companies. Google, in particular, is accused of infringing on seven different patents that pertain to internet search terms and advertising. Rockstar is seeking damages from Google, which it says is violating the patents willfully. Rockstar is a group of companies that together purchased thousands of patents from bankrupt Nortel. The firms spent a total of $4.5 billion on the patents.