Motorola today announced the availability of a digital tattoo that can be used to unlock the Moto X. The tattoo is actually an adhesive based on VivaLnk’s eSkin technology. It is about the size of a nickel and adheres to the skin for about five days. Users need only tap the Moto X against the digital tattoo, which has a shimmery, metallic design, to unlock their device. According to Motorola, the tattoo is waterproof and can be used during activities such as swimming and jogging. The digital tattoo was created by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group in cooperation with VivaLnk. VivaLnk sells the tattoos in packs of 10 for $10. It was first announced last month.
Skype today said it is preparing a version of its mobile communications application for Amazon's Fire Phone. The Fire Phone runs FireOS, a forked version of Android. The Skype app will launch alongside the phone when it goes on sale. Skype said it designed the app with the Fire Phone's user interface in mind, including a widget for the Fire carousel, and it will offer an experience that feels natural to Fire Phone owners. Skype said its 3D icon and notification badge make use of the Fire Phone's Dynamic Perspective technology, which provides a 3D-like experience through the use of four user-facing cameras. AT&T will begin selling the Fire Phone later this month.
Sprint recently announced that it is rolling out Wi-Fi calling to the HTC One and HTC One Harmon Kardon Edition. The Wi-Fi calling feature makes it possible to connect voice calls and send messages via local Wi-Fi networks rather than through Sprint's cellular network. International Wi-Fi calling will also be available in the coming weeks. It allows customers to make calls and send texts via Wi-Fi in more than 100 countries. Only a handful of Sprint's phones support Wi-Fi calling, but Sprint said more will be updated with the feature throughout the year. HTC One owners will receive the update over the next few weeks.
Amazon recently released a mobile wallet application for Android-based smartphones. The app, which Amazon has labeled a beta, lets people store gift cards, loyalty cards, and membership cards, which can be scanned or typed directly into the app. Amazon touts the app as a way to reduce clutter in wallets and purses. The wallet can reveal bar codes for scanning at a number of different merchants to make gift card-based payments. The wallet app does not connect to a bank account or credit card, however, and cannot be used to make tap-and-go payments via NFC. The app is free to download from the Amazon Appstore and the Google Play Store. Amazon did not immediately say if a similar app will be available to its own Fire Phone.
Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA subscribers will soon have access to PlayPhone's socially-connected gaming portal, says PlayPhone. The platform will allow Boost and Virgin subscribers to find and play mobile games with their online friends, and share scores and achievements across various social networks. Boost and Virgin's prepaid subscribers will be able to make in-game purchases through their account, rather than with credit cards. Purchases will be billed directly to their wireless plan. The platform will be available later this summer, though Boost and Virgin declined to say exactly when it will launch and which devices will support it. Verizon adopted PlayPhone's platform earlier this year.
Xiaomi today announced the Mi4, an Android-powered smartphone that offers high-end specs for a low price point. The Mi4 uses a blend of steel, glass and plastic in its design and has a 5-inch full HD display with narrow bezels. The Mi4 includes a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 3GB of RAM, and it comes in 16GB/64GB variants. The main camera captures 13 megapixels with an aperture of f/1.8 and 4K video. The user-facing camera captures 8 megapixels and also has an aperture of f/1.8. The Mi4 includes a 3,080mAh battery and swappable rear covers for personalization. The Mi4 is one of the first Xiaomi phones to support worldwide LTE bands, and it includes an IR blaster for controlling home theater equipment. The Mi4 costs approximately $320 for the 16GB version.
Yahoo today announced that is has agreed to purchase Flurry for an undisclosed sum. Flurry offers mobile app developers a variety of tools to improve and monetize their applications. According to Yahoo, the acquisition will allow it to further refine is mobile offerings to advertisers. Flurry's existing services and staff will remain in place. The deal is expected to close later this year.
Facebook today announced a new feature that will allow users to save content for later viewing. The tool can be used to earmark links, places, movies, TV, and music. Facebook Save is headed to the web, as well as Android and iOS apps. Users will be able to save content on one platform and view it on another. Saved items will only be visible to the account holder unless they choose to share it with others. Facebook said it will periodically remind users about their saved content if it sits unread. Facebook Save is being rolled out slowly to all users over the next few days.
Verizon Wireless today announced the pending launch of Verizon Smart Rewards, a program that will give customers points for performing different account-related activities. The program kicks off July 24 for Verizon's postpaid customers. Those who sign up will receive 10,000 points automatically, and will then earn more points for activities such as signing into the My Verizon tool, selecting paperless billing, paying their bill, and other interactions. According to Verizon, the reward points can then be redeemed as discounts up to 40% with more than 200 brands across a variety of product categories, including groceries, travel, hotels, dining, and goods. Verizon Smart rewards will cover Verizon goods and services, too, such as gift cards and opportunities to win NFL football tickets. Last, the program will include daily deals, auctions, and sweepstakes. It is free to enroll in Verizon Smart Rewards, though Verizon notes customers may also have to also enroll in its Verizon Selects marketing insights program.
BlackBerry today said it has appointed Marty Beard to the post of Chief Operating Officer. Beard worked for LiveOps and Sybase before joining BlackBerry. Beard will be responsible for marketing, application development, and quality and customer care. The COO post had been vacant since Kristian Tear left last November. BlackBerry CEO John S. Chen also hails from Sybase.
Sony recently made the Xperia Z2 available to U.S. buyers via its web store. The Z2, which was announced in January, costs $699 and is being sold unlocked. The Z2 has a 5.2-inch full HD display, 20.7-megapixel camera with 4K video capture, quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor with 3GB of RAM, and various sensors/radios. It is also water and dust resistant. The Z2 is compatible with the LTE networks of both AT&T and T-Mobile. Sony typically offers its smartphones through its web store when they aren't sold by wireless network operators.
A new phone accessory allows users to create their own long-range wireless network between two or more phones. The goTenna is a six-inch wand that pairs with a phone via Bluetooth LE. goTennas connect to each other at 151-154 MHz, a frequency low enough to reach up to 50 miles with the 2-watt radio in the goTenna (but more typically, 3-10 miles.) Communication is limited to text messaging and location sharing, via the included app, which is available for both iOS and Android. Messages can be sent an individual, a group, or broadcast to all goTenna users in range. All messages are encrypted. The device is intended for people traveling in remote areas where mobile networks may be unavailable, such as hikers or camping families. The device is dust-tight, water-resistant, and has an integrated nylon strap. It is also useful for large events where the mobile network may become overloaded, such as concerts, festivals, and sports matches. The devices will retail for $300/pair in the fall, but can currently be pre-ordered for half-off, or $150/pair.
Google this week released a new version of Google Wallet that can capture, store, and manage gift card info. Users can add gift cards via the camera or keyboard, then show a barcode on the screen to redeem the card. Select retailers - including AMC, Best Buy, Nike, Sephora, Toys-R-Us, TGI Friday’s, and Whole Foods - have linked their systems with Google Wallet to allow the app to display remaining balances on the virtual gift cards. The app can also alert the user when they are near one of those locations. The new version of the app also adds Spanish language support and a feature to request money from friends via Gmail.
Amazon is finally ready to unleash its first phone, the Fire. An exclusive to AT&T, this unique phone sports a spiffy interface totally new to the phone world, and a few fancy hardware and software features. Read on for our hands-on first impressions.
LG today announced the G3 s, a smaller and more affordable version of the company's new G3 flagship phone. The phone shares the same front and back design as the G3, but in a smaller, lighter body that's 1 mm thicker. The display shifts from 5.5 inches to 5.0 inches with 720p resolution. The processor steps down to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip. The camera steps from 13 megapixels to 8, although it keeps the laser focusing system. Memory, battery, and Wi-Fi specs have been similarly scaled down. It does retain a memory card slot, removable battery, LTE, and NFC. The new model launches tomorrow in Korea as the G3 Beat, and "in the weeks that follow" in Europe as the G3 s. Pricing and US availability were not announced.
Microsoft today announced a sweeping company-wide re-organization that includes major changes to the mobile device business acquired from Nokia. Of Microsoft's 18,000 layoffs today, 12,500 are within the former Nokia units. Microsoft will combine the smartphone and feature phone units, with the feature phone operations continuing "for maximum efficiency with a smaller team." Nokia's Android-based Nokia X lineup will be abandoned. Select future models will be reworked to run Windows Phone to address new low price points for Lumia. Existing Nokia X phones will be supported, but the software will not appear in any new phones. The company will focus primarily on Windows-Phone-powered Lumia phones, and tablets. In an open email to employees, Stephen Elop explained that "the role of phones within Microsoft is different than it was within Nokia. Whereas the hardware business of phones within Nokia was an end unto itself, within Microsoft all our devices are intended to embody the finest of Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences, while accruing value to Microsoft’s overall strategy."
HTC has brought its Desire 610 mid-range phone to AT&T. The 610 brings high-end design and a few nifty features to a low price point. It's not perfect, though, and it does differ from the international version a bit. Read on for our first impressions with one.
Visa today announced Visa Checkout, a service that speeds up the process of buying items on the web, especially from mobile devices. Using Visa Checkout, a user simply enters a Visa username and password, replacing the longer process of entering payment, shipping, billing, and contact information. Users must first create a Visa Checkout account with Visa. When purchasing online, users will see a Visa Checkout button on the shopping cart page.
BlackBerry today revealed that the upcoming BlackBerry OS 10.3 will include a voice-activated virtual assistant, much like Siri and Google Now. BlackBerry assistant, as the app is called, will be able to interact with email, calendar, messaging, timers, and the web. In addition to voice, it also accepts input via the keyboard. Tasks it enables by voice include sending meeting invitations, searching email, setting reminders, searching the web, launching apps, changing ringer profiles, and sending messages. The Assistant learns, improving over time.
Verizon Wireless this week announced that, starting tomorrow, it will allow Allset prepaid customers to use 4G LTE phones and the faster LTE network, as well as mobile hotspot features to share the LTE connection with other devices. Previously, Verizon prepaid customers could only use the CDMA network, which is much slower for data. Customers will be able to bring their own existing Verizon LTE phone (previously used with a post-paid plan) or purchase a new LTE phone such as the LG Lucid 3, LG G2, Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S 4, Samsung Galaxy S5, or HTC One. Prepaid customers will be able to access both bands of the company's LTE network for full capacity and speed, a capability Verizon brands "XLTE". Allset plans start at $45/month for unlimited voice and texting, plus 500 MB of data. An additional 500 MB can be added for $5 and/or by signing up for automatic payments. Additional 90-day data buckets can be purchased at $10 for 1 GB or $20 for 3 GB. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile already allow 4G devices with prepaid service.
AT&T tonight announced that it will offer HTC's Desire 610 on July 25 for $200 without a contract. The 610 is an affordable Android phone with a 4.7-inch display, 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 8-megapixel main camera, front camera, 4G LTE, and a memory card slot. It sports a clean design inspired by the HTC One, but in high-quality plastic. Like the One, it features BoomSound dual front speakers and Zoe video functions. AT&T also offers Next pricing for the Desire 610, which runs as low as $8.34/month. At full price, it's available for both post-paid and GoPhone pre-paid service plans.
Apple and IBM today announced a partnership that will see more business-oriented apps developed for iOS, and IBM selling iPhones and iPads directly to its large corporate customers. The two companies will jointly develop the apps, of which there will be about 100, targeted as various industries. IBM is today primarily a software and services provider, implementing complete IT solutions for large companies.
Nokia today began rolling out automatic updates to Windows Phone 8.1 for all Lumia devices that currently have Windows Phone 8. The update includes all new Windows Phone 8.1 features from Microsoft, plus several new enhancements specific to Lumia devices. Lumia devices will gain updated Nokia Camera apps, plus Nokia Device Hub, which intelligently tracks accessories used with the device. The Lumia 1520 and Icon phones will gain Nokia Rich Recording and Dolby surround sound video capture, plus Screen Share. Standard Windows Phone 8.1 features include a more customizable home screen, Action Center quick settings, Wi-Fi Sense for automatically connecting to free hotspots, and the Cortana voice assistant. The update will roll out to all eligible devices "in the coming weeks."
Apple has introduced a rudimentary mobile payment system in Japan. The system exposes the user's iTunes account via a 2D barcode on a Passbook card, and allows users to carry a positive cash balance, much like a Starbucks account used through Apple's Passbook app. For now, the system can only be used to purchase apps and content through Apple's iTunes and App Store, and deposits must be made in person at Apple Stores. Although the current system is quite limited, it marks a new step for Apple toward full mobile payments, and gives a glimpse of how such a system could work.
MediaTek today took the wraps off its newest flagship processor chip for high-end phones. The MT6795 is a SoC (system on chip) combining an LTE radio with a 64-bit, 8-core processor at speeds up to 2.2 GHz. It supports displays up to 1600 x 2560. It also supports display refresh rate of 120 Hz for extra-smooth motion, and slow-motion video capture at 480 fps in full HD. The company has had little traction with phones bound for U.S. shores in recent years. According to Mohit Bhushan, Head of U.S. Business Development, the company is working to change that by having its processors certified directly by U.S. network operators. The MT6795 is currently undergoing that certification, and the company plans to have the chip in a device shipping in the U.S. next year. The chip competes with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810.
Verizon, Ericsson, and Qualcomm recently announced plans to test spectrum-sharing technology in the 3.5 GHz band. The band is used for military radar systems, but the FCC believes the band can be shared with commercial uses in some situations. This new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band is being considered for various licensed and unlicensed shared uses by the FCC. Verizon wants to use the band to add download capacity to its LTE network in high-demand areas like stadiums, college campuses, or airports. The band is currently 3550-3650 MHz, although the FCC is also considering stretching it to 3700 MHz.
A team at Oxford University has discovered a new type of display technology that consists of a simple thin film of phase-change material (PCM) between two thin films of transparent electrodes. The three layers can be applied to very thin, flexible Mylar sheets, creating a flexible display. The material only requires power to change state, so it holds an image without power, making it extremely power-efficient. The technique can currently create individual pixels as small as 300 x 300 nanometers, resulting in displays much sharper than today's. The team has also found a way to produce different colors by altering the size of the bottom electrode. Although the work is still in its early stages, the team has filed a patent and is working to commercialize the technology through Isis Innovation, Oxford University's technology commercialization company.
Google updated Maps for iOS devices today and added a number of new features. To start, search results now appear with descriptions directly on the map, and search results can be easily switched between list and map views. The details of search results are presented on cards similar to those used by Google Now on Android devices. The locations of reservations and appointments culled from Gmail are visible and labeled on maps, and the new explore tool provides users with recommendations based on location and time of day. Google Maps is free to download for the iPhone and iPad.
Sprint said the LG G3 is available in stores and online beginning today. The device was originally expected to reach Sprint stores July 18, but it has arrived a full week early.
Samsung this week delayed plans to launch its Tizen-based smartphone in Russia. The Samsung Z, which the company announced in June, was expected to make an appearance at a Tizen developer conference held in Moscow this week. Samsung cancelled the device's debut at the last minute, saying only "the smartphone will appear on the Russian market later, when we can offer our users a fullest portfolio of applications." The Wall Street Journal reports that developers have not created enough apps for the Tizen operating system to adequately fill the Tizen app store on the Z. Tizen is Samsung's home-grown smartphone platform based on Linux and other open standards. The company planned to launch a Tizen device in Japan early this year, but that launch, too, was cancelled at the last minute. Samsung remains committed to Tizen and to delivering the Z to the market, but it's no longer clear when that will happen. Without developer support, the Z will be unable to truly compete with established platforms such as Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
Samsung announced a change to its application storefront for smartphones and tablets that it hopes will set its offerings apart from Google's as well as reduce consumer confusion. What was previously called Samsung Apps will now be called Galaxy Apps. Samsung said the Galaxy Apps store will offer hundreds of applications exclusive to Samsung's smartphones. Further, the store will include sections and apps exclusive to specific Galaxy-branded devices. One section will include apps made specifically with Samsung's SDKs. Samsung has already redesigned its online app portal to reflect the new branding. It plans to roll out the redesigned Galaxy Apps store to its smartphones and tablets over the coming weeks.
BlackBerry today followed up on its promise from earlier this year and released a beta version of BlackBerry Messenger for the Windows Phone platform. The app covers the BBM basics, which means it can be used to chat with individuals or groups, as well as share pictures, voice notes, contacts, and location. The app also supports group chats, in which users can discuss shared calendars, files, and photos. BlackBerry said the beta is limited for now ahead of a wider release. The company will work to add features, including stickers, BBM Voice, BBM Channels, and Glympse in future releases. BBM is already available for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry devices.
Samsung today announced the Exynos ModAP, an application processor and modem system-on-a-chip. Samsung says the Exynos ModAP was manufactured using a 28nm processes and supports a wide range of wireless networking technologies. The combo chip has a dedicated image signal processor to handle high-quality image and video capture/playback, all while conserving power. In addition to the SoC, Samsung introduced a 300 Series modem, which supports legacy 2G and 3G networks, such as GSM, HSPA+, and TD-SCDMA, in addition to LTE, and LTE-Advanced with features such as Carrier Aggregation. Last, Samsung revealed the Exynos RF companion chip. The Exynos RF IC is a baseband RF transceiver that supports multi-band and multimode LTE networks. Samsung didn't say when it expects these chips to reach consumer devices. The ModAP, in particular, will compete more directly with Qualcomm's high-end Snapdragon processors, which often integrate the AP and modem into a single chip.
Google today made Play Games 2.0 available to Android handsets via the Google Play Store. The updated gaming center provides an entirely new profile interface and has otherwise been redesigned. The app offers users far more personalization tools, as well as the ability to interact with gamers using iOS devices. In addition to the Play Games update, Google published a new set of SDKs and APIs for developers so they can take advantage of the changes to Play Games 2.0. Google improved the Google Play Games C++ SDK with more cross-platform support, while the Play Games iOS SDK was updated with support for Quests and Saved Games. Play Games 2.0 will eventually reach most Android devices. Developers can access the new SDKs from the Android developer portal.
Data culled from the FCC shows that the vast majority - 90% - of 911 emergency calls placed from wireless phones are not providing accurate location data. A company called Find Me 911 filed a Freedom Of Information Act request with the FCC in order to obtain the data. Its analysis suggests only 39,805 of 385,341 emergency 911 calls placed during a six-month period in Washington, D.C. contained the vital Phase II information, which includes the caller's latitude and longitude. The remaining calls contained only Phase I information, which gives emergency responders the location of the nearest cell tower. The cell tower location alone is not considered good enough to find callers who may be in need of assistance. Earlier this year, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to make it easier for first responders to find people who make wireless 911 calls. In the short term, the FCC wants wireless network operators to be able to provide the longitude, latitude, and vertical information necessary to determine the exact address and floor from which a wireless 911 call is made indoors. In the long term, the FCC wants operators to offer more granular location data so the wireless 911 caller may be pinpointed down to the room, office, or apartment. The FCC also wants operators to provide location details to first responders faster. The FCC is still fielding comments on it proposal. It believes improving wireless 911 location accuracy could eventually save as many as 10,000 lives per year.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today made good on its word to sue Amazon over the company's in-app purchasing policies. The FTC alleges Amazon didn't provide consumers with enough protection against unwanted in-app purchases. Specifically, children were frequently able to make purchases on Amazon Kindle Fire tablets without first obtaining their parent's (or the account holder's) permission. Amazon initially allowed in-app purchases up to $99.99 without requiring consent. Later, after some customers complained, Amazon dropped the maximum no-authorization dollar amount of in-app purchases to $20. The FTC says, however, that Amazon allowed in-app purchases for periods between 15 minutes and 60 minutes after account holders gave the app permission to make purchases, which often allowed children to rack up more charges. The FTC is seeking refunds for customers, and wants Amazon to make its in-app purchasing policies more consumer friendly. Earlier this year, Apple settled a similar complaint with the FTC by paying $32.5 million. Amazon said earlier this month that it will defend itself in court against any legal action brought by the FTC. Amazon is prepared to release its first smartphone, the Fire Phone, later this year.
The full Senate will vote on a bill that aims to reestablish the legality of unlocking cell phones. The bipartisan proposal was agreed to in broad terms last month. Today the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to advance the bill to the Senate. Senator Patrick Leahy and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley introduced the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act last year in order to restore consumers' ability to unlock their phones. Unlocking phones became illegal when the Library of Congress allowed an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to expire. The bill still falls under the purview of the DMCA and leaves the ultimate decision up to the Library of Congress. If enacted immediately, it will be legal to unlock cell phones only for a period of 14 months before the policy must be reviewed once again by the Library of Congress. The wording of the bill mandates the policy be reviewed once every three years. Separately, the NTIA and the FCC have mandated that wireless network operators make it easier for consumers to unlock their devices. Most of the largest carriers have already begun putting policies in place that allow customers to unlock their devices once terms of their agreement are met.
AT&T and T-Mobile recently filed paperwork with the FCC seeking permission to swap spectrum assets. The companies are looking at PCS and AWS spectrum in a handful of markets. First, AT&T was required to divest spectrum in 12 markets, mostly in Nevada and Texas, in order to win FCC approval of its Cricket Wireless acquisition. These assets will be transferred to T-Mobile. Second, the companies want to exchange assets scattered around California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. In their filings with the FCC, AT&T and T-Mobile said the swap will "enable more efficient operations resulting from larger blocks of contiguous spectrum and/or the alignment of spectrum blocks held in adjacent markets." Such spectrum swaps are common in the secondary market for airwaves. The two companies didn't place a dollar value on the proposal, which requires FCC approval.
Apple today released iTunes 11.3 and discussed new features headed to the iPhone and iPad later this year. iTunes 11.3 adds new support for "extras" that are often available with purchases of HD movies. Extras typically contain interviews, shorts, and other production content associated with movies. Moving forward, extras will be added to prior HD movie purchases automatically. Extras will also become available for viewing on the Apple TV for the first time. Last, extras will be available to devices running iOS 8 when it launches later this year. Apple is currently beta testing iOS 8, which is expected to debut in September or October.
Cricket Wireless, which is owned by AT&T, today announced the availability of the Nokia Lumia 630 smartphone. The 630, which is a variant of the Lumia 635 (being sold by T-Mobile and MetroPCS), will reach Cricket stores on July 11. Cricket is offering the Lumia 630 for free with a $50 mail-in rebate card. The device is an entry-level Windows Phone with a 4.5-inch screen and 5-megapixel camera. Cricket is also offering discounts ranging from $20 to $50 on a wide selection of handsets, including the ZTE Sonata 4G, Prelude, and Overture 4G; the Moto G; the Nokia 520 and 1320; and the Samsung Galaxy Express 4G. Cricket is the new brand name being used by AT&T's former Aio Wireless unit. AT&T is transitioning Cricket's CDMA customers to its GSM network so it can eventually repurpose Cricket's spectrum. All the devices covered by Cricket's new promotion operate on AT&T's GSM network.
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