GSMA puts eSIM work ‘on hold’ due to US collusion investigation

Don't expect to see embedded SIM technology in your phone any time soon. The GSMA, which oversees key cellular standards, has placed eSIM spec work "on hold" while the US Department of Justice investigates the possibility of collusion between AT&…

Ask Engadget: What are the best apps and tools for the blind?

The support shared between readers in the comments section is one of the things we love most about the Engadget community. Over the years, we've known you to offer sage advice on everything from Chromecasts and cameras to drones and smartphones. In f…

AT&T sued for pilfering news-streaming technology

My24hournews.com filed suit against AT&T for skipping out on a $100 million deal to use the former company's news-streaming technology and hampering that's company's launch.

ZTE says export ban will ‘severely impact’ its survival

It’s been a hell of a week for ZTE. News Monday that it was being hit with a seven-year export ban sent the company scrambling. The Chinese handset maker suspended its earnings report and reportedly sent its lawyers to meet with Google to see if anything could be worked out about a punishment that could hamper its ability to utilize Android and various key services.

Four days after we first reached out, ZTE has finally offered us an official reaction to the news. And it’s a doozy. The six-paragraph official statement from corporate mulls over the punishment and reasserts ZTE’s compliance to international law, which it “regard[s] as the foundation and bottom-line of the company’s operation.”

ZTE adds that it invested “over $50 million in its export control compliance program and is planning to invest more resources in 2018.” So, why did the company get dinged by the U.S. Department of Commerce for failure to significantly reprimand staff after pleading guilty to violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea?

The company contends that the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security “ignored” its “diligent work” and progress it has made in complying with the law, calling the punishment, “unfair.” Seven years is certainly severe, given that U.S.-based companies make north of a quarter of the components used in the company’s handsets, according to estimates.

That, coupled with U.S.-based software makers, Google included, put the company in an extremely tight spot moving forward, and will likely require a complete rethink of ZTE’s business model, if upheld.

“The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE,” the company says, “but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies.” ZTE adds that it will continue to fight the ruling, taking “judicial measures,” if necessary.

The punishment comes as ZTE finds itself targeted by the U.S. government over spying charges, alongside fellow Chinese handset maker, Huawei.

 

iOS 11’s new App Store boosts downloads by 800% for featured apps

When Apple launched its new App Store in iOS 11 back in September, it aimed to offer app developers better exposure, as well as a better app discovery experience for consumers. A new study from Sensor Tower out today takes a look at how well that’s been working in the months since. According to its findings, getting a featured spot on the new App Store can increase downloads by as much as 800 percent, with the “App of the Day” or “Game of the Day” spots offering the most impact.

The app store intelligence firm examined data from September 2017 to present day to come to its conclusions, it says.

During this time, median U.S. iPhone downloads for apps that snagged the “Game of the Day” spot increased by 802 percent for the week following the feature, compared to the week prior to being featured.

“App of the Day” apps saw a boost of 685 percent.

Being featured in other ways — like in one of the new App Store Stories or in an App List — also drove downloads higher, by 222 percent and 240 percent, respectively.

The numbers seem to indicate that Apple is achieving the results it wanted with the release of its redesigned App Store.

Over the years, Apple’s app marketplace had grown so large that finding new apps had become challenging. And developers sometimes found ways to bump their apps higher in the top charts for exposure, leaving iPhone owners wondering if a new app was really that popular, or if it was some sort of paid promotion.

The iOS 11 App Store, on the other hand, has taken more of an editorial viewpoint to its app recommendations. While the top charts haven’t gone away, the focus these days is on what Apple thinks is best — not the wisdom of the masses. Apple has applied its editorial eye to things like timely round-ups of apps; curated, thematic collections; as well as articles about apps and interviews with developers. Apple also picks an app and game to feature daily, so the App Store always has fresh content and a reason for users to return.

The end result is something that’s more akin to a publication about apps, instead of a just an app marketplace.

What’s most interesting, then, in Sensor Tower’s report, are what sort of app publishers Apple has chosen to feature.

Apple had touted the App Store changes would be a way to give smaller developers more exposure. But if you’ve popped into the App Store from time to time, you may have noticed that big publishers — not indies — were having their apps featured.

In fact, an early report about the App Store revamp criticized Apple for giving big publishers too much attention. It said that apps from brands like Starbucks and CBS, or game makers like EA and Glu, weren’t exactly hurting for downloads.

But Apple’s favoring of big publishers is only true to a point, says Sensor Tower.

It found that 13 of the top 15 featured publishers (by number of features) had at least one million U.S. iPhone downloads since the launch of the new App Store last September. It’s not surprising that Apple wants to highlight these publishers. Many of them, and particularly the game publishers, have multiple popular apps. So when their apps get an update or they have a new release, consumers pay attention.

Apple, of course, wants to capitalize on that consumer interest because it shares in the revenue app publishers generate through things like paid downloads, in-app purchases and subscriptions.

However, Apple isn’t only giving the limelight to large publishers, says Sensor Tower.

It also found that 29 percent of the apps it has featured since the launch of the revamped App Store were from publishers who had fewer than 10,000 downloads during that time.

“While it’s clearly the case that big publishers are more likely to receive the largest number of features, small publishers still very much have their chance to benefit from a feature on the App Store,” said Sensor Tower’s Mobile Insights Analyst, Jonathan Briskman.

Though Sensor Tower’s published report focused only on the iOS App Store, it’s worth noting how it compares with Google Play.

Getting a featured spot on Google’s app store isn’t as impactful, the firm tells TechCrunch. The largest week-over-week increase to the median it saw there was only around 200 percent.

Image credits, all: Sensor Tower 

AT&T CEO says a new $15-per-month, sports-free streaming service is launching in a few weeks

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson revealed on Thursday the carrier’s plans to launch another live TV service called “AT&T Watch,” which would offer a cheap, $15-per-month bundle of channels for customers, and be provided to AT&T Unlimited Wireless subscribers for free. At this price point, the service would be one of the lowest on the market — less than Sling TV’s entry-level, $20-per-month package, and just a bit less than Philo’s low-cost, sports-free offering, priced at $16 per month.

Stephenson, who’s in court defending the proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner against antitrust claims, announced the service on the witness stand. He held up the soon-to-arrive AT&T Watch as a rebuttal of sorts to the Justice Department’s point about the company’s continually climbing prices for its DirecTV satellite service, according to a report from Variety.

The Justice Department is concerned that if the merger goes through, AT&T will then raise prices on Time Warner’s Turner networks, like TNT, TBS and CNN in a way that would hurt other pay TV providers.

Few other details were offered regarding AT&T Watch, beyond its price point — which is due to the fact that it will also be a sports-free offering, like Philo.

But AT&T’s advantage over competitors is the distribution provided by its AT&T Wireless business. Although its existing streaming service DirecTV Now is one of the newest on the market, it has already reached No. 2 in terms of subscribers, falling behind Sling TV.

Beyond its lack of sports, the channel lineup for AT&T Watch was not discussed, nor was an exact launch date.

Stephenson said the company hoped to launch it in the next few weeks.

AT&T switches on its pseudo-5G in over 100 locations

AT&T will launch real mobile 5G in 12 cities by the end of 2018, but before that can happen, it says it has to lay "the 5G network foundation" first. Since it's upgrading cell towers to prepare for real 5G anyway, the carrier has rolled out its p…

Technique to beam HD video with 99 percent less power could sharpen the eyes of smart homes

Everyone seems to be insisting on installing cameras all over their homes these days, which seems incongruous with the ongoing privacy crisis — but that’s a post for another time. Today, we’re talking about enabling those cameras to send high-definition video signals wirelessly without killing their little batteries. A new technique makes beaming video out more than 99 percent more efficient, possibly making batteries unnecessary altogether.

Cameras found in smart homes or wearables need to transmit HD video, but it takes a lot of power to process that video and then transmit the encoded data over Wi-Fi. Small devices leave little room for batteries, and they’ll have to be recharged frequently if they’re constantly streaming. Who’s got time for that?

The idea behind this new system, created by a University of Washington team led by prolific researcher Shyam Gollakota, isn’t fundamentally different from some others that are out there right now. Devices with low data rates, like a digital thermometer or motion sensor, can something called backscatter to send a low-power signal consisting of a couple of bytes.

Backscatter is a way of sending a signal that requires very little power, because what’s actually transmitting the power is not the device that’s transmitting the data. A signal is sent out from one source, say a router or phone, and another antenna essentially reflects that signal, but modifies it. By having it blink on and off you could indicate 1s and 0s, for instance.

UW’s system attaches the camera’s output directly to the output of the antenna, so the brightness of a pixel directly correlates to the length of the signal reflected. A short pulse means a dark pixel, a longer one is lighter, and the longest length indicates white.

Some clever manipulation of the video data by the team reduced the number of pulses necessary to send a full video frame, from sharing some data between pixels to using a “zigzag” scan (left to right, then right to left) pattern. To get color, each pixel needs to have its color channels sent in succession, but this too can be optimized.

Assembly and rendering of the video is accomplished on the receiving end, for example on a phone or monitor, where power is more plentiful.

In the end, a full-color HD signal at 60FPS can be sent with less than a watt of power, and a more modest but still very useful signal — say, 720p at 10FPS — can be sent for under 80 microwatts. That’s a huge reduction in power draw, mainly achieved by eliminating the entire analog to digital converter and on-chip compression. At those levels, you can essentially pull all the power you need straight out of the air.

They put together a demonstration device with off-the-shelf components, though without custom chips it won’t reach those

A frame sent during one of the tests. This transmission was going at about 10FPS.

microwatt power levels; still, the technique works as described. The prototype helped them determine what type of sensor and chip package would be necessary in a dedicated device.

Of course, it would be a bad idea to just blast video frames into the ether without any compression; luckily, the way the data is coded and transmitted can easily be modified to be meaningless to an observer. Essentially you’d just add an interfering signal known to both devices before transmission, and the receiver can subtract it.

Video is the first application the team thought of, but there’s no reason their technique for efficient, quick backscatter transmission couldn’t be used for non-video data.

The tech is already licensed to Jeeva Wireless, a startup founded by UW researchers (including Gollakota) a while back that’s already working on commercializing another low-power wireless device. You can read the details about the new system in their paper, presented last week at the Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation.