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AT&T wants $100M data throttling fine thrown out

AT&T is asking the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to cancel a proposed $100 million fine levied against the company for throttling data speeds for users with “unlimited” data plans, The Hill reports. The FCC launched a complaint in October 2014 claiming AT&T slowed speeds for users who had used a certain amount of data each month without informing customers of the policy, then announced in June that it intended to fine the company for that practice.

In a July court filing, AT&T argues that it had properly disclosed its policies to customers – both in online postings and via direct text messages – and took issue with the proposed fine. The company is asking that courts weigh in on the legality of the fine – the largest ever handed down by the FCC – and that any action be halted until they reach a decision. “The Commission’s findings that consumers and competition were harmed are devoid of factual support and wholly implausible,” the company’s filing states. “Its ‘moderate’ forfeiture penalty of $100 million is plucked out of thin air, and the injunctive sanctions it proposes are beyond the Commission’s authority.” The FCC claims a “transparency” provision in a 2010 net neutrality order gives it the authority to levy the fine, but AT&T says that assumption is based on a misreading of a portion of the law taken out of context. The FCC declined to comment on AT&T’s latest filing.

Facebook planning Apple Music competitor? (Update: No)

Facebook is in early talks to launch its own music streaming service according to a new report by Music Ally. Talks with labels are said to be linked to the company’s trial of ad-supported native videos, which are expected to expand to music videos soon. However, the report claims that the social network has ambitions to follow that up with an audio music service that would compete directly with Apple Music and Spotify, among others. In the shorter term, Facebook plans to monetize music videos with a Content ID system similar to YouTube to pay royalties to music rightsholders while allowing them to identify and take down or claim user-uploaded videos of their music and collect associated ad revenues. A rollout of the music video service is expected “in the next few months” although a specific schedule for the arrival of an audio streaming service is more nebulous, as the report notes that the company has to “get the monetised-video service right first.”

Update: A Facebook spokesperson has denied the report, telling The Verge that the company has “no plans to go into music streaming,” with a source familiar with the matter reporting that “the last thing Facebook wants to do right now is take on Apple in a streaming war.”

T-Mobile’s ‘Mobile without Borders’ offers Canada, Mexico coverage for no extra cost

T-Mobile has announced an expansion of its free roaming coverage across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada as part of a new “Mobile without Borders” initiative. The new plan provides calling to land lines and mobile phones and 4G LTE data access across all three countries at no additional cost to subscribers, making the company’s Simple Choice plan the first and only wireless plan that spans the entire continent. The new plans will take effect on July 15, after which calls to, from and between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada will be included at no additional charge, and T-Mobile users traveling to Canada or Mexico will be able to use 4G LTE data straight from their existing plan rather than incurring additional roaming charges, effectively allowing those customers to use their phone service just like when they’re in the U.S. While users won’t yet be able to tap into their Data Stash when roaming, T-Mobile’s announcement does indicate that is also expected to arrive “starting later this year.”

Google Play Music adds free, ad-supported streaming radio

Google has announced the launch of a free, ad-supported streaming radio tier to Google Play Music, allowing users to listen to any of the service’s curated streaming radio stations without needing to pay for a subscription. Google Play Music has offered a free tier for some time that allows users to upload up to 50,000 of their own tracks and stream them from Google’s cloud, however listening to anything the user hadn’t specifically uploaded previously required a $10/month subscription to the Google Play Music service, originally referred to as an “All Access” subscription. This new tier provides users with access to curated stations by genre, mood, decade or activity, or search for favorite artists, albums, or songs to create a station of related music. Launching online today, the new free, ad-supported tier will arrive on iOS this week. The timing of introducing the free tier is interesting, considering Apple Music is a week away from launching.

As before, users with a subscription to Google Play Music will gain an ad-free listening experience as well as the ability to listen to music offline, create playlists, and listen to any song on-demand. The paid tier will also now include access to YouTube Music Key, Google’s new ad-free, offline and background listening experience for music videos on YouTube.

FCC to fine AT&T $100M for misleading unlimited data plans

The Federal Communications Commission has announced its intention to fine AT&T $100 million for “misleading its customers about unlimited mobile data plans.” According to the FCC, AT&T “severely” slowed data speeds for customers with unlimited data plans, and the company “failed to adequately notify” customers that speeds could be slower than advertised. Millions of customers were said to be affected by the slowed data. As the FCC notes, AT&T no longer offers unlimited plans to new customers, but many long-time customers have retained the unlimited plan from when it was offered in the past. The company has been charged with violating the 2010 Open Internet Transparency Rule. AT&T said in a statement that it would “vigorously dispute the FCC’s assertions,” claiming it has been “fully transparent” with customers.

GM bringing CarPlay to 14 of its 2016 Chevy models

General Motors has announced planes to bring Apple’s CarPlay to 14 of its 2016 Chevy models, Re/code reports. At Code Conference 2016, GM CEO Mary Barra announced that the software will be offered across the “full range of consumer models” from the Corvette to the Spark, and she went on to note that GM also has plans to integrate CarPlay into its other brands “soon.” This integration will make GM the first major U.S. automaker to integrate CarPlay across a widespread lineup of mainstream cars.

Adobe dropping Photoshop Touch in favor of more focused apps

Adobe has announced that it will be discontinuing its Photoshop Touch app, preferring to focus instead on its family of more focused apps tied into its Creative Cloud program. A post on the company’s Photoshop Blog highlights Adobe’s other more recent offerings such as Photoshop Mix and Photoshop Sketch as examples of how the company believes it has produced better user experiences through “laser-focus” on specific and traditionally complex workflows for specific subsets of tasks, rather than the more ambitious approach of trying to replicate all of Photoshop’s capabilities in a mobile app. In a similar vein, Adobe has already started work on a new “serious retouching” app to add the the collection, dubbed “Project Rigel” which is expected to be available later this year.

Photoshop Touch is scheduled to be removed from the App Store on May 28th, and no further updates will be provided. Users who have already purchased the app prior to that time, however, will be able to continue using it on their devices or even reinstalling it from their purchase history “for the foreseeable future” – likely meaning for as long as it remains compatible with future iOS versions.

Report: Pebble facing financial struggles?

Pebble, the company behind one of the first successful smartwatches, may be facing financial troubles, TechCrunch reports. Citing sources close to the company, the report notes that the company has allegedly turned to a Silicon Valley bank for a $5 million loan and $5 million line of credit, as VC firms have refused requests for new capital infusions. At this point, Pebble has 150 employees and continues hiring. However, even with the $18 million crowdfunding infusion from its recent Kickstarter campaign for Pebble Time, the company apparently has needed to turn to a bank loan “in order to stay afloat.”  The report goes on to indicate that many employees have been unhappy with the direction the company is taking in the face of both large and small competitors, ranging from the Apple Watch to the upcoming Olio Model One. While the hiring process — which is being run by former Apple executive Jeff Hyman — is apparently unpopular, many employees reportedly remain “cautiously optimistic” about the company in general.

Report: Spotify to discontinue free streaming tier?

Spotify may be planning to effectively eliminate its free, ad-supported streaming option, according to a new report by Digital Music News. The change would see the popular streaming music service limit free ad-supported access to a three month “trial” period, rather than the current open-ended and unlimited plan that many users currently enjoy. Spotify is said to be resisting this change, and has been trying to make the case that its “freemium-to-premium” migration path is working to effectively create new paying subscribers, however the service is under pressure from Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, who remain generally unconvinced and have reportedly disliked unpaid streaming options from the very beginning. While no mention is made of Apple’s attempts to sway the music industry to kill off licenses for free streaming for Spotify and YouTube, it seems likely that Apple’s new paid-only Apple Music service could factor into the labels’ decision-making process.

The three-month “proposal” would allow some artists and labels to extend availability of their content past three months through “emerging” or “up-and-coming” playlists, as well as continuing to allow for a non-interactive radio-style streaming feature. Both of these are similar to ideas likely to be included in Apple Music as well, further suggesting that the labels’ negotiations with Apple are having a backlash effect on existing services. It is not clear, however, whether specific artists would be able to limit free access entirely — an issue that has previously caused major artists such as Adele and Taylor Swift to leave services such as Spotify entirely. Further, not all labels are entirely on board with the new proposal, with some, such as Warner Music Group, suggesting that free streaming services are valuable at providing an alternative to outright piracy while still providing a small trickle of revenue.

Nokia shopping around its Maps division, courting Apple

As Nokia is looking to sell off its struggling maps business, Bloomberg reports that the company has been approaching Apple and several other big name technology firms on the matter. In addition to Apple, Nokia is said to have been in contact with Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook, Sirius, Chinese search engine Baidu, a group of German carmakers, and some private-equity firms. Nokia is seeking more than 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) from a sale of the division, with first-round bids due at the end of next week. Nokia’s mapping assets, purchased in 2008 for $8.1 billion, have depreciated to about 2 billion euros according to last year’s financial reports from the company. Nokia’s highly-rated maps app, HERE, is again available on the App Store after being pulled in late 2013 due to changes in iOS 7.

Microsoft to bring Cortana to iOS

Microsoft plans to bring Cortana, its Windows phone personal assistant technology, to both Apple and Android devices, Reuters reports. The company is reported to be developing an advanced version of its Siri competitor based on an artificial intelligence project it has dubbed “Einstein.”  Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, has been more aggressively opening up the company’s software to non-Windows platforms, eschewing Microsoft’s traditional approach of forcing customers into using its Windows operating system. Cortana debuted on Windows phones last year, and will be coming to the desktop with Windows 10 later this year. According to people familiar with the project, Microsoft also plans to release a standalone iOS app version of the technology. New technology in Cortana to be rolled out this fall is expected to incorporate more advanced features, such as the ability to read and understand e-mail and more accurately anticipate user needs, rather than simply responding to requests as Siri does.

iPhone theft decline attributed to Activation Lock feature

iPhone thefts have been dropping dramatically in at least three major cities since Apple introduced its Activation Lock feature in 2013, Reuters reports. Specifically, the number of stolen iPhones in San Francisco has reportedly dropped by 40 percent, while the number of iPhone thefts in New York has dropped by 25 percent, and smartphone theft in general has dropped by half in London. The drop is believed to be a direct result of the anti-theft features that Apple added to iOS 7 in September 2013, which effectively “locked” an iOS device to its owner, preventing a stolen device from being used without entering the original user’s Apple ID and password. Supplementing the “Find My iPhone” feature introduced by Apple some time ago, the new Activation Lock feature essentially turns a stolen iPhone into a useless brick, reducing the motivation for theft. With smartphone theft now accounting for half of all crimes in cities like San Francisco, several U.S. states are considering laws mandating the use of similar “kill switches” in smartphones — California passed a smartphone “kill switch” law last year that has yet to go into effect. While Samsung and Google have added a similar feature, only Apple currently has it setup to be enabled by default.

Corning developing new sapphire-like Gorilla Glass

Corning, best known in the electronics industry for its extremely tough Gorilla Glass used on the iPhone, is working on a new type of glass that will include sapphire-like scratch resistance, CNET reports. Dubbed Project Phire, the new material is a composite glass similar to Gorilla Glass which includes a formulation to dramatically improve scratch resistance. Corning’s traditional Gorilla Glass, now in its fourth iteration, is famous for being extremely durable against damage from impacts and drops, but doesn’t provide the same degree of scratch resistance that sapphire does.

Conversely, while sapphire glass protects against scratches, it does not stand up well to impact damage. Project Phire is Corning’s effort to produce a glass composite that provides the best of both worlds — the damage protection of Gorilla Glass with a level of scratch resistance that ‘approaches sapphire.’ Amidst concerns that Apple has been moving toward using sapphire in its displays, as last year’s investments into the now-defunct GT Advanced Technologies demonstrated, Corning was likely concerned about losing one of its most important customers, and moved to develop a form of glass that could provide a level of scratch protection that would hopefully satisfy Apple.

Tony Fadell to oversee restructured Google Glass project

Google is restructuring its Google Glass project and appointing former Apple Executive Tony Fadell to head it up, according to the Wall Street Journal. Fadell, one of the inventors of the original iPod, left Apple to form Nest in 2010, which was later acquired by Google last year. Under the new plan, Glass will be moving from the Google X research lab to be a stand-alone unit directly led by Ivy Ross. Ms. Ross will report to Fadell, who will continue to run Nest while providing strategic guidance to the Glass team. The report notes that Google also plans to stop selling the initial version of Glass to consumers, planning a new version of Glass to be released sometime later this year. The new strategy is expected to follow the more Apple- and Nest-like approach of unveiling fully-finished products rather than deploying large, public tests of hardware prototypes as Google previously did under the Glass Explorer program.

Bluetooth SIG announces Bluetooth 4.2

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has officially announced the adoption of Bluetooth 4.2. The new specification provides privacy, security, speed, and reliability improvements, with data transfer rates up to 2.5 times faster than previous versions, and reduced battery consumption. The new specification also includes an upcoming Internet Protocol Smart Profile (IPSP), expected to be ratified by year-end, which will extend Bluetooth to provide direct Internet access capabilities for smart devices via IPv6, allowing existing network infrastructure to be used to manage Bluetooth Smart devices rather than relying on proprietary protocols and gateway devices.

Verizon sponsoring ad-free listening to all U.S. iTunes Radio users

As part of its “Connection Day” promotion, Verizon is sponsoring a virtually ad-free iTunes Radio experience today. Featuring “limited interruptions,” instead of seeing normal ads on the service, iTunes Radio listeners will instead just see the message “Enjoy with limited interruptions courtesy of Verizon.” A banner ad will also occasionally appear, offering lucky listeners a $5 iTunes Store credit. The promotion is available today only and applies to all iTunes Radio listeners in the U.S., not just Verizon customers. iTunes Match users, who already have an ad-free listening experience, are not eligible to access the $5 iTunes credit promotion. [via 9to5Mac]

T-Mobile required to fully disclose throttled data speeds

T-Mobile has agreed to provide more accurate information to help customers determine when their mobile data speeds are being throttled, according to a new FCC release. T-Mobile provides “capped” data plans, however unlike competing carriers, the company simply slows down data speeds when users exceed their plan thresholds, rather than billing for overages. Although T-Mobile makes no secret about this throttling process, it was discovered that the company was exempting certain speed testing services from the throttling, incorrectly reporting faster data speeds than customers were actually getting.

Under the new agreement with the FCC, T-Mobile will now send users a text message once they’ve hit their high-speed data allotment, providing a link to an accurate speed test that will show customers their actual reduced speeds. T-Mobile will also apparently provide a “button” on smartphones linking to an accurate speed test, as well as providing more disclosures both on its web site and its customer communications as to which speed tests will provide accurate results.

Steve Jobs biopic picked up by Universal, Fassbender to star

Following news last week that Sony Pictures had decided to drop Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs biopic, sources have told The Wrap that Universal Pictures will now be picking it up. Sony reportedly dropped the movie due to shooting scheduling issues around director Danny Boyle and newly attached star Michael Fassbender, however the picture now appears to be back on track with Universal’s involvement. The film is expected to highlight Jobs’ key role in three of Apple’s most high-profile product launches, including the first Macintosh, and the 2001 debut of the original iPod. Recent reports have suggested that Jobs’ oldest daughter Lisa will have a major role in the film, helping to tie the segments together. A script was written by Aaron Sorkin and based on Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of Steve Jobs. [via MacRumors]

Google settles patent litigation with Apple’s Rockstar consortium

Google has come to an agreement with patent consortium Rockstar to settle all pending litigation, Reuters reports. Although the terms of the deal were not disclosed, a Texas federal court filing made public on Monday indicated that the two companies have agreed to settle “all matters in controversy between the parties.” The Rockstar group, consisting of Apple, Microsoft, and Blackberry (formerly RIM), among others, successfully outbid Google in 2011, paying $4.5 billion for over 6,000 patents from former telecom giant Nortel, covering a wide range of Internet and wireless communications technologies. Google subsequently penned an open letter accusing the group of waging “a hostile, organized campaign against Android” using “bogus” patents.

Last October, Rockstar filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming that the company was infringing seven Nortel patents related to search engine technology. At that time, Rockstar also filed infringement lawsuits against several other Android handset manufacturers concerning other patents. However, Google intervened on behalf of the handset makers, successfully halting the Texas proceedings while it petitioned a California judge to rule that devices using the Android operating system did not infringe the cited patents. This week’s filing does not indicate whether Rockstar has also settled with the Android handset makers, or whether Google has taken any further action in that regard.

Corning announces Gorilla Glass 4

Corning has announced Gorilla Glass 4, the latest version of the chemically-strengthened glass that has been used in iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. Version 4 promises “dramatically improved performance” against drops on rough surface such as jagged streets, sidewalks, and parking lots, as screen breakage is “the #1 consumer complaint, according to Corning’s research.” Corning promises that the new version of Gorilla Glass withstands drops up to two times better than competing designs, while being just as thin and light as prior versions; it delivers marked anti-drop improvements at any thickness it’s manufactured to, and can withstand more pressure at a 0.4mm thickness than version 3 Glass at 0.7mm. While Apple sought to replace Gorilla Glass with manufactured sapphire screen covers from GT Advanced, that venture dramatically fell apart earlier this year, leaving Corning as the supplier for most of Apple’s device glass.

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