Walmart this week expanded the reach of its mobile payment service, Walmart Pay, to a total of 16 states. Walmart Pay was already available in Alabama. This week, the service went live in Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Walmart Pay works with Android and iOS smartphones. Rather than rely on NFC or MST for tap-and-go transactions, Walmart Pay involves the Walmart mobile app. Customers can add most any credit or debit card to the Walmart app for purchases. At checkout, users need to open the app and launch the camera. Using the camera, customers scan a code displayed at the register. This activates the transaction. The associate scans and bags the items and the final amount due is taken from the credit/debit card associated with the app. Customers will receive an electronic receipt that is saved in the app. Walmart said it expects to complete its rollout by the end of summer. Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay all allow users to tap their phones on retail payment terminals to make purchases. Walmart has resisted supporting these competitive mobile payment services in favor of its own.
Google plans to add live video streaming to its YouTube mobile apps. Google says live streaming will be incorporated into the application's core and won't require a separate app or download. A "capture" button in the corner will initiate live recording. Users will be able to select a thumbnail image and even chat while streaming. Google says videos that are streamed live will have all the features available to videos that are uploaded regularly, such as search, recommendations, and playlists. Videos captured live will be automatically saved to YouTube for safekeeping. Google is bringing live video streaming to a handful of video content creators first with plans to expand availability to more people over time. The feature is a response to competing live-streaming apps from Periscope and Facebook.
ZTE is looking to take the title of King Phablet with the Grand X Max 2 for Cricket Wireless. This enormous handset features a 6-inch screen, 3,400mAh battery, and Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Here is Phonescoop's full review of the ZTE Grand X Max 2.
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Instagram today said it will start grouping video recommendations into channels in a new "Picked for You" feature. The recommendations will appear under the Explore tab and will be put together based on topics and user interests. Instagram says video consumption on the service has surged, so it is creating even more categories under the Explore section to improve discovery. The Picked for You feature will reach U.S. users first, with other regions to follow over time.
Nextbit will bring the same thinking it used to create the Robin's dynamic storage functionality to the smartphone's battery in a future operating system update. "We can apply the same intelligence we've used for smart storage towards making your battery last significantly longer," said the company in a blog post. "We will launch a new version of Nextbit OS that gets to know your habits and optimizes functions at the system level to ensure you get the most screen time possible." Nextbit says its battery intelligence will work hand-in-hand with the existing power-saving tools in Android Marshmallow and the forthcoming features in Android N. The company didn't dive into specifics on how it will achieve battery gains, nor did to make any claims as to how much more battery life will be achieved through its technique. The operating system will be offered to members of the Nextibt Beta Program before it is released to all users in the fall. The Robin dynamically shifts photos, videos, and even apps from the phone to the cloud when needed to make room for new content.
T-Mobile today said its customers will be able to use an unlimited amount of high-speed mobile data across Europe this summer. Specifically, customers can enjoy the highest-possible speed, up to and including LTE 4G, throughout the European Union between July 1 and August 31. T-Mobile customers can already use unlimited 2G data in more than 140 countries. The high-speed summer roaming includes unlimited free texting and $0.20-per-minute voice calls, but not tethering. T-Mobile may terminate or restrict service for misuse or excessive roaming. T-Mobile is also giving every person who flies in the U.S. this weekend (including AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon customers) a free hour of Gogo in-flight WiFi on their smartphone. The free WiFi offer is available from Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26 on all domestic flights that offer Gogo WiFi. Last, T-Mobile added Belize to its list of Simple Global countries, which means T-Mobile customers can use 2G data and send messages for free, and make low-cost calls when traveling to Belize. Free roaming in Belize begins July 1.
Instagram said that it plans to add a translation button to its service over the coming month so users can read the profile bios, feed stories, and comments written in other languages. Tapping the button will automatically translate the content to the user's native language. Instagram didn't specify if the functionality will reach its web site, mobile apps, or both. "The Instagram community has grown faster and become more global than we ever imagined. And we're excited that you'll soon be able to understand the full story of a moment, no matter what language you speak," said the company in a blog post. The translation feature will be made available to most users. Instagram is owned by Facebook. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
One2Touch has a new keyboard case for Android phones called SlimType that uses NFC technology in a unique way to connect to a phone. Most keyboard cases have a battery or physical connector that adds bulk. The SlimType, however, draws power from the phone using NFC, and also uses NFC to communicate with the phone, eliminating the need for a Bluetooth radio. The standard SlimType model is no thicker than a typical leather flip case. The current model is optimized for the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7, but can work with some other Android phones with NFC. A larger model adds a rigid kickstand. An even larger non-case model provides a full-size keyboard. The standard model is available now from Amazon for $40. Read on for our hands-on impressions and more about the clever technology behind it.
AT&T today began distributing the Android 6.0 Marshmallow system update to the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Galaxy Note 5. The update includes the standard list of Marshmallow features, such as Now On Tap, Doze, and improved permissions. It also adds support for AT&T Video Calling. The update resolves bugs and security issues and smoothes out performance, as well. AT&T says the update is being pushed out over the air and should be downloaded via WiFi. It may take a few days to reach all users.
Google revised its Nexus support page and provided more information on how long Nexus-branded phones will receive future software updates. Google says Nexus devices will get Android version updates (Lollipop, Marshmallow, etc.) for at least two years from when the device became available on the Google Store. The Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X, for example, will receive Android system updates at least through September 2017, while the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 will receive updates through October 2016. Security patches will be pushed out for three years from the original availability date or for 18 months after the device is removed from the Google Play Store (whichever is longer). Major Android update arrive generally once per year, while security patches are pushed through one per month. Android version N is expected to arrive later this summer.
Jim Wicks, Motorola's head of design, plans to leave the company for a faculty position at Northwestern University, according to Crain's Chicago Business. Wick has led Motorola's design team for a dozen years, and has been with the company for more than 15. He's responsible for handsets such as the RAZR and Droid. "We greatly appreciate Jim's contributions in leading a consumer experience design team that delivered standout, iconic, and award-winning industrial design and user experiences for Moto's mobile and wearable products," said Lenovo in a statement provided to Crain's. Lenovo owns Motorola. The company said Ruben Caetano will take Wicks' place in Lenovo's Chicago office. Wicks' departure follows closely that of former Motorola CEO Rick Osterloh, who defected to Google earlier this year.
Microsoft today updated its Microsoft Wallet app and gave Lumia smartphone owners the ability to make mobile payments at supporting retailers. Windows Mobile has long included a Wallet app, but until today it was reserved for loyalty cards and other retail programs. Now, people can add their credit or debit card to Microsoft Wallet and use the app for tap-and-go purchases. The app is available to the Lumia 950, 950 XL, and 650, and requires Windows Insider build 14360 or higher. The Windows Insider program is free to join and distributes pre-release versions of Windows 10 Mobile that are still in development. Microsoft says the tap-to-pay feature will be expanded to all users running stock builds of Windows 10 Mobile later this summer. Both MasterCard and Visa support Microsoft Wallet, along with financial institutions including Bank of America, Chase Manhattan, People's United Bank, Fifth Third Bank, US Bank, and others. Microsoft says mobile payments should work at any retail terminal that accepts contactless payments. Microsoft Wallet is free to download from the Windows Store.
Verizon Wireless updated its go90 mobile video app this week, making it possible to push content from the iPhone to TVs via Apple TV and Chromecast. Verizon says the app has a new design with simplified navigation, and now more visibly curates video content based on category, such as action, comedy, drama, or reality. go90 for iOS is more social than ever, allowing iPhone owners to share clips or full episodes via email, text, Facebook, and Twitter. Users willing to register the app will be able to save favorite shows and actors, as well as leave comments on episodes and clips. Verizon Wireless' go90 app is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Verizon hasn't said if a similar update is on deck for the Android version of go90. The service is free to most smartphone users, regardless of carrier.
Vine today announced a significant shakeup to its core product that it hopes will entice more people to use the video-looping app. Vine is now allowing people to capture and attach video up to 140 seconds, a huge increase from the 6-second limit that's been a core part of the service since it launched. Vine says people will still see 6-second looping videos, but some will be tagged with a "watch more" button. Video creators can make and attach longer videos to their Vines, in effect using the 6-second loop as a trailer for their longer video. The longer videos won't be limited to square shapes. Vine says the videos can be shot full screen in landscape or portrait orientations. Vine is calling all of these changes an experiment. Only some of Vine's most popular creators will be able to capture and post longer videos to start, though everyone will be able to view them. Vine hopes to expand the new video capturing feature to more creators over time. Moreover, Vine is prepared to share revenue with its popular video creators. Some of these changes will be reflected on Twitter, too. Twitter users will be able to attach videos up to 140 seconds to their Tweets (up from 30 seconds), and Twitter is adding a new Watch Mode to its mobile app that will collect and curate videos for users to watch. The changes to Vine and Twitter are rolling out over the next few days.
Ultimate Ears' high-end Bluetooth speakers now allow Android and iPhone owners to use voice prompts to control their music. Ultimate Ears is rolling out a firmware update for the UE Boom 2 and UE Megaboom that adds Google Now and Siri support. The update must be installed via the Ultimate Ears mobile app. Once added, smartphone users can ask Google Now or Siri to play their favorite songs, albums, or playlists. According to Ultimate Ears, its speakers are simply acting as a microphone. Voice commands are based on those already supported by Google Now or Siri, which means people can address Google Now and Siri via the UE Boom 2 and Megaboom using any language those services support. Similarly, people can interact with any music apps Google Now and Siri support, such as Google Play Music, Spotify, iTunes, and Apple Music. A quick press of the Bluetooth button on the speaker itself puts the speaker in listening mode, allowing people to use voice commands to change songs. Ultimate Ears says its mobile app does not need to be running on the associated phone in order to use the feature. The Ultimate Ears mobile app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. The UE Boom 2 costs $180 and the UE Megaboom costs $250.
Google has made it easier for people to setup and use two-step verification to protect their accounts. Google already allowed users to tap a Security Key or enter a verification code sent to their phone. Now, users can also approve a new security prompt that pops up on the screen. According to Google, users can select any of these three methods for two-step verification via their Google account settings online. Android users will need the latest version of Google Play Services on their device, and iOS users will need the Google Search app. As the name implies, two-step verification adds a second layer of security to account logins.
Nextbit today said it has dropped the price of the Robin smartphone to $299 on its web site. The phone normally sells for $399, but has been available to U.S. buyers for $299 from Amazon.com. The price change on Nextbit.com means anyone — including those who live overseas — can buy the Robin at the reduced $299 price point. Shipping is included for free.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to push the nation's 5G agenda forward this week by defining the spectrum that the wireless networks of the future will use. "I am circulating to my colleagues proposed new rules that will identify and open up vast amounts of spectrum for 5G applications," said Wheeler. "We call it the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, and we will vote on it July 14th." Current networks already make decent use of low-band and mid-band spectrum, but have yet to take advantage of high-band spectrum. "High-band spectrum will be the focus of our decision next month. These bands offer huge swaths of spectrum for super-fast data rates with low latency, and are now becoming unlocked because of technological advances in computing and antennas." The FCC last year proposed using the 28GHz, 37GHz, 39GHz, and 64-71GHz bands for worldwide 5G and has been studying them since. Wheeler believes identifying the spectrum for 5G — even though 5G technology itself hasn't been fully defined — is an important step for the future. Wheeler will publish his proposal June 23.