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ZTE Being Given a Chance to Argue Its Case

Today, 10:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE will have an opportunity to ask the U.S. Commerce Department to change its mind regarding the government's decision to ban U.S. corporations from selling hardware or software to ZTE for a period of seven years. An official at the Commerce Department said the agency has given ZTE permission to present more information regarding the actions it took in the wake of its 2017 settlement. ZTE agreed to pay a hefty fine and reprimand 35 executives. The Commerce Department says ZTE did not reprimand those execs and then misrepresented the facts. The agency said this created a breach of trust and it announced the ban earlier this week. According to the Wall Street Journal, "ZTE doesn’t have administrative appeal rights under agency regulations, but the agency had agreed to receive the evidence through informal procedures in the near future." It's unclear what these informal procedures are, nor what impact they might have on the Commercel Department's decision. The ban will prevent ZTE from using mobile processors from Qualcomm and perhaps the Android operating system from Google. ZTE itself said the ban will severely impact the company's chance of survival. Google hasn't commented on the matter directly.

GSMA Puts eSIM Development On Hold Due to Inquiry

Today, 10:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The GSMA telecommunications group today said it will pause work on the eSIM standard while the U.S. Justice Department completes its investigation over the technology. The Justice Department alleges that AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and the GSMA have been colluding to make it more difficult for consumers to take advantage of the benefit of eSIMs. eSIMs act as an electronic version of the physical SIM cards most phones use to identify the subscriber on the network. The original idea behind the cards was to make it easier for consumers to switch network providers via software. Apple and other companies complained to the U.S. government that AT&T, Verizon, and the GSMA are in fact doing the opposite, and making it more difficult for eSIM devices to be used on competing networks. Apple uses its own Apple SIM, which works like an eSIM, in some iPads. Verizon said the inquiry was "much ado about nothing." AT&T and Apple have not commented on the matter.

Justice Department Launches Antitrust Investigation Into AT&T, Verizon

Yesterday, 3:35 PM   by Rich Brome

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating AT&T and Verizon for secretly colluding to put carrier-locking ability into the new eSIM industry standard, according to the New York Times. eSIM technology eliminates the physical SIM card that gives a phone its number and identity on the network, replacing it with a virtual SIM that can be loaded and replaced over the network. The Apple Watch and Pixel 2 already include eSIM, but the standard is new and evolving. As originally designed, eSIM could make it easier for consumers to switch their existing phone to a different wireless carrier. AT&T and Verizon are accused of secretly colluding with the GSMA standards group to alter the standard so that eSIM phones could be locked to one carrier. Such a move could be harmful to smaller carriers, and thus the alleged collusion could run afoul of antitrust laws. The Justice Department investigation started when both a phone maker and another carrier filed formal complaints.

Hands On with the Moto e5 Play

Yesterday, 10:48 AM   by Rich Brome   updated Yesterday, 10:48 AM

The Moto e5 Play is the latest truly entry-level phone from Motorola / Lenovo. There's nothing fancy about it, but it does manage to fit in a fingerprint reader and an HD display. We checked it out in person. Here are our first impressions.

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FitBit to Update Versa with Quick Replies and Female Health Tracking

Yesterday, 10:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

FitBit this week released its Versa smartwatch and said new features for the wearable will arrive as soon as next month. A software update to be made available in May will bring quick replies to people who pair their Versa with an Android device. People will be able to create up to five custom quick replies of 60 characters or less and use them in response to text messages, as well as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. FitBit said this feature is not planned for use with iOS devices at this time. The update will also bring female health tracking to the Versa, allowing women to keep track of their monthly cycles. Women should find it easier to manage their cycles and gain a more complete picture of their health and fitness data. These features will also eventually be installed on the older FitBit Ionic smartwatch. The Versa is aimed at the masses thanks to its $200 price point. It includes a color touch screen, accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate monitor, altimeter, light sensor, vibration motor, WiFi, Bluetooth LE, and NFC. These sensors allow the Versa to track 15 different exercise modes, including swimming, assess cardio fitness level, provide personal reminders, track sleep, store and play music, and make mobile payments. Battery life is as good as four days. It is available directly from FitBit and retailers such as Best Buy.

Apple's New Robot Prevents Your Dead iPhone from Pushing Daisies

Yesterday, 3:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today made several commitments to environmental conservation efforts based on recycling old iPhones. To start, the company will make a donation to Conservation International for every device recycled at Apple stores and Apple.com between now and April 30. Eligible devices will receive credit that customers can use toward an in-store purchase or put on an Apple Store Gift Card. The value will vary by device. Conservation International protects natural resources. Further, Apple debuted Daisy, a new robot that disassembles old iPhones in order to recover valuable materials for recycling purposes. Apple says Daisy can take apart nine different iPhone models, and disassemble up to 200 devices per hour, removing and sorting components. "At Apple, we’re constantly working toward smart solutions to address climate change and conserve our planet’s precious resources,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. “In recognition of Earth Day, we are making it as simple as possible for our customers to recycle devices and do something good for the planet through Apple GiveBack. We’re also thrilled to introduce Daisy to the world, as she represents what’s possible when innovation and conservation meet." Apple continues to work to reduce its carbon footprint, use safer materials in its products, and power its facilities with clean energy. Last, Apple said it will send an alert to Apple Watch users on April 21 challenging them to go outside and complete 30 minutes of activity. Those who do will be rewarded with unique stickers in iMessage.

AT&T Preps More Than 100 Markets for 5G, Expands LTE-LAA

Yesterday, 3:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said it has launched what it calls 5G Evolution in 117 new markets, bringing the total of pre-5G markets to 141. The company says its 5G Evolution technology can deliver theoretical speeds up to 400 Mbps to properly equipped phones. AT&T expects to launch 5G service in in a dozen markets, including Dallas and Waco, Texas, and Atlanta, Ga., by the end of the year. Further, AT&T has expanded its LTE-LAA footprint from three markets to parts of seven markets. LTE-LAA can push speeds to theoretical a max of 1 Gbps. The new LTE-LAA markets are Boston, Sacramento and McAllen, Texas. A handful of phones sold by AT&T are LTE-LAA capable, including the Samsung Galaxy S8, S9, S8+, S9+, Note8, and S8 Active, as well as the LG V30 and Moto Z2 Force Edition. AT&T's LTE-LAA is already available in The Loop in Chicago, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, downtown LA, and the business district of San Francisco. AT&T plans to deploy LTE-LAA in at least 24 markets by the end of the year.

Google Hinges Android Messaging Strategy On Carrier-Based RCS; Allo Being Put On 'Pause'

Yesterday, 2:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google hopes to solve the messaging experience on Android phones with a new service called Chat. Chat will be based on Rich Communication Services and live within the existing Android Messages application. RCS represents the next generation of mobile communication with advanced features such as presence, read receipts, video chat, and more. Google has been quietly gathering commitments from wireless carriers around the globe in order to make this work. The service is set to launch soon, though it will be up to individual carriers to deploy. Chat and RCS rely on data connections, but will revert to SMS — what Android Messages uses today — when data service is not available. Google expects to update the Android Messages app with advanced features such as GIF search and the Google Assistant. At the same time, Google is "pausing" development on the Google Allo messaging app, which first launched with Google Assistant in 2016. Most of the Allo team is being moved to the Android Messages product, according to The Verge, leaving Allo all but abandoned. Android Messages is the default texting/messaging app on many Android phones, but not all of them. Companies such as Samsung have created their own SMS/messaging apps for their phones. In those cases, it will be up to phone owners to download and install Android Messages in order to take advantage of Chat service from their carrier. Unlike some messaging services, Chat will not be encrypted. This means it isn't as secure as iMessage on the iPhone. Google has left numerous messaging services in the digital graveyard over the last few years. When Chat launches, it should put the matter to rest and serve as Android's core service for the foreseeable future.

ZTE Vows to Fight Ban, Says Denial Order Will 'Severely Impact' the Survival of the Company

Yesterday, 1:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today said the ban issued by the Commerce Department is unfair and overly severe in what mark its first public comments since the ban was announced. "The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE, but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies," said ZTE in a statement. The Bureau of Industry and Security banned U.S. companies from selling ZTE any hardware or software because the company didn't comply with a settlement agreement over an earlier transgression. In 2016, ZTE was caught shipping products to Iran, despite sanctions against the country. ZTE later settled with the government for $455 million and agreed to fire some executives and curb the bonuses of other executives. However, the company did not take the proper actions against its executives and later lied about it to the government. ZTE insists it has taken action against the responsible employees now and has formed committees to ensure it complies with the earlier settlement. "ZTE will not give up its efforts to resolve the issue through communication, and we are also determined, if necessary, to take judicial measures to protect the legal rights and interests of our company, our employees and our shareholders, and to fulfill obligations and take responsibilities to our global customers, end-users, partners and suppliers," said ZTE. Qualcomm, which makes the Snapdragon processors inside ZTE phones, is one of many component suppliers that will be impacted by the ban. More importantly, ZTE may lose the ability to license the Android operating system from Google. Without access to Android, ZTE's entire phone business could be in jeopardy. Google has yet to comment on the matter.

Hands On with the Moto e5 Plus and g6 Play

Thursday, 3:40 PM   by Rich Brome

Sitting in the middle of Motorola's new lineup of affordable Android phones are the Moto e5 Plus and g6 Play. In spite of their odd naming, they share the same design and features. The main difference is that the e5 Plus is larger, and a bit higher-end in specs. Both have a very large battery, a modern all-screen design, a fingerprint reader, and a low price. We took them for a quick spin.

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AT&T Rejiggers Prepaid Plans and Discounts

Thursday, 10:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today overhauled how it organizes its AT&T Prepaid service plans. Specifically, the company is now offering more data and higher discounts for multi-line accounts. First, the $50 plan now includes 8 GB of high-speed data. Second, the $85 unlimited plan improves the allotment of high-speed mobile hotspot data from 6 GB per month to 10 GB per month. Once these allotments are met or exceeded, data will be throttled down to 128Kbps for the remainder of the billing period. All video is streamed at standard definition, and AT&T may slow speeds when the network is congested. Third, AT&T is offering better per-line savings with family plans. Moving forward, the second and third lines added to a prepaid account will each enjoy a $10 discount, while the fourth and fifth lines added to a prepaid account will each enjoy a $20 discount. Customers have to enroll in Autopay in order to score these discounts and data deals. Last, AT&T Prepaid will allow customers to cater each line to family members' individual needs, meaning everyone will have their own line, their own plan, and their own data all under one bill. The AT&T Prepaid rate plan changes go into effect April 20.

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Motorola Making Gains in U.S. Market

Thursday, 9:23 AM   by Rich Brome

Lenovo is finding renewed success for its Motorola phone business in the U.S. market, according to company executives. The company announced four new affordable Android phones today, all of which are being picked up by U.S. carriers. "We are going to be more broadly ranged across all North American carriers in 2018", said company spokesperson Cassandra McCormack. The new g-series phones will be available through carriers and unlocked, while two new e-series phones will be available only via carriers in the U.S.. According to another company executive, they expect to have up to twice as many phones on U.S. carrier shelves compared to last year. The success comes as the company makes several shifts in strategy. The company has doubled down on "Motorola" branding across its whole range, in marketing and on the phones themselves. That's an about-face from the strategy announced in 2016 whereby they planned to phase out Motorola in favor of Lenovo alongside "Moto" for high-end phones and "Vibe" for low-end phones. The company has also expanded its range with more models than last year, hitting more varied price points.

Verizon Smart Family Is A Refreshed Way to Manage Kids' Smartphones

Thursday, 9:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today debuted Verizon Smart Family, a revamped service to help parents keep track of how their kids use their phones. The app allows parents to manage screen time by pausing the internet, to check battery status, and to view texts and calls. Verizon Smart Family provides more fine-tuned content filters, which help parents block inappropriate web sites and apps. The service also includes an optional location-tracking feature with geo-fencing. Verizon Smart Family costs $4.99 per month per line for the basic service, and $9.99 per month per line with location tracking. Verizon Smart Family is available starting April 19.

Hands On with the Moto g6

Thursday, 9:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Motorola's g-series phones have a long-held reputation for value and quality. With the 2018 incarnation, Moto is trying harder than ever to bring high-end features and design to a low price point. For $250, you get a metal body, curved glass back, full-HD screen with 2:1 ratio, dual camera with portrait mode and object recognition, USB-C, fast charging, a fingerprint reader, an ultrasonic sensor that lights up the screen as you approach. It also has much better support for U.S. LTE networks than most unlocked phones, including Verizon, Sprint, and newer bands used by AT&T and T-Mobile. How does it stack up in person? Here are our first impressions.

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Motorola Updates Affordable Lineup for 2018

Thursday, 9:00 AM   by Rich Brome

Motorola today announced four new affordable Android phones coming to the U.S. market before mid-year. Spread across the Moto e5 and Moto g6 series, all four new phones share the company's evolved design language that debuted with the Moto X4 last year. They also all sport a fingerprint reader, a clean version of Android 8 Oreo, Moto Actions gesture shortcuts, a water-repellent coating, front cameras with an LED flash, 3.5mm audio jacks, and memory card slots. They have Qualcomm Snapdragon 400-series processors supporting Cat. 6 LTE, and excellent support for all major US networks, including Sprint, Verizon, and band 66.

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Alexa Blueprints Let Anyone Create Personalized Alexa Skills

Thursday, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today released Alexa Blueprints, a tool that people can use to create their very own skills for Alexa. Amazon published a new web site that makes it easy to build the skills, with no coding knowledge needed. Users pick from a handful of prefabricated blueprints, fill in some blanks, and publish the skill. Amazon says skills created with Alexa Blueprints will be added to the Alexa app on their phone and available from all Alexa-powered devices associated with the account. The skills will not be made public. "Alexa Skill Blueprints is an entirely new way for you to teach Alexa personalized skills just for you and your family,” said Amazon VP Steve Rabuchin. "You don’t need experience building skills or coding to get started — my family created our own jokes skill in a matter of minutes, and it’s been a blast to interact with Alexa in a totally new and personal way." Some of the initial blueprints include jokes and stories, trivia, motivational quotes, quizzes and flashcards, and skills for guests and babysitters. Amazon's Alexa Blueprints are free to use.

Qualcomm to Trim 1,500 Jobs In Order to Reduce Costs

Thursday, 8:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm is prepared to layoff some 1,500 employees, mostly in California, according to Bloomberg. Earlier this year, Qualcomm promised investors it would cut $1 billion in spending as part of its effort to stave off the Broadcom acquisition. With that deal dead, Qualcomm now has to live up to its promise to shareholders. "We first evaluated non-headcount expense reductions, but we concluded that a workforce reduction is needed to support long-term growth and success, which will ultimately benefit all our stakeholders," said Qualcomm in a statement. Qualcomm has not said what divisions might be impacted by the layoffs. The company is headquartered in San Diego.

Netflix Brings 30-Second Previews to Mobile Devices

Thursday, 8:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Netflix today announced mobile previews, a feature that lets people preview movie and TV content on their phone. Netflix says mobile previews last about 30 seconds each and are displayed vertically in a slideshow format. The idea is to give people a quick look at TV shows and movies so they can decide if they want to watch it. Netflix subscribers can tap to save previewed content to their watch list, or swipe to advance to the next preview. Netflix says previews help its subscribers browse less and discover new content more quickly. The previews load swiftly and are personalized to individual subscribers. Mobile previews are launching on iOS devices first and will reach Android devices soon.

Opera Discontinuing Its Android and iOS VPN Service

Thursday, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Opera Software says its mobile VPN service will go offline on April 30, 2018. The Opera VPN service has been around for several years and allows Android and iOS users to connect to open WiFi network securely. With Opera VPN shutting down, Opera is pointing people to the SurfEasy VPN. Opera Gold subscribers have the option to redeem a free one-year subscription to the SurfEasy Ultra VPN. Non-Gold Opera VPN users will be able to redeem an 80% discount for SurfEasy via the Opera VPN app ahead of the April 30 shutdown. SurfEasy Ultra offers unlimited usage on up to five devices per account, with access to 28 regions, and a no-log policy. SurfEasy VPN is available to more platforms, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Amazon.

Microsoft's AI-Powered Translator App Now Works Offline

Thursday, 8:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said its Microsoft Translator application can now function when offline. End users will need to download free AI-powered packs for the language of their choice ahead of time. Once downloaded, the Translator is able to take advantage of Microsoft's neural translation technology without a network connection. The AI-powered offline language packs are available to Microsoft Translator for Android, iOS, and Amazon Fire devices. Beyond the end-user features, Microsoft is allowing developers to integrate online and offline AI-based text translations into their own apps. This would let, for example, camera applications translate text in real time even with the phone is offline. Developers can find the new tools on Microsoft's developer web site. Microsoft Translator is free to download from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, and Amazon Appstore.

Google Simplifies Two-Factor Authentication in Gmail

Wednesday, 10:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has reduced the complexity of using two-factor authentication for Gmail in an effort to encourage more people to take advantage of the tool. Moving forward, iPhone and iPad users can receive security prompts within Gmail. Previously, users needed to have both Gmail and the Google mobile app in order to use two-factor authentication. Google says this new method, which puts two-factor entirely within Gmail, should be easier to use while still offering a more secure method of authentication accounts. Google says this change is rolling out to all users over the next week.

Cricket Providing Service Credits for Friend Referrals

Wednesday, 10:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today rolled out a new referral program that will net people free service. The new Refer A Friend program lets customers and their friends receive a credit after 60 days as long as both accounts are kept active. Cricket customers send a unique referral code to their friend through the myCricket app and the app then sends a text when the account credit is applied. Cricket says the credit can be used towards service, features, and other account costs. The new Refer A Friend program kicks off April 22.

T-Mobile Offers Big Savings to Military Members and Families

Wednesday, 9:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today made a significant commitment to support members of the U.S. military and their families. First, the company is offering major discounts for military members. The first line in a family plan will see a discount of 20%, with each subsequent line available for half the normal price. For example, the T-Mobile One Military plan will cost $55 for the first line, $25 for the second line, and then $10 for lines three through six. The plan includes all the normal T-Mobile benefits, such as Netflix, T-Mobile Tuesdays, Simple Global, Mobile Without Borders, Scam ID, and Carrier Freedom. Beyond the reduced service rates, T-Mobile is offering military members 50% off the Samsung Galaxy S9 or S9+ (via monthly bill credits). T-Mobile has committing to hiring 10,000 military veterans and spouses over the next few years. Finally, T-Mobile says it will spend $500 million to boost LTE coverage in and around military communities, while also laying the groundwork in those communities for 5G. The T-Mobile One Military plan and associated benefits will be available starting April 22.

Snapchat Improves Lens Studio Creation Tools

Wednesday, 3:36 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Snapchat has added a number of features to its Lens Studio tool, which developers, students, and others can use to create their own, custom lenses. To start, Lens Studio now has seven new templates for creating lens. Creators can take advantage of 2D Objects and 3D Objects to design 2D and 3D lenses that can be overlaid on images and/or video. The 3D Object template is a bit more powerful than the 2D Object template in that it also includes a script for animating loops. Other templates include FacePaint, Photo, Distort, Trigger, and Baseball Cap. These let creators map artwork to faces, overlay lenses, stretch or shrink facial features, trigger action via blinking or opening mouths, and create unique hats. Lens Studio is available to anyone and can be downloaded from Snap's web site. Once people design and create their lenses, the lenses can be shared with others on Snapchat.

Chrome 66 for iOS and Desktops Halts Autoplay

Wednesday, 2:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is this week releasing version 66 of its Chrome browser to iOS, Mac, Windows, and Linux devices. The core feature of Chrome 66 is tackling autoplay video and audio. With the autoplay blocker on, web sites won't be allowed to automatically roll video ads or other content that might be hard to silence or mute. The autoplay blocker is turned on by default, though videos that have no audio or muted audio will still be allowed to play. For iOS devices, Chrome 66 makes it easy for iPhone and iPad owners to export passwords saved in Chrome and use them in another app. Last, Chrome 66 gains stability and performance improvement. Chrome is free to download from the Google Play Store, Mac App Store, Windows Store, and iTunes App Store.

ZTE May Lose Access to Google's Android Operating System

Wednesday, 2:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE and Google have met to discuss what to do concerning the Commerce Department's action this week that bans U.S. companies from selling components and software to ZTE. ZTE is being punished for violating the terms of a settlement it signed with the government last year. That settlement covered transgressions in shipping contraband to Iran, which is under sanctions. The U.S. says ZTE misled the Commerce Department over the actions it took in the wake of that settlement and that ZTE is no longer to be trusted. ZTE uses U.S.-based Qualcomm processors in many of its phones. It would not be ablate buy those processors under the ban. More importantly, ZTE uses Google's Android platform. ZTE has a license from Google to use Android. Under the terms of the ban, it may not be able to use Android moving forward, which would throw is entire phone business into turmoil. The two companies have not been able to discern what the exact impact of the ban will be. Neither has commented on the matter directly.

FCC Lays Out Plans to Auction mmWave Spectrum In Nov.

Tuesday, 4:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC hopes to commence two separate auctions for mmWave spectrum in November of this year. Auction 101 for 28 GHz licenses will kick off November 14, with Auction 102 for 24 GHz lenses to follow immediately thereafter. Altogether, some 6,000 licenses are up for grabs. mmWave spectrum is considered prime real estate for forthcoming 5G wireless service, internet-of-things services, and other advanced-spectrum services. Auction 101 will offer 3,074 licenses in the 28 GHz band in two 425 MHz blocks at the county level. Auction 102 will offer 2,912 licenses in the 24 GHz band in a more typical split, with two lower 100 MHz blocks and five upper 100 MHz blocks. Each of the 24 GHz bands will be licensed on an unpaired basis. License owners will be allowed to offer fixed or wireless service on their spectrum. The FCC expects to take several months to set forth the rules governing the auction.

Huawei to Focus On Markets Other than the US

Tuesday, 4:28 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

After a series of stinging setbacks, Huawei is scaling back plans to tackle the U.S. market. The company has laid off five of its employees in Washington, D.C, including top spokesperson Bill Plummer. In addition to the headcount reduction, Huawei has significantly dropped the dollar figure it spent on lobbying efforts, scaling back from $348,000 in 2016 to just $60,000 in 2017. "Like every company, we continually evaluate our organization and align our resources to support our business strategy and objectives," said a Huawei spokesperson. "Any changes to staffing size or structure are simply a reflection of standard business optimization." The company recently reported a net profit of $7.5 billion for 2017, most of which it made outside the U.S. Moving forward, Huawei plans to focus its efforts in markets where it is already successful. Huawei recently announced the P20 and P20 Pro phones, which feature high-end cameras. The U.S. government has taken steps over the last few months to prevent Huawei from gaining a toehold here, including barring government employees from buying Huawei phones, as well as introducing legislation that would prevent companies from tapping Universal Service Funds to purchase Huawei phones.

Public Testers Get their Shot at iOS 11.4 Beta 2

Tuesday, 4:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today released iOS 11.4 Beta 2 to those enrolled in its public beta testing program. Apple made the same beta available to developers earlier this week. The build includes several features that were meant to included in iOS 11.3, but didn't make the final release. These include AirPlay 2 and Messages on iCloud, which allows people to store their iMessage content in the cloud and sync it across devices. The beta is free to download from Apple.

Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner, Set to Depart Agency

Tuesday, 4:08 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, one of two Democrats on the five-person commission, today said she intends to retire from the FCC. Clyburn has been with the agency for eight years. "[Mignon] has been a tremendous leader and a committed public servant throughout her time here," remarked Chairman Ajit Pai. "As the first woman to head the agency, she led skillfully through a transition and put her stamp on the Commission, including through her steadfast leadership in telehealth, media diversity, and digital inclusion." Fellow Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel said, "Commissioner Clyburn is a dynamo. She represents the best of public service." Today was Clyburn's last public meeting with the FCC, but she intends to wrap up her tenure with the agency over the next few weeks. A new, as-yet-unnamed commissioner will eventually take her place.

FCC Pushes Plan that Would Squeeze Out Huawei and ZTE

Tuesday, 4:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC today moved forward with a plan that would make it harder and/or more expensive for U.S. companies to buy equipment from corporations that might pose a security risk. Though the FCC didn't call out China-based Huawei or ZTE by name, the proposal is clearly meant to keep the two companies sidelined in the U.S market. Specifically, the FCC wants to "prohibit use of [Universal Service Fund monies] on the purchase of equipment or services from any company that poses a national security threat to the integrity of U.S. communications networks or the communications supply chain." The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted by the FCC today isn't final, and the agency is seeking input on how to implement the proposed prohibition. For example, what types of equipment/services should be banned, how should the FCC identify the equipment, what are the costs/benefits, and finally could the rule best be enforced. Huawei and ZTE are taking fire from lawmakers for their supposed ties to the Chinese government. Today's action follows recent blows to Huawei and ZTE. Earlier this year, Huawei lost distribution deals with AT&T and Verizon Wireless, while earlier this week ZTE was banned from buying American components and technology for its phones. "Hidden 'backdoors' to our networks in routers, switches, and other network equipment can allow hostile foreign powers to inject viruses and other malware, steal Americans' private data, spy on U.S. businesses, and more," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Republican lawmakers have also introduced legislation that would bar U.S. government employee from buying Huawei and ZTE phones. Neither Huawei nor ZTE commented on the FCC's actions.

Google Voice Integration with Sprint to End June 1

Tuesday, 10:38 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has begun informing Google Voice customers who’ve integrated their service with Sprint that the two services will cease working together on June 1. Google has laid out a number of steps that customers will need to take in order to retain their separate services if they so wish. Beginning June 1, all outgoing calls and texts made will be made via Sprint’s network. Google Voice will no longer store calls, messages or voicemails sent from a Sprint phone. These communications will still be visible until June 1. People will need to export this data before June 1 in order to keep it. Google Voice / Sprint customers will not be able to use Google Voice capabilities, such as call forwarding, voicemail transcription and more, after June 1, though these features can be enabled on customers’ Sprint devices. Google suggests that users disable Google Voice with Sprint integration manually following the steps laid out on its support page. Any numbers blocked in Google Voice will need to be reblocked on the Sprint number. Customers who used their Sprint number as their Google Voice number will need to get a new Google Voice number from Google Voice.

Google Maps Adds Fast-Food Landmarks to Directions

Tuesday, 9:55 AM   by Rich Brome

Google has updated its Maps app to include easily-recognizable landmarks in its driving and walking directions. Currently, the landmarks seem to be exclusively fast-food restaurants, presumably because they usually have large signs, and logos that most people can recognize at a glance. Google says the feature is in testing.

OnePlus Pushing Android 8.1 Oreo to the 5 and 5T

Apr 16, 2018, 3:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus is delivering a small update to its OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T phones. The update primarily moves the system to Android 8.1 Oreo with the April 1 security patch from Google. The 5T, in particular, gains new gesture support for the home screen. The swiping gestures are similar to those used by the Apple iPhone X. OnePlus says the update adds new optimizations to gaming mode, such as power savings and pausing adaptive brightness, and boosts network priority for the in-progress game to the foreground. The launcher gains new category tags in the search section, and the launcher will now automatically name folders based on categories. The update is being rolled out incrementally. OnePlus says it will push the update in small numbers over the next few days with the majority of 5 and 5T devices to earn the update over the next week or so.

T-Mobile Settles FCC's Rural Dropped-Call Complaint for $40M

Apr 16, 2018, 12:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today agreed to pay the FCC a fine of $40 million to settle two separate violations. First, the FCC concluded that T-Mobile failed to connect calls to customers served by three rural phone companies in Wisconsin. Moreover, the FCC found that the problems persisted even though T-Mobile claimed to have resolved the issues. "It is a basic tenet of the nation's phone system that calls be completed to the called party, without a reduction in the call quality — even when the calls pass through intermediate providers," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. "The FCC is committed to ensuring that phone calls to all Americans, including rural Americans, go through." T-Mobile was also hammered for injecting false ring tones into certain calls. It admitted to doing so on hundreds of millions of calls, which violate FCC rules. This settlement marks the sixth for T-Mobile with respect to rural calls. The company did not offer comment on the settlement.

Apple Drops Second iOS 11.4 Beta for Developers

Apr 16, 2018, 12:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today released iOS 11.4 Beta 2 to registered developers. The build includes several features that were meant to be included in iOS 11.3, but didn't make the final release. These include AirPlay 2 and Messages on iCloud, which allows people to store their iMessage content in the cloud and sync it across devices. Developers should be able to download and install iOS 11.4 Beta 2 over the air. Apple will likely make the same beta available to public testers later this week.

Google Offers Release Candidate of Android Things to Devs

Apr 16, 2018, 12:31 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today released Android Things Developer Preview 8, which it is calling a release candidate. This penultimate version of Android Things brings with it the final set of APIs in the updated SDK. Google anticipates that there will be no changes to the Android Things APIs before the stable v1.0 SDK is made available. The release candidate includes new features in the Android Things Developer Console to make it easier for developers to build and manage production devices. For example, developers can unpublish the current OTA build if issues are discovered, as well as configure device storage allocations, control supported fonts, and share through Google Groups. Changes to the library should simplify the process of managing APKs, which no longer need to packaged into separate zipped bundles. Google also changed the permissions runtime to make it clearer to end users when and which permissions they are granting to Android Things apps and devices. Android Things Developer Preview 8 is available for developers to download via the Google Developer Console. Android Things is meant to bring smarts to connected devices, such as lamps, TVs, thermostats, and more.

US Commerce Dept. Bans ZTE from Exporting Tech

Apr 16, 2018, 9:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Apr 16, 2018, 10:05 AM

ZTE is not allowed to export sensitive technology from the U.S. due to new action from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Moreover, U.S. tech suppliers (such as Qualcomm) cannot sell components to ZTE for a period of seven years. ZTE violated the terms of an agreement it made with the government over previous transgressions and the Commerce Department is coming down on the company hard. Officials at the agency say ZTE made false statements to the Bureau of Industry and Security in 2016 and 2017 concerning executive pay and disciplinary action related to the company's earlier transgressions. In 2016, ZTE was temporarily blocked for exporting forbidden technology to Iran. In 2017, ZTE agreed to pay a huge fine to settle the matter, as well as fire four executives and discipline 35 other managers. In the wake of those events the company did not take the proper disciplinary action, according to the Commerce Department. "ZTE misled the Department of Commerce. Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them. This egregious behavior cannot be ignored," said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. While ZTE did in fact fire four managers, the company recently admitted it did not take any action at all against the other 35 managers. "We can't trust what they are telling us is truthful," said an official to Reuters. "And in international commerce, truth is pretty important." A lawyer representing companies that sell products to ZTE warned of dire consequences. "This will be devastating to the company, given their reliance on U.S. products and software," said Douglas Jacobson. "It's certainly going to make it very difficult for them to produce and will have a potentially significant short and long-term negative impact on the company." ZTE did not comment on the matter directly.

Nokia 6 for Sale from Amazon and Walmart for $269

Apr 16, 2018, 8:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Nokia 6 phone from HMD Global is now available to U.S. consumers. The device, first announced in February, is being sold unlocked from Amazon and Walmart for $269. The Nokia 6 (2018) is a refresh to last year's model. It carries over the same design as the original, but improves the specs under the hood. It includes a 5.5-inch screen and premium materials. Key features include NFC and a fingerprint reader. It jumps from the Snapdragon 435 to the Snapdragon 630 and is sold in the U.S. with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The frame is milled from 6000 series aluminum and now comes in black/copper, white/iron, and blue/gold. Other features include a 3,000mAh battery, face unlock, wireless charging, USB-C, and Android 8 Oreo. Support for U.S. LTE networks is unclear at this time.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium Captures and Plays 4K HDR Video

Apr 16, 2018, 3:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Apr 16, 2018, 6:45 AM

Sony today announced the Xperia XZ2 Premium, a high-end Android phone that boasts some of the most advanced imaging features available in a mobile device. The XZ2 Premium has a 5.8-inch 4K HDR display (16:9 aspect ratio) that Sony says is 30% brighter than its previous mobile 4K screen. The phone relies on Sony's Bravia TV and X-Reality mobile technologies to help improve contrast and up-convert standard content to near HDR quality. The XZ2 Premium includes a new Motion Eye Dual camera from Sony, which puts two Exmor RS sensors to work: one 19-megapixel for full color capture and a second 12-megapixel for black-and-white capture with contrast info. Sony says the data from both sensors is combined by its AUBE fusion image signal processor to reduce noise. The Motion Eye Dual camera is capable of capturing ISO 51,200 for photos and ISO 12,800 during video — which means the XZ2 Premium is ultra sensitive to light and can deliver more detail in nighttime pictures. The camera supports selectable bokeh, 4K HDR video capture, and 960fps super slow motion in either 720p or 1080p HD. The user-facing camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with display-based flash. In addition to the high-quality audio capture and on-display playback, the XZ2 Premium includes S-Force Front Surround speakers and a Dynamic Vibration System so owners can "feel the action" in their hands. The phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor with 6 GB of RAM and an X20 LTE modem for (theoretical) speeds up to 1.2 Gbps. The phone relies on a 3,540mAh battery with Sony's Stamina mode and Qnovo Adaptive charging, in addition to Qi wireless charging. Other features include NFC, USB-C, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD, 64 GB of storage, and support for memory cards up to 400 GB. The XZ2 Premium has a glass-and-metal design similar to the XZ2 and XZ2 Compact with Gorilla Glass 5 on front and back. It boasts IP68 for protection against splashes and spills. The Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium will go on sale later this summer with Android 8 Oreo. Pricing wasn't revealed. Sony said some features, such as Bokeh, will arrive during the third quarter via software update.

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