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Google Discontinues VPN in Google One

Friday, 10:32 AM   by Rich Brome

Google will no longer include a VPN service with its Google One subscription service bundle. Google told 9to5Google that the feature is being discontinued because "people simply weren’t using it." Google first introduced the feature for top-end plans in late 2020, then brought it to all plans just over one year ago. Google still offers a VPN service for owners of recent Pixel phones, and for Google Fi customers.

Android 15 Beta 1 Out Now

Thursday, 4:01 PM   by Rich Brome

Google has released the first test version of Android 15 available to the public. Following two "developer preview" releases, those with a compatible Pixel phone enrolled in Google's beta program can now update to Android 15 Beta 1. (As a beta version, it may be buggy and is not recommended for anyone's primary phone.) New features include an API for satellite connectivity, so apps can intelligently present different features or messages when using satellite instead of a cellular network. Android 15 also brings improved system-level support for third-party apps that can run on small cover screens of foldable phones. An "HDR headroom" feature make it easier for apps to display HDR and non-HDR content side-by-side with more natural brightness appearance. Another new API allows apps to respond to screen recording when visible, protecting security and privacy in certain apps. Android 15 also introduces partial screen sharing. At least two more beta versions are expected before the final version is released some time after July.

Apple Expands Repair Program with Support for Used Parts

Thursday, 10:46 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Thursday, 4:19 PM

Apple is expanding its third-party and self-repair programs to allow the use of used genuine Apple parts when repairing iPhones. The company will also no longer require a device serial number when ordering parts. A new feature will prevent used parts from working fully if they came from a device reported lost or stolen (a device with Activation Lock or Lost Mode enabled). Apple's unique Parts and Service history, located within Settings on iOS, shows repair information and will soon "show whether a part is a new or used genuine Apple part." The use of used parts will come to "select iPhone models this fall". In the interest of "iPhone user's privacy, security, and safety", there are still restrictions on biometric sensors used for Face ID or Touch ID, but "future iPhone releases will have support for used biometric sensors." Apple apparently still uses some form of "parts pairing", a controversial practice. But "beginning this fall, calibration for genuine Apple parts, new or used, will happen on device after the part is installed", a new process that should significantly streamline third-party repairs and self-repair.

AI Tools Coming to All Google Photos Users

Thursday, 10:34 AM   by Rich Brome

Google is bringing some of its newest AI-powered photo-editing tools to nearly all Google Photos users, after first introducing the features as exclusive to its Pixel 8 series of phones. Features like Magic Editor, Photo Unblur, Magic Eraser, and Portrait Light will be available to everyone — even on iOS — starting May 15th. The most powerful and demanding tool, Magic Editor, will be limited to 10 edits per month unless users also subscribe to the "Premium" Google One plan that runs $100/year. Magic Editor uses generative AI to make it easy to do complex photo edits "like repositioning your subject or turning the sky from gray to blue."

Fairphone's New Bluetooth Earbuds are First with Replaceable Batteries

Wednesday, 9:51 AM   by Rich Brome

Fairphone has launched the Fairbuds, the first Bluetooth true wireless earbuds with easily-replaceable batteries, in both the earbuds and the charging case. The Fairbuds are also designed to be easily repairable and come with a three-year warranty. The buds have active noise cancelling (ANC), 11mm titanium drivers, and a dedicated app for both iOS and Android to fine-tune sound profiles (EQ). They offer up to six hours of battery life from the buds alone and another 20 via the charging case. The buds have three microphones each, capacitive touch controls, and an IP54 dust/water rating (light rain and sweat). The Fairbuds are also made with 70% recycled materials. "For now", they are only available in Europe, for €149.

Google Launches New "Find My Device" Network

Apr 8, 2024, 11:44 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Apr 9, 2024, 12:10 PM

Google has launched its new Find My Device app and service, which mimics the capabilities of Apple's Find My app and service, and works in a similar way. Both systems tap into the Bluetooth functions of billions of smartphones and other devices worldwide to help find lost devices and items via automatic crowdsourcing. Location data is aggregated and encrypted to ensure anonymity and privacy. Google's system can be used to locate Android devices starting today, and new Bluetooth tracker tags starting in May. Unlike Google's existing phone-finding system, the new system can find lost devices even when they're offline, and can even find a Pixel 8 or 8 Pro when it's off or the battery is dead. The system provides long-range tracking by showing location on a map, as well as a short-range "Find nearby" mode that shows when you're getting closer to the lost device as you walk around. It can also tap into a Nest smart-home and show to which Nest device the lost item is nearest. The app also lets you share permission to track a device with other people. The new Bluetooth tracker tags will be available from Chipolo, Pebblebee, eufy, Jio, Motorola, and more. The tags will be fully compatible with the new cross-platform unwanted tracking protections developed by Apple and Google. iOS 17.5 brings new support for this standard, ensuring that Apple phone users are protected from stalking via tracking tags using Google's ecosystem, and vice-versa.

FCC to Vote on Net Neutrality, Sale of Location Data

Apr 5, 2024, 10:13 AM   by Rich Brome

The FCC is preparing to vote on broad regulations affecting all broadband providers, including all cellular service providers. Many of the specific regulations are not new; the FCC is simply reclassifying mobile data as a "commercial mobile service" instead of an "information service". This action has the effect of restoring many key FCC regulations that were in force until 2017, but currently only apply to traditional voice service. The effects of this action would be wide-ranging, including restoring "Open Internet" rules, AKA "net neutrality". This would effectively mean the FCC (re-)adopting "bright-line rules to prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization" of specific data traffic over mobile and fixed commercial networks. It also restores "heightened restrictions on carriers' use, disclosure, or provision of access to customers' customer proprietary network information — including customer location information — without consent." The vote will take place on April 25th.

Apple Brings Qi2 Support to iPhone 12

Apr 3, 2024, 10:34 AM   by Rich Brome

The iPhone 12 launched with support for fast 15-watt wireless charging, but only with Apple MagSafe chargers. Macworld reports that iOS 17.4 quietly introduced support for fast wireless charging with third-party chargers using the Qi2 standard.

Data Breach Affects 73 Million Current and Former AT&T Customers

Apr 1, 2024, 9:01 AM   by Rich Brome

AT&T has confirmed a large data breach of its customer data. The data includes full name, email address, mailing address, phone number, social security number, date of birth, AT&T account number, and passcode (4-digit PIN). AT&T has proactively reset the passcodes of affected customers, and sent out notifications via email and/or letter. The data includes 7.6 million current AT&T account holders and 65.4 million former account holders. The data appeared on the dark web recently, but seems to have been collected in 2019. The data does not contain personal financial information or call history.

Oregon Right-to-Repair Law Bans Parts Pairing

Mar 28, 2024, 10:11 AM   by Rich Brome

Oregon has officially passed its own "right to repair" law, joining California, Minnesota and New York. Oregon's law goes further than other states', however, by banning "parts pairing", a practice where components are linked to a specific device serial number. Apple has increasingly deployed this practice with its devices, including iPhones, making them more difficult to repair. Even when properly replacing a part with a genuine replacement, that the device may refuse to use that component, or use it with limited functionality, or throw up a warning to the user that the part is "unidentified". This part of the law goes into effect with products made after January 1, 2025. Other parts of the law take effect sooner. Companies will have to provide parts, tools, and documentation necessary for repairing smartphones made starting July 1, 2021, a date that aligns with the new California and Minnesota right-to-repair laws.

Google Relents on Odd Pixel 8 AI Limitations

Mar 28, 2024, 9:52 AM   by Rich Brome

When Google first announced the Pixel 8 series, certain AI-powered features were limited to the Pixel 8 Pro, even though both the 8 and 8 Pro are powered by the same Tensor G3 chip. This seemingly arbitrary limitation created some backlash. Google has now changed its mind and will bring those AI-powered features to the cheaper Pixel 8 after all with a software update. The reversal calls into question Google's original excuse of "hardware limitations". The new features coming to the Pixel 8 include summaries of speech recordings and "smart replies" in Google's on-screen keyboard software.

Xfinity Mobile Lowers, Simplifies Pricing

Mar 27, 2024, 1:06 PM   by Rich Brome   updated Mar 27, 2024, 1:11 PM

Xfinity Mobile has completely revamped its Unlimited plans, with the replacement plans both offering more and costing less. Two plans replace three. The new base-level plan is simply called "Unlimited" and runs $40/month for one line or as little as $25/line/month for multiple lines. It includes 30 GB of "Premium" 5G data each month and free roaming in Mexico & Canada. It replaces the old "Unlimited Intro" plan, which included neither of those features, and was typically $5/month more expensive (depending on number of lines). The new "Unlimited Plus" plan replaces both the old "Unlimited Plus" and "Unlimited Premium". It offers everything that the top-end Unlimited Premium plan offered, for less than the old mid-range Unlimited Plus. This new Unlimited Plus includes 50 GB of "Premium" 5G data, 15 GB of full-speed mobile hotspot, HD video, and free roaming in Mexico & Canada. It costs an additional $10/line/month compared to the standard "Unlimited" plan. (The old premium plans cost $55–65/month for one line, while this new plan costs $50/month.) Prices exclude taxes and "applicable fees". As always, Xfinity Mobile is only available to customers of Xfinity home internet.

Visible Improves its Premium Plan

Mar 27, 2024, 6:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Visible is enhancing its premium Visible+ plan while keeping the price the same at $45/month. The plan will now include faster mobile hotspot, free smartwatch connectivity, and two international roaming improvements. Unlimited full-speed data in Canada and Mexico is being bumped up from 0.5 to 2 GB per day. For 140 other countries, a "Global Pass" is now available for a flat $10/day that includes unlimited talk and text, and 2GB of high speed data. One free day per month is included with Visible+. Domestic mobile hotspot service is also being doubled in speed from 5 to 10 Mbps. Visible uses the Verizon network. Its plan prices includes all taxes and fees.

Samsung Brings Galaxy AI to More Phones

Mar 26, 2024, 6:00 PM   by Rich Brome

Later this week, Samsung will roll out One UI 6.1 in the US for the the Galaxy S23 series, S23 FE, Z Fold5, and Z Flip5. New features include Circle to Search with Google, Live Translate, Chat Assist, and Generative Edit.

Google and Apple Announce Next Big Keynote Events

Mar 26, 2024, 5:50 PM   by Rich Brome

Google and Apple both have big annual developer events coming up in the next few months. As usual, each will kick off with a major livestreamed keynote. Major new software is typically revealed at these events, including for smartphones. First up is Google I/O, which kicks off on May 14th at 10am Pacific. Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) follows on June 10th.

US Justice Dept. Sues Apple for Monopolistic Behavior in Smartphones

Mar 21, 2024, 11:19 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Mar 21, 2024, 11:19 AM

The US Justice Department, joined by 16 other attorneys general, today filed a civil antitrust lawsuit against Apple for illegal monopolization of smartphone markets. The move comes after the EU forced Apple to change the way it operates in Europe, for similar reasons. Specifically, the Justice Dept. claims several specific offenses:

  • Disrupting the growth of "super apps" with broad functionality that would make it easier to switch platforms.
  • Suppressing streaming game apps and certain other cloud-based applications.
  • Making cross-platform messaging worse, less innovative, and less secure to create platform lock-in.
  • Limiting the functionality of smartwatches when used with other platforms.
  • Limiting third-party apps from offering tap-to-pay functionality.
The complaint further alleges that Apple's illegal conduct also extends to web browsers, video communication, news subscriptions, entertainment, automotive services, advertising, location services, and more. The Justice Department is "seeking equitable relief on behalf of the American public to redress Apple's long-running, pervasive anticompetitive conduct."

Qualcomm Intros Another Chip for Almost-Flagship Phones

Mar 21, 2024, 5:30 AM   by Rich Brome

Qualcomm today announced the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 3 mobile platform, a chipset for high-end phones that are just below "flagship" class. This new chip sits just above the existing Snapdragon 7 Gen 3 in the lineup, and right below the just-announced Snapdragon 8s Gen 3. It brings a long list of improvements compared to last year's Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2 that it replaces. Among these are many firsts for the 7 series, such as on-device generative AI, dual NPU with INT4 precision for always-on AI sensing, a low-power ISP for Always-On Camera, cognitive triple 18-bit ISP, UFS 4.0 storage, support for up to 24 GB of RAM at up to 4,200 MHz, Wi-Fi 7 with HBS, Bluetooth 5.4 with dual antennas, and Frame Motion Engine 2.0 for double-frame-rate gaming. It also has 15% improved CPU and 45% improved GPU performance. It has an Arm Cortex-X4 prime core running at up to 2.8 GHz, 4 performance cores, and 3 efficiency cores. It uses a Snapdragon X63 modem (like the Snapdragon 7 Gen 3) and FastConnect 7800 for local radios (like the Snapdragon 8s Gen 3). Qualcomm expects phones using the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 3 to reach the market in the "coming months".

Qualcomm Expands Snapdragon 8 Series to Cover More Price Points

Mar 18, 2024, 1:30 AM   by Rich Brome

Qualcomm has revealed the Snapdragon 8s Gen 3 Mobile Platform, an expansion of the 8 series to a slightly more affordable price point. Traditionally, the 8 series (like the new 8 Gen 3) powered top-end "flagship" phones, and the 7 series chips powered "affordable flagship" phones one tier below that. The "s" designator in 8s represents an expansion of the Snapdragon naming scheme to create a new sub-tier between "8" and "7" or "7+". The specs of the new Snapdragon 8s Gen 3 are effectively a blend of the current 8 Gen 3 and last year's 8 Gen 2. Qualcomm says that AI and camera are two areas where Qualcomm hasn't compromised, bringing over nearly the full capabilities of the 8 Gen 3. This includes the ability to perform generative AI and run multi-modal AI models with up to 10 billion parameters, all on-device. The 8s Gen 3 borrows several other features from full 8 Gen 3, including Arm Cortex-X4 architecture for the prime CPU core, support for up to 24 GB of RAM, USB version 3.1 Gen 2, and Bluetooth 5.4. Other specs are similar to last year's 8 Gen 2, such as an X70 modem (instead of X75) and 4200 MHz maximum RAM speed (instead of 4800). One area that puts it below both the 8 Gen 2 and 8 Gen 3 is video capture, which tops out at 4K instead of 8K. Qualcomm expects the Snapdragon 8s Gen 3 to appear in phones launching globally, and soon (in a few months or even weeks.) Read on for a more detailed comparison between the 8 Gen 2, 8s Gen 3, and 8 Gen 3.

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