Sony today announced the Sony Concept for Android program in Sweden, which is a way for the company to test new user interface features for its smartphones. To start, Sony is offering 500 Swedish owners of the Xperia Z3 access to a new user experience that's based on a nearly stock version of Android 5.1 Lollipop, with some core Sony elements tossed into the mix. Sony said it is significantly different from the user experience available on its current lineup of devices. "[This is] a chance for us to listen and act upon bug reports, opinions and experiences, so we can acquire feedback to improve the experiences based on what you like and what you don't," said Sony. Sony indicated this is the first step in a new business model that it hopes will see the company responding faster to customer wishes while being more transparent at the same time. If the small trial in Sweden is successful, Sony may expand it to other regions.
Sony today said it has prepared Android 5.1 Lollipop for a number of its Xperia smartphones and tablets. The updated operating system is available to the Xperia Z3, Z3 Compact, Z3 Tablet Compact, Z2, and Z2 Tablet. Sony said it blended the features of Android 5.1 with its own user interface tweaks. For example, users now have more control over the volume and silent mode functions; can enjoy tighter integration with LinkedIn; and should experience faster, more accurate Superior Auto Mode with the camera. Sony also added some business-focused features. Though Sony is pushing the system update, timing of its arrival will depend on region and carrier. Sony said it should have Android 5.1 ready for the Xperia Z1, Z1 Compact, and Z Ultra in the coming weeks, followed closely by the Xperia T2 Ultra, C3, and, finally, the original Xperia Z Series.
Sony today announced a new partnership with Twitch that will let select Xperia smartphones broadcast gameplay directly to Twitch. Twitch has allowed Android devices to view gameplay before, Sony's Xperia Z3+, Xperia Z4, and Xperia Z4v smartphones, and the Xperia Z4 Tablet can now push Android games to Twitch live. Twitch is an online community for gamers that lets people broadcast, record, and view gameplay from various platforms, such as Sony's PlayStation consoles. Amazon bought Twitch, which has 100 million monthly users, earlier this year. Google announced a similar product, called YouTube Gaming, in June. Google's game-broadcasting service has yet to go live. Twitch for Android is available from the Play Store.
Hiroki Totoki, the President and CEO of Sony Mobile, said the company has no plans to exit the smartphone business. Totoki covered a wide range of topics during an interview with Arabian Business. He said the firm is working hard to turn its smartphone business around. By the end of 2016, Sony expects to reduce headcount by 20% and operating expenses by 30% to streamline the business and the product portfolio. Totoki said smartphones remain a vital part of the company. "Smartphones are completely connected to other devices, also connected to people's lives — deeply. And the opportunity for diversification is huge. We're heading to the IoT era and have to produce a number of new categories of products in this world, otherwise we could lose out on a very important business domain. In that sense we will never ever sell or exit from the current mobile business." Totoki said the company plans to respond to fierce competition from Chinese companies by developing new technologies to help its products stand out. Sony will also pay attention to providing a better experience through the software of its devices, too. Sony recently announced the Z3v for Verizon Wireless and the similar Z3+ for other markets.
Sony has made the Xperia Z3+ available through Amazon's U.S. web site. The phone is being sold unlocked and is compatible with GSM carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon Wireless plans to sell a variant of the phone, called the Z3v, later this summer. It has a 5.2-inch full HD screen, 20.7-megapixel main camera, wide-angle 5-megapixel front camera, and a quad-core Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of RAM. Amazon is selling it for about $640.
Sony plans to issue new shares of stock for the first time in 26 years as it hopes to raise about $4 billion in capital. The company said it will spend the money on bolstering its image sensor business, which is seeing high demand from smartphone and tablet makers. Sony's image sensor business, along with its PlayStation unit, have helped push the company back to its feet in recent quarters. Earlier this year, Sony said it would ramp up production in its image sensor plants, but now admits that it is struggling to keep up with demand. The capital plan marks a wholesale change in strategy for Sony, which will now bank on the image sensor and PlayStation businesses to keep it afloat. Sony said it will continue to make other electronic devices, such as TVs, but it will reduce its investments in such products. Sony did not specifically address what it will do about its smartphone operations.
Sony today made it possible for developers to test Android M on some of its Xperia-branded smartphones. Google released the Android M Developer Preview in May. According to Sony, devices listed as part of its Open Device program (read: unlocked) can install the preview. This is not a full operating system meant for consumers. The guide includes building an AOSP M Developer Preview and creating a test image for flashing into unlocked handsets. Doing so requires some know-how. Sony points out that the AOSP software will only work on devices with an unlocked boot loader, and it has a number of limitations, such as non-working modem and camera features. Some of the devices compatible with the Android M Developer Preview include the Xperia Z3/Z3 Compact, Z2, Z1, Z Ultra, T3, and T2 Ultra. Google does not plan to release a full version of Android M until the fall. Sony has committed to updating some of its handsets to Android M late in the year.
Sony, as a company, is having a prolonged rough patch in the US phone market these days, but when they do get a phone to market here, they're often quiet gems. Sony is particularly skilled at crafting phones with premium materials and build quality. They're also good at leveraging their own Sony sensors to produce unusually powerful cameras. The Z4v replaces last year's Z3v in Verizon's lineup. It updates the specs in expected areas, but what's it like in person? Read on for our impressions.
Verizon Wireless and Sony today announced the Xperia Z4v, a modified version of the Xperia Z3+/Z4 that will be exclusive to Verizon Wireless. The device has most of the same specifications, but makes several key changes. To start, the chassis is a bit thicker to accommodate a larger 3,000mAh battery, which supports Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0, and both Qi and Rezence wireless charging. Verizon also requested that Sony do away with the hatch protecting the USB port, which is now exposed and moved to the bottom of the phone. Despite these changes, the Z4v is still waterproof and dustproof. The Z4v has a 5.2-inch quad HD Triluminos display and runs a 64-bit, octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of memory, 32 GB of storage, and Adreno 430 graphics. The Z4v supports memory cards up to 128 GB. The main camera relies on Sony's 20.7-megapixel Exmor RS sensor, while the front camera uses a 5.1-megapixel Exmor sensor with shake correction and wide-angle 25mm lens. The main camera can record video up to 4K, while the front camera can record 1080p HD. The Z4v offers a range of connectivity options, including dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, and support for Verizon's LTE 4G network. The device runs Android 5.1 Lollipop and will feature Sony's apps and user interface overlay. Verizon said the phone, sold in black or white, will reach stores this summer. Pricing was not revealed.
Sony today said that even as it continues to update its Xperia Z line of handsets and tablets to Android 5.0 Lollipop, it will soon begin updating those same devices to Android 5.1. The Xperia Z, Z1, Z2, and Z3, and the T2 Ultra and C3 will all see Android 5.1 beginning in July. Sony said the Xperia M2 and M2 Aqua will go straight to Android 5.1 a bit after the Z series. Sony said it will have more specific details about each handset closer to the start of the upgrade cycle.
Sony today announced the Xperia Z3+, which is essentially a global version of the Z4. Sony debuted the Z4, limited to Japan, earlier this year. The Z3+ features a glass and metal design that is water and dust proof, and measures 6.9mm thick. The Z3+ has a 5.2-inch full HD Triluminos display and runs a 64-bit, octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of memory, 32 GB of storage, and Adreno 430 graphics. The Z3+ supports memory cards up to 128 GB. The main camera relies on Sony's 20.7-megapixel Exmor RS sensor, while the front camera uses a 5.1-megapixel Exmor sensor with shake correction. The main camera can record video up to 4K, while the front camera can record 1080p HD. The Z3+ offers a range of connectivity options, including dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, and support for LTE 4G networks. The battery has a maximum capacity of 2,930mAh, but Sony says it is good for two days of battery life. The device runs Android 5.0 Lollipop and will feature Sony's apps and user interface overlay. Sony said it will begin to sell the Xperia Z4 in Japan around the middle of the year, but didn't say when the Z3+ might reach the rest of the world. U.S.-based network operators have yet to voice support for the Z3+. T-Mobile was the only carrier to sell the Xperia Z3.
Sony today announced the Xperia Z4, a modest update to is 2014 flagship, the Z3. The Z4 features a glass and metal design that is water and dust proof. The phone is slimmer than its predecessor and measures 6.9mm thick. The Z4 features a 5.2-inch full HD Triluminos display and runs an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of memory, 32 GB of storage, and support for memory cards up to 128 GB. The main camera uses Sony's 20.7-megapixel Exmor RS sensor, while the front camera is improved to a 5.1-megapixel Exmor sensor with shake correction. The main camera can record video up to 4K, while the front camera can record 1080p HD. The Z4 offers a range of connectivity options, including dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, and support for select LTE 4G networks. The device runs Android 5.0 Lollipop and will feature Sony's apps and user interface overlay. Sony said it will begin to sell the Xperia Z4 in Japan around the middle of the year, but didn't say for how much nor if the phone's availability will be expanded to other markets. Sony's Z3 saw limited release in the U.S. last year, as Sony has struggled to gain any share of the U.S. market.
Huawei today announced the P8, its new global flagship phone. The P8 sports a thin unibody metal design and a dual Sony cameras with "super night mode". The main camera also sports optical image stabilization and a dual-tone LED flash. Although the P8 announced today will not reach U.S. shores, Huawei did share with us that a similar - but more affordable - model will come to the U.S. via unlocked channels in approximately one month. The P8 features a 5.2-inch full HD screen, octa-core processor clocked at 2.0 GHz with 3 GB of RAM, and a 2,680mAh battery. The phone has a 13-megapixel main camera, 8-megapixel user-facing camera, and supports networks such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi. The Huawei P8 runs Android 5.0 Lollipop.
Nokia today said it has agreed to acquire Alcatel-Lucent for $16.6 billion. The combined companies would be a giant in the telecom equipment space with more than 100,000 employees. The terms of the deal will see Nokia acquire all of Alcatel-Lucent's stock, as traded in both France and the U.S. The companies' boards of directors have approved the deal, though shareholders have yet to vote on the acquisition. The deal will also require regulatory approval. The companies expect the deal to close during the first half of 2016. Once combined, the companies will streamline redundant operations, but believe the 40,000 research and development at its disposal employees will be able to make the company a world leader in the connected IP space. Nokia-Alcatel-Lucent will specifically target the development of 5G wireless networks. The largest competitors remaining are Ericsson and Huawei, though ZTE, Samsung, and others make telecommunications equipment, too. In addition to announcing the Alcatel-Lucent deal, Nokia said it has begun a review of strategic options for its HERE Maps business. Nokia acquired Navteq's mapping business in 2007 and turned it into a competitive global company. Nokia's HERE Maps are available to the Android, iOS, and Windows Phone platforms, as well as online, and provide robust driving, walking, and transit directions. Nokia said its review of HERE Maps may or may not result in a transaction.
Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent today said they are in advanced talks concerning a merger or acquisition between the two. Such a deal would would produce a massive competitor to Sweden's Ericsson and China's Huawei in the telecommunications market. Nokia said the deal currently being considered would entail a "full combination" of the two companies, though the deal could still fall apart. Alcatel-Lucent is valued at about $11.63 billion while Nokia is valued at about $29.59 billion. France, where Alcatel-Lucent is based, is wary of the deal. "The government will be very vigilant regarding the possible consequences on employment and activity at the French sites of Alcatel-Lucent, notably in research and development, as well as the effects on the entire telecoms sector in France," said the French economy ministry. The combined entities could employ more than 100,000 workers, but Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent have on their own slashed thousands of jobs over the years. Nokia bought out its networking partner Siemens in 2014 to abolish Nokia Siemens Networks and form the current Nokia Corp. Alcatel-Lucent was formed in 2006 when France's Alcatel merger with the US's Lucent. A Nokia-Alcatel-Lucent merger could face significant hurdles attempting to gain regulatory approval.
Google has begun pushing the Android 5.1 Lollipop update to several Play Edition smartphones, including the HTC One M8 and the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. Android 5.1 makes a number of improvements to the devices' performance, and also adds several new features. Google tweaked the Quick Settings menu, added support for HD voice, improved security by blocking non-authorized device resets, and changed how users adjust notifications and alerts. Play Edition handsets, which are available directly from Google, are unlocked and run a native version of Android. They are entirely devoid of manufacturer and carrier user interface overlays. The Android 5.1 Lollipop update is free to install.
Alcatel OneTouch today revealed availability details for its Idol 3 flagship smartphone. Consumers will be able to pre-order the phone directly from Alcatel's web site beginning April 21 for $249. Alcatel said orders will ship in May. The Idol 3 comes in two sizes — 5.5 inches and 4.7 inches — but Alcatel is only offering the larger of the two at this time. The Idol 3 (5.5) has a full HD screen and octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. The processor includes four cores at 1.5GHz and four cores at 1.0GHz. The Idol 3 has stereo JBL speakers with Clarify processing and 1.2W amplifiers. The phone is reversible, meaning it can be held in any orientation and the user interface will rotate accordingly. The main camera uses a 13-megapixel Sony sensor that includes a variety of modes and video-capture tools. The phone has an 8-megapixel user-facing camera with wide-angle lens. Connectivity options include LTE and HSPA+, Bluetooth 4.1, FM radio, GPS, and WiFi. The Idol 3 has a 2,910mAh battery and supports microSD cards up to 128 GB. It is being sold unlocked and is compatible with GSM networks. Alcatel didn't say if or when the 4.7-inch model will be made available.
Sony said it intends to invest $376 million this year in order to increase its capacity to manufacture imaging sensors. The company currently makes about 60,000 wafers per month. It wants to expand its capacity to 87,000 wafers per month by September 2016 in order to meet the growing demand for imaging sensors. Sony's imaging sensors appear in its own smartphones and tablets, as well as those made by other manufacturers.
T-Mobile confirmed via Twitter that it is no longer selling Sony's flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z3. T-Mobile offered the device for just 6 months. The Z3 is still for sale directly from Sony's U.S. web site. Sony is offering it unlocked for $569.
Apple has expanded the scope of its Reuse and Recycling Program to include smartphones, tablets, and PCs not made by Apple. Customers can take their old smartphones directly to Apple Stores and receive credit towards new Apple gear for turning them in. Customers who don't have access to Apple Stores can mail in their devices for credit. Apple will recycle just about any old phone, tablet, or computer for free. Apple says not all devices are eligible for credit and suggests customers check eligibility (online) before heading to Apple Stores. According to Apple's web site, it is accepting handsets from Sony, Samsung, Nokia, LG, and BlackBerry. Apple has partnered with Brightstar and DataServ to handle the actual device recycling processes. The expanded Apple Reuse and Recycling Program is available in the U.S., the U.K., and select European countries.
Sony today followed through on an announcement made in January concerning Sony Music Unlimited and Spotify. Sony Music Unlimited has gone offline in all 19 countries where it was offered. The service, which cost $10 per month, let Xperia device and PlayStation owners stream songs and playlists. Sony partnered with Spotify, which is officially taking Music Unlimited's place across Sony's devices. Spotify gives Sony hardware owners access to 30 million songs and 1.5 billion playlists. PlayStation owners will be able to create and listen to playlists when playing games, as well as listen to music on-demand whenever they wish. Spotify replaces Sony's Music Unlimited service on Xperia smartphones and tablets, too, but it isn't yet available. Sony said it should be ready for mobile devices soon. Spotify is already available to Android and iOS devices from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Nintendo today announced plans to develop games for mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. The move is an about-face for the gaming company, which has steadfastly insisted on supporting only its gaming consoles. In order to kickstart its development efforts, Nintendo has partnered with DeNA, a Japanese mobile gaming company, to bring games to market quicker. Nintendo and DeNA are each investing about $182 million in one another, with Nintendo acquiring a 10% stake in DeNA and DeNA acquiring a 1.2% stake in Nintendo. Together the companies will launch a "multi-device membership service for the global market" in the fall encompassing consoles, PCs, tablets, and smartphones. "This will allow us to build a bridge between smart devices and gaming consoles," said Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. "It doesn't mean smart devices will eat away at gaming consoles, it will create an entirely new type of demand." Nintendo did not share details about the first game, but said it will not create "hand-me-down" versions of its existing games. Nintendo's most popular titles include Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart. Nintendo has lost significant share in the gaming market due to its stubborn refusal to adapt to mobile devices. Sony and Microsoft, with their PlayStation and Xbox brands, have embraced console gaming and mobile gaming. Nintendo isn't giving up on consoles and is working on something called the Nintendo NX. Nintendo didn't provide any details about the NX.
Sony today indicated it will close up its PlayStation Mobile content store later this year. The platform was meant to provide the PlayStation Vita gaming handheld and select Android smartphones with access to older PlayStation games. The service never caught on with consumers. Sony will cease distributing content through the storefront on July 15. Existing users will be able to make in-app purchases and re-download their content through Sept. 10, after which the PlayStation Mobile app itself will no longer be available. Consumers who want to continue to access their content after Sept. 10 will need to authenticate their devices with Sony. Once users deactivate their device, they will no longer have access to their content.
Sony today announced the M4 Aqua, a mid-range handset for the active users. The M4 uses Sony's OmniBalance design language and mixes metals, plastics, and tempered glass. The phone is waterproof despite having an open headset jack and microUSB port. Some features include a 13-megapixel main camera with f/2.0 aperture and Sony's Superior Auto mode. The user-facing camera rates 5 megapixels. The phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, which has eight cores and 64-bit computing. Sony says the battery is good for two days of use. The M4 Aqua runs Android 5.0 Lollipop. The deice will reach more than 100 carriers in 80 countries beginning this spring. Pricing will be about $335. U.S. carriers have not yet voiced support for this handset
Sony today announced the Xperia E4g, an LTE-equipped version of the E4, which it revealed earlier this month. Like the E4, the E4g features a 5-inch qHD display, but the MediaTek engine has been swapped out for a quad-core 1.5GHz processor with 1GB of RAM. The E4g includes a 5-megapixel camera with Sony's shooting modes and a 2-megapixel user-facing camera, too. Sony says the 2,300mAh battery is good for two days of usage when in Stamina Mode and the E4g has 8GB of built-in storage. The Xperia E4g runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat and will ship in select markets later this month. U.S. carriers have not yet said they'll sell the phone. It comes in black or white.
Sony today announced plans to spin off its audio and video business into a separate company. The unit will take the form of a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony. The move, explained CEO Kazuo Hirai, is to make the unit more autonomous and focused on generating profits. Sony made similar strategic moves with its television business and personal computing business. When asked if Sony would consider an outright sale of its television or smartphone businesses, Hirai responded, "I think we have to keep those possibilities in mind." Hirai hinted that Sony might sell off its smartphone business earlier this year. The company is heavily focused on generating profits, but its smartphone business has struggled against larger competitors Apple and Samsung. Hirai said there are no deals on the table at the moment.
Sony today said a developer kit for its Smart EyeGlass will be available to developers in March. The Smart Eyeglass Developer Edition SED-E1 includes the glasses, sensors, camera, and associated software for controlling the ensemble. The Smart EyeGlass projects augmented reality images to the eyepieces of the spectacles, which still allow plenty of light to pass through so users can see both the AR content and the world around them. The developer kit will be available first in the U.K., Germany, Japan, and U.S. for about $830. Sony hopes developers put the kit to use in creating apps and experiences. The Smart EyeGlass requires an Android smartphone nearby.
Sony today announced the Xperia E4, an inexpensive Android handset that offers Sony style in a more economical package. The phone will ship in black and white colors and makes use of Sony's Omnibalance design language with a large screen lock button on the right side. The phone features a 5-inch qHD display and quad-core MediaTek 1.3GHz processor with 1GB of RAM. The E4 includes a 5-megapixel camera with many of Sony's shooting modes, such as AR Fun, Timeshift Burst, Creative Effect, and Social Live. The phone has a 2-megapixel user-facing camera, too. The phone has Sony's PartyShare feature for pushing audio content to home theater equipment and xLoud for improved sound. Sony claims the 2,300mAh battery is good for two days of usage when in Stamina Mode and the E4 has 8GB of built-in storage. The Xperia E4 runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat and will ship in select markets later this month. None of the U.S. carriers have yet said they'll sell the phone.
Following reports of poor performance of its flagship Snapdragon 810 processor, Qualcomm today rounded up support from a handful of handset makers that plan to use the chip. LG and Xiaomi have already committed to using the processor in the G Flex 2 and Mi Note Pro, respectively, and reiterated their trust in the processor. Motorola, Sony, Oppo, and Microsoft today also offered statements in support of the processor and suggested they each plan to use the 810 in forthcoming handset designs. Last week, Qualcomm lowered its revenue outlook for the year after stating that a "large customer" decided to pass on using the Snapdragon 810 in its own flagship device. Earlier in January, Samsung claimed the 810 overheated. The Snapdragon 810 is a premium mobile processor with a quad-core design, advanced GPU, and support for Cat 9 LTE.
Sony today said it will replace its Music Unlimited service on Xperia phones and tablets, and the PlayStations 3 and 4 gaming consoles with Spotify. Sony said Music Unlimited will go offline March 29 in all 19 countries in which it is currently offered, including the U.S. Like many services, Sony's Music Unlimited offered streaming music to smartphone, tablet, and console owners for a monthly fee. Sony says with Spotify its customers will have access to 30 million songs and 1.5 billion playlists. Spotify on Sony devices will launch in 41 countries, including the U.S., at the end of March.
T-Mobile plans to make some of its handsets compatible with its 700MHz spectrum through a software update. Today, only the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge can use LTE on T-Mobile's 700MHz spectrum. T-Mobile said it will provide the system update to the Motorola Nexus 6 in the early part of 2015, followed by the Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung Galaxy Avant in May, and the ZTE Max later this year. Two tablets and T-Mobile's Z915 LTE 4G Hotspot also support the 700MHz airwaves. T-Mobile is supplementing its AWS-based LTE network with its 700MHz holdings in select markets around the country. The company is still in the process of deploying LTE to all its 700MHz spectrum.
Xiaomi today announced the Mi Note, a new flagship device for the company that will compete with the likes of Samsung's Galaxy Note and Apple's iPhone 6 Plus. The Mi Note features a 5.7-inch full HD display, 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor with 3GB of RAM, and a 3,000mAh battery with Quick Charge 2.0. The main camera has a 13-megapixel Sony sensor with OIS, f/2.0 aperture, and two-tone LED flash. The user-facing camera has a 4-megapixel sensor. The phone has curved glass on the front and back surfaces and it measures 6.95mm thick. It will cost about $370. Xiaomi also announced a Pro version of the Mi Note, which steps up the display resolution to quad HD, improves the processor to a Snapdragon 810 with better graphics, and boosts memory to 4GB. It will cost about $520. At the moment, Xiaomi sells its devices only in China, India, and other emerging markets. The company has global ambitions, but it hasn't announced plans to sell the Mi Note outside of its home region.
Sony today announced several new initiatives surrounding its wearable devices and services. Fist, the company revealed a new stainless steel version of the Smart Watch 3, which will be available in the weeks ahead. The company is soon going to sell a holder for the Smart Watch 3 that makes it compatible with standard 24mm watch bands. Sony plans to push to exclusive apps to the Smart Watch 3 in the weeks to come, including Golfshot and iFit. The company also talked about pending improvements to its Lifelog application, which will be accessible from any web browser (desktop, tablet, smartphone). Through the web, users will be able to see a more visually appealing representation of their health and fitness data. The company is working with If This Then That, Habit Monster, and Withings to further expand the functionality and appeal of Lifelog. Lifelog is free to download from the Google Play Store. Sony said it is partnering with with Virgin Atlantic to explore possible SmartWear initiatives that Sony and Virgin Atlantic customers can use "to support operational activities" in the months ahead. Sony showed off a Smart Eyeglass Developer Edition, which is a single lens that can be attached to standard glasses for unique sports and entertainment purposes. Last, Sony debuted the Smart B-Trainer Prototype, which is a waterproof headset with multiple sensors meant for runners. It provides voice coaching, music playback, as well as tools to help runners analyze their workouts and performance.
Volkswagen today took the diplomatic route with respect to enabling smartphone connectivity in its cars. Beginning with select models later this year, Volkswagen's second generation modular infotainment platform will support Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay platforms, in addition to the platform-agnostic MirrorLink spec. The company said Android Auto will support devices from the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG, and Sony, while CarPlay will support Apple's iPhone. The services will allow smartphone owners to access their device content, apps, and services through the infotainment console of their Volkswagen. The Volkswagen Golf will be the first model to support these connectivity platforms.
Google today announced Cast for Audio, a new version of its Chromecast technology that will allow people to cast audio content from their device to properly equipped speakers, receivers, and soundbars. According to Google, compatible audio equipment from Sony, LG, and HEOS by Denon will arrive in the U.S. this spring, with others to follow. The audio equipment will have built-in radios that can receive cast content and/or access it from the web. The initial batch of apps to support Cast for Audio include Deezer, Google Play Music, iHeartRadio, NPR One, Pandora, Rdio, and TuneIn Radio. Google says many more are on the way. The technology competes with Apple's AirPlay.
Rockstar Consortium, a patent-holding company headed by Apple, has agreed to sell more than 4,000 mobile patents for about $900 million. Apple and partners Microsoft, BlackBerry, Ericsson, and Sony paid $4.5 billion for more than 6,000 patents from Nortel four years ago in order to help protect against litigation. The companies are selling two-thirds of the patents to RPX Corp., which is another patent-focused company that protects companies from lawsuits. RPX plans to license the patent portfolio to a syndicate of 30 technology companies, including Google and Cisco, according to the Wall Street Journal. The syndicate members contributed the bulk of the $900 million in order to purchase the patents. In addition to the patent sale, Rockstar will settle patent-related lawsuits it has filed against Android device makers, including Samsung, Huawei, HTC, and LG. Terms of those settlements were not disclosed. Rockstar Consortium will hold onto about 2,000 of the old Nortel patents, which the Journal described as the "most valuable" of the bunch.
Google today began pushing Android 5.0.1 Lollipop to the HTC One M7 and M8 Google Play Editions. The update may take up to two weeks to reach most handsets over the air, but users may also download and manually install the updates if they wish. Manually installing the updates requires some coding know-how and is not recommended for casual users. Google is already pushing Lollipop to the Sony Xperia Z Ultra Google Play Edition. Android 5.0 offers a brand new design, revamped notifications, and many other new features. Google Play Edition handsets are sold directly by Google and use stock Android rather than the phone maker's user interface skin.
Sony today said it has begun distributing Android 5.0 Lollipop to the Xperia Z Ultra Google Play Edition handset. The Z Ultra GPe is sold by Google and comes with a stock build of Android, free of any UI customizations from Sony. Android 5.0 gives the Z Ultra GPe a refreshed look, new notification features, faster performance, and support for multiple accounts. Sony is pushing the system update out slowly over the days ahead. Sony also committed to updating the entire Xperia Z Series to Android 5.0 beginning in early 2015.
Sony today announced its intent to transform its smartphone business with a eye on making it a profitable operation. The company, in effect, admitted its goal of becoming the world's number three smartphone maker behind Samsung and Apple was perhaps too ambitious. The company will reduce the number of handsets it makes moving forward, focusing cuts on entry-level and mid-range devices for select markets. Sony said it expects to layoff some employees as a result. "Our urgent task is to make the business profitable even if we face declines in sales by 20% or 30%," said Hiroki Totoki, the new head of Sony’s mobile unit. The company will further reduce its presence in China and some emerging markets, while retaining a toehold in Europe. Sony said it is still evaluating how much it will commit to the U.S. Sony sells only a few handsets in the U.S., many of which are made available directly to consumers via its web site. Right now, The Xperia Z3v and Z3 are offered by Verizon and T-Mobile, respectively, but the Z3 Compact is not offered by any U.S. carriers.
Sony today announced the Exmor RS IMX230, a CMOS camera censor for high-end smartphones. The sensor captures 21 megapixels at f/2.4 and uses a stacked design that Sony claims keeps the footprint small and adds functionality. The IMX230 has an onboard image plane phase detection AF signal processing function that helps the sensor track and focus on moving objects much faster. It can track subjects in 192 different auto-focus points simultaneously. The sensor is also capable of capturing HDR video at resolutions up to 4K. Sony's current sensors can capture HDR video, but only at 1080p HD. The IMX230 CMOS image sensor will ship in April 2015. Sony said it will offer a 16-megapixel sensor with the same features by the end of 2015.