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Bell Canada fined $1.25 million for posting of fake App Store reviews

Canadian telecommunications giant Bell Canada has agreed to pay a $1.25 million “administrative monetary penalty” to the Canadian Government for encouraging its employees to post positive ratings and reviews of the company’s free MyBell Mobile and Virgin My Account apps, according to a news release from Canada’s Competition Bureau. The case concerns reviews posted last fall, when “certain Bell employees were encouraged to post positive reviews and ratings” of the company’s apps “without disclosing that they work for Bell.” The report notes that the company “acted quickly” to remove the reviews and ratings as soon as it became aware of the matter, stated that “the postings were the result of an overzealous effort on the part of our service team to highlight the app.” In its release, the Competition Bureau noted that regardless of the company’s action, these reviews and ratings “created the general impression that they were made by independent and impartial consumers and temporarily affected the overall star rating for the apps.” In addition to paying the monetary penalty, Bell also agreed to “enhance and maintain its corporate compliance program, with a specific focus on prohibiting the rating, ranking or reviewing of apps in app stores by employees and contractors” as well as to “sponsor and host a workshop to promote, discuss and enhance Canadians’ trust in the digital economy, including the integrity of online reviews.” [via iPhone in Canada]

Amazon to ban sale of Apple TV

In a move intended to promote its own Prime Video service, Amazon is banning the sale of competing video streaming devices on its online store, Bloomberg reports. An email recently sent to its marketplace sellers noted that it will no longer be selling Apple TV and Google Chromecast devices; no new listings will be permitted and existing listings will be removed on October 29. In the email, Amazon stated that “It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.” Prime Video is not supported on the Apple TV and Google Chromecast, although of course Amazon’s own Fire TV supports the service, as do other platforms by Roku, Microsoft, and Sony, which will continue to be permitted for sale on Amazon. With the new Apple TV supporting third-party apps, it’s unclear whether Amazon may opt to build a Prime Video app for Apple’s new set-top box platform. Apple’s new Apple TV is set for release this month, but no firm release date has been announced yet.

Google launches Google Music Family Plan

Google has announced a Family Plan for its Google Play Music All Access service, 9to5Google reports. Mirroring Apple Music’s similar offering, the new Family Plan allows up to six family members to share a single plan on separate Google Accounts for $15 per month, with the ability to listen on any device, and recommendations that are tailored to each account. A single user Google Play Music All Access plan costs $10 per month, and although Google originally allowed up to four devices to stream music simultaneously with a paid account, this ability now appears to have been limited to a single device, much like competing streaming music services. Google’s new Family Plan will allow streaming from multiple devices, although it’s unclear whether users will need to use separate accounts for this capability, or if they can share a single account and music library. Rival service Spotify also announced discounted additional $5 per user memberships for family members last year, resulting in “family plans” that range from $15-$30 per month, and has yet to make those available in all countries. It is unclear at this time whether Google will be initially launching its Family Plan in the U.S. only or in all countries where the service is available.

Daimler CEO open to future Apple partnership

The CEO of Daimler — the automotive company best known for its Mercedes-Benz brand — has indicated that he’s open to “different types” of cooperation with Apple, Reuters reports. Although Damiler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche’s comments remained generally noncommittal, in an interview with Deutsche Unternehmerboerse, Zetsche simply said that “many things are conceivable,” with companies such as Apple and Google taking on a more active role in developing key software components for vehicles, and that such solutions can be “interesting for both sides.” Similar comments have been made by Volkswagen’s CEO Martin Winterkorn, suggesting it’s necessary for traditional car makers to work with technology firms to “make future cars safer and more intelligent.” While it’s unclear what role Daimler would want to take in such a partnership, Zetsche did indicate that the company would not “allow itself to be demoted to the role of dumb supplier” that merely provides hardware to third parties and loses the relationship with customers.

Nokia’s HERE Maps sold to automakers in $3.1B deal

Nokia has sold its HERE Maps mapping service to Audi, BMW and Daimler, CNET reports — a move that could set up the automakers to compete with Apple and Google in the self-driving car arena. It was reported in April that Nokia was looking to sell its maps division, and the company was believed to be courting Apple, among others.

As Apple Maps vans are rushing to map the streets of major metropolitan areas worldwide in an effort to catch up with Google — and fueling speculation about Apple’s long-rumored electric car project —  the automakers have invested $3.1 billion to acquire Nokia’s mapping technology. The deal is expected to help the companies’ vehicles collect real-time updates on traffic, parking and other variables that would make self-driving cars a more efficient means of transportation. With Apple reportedly interested in using BMW’s i3 electric car as a starting point for its own vehicle, the expensive map acquisition may even provide increased leverage for BMW in further negotiations.

Volkswagen adds CarPlay to 2016 lineup

Volkswagen has announced CarPlay support for almost its entire 2016 lineup of cars, with the first models expected to be arriving in dealerships this week. The company’s all-new Modular Infotainment Platform (MIB II) is being incorporated into the entire 2016 VW lineup, “in virtually every trim” and will include support for Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto, MirrorLink and Volkswagen’s own Car-Net connected vehicle services platform, the latter of which will integrate with VW’s iOS apps to provide features such as remote door lock and unlock, remote honk and light flash, last parked location, remote door and window status check, vehicle monitoring, and more. Volkswagen also plans to provide a VW Car-Net app for Apple Watch later this year that will allow customers to access vehicle features directly from their wrist.

Four different head unit configurations will be available depending on the trim level of the vehicle, with entry level models featuring a basic color touchscreen with a five-inch resistive 400x240 display and AUX-IN, SD card support, an iPhone/iPod-compatible USB interface, and Bluetooth support, but notably omitting CarPlay support. Select trims acrosss the entire Volkswagen line will include the “Composition Media” package which will include full CarPlay support along with a 6.3 or 6.5-inch 800x480 capacitive color touchscreen with proximity sensor along with the ability to sync two phones simultaneously, dual SD card slots, SiriusXM Radio, HD Radio, and FLAC support. Higher trim levels will offer “Discover Media” and “Discover Pro” head units which incorporate all of the features of the “Composition Media” package while adding integrated navigation features.


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.

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