TikTok's owner launches chat app with a focus on communities

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TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, has jumped into the wide world of messaging apps. The company has released Flipchat (aka Feiliao), an “interest-based social app” for Android and iOS that combines the usual chats and video calls with a social network-style feed, chat groups and forums. While you can communicate like you would in other chat apps, the emphasis here is on participating in a community. If you’re a fan of a movie, you can discuss it in a myriad of ways.

The app is currently limited to China, and TechCrunch noted that it appears intended more to take on the Reddit-style app Jike than messaging giants like WeChat. Facebook might not have to worry about Flipchat in the near future. ByteDance is growing rapidly, representing over 11 percent of Chinese users’ time spent on super apps. And TikTok’s rapid international growth caught many people by surprise. It wouldn’t be surprising if some of that success translated to Flipchat, at least if it expands beyond a Chinese audience.

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Select FCC leaders announce support for T-Mobile, Sprint merger

It’s been more than a year since T-Mobile and Sprint formally announced a merger agreement. This morning, members of FCC leadership have issued statements voicing their support for the $26 billion proposal.

Ajit Pai was first out with a statement, suggesting that the pricey consolidation of two of the Unites States’ largest carriers would help accelerate his longstanding desire to provide more internet coverage to rural areas.

“Demonstrating that 5G will indeed benefit rural Americans,” Pai wrote, “T-Mobile and Sprint have promised that their network would cover at least two-thirds of our nation’s rural population with highs peed, mid-band 5G, which could improve the economy and quality of life in many small towns across the country.”

The FCC Chairman went on to suggest that the merger “is in the public interest,” adding that he would recommend fellow members of the commission’s leadership approve it. Commissioner Brendan Carr followed soon after with his own statement of approval, suggesting that a merger would actually increase competition among by consolidating it.

“I support the combination of T-Mobile and Sprint because Americans across the country will see more competition and an accelerated buildout of fast, 5G services,” the Commissioner writes. “The proposed transaction will strengthen competition in the U.S. wireless market and provide mobile and in-home broadband access to communities that demand better coverage and more choices.”

A number of ground rules have been laid out for approval. In a bid for approval, Sprint has promised to sell off prepaid brand, Boost Mobile. “[W]e have committed to divest Sprint’s Boost pre-paid business to a third party following the closing of the merger,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a blog post following the statements of support. “We’ll work to find a serious, credible, financially capable and independent buyer for all the assets needed to run – and grow – the business, and we’ll make sure that buyer has attractive wholesale arrangements.”

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Intel, Qualcomm and other chipmakers cut off supplies to Huawei

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Huawei has more to worry about beyond Google’s decision to suspend Android support. Bloomberg sources said that American chipmakers Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom and Xilinx had told staff they wouldn’t supply Huawei with parts “till further notice,” leaving the Chinese tech giant without potentially vital components. Nikkei tipsters also claimed that Germany’s Infineon had cut off “certain shipments” to Huawei out of caution, although a spokesperson since said that most of its products wouldn’t be subject to the US blacklisting that had prompted companies to back away.

The effective trade ban could seriously damage Huawei’s ability to do business. The company depends on Intel chips both for its servers as well as PCs like the MateBook X Pro. Broadcom and Xilinx supply chips for its networking business. And while Huawei makes its own processors for many of its phones, it may still need Qualcomm for some chips.

The chip companies have so far declined to comment.

Huawei has reportedly been preparing for a possibility like this by stockpiling components and designing its own chips. It’s betting that an end to the US-China trade war will come soon enough to avert catastrophe. However, it might only have enough supply for a few months. If the trade war doesn’t end soon or doesn’t lead to a thaw in US relations, Huawei may be forced to either find alternatives or lose important parts of its business. China won’t like that — Huawei is one of the country’s shining beacons, and a decline on its part could have far-reaching implications for the Chinese economy.

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T-Mobile and Sprint make promises to clinch FCC's merger approval

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T-Mobile and Sprint are still determined to secure a merger, and they’ve just made a fresh round of promises to win regulators’ hearts. The carriers have made new commitments to the FCC that would guarantee wider access to high-speed mobile internet and home broadband, not to mention address concerns about a lack of competition. They’ve vowed to deploy 5G service that covers 97 percent of the US population within three years of an approved merger, and 99 percent in six years. About 90 percent of Americans would have mobile internet at speeds of “at least” 100Mbps, while 99 percent would have speeds of 50Mbps or more.

Rural broadband would also play an important role. The 5G network would cover 85 percent of rural Americans in three years, and 90 percent in six years. Two thirds of rural dwellers would have mid-band 5G. There are also “specific commitments” to launching in-home internet access.

To address the competition concerns, the two would divest one of Sprint’s prepaid brands, Boost Mobile.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai believed the promises were enough to make the merger “in the public interest,” and said he would recommend that FCC Commissioners approve the deal. It’s a rare chance to accelerate the deployments of 5G and rural broadband, he said. You’ll have to wait a while to find out whether or not the rest of the FCC approves, though. Pai is only presenting his fellow officials with a draft order in the “coming weeks,” and its success depends on a majority of Commissioners voting in favor. That’s not including concerns at the Department of Justice. Even so, this might be heartening news for T-Mobile and Sprint after months of uncertainty.

Verizon owns Engadget’s parent company, Verizon Media. Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.

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Google quietly shelves custom Pixel phone cases

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Google’s Pixel 3a might have been good news for fans of mid-range phones, but it marked the death knell for one of the company’s signature phone features: its customizable cases. The 9to5Google crew has discovered that Google axed the personalized My Cases it introduced alongside the Pixel 3, leaving you with just the ordinary fabric cases if you insist on getting official protection. The company’s support page now says that the accessories are “no longer sold by Google.”

The company introduced Live Cases back in early 2016 for the Nexus 5X, 6 and 6P, using a clever NFC feature to provide wallpaper that matched the shell on your phone. Google dropped NFC when the Pixel 2 rolled around, and switched to its photo-based My Cases for the Pixel 3.

While the move is unfortunate for anyone who wanted a truly one-of-a-kind phone, it’s not surprising. Google is now selling four phones, which could add to the challenge of offering cases in large-enough volumes. There’s also the simple matter of cost cutting. The company may be under greater pressure to turn a profit from its phone business, and that could mean cutting non-essentials like My Case.

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