Spotify today announced that it is bringing free music streaming to mobile devices for the first time. Before today, smartphone and tablet owners were required to pay $10 per month for the right to listen to music on their devices. The new service uses advertisements in lieu of the monthly fee to cover costs. Spotify still offers an ad-free service for $10 per month. Spotify also announced that it is the only streaming service that offers the entire Led Zeppelin catalog, which went live today. Spotify for Android and iOS is free to download and use.
Google recently updated the Play Books application for Android devices. The newest version of the app makes it possible to upload e-pub or PDF books from the on-device library to the cloud-based library, regardless of where the digital books came from. The app also makes adjustments to performance so books open more quickly, improves the look and feel of notes, adds lower brightness settings, makes it easier to dismiss book recommendations, and makes it possible to read any book in landscape view. Google Play Books is free to download from the Play Store.
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Asus CEO Jerry Shen said that the company is developing a PadFone for a U.S. network operator. Shen made the revelation in an interview with Engadget. To-date, Asus has only made its PadFone products available in Asian markets. The company wants to expand its smartphones to the U.S. and Europe, and is targeting the U.S. first. The PadFone includes a tablet and phone that work together as one, with the phone docking in the tablet. "Once this product is launched [in the US], we will definitely have no problem tackling Europe with the same product, because this U.S. operator is very big," said Shen. The device is set to arrive during the second quarter of 2014, but Shen didn't provide any specifics, such as the name of the network operator.
New York State's attorney general has sent letters to the CEOs of the top five wireless network operators in the U.S. with questions about their failure to adopt anti-theft features in their phones. Law enforcement officials in New York and San Francisco are spearheading an effort to reduce phone-related crimes. Samsung developed a kill switch that would let smartphone owners brick their lost or stolen device remotely. San Francisco's district attorney saw emails between Samsung and the carriers that suggest the carriers didn't want to put kill switches in their phones because they fear it might cut into the profits they make from selling insurance programs. "If carriers are colluding to prevent theft-deterrent features from being preinstalled on devices as means to sell more insurance products, they are doing so at the expense of public safety and putting their customers in danger," said New York's attorney general. He alleges the top carriers all reached the decision to reject the kill switch at about the same time this year and wants to know if they spoke with one another, Asurion (phone insurance provider), or the CTIA Wireless Association about the matter. The CTIA has opposed the idea of kill switches. New York wants each carrier to explain the business rationale behind its decision and submit responses by December 31. According to The New York Times, thefts of the iPhone and iPad alone accounted for 14% of all crime in New York City last year.
Twitter made updates to both its Android and iOS mobile apps available today. The most significant new feature added to Twitter is the ability to send pictures via direct message to other users. Both apps have a refreshed look and feel, and users can access the Home, Activity, and Discover tabs by swiping through their timelines. Users can also choose to view replies, retweets, and favorites from only people they follow, and can choose to receive push notifications from select people. Twitter for Android and iOS is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.
Sprint today said that it will begin offering a new version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 that is compatible with Sprint Spark. Spark is Sprint's tri-band LTE service that offers better performance. Right now, Spark is limited to Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Tampa right now, but will expand to 100 markets over the next year. The new version of the GS4 should become available over the course of the next few weeks. It will cost $199 with a new contract after a $50 mail-in rebate, or $25 per month with Sprint One Up. The existing GS4 that Sprint has been selling since April is not compatible with Spark.
Google today made a Play Edition variant of the Sony Z Ultra available for sale in the Play Store. The Z Ultra has all the same specs as the standard version, but like the Play Edition HTC One and Play Edition Samsung Galaxy S4, it runs stock Android 4.4 KitKat. Google is selling the Play Edition Z Ultra for $649. It comes unlocked and is compatible with the LTE networks of both AT&T and T-Mobile.
Canonical has struck its first partnership to provide the Ubuntu Touch operating system to a maker of phones, reports CNET. Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth told CNET that its mobile Linux operating system will appear on high-end smartphones next year, though he didn't name the manufacturing partner. Shuttleworth also said the company is in discussions with other manufacturers. "We are now pretty much at the board level on four household brands. They sell a lot of phones all over the world, in emerging and fully emerged markets, to businesses and consumers," he said. Ubuntu Touch OS is based on Linux and has a number of core apps already developed. Canonical released version 13.10 of the OS and a software developers kits in October. Ubuntu Touch will be competing against other up-and-coming operating systems, such as Firefox OS, Tizen, and Jolla.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson today said that the modern practice of device subsidies is unsustainable for the wireless industry. In order to convince people to use their network, wireless operators generally subsidize the cost of the handset. This is what makes a $649 device appear more affordable when priced by the carrier at $199. The carrier recoups the $450 in subsidies over the lifetime of the contract. "When you're growing the business initially, you have to do aggressive device subsidies to get people on the network," said Stephenson. "But as you approach 90% penetration, you move into maintenance mode. That means more device upgrades. And the model has to change. You can't afford to subsidize devices like that." AT&T recently dropped the cost of service plans for those customers who bring their own device to the network, or continue to use an old one. AT&T also allows more frequent device upgrades as long as customers agree to pay for a larger share of the device's actual cost. Stephenson didn't announce any concrete plans to move away from providing device subsidies, but the company has already laid the groundwork. Stephenson also noted that once it completes its acquisition of Cricket Wireless, it will move more aggressively into the prepaid space. AT&T has already said it will merge Cricket with its own Aio Wireless prepaid service.
Viber today announced the worldwide launch of Viber Out. Viber Out is a new service that allows Viber users to make internet-based voice calls to other Viber users, as well as any landline or cell phone. Viber is able to use the user's own phone number when making calls, even though the calls are connected through the data plan and not the voice network. Viber Out charges low per-minute rates to most countries. Viber Out is available today for Android smartphones and the iPhone. Viber says it will support Windows Phone soon. In order to use Viber Out, customers will have to download the latest version of the Viber application and add credits to their account. Viber is a platform-agnostic messaging app. Now that it makes voice calls, it competes more directly with Skype.
Sprint today announced that it has completed a major upgrade of both its 3G and 4G networks in the metropolitan Chicago area. Sprint ripped out much of its legacy cell tower gear and replaced it with new equipment. The result, says Sprint, is stronger performance of its CDMA and LTE networks, including better voice calls and faster data. Sprint noted that it has worked hard to provide more coverage to sports arenas, major thoroughfares, shopping destinations, and business districts throughout the region. Last, Sprint said Sprint Spark, its next-generation LTE networking technology, is now widely available throughout the Chicago area. Spark soft-launched in limited fashion in late October. Sprint Spark relies on the company's three LTE bands and special network management technology to provide the fastest LTE speeds possible. In order to access Sprint Spark, customers need a tri-band LTE handset. To date, only the Samsung Galaxy Mega and S4 mini, and the LG G2 can access Spark.
Google today announced that 10 applications have added support for its Chromecast media device. Now, smartphone or tablet owners can push content from Vevo, Red Bull.TV, Songza, PostTV, Viki, Revision 3, and BeyondPod to their television. Chromecast also now supports local media playback through the Plex, Avia, or RealPlayer Cloud apps. Chromecast works with Android and iOS devices, which push content through a local Wi-Fi network.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson indicated that AT&T would accept the idea of placing limitations on how much 600MHz spectrum a single carrier can acquire in the upcoming incentive auction, but only if such limits are applied evenly. The Federal Communications Commission has delayed the auction until the middle of 2015. In a letter published last week, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler implied that Sprint and T-Mobile might have a priority over larger carriers AT&T and Verizon in the auction, because AT&T and Verizon already have control over significant low-band spectrum holdings with their 700MHz licenses. Sprint and T-Mobile have been vocal about their desire for the 600MHz spectrum, as it propagates better than high-band spectrum and neither company has 700MHz spectrum. Stephenson argued that placing limits on participants could drive down the amount of revenue generated by the spectrum. The 600MHz spectrum is being used by television broadcasters. They are being asked to sell their licenses to mobile network operators in order to improve the availability of mobile broadband.
Qualcomm today announced its first 64-bit processor, the Snapdragon 410. The 410, which includes integrated LTE 4G, targets low-end smartphones while still offering high performance. It includes an Adreno 306 GPU and can handle 13-megapixel cameras and 1080p HD video playback. It packs support for NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS, most 3G technologies, and supports devices with two or three SIM cards. Qualcomm expects the Snapdragon 410 to sample during the first half of 2014 and reach consumer devices during the second half of 2014.
The Moto G is a low-cost Android smartphone that might aim low, but it hits the mark.
StraightTalk Wireless and Net10 Wireless today announced they will each sell the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c beginning December 13. The iPhones will be sold at Walmart stores and online for their full retail prices. The 16GB iPhone 5s costs $649, the 16GB iPhone 5c (online only) costs $549, and the 8GB iPhone 4S costs $449. StraightTalk's no-contract plans start at $45 per month and Net10's no-contract plans start at $50 per month. Customers can finance their iPhone purchase when they use a Walmart credit card.
AT&T today announced that it has forged an LTE roaming agreement with Rogers, a wireless network operator in Canada. The deal gives AT&T's customers access to Rogers' LTE network when they travel to Canada. According to AT&T, Rogers offers LTE service to 70% of Canadians, and plans to deploy LTE in 95 new markets this year. AT&T recommends that customers sign up for one of its international data roaming plans before traveling. Rates start at $30 per month for 120MB of data.
Sprint today announced that it plans to sell notes in a bid to raise more cash. According to Sprint, any proceeds derived from the sale of notes will be put toward network expansion and modernization efforts, its pension program, and other general corporate purposes. Sprint didn't say when it will sell the notes, nor how much it is looking to raise. SoftBank recently paid Sprint more than $20 billion for a large equity stake in the company. Sprint recently launched Sprint Spark, an effort to speed up its LTE network, and continues to deploy LTE around the country.