T-Mobile today added the ZTE Zinger to its lineup of prepaid phones. The Zinger, which is the same as the Z667 sold by AT&T, is an affordable Android smartphone with a 3.5-inch screen, 1.2GHz dual-core processor, and 2.0-megapixel camera. The phone supports Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi, but not LTE 4G. It comes with Android 4.4 KitKat and costs about $50 before adding service.
Yahoo today updated its Aviate launcher for Android devices and made it easier to perform searches. According to Yahoo, Aviate users can now search through apps, people, and the web directly from the home screen without requiring them to open a new window first. Aviate gains new compatibility with the Motorola Nexus 6 and adds support for live wallpapers, too. Last, Aviate received several performance improvements and bug fixes. The Aviate launcher is free to download from the Google Play Store. It is compatible with devices running Android 4.0 and up.
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Google recently updated its Google+ app for iOS devices. The latest version of Google+ adds support for the screen sizes and resolutions of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The revised app makes it easier to vote on polls and share a wider range of content/media with Google+. The app also makes several performance improvements and bug fixes. Google+ is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Ticketmaster recently updated its iOS application and added support for Apple Pay. iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners can now authorize ticket purchases using Apple Pay via the Touch ID fingerprint reader. Ticketmaster is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Mexico's equivalent of the FTC today approved AT&T's proposed acquisition of provider Iusacell with unknown specifications, reports Reuters. AT&T first proposed the deal last month. Iusacell offers wireless service under its own name and the Unefon brand name. It has 8.6 million subscribers, but covers about 70% of Mexico's population of 120 million. AT&T will gain the subscribers, spectrum licenses, network assets, and retail operations of Iusacell, once the purchase is completed. The Mexican watchdog also gave Grupo Salinas, which owns 50% of Iusacell, permission to buy out its partner. With 100% ownership, Grupo Salinas is able to sell Iusacell in its entirety to AT&T. AT&T said it plans to expand Iusacell's network to cover more Mexicans and sees the acquisition as a long-term growth opportunity. Iusacell will remain headquartered in Mexico City. The FCC and FTC still need to approve the deal from the U.S. side of the border.
ZTE has decided to reduce the number of devices it will bring to market during 2015. Rather than flood the market with a range of handsets, ZTE will focus on just a few devices that offer its core experience. Zeng Xuezhong, CEO of ZTE's phone business, told the China Daily Report, "We had a large volume in the market, but it did not help increase our brand value. We have introduced a strategy to increase the value - instead of the volume - of our products by focusing on developing core technology in major devices. There will be more products equipped with high technology that will be launched next year, which will help boost our presence in the high-end mobile industry." ZTE has long sold entry-level and mid-range devices in the U.S., most often through prepaid providers. Recently, it offered higher-quality handsets in the ZMax and XMax. ZTE didn't say when it intends to next launch new smartphones for the U.S. market.
Yahoo today indicated the company is taking steps to further reduce the number of products and services it offers. Most of the cutbacks announced by Yahoo today affect localized web sites in South America, Europe, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region. Further, Yahoo is trimming both profile.yahoo.com and alert.yahoo.com for all users in favor of streamlined account management tools and user-based alerts. As far as mobile products are concerned, Yahoo is closing up shop on Yahoo Classic Games, which includes Yahoo Poker, Yahoo Pool, and Yahoo Bingo. Yahoo believes there are plenty of third-party games available. Last, Yahoo is going to cease supporting Yahoo-customized Mail APIs after February 9, 2015. This will affect how people access Yahoo Mail from mobile devices. In its place, Yahoo will make IMAP service with OAuth-2.0 available in early 2015. Yahoo believes IMAP with OAuth-2.0 will provide a better mobile email experience moving forward. Yahoo said it will help third-party developers transition from the Mail APIs to IMAP in the weeks ahead.
Facebook today gave Messenger users access to new holiday-themed stickers and photo tools. A minor update to Messenger for both Android and iOS devices adds new sticker packs, snow globe chat heads, and a New Year's Eve selfie frame. Facebook is also offering a lightweight app from Creative Labs called Stickered. It lets people add stickers to photos for light-hearted mashups. Stickers for Messenger would reach the Play Store today and the iTunes App Store in the days ahead. Facebook said the update to Messenger also makes some improvement tweaks, including faster performance. Facebook Messenger is free to download from the Play Store and App Store.
T-Mobile today agreed to pay the FTC and FCC a total of $90 million to settle accusations that the company was complicit in allowing third-parties to charge customers for unwanted services. An FTC and FCC investigation found T-Mobile guilty of breaking the law by "engaging in an unjust and unreasonable practice of billing consumers for products or services they had not authorized; and failing to provide a brief, clear, non-misleading, plain language description of the third-party charges on the telephone bills sent to consumers." A minimum of $67.5 million of the fine will be set aside to repay customers who claim they were overcharged. T-Mobile will also pay $18 million to all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia, in addition to $4.5 million to the U.S. Treasury. As part of the consent decree, T-Mobile is prohibited from charging customers for third-party PSMS products or services. It also requires T-Mobile to create a system so customers can verify third-party service charges before they appear on bills. T-Mobile will have to block third-party charges for free; make it easier for customers to identify possible fraudulent charges; and train customer service staff to properly resolve customer complaints regarding unauthorized charges. "Cramming is a significant problem," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. "For too long, millions of consumers have been scammed -- billed for bogus charges on their phone bills for services they didn’t request. This is unacceptable. Today's settlement is a win for consumers who have been victimized by cramming. It means compensation for T-Mobile customers who were fraudulently billed for third-party services that they did not want or authorize. And it goes one step further. Today’s action will also help protect all of T-Mobile's customers from bogus third-party charges in the future." Sprint was recently sued for similar practices. AT&T settled cramming charges with the FCC for $105 million earlier this year.
Verizon Wireless today made Windows Phone 8.1 with the Denim update available to the Lumia 928 and Lumia 822. Windows Phone 8.1 adds Cortana, adjustable home screen columns, and other features. The update is free. Microsoft said WP8.1 for the Lumia Icon is on deck for early 2015.
BlackBerry today said it has closed its acquisition of Secusmart, a security company based in Germany. Secusmart specializes in voice and data encryption. BlackBerry plans to use Secusmart's technology to further shore up its own enterprise and government offerings. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. BlackBerry also reported its third-quarter earnings today. Revenue declined from $1.19 billion in the year-ago period to $739 million in the period ending Nov. 29. Excluding one-time charges, the company posted a small profit and generated positive cash cash flow. Earlier this week the company launched a new phone, the BlackBerry Classic. BlackBerry believes the phone will appeal to its core business customers thanks to its physical QWERTY keyboard.
Samsung plans to shutter its ChatON messaging application early next year. The service will go dark in international markets on Feb. 1, and will wind down in the U.S. by the end of March. ChatON is an over-the-top messaging service similar to WhatsApp and others. Samsung preinstalled the free app on most phones it sold since 2011, though it began to vanish from U.S. handsets in recent months. Despite the app's wide availability it never gained much traction. Samsung said it plans to focus on "health, mobile commerce, and other platforms" moving forward.
The FCC today granted T-Mobile's petition that the agency "provide guidance on the application of the commercial reasonableness standard" with respect to data roaming rates. T-Mobile filed the petition earlier this year in order to help it and other carriers negotiate better roaming rates with larger rivals AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Since 2011, the FCC has mandated that all carriers allow competing devices to roam onto their networks at fair prices. The FCC did not suggest or otherwise imply what those fair prices should be. T-Mobile argued the FCC's 2011 mandate did not provide enough guidance for setting rates and the result has been what T-Mobile calls exorbitant fees charged by AT&T and Verizon to roam onto their networks. Sprint and other members of the Competitive Carriers Association supported T-Mobile's position, while AT&T and Verizon Wireless opposed it vehemently. The two larger carriers argued any such guidance could result in reduced rates over the long term and would serve as unnecessary regulation. After weighing the arguments, the FCC agreed with T-Mobile's position that it should offer guidance on reasonable pricing. Specifically, the FCC will adopt T-Mobile's four proposed benchmarks when assessing the reasonableness standard: 1. retail rates; 2. international roaming rates; 3. MVNO/resale rates; and 4. roaming rates charged by other providers. "In our view, the additional guidance we provide under the standard set forth ... will facilitate the ability of parties to negotiate successful data roaming agreements, which in turn will promote the provision of high quality advanced broadband services by multiple service providers in urban, suburban, and rural areas to the benefit of American consumers," said the FCC.
Google was unable to convince a San Jose judge to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit filed against the search giant over preinstalled apps. The judge expressed concern over some the the plaintiffs' claims, which allege Android handset makers are forced to use Google's apps in lieu of competitive apps/services. For example, Google is the default search engine on Android handsets instead of Microsoft's Bing. The judge will dismiss some of the arguments, but wants to see more evidence from the plaintiffs before making a final decision on the antitrust complaint. Google did not comment on the decision.
Microsoft today said that it will begin pushing the Lumia Denim system update to its Windows Phones en masse beginning next month. The update is already trickling out to a few phones in select markets, but all Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone 8.1 will see the update at some point next month. According to Microsoft, improved imaging is the most significant new feature of the update. Notably, the camera app should function much faster, especially on devices such as the Lumia 930, 830, 1520, and Icon. In addition to speed, the camera will gain a feature called Moment Capture, which records 4K video at 24 frames per second with each and every frame saved as an 8.3-megapixel image. Users can snag a single frame from the video as a stand-alone image if they wish. Another new camera function is called Rich Capture. With it, the camera takes over settings such as auto HDR, dynamic flash, and dynamic exposure so users can focus on getting the shot and not on futzing with the camera app. Microsoft also notes the camera app makes use of new algorithms to improve focus and exposure. The Denim update also adds live folders, SMS merging, and other improvements. Microsoft first announced Lumia Denim in September.
Verizon Wireless today announced that its customers can send Starbucks eGift cards to one another from within the Verizon Messages application. The application lets users pick a background, amount ($5, $10, or $25), and enter a short message. The eGift card can then be redeemed by the recipient at Starbucks locations, or added to an existing Starbucks card account. It is free to use the service, and the cost of the eGift card is added directly to the subscriber's monthly bill. Verizon Messages is preinstalled on most Verizon Wireless smartphones.
Microsoft today announced it has agreed to sell the Lumia MixRadio service to Line for an undisclosed sum. MixRadio is a music-streaming service available to Lumia smartphones. It offers curated radio stations and also allows users to create their own. MixMusic chief said, "MixRadio fans can expect the same level of commitment to bring a personalized music experience to Lumia smartphones, thanks to MixRadio's recently launched recommendation engine." MixRadio's development team will remain in the UK. Line believes its platform is a good place for MixRadio to expand its user base. Microsoft and Line expect the deal to be completed next year.
Microsoft recently updated its Xim app and added compatibility with a wide range of media streaming devices. Microsoft first released Xim in October. It's a cross-platform app that allows people to easily share photos without requiring them to physically hand their phone to someone else. People use Xim to create a connection directly between devices for sharing photos from sources such as the camera roll, Instagram, and Facebook Today's update allows people to share photos not only with other phones, but with streaming media devices, including Chromecast, Apple TV, Xbox One, and Amazon Fire TV. Xim users need only connect to the WiFi network associated with the streaming media device for it to show up in the list of sharing options within the Xim app. Xims are impermanent, sort of like Snapchat, and expire after a short period of time. The updated Xim app is available from the iTunes App Store, Google Play Store, and Windows Phone Store.