House passes bill that would allow cell phone unlocking

Legislation would repeal a Library of Congress decision not to issue a DMCA exemption against phone unlocking but prohibit bulk device unlocking.


The US House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday that would allow cell phone customers to unlock their devices for use on competitors’ networks.

Passed by a 295-114 vote, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act would repeal a 2012 decision by the Library of Congress that made cell phone unlocking a violation of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA, which prohibits Americans from “circumventing” technologies that protect copyrighted works, gives the Library of Congress the authority to grant exemptions.

Unlocking cell phones allows handsets to be used on a wireless network other than that of the originating carrier. It’s a process that wireless carriers are usually willing to accommodate once the customer’s wireless contract has been fulfilled. But the process became illegal last year when the Library of Congress opted not to renew a DMCA exemption, which it granted in 2006 and 2010. The change caused a stir in the wireless community and lead to an online petition that garnered some 114,322 signatures before winning the president’s support last March.

While emphasizing that the bill would legalize individual unlocking, the bill included a prohibition against bulk unlocking of device for the purpose of resale, according to a summary of the bill.

“This legislation allows any individual who wishes to unlock their cell phone for personal use to seek help from others without violating anti-circumvention provisions and clarifies that this bill does not permit the unlocking of cell phones for the purpose of bulk resale,” the summary states.

The inclusion of a clause in the bill prohibiting bulk unlocking drew criticism from consumer watchdogs. Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge withdrew its support, saying that “language recently added to the bill could be interpreted to make future unlocking efforts more difficult.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation alsodropped its support of the bill, saying that that the new legislation “sends two dangerous signals: (1) that Congress is OK with using copyright as an excuse to inhibit certain business models, even if the business isn’t actually infringing anyone’s copyright; and (2) that Congress still doesn’t understand the collateral damage Section 1201 [of the DMCA] is causing. For example, bulk unlocking not only benefits consumers, it’s good for the environment — unlocking allows re-use, and that means less electronic waste.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has already introduced his own unlocking bill, although his support for the bulk unlocking prohibition is uncertain.

The five major US wireless carriers reached a deal late last year with the Federal Communications Commission to unlock customers’ handsets, but only after the terns of their contract had been fulfilled. The deal also states that carriers can charge non-customers a fee for unlocking a phone.

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Senators propose smartphone antitheft ‘kill switch’ bill

On the heels of proposed California legislation, federal lawmakers also get on board with a bill requiring security features on all cell phones.



If the proposed bill passes, this Galaxy Note 3 would need to come with a kill switch.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Lawmakers’ bids to require a smartphone “kill switch” seem to be gaining momentum.

Following the proposal of a California bill, a handful of senators have now proposed federal legislation to require carriers to provide a security feature on all cell phones that would render the devices inoperable if stolen.

The Smartphone Theft Prevention Act is being led by Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), along with three other senators, Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). The idea is for users to be able to de-activate and remotely wipe their personal information from their phones if lost or stolen. This kill switch would be free to users.

“Cell phone theft has become a big business for thieves looking to cash in on these devices and any valuable information they contain, costing consumers more than $30 billion every year and endangering countless theft victims,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This legislation will help eliminate the incentives for criminals to target smartphones by empowering victims to take steps to keep their information private; protect their identity and finances; and render the phone inoperable to the thieves.”

Nearly one in three robberies in the US involves cell phone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission. And major cities have it even worse. In both New York City and San Francisco, more than 50 percent of the robberies involve the theft of a smartphone — what’s referred to as “Apple Picking.” In Oakland, an estimated 75 percent of street robberies involve a cell phone.

California’s kill switch bill was introduced last week — the point of this bill is to ensure the security feature is preloaded on all phones. Both the California and federal proposals build on the Secure Our Smartphones initiative founded by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

While lawmakers are working to get kill switches installed on smartphones, they’ve met resistance from carriers and the cellular industry trade group CTIA. The CTIA says kill switches carry too many risks in regard to hacking and privacy. Instead, the group says, criminalizing smartphone tampering and creating a national database of stolen cell phones should be sufficient in deterring smartphone robberies.

“Rather than impose technology mandates, a better approach would be to enact Senator Schumer’s legislation to criminalize tampering with mobile device identifiers,” CTIA Vice President of Government Affairs Jot Carpenter said in a statement, according to Re/code. “This would build on the industry’s efforts to create the stolen device databases; give law enforcement another tool to combat criminal behavior; and leave carriers, manufacturers, and software developers free to create new, innovative loss and theft prevention tools for consumers who want them.”


Despite CTIA’s suggestions, lawmakers and other officials still believe the best way to cut down on smartphone theft is the kill switch.

“In major cities across the Nation, cell phone theft has rapidly become the most common robbery and most frequent street crime,” Commissioner Chuck Ramsey, president of the Major Cities Chiefs, said. “So long as these devices are still operable, this crime trend will continue to escalate. That’s why the proposed kill switch is the only way to get the job done. We look forward to the swift passage of legislation that will ensure stolen devices no longer have any value to criminals on the street.”

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HTC confirms it will release a wearable device later this year


HTC logo

HTC Chairwoman Cher Wang has confirmed to Bloomberg that the company plans to sell its first wearable device by the end of this year.

The firm has apparently been working on wearable form factors for some time now, and it is almost ready to ship the product. Elaborating on the challenges HTC faced, Wang told the publication:

Many years ago we started looking at smartwatches and wearables, but we believe that we really have to solve the battery problems and the LCD light problems.

While the upcoming device is technically a first for HTC, the company did work with Microsoft on a smartwatch years ago.

HTC suffered sagging revenue and earnings performance last year. The company missed Wall Street expectations with its Q4 2013 earnings results. Despite being well-received by critics, HTC’s flagship One smartphone has disappointed on sales.

With its entrance into wearables, HTC is set to enter an increasingly crowded market. In addition to existing players like FitbitJawbone and Pebble, several major consumer electronics makers are betting big on the wearable market later this year.

Sony, for instance, introduced a new wearable platform called SmartBand at CES last month, while Samsung is expected to announce an update to its Galaxy Gear watch at the Mobile World Congress trade show later this month. Qualcomm released a limited-production watch last year showing off various screen and power management technologies that it has developed for wearables.  AppleGoogle and Microsoft have also been rumored to have smartwatches in the works.

Image credit: Mandy Cheng / AFP / Getty Images

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Moment’s Mobile Camera Lenses Make The Smartphone The New Interchangeable Lens System

by  (@drizzled)

A few people have come up with add-on lens solutions for the iPhone and other smartphones, and now the Moment Kickstarter project wants to take that concept further with a bayonet-mounted lens system that focus on optical quality above all else.

“We need Moment to capture better pictures with our phones. Despite their convenience, phones lack the creativity that high quality lenses can provide,” explained co-founder Marc Barros. “With Moment we put the finest of photography back in your product with beautiful lenses that capture the best images on the market.”

Barros acknowledges that there were many other options on the market already, but says that the founding team was frustrated by the “clunky design and poor image quality” of those existing solutions. Moment is compact, and provides either a case or a small adhesive attachment to provide the thin bayonet mount needed to attach its lenses to your case. The lenses themselves will come in two varieties at launch: a wide-angle and a telephoto zoom that captures pics at twice the magnification of your smartphone’s standard camera.

Backers can choose between the two at the $49 backer level, or pick up both starting at $99. The team hopes to ship the device by June, 2014 if all goes according to plan. And things should go fairly smoothly, given the founding team’s pedigree: Barros previously founded Contour cameras, which manufacturers the wearable action cam and GoPro competitor that’s sold in retail and online around the world.

Moment isn’t just coming out of nowhere, either: Barros and his team, which also includes top-flight optical engineers Michael Thomas and Russ Hudyma; as well as Richard Tait, co-founder of the board game Cranium; and Contour Chief Product Designer Erik Hedberg, have been working on the project for the past five months ahead of launching this campaign.


Of course, once the system is in people’s hands, there’s plenty of opportunity for expanding the line of lenses further. Smartphones may never be able to fully replace complicated and expensive DSLR rigs, but if Moment is successful in building a lasting company out of the idea of interchangeable lenses for the cameras we have in our pocket, they could replace pretty much everything else.

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Here Are 24 Countries Where Windows Phone Outsells The iPhone (And Why It Does)

by Gordon Kelly

Statistics may say Windows 8 is a flop but, contrary to popular opinion, Windows Phone is far from down and out in the battle for our mobile affections. In fact in many parts of the world sales are rocketing past the iPhone.

This month Microsoft MSFT -0.57% broke these areas down country by country and confirmed exactly where Windows Phone is specifically outselling the iPhone. The list reads as follows:

Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Ecuador, Finland, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.

Interestingly in 14 of these markets – Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, India, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, Vietnam – Windows Phone has taken second place in the sector, stepping past former strongholds for BlackBerry and Symbian which had also previously edged out iOS.

TMobile Lumia 521

Furthermore, the context for this data is solid. It comes from global smartphone sales in Q3 2013 byindependent market analyst IDC, which also points out Microsoft only led iPhone sales in seven countries in Q3 2012. Sales are also up 156 percent during the last 12 months, triple Android’s annual growth and 6x that of iOS.

But there are significant caveats.

• 156 percent is easier to achieve on a younger platform with a smaller market share
• Italy and Finland aside, Windows Phone is primarily growing is poorer nations where the iPhone is prohibitively expensive
• Q3 is typically a slow period for Apple AAPL +0.46% with sales dipping ahead of expected iPhone refreshes
• iPhone sales boom over the Christmas period and Q4 figures have yet to be announced
• Windows Phone sales are most in the low end with the Lumia 5210 (top) and 520 accounting for 42.4 percent of all shipments
• Nokia accounts for 93.2 percent of all Windows Phone handset sales highlighting little traction or interest from companies where Microsoft does not have control

As such, it is possible for cynics to argue Windows Phone is gaining in markets where the iPhone doesn’t compete and making little headway where it does. Except this isn’t true either.

Windows Phone Is Fast Becoming A Hit In Europe

ComTech-des13-dataClick to enlarge

supporting release for researcher Kantar in December (figures right) points out that Europe as a whole is quickly warming to Windows Phone at the expense of iOS. Across the ‘EU5’ (Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain) iOS market share fell 5 percent over the last 12 months to 15.8 percent while Windows Phone has leapt from 4.8 percent to 10.2 percent (Android grew from 64.5 percent to 70.9 percent).

Most marked is the aforementioned Italy, where a 12.8 percent market shift in 12 months now sees Windows Phone lead iOS 16.1 percent to iOS on 10.1 percent, but there is also Spain where both platforms are tied on 4.3 percent (though Android has a massive 90.1 percent). France also sees an 11 percent shift between Windows Phone and iOS in the last year with the former now at 12.5 percent versus the latter’s 15.9 percent.

Britain remains iOS’s biggest ally in Europe where its market share of 28.7 percent is nearly triple Windows Phone’s 11.9 percent, though that still represents an 11.3 percent shift over the last 12 months in Microsoft’s favor.

As such, only two nations really remain iOS fortresses: the US, where iOS dominates Windows Phone 40.8 to 4.8 percent, and Japan where iOS rules all the platforms with 61.1 percent of the market.


So what can we make of this? In short that generalists on both sides are talking nonsense. Windows Phone is still struggling to shift higher end devices, but clear traction is not restricted to developing countries. Developed countries, particularly in Europe where iOS has previously been dominant, are showing strong shifts towards Windows Phone.

Should Apple care? Perhaps not. In only shipping two relatively expensive models with high margins it still dominates the earnings across all platforms (including Android) but this will cause it to lose market share. Should it enter the low end, Apple arguably only risks cannibalizing its own sales and profit margins.

But make no mistake, Windows Phone is no joke. Its force may not be felt in the US but it is growing fast and winning friends around the rest of the world. Yes, much of this may be in the low end, but that has never been a bad gateway to more premium products long term.

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Sony could launch its Xperia Z Ultra phone as a WiFi-only ‘tablet’


We’ve seen many a tablet turn into a road warrior — or even a huge phone — with the addition of a SIM card. A phone becoming a tablet is a much scarcer transformation, but if any device can make that switch, it’s Sony’s nearly iPad mini-sized 6.44-inch, 1080p Xperia Z Ultra handset. A variation of that model (the SGP412) has appeared at the FCC packing a Snapdragon 800 MSM8074 SoC processor sans mobile baseband radio, normally used in WiFi-only tablet variants. New application photos of a half-submerged test model show it to be just as dunkable as before, while still packing 2GB of RAM, 32GB of memory, a microSD slot, 3,000mAh battery and an 8-megapixel camera. There’s no official word about the device, let alone pricing and a launch date, but when it does come, it’ll likely need to beat the mini’s $399 sticker — nearly half the Xperia Z Ultra’s off-contract price.

VIA: Xperia Guide


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Korean report: LG G3 to launch in May, to pack a QHD display?


LG Brand Closeup  AA 2014

According to sources in the Korean media, the flagship LG G3 smartphone will be released sooner than you may have expect- pencil May 17th into your diary LG fans.

The latest news from Korea also reveals a new important detail about the LG G3, the inclusion of a QHD display. QHD is a massive resolution of 1440×2560, that’s four times as many pixels as a 720p display, matching something you might find in a large PC monitor. It seems like overkill for a device that’s speculated to be sized at 5.5 inches, especially when you compare it with the fantastic 1080p screen in the 5.2 inch LG G2. Even so, a QHD G3 seems quite likely, the LG G Pro 2 is also expected to be heading our way a little sooner, possibly as early as February, with an equally high display resolution.

Interestingly, a May release shortens the refresh cycle for LG’s flagship smartphones, the G2 was only released in September of last year. This is probably an attempt to avoid being caught in the dust trail of Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S5, which is also rumoured to be sporting a QHD display and could be heading our way anytime around April or May.

We should be able to confirm, or deny, these details during February’s MWC, where LG is expected to officially announce the G3 alongside some new wearable technology.

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