Looking at Russia's Vkontakte social network on an iPhone 5 in Moscow

Russia has been extra-sensitive to technological threats to its government as of late, and that's clearer than ever in the wake of a new government proposal. Communication Minister Nikolai Nikiforov has suggested that Apple and SAP should hand over their source code to prove that it doesn't have "undeclared capabilities" for spying on Russian agencies. In other words, he doesn't want to give the NSA free rein just because an official brought an iPhone to work. While he isn't certain as to whether or not institutions will keep using products whose code remains a secret, there's an implication that Apple and SAP may be locked out of government contracts if Putin and crew believe there's too much of a risk. Much of that business could go to Microsoft, which has been cooperating with Russia since 2003.

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LG Unify on Virgin Mobile Custom

In the US, prepaid cellphone service tends to be a like-it-or-leave-it proposition that rarely fits perfectly, especially for families. Virgin Mobile may have a smarter approach in store; it's launching Custom, a prepaid family plan that lets you tailor usage to your liking. You can put as many as five people on plans that start at $7 each ($35 for unlimited talk and text) and scale up depending on individual needs. If Mom is a big fan of streaming music but rarely makes calls, she can pile on the data (or use a $5 Unlimited Music plan) and reduce her voice minutes; a chat-happy kid, meanwhile, can have gobs of messages but only minimal internet access. You can change the plans at any time from mobile apps, and built-in parental controls let you declare certain apps as off-limits during specified hours.

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Square's reader for chip-based cards

There's a good reason you don't usually see Square readers outside of the US: they're built to read payment cards with magnetic stripes, not the more secure chip-and-PIN cards that are common everywhere else. All that's set to change, however. Square has revealed plans for a reader that accepts the chip-based EMV format alongside stripes, letting shops handle credit and debit cards from around the world (and the US, once it catches up). The company will only start taking pre-orders for the payment device later this year, but it could be worthwhile for stores and customers alike. Besides the greater availability, it's much harder to clone a chip card -- you shouldn't have to worry about an unscrupulous clerk (or a clever hacker) stealing your credit card and going on a shopping spree.

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While competitors are busy cloning Snapchat in an attempt to replicate its success, Evan Spiegel and co. have continued to forge their own path. The company is already experimenting with new features in an attempt to generate revenue, but it's also apparently talking to some big hitters to ensure it can keep growing until those profits come. According to Bloomberg, Snapchat is currently in talks over a new round of funding with investors, which include Yahoo-backed Alibaba, that if confirmed could value the company at an incredible $10 billion. It's a significant figure, not only because it puts it on par with both Dropbox and Airbnb, but it's around three times the amount Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook is rumored to have offered to acquire the company last year. Not bad for a service that's known mostly for evaporating text and photo messages. Snapchat is understandably keeping quiet about its latest round of talks, and the figures could well change before the funding closes. Regardless of what happens, it appears Snapchat's decision to hold out and grow the service was the right one.

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Three and EE jostled for attention last month when they announced, on the same day, their customers would soon be able to make calls and send texts over WiFi connections. While EE is working on a fancy system the user will be all but oblivious to, Three's following O2's lead with an app that does the necessary handover work. Slightly ahead of schedule, Three's inTouch app has now launched for Android and iOS devices -- just in time to take advantage of the carrier's newest customer perk: free Tube WiFi. As you'd expect, calls made and messages sent over WiFi are deducted from your normal monthly allowances or pay-as-you-go credit. Unfortunately, inTouch won't work in countries not covered by Three's Feel at Home free roaming service, but it's something the network is looking into.

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FreedomPop messaging on a Galaxy Tab 3 and an iPad mini

Many people can't really justify buying a cellular-equipped tablet -- why pay for more data when your phone probably does the trick? FreedomPop is undoubtedly aware of that thriftiness, as it just started offering its namesake free service on tablets. Whether you buy one of the carrier's pre-supplied tablets or bring your own, you'll get the same gratis 500MB of LTE data, 500 messages and 200 voice minutes as a phone customer. That may not make sense at first, but FreedomPop reckons that it's important for apps that ask for a phone number. It's much easier to hail an Uber car when you can supply some digits, for example. It could also serve as a backup if your phone's battery dies, or if you're nearing your limits on a capped phone plan.

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Despite the promise of Google's Movidius-equipped Project Tango, there are still no depth-sensing, SLR-stomping smartphones on the market. But Movidius thinks that could change soon, thanks to its brand new chip: the Myriad 2 vision processor unit (VPU). "The Myriad 2 is going to provide more than 20x the power efficiency of the Myriad 1, and enable camera features that were not possible before in mobile devices," CEO Remi El-Ouazzane tells me. If you'll recall, Tango's original tech brought faster focus, improved depth of field, near-optical zooming and higher light sensitivity to smartphone cameras (and now, tablets). It also let researchers scan a room in 3D to provide interior navigation, among other cool tricks.

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More than three months after the first builds of Windows Phone 8.1 hit the scene, Microsoft is ready to tick more features off the to-do list with the OS's first refresh. Known aptly as Update 1, the download will be available as a developer preview starting next week. Understandably, Cortana is on the top of the release notes, because the beta program will officially expand to the UK and China as promised in April. This means users in both countries can enjoy different voices and more localized options, such as air quality info (in China specifically), local celebrities, specialized suggestions and commute times. Additionally, the Chinese version supports Mandarin and comes with unique animations, sounds and other visual features.

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iPhone 5 and Galaxy S5

Samsung warned that its smartphone sales weren't that great this spring, and now we have the numbers to show just what the company meant. IDC estimates that Samsung's smartphone shipments saw a rare year-over-year drop in the second quarter, taking it from a lofty 32.3 percent market share down to 25.2 percent. That's still enough to give it a comfortable lead, but a shock for a company which is used to growth. The cause, analysts say, is the rapid rise of Chinese brands that cut directly into Samsung's low-end business. Huawei claimed 6.9 percent of the smartphone space after doubling its shipments, thanks in part to heavy discounts on phones like the Ascend P7; Lenovo jumped to 5.4 percent on the back of both budget phones at home as well as rapid expansion abroad.

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Google's hotel-based searches in action

When you land in a strange new city, your first instinct may be to see what there is to do near your hotel. However, searching Google for nearby attractions can be a hassle if you don't remember your hotel's name or address by heart. That memorization is no longer necessary after today, though -- Google has updated its search engine to use the booking confirmation in your Gmail as a locator. If you want to look for a late-night diner, all you have to do is ask Google to "show restaurants around my hotel." You can also get directions to or from your accommodations, so you should reach a welcoming bed (or your flight) just a little bit faster. The addition makes the most sense if you're using voice search in one of Google's mobile apps, but any traveler can give it a spin.

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We knew Instagram's effort to nab a bit of Snapchat's thunder was imminent thanks to leaked promo banners, and now, the app has officially arrived... for some. Bolt, the filter-driven photo app's own ephemeral messenger has hit iTunes and Google Play for folks in Singapore, South Africa and New Zealand. The software's claim to fame is speed: instead of having to fiddle through a series of options, tapping a contact's picture both captures and sends a photo -- no further swiping required (tap and hold records video). So long as they're in your favorites list, of course. There's also an undo feature that allows you to retrieve a message in the first few seconds by shaking your phone. While Bolt doesn't require a Facebook or Instagram account, you will have to sign up with your phone number for sorting through your contacts. For now though, most of us have to find solace in just reading about it, since a select few locales are privy to the initial rollout. Instagram's word on that particular strategy is situated after the break.

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Cannes Lions 59th International Festival of Creativity - The Twitter Seminar

One of Twitter's primary concerns is that the number of active users -- those who use the network at least once a month -- continues to grow at a healthy pace, and its latest quarterly earnings confirm that the social network has been eating its vegetables. After reporting a solid growth of 14 million active users last quarter, the service brought in 16 million this time around, reaching a grand total of 271 million. This is an increase of 6.3 percent, which is an improvement over last quarter's 5.8 percent (though not quite as good as the ten percent growth the company saw a year ago). Not bad, given that it had to admit a slowing number of new users earlier this year in its first earnings report as an IPO. Of this number, Twitter acknowledged that 78 percent of them are actively using the service on mobile devices (this is reflected in the fact that 81 percent of advertising revenue comes from smartphones and tablets).

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US-POLITICS-OBAMA-STATE OF THE UNION

Getting Democrats and Republicans to pass an act of Congress is the exception more than the rule. But if there's one thing both sides of the aisle can agree on, it's that the US policy for unlocking phones is backwards. Early last year, it became illegal to unlock your handset for use on other carriers unless your provider directly gives you the permission to do so. Thanks to moves from the Senate and House this month, legislation to remove this restriction is just a presidential signature away from passing; it's not a permanent solution, but at least it's a step in the right direction for consumer freedom.

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LG Heart Rate Monitor Earphone review: good fitness gadget, poor earphones

Heart rate monitors are no longer the exclusive domain of fitness gadgets. The last 12 months have seen sensors make their way into smartphones and wearables, replacing for many of us the need for a standalone pulse monitor. The problem is a lot of these options have been unable to deliver accurate heart rate mesurements, partly because those sensors have to maintain contact with your skin; if they slip, then the readout skips. Maybe LG has the answer, then: Put heart rate monitoring technology into a pair of Bluetooth headphones. If you're like me and are constantly wired for sound during workouts, what could possibly be better?

LG's Heart Rate Monitor earphones link to an iOS/Android app, with absolutely nothing burdening your wrists. LG's fitness app can even add your exercise sessions to a step counter, so long as you buy LG's optional Lifeband Touch fitness band. What's more, the app also integrates with other fitness apps like RunKeeper. It all sounds great on paper, but there's a problem: the headphones don't actually sound good. Let me explain.

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Some of the main items that Beats Music claims set it apart from the competition are its personalization and curated content. Looking to boost both of those areas, Apple's pending purchase has tossed in a few tweaks. First, if you're familiar with the service, you know that upon launching the app for the first time, you're prompted to select a few of your favorite artists and genres to give Beats a clue to your audio sensibilities. Those selections are now editable, making adding and deleting easy for evolving tastes. You're also able to access a list of recently played tracks from the handy Sentence feature -- just in case you forgot to mark 'em for later. More playlists have also been added to the Just for You section, increasing the amount and range of recommendations. All of the recent additions are available now through the service's mobile and web apps.

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