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printed April 27, 2015
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Best Buy Breaks With MCX, Will Accept Apple Pay

Today, 4:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 5:03 PM

Best Buy today announced plans to begin accepting Apple Pay later this fall. The move is notable because the company is essentially breaking ranks with MCX (Merchant Customer Exchange), which was looking to debut its own mobile payment service called CurrentC. MCX retailers include Target and Walmart, two of the largest in the US, as well as CVS and Rite-Aid. Earlier today, Apple won the support of Discover Cards, the third-largest payment network after Visa and MasterCard. Apple Pay has made significant progress in winning over support from varied retailers and financial institutions. Best Buy also said iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners can use Apple Pay to make payments within the Best Buy mobile app beginning today.


Microsoft Loses Patent Case to InterDigital

Today, 2:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The International Trade Commission today ruled Microsoft improperly used two InterDigital wireless patents without permission. The ruling judge said "it would not be against the public interest to ban the Microsoft [phones] from import into the United States." Patent-related complaints are often taken to the ITC, which has the power to enact such bans. This initial ruling, made by a single judge within the ITC, must be upheld by the full commission before any sort of penalty is enforced. InterDigital is a patent-holding firm and has filed similar suits against other phone makers, including ZTE and Samsung. Microsoft did not immediately comment on the decision.

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Facebook Brings Free Video Calls to Messenger App

Today, 1:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today said users of its Messenger application will soon be able to make free video calls to one another. The feature can be initiated with a single button and works over LTE 4G or WiFi. Video calls can be connected between Android and iOS devices with no problem. Facebook's Messenger app is already able to connect voice calls. The addition of video calls makes Messenger a more complete competitor with the likes of Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. Video calls will be available to the Android and iOS versions of Messenger in the days ahead. The feature is launching in select countries, including Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Laos, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, the U.K., the U.S., and Uruguay. Facebook said the feature will reach other regions and locales over the coming months.


Instagram Adds Filters and Emoji to Android and iOS Apps

Today, 12:34 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today updated its Android and iOS apps with several new filters and support for emoji hashtags. The new filters are called Lark, Reyes, and Juno and join five filters Instagram added in December. According to Instagram, Lark desaturates reds and enhances blues and greens to improve landscapes. Reyes goes for vintage style photos, and Juno adds green tinting that Instagram says improves photos of people. The photo-sharing social network also said its app now supports emoji hashtags for adding more means of self expression. Instagram said its Android and iOS apps should be available from the Play Store and iTunes App Store in the days ahead.


Wireless Companies Form Alliance to Pressure FCC

Today, 11:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A handful of wireless companies and public policy groups have formed an alliance meant to pressure the FCC as it drafts rules for the upcoming 600MHz reverse spectrum auction. The alliance is called SaveWirelessChoice.com. Some of the companies include Sprint, T-Mobile, and Dish Networks, and some of the groups include the Competitive Carrier Association, Public Knowledge, Rural Wireless Association, among numerous others. The alliance hopes the FCC will hold the auction in early 2016, rather than mid-2016; and it wants a larger block of spectrum (at least 50%) reserved for smaller carriers. The alliance web site urges consumers to "stop AT&T and Verizon Wireless from controlling your wireless future," which it claims will lead to bad service, higher prices, and less innovation. In the most recent spectrum auction most of the winnings went to AT&T, Dish Networks, and Verizon Wireless. Sprint and T-Mobile have argued for a long time that the two largest carriers have too much market power, necessitating the need for the FCC to provide more opportunities for smaller carriers. "Creating an adequate reserve of quality spectrum for companies who don't already own more than one-third of the low-band spectrum in any given market will go a long way toward leveling the playing field for a competitive market that will benefit consumers for decades to come," said the group.


Review: Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

Today, 10:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Alcatel is pitching its Idol 3 smartphone as the ideal device for people who like to live free of commitments. It's a near-premium handset that costs less than many mid-range handsets. Is Alcatel's Android phone worth your time? We answer this and more in our full report.

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Discover Jumps Aboard Apple Pay Wagon

Today, 7:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 7:58 AM

Discover today said cardholders will soon be able to add their Discover-backed cards to Apple Pay on the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Watch for making mobile payments. Discover operates a payment network much like those of MasterCard and Visa, which have supported Apple Pay from launch. Discover Network will enable eligible financial institutions to let their card holders use Apple Pay. Discover says customers of participating financial institutions can add their credit card or debit card to Apple Pay, and they'll still be eligible for all their normal perks, such as Cashback Bonus and Freeze It. Discover said it expects its banking customers to begin rolling out support for Apple Pay by fall.


Google Lets Android Owners Send More Instructions from Desktop Browsers

Yesterday, 9:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has expanded the number of tools Android smartphone owners can access from their desktop web browser. It recently made it possible to find a lost Android phone by asking Google to "find my phone" in Google Search. Now, users can use the same method to send directions to their phone, set alarms on their phone, and send notes to their phone. Users need only type "set an alarm" or "send a note" in the search box and follow the steps thereafter. A drop-down menu lets people pick their Android device, and the tools for adjusting alarms or creating notes are simple.


Nokia Issues Statement On Handset Plans

Yesterday, 9:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia today issued a statement reaffirming that it will not manufacture cell phones. "Recent news reports [claim Nokia] communicated an intention to manufacture consumer handsets out of an R&D facility in China. These reports are false, and include comments incorrectly attributed to a Nokia Networks executive. Nokia reiterates it currently has no plans to manufacture or sell consumer handsets." The statement follows a week of conjecture concerning the company's potential plans for cell phones moving forward. Re/Code reported that Nokia plans to design handsets and license those designs to outside manufacturers once its non-compete agreement with Microsoft expires at the end of the year. Nokia did not contest that report. However, Re/Code's report was later followed by others claiming Nokia was going to set up shop at a facility in China to build its own cell phones. It is those reports that Nokia says are false. Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft and, as part of the sale, cannot make or build cell phones. In particular, Nokia is not allowed to re-enter the handset business in any fashion until 2015, and isn't allowed to license its brand to manufacturers for the purposes of making handsets until the third quarter of 2016. Moreover, Nokia sold all its manufacturing facilities as part of the handset sale to Microsoft and can no longer build its own devices. The company is more focused on its networking business. Nokia recently announced plans to acquire Alcatel-Lucent, the French-American networking giant, for $16.6 billion. Nokia may sell its HERE Maps business so it can concentrate on building its telecommunications unit.


BlackBerry May Close Swedish Design Lab

Friday, 4:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry is considering whether or not to shutter its operations in Sweden. About 100 people work at the facility, which helped develop some BlackBerry smartphones such as the Z10. The company has initiated conversations with the employee unions at the facility in question and will make a final decision in the weeks ahead. BlackBerry has been on a course of aggressive cost-cutting as it seeks to trim operations that it sees as non-vital to its enterprise device management business. Earlier this week it announced plans to acquire a secure file management company called WatchDox.


Verizon Once Again Offering 10GB and 15GB Plans

Friday, 8:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 9:08 AM

Verizon Wireless has resumed offering two large data plans for shared lines at a promotional rate. The first costs $80 per month for 10 GB of data and the second costs $100 for 15 GB of data. Verizon first offered these plans in November 2014, but pulled them in February. "We have different offers throughout the year, and right now the $80/$100 plans are available," said a Verizon spokesperson. The plans will be available for a limited time, but Verizon didn't say for how long. The prices don't include device access fees for smartphones, tablets, and hotspots. By way of comparison, AT&T's 10 GB plan costs $100 and its 15 GB plan costs $130.


ARM Shows Off Cortex A72 Core

Friday, 7:51 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ARM has revealed the Cortex A72, its next-generation CPU core for high-end processors. The A72 builds on the foundation laid by the Cortex A57 core, ARM's current high-end processor. With the A72, ARM focused on improving speeds and power efficiency, while decreasing the die size. The core can be manufactured using 14 or 16 nanometer processes. ARM says the A72 can deliver a 20-60% increase in instructions-per-block when compared to the A57. Reduced latency in the core means clock speeds can reach 2.7 GHz, and the A72 is between 18-30% more power efficient than the A57. ARM doesn't actually make processors; instead, it licenses its core designs to companies such as Qualcomm. Qualcomm, in turn, put the cores in larger application processors like the octa-core Snapdragon 810. Qualcomm is itself developing a new CPU core design for the forthcoming Snapdragon 820 processor. Qualcomm hopes using its own core will help differentiate the 820 from competing chip designs from the likes of Samsung and Intel. ARM said it doesn't expect to see the A72 reach consumer devices until 2016.


Cricket Dials In Unlimited Calling to Canada

Friday, 7:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today upgraded its $50 and $60 monthly plans to include unlimited international calling and messaging to Canada. Customers won't have to take any steps to activate the feature, Cricket is doing so automatically for all new and existing subscribers. The Canada calling plan is being offered at no additional charge. Cricket added free calling and messaging to Mexico earlier this year. Cricket customers can now call practically any number in North America for free as long as they subscribe to the $50 or $60 plan. Those looking to call numbers outside of North America can tack on the Cricket International Extra option for $15 per month, which lets customers receive unlimited landline calling and messaging to 35 countries plus 1,000 mobile-to-mobile minutes to 29 countries. Last, the Cricket International Roaming Mexico add-on lets customers make and receive calls and send messages when traveling in Mexico for $10. Taxes and fees are included, and customers can qualify for a $5 monthly discount on all plans by adding auto-pay.


Twitter to Promote Tweets Via Twice-Daily Highlights

Friday, 7:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter recently introduced a feature called Highlights, which are push notifications calling attention to the day's best tweets. According to Twitter, it looks at what accounts users follow and which conversations are most popular among them, as well as topics and events trending in the user's area to create the highlighted tweets. The feature is opt-in and will deliver notifications twice per day. Tapping the notification opens the Twitter app and takes users directly to the Highlights page, where Tweets can be scanned by swiping left and right. When users reach the last highlighted tweet, the app will then take them to their home timeline. Twitter recently did away with the Discover and Activity tabs, and Highlights appears to have taken their place. Initially, the feature is only available in English to Android users.


Review: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge for Verizon Wireless

Thursday, 4:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung's curvy S6 Edge is a fantastic Android smartphone that deserves your attention. Verizon's model is solid, but has a few surprising weaknesses. Here is Phonescoop.com's full report.

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Google Keep Gains New Powers On Android Smartwatches

Thursday, 12:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today expanded the capabilities of its Keep note-taking application thanks to improved integration with Android Wear. Owners of Android Wear smartwatches can use voice prompts to open Keep, browse existing notes in Keep, or dictate new notes in Keep. Users can swipe up and down on the screen to see notes, tap to open notes, or tap the plus sign to create a new note. The Android Wear app supports recurring reminders, too. Google says the update to Keep on the Android Wear platform dovetails nicely with a recent update Google made to the smartphone version of the app. Keep on Android handsets supports labels and to-do lists to help users stay on top of their ideas and tasks. Google Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store.


Butterfly Wings May Help Reduce Reflections In Glass

Thursday, 10:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Scientists suggest the naturally-occurring coating found on the wings of the glasswing butterfly could eventually lead to practical applications such as glare-free smartphone displays. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology found that irregular nanostructures on the butterfly's wings cause them to reflect very little light. The key is the irregularity of the pillar-like nanostructures, which vary in height between 600 and 800 nanometers and vary in distances apart between 100 and 140 nanometers. The KIT researchers were able to recreate the phenomenon in mathematical experiments to prove the theory. "In contrast to other natural phenomena, where regularity is of top priority, the glasswing butterfly uses an apparent chaos to reach effects that are also fascinating for us humans," said one of the researchers. Applying such a coating to the glass of mobile phone displays, lenses, or other glass surfaces could dramatically cut down on the amount of glare or reflection. Moreover, prototype experiments show the coating may also be water repellent and self cleaning. A coating that reduces glare, repels water, and cleans itself could be the Holy Grail of advancements in display technology. The KIT researchers say real-world application tests are in the concept phase.


Turing Phone to Offer Secure Communications in Liquidmetal Body

Thursday, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Turing Robotic Industries today announced the Turing Phone, a handset that focuses on providing secure communications while wrapped in a futuristic design. Turing says the device is molded from Liquidmorphium, what it describes as "an amorphous alloy of zirconium, copper, aluminum, nickel, and silver that provides greater tensile strength than either titanium or steel." The materials protect the phone from screen breaks or other damage that might be caused by shocks. Turing claims Liquidmorphium can be produced with a near 100% yield and practically no waste, making it environmentally friendly. Other unique aspects of the design include a fingerprint sensor for user authentication on the side of the phone, and a magnetic charger that negates the need for ports. As far as communications go, the Turing Phone relies on decentralized authentication technology which lets it independently verify the identity of other Turing devices. Turing claims the end-to-end authentication "creates a protected communications network that is entirely insulated from cyber-threats and privacy intrusions." In other words, Turing phone owners can take solace in knowing their calls and messages are completely secure. The phone runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with Turing's user interface. The device features a 5.5-inch full HD display and it is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 3 GB of RAM and 64 or 128 GB of storage. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor and the front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. The device has a 3,000mAh battery and support a range of LTE networks around the world. The Turing Phone will launch in the U.S. and U.K. on August 10, with pre-orders starting July 9. The phone, sold unlocked, will cost $740 for 64 GB and $870 for 128 GB. Turing said carrier partnerships are still under development.

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