Google recently rolled out an update to the Google Play Store and added several useful features. Chief among the new powers is the ability to require a password for each and every purchase, including those made within applications. Previously, the app could only be set to require the password after a 30-minute window expired. This new setting can help prevent unauthorized purchases. (Google was recently sued by a mother who's child rang up $65 in in-app purchases.) The improved Play Store also makes it easier to reach the settings and help menus; renamed the "Auto-Add Widget" function to "Add Icon to Home Screen"; and made it possible to update the Play Store app itself. The newest version of the Google Play Store is 4.5.10. Google is pushing the improved software out to devices now.
Google recently indicated that devices running Android 4.3 and older will not be allowed to make tap-and-go payments via Google Wallet. The change goes into effect April 14. Moving forward, Android devices will need to run Android 4.4 KitKat and up to make NFC-based mobile payments. Additionally, Google said mobile payments will no longer be possible from the Samsung Galaxy Note III, HTC Evo 4G LTE, and the Google Nexus 7 (2012). Google did not provide a reason for making the change.
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The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that HTC, Huawei, and ZTE did not infringe on camera-related patents owned by FlashPoint. The ruling was a review of an initial decision made by an administrative law judge last year. The full panel changed the initial ruling (which had found HTC guilty), exonerated all three companies, and dismissed the case. Companies often use the ITC to try patent cases as the agency has the power to ban sales of products found guilty of violating intellectual property.
Sprint today relaunched its own-branded prepaid service, which used to run under the name Sprint As You Go, but is now called Sprint Prepaid. The initial list of devices being offered by Sprint Prepaid includes the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini (Spark compatible), Samsung Galaxy S3 (LTE compatible), Motorola Moto G (3G only), and the Apple iPhone 4S (refurbished). According to Sprint, more smartphones will be available soon, and feature phones will launch on Sprint Prepaid next month. Smartphone plans start at $45 per month, which includes unlimited voice minutes and messaging, but only Wi-Fi data. Spending $60 per month gains users unlimited cellular data (speeds throttled after 2.5GB) in addition to unlimited voice/messaging. Sprint Prepaid does not require credit checks or contracts, but it still eligible for the Sprint Buyback program for turning in or recycling old phones for a discount on new devices. Sprint Prepaid is available beginning today. Sprint is still offering its Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA prepaid brands.
Nokia today updated its Refocus camera application and expanded its compatibility to include all Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone 8. Previously, Refocus was limited to only Lumia devices tagged with the "PureView" name. Refocus allows users to adjust the point of focus after the image is taken. Nokia Refocus is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
With its acquisition of Leap Wireless now closed, AT&T was quick to provide some guidance to both Cricket Wireless and Aio Wireless customers on how the transition will unfold. To start, Cricket Wireless customers don't need to do anything right now. They can continue to use their existing device, number, and rate plan. AT&T will integrate Cricket's operations and network into its own. Cricket customers will be able to select a new device and plan once Cricket's back end is added to AT&T's. These new Cricket devices will run on AT&T's LTE 4G network, however, and not Cricket's existing CDMA network. AT&T said this integration will take several weeks to complete before the new devices and plans will be available. Customers of AT&T's existing prepaid brand, Aio Wireless, will notice only some minor changes. AT&T said Aio customers will be able to use the same devices and plans they've been using, but the Aio Wireless brand will be folded in favor of the Cricket brand. In a prepared statement, AT&T said, "The new Cricket is taking the very best from each brand and focusing on providing customers with simple, affordable no-annual-contract wireless that's easy every step of the way." More information will become available in the weeks ahead.
AT&T today announced that it has closed its proposed acquisition of Leap Wireless. The transaction was just approved by the Federal Communications Commission this afternoon, though AT&T and Leap's boards had already approved the deal months ago. According to AT&T, Cricket will be integrated with AT&T's existing operations over the coming weeks to create "the new Cricket." AT&T is promising to shake up the no-contract market with low-cost plans, strong devices, and an expanded network. The new Cricket will take advantage of AT&T's LTE 4G network rather than Cricket's CDMA network. AT&T expects Cricket's 4.6 million customers to fully migrate to its devices and network within 18 months. In addition to acquiring Cricket's customers, AT&T landed PCS and AWS spectrum licenses that it calls "largely complementary" to its existing holdings. Some of the Cricket spectrum covers approximately 41 million people and is completely unused. AT&T will begin using this spectrum for LTE as soon as possible to provide additional capacity to its 4G network. AT&T said the deal's closing will impact its first-quarter financials. It will detail how much when it reports first-quarter earnings in April.
Straight Talk, an MVNO that runs a bring-your-own-device service, is now offering nano SIM cards. Nano SIMs are the smallest SIM cards available, and fit devices such as the iPhone 5/5s/5c, Moto X, and select Droids. The nano SIM cards cost $6.99. Customers can buy the SIM cards directly from Straight Talk and use them in unlocked GSM handsets. Service plans for smartphones start at $45 per month and include unlimited voice minutes and messaging, and 2.5GB of high-speed data. Straight Talk's service runs on the networks of both AT&T and T-Mobile around the U.S.
The Federal Communications Commission today approved AT&T's proposed purchase of Leap Wireless and its assets, including Cricket Wireless. The acquisition includes 4.6 million customers, as well as spectrum, network equipment, and other assets, all of which will be transferred from Leap to AT&T. However, based on the FCC's analysis of the proposal, AT&T has to agree to a handful of conditions. First, AT&T has to divest some spectrum in select markets in southern Texas. Second, AT&T has to deploy LTE on Leap's unused spectrum within three to 12 months after the deal closes. Third, AT&T has to deploy LTE in six Texas markets within 18 months. Fourth, AT&T has to offer certain low-cost rate plans. Fifth, AT&T has to offer a device trade-in program for both smartphones and feature phones. Further, AT&T has to maintain Cricket's current CDMA-based roaming agreements for as long as it continues to operate the CDMA network. Last, AT&T has to divest ownership that Leap has in a competitive wireless telecommunications provider (if Leap doesn't divest them before the deal closes). As long as AT&T does all these things, the FCC believes the proposal will have minimal impact on the competitive nature of the market and will be a net benefit to customers who will eventually gain access to AT&T's LTE 4G network. Neither AT&T nor Cricket has said exactly when they expect the deal to close.
Republic Wireless today announced the availability of the Motorola Moto G. The 8GB version costs $149 and the 16GB version costs $179. Both are sold contract-free, though customers can choose from several different financing options if they so wish. Republic Wireless, which is a Sprint MVNO, uses a combination of cellular data and Wi-Fi to pass VoIP-based calls through the internet rather than through traditional voice networks. It offers several plans. The first includes unlimited talk, text, and data on Wi-Fi only for $5 per month. The second includes unlimited talk and text on Wi-Fi and cellular, and unlimited data on Wi-Fi for $10 per month. The third includes unlimited talk, text and data on Wi-Fi, plus 3G cellular for $25 per month. The G has a 4.5-inch 720p HD screen, 5-megapixel camera, and 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor. It runs a stock version of Android 4.4 KitKat. The Moto G will be available beginning in April.
Google today rearranged what it charges for its Google Drive cloud storage service. Beginning immediately, monthly storage plans cost $1.99 for 100GB, $9.99 for 1TB, and $99.99 for 10TB. Google still offers the base 15GB of storage space for free. Google Drive works across Drive, Gmail, and Google+ Photos. Google said that customers who already pay for storage will be moved to a better plan at no additional cost. Google Drive can be accessed online from Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, as well as PCs.
T-Mobile today said it has taken legal action against Verizon Wireless for what it claims are misleading advertisements. Verizon has run a series of TV commercials that pit the nation's four largest network footprints directly against one another via coverage maps. According to T-Mobile, Verizon is minimizing T-Mobile's actual coverage. "Verizon's ink blots massively understate our coverage and don't begin to represent the actual customer experience on T-Mobile's network," said T-Mobile CEO John Legere. "So we're setting the record straight - both by demanding an end to the misinformation, and by going straight to the people with the truth." T-Mobile filed a cease and desist demanding that Verizon halt the network map advertising campaign. It accuses Verizon of "cherry-picking a single network technology to depict in its ads rather than accurately reflecting the many technologies widely in use today." T-Mobile is launching a new ad campaign of its own in order to combat Verizon's ads.
T-Mobile today revealed more details about the growth of its LTE network. According to T-Mobile, its LTE now covers 210 million people in 273 metro areas nationwide, with its HSPA+ network covering 230 million. T-Mobile said its LTE network will reach 230 million people by mid-year and 250 million by year's end. Right now, T-Mobile is deploying LTE on its AWS spectrum assets. The company today said that it will begin upgrading the remainder of its 2G/EDGE network with LTE 4G. T-Mobile expects about half of its 2G/EDGE network will be converted to LTE by the end of the year, with the rest following by mid-2015. Last, the company said it plans to begin deploying LTE in the 700MHz A Block spectrum as soon as the transaction with Verizon Wireless is complete. Verizon agreed to sell T-Mobile a wide swath of 700MHz late last year. T-Mobile didn't say when the transaction will close. T-Mobile claims to cover 96% of Americans with its network, be it EDGE, HSPA+, or LTE. Once these network upgrades are completed in 2015, T-Mobile will offer LTE in the 700MHz, 1700MHz, and 1900MHz bands.
The European Parliament today approved legislation that will require all mobile device makers to use a single, interoperable charger that works with any smartphone or tablet. Europe already requires that all mobile phones use the same charge port (microUSB), and today's legislation expands that to tablets, as well. Individual countries in the European Union have two years to adopt the EU legislation internally, and then manufacturers will have another year after that to comply. Toine Manders, with ALDE Group, said, "This legislation will bring benefits to consumers and will reduce waste." Those who introduced the legislation believe it will save European consumers 300 million Euros annually, as well as cut down the amount of electronic and paper waste. The rules also help to ensure that mobile devices and their chargers don't interfere with one another, while also maintaining Europe's safety requirements. Many manufacturers have already adopted microUSB as the standard for charging their devices, but some, such as Apple, use their own, proprietary ports and cables. In order to comply with European law, Apple now supplies an adapter with iPhones. It's unclear how it will comply with the new laws.
Google updated both the Android and iOS versions of its Google Wallet app today with one shared new feature. Google Wallet will now provide shipping and package tracking for items purchased using Google Wallet. This feature is already available through Google Now, but has percolated down to the mobile Wallet app. The updates also includes minor bug fixes and performance tweaks. Google Wallet is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group today said it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (EHIMA) that will eventually lead to a new profile to connect mobile devices to hearing aids. The groups will use low-power Bluetooth to create a link between devices such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, and TVs with hearing aids. The groups believe using Bluetooth Smart technology can benefit the population of hearing aid users, and allow them to take further advantage of today's mobile technology offerings. The groups will start with a hearing aid profile that allows streaming of audio sources at mono speech or stereo music quality to hearing aids, with other profiles and uses to follow. Working groups are forming now, and the Bluetooth SIG and EHIMA encourage industry players to participate.
Yahoo announced that beginning today it will include information from Yelp when users search for information regarding U.S. businesses. Results will include details such as user reviews, general business information, and star ratings from Yelp. The results will be available to searches performed on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. Further, search results will include high-quality photos from Yahoo's partners to enhance the experience.
Apple recently cut the trial period during which consumers can return an iPhone with no financial penalty. Apple used to offer a generous 30 days, but cut that down to 14 days effective today. The 14-day window mirrors that offered by wireless network operators to sample new devices and service before they are locked in.