Weekly Cell Phone News in Review—October 9, 2017

Russia Targets NATO Soldier Smartphones, Western Officials Say
Russia has opened a new battlefront with NATO, according to Western military officials, by exploiting a point of vulnerability for almost all allied soldiers: their personal smartphones. Troops, officers and government officials of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member countries said Russia has carried out a campaign to compromise soldiers’ smartphones. The aim, they say, is to gain operational information, gauge troop strength and intimidate soldiers. U.S. and other Western officials said they have no doubt Russia is behind the campaign. The campaign has targeted the contingent of 4,000 NATO troops deployed this year to Poland and the Baltic states to protect the alliance’s European border with Russia, as tensions with Moscow are on the rise, Western military officials said. Story by Thomas Grove, Julian E. Barnes and Drew Hinshaw for The Wall Street Journal

John Kelly’s Personal Cellphone Was Compromised, White House Believes
White House officials believe that chief of staff John Kelly’s personal cellphone was compromised, potentially as long ago as December, according to three U.S. government officials. The discovery raises concerns that hackers or foreign governments may have had access to data on Kelly’s phone while he was secretary of Homeland Security and after he joined the West Wing. Tech support staff discovered the suspected breach after Kelly turned his phone in to White House tech support this summer complaining that it wasn’t working or updating software properly. Story by Josh Dawsey, Emily Stephenson and Andrea Peterson for Politico

HP Put Another Nail In The Coffin For Microsoft’s Windows Phones
It’s no secret that Microsoft has been trying to distance itself from its failing smartphone business. Last quarter, the nicest thing Microsoft could say about Windows phones was that winding down the business made the company eligible for a big tax break. Now here comes another nail in the coffin: HP is discontinuing its Elite x3 phone, the last high-end phone on the market running the Windows 10 Mobile operating system. Story by Matt Weinberger for Business Insider

Amazon Echo Will Now Work as a Phone
The Amazon Echo can now be used to place phone calls to both mobile devices and landlines. This latest upgrade is an improvement on the Amazon Calling feature introduced in May. In the past, Echo users could only call other Amazon Echo users, and there was no way to block incoming calls. However, consumers can now use their Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show to call any phone in the United States, Canada or Mexico for free. To use the feature, you need the Alexa app installed on your mobile phone, Then, callers tell Alexa who they would like to call from their contacts, or they can read off a number to dial. Whichever method is used, Alexa will ask users to verify the number before placing the call. Story by Natalie Rutledge for SaveOnPhone.com

Walmart Debuts Voice Shopping On The Google Home
Walmart announced on Wednesday that its customers are now able to shop on Walmart.com using voice commands via Google Home and Google Home Mini devices. In addition, Walmart is offering a deal to customers of $25 off a Walmart order when they buy one of the Google devices and link their Walmart account to Google’s online shopping platform, Google Express. The integration of Google Express and Google Home with Walmart’s Easy Reorder may spur faster adoption of voice ordering among Walmart customers. It promises to be a major boon for voice shopping adoption. That’s because Google Home owners are likely to use their devices for reordering items they’ve previously purchased, resulting in repeat orders. Moreover, this will allow Walmart to compete with the simplicity Amazon offers in its purchase steps, with its one-click Buy Now option and Amazon Dash Buttons, for example. This partnership will also allow Walmart to take advantage of Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. Story by Stephanie Pandolph for Business Insider

Female Saudi Students Just Won The Right To Carry Phones On Campus
There have been so many changes to women’s opportunities in the last seven days. First came the right to drive, then came news of the kingdom’s first female spokesperson, and now women in Saudi have seen another empowering change. Female students in the kingdom will now be allowed to carry their phones while on campus, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education has announced. Previously, according to the ministry, at least seven universities had imposed a mobile phone ban on female students and had been known to confiscate devices. Story in Emirates Woman

This Startup Wants to Bring Face Recognition to All Kinds of Smartphones
Unlike passwords, your face is unique-a simple fact that may make it an invaluable authenticator in the near future for everything from stock trading to video games as biometrics become increasingly common (and powerful) on smartphones. Yet while some companies, like Apple, believe the best way to do this is with sensors like an infrared camera to map your face in 3-D-something that, for now, continues to limit the technology to high-end phones-a small Las Vegas startup is trying to bring a software-only take on 3-D face recognition to all kinds of smartphones. FaceTec’s Zoom technology uses a different tactic than the one Apple uses to determine if you are a human (rather than, say, a photo or a video of one) and, in fact, the phone’s rightful owner. It pays attention to the distortion that occurs as you move your face closer to the phone’s camera, and analyzes how the distortion in images taken when you want to get into, say, a stock trading app, compare to that in images already stored on the phone. Story by Rachel Metz for MIT Technology Review

America’s Cash-Free Future Is Just Around The Corner
This trend towards digital payments is not exclusive to America — plenty of other nations are exploring going cashless. In China, for example, more than two-thirds of all online transactions in 2009 were cash-on-delivery. By 2016, digital payments accounted for more than 70 percent of those orders, thanks to the mobile wallet wars between Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent at the beginning of this decade. This is, in part, due to the massive popularity that smartphone shopping enjoys in the country. According to a 2016 report by CNBC, nearly half of all ecommerce transactions completed in China —  worth $505.7 billion in total — were made on smartphones in 2015. In the US, barely a quarter of all online sales were completed on a mobile device. Story by Andrew Tarantola for Engadget

French Restaurant Kicks Out Customers Who Use Their Mobile Phones At The Table
A restaurant in the south of France has banned the use of mobile phones, and started turfing out diners who use them at the table. Waiters blow a whistle and show a yellow card to first offenders who use their phones while eating at Le Petit Jardin in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, near Montpellier. A red card is shown to repeat offenders, which means expulsion from the restaurant. Story by Sean Morrison in the Evening Standard

Ultra-Thin Lenses Point To Slimmer Mobile Phones
A lens just a billionth of a metre thick could transform phone cameras. Researchers at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, have created ultra-thin lenses that cap an optical fibre, and can produce images with the quality and sharpness of much larger glass lenses. “In the future, mobile phones could be much thinner, without having to sacrifice the quality of their cameras. Our lens also allows infrared light to pass through, which glass lenses don’t,” says Professor Baohua Jia, a research leader at Swinburne’s Centre for Micro-Photonics. Story in Science in Public

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.