A new report suggests that Apple may announce plans to release an iMessage app for Android at next week’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. According to “a source familiar with the company’s thinking” cited by MacDailyNews, Apple’s goal behind such a move would be to focus more on its service offerings beyond its own iOS and OS X platforms, specifically pointing to reports that Apple is looking to add person-to-person Apple Pay payments via its messaging platform. The move would not be unprecedented, considering the release of Apple Music for Android devices late last year, and would potentially improve the messaging user experience for iOS users who have close friends and family members using Android devices, allowing them to communicate using iMessage features with all of their contacts, including the ability to properly participate in group messaging conversations, share videos and photos in full resolutions, and avoid other carrier SMS restrictions. While the source noted that the timing of the actual announcement could change between now and Monday, they emphasized that the iMessage service would “definitely” be coming to Android at some point this year.
The Bluetooth SIG appears to be on the verge of releasing the next generation of the Bluetooth specification, dubbed Bluetooth 5. In an email sent to SIG members, Executive Director Mark Powell revealed that the Core Specification Working Group is currently finalizing the next release, and that on June 16 the SIG will formally announce it, marketed simply as “Bluetooth 5.” Powell adds that the new branding drops version and point numbers in marketing in order to simply communications. Powell goes on to explain some of the technical benefits of Bluetooth 5, confirming previous reports that it will “quadruple the range and double the speed” for lower-energy Bluetooth communications, and will also deliver new functionality for location-relevant information and navigation designed to provide increased support and simpler deployment of beacons and Bluetooth location-based services around the world. Full details are expected to be revealed during a media event in London on June 16.
The Unicode Consortium has approved 72 new emoji for inclusion in the Unicode 9.0 standard, scheduled for release this month, expanding on the existing base of 1,601 emoji with a handful of new symbols that have long been requested. The new emoji build on existing themes, such as facial expressions, animals, and food, and a new roster of sports and medal-style characters have also been introduced in time for the Rio Olympics. Specific new emoji include a selfie, shrugs, clowns, face palms, and rolling-on-the-floor-laughing, while new animals include bats, rhinos, owls, and sharks. Croissants, pancakes, bacon, avocados, and kiwi fruit will be added to the food roster. Although the Unicode 9.0 standard becomes official this month, Apple will still have to add support for the new emoji to iOS. With the announcement of iOS 10 around the corner, it’s unclear whether these will appear in a coming point update to iOS 9 or whether users will have to wait until iOS 10, likely in the fall, before seeing the new characters.
The Los Angeles Police Department successfully hacked into a locked iPhone 5s belonging to the slain wife of “The Shield” actor Michael Jace, according to a new report from the Los Angeles Times. Reviewing court papers, The Times discovered that LAPD detectives were able to hire an outside an outside “forensic cellphone expert” who was able to “override the locked iPhone function” and gain access to the data. The case notably involves an iPhone 5s, which has previously been considered more secure than the iPhone 5c involved in the San Bernardino case, although it wasn’t specified which version of iOS the phone was using, or whether Touch ID was enabled.
After a rocky rollout, disappointing box office returns and pointed criticism from those who knew the Apple founder best, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs biopic is available on Blu-ray and DVD today. The film, which traces Jobs’ life alongside three of his most iconic product launches, met with mostly positive reviews and garnered Academy Award nominations for stars Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, but never really caught on with the general movie-going audience and was pulled from theaters after two weeks. Despite ruffling plenty of feathers at Apple, the movie arrived on iTunes today, though with no promotion or fanfare.
Accessory manufacturer Zagg has announced that it has signed a merger agreement to acquire iPhone battery case maker Mophie for $100 million plus additional adjusted earnings over $100m across a 12-month earn-out period. In a press release on Zagg’s website, the company notes that the combination of the two companies will create a market share leader in the battery case, external battery, screen protection, and tablet keyboard accessory categories, and that the combined 2015 net sales of the two companies were about $470 million. The merger will also create expanded distribution opportunities for both companies, and allow strengthening and consolidation of engineering and manufacturing resources in China. The merger is expected to close during the first quarter of 2016, subject to the usual regulatory approvals.
The New York State Assembly is presently considering a new bill that would require Apple and other smartphone manufacturers to build “back doors” into their devices which would allow them to decrypt data upon request from law enforcement, according to a new report by Onthewire. New York state bill A8093, originally drafted last June, would require that any smartphone manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2016 that is “sold or leased in New York” must be “capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider.” Should the legislation pass, anybody selling a non-compliant smartphone — that is, one manufactured in 2016 that cannot be unlocked or decrypted — could be subject to a civil penalty of $2,500, and would be prohibited from passing that penalty on in the price of the smartphone.
Despite having agreed earlier this month to pay $548 million in damages, Samsung has now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the previous verdict, according to a new Wall Street Journal report. While Samsung agreed to pay the damages to Apple as ordered in the earlier judgements, the company also made it clear at the time that it “reserves all rights to obtain reimbursement from Apple” as well as the rights to “reclaim or obtain reimbursement of any judgement amounts paid by Samsung to any entity,” should the judgement be reversed.
The Federal Aviation Administration has announced its new registration program for owners of “small unmanned aircraft,” known to most as drones. The program will require owners to register all drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds, including payloads such as on-board cameras. A short list of examples has been compiled by the FAA — for instance, Parrot’s Bebop Drone must be registered under the new program. The normal registration fee is $5, but that will be waived for owners who register within the first 30 days (Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan. 20, 2016).
Ford has announced that it will be bringing Siri Eyes-Free support to more than five million of its SYNC-equipped vehicles via a software update. The new update will be available to all vehicles equipped with the second-generation of the auto maker’s SYNC technology, dubbed “MyFord Touch” in North America, from model years 2011 to 2016, and will allow users to access Siri functions directly on their connected iPhone through the in-car control systems; a long-press of the voice recognition button on the steering wheel will engage Siri and users will then be able to issue standard Siri voice commands to place phone calls, look up phone numbers, get directions, set reminders, inquire about the weather, check and dictate text messages, and select and play music. Users will be able to download the update via Ford’s website at http://owner.ford.com.
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]
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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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.