Google today made the final preview of Android Wear 2.0 available to developers. Google is expected to release the new wearable platform to the public — alongside new smartwatches — at some point in early February. The company hopes developers will use this final preview to tidy up their apps ahead of the platform's debut. Apps compiled using this preview build will be considered ready for Android Wear 2.0 at launch. The primary addition to this build of Android Wear 2.0 is support for iOS, meaning iPhone owners will be able to use Android Wear smartwatches with their iPhone. "Android Wear apps running on watches paired with iOS devices will be able to perform phone hand-off flows such as OAuth and RemoteIntent for launching a web page on a paired iOS device," explained Google in a blog post. Other last-minute tweaks include new navigation drawer behaviors and several bug fixes. Google has not said exactly when the delayed wearable operating system will be announced.
Apple today released a slew of new beta builds for its various operating systems. iOS 10.3 beta 1 for the iPhone and iPad adds one significant new feature called Find My AirPods. With it, people can locate their AirPod headphones by forcing the ear buds to emit a loud, high-pitched sound. Apple didn't call out any other new features within iOS 10.3 other than a few minor tools for developers. Apple also released first beta builds of macOS Sierra 10.12.4, tvOS 10.2, and Xcode 8.3. These builds are for developers and not public testers. Apple typically makes public betas available a day or two after releasing the developer builds.
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Google today expanded the number of third-party smart home apps that can be controlled by its Google Home product. Owners of Google Home can now control Belkin Wemo and Honeywell smart home products via Google Home. Users will need to add each smart home product to Home via the smartphone app manual. Once added, people can utter requests such as, "Ok Google, turn the temperature up downstairs" to adjust the thermostat. Home already works with Nest, Philips Hue, and Samsung SmartThings. Google says it plans to bring these Google Home control features to the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones soon. The Pixel and Home both rely on Google Assistant for their voice-activated features.
Instagram today said the live stories video feature it announced in November should begin reaching users around the globe over the next week. Instagram fans in the U.S. have had access to live stories since December. Live video lets users broadcast live video to their followers through the Stories section of the app. Followers may opt to receive notifications when people share live video, and live video is visibly earmarked as such. People may leave comments throughout the video's duration, but live video is not stored or saved in users' feeds. Live video is also visible in the Explore tab. Instagram is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
The U.S. International Trade Commission today said it will investigate claims made by Nokia that Apple's smartphones and tablets violate its patented technology. Nokia filed its lawsuit with the ITC in December, accusing Apple of importing and selling "mobile phones, tablet computers, and components thereof" that infringe Nokia-held patents. Nokia is seeking an exclusion order and a cease and desist order. An administrative law judge will make a preliminary decision, followed by binding decision from the full ITC panel. The matter at hand pertains to ongoing, failed patent licensing negotiations between the two companies. Technology companies often use lawsuits to force business partners to agree to certain terms. Following Nokia's action against Apple in December, Apple filed a retaliatory lawsuit accusing Nokia of antitrust behavior. The government hasn't yet officially responded to Apple's legal filings.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai today said President Donald Trump has selected him to serve as the FCC's 34th Chairman. "I am deeply grateful to the President of the United States," said Pai in a statement posted to his Twitter account. "I look forward to working with the new Administration, my colleagues at the Commission, members of Congress, and the American public to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans." Pai served as one of two Republican Commissioners under former Chairman Tom Wheeler. With Trump, a Republican, holding the presidency, the balance of power will shift in the FCC from three Democrats and two Republicans to two Democrats and three Republicans with Pai at the helm. Pai was a vocal opponent of many of Wheeler's policies, including net neutrality. Pai has promised to undo much of the work Wheeler did to put today's net neutrality regulations in place. Remaining Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Mignon Clyburn offered their congratulations. Replacements for former Chairman Tom Wheeler and outgoing Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel have yet to be named.
Apple today made available the public build of iOS 10.2.1 to the iPhone and iPad. According to Apple, iOS 10.2.1 fixes bugs and improves the security of its smartphones and tablets. Apple recommends all users install the update. Apple also released watchOS 3.1.3, tvOS 10.1.1, and macOS Sierra 10.12.3. These releases all resolve small problems and improve performance.
Google today said has begun real-world testing of Android Instant Apps. Google first announced Instant Apps at its I/O developer conference in May 2016. Instant Apps can run within search results even if the app is not actually installed on the phone. Google is making a small number of Instant Apps available to Android users today starting with BuzzFeed, Wish, Periscope, and Viki. Google plans to collect feedback through this initial selection of apps and eventually expand test apps to more over time. Google further suggested developers ensure their Android apps can take advantage of Instant Apps functionality. Google expects the full Instant Apps SDK to reach developers in the coming months. The full launch of Instant Apps is planned for later this year.
AT&T today made it less expensive and less confusing to use your AT&T phone overseas. The company introduced the AT&T International Day Pass, which provides travelers with unlimited talk and text in over 100 countries. Moreover, the International Day Pass doesn't charge extra for data; travelers will have access to their domestic data plan when overseas. AT&T will no longer charge by the minute, message, or megabyte. The International Day Pass costs $10 and unlocks access to roaming for a 24-hour period. AT&T says most popular destinations across Europe, Asia, and Central/South America are included. Under AT&T's old Passport-branded plans, travelers were required to buy access in large chunks that still required per-minute voice fees and placed limits on data. AT&T's new International Day Pass, which now closely mirrors Verizon's roaming plan, will be available starting Friday, Jan. 26.
Google today introduced a wholly new version of Google Voice for Android, iOS, and the web. The calling, voicemail, and messaging platform has been overhauled from the ground up with a new design, new features, and a fresh commitment from Google to keep the service updated. Google Voice now includes separate tabs to help people manage text messages, calls, and voicemails. Conversations with individual contacts are threaded to improve ease-of-use. Google Voice adds support for group messaging and photo MMS, features long absent from the previous version of Google Voice. These go a long way toward allowing the service to act as a primary messaging application. Google says it is working with mobile network operators to add support for RCS to the service down the road. People who prefer to use Google Hangouts for their messaging services will need to choose either Hangouts or Voice, as only one can be used at a time; moreover, Voice will not migrate conversation threads from Hangouts into Voice. Existing features, such as voicemail transcription, remain intact, and Voice gains new spam filtering tools to keep pesky messages out of your inbox. Google says it is rolling out the new Google Voice in stages. Android devices will receive it first, with iOS to follow. Google expects all users to have access to the new Google Voice within a few weeks.
T-Mobile said its T-Mobile One plan now includes all monthly taxes, surcharges, and fees. The company still charges those fees, but they are rolled into the advertised price of the plan in order to simplify what customers see on their bills each month. For example, a family of four that signs up today will pay $40 per line, or $160 total, with no additional fees visible on their monthly bill. Those fees are now included in the total price. The news was first announced earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Trade Show. T-Mobile has been promoting it heavily via television commercials the last few weeks. In other T-Mobile news, the company's prepaid brand, MetroPCS, announced a free phone promotion. Starting today, customers who upgrade their phone, add a line, or get a new phone number can snag one of 15 different phones for free. Some of the options include the LG Aristo, Samsung Galaxy On5, ZTE Avid Trio, and Alcatel Fierce XL. Customers who port a number to MetroPCS will be able to pick a more expensive free handset, such as the HTC Desire 530, ZTE ZMax Pro, or LG K10. Last, MetroPCS is offering free data to those who sign up for its $50 plan. Typically, the $50 plan includes 5 GB of data. For a limited time, people who choose that plan will have access to 8 GB of data each month for at least a year. Additional 8 GB lines added to the same account will cost $30 per month.
Sprint today said it has acquired a 33% stake in Tidal, a music and entertainment platform. Sprint plans to make Tidal's service available to its 45 million retail customers. Tidal is known for music and video exclusives from select artists. Sprint says Jay Z and Tidal's other artist-owners will continue to operate the business, though Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure will join Tidal's board of directors. "Sprint shares our view of revolutionizing the creative industry to allow artists to connect directly with their fans and reach their fullest, shared potential," said Jay Z. "Marcelo understood our goal right away and together we are excited to bring Sprint's 45 million customers an unmatched entertainment experience." Tidal was created with fans in mind and claims to offer a better experience than competing music products. Much of the platform and content is created directly by the artists involved. Tidal is already available in 52 countries and has a catalog of more than 42 million songs and 140,000 videos. Sprint said more details about its Tidal offering will be unveiled soon.
Xiaomi executive Hugo Barra has left his job at the China-based company in order to return Silicon Valley. Xiaomi poached Barra from Google back in 2013, when he worked on the Android team. For Xiaomi, Barra helped the company expand its footprint from China to India, Singapore, and more than a dozen other markets along the Pacific rim. Barra said his time at Xiaomi, while challenging and rewarding, took a toll on his health. "Xiaomi is in a very good place on its global expansion path, and if there was ever going to be a good time for me to come back home, that time is now — when I can confidently say [Xiaomi's] global business is no longer just an in-house startup," wrote Barra in a Facebook post. Barra plans to leave the company after the Chinese New Year in February. He will take some time off before announcing what he plans to do next.
Samsung mobile chief Koh Dong-jin said the company does not plan to announce its 2017 flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S8, at next month's Mobile World Congress trade show. Samsung has in years past used the international event to show off new S-branded handsets, including the S6 in 2015 and S7 in 2016. Koh did not say when the Galaxy S8 will be announced, though it is widely expected to go on sale by April. Koh made the comments regarding the S8 to Reuters after the company announced the results of its probe into the Galaxy Note7 battery fire issue. Samsung blamed the fires on two separate battery defects. The company accepted responsibility for the issue and put in place an eight-step quality assurance program for assuring future batteries and smartphones are safe. "The lessons of this incident are deeply reflected in our culture and process," said Koh during the briefing. "Samsung Electronics will be working hard to regain consumer trust."
Samsung today said problems created during the manufacture of the Galaxy Note7's battery caused the phone to sometimes overheat and burst into flame. The company says two separate battery defects are at fault, but maintains nothing was wrong with the phone itself. In the first battery, a design flaw led the external casing to be too small to accommodate the internal components. The tight fit caused some electrodes to bend and others to break. This led the battery to short-circuit, overheat, and in some cases ignite. In the second battery, which was made by a third-party supplier, a welding defect introduced during manufacturing led to similar short-circuiting, overheating, and ignition problems. Samsung said this third-party battery was rushed to market, which may have played a role in creating the defect. Samsung tasked some 700 engineers to test some 200,000 Note7 smartphones for problems. The company checked various components, such as the USB port, wireless charging components, iris scanner, processor and radio, and other parts to ensure they didn't play a role in the phone's thermal problems. Samsung says three independent, external investigating firms reached the same conclusions. In sum, Samsung says the battery is to blame for the Galaxy Note7's fire problems and the resulting recall of the handset. The company has introduced new quality checks in its manufacturing processes — and demanded the same checks from its parts suppliers — to ensure problems like this do not arise again.
Apple has filed a lawsuit against partner Qualcomm, alleging the mobile chipmaker used its monopoly power to push for "onerous, unreasonable and costly" licensing terms. Moreover, Apple says Qualcomm prevented it from seeking chips from other suppliers between 2011 and 2016. Apple uses Qualcomm's baseband chips in the iPhone and iPad. Apple is seeking $1 billion in rebate payments that it says Qualcomm has withheld since Apple met with Korea's fair trade regulatory body last year. Apple's lawsuit arrives just days after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued Qualcomm over what it called aggressive and unfair business practices. The government, in particular, said Qualcomm had taken advantage of Apple and others with its licensing terms. Qualcomm denied the allegations. "While we are still in the process of reviewing the complaint in detail, it is quite clear that Apple's claims are baseless. Apple has intentionally mischaracterized our agreements and negotiations, as well as the enormity and value of the technology we have invented, contributed and shared with all mobile device makers through our licensing program," said Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel, Qualcomm. In addition to the FTC complaint, Qualcomm was recently sued by the Korean government over similar claims.
AT&T confirmed to Phonescoop that it has raised the cost of activating a new line of service and upgrading an existing line from $20 to $25. The increase is effective today, according to AT&T. The increase was first reported by Droid-Life. AT&T's move follows closely a similar increase made by Verizon, which bumped activation fees from $20 to $30. Activation fees are largely seen as a way for carriers to pad profits.
The Fabriq is a Bluetooth speaker that works with Amazon's Alexa voice-powered assistant. The Fabriq is not as powerful as a full-fledged Amazon Echo, but it's a heck of a lot more portable. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review.