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FCC serves notice to ISPs on speeds

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Worried that you are not getting the broadband speed that you Internet service provider promised? The FCC has an app for that.

The agency issued an advisory today reminding ISPs that they must disclose accurate information about connectivity speeds and services for home and mobile broadband. The Federal Communications Commission has received hundreds of complaints on the issue over the last several months.

The FCC adopted ISP transparency provisions in 2011 as part of the Open Internet rules. That Open Internet Transparency Rule remains active even though a federal court struck down some of the agency's Open Internet rules as part of the ongoing legal battle over net neutrality.

The agency would not comment on whether it had any ongoing investigations into ISP speed issues. Its transparency rule requires that ISPs make available information about expected and actual broadband speeds, pricing and fees, as well as network management practices, "such as congestion management practices and the types of traffic subject to those practices," the advisory reads.

"Consumers deserve to get the broadband service they pay for. After today, no broadband provider can claim they didn't know we were watching to see that they disclose accurate information about the services they provide," said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement. "The FCC's transparency rule requires that consumers get the information they need to make informed choices about the broadband services they purchase. We expect providers to be fully transparent about the details of their services, and we will hold them accountable if they fall down on this obligation to consumers."

Consumers should test their home broadband speeds using online tests and notify the FCC if their Net service doesn't meet its advertised speed. And to test mobile broadband speeds, the FCC has a Mobile Broadband Speed Test App for Android and iOS devices. Complaints can be filed on the FCC's site.

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider

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Amazon’s first phone may Fire up smartphone market

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Amazon.com has sold a gazillion phones through the years, but until now, the e-commerce giant has never had to sell an Amazon phone. That changes with this week's release of Fire, the first smartphone designed by Amazon.

To contend with Apple, Samsung and myriad other smartphone rivals, an Amazon phone would have to be markedly better — or at least markedly different — what with Amazon coming at this so late.

Fire is different, thanks to an inventive take on 3-D and other new features, but it's also an attractive and solidly built quad-core 5.6-ounce phone with stereo speakers, a lovely 4.7-inch display and a high-quality camera. And sure, you gotta love shopping on Amazon. The device is designed to draw and keep Amazon.com customers inside a digital ecosystem that numbers 33 million songs, apps, games, TV shows, movies, books and then some.

But there's also a considerable learning curve, and I'm not ready to declare that the Fire phone is better than other premium-price handsets — this one starts at $199.99 with AT&T. Still, I like this phone and expect many features to light your fire, if not immediately, then in the future.

The innovation starts with a head-spinning 3-D-like feature Amazon refers to as Dynamic Perspective, made possible through the use of four ultra-low-power specialized cameras and four infrared LEDs. It's dripping with potential, though Amazon says a scant few of the 185,000 apps available for the Fire phone can exploit the new feature at launch. You can see where developers will be able to make good use of Dynamic Perspective in immersive gaming environments and other apps.

Your first glimpse at Dynamic Perspective comes on the lock screen. With the phone stationary, as you move your head, the foreground and background change perspective accordingly. It's a neat special effect that, unlike other 3-D displays I've encountered, didn't induce nausea.

Depending on the app or screen, as you go on to tilt, twist, swivel or move the phone from side to side or up and down, icons subtly move, scrolling happens, panels of menus, notifications and information appear and disappear again. This takes getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, the gestures mean you can often navigate with one hand.

In the USA TODAY app, for example, a flick of the wrist summons menus for News, Sports, Life, Money, Tech and other sections, and shortcuts to top stories. A similar gesture in Yelp brings up a menu from which you can search or check into eateries.

If you're listening to a song, lyrics can appear in a right panel.

In an app called Clay Doodle, the clay that you're trying to mold into an object moves and gets bigger or smaller as you approach or retreat.

As you navigate the phone, however, there are times you'll miss the absence of a dedicated "back" button, at least until you figure out the "swipe up" alternative.

Amazon has improved the home screen "carousel" interface of recently used apps familiar to Kindle Fire tablet users. (Amazon layers its own interface on top of Android.) There are now real-time updates you can act on immediately. Under a carousel icon for the Zillow real estate app, for example, you can see listings of homes for sale in the area.

Equally interesting is a new Firefly feature. By long-pressing a button on the edge of the phone, the rear camera becomes a souped-up scanner, capable of reading bar codes, QR codes, physical products, printed Web addresses, URLs, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and much more — more than 100 million items, Amazon claims.

I like that you can use Firefly to leverage the Amazon-owned IMDb X-Ray feature to not only recognize 245,000 movies and TV shows, but to deliver information on the plot or the actors in the precise scene you're watching. Firefly can also recognize 35 million songs, then create an instant custom radio station inside the iHeart Radio app. Or you can order concert tickets via StubHub.

Of course, Firefly is also a great big shortcut to the Amazon storefront. If a book is recognized, you can purchase the physical book, Kindle book, or audio book from the phone.

Firefly didn't work every time — you need decent connectivity — but I got it to recognize a Smucker's Apple Butter container, Poland Spring water and phone numbers in newspapers, posters, even on the side of a truck. You can instantly call, text or add the number to your contacts.

Alas, only 150 to 175 apps can take advantage of one or more of the new features (Dynamic Perspective, Firefly or the enhanced carousel view.)

When I wasn't using Firefly, the (13-megapixel) rear camera got good results shooting pictures and video.

Fire also incorporates the live 24-by-7 video support Mayday feature. I was a fan when it was introduced on the Kindle Fire HDX tablet; it's great for learning how to tackle an obscure feature. It's welcome on the phone, too, but I ran into connectivity problems at times trying to reach Mayday staffers.

Where does Fire lack a spark? A voice-assistant feature for making calls, sending messages or surfing by voice is weak compared with Apple's Siri, Google Now and Windows Phone's Cortana.

There's no fingerprint scanner as on the iPhone 5s or Samsung Galaxy S5, and Fire isn't water resistant, as is the Galaxy and some phones. The screen froze once. The glass back is prone to smudges. The battery is sealed.

You're limited to AT&T for now as Amazon's exclusive Fire partner. At $199, Fire isn't cheap, though it does come with 32 gigabytes of internal storage, 12 months of Amazon Prime (on-demand movies and TV shows, Kindle lending library access, two-day free shipping) and unlimited storage for your photos on Amazon's Cloud Drive.

There are reminders as you use the phone that this is Amazon's first go at it. But it's a strong first effort. Expect Fire to fire up the smartphone market.

E-mail: ebaig@usatoday.com; follow @edbaig on Twitter

The bottom line

Amazon Fire

$199 on two-year AT&T contract (32 GB) or $299.99 (64 GB). No-contract price is $649.99.

www.amazon.com

Pro. Solid and attractive phone has lovely screen. Dynamic Perspective has 3-D-like effect. Firefly. Mayday live tech support. Tangle-free ear buds. 12 months of Amazon. Unlimited cloud storage for photos.

Con. Learning curve. Voice assistant not as good as rivals. Fewer apps, too. Limited to one carrier (AT&T).

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Only one ‘iTime’ inventor still at Apple

SAN FRANCISCO — Two-thirds of the brainpower behind Apple's iTime smart watch patent no longer work at the company, but are working at rival Google.

Apple on Tuesday received a patent for an electronic wristwatch that in some drawings was labeled iTime.

The three inventors on the patent, No. 8,787,006B2, are Albert Golko, Mathias Schmidt and Felix Alvarez, all located in the San Francisco Bay area.

Of the three, only Golko — a former Motorola engineer whose LinkedIn profile says he's in iPod/iPhone product development — is still at Apple, according to the LinkedIn profiles of all three.

Schmidt is a product design engineer at Nest Labs, the Internet-connected thermostat company bought by Google. (That $3.2 billion acquisition was seen in part as a skills grab, as several of the Nest engineers came from Apple's groundbreaking iPod design team).

Felix Alvarez describes himself as a product design engineer at Google, which he joined in 2010. He has worked at Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Mobile Devices, where he worked on the Motorola Z9 slider phone for AT&T.

The departures are emblematic of Silicon Valley's tech scene, where established firms are in a fierce battle over top talent. Apple has dominated the smartphone market, but its share is growing at a slower rate as consumers turn to Samsung and phones with Google's Android operating system. Apple and Google are in fierce battle for what's seen as the next frontier for mobile technology — wearables.

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Apple gets patent for ‘iTime’ watch

Apple gets patent for 'iTime' watch

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Apple gets patent for 'iTime' watch

Apple's new smartwatch will apparently be called "iTime." The company was granted a patent Tuesday for a "mobile electronic device," complete with diagrams and a monicker for the new gizmo: 'iTime.'

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LOS ANGELES — Apple's new smartwatch will apparently be called "iTime."

The company received a patent approval Tuesday for a "mobile electronic device," complete with diagrams and a monicker for the new gizmo: 'iTime," in familiar Apple fonts.

The watch, which is expected to be launched in October, would be Apple CEO Tim Cook's first new product launch since taking over for the late Steve Jobs in 2011. All other introductions have been updates of previous models.

The patent was filed July 20, 2011.

In the patent, Apple points out that the watch will interact with computers, tablets and smartphones. Consumers should expect to be able to check texts and e-mail from the watch, without having to pull out their phones, and command the watch to deliver the weather—as well as the current time.

Apple's new watch won't be the first smartwatch. Samsung and LG just introduced new devices using Google's Android Wear technology, and others first hit stores in 2013 from Pebble and Martian.

The patent filing was first disclosed by the AppleInsider blog.

Follow Jefferson Graham on Twitter

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First Take: The fall (and rise) of Apple

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SAN FRANCISCO – Brace yourselves for the fall of Apple.

Not the decline of the empire that Steve Jobs & Co. built, but the resurgence of Apple during the fall season -- starting with the expected announcement of iPhone 6 in early September, followed by a new iPad and the long-rumored watch (some are now calling it iTime, based on patent papers filed by Apple).

Judging from Apple's third-quarter financial results, the product barrage can't come soon enough. Revenue and profits remain strong. Apple racked up $37.4 billion in sales and a quarterly net profit of $7.7 billion, or $1.28 per diluted share -- topping analyst estimates.

USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham looks at Yahoo's newest attempts at regaining Internet notoriety. VPC

However, sales of its franchise smartphone and tablet lines are cooling, suggesting hints of consumer fatigue with the current product lineup. iPhone sales topped 35.2 million, up 13% from the year-ago quarter, but clearly in need of a new version. iPad sales dipped 9%, to 13.3 million, from the same quarter a year ago.

Apple's slice of the U.S. smartphone market continues to grow, but at a slower rate. It is expected to be 40.5% this year, compared to 40% in 2013 and 36.5% in 2012. Android, meanwhile, is 50% this year, from 49.5% in 2013 and 43.5% in 2012, according to eMarketer.

And while the number of iPad users continues to increase, Apple is losing share to others entering the market. Apple's share of U.S. tablet users is expected to decline to 51.8% this year, from 54.5% in 2013, says eMarketer.

Although the second quarter is typically slow for smartphone sales, Apple's partnership with China Mobile, the world's largest phone carrier, kept iPhone sales humming. The long-term narrative of Apple's rides heavily on China, where faster communications networks bode well for Apple.

Apple's refreshed product line, on the heels of its startling business partnership with IBM, underscore a new, more aggressive posture by CEO Tim Cook. His bold move to create business apps with Big Blue exhibit a willingness to leave the enterprise market to someone else.

"(Cook) speaks quietly through actions and understatement," Forrester analyst Frank Gillett says. "Despite Jobs' ego, the ethos of Apple is letting its product speak" for the company.

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Apple slightly tops earnings estimate

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LOS ANGELES -- Even with consumers waiting for a new iPhone, they reached into their pockets and continued buying the iconic device between April and June.

Apple said it generated $37.4 billion in revenue and a profit of $7.7 billion ($1.28 per share) in the fiscal 2014 third quarter, up from $35.3 billion and $6.9 billion ($1.07) in the year-ago quarter, mostly fueled by iPhone sales.

The earnings slightly exceeded analyst estimates.

Apple shares slid 0.46% to $94.31 in after-hours trading. The company announced results after markets closed.

Guidance for the coming quarter is revenue between $37 billion and $40 billion.

The company said it sold 35.2 million iPhones in the quarter, which is historically weaker than the end of the year and first quarter, when most new iPhones are sold. iPhone unit shipments were up 13% from the year-ago quarter, when Apple sold 31.2 million units.

Sales for the iPad tablet were a major weak point. Apple said it sold 13.2 million iPads, down 9% from a year ago.

What happened to the tablet, which has now sold more than 225 million units since being introduced in 2010? It still has a healthy, but declining 51.8% market share, according to researcher eMarketer. For starters, low-price tablets from Google, Amazon.com and Samsung Electronics have eaten into sales, and some customers felt they didn't needed an iPad upgrade.

On a conference call with analysts Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he believes it's still "early days" for iPad, with "significant innovation" to come. He cited the recent partnership with IBM to create apps for enterprise as a deal that will help get more iPads in businesses' hands.

Since last quarter, Apple agreed to shell out $3 billion to purchase Beats Electronics, which makes the popular Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and the Beats Music subscription service, a deal Cook said would close during the current quarter.

Additionally, the company staged its annual developers conference in San Francisco last month, where it previewed the mobile software update for iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch, iOS8, which will be launched in the fall.

The new IOS will feature apps that tap various health and security apps into one place, and have the ability, for the first time, to have an app open up within another app.

Looking ahead to the fall, "We believe the playbook going into September is the same as years past for expected product launches," Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, said in a note to investors.

Apple is expected to introduce a new iPhone with a larger screen. The new iPhone 6, as it's expected to be called, will have two editions, both larger than the current 4-inch LCD screen iPhone. Additionally, Apple historically releases new iPad tablets a few weeks later, in October, and this year it's expected to add to its portfolio with a "smartwatch" that analysts have dubbed iWatch. Patent papers suggest the name may be iTime.

A filing for the new watch with the U.S. Patent Office was discovered Tuesday by the AppleInsider blog and widely reported.

The new watch would be the first new product introduction for Cook, since he replaced the late Steve Jobs in 2011. All other introductions have been updates on older products.

According to researcher eMarketer, Google continues to dominate smartphone market share, with 50% in 2014, while Apple has 40.5%, up from 36.5% in 2012. Android was at 43.5% in 2012.

The iPad isn't as huge a hit for Apple as it once was, but it's still thriving. Apple's tablet market share will fall to 51.8% this year, from 54.5% last year, says eMarketer.

Follow Jefferson Graham on Twitter

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Verizon Q2 income rises on wireless, home sales

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Wireless giant Verizon Communications said Tuesday that increased wireless contracts and home Net subscriptions helped drive the wireless giant to its largest quarterly revenue growth in 18 months.

The company earned $4.2 billion in net income for the quarter vs. $2.2 billion in the year-ago period. The improved earnings over last year's quarter reflect Verizon earlier this year finalizing the acquisition of the 45% stake in Verizon Wireless that it didn't own from U.K.-based Vodafone for $130 billion.

"Verizon's second-quarter results continue to demonstrate our ability to deliver strong customer growth, with equally strong financial performance, in a dynamic and competitive environment," said chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam, in a statement. "We have great momentum heading into the second half of the year."

Adjusted earnings per share of 91 cents, beat analysts' estimates of 90 cents. Revenue also slightly outpaced expectations, rising 5.7% to $31.5 billion, compared to estimates of $31 billion.

Verizon stock dipped slightly, less than 1%, after the market opened to $50.50, after closing at $50.70 on Monday.

Earlier in the month, Verizon announced that it had gained 1.4 million wireless customers over the quarter. Verizon Wireless maintained a relatively low churn rate of 1.2% of customers leaving its service; it now has 104.6 million devices connected to its network. Total revenues were $21.5 billion in second-quarter 2014, up 7.5 percent year over year.

The average revenue per postpaid account rose 4.7% from a year ago to $159.73 per month.

Total revenues for Verizon's wireline business were $9.8 billion, up 0.3%, the company's first quarterly year-over-year increase in more than seven years. Revenue from Verizon's fiber optic network, rose 14.4 percent, to $3.1 billion.

The company gained 139,000 FiOS Net connections and 100,000 FiOS video connections, bringing its total subscriber base to 6.3 million FiOS Internet and 5.4 million FiOS Video connections at the end of the second quarter, increases of 9.3% and 7.6%.

The average revenue per user rose to $122.57, up 11% from a year ago.

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Tech Five: Netflix, Verizon steady off earnings

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It's a massive day for tech earnings, so let's dig right in to the five technology stocks to watch Tuesday:

Netflix. Shares of the streaming media service remain flat in pre-market trading despite doubling its earnings during the second quarter. Netflix also revealed it topped 50 million subscribers. Netflix stock has stormed back since late April, surging from $314 on April 28 to passing the $450 mark as of Monday's close.

Verizon. Home Internet and wireless sales drove a rise in income in the second quarter, but Verizon stock is holding steady at $50.75. The company earned $4.2 billion, compared to $2.2 billion last year. Verizon also boasted a 9.3% gain in FiOS Internet subscribers from the previous year.

Apple. The tech giant reports third quarter earnings after the markets close as new reports surface on the company's next iPhone. The Wall Street Journal reports Apple is asking manufacturers to create between 70-80 million smartphones with two screen sizes: a 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch display. The report notes the production run is much larger than the initial order of iPhone 5s and 5c smartphones last year.

Microsoft. The company reports fourth quarter earnings days after announcing a massive layoff of 18,000 employees over the next year. Of the number, about 12,500 of those are tied to the company's acquisition of Nokia.

GoPro. Shares of the high-definition jumped more than 3%, part of a tumultuous run in the month of July. After starting July 1 above $48, shares sunk to $36.84 two weeks later. GoPro stock is currently trading at $42.90.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

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