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Wireless Companies Agree to Support More Remote Wipe Tools

Friday, 1:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The CTIA today announced that a number of member companies have agreed to take on additional measures to help prevent cellphone thefts. Following recommendations made by the FCC, wireless companies will make anti-theft tools available to all consumers that also respect consumer choice and privacy. All new phones made after July 2016 will "make readily available to the authorized user an option that allows the authorized user to enable or disable the anti-theft solution at any time that the smartphone is connected and is in the authorized user's possession." Beyond this baseline tool, consumers will have the option to use other, third-party solutions to locate, wipe, or reinstate their devices if they so wish. Companies that have agreed to this include Apple, Asurion; AT&T; BlackBerry; Google; HTC; Huawei; LG; Microsoft; Motorola; Samsung; Sprint; T-Mobile USA; U.S. Cellular; Verizon, and ZTE. In response, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, "CTIA members' ... enhanced voluntary commitment to adopt anti-theft features and educate consumers demonstrates their resolve in combatting it. I am hopeful that this new voluntary commitment will make a meaningful difference for consumer safety. As the enhanced commitment recognizes, these solutions work only if they are adopted widely. The FCC will remain vigilant in this area by pushing for further improvements to the theft-prevention toolbox, and also by monitoring closely whether the efforts of industry and others are producing meaningful results." Apple's iOS and Google's Android already contain features that let device owners find and protect their mobile devices. The FCC hopes allowing people to download and use the protective measure of their choice will help encourage consumers to make broader use of the tool.

Asus to Preload Microsoft Apps Thanks to Licensing Deal

Friday, 8:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Asus and Microsoft has expanded the scale of an existing patent-licensing agreement between them and expect the change to benefit customers. The cross-licensing deal will allow Asus and Microsoft to use one another's technologies in their own products. Moreover, Asus said it will let the two work closer together on products down the road. Last, the deal will result in Microsoft's Office productivity suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) being preloaded on Asus Android smartphones and tablets. Samsung also preloads Office on some of its Android devices. Terms of the agreement between Asus and Microsoft were not disclosed.

Google and Microsoft Bury the Patent Hatchet

Wednesday, 4:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google and Microsoft today announced that they have settled various patent squabbles and dropped about 20 lawsuits between them in the U.S. and Germany. The two companies have been tussling over mobile and wireless technology since 2010. In addition to putting their arguments to rest, the companies have agreed to work together on certain technologies, such as video compression, moving forward. "Google and Microsoft have agreed to collaborate on certain patent matters and anticipate working together in other areas in the future to benefit our customers," said the companies. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Microsoft Slips Up, Posts Lumia 950 and 950XL to Web Site

Wednesday, 7:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft revealed a few details about the unannounced Lumia 950 and 950 XL smartphones on its UK-based web site. The phones will be the first to ship with Windows 10 Mobile on board, Microsoft's new operating system. The web site lists only a couple of specs. Shared features include 20-megapixel cameras with Zeiss optics, 32GB of storage, and support for 2TB memory cards. The 950 sports a 5.2-inch quad HD screen, while the 950 XL offers a larger 5.7-inch quad HD screen. Microsoft is expected to announce the handsets in full at an event in New York scheduled for Oct. 6.

Microsoft Makes Inviting People to Meetings A Breeze

Sep 24, 2015, 1:24 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft's Garage lab has churned out another productivity-minded application, this time for the iPhone. Invite is an iOS-first app that purports to simplify the process of inviting others to meetings. The process is straight-forward. The organizer picks a time that works for him or her and then invites potential attendees through their email address. Attendees will get an email (or a notification if they have Invite installed) and can respond with times that work for them. Once all invitees have responded, the organizer can pick the time that works for the largest group of potential attendees and set the meeting time. After the meeting time is set, it is added to respondents' calendars. Microsoft says Invite will work best for those with Office 365 subscriptions, but it also functions with Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo mail. The app will be available to the iPhone first, followed by Android and Windows Phone.

Microsoft's Groove Music Now Works With Sonos

Sep 16, 2015, 9:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today updated its Groove Music service with support for Sonos. This means Groove subscribers can now listen to their music via Sonos speakers in their home. Microsoft launched Groove earlier this year, which is available across XBox and Windows devices, and Android and iOS smartphones and tablets. The $10 monthly fee buys ad-free access to 40 million tracks. Users can create their own, custom radio stations, and Groove supports music libraries uploaded to OneDrive, including tracks purchased via iTunes. The Sonos app is available separately. Groove Music is free to trial for 30 days.

Microsoft Releases New Windows 10 Mobile Preview

Sep 14, 2015, 6:53 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today made a new version of the Windows 10 Mobile Technical Preview available to Windows Insiders. The fresh operating system, build 10536, contains a wide array of bug fixes and performance tweaks, as well as a handful of new features. For example, build 10536 brings back the Insider Hub and mobile hotspot; updates voice input with support for Japanese and Indian English; resolves two-factor authentication issues and Start screen load problems; and fixes the quiet hours / do not disturb function. The photos app adds a folder view and brings faster photo viewing and context menus. Last, the build brings one-handed mode to phones of all sizes (not just large handsets). Microsoft warns that there are still a number of bugs plaguing the preview. For example, the camera app may no longer automatically upload images to OneDrive. Otherwise, Microsoft is pitching build 10536 as a much more stable and complete rendition of the operating system. The Windows 10 Mobile Technical Preview is available to Windows Insiders in the Fast Ring. Users will need to update their devices twice — first to Build 10514, then to Build 10536 — before the new preview is fully installed. Microsoft has yet to say when it will make a final version of Windows 10 Mobile available to the general public, though it has scheduled a media event in New York City on Oct. 6. It is possible Microsoft will share such details during that event.

Alcatel to Build Windows 10 Handset By Year's End

Sep 11, 2015, 7:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Alcatel OneTouch said it will release a smartphone with Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile platform before the end of the year. "We are very supportive of the Windows ecosystem," said Steve Cistulli, Alcatel OneTouch's senior vice president for North America, to CNET. Cistulli did not provide any details about the phone, other than to say it will be inexpensive and sold through at least one U.S. carrier. Microsoft has yet to launch Windows 10 Mobile.

Microsoft Still Working Through Windows 10 Mobile Builds

Sep 9, 2015, 2:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said new builds of the Windows 10 Mobile Technical Preview are on the way, even if they are rolling out slower than the company hoped. In a blog post, Microsoft explains that it encountered several large issues that forced it to reset its approval process three times over the past several weeks. The issues were significant enough that they would have impacted daily usability of the preview. Now that it has resolved the three issues, Microsoft said it is moving toward finalizing a new build that it should be able to distribute before too long. Windows 10 Mobile is widely expected to arrive in the next few weeks. Microsoft didn't say if the issues have pushed back the anticipated launch date of the mobile operating system.

Microsoft Adds Disney Anywhere Content to Movies & TV

Sep 8, 2015, 7:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today announced a new partnership with Disney that adds content from the Disney Movies Anywhere service to Microsoft's Movies & TV video service. Microsoft says users who connect their Microsoft Movies & TV account with a Disney Movies Anywhere account will automatically see content cross-populate their libraries. All content will be viewable via the Movies & TV app on Windows Phone handsets, in addition to Windows 10 PCs and the Xbox. Similarly, movie purchases made via Microsoft Movies & TV will automatically be made available through Disney Movies Anywhere, allowing users to view the content (Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars) across multiple devices in whichever app they prefer. For example, users will be able to start a movie on one device and finish watching it on another, or download for offline viewing. Microsoft said users who marry their Microsoft Movies & TV and Disney Movies Anywhere accounts will receive a free copy of Monsters, Inc.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft Working On Open Media Formats

Sep 4, 2015, 3:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A handful of tech companies this week launched the Alliance for Open Media with the intent of creating an open standard for high definition video that will be compatible with all devices across the web. The companies hope to field next-generation codecs that are interoperate and open, optimized for the web, and scalable to any device at any bandwidth. They also hope the video codec will deliver consistent performance in real-time, while having a low computational footprint that is flexible for commercial and non-commercial use. The Alliance for Open Media is working on a video standard first, but will target other standards, such as audio, over time. Founding members include Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix. The alliance will use its" collective technology and expertise to meet growing internet demand for top-quality video, audio, imagery and streaming across devices of all kinds and for users worldwide." The alliance said it will provide more information about itself and its goals later this year.

Microsoft Avoids Import Ban in InterDigital Case

Aug 29, 2015, 9:43 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft escaped what could have been a harmful ban on its devices as the U.S. International Trade Commission decided not to block the import of Microsoft's smartphones into the U.S. Microsoft lost a patent case against InterDigital in April when it was found to be infringing on two patents. The individual trade judge who reached that decision recommended Microsoft's handsets be banned from import. The full ITC panel rejected that judge's decision on Friday, however, which means Microsoft will continue to be allowed to bring its handsets into the U.S. Microsoft expressed relief at the decision, while InterDigital voiced disappointment. Earlier this month, Microsoft filed an antitrust lawsuit against InterDigital, claiming the company charges exorbitant fees for standard-essential patents. Such patents must be licensed at fair, reasonable, and non-discrimonatory rates. InterDigital is a patent-holding company and has had mixed success in suing companies such as Samsung, ZTE, and Huawei.

Facebook Testing Messenger-Based Personal Assistant

Aug 26, 2015, 1:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Aug 26, 2015, 1:22 PM

Facebook is trialling a smart personal assistant that will live inside its Messenger application and complete various tasks for users. For now, the assistant is called Facebook M and Facebook claims it will be superior to competing products. "Unlike other AI-based services in the market, M can actually complete tasks on your behalf," explained Facebook VP David Marcus. "It can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more." Facebook is testing M with a small number of people the Los Angeles area and, for now, its most complicated tasks will be overseen by real people. Facebook didn't say if or when it will expand testing to more users, nor when it will launch the product to everyone. M will join a crowded market of virtual assistants, which already includes Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Google's Now, and Microsoft's Cortana.

Microsoft Trots Out Nokia 222 Feature Phone

Aug 25, 2015, 7:05 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today announced the Nokia 222, a bar-style feature phone that runs Nokia Series 30+ and includes only the most essential functions. The Nokia 222's core apps include MSN Weather, Bing Search, Opera Mini, as well as Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Twitter. The device has a 2.4-inch QVGA display, an 1,100mAh battery, and a 2-megapixel camera. Other features include Bluetooth 3.0, stereo headphone jack and FM radio, support for 32GB memory cards, and SLAM photo-sharing technology. The Nokia 222 goes on sale in September and will cost about $37. Based on its limited dual-band 900/1800MHz GSM/EDGE support, the phone will likely not be sold in the U.S.

Microsoft Releases Cortana for Android in Beta Form

Aug 24, 2015, 11:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today made its Cortana voice-activated personal assistant available to Android users via the Google Play Store beta channel. The app had previously only been available through a closed beta, but is now accessible through an open beta program. Cortana for Android can be used to track flights and other calendar appointments, set reminders and alarms, and monitor packages. Cortana can also supplant Google Now on Android handsets if users so wish. Cortana beta testers can set Cortana to launch with a long press of the home button, which makes it easier to use Cortana on Android phones. Cortana testers will still be able to interact with and launch Google Now on their handsets via other actions. Cortana for Android is free to download from Microsoft's beta site in the Google Play Store. Microsoft is still working to bring Cortana to iOS devices.

Microsoft to Close Nokia Finnish Phone Production Site

Aug 21, 2015, 7:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today confirmed it plans to fully close a facility in Salo, Finland, that was formerly used to create and produce mobile phones. Microsoft will leave the Nokia facilities in Espoo and Tampere open, but plans to cut about 2,300 jobs in Finland in total. Last month, Microsoft announced plans to slice 7,800 people from its headcount, including most of the phone hardware business it purchased from Nokia.

Microsoft Accuses InterDigital of Antitrust Behavior

Aug 21, 2015, 7:36 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has filed an antitrust lawsuit against InterDigital, a patent-licensing firm, for charging exorbitant rates to license standard-essential patents. The two companies have been embroiled in patent litigation for years. Earlier this year, Microsoft was found by the U.S. ITC to be violating two wireless patents owned by InterDigital. The judge in that case recommended Microsoft's handsets be banned from import. Microsoft says InterDigital is using this potential import ban as a bargaining chip to jack up licensing rates. Patents deemed essential must be licensed at fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory rates. Microsoft charges that InterDigital's "abusive licensing practices" violate federal antitrust law. InterDigital has taken ZTE, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung, and others to court over patents with mixed success.

Bing for Android Can Better Search Through Other Apps

Aug 20, 2015, 9:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Aug 20, 2015, 9:12 AM

Microsoft today updated its Bing Search app for Android devices and gave it the ability to perform searches from within other applications. The feature, called Bing snapshots, scouts things mentioned on any given page and provides relevant information about them in snapshots. Users need only long-press the home button when surfing the web or browsing Facebook and Bing will automatically search the current screen for details for display. It works similar to Google's forthcoming Google Now On Tap feature in that it is contextually aware. In addition to the updated app, Microsoft is making a new Bing API available to developers so they can integrate the search functionality into their own apps. Bing for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Latest Skype Update for Android Adds Custom Tones

Aug 18, 2015, 4:03 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today made Skype 5.10 available to Android handsets and added several new features. To start, Skype users can now customize incoming call sounds for individual contacts. The app also lets users share photos from chats with other Skype friends through a new forwarding function. The update includes some fixes and adjustments as well, such as changing the color of group chat avatars so conversations are easier to differentiate. Skype 5.10 is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Microsoft Pushes New Preview Build of Windows 10 Mobile

Aug 12, 2015, 12:26 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today made available a new build of the Windows 10 Mobile Technical Preview. Build 10512 is available to fast ring Windows Insiders members first. This build makes a number of stability and performance improvements to the beta OS. Some specific fixes include the ability to set the lock screen image from within the Photos app, as well as improvements to Latvian and Chinese input, the Kids Corner tile layout, and reliability of Data Sense notifications. Microsoft said it modified the shape writing algorithm so it is less aggressive in suggesting contact names over common words, and Microsoft resolved an issue where the camera wouldn't launch when the phone was in a locked state. The build resolves some incoming text message notification problems, and touch screen response issues. While the new build repairs a wide range of bugs, a number of issues remain, warns Microsoft. For example, mobile hotspot and two-factor authentication don't work in this particular build. The Windows 10 Mobile Technical Preview is not meant for most people; it is a test version of the operating system made available to developers and enthusiasts wishing to trial the software ahead of its general release later this year. Windows 10 is expected to arrive this fall.

OneDrive to Alert Users Of Document Changes

Aug 11, 2015, 7:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has updated its OneDrive and Office products with more collaboration features. The updates apply to a range of form factors, including PCs, tablets, and smartphones. Moving forward, OneDrive will allow people to sync shared folders directly to their desktop, which lets them be edited directly on smartphones and PCs. Microsoft also added several ways for users to be alerted when others edit their shared documents. The OneDrive app on mobile devices can provide real-time notifications of which document is being edited and who performed the edits. The app can push these alerts to the Apple Watch, if users so choose, and Microsoft will send emails detailing all the changes once the edits to the shared document are complete. Last, OneDrive now makes it possible for people to search for documents based not only on the file name, but on the contents therein. Microsoft said these changes are rolling out to its various apps over the next few weeks.

Cortana for Android Can Override Google Now

Aug 9, 2015, 1:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft recently updated the beta version of Cortana for Android and gave it the power to supplant Google Now. Cortana beta testers can now set Cortana — rather than Google Now — to launch with a long press of the home button. The change makes it easier to use Cortana on Android phones, though people will still be able to interact with and launch Google Now on their handsets via other actions. Cortana is Microsoft's personal assistant, which can do many things like Google Now, like set reminders and surface travel details. Microsoft has not yet said when it will release a 1.0 version of Cortana for Android.

Microsoft Open-Sources iOS App Porting Tool

Aug 6, 2015, 1:32 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said its Windows Bridge for iOS application is moving to open source. Windows Bridge is the tool developers need to port iOS apps to the Windows platform. It can be used to create Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 desktops apps for now, but will support the mobile versions of these two operating systems later this year. Microsoft said it wants to rely on the open source community to put Windows Bridge through its paces and contribute code and/or bug fixes as needed. Windows Bridge for iOS is being released as a technical preview and will see a full release in the fall. Microsoft is expected to offer Windows Bridge for Android in the fall as a beta app. Microsoft hopes developers will bring their Android and iOS apps to the Windows Platform, which may help address the app gap.

Microsoft Unleashes a Flurry Of Apps for Android Wear, Apple Watch

Aug 6, 2015, 12:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has made available a handful of apps for wearables running Google's Android Wear and Apple's WatchOS. First, Microsoft has ported Outlook to the Apple Watch. The app lets Apple Watch owners browse and read emails and perform actions such as archiving, deleting, and flagging messages. It includes pre-written responses and supports dictation for longer messages. It accompanies the Outlook email app for iOS. Second, Microsoft made its Translator app available to both the Apple Watch and Android Wear. The app lets wearable owners get instant translations in 50 languages by speaking to their watch. It supports search history and caches recently-used phrases. Third, Microsoft updated its OneDrive and OneNote apps for Android Wear. OneDrive will now display a photo on the watch face alongside notifications for up-to-date files. OneNote makes it easy to dictate new notes by saying "OK Google, take a note." The app also displays the most recently viewed notes on the watch face. Outlook, Translator, OneDrive, and OneNote are all free to download from iTunes and the Google Play Store.

Motorola Owes Microsoft $14.5 Million Over Patent Spat

Jul 31, 2015, 7:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

An appeals court has sided with Microsoft and upheld a 2013 verdict that says Motorola has to pay Microsoft for refusing to license standard-essential patents at fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory rates. This particular case began in 2010, when Microsoft sued Motorola for failing to pay it patent-licensing fees for technology found in Motorola's Android smartphones. Motorola filed its own lawsuit in return, in which it sought some $4 billion to cover royalties for technology in Microsoft's Xbox and Windows devices. Even though Microsoft sued Motorola, Motorola was still required to license its own patents to Microsoft at fair rates. Two separate courts determined in 2012 and later 2013 that Motorola's $4 billion demand far exceeded what's considered fair and reasonable. Therefore, Motorola violated its agreement with Microsoft and Microsoft was thus awarded $14.5 million in damages for breach of contract. This week's decision, reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, verifies that Motorola must pay the damages.

Microsoft Debuts Android Launcher

Jul 27, 2015, 10:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft recently released a launcher for Android smartphones that delivers a different take on the home screen. The launcher, which replaces the standard Android home screen, uses three panels to display various information. The left-most panel focuses on people, including recent contacts complete with addresses and numbers. The central home panel is where users can put their apps. It also includes a section for recently-used apps so people can jump back into those apps quickly. The last screen is for notes and reminders and can display calendar items as well as personal reminders. Microsoft's Arrow Launcher is available in a closed beta, which means people need to join the Google+ community in order to access the launcher. However, the APK is available directly from Microsoft, as well, for those who want to bypass the community aspect. Arrow Launcher is free to use. Microsoft has created a wide range of apps for Google's Android platform. Arrow is the latest.

Microsoft's 'Send' App is More Messaging than Email

Jul 22, 2015, 10:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today released a new email application called Send. The idea behind Send, developed by Microsoft Garage, is to let people send quick messages to one another while still harnessing the power of corporate email. Send messages strip out headers, subjects and footers, and look and feel more like text messages. Even so, they are backed by companies' Office 365 email servers and can be viewed and/or responded to via Outlook. "These are the sort of quick emails you send to the people you care about at work—your boss, your teammates, and sometimes partners or customers outside your organization. You're usually busy or on the go when you send them, and Send is specifically designed for this get-in get-out scenario," explained Microsoft in a blog post. Microsoft knows co-workers often need to reach one another and don't always have phone numbers on hand. Office 365 integration means the corporate email directory is available to Send users, making everyone easy to reach. Send is available to corporate and education iPhone owners and will soon reach Android and Windows Phone. Microsoft said it hopes to expand Send's availability to more platforms/devices over time.

Microsoft's Hyperlapse App Now Works with All Lumias

Jul 20, 2015, 7:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft recently updated its Hyperlapse time-lapse application for Windows Phone and Android devices. The Windows Phone version of Hyperlapse is now compatible with all Lumia handsets. It had previously not worked with older devices running the Qualcomm S4 processor (Lumia 520, 620, 720, 920, 925, and 1020). Microsoft also updated the Android version of Hyperlapse. At launch in May, Hyperlapse for Android was released as a limited, closed beta. It is now available to all Android users for free. Hyperlapse can be used to stabilize shaky footage or to create fast-moving time-lapse videos. The app supports multiple playback speeds (between 1x and 32x) and can import existing video files from the phone's camera roll. Hyperlapse app is available from the Windows Store and the Google Play Store.

Microsoft Updates OneNote for Android and iOS

Jul 16, 2015, 1:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today released updates to its OneNote application for the Android and iOS platforms. The Android version of OneNote gains the ability to move or copy pages from one section or notebook to another section or notebook. Microsoft said it will add the ability to view OneNote documents on Android Wear-based devices in the near future. The iOS version of OneNote has been merged from separate iPhone and iPad apps into a single app for both devices. New features include a widget for the today screen, the ability to quickly find recent notes, and page previews. OneNote for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.

Skype for Android Improves Login Experience

Jul 14, 2015, 4:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today updated its Skype app for Android devices. The revised app makes a few improvements, notably a smoother login experience when re-opening the app. It now remembers login details and requires one simple tap rather than username and password information typed out. The app also offers previews of web links within chat. The updated Skype is free to download from the Play Store.

Nokia Reiterates Path to New Phones Is Complicated

Jul 14, 2015, 7:05 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia has again affirmed its plans to bring Nokia-branded handsets back to the market eventually, but warned that things won't be as they were. Nokia sold its handset division to Microsoft in 2014. As part of the deal, Nokia signed a non-compete clause barring it from re-entering the handset market for a specific period of time. Moreover, Nokia sold all its phone-manufacturing plants and capabilities to Microsoft. It no longer has the capacity to build phones. "The right path back to mobile phones for Nokia is through a brand-licensing model," explained the company. "That means identifying a partner that can be responsible for all of the manufacturing, sales, marketing and customer support for a product. If and when we find a world-class partner who can take on those responsibilities, we would work closely with them to guide the design and technology differentiation, as we did with the Nokia N1 Android tablet. That's the only way the bar would be met for a mobile device we'd be proud to have bear the Nokia brand, and that people will love to buy." Nokia's non-compete clause with Microsoft doesn't expire until the fourth quarter of 2016.

Microsoft to Sunset Several MSN Mobile Apps

Jul 13, 2015, 8:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has indicated that it plans to discontinue a handful of mobile apps across Windows, Android, and iOS devices. The MSN Food & Drink and MSN Travel apps will be shuttered Sept. 28, and the Health & Fitness app will be closed Nov. 1. The content for the apps will still be available from Microsoft said the apps themselves have not attracted enough users to merit their upkeep. The apps will no longer be accessible after the cut-off dates, and Microsoft suggested users take the time to download and backup any personal information they may have stored in the apps. The app closures folllow significant personnel reductions planned for Microsoft's handset business and several key executive departures. Microsoft plans to focus on fewer phones moving forward, and, it appears, fewer apps, as well.

Lumia 735 Appears In Verizon Retail Stores

Jul 9, 2015, 11:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Microsoft Lumia 735 is now available for sale in Verizon Wireless's retail stores. It was previously only available online. It costs $30 with a two-year contract, $8 with a Verizon Edge plan, or $199 at full retail.

Microsoft Adds OneDrive Streaming to Android and iOS Xbox Music Apps

Jul 9, 2015, 7:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has rolled out updates to the Android and iOS Xbox Music apps that adds the ability to stream music stored in OneDrive. The free feature doesn't require a subscription, so people can upload songs to OneDrive and stream them to their Android or iOS device. The feature is already available to Windows Phone. Users will need to pay for an Xbox Music Pass to stream songs they don't own, but any music stored in OneDrive can be downloaded for offline playback. The update doesn't introduce the new Groove Music branding. Xbox Music is free to download from the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store.

Microsoft to Slash 7,800 Jobs, Restructure Phone Biz

Jul 8, 2015, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jul 8, 2015, 8:28 AM

Microsoft today announced significant job cuts and plans to restructure its mobile phone business unit. The company will eliminate 7,800 jobs, mostly from its phone business, and streamline its portfolio of smartphones. The company said it will record a charge of about $7.6 billion in assets related to the Nokia Devices and Services acquisition, as well as another $750 million to $850 million in restructuring charges. The company warned as recently as last month that it faced tough choices. It recently cut former Nokia executives and agreed to transfer some engineering employees and assets to Uber. "We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem including our first-party device family," said Nadella in an email to Microsoft employees. "In the near-term, we'll run a more effective and focused phone portfolio while retaining capability for long-term reinvention in mobility. We plan to narrow our focus to three customer segments where we can make unique contributions and where we can differentiate through the combination of our hardware and software. We'll bring business customers the best management, security and productivity experiences they need; value phone buyers the communications services they want; and Windows fans the flagship devices they'll love. In the longer term, Microsoft devices will spark innovation, create new categories and generate opportunity for the Windows ecosystem more broadly. Our reinvention will be centered on creating mobility of experiences across the entire device family including phones." Microsoft said the prospects for its smartphone business are below original expectations. The company expects the bulk of today's actions to be finalized before the end of 2015. The $7.6 billion write-down exceeds the $7.2 billion Microsoft spent to acquire Nokia in 2014.

Microsoft Prepared to Cut More Jobs

Jul 8, 2015, 7:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft is planning to announce a new round of layoffs as early as today, reports the New York Times. Many of the cuts will target employees in Microsoft's hardware group, such as the smartphone unit it bought from Nokia in 2014. Nokia and Microsoft-branded Windows Phones have struggled to gain traction with consumers. The Times' suggests Microsoft may be forced to write down a loss on the smartphone unit later this month. Other parts of the business will see headcount reductions, as well. As of March, Microsoft had about 118,000 employees globally. Last year, Microsoft said it planned to drop 18,000 employees. These new cuts are in addition to those already announced. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently warned that the company has to "make some tough choices in areas where things are not working and solve hard problems in ways that drive customer value." Former Nokia executives Stephen Elop and Jo Harlow, along with a handful of other executives, were recently shown the door. Microsoft did not confirm the Times' report, which was based on the comments of unnamed sources.

Microsoft Rebrands Its Music Service as 'Groove'

Jul 6, 2015, 3:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today revealed details about the music service for Windows 10, which is now called Groove Music. Groove will be available across XBox and Windows devices, including PCs, tablets, and smartphones. The $10 monthly fee buys ad-free access to 40 million tracks, which can be streamed across platforms. People will also be able to create their own, custom radio stations. Microsoft says Groove will support music libraries uploaded to OneDrive, including tracks purchased via iTunes. The service will also be made available to Android and iOS devices in the near future. Groove Music is expected to launch in the weeks ahead.

Microsoft Releases Skype for Business App on Windows Phone

Jul 6, 2015, 2:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today replaced its Lync 2013 corporate messaging app with Skype for Business for Windows Phone. The app has a refreshed user interface for messaging, more emoticons, and improved interactions with the server. Microsoft says Skype for Business better manages notifications for conversation threads, and syncs them more consistently across other devices such as PCs and tablets. Users of Lync 2013 on devices running Windows Phone 8.1 will be updated to Skype for Business automatically. Microsoft said hardware running Windows Phone 8.0 and earlier should remain on Lync 2013 or Lync 2010.

Microsoft, Kyocera Expand Patent-Licensing Deal

Jul 2, 2015, 4:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said that it has expanded the scale of a patent cross-licensing agreement with Kyocera. Microsoft and Kyocera are now able to use a broader range of one another's technologies in a variety of products. The licensing agreement also resolves a patent infringement lawsuit filed earlier this year. Microsoft did not disclose the terms of the agreement. Microsoft holds a number of smartphone-related patents and most makers of Android smartphones pay Microsoft royalties to license those patents.

CTIA Says Smartphones Better Protected Against Theft

Jul 1, 2015, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Beginning today, most smartphones sold in the U.S. will include anti-theft security tools. July 1 marks the day by which phone makers and network operators agreed to implement free theft deterrents on smartphones. According to the CTIA, most of the industry has responded by placing remote lock/wipe capabilities on consumer devices. The addition of an activation lock on the Apple iPhone, for example, has dramatically reduced iPhone thefts in major cities. The activation lock prevents a stolen device from being activated by another person, thus making it useless to thieves. Remote wipe features allow people to erase the personal data from their handset if lost/stolen to protect their identity. The major participants in today's action include Apple, AT&T, BlackBerry, Google, HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Microsoft, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless, and ZTE. "Today's fulfillment of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment is another example of the wireless industry proactively working together with policymakers and law enforcement to help protect consumers' smartphones in the event they are ever lost or stolen. We will continue to work with all interested parties to continue to deploy new technologies and tools to improve device theft-deterrence tools. We remind consumers to take a few minutes to use PINs, passwords, apps and other device features to protect their mobile devices and personal information." The industry was coerced into acting "voluntarily" when the FCC threatened to make such protective measures mandatory.

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