Apple today released iOS version 8.1. The system update, for iPhones and iPads, activates Apple Pay and fixes a number of bugs. Apply Pay is Apple's mobile payment system. It makes use of the NFC radio and Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to enable tap-and-go payments at participating retailers. iPads can use Apple Pay to make in-app purchases. iOS 8.1 also provides access to iCloud Photo Library beta, and adds support for SMS messaging on the iPad and Mac computers. iOS 8.1 is free to download over the air.
Sprint recently disclosed another round of job cuts, this time impacting its Kansas City headquarters. The company said it reduced its headcount by 452 people, mostly in the IT and administration aspect of the company. The cuts are in addition to workforce reductions the company put in place earlier this year. Sprint's headcount is now fewer than 33,000. It ended 2013 with 38,000 employees. Job cuts impacting the company's Kansas City operations number more than 900 as Sprint seeks to reduce costs and increase efficiency. The company said more cuts are on the way, but most of them should be acted upon by the end of the month. Sprint appointed a new CEO, Marcelo Claure, in August. Claure has stepped up efforts to streamline the company's operations.
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RadioShack today said its has increased the footprint of its Fix It Here service to 26 stores in and around Chicago. Consumers with broken or damaged smartphones and tablets can take their device to RadioShack, where select problems can be repaired. RadioShack's on-site technicians are trained to repair cracked screens, water damage, broken charging ports, broken buttons, camera issues, audio issues, and batteries. According to RadioShack, repairs start at $40 and most take under two hours to complete. RadioShack said if phones cannot be repaired, it will suggest alternatives from its line of hardware. Fix It Here is available at 500 RadioShack locations, and the company is on target to reach 750 locations by the end of the year. RadioShack recently scored a huge influx of capital to prevent the company from going under.
AT&T today announced the pending launch of the Galaxy Mega 2, a new version of Samsung's low-cost phablet. The Mega 2 features a 6-inch HD screen with a reduced bezel to help keep the footprint as small as possible. The phone adopts the design language of Samsung's Note series, to a certain degree, as well as the Note's split-screen multitasking, but the Mega 2 doesn't include a stylus. The phone has an 8-megapixel main camera with flash, a user-facing camera, Samsung's Private Mode, and Samsung's battery management software. The device has a quad-core processor and a 2,880mAh battery. The Mega 2 runs Android with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface. The Galaxy Mega 2 costs $475 at full retail, or can be purchased for $19.80 per month with AT&T Next 18, $23.75 per month with Next 12, or $150 with a new two-year contract. AT&T is still offering a $100 bill credit when customers activate a new or existing line with its AT&T Next plans. The device reaches stores October 24.
Microsoft today issued an update to its Skype app for Windows Phone 8 and 8.1. The app has been refreshed with several new features, the foremost of which is the ability to create drawings within messages. Users can create their own pictures with the drawing tool, or annotate existing images and Bing Maps. The update makes it possible for users to select between their Microsoft account and their Skype account more easily. The app also improves resume times and adds support for HD screens. Skype for Windows Phone is free to download from the Windows Store.
Nokia today released an update to its Creative Studio photo editing app and added several features. First and foremost, Nokia returned Color Pop back to Creative Studio. Color Pop allows Lumia owners to turn their photos black and white with only select colors highlighted. The app also adds new support for PNG files and screenshots, and locks photos rotated 90 degrees to the new orientation. Creative Studio 6.3, which is an extensive on-device photo editor, is free for Lumia devices to download from the Windows Phone Store.
Spotify today announced family plans, a cheaper way to let family members enjoy the music streaming service on their mobile devices. The Spotify Family Plan allows each member of a family -- up to five people -- to create their own account with their own playlists, favorites, and devices. Each account has access to ad-free and offline music playback and other Spotify Premium features. The main account still costs $10 per month, but each additional account costs only $5 to add. So a family with five accounts would cost $30 per month. Spotify said the Spotify Family Plan will be rolled out globally over the coming weeks.
BlackBerry today announced several forthcoming features for BBM that take a page from ephemeral messaging app SnapChat. The first new feature is called Time Messages. With Timed Messages, users can select how long a message is visible to the recipient (between 1 second and 15 seconds). The message can also be set to disappear once the recipient takes their finger off the message. According to BlackBerry, it can't prevent screenshots of Timed Messages, but it will alert the sender if one was taken before the message expires. The second feature is called Message Retraction and it allows BBM users to delete messages they've sent from the phones of others. According to BlackBerry, this feature works with text messages only and not those that include pictures. Further, only messages in one-on-one chats can be retracted. Messages cannot be retracted from Group conversations, nor can messages be retracted if they've been forwarded to other phones. According to BlackBerry, these features are being tested in a limited BBM beta for Android and BlackBerry. Timer and Retract will be available in the 2.5 release of BBM for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry 10 in the near future.
Microsoft today said it has added several features to Cortana, the voice-activated assistant built into Windows Phone 8.1. One of the new capabilities is called Daily Glance Evening Edition. At the end of each day, Cortana will show users the travel time to home and upcoming items on their calendar. Cortana will also begin to offer concert recommendations within 100 miles of the phone's location based on the owner's artists and Bing searches. Cortana will now more actively create and make available cards with flight information based on travel itineraries and Bing searches. Last, Bing adds location-based app recommendations. For example, Cortana might suggest visitors to Disney World in Florida download the Disney Expedition App. Some of these features need to be turned on in Cortana's Notebook before they'll function.
The FCC today opened a notice of inquiry that will see the agency begin to explore next-generation wireless networks. The FCC is hoping to use spectrum above 24GHz for new wireless networks. This spectrum, sometimes referred to as millimeter waves, has long been regarded as ill-suited for wireless networking use due to its short-range and line-of-site propagation characteristics. However, the densely packed waves can hold large volumes of data, or 1,000 times more than current-generation technology can, according to the FCC. The FCC plans to study the technical needs of making this spectrum useful and the potential regulatory regime needed to oversee it. The move comes as 4G LTE networks are in their final stages of being built in the U.S. The FCC knows it needs to find new ways to meet the crushing demand for capacity. "How do we meet these demands?" asked Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. "We look up. Way, way, up. To infinity and beyond."
Google today made available several significant tools for developers ahead of the general release of Android 5.0 Lollipop. First, Google released updated developer images for the Nexus 5, Nexus 7 (2013), ADT-1, and the Android emulator. Developers can install these near-final builds of Android 5.0 on their hardware and use them for testing purposes. Google also updated the software developers kit for Android 5.0. The Android 5.0 SDK includes improved tools that allow app writers to develop against the latest Android platform using API level 21. It also lets developers take advantage of the updated support library to implement Material Design on smartphones and tablets, as well as the leanback user interface for Android TV apps. The preview images and SDK can be downloaded through Google's Android developer portal.
Pantech's U.S. operations filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy today, following similar legal moves in the company's home market of Korea. The company has been in receivership since August and put itself up for sale last month. Chapter 15 bankruptcy is reserved for organizations that need to protect themselves when their international parent company becomes insolvent. Pantech has been trying to restructure its debt all year, but has so far failed to do so. It believes it can get about $366 million by selling off the entire company. If there are any bids for the failing phone maker, they have not yet been made public.
Sprint and Kyocera today announced the Torque XT, a minor update to the original Torque. The two updates include compatibility with Sprint's Direct Connect walkie-talkie service, and the improvement on onboard storage to 20GB. Otherwise, all the features are the same as the original Torque. The XT has a mil-spec rating of 810G for protection against shock, temperature extremes, solar radiation, and vibration. It has an IP rating of 67, which means it can sit in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, as well as spend the day in the sand on the beach. The device includes standard Kyocera features, such as the Sonic Smart Receiver for phone calls, and MaxiMZR and Eco Mode for managing battery life. The Torque XT has a 4-inch WVGA screen, 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor with 1GB of RAM, 5-megapixel main camera, and a 1.3-megapixel user-facing camera. The phone includes WiFi, GPS, NFC, and Bluetooth 4.0, and runs on Sprint's LTE network. The device is based on Android 4.4.2 KitKat and includes an array of business-friendly features, such as support for VPNs, mobile device management suites, and Exchange ActiveSync. The Kyocera Torque XT is available today via most Sprint sales channels. Sprint is asking for $0 down followed by 24 payments of $15 with Sprint Easy Pay.
Verizon Wireless this week altered the terms of its Edge service plans so customers will now have to pay off more of their device before they can upgrade. Verizon Edge is the company's monthly installment option. Under the old system, customers could upgrade after 12 months or once they've paid 60% of the handset's cost. Under the new system, customers have to wait 18 months or pay off 75% of their handset's cost before they can upgrade. Because it is increasing the number of monthly payments, Verizon is decreasing the amount of each monthly payment by $5. Verizon has also changed the cost of its single-line plans. Verizon is now asking for $75 per month for unlimited talk/text and 2GB of data. The same plan used to cost $60. Now, $60 buys 1GB of data and unlimited talk/text. The changes went into effect October 16.
FBI Director James Comey has again voiced his displeasure with the new encryption tools added to Android 5.0 Lollipop and iOS 8. Both Google and Apple added the default encryption to their mobile operating systems in order to protect user data. Comey says this is an impediment to law enforcement, making it more difficult -- if not impossible -- to intercept real-time communication, such as phone calls and text messages. Comey said more and more criminals are turning to technology to hide or enable their unlawful activities. He beseeched Congress to create legislation that will require tech companies to provide back-door access to encrypted communications between suspected criminals. The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees. "Any effort by the FBI to weaken encryption leaves our highly personal information and our business information vulnerable to hacking by foreign governments and criminals," said ACLU director Laura Murphy. Congress has not responded publicly to Comey's comments.
Twitter today announced a change to its service that will, in effect, add tweets to users' timelines from people they don't follow. Twitter has since the beginning allowed users to pick who they follow, leaving people in complete control of their timeline and experience. Twitter now believes that users are missing out on tweets they might find interesting. "Testing indicated that most people enjoy seeing Tweets from accounts they may not follow, based on signals such as activity from accounts you do follow, the popularity of the Tweets, and how people in your network interact with them," explained Twitter. Beginning today, users can expect to see curated tweets in their timeline that come from accounts they don't actively follow.
Twitter today announced a new feature that will allow users of its Android and iOS apps to listen to music/sound clips directly from their timeline. According to Twitter, the new Twitter Audio Card can be docked and allow users to listen to the songs or clips even as they continue to browse through their timeline. SoundCloud is the first third-party company to add support for the Audio Card, but Twitter said it expects to add more services over time. Twitter hopes more parters, artists, and creators will adopt the feature for sharing purposes. The feature is free to use within the Android and iOS versions of Twitter. Twitter didn't say if or when the feature might reach other platforms, such as Windows Phone.
Transit Wireless and the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority today said more New York City residents will gain access to cellular service when using the subway. To start, Transit Wireless has completed Phase 2 of the project, which means 11 new stations in Manhattan and 29 stations in Queens are now connected with cellular and Wi-Fi service. Phase 3 will add service to Flushing Main Street Station in Queens, as well as stations in Lower Manhattan, West Harlem, and Washington Heights throughout 2015. Transit Wireless' project has seven phases in total, which will eventually bring connectivity to all 277 subway stations in New York by 2017. Wireless service is available from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless.