Facebook to Remove Messaging From Mobile Apps, Force Download of ‘Messenger’

Facebook Messenger

Facebook is taking its standalone app strategy to an extreme new level on Wednesday. It’s starting to notify users they’ll no longer be able to send and receive messages in Facebook for iOS and Android, and will instead have to download Facebook Messenger to chat on mobile. In an on stage talk I did with Mark Zuckerberg in November, the EO revealed an explanation for today’s change that Facebook’s PR team referred me to: “the other thing that we’re doing with Messenger is making it so once you have the standalone Messenger app, we are actually taking messaging out of the main Facebook app. And the reason why we’re doing that is we found that having it as a second-class thing inside the Facebook app makes it so there’s more friction to replying to messages, so we would rather have people be using a more focused experience for that.”

Read the full story at TechCrunch.

Google Will Let Anyone in the U.S. Buy Google Glass on April 15

Google Glass

Even if you don’t have a Google Glass Explorer invitation, you can soon get your hands on Google’s wearable computer. On Thursday, the company announced a limited promotion on April 15 that opens the doors to anyone in the U.S. to become an Explorer and get a pair of Google Glass with a free frame or shade. This news followed a Verge report that Google was considering such a promotion. Does this say anything about Google Glass in the consumer market? Perhaps. The company has steadily increased availability of Glass Explorer invites over the prior year, meaning that they’re less exclusive than they were prior. Some Google Play Music All Access subscribers, for example, could purchase Glass starting in December. At $1,500, these aren’t an impulse purchase, so I’m wondering if maybe nearly everyone who wants Glass at that price already has the product.

Read the full story at Giga OM, and the original report at The Verge.

Google Glass Promotion

Report: iOS 7 May Hit iPhones and iPods Before it Comes to iPads

iOS 7

Apple is supposedly having an event on September 10, and one of the rumored announcements for this hypothetical event is the final version of iOS 7. While support is planned for the iPhones 4, 4S, and 5; the fifth-generation iPod touch; and the iPad 2, iPad mini, and both Retina iPads, a report from 9to5Mac says that the tablet builds are running behind the phone builds and may be delayed slightly. Citing “chatter within Apple” and a feeling among developers that the iPad builds are relatively “unstable and unreliable,” the report says that Apple may opt to upgrade its tablets in a 7.0.1 release that trails the iPhone’s upgrade by a few weeks. The beta builds of iOS 7 also came to the iPhones first-the public beta introduced after WWDC supported iPhones and iPods, but it wasn’t until Beta 2 was issued two weeks later that the software could be installed on iPads.

Read the full story at Ars Technica.

Apple Announces the iPhone is Headed to China on January 17

iPhone 5s

Apple and China Mobile just announced that they’ve reached an agreement that will see the iPhone 5s and 5c launch on the China Mobile’s 4G and 3G networks early next year. Pre-registration is supposed to begin on December 25, with phones actually available on January 17 of next year. “China is an extremely important market for Apple and our partnership with China Mobile presents us the opportunity to bring iPhone to the customers of the world’s largest network,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in the release. China Mobile says it has more than 760 million customers. Apple has been in talks with the network since 2011, and The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that a deal had been reached. According to a recent report from Canalys, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan collectively account for 39 percent of the global smartphone market, with Apple ranking fifth in the region’s smartphone sales.

Read the full story at TechCrunch.

Uber Begins Offering Ride-Sharing Option for Cheaper Fares

Uber Taxi

Uber, the San Francisco start-up that gained something of a cult following by helping people summon a luxury sedan with a smartphone app, is trying something new for people who ride with friends. It said on Monday that it would add the ability to split fares between multiple passengers with a few button taps. The fare-splitting feature will become available when iPhone and Android users download a software update. To split a fare, a user requests a ride and then taps an arrow next to the driver’s information. An option labeled “Split fare” will show up, and the user can select friends from his or her address book. The friends then receive a text message from Uber with a link to tap on. Those who are registered with Uber will be directed to the app, and those who are not will be asked to downloaded the app, sign up for an account and enter their credit card information. The app will take care of the payment at the end of the trip.

Read the full story at the New York Times.

AT&T’s ‘Next’ Follows T-Mobile’s ‘Jump,’ Allows for Mobile Upgrades Every 12 Months

AT&T

Rather than “rethinking possible,” AT&T is rethinking its plans, as it becomes the latest wireless carrier to offer customers the option to upgrade their phones more frequently. Starting July 26, AT&T will offer new “Next” plans for smartphones and tablets, on a post-paid basis. The plan allows customers to trade in their devices (feature phones excluded) every 12 months, provided the customer pays a monthly installment fee based on a 20-month cycle. So, you would take the full retail price of a smartphone or tablet, divide it by 20 and add that cost to your monthly traditional or family-share AT&T plan. Twelve months later, you trade in that device for a new one, and a new cycle begins. If you decide you want a new phone before the 12 months is up, Next owners still owe the cost of the remaining months’ fees.

Read the full story at All Things D.

Report: Verizon’s ‘VZ Edge’ Would Let Customers Pay Monthly for Smartphones, Upgrade Early

Verizon

Back in April, after extending upgrade periods to a full 24 months, Verizon introduced a new device payment that would allow customers to upgrade phones by purchasing them at full prices with the payments spread out over a 12-month period. According to sources of ours, Verizon will introduce a new upgrade initiative on August 25 called “VZ Edge” that will allow customers to upgrade their phones much more frequently to “stay on the leading edge of technology.” In an training slide detailing the new plan, we can see that Verizon is offering up VZ Edge as a way for customers to avoid signing contracts and upgrade fees, while remaining on the “best network” and with the latest devices. All of the specifics are not yet available, but this slide does mention that if customers are on the previously mentioned monthly payment plan, that they can upgrade to a new device at any time once they have paid off 50% of their current phone.

Read the full story at Droid-Life.

Cablevision and Time Warner Bring WiFi HotSpots to NYC Parks

New York City

Mayor Bloomberg’s government is often finding ways to keep The Big Apple as connected to the internet as can be. Tuesday, in an effort to bring more connectivity options to its residents (and tourists), the City of New York announced that it’s teaming up with Cablevision and Time Warner Cable to add WiFi hotspots to 32 parks across the five boroughs. Of course, these will be available in addition to free services already provided by companies such as AT&T in select parts of the city. Unlike with similar offerings, however, these new hotspots will require potential users to be Cablevision Optimum Online or Time Warner Cable broadband subscribers in order to get free access. Those who have the proper credentials will be able to connect gratis via a WiFi-enabled device anytime, while non-subscribers can do so at no cost for up to 30 minutes every 30 days, or for 99 cents per day.

Read the full story at Engadget.

Microsoft Releases Outlook Web App for iOS

Microsoft Outlook

Microsoft is releasing another Office app for iOS, kind of. The new Office Web App for iPhone and iPad is designed for businesses who use Office 365 to access the full functionality of Outlook Web App. Although Microsoft has been supporting a web version of this previously, the software maker has packaged it up into a “native” app for iOS. If your work place subscribes to Office 365 then the benefits are clear, but if it’s not then it’s useless for those thousands of Exchange servers that run in enterprises today. The app does package together Mail, Calendar, and people into one neat package though. There’s also a navigation screen that includes Live Tiles of information. Microsoft has built in voice input too, allowing users to executive commands like “open Calendar for tomorrow.” Most of the UI is very similar to the existing Outlook Web App for Office 365, and apps for Outlook will work here too.

Read the full story at The Verge.

The Copycat Culture of Tech Hits the Mobile World in Full Force

T-Mobile Jump

Tech culture is a funny thing. If you track tech news, releases and new ideas closely enough, you’ll notice there’s a very apparent trend that pops up all the time:

  1. Some company has a truly original idea.
  2. Every competing company copies that idea.

It’s funny and sad at the same time, and it’s the same thing that happens every time there’s a truly unique idea in the tech world.

A Truly Original Idea

The most recent example of this has been the ability for tech-happy smartphone owners to upgrade their phones far more often than once every two years. T-Mobile made a big splash in the mobile market last week when it announced ‘Jump,’ which would give customers two mobile upgrades every year for an extra $10 per month. (As a refresher to the new way T-Mobile sells smartphones since they no longer have mobile contracts, you can catch up here.)

Jump is a great idea! A truly original idea. People love upgrading their phones and hate having to wait 20 months two years for a new gadget. (Let’s put aside the fact that you don’t save a much money by constantly upgrading your phones and you no longer have back-up phones to give someone or use in case of emergency. It’s still a very original idea.)

… and the Rest Shall Follow

You know what’s NOT original? The fact that AT&T just announced an almost identical program: Next. (All Things D notes that AT&T issued a memo teasing Next before T-Mobile announced Jump, so it’s unclear whose idea came first. The bottom line is still the same: derivative ideas.) Next would be slightly different from T-Mobile’s plans in a few ways: You’re eligible for an upgrade every 12 months, not six; you don’t need to put a down payment on your device; and there’s no additional monthly fee. It would be more forgivable of a copycat if it was better, but the numbers don’t add up. T-Mobile’s not scared, either, as an executive said it’s a “poor imitation” of Jump.

Want to hear a funny story? Verizon’s reportedly planning the same type of program, called VZ Edge, which would launch in August. The plan is almost identical to Next, which means it, too, is a slight derivation on Jump.

It’s just that type of copycat culture. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sprint announce something similar, except Sprint seems to be doing its own thing over there, with Unlimited, My Way essentially giving you unlimited everything forever and ever.

Not an Isolated Incident

Think back to the biggest tech breakthroughs of the last few years: iPhone, iPad, etc. Every major breakthrough has been imitated and copied and modded and tweaked by just about every company under the sun. I’ve just never seen it happen as quickly as we’ve seen phone carriers do their thing this week.

And this isn’t the last time we’ll see this type of behavior this year. The Pebble Smartwatch was last year’s Kickstarter darling, and recently hit store shelves. You know who else is interested in the smartwatch business? Oh, just about everyone: Google. Apple. Mozilla. Microsoft. TomTom. Sony. Dell. It’s amazing. For a while, I seemed to be posting a story about a new company wanting to enter the smartwatch business… and I know we’ll see the same thing once Google Glass becomes more prevalent.

Innovation breeds competition, which helps create better products for all of us to buy and use. I’d just like to see more unique ideas, rather than everyone piling on whichever bandwagon is hot this hour.