By adaptive - July 6th, 2015

Google's image-recognition technology makes an unacceptable gaffe, as Apple takes its new music streaming service live with a free three-month trial. Andrew Tolve reports.

In this week’s Digest: Apple, Pandora, Spotify, Google Play, Deezer, Taylor Swift, Sprint, T-Mobile, Amazon Fire, Google Photo, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, LG, Red Hat, California, NUU and Snapchat.

In the news

Apple took its music streaming service, Apple Music, live in an attempt to remake its digital music business iTunes for the modern, mobile landscape. For the cost of $9.99 a month (£9.99 in the U.K. ), the service gives users access to a database 30-million songs deep, along with the ability to store and play those songs offline on multiple devices. Users can also listen to live radio for free (similar to Pandora you can pay to skip ads) and get special access to songs and videos from favorite artists via social platform Apple Connect. The service will compete with the likes of Pandora, Spotify, Google Play and Deezer. Apple had planned to pay artists no royalties during its initial trial period, but a chorus of protests from independent artists, plus the headliner Taylor Swift, forced Apple to backpedal. Apple thus launched the service with a three-month trial (users pay nothing, artists get paid) on iOS devices with the latest iOS 8.4 update.

In the money

Sprint unveiled a $80 “All-In” plan that includes unlimited talk, text and high-speed data. Which sounded fantastic until users started using it and discovered that unlimited data actually meant up to 600 kbps, which got them about halfway through a single YouTube video before hitting the cap. Then they had to start paying extras. A brouhaha ensued. Sprint removed the limitation but not before T-Mobile’s CEO chimed in with an acerbic tweet: “I give credit to @sprint for swinging the bat when they do -- but #allin is a swing and a miss, guys!! #sprintlikehell.” To which Sprint’s CEO replied with an even more acerbic, profanity-laced tweet: "@JohnLegere I am so tired of your Uncarrier bullsh**t when you are worse than the other two carriers together. Your cheap misleading lease imitation is a joke …” Just another week in the mobile carrier wars.

In other news

It was an ugly week for Google, as its new image-recognition technology labeled two African-Americans as “Gorillas” on a smartphone screen. Image-recognition technology is taking off, helping users do everything from identify products (think Amazon Fire Phone) to label photos, as Google’s new Google Photo app does to make it easy to categorise and view giant photo repositories. But the blunder revealed that image-recognition technology still has a long ways to go and sent the tech giant spiraling into PR mode at a time when national tensions around race are already raging. The company's short-term fix: remove the term “Gorilla” from all photos. #IThinkWeCanDoBetter.

Microsoft launched its signature Office suite, which includes Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, for Android phones. Microsoft rolled out Office for iOS last month and has already penned agreements with the likes of Samsung, Sony and LG to start installing the apps onto their Android devices before they leave the factory floor. The app costs nothing to download but offers zero functionality until the user forks over $100 for a Microsoft 365 membership.

Microsoft also launched Office Sway, its mobile enterprise app that allows users to easily create PowerPoint-like presentations for the iPad. Why do you need Office Sway when you have PowerPoint, you ask? Office Sway is built for the mobile environment. It provides easy drag-and-drop functionality, along with fancy tech that arranges text and visuals in the most compelling, aesthetically pleasing, and proportional fashion for smartphones and tablets.

Sticking on the mobile enterprise front, Samsung partnered up with Red Hat to deliver the next generation of mobile solutions for businesses. The two plan to build a series of industry-specific mobile apps that address key workforce management and business tasks, from business intelligence to field and customer service to inventory management to sales catalog, pricing, ordering and invoicing. A developer ecosystem that promotes and advances enterprise mobility is also part of the plan.

California enacted a new Kill-Switch law for all smartphones sold in state. Kill-switch features enable users to remotely render their smartphones inoperable if lost or stolen and have been shown to significantly decrease the threat of theft. Kill-switch tech isn’t new — Apple first included it as an opt-in feature on iOS 7 — but mandating cell makers to make it a default setting is. Good on you, California. Let’s hope to see other states and countries follow suit.

It was a light few weeks on the mobile device front. The biggest news: a new unlocked $99 phone from NUU. In the dance between quality and cost, the NU2S strikes a pretty good balance, with a touchscreen display, 4G speed and forward- and rear-facing cameras. The best part: no dependence on mobile carriers (hence “unlocked”). Just pop a SIM card in the phone and you’re all set. The NU2S is quite a bit below its competition in cost. The Google Nexus 6, for example, is also unlocked but retails for $649.

Finally, Snapchat updated its app with some easier functionality, including the ability to watch videos by simply tapping on them once, rather than having to hold down to watch the video play. Nothing has changed in terms of the ephemeral nature of the app — photos, videos, and texts will still disappear, but it will be easier to watch the videos and to include nearby snapchatters as contacts on messages. Snapchat is wildly popular with Millennials (to the tune of 50 million users) but so far has failed to capture the older demographic. Easier functionality, it hopes, will help it get there.

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media.

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