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Google Keyboard for iOS Adds Haptic Feedback

Thursday, 9:56 AM   by Rich Brome

Google's newest version of Gboard — its keyboard-replacement app for iOS — adds physical feedback when typing. Apple's own iOS keyboard does not offer this popular feature. The haptic feedback feature is available on iPhone 7 and later. Gboard also offers input by word swipe and voice. It includes emoji (with search), GIFs, stickers, and personalized stickers. Google search is built-in and results — such as business listings, videos, images, and articles — can easily be pasted and sent to others. The new version is 1.4 and is available now in the Apple App Store.


LG Teases Features of G8

Wednesday, 10:16 PM   by Rich Brome

The LG G8 ThinQ, the company's next flagship phone, will have a 3D face scanner for biometric security, and use its screen surface as the phone earpiece. LG has made several announcements leading up to the phone's launch about its features, also confirming the phone's name — the LG G7 ThinQ — and that it will be fully unveiled at the MWC trade show, which takes place the week of February 24th. The 3D face scanner will provide "sophisticated security for phone unlocking and payment authentication". The scanner is an Infineon REAL3 image sensor chip. It's tuned to infrared light and uses its own infrared light source so it's unaffected by ambient light. It uses time of flight (ToF) technology, which measures the time it takes for light to make the round trip to and from objects the light reflects off of. The screen-based earpiece is technology LG calls Crystal Sound OLED (CSO). LG developed CSO in-house, and says it "repurposes the OLED display as a diaphragm, vibrating the entire surface to produce sound with impressive volume." The G8 will also have a speakerphone using more traditional technology on the bottom, including the "Boombox" design (also found on the G7) that uses the interior of the whole phone as a resonance chamber to boost bass and volume.

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Google Limits Android Things to Smart Speakers and Smart Displays

Wednesday, 2:35 PM   by Rich Brome

Originally an Android-based OS for any smart-home or IoT device, Google has now decided that Android Things will be limited to smart speakers and smart displays with Google Assistant built in. As a result, Google is withdrawing support for several hardware platforms. The company just finalized Android Things 1.0 last May and promised three years of OS updates for some of the platforms it is now dropping.


AT&T Promises 5G for Chicago, Minneapolis in 2019

Tuesday, 11:07 AM   by Rich Brome

AT&T today added Chicago and Minneapolis to its list of cities that will get a true 5G network by the end of this year. That list already includes Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose. The company already has 5G available to a limited group of customers in "parts of" Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio, and Waco. The company plans to launch 5G nationwide by "early 2020". This true (standards-based, mmWave) 5G network is not yet available to most consumers, and no phones have launched yet that support 5G. AT&T is currently running a misleading campaign to promote "5G E", which is actually 4G LTE. Sprint is currently taking AT&T to court over that campaign.


Multi-Lens Nokia Clears FCC

Tuesday, 10:48 AM   by Rich Brome

A Nokia phone with a large array of cameras on the back was just approved by the FCC. The unusual design with up to six discrete cameras on the back is clearly visible in a drawing of the back of the phone. FCC documents also reveal the phone's radio functions, which include NFC and all of the LTE bands used by Verizon, as well as basic LTE functionality for AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon did recently launch its first Nokia phone (since the brand was handed over to HMD Global). Camera company Light revealed a prototype of a similar multi-camera phone in the middle of last year, and promised that its light field technology will come to a smartphone with five to nine cameras. Light says its phone design is capable of capturing 64 megapixel shots, better low-light performance, and sophisticated depth effects. Rumors have circulated that a phone looking like this will be called the Nokia 9 PureView. The old Nokia used the PureView brand for its phones with the most advanced cameras.


Toyota Finally Embraces Android Auto and CarPlay

Feb 8, 2019, 12:07 PM   by Rich Brome

After holding out longer than most auto makers, Toyota's new 2020 lineup includes, for the first time, a variety of models that support both Apple CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. The new models include the 2020 4Runner, Sequoia, Tacoma, and Tundra. Last year's Avalon supported CarPlay, but not Android Auto. The two technologies are comparable, letting the driver sync their phone to the car and display an interface on the dash touchscreen that's driven by the phone, and includes voice control. The interfaces are tailored to driving, with a focus on navigation, music, and basic communication. Other car companies already supporting both CarPlay and Android Auto are: Chrysler (and Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Ram), Ford (and Lincoln), GM (Buick, Cadillac, Chevy, GMC), Honda (and Acura), Hyundai (and Kia), Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, VW (and Audi), and Volvo.


Sprint Takes AT&T to Court Over "5G E" as False Advertising

Feb 8, 2019, 11:33 AM   by Rich Brome

AT&T's marketing of a "5G E" network — which is actually 4G LTE and has nothing to do with 5G technology — now has the company in legal trouble, as Sprint is taking AT&T to court for "false advertising and deceptive acts". AT&T has been marketing "5G E" in large national ad campaigns, as well as updating existing phone software to show a "5G E" indicator for 4G LTE service. Sprint is seeking an injunction to stop these actions, as well as damages caused by the success of AT&T's campaign. According to Sprint, "AT&T’s deceptive ads have harmed consumers by persuading them to purchase or continue purchasing AT&T’s services based on the lie that they are offering 5G." Sprint made its filing in a United States federal court in New York, based on a combination of federal and New York state laws.


Apple Releases Fix for Group FaceTime Bug

Feb 7, 2019, 4:32 PM   by Rich Brome

Apple iOS 12.1.4 is available today, and fixes the major privacy bug discovered last week that enabled FaceTime callers to hear (and sometimes see) people before they picked up the call. Apple turned off Group FaceTime for everyone as its initial response to the issue, and it remains off for everyone without today's update.


Hands On with the Moto g7 Series

Feb 7, 2019, 8:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Moto's new g-series phones bring up-to-date features, upgraded specs, and clean Google software to three models ranging from $200 to $300. This year's series moves to a notched-screen design, steps up to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor, and supports USB-C across the board. They will all launch with Android 9 (Pie). All three will eventually come to US carriers, most by this spring.

  • Moto g7 play: The most affordable at $199, it has a 5.7" HD display, 3,000 mAh battery, fast charging, fingerprint reader, 13 megapixel camera, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, memory card slot, 3.5mm headset jack, and FM radio. It will be available from Boost, Virgin, US Cellular, Ting, and Republic, as well as unlocked from most major retailers.
  • Moto g7 power: The main feature is its huge 5,000 mAh battery, which Motorola claims will last for three days. It builds on the specs of the g7 play, stepping up to a larger 6.2" display, 3 GB of RAM, and a higher-quality 12-megapixel camera. It will be available for $249 from Verizon, T-Mobile, Metro, Cricket, Xfinity Mobile, Republic, Ting, and Consumer Cellular, as well as unlocked from most major retailers.
  • Moto g7: Higher-end but with a normal-size (3,000 mAh) battery, this flagship of the g series has a curved glass back, full-HD 6.2" display with a smaller notch, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage, 4K video capture, and dual cameras for portrait effects. It also has a more advanced camera app, with new features like automatic group smile capture, hi-res digital zoom using multiple frames, hyperlapse video, and RAW output. The camera also integrates with YouTube Live and Google Lens. It will be available unlocked from most major retailers for $299 this spring, followed by launches with Google Fi, Republic Wireless, and Ting.
Read on for our first impressions, including photos and a video.

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New Emoji for 2019 Address Accessibility

Feb 5, 2019, 5:11 PM   by Rich Brome

Unicode 12, the annual release for 2019, includes a wide variety of new standard emoji. Many focus on accessibility, including wheelchair, motorized wheelchair, person in wheelchair, probing cane, person with probing cane, deaf person, guide dog, service dog, ear with hearing aid, and mechanical limbs. Other new emoji include yawning face, pinching hand, ice cube, yo-yo, axe, drop of blood, adhesive bandage, stethoscope, ringed planet, chair, straight razor, safety vest, parachute, diving mask, kite, hindu temple, sari, and ballet shoes. New animals include skunk, otter, sloth, flamingo, and orangutan. New food emoji include butter, onion, garlic, waffle, falafel, oyster, and juice box. Emoji of people holding hands has also been expanded with greater diversity. Annual emoji releases typically reach phones when major new OSes are released in early fall.


New Google Apps Help Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Communicate

Feb 4, 2019, 6:08 PM   by Rich Brome

Google has two new apps rolling out designed to help the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing use their smartphones to understand people speaking aloud around them. Live Transcribe is an app that listens, converts speech to text, and simply displays a live transcript on the screen of what's being said aloud nearby. Haptic feedback lets the user know when someone has started speaking. An icon provides a visual indicator of volume and background noise. The app uses the Google Cloud Speech API, and thus requires a decent data connection. It works in 70 different languages. It can use the phone's microphone, or an external mic. Sound Amplifier is the other app; it filters background noise and boosts quieter sounds, making it easier for the hard-of-hearing to hear what's important around them. It's designed for use with wired headphones. The filtering effects can be fine-tuned for each ear. Live Transcribe is available in a limited beta, while Sound Amplifier is available to everyone today in the Play Store. Both apps will pre-installed on Pixel 3 phones going forward.


Phones with 1TB Storage Coming Thanks to New Samsung Chip

Jan 31, 2019, 11:40 AM   by Rich Brome

Samsung has a new storage chip for phones that can hold twice as much data in the same space as last year's chip, and enables faster data access. The new embedded Universal Flash Storage (eUFS) 2.1 chip can store 1 TB (1,000 GB) of data, in the same size as Samsung's 512 GB eUFS chip introduced in late 2017. 1 TB is enough for over 43 hours of 4K video. The new chip is also up to 38% faster at reading data, and up to 25% faster at writing, compared to Samsung's 512 GB chip. eUFS chips provide internal storage for phones, which is distinct from RAM and removable memory cards. If the past is any indication, Samsung will likely use the chip in its next flagship phone, the Galaxy S 10, which is slated to be announced on February 20th.


Bluetooth Beacons Ensure Seamless Navigation Through NYC Tunnels

Jan 29, 2019, 2:57 PM   by Rich Brome

Waze has installed a series of new Bluetooth beacons in NYC tunnels that permit accurate positioning for drivers using smartphones for real-time navigation. GPS signals generally don't reach into tunnels. The Waze Beacons permit better functioning of Waze apps, as well as any other location-based apps, including Google Maps. Drivers need only ensure that their phone's Bluetooth is switched on to take advantage of the beacons. The Waze app will prompt users to activate Bluetooth when driving a route that includes a beacon-equipped tunnel. The NYC installation includes 313 beacons installed in the Queens Midtown and Hugh L. Carey Tunnels. Google-owned Waze has installed over 3,000 such beacons in over 60 miles of tunnels, in cities including Chicago, Boston, and Pittsburgh. The beacons use Eddystone technology over Bluetooth LE (Low Energy), permitting 4-year battery life.


Apple Temporarily Disables Group FaceTime to Address Major Privacy Bug

Jan 28, 2019, 11:47 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Feb 1, 2019, 10:23 AM

A massive bug in Apple's new Group FaceTime feature allowed callers to listen in on people before they answered an incoming FaceTime call, and in some cases even see live video. Apple has already moved to prevent the issue from affecting users by turning off the Group FaceTime feature altogether, for all users, apparently with a change to its cloud systems. Before Apple acted, anyone running iOS 12.1 could exploit the bug by initiating a FaceTime video call to their target, then making it a Group FaceTime by adding their own phone number to the call. The caller would then receive audio from the other end, and if the callee pressed the power button to dismiss the incoming call, it would instead trigger live video to be sent to the caller. The issue also affected FaceTime on MacOS. Apple has acknowledged the bug and promised a software update to fix it this next week.


US Gov't Indicts Huawei for Stealing Trade Secrets from T-Mobile

Jan 28, 2019, 5:55 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Jan 29, 2019, 12:23 AM

The US government is pursuing a criminal case against Huawei for stealing the design for — as well as actual parts and software from — a unique phone-testing robot developed by T-Mobile USA. The gov't alleges that Huawei offered bonuses for employees to steal such trade secrets, and obstructed justice in a related civil case. A Seattle grand jury returned a 10-count indictment for theft of trade secrets conspiracy, attempted theft of trade secrets, seven counts of wire fraud, and one count of obstruction of justice. The robot in question is called "Tappy" and simulates human fingers activating a set of actions on a phone being tested. The theft occurred in 2012 and 2013. T-Mobile pursued a civil case against Huawei in 2014, and in 2017 a jury awarded T-Mobile $4.8 for Huawei's breach of contract. In the civil case, T-Mobile alleged that Huawei employees authorized to use Tappy snuck another, unauthorized Huawei employee into T-Mobile's labs to photograph Tappy. A Huawei employee also stole one of Tappy's "fingers" and copied some of its software. T-Mobile provided surveillance photos to back its claims, and Huawei admitted to several of the allegations. Under the maximum sentencing provisions applicable to corporate entities, Conspiracy and Attempt to Commit Trade Secret Theft are punishable by a fine of up to $5,000,000 or three times the value of the stolen trade secret, whichever is greater. Wire Fraud and Obstruction of Justice are punishable by a fine of up to $500,000.


Bluetooth 5.1 Adds Spatial Awareness

Jan 28, 2019, 8:00 AM   by Rich Brome

The newest version of Bluetooth adds Direction Finding, which enables a Bluetooth LE device to determine the location of another nearby Bluetooth LE device with accuracy as good as 1cm. Direction Finding requires that one of the two Bluetooth LE devices have multiple Bluetooth antennas. Two new Bluetooth profiles enable the capability: Asset Tracking Profile (ATP) and Indoor Positioning Profile (IPP). In phones, ATP requires multiple Bluetooth LE antennas in the phone, and enables the phone to determine the direction and distance of nearby Bluetooth LE tags. Such tags might be attached to valuable or easily-lost personal property, or used in settings such as museums, to enable apps to show info on items as you point your phone at them. (Previously, phones could only determine the relative proximity of Bluetooth LE tags, not their direction or precise location.) Phones that support the new ATP profile are not expected until 2020. The IPP profile enables a form of "indoor GPS" with centimeter-level accuracy. It does not require multiple antennas in the phone, but does require new location beacons installed in indoor locations — such as malls and airports — that contain multiple antennas and explicitly support IPP. Some existing phones may be upgradeable to support IPP. Bluetooth 5.1 includes a several other minor performance improvements, but Direction Finding is the primary new feature.

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Nokia Phones Return to US Carriers

Jan 25, 2019, 11:39 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Jan 31, 2019, 10:24 AM

Nokia phones are back on US carrier store shelves as of today. The Nokia 3.1 Plus goes on sale today with Cricket, and Verizon will start selling the Nokia 2 V on January 31st. The announcement was made today by HMD Global, the independent company formed by ex-Nokia employees when Nokia stopped making its own phones. HMD licenses and has exclusive use of the Nokia brand for phones. The company plans additional phones for US carriers this year. "Our approach to operator relationships is not transactional — our users will see more devices at different price points launching with our prepaid and post-paid wireless prover [sic] partners and on the open market", said Maurizio Angelone, Vice President Americas for HMD Global. The Nokia 3.1 Plus has a tall (2:1) 6-inch HD screen, 3,500 mAh battery, fingerprint reader, NFC, and Snapdragon 439 processor with 2 GB RAM. It has dual rear cameras including a 13 megapixel main sensor. It sells for $160 from Cricket. The Nokia 2 V has a huge 4,000 mAh battery for "two-day battery life". It also has a 5.5-inch HD display, Snapdragon 425 processor, 8 megapixel main camera, and 8 GB storage plus a memory card slot. Pricing was not announced for the 2 V.


T-Mobile Finally Launches Hotspot That Supports Its Whole Network

Jan 25, 2019, 10:14 AM   by Rich Brome

T-Mobile today launched the Coolpad Surf, its first mobile hotspot device to support newer LTE bands 71 and 66. Band 71 — AKA 600 MHz — became a large and important part of T-Mobile's network in 2018. Band 71 provides much-needed extra capacity in dense urban areas, and extended coverage elsewhere. T-Mobile has been offering phones with band 71 since November 2017, but before today, T-Mobile's only mobile hotspot device was the Alcatel Linkzone, which only supports older LTE bands 2, 4, and 12. The Coolpad Surf has a 2,150 mAh battery that should provide 5.3 hours of continuous use. It sells for $72, or $3/month for 24 months.

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