Opera Software today said it has struck a deal with Microsoft to supply the browser for Microsoft's feature phones. Opera Mini will replace the Nokia Xpress browser on Series 30, Series 40, and Asha phones moving forward. "All the current user base will be encouraged to upgrade to Opera Mini and all the new phones will come with Opera Mini pre-installed as a default browser," said Opera. Nokia developed the Xpress browser as a competitor to Opera Mini, which uses server-side compression to reduce mobile data use. Opera has long pitched its Mini browser as ideal for cost-concious consumers. Opera's browsers are available to a wide variety of desktops, tablets, and smartphones. The move shows that Microsoft is looking to save costs on developing its feature phone lines, which are mostly sold in developing markets.
Steve Ballmer today resigned from his position on Microsoft's board of directors effective immediately. Ballmer left the company's CEO post just six months ago, but said in a letter to current CEO Satya Nadella he felt his new obligations as owner of the LA Clippers, among others, will keep him too busy to participate meaningfully on Microsoft's board moving forward. Ballmer succeeded Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates. He wished Nadella and Microsoft well, and will remain a large shareholder in the company.
HTC gives Windows Phone fans what they've always wanted: A premium device with Microsoft's operating system. Here are our initial thoughts on HTC's latest device.
HTC today announced the One for Windows Phone, a variant of the One (M8) that swaps Google's mobile platform for Microsoft's. The One for Windows Phone runs the latest operating system from Microsoft and carries over a few HTC apps, such as Blinkfeed, the HTC duo-camera, SenseTV, Video Highlights, and BoomSound. The One for Windows Phone adopts some of the M8's motion gestures, such as double-tap to wake, but also loses a few. Apart from the operating system, the hardware is identical to the One (M8) with Android. It has the same 5-inch 1080p HD screen, quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, Ultra-pixel main camera and 5-megapixel selfie camera, and premium aluminum design. The HTC One for Windows Phone is exclusive to Verizon Wireless. It is available online from VerizonWireless.com beginning today and reaches Verizon stores August 20 for $99 with a new contract or $30 with Verizon Edge.
Microsoft today made available the Live Lock Screen application for Windows Phone 8.1. The Live Lock Screens were first announced as a WP8.1 feature back in April. The app, which is being offered as a beta, lets users change the way the clock is displayed and adds more image options for wallpaper. The app also adds the ability to set just an accent color or make use of the preloaded Lock backgrounds as your wallpaper. Last, wallpaper images can be set to change every hour, every four hours, every 12 hours, daily, or never. Live Lock Screen Beta is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
Microsoft today announced the Nokia 130, a simple, inexpensive handset meant for first-timers and emerging markets. The candybar-style phone runs the Series 30 platform and includes a 1.8-inch screen, stereo headphone jack, Bluetooth 3.0, and support for memory cards up to 32GB. According to Microsoft, the Nokia 130 supports both video and audio playback, and includes an FM radio. The phone has a flashlight, but no camera. The Nokia 130 will reach select markets this quarter. Pricing is expected to be about $25 and it will be sold in single- and dual-SIM variants. Microsoft Devices Group includes the handset division of Nokia, which Microsoft acquired earlier this year. Microsoft's Jo Harlow said though the company is killing off Nokia's Android/X devices, it still believes there is a good market opportunity for entry-level phones in addition to its Lumia Windows Phone devices.
Microsoft recently indicated it will cease to support Skype on devices running Windows Phone 7 and Symbian. The company said it will retire the official Skype app for WP7, as well as any ancillary apps that support it over the next few weeks. "We want everyone to experience the best Skype has to offer – from enhanced quality to better reliability to improved security – and the newest version of Skype is the way to do that. So everyone can benefit from the latest improvements, we sometimes retire older versions of Skype across all platforms, including mobile devices," explained the company. Of Symbian, Microsoft said, "Symbian wasn't built for the cloud-connected world, so we are retiring the Skype for Symbian app and focusing on bringing the best possible experience to the most popular mobile platforms: Windows Phone, iOS, and Android." Symbian is Nokia's old smartphone operating system and was among the first to support Skype years ago.
Microsoft has made available a new version of Facebook for the Windows Phone platform. The latest update to the social networking app mixes in several new features that were previously only available in the beta, as well as overhauls both the user experience and performance. The app adds support for more languages and the ability to upload videos directly to Facebook. Facebook for Windows Phone can now work hand-in-hand with the separate Facebook Messenger app for Windows Phone. Last, the app can now connect directly with the People Hub. In Windows Phone 8.1, contacts, events, and photos albums in the People Hub are controlled by Facebook. Facebook for Windows Phone is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
Microsoft today began distributing the first update to Windows Phone 8.1. The update, announced last month, adds a number of new features to the platform, including Live Folders and Apps Corner. It also makes improvements to Xbox Music and SMS handling. The update is available to developers, as well as to consumers who've downloaded the Windows Phone Preview for Developers.
Microsoft today filed suit against Samsung for failing to comply with a 2011 agreement on Android patent royalties. Samsung had been paying Microsoft a certain amount for each Android phone sold, but has threatened to stop since Microsoft closed its acquisition of Nokia's device business.
BlackBerry and Microsoft today announced the immediate availability of BBM for the Windows Phone platform. BBM is being offered as a beta, but it includes many of the features available to the Android and iOS versions of the app. BBM for Windows Phone supports regular chats and group chats; makes it easy to find and connect with BBM contacts; includes BBM feeds for social networking; and offers a Live Tile that can be pinned to the Start screen. BlackBerry will add more features to the app over time. BBM Beta for Windows Phone 8 is free to download and available from the Windows Phone Store now.
Nokia Networks today announced that it has agreed to purchase select portions of Panasonic's wireless business. Specifically, the company will buy Panasonic's mobile phone wireless base station and related wireless equipment system businesses. As part of the deal, Panasonic will transfer fixed assets, employees, and business contracts to Nokia in Japan. Nokia called Japan a key market and believes the deal will strengthen its business goals there. The terms of the deal have not been finalized, but Nokia Networks expects the asset acquisition to close by January 2015. Panasonic ceased making smartphones in late 2013. Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft earlier this year.
Microsoft today announced the first update to Windows Phone 8.1, which adds several new features to the smartphone platform. To start, the update will expand Cortana's availability outside the U.S. Microsoft its offering Cortana to China and the U.K. as a beta, and Canada, India, and Australia as a alpha. In the U.S., Cortana has been improved with natural language scenarios, snooze times for reminders, and a bit more personality. The update adds a feature called Live Folders, which can be placed on the Start screen. The Live Tiles of the apps in the folder appear on the Tile of the Folder, so users will be able to see when the apps in the folder have been updated. The folders can be arranged and shaped however users want. The update improves the performance of the XBox Music application, which should see improvements in app load and list scrolling, as well as the return of several features, such as background sync and swipe-to-advance. The Windows Store Live Tile has been improved to provide dynamic updates concerning new apps. Users will have ability to select multiple SMS messages for deletion and forwarding. Last, the update includes a new feature called Apps Corner, which is aimed at business users. It sandboxes select apps and restricts which ones can be used so businesses can have more control over employee devices. Microsoft said the update will be pushed to developers in preview form in early August and will be distributed to consumers within several months.
Microsoft today said it has enabled Foursquare recommendations within Cortana, the virtual personal assistant that's part of Windows Phone 8.1. Cortana will now proactively showcase local recommendations on handsets, though the feature must first be enabled by device owners. Users can click on the items to discover more information about the nearby venues, but the separate Foursquare application is required to access that info. There is no need to update or download anything to see the recommendations within Cortana, as Cortana's Foursquare integration comes from Microsoft's servers. It is free to use.
Though Microsoft plans to eventually can the Nokia X platform, the company today announced an update that adds several new features to the operating system. According to Microsoft, the improved OS now includes an app switcher for multitasking. It also integrates Outlook.com, OneDrive, and OneNote into the platform, which provide Outlook email, cloud storage, and note-taking tools, respectively. Last, the update makes significant improvements to the Nokia Store, which now includes content from third-party app stores and a new home screen Spotlight widget. The update is available to the Nokia X, X+, and XL handsets. It can be downloaded and installed over-the-air.
Skype today announced version 5.0 for the Android platform and added one big feature: the ability to cross-integrate contacts between Skype and the phone. Skype 5.0 can scan the local phone address book for other registered Skype users and will then automatically add them to the Skype app's people list. Skype will also be able to sync the Skype address book with other Microsoft services to make sure it finds and adds all possible Skype users. Android users will be able to turn this feature off if they wish, or pick and choose which contacts are added to Skype. Users' actual phone number will not be shared as part of their public profile. Skype said similar features will soon appear in its apps for other platforms, such as iOS and Windows Phone.
Microsoft today revealed the Lumia 530, a new entry-level Windows Phone that succeeds last year's 520. The device features the same colorful design language common to Lumia models and includes interchangeable rear shells for personalization. The Lumia 530 runs Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana, MixRadio, and HERE Maps. The 530 features a 4-inch 854 x 480 display, is powered by a quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 200 processor, and includes a 5-megapixel camera. Connectivity is limited to HSPA at 21Mbps, but it includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and aGPS. System memory is limited to 512MB and storage is limited to 4GB. The Lumia 530 supports microSD cards up to 128GB and will be sold in a dual-SIM variant in select markets. The Lumia 530 will be available globally and begins shipping in August. The target price point is about $130. T-Mobile is the only U.S. carrier to voice support for the 530, which it said will go on sale later this year.
Microsoft today announced a sweeping company-wide re-organization that includes major changes to the mobile device business acquired from Nokia. Of Microsoft's 18,000 layoffs today, 12,500 are within the former Nokia units. Microsoft will combine the smartphone and feature phone units, with the feature phone operations continuing "for maximum efficiency with a smaller team." Nokia's Android-based Nokia X lineup will be abandoned. Select future models will be reworked to run Windows Phone to address new low price points for Lumia. Existing Nokia X phones will be supported, but the software will not appear in any new phones. The company will focus primarily on Windows-Phone-powered Lumia phones, and tablets. In an open email to employees, Stephen Elop explained that "the role of phones within Microsoft is different than it was within Nokia. Whereas the hardware business of phones within Nokia was an end unto itself, within Microsoft all our devices are intended to embody the finest of Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences, while accruing value to Microsoft’s overall strategy."
Nokia today began rolling out automatic updates to Windows Phone 8.1 for all Lumia devices that currently have Windows Phone 8. The update includes all new Windows Phone 8.1 features from Microsoft, plus several new enhancements specific to Lumia devices. Lumia devices will gain updated Nokia Camera apps, plus Nokia Device Hub, which intelligently tracks accessories used with the device. The Lumia 1520 and Icon phones will gain Nokia Rich Recording and Dolby surround sound video capture, plus Screen Share. Standard Windows Phone 8.1 features include a more customizable home screen, Action Center quick settings, Wi-Fi Sense for automatically connecting to free hotspots, and the Cortana voice assistant. The update will roll out to all eligible devices "in the coming weeks."
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today sent an email to employees outlining his thoughts on the company's future. Much of the email centered on what Nadella believes should be a renewed focus on improving productivity through software and services. Nadella did spare a few words, however, to discuss the company's hardware strategy. "Our Windows device OS and first-party hardware will set the bar for productivity experiences. Windows will deliver the most rich and consistent user experience for digital work and life scenarios on screens of all sizes – from phones, tablets and laptops to TVs and giant 82-inch PPI boards," said Nadella. He suggested the company continue to invest in new technologies, such as speech, gesture, and pen input, as well as entice developers with greater opportunities across is range of products. "Our first-party devices will light up digital work and life. In addition, we will build first-party hardware to stimulate more demand for the entire Windows ecosystem. It also means we will responsibly make the market for Windows Phone, which is our goal with the Nokia devices and services acquisition." Microsoft closed its purchase of Nokia's cell phone business earlier this year. The company's latest Windows Phone device is the Lumia 635, which reaches T-Mobile later this month. Further, Windows Phone 8.1, the company's latest operating system, will begin to see widespread distribution to existing devices in the weeks ahead. Nadella didn't announce any specific new hardware or features for Windows Phone.
Microsoft today released a video-editing application for the Windows Phone platform. Video Tuner, which requires Windows Phone 8.1, lets budding Christopher Nolans fine-tune their videos with a wide range of tools. Video Tuner includes filters, supports music soundtracks, and offers basic edits such as trim, crop, rotate, mirror, and flip. Video Tuner also lets users adjust playback speed, as well as adjust exposure, contrast, saturation, and volume. The app includes dedicated publishing tools for Vine and Instagram, too. Video Tuner is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
Samsung today announced that it and several other companies have created a group called the Open Interconnect Consortium. The OIC's goal is to create a connection protocol for what is commonly referred to as the Internet of Things. Some of the other companies include Dell, Atmel, Intel, Broadcom, and Wind River. The group is focused on delivering a specification, an open source implementation, and a certification program for wirelessly connecting devices, such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, and various other bits of gear. The group will first target hardware common to homes and home offices, such as thermostats and refrigerators, and will expand from there. The OIC is competing with a similar group supported by Qualcomm and Microsoft.
Microsoft's Skype team today announced yet another update to its mobile application for the iPhone. Skype version 5.2 adds several new features, including new support for voice messages, which are automatically added to text conversations. The app makes it easier to view contact profiles, which reveals details such as mood, name, birthday, location, and so on. Skype 5.2 also allows users to add participants to existing conversations. Skype completely overhauled its iPhone app in mid-June. Skype for the iPhone is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Nokia today said it plans to acquire SAC Wireless, a telecommunications equipment installer located in Shaumburg, Illinois. The company has about 450 employees and works with wireless network operators in the U.S. Nokia said it believes the acquisition will help it win business in North America for its telecommunications gear. Nokia sold its handset division to Microsoft earlier this year and now runs its networking and HERE Maps businesses. Nokia didn't say how much it will spend on SAC Wireless.
Microsoft has joined the AllSeen Alliance, an effort backed by Qualcomm to provide a standard for connecting the Internet of Things. The alliance already has 50 companies on board, including LG, Panasonic, and Sharp. The group's goal is to make it easy for devices to interact with one another by devising a single standard through which they can communicate. Qualcomm's rivals, however, are prepared to form their own group, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters. The competing consortium may launch as soon as next week, and will seek to create its own standard for connecting the Internet of Things. Apple has already announced HomeKit, its own protocol for connecting smartphones and tablets to devices around the home. Further, Google recently released an SDK for its Nest thermostat, which will eventually allow smartphones, tablets, and other apps to interact with Nest. Multiple standards may make it more difficult for consumers to find devices that work with one another. Reuters didn't say which companies are going to support the competitor to AllSeen.
Microsoft today revealed it has taken steps to further protect user data by encrypting some of its key services. Moving forward, Microsoft's Outlook.com email service is protected by Transport Layer Security encryption for both inbound and outbound mail. As long as the recipient's email service also supports TLS, emails will be fully protected as it travels between the two email servers. Microsoft also added encryption to its OneDrive cloud storage service as accessed both from desktops and from mobile devices. OneDrive uses Perfect Forward Secrecy encryption, which makes it more difficult for hackers to decrypt connections. Last, Microsoft announced a new transparency center, which will allow governments to access Microsoft code in order to ensure its integrity. Many companies are taking security more seriously in light of the data-gathering practices revealed last year by Edward Snowden.
Skype today updated its mobile application for the Windows Phone platform and added support for Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant. Windows Phone 8.1 users can now use voice commands to launch Skype conversations. The updated app also adds notifications to the Action Center, jumps from 19 languages to 51 languages, adds message editing, and improves fast-resume times when multitasking. Skype is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
Google today rolled out updates to its core productivity apps associated with Google Drive. The chief new feature is the ability to edit Microsoft Word documents - online or offline - natively with no need for plugins or conversions. Google Docs users will be able to make whatever edits they need to Word documents and send them back as Word files. Google Drive also brings Slides to mobile devices for the first time. Android smartphone and tablet owners can now create, edit, and interact with slide presentations on their mobile devices. Another new feature is called Suggested Edits. Using a new tool called Commenting Access, document owners can give others the ability to add comments or suggestions to documents, but not the power to make actual edits. This leaves the document owner in control. Last, Google has given Drive a performance boost both on mobile devices (Android and iOS) and the web. Google says Drive now takes advantage of background syncing so files load faster, and the cloud-based storage service delivers search results quicker, too. The new versions of Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides will be available in the Play Store and iTunes App Store beginning today.
Microsoft today announced the Nokia X2, a low-cost smartphone that runs its modified version of Android. The device follows three other Android handsets announced by Nokia in February. The X2 has a 4.3-inch ClearBlack display, dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 200 processor with 1GB of RAM, 5-megapixel main camera and VGA user-facing camera. Microsoft said the X2 will have three basic home screen configurations, including one that resembles Windows Phone with colorful, resizable tiles; one called Fastlane, which prioritizes access to recent apps and calendar events; and one that incorporates Windows Phone's ability to pin select items to the home screen. Though the X2 runs Android, it ships with Microsoft services on board, including Outlook email, Bing search, Skype, OneDrive, and OneNote. The Nokia X2 will be offered in a wide range of colors, and features interchangeable rear shells. Its target price is about $135. It will initially be sold in emerging markets with support for two SIM cards. Microsoft didn't say if or when a single-SIM version would become available.
Microsoft recently began accepting preorders in the U.S. for the Lumia 635. Microsoft is asking $99 for the AT&T model and $129 for the T-Mobile model, both off contract. The 635 is an entry-level Windows Phone 8.1 handset.
Microsoft today overhauled its cloud storage service OneDrive and is offering more storage for less money at all price points. To start, Microsoft has increased the standard, free 7GB storage amount for all OneDrive users to 15GB. Microsoft's move puts OneDrive inline with Google Drive, which also offers 15GB for free. Customers who need more than 15GB in OneDrive can buy more if they so choose. Microsoft is asking $2 per month for 100GB and $4 per month for 200GB (previously $7.50 and $11.50, respectively). Further, Microsoft is increasing the OneDrive capacity available to all Office365 subscribers (professional, home, student subscriptions) to 1TB. The increases are all automatic and will go into effect next month.
Microsoft has released a new version of the Nokia Camera application for its Lumia-branded smartphones. The revised app carries over several features previously seen in the beta version, including continuous autofocus for faster focusing. The app also adds surround sound in video capture mode; revises the camera roll, which now supports inline playback of videos, cinemagraphs, smart sequences, and Refocus images; and integrates more tightly with Creative Studio and Nokia Video Trimmer for editing photos and videos. Last, the app includes support for Living Images, which adds motion to photos when viewed in the camera roll and Nokia Storyteller. Nokia Camera is free to download, but requires Windows Phone 8/8.1 and the Cyan system update. The continuous focus and Living Images features are limited to the Lumia Icon, 1520, and 930.
Samsung and Nokia have both recently made available launchers for Android devices that serve as alternatives to their normal approach for home screen behavior. Terrain (pictured) comes from a Samsung-sponsored developer and is free to download from the Google Play Store. It features a customizable sidebar that can be used to house all the owner's favorites, including apps, web sites, contacts, and so on. The launcher includes interchangeable cards that can hold separate apps, shortcuts, and data. Terrain also includes a phone search tool that it claims is faster for finding things stored on the device. Terrain's main goal is to help Android users personalize their handset in ways the stock Android tools don't allow for, while streamlining the experience and making it quicker to reach apps and services. Terrain was built using HTML5 and the company is offering developers an API so they can contribute their own cards to a Terrain-backed store, which will launch later this year. Similarly, Nokia released Z Launcher as a limited beta. (Nokia offers several Android handsets, which are now being sold by Microsoft.) 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. Z Launcher can be downloaded directly from Nokia.
Google and Microsoft today indicated they will add theft deterrent tools to their respective mobile platforms. The commitment comes after major cities, including New York and San Francisco, saw significant drops in iPhone thefts during the first few months on the year. Apple added kill switch tools to the iPhone when it introduced iOS 7 last September. Google has yet to spell out the specifics of its kill switch feature, but Microsoft said it will add a kill switch to all devices running Windows Phone 8 and up. The Windows Phone tool will allow owners to: remotely wipe personal data from the phone; render the smartphone inoperable; prevent reactivation without the owner's permission; reverse the inoperability if the phone is recovered; and restore user data if the phone was erased. These functions will be added to Windows Phone's Find My Phone tool. Microsoft said it will have the tool ready before the July 2015 deadline set by the CTIA for implementing such features. Lawmakers have been urging phone makers and carriers to add these tools for well more than a year. The CTIA Wireless Association, which lobbies for the wireless industry in Washington, voluntarily set up a timeline for theft deterrent tools which are to be added to all new phones by next year. The commitments from Google and Microsoft should help speed up those efforts. The long-term goal is to reduce the number of smartphone thefts, which are popular targets due to their value.
Microsoft today made a third system update available to devices running the Windows Phone 8.1 preview. The update tweaks battery life, improves device compatibility, and adds APIs. The update is free to download over the air.
Microsoft today released Skype 5.0 for the iPhone. It had originally said the app would appear next week. Skype 5.0 has been rebuilt from the ground up and includes both a new design and new features. It is free.
Microsoft today followed through on a promise it made earlier this year to deliver an Android version of its Outlook Web App. Outlook Web App is an email application that offers all the features and functionality of Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync technology. Microsoft released a version of OWA for iOS devices last year. OWA for Android is different from the Outlook.com web mail client that Microsoft already offers to Android devices. Instead, it is a business-class piece of software that allows mobile professionals to choose an Android device and still benefit from Microsoft's email service. Though the app is now available from the Google Play Store, it is only compatible with a very small number of handsets. According to Microsoft, it requires Android 4.4 KitKat or higher, an Office 365 for Business email account, and a device considered to be "small" or "normal" as defined by the Android operating system. Devices and accounts that meet these criteria can download and install Outlook Web App on their Android phone for free.
Skype today announced a major new version of its mobile app will be available to the iPhone beginning next week. Skype 5.0 for iPhone has been rewritten from the ground up, according to Skype, and is the most significant launch for Skype on iOS since the first version of the app. Skype says the new app is five times faster than the old version; offers smooth scrolling within and transitions between conversations; improves group chat support and will deliver messages whether or not users are online; and is better at syncing notifications and read receipts between devices and platforms. Skype says the new iPhone app will be available in about a week, and will be followed with a separate version for the iPad.
Microsoft today announced the availability of a new version of Facebook Messenger for Windows Phone. The revised application adds a couple of new features, including support for groups. The app lets Windows Phone owners create, name, and organize groups, as well as set group photos and pin them to the Start screen. The app reduces the complexity of sending photos within messages, which Microsoft says now requires but a single tap. Messenger offers quick access to the photo gallery, as well. The application received some stability improvements, too, and optimizations so it consumes less mobile data. Facebook Messenger for Windows Phone is free to download from the Windows Store.
Nokia today said it has acquired Mesaplexx, a company based in Australia that develops radio frequency (RF) filter technology. Nokia says Mesaplexx's technology will help it improve its Flexi-branded base stations. Nokia claims it may be able to reduce the size of its Flexi products by as much as 30% using Mesaplexx's RF filters. It will also be able to reduce the cost of each base station, reduce the power consumption of each base station, and minimize radio signal loss in any given cell. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Nokia recently sold its handset business to Microsoft, but still maintains its networking and HERE Maps businesses.