Monthly Archives October 2014

Amazon Has the Best Tablet, According to J.D. Power


Amazon has become the leader in tablet satisfaction, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Only five months ago, this title belonged to Apple.

The Amazon Fire HDX won first place in the J.D. Power tablet satisfaction survey, scoring an 827 out of a possible 1000 for the first time in the company’s history. Apple came in a close second with a score of 824, and Samsung placed third with 821. Asus and Acer rounded out the top five.

The survey measures performance, ease of operation, features, styling, design and cost to get a final score. Amazon managed to pull ahead of Apple due to its high scores in the ease of operation and cost categories.

“Within the tablet segment, there’s a balance of cost and value, and for this period, Amazon was at the equilibrium,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecommunication services at J.D. Power. “For the money, [Amazon tablets] do what buyers need them to do. And the Mayday feature really helped them in ease of operation.”

Regarding Amazon’s jump from fourth place in the previous survey to first, Parsons admitted, “I figured [Amazon’s] scores would improve, but I didn’t think they’d take the top spot.”

Amazon is one of today’s leading companies in terms of growth and services. It will be interesting to see if it can maintain its current grasp on the tablet market.

BlackBerry to Release Classic Smartphone

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BlackBerry will be releasing a new device called the BlackBerry Classic. CEO John Chen teased details about the device in a blog post, saying it will have a larger and sharper screen, a QWERTY keyboard and top row navigation keys. The Classic is designed to lure back the device’s traditional fans.

“It’s tempting in a rapidly changing, rapidly growing mobile market to change for the sake of change,” Chen wrote. “But there’s also something to be said for the classic adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

BlackBerry has made many attempts to win back consumers during its decline over the past few years. Chen is now focused on aiming products at the company’s core users, primarily in the business sector, who are fans of a tangible keyboard.

“We are committed to earning your business – or earning it back, if that’s the case,” wrote Chen in his blog post. He has said the phone will debut by the end of the year.

YouTube to Offer Paid, Ad-Free Subscriptions


How much do you hate ads on YouTube? Enough to pay for their removal? The company is hoping this is the case, and plans to launch an ad-free subscription option for YouTube users in the near future.

Services like Netflix have enjoyed great success from their payment model, which in turn provides users with unlimited, ad-free video streaming. YouTube is hoping the trend of watching videos on mobile devices might help them earn similar revenue.

YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki revealed information about the subscriptions service at the Code Mobile conference in Half Moon Bay, California. “YouTube right now is ad-supported, which is great because it has enabled us to scale to a billion users; but there’s going to be a point where people don’t want to see the ads,” Wojcicki said.

In 2013, YouTube gave select channel owners the ability to charge users viewing their content. It appears the company will build on this concept, by offering subscriptions for certain verticals in order to enjoy an ad-free experience. Youtube is also reportedly working on a free music subscription, which will include advertisements.

“If you look at media over time most of them have both ads and subscriptions,” said Wojcicki.

FTC Sues AT&T for Misleading Customers on “Unlimited” Plans


The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced it is suing AT&T for misleading customers on “unlimited” data plans. The FTC has filed a complaint in federal court, claiming certain customers’ data was throttled up to 90 percent if they exceeded a particular amount of data use in a billing cycle.

According to the FTC, AT&T has been throttling customers on unlimited plans since 2011, and has throttled over 3.5 million customers. The speed cap can reportedly take effect after as little as 2 gigabytes of data has been used. AT&T vehemently denies these claims.

“The FTC’s allegations are baseless and have nothing to do with the substance of our network management program,” Wayne Watts, AT&T general counsel said in a statement. “It’s baffling as to why the FTC would choose to take this action against a company that, like all major wireless providers, manages its network resources to provide the best possible service to all customers, and does it in a way that is fully transparent and consistent with the law and our contracts.”

Throttling data is not illegal, and telecom carriers are not obligated to provide equal data speeds for all customers, but the FTC has taken issue with the misleading nature of allegedly “unlimited” plans. The FTC, along with the Federal Communications Commission, has also begun to investigate throttling at other wireless companies.

QR Code Payments to Rival Apple Pay?


Some major retailers have blocked Apple Pay in favor of an alternative payment method set for release in 2015. Apple Pay received ample support from retailers during its September launch, but NFC terminals at Rite Aid and CVS enabling Apple Pay have reportedly been disabled.

In a leaked memo to Rite Aid employees explaining the company no longer accepts Apple Pay, a payment system called CurrentC was hinted at being available in the first half of 2015. Developed by Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), this rival payment system is likely to be adopted by a group of major U.S. retailers including Rite Aid, CVS, Kmart, Sears, Target, Walmart, Best Buy and 7 Eleven.

CurrentC will do away with the need for NFC terminals, by using an app and QR codes which can be scanned to facilitate transactions. Merchant debit cards, rewards programs or your bank account can be accessed for payment. This closed system would eliminate credit card processing fees and give merchants more customer information.

Historically, QR codes have not been very popular with consumers. Apple Pay’s tap-to-pay method makes it easier to use, but only time will tell who will win the battle of mobile payment options.

New Android OS to Improve Facial Recognition


Android’s 5.0 Lollipop update will be available soon, and may come with a hidden security feature. The “Trusted Face” feature, which promises to be an improved version of its facial recognition software, might make standard passwords a thing of the past.

Trusted Face uses facial recognition to unlock a user’s phone. In the past, the feature took too long to unlock and it could easily be hacked by holding a photo of the user in front of the device. However, Lollipop’s update comes with a faster, more secure version.

Trusted Face is a way for Android to compete with Apple’s seamless fingerprint identification system, which has proven highly successful. However, users will still be able to input a regular security code if they desire.

Ontario Distracted Driving Fines Spike

It's the law

Ontario is raising its distracted driving fines in an attempt to prevent drivers from watching their phones instead of the road. Before now, distracted driving charges ranged from $60 to $500. Under the new legislation, someone pulled over for texting while driving can be fined between $300 and $1,000.

Use of a handheld device to talk or text while driving has been banned in Ontario since 2009, with the exception of making 911 calls. However, one out of three licensed high school drivers admitted to texting and driving at least once in the past year. This statistic was collected by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Scarier still, distracted driving has become the number one cause of road-related deaths, ahead of impaired driving and speeding.

Google and Other Tech Giants Back Augmented-Reality Developer Magic Leap

Google privacy

Florida-based augmented-reality startup Magic Leap has generated $542 million in a Series B financing round, and Google’s contribution is at the head of the pack. Tech giant Qualcomm is also pitching in, along with many others including Legendary Entertainment, Vulcan Capital and Obvious Ventures.

The company, founded in 2011, hopes to replace traditional smartphone screens with virtual-reality interfaces. Magic Leap founder, CEO and president Rony Abovitz promises he can deliver mind-blowing “cinematic reality” and “revolutionize” the way people communicate, but this round of funding was raised without unveiling a single product.

Magic Leap has remained tight lipped about its products, but the company’s website features images of a baby elephant cupped in a person’s hand, and a submarine floating above a street. Speculation suggests the company plans to develop a wearable device which tracks users’ eyeballs and projects images onto them. A technique called “object occlusion”, paired with the manipulation of depth perception, would allow for virtual objects to be added to what the wearer would see naturally, both in front of and behind objects.

Google itself, rather than Google Ventures or Google Capital, is behind the investment, sparking rumors the internet company may be hoping to align or eventually partner with Magic Leap. Google has appointed Sudar Pichai (senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps) and Don Harrison (vice president of corporate development) to Magic Leap’s board in an observer role as part of the deal.

Google Creates Guide for Users Switching from Apple


The world’s leading mobile device creators are constantly campaigning to win users over and steal business from each other. With the upcoming release of its Nexus 6 phone and Nexus 9 tablet, Google has amped up its tactics. Now, for users disappointed with Apple’s latest releases, Google has released a guide for switching over to Android.

For unhappy Android users, Apple has posted a similar guide for switching over to iOS.

The guide for switching to Android is split into four categories, covering transferring photos and music, contacts, apps and Gmail settings. Apple’s is slightly more involved with six parts, covering moving books, PDFs and other documents from an Android phone or tablet. Whether or not these guides will cause any shift in usership remains to be seen.

Android’s latest model will be released in the near future, and features Android’s latest operating system called Lollipop.

FCC Approves Inquiry into 5G Technology

SONY DSCThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has unanimously approved an inquiry into 5G technology. The investigation will seek to determine if high-frequency airwaves previously considered to be unusable may in fact revolutionize mobile technology.

“We are moving from networks designed for analog voice to networks designed for high-speed digital data,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “So how do we meet these demands? We look up. Way, way, up. To infinity and beyond.”

Frequencies higher than 24 gigahertz have gone unused in the past, as they could not handle cell phone signals. These frequencies cannot carry signals over long distances and are easily stopped by barriers, but companies are currently developing new technologies which could make these frequencies usable. If reliable technology is developed, these frequencies could handle data as fast as 10 gigabits per second.

Google has asked the FCC for permission to begin testing extremely high frequencies, which could eventually be incorporated into Google Fiber. There is no current definition of 5G speeds, but it could very well lead to a new generation of technology and mobile devices.