Nokia recently updated its Z Launcher for Android devices. The application replaces the home screen on smartphones and adjusts what it displays throughout the day based on the user's behavior. The update adds preliminary support for icon packs, which will allow for more customization. The launcher also gains an easy way to uninstall or hide apps with a long press, and improved handwriting recognition with the scribble tool. Nokia made adjustments to the user interface and the carousel widgets. The update also fixes bugs and resolves other issues. Nokia's Z Launcher for Android is still in beta, but is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Microsoft has agreed to invest an unknown dollar figure in Cyanogen, which offers a version of Android devoid of Google's strictures. Cyanogen recently raised $70 million in funding, of which Microsoft is playing a minority role say sources cited by the Wall Street Journal. Neither Microsoft nor Cyanogen commented on Microsoft's involvement with the Android software maker, but Cyanogen has big goals. Last week, Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster said, "We're going to take Android away from Google." Cyanogen is working with handset makers to have its version of Android preinstalled on devices rather than Google's. It has succeeded with Micromax in India and is working to win over others. Google may offer Android to OEMs for free, but the search giant places strict requirements for handset makers to access the Play Store and other Google services. Cyanogen claims 50 million people have installed its variant of Android on devices, most of whom are enthusiast users who root their device and sideload the operating system.
AD more news below...
The FCC today said it plans to fine AT&T $640,000 for operating microwave stations outside the parameters of its licenses to do so. Microwave stations are generally set up in point-to-point configurations to beam signals across terrain where it is uneconomical to run copper or fiber wires. Companies use them to serve as backbone connections on the telephone network, to connect cellular base stations to the larger network, or to relay television signals. According to the FCC, AT&T altered 26 of its microwave stations without filing the proper paperwork with the FCC to account for the variances. AT&T ran afoul of the FCC in 2013 for similar infractions related to its wireless network.
Yahoo today announced a refresh to its iOS application that adds more imagery and content from across its properties. Yahoo says the app is more visually engaging and makes it easier to access articles, polls, and blogs from its digital magazines, such as Yahoo Autos, Yahoo Sports, and others. The app now keeps Yahoo Weather and Yahoo News Digest above all the other digital sections in the news feed. Yahoo for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Facebook today announced a new feature for its iOS application called Places. Using location data, Facebook will begin to post information about nearby places -- restaurants, museums, etc. --- to the top of users' newsfeeds. The tips will appear as cards, which will contain information about the place's location, hours, and web site as well as photos and/or ratings shared by the user's friends. It mimics some of the behaviors of Foursquare. Places relies on cellular, GPS, and WiFi radios to determine location, but Facebook is also testing location placement with Bluetooth-based beacon technology. The feature is optional and users can turn it off any time. Places for Facebook is baked into the iOS application, which is available today. Facebook didn't say when it might add the feature to its Android app.
The FCC today adopted rules it first proposed last year that will eventually help first responders to locate people who call 911 from their cell phones faster. Specifically, the FCC wants first responders to be able to better locate people within buildings. With today's technology, first responders still have trouble determining from which building wireless 911 calls originate from, let alone the floor and/or apartment or suite. The FCC has laid out clear, measurable goals for carriers to provide X, Y, and Z coordinates to help place callers as accurately as a specific room inside a building. Last fall, the CTIA Wireless Association along with members AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless laid out their own plan to meet the FCC's demands. The FCC said it understands that there's no silver bullet and knows carriers will need to rely on multiple different technologies to reach the benchmarks it has set in place. The FCC said it will allow the operators some leeway in developing their own standards as long as they meet the location accuracy requirements.
The FCC today said Auction 97, which covered blocks of spectrum in the AWS-3 band, is now over. It received a final bid today for the 1695-1710MHz unpaired spectrum band just a day after it closed bids for the G, H, I, and J paired spectrum blocks. The AWS-3 auction encompassed 65MHz of spectrum in the 1695-1710MHz band (unpaired), and the 1755-1780MH and 2155-2180MHz bands (paired). The paired blocks saw the most action, especially the J Block, which offered a 10x10MHz block in large metro areas. After 341 rounds, the AWS-3 auction has generated winning bids totaling $44.899 billion -- more than four times the reserve price for the auction. The FCC hasn't yet said which companies won the auction. AT&T and Verizon Wireless are most likely to have won the bulk of 1,600 available licenses, though T-Mobile, Dish Networks, and 66 other entities were bidding on the licenses.
Following in Iowa's footsteps, Delaware is considering whether or not to provide digital driver's licenses to its citizens. The state's assembly recently passed a resolution requesting that the Division of Motor Vehicles study and consider issuing optional digital driver's licenses for Delaware motorists. According to the resolution, Delaware uses the same driver's license vendor as the state of Iowa, which is also exploring the use of digital driver's licenses. Delaware's digital license would be available in addition to standard physical licenses and would't be required. The state indicated certain security standards would have to be met, and might require the use of biometrics or other technologies to authenticate device ownership and identification. In the end, Delaware's lawmakers believe digital driver's licenses could improve quality-of-life for its motorists. The resolution did not spell out any sort of timeframe.
Microsoft today released an Outlook email application for Android and iOS devices, including smartphones and tablets. The app is based on the code from Acompli, a company Microsoft acquired last year. With Outlook for Android and iOS, users can manage their work and personal email. It supports Office 365, Exchange, Outlook.com, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, and other email services. Users can personalize their experience with customizable swipes and actions. The Outlook email app also offers native calendar integration to make scheduling and managing a calendar easy. Outlook for Android and iOS is free to download from the Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively. The Android version of Outlook is being offered as a preview for the time being. In other Microsoft news, the company stripped the preview tag from its Office for Android suite of apps. Android tablet owners can now download Word, Excel, and PowerPoint from the Play Store and access a basic set of document creation and editing features with their Microsoft account. Advanced features require an Office 365 subscription.
Microsoft today pushed out a relatively big update to its OneDrive application for iOS devices. Most significantly, OneDrive for iOS allows people to sign into both their personal and business OneDrive accounts, open/organize their business files, and save new files to their business account. The app improves how it handles photos. For example, users can create photo albums that let them view photos in one folder or album without moving the actual image files. It also now supports tags, such as "plant" or "animal" automatically thanks object recognition. OneDrive for iOS also boasts a new design, integration with third-party password managers (1Password, LastPass, etc.), improves search and text recognition, resolves audio playback issues, and addresses several other bugs. OneDrive is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Following Chase, Bank of America today indicated that it will cease to support the Windows Phone platform come March. According to the Windows Store listing for Bank of America's Windows Phone app, the app will cease to work in early March. Bank of America said its Windows Phone users will be able to access their account through their mobile browser once the app is disabled. Chase bank made a similar announcement earlier this week. Bank of America is the second-largest bank in the U.S., while Chase is the largest.
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.
TracFone has agreed to pay customers $40 million to reimburse them for what the FTC labeled as deceptive advertising. From 2009 to 2013, TracFone advertised "unlimited data" plans for $45 per month. Despite the promise of unlimited monthly data, TracFone throttled customers who surpassed 3GB of data and cut off entirely some customers who surpassed 5GB of data. "The issue here is simple: when you promise consumers 'unlimited,' that means unlimited," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. TracFone began to disclose the data limits and throttling policies in 2013, but the FTC said, "In many cases, the disclosures were in very small print or on the back of packages or cards where consumers were likely to miss them." Millions of customers were throttled, according to the FTC. TracFone will refund an unknown number of customers $40 million and more clearly spell out its network management policies.
Verizon Wireless plans to increase fees it charges customers when they activate a new line of service or upgrade to a new device. On Feb. 5, Verizon will increase the activation fee from $35 to $40 and increase the upgrade fee from $30 to $40. "These fees are not unique to Verizon and help offset costs associated with upgrades, activations, and other operational costs," said Verizon spokesperson David Samberg in an email to Phone Scoop. "Verizon Wireless is committed to the fees remaining competitive within the wireless industry." According to Verizon, it hasn't increased the activation fee in more than 10 years. It last increased the upgrade fee in 2012.
Huawei recently said it wants to sell more high-end smartphones and fewer entry-level devices in a bid to increase margins. The company shipped 75 million smartphones during 2014 and wants to improve that number to 100 million in 2015. "If we sold more low-end phones, we could even double our shipments … but in the low-end market there is no margin," said CEO Richard Yu. "We are giving up the low end of the market. Many vendors are suffering." The company has seen measured success in its home market of China with mid-range devices like the Honor series and its high-end Mate 7. Huawei wants to increase sales of devices like these. It's not clear if such a strategy will work, however, as HTC and Samsung both lost ground to rivals after making similar strategic changes. Most of the devices Huawei sells in the U.S. are entry-level and mid-range.
USA Technologies today said it has added support for Apple Pay to approximately 200,000 of its vending machines. The company has been adding NFC capabilities to its vending machines, including coffee brewers, vending machines, kiosks, laundry equipment, parking pay stations, and other self-serve appliances, for nearly 10 years. USA Technologies' vending machine owner-operators will be able to accept Apple Pay at their machines in addition to cash and/or bank cards. This means owners of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will be able to pay for vending machine and other stand-alone, self-serve retail goods with their phone.
The FCC today issued a stern reminder to businesses that blocking or jamming WiFi signals for any reason is illegal. "Willful or malicious interference with WiFi hotspots is illegal," said the FCC. "The Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal WFi hotspots on the commercial establishment's premises. As a result, the Bureau is protecting consumers by aggressively investigating and acting against such unlawful intentional interference." The FCC fined Marriott hotels $600,000 last year for blocking guests' WiFi hotspots at one of its properties. "WiFi represents an essential on-ramp to the Internet," noted the FCC. "Personal WiFi networks, or 'hot spots,' are an important way that consumers connect to the internet." The FCC also pointed out that it is illegal to market, sell, or operate equipment that jams wireless signals.
Apple today released iOS 8.1.3 for iPhones, iPads, and the iPod Touch. The primary improvement in the operating system is a reduction in the amount of on-board storage needed to install the system update. (Last fall, some users with 16GB devices were unable to update due to a lack of storage.) The system update also resolves an issue preventing people from entering their passwords for iMessage and FaceTime, fixes a Spotlight bug, and smooths over multi-tasking gestures on the iPad. iOS 8.1.3 can be downloaded and installed over the air.