Created by Google, Android is a smartphone OS and platform that is open-source and open for any manufacturer to use to make a smartphone. Android phones can run Android apps, available from the Android Market - run by Google - or, optionally, from other sources.
Google employee Dori Storbeck, Community Manager for Hangouts and Chat, confirmed on her Google+ page that the new Google Hangouts application will soon support SMS messages, as well as IM. In addition to text messages, Google Hangouts will also eventually be able to make outbound calls. Storbeck didn't provide a timeframe on when these features might become available, other than to say "soon." Google Hangouts replaces Google Talk for most Android users and can be used for IM, voice, and video chats.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced that a future version of Android will support Bluetooth Smart Ready and Bluetooth Smart devices. To-date, Android has not included a built-in Bluetooth stack, which means device makers have been on their own to add Bluetooth. By adding support for Bluetooth Smart Ready (Bluetooth 4.0 on a dual-mode chip) and Bluetooth Smart, Android will be capable of interacting with nearly all Bluetooth devices (keyboards, mice, speakers, etc.). Developers and accessory makers will be able to use the core Android SDK and included APIs to access the Android devices' Bluetooth radio, rather than use multiple APIs and work-arounds as they do today. According to Bluetooth SIG, this new version of Android will arrive in the coming months.
AT&T customers who install the new Google Hangouts application on their Android devices cannot use one of the main features: video chats. When they attempt to start a video chat, a message appears prompting them to connect to a Wi-Fi network; the feature won't work on AT&T's cellular network. When reached for comment, AT&T explained that AT&T customers are free to download any third-party video chat app they wish and they'll work fine. Apps that come preloaded, however, must be enabled by the developer for use over AT&T's cellular network. AT&T did not address Google Hangouts directly, but it implied that 1. Google Hangouts qualifies as a "preloaded" app because it replaces the Google Talk app on Android handsets, and 2. Google did not follow the proper protocols required by AT&T in order for the app to function over its cellular network. Google Hangouts for iOS, which qualifies as a third-party download on the iPhone, functions properly over AT&T's cellular network. Google Hangouts for Android works fine on the cellular networks of other carriers. Google has not yet offered a clarification on the matter.
Google today announced a new version of its Google Maps app for both Android and iOS. The software now dynamically reroutes turn-by-turn driving directions if traffic conditions worsen on the road ahead. The service also shows and lets you see details of alerts for specific traffic-related incidents that might affect a trip. It will be available "this summer".
Google today announced a new version of Google+ Hangouts that pivots the service to compete more directly with Facebook Messenger. The app enables group conversations merging text, photos, emoticons, and video chat. The service includes a dedicated app for both iOS and Android, plus a web version is also available.
Google today announced that it will start directly selling a special version of Samsung's Galaxy S 4 flagship phone that is unlocked and ships with stock Android 4.2, essentially expanding the Nexus family of "pure Google" devices. The device sports LTE compatible with both AT&T and T-Mobile's networks. It is bootloader-unlocked and will receive Android updates before most other phones, like Nexus devices. It ships June 26th for $649.
Google today launched a new streaming music service with a discovery engine for finding new music, to compete with Rdio and Spotify. Google Play Music All Access lets you start with any song and automatically build a custom streaming radio station of similar songs. Unwanted songs can be dismissed and re-ordered. The service is integrated into Google Play Music as Listen Now. The service works on Android phones and tablets, and the web, and integrates your own music library with the streaming catalog. The service launches today in the U.S. for $9.99/month, with a 30-day free trial. Users who sign up before June 30th can lock in a special $7.99 monthly rate.
Google today announced its gaming service to compete with Apple's Game Center for iOS. The new Google Play Game Services enables games to save game progress to the cloud, and easily enables multi-player gaming. The service also includes achievements and leaderboards both globally and among friends in Google+ Circles. Cloud save, achievements and leaderboards work cross-platform, across Android, iOS, and the web.
Google today announced an update to its Google Cloud Messaging service, the behind-the-scenes system that allows apps to communicate with web services, and for those services to push notifications to Android devices even when the app is not running. The new service syncs notifications across devices, so that when a user dismisses a notification on their Android phone, it's dismissed on their Android tablet as well. The upgraded service is also now two-way, allowing apps to send data "upstream" from the app to a web service. As part of Google Play Services, the new features launch today and do not require a new version of Android.
Google today announced new Google Play Services for location-based services that Android developers can integrate into their apps. A new Geofencing API allows apps to be notified and take action when the user enters or leaves specified areas. An Activity Recognition API automatically recognizes certain activities such as walking, running, and driving, and gives that information to relevant apps. Finally, a new Fused Location API allows apps to determine the phone's geographic location in ways that are faster, more accurate and use much less battery life. As these APIs are Google Play Services, they are updated independently of the Android OS version.
ZTE today announced the Grand X2, an Android smartphone that uses Intel's 2.0GHz Z2580 Atom processor with 1GB of RAM. The Grand X2 features a 4.5-inch 720p HD IPS LCD screen that ZTE says measures 0.7mm thick, helping to keep the profile of the device thin. The Grand X2's camera captures 8-megapixel images and can shoot bursts of up to 24 pictures per second, It also includes a flash and face and scene recognition. The user-facing camera is 1 megapixel. The Grand X2 includes 8GB of on-board storage and supports microSD cards up to 32GB. The battery weighs in at 2,000mAh. The Grand X2 runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and is expected to go on sale in select markets during the third quarter.
BlackBerry today announced that it will make versions of its BlackBerry Messenger application for both the Android and iOS platforms. The application and service will be available to the iPhone and Android devices later this summer. Basic messaging and groups support will arrive first, and other features, including BlackBerry Voice, BlackBerry Video, and screen sharing. Additionally, BlackBerry expects that iOS and Android users will also be able to use the just-announced BBM Channels later this year. BlackBerry Messenger has to-date been a BlackBerry exclusive app and service.
A new service provider called Zact today announced its unique plan offerings. The company offers a large range of sizes for voice, text messaging, and data buckets that can be mixed and matched in any way. Any custom plan can be shared among any number of devices for $5 per device. Plans can be managed and changed at any time via an app on the Android phone. The company uses the Sprint 4G LTE network and offers two phones: the LG Viper for $399 and LG Optimus Elite for $199. A "Never Overpay Guarantee" automatically bills you only for the cheapest plan that fits your usage, even if you picked a more expensive plan for that month. Example rates include $24.22 for 1 GB of data, $64.31 for 3 GB of data, $5.28 for 1,000 text messages, and $9.43 for 500 voice minutes. The company also offers app-specific unlimited data, such as $5/month for Facebook, $1/month for Candy Crush Saga, or $5/month for maps and navigation. The company also offers parental controls that work directly via the Zact app. Parents can set limits and curfews, and even approve contacts. Phones will start shipping in June.
Sony today revealed the Xperia ZR, its latest semi-rugged and waterproof smartphone that's capable of filming HD video in water up to 1.5 meters deep. The ZR features a 13-megapixel camera with Sony's Exmor RS for Mobile chip, which can capture HDR stills and HDR video. The ZR has a 4.6-inch 720p HD display with Sony's Bravia Engine 2. The phone is powered by a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor with 2GB RAM. Other features of the ZR include Sony's Stamina Mode for power management, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, Walkman with 3D Surround Sound, noise suppression, 8 GB of internal storage, support for microSD cards up to 32GB, and support for various HSPA+ and LTE bands. It runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The Sony Xperia ZR will be available in select markets beginning in the third quarter.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal in San Jose ordered Google to disclose to Apple the search terms it is using to discover documents requested as part of Apple's lawsuit against Samsung. Apple had requested the terms earlier this week and Google balked, suggesting that the information could give Apple an advantage in the future. "The court cannot help but note the irony that Google, a pioneer in searching the Internet, is arguing that it would be unduly burdened by producing a list of how it searched its own files," said Judge Grewal. Google has two days to disclose the search terms to Apple. Apple believes that Google's Android operating system provides the "underlying functionality" in a number of Samsung smartphones that Apple alleges are infringing on its patents.
Flipboard today announced a new version of its Android application that carries over some features given to the iOS app earlier this year. Chief among the new features is integration with Etsy, which means when users perform searches, the app will use the results to create a digital magazine on the fly. The new app also lets users collect content that's interesting to them from various sources, such as articles, videos, and photos, and create their own, unique magazine in which to view them. The individually created magazines can then be shared with others. Other features include a new content guide, more interactive commenting, more personalized recommended reading, easier navigation within specific sources, and integration with Facebook Open Graph search. In addition to the new Android app, Flipboard released a web-based editing tool that allows Flipboard users to manage their digital magazines online rather than on their device. Flipboard for Android is a free download from the Google Play Store.
Google today pushed out an update to its Google Translate product for Android devices. The most significant new feature in the app is support for 16 more languages, including Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, and Swedish. Android device owners can use the Google Translate app to take pictures of text in these languages, which are then sent to Google and returned with the appropriate word or phrase. The app also lets users save useful phrases of their own that can be instantly translated into other languages if need be. The phrase book can be synced across Google devices, including desktops and tablets. Google Translate for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today provided an update for the Android version of Google Earth. Google Earth 7.1 adds several new features, chief among them the ability to view locations at ground level through Street View. Other new features include improved search capabilities and directions that let users see 3D views of transit, walking, biking, and driving directions. It also has an improved interface and left-hand panel to make browsing through various layers easier. Google Earth 7.1 for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Samsung today released details about an unannounced Android smartphone for Straight Talk called the Galaxy Centura. The Centura is a bar-style phone that runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and has a 3.5-inch 480 x 320 display. It is powered by an 800MHz processor and includes a 3-megapixel camera, Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi, GPS, 4GB of internal memory, and support for microSD cards up to 32GB. It is for sale on Straight Talk's web site for $99.
Apple has asked the judge overseeing one of its patent-related lawsuits against Samsung to provide it with access to the Android source code from Google. According to Apple, Android "provides much of the accused functionality" in Samsung's infringing products. Apple believes it should have access to that data in order to separate which company's software provides which functions in Samsung's smartphones. Google says that Apple made a strategic decision to leave Google out of this particular lawsuit. As a third party, Google isn't entitled to the same protections that Samsung is. Google thinks providing this info to Apple would provide for future discovery and other details that it wouldn't normally receive. The judge has yet to make a decision on the matter.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is in the hot seat with investors and took fire at today's meeting from impatient shareholders who are waiting for the company's fortunes to turn around. Elop announced Nokia's plans to abandon Symbian, which he referred to as a burning platform, in February 2011. Elop decided then that Nokia would use Microsoft's Windows Phone platform for its smartphones moving forward. At the time, he predicted that the turn-around would take two years. That time has come and gone, and Nokia's share of the smartphone market is still grim. "You're a nice guy, and the leadership team is doing its best, but clearly, it's not enough," said shareholder Hannu Virtanen to Elop. "Are you aware that results are what matter? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Please switch to another road." Elop defended his decision, citing recent traction with its Lumia Windows phones, but also admitted that there's no Plan B. "We make adjustments as we go," said Elop. "But it's very clear to us that in today's war of ecosystems, we've made a very clear decision to focus on Windows Phone with our Lumia product line. And it is with that that we will compete with competitors like Samsung and Android." Nokia has planned a press conference for May 14, during which it is expected to announce new Lumia smartphones.
Consumer Cellular today announced the addition of two Android smartphones to its roster of devices, the LG 930 and the Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate. The LG 930 (sold by AT&T as the Nitro HD), features a 4.5-inch HD display, 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 8-megapixel camera with HD video capture, front camera, DLNA wireless media streaming, and a memory card slot. The Galaxy Exhilarate includes a 4-inch screen, dual-core 1.2GHz processor, 5-megapixel camera with HD video capture, front camera, and a memory card slot. The LG 930 is being sold for $300 and the Galaxy Exhilarate is being sold for $150. Both are available, without contracts, from Consumer Cellular's web site beginning today.
T-Mobile today is making a minor system update available to the Samsung Galaxy S 4. The update boosts the device to Android 4.2.2 and makes improvements to the visual voicemail and Isis applications. It can be downloaded over the air or installed via Kies.
AOL today announced that it has struck a partnership with Verizon Wireless to distribute its content on Verizon's smartphones and tablets. The content will show up in the Verizon Wireless Home web portal and will be bookmarked within the browser on Verizon devices. The AOL portal will feature up-the-minute news headlines, weather, and maps, as well as provide access to video content. The portal will appear on smartphones and tablets running Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone, but not iOS. Customers will be able to customize the type of content that reaches their devices. The AOL content is expected to become available later this summer.
Sprint today announced that it has struck a large content distribution deal with Time Inc. Sprint will offer content from Time's brands through an application soon to be available for Android smartphones via the SprintZone storefront. The app will sync stories, photos, and videos automatically from Time properties, covering topics such as sports, lifestyle, entertainment, and business news. The application will be available to select Sprint smartphones, but Sprint didn't yet specify which ones. The deal also includes an advertising piece that will see Sprint and Time share ad campaigns across both companies' customer bases. Last, Sprint will be able to use Time's brands within its retail stores to showcase the capabilities of the smartphones it sells.
AT&T today announced that it is offering Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean to the original Galaxy Note. Jelly Bean introduces Google Now, actionable notifications, and many under-the-hood improvements to the code. In addition to the standard Jelly Bean features, this update also makes tweaks to the Popup Note and Popup Video tools that are part of Samsung's Touchwiz software. Android 4.1.2 for the Samsung Galaxy Note must be downloaded and installed via Samsung's Kies desktop software.
Verizon Wireless has prepared an operating system upgrade for the Samsung Galaxy Note II. The upgrade boosts the OS to Android 4.1.2 and makes a number of improvements to the device's performance. It adds IPV6 to the mobile hotspot feature, improves Exchange-based email syncing, adds airplane mode notifications, fixes text behavior when in landscape mode, and makes some fixes to the calendar and back-up assistant. The update also removes the Zappos application, which was preloaded on the device. The system update can be downloaded and installed over the air, though Verizon suggests that Note II owners use Wi-Fi. It is being distributed in waves and users will be notified when their device is ready.
Twitter today pushed out minor updates to the Android and iOS versions of its mobile application. Both versions gain a clearer look at trends and local Tweets, faster account changing, and bug fixes. In addition to these, the iOS version of Twitter gains the ability to invite friends to Twitter from within the app, improved playback of Vine videos, and more complete conversations that include retweets. Twitter for Android and iOS is free to download from each platform's respective app store.
AT&T today announced that it will offer the LG Optimus G Pro smartphone for $199.99 with a new two-year contract. The display is one of the key features of the Optimus G Pro. It measures 5.5-inches, includes 1920 x 1080 pixels, and runs edge-to-edge using curved glass. The G Pro is powered by a 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, which is paired with 2GB of RAM. The main camera rates 13 megapixels and the user-facing camera rates 2.1 megapixels. The G Pro is powered by a removable 3,140mAh battery that supports wireless charging. It runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and comes with LG's user interace customizations, including Dual Recording and Virtual Reality Panorama features for the camera. Preorders for the Optimus G Pro begin May 3 and it will reach stores on May 10.
Yahoo today provided an update to its Yahoo application so that it matches the features recently added to the iOS Yahoo app. Yahoo for Android includes news and other content, and learns from user behavior over time to recommend more appealing stories. It also adds more controls over personalized content, easier sharing with social networks, improved web/image search, and article summaries written by Yahoo. Yahoo for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Verizon Wireless today announced Verizon Cloud, a new backup and storage service that lets customers sync their smartphones and tablets to Verizon's servers. Verizon Cloud offers 500MB of storage for free, but offers up to 125GB of storage for $9.99 per month. Verizon says the free option should be enough to backup settings, calls, messages, and contacts. Verizon is also pitching Verizon Cloud as an easy way for customers to sync settings/content between devices when upgrading or switching phones. Verizon Cloud is being made available to Android devices first, but it will be available iOS devices in the coming weeks.
Google has made a small but important update to the language in the Google Play Store's terms and conditions that more clearly prohibits apps from pushing updates outside of the Google Play Store. The move comes in response to recent updates pushed by Facebook that circumvented the Play Store's updating mechanisms. Android device owners are still allowed to install applications from sources other than the Play Store, but apps that are officially distributed through the Play Store must use the Play Store to deliver updates. The new language reads, "An app downloaded from Google Play may not modify, replace or update its own APK binary code using any method other than Google Play's update mechanism." The idea is to protect Android device owners from malicious code.
Sprint today indicated via its user forums that the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update is now ready for the Motorola Photon Q. The system update adds a wide range of new features to the Photon Q, including Google Now, Voice Search improvements, bug fixes, and camera enhancements. The update is being rolled out over the air in stages. Photon Q owners will be notified when their device is ready for the update.
Microsoft has struck another smartphone patent licensing agreement, this time with Chinese handset manufacturer ZTE. Microsoft has similar deals already in place with companies such as Samsung, HTC, LG, Hon Hai, and 20 other companies. Microsoft maintains that its patent portfolio covers certain core technologies that are built into the Android platform. Microsoft is still attempting to get Google's Motorola unit to sign a similar agreement, but has been forced to resort to litigation to do so. Terms of the deal with ZTE were not disclosed.
Nuance Communications today announced that its Swype keyboard for Android smartphones is available in the Google Play Store. Before today, a beta version of the keyboard needed to be downloaded directly from Swype's web site. Swype replaces the stock Android keyboard and lets people trace words across the screen rather than type individual letters. The 1.5 release of Swype can be purchased from the Play Store for 99 cents.
Verizon Wireless today announced that the Pantech Perception, a global Android smartphone, will go on sale beginning April 25. According to Verizon, Motion Sense is the Perception's stand-out feature. Motion Sense allows Perception owners to answer phone calls, scroll through the contact app, flip through photo albums, or advance songs by waving their hand in front of the device. This feature is similar to Air Gesture on the Samsung Galaxy S 4. Other features of the Pantech Perception include a 4.8-inch 1280 z 720p HD Super AMOLED display; 8-megapixel main camera and 2-megapixel user-facing camera; 1.5GHz dual core processor with 1GB of RAM; LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, Wi-Fi, and mobile hotspot; and 16GB of on-board storage. The Perception will ship with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but will be updated to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean quickly. The device will cost $99.99 after $50 mail-in rebate with a new two-year agreement.
Cricket Wireless today announced two new sets of plans, one for multiple lines and another for iPhones. The new family plan offers two smartphone lines for $40 per line per month. The plan includes unlimited voice minutes and text messages, 1GB of full-speed data (throttled thereafter), and Cricket's Muve Music service. Cricket also altered its iPhone service plans to match those it offers with Android smartphones. The base iPhone plan costs $50 per month and includes unlimited talk and text (domestic), 1GB of full-speed data, and Muve Music. iPhone customers can also choose a $60 plan to get 2.5GB of full-seed data and unlimited international messaging, or a $70 plan to get 5GB of full-speed data and unlimited international messaging. All three of these plans include mobile hotspot. The new plans, which went into effect April 21, are available at Cricket stores and select retailers.
Yahoo today announced another round of product closures, including several mobile apps and services. Beginning April 30, Yahoo will cease to offer Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger for Java-based feature phones. According to Yahoo, Mail and Messenger will still be accessible to feature phone users via mobile browser, but the separate apps will no longer be available. Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger for Android and iOS devices will remain available (Yahoo recently updated Yahoo Mail for Android and iOS tablets). Yahoo will cease allowing customers to access Yahoo Mail Classic via their web browser, and will transition all users to the new version of Yahoo Mail. Yahoo is also going to cease offering Yahoo SMS Alerts, which deliver news and other information to mobile phones via text message. Other Yahoo services to be sunset include Yahoo Kids, Upcoming, and Yahoo Deals. Yahoo has been trimming products over the course of the last few months in order to "sharpen its focus" on newer services.
Facebook has ported its free VoIP calling feature from iOS to Android today. The tool allows iOS and now Android users to make free VoIP-based calls to other iPhone/Android Facebook Messenger users over both 3G and Wi-Fi. The calls are initiated via on-screen controls from within individual Messenger conversation threads. Facebook Messenger does not need to be updated in order to use this feature.
Yahoo today unwrapped a brand new weather application for the Apple iPhone. Yahoo already provides the data used by Apple for the native iPhone weather application, but this new app is separate. Yahoo Weather for iPhone offers a richer user experience thanks to location-specific photography and more granular data about current weather conditions and forecasts. It is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Yahoo also debuted a new version of its Yahoo Mail application for Android tablets and the iPad. The new Yahoo Mail app for tablets carries over many of the design elements brought to the iPhone and Android smartphone versions of Yahoo Mail that were released late last year. The tablet email apps focus on the reading experience by emphasizing the text and content of the message rather than the surrounding app. Yahoo Mail is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.