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printed November 25, 2015
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Holiday Gift Guide 2015

Today, 3:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The holiday season is upon us once again, and it is time to think about our closest friends and family members. Picking the right phone can be a chore, but Phone Scoop's annual Holiday Gift Guide is here to lend a helping hand. We curated a fine list of phones for every type of device and every budget. If you need a recommendation or two, look no further.

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T-Mobile Offers $200 to Sprint Customers

Today, 9:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today said Sprint customers can score $200 when porting their lines to T-Mobile during the holidays. T-Mobile will give Sprint, Boost, and Virgin subscribers an extra $200 for every line they switch to a T-Mobile Simple Choice plan, with no trade-in required. T-Mobile is also targeting subscribers to Sprint's unlimited plan. These customers can get access to T-Mobile's unlimited LTE plan for $45 per line for a family of four. These offerings will be available starting Nov. 26.

BlackBerry Loses Sales Exec

Today, 8:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry confirmed that Eric Johnson, the executive in charge of sales for business and government customers, has departed the company. BlackBerry's core business is providing device management software to exactly these types of customers. BlackBerry did not elaborate on the terms of Johnson's departure, but he filled a vital role in the company. BlackBerry has spent years attempting to rebuild its business. BlackBerry's handset division may have recently released the Android-based Priv smartphone, but sales of handsets have dwindled to fewer than one million devices per quarter. The bulk of BlackBerry's revenue comes from its BES product suite.

Vine Loops Now Playing On An Apple Watch Near You

Yesterday, 4:50 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Vine has updated its iOS app and made it compatible with the Apple Watch. The app lets people watch Vines from creators labeled as favorites as well as featured loops curated by Vine. Users can also like and revine loops from the Apple Watch, as well as see cumulative loop counts. The included Vine watch face lets users jump into the app quickly from the watch's home screen. Vine is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

Unwired Planet Bests Samsung and Huawei In Patent Trial

Yesterday, 1:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Unwired Planet landed its first courtroom victory in the U.K. this week after a judge agreed that Samsung and Huawei are violating patents owned by the company. Unwired Planet has 16 employees and 2,000 patents it purchased from Ericsson in 2013. The company filed a similar suit against Google, but Google settled the charges. The judge overseeing the Samsung/Huawei case deemed the patents "essential" to 4G communications, however, which means they must be licensed at fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory rates. Unwired Planet said the ruling "goes a considerable way towards validating [our] portfolio." Samsung maintains that it is not violating the patents. Huawei didn't immediately comment on the decision. Tech companies often use patent-based litigation to win fees from competitors. Unwired Planet is a patent-holding company and doesn't make or sell telecommunications equipment or mobile phones.

Verizon Allowing Customers to Send Data as a Gift

Yesterday, 12:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today made it possible for subscribers to send one another the gift of data access. Verizon customers can send 1GB of LTE 4G data to family/friends for $10. Gifted data will be billed directly to the sender's account. The data can be purchased through the Verizon Messages app or Verizon's web site. Verizon said an update to the Verizon Messages app for Android, being pushed out today, adds the data-gifting feature.

Google Encouraging Android Pay Adoption with Donations

Yesterday, 9:10 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google hopes the prospect of charitable giving will spur more people to use Android Pay for purchases during the holiday season. The company today said it will donate $1 for every Android Pay transaction between now and Dec. 31 to special needs education projects. Google is committing to offer up to $1 million, and will donate $2 for every Android Pay transaction made on Black Friday, Nov. 27. Android Pay is available to most NFC-equipped smartphones (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon) and is accepted at more than one million retail locations around the country.

Researchers Create Low-Power, High-Resolution Display Tech

Yesterday, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Scientists at the University of Oxford have discovered new display technology that can be used to make bright, high-resolution screens while hardly drawing any power. Oxford is bullish enough on the technology that it formed a new company, called Bodle Technologies, to commercialize the discovery. According to Bodle, its "smart material" is able to filter, steer, or dim light by using electrical, optical, or mechanical switches. Bodle says once the switch is flicked, the smart material uses almost no power. "This technology is capable of providing vivid colour displays which appear similar to paper, yet with very high resolution," said Professor Harish Bhaskaran. "It is also capable of rendering extremely high-resolution videos that can be seen in bright sunlight." The technology can also be used to create a glaze for glass panels, which can be used to control heat and light transmission into buildings. Bodle is in the process of filing patents, gathering capital, and speaking to potential manufacturing partners. The researchers did not say when they expect to be able to bring the advanced optoelectronic framework to market. Improving the efficiency of smartphone screens could lead to dramatically improved battery life, as screens are what draw the most power.

Xiaomi Adds Fingerprint Sensor to Redmi Note 3

Yesterday, 8:36 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Xiaomi today announced the Redmi Note 3, a big-screened smartphone that includes several firsts. The Redmi Note 3 is the first phone from Xiaomi made from metal, and also the first to offer a fingerprint sensor for securing the handset. Xiaomi says the fingerprint sensor can read prints in 0.3 seconds. The Redmi Note 3 has a 5.5-inch full HD screen and is powered by a MediaTek Helio X10 processor. The main camera features a 13-megapixel sensor and the front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor with dozens of beauty modes for selfies. The Redmi Note 3 packs a 4,000mAh battery, WiFi, Bluetooth, and dual SIM slots. It will be sold in two variants, 2GB RAM with 16GB of storage ($140) and 3GB of RAM with 32GB of storage ($172). The phone runs Xiaomi's MIUI 7 operating system, which is based on Android. Xiaomi did not announce plans to bring the handset to the U.S.

T-Mobile Gifting Customers with Free Unlimited Data

Monday, 4:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Monday, 5:18 PM

T-Mobile today said every postpaid Simple Choice customer will have access to unlimited high-speed data for the next three months. All customers with postpaid plans effective Nov. 23 or earlier are eligible. Customers will have unlimited LTE 4G data, even if they use up all their data and their Data Stash, demo Dec. 1, 2015 through March 1, 2016. T-Mobile is also offering a wide range of deals on smartphones and accessories during the holidays. T-Mobile said the promotions will change over the next few weeks and it encourages customers and prospective customers to check back regularly.

ZTE Selling the ZMax 2 Unlocked

Monday, 11:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today said it is making the ZMax 2 smartphone available to consumers unlocked. The phone was originally sold via TracFone earlier this year, but is now online directly from ZTE. The full price of the phone is $179.99, but ZTE is running a limited sale price of $129.99. The ZMax 2 has a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen; quad-core 1.2GHz processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage; 8-megapixel main camera with full HD vide capture and a 2-megapixel user-facing camera. It includes Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, WiFi, and LTE radios. The phone packs a 3,000 mAh battery. The ZMax 2 runs Android 5.1 Lollipop and is compatible with the networks operated by AT&T, T-Mobile, and their prepaid businesses, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS, respectively.

Samsung Pay Gains Support for Chase Cards

Monday, 9:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

JPMorgan Chase account holders can now use their cards with Samsung Pay. Samsung has added support for Visa-backed Chase credit/debit cards to its mobile payment service. Chase was one of several prominent banks missing from the service at launch. Samsung Pay is more widely available than Apple Pay and Android Pay because it uses both NFC and MST technology to interact with retail payment terminals. NFC is more limited in scale, while MST is practically everywhere. Samsung Pay is available to the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, and Note 5.

Skype for iPhone Adds Number and Address Detection

Monday, 9:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Skype improved its app for the iPhone and iPad today with support for call and calendar actions. Skype 6.6 now highlights phone numbers, addresses, times, and dates. Tapping on highlighted text starts the corresponding action. For example, tapping a phone number within a message will bring up the Skype dialpad with the number preloaded, or tapping an address will open Apple Maps and search for the location. Similar actions are available for the calendar, as well. Skype will automatically set up events and pull in any relevant details from the message thread. The calendar appointment will include a Skype chat URL in the notes, too, that goes back to the message. Last, Skype 6.6 improves multitasking by making it easier to return to Skype audio/video calls from the instant messaging or contact sections of the app. Skype 6.6 for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

C Spire Debuts Combo Plans that Bundle Phone and Service

Monday, 9:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

C Spire today rolled out a series of new combination plans that package together service and device costs. The company claims the idea behind the plans is to make it easier for customers to see where their money is going. All the combo plans include unlimited talk, text, and picture messaging. In order to "protect" customers from overages, C Spire will notify subscribers when they've reached their monthly data limit and ask permission to charge for additional data. There are seven basic combo plans, each of which can be customized to adjust the down payment and monthly fee. For example, customers can get an iPhone 6s (16GB) with 3 GB of LTE data for $60 per month and $170 down. Or, customers can nab a Galaxy S6 Edge (32GB) with 3 GB of LTE data for $65 per month and $0 down. A third option includes an iPhone 6s (16GB) with 8 GB of LTE data for $75 per month and $170 down. Technically, the downpayment goes toward device financing costs, which will vary depending in the handset. The iPhone 6s (16GB), for example, costs $20 per month with the $170 downpayment, as $479 of the full retail price is financed over 24 months. The monthly device fee, however, is combined with the service plan payment in the first example above so customers see only one fee of $60. C Spire's new combo plans are available beginning today.

Microsoft Lets Android Owners Compare Apps

Monday, 8:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has released a new tool aimed at helping people switch from an Android smartphone to a Windows smartphone. AppComparison, an app for Android handsets, scans the device for apps and then finds the corresponding Windows apps. If the app can't find exact matches, it suggests the Windows Phone equivalent. For example, since Google Drive is not available to Windows Phones, the AppComparison tool points people to Microsoft's OneDrive app instead. The idea is to show Android owners which of their favorite apps are available to Windows handsets. The app also shows off some of the most popular Windows Phone apps in the Microsoft Store. Microsoft's AppComparison tool is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Rdio to Begin Cancelling Subscriptions Today

Monday, 8:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Rdio, which is being acquired by Pandora, has warned customers that it will begin cancelling their subscriptions. Paying customers will be able to listen through the end of their current billing period, after which their account will be closed. Rdio said all customers can listen to ad-supported stations on their mobile phone until the service goes offline completely. Beginning today, however, Rdio is no longer accepting new paid customers. Rdio said it will contact customers via email as the nature of their account changes. Rdio is declaring bankruptcy and Pandora is picking up some of the pieces. The bankruptcy deal still needs to be approved by courts. Pandora's acquisition of Rdio's assets isn't excepted to be complete until mid-2016.

Opera Max Improved with Music App Compression

Monday, 8:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Opera Software today released a new version of Opera Max, its data compression tool, making it compatible with music apps. Max is already able to compress video from YouTube and Netflix when streamed over cellular networks, and can now also compress music streamed from YouTube Music, Pandora, Slacker Radio, Gaana, and Saavn. People who download Opera Max will be able to cut down on their data usage up to 50% when streaming music (and other apps) over cellular. Opera said it is using streaming audio optimization technology from Rocket Optimizer, which converts streams into the more efficient AAC+ codec without losing quality. Opera hopes to add more music services over time. Opera Max for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Jolla Announces Layoffs Amidst Restructuring

Nov 20, 2015, 10:36 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Jolla today said the company is restructuring its finances and laying off the bulk of its employees. Jolla was launched by former Nokia employees and created Sailfish OS and several phones and tablets. The idea was to offer an alternative to Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Sailfish was built from Nokia's old Moblin and Maemo Linux platforms. Jolla Chairman and Co-Founder Antti Saarnio says Sailfish OS is commercially mature and ready to be licensed to other hardware makers. Jolla has burned through most of its cash, however, and needs to take time to regroup. The company will let go of the majority of its employees while restructuring its debt, although it insists the layoffs are temporary. "In Finland we have very good laws for corporate restructuring. These enable the continuation of businesses through debt restructuring, which gives a company more time to take care of its financial liabilities," said Saarnio. "I believe that through this program Jolla can turn its business to be profitable in the future. Sailfish OS is a very valuable asset and worth fighting for." Saarnio claims Jolla has several large and small OEMs considering Sailfish OS for their own hardware. He did not suggest how long it might take for Jolla to get its finances back in order, nor when it might re-hire its employees.

Cricket Tempts Switchers with $100 Reward

Nov 20, 2015, 9:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today kicked off a promotions to entice consumers to port their number to Cricket. People who switch to Cricket between today and Dec. 6 will earn a $100 Cricket Shopping Card. The card can be used for monthly service, handsets, and accessories at Cricket stores. Cricket said it will let new customers combine this deal with existing mail-in rebate promos on select phones to save even more money. For example, Cricket is offering the LG Risio, Motorola Moto E, Nokia Lumia 635, and the ZTE Overture 2 for free after rebates. The rebates are available to all customers through Jan. 7. The $100 gift card is only available to new customers.

Verizon Offering 1GB of Free Data for the Holidays

Nov 20, 2015, 8:53 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless customers can snag an extra 1GB of mobile data this month from Big Red. The promotional data offer can be redeemed online and will be added to the account holder's existing data allotment for the current billing period. Verizon said customers can get another free 1GB of data for their next billing period, too. Verizon is offering a range of other freebies to its customers in what it calls its "Thanksgetting" promotion. For example, people who shop online Nov. 25 can get a $5 iTunes gift card or a 30-day trial of Pandora One. Other freebies come from Lyft, Boingo, Gogo, and Amazon.

FCC Chair: T-Mobile's Binge On No Threat to Net Neutrality

Nov 20, 2015, 8:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has essentially approved T-Mobile's Binge On program, which allows people to stream video over the network without impacting their data plans. "It's clear in the Open Internet Order that we said we are pro-competition and pro-innovation," said Wheeler during the agency's recent open meeting. "Clearly [Binge On] meets both of those criteria. It's highly innovative and highly competitive." The comments more or less give T-Mobile permission to move forward with the program despite concerns over its impact on net neutrality. Customers don't need to pay extra to stream video, and video providers don't need to pay T-Mobile to join the service. T-Mobile has approved 24 service providers, but quality is capped at 480p. YouTube is not among those taking part in Binge On. Consumer advocates believe T-Mobile's customers should be able to choose which video services are zero-rated, while others charge the program may distort how people use the internet. Wheeler said the agency will keep an eye on Binge On to see how it plays out in the market.

Sprint Separates Device Leasing Business to Manage Cash

Nov 20, 2015, 8:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today sold part of its device financing business to a newly formed entity called Mobile Leasing Solutions for $1.2 billion. The new company is being backed by a group of equity investors, including Sprint's parent company, SoftBank. Mobile Leasing Solutions was conceived with the help of Brightstar, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure's former company, which will help manage some of the reverse logistics associated with leased devices. The transaction puts the financial risk and cashflow issues associated with leasing phones into Mobile Leasing Solution's hands. By doing so, Sprint will free up money it would otherwise have to spend procuring, leasing, and managing the return of smartphones. "Providing mobile devices to customers is the biggest use of cash in the carrier model and with this new structure we have more closely aligned Sprint’s cash flows with those associated with leasing devices to our customers," said Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati. Sprint expects the deal to close during the first week of December.

Hands On with the BlackBerry Priv

Nov 19, 2015, 8:17 PM   by Rich Brome

The Priv is BlackBerry's new flagship phone, but it's also much more than that. As the company's first phone to use Google's Android instead of a BlackBerry OS, it represents a major new strategic direction. It also comes as the company is considering whether or not to continue making phones at all, so its success is crucial. The Priv has a premium design with a slide-out keyboard, curved-edge screen, and high-end camera. How is it in person? Read on to find out.

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LG Nixes Watch Urbane 2nd Edition At Last Minute

Nov 19, 2015, 6:15 PM   by Rich Brome

AT&T today started issuing refunds to customers that pre-ordered LG's latest smartwatch, the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition. LG later elaborated that it has postponed launch plans for the device indefinitely. The Watch Urbane 2nd Edition was to be the first watch to support the new built-in cellular connectivity features in the newest version of Android Wear. The watch included 4G LTE and was to be available first with AT&T and Verizon, as well as in Korea. A statement from LG reads "the decision was made to cancel the rollout of the Urbane 2nd Edition LTE due to the complicated nature of the issue. Whether the device will be available in the future will be decided at a later time. For now, our top priority is to ensure that only products that meet our very specific quality standards are available for purchase."

Google Puts Its Cloud Businesses Under One Roof

Nov 19, 2015, 5:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made an organizational change with respect to its cloud-based products. Moving forward, Google for Work, Cloud Platform, and Google Apps will all fall under the purview of Diane Greene where they can be managed together. "This new business will bring together product, engineering, marketing and sales and allow us to operate in a much more integrated, coordinated fashion," said Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a blog post. As part of the re-organization, Google has agreed to acquire a company called bebop, which offers an enterprise app development platform. Greene is the founder of bebop and will join Google once the acquisition closes. Google believes the new structure will help its cloud businesses run more efficiently. Earlier this year, Google became one of many companies under Alphabet, an umbrella organization which is headed by Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin.

Facebook: Breaking Up Shouldn't Be Hard To Do

Nov 19, 2015, 1:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook is testing new tools to help people better manage relationships that have ended. The tools are activated when people change their status from "in a relationship with..." to something else. Users can choose to see less of a former partner's name/photo around Facebook without requiring them to be unfriended or blocked. The person's posts will no longer show up in News Feed. The tool helps limit the photos, videos, or status updates that are visible to an ex-partner. It also makes it simple to untag oneself from any photos that may be shared with an ex-partner, as well as edit who can see past posts with that person. Facebook said the new relationship-editing tools are available in the U.S starting today and will gradually roll out to other countries. The tools are optional to use, and Facebook hopes they'll help people "end relationships on Facebook with greater ease, comfort, and sense of control."

Google Fit A More Complete Fitness App With Latest Update

Nov 19, 2015, 12:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced changes to its Google Fit app that it believes make the service a better health and fitness companion. Google Fit now provides real-time stats for runs, walks, or rides, and can better record speed, pace, route, elevation, and more. Together with an Android smartwatch, Fit can track push-ups, sit-ups, and squats, all of which will be added to the daily activity tracker. Google Fit also gains more health insight thanks to new compatibility with nutrition and sleep apps, such as MyFitnessPal, and hardware such as the Xiaomi Mi Band and the Sony Smartband 2. Google said the new version of Google Fit will is rolling out over the next few days.

FCC Proposes Updates to Emergency Alerts

Nov 19, 2015, 12:27 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC wants to see wireless emergency alerts used more effectively and proposed several changes to improve them. Wireless emergency alerts have been used since 2012 to warn people about severe weather or other safety threats, alert them to missing children, and deliver other information via text messages. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC suggested the maximum length of messages be increased from 90 characters to 360 characters so more information can be conveyed in a single message. It wants to see relevant phone numbers or URLs added to messages, as well, so citizens can follow up if needed. The FCC proposed to create a new class of alerts for governments to convey public safety advisories, such as boiling water, and it wants local and state governments to be able to test alerts. The proposed rules would mandate that wireless network operators deliver messages to more granular regions. "The proposals are intended to promote the wider use and effectiveness of this lifesaving service, especially for state and local authorities to convey important information to their communities," said the FCC. It hopes the new rules will ensure that more informative messages reach only those for whom the content will be relevant.

FCC Wants All Cell Phones Hearing Aid Compatible

Nov 19, 2015, 12:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC today expanded the scale of hearing aid compatibility in cell phones to include IP-based communications, such as WiFi and VoLTE. AT&T and Verizon Wireless recently sought and received waivers to offer WiFi calling along with an alternate to the legacy technology called RTT (real-time text). The rules require handset makers to design phones that comply with both current and future technologies. The FCC wants phone makers to consider hearing aid compatibility as early as possible during the design process. The FCC also issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to help define a path toward making all phones accessible to people who use hearing aids or have cochlear implants. Right now, phone makers only have to make a small selection of their handsets accessible to hearing-impaired persons. The FCC wants to see such people offered the same range of devices that are available to all consumers. The FCC is seeking comment on its proposal, which was developed together with consumer and industry representatives.

Cricket Kicks Off Rewards Program

Nov 19, 2015, 11:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today announced Cricket Rewards, a loyalty program that lets customers earn points that can be used for various rewards. The program is accessible via the Cricket Rewards and MyCricket applications, which are free to download. Cricket will award points for opening/registering accounts, setting up auto pay, making on-time payments, checking the weather, and other everyday activities. Customers can redeem points for gift cards at select retailers, including AMC Theaters, Amazon, GameStop, Old Navy, Sears, and others. Points can also be used to enter sweepstakes or make charitable donations. To help initiate interest in the program, Cricket is launching a $25,000 "selfie sweepstakes." There is no limit to the number of points customers can earn, and the points don't expire as long as customers remain active in the program.

Microsoft Delivers Another Preview of Windows 10 Mobile

Nov 19, 2015, 8:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft has made Windows 10 Mobile Technical Preview build 10586 available to Windows Insiders. This build focuses on cleaning up bugs, according to Microsoft. For example, Microsoft resolved an issue that corrupted the Start screen. It also made it possible to set memory cards as the default storage location and cleaned up corruption issues that renamed memory cards. Messaging and Skype have been improved with conversation-loading fixes. The camera button on phones that have them should be working once more. Last, apps and games should download from the Microsoft Store more reliably. There are still some known issues in the preview, but Microsoft says the build performs well. Windows 10 Mobile is nearing public readiness. Microsoft has said the operating system will reach consumers in December. This week also marks the launch of the first Windows 10 Mobile smartphones. Microsoft has made the Lumia 950 and 950 XL available from its web site, and AT&T is selling the Lumia 950 in stores starting Friday.

Skype for Android Lets Users Save Videos

Nov 19, 2015, 8:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Skype has pushed out an update to its Android application with improvements to media and sharing behaviors. Skype now allows people to save videos received in messages to their camera roll. A long press on contacts or conversations in the "recents" tab now activates a toolbar for managing conversations. Search has been improved, as well, making it easier to find conversations or content within conversations. Last, Skype for Android eases the process of sending and/or forwarding photos and Mojis to groups. Skype 6.11 for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Apple Releases iOS 9.2 Beta 4 to Developers and Testers

Nov 19, 2015, 8:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple has made a fourth beta of iOS 9.2 available to developers and public beta testers alike. The feature list for iOS 9.2 is small. It chiefly updates the Safari View Controller and adds support for AT&T's NumberSync. The beta can be downloaded over the air.

LG to Jump Into Mobile Payments Fray

Nov 19, 2015, 8:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG has indicated it plans to offer a mobile payment service called LG Pay. The company has signed agreements with the largest credit card issuers in South Korea, Shinhan Card and KB Bookman Card. LG said LG Pay will work with all its phones, but it did not describe what technology it will use to power the system. Apple Pay and Android Pay use NFC, while Samsung Pay relies on NFC and MST for interacting with retail terminals. LG will launch LG Pay in Korea first, but the timeframe is unclear.

Google Updates Android Wear SDK

Nov 18, 2015, 1:28 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today released a new version of the Android Wear SDK for developers. The SDK boosts the API level from 22 to level 23, which introduces the new runtime permissions required in Android 6.0 Marshmallow and up. Google revised how Android handles permissions in order to give end users more control over what features apps may access. Google has been aggressively pursuing developers to make sure their apps are compatible with the new permissions model. The SDK adds support for sound to Android Wear apps, which means smartwatches equipped with speakers will be able to offer sound effects. The SDK also includes support for the x86 architecture, which is vital for the Tag Heuer Connected smartwatch, which uses an Intel, rather than ARM, processor. The SDK includes a new emulator for developers, as well. All new watches need to run the most current version of Android Wear (v1.4, based on Marshmallow). Google said it will soon mandate that existing Android Wear watches be updated to comply with API level 23, but it has not yet decided when. The revised Android Wear SDK is free for developers to download.

Google to Stream App Content Via Search

Nov 18, 2015, 12:48 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said its mobile search tool is now able to show content that may be buried within apps. Google began indexing the content of mobile apps two years ago, and has more than 100 billion deep links into apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Until now, Google says it was only able to show content from apps if the content was mirrored online. Moving forward, search results will be able to reveal in-app content as well as online content. Moreover, Google will let people stream mobile apps so they can view that content even if the app is not installed on their phone. Streaming apps requires WiFi, but will otherwise run the app as if it were installed, allowing people to fully make use of the in-app content such as booking hotels. Google will also supply links so people can install the streamed app if they so choose. Google says app streaming is based on a new technology that it is experimenting with. Google is first streaming app content from a limited set of app partners, but it hopes to expand the functionality over time.

Sprint to Reward Existing Customers with Free Tablet

Nov 18, 2015, 12:28 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today said its current customers can get a free tablet with a free year of service for their loyalty. The offering is meant to offset the 50% rate deal being given to non-customers who switch to Sprint. The free tablet with service will be available while supplies last. Sprint didn't say what tablet will be given to customers.

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Sprint Retires 'Spark' and Launches 'LTE Plus'

Nov 18, 2015, 12:08 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint is rebranding its LTE 4G network in an effort to call attention to the technology involved in making the network tick. Sprint LTE Plus replaces the Sprint Spark name for the company's tri-band LTE network, which uses 800MHz, 1.9GHz, and 2.5GHz. Sprint has focused on optimizing the performance of cell sites, as well as on improving the underlying network tech by taking advantage of carrier aggregation and beamforming. Carrier aggregation is the binding of two or more channels to act as one to increase capacity. Beamforming involves focusing wireless signals, particularly in the 2.5GHz band, in order to better reach handsets. Sprint claims these techniques have doubled network capacity and speeds (peaks greater than 100Mbps), increased the range of 2.5GHz spectrum, and improved reliability across all three spectrum bands. Right now, Sprint says 77 markets have access to these network improvements. More importantly, 13 of Sprint's devices, including the iPhone 6s, Galaxy S6, and One A9, support the new wireless technologies. Sprint said it plans to expand Sprint LTE Plus to more markets and more devices over time. The company will also continue to improve its network technology, and is looking to use 3-, 4-, and 5-channel carrier aggregation, advanced beamforming, and higher order MIMO down the road.

Microsoft Rebuilds Bing for iOS

Nov 18, 2015, 11:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today released a wholly new version of its Bing Search application for the iPhone. The app takes advantage of new features in iOS, such as app linking, to improve search suggestions and results. To start, the app now includes generalized, touch-based search tools to more quickly find places nearby, restaurants, movies, and other popular searches in the area. Users can tap to search for these types queries rather than enter text. Deep linking lets Microsoft merge search queries with on-board apps. For example, search results for items such as restaurants and movies will reach into third-party apps, like Fandango, for taking action. Microsoft took pains to improve the experience of searching for media, including movies, books, songs, and videos, as well. Bing for the iPhone is free to download from the iTunes App Store.

Sprint Offering 50% Off Competitors' Rates

Nov 18, 2015, 11:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 18, 2015, 11:18 AM

Sprint said beginning November 20, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon customers who switch their number to Sprint will save 50% off their old rate plan. The 50% savings will be available to switchers through Jan. 8, 2018. Sprint is also offering up to $650 in reimbursement for ETFs and other fees, but requires new customers to trade in their old smartphone. The promotion is limited to a maximum of 10 lines per account. Subsidized devices require an extra $25 per month fee. The half-rate plan does not extend to unlimited music/video streaming, data carryover, tethering, or cloud services. Mobile hotspot consumption is pulled from the shared data plan. The discount does not apply to taxes, surcharges, add-ons, apps, premium content, or international services. Discounts vary based on the rates charged by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Not all competitor rate plans apply. Sprint offered a similar promotion last year.

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