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printed April 26, 2015
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Google Lets Android Owners Send More Instructions from Desktop Browsers

Today, 9:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has expanded the number of tools Android smartphone owners can access from their desktop web browser. It recently made it possible to find a lost Android phone by asking Google to "find my phone" in Google Search. Now, users can use the same method to send directions to their phone, set alarms on their phone, and send notes to their phone. Users need only type "set an alarm" or "send a note" in the search box and follow the steps thereafter. A drop-down menu lets people pick their Android device, and the tools for adjusting alarms or creating notes are simple.

Nokia Issues Statement On Handset Plans

Today, 9:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia today issued a statement reaffirming that it will not manufacture cell phones. "Recent news reports [claim Nokia] communicated an intention to manufacture consumer handsets out of an R&D facility in China. These reports are false, and include comments incorrectly attributed to a Nokia Networks executive. Nokia reiterates it currently has no plans to manufacture or sell consumer handsets." The statement follows a week of conjecture concerning the company's potential plans for cell phones moving forward. Re/Code reported that Nokia plans to design handsets and license those designs to outside manufacturers once its non-compete agreement with Microsoft expires at the end of the year. Nokia did not contest that report. However, Re/Code's report was later followed by others claiming Nokia was going to set up shop at a facility in China to build its own cell phones. It is those reports that Nokia says are false. Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft and, as part of the sale, cannot make or build cell phones. In particular, Nokia is not allowed to re-enter the handset business in any fashion until 2015, and isn't allowed to license its brand to manufacturers for the purposes of making handsets until the third quarter of 2016. Moreover, Nokia sold all its manufacturing facilities as part of the handset sale to Microsoft and can no longer build its own devices. The company is more focused on its networking business. Nokia recently announced plans to acquire Alcatel-Lucent, the French-American networking giant, for $16.6 billion. Nokia may sell its HERE Maps business so it can concentrate on building its telecommunications unit.

BlackBerry May Close Swedish Design Lab

Friday, 4:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry is considering whether or not to shutter its operations in Sweden. About 100 people work at the facility, which helped develop some BlackBerry smartphones such as the Z10. The company has initiated conversations with the employee unions at the facility in question and will make a final decision in the weeks ahead. BlackBerry has been on a course of aggressive cost-cutting as it seeks to trim operations that it sees as non-vital to its enterprise device management business. Earlier this week it announced plans to acquire a secure file management company called WatchDox.

Verizon Once Again Offering 10GB and 15GB Plans

Friday, 8:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 9:08 AM

Verizon Wireless has resumed offering two large data plans for shared lines at a promotional rate. The first costs $80 per month for 10 GB of data and the second costs $100 for 15 GB of data. Verizon first offered these plans in November 2014, but pulled them in February. "We have different offers throughout the year, and right now the $80/$100 plans are available," said a Verizon spokesperson. The plans will be available for a limited time, but Verizon didn't say for how long. The prices don't include device access fees for smartphones, tablets, and hotspots. By way of comparison, AT&T's 10 GB plan costs $100 and its 15 GB plan costs $130.

ARM Shows Off Cortex A72 Core

Friday, 7:51 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ARM has revealed the Cortex A72, its next-generation CPU core for high-end processors. The A72 builds on the foundation laid by the Cortex A57 core, ARM's current high-end processor. With the A72, ARM focused on improving speeds and power efficiency, while decreasing the die size. The core can be manufactured using 14 or 16 nanometer processes. ARM says the A72 can deliver a 20-60% increase in instructions-per-block when compared to the A57. Reduced latency in the core means clock speeds can reach 2.7 GHz, and the A72 is between 18-30% more power efficient than the A57. ARM doesn't actually make processors; instead, it licenses its core designs to companies such as Qualcomm. Qualcomm, in turn, put the cores in larger application processors like the octa-core Snapdragon 810. Qualcomm is itself developing a new CPU core design for the forthcoming Snapdragon 820 processor. Qualcomm hopes using its own core will help differentiate the 820 from competing chip designs from the likes of Samsung and Intel. ARM said it doesn't expect to see the A72 reach consumer devices until 2016.

Cricket Dials In Unlimited Calling to Canada

Friday, 7:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today upgraded its $50 and $60 monthly plans to include unlimited international calling and messaging to Canada. Customers won't have to take any steps to activate the feature, Cricket is doing so automatically for all new and existing subscribers. The Canada calling plan is being offered at no additional charge. Cricket added free calling and messaging to Mexico earlier this year. Cricket customers can now call practically any number in North America for free as long as they subscribe to the $50 or $60 plan. Those looking to call numbers outside of North America can tack on the Cricket International Extra option for $15 per month, which lets customers receive unlimited landline calling and messaging to 35 countries plus 1,000 mobile-to-mobile minutes to 29 countries. Last, the Cricket International Roaming Mexico add-on lets customers make and receive calls and send messages when traveling in Mexico for $10. Taxes and fees are included, and customers can qualify for a $5 monthly discount on all plans by adding auto-pay.

Twitter to Promote Tweets Via Twice-Daily Highlights

Friday, 7:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter recently introduced a feature called Highlights, which are push notifications calling attention to the day's best tweets. According to Twitter, it looks at what accounts users follow and which conversations are most popular among them, as well as topics and events trending in the user's area to create the highlighted tweets. The feature is opt-in and will deliver notifications twice per day. Tapping the notification opens the Twitter app and takes users directly to the Highlights page, where Tweets can be scanned by swiping left and right. When users reach the last highlighted tweet, the app will then take them to their home timeline. Twitter recently did away with the Discover and Activity tabs, and Highlights appears to have taken their place. Initially, the feature is only available in English to Android users.

Google Keep Gains New Powers On Android Smartwatches

Thursday, 12:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today expanded the capabilities of its Keep note-taking application thanks to improved integration with Android Wear. Owners of Android Wear smartwatches can use voice prompts to open Keep, browse existing notes in Keep, or dictate new notes in Keep. Users can swipe up and down on the screen to see notes, tap to open notes, or tap the plus sign to create a new note. The Android Wear app supports recurring reminders, too. Google says the update to Keep on the Android Wear platform dovetails nicely with a recent update Google made to the smartphone version of the app. Keep on Android handsets supports labels and to-do lists to help users stay on top of their ideas and tasks. Google Keep is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Butterfly Wings May Help Reduce Reflections In Glass

Thursday, 10:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Scientists suggest the naturally-occurring coating found on the wings of the glasswing butterfly could eventually lead to practical applications such as glare-free smartphone displays. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology found that irregular nanostructures on the butterfly's wings cause them to reflect very little light. The key is the irregularity of the pillar-like nanostructures, which vary in height between 600 and 800 nanometers and vary in distances apart between 100 and 140 nanometers. The KIT researchers were able to recreate the phenomenon in mathematical experiments to prove the theory. "In contrast to other natural phenomena, where regularity is of top priority, the glasswing butterfly uses an apparent chaos to reach effects that are also fascinating for us humans," said one of the researchers. Applying such a coating to the glass of mobile phone displays, lenses, or other glass surfaces could dramatically cut down on the amount of glare or reflection. Moreover, prototype experiments show the coating may also be water repellent and self cleaning. A coating that reduces glare, repels water, and cleans itself could be the Holy Grail of advancements in display technology. The KIT researchers say real-world application tests are in the concept phase.

Turing Phone to Offer Secure Communications in Liquidmetal Body

Thursday, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Turing Robotic Industries today announced the Turing Phone, a handset that focuses on providing secure communications while wrapped in a futuristic design. Turing says the device is molded from Liquidmorphium, what it describes as "an amorphous alloy of zirconium, copper, aluminum, nickel, and silver that provides greater tensile strength than either titanium or steel." The materials protect the phone from screen breaks or other damage that might be caused by shocks. Turing claims Liquidmorphium can be produced with a near 100% yield and practically no waste, making it environmentally friendly. Other unique aspects of the design include a fingerprint sensor for user authentication on the side of the phone, and a magnetic charger that negates the need for ports. As far as communications go, the Turing Phone relies on decentralized authentication technology which lets it independently verify the identity of other Turing devices. Turing claims the end-to-end authentication "creates a protected communications network that is entirely insulated from cyber-threats and privacy intrusions." In other words, Turing phone owners can take solace in knowing their calls and messages are completely secure. The phone runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with Turing's user interface. The device features a 5.5-inch full HD display and it is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 3 GB of RAM and 64 or 128 GB of storage. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor and the front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. The device has a 3,000mAh battery and support a range of LTE networks around the world. The Turing Phone will launch in the U.S. and U.K. on August 10, with pre-orders starting July 9. The phone, sold unlocked, will cost $740 for 64 GB and $870 for 128 GB. Turing said carrier partnerships are still under development.

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Republicans to Let NSA Keep Spying On Your Calls

Thursday, 7:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Republicans recently introduced a bill in the Senate that will extend the NSA's ability to collect and store phone call data through December 2020. As it stands today, the law (part of the Patriot Act) is slated to expire June 1. The Obama administration has asked for changes to the program, such as having telephone companies, rather than the NSA, store phone call data. The Obama administration also wants the program scaled back -- especially after the negative blowback following the program's revelation by Edward Snowden. Senate Republicans have, however, fast-tracked the bill by skipping committee deliberations and sending it straight to the Senate floor. Civil liberties groups such as the ACLU condemn the practice as an invasion of privacy and want the bill to expire as scheduled. It's unclear how member of the Senate and House of Representatives will vote on the bill.

Microsoft Blesses Full Release of Outlook for Android

Wednesday, 3:46 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today updated its Outlook for Android app and says the email program has graduated from preview status. Today's update marks the app's full release. According to Microsoft, it has updated Outlook for Android 17 times since the preview first launched in January. During that time it has: improved the look and feel of the app; added support for IMAP; improved the People (contacts) section; added a Directory Search tool; introduced a three-day view in the calendar; and bestowed the app with a handful of gestures for navigating between emails and folders. Microsoft says Outlook for Android is on even footing with its Outlook for iOS application, which it made available earlier this year. Outlook for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.

InterDigital's ITC Case Against ZTE Fails

Wednesday, 3:34 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. ITC today cleared ZTE of violating a phone-related patent held by InterDigital. Late last year, ZTE was found guilty of infringing three different InterDigital patents. InterDigital is a patent-holding firm and has filed similar lawsuits against Nokia and Huawei.

Defense Mobile Sheds Beta Label, Mission Is Go

Wednesday, 3:31 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Defense Mobile, an MVNO that targets military personnel, is coming out of beta status today with more coverage and more devices in its arsenal. During its beta trial, Defense Mobile resold access to AT&T and Sprint's networks. Now, it offers Verizon, too, and is in talks with T-Mobile. The company's service is meant exclusively for members of the U.S. armed forces, their families, and veterans. Defense Mobile is supported by a 100% veteran-staffed Member Care organization and offers perks to active members of the military. Individual plans start at $30 per month and have names such as Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Family plans start at $95 per month with names such a squad, platoon, and battalion. The handset selection varies from entry level phones such as the Motorola Moto G up to today's premium handsets such as the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The company offers bonus services for military members, such as a banking application associated with a pre-paid MasterCard, an app that helps military members and their families find veteran benefits, and a free email service that's associated with their branch of the armed forces. The company sells devices and services directly from its web site, but hopes to reach 25,000 retail distribution points around the country by the end of the year.

Google's Project Fi Wireless Service Offers Refunds for Unused Data

Wednesday, 12:46 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Wednesday, 12:49 PM

Google today announced Project Fi, which relies on a combination of cellular and WiFi networks to keep users connected wherever they roam. Google partnered with Sprint and T-Mobile to provide the cellular component. Google says Project Fi can automatically connect to over one million verified WiFi hotspots around the U.S, and all connections are encrypted. The goal is to make communicating simple no matter what device or network is being used. Calls made through WiFi connections will seamlessly hand-off to cellular networks with no interruptions. Google says Project Fi users' phone numbers "live in the cloud," so they can talk and text from just about any phone, tablet, or laptop. Project Fi takes a new approach with respect to billing. The basic plan costs $20 per month and includes talk, text, WiFi tethering, and international coverage in 120 countries. Google then charges $10 per gigabyte of cellular data in the U.S. and abroad. So, 1 GB of data costs $10 per month, 2 GB costs $20 per month, and so on. The unique idea here is that Google will refund people for the data they don't use. For example, subscribers who pay $30 for a 3 GB plan, but only use 1.4 GB, will receive a $16 refund from Google for the unused data. Google is offering Project Fi through an early access program. It requires the Nexus 6 smartphone at launch, which Google says was developed with Project Fi in mind. Nexus 6 owners can request invites starting today.

'Hello' App Plucks Facebook Data to Show Who's Calling

Wednesday, 12:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook wants to make it easier for people to see who's calling and, if necessary, block those callers. The company today said it is testing a new app called Hello. The app sorts through Facebook data and will display info about incoming calls even if the number is not saved in the contact app. The caller ID information will be limited to that which is public on Facebook, or already shared directly with the call recipient. The app supports search functions for businesses and people, and can be used to connect calls directly from the search results. Last, Hello makes it easier for people to block unwanted calls. Users can block specific numbers as well as those commonly blocked by others. Blocedk calls go straight to voicemail and the details will still show up in the call history. Facebook said Hello is in testing and available to Android devices beginning today.

Android Wear App Gains New Design

Wednesday, 7:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has updated the Android Wear app for smartphones ahead of the Android Wear system update for smartwatches. The smartphone Android Wear app has a brand new design that more closely matches Google's Material Design concepts. It also introduces new info cards for gleaning information about on-board watch apps. The phone app's settings tools, used to control nearby smartwatches, have been revamped entirely. One new features lets users sync only select (rather than all) calendars to the phone. Last, the app adds a Cloud Sync function, which will help the smartwatch provide notifications even when not connected to a nearby phone. This feature requires devices with the new Android Wear operating system, which is expected to arrive in a few weeks. Google's Android Wear smartphone application is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Nokia's HERE Maps Quick to Draw Suitors

Wednesday, 7:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Four companies have expressed interest in acquiring Nokia's HERE Maps business, reports Reuters. A coalition of German auto makers, Audi, BMW, and Daimler, are weighing a joint bid, as are Facebook, Uber, and U.S. investment firm Hellman & Friedman. Nokia recently said it is considering strategic options for the mapping unit, formerly Navteq, which it acquired in 2008 for more than $8 billion. Nokia expects to bring in about $2.1 billion through a sale of the business. Nokia may use capital generated by the sale to help fund its recently-announced purchase of Alcatel-Lucent. Nokia did not confirm Reuters' report, which cited a German trade magazine. The other companies could not immediately be reached for comment.

Google's Wireless Service to Launch Wednesday

Tuesday, 7:34 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is prepared to launch its wireless service as soon as tomorrow, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google's wireless service will rely on the mobile networks operated by Sprint and T-Mobile, in addition to WiFi. The service will only be available to the Nexus 6 smartphone at launch, which will be able to dynamically weave from network to network in order to find the strongest signal for calls, messaging, and mobile browsing. In what the Journal calls a key development, customers of Google's wireless service will only pay for the actual data they consume each month, rather than fork over money for buckets of data. Google confirmed last month that it is preparing a mobile service, but has not verified the Journal's details. Google's Sundar Pichai said during the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona the company's wireless service will be offered on an experimental basis. He likened it to the Nexus device program, about which he said, "Our goal here is to drive a set of innovations which we think the system should adopt." Specifics such as pricing are still unknown. Sprint and T-Mobile both have large MVNO programs, which is, in effect, how Google's service will operate. Sprint and T-Mobile may renegotiate with Google if its service gets too big.

Microsoft Fixes Bugs In Windows 10 Technical Preview

Tuesday, 6:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today pushed out a minor update to the Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones. Build 10052 resolves a number of performance issues and makes a few other tweaks. For example, users can now enable flight mode again, as well as disable all data connections if so desired. Microsoft fixed an MMS-related bug that saw some users lose their settings. It also resolved an issue that prevented some from downloading keyboards for additional languages. Last, Microsoft repaired a bug that caused the viewfinder in the camera app to display incorrectly. Build 10052 of Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones is available to Microsoft Insiders.

HTC Offering Camera Improvements to AT&T One M9

Tuesday, 3:59 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC is pushing out a system update to AT&T's version of the One M9 that improves performance of the camera. In addition to the camera, the update also fixes bugs and resolves some overheating issues. The new build number is 1.32.502.31. HTC warned that the update will reboot the phone several times and may take up to 20 minutes to complete. HTC has already pushed a similar update to the Sprint and T-Mobile versions of the One M9.

WhatsApp for iPhone Gains Voice Calling

Apr 21, 2015, 1:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Apr 21, 2015, 2:01 PM

WhatsApp is rolling out voice calling to its iPhone application beginning today. The feature launched on the Android platform last month. With the feature on board the iOS app, WhatsApp users will be able to chat with and make voice calls to their WhatsApp contacts. WhatsApp calls use your the iPhone data connection rather than voice minutes. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which has already added calling features to Facebook Messenger. WhatsApp voice calling isn't available to the iPad tablet. The update is rolling out over the next few weeks.

Facebook Changing Newsfeed Again

Apr 21, 2015, 12:51 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today said it is making more tweaks to how users' newsfeed displays content. The changes being implemented today are a direct result of feedback Facebook received from users. The first change affects those who don't have a lot of content to view, perhaps because they don't keep a vast friend list or don't subscribe to lots of content from across the web. Previous rules prevented people from seeing multiple posts from the same source in a row. The update relaxes this rule so more content will be visible from individual sources. On the flip side, Facebook understands that people with many connections worry about missing content from their friends. Facebook says it will adjust the newsfeed so photos, videos, and links shared directly by friends will rank higher in the newsfeed. Last, Facebook is addressing a long-standing complaint for people who don't enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on other posts. Moving forward, such posts will appear further down in the newsfeed, if they show up at all. Facebook says this should let people see more of the content they care about. The newsfeed changes are rolling out over the next few days and will apply to Facebook online as well as mobile devices.

FCC to Fix Auction Bidding Rules for Designated Entities

Apr 21, 2015, 12:05 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC is moving forward with plans to alter how companies use designated entities in spectrum auctions and qualify for discounts. The existing rules have been under fire since the close of the AWS-3 spectrum auction wherein Dish Networks won $13 billion in spectrum by bidding through smaller entities. The smaller entities were eligible for discounts, which wiped about $3 billion from the total price Dish has to pay. Dish's competitors complained that Dish is a large company and the discounts are meant for small companies. In response, the FCC issued a formal public notice seeking comment on potential rule changes. Specifically, the FCC wants to know if it should restrict "larger nationwide and regional carriers, entities with a certain number of end-user customers, and/or other large companies from providing a material portion of the total capitalization of DE applicants or otherwise exercising control over such applicants as part of the definition of material relationship." The FCC also wants to know if it would be best to "limit the total dollar amount of DE benefits that any DE (or group of affiliated DEs) may claim during any given auction, based on some multiple of its annual revenues, or a set cap to ensure that DEs cannot acquire spectrum in a manner that is wildly disproportionate to the concept of a small business." The FCC wants to move on this change quickly to be sure the new rules are in place well ahead of next year's planned 600MHz spectrum auction.

Twitter to Clamp Down On Abusive Tweets

Apr 21, 2015, 10:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter today said it is changing its policies so the social network might better combat threats and other forms of abuse. First, Twitter has updated how it qualifies prohibited content, which now extends to "threats of violence against others or promoting violence against others." Twitter said its previous policy was a bit too narrow and restricted its enforcement options. Twitter says enforcement actions include requiring users to confirm a phone number (i.e., provide a real name) and delete content, and now the social network can lock abusive accounts for specific time periods. Twitter is also adding new product features to help it identify abusive tweets automatically and more quickly, and then prevent those tweets from spreading. Twitter will evaluate the performance of these changes to gauge their effectiveness and adjust them over time as needed. Twitter's goal is to make Twitter a more pleasant -- and safer -- space in which to engage others.

BlackBerry Buys WatchDox, Brings Games to BBM for Android

Apr 21, 2015, 9:10 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today said it has agreed to acquire a company called WatchDox. WatchDox helps companies securely manage file syncing and sharing services across their business. BlackBerry says the acquisition will help it provide best-in-class security, and give its enterprise customers a higher degree of control over their data. BlackBerry also announced BBM Connect Games for the Android platform. With the latest version of BBM installed, Android device owners will be able to play games with their BBM contacts through the messaging service. According to BlackBerry, BBM Connect Games lets users interact, post achievements, and share game currency with others. The company launched three games alongside the updated BBM app to get Android users into the action. The games are free to download and are available in the BBM Shop.

Chrome for Android Now Supports Push Notifications

Apr 21, 2015, 7:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Android users can now tap into push notifications from their favorite web sites. Google updated its Chrome browser this week with support for personalized notifications that come directly from the web. Google says some early adopter web sites (eBay, Pinterest, Vice News, and others) will begin offering the notifications to web surfers in the next few weeks. The notifications will behave just like those in native apps and can offer information such as breaking news or alerts to updated content. Google says web designers should be able to add the notifications to their own sites easily. The new version of Chrome also makes it simpler and faster to drop web sites onto the Android home screen thanks to new prompts that come directly from the web site itself. Google had been testing these features in a beta version of Chrome since last month. This latest release of Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Qualcomm Weighing Samsung's Fab for Snapdragon 820

Apr 21, 2015, 7:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm might turn to competitor Samsung to make its next top-of-the-line mobile processor, reports Re/Code. Qualcomm has historically used Taiwan Semiconductor to fabricate its processors, but Samsung's capabilities are more advanced. Taiwan Semiconductor can develop chips with a 20nm process, but Samsung's chip-making foundries are able to produce chips using its 14nm process. This makes chips more efficient, more powerful, and also less expensive. The Snapdragon 820 is expected to begin sampling later this year and won't reach consumer devices until 2016. Qualcomm plans to use an in-house design for the cores, rather than relying on off-the-shelf cores from ARM as it did with the Snapdragon 810. Samsung opted to put its own Exynos processor in the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, a move that forced Qualcomm to cuts its financial forecasts for the year. Qualcomm hopes selecting Samsung to make the Snapdragon 820 will help it win back Samsung's business for future flagship smartphones, say Re/Code's unnamed sources. Neither Qualcomm nor Samsung commented on the report. Earlier this month, Re/Code reported that Apple may also jump from Taiwan Semiconductor to Samsung to make the A9 processor for the next iPhone.

YouTube to Cease Working On Older Devices

Apr 21, 2015, 7:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made changes to its YouTube application that breaks compatibility with certain devices. Specifically, Google updated the YouTube Data API so it can incorporate new features. The changes in the API make YouTube non-functional on iPhones from 2012 and earlier, as well as video-based hardware, such as the Apple TV, versions 1 and 2 of Google TV, and select smart TVs dating earlier than 2013. According to Google, iPhone owners running iOS 7 and up should not experience any trouble. If they do, downloading the current version of the app should resolve any problems. People who own newer versions of the Apple TV, newer smart TVs, and the Nexus Player,should have no trouble using YouTube. The change went into effect April 20.

Twitter to Allow More People to Private Message One Another

Apr 20, 2015, 11:50 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter today revealed adjustments to the Direct Message function of its service that will expand the ability for people to talk to one another in private. Moving forward, any user will be able to DM their followers. Users can opt to receive private messages from any Twitter user, regardless of who follows who, if they wish. Twitter now has broader support for group messaging, as well. Twitter said forthcoming updates to the Android and iOS apps will enable this feature, as well as make it easier to DM others with a dedicated button in user profiles. Twitter is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively. The changes reflect the competitive and critical nature of mobile messaging.

Android Wear to Gain WiFi Support, Always-On Apps

Apr 20, 2015, 9:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a significant slew of new features will be available to Android Wear devices thanks to a forthcoming update. Most significantly, Android Wear will support always-on apps. This means users can choose to leave any app running on the screen without fear of the screen going dark if they lower their arm. The platform will also add support for WiFi, which will permit smartwatches to be more connected without nearby smartphones. As long as the phone has a data connection wherever it is and the watch is connected to WiFi, users will still be able to receive their notifications and messages. The platform also adds support for gestures. For example, users will be able to flick their wrist to scroll through the content in apps. Android Wear also makes it easier to use apps with a new app launcher that's available from the home screen. Last, users will be able to scribble emoji directly on their watch screen when replying to messages. (The Apple Watch has a similar feature.) Google said the update will reach most Android Wear devices over the next few weeks.

AT&T to Sell LG G Flex 2 April 24

Apr 20, 2015, 9:05 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today announced it will begin selling the LG G Flex 2 on April 24. The handset will be available at a variety of price points. The full retail cost of the phone is $708.99 and the two-year contract price is $299.99. Customers interested in monthly payments can snag the G Flex 2 for $23.64 per month with an AT&T Next 24 plan, $29.55 per month on a Next 18 plan, or $35.45 on a Next 12 plan. The G Flex 2 is a second-generation curved phone. It has a 5.5-inch full HD screen that is semi-flexible. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 810 processor and has a 13-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization. It runs Android 5.0 Lollipop. Sprint has been selling the G Flex 2 since March.

Google Wallet Funds to Be FDIC Insured

Apr 20, 2015, 7:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

People who use Google Wallet should be able to rest a bit easier, as Google Wallet funds are now protected by the federal government. Google has altered the terms of service for its Wallet product and will store users' funds in FDIC-insured banks. This means if Google collapses, users' money will be safe. A Google spokesperson revealed the change to Yahoo Finance. Similar cash transfer apps, such as Venmo and PayPayl, do not offer such protection for their users because the funds aren't stored in FDIC-insure banks. Mobile payment services like Apple Pay are based on credit card transactions, so user funds are not generally stored in a third-party bank account at all.

OnePlus Opens Up Sales of the One to All, No Invite Needed

Apr 20, 2015, 7:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus today made its One smartphone available to anyone who wants it. The company launched the device a year ago, but required hard-to-get invitations. The invitations are no longer needed, and now anyone can purchase the phone. The OnePlus One runs Oxygen OS, a modified version of Android 4.4 KitKat. The device has a 5.5-inch screen, quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 13-megapixel main camera with 4K video capture, 5-megapixel front camera, and 3 GB of RAM. OnePlus sells the phone unlocked for $299 (16 GB model). OnePlus also noted that it plans to reveal the OnePlus 2 during the third quarter of the year. At launch, the 2 will require invites in order to "mitigate risk," said OnePlus. The OnePlus One is available directly from the OnePlus web site.

Sony Trots Out the Xperia Z4 with Little Fanfare

Apr 20, 2015, 7:02 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sony today announced the Xperia Z4, a modest update to is 2014 flagship, the Z3. The Z4 features a glass and metal design that is water and dust proof. The phone is slimmer than its predecessor and measures 6.9mm thick. The Z4 features a 5.2-inch full HD Triluminos display and runs an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of memory, 32 GB of storage, and support for memory cards up to 128 GB. The main camera uses Sony's 20.7-megapixel Exmor RS sensor, while the front camera is improved to a 5.1-megapixel Exmor sensor with shake correction. The main camera can record video up to 4K, while the front camera can record 1080p HD. The Z4 offers a range of connectivity options, including dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, and support for select LTE 4G networks. The device runs Android 5.0 Lollipop and will feature Sony's apps and user interface overlay. Sony said it will begin to sell the Xperia Z4 in Japan around the middle of the year, but didn't say for how much nor if the phone's availability will be expanded to other markets. Sony's Z3 saw limited release in the U.S. last year, as Sony has struggled to gain any share of the U.S. market.

Microsoft Bringing Maps to Windows 10 Phones, Too

Apr 17, 2015, 12:31 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said the Universal Maps app for the Windows 10 platform is now available to phones running the Windows 10 Technical Preview. Device owners can download the Universal app via the Windows Insider program. As with all Universal apps, Maps works across phone, tablet, and PC form factors. It is responsive to touch input and includes satellite images, local search data via Bing, live traffic, and voice-guided navigation. It also supports downloadable maps, which are accessible even when the device is offline. According to Microsoft, it takes the best from both Bing Maps and HERE Maps and puts them together in a single application. Microsoft has also updated the Maps app for the desktop version of Windows 10, which now includes more 3D city renders and streetside panoramas. Maps for Windows 10 Technical Preview is free for Windows Insiders to download.

Microsoft Office for Windows 10 Hits Phones This Month

Apr 17, 2015, 11:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said Office Universal apps will be available to the Windows 10 platform for phones by the end of the month. The Office Universal apps work across desktop, tablet, and handset form factors. Microsoft only recently expanded the number of handsets able to run the Windows 10 Technical Preview. The preview will be required to install the early look at Office Universal. According to Microsoft, the Office Universal apps were built with touch-first usability in mind for phones and tablets. The Universal apps adapt to the smaller screens of phones and move the commands and controls to the bottom of the display for better one-handed editing and creating. The Universal apps produce documents, spreadsheets, and presentations that are fully compatible with the tablet and desktop versions of Office, which now share most features. Microsoft expects the preview of Office Universal for Windows 10 to go live within a few weeks.

FCC Agrees to Open 3.5GHz for Wireless Service

Apr 17, 2015, 11:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC today voted unanimously to approve a Report and Order that will free up 150MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band. The idea had been floated by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last month. The federal government uses the 3.5GHz band now, but the FCC's plan to create a Citizens Broadband Radio Service will use a three-tiered sharing paradigm. The tiers will be separated in general access, short-duration licensees, and the incumbent government users. The FCC didn't indicate how long it might take to open the spectrum up for use.

Alcatel Launches Idol 3 Pre-Sale At Discounted $199 Price

Apr 17, 2015, 9:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Alcatel OneTouch today kicked off a limited pre-sale for the Idol 3 smartphone that drops the price by $50. The pre-sale starts immediately and runs through 11:59pm Pacific Time on April 20. Customers who order the phone during this initial pre-sale window will pay only $199.99 for the phone. After the pre-sale ends, Alcatel will begin accepting standard pre-orders on April 21 at the regular price of $249.99. Alcatel said the Idol 3 will ship in mid-May. The phone, which is compatible with the GSM networks operated by AT&T and T-Mobile, is being sold unlocked.

Amazon Cans App TestDrive Program

Apr 17, 2015, 9:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon recently discontinued the ability test Android applications before purchasing. Launched in March 2011, TestDrive let Android device owners test for-pay apps before actually paying for them. According to Amazon, many apps have since changed to the "free to play" business model, which allows people to download and use most apps for free. Often, these apps only charge for additional features or services. This led to a significant decline in the number of people using TestDrive. Amazon shut down the TestDrive program, effective April 15.

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