The FCC today announced it has set an initial spectrum clearing target of 126 MHz during the reverse part of the auction for 600 MHz airwaves. Television broadcasters have agreed to part with this spectrum. The FCC then plans to offer 100 MHz in 10 near-nationwide paired blocks to wireless providers in the forward phase of the auction. The majority of the spectrum being given up by television broadcasters will qualify as Category 1, which means it has no or little interference. Some of the spectrum will fall under Category 2, which has a greater degree of interference but not so much that it can't be managed. The FCC is today notifying all the television broadcasters about the status of their applications to sell spectrum. The FCC plans a mock auction for May 24-25, and will kick off the actual reverse portion of the auction May 31. It's unclear how long the reverse auction will take place before the FCC is able to turn around and re-sell the spectrum to wireless companies. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have all said they plan to participate in the hunt for low-band spectrum.
Sprint today said the HTC 10 will reach its stores on May 13. Sprint is not offering a lease option for the HTC 10, as it does for Apple's iPhone or Samsung's Galaxy S phones. Instead, Sprint will finance the phone for 24 months with payments of $26. An unlocked version of the HTC 10 is already available for sale directly from HTC.com for $699. The phone includes a 5.2-inch quad HD display, Snapdragon 820 processor, 12-megapixel camera, fingerprint sensor, and high-quality sound. It runs Android 6 Marshmallow.
Periscope users can now sketch on the screen during live broadcasts. Periscope added the feature in a recent update to the app, which it says "provides a new way to express yourself while broadcasting." The tool, which requires a long-press to access, lets users draw in red, green, or blue, or use a dropper to sample a color from the video. Sketching is limited to the iOS version of Periscope for now. Twitter, Periscope's parent company, didn't say if or when the feature might be carried over to the Android app. Periscope is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
LG Display plans to invest $396 million to improve its ability to manufacture flexible OLED displays and OLED lighting panels. The company will sink about $272 million into an existing facility in order to boost production capacity, and about $123 million to build a new production line dedicated to OLED lighting. Last year, the company committed close to $1 billion to build a new OLED factory. LG uses flexible OLED displays in some of its smartphones and wearable devices. The G5, LG's latest flagship handset, uses an LCD panel rather than OLED.
Apple recently updated its Apple Music application for the Android platform and added access to music videos. Apple says thousands of music videos are now available to Android users, allowing subscribers to browse through new videos or search for specific songs or artists. The updated app also makes it possible to sign-up for or upgrade to a Family Membership, which supports up to six family members. Apple Music costs $10 per month for a single user or $15 for families. The app itself is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Rick Osterloh, former CEO of Motorola, is returning to Google in order to run the company's new hardware division, which includes Nexus and Chromecast. Osterloh left Lenovo last month. Lenovo bought Motorola from Google in 2014. Osterloh will be responsible for working with Google's handset partners in designing Nexus phones and tablets, as well as Chromecast dongles and compatible products. Osterloh's role will also include oversight of Google Glass, ATAP, OnHub routers, Chrome-based PCs and the Android-based Pixel tablet line. Osterloh will serve as a senior vice president and report to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
BlackBerry today said it is expanding BBM video calling to Android devices. The feature is rolling out in the U.S. and Canada first in beta. BlackBerry says Android users should be able to make video calls to other BBM users on Android and BlackBerry devices. The company plans to monitor how BBM video calling functions within the beta. Most Android users should be able to take advantage of the feature right away, and aren't required to sign up. Video calling in BBM will be expanded to the iPhone and other regions over time, with a global launch scheduled for July.
Google is rolling out an update to its Google Photos app for Android with a new search bar. The app places the search bar at the top, replacing the floating action button that previously adorned the lower corner of the app. Photos users can now search with a single tap and drop-down options make it easy to find faces, places, or photo types from the library. Google Photos also added the ability to customize the movies Photos automatically creates from events with additional photos, videos, and music. Last, the revised app makes it possible to rename or delete devices folders, and to manage photos stored on SD cards with moving and copying actions, and creating new folders. Google Photos for Android version 1.19 is free to download from the Google Play Store. Google say these changes will reach the iOS Google Photos app soon.
Facebook today announced three new apps for the Windows 10 platform, including a proper Instagram app for phones, and dedicated Facebook and Messenger apps for desktops. The Instagram app for Windows 10 Mobile includes features that have long been available only to the Android and iOS apps, including Instagram Direct, videos, the Explore tab, and more. Further, the Live Tile for Instagram now shows photo updates on the home screen. Instagram for Windows 10 Mobile will reach the Windows Store later today. Facebook said it plans to port the new Facebook and Messenger Windows 10 desktop apps to smartphones later this year.
Apple and partners are making the first wave of CareKit apps available today. Apple announced CareKit at a media event last month. It is similar to ResearchKit and helps healthcare providers and organizations create health-focused applications for the iPhone. The first four apps include Glow Baby for maternity, Glow Nurture fertility tracker, One Drop diabetes monitor, and Start depression medication tracker. CareKit is composed of four modules that interact with one another. It can be used to help people manage wellness, track disease symptoms, log fitness metrics and/or statistics and then share that data directly with their healthcare provider. On the backend, the health data can be managed and viewed through customizable dashboards. While these four CareKit-based apps are being made available to consumers via iTunes, CareKit itself is a developer tool. Apple plans to release CareKit to developers via GitHub.
AT&T will shut down its 2G network ahead of schedule. In 2012, AT&T said it would operate 2G into 2017. This week, however, AT&T CFO John Stevens said the 2G network will be decommissioned by the end of 2016. The company has already moved 6 million customers off 2G over the last twelve months. The bulk of the remaining 2G devices (AT&T didn't say how many) in use are internet-of-things connected devices. Nearly all phones that connect to AT&T's network do so via 3G or 4G. "There still is a lot of cost that is left just to operate even a piece of the 2G network," remarked Stevens during a call with investors. "So we are anxious to capture that savings and use it to continue a strong story for our wireless business." Once decommissioned, the spectrum on which the 2G network operates will be refarmed for LTE.
Samsung today said it plans to make its mobile payment service, Samsung Pay, available in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Singapore, Spain, and the U.K. later this year. The service is already available in the U.S. and Korea. In Korea, Samsung Pay will soon allow Woori Bank cardholders to withdraw cash from ATMs. Samsung said select ATMs will be fitted with the proper technology to sense Samsung Pay on Galaxy phones. Customers won't need to have their debit card to grab some cash. Samsung didn't say if it plans to expand the ATM functionality to other banks or other markets. Samsung Pay uses both NFC and magnetic strip technology to enable payments at most terminals that accept credit cards. Samsung also updated its SoundCamp music creation app, debuted new SDKs and APIs for its ConnectAuto program, announced an IoT platform called Artik Cloud, and expanded what developers can do with its Gear VR. The news was shared during Samsung's developer conference in San Francisco.
Google today announced a new feature for its Calendar application for Android that makes it easier for groups to schedule meetings. This tool is being made available to Google Apps for Work and Edu users, who more commonly need to schedule group events. The "find a time" button can scan all the group members' calendars to find a time that works for everyone. If a common time cannot be found, the "find a time" tool looks to see if conflicting events can be rescheduled. Google says the feature works across time zones and allows the event scheduler to see all invitees' calendar at a glance. The app makes suggestions. Users are still in charge of actually setting meetings. Google Calendar for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store. Google plans to bring this feature to the iPhone soon.
A federal judge says Amazon deserves to be on the hook for charges rung up by children on mobile devices. Consumers complained it was too easy for children to spend money on in-app purchases without proper authorization. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission took action against Amazon. The judge overseeing the case agreed with the FTC's position that Amazon should be liable, but has yet determine what recourse is needed. The FTC is pushing for full refunds to the impacted consumers.
Nextbit said its planned system update for the Robin smartphone will begin going out over the air today. The update pushes the operating system to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and includes the April security update, and tweaks to the camera, processor, and sound drivers. Nextbit says the processor refinements should lead to better battery life, while the camera is now much faster, and the stereo speakers provide clearer sound. Nextbit says partnered with AIAIAI to create a custom set of TMA-2 headphones to go with the Robin. The new audio adjustments for the Robin apply to the phone's headset jack as well, and the TMA-2s are able to take advantage of those adjustments for better bass and treble response. The headphones are colored to match the Robin smartphone. They cost $225. Beyond the headphones, AIAIAI and Nextbit worked together to create several exclusive ringtones for the Robin. They reached out to select musical artists and asked them to "make tones that soothe the otherwise occasionally disturbing world of smartphone notifications." The initial musical artists and DJs tapped by Nextbit include Griffage and Lauren Lo Sung. Nextbit plans to add more curated ringtones to its community site over time. Last, the Robin smartphone is now available online from Amazon.com.
Google recently made a remote control app for Android TV available to the iPhone. The app allows iPhone owners to access and control their Android TV device. It includes a d-pad and touchpad for navigation, as well as text and voice search. Google says the app lets people connect multiple remotes to Android TV for multiplayer gaming. The app, which works via WiFi, is compatible with all Android TV products and is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Microsoft recently added the Acer Liquid M330, a low-cost handset running Windows 10 Mobile, to its U.S. web store. The M330 includes a 4.5-inch screen with 854 by 480 resolution and is powered by a Snapdragon 210 processor with 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, and support for 64 GB memory cards. The phone has two 5-megapixel cameras. The rear-facing camera includes autofocus and a flash, while the front-facing camera is fixed focus. It includes a standard batch of radios, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi, and limited LTE support including bands 2, 4, 7, and 12. This makes it somewhat compatible with the 4G networks operated by AT&T and T-Mobile. The M330 supports two SIM cards. The phone is available directly from Microsoft for $99.99 It is sold unlocked.
Google today introduced what it calls MODE watch bands for Android Wear devices created with help from b&nd by Hadley Roma. The bands feature a snap-and-swap switch where they connect to the watch so they can easily be removed and changed. Google is making a wide variety of leather and silicon bands available for Android Wear devices in four different sizes to ensure compatibility with most smartwatches. Google plans to make the MODE mechanism design available to other brands to expand the number of snap-and-swap bands beyond today's launch collection. A tool on Google's web site helps Android Wear owners select a band that fits their specific watch. The MODE bands are available to purchase online from Google, Amazon, and Best Buy.
YouTube is pushing out a new version of its mobile app to Android and iOS devices with changes to the home screen. The home section of the app offers more relevant personalized recommendations, says Google, that are generated by neural network technology. The computer-assisted curation can detect patterns in users' watching behaviors to learn and improve as it goes. Google says it focused on how its system recommends recently-posted videos from users' favorite content creators. In tests, Google claims people who've taken the new recommendation system for a spin have spent more time watching the latest videos. YouTube is also preparing to roll 6-second ads that cannot be skipped ahead of all videos, particularly those viewed from mobile devices. The refreshed YouTube app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
BlackBerry today said Priv owners can expect to see the Android 6.0 Marshmallow system update hit their devices in the days ahead. BlackBerry has been testing Marshmallow on the Priv for a couple of weeks. In addition to all the usual Marshmallow trappings, the update brings with it 200 new emoji, more keyboard gestures, and enhanced word prediction. BlackBerry took steps to improve the launcher, which now offers more control over the home screen, and increase the number of apps compatible with BlackBerry Hub. The update includes the latest security patches from BlackBerry, allowing Priv owners to set custom personal data permissions, better manage notifications for privacy purposes, and make use of S/MIME for adding digital signatures and encryption to emails. Last, BlackBerry added several new options to the camera, including a wider range of video frame rates, such as slow-motion. BlackBerry said unlocked, non-carrier devices will see the update first, but all Priv's should receive Marshmallow shortly.
Nokia today said it plans to acquire Withings for about $192 million in cash. Nokia hopes the acquisition will help it make a stronger push into the markets for wearables and the internet of things. Withings, based in France, has a wide range of connected products, including scales, activity trackers, thermometers, home monitors and more. The company also has a robust platform in place to manage these products and a larger ecosystem of compatible devices. "We are now starting a new chapter as a company," said Ramzi Haidamus, President Nokia Technologies, "this one focused on connecting you to better health through technology." Nokia has changed dramatically over the last few years. It sold its handset business to Microsoft, sold its HERE Maps division to a consortium of German car makers, and acquired Alcatel-Lucent to shore up its core networking business. Nokia expects to close its acquisition of Withings during the third quarter of the year.
Google is pushing an updated version of its camera application to Nexus handsets. The new Google Camera app makes changes to the user interface to improve usability. For example, the Nexus 5X and 6P gain a dedicated slow-motion video mode, which is available from the slide-out camera menu. Nexus 6P owners can switch recording speeds at a whim. The app changes the shading of the shutter button, and the camera switcher adopts a circular design that's more in line with Google's Material Design. The Google Camera is only available to Nexus smartphones running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, including the Nexus 6, 5X, and 6P. It is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Apple is now offering consumers the option to select its iPhone Upgrade Program when purchasing an iPhone via the Apple web site. Apple first rolled out the program last year with the debut of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. It packages together the price of an iPhone and AppleCare into a single monthly device payment. After 12 months, consumers can trade in the iPhone for a new one. Pricing for the 16 GB iPhone 6s starts at $32.41 per month, while pricing for the 16 GB 6s Plus starts at $36.58 per month. Prices for higher capacity models are a bit more. The iPhone SE is not included in the iPhone Upgrade Program, but Apple is accepting trade-ins toward the SE that can knock the monthly price to as little as $10.
Google today said the global Android Gmail app is set to add support for Microsoft Exchange. "Whether you're on Google Apps or Exchange, you can use the Gmail app on any Android device to send and receive mail," said Google in a blog post. Gmail will also be able to support Exchange-based calendars. Gmail has long supported the IMAP and POP email protocols, including Microsoft's Outlook and Hotmail services. Google added Exchange to Gmail back in November 2014, but only Nexus handsets running Lollipop had access to the feature. Providing Exchange support to all Android users is a big win for businesses that rely on Microsoft's email management product. Google says the updated app will be made available from the Google Play Store over the next few days.
Microsoft is looking to clear inventory of the Lumia 950 XL and Lumia 950 smartphones, which means consumers can buy one at full price and get the second one for free. The deal is available via Microsoft's U.S. web store. Specifically, people who purchase the 950 XL at $649 will receive a Lumia 950, valued at $549, for free. Both devices are being sold unlocked with support for GSM carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile. The promotion is available while supplies last through May 2. Microsoft reported shipments of about 2.3 million Lumia phones in its most recent financial documents, which represents a steep drop from the 8.6 million it shipped in the year-ago period. The company admitted it is sitting on a lot of excess inventory of its flagship Windows 10 Mobile devices. Moreover, the company expects "year over year revenue declines to deepen as we work through our Lumia channel position." Cricket Wireless is expected to launch Microsoft's mid-range model, the Lumia 650, early next month. Microsoft has recently pushed a significant update to its Windows 10 Mobile platform and updated core apps such as email, Groove Music, and the Edge browser.
MetroPCS is offering families a new deal that starts at $60 per month for two lines. The refreshed family plan includes unlimited talk, text, 6 GB of data, Music Unlimited, and mobile hotspot for each line. Additional lines cost $30 each, up to a maximum of five lines. MetroPCS says lines three through five only get 3 GB of data unless one of them is ported from another carrier. If one of the (up to) five lines is ported, all five have access to 6 GB of LTE data each month. Taxes and fees are included in the price. MetroPCS says customers can keep these rates for as long as they remain with MetroPCS. The new family plan pricing, which is a limited promotion, is available starting today.
Microsoft has begun inviting people who registered to test its Word Flow keyboard to download the app from the iTunes App Store. Microsoft had been testing the alternate keyboard in a closed beta, but started accepting signups earlier this month. One the iPhone, Word Flow will support custom backgrounds, one-handed typing, and swiping gestures to spell words. The keyboard was developed by Microsoft's Garage unit, which heads up projects for Android and iOS. Word Flow for the iPhone only supports English at launch. It is free to download and use.
Apple warned developers that by June 1 all apps submitted to the App Store for the Apple Watch must be native apps built with the watchOS 2 SDK or later. Native apps run on the Apple Watch itself, rather than on an iPhone. Apple added support for native apps to watchOS last fall. Native apps perform better on the wearable.
The Justice Department said it received help unlocking an iPhone involved in a drug case in New York City and has withdrawn its lawsuit against Apple. The government originally sought to compel Apple to unlock the device. In March, a magistrate judge sided with Apple and ruled the government can't force companies to hack their own products. The government initially appealed that decision. This week, however, the case took a turn. "[Thursday] evening, an individual provided the passcode to the iPhone at issue in this case," said the Justice Department in a letter sent to the presiding judge. "The government used that passcode by hand and gained access to the iPhone. Accordingly, the government no longer needs Apple's assistance to unlock the iPhone, and withdraws its application." Federal prosecutors didn't say who provided the passcode. The owner of the phone, who has already been convicted, claimed he didn't remember the phone's passcode. This is the second time the government was able to unlock an iPhone after initially saying it couldn't. The other, more prominent case involved the device owned by the suspects in the San Bernardino shooting. Apple declined to comment.
Researchers at the University of California at Irvine say they've found a way to increase the number of charge cycles a battery has from a few thousand to more than 200,000. Their discovery could lead to batteries that can be recharged repeatedly for years without losing capacity, which his something that happens with today's lithium-ion batteries. The researchers coated gold nanowire with manganese oxide and a layer of electrolyte gel. The gel and manganese oxide prevent corrosion. The nanowire holds the charge. The longer the wire, the greater the charge contained within. Using gel, rather than liquid, is what provided the breakthrough in this case, but the researchers don't yet fully understand the mechanism behind their discovery. The researchers' next steps include making a true battery from the gold-and-gel combo, discerning the mechanism of action, and then testing if other materials can be substituted for the gold. Adding gold to batteries, even in small quantities, would add to their cost. The researchers did not say if or when their discovery might be commercialized in consumer products.
Microsoft and Alphabet, parent company of Google, have agreed to cease all ongoing regulatory fights between them. Microsoft has complained to US and European Union antitrust regulators often and loudly with respect to Google's search practices and other behaviors. Microsoft said it has changed its legal priorities and would rather compete against Microsoft in the open market for business and for customers. Google said the change in legal strategy is partly due to the firms' dismissal last year of patent lawsuits. "Our companies compete vigorously, but we want to do so on the merits of our products, not in legal proceedings," said Google. Rather than file complaints with governmental bodies, Microsoft and Google will reach out to one another directly if business-related problems arise.
BlackBerry said AT&T has lowered the price of the the Priv smartphone by $100. The phone now costs $640 at full retail, instead of $740, or $199 with a two-year contract, instead of $250. The lowered monthly installment plan prices are $26.67 with AT&T Next 18, $31 with AT&T Next 12, or $16 with AT&T Next 12 with a downpayment of $192. The Priv has been available since late last year. It is a slider with a full QWERTY keyboard. The Priv runs Android rather than BlackBerry's own operating system.
Sprint is rolling out Android 6.0 Marshmallow to the Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport and Galaxy Note Edge. The update is being pushed in phases, which Sprint expects to complete by May 11 for the S5 Sport and May 2 for the Note Edge. In addition to the operating system update, Sprint says the Galaxy Note Edge is also receiving the latest security patches from Samsung and Google. Sprint did not say if the Note Edge update includes the improved Edge Panel behaviors that have been made available to the S6 Edge and S6 Edge+.
Snapchat has updated its iOS application and given it the popular face-swapping feature that's already available to the Android app. SnapChat says iOS users can face swap with a photo from their phone's camera roll. Snapchat for iOS also allows users to replay any snap once for free. Snapchat is free to download from iTunes.
DeWalt recently announced the MD501, a fully rugged Android smartphone aimed at those who work outdoors. DeWalt is not making the device itself; instead, it partnered with Global Mobile Communications to make the device. Global Mobile is licensing the DeWalt name. Cat uses a similar strategy for its rugged smartphones. The MD501 meets mil-spec 810g and IP68 for protection against drops to concrete, dust, water, dirt, fog, humidity, and extreme temperatures. The 5-inch HD screen is extra bright for outdoor visibility and it can be used with gloves. The phone is powered by a MediaTek processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. It accepts micro SD cards up to 64 GB. The main camera features a 13-megapixel sensor and the user-facing camera features a 5-megapixel sensor. The MD501 includes a 3950mAh battery with Qi wireless charging. The phone does not support U.S. LTE bands, but does support quad-band HSPA that is compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile. It runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. DeWalt hasn't said when the device will go on sale. It is expected to cost about $544.
Facebook today said it is making a change to how it prioritizes articles that appear in the News Feed. Past updates to the News Feed have focused on favoring articles based on: first, if the articles were clicked, and second, the time spent reading those articles. Facebook's new system predicts not only the types of articles people will likely click on, but also the types of articles people will most likely read. Facebook won't count article load times, and it will also be sure to account for articles that are extremely long as it deploys this algorithm. Facebook plans to limit the number of consecutive articles that might appear from a single source, as well. The changes to News Feed will reach all Facebook users over the next few weeks.
Google today added the Sony Xperia Z3 to the list of devices able to download and test the Android N Preview. Z3 owners can obtain the Android N Developer Preview 2 code directly from Sony, but will have to manually flash it to their device. Once this preview is flashed, the Z3 will be able to install future Android N updates over the air. The Nexus 5X, 6, 6P, 9, and Player are already compatible with the Android N Preview.
Acer today provided a preview of the Liquid Zest Plus, an Android phone that features a 5,000mAh battery with Quick Charge support that provides "days" of uptime. Other than the battery, the Liquid Zest Plus includes an average feature set, including a 5.5-inch HD screen, MediaTek processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. The phone's main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with laser-assisted and phase detection autofocus. The 5-megapixel selfie camera has a wide angle of view. The phone ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Acer could not confirm pricing details, nor could it say if the phone will be sold in the U.S.
Republic Wireless today said it is launching a new technology called Bonded Calling in order to boost the quality voice calls. Republic is a WiFi-first carrier in that customers most often connect via WiFi for calls and data and fall back to cellular when WiFi is not available. Bonded Calling senses when WiFi network conditions are not at their best and intelligently fills the gaps with the cellular data network. Republic claims this redundancy improves conversation quality and extends the range of indoor coverage. Republic is rolling out Bonded Calling as part of its Adaptive Coverage technology. Customers won't have to do anything to take advantage of the improved service.
Facebook today said group calling is now available within its Messenger app. Users around the globe can call any group by tapping on the phone icon in the conversation thread. Users will be able to manage individual participants before the call connects. Facebook says the feature is included in the newest version of Messenger, which may take up to 24 hours to appear for all users. Facebook Messenger is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
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