Phone Scoop

printed November 26, 2014
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Vine Adds Push Notifications for Favorites

Today, 8:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Vine recently updated its Android and iOS mobile apps with push notifications. Moving forward, users can opt to receive alerts when their favorite Vine accounts post new content. Vine is a short-video sharing service. It lets people upload and share six-second videos. Vine is owned by Twitter. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.


Google's New Dashboard Lets Users Manage Devices

Yesterday, 8:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently made available a new online tool people can use to control which devices have access to their Google Account. The Devices and Activity dashboard shows users all the devices that have accessed their account during the previous 28 days. Users can see the name of the device along with when and where it last accessed their Google data. Google said it will provide obvious signs if it suspects suspicious activity, and it is easy for users to block any of the devices on the list from accessing their account. The Devices and Activity dashboard is free to use.


T-Mobile Doubles Supported Music Unlimited Services

Monday, 11:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile's Music Unlimited service today doubled the number of music streaming apps available, jumping from 13 to 27 in total. The new services include Google Play Music, Xbox Music, SoundCloud, RadioTunes, Digitally Imported, Fit Radio, Fresco Radio, Jazzradio, Live365, Mad Genius Radio, radioPup, radio.com, Rockradio, and Saavn. With Music Unlimited, T-Mobile customers can stream an unlimited amount of music over their data connection without it counting against their monthly data allotment. T-Mobile claims its customers are streaming 66 million songs -- or 200 terabytes of music -- per day. Music Unlimited already supports Rhapsody, Pandora, AccuRadio, Black Planet, Grooveshark, iHeartRadio, iTunes Radio, Samsung Milk Music, Radio Paradise, Rdio, Slacker, Songza, and Spotify. T-Mobile does not charge extra for Music Unlimited.


Google Settles with Rockstar Over Patents

Nov 20, 2014, 12:32 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 20, 2014, 12:38 PM

Google disclosed this week that it has settled a lawsuit filed against it by Rockstar regarding mobile device patents. Rockstar is a patent-holding consortium led by Apple. It outbid Google to acquire thousands of old Nortel patents back in 2011 and filed the lawsuit against Google and others in 2013. Terms of the settlement were not revealed.


Google Releases First Android Auto APIs

Nov 18, 2014, 1:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made available the first APIs for developers to use in creating Android Auto apps. Initially, developers can target two behaviors with their apps: audio and messaging. Developers will be able to extend the functionality of their music, podcasting, or news apps so the audio can be played back through the car's speakers. Similarly, messaging apps that receive incoming notifications can read new messages aloud in the car, as well as send voice-dictated replies. Google says it is already working with developers of popular music and messaging apps to extend their functionality to Android Auto. In order to use Android Auto apps in a car, the car has to support Android Auto within the infotainment center. So far, only a handful of car manufacturers have said they'll bring Android Auto-compatible vehicles to market. Android Auto will let car owners more easily and safely access phone-based content through their car's dashboard.


Nokia Releases Android Launcher, Debuts Tablet

Nov 18, 2014, 8:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia today announced wide availability of the Z Launcher for Android devices. Nokia first debuted the Z Launcher earlier this year, but as a limited alpha. It is now available in beta form directly from the Google Play Store. The Z Launcher is a learning launcher that adjusts what it shows the phone owner on the home screen throughout the day depending on their pattern of behavior. For example, in the morning Z Launcher will present apps such as email and the calendar, while in the evening it will present apps such as Facebook and Spotify. Nokia says Z Launcher improves its predictions over time. Further, Z Launcher includes a gesture search tool that lets users initiate searches from the home screen by tracing letters on the glass. Launchers are alternative home screen treatments for Android smartphones. In addition to the launcher, Nokia announced the N1 tablet, which includes a 7.9-inch screen and runs Android 5.0 Lollipop. Other specs include a 64-bit Intel Atom processor, 8- and 5-megapixel cameras, stereo speakers, dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. The N1 tablet will cost $249, and is headed to China first. Nokia, which sold its handset division to Microsoft earlier this year, is not manufacturing the N1 itself. Rather, it is licensing the brand and the design to an unnamed manufacturer in order for it to be built.


Google Begins Rollout of Play Services 6.5

Nov 17, 2014, 7:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it has begun to push Google Play Services 6.5 to all devices running Android 2.3 Gingerbread and higher. Play Services 6.5 adds several new tools for developers, and targets Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Wallet, and Google Fit. In Maps, the API now offers a map toolbar so app users can launch Google Maps to get turn-by-turn directions. Developers can also add mini maps to their apps when using Lite Mode. In Google Drive, developers can add both public and private custom file properties to improve searching. File syncing has been improved, too, as users can now schedule uploads based on network type, as well as cancel pending uploads. File syncing is also more power efficient. Google is adding a "Donate with Google" button to its Google Wallet API to make for easier donating within apps. The Google Fit API makes it easier for developers to add timed workouts, which in turn makes it easier to support pauses or multiple activity workout in a single session. Last, Google is making it possible for developers to use only a portion of the Android API library in order to help keep their apps leaner. Google will publish a new SDK once Play Services 6.5 has been installed on most Android devices.


Google Keep Updated with Shareable Tasks

Nov 17, 2014, 3:27 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today detailed a recent update to the Google Keep application, which is used for saving notes, web pages, and other snippets of information. The newest version of Keep makes to-do lists and other items shareable, which lets people work on them together. Google also made it easier to search through Keep for old items. Users can search by color, whether they're shared, have a reminder, are lists, or have an image or audio attachment. Google Keep is free to download from the Play Store. It is compatible with devices running Android 4.0 and up.


VSCO Cam Adds Support for HTC's Camera APIs

Nov 13, 2014, 5:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 13, 2014, 10:24 PM

VSCO Cam, a popular third-party camera application for Android and iOS devices, updated both of its mobile apps today. The camera gains a number of new features through the update, such as the ability to sync images across devices, side-by-side filter comparisons, and a web uploader tool. The app also gains a new user interface and claims to take better pictures. The Android version of VSCO Cam is notable in that it makes use of APIs from HTC so it can support separate focus and exposure points. VSCO Cam is available in the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.


Google to Deactivate Wallet API for Digital Goods

Nov 13, 2014, 4:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today alerted developers that it will cease to offer the Google Wallet for Digital Goods API in March 2015. The API has for several years let online goods purveyors accept Google Wallet for payment. Google originally provided the API to make it easier for people to buy and sell digital goods online. Google said the online payments landscape has changed enough since the API's release that it no feels the need to offer it. Google is asking developers to strip their apps of Google Wallet and find alternate sources of payment processing. Users of Google Wallet will be able to make payments via Wallet until March 2. Developers have until then to find other providers and cease calling on the API. The functionality of Google Wallet should not change for most people.


Google Now Improved with More Voice Prompts

Nov 12, 2014, 3:49 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today revealed details about a new version of the Google Search app for Android devices. The latest rendition of Search makes use of Material Design and adds new Now cards for keeping track of reminders, travel, sports scores, and your commute. Google Now will recognize the "OK, Google" voice prompt within third-party applications. It can also be used to open and search through those third-party apps. Google has made it possible for the Nexus 6 and Galaxy Note 4 smartphones to enable the "OK, Google" prompt even when the device is locked and asleep (similar to the Motorola Moto X). Last, Google added a fun feature that allows users to flip a virtual coin when they need help choosing between two selections. Google Search is free to download from the Play Store.


Google Says Lollipop Is On Its Way to Nexus Devices

Nov 12, 2014, 3:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it has begun the Android 5.0 Lollipop rollout to Nexus devices. The company said hardware such as the Nexus 4, Nexus 5, and Nexus 7 will have the new operating system soon. Look for it in your system settings. Android 5.0 Lollipop introduces an entirely new design for the operating system, as well as hundreds of new features.


YouTube Launches Music Service for Android and iOS

Nov 12, 2014, 2:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

YouTube today announced a new way to consume music on Android and iOS devices, as well as the web. YouTube made it easier to find music videos by surfacing them to the top of the search discovery tool. The new YouTube offers smartphone, tablet, and web users the ability to find and play full albums and video playlists on YouTube. YouTube created new pages that display an artist's entire discography and all the videos associated with their music. The corresponding app updates should arrive for Android and iOS soon. These features are being made available to all users for free. YouTube also announced a premium service called Music Key, which offers ad-free playback, as well as the ability to listen to music videos in the background. Music Key costs $10 per month, but YouTube is discounting it for a limited time to just $8 per month. The subscription fee includes access to Google Play Music, which has more than 30 million songs and hundreds of curated playlists and radio stations. Music Key is being offered as a limited beta to start, though YouTube said its availability will expand over time.


FCC Chairman May Diss Obama On Net Neutrality

Nov 12, 2014, 8:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told industry insiders that he'll likely take a different approach to net neutrality than the one proposed by President Obama, reports the Washington Post. Obama on Monday surprised the industry by weighing in on the net neutrality debate. The President asked for a free and open internet regulated as a utility. Speaking to executives from Google, Yahoo and Etsy on Monday Wheeler said, "What you want is what everyone wants: an open Internet that doesn’t affect your business. What I've got to figure out is how to split the baby." Wheeler hopes to find a middle ground that will make both consumers and businesses happy. Wheeler's official response to Obama on Monday indicated the agency would consider the President's proposal, but reminded the President that the FCC is an independent agency and not beholden to any executive orders. The Post suggests if Wheeler does in fact take a different route, it could create discord between the White House and the FCC.


Google Voice Now Lets Verizon Customers Send MMS

Nov 10, 2014, 8:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said Verizon Wireless customers can now send and receive MMS messages through their Google Voice number. According to Google, MMS is supported by all major carriers in the U.S. and Canada. Further, Google has added native MMS support to Google Voice. This means users who add their Google Voice number to Hangouts can actually attach photos to Google Voice messages rather than send an SMS with a photo link. Google said support for group messaging via MMS will be available soon.


Instagram's Android and iOS Apps Can Now Edit Captions

Nov 10, 2014, 2:49 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today announced updates to both its Android and iOS applications. The apps add a couple of new features, the foremost of which is the ability to edit the captions attached to photos. Previously, captions couldn't be edited once they were posted. Instagram users will also notice changes to the Explore function, which Instagram says now lets users seek out new people to follow via their photos or via their name. Instagram for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.


LG to Start Pushing Lollipop to the G3

Nov 9, 2014, 7:28 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today said it will soon begin distributing Android 5.0 Lollipop to its G3 smartphone. LG will deliver Lollipop to G3 owners in Poland first, followed by "other key markets in the near future." The company claims it is the first handset maker to offer Android 5.0 to its existing device base. LG also said it will soon publish a schedule detailing the Lollipop upgrade for other LG phones. The G3 is available from the major U.S. carriers, but neither they nor LG made any specific announcements regarding Lollipop's arrival on the G3 in the U.S. LG happened to manufacture both the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 5 smartphones, which should be among the first to receive Lollipop. The Nexus phones will be updated directly by Google.


Google Adds Touch ID Support to Drive for iOS

Nov 6, 2014, 1:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced several new features its adding to Google Drive for iOS devices. Drive now supports extensions in iOS 8, which means users can more easily share files to and from Drive. The app can now be locked with Touch ID for security purposes. Last, Drive for iOS now allows users to save videos from Drive to their iPhone's camera role. Google Drive for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store and has even optimized for iOS 8.


Nexus 6 Now Available Directly from Motorola

Nov 6, 2014, 1:53 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Motorola recently began accepting preorders for the Nexus 6 on its U.S. web site. Both the white and blue models are available in 32GB and 64GB variants for $649 and $699, respectively. Motorola is selling the unlocked GSM model at the moment. Google is also selling the Nexus 6, though its supply is currently exhausted. The Nexus 6 will be made available from wireless network operators, including AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, later this month. Shipping times have yet to be announced.


Google Maps Earns Material Design and Gains New Tools

Nov 5, 2014, 2:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today revealed a major redesign of its mobile maps app for both the Android and iOS platforms. The app adopts Google's Material Design, which is the basis of Android 5.0 Lollipop's look and feel. This means bright colors and flatter, bolder icons. In addition to the new design, Google Maps has new hooks for making restaurant reservations through Open Table or booking Uber rides, complete with rates and arrival times. Google also created new info cards for locations that are richer in detail and imagery. Google Maps is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.


LG and Google Sign Patent Cross-Licensing Agreement

Nov 4, 2014, 7:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG and Google today announced the two companies have signed a multi-year patent cross-licensing agreement. The patents cover a wide range of existing technologies and also extends to patents filed over the next 10 years. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. "LG values its relationship with Google, and this agreement underscores both companies' commitment to developing new products and technologies that enhance consumers' lives," said LG in a statement. LG uses Google's Android platform for its smartphones, tablets, and wearables. It also manufactured both the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 smartphones for Google.


Google's Latest Calendar App Simplifies Making Appointments

Nov 3, 2014, 1:14 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a new version of its calendar application for Android devices. The apps brings with it a handful of new features, one of which is automatic event scheduling. The calendar app will, for example, scan Gmail for flight itineraries and other invitations and then automatically create events based on those emails, complete with location details. The new calendar app is smart enough to re-schedule those same events if there are delays or changes. A new feature called Assists helps users by suggesting titles, people, and places as they fill out events. It also adapts to the user's typing preferences over time. Another addition to the calendar is called Schedule View, which will include photos, maps, illustrations, or cityscapes of locations within calendar events. The new Google calendar is compatible with all Android 4.1+ devices and it will be available from the Play Store in the coming weeks. The new calendar app is built into Android 5.0 Lollipop.


Revised Android Gmail App Supports Outlook, Yahoo Mail

Nov 3, 2014, 1:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 3, 2014, 3:02 PM

Google has re-envisioned Gmail for Android 5.0 Lollipop and made it a more robust app thanks to several new tools. The overhauled application adopts Material Design, which is the new design language seen across many Android apps. It also adds some key features. Primarily, Gmail adds in-app support for other email services. Gmail 5.0 lets users of Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, Outlook.com, and other POP3/IMAP4 email services add their accounts directly to the Gmail app. Gmail can also now support separate, employer-based Exchange accounts in addition to the user's Gmail account. The various accounts can be viewed separately or together. Gmail 5.0 also adds a number of new swiping gestures for archiving and replying to messages. Gmail 5.0 is built into devices running Android 5.0 Lollipop. The new Gmail app will be made available to handsets running Android 4.0 and up in the next few days.


Madstar Mobile Latest Sprint MVNO Looking to Disrupt

Oct 31, 2014, 7:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Madstar Mobile today announced itself as "the newest national wireless carrier." The MVNO resells access to Sprint's 3G/4G networks and claims to offer the benefits of postpaid and prepaid services at the same time. It bills for service on a postpaid basis, but it doesn't require credit checks, deposits, or contracts. Madstar says customers can cancel their service at any time with no fear of ETFs. The company offers a range of feature phones, smartphones, and access points. Customers can choose to pay full price for their phones or finance them with monthly payments. For example, the HTC One (M8) is available for $665 or as low as $29 per month on an installment plan. Other handsets in Madstar's roster include the Apple iPhone 5, Google Nexus 5, Kyocera Kona, and the Samsung Galaxy S5. Alternately, customers can bring their own compatible device and port their existing wireless number if they wish. The least expensive service plan costs $22 per month and includes 250 voice minutes, 250 messages, and pay-as-you-go data. Plan pricing jumps by $11 increments, with the most expensive option topping out at $88 per month. It includes unlimited voice minutes, messaging, HD Voice, and 2GB of data "Our goal is to provide subscribers with a cost effective, convenient and reliable wireless service using the device of their choice,” said David Pearsall, Madstar Mobile's founder & CEO. "Wireless devices and service have become a necessity, not a luxury and should be affordable to everyone without the need to prepay now for the right to service later." The company is based in New Milford, Conn.


Android Founder Andy Rubin Leaving Google

Oct 31, 2014, 6:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Andy Rubin, who helped launch Google's Android business, is leaving the company. Rubin co-founded the Android operating system, which Google acquired in 2005. Rubin oversaw the initial development of the platform and remained at the head of Google's Android business until 2013, when he took on a role within the company's robotics division. Rubin is leaving Google to create a robotics incubator. Rubin's Android role was handed to Sundar Pichai in 2013, who was recently promoted to the head all Google's products, including Chrome and core experiences like Gmail. Rubin will be replaced by James Kuffner, who is a research scientist at Google. "I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next," Google CEO Larry Page said in a statement. "With Android he created something truly remarkable -- with a billion-plus happy users. Thank you."


Google Adds Reading Tools to Play Books App

Oct 30, 2014, 10:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today added several features to its Play Book reading application that make it better for consuming nonfiction material. The revised app, for example, allows users to skim or flip through pages, as well as add bookmarks throughout the text. The new skimming view makes it a breeze to jump from section to section, or scan through individual sections. Prior to this update, books needed to be read from front to back, with minimal support for jumping chapters or sections. Play Books also adopts Google's Material Design, which is the new design language of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Google Play Books is free to download from the Play Store.


Google Drive for Android Given Material Design

Oct 30, 2014, 8:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently updated the Google Drive application for Android devices. The revised app improves search tools by adding autocomplete as users type in the search box. Drive now allows users to attach email messages to shared files. The app has a brand new PDF viewer, which allows users to search for and select text within PDF documents. Last, Drive was updated with Material Design, the new design language for Android 5.0 Lollipop. Google Drive for Android is free to download from the Play Store.


Microsoft Debuts Health Platform and Wearable

Oct 30, 2014, 8:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today announced Microsoft Health, a new platform that's similar in basic approach to Apple's HealthKit and Google's Google Fit programs. Microsoft Health relies on a cloud-based service where consumers and the industry both store health and fitness data. The Microsoft Health application is available today for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices. It collects information from third-party apps and services and saves the data to the cloud, where it can help users manage their health and fitness goals. Microsoft Health doesn't combine data points from apps locally on smartphones, which both HealthKit and Fit do. Instead, the data is analyzed by Microsoft's Intelligence Engine online, which can be used to generate graphs, charts, and other ways to assess the data. For example, Microsoft Health can tell people which exercises burn the most calories, or calculate the quality of users' sleep. Though Microsoft Health works with select third-party devices, such as Jawbone Up, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Band wearable. The band was designed to be worn all day long. It has 10 sensors inside that track steps, calories burned, heart rate, and more. Together with the Microsoft Health app, the Microsoft Band offers guided workouts created by Gold's Gym, Shape, and others. The band also includes notifications for incoming calls, messages, or social networking updates. The Band is available from Microsoft's web site and retail stores beginning today for $199. Last, Microsoft is offering SDKs and APIs to health providers and app developers so they may hook their products into Microsoft Health.


Lenovo Completes Acquisition of Motorola

Oct 30, 2014, 7:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has completed its sale of Motorola to Lenovo. Google first announced plans to sell Motorola in January. The deal was valued at about $2.9 billion. Google purchased Motorola in 2012 for more than $12 billion, in part for its treasure trove of 17,000 patents. Since then, Google has retooled Motorola's products and released innovative devices such as the Moto X, Moto G, and Moto E in 2013. During the last several months Motorola delivered a range of new handsets, including the second-generation Moto X and Moto G, the Droid Turbo, and the Nexus 6. Motorola's devices all feature stock Android operating systems with unique and helpful additions, such as Active Display and Moto Voice. Lenovo plans to keep the Motorola brand intact and will use it to grow its own presence in the market. According to Motorola chief Risk Osterloh, Motorola will remain headquartered in Chicago and will continue to develop its Moto and Droid lines of hardware with a focus on quick OS upgrades and technology that solves real-world problems. "In Lenovo we have a partner that shares our mission and that brings global scale, a diverse product portfolio and a track record of seizing strategic opportunities and making the most of them," said Osterloh in a blog post. "Together we will go farther, faster. With an impressive portfolio of smartphones, wearables and PCs, our two companies will be uniquely positioned to push the boundaries of choice and value, and bring exciting new experiences to people everywhere."


Hands-On: Google Nexus 6

Oct 29, 2014, 2:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Google Nexus 6 is essentially a Moto X on steroids. It's huge, well-made, and has an appealing design. This full-sized phablet may impress, but it's not for everyone. Here are our initial impressions about Google's newest Nexus.

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MCX Goes On the Defensive, Offers New Details

Oct 29, 2014, 1:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

MCX took to its company blog today to "set the record straight" on what its forthcoming CurrentC product will and won't entail. First and foremost, MCX said participation in its payment service is voluntary. "MCX merchants make their own decisions about what solutions they want to bring to their customers; the choice is theirs. When merchants choose to work with MCX, they choose to do so exclusively. Importantly, if a merchant decides to stop working with MCX, there are no fines." In other words, companies that pick CurrentC to power mobile payments in their stores will not be permitted to accept alternate mobile payment services, such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet. MCS will not penalize members that decide to switch allegiances. According to MCX, CurrentC will work with most Android or iOS devices and will offer loyalty programs, coupons, and payments all in a single transaction. It claims to meet the industry standard when it comes to fraud protection, and will allow consumers multiple different payment methods (credit card, merchant card, bank account). MCX claims consumers will be in control of their personal data (including location) and they can share as much or as little as they want with retailers. The company believes its QR code-based system will work well at retail locations, and points to the success Starbucks has had with a similar system. It said it might add other payment options, such as Bluetooth, down the road. MCX came under fire this week after CVS and Rite-Aid, which support CurrentC, ceased accepting Apple Pay and Google Wallet. CurrentC is currently being tested in select markets and won't fully launch until next year.


Google Shows Off New Play Movies App with Info Cards

Oct 29, 2014, 1:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a new version of the Play Movies app for Android devices. The most significant new feature is support for info cards that appear on the user's smartphone or tablet when watching content via Chromecast or Android TV. The info cards will pop up on the mobile device during movie or TV show playback to provide info about the actors involved and other details. The app has also been updated with Material Design, which is the new design language Google is using for Android 5.0 Lollipop. The new Google Play app will roll out over the next few days.


Google Opens Nexus 6 Preorders, But Phone Already Backordered

Oct 29, 2014, 12:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Oct 29, 2014, 12:37 PM

Google today began accepting preorders for the Nexus 6 smartphone via the Google Play Store. However, Google almost immediately sold through its initial supply of the phone. Google says it is "out of inventory" and interested consumers should "check back soon." The phone, made by Motorola, comes in indigo blue or white, and either 32GB or 64GB variants. None of the four models is available. Google didn't say when it will replenish its inventory. Google only offers the unlocked model, which starts at $649. The phone will be sold by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless in the weeks ahead. The carriers will offer the phone with contract and monthly installment pricing.


Google Releases Fit App for Tracking Fitness

Oct 28, 2014, 1:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made available Google Fit, a new app for Android devices that takes advantage of the sensors found within smartphones to track activity and exercise. The app can automatically sense walking, running, hiking, and cycling. It syncs with a handful of third-party fitness apps and can display all the information generated by those apps in easy-to-understand graphs and charts. Google Fit can be accessed from Android smartphones and tablets, Android Wear devices, and via the web. It is free to download from the Play Store.


Google Highlights Android 5.0's Security Improvements

Oct 28, 2014, 11:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today offered some insight into the steps it has taken to protect users through changes made to Android 5.0 Lollipop. For starters, Lollipop uses encryption by default. All the key communications tools (calls, messages) are encrypted and can't be accessed by others. Second, Google has improved the lock screen in order to encourage more people to use it. In addition to PIN codes and passwords, users can make use of trusted Bluetooth or NFC devices to unlock their device, or even smile at the user-facing camera. Last, Android 5.0 Lollipop works harder to sandbox apps from one another. With Android 5.0, Security Enhanced Linux Enforcing mode is required for all applications on all devices. This means apps can't share information with other apps without the user's permission. Android 5.0 will first ship on the Nexus 6 smartphone and Nexus 9 tablet. It will reach older Nexus devices in November.


Twitter to Acquire Twitpic, Keep Photos Alive for Now

Oct 25, 2014, 3:52 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitpic today announced that Twitter has agreed to take over the Twitpic domain and photo archive. Had Twitter not scooped up Twitpic's assets, the photo-sharing tool would have shut down entirely. Moving forward, Twitpic users will be able to sign into their accounts online to retrieve their photos, delete them, or delete their account, but not to post new photos. The service will remain up and running in a read-only mode. Accordingly, Twitpic has removed its Android and iOS apps from the Google Play and iTunes app stores. "Twitter shares our goal of protecting our users and this data. Also, since Twitpic's user base consists of Twitter users, it makes sense to keep this data with Twitter," said Twitpic's Noah Everett in a blog post. The company made the decision to shut down after Twitter demanded Twitpic abandon its trademarked application or risk losing access to Twitter's API. Twitpic launched in 2008 and was one of the first tools for sharing photos within Twitter.


Android Wear Update Makes Devices More Independent

Oct 23, 2014, 11:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today pushed out an update to its Android Wear platform that adds two key features and grants wearables even more independence. First, Android Wear devices will now be able to track location via GPS without requiring a nearby smartphone. This means people will be able to leave their phone at home when they go for a jog or walk. Further, the update adds the ability to play local music files stored on the wearable itself. This means Android Wear device owners can put music on their watch, listen to it via Bluetooth headphones, and leave their phone at home. Google noted that tens of thousands of Android apps have been updated with Wear compatibility. Last, Google said the Sony Smart Watch 3 is now available for preorder through Verizon Wireless for $250. It will reach the Play Store in the weeks to come.


Google Debuts 'Inbox' As a Gmail Alternative

Oct 22, 2014, 12:19 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Oct 22, 2014, 7:15 PM

Google today announced a new service called Inbox. The app, which was developed by Google's Gmail team, offers a new take on email by categorizing emails and highlighting the important details therein. Inbox offers three core features: bundles, highlights, and reminders/assists. Bundles categorize similar emails, such as bank statements or purchases, to make them easier to read and dismiss en masse. Users are able to tweak which emails are grouped together, but Inbox will also do so automatically. Highlights show the important information found within emails, such as flight itineraries, event details, and photos/documents. Inbox is smart enough to pull in additional details from the web if they're not offered in the original email. Last, reminders/assists are tools for managing tasks and to-do lists. According to Google, Inbox can handle any type of reminder and can snag pertinent info from the web. For example, if you make a flight reservation, Inbox will automatically provide a link for online checkin. Reminders can be silenced with a snooze feature that relies on time and/or location to resume notifications. For now, Inbox is being offered as an invite-only beta. Google said those who receive invites can invite others to test it out. Google didn't say when the service might reach 1.0 status or become more widely available.


Microsoft Opens the Garage Door, Releases Android Apps

Oct 22, 2014, 8:38 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today revealed Garage, a collective of Microsoft employees that is encouraged to tinker with apps and services for a wide range of platforms and products. Microsoft describes the Garage as "a community of interns, employees, and teams from everywhere in the company who come together to turn our wild ideas into real projects." Along with its public unveiling, Microsoft announced several Android apps created within the Garage that are available from the Play Store today. For example, Torque is an app for Android Wear that lets owners of such devices twist their arm to launch Bing (not Google) Voice Search. Another, Next Lock Screen, lets Android device owners see their missed calls, messages, and calendar appointments without unlocking their device. The apps are free to download starting today. Microsoft indicated more apps and products may emerge from the Garage, not just for Android, but for iOS, Windows Phone, and Windows, too.


Congress Warns FBI to Leave Peoples' Cell Phones Alone

Oct 22, 2014, 7:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Members of Congress have responded to comments made by FBI Director James Comey regarding security measurers Apple and Google have added to their respective mobile operating systems. Both iOS 8 and Android 5.0 use encryption by default to protect user data from spying. The FBI doesn't like this. Comey last week asked Congress to pass legislation that would force smartphone makers to provide a back door into smartphones for law enforcement purposes. Congress has spoken up. "I think the public would not support it, certainly industry would not support it, civil liberties groups would not support it," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren in a statement provided to The Hill. "I think [Comey is] a sincere guy, but there's just no way this is going to happen." Senator Ron Wyden offered similar thoughts. "I'd be surprised if more than a handful of members would support the idea of backdooring Americans' personal property." Representative Darrell Issa added, "To FBI Director Comey and the [administration] on criticisms of legitimate businesses using encryption: you reap what you sow." Congress believes the American public is inherently distrustful of law enforcement's data collection techniques after the revelations made by Edward Snowden. FBI Director Comey wants Congress to update 1994 legislation called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which required phone companies to make it easy for law enforcement to tap calls. The Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, however, that CALEA already protects encryption measures put into place by companies. The law states companies "shall not be responsible for decrypting, or ensuring the government's ability to decrypt, any communication encrypted by a subscriber or customer." The Hill suggests the FBI isn't going to simply drop the matter and will continue its push for broader access to smartphones.


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