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YouTube Music App Integrates Charts as Playlists

Today, 4:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its YouTube Music mobile app with YouTube Charts. The charts are available as playlists within the YouTube Music app and are accessible from all 29 markets where YouTube Music operates. Google says the charts contain the freshest, hottest songs and videos, which can be streamed or downloaded (for premium subscribers). Each country is given access to five charts: three from their own region and two world charts. Users can add the charted playlists to their own library if they wish. Some of the charts include the top 100 songs, top 100 videos, and top 20 trending songs, based on fast-rising new releases. YouTube Music is available to Android and iOS devices via the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.

Asus CEO Departs Amid Internal Reorganization

Today, 1:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Asus today said its CEO, Jerry Shen, plans to vacate his leadership role after a tenure of 11 years. Shen has been in various roles with Asus for more than 25 years, and oversaw the company's PC and phone businesses. Asus is adjusting its strategy moving forward and will target gamers and power users. The company's latest, the ROG Phone, is a high-end offering for the gaming market. Shen is headed to a startup called iFast where he will serve as chairman and CEO. Asus plans to adopt a co-CEO structure with responsibilities split between executives S.Y. Hsu and Samson Hu. The change goes into effect January 1, 2019.

Google Brings Australian and British Accents to Assistant

Today, 12:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said people in the U.S. can opt for either an Australian accent or a British accent when using Google Assistant. The voices were built using DeepMind's speech synthesis model WaveNet, according to Google. WaveNet "uses deep neural networks to generate raw audio waveforms — resulting in more realistic and natural-sounding voices," explained Google. People wishing to change the voice of their Assistant can do so via the Settings > Assistant > Assistant Voice. The new options include "Sydney Harbour Blue" and "British Racing Green." Apart from the accent, all Google Assistant features are still the same. People can still rely on Google Assistant to set timers, check the weather, or inquire about their commute.

Opera Browser for Android Adds Crypto Wallet and Web 3

Today, 11:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Opera Software today launched a new version of its Opera browser for Android devices that takes a step toward the internet's future. The latest build of Opera, based on blockchain, now includes an integrated crypto wallet and Web 3 support. By adding blockchain to the browser, Opera works with Ethereum, a blockchain-based coin for Web 3 transactions. Android device owners can get started by downloading Opera, then purchasing some Ethereum cryptocurrency and storing it in Opera's crypto wallet. This will allow people to make Web 3 purchases directly from Opera. This is important because Web 3 is based on the idea of decentralization. Distributed apps (Dapps) are what's used in Web 3 and the only way to manage transactions in Dapps is via cryptocurrency. The benefit is that people have far greater control over their privacy and identity. Opera knows that consumer understanding of blockchain and cryptocurrency needs a boost. "Until now, using cryptocurrencies online and accessing Web 3 required special apps or extensions, making it difficult for people to even try it out," said Charles Hamel, Product Manager of Opera Crypto. By adding a crypto wallet and Web 3 to its browser, Opera's goal is to "accelerate the transition of cryptocurrencies from speculation and investment to being used for actual payments and transactions in our users' daily lives." Opera is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Qualcomm Targets Newest Apple iPhones In China

Today, 10:50 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm is seeking to add the iPhone XR and iPhone XS to the list of devices banned from import into China. Qualcomm won a patent-related victory earlier this week when a Chinese court agreed that Apple violated a Qualcomm patent. The Chinese court banned infringing devices (iPhone 6s/Plus, iPhone 7/Plus, iPhone 8/Plus, and iPhone X) from entering the country. Though that ban has yet to go into effect, Qualcomm wants Apple's newest phones also kept out of the country. Earlier this week Apple said all its devices remain available for sale in China, despite the ruling. Qualcomm and Apple have ongoing patent-related legal skirmishes taking place in courts around the globe.

Blu Vivo Go Packs Android 9 Pie Go Edition

Today, 10:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Blu today revealed the Vivo Go, a sub-$100 smartphone that runs the Go Edition of Android 9 Pie. Android Go focuses on delivering the core Android experience through lightweight versions of Google's apps. The phone has a curved glass front, mirrored frame, and metal-plated rear panel. The Vivo Go includes a 6-inch, HD+ (1,440 by 720p) screen with a 2:1 aspect ratio. It is powered by a 1.5 GHz quad-core MediaTek chipset with 1 GB of memory and 16 GB of storage. The phone supports microSD memory cards up to 64 GB. Blu paired an 8-megapixel main sensor with a VGA secondary sensor on the rear. The dual-camera setup supports adjustable depth-of-field portrait shooting. The selfie camera has a 5-megapixel sensor and a flash of its own. Other features include a rear-mounted fingerprint reader, 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB, and basic support for AT&T/Cricket Wireless and T-Mobile/Metro. The Blu Vivo Go goes on sale via Amazon.com today for $80. It will be available briefly at a price of $60 upon launch.

Google Maps Will Help You Find Lime Scooters and Bikes

Today, 9:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a new partnership with Lime that hopes to help people get across the "last mile" of their journey. In 13 cities around the world, Maps will display the location of nearby Lime scooters, bikes, and e-bikes. The option to use Lime will appear under the transit icon when navigating between points. Maps will detail the closest Lime vehicle, the vehicle type, how long it will take to walk to the vehicle, how much the ride will cost, and the total journey time. Lime users can integrate their Lime card with Google Maps. Tapping on Lime in Maps will then take people to the Lime app and provide all the necessary details to book a scooter, find it, and unlock it. In the U.S., Lime scooters will be visible in Austin, Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose, Scottsdale, and Seattle. International cities include Auckland, New Zealand, and Brisbane, Australia. The feature is available in Maps for both Android and iOS.

Apple to Invest $1B In Austin and Hire Thousands Around the US

Today, 9:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today announced plans to build a new campus in Austin and expand its presence in a wide range of other markets with new hires. The company will invest $1 billion in the Austin campus, which entails a 133-acre site capable of handling up to 15,000 employees. Apple claims that once the Austin site is fully staffed, it will make Apple the largest private employer in Texas. The Austin campus will include engineering, R&D, operations, finance, sales, and customer support jobs. Apple already has 6,200 employees at its existing Austin facility. Apple said it will establish new sites in Culver City, Seattle, and San Diego. Existing Apple sites in Boston, Boulder, New York, Pittsburgh, and Portland, Ore., will add an unspecified number of jobs over the next three years. Apple claims it added 6,000 jobs in the U.S. during 2018 and now employs 90,000 people in all 50 states. Apple said it is on track to create 20,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2023. The company plans to invest $10 billion in U.S. data centers over the next five years, and expand data centers in Arizona, Nevada, and N. Carolina. The newest data center is being prepared for Waukee, Ida. "Apple is proud to bring new investment, jobs and opportunity to cities across the United States," said Apple CEO Tim Cook. "Talent, creativity and tomorrow's breakthrough ideas aren't limited by region or zip code."

ITC to Weigh Apple/Qualcomm Import Ban Ruling

Today, 8:43 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. International Trade Commission plans to review an earlier ruling that found Apple guilty of infringing on a Qualcomm patent, but did not seek to ban iPhone imports. In September, an administrative law judge determined that Apple violated one of three Qualcomm patents pertaining to how smartphones perform without consuming too much power. Qualcomm had asked the ITC to ban Apple from importing the infringing iPhones into the U.S., but the law judge said such a ban was not in the U.S. interest. Now, the full ITC panel will review the earlier decision to determine what steps to take. Qualcomm said it was pleased to see its lawsuit take another step forward. The two companies are battling one another in courts around the world over patents and royalties, with each company seeings wins and losses. Earlier this week, Qualcomm won a case against Apple in China that may see iPhones banned from the People's Republic.

MediaTek Helio P90 Optimized for AI and Photography

Today, 8:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

MediaTek today announced the Helio P90, a system-on-a-chip that delivers improvements to artificial intelligence performance and media capture. The P90 is an octa-core chip with two ARM A75 cores at 2.2 GHz and six A55 cores at 2.0 GHz. MediaTek paired the processor cores with the Imagination Technologies PowerVR GM 9446 GPU. The company says its new CorePilot technology doles out tasks so each is handled with the proper balance of performance and efficiency across the eight cores. The P90 adopts MediaTek's new APU 2.0, which can muster four times the AI performance of the Helio P60 and P70. MediaTek says this APU is able to provide more accurate results while conserving power. All this leads to better AI-based experiences, such as human pose and movement tracking, Google Lens, facial recognition, augmented reality, as well as real-time enhancements while using the camera or video camera. The chip supports a number of camera configurations, including a single 48-megapixel sensor or paired 24-/16-megapixel sensors. Cameras supported by the P90 will be able to snag HD super slow-motion video at 480fps. The P90 packs triple image signal processors (ISP) capable of capturing 14-bit RAW images. The ISP has its own AI engine for face/scene detection in low light. On the connectivity front, the P90 can handle dual SIM devices with Cat 12 LTE. It includes 4x4 MIMO and 256QAM for better data throughput, as well as 2x2 WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0. MediaTek expects to see the chip in consumer devices by the end of the first quarter of 2019.

Google Makes It Easy to Give Charitably Via the Play Store

Yesterday, 5:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said the Google Play Store can now accept charitable donations. Residents of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Taiwan, and Indonesia will see the opportunity to give pop up in the Play Store over the next few days. Google says the full donated amount goes directly to the nonprofit of your choice. Some of the organizations include the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Girls Who Code, Save the Children, UNICEF, and the World Wildlife Fund. Google hopes the new tool helps people provide assistance to communities outside of their own during the holiday season.

California Proposes to Tax Text Messages to Fund Service for Low-Income Residents

Yesterday, 5:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

California state legislators have suggested the state implement a tax on text messages in order to help fund the Public Purpose Program. The PPP is similar to the Mobility Fund operated by the federal government. It levies a tax on wireless services and uses those funds to offer low-cost or free wireless service to low-income residents. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which is the entity behind the proposal, says the texting tax could help close the PPP's budget gap, which stands at close to $330 million. Because the proposal would still tax voice calls, the CPUC suggests those who talk more than text will see a higher tax based on those voice calls, while those who text more than talk will see a higher tax based on those texts. The CTIA, a lobbying group for the wireless industry, pushed back against the proposal. "Subjecting wireless carriers' text messaging traffic to surcharges that cannot be applied to the lion's share of messaging traffic and messaging providers is illogical, anticompetitive and harmful to consumers," said the CTIA in a filing. The tax would not apply to messaging services such as iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, all of which push messages over data connections, rather than the legacy short-messaging service connection. Some suggest the new tax would unfairly impact the very people the plan proposes to help. The CPUC could vote on the matter as early as this week.

FCC Clears Path for mmWave 5G Incentive Auction

Yesterday, 1:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC today took measures that will lead to an auction for 5G spectrum in 2019. The agency adopted new rules to make a total of 3,400 MHz of mmWave spectrum available in the 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands. All three bands will be broken into 100 MHz blocks and licensed by partial economic areas. The auction will be an incentive auction for contiguous blocks of spectrum. Incentives will be given to those entities that choose to relinquish their spectrum holdings and make new licenses available. There will be two phases to the auction, a “clock phase” wherein bidders can bid on generic license blocks and an “assignment phase” in which clock phase winners can bid on specific frequencies.The FCC didn’t go as far as setting a date for the auction, but it often targets the November timeframe. This high-band spectrum is ideal for providing capacity.

FCC Acts Against Spam Calls and Messages By Handing Control to Carriers

Yesterday, 12:36 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 2:16 PM

The FCC today approved several declaratory rulings that aim to protect consumers from robocalls and spam messages. Though the move was taken under the guise of safeguarding everyday people, the changes in effect give carriers more control over their networks in ways that could harm consumers. First, the FCC agreed to create a database of reassigned numbers. Legitimate callers can check the list to see if the party they intend to reach is still available at a given number. If the number has been reassigned, callers cannot dial that number until the new owner gives them permission. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called for this tool to be made freely available to consumers. Second, the FCC reclassified text (SMS) and picture/video (MMS) messages as information services, rather than telecommunications services. The latter would allow for more government regulation of such services. This move gives carriers more control over messaging services through robotext-blocking and anti-spoofing measures. Many fear this change will allow carriers to block or censor legitimate messages that they might not like. Commission Rosenworcel fully dissented on the latter declaratory ruling. “Today the FCC makes the same mess for text messages it did for Net Neutrality⁠⁠ last year,” said Rosenworcel via her Twitter account. “That means your carrier now has the legal right to block your text messages and censor the very content of your messages themselves.”

Samsung to Shutter Mobile Phone Plant in China

Yesterday, 9:05 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung says it plans to stop making phones at its manufacturing plant in Tianjin, China. Samsung will close the factory entirely, laying off some 2,600 people by the end of the year. "As part of ongoing efforts to enhance efficiency in our production facilities, Samsung Electronics has arrived at the difficult decision to cease operations of Tianjin Samsung Electronics Telecommunication," said Samsung in a statement. The Tianjin plant is responsible for making about 36 million phones per year. Samsung's share of the Chinese market has sunk from 15% in 2013 to about 1% in 2018. Samsung's high-priced Galaxy S and Galaxy Note phones have found steep competition from lower-cost devices from Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi, Meizu, and Huawei. Samsung will keep its plant in Huizhou, which makes about 72 million phones per year, operational. Samsung insists that China "remains an important market" for the company.

OnePlus 5/5T Score Android 9 Pie In Latest OxygenOS Beta

Yesterday, 8:50 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus today made Android 9 Pie available to the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T through a new open beta of OxygenOS. The introduction of Pie gives the 5/5T a brand new user interface based more on swiping gestures. The beta includes Pie's Do Not Disturb mode, which lets people be more proactive about silencing their phones. In addition to the core features of Pie, OnePlus improved the UI when calling 911 and when using speed dial, and made it possible to assign a specific SIM for a specific contact or group when using two SIM cards. The 5/5T gain support for more parallel apps, including Telegram, Discord, IMP, and Uber. OnePlus made a number of changes to the weather tool. For example, it now automatically displays the weather for the current location, offers more suggestions when performing place searches, and fixes bugs impacting the ability to properly locate certain cities and towns. Owners already taking advantage of the OnePlus open beta program will receive Android 9 Pie as an over-the-air download. Those not signed up will need to do so in order to gain access to the updated operating system. OnePlus says the OTA download will reach users in phases over the next few days.

DoJ Investigating Fraudulent Net Neutrality Comments

Yesterday, 8:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

An investigation seeks to find the truth concerning millions of fake comments submitted to the FCC in 2017 as the agency sought the opinion's public on net neutrality. The Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation of the matter at the request of those whose names were used without permission. A subpoena from the DoJ "seeks all communications with the organization about comments it filed with the FCC regarding revision of Obama-era 'net neutrality' rules," reports the Wall Street Journal. The FCC was flooded with millions of comments during the open comment period. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai conceded earlier this year that as many as 500,000 comments filed with the FCC were linked to Russia. A separate study suggests that almost half of the 22 million comments were illegitimate. Many others repeated the same message in favor of repealing the laws. As little as 17% of the comments appear to be legitimate. The FBI is seeking documents from at least two organizations to ascertain if identity theft was involved.

Huawei CFO Freed On $10M Bail, Must Remain in Canada

Yesterday, 8:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Canada has released Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's CFO, after her lawyers convinced a judge to grant bail. Meng was arrested in Vancouver on December 1 at the behest of the U.S. Department of Justice. The U.S. alleges Meng has defrauded multinational banks concerning equipment sales to Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions. Meng had to pay $10 million, turn in her passport, and agree to wear an ankle monitor in order to secure bail. She is also confined to her home during the overnight hours. While on bail, a Canadian judge will review the U.S. case against Meng to determine if it is strong enough to warrant extradition. If the case passes this examination, Canada's minister of justice would then have to agree with the extradition request before she could be handed to U.S. authorities. Meng is facing penalties of up to 30 years per charge. The arrest has further strained the tenuous relationship between China and the U.S. Later, President Trump said he might intervene in the case in order to ensure national security interests are upheld or to facilitate a trade agreement with China.

OnePlus Drops the Checkered Flag On OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition

Tuesday, 8:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus today announced the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition, a special edition of the 6T developed in partnership with McLaren F1. Most of the core features of the phone are unchanged, but the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition boosts the RAM to 10 GB and introduces new Warp Charge 30, which will recharge the battery by 50% in just 20 minutes. The OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition also includes custom animations, themes, wallpapers, and icons that aren't available to other variants of the 6T. On the exterior, the McLaren Edition is detailed with an orange stripe and has a carbon fiber-like pattern under the glass on the rear panel. The OnePlus 6T McLaren edition will be available in North America, Europe, and India on December 13th starting at $699

Google App for iOS Gains Google Lens Visual Search

Tuesday, 8:36 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google recently updated the Google Search app for iOS devices and added the Google Lens visual search feature. The Google Lens icon now appears in the search bar. Pressing it turns on the camera, which can then be aimed at objects, text, plants/animals, books/media, and QR/barcodes. Objects and items that Google recognizes will generate results that are displayed on the screen. Google Lens is already part of Google Photos on iOS. This latest feature simplifies the process of searching based on images rather than words. The updated version of Google Search for iOS is rolling out to users now.

Instagram Users Can Now Send One Another Voice Messages

Monday, 4:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today said users can put the direct messaging tool inside its mobile app to work with their voice. The private messaging function now supports voice messages. "Talk the way you want to be heard, whether by whispering what you’re up to or shouting a compliment," said Instagram. The feature is rolling out to Android and iOS devices over the next few days.

Bug Accelerates Google's Plan to Close Google+

Monday, 1:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said a new bug introduced last month has caused it to speed up efforts to shut down the consumer version of Google+. The bug was part of an update to one of Google+'s APIs and it left the data of some 50 million users exposed. Google says to its knowledge no one knew about or exploited the vulnerability. The incident convinced Google to move up the expected shut down of Google+ from August 2019 to April 2019. Google had already announced plans to shutter Google+ for consumers, while leaving it open for some business users. Google suggests people delete or download any data still in their Google+ account.

Google Fit Gains Widget and Breathe Functions

Monday, 12:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its Google Fit app for Android devices and bestowed the health-minded tool with a few new features. To start, Google Fit gains a home screen widget where users can quickly view their daily progress at a glance. The widget provides information about Heart Points, Move Minutes, and other daily stats. It can feature the most recent workout on the home screen, and now allows users to adjust activity intensity when manually logging workouts for more accurate Heart Points. Last, Google Fit for Wear OS will guide users through a breathing exercise when so desired to help them unwind and relax. Google says these features will reach Android phones and Wear OS watches over the next few days.

Verizon Cost-Cutting Efforts See Departure of 10,400 Employees

Monday, 11:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Communications today said that about 10,400 employees have accepted a voluntary buyout offer and will leave the company at various stages over the next six months. Verizon says the workforce reduction, which impacts roughly 7% of employees, leaves the company better positioned for growth. It aligns with Verizon's recently overhauled organizational structure as it focuses on bringing 5G to market. Verizon tried to put a positive spin on it, saying the changes will "be seamless to our customers" and "better serve customers with more agility, speed and flexibility." The Voluntary Separation Program offered employees up to 60 weeks' salary, bonus, and benefits, depending on how long they were with the company. Verizon's most recent headcount stood at more than 152,000 employees.

China Bans Import of Some iPhones in Win for Qualcomm

Monday, 9:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today said that a Chinese court has granted two preliminary injunctions against Apple subsidiaries. The ruling orders the subsidiaries to "immediately cease infringing upon two Qualcomm patents through the unlicensed importation, sale and offers for sale in China of the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X." Qualcomm alleges that Apple is violating two of its patents, which let people resize and reformat pictures, and to view, navigate, and dismiss apps using a touch screen. Qualcomm says the patents were previously upheld as valid by the Chinese patent office. Qualcomm is seeking similar relief for other patents that it claims Apple is violating in China and other markets. Qualcomm and Apple have been locked in a bitter patent-related feud for nearly two years. Though today's preliminary ruling calls for "immediate" action, it's not clear how soon any sort of ban might actually begin. Apple did not immediately comment on the matter.

Files by Google Gains USB Device Support

Monday, 8:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google's on-device file and storage management app has new powers thanks to a recent update. The app can now access external USB storage devices and move files using USB on-the-go. In short, it allows users to plug in any USB flash drive or card and view the contents through Files by Google. The update also adds the ability to view full folder structures on phones and/or connected devices. Bug fixes are aboard, too. Files by Google is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google Maps' 'For You' Tab Reaches iOS

Monday, 8:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today extended the availability of its For You feature in Google Maps to iOS devices. The feature was first rolled out to Android phones earlier this year. Moving forward, iPhone owners will be able to follow their favorite places, such as coffee shops or record stores. News from the followed place will then appear under the For You tab within maps. Places can advertise sales, offers, and events in this space where followers can check in for updates any time. Google Maps is also making it possible to keep tabs on places that haven't yet opened. Businesses prepping new locations can add profiles to Maps as much as three months before launch. People can follow the profile as soon as it becomes available, where they can be kept up-to-date on launch details. The For You tab will reach iOS devices in more than 40 countries over the next few days. At the same time, Google says it expanded the availability of For You in Maps for Android to a total of 130 countries. Google Maps is free to download.

Essential Products Picks Up Email Company

Dec 7, 2018, 7:27 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Essential Products has acquired CloudMagic, the company behind the Newton email service. Essential told TechCrunch that it is "always on the lookout for companies with great technology and talent to help accelerate our product roadmap." The deal has sparked curiosity, as CloudMagic shut Newton down in September, stranding about 40,000 subscribers who'd paid for the service. Essential's future is unclear. The company's only phone, the Essential Phone, did not resonate with consumers. Essential dropped about one-third of its hardware staff in October. It has not announced any new products for some time.

Qualcomm Lays Off Hundreds in California and N. Carolina

Dec 7, 2018, 7:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm has trimmed 269 jobs from data center locations in California and North Carolina. Earlier this year, the company said its data center business was struggling. It cut more than 1,500 jobs in April. "Qualcomm conducted a small reduction of our full-time and temporary workforce in certain areas of the company," said Qualcomm in a statement provided to TechCrunch. This week, the company made significant announcements concerning future products, including its signature processor for 2019, the Snapdragon 855. The 855 will serve as the brains in next year's high-end flagship phones from the likes of LG, OnePlus, and Samsung.

Huawei's Meng Facilitated Deals with Iran, Says U.S.

Dec 7, 2018, 7:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is facing extradition to the U.S. so she can face accusations that she hid connections with a company in order to sell sanctioned equipment to Iran. The U.S. first issued a warrant for Meng's arrest in August; she was arrested on Dec. 1 in Vancouver and has been held there since. The government alleges that Meng relied on Skycom Tech Co, based in Hong Kong, to sell HP computers to Iran in violation of U.S. and EU law. Skycom had an office in Tehran and was effective run by Huawei. She faces charges of conspiracy to defraud multiple financial institutions, which could carry a prison sentence of 30 years. Meng sought bail in a hearing held today in Vancouver. The U.S. now has 60 days to formally request Meng's extradition. A Canadian judge will ascertain whether or not the case against Meng is strong enough. If deemed solid, Canada's justice minister will be responsible for making the decision to turn her over. The U.S. has long held that Huawei's ties to the Chinese government are too close, and that Huawei represents a security risk to the country. The government has already banned employees from using Huawei phones. Early this year, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and others shelved plans to sell Huawei phones. Carriers are prohibited from using Huawei's telecommunication equipment, and the U.S. has advised carriers in other countries to also ban Huawei gear.

Senators Want FCC to Keep Messaging Classified as an Information Service as FCC Probes Carrier Coverage Maps

Dec 7, 2018, 6:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

A handful of Senators are asking the FCC to protect messaging services by keeping them classified as an information service. Last month, the FCC announced plans to reduce robocalls and spam messages. Part of that effort includes reclassifying text messages as a telecommunications service. This would give carriers more power to control messaging services through robotext-blocking and anti-spoofing measures. The FCC sees this as a positive for consumers, but 10 Democratic lawmakers, led by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, have asked the FCC to leave messaging alone. They posit that this would allow carriers to block or censor the content of messages if the carrier decided the messages were in violation of terms of service. The FCC is set to vote on this matter later this month. Separately, the FCC has said it plans to investigate whether or not carriers have been honest concerning their coverage, particularly in rural areas. Under the Mobility Fund Phase II program, the government is looking to provide up to $4.53 billion in funding over the next 10 years to help carriers expand coverage in rural areas. The major carriers were required to submit data on their coverage to establish where government funding is needed. This data appears to have caught the attention of the FCC. "A preliminary review of speed test data submitted through the challenge process suggested significant violations of the Commission's rules. That's why I've ordered an investigation into these matters," said Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC. The agency is suspending the Mobility Fund project until it completes its investigation.

Google Cutting Off Play Store Support for Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Dec 6, 2018, 7:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said that it will no longer update Google Play Services for Android 4.x Ice Cream Sandwich. Google says the active device count for Ice Cream Sandwich is below 1% of all users and has been for some time. The company will deprecate support for the seven-year-old platform in future updates to Google Play Services. Google Play Services is a core functionality of Android and is used to update Google apps and apps from Google Play. This means that any Ice Cream Sandwich-based devices still in use will no longer be able to update the installed apps. This move effectively ends Google's support for the platform. Google says developers should adjust their code accordingly and target API level 16 and up.

T-Mobile iPhone eSIM Support On Track for Launch By Year's End

Dec 6, 2018, 7:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile hopes to offer support for the newer iPhones' eSIM by the end of the year, according to a report from PCMag. The carrier is distributing training materials concerning its eSIM app to staff this week. T-Mobile will allow iPhone Xs, Xs Max, and Xr owners to sign up for prepaid T-Mobile service on the eSIM using this new app. T-Mobile will continue to require physical SIM cards for primary lines and family plans. AT&T and Verizon's method for activating the eSIM requires users to visit a store or use a scannable QR code sent via the carrier. AT&T began allowing the eSIM today, and Verizon is expected to support the eSIM tomorrow. The eSIM is already supported by GigSky and Truphone. Sprint is not likely to support the eSIM until 2019.

Verizon Offering First Responders Discounts On Personal Lines

Dec 6, 2018, 2:43 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today said it is extending first responder discounts to the personal lines of state and local police, fire, and EMS employees. Current and former first responders, including volunteers and retirees, can sign up for the Go Unlimited plan and receive per-line savings. A single line saves $15 per month, two lines save $35, and three or more lines save $40. A family of four can enjoy Go Unlimited for $120. The discount requires autopay and does not include taxes and fees. Verizon says first responder customers will need to log into their account and upload the proper documentation, or visit a store, to receive the discount.

Huawei Investigation Suggests Bank Fraud Involving HSBC

Dec 6, 2018, 2:25 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Reuters today reports that the U.S. investigation into Huawei's potential violation of sanctions involves "an alleged scheme to use the global banking system to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran." The U.S. has been looking into Huawei's behavior since 2016, and recently focused on the company's use of HSBC to hide transactions made with Iran. HSBC was itself investigated by the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn for violating sanctions and money-laundering laws, and paid a fine of $1.92 billion in 2012. Reuters' source says HSBC is not under investigation at this time. The U.S. took dramatic action on its investigation when it had Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou arrested in Canada. Meng is expected to be extradited to the U.S. The U.S. has maintained for some time that Huawei represents a security threat due to its ties with the Chinese government. Representatives from Huawei and HSBC declined to comment on Reuters' story. Earlier this year, China-based ZTE was penalized by the government for similar transgressions involving Iran.

AT&T and Verizon Turning On Support for iPhone eSIM

Dec 6, 2018, 12:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T and Verizon Wireless have confirmed that the latest system update for iPhones from Apple has made it possible to support the eSIM on their networks. AT&T is activating eSIM support on the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR starting today. It won't cost AT&T subscribers to use the feature. "AT&T does not charge for a SIM Card/eSIM Card for device upgrades or new lines of service," said the company in a statement provided to Fierce Wireless. Verizon told Fierce that it will initiate support for the eSIM starting tomorrow, December 7. T-Mobile is still working to make eSIM happen, but has not provided a timeline for bringing the feature to its customers. The eSIM in the newer iPhones allows the devices to act as though they have dual SIM cards. Owners can designate one SIM as the primary and use that for calls, messaging, and data. The secondary SIM acts as a separate account and can handle calls and texts.

WatchOS Update Adds ECG App and Heart Rhythm Monitor

Dec 6, 2018, 12:28 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple said owners of the Apple Watch can expect to see watchOS 5.1.2 arrive later today. This update targets the new Series 4 smartwatch and introduces features Apple first revealed earlier this year. The Series 4 gains an ECG app, which gives people the ability to take an electrocardiogram (ECG). Electrodes built into the back of the Digital Crown support the feature. Watch owners need only launch the app and press and hold the Digital Crown for 30 seconds. In addition to taking the ECG, the app also looks for irregular heart rhythms. The Watch is specifically looking for signs of atrial fibrillation, which is a warning sign of imminent health events such as a stroke. Apple worked with the FDA for years in order make this possible. The results are stored securely in the Health app on the associated iPhone and can be shard in PDF form with health care providers. All Apple Watches gain access to an improved heart rhythm detector. The detector uses the optical heart sensor on the Watch to check the rhythm occasionally. If it detects any abnormalities, it will alert the wearer. This feature was validated by testing hundreds of people. Apple says these new tools will need to be turned on. An onscreen setup flow teaches Apple Watch owners what the features can do, what they cannot do, what types of results they may get, and how to interpret those results and take action if warranted. watchOS 5.1.2 will be available for download today.

Blu Vivo XL4 Boasts Wide-Angle Selfie Camera and Facemoji

Dec 6, 2018, 10:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Blu Products today unveiled the Vivo XL4, an affordable device with a large screen. The XL4 has a curved glass front and a metal chassis. The notched display measures 6.2 inches across the diagonal and has slim side bezels. The display resolution is HD+ with 1,520 by 720 pixels in a 19:9 aspect ratio. The XL4 is powered by a 2.0 GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P22 processor with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The main camera has a 13-/2-megapixel configuration and supports portrait or bokeh-style images. The selfie camera also has a 13-megapixel sensor. It can take advantage of pixel binning in low light situations, as well as capture wide-angle shots. The selfie cam powers the Facemoji feature, which lets people create animated likenesses of themselves that can then be shared via social media. Other features of the Vivo XL4 include a 4,000mAh battery with quick charge, fingerprint sensor, microSD memory card slot, microUSB, dual SIM card, and split-screen operation when in landscape orientation. The phone runs Android 8.1 Oreo and is sold unlocked via Amazon. The retail price is $150, but it is being offered at $99 for a short time. The Vivo XL4 supports AT&T/Cricket and T-Mobile/Metro.

OnePlus CEO Suggests 5G Phone May Carry $200 - $300 Price Premium

Dec 6, 2018, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Phones equipped with 5G will not be cheap, according to OnePlus CEO Peter Lau. Speaking to Phone Scoop on the sidelines of the Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit, Lau suggested that 5G technology may add as much as $200 to $300 more to the cost of phones such as the OnePlus 6T. The 6T, which went on sale earlier this year, has a starting price of $549 — putting the anticipated price of a 5G variant as high as $849. Even at $849, however, the cost of a 5G-equipped OnePlus 6T falls well under the cost of flagship phones from Apple and Samsung, which breach the $1,250 mark. Lau noted the cost increase would help cover the research and development investments the company has made to engineer 5G capabilities into its product line. The company has done what it can to keep the cost as low as possible. The 5G device from OnePlus in question, to be launched first with EE in the U.K., will rely on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor. It may or may not be the first device to launch with the new silicon from Qualcomm. The company has not revealed any other features of the phone, other than to say it won't be a wholly new flagship. The four major U.S. carriers plan to launch mobile 5G service starting later this month with deployments stretching into 2020 and beyond. OnePlus has not specifically stated that its 5G device will come to the U.S. Carriers AT&T and Verizon Wireless suggested that consumers will pay whatever it costs to adopt 5G technology.

Google’s Allo App to Retire In March 2019

Dec 5, 2018, 8:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today clarified which messaging products it will focus on moving forward and Allo doesn’t make the cut. Google says the AI-assisted chat app will be sunset in March 2019. Google paused developing the app earlier this year. The company has moved some features over to the Android Messages app. Google says Android Messages is the main text-based app for reaching out to friends and family. Messages is being enhanced with rich communications services (RCS) thanks to some 40 carriers around the world. RCS means Messages can offer advanced features like group chats, read receipts, and large file transfers. At the same time, Google is sticking with Duo, its simple-to-use video chat app. Duo recently expanded to the iPad and other devices. Google says Duo is popular and highly rated and will continue to be its video chat app for consumers. Google Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet are focused on business users of G Suite, where they can be properly supported by companies.

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