AT&T offers lower-cost options on one- and two-line plans
SAN FRANCISCO — A little more than a month after unveiling lower-cost family wireless plans, AT&T on Saturday announced a price cut for customers with one or two lines under its Mobile Share Value program. Beginning Sunday, AT&T will offer a plan with ...
AT&T drops price of 2GB no-contract plan by $15, T-Mobile doubles down on ...
AT&T extends price cuts in battle with T-Mobile for data users
AT&T Unveils Low-priced Mobile Share Value Plan - Quick Facts
AUSTIN — Could you even survive without your smartphone? Jenviev Azzolin doesn't think you can, which is why the self-proclaimed mobile addict co-founded PPLConnect, resulting in what she describes as the world's first virtual smartphone.
What exactly is a virtual smartphone, and why would you want one? The idea is that you can use your current mobile number for calls and texts, without being held being hostage to that single piece of hardware in your pocket.
Though I haven't had a chance to do full testing yet, the promise is that you can make calls with your number from any browser connected to the Internet, without exhausting your carrier minutes and regardless of device or platform. You might call or text from your tablet or a friend's phone. You can send and receive SMS text messages sitting at work in front of your computer. You can leverage your phone's contacts from any of these devices as well.
FULL COVERAGE: See our complete coverage of SXSW
This is all supposed to work even if your actual phone is turned off. Pretty cool, considering we all have experienced a battery that died at the worst possible moment. Another potential benefit is the ability to save on roaming fees if you travel internationally.
PPLConnect works through Voice over IP or VOIP, among other technologies Some of the features would appear to overlap with Google Voice and other communications services. Users on Macs can already send and receive Apple's own iMessages from their computers.
PPLConnect co-founders Denzil D'Sa and Jenviev Azzolin in Austin at SXSW.(Photo: Ed Baig, USA TODAY)
But PPLConnect is pushing its multi-platform nature. "Everyone else is selling hardware or services that are tied to locking them into their world," says another of PPLConnect's co-founders Denzil D'Sa. "Your calls (via PPLConnect) are from your number, in and out. Your SMS's are from your number, in and out."
The service is still in its beta state. The official launch remains a couple of weeks out. And there are limitations in what you can do, at least at the moment. For example, while you can make a call from a PC or tablet, and get notified if someone tries calling you on your mobile number, you won't hear your PC or tablet ring at the time of that incoming call.
To start out, you download a PPLConnect Android app, available now in the Google Play store. There's no iPhone app at the moment. You sign up with a Google + account or your email, and enter your phone number. PPLConnect will send you a code via SMS to link your actual phone to your virtual phone. From then on you can log into PPLConnect from any browser connected to the Web.
"Not so long ago, our email used to be tied to one PC, just like our files used to be saved on one hard drive and our music used to be saved on CDs," Azzolin says. "The cloud came along and fundamentally improved that experience, giving us access from any device. And it's that same experience we want to bring to your phone."
South by Southwest represents the Montreal startup's big coming out party (though the technology has been publicly shown before). The company is one of eight finalists in the social technologies category of the SXSW Accelerator program competition. Over the weekend, Azzolin and D'Sa get to do a pitch before a live SXSW audience. "We're here to get a wider net of awareness out there," Azzolin says.
As Game of Thrones devotees, Azzolin lists her title (in addition to co-founder) as "Mother of Dragons," while D'Sa is listed as being "In charge of the impossible."
The co-founders are extending this playfulness to their SXSW promotions. On Friday, they hosted a "Mobile Addicts Anonymous Meetup" at a downtown Austin hotel: Mobile "zombies" crawled Austin eating smartphones rather than brains to attract people to the meetup.
Meanwhile, anyone at the festival who downloads the app gets to take advantage of a free "line waiting service," Azzolin says. You let PPLConnect know the party or event that you want to attend during the confab and PPLConnect will send someone to hold a spot for you on line until you get there.
The app is free, as are calls from PPLConnect phones to other PPLConnect phones. Calls outside PPLConnect cost about 3 cents a minute (purchased through "credits"), one way the company hopes to make money. You can earn free credits by sharing PPLConnect with your friends. In the current state of the beta, international calls are not supported.
One future feature dubbed "Hotel My Phone" will let you check-in or check out of another person's device. Say your battery dies and you need to borrow a stranger's phone. You can log into your account from the person's device, check your messages, maybe send a text or make a quick call. After logging out, none of your information is left behind on the phone, not your number, and not who you called or got a call from.
For all its presumed benefits, PPLConnect would seem to face an uphill battle. There's stiff competition in the VOIP space from better known rivals such as Google or Skype. And I suspect most of us are going to clutch onto our physical phones, and not let go of them up so easily.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow @edbaig on Twitter.
You remembered your phone but forgot the charger. Now what? With the Sparrow Wheeled Garment Bag, you can relax. The bag from ECBC comes with a 4500mAh battery that can provide an emergency boost to your phone and other essential gear. Individual pockets for the battery, a tablet and a phone are positioned so that the battery can charge the phone or tablet via a USB connection while all the devices are safely tucked inside the bag. The Sparrow also includes a Fast Pass padded compartment for your laptop, allowing you to go throughout airport security without having to pull it out. Other handy features include a pocket that provides quick access to tickets, a compartment with a foldout organizer, a compartment with zippered slots for shoes and a zippered holder for a water bottle. Made from sturdy ballistic nylon, the bag costs about $400.
The Boomerang speaker.(Photo: FAVI Entertainment)
SPEAKER FORMS A RING AROUND THE COLLAR
Don't let the shape of the Boomerang fool you. Although the device's crescent shape makes it look like a pair of headphones, it actually functions as a wireless NFC/Bluetooth speaker you can wear around your neck. Or if that's too much "jewelry'' for your tastes, you can set it on a table and use it to prop up your phone, turning the speaker into a micro-sized home theater. Either way, the speaker from FAVI Entertainment can deliver about 10 hours of respectable sound on one charge. It also includes a built-in speaker phone, allowing you to take calls via a connected phone Available in black, yellow and white, a 4-watt "Mini" version that's just the right size for a phone costs about $60. A larger 6-watt model big enough to prop up a tablet costs about $80. Similar to a flexible pair of headphones, the Boomerang can be folded up for easy portability.
The Ricoh WG-20(Photo: Ricoh)
CAMERA CAPTURES ADVENTURES
Rugged and compact, the Ricoh WG-20 can capture your outdoor adventures without weighing you down. Designed to handle water up to 33 feet deep, drops from up to 5 feet and cold down to 14 degrees, the 14-megapixel camera can record snapshots and video clips while you snorkel, mountain bike, snowboard or, if you insist, take it easy at the pool. The camera sports a 2.7-inch wide LCD monitor with an anti-glare coating, a digital microscope setting for high-powered close-ups and a 5x optical zoom with the ability to quickly go from wide-angle to telephoto shots. Available in white and red, the sporty camera is expected to go on sale this month for about $200. Optional attachments and mounts are available.
The NuGuard KX case.(Photo: Newer Technology)
FLEXIBLE CASE WRAPS UP PROTECTION
While the iPad is easy to carry from place to place, it's also just as easy to drop. One case that provides protection without adding too much bulk is the NuGuard KX. Made with a lightweight absorbing gel technology, the flexible case from Newer Technology can give clumsy owners of the iPad Air peace of mind. Worried about the screen? The company also makes the NuGuard KXS Screen Armor, a three-layer shield that protects your screen without affecting its functionality. The case sells for about $50 while the screen shield costs about $30. Similar cases and shields are available for other models.
E-mail new product suggestions to email@example.com.
At this year's South by Southwest festival, tech security is stepping from the shadows, and attendees are learning how to cope without a physical smartphone.
Let's look at the five things we learned as SXSW wraps up its second day.
WIKILEAKS FOUNDER TALKS SECURITY
Tech safety and security has emerged as one of the big themes at SXSW, and two high-profile figures are making cameos at the Austin festival.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange took the stage via Skype for a conversation on topics such as online privacy and the potential impact of releasing classified data to the public.
Despite technical snags, Assange pressed forward, saying his life is "a bit like prison" since his website WikiLeaks started releasing classified information including secret U.S. government documents.
"The ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost there, and will be in a few years," he says.
Assange also said security reporters have become "refugees," pointing out figures including Glenn Greenwald, who exposed U.S. surveillance practices in an investigative series for The Guardian, citing documents shared by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
"I see this as quite a positive phenomenon that where people would have been completely crushed and not able to work anymore, they are able to use these basic tenets of classic liberalism like freedom of movement ... to keep working," says Assange.
The security talk ramps up again Monday, when Snowden participates in a chat via video conference from Russia. The chat prompted Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., to urge SXSW organizers to cancel the event.
"Rewarding Mr. Snowden's behavior in this way encourages the very lawlessness he exhibited," said Pompeo in a letter to organizers.
AEREO WANTS TO HELP YOU CUT CABLE CORD
The controversial TV service Aereo traveled to SXSW to help kick off its arrival in Austin, one of the 10 cities where it's available.
What is Aereo? It's a microantenna that lets users pick up over-the-air channels in their area. Channels are accessible online, so you can tune to a favorite station from a computer, smartphone or tablet.
During an interview with USA TODAY, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia declined to share how many subscribers the service hosts, but said he is pleased with the response. "We are very happy with the growth that we've seen thus far."
Television broadcasters have cried foul, and are taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court. In January, the high court agreed to hear their case for stopping the streaming TV service. Justices could start weighing the case as early as April.
YOUR SMARTPHONE GOES VIRTUAL
When your smartphone runs out of juice, the first impulse is to hustle to the nearest spot to recharge, whether that be an outlet in your home or car.
The service PPLConnect lets you have access to your smartphone, without ever needing to pull it from your pocket. The service lets you use your mobile number to makes calls or texts from any Web-connected browser. As an added bonus, the company says browser calls don't count against available minutes from your wireless carrier.
The Android-only service features an app where users add their phone number and Google+ information. After linking a smartphone to its virtual counterpart on PPLConnect, users can start making calls from Web browsers.
The service is under a beta testing period, but available now on Google Play..
CARS, TECH CONTINUE TO INTERSECT
Along with security and wearable gadgets, tech in your car is expected to become one of the hot topics in the industry this year. The two cross paths again with the new partnership between Beats Music and Chevrolet.
The U.S. automaker will integrate the streaming music service launched last month into its AppShop, available in a handful of 2015 models later this year.
Beats Music for Chevrolet will include personalized recommendations and provide access to user-created playlists. The app requires a Beats Music account.
"It's all about giving our customers options to be connected in their vehicle," says Chevorlet Marketing Director Cristi Landy.
FAVREAU SWAPS SUPERHERO COSTUME FOR CHEF'S HAT
Although the Interactive portion of SXSW dominates this weekend, some elements of the Film and Music sections of the festival have infiltrated.
Actor/screenwriter Jon Favreau is taking a break from blockbusters such as Iron Man and The Avengers to whip up Chef, a film he's premiering at SXSW.
The film stars Favreau as Chef Carl Casper, who clashes with an Los Angeles restaurant owner played by Dustin Hoffman. Favreau says the rise of online programming through sites such as Netflix have fueled a rise in smaller projects like Chef.
"Little ones like this you can make for you and for an audience that will connect with it more personally," he says.
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @bam923.
- California court sided with a driver who looked at a map on phone while in his car
- Ruben Navarrette: The dangers of texting and driving are well-known
- He says cops should use common sense, not ban all use of phones in cars
- Navarrette: Smartphones provide a variety of tools that could be helpful
Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette
San Diego (CNN) -- The most important tool that law enforcement officers have at their disposal is common sense. This is especially true with that segment of the force that spends the most time interacting with the public: traffic cops and highway patrol officers who enforce the vehicle code.
I'm glad the San Diego police officer who pulled me over a couple of years ago had common sense. He had spotted me holding onto my smartphone and suspected that I was violating California's "hands free" law. The law, which took effect in 2008, prohibits drivers from talking on a cell phone while driving.
By the time the officer approached the driver's side window, he had his ticket book out. After we exchanged pleasantries, he told me that he had pulled me over for talking on the phone while driving.
That's true, I said. I was talking on the phone. Then, I turned my head, so he could see the Bluetooth headset lodged in my right ear. I was using a hands-free device, just as the law requires. But, I explained, I had to lay my hands on the phone, if only for a second, to push the button that makes a call.
"That makes sense," the officer said with a smile as he closed his ticket book. "Have a nice day."
There is no argument that distracted driving can be just as dangerous as drunken driving, and so states have the right to pass laws that ban the practice of talking on the phone while driving. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have such laws on the books. Forty-two states and the District of Colombia also ban texting while driving.
However, these laws raise questions.
For instance, if the idea is to stop drivers from being distracted, then why stop at banning handheld cell phones? We can hold the steering wheel with one hand while using the other to drink a cup of coffee or eat a hamburger, but we can't use it to hold a phone? We can fiddle with the radio or -- in a minivan, the DVD player -- but we can't access Pandora or satellite radio on our phone?
Besides, as illustrated by a recent appeals court decision in Central California that could reverberate around the country, passing a law is the easy part. It is implementing it on the street that can get tricky for police -- especially in the age of the smartphone that doesn't just let you make a call but also provides a variety of functions that, far from being harmful to motorists, might prove helpful.
For instance, you can access a map with your phone. That's what Steven Spriggs of Fresno, California, was trying to do a few years ago when an officer with the California Highway Patrol pulled him over. Spriggs says that he was stuck in heavy traffic because of road construction, and that he was using the map function on his phone to look for an alternate route.
Spriggs tried to explain to the officer that he wasn't talking on the phone, and so -- given his understanding of the state's hands-free law -- he had not committed any infraction. The officer didn't buy it and proceeded to write him a $165 ticket. Spriggs thought that was unfair, and so he fought the ticket in court -- all the way, in fact, to the 5th District Court of Appeals, which recently ruled in his favor.
The appeals court threw out the ticket, declaring that the California State Legislature had only intended to prevent talking on the phone while driving. Nothing more.
"Spriggs contends he did not violate the statute because he was not talking on the telephone. We agree," the court wrote. "We conclude the statute means what it says -- it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it."
This may be that we have not heard the last of this case. The state could appeal, and the California Supreme Court could agree to hear the case. The legislature could decide to amend the law to broaden it out and perhaps close some of the loopholes.
For now though, this is a major victory -- not just for one California motorist but for common sense. The officer who stopped Spriggs that day on the roadway was short on it.
He could have saved us all time and trouble by not forcing the issue and making room for the possibility that there was nuance in how the law should be applied. Yet, the good news is that the appeals court had enough to keep law enforcement from overreaching.
The framers of the Constitution could never have imagined automobiles or cell phones. Yet, because of how they felt about the courts reining in the power of the state, you can bet that they would be pleased at how this story turned out.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.