Weekly Cell Phone News in Review–April 13, 2015

Cell Phones as Quake Early Warning Devices? Scientists Hope So
Add this to your smartphone’s many functions: In the near future it could help save lives by warning that a powerful, distant earthquake is about to shake the ground. Earthquake scientists are proposing that “crowdsourcing” hundreds or even thousands of volunteers with their highly sensitive mobile phones could create a seismic early warning system to alert users of oncoming seismic shocks. Seismologists in Menlo Park and UC Berkeley are testing the phones and foresee them as particularly useful in developing regions, like Southeast Asia and parts of Africa, that are prone to large and often devastating earthquakes but where more sophisticated warning systems don’t exist. Story by David Perlman for SF Gate.

Cops are Routinely Using This Secret Cell Phone Tracking Tool
Big federal agencies with ominous-sounding three-letter acronyms aren’t the only ones that spy on your activities — your local police might be doing it, too. Take for instance, the police department of Erie County, New York, which was recently caught using stingray devices in at least 47 instances between May 1, 2010 and October 3, 2014. Unlike pen registers that record numbers called from a phone, a stingray acts as a cell tower that forces mobile phones in the area where it’s currently parked to connect to it. Once connected, authorities get access to their unique IDs and phone numbers, even their call recipients and locations. Law enforcement agencies have been using these devices for years–Erie County itself started buying stingrays in 2008 and has spent $350,000 on them since–and a lot of people know what they are by now. Still, cops make an effort to keep details about their use under wraps, because most departments sign a non-disclosure agreement with the devices’ manufacturer and the FBI. Story by Mariella Moon for Engadget.

Microsoft Joining the Mobile Payments Race
Microsoft Payments Inc., a subdivision of Microsoft, has filed for a money transmitter license in all 50 states. Competitors Apple Pay and Google Wallet have had a significant head start, but Microsoft seems to be determined to catch up. While Microsoft has been very quiet when it comes to mobile payments, SEC filings show that the software giant has been actively involved in the development of mobile payment systems since 2012. Story by Jason Smith for Coin Buzz.

3 Reasons Voice Quality on Smart Phones Still Sucks
While smart phones continue to leap forward in most areas, from intuitive assistants and speedy data connections to dazzling displays and credible cameras, they seem to be mired in the mud when it comes to improving voice quality. Even the wall phone in grandma’s kitchen probably sounds better than the smart phone in your pocket. None of the 100-plus smart phones in our cell phone Ratings earned better than a good score for voice quality, and a significant number were only fair. Still, it’s amazing that smart phones sound as good as they do when you consider the following. Story by Mike Gikas for Consumer Reports.

Some Parents Say ‘No’ to Phones for Teens
If it seems like every teenager you see has a smartphone glued to their hand, it’s not your imagination. Fully 73% of American teens have access to one, a study by the Pew Research Center finds. Add in the 15% of teens who have a basic cellphone and 88% of American teens ages 13 to 17 have access to a mobile phone of some sort. Only 12% of the teens told Pew they didn’t have a cellphone of any type. Mobile phones and access to social media through them are a major part of teens’ lives today. The Pew survey of more than 1,000 teens found that 92% of teens go online daily and 24% say they are online “almost constantly.” Story by Elizabeth Weise for USA Today.

One in Five Americans Need Smartphones for Internet Connectivity
How dependent are we on our smartphones? A new survey shows 19% of Americans rely on their smartphones to connect to the Internet, in one way or another. Smartphone dependence varies based on a number of factors, like a person’s age and economic status. 15% of younger adults (18-29) are heavily dependent on their phones for Internet access. 13% of Americans with an annual household income of under $30,000 rely on their phones for Internet access, while only 1% of households earning more than $75,000 depend on their smartphones for the Internet. Dependence on smartphones is strongly correlated with ethnicity. 12% of African Americans and 13% of Latinos rely on their phones to get online, compared to just 4% of Caucasian smartphone owners. Story by Natalie Rutledge for SaveOnPhone.com.

Xiaomi Breaks World Record For Online Mobile Phone Sales In A Day
Xiaomi, the Beijing smartphone vendor that has catapulted into the ranks of the world’s top-selling brands in a mere five years, added a new feather in its cap yesterday: The world record for most mobile phones sold at one online platform in a day. Xiaomi sold 2.1 million phones in 12 hours during a “Mi Fan Fest” promotion, according to company figures. During the same period, Xiaomi generated total sales of about $320 million. Story by Russell Flannery for Forbes.

The Day a Cell Phone Video Led to a Murder Charge
Eyewitness evidence used to be nothing more than one person’s word. Technology has changed all that. The words can be less important than the footage captured by a cell phone. In Charleston, S.C., an apparently unarmed black man was allegedly shot dead by a white police officer after a traffic stop on Saturday. As the New York Times reports, the officer allegedly said that 50-year-old Walter L. Scott had taken his Taser and that he feared for his life. Then emerged the cell phone video, shot by a bystander. What it shows is a man running away and the officer, 33-year-old Michael Slager, seeming to shoot him from behind eight times. Then Slager appears to drop something near Scott’s prone body. Could it have been his Taser? Story by Chris Matyszczyk for CNet.

9 Urban Myths about Mobile Phones
There have been lots of great stories and misconceptions about mobiles over the past few years, so here’s just a quick summary of the best. Story by Roland Banks for Mobile Industry Review.

About John Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of SaveOnPhone.com. He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers long distance and cell phone topics for SaveOnPhone.