Microsoft today revealed that it has made some under-the-hood improvements to Bing voice search for the Windows Phone platform. The updates take advantage of advances in Deep Neural Networks technology, which helps computers mimic the behavior of neurons. Microsoft says the result is voice recognition that is twice as fast and results that are 15% more accurate. The improved Bing search is being rolled out in waves. Microsoft said that the improvements carry over to other apps, such as text or email messages, which will be better at transcribing dictated content.
Skype today announced that its video messaging service has graduated from beta status and is widely available for use. The service, which has been in trials since February, allows Skype users to record and send video messages (up to three minutes long) to other Skype users. Skype said that video messages can be viewed on any platform, but in order to record and send messages users must have devices running Android, BlackBerry, or iOS. Microsoft's own Windows Phone platform is not yet able to record and send Skype video messages. The feature is free to use, and Skype said that users can send an unlimited number of messages.
Microsoft today released Office Mobile for Office 365 subscribers. The software allows iPhone owners to create Microsoft Office Word and Excel documents, as well as open and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, but it requires a subscription to Microsoft's Office 365 service. Office Mobile allows iPhone owners to open Office documents embedded in emails, and syncs documents changes back to SkyDrive or SharePoint automatically. It also supports collaboration tools, such as adding and viewing comments, and sharing documents with others via email or SharePoint. The application supports more than two dozen languages. Office Mobile for Office 365 is optimized for the iPhone 5, but also works with older iPhones, the iPod Touch, and the iPad. It requires iOS 6.1 and up.
Nokia has manufactured and shipped the very last series of smartphones running its Symbian smartphone platform, reports the Financial Times. Nokia has been transitioning away from Symbian since 2011 in favor of Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. The company has not introduced any new Symbian-based models in some time, and the devices that recently shipped are expected to be sold before the end of summer, marking the end for Nokia's once-vaunted smartphone platform. "It took 22 months to get a Symbian phone out of the door," explained Nokia to FT. "With Windows Phone, it is less than a year. We spend less time having to tinker with deep-lying code and more time on crafting elements of the experience that make a big difference, such as around photography, maps, music and apps in general." Nokia is now the world's leading supplier of Windows Phone devices, owning approximately 80% of the Windows Phone market. It's overall share of the smartphone market, however, trails market leaders Samsung, Apple, and others.
Twitter today released a new version of its mobile application for Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. New features of the application center on expanded photo tools. For example, Twitter now supports lens app integration as well as Twitter's photo filters, which are accessible from the tweet composition screen. The new app now lets Windows Phone users view Vine videos, though it does not add Vine's video-recording and -creating powers. Windows Phone users may also now save tweeted photos directly to their phone's camera roll. Twitter for Windows Phone is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
Officials from the cities of New York and San Francisco today announced that they plan to meet with leading makers of smartphones later this month to discuss how to curb cell phone thefts. According to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, 1.6 million cell phones are stolen each year from Americans. The city officials will meet with Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft on June 13, when they intend to enlist the companies' help by asking them to devise ways to quickly deactivate stolen devices so they will no longer work. U.S. network operators have already created a registry of stolen cell phones together with the Federal Communications Commission that is used to prevent them from accessing network services. Last month, New York Senator Charles Schumer reintroduced a bill that would make it illegal for people to alter the IMEI or other identifying numbers of devices. All these steps have been taken in an effort to reduce thefts and robberies of cell phones by drying up the secondary market for the stolen goods.
Google today announced that it has reversed an earlier decision to restrict access to the CalDAV API. In March Google said it would only allow its major developer partners to access the API. Since then, Google has received lots of request from developers seeking CalDAV access. Given the volume of requests, Google changed its mind and has decided to make the CalDAV API open to the public. Further, it is also making the CardDAV API open to the public. Both CalDAV and CardDAV are tools that allow people to access calendar and contacts data across the web. Smartphone owners, for example, can choose to sync their calendar and contact data from Google to their device using CalDAV and CardDAV, respectively, as an alternative to Microsoft's ActiveSync. In addition to making the APIs open, Google also updated them, giving both CalDAV and CardDAV OAuth2.0 authentication.
Microsoft today released a new version of the Windows Phone App for Windows-based desktops and laptops. The revised application adds a handful of new features, including better podcast syncing between iTunes and Windows Phones, simplified system update tools, support for multiple music or video libraries, and various bug fixes. The app is compatible with machines that run Windows 7 and Windows 8, and is free to download from Microsoft.
The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that Microsoft did not infringe on a patent held by Motorola. The full commission's decision upheld an earlier ruling by an administrative law judge and puts the matter to rest. The case began in 2010 when Motorola accused Microsoft of violating five of its patents. Four of the patents were eventually dropped from the case, leaving just one pertaining to how Microsoft's XBox gaming system used Wi-Fi. Microsoft declared the ruling a "win" for its customers, adding that it "confirms our view that Google had no grounds to block our products."
Google has sent a letter to Microsoft requesting that it remove from the Windows Phone Store a YouTube application written by Microsoft for its Windows Phone 8 platform. According to Google, the app violates its terms of service by allowing users to download videos from the app, it also disables advertising within videos. Google asked Microsoft to remove the app, and kill the functionality of the app on existing devices, by May 22. Microsoft has yet to publicly respond to Google's request.
Microsoft today announced that it plans to push a system update to devices running Windows Phone 8 this summer. The update brings back support for FM radios, expands the availability of Data Sense to more carriers around the world, and makes it easier to interact with XBox Music, including pinning tunes to the Start screen. The update also brings with it support for CarDAV and CalDAV, which are contact and calendar syncing protocols necessary for Windows Phone 8 devices to play nice with Google Contacts and Google Calendar. The update will be pushed out to the majority of devices that run Windows Phone 8. Timing will depend on region, carrier, and exact handset model.
T-Mobile USA today said that the Nokia Lumia 521 will reach its retail stores on May 22. T-Mobile is asking for a downpayment of $29 for the 521 followed by 24 payments of just $5. Alternately, customers may choose to buy the 521 outright for $149. The Lumia 521 will reach Microsoft retail stores and Walmart stores on May 11, as previously announced. Microsoft is charging $149 for the 521 and Walmart is charging $129.88. The 521 is already available via the Home Shopping Network. It runs Windows Phone 8.
Microsoft today announced major updates to the YouTube and Foursquare applications for its Windows Phone platform. The YouTube application has been completely rewritten to take advantage of WP8's best features. YouTube now lets users pin videos, playlists, and channels to the Start screen as Live Tiles. Those tiles will actively update with new content from the user's subscriptions. YouTube for WP8 has a new design for managing playlists in a filmstrip that is more touch friendly. YouTube videos can play in the background, even when the screen is locked. Last, it is easier to share videos to Twitter, Facebook, and via email and text. Foursquare 3.0 also adds a host of new features, including the ability to pin people and venues to the Start Screen as well as add notifications to the lock screen. The new app also includes voice search for venues and friends. According to Microsoft, Foursquare 3.0 learns user behaviors and will fine-tune venue recommendations over time. Both YouTube and Foursquare for Windows Phone 8 are free to download from the Windows Phone Store. They should become available later today.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is in the hot seat with investors and took fire at today's meeting from impatient shareholders who are waiting for the company's fortunes to turn around. Elop announced Nokia's plans to abandon Symbian, which he referred to as a burning platform, in February 2011. Elop decided then that Nokia would use Microsoft's Windows Phone platform for its smartphones moving forward. At the time, he predicted that the turn-around would take two years. That time has come and gone, and Nokia's share of the smartphone market is still grim. "You're a nice guy, and the leadership team is doing its best, but clearly, it's not enough," said shareholder Hannu Virtanen to Elop. "Are you aware that results are what matter? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Please switch to another road." Elop defended his decision, citing recent traction with its Lumia Windows phones, but also admitted that there's no Plan B. "We make adjustments as we go," said Elop. "But it's very clear to us that in today's war of ecosystems, we've made a very clear decision to focus on Windows Phone with our Lumia product line. And it is with that that we will compete with competitors like Samsung and Android." Nokia has planned a press conference for May 14, during which it is expected to announce new Lumia smartphones.
Microsoft today announced a new beta version of Facebook for its Windows Phone platform. The beta app, which Microsoft cautions may not be entirely stable, brings new support for user-requested features, including Timeline, high-resolution photos, and easier post sharing. The beta will not show up in the Windows Phone Store. Instead, it must be downloaded directly from Microsoft. Microsoft said the current version of Facebook in the Windows Phone Store will remain available, and beta testers can use both the beta and current versions of Facebook side-by-side on the same device. Microsoft hopes that those who take a chance on the beta application will be willing to provide feedback about the app.
Microsoft has emerged the victor in the first of two patent trials between the Redmond-based company and Google-owned Motorola. Motorola was seeking $4 billion per year in royalty payments from Microsoft over use of its wireless and video technology. Microsoft argued that the patents were worth much less at $1 million per year. U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle agreed with Microsoft. He set the royalty payment at $1.8 million. Microsoft lauded the decision as one that's good for consumers. The second trial between the two companies is scheduled to take place during the summer months, and will determine whether or not Motorola is asking fair and reasonable rates to license its patents.
T-Mobile USA today announced that the Nokia Lumia 521 smartphone will be featured on the Home Shopping Network television channel beginning April 27. The device can be purchased from HSN, HSN.com, or HSN Mobile directly for $149.95, which includes a car charger and screen protector. Following the 521's availability on the Home Shopping Network, the Lumia 521 will be available at Microsoft Retail Stores and Walmart stores beginning May 11, where it will cost $149. Walmart will be selling the 521 with its no contract $30 per month unlimited Web and text plan. T-Mobile said the Lumia 521 won't reach T-Mobile's retail stores until some unspecified date in the future.
Microsoft has struck another smartphone patent licensing agreement, this time with Chinese handset manufacturer ZTE. Microsoft has similar deals already in place with companies such as Samsung, HTC, LG, Hon Hai, and 20 other companies. Microsoft maintains that its patent portfolio covers certain core technologies that are built into the Android platform. Microsoft is still attempting to get Google's Motorola unit to sign a similar agreement, but has been forced to resort to litigation to do so. Terms of the deal with ZTE were not disclosed.
Microsoft today announced that Tumblr has just released its first official application for the Windows Phone platform. The free app lets Tumblr users access their dashboard from their Windows Phone handset, as well as post pictures, words, video, and interact with others. According to Microsoft, Tumblr for Windows Phone is compatible with the WP Lenses feature, includes an active Live Tile for the Start screen, and can deliver notifications to the lock screen. Tumblr can be downloaded from the Windows Phone Store beginning today.
Microsoft has released a new version of Skype for the Windows Phone 8 platform. Skype 2.5 removes the beta tag and turns on message notifications by default. It also fixes a long list of bugs. The update is free.
T-Mobile USA today announced that the Nokia Lumia 521 will be available at Walmart, Microsoft Retail Stores, and T-Mobile stores in May. Exact pricing and availability will be shared close to launch.
Microsoft today announced that Pandora, the music-streaming service, is available to Windows Phone devices for the first time. The app, which can be downloaded from the Windows Phone Store beginning today, has several features not available to other platforms. First, Pandora for Windows Phone will provide an ad-free listening experience until the end of 2013. This is typically reserved only for paying subscribers. Further, the app takes advantage of Windows Phone 8, and has an adjustable Live Tile that shows the current track. The app is also fully functional within Kids Corner, so it can be used for entertainment while protecting parents' data on the device. Pandora for Windows Phone integrates fully with the web version, and can be downloaded for free.
Microsoft today made an update available to the Windows Phone version of Skype. The refreshed application adds several new features, chief among them support for HD video calls between compatible devices. The new Skype lets Windows Phone owners make use of either the front or back camera, as well as view video calls in either portrait or landscape mode. Skype also once again integrates natively with the People Hub in Windows Phone 8. Skype is free to download and use, though some charges may apply for certain types of phone calls.
Microsoft has revealed through consumer-facing web site that it will support current versions of Windows Phone for a period of 18 months. Support, as defined by Microsoft, applies mainly to security updates for each platform variant. According to Microsoft, Windows Phone 8 will receive updates between December 12, 2012 and July 8, 2014, while Windows Phone 7.8 (which arrived after WP8) will receive updates between February 9, 2013 and September 9, 2014. Earlier versions of Windows Phone (7.0, 7.1, 7.5) are no longer being support with security updates. Microsoft cautions that even this level of support for its smartphone platforms will vary by country, manufacturer, device, and carrier.
Google today announced a second round of spring cleaning that will see yet more services discontinued. The most significant mobile app being axed is the Google Voice application for the BlackBerry platform. Google recommends that BlackBerry owners still interested in using Google Voice switch to the browser-based HTML5 app, which Google says is more secure anyway. Google will end support for Google Voice for BlackBerry next week. The HTML5 app is compatible with BlackBerry Browsers version 6 and up. Other products that have limited days remaining include the CalDAV API, Google Building Maker (tool to model 3D buildings on maps), Google Cloud Connect (plug-in that helped users save Microsoft Office documents to Google Docs), Google Reader (RSS feed), the Search API for Google Shopping, and Snapseed for both Windows and Mac OS. Google says better alternatives for all these services are available elsewhere.
In recent filing with the SEC, Nokia specifically acknowledged the possibility that "Microsoft may broaden its strategy to sell other mobile devices under its own brand, including smartphones." Such filings with the SEC are legally required to lay out legitimate business risks, so that investors can make informed decisions. Similar filings in the past did not list this risk, indicating that Nokia feels the chances of Microsoft making its own phones have increased. The company may, in fact, have knowledge of such plans. At the very least, Nokia does not seem to have any assurances from Microsoft that they won't offer their own phone. Nokia is dependent on Microsoft for its Windows Phone OS software that powers all of Nokia's new smartphones. The filing explains that Microsoft-branded phones "could lead Microsoft to focus more on their own devices and less on mobile devices of other manufacturers that operate on the Windows Phone platform, including Nokia."
Box has pushed out an update to its Windows Phone application that adds the ability to preview files without opening them fully. The new feature can save Box users time, as it lets them know what each file contains without forcing a separate app to load in order to see it. Additionally, Box for Windows Phone adds support for Office documents and PDFs, which now open directly in Microsoft Office. The app now provides all three Start screen Live Tile sizes, and the largest Tile will display updates to their device owner's Box feed. Last, the new Box app adds the ability to see and edit file descriptions. Box is compatible with devices running Windows Phone 8 and 7.5. Box is free to download from the Windows Phone Store. The cost of storage varies.
Verizon Wireless today said that owners of the Nokia Lumia 822 can expect a software update to appear in the days to come. The update, which is codenamed "Portico" by Microsoft, brings a handful of performance improvements to the Lumia 822. The update adds the ability to edit forwarded MMS messages, the ability to ignore calls with an SMS, and support for more microSD card manufacturers. Portico also improves the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth performance of the Lumia 822. The update can be downloaded and installed over the air in a process that Verizon says will take about 15 to 25 minutes to complete.
Facebook today announced that it has agreed to purchase the Atlas Advertiser Suite from Microsoft. Atlas is a tool that helps companies manage advertising campaigns and cull data on their effectiveness. Facebook said it wants to scale Atlas up for bigger campaigns, as well as make it easier for advertisers and marketers to use. According to Facebook, Atlas will remain in Seattle, as Facebook already has its own engineering team there. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Microsoft has confirmed that devices running Windows Phone 8 will be able to receive significant OS-level updates. The same is not the case with Windows Phone 7.x devices, which cannot update to Windows Phone 8. Greg Sullivan, senior marketing manager with Microsoft, said, "We're going to have an upgrade path going forward. Windows Phone 8 can evolve. We have an architecture that enables portability and is fundamentally hardware independent." The base code used in Windows Phone 8 is significantly different from that used by Windows Phone 7, which is why older Windows Phones are stuck on earlier versions of the platform. Sullivan did not provide any more specifics about what forthcoming Windows Phone system updates might entail.
Microsoft today released yet more tools that developers can use to create and manage apps for Windows Phone 8. Among the new features, Microsoft has released the Windows Phone Dev Center application. This app serves as a mobile dashboard through which developers can manage and control their apps, as well as track things such as downloads, crashes, and more. The Dev Center app also has a Live Tile that updates with crash reports and makes it easy for developers to share their application directly from the Start screen. According to Microsoft, developers have published 15,000 dedicated Windows Phone 8 apps since the platform launched in late 2013, with a total app count of more than 130,000 in the Windows Phone Store.
Nokia today made its rebranded HERE mapping and navigation services available to all devices running Windows Phone 8. Microsoft already baked Nokia Maps into Windows Phone 8. Beginning today, HERE Maps, HERE Drive Beta, and HERE Transit can be used by WP8 owners in the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and the U.K. Nokia first announced plans to rebrand its navigation services to HERE late last year. A separate HERE map app is available to the Apple iPhone, for example. The HERE apps for WP8 can be downloaded from the Windows Phone Store.
Apple today made the iOS 6.1.2 system update available. This update resolves a calendar bug that caused problems between iOS devices and Microsoft Exchange servers. The update can be downloaded and installed over the air.
Microsoft and Rhapsody today announced that a new version of Rhapsody's subscription service is available in the Windows Phone Store. Rhapsody 3.0 was developed to take advantage of the features and tools that are a part of Windows Phone 8. Some of the features include offline playback of cached tracks; the abllity to add/remove tracks, stations, and playlists on the fly with the My Music tool; searchable listening history; and improvements in audio performance, album art, and search. Rhapsody offers a music streaming service for a number of platforms. The Windows Phone 8 app can be downloaded starting later today.
Microsoft today provided an update regarding its plans to transition customers away from its Live Messenger product to Skype. Microsoft originally planned to shut down Windows Live Messenger, its online instant messaging service, beginning March 15. Now, it will transition just a small percentage of users to its Skype platform at that time, with the first significant waves to follow on April 8. Microsoft will transition English-speaking users first, with others to follow over the course of several weeks. Microsoft expects to transition all Windows Live Messenger users to Skype by April 30. Microsoft is currently offering Windows Phone 8 users a beta of its new Skype client, which already encompasses users' Windows Live contacts. The Windows Live IM app will continue to work on WP8 devices until April 30.
A judge today kneecapped Google's attempts to extract royalty payments from Microsoft over wireless and video patents. U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle ruled that pieces of three separate Motorola patents in question are invalid. Google was seeking up to $4 billion in annual royalty payments from Microsoft, which in turn believed it owed Google only about $1 million. Portions of the three patents are still valid, however, and the judge has yet to make a final decision in the case. Google bought Motorola for $12.5 billion last year in part for its 17,000 patents.
T-Mobile USA confirmed to TmoNews that its version of the Nokia Lumia 710 will not be updated to Windows Phone 7.8. When Microsoft first announced Windows Phone 8 and 7.8 in June 2012, Nokia initially pledged to update all its Lumia phones to WP7.8. However, T-Mobile said, "At this time, the Nokia Lumia 710 will not receive the software update. T-Mobile is committed to enhancing customers' experience with our devices, including providing upgrades to the latest operating systems, and T-Mobile aims to deliver software upgrades when it will provide a better experience for our customers. We'll share additional information on upgrades for the Nokia Lumia 710 when they are available." Nokia is distributing the Windows Phone 7.8 system software, which updates the Start screen behavior, to many of its devices throughout the month of February.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today outlined a number of steps players in the mobile industry should take in order to better protect end-user data. The best practices offered by the FTC are aimed at mobile platform developers (e.g., Apple, Google, Microsoft), application developers (e.g., EA, Rovio, Twitter), and advertising networks. The FTC recommends that mobile platform creators implement Do No Track controls, as well as a dashboard through which all privacy data can be accessed/controlled. The FTC thinks app developers should make privacy policies easily accessible, as well as offer just-in-time disclosures to obtain affirmative express consent before collecting and sharing sensitive information. It also recommends that ad networks work with platform and app developers and ensure that Do Not Track measures are followed correctly. "More than other types of technology, mobile devices are typically personal to an individual, almost always on, and with the user," said the FTC. "This can facilitate unprecedented amounts of data collection. FTC staff strongly encourages companies in the mobile ecosystem to work expeditiously to implement the recommendations in this report."
Google has decided to delay its plans to cease supporting ActiveSync for Windows Phone until July 31, reports The Verge. Microsoft had been prepared to end ActiveSync support, which Gmail subscribers use to sync Gmail, contacts, and calendar data to Windows Phones, on January 31. According to The Verge, Microsoft asked Google to continue supporting ActiveSync for an additional six months, and today's news shows that Google honored the request. In a statement, Google said it will "start rolling out this change as planned across all platforms but will continue to support Google Sync for Windows Phone until July 31, 2013." Separately, Microsoft today confirmed that it is working to add support for the new sync protocols that are supported by Google, CalDAV and CardDAV, into the Windows Phone platform. Microsoft says that, together with IMAP, Gmail users will continue to be able to use their Google accounts with Windows Phones and sync their data seamlessly.