Posts tagged Reportedly
Ding-dong, the merger’s dead.
After the FCC reportedly told Comcast it would oppose its $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, Comcast is apparently ready to walk away from the deal, Bloomberg reports. The result: Two mostly terrible cable companies won’t turn into one entirely terrible cable company—one that would have controlled between a third and half of the U.S. broadband market.
FCC staff reportedly said the merger would threaten competition and innovation, and thus would likely harm consumers. When reached for comment, the Internet had one response: “Well, duh.”
So you can also breathe a sigh of relief now. Though to be safe, you might want to wait until tomorrow, when Comcast is likely to announce it’s officially abandoning the deal.
Do Not Pass Go
The merger’s death is a big win for consumers and the open Internet. Neither Time Warner and Comcast face much competition in their respective territories. Linking the two companies into one mega-ISP would only serve to consolidate their power over other media and Internet companies and give them an even stronger grip on the pipes that connect us to the Internet.
This is the latest unexpetedly Internet-friendly action by the FCC. Back in February, the FCC’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, offered his plan to reclassify the Internet as a utility in order to preserve net neutrality.
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We spent a lot of time over the past few months bidding a soggy farewell to Nokia as a phonemaker. Those tears may have been wasted. Nokia may soon jump back into the smartphone game, according to a report published by Recode Monday.
You may be scratching your head: What once was Nokia’s smartphone division was gobbled up by Microsoft in 2014, and its brand was subsequently scrubbed from the handsets. But there’s still a Nokia proper left behind in Finland, and the remnants of that company could take up the mantle of Android once again.
The New (Old) Nokia
The details from Recode’s report are relatively scant: Nokia Technologies, the division responsible for licensing the company’s patents, has plans and designs for new smartphones (and, apparently, virtual reality projects) in the works.
And before that report, there was already ample evidence mounting that Nokia had plans to come back to mobile. In November, 2014, the company designed the N1 Android tablet and licensed it to Foxconn to manufacture and distribute it. Around the same time, Nokia’s Z Launcher for Android devices appeared on the Google Play Store.
However, no matter how many great ideas Nokia Technologies is cooking up, it likely won’t be able to do much with until late 2016, barring some tricky negotiations with Microsoft. That’s because the terms of Microsoft’s 2014 acquisition of Nokia’s devices business prohibit the Finnish company from selling smartphones under the Nokia name until after December 2015. The company can’t license its brand for any smartphones until after Q3 2016. (The N1 appears to take advantage of a loophole that allows for the Nokia brand on tablets.)
There’s another problem, which is who’s going to make the phones. Nokia’s manufacturing plants went to Microsoft, too. And it just spent a lot of money buying Alcatel-Lucent, so it’s unlikely to go out shopping for a company that owns manufacturing facilities.
Nokia doesn’t need to replace the factories Microsoft bought. Apple doesn’t own its own phone factories, and there are plenty of Asian contract manufacturers who would be happy to build phones for Nokia.
(And here’s a thought: If Microsoft’s Windows Phone business doesn’t pick up, it may want to keep those former Nokia factories busy by building phones for other companies. Nokia could be a customer.)
One thing is pretty clear, though. Given its recent Android-focused projects, don’t be surprised if the return of Nokia’s mobile business is Android-exclusive. We may finally see some more Nokia X phones after all, whether Microsoft likes it or not.
Images courtesy of Nokia
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According to an exclusive report from Business Insider, Yahoo is testing a new user interface for its mobile search engine. What’s particularly notable about the new interface is the removal of the “Powered by Bing” branding that used to appear on the bottom right. That piece of branding for Bing has been there since 2010, which was when a deal was struck to have Yahoo’s search business outsourced to Microsoft.The curious omission of “Powered by Bing” has led to speculation as to what changes, if any, Yahoo is making to its search business. Technically, the deal between Yahoo and Microsoft […]
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Apple wants to jazz up the Apple TV experience, say BuzzFeed sources, but not with an incremental product refresh. According to the report, when the new version of the TV streaming set-top hits the market this summer, it will finally deliver access to the App Store and long-expected Siri voice features.
Apple hasn’t refreshed its Apple TV in more than two years. But the company just slashed the price of its existing third-generation Apple TV from $99 to $69, which it typically does before announcing a new model.
See also: Amazon Goes All Siri On Your Living Room
The company has been cramming Siri into everything, from its iPads and CarPlay technology to the upcoming Apple Watch. Voice features have become the new black where TVs are concerned, with Amazon’s Fire TV, Google’s Nexus Player, Samsung Smart TVs and Microsoft’s Xbox game console all offering voice search or navigation.
But the real headliner is the App Store integration. The Apple TV set-top box doesn’t currently let users download new apps or channels, limiting them to whatever Apple installed or updated. People have complained for years about this fundamental omission, which kept Apple TV-connected televisions from running the same apps people enjoy on their iPhones or iPads.
The updated hardware will supposedly feature a new design, a faster processor—probably some version of Apple’s latest A8 chip—more space than the current 8GB of storage and a redesigned remote control, presumably to include a microphone/Siri button.
The timing makes plenty of sense. The major tech companies have been focusing on television tech intensely over the past year or two, likely fueled—at least in part, if not entirely—by the surprise success of Google’s Chromecast in 2013.
Home Alone With HomeKit
That may not be Apple’s end game, however. The BuzzFeed report suggested the new TV box will work with Apple’s HomeKit—the company’s software framework for smart-home devices—in some capacity. Our guess: That may be one of its main points, not an ancillary feature.
Televisions make for intriguing smart-home command centers. Since voice features and integrations with outside developers are also key to smart-home systems, Apple is presumably doing groundwork for future smart-home initiatives that go beyond living-room entertainment.
For now, however, the company is likely focusing on just getting its TV products into as many households as possible. To give that effort more juice, it partnered with HBO on the latter’s HBO Now standalone streaming subscription service, which will be available for the first three months exclusively on Apple TV.
Alongside the new box this summer, Apple may also announce a new streaming service that pipes on-demand programming and live TV over the Internet, the Wall Street Journal reports. The service, designed to appeal to cord-cutters, will likely debut in the fall.
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Microsoft’s Cortana app will make its way to iOS and Android devices in the near future, a new report from Reuters says, quoting “people familiar with the matter.” The rumor has in fact been doing the rounds for some time: Last November, Microsoft executive Julie Larson-Green hinted that such a move was on the cards in a briefing with reporters.
Getting the app on other devices is one thing; getting anyone to use it is quite another. Assuming Cortana jumps out of Windows, can it thrive elsewhere?
Digital Assistants Go To War
It’s the latest move in a fascinating battle between the digital assistant apps—Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Google Now—that are becoming more and more integral to the mobile platforms they represent. (Indeed, stock Android 5.0 is little more than Google Now plus some extra wrapping.)
All these apps offer voice control, intelligent searches, and varying levels of personalization. Siri, which was wrapped into iOS in 2011, puts the emphasis on voice commands: Users can do anything from play all the rock songs on your iPhone to read out your most recent email. It can call up any information from a device or the Web quickly and easily.
Google Now isn’t so concerned with voice input (though it is available). Here the focus is on personalized cards of information that pop up at the right time and the right place, with no user interaction required. Sports scores, travel times, movie recommendations, and so on, all prompted by data mined from your history on Google’s various services.
Cortana, the most recent of these apps to launch, tries to combine the best of Siri and Google Now: advanced voice control and smart predictive responses all rolled up into one. Considering the low market share enjoyed by Windows Phone across the world, it may have little choice but to spread its wings.
Siri, Google Now and Cortana are busy vying for position. They’re all based on knowing as much about us as possible, and that means extending to as many devices as possible: Phones, tablets, laptops, browsers, consoles, smartwatches and the rest.
Siri, of course, is never going to make it to Android or Windows Phone; Apple apps run on Apple hardware and that’s that. But Microsoft may want to take some pointers from Google Now, which has made the jump over to iOS—it’s embedded in the Google app that offers Web search and various other features on Apple’s iDevices.
The iOS version of Google Now is fine for displaying cards, but it misses the deep hooks into the operating system that it enjoys on its home turf. It’s not one swipe away from the home screen, for instance, as it is on Android 5.0 Lollipop, and it can’t be called up with an “OK Google” unless the app is already running. It feels slightly watered-down, walled-in and read-only, and it’s likely that an iOS Cortana would experience the same fate.
Google Now can perform some tricks on iOS, though. It can monitor your location, display updates in the Notification Center, and tap into other Google services. Because so much of the data it mines lives on the Web—from Gmail to Google Calendar—it doesn’t necessarily need access to iOS or its native apps to function well.
That brings us back to Cortana. Over time, iOS has opened up a little, allowing third-party apps to run and refresh in the background, and have deeper access to the operating system (note the introduction of third-party keyboard support in iOS 8). Yet for Cortana to make headway, it’s going to need some top-notch Microsoft apps on iOS, and a strong cloud system behind that.
Android is an easier proposition, as it gives more control to any third-party apps who want to take it. You can completely replace the Google Now launcher with another skin, if you want to—Facebook Home is one high-profile app that does this, and that’s a path Cortana could theoretically go down. (Just look at the lock screen replacement Microsoft has already built for Android.)
The next phase
Right now, Microsoft has “nothing to share” about Cortana coming to iOS and Android, according to a spokesperson I contacted. But if Office for iOS and Android are anything to go by, it seems that Microsoft is going to follow Google’s lead (get your apps and services to as many people as possible) rather than Apple’s (let the people come to the apps instead).
Bear in mind that from this fall, millions of new Windows 10 PCs are going to come with Cortana installed, giving Microsoft millions of new opportunities to collect and display data. Google’s Chrome browser and Chrome OS offer rudimentary support for Google Now, which you can expect to see improve over time. Again, Google Now’s aim is to get everywhere, and Chrome is a vital cornerstone of that.
Siri feels like the odd one out here. Its focus has always been on easy, hands-free voice access to your data on mobile devices, rather than watching and predicting your every move, and it’s not yet on Mac OS X. If the patent applications are to be believed, it might not be long until that changes, but right now it seems Apple is happy to ease off on the spooky pre-emptive notifications and the privacy implications that go along with them.
When you weigh all of these factors up, it’s about services as well as platforms. Siri only knows who your brother is if there’s a matching entry in your Apple contacts; Google Now only knows about your next flight if there’s a confirmation in your Gmail; and Cortana only knows you need to be across town in an hour if you’ve marked it on your Outlook calendar.
If these digital assistants are going to be truly smart, then they need to know as much about their users as possible, and that goes beyond iOS and Android to the cross-platform services underpinning them—it’s an issue that extends across mobile, desktop, wearables, the smart home, the car dashboard and the Web.
In that light Cortana has no choice but to jump to as many devices as it can—ubiquity is key for an ambitious all-encompassing digital assistant. At that point, the only question is: Who do you want running your life for you?
Images via Microsoft, Google and Apple
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Google’s upcoming wireless service—which will run on spectrum leased from the Sprint and T-Mobile networks—will be exclusive to Nexus 6 handset users to start, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. It’s not entirely clear why that might be, although we’ve got a few ideas.
Nexus 6’s Motorola Pedigree
Motorola’s most recent smartphone offerings have been designed to work with Republic Wireless, a so-called mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO, that basically resells access to Sprint’s cellular network. Because Republic’s services rely on a mix of Wi-Fi-based calls and cellular, handsets like the Moto X, G, and E have software specifically built to handle such network switching.
Previous reports on Google’s wireless-service plans suggest it will also jump back and forth between Wi-Fi and cellular signals, just with T-Mobile’s networks added into the mix. As such, the Motorola-made Nexus 6 may be particularly well-suited to juggling multiple networks and Wi-Fi calling.
See also: How I Got My Nexus 6
But if the ability to easily switch networks is the barrier of entry for trying out Google’s forthcoming wireless service, why aren’t those other Moto handsets being included in the initial test? I pinged Google for comment on the WSJ story and related questions, and will update with anything I hear back.
Staying Small, Even On Big Phones
For answers, we might need to look at another potentially revolutionary Google initiative: Google Fiber. The high-speed, affordably priced Internet service dots areas around the country. If Google were to set its mind to rolling out Fiber in every metro in America, it would certainly disrupt the hold ISPs have over their consumers.
See also: The Genius Of Google Fiber
But by keeping Fiber small, Google provides a blueprint to Internet providers about how things could be. The idea, it seems, is to spur innovation.
The same idea basically informs the Nexus device line itself. Despite partnering with popular OEMs like Samsung, LG, and most-recently Motorola, Nexus handsets can sometimes be tough to find. That’s been a particular problem with the Nexus 6, with the Google Play Store having only one of the four versions of the phone in stock.
Motorola’s stock is better, but it still only offers three of the four versions. The Nexus 6 isn’t even available from Verizon at the moment. Needless to say, the ginormous Nexus 6 isn’t in a lot of pockets at the moment.
Widespread adoption isn’t the point, however. Nexus phones run stock Android, with no frills or bloatware pre-installed. The devices show Google’s partners how Android smartphones ought to be.
Google’s wireless service might be following the same playbook, with an extremely limited and slow rollout. (No one yet seems to have any idea where Google might actually offer the service.) It’s a way to show other carriers “how it’s done” and to spur them to innovate themselves. It might also inspire other smartphone makers to take a page from Motorola in terms of its network-switching software.
Whatever the reason, Nexus 6 owners may have a shot at trying out the new service by the end of March. As for when or where—or even if—the service will be available to other users, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Nexus 6 and Moto X images courtesy of Motorola; Google Play Store image courtesy of Google
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According to a report released today by Recode, sources say Pinterest is working on its own “Buy” button that could launch in as little as three to six months. The button, which is said to start out as a limited test, would give users the ability to buy products discovered on Pinterest without ever leaving the network. If this feature is indeed being released soon, as the report indicates, it certainly has the potential to turn Pinterest into something completely new. What was once a social network purely for discovering things would become a place where you could go to […]
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After the kludgey mess of iOS 8’s buggy updates and the swarm of negative user sentiment they triggered, Apple has reportedly gone all out to make the next version of its mobile operating software rock solid.
According to sources cited by 9to5Mac, Apple engineers made bug fixes a “huge” priority in iOS 9. Instead of throwing all of their effort into brand new features, they concentrated on nixing the main issues that plagued the previous version—namely bugs, erratic performance and file sizes that choked software updates or forced users to delete data from their devices to make room.
See also: Apple Really Needs To Get It Together
None of those problems should plague iOS 9—or so, at least, Apple appears to hopes. Because there’s a lot at stake with this update—including its upcoming smartwatch and the fate of Apple’s last 4-inch phone.
You Can’t Build On A Shaky Foundation
Apple software updates come in different shapes and sizes, from mere bug fixes to the bigger introduction of all-new functions—like the introduction of Apple Pay and HealthKit features, both launched among iOS 8’s rapid-fire releases.
Too bad the software updates were often frustrating to install and, once running, frequently glitchy. As device performance tanked, so did Apple’s reputation for simplicity and ease of use.
If the latest report is true, then it’s clearly Apple’s attempt to restore some good faith in its users—which may be key during a year that will launch a new, $350 Apple Watch into the market. No one wants to spend a large chunk of change on an unproven gizmo that hinges on glitchy software.
iOS 9: Bad News For Apple Phablet Haters?
That’s not to say iOS 9 won’t be anything but a glorified patch. The next major update could fill in other gaps in Apple’s software ecosystem, including transit information and indoor maps.
As for improving stability and performance, 9to5Mac notes that the task could be easier if Apple retires its older devices. For instance, if the iPhone 5c, first iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch get the old heave-ho this year, there would be no dusty older gadgets to keep humming. The devices left would be newer ones with advanced processors, allowing iOS 9 engineers to focus on getting the most out of modern 64-bit A7 and A8 processors.
See also: Apple’s 4-Inch iPhone May Be Doomed
That would be great news for owners of later-model iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, as well as the new Apple Watch. But it would also mean there’s only one option remaining for people who don’t want a phablet: the iPhone 5S.
Put another way, iOS 9’s release could also mark the end of the last 4-inch Apple smartphone. Hopefully the software update will be worth it.
Photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite
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The White House’s forthcoming online-privacy bill will would place restrictions on the handling of consumer data while giving more power to the Federal Trade Commission to enforce those restrictions, Politico reported.
The current draft would require Internet companies like Google and Facebook—as well as online advertisers and mobile app developers—to get user permission before collecting or sharing personal information. The report also says the FTC would gain the power to levy fines against companies that violate online privacy laws.
Earlier this month, the White House said it will introduce a version of its Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights by February 26:
Online interactions should be governed by clear principles … that look at the context in which data is collected and ensure that users’ expectations are not abused.
Related online-privacy legislation the Obama administration intends to propose includes the Student Digital Privacy Act, a measure based on California legislation that would prevent companies from selling student data for non-educational purposes.
But critics said the bill, which will face a hostile reception in the Republican Congress, will need to stake out some serious enforcement powers.
“It’s encouraging that the Obama administration is proposing more privacy reforms,” Mark. M Jaycox, legislative analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in an email interview. “But they can’t be hollow bills.”
For instance, he noted:
EFF supported the California bill that the administration is basing its student privacy proposal on. But just this morning, Education Week reported the administration bill does not contain an explicit prohibition on vendors amassing profiles of K-12 students for non-educational uses.
Jaycox added that the student-privacy bill also won’t prohibit companies from collecting information in an educational context and then using it to target advertising to students elsewhere.
Critics like Jaycox argue that weaknesses in the student privacy bills could foreshadow similar problems with the consumer privacy bill. Outsiders, however, haven’t yet seen the language of either bill firsthand. Politico attributed its reporting to sources that offered a limited reading of the draft legislation.
Photo courtesy of the White House
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The Internet of outer space could get a fuel injection, as two technology giants reportedly prepare to join forces. The Information reported Monday that Google is about to sign off on an investment deal in SpaceX. If true, the arrangement will fund the use of satellites to deliver Internet access to parts of the world that currently do without.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently called the project “a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date.” In this scenario, his company would build and launch thousands of low-flying satellites that would deliver connectivity to several disparate and disconnected regions. Satellites usually fly as high as 22,000 miles, but these compact units would ascend to an altitude of only 750 miles.
But, he said, the space network would cost $10 billion and take five years or more to pull off. The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is considering a $1 billion investment in Musk’s satellite project, which leaves a lot of money to be raised. Further out, Musk hopes to extend the system out as far as Mars, bringing Internet connectivity to a planet the CEO wants to colonize.
This wouldn’t be Google’s first push to make Internet access available from the skies. With Project Loon, the company imagined hot-air balloons delivering connectivity to remote areas; another project involves drones. Google also pursued its own satellite-based initiative last year, but the project fell apart after Greg Wyler, a crucial lead and satellite expert, left the company.
SpaceX’s effort won’t trifle with wireless spectrum, since it doesn’t rely on radio waves. Instead, it plans to use optical lasers to transmit the signals—which sounds like science fiction and, say skeptics, may not amount to much more in reality.
That may be par for the course for Musk, who has a reputation as king of the moon shots. Apart from the interstellar ambitions of SpaceX, the Tesla founder is also currently pursuing his slightly more grounded Hyperloop project, setting forth plans to build out a test site for the superhigh-speed transportation system in Texas.
Neither SpaceX nor Google immediately responded to a request for comment.
Satellite photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
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