BlackBerry announced another round of job cuts on Friday, this time affecting those behind making the company's smartphones and mobile applications. BlackBerry did not say how many employees will lose their jobs, nor in which facilities, but said the cuts will reach its operations across the globe. In April BlackBerry said it might close a facility in Sweden, which was responsible for designing BlackBerry's handsets. It's not clear if this new round of layoffs includes that facility, or if those cuts already took place. The company has cut costs aggressively over the last 18 months as it focuses on improving the margins of its mobile device management business. "Our intention is to reallocate resources in ways that will best enable us to capitalize on growth opportunities while driving toward sustainable profitability across all facets of our business," said BlackBerry in a statement. Despite the cuts, BlackBerry said it is still committed to its device business. The company most recently released the BlackBerry Leap, a low-cost touchscreen smartphone.
Sprint today announced launch details regarding the LG G4 smartphone, which will be available in stores and online beginning June 5. Sprint is offering a wide range of purchasing options for the phone. First, via the Sprint Lease the G4 will be available for $0 followed by $18 per month for 24 months. At the end of the lease, customers can turn the G4 in for another handset, or buyout the remaining value of the lease. Alternately, customers can use Sprint Easy Pay to finance the device over 24 months. Sprint Easy Pay doesn't require a down payment, but costs $25 per month for 24 months. Sprint will also sell the G4 for $199.99 with a standard two-year contract, or for the full retail price of $599.99 without a contract. Sprint plans to offer the plastic gray back plate or the black leather back plate. The phone has a 5.5-inch quad HD screen, Snapdragon 808 processor, and a 16-megapixel camera. Customers who preorder may receive a second 3,000mAh battery with charging cradle and a 32GB memory card for free. Preorders begin today.
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Google's Project Fi, its WiFi-and-cellular wireless offering, is moving forward slowly. Google emailed those who signed up for the project and said it won't be able to accommodate everyones' requests for months. "Over the past few weeks, we've been happy to bring the first customers onto Project Fi and the initial feedback has been very positive," said Google in the email. "We're sending invites as quickly as we can, while ensuring a high-quality experience. Given the number of requests we've received, we currently estimate that it will take until mid-summer to get to everyone." Google concluded by saying it will provide a way for people to check the status of their invites in a few weeks. Project Fi requires the Nexus 6 handset and runs on WiFi and the cellular networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, adjusting on the fly in response to the best possible connection. The service is priced at $10 per gigabyte, and Google will refund customers for the unused portion of their data allotment each month.
Microsoft packs a lot of power in the potent, pocketable Lumia 640. This Windows Phone handset offers more bang for the buck than most other handsets in Cricket's varied lineup.
AT&T has filed paperwork with the FCC hoping to gain permission to purchase three Lower 700MHz C Block licenses from East Kentucky Network. The licenses in question cover 20 counties in three Cellular Market Areas across regions of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. Because all the licenses fall below the 1GHz threshold, the FCC will used its "enhanced factor" yardstick to measure the transactions. The FCC says AT&T stands to hold 113 to 145MHz of spectrum in total, and 43 to 55MHz of below-1-GHz spectrum, in these three CMAs. The FCC has accepted AT&T's initial batch of paperwork and set a schedule to oversee the transaction. Small spectrum purchases and exchanges are common between license holders.
HTC recently made the HTC Mail application available as a stand-alone app in the Google Play Store. By separating the app from its Sense user interface, HTC is now able to update the app with new features and resolve bugs more efficiently. Previously, such updates were limited to distribution with full OS rewrites. The version available today in the Play Store doesn't add any new features over what's available to devices running the latest version of Sense. HTC Mail is free to download.
A Delaware bankruptcy judge approved the sale of RadioShack's name and certain customer data to an affiliate of Standard General for $26.2 million. One of the key issues resolved over the last seven days concerned AT&T and Apple customer data. AT&T, Apple, and several state attorneys general disapproved of the sale of the customer data, and argued RadioShack had agreed to never sell it. Under the terms of the agreement, Standard General agreed to limit its own customers to email data generated over the last two years, as well as to only provide access to seven of 170 fields of data that RadioShack kept on its customers. The sale gives Standard General access to 67 million names and email addresses, rather than the full list of 117 million. Earlier this year Standard General purchased 1,734 RadioShack stores, which it plans to operate in cooperation with Sprint.
Sprint says 16 of the 30 companies who've agreed to participate in its Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program have launched their LTE networks. The Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program is similar to Verizon Wireless' LTE in Rural America initiative. Both programs lease spectrum to small, regional providers who build out coverage in their home market areas. Under the terms of the agreement, the larger carriers' customers can roam onto the regional LTE network and vice versa. The idea is to bring coverage to areas where the larger operators might not necessarily like to commit resources to build out their own network. Sprint would not say which of its partners have launched their LTE networks. Some of the partners include SouthernLINC Wireless, nTelos Wireless, C Spire Wireless, Phoenix Wireless, Bluegrass Cellular, Pine Belt Wireless, Pioneer Cellular, and United Wireless. "Our partners use a variety of LTE bands, including bands 4, 5, 12 and 25," said Sprint's Adrienne Norton. "We're continuing to work with our device OEMs to enable additional LTE bands to expand coverage for our domestic and international roamers." Sprint's LTE footprint covers about 280 million POPs. T-Mobile, which recently disclosed that it too has leased spectrum to regional operators, also covers about 280 million POPs. AT&T and Verizon Wireless both claim to cover about 308 million POPs.
Deutsche Telekom executives today indicated they are still weighing the best path forward for T-Mobile US, especially when it comes to improving profitability. "It is our duty to go on improving the return on T-Mobile US," said CEO Tim Hoettges. "If we find a partner who will help us to do so, we will obviously consider it." Deutsche Telekom owns 66% of T-Mobile US and last year attempted sell the company to Japan's SoftBank. T-Mobile has gained more than 8 million customers in the last year, but has done so at considerable expense. Deutsche Telekom said it is under no pressure to sell T-Mobile, but the German company is making it clear that it is open to suggestions.
AT&T recently filed paperwork with the FCC seeking permission to buy some Cellular A Block and microwave point-to-point spectrum from Cellular Properties Inc. The spectrum in question covers 11 counties and parts of two Cellular Market Areas in Illinois. Further, CPI's assets and customers would be transferred to AT&T. Because the Cellular A Block spectrum falls under the 1GHz threshold, the FCC will use the "enhanced factor" litmus test in examining the request. The FCC says post-transaction AT&T would hold 45MHz of the available 134MHz low-band spectrum in the named CMAs. Low-band spectrum is valued more than mid- or high-band spectrum and requires extra consideration. The FCC has accepted AT&T's initial filing and slapped a protective order on it to keep some portions of the proceedings secret. AT&T contends the deal will help improve its own network in the area while also opening up its services to CPI's existing customers. A dollar value on the transaction was not disclosed.
Cyanogen today announced the Cyanogen Platform SDK, a new tool meant to make developing for Cyanogen easier. Cyanogen describes the Platform SDK as an open-source tool that lets developers use existing APIs within CyanogenMod's framework or to create their own APIs for the greater community. Cyanogen believes approaching its platform from an SDK/API perspective will be less daunting than approaching the platform as a whole. The organization is offering an alpha-level SDK with an introductory API for the Quick Settings Tile. Cyanogen hopes developers will take a look and eventually contribute to its platform. Cyanogen is based on Google's Android operating system, but the organization has broken away from Google's version in favor of its own. Earlier this year Cyanogen partnered with Microsoft and will include Microsoft's productivity apps in its operating system. Cyanogen has lots of documentation ready for developers and looking forward to community submissions to the Cyanogen Platform SDK.
T-Mobile today announced a handful of device and service promotions that will become available over the holiday weekend. To start, T-Mobile is offering a free memory upgrade to buyers of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. From May 23 through May 25, the 64 GB model will cost the same as the 32 GB model. Customers who buy the 32 GB will receive a $50 Visa gift card. Following their appearance on T-Mobile's web site earlier this month, the company shared pricing details for the LG Stylo and Leon. The Stylo will cost $289.92 at full retail or $12.08 per month and the Leon will cost $149.76 at full retail or $6.24 per month. T-Mobile Prepaid customers can score the Leon for free with an online rebate. T-Mobile-owned MetroPCS will also sell the Stylo and Leon for $199 and $49, respectively, after online rebates. Customers who switch to MetroPCS from a competing carrier will receive a free LG Leon or $50 toward the phone of their choice. Last, MetroPCS is recirculating the 4x100 promotion. Customers can get four lines with unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB of data per line for a total of $100.
Spotify today introduced new features to its streaming music service on the desktop and on mobile devices. The biggest change involves how people discover music and create playlists. A feature called Spotify Now purports to know what listeners want to hear at different times of the day and can automatically generate playlists for different activities, such as commuting, working, and relaxing. The service is also adding video content, which will come from a variety of sources, such as Comedy Central, Vice, ESPN, NBC, Adult Swim, TED, and others. Much of the video content will focus on music and will be short-form clips rather than long shows or episodes. The company is also targeting runners with new music controls that make it easier to select and control playlists while exercising. Spotify is placing an emphasis on discovering the songs that match tempo to the runner's pace. Spotify uses on-device sensors to determine pace and can do so very quickly. The company thinks this can help runners improve their workouts. Spotify has apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. The new apps will reach consumers in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and Sweden today, with other regions following over time.
AT&T today said some of its retailer partners are going to offer only AT&T Next plans beginning June 1. These retailers, like Walmart, may have national footprints, but the change is only being made in some locations that AT&T would not name. AT&T itself will continue to offer contracts at company-owned stores, as well as via its web site, telesales, and most other third-party retailers. "We regularly consider any number of offers that might appeal to our customers," said an AT&T spokesperson to Cellphone Room, "but [we] can share that two year contracts remain a part of our portfolio of offerings." AT&T said it believes customers prefer to have choice. While many of its customers are moving to AT&T Next plans -- which break up device payments over time -- some of its customers still want subsidized handsets and don't mind signing contracts to get them. The change being made by some of AT&T's retail partners does not represent a change in strategy for AT&T. AT&T Next plans are the carrier's response to T-Mobile's Simple Choice plans, which forgo contracts and also break up device payments over time. Sprint and Verizon have their own device payment plans, too. The device payment plans have become popular with consumers because they don't require contracts and often allow people to upgrade to new phones at a faster rate.
Cricket Wireless recently added the ZTE Fanfare to its lineup of inexpensive handsets. The Fanfare has a 4.5-inch screen with 854 x 480 pixels. It is protected by Dragontail glass. The Fanfare is powered by a 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon 200 processor and comes with 1 GB of RAM and 4 GB of ROM. The Fanfare's main camera has a 5-megapixel sensor and can capture 720p HD video, and the user-facing camera has a VGA sensor. A 2,000mAh battery keeps the Fanfare running. The device has Google's Android 4.4 KitKat on board. Walmart is selling the ZTE Fanfare for Cricket Wireless. It is priced at $69.88.
Google today announced that it is adding tweets to search results. Tweets will now appear alongside standard results when users search from Google.com, from the Google app on Android and iOS devices, or from any mobile browser. Google believes bringing tweets to search results is a good way for people to read about things as they unfold. Google put tweets in search results several years ago but eventually removed them. For now this feature is limited to English. Google said it plans to add more languages over time.
Instagram today made its Layout application available to the Android platform. Available to the iPhone since March, Layout makes it easier to assemble collages through custom layouts, easy access to photos containing people, and a handful of tools such as pinch-to-zoom and other effects. Layout also features a photo booth function that lets users take pictures on the spot and create instant collages in the moment. Layout for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store. Instagram also updated its main app for Android with a new feature called Structure. According to Instagram, Structure helps bring out details and textures in photos. This feature will reach the iPhone soon. Instagram for Android is also free to download from the Play Store.
Apple today made available Watch OS 1.0.1, the first system update for the wearable since its release in April. Apple focused on ridding the Watch of bugs and made a number of performance improvements. For example, Siri should function more consistently and the Watch is better at measuring standing activity. The Watch can now calculate calories for indoor cycling and rowing, as well as measure distances and paces during outdoor walk and run workouts. Watch OS 1.0.1 makes tweaks to accessibility and adds support for new emoji. Last, the Watch now speaks, Brazilian Portuguese, Danis, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, Thai, and Turkish. The update must be installed through the companion iPhone.