Phandroid » Industry News Android Phone News, Rumors, Reviews, Apps, Forums & More! Wed, 08 Jul 2015 01:05:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Google starts testing self-driving cars in Austin, Texas Tue, 07 Jul 2015 15:47:13 +0000 austin texas sign

Google’s spent the entirety of the self-driving car project’s testing time in the familiar streets of Santa Clara, California, but now they’re so far along that they’re ready to start moving into other areas. The company has confirmed that the first test vehicle — a Lexus SUV, if you care — has touched down in Austin, Texas.

As usual, Google’s self-driving vehicle tests will go on with someone behind the wheel to take over manual controls when or if they need to. The challenge for Google will be to adapt to a vastly different driving environment and the traffic patterns of that specific city, but we’re sure it’s nothing they can’t handle.

By the end of it all, Google’s 3D object mapping technology should be able to gather enough information on the streets of Austin that it might eventually become the safest driver out there (especially because all of the 11 or so accidents they’ve been involved in so far weren’t their fault). Fingers crossed that things go smoothly!

[via Google+]

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Sony Mobile CEO says they have no plans to sell or exit their mobile business — ever Tue, 07 Jul 2015 01:09:38 +0000 Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua

There’s been a lot of talk about Sony and the seemingly dire situation that is their mobile business. Really, their story isn’t too unlike HTC’s. Both companies make fantastic Android software/hardware, but despite all this have failed to make headway in a smartphone market dominated by Samsung and Apple.

It’s because of this — like HTC — we’ve been hearing talk that Sony could soon sell off their mobile unit entirely to focus on the PlayStation brand. If this perhaps has influenced your decision to buy a Sony handset or tablet (like the recently launched Sony Xperia Z3+ or Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet) you may want to reconsider.

Speaking to Arabian Business, Sony Mobile CEO and President Hiroki Totoki gives us some insight on his plans for the company, calling 2015 their “year of big transformation.” Despite what Sony calls “severe” competition in the mobile space, he believes Sony can turn things around next year by continuing to focus on the user experience and new technologies.

“Yes, the competition has become severe. The smartphone device consists of a battery and a screen and chips. These are the main parts of a smartphone, and people can easily make them now. But it is the user experience that is not the same. Even if the device is the same, the user experience is different. And this is a very important point. People are not buying a smartphone because of the device and the way it looks — they are buying it because of the experience.”

So, what about those huge losses from last year? He goes onto say explain that, contrary to reports, their mobile cash flow has been quite healthy:

“The speculations arose because in 2014 we made a huge loss as a mobile business. It mainly came from the write-off of the goodwill of our impairment asset. When we bought back Ericsson’s share [in 2012], we bought back 100 percent of it. And obviously that price was high. We had to write it down and it made a substantial loss for the company.

But this was an accounting loss and did not impact our cash flow. Our cash flow is very healthy. But the accounting loss was so huge — that’s why people have speculated like this. Before that rumour, we exited the VAIO business, which was the PC business. That led people to think that Sony would exit the smartphone business, as well. But the smartphone business is very different from PCs.”

Addressing concerns that Sony could be looking to sell off their mobile business, Totoki puts it bluntly, saying that Sony will never sell or exit from their mobile business. As for what comes next after the smartphone, Totoki says IoT (Internet of Things) is Sony Mobile’s next big bet.

“Smartphones are completely connected to other devices, also connected to people’s lives — deeply. And the opportunity for diversification is huge. We’re heading to the IoT (Internet of Things) era and have to produce a number of new categories of products in this world, otherwise we could lose out on a very important business domain. In that sense we will never ever sell or exit from the current mobile business.”

There you have it. Keep in mind we are dealing with corporate speak and while we don’t expect the CEO of a major company to admit his company is failing, his wording was pretty strong. Still, if Totoki can’t bring their mobile division out of the red, ultimately it’s not he who has the final say on what Sony will do with their mobile unit. That will be up to Kaz Hirai to decide.

[via XperiaBlog]

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HTC’s unaudited Q2 numbers confirm net losses of $166 million Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:52:05 +0000 HTC logo DSC08612

HTC was able to string together a few quarters of meager profits, but it looks like the company is back to bleeding money. HTC’s unaudited financial results for the 2nd quarter of 2015 show net losses of $166 million, with revenue being just $1.07 billion opposed to their prior expectations of nearly double that amount.

We don’t get a clear idea of what, exactly, caused the losses, though many are quick to suspect underwhelming sales of the HTC One M9 as the culprit. That may be one significant side of the story, but there could be more at play.

For starters, HTC’s return to mid-range hasn’t gone so well. The company has made some very compelling devices in that space in recent months, but rising competitors in Asia — namely the Chinese market — are making life difficult for the Taiwanese company.

The situation is that up and coming smaller OEMs are making flagship-quality devices for mid-range prices, and folks are starting to warm up to the idea of going with these fresh new faces rather than paying a premium for something familiar. Huawei, Xiaomi, Meizu and OnePlus are just a few of the notable ones that immediately come to mind, with many others also fighting fiercely to win wallets.

HTC is also pouring a lot of money into their budding lifestyle business, which places emphasis on wearables and accessories which can be used with any Android device. We’re sure that stuff didn’t come cheap, and they still have a fitness band and VR headset to push out of the door before seeing any returns.

As we’ve said before, though, the situation still isn’t dire enough for someone (like, say, ASUS) to attempt a buyout. The company is still in a period of transition as they shuffle management and usher in a new CEO, so there’s still time yet before we can determine whether they can ever right the course of the ship.

[via HTC]

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Google is testing an Uber-like ride share service in Israel Mon, 06 Jul 2015 15:05:59 +0000 ride sharing

Google could be looking to jump into the ride share game themselves. The company has started trialing an Uber-like service through Waze, the crowd-sourced map app that Google bought a while back. The Pilot began in Tel Aviv, Israel earlier today.

It isn’t totally like Uber, though, in that it doesn’t act like a taxi service. Instead, Google’s ride sharing partners will only accept riders whose destinations are on the drivers’ route to and from work. What’s more is that Google will only allow drivers to accept two passengers per day (presumably one going to work and one going home).

This setup doesn’t make room for the sort of flexibility that Uber provides, but it also means Google will dodge the tricky hurdles that come with alternate taxi services. Uber knows all about those hurdles as the company has faced numerous fines in the past for unlicensed taxiing.

The drivers will get paid, mind you, but the fare is automatically calculated based on gasoline usage and an arbitrary charge for “wear and tear” on the car. This means drivers can still make money as the gas they’re using isn’t much more than the gas they’d use to get to work anyway, and riders won’t have to deal with price gouging.

We’re not sure how the trials will go, but we assume Google would look to spread to more markets if things run smoothly. Would you look to use Google’s ride sharing service if it ever makes it out of trial?

[via Wall Street Journal]

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Will Android 6.0 include Physical Web, Google’s answer to Apple’s iBeacon? Fri, 03 Jul 2015 16:00:18 +0000 physical web hero

There is one glaring problem with the Internet of Things: it always seem to require special apps to do anything. While some devices will naturally need dedicated apps to deliver the best user experience — such as smart coffee makers or the Nest Thermostat and Nest Camera — there are others which could stand to eliminate the cumber associated with interfacing with one of these smart things.

Take, for instance, a mobile shopping experience at a retail store or restaurant, or an interactive display at a bus stop or movie theater. Typically you’d have to either download a special app to take full advantage of those features, or scan archaic QR codes and type in URLs to go to a web-based companion site.

Enter Google’s new platform – Physical Web – to rid us of those burdens. The open platform allows physical objects/places to automatically broadcast URLs to nearby devices (such as mobile phones of passersby). The goal is for any smart object to be able to have its own special web URL that can point to more information or virtual experiences. The URL can be instantly beamed to your phone or tablet simply by walking up to it through the use of modern wireless data technology like Bluetooth LE.

physical web app

This guy has the right idea. His early experiment is a queue system that users can use to “get in line” (at a restaurant, or a customer service desk at a carrier store, perhaps) by checking in at the place’s welcome desk:

He didn’t need a special app or anything to hop in line, and thanks to modern web features — like Google Chrome’s device notifications — he was able to get a real-time notification whenever it was his turn to step up to the counter and receive service. That’s exactly the kind of stuff Google imagined when they began work on the Physical Web.

Not just another 20% project

The project has been in the works for quite some time, with Google’s first formal announcement coming as far back as October 2014. The company has been careful to call Physical Web an experiment, but there’s reason to believe it will blossom into something much more down the line.

For starters, the project was recently demonstrated at a Congress conference about the Internet of Things. That’s a rather big and important audience for something that Google only considers a mere experiment. We’re also sure they wouldn’t have bothered with a trademark for the thing if they weren’t planning on something big.

physical web trademark

There’s also this neat app for developer testing in the Google Play Store, which is funny considering the whole goal of this project is to eliminate the need of an app to begin with. In fact, the developers who uploaded the app noted that bit of humorous irony in its description:

Yes, we are asking you to download an app so you ‘don’t have to use apps’. It seems a bit silly doesn’t it? At this early stage, an app is the easiest way to let developers experiment with the protocol. Of course, the app will eventually go away, becoming part of the OS.

Wait, what’s that last part? Becoming part of the OS? That’s what it says, folks. One can immediately assume that Google hopes to implement the Physical Web in a future version of Android (Android 6.0, anyone?).

Physical Web: the iBeacon slayer?

ibeacon example

The thought of it being an awesome killer Android 6.0 feature is exciting, and we wouldn’t blame you for suggesting this is Google’s “answer” to iBeacon, an Apple-made system that serves a similar purpose. The Physical Web differs in two distinct ways, though:

  1. iBeacon still mostly requires an app that implements iBeacon features, so you still have to download that Starbucks app if you want deals to pop up the moment you walk inside the shop. The Physical Web does it all via standard web through the use of URLs, so any browser will do.
  2. iBeacon is iOS-only, which alienates a pretty large group of potential customers.

The difference with the Physical Web — and a lot of things Google works on — is that it’s about more than just Android. It makes sense for Google to be prepping the Physical Web for use in their own operating system, but it’s their hope that this will become an open standard which other OS vendors use in their respective wares, as well.

You should be able to walk up to that Starbucks and get that inconsequential 5 cents off your caffeine-fueled drink no matter which device you use, and without having to download a special app, to boot.

Everyone needs to get involved

The idea of the Physical Web is one of great importance which certainly deserves attention. Platform fragmentation is inevitable, so why add to the world’s problems by introducing new puzzle pieces at every step of the way to deliver a great user experience?

Most advancements in technology are made to simplify our lives, but — for the ever-changing mobile world, anyway — we often seem to add more complications than we eliminate. Requiring me to have an iPhone and download your app just to gain “easy” access to information, content and deals is counterintuitive in every sense of the term.

And that’s why the work done on the Physical Web — and any open Internet of Things platform, really — is important for the future of this still-infant category of technology products. The goal for an internet-connected society like the ones dreamed about in The Jetsons should always be to break down the barriers of entry wherever and whenever possible, and not to punish users because they don’t have the exact combination of products and services to take advantage.

physical web beacon bkon

That said, it’ll take more than just the standard’s existence. We have to want it, promote it and make it accessible to everyone. Google’s already doing their part in the early going with their work on the project (source code here), while others have already created Physical Web beacon devices based on Google’s open Uri Beacon specification that can be used in conjunction with the current experimental smartphone app.

This particular node is especially interesting as it can broadcast URLs for both iBeacon and Physical Web at the same time. In absence of good-willed teamwork on the part of fierce competitors in the technology space, this sort of ingenuity by the third-party hardware and software partners doing work on Internet of Things will have to do.

It won’t happen overnight, naturally, but if Google can realize their end goal of getting the Physical Web into every smartphone, tablet and the real world objects that could benefit from such a system then the new digital world will be much better off for it. If not? Well, they tried, and at the very least you could chalk up another cool feature for Android that Apple might want to borrow ideas from in the future.

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Sprint quickly backs down on ridiculous 600kbps video throttling Wed, 01 Jul 2015 16:46:15 +0000 sprint logo

Yesterday, many of you expressed disdain for Sprint’s All-In plan. Not because the plan was bad or anything (it’s not terrible, we’ll put it that way), but because this plan seemed to enforce a special throttling clause that didn’t previously apply to any other Sprint plans.

That clause was that video streaming would be limited to 600 kilobytes per second at all times. To be clear, Sprint has always been upfront about having to throttle data usage, but the company’s previous policy was that this would only happen during periods of network congestion, a common tactic among all major wireless carriers.

Now, Sprint has decided against it. The company came forward with a blog post today saying they heard your cries and will no longer go through with plans to permanently limit video streaming speeds, though they were quick to note that they still may “manage the network” in times where things are clogged up.

The move comes at a time where the FCC is cracking down on companies for questionable practices that violate the net neutrality rules that were recently put in place (and more coming into effect down the line). Those rules don’t completely forbid Sprint from limiting speeds in situations where they deem it necessary to maintain network quality, but they do state that the company has to be upfront about it.

And, in defense of the Now Network, they actually were upfront. But they probably thought about that huge $100 million fine AT&T got slapped with not too long ago and thought it best to just avoid getting on the FCC’s bad side altogether.

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Sprint Direct 2 You delivery service spreads to 4 new major metro areas, 4 more next month Mon, 29 Jun 2015 15:58:18 +0000 sprint direct 2 you

Sprint has expanded their delivery service to 4 new major cities today. Folks in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver are all being treated to Direct 2 You, a personal and in-home delivery service that’ll have an agent speeding to your door with your new Sprint phone in hand.

Agents help you set the phone up, transfer contacts and content, even answer any questions you might have. It’s a nice option for those who find the in-store experience a bit too time consuming but still want in-person help to set their phone up.

Best of all is that it’s free with the purchase and activation of any new Sprint smartphone, so if you’re not up to the task of heading to the store then there’s no reason you can’t take advantage.

The expansions include surrounding major metro areas for the four cities, and it brings the list of applicable cities to a whopping 28. Here’s the full list for you as of today:

  • Los Angeles metro area: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Beverly Hills, Calabasas, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Newport Beach, West Hollywood, Pasadena, San Pedro and Santa Ana;
  • New York metro area: New York City and these cities in New Jersey: Newark, Jersey City, Edison, Elizabeth and Paterson;
  • San Francisco Bay Area: San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Berkeley;
  • Denver metro area: Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Golden
  • Chicago
  • Miami
  • Kansas City

Moreover, Sprint has confirmed that Detroit, Washington DC, Tampa and Dallas will get it early next month.

[via Sprint]

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T-Mobile extends availability of their 4 lines for $100 promo until July 14th Mon, 29 Jun 2015 14:52:33 +0000 T-Mobile-logo-sign

T-Mobile has quietly extended the availability of their 4 lines for $100 promo until July 14th. The program was originally scheduled to end at the closing days of this month, but it’s nice to know there’s an extra 2 weeks for folks to take advantage.

T-Mobile’s 4 lines for $100 plan offered up unlimited talk and text + 2.5GB of data per line (pay an extra $10 for another 2GB) for a flat rate, and a recent announcement made it so that the base 2.5GB (which was originally just a temporary uptick in data allowance) would remain permanent for as long as you keep the plan. T-Mobile has a similar offer for 2-line setups offering unlimited talk, text and data for that same $100, and that plan’s availability has also been extended to July 14th.

Be sure to explore your options for ditching your current carrier and switching to T-Mobile if you want to take advantage, but don’t take too long because this particular offer will be long gone in just a couple of short weeks.

[via TmoNews]

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Samsung could manufacture Qualcomm’s 3GHz Snapdragon 820 Fri, 26 Jun 2015 13:52:41 +0000 Qualcomm Chips

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chipset is expected be quite a treat. The sour taste in folks’ mouths from the Snapdragon 810 might be assuaged by new rumors that the forthcoming 820 will be manufactured by Samsung.

Qualcomm apparently wants to win Samsung’s business back, and pegging them as the primary manufacturer as the chipset could be the ticket they need to be let back into their good graces. One might also come to the conclusion that Qualcomm wants to take advantage of Samsung’s 14nm FinFet manufacturing tech (such as the technology used for the Exynos 7420 inside the Samsung Galaxy S6) which makes for a very efficient chipset.

Efficiency is certainly what Qualcomm needs for their next go-round. The company’s Snapdragon 810 was marred early on by overheating issues, which — in some cases — could adversely affect performance (and make your phone really, really hot).

The Snapdragon 820 will be built using new 64-bit Kyro cores, and rumors suggest its clock speed will get as high as 3GHz. That’s unheard of in the mobile industry. It’s probably even overkill. But it sure is cool, and we hope they can get it right this time with Samsung’s help and expertise leading the way.

[via Gizmo China]

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Amazon Echo’s Alexa becomes an open platform to add a digital assistant to any smart item Thu, 25 Jun 2015 15:56:03 +0000 Amazon_Echo_Review

It looks like Amazon had bigger plans for Alexa than we thought. The digital voice assistant — which is the star of the show for the Amazon Echo that recently went up for pre-sale — is becoming an open platform which developers can use to add voice assistant features to their products.

They’ll do so through the use of the Alexa Skill Kit and the Alexa Voice Service, a collection of APIs and services that’ll allow you to implement Alexa in your products with ease. The Skill Kit is what will allow developers to support Alexa as if their app is one of Amazon’s own, while the Voice Service is what device makers use to implement Alexa in internet-connected hardware.

To kick things off and spur development, Amazon is also putting up a cool $100 million — called the Alexa Fund — to promote development of Alexa apps, devices and give startups the tools they need to be successful with it.

Amazon’s hope is that the end-result will be a wide range of Alexa-capable products that can make your smart home smarter than it already is, and without the need to buy their homegrown unit to do it.

Exciting times ahead indeed, and we can’t wait to see what comes of it. You can take a look at our Amazon Echo review to learn more about Alexa and how it can help you stay on task and up to date on everything in life.

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Qi will soon support 15 watt fast wireless charging Wed, 24 Jun 2015 16:50:14 +0000 Nexus 4 wireless charger Qi angled

One knock on wireless charging was always that it wasn’t nearly as fast as getting your juice over a wire, especially after new fast charging products were introduced in recent years. Thankfully that won’t be the case for long.

The Wireless Power Consortium has announced a new specification for their Qi wireless charging standard that makes it possible to charge wirelessly at rates of up to 15 watts. This is actually the standard going rate for cable-based fast charging solutions, so they’re essentially delivering top-line charging speeds without the cumbersome cables needed to enjoy it.

While details of the specification have not yet been publicized, WPC confirmed that the new standard would be fully backward compatible with existing Qi-equipped devices, which could potentially mean you won’t have to do much more than buy a new fast charging pad to take advantage.

Unfortunately there is no solid date to look forward to when it comes to the landing date for this improvement. Not even a “later this year,” actually — we simply have to wait, but we’re hoping the wait will be well worth it.

[via WPC]

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T-Mobile’s 10th Un-Carrier announcement is called AMPED, and it’s coming June 25th [VIDEO] Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:46:44 +0000 un-carrier amped

T-Mobile is just about ready to unveil their 10th Un-Carrier move. Such a neat number and milestone deserves a slobberknocker of an announcement, and we have feeling they aren’t looking to disappoint. They’ve gone as far as creating a trailer not unlike the one you’ll see for a blockbuster summer film, and the name they’ve coined for it — AMPED — certainly gets our blood pumping.

It’s become increasingly difficult to guess what direction T-Mobile would go next with Un-Carrier as they have seemingly eliminated most consumers’ pain points in previous moves. Even the businesses got some love the last time around.

It all goes down in a mere 2 days — June 25th — so circle back to see what Magenta has in store. In the meantime, let us know if there’s anything cool you’d love to see the carrier do with a comment below.

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LG G4’s less-than-perfect sales performance cause drastic cuts in Q2 forecast Tue, 23 Jun 2015 12:59:31 +0000 LG_G4_3

Looks like the LG G4 might not be doing as good at retail as the South Korean company anticipated. Korean Media reports that investment firms and analysts have cut their Q2 forecasts — by nearly half for some — for LG’s mobile division due to missing sales targets.

Trouble in la-la land? Not necessarily. LG’s goal of selling 8 million units this year might be missed, but only slightly. The company targeted 2.6 million units per quarter, but are currently selling at a rate of just less than 2.5 million.

All of that is to say that this doesn’t mean the phone isn’t doing well. It’s probably still LG’s best selling Android phone yet (and for good reason), but it probably still isn’t good enough to top the muscle and might (in both marketing and merchandise) in their hometown neighbors affectionately known as Samsung.

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Sprint will put a stop to their data throttling practices to avoid FCC ban hammers Fri, 19 Jun 2015 16:27:11 +0000 sprint logo

It was only a couple of days ago that AT&T got a slap on the wrist for miscommunication about their data throttling policy, and now Sprint seems to be feeling a bit of heat of their own. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sprint has stopped throttling its heavy data users even in periods where the network is congested.

The report suggests Sprint is doing so in order to avoid any action that’ll put them on the FCC’s bad side, though they maintain they felt their practices were well within the rules. Sprint says they don’t expect users to notice any significant differences in service.

It’s worth pointing out that Sprint’s hesitation in continuing data throttling is less about being slapped with fines for miscommunication, and more about dodging the touchy topic of net neutrality. The FCC made their vote against it quite clear earlier this year, and it’s looking more and more likely that the regulatory body won’t tolerate much shadiness in the realm of broadband internet.

For what it’s worth, Sprint probably won’t completely ditch throttling. The company says they’ll still opt to put a cap on identifiable video sources (which can quickly get out of hand when you start streaming in HD), though it shouldn’t be so much that it makes for an unacceptable video experience on mobile. Everything else will run through Sprint’s proverbial pipes as fast as the network will allow. It’s better than nothing, folks, so consider it a win.

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Google bought a company that develops ways for you to use apps without installing them Fri, 19 Jun 2015 14:37:09 +0000 now card apps

Streaming movies. Streaming Music. Heck, even streaming games is a thing now. So why can’t we stream apps? That’s a very interesting question indeed, and it’s one Google has reportedly been thinking about for a while.

Google is said to have quietly bought Agawi late last year, a company that specializes in technology that allows you to stream apps with extremely low latency. “Why stream an app when I can just download it and use it natively,” you may ask.

agawi appglimpse

One use case being offered up is the ability to trial apps instantly and risk-free before buying or downloading them for long term use. This may seem like a trivial use case for most typical apps that come in at just a few megabytes per download, but there are some pretty large apps out there that could benefit from this.

We also imagine the technology could be used as a feature for entry level devices that might not have a ton of internal storage to download many apps. Streaming those apps would allow them to be able to use whatever they want without having to worry about a lack of persistent storage. Agawi also says the technology could be used for streaming games on mobile.

Unfortunately we’re a bit far off from anything we’re slated to see, with Agawi apparently confirming that it’d take them at least a year to implement their wares in whichever ways Google is looking to use it. We’ll wait, though, because we’re sure it’ll be well worth it.

[via The Information]

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