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Car Ignition Key Jams Cell Phones

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Here’s a new one: University of Utah researchers have created a car ignition key that prevents the driver from talking on a cell phone or sending text messages while behind the wheel, Cellular News reports.

“The university has obtained provisional patents and licensed the invention—Key2SafeDriving—to a private company that hopes to see it on the market within six months at a cost of less than $50 per key plus a yet-undetermined monthly service fee,” the report said.

Ronn Hartman, managing partner of Accendo LC, said in a statement that the company plans to license the technology to cell phone carriers as part of their service plans, instead of selling it to customers directly.

Oh, and a personal note after the jump…

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Google Relaunches Gmail SMS Service

Gmail_SMS.jpgThe merging of online and mobile continues: Google has relaunched the company’s Gmail-based SMS text messaging service after running into some trouble with it back in October, CNET News reports.

“A few weeks back, we ran into a few snags when we first started rolling this out, but starting today you can turn on text messaging for chat,” said Leo Dirac, a Google product manager, in a blog post Wednesday.

Once Gmail subscribers enable the feature via the Gmail Labs page, they can initiate SMS-based instant message chats by “typing in a phone number in the chat box on the left of the Gmail page,” according to the report. Messages will arrive on handsets from a number in the 406 area code; each user gets their own 406 number, so they can save it for future messages.

Time Warner CEO: AOL Still Up for Grabs

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In today’s Will-It-Ever-End department, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said the company is still working hard on a possible deal involving AOL, and hopes to come to some kind of agreement “fairly soon,” according to MediaPost.

AOL has struggled in fourth place after Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft in the portal wars; the company never really found its footing as an online portal, after demand dropped drastically for its core dial-up Internet service.

The report said that with the full spinoff of Time Warner’s cable unit on track to close by early next year, Bewkes emphasized that the firm would “return to its roots as a branded content company.”

Paul McCartney Releases MP3 Album

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Add Paul McCartney to the list of famous artists striking out on their own terms. Slashdot reports that the former Beatle has a side project called The Fireman, and that he just released their new album, Electric Arguments, as an unprotected digital download.

“You can purchase just the digital files, or if you purchase a physical CD or vinyl copy, you are also given access to the digital download,” the report said. “Not only that, but the download is available in 320-kbps MP3, Apple Lossless, or even FLAC format. If you’re interested in trying before you buy, you can listen to the entire album in a Flash player on the main page of the site.”

The album can play on any cell phone or MP3 player (including an iPod). That’s in contrast to buying protected music from Napster, Zune Marketplace, etc. which won’t play on the iPhone, or buying protected music from the iTunes Store, which won’t play on any other cell phone.

Yahoo Axes 1,500 Employees

Yahoo_CEO_Yang.jpgAs previously reported, Yahoo on Wednesday began laying off employees, following up on an announcement to cut its workforce by at least 10 percent in an effort to turn the struggling company around, AFP reports.

Meanwhile, Ivory Investment Management, which owns a 1.5 percent stake in Yahoo, is pushing Yahoo’s board to sell its Internet search business to Microsoft, a refrain we’ve heard before.

“This is a tough time for all of us,” Yang wrote in an e-mail to employees. “The reductions we’re making are very hard, but they are also very necessary as we focus on the long-term health of our business.”

The report said that the economic downtown hit Yahoo especially hard, as advertisers began to scale back and the public turned its attention toward Google, Facebook, and MySpace. A deal between Yahoo and Microsoft still has potential to shake up the mobile space in many ways, depending on how it goes down—if it ever happens.

RIM Acquires Chalk Media Mobile Content Platform

Chalk_Media_BlackBerry.jpgResearch in Motion announced today that it is purchasing Chalk Media for $18.7 million. Chalk is the developer of Mobile Chalkboard, a mobile content platform and application suite that lets companies develop rich media “pushcasts” for BlackBerrys within organizations.

The pushcasts can include text, audio, and video data. They can also exist in the form of surveys and click-to-call e-mail requests, and stay resident on the devices so users can continue to access them even with no cellular data signal. It’s primarily a business play here, as opposed to an end-user mobile content platform, but still worth keeping an eye on. The two companies expect the deal to finalize by February 2009.

Morgan Stanley: iPod, iPhone Demand Falling

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Morgan Stanley just cut its price target on Apple shares due to what the company cites as weaker demand for its iPod and iPhone, according to Reuters.

“The brokerage conducted a survey of 2500 U.S. consumers in late November and said despite significant price cuts, only 5 percent of respondents indicated ‘extreme’ interest in purchasing an iPhone, down from 7 percent in its February 2007 survey.”

Part of this isn’t news, since it’s been clear for a while that iPod sales have peaked in light of the iPhone and other cell phones’ increased ability to play music—at least without causing the owner to scratch out his eyes in frustration. (Hey, ever try playing an MP3 file on a cell phone back in 2005? It was a real concern.)

Bopaboo Launches ‘Legal’ MP3 Trading Service

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One of the problems with buying music tracks online is that they have zero resale value. Unlike with, say, a CD that you can trade in at the local music shop, you can’t legally trade tracks you no longer listen to for other ones. Until now—or at least that’s the hope of Bopaboo, which has created a digital marketplace where users operate mini download stores, as CNET News reports.

The company’s tagline is “stop illegally sharing, and start legally selling.” iTunes Store buyers are out of luck, because Bopaboo (naturally) won’t take any DRM-encoded tracks. That’s because they won’t work on another person’s iPod or iPhone without having access to the first person’s account. But any legally-purchased MP3 files from Amazon MP3, eMusic, Napster, Rhapsody, Lala, and others that play on any music-enabled cell phone are game.

The question here is whether, as the report puts it, the recording industry is going to sue Bopaboo into oblivion. They shouldn’t, since people who purchase those MP3s legally own them. (The “license to listen to them” argument is BS, because it doesn’t apply to used CDs, after all.) Still, time will tell.

Tunebite Strips Nokia Comes With Music DRM

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Well, that sure didn’t take long: Tunebite just upgraded its universal music converter software, and as Engadget reports, one of its key features is the ability to remove the copy protection from Nokia’s Comes With Music tracks.

There’s actually not much going on here; all Tunebite is doing is pulling audio off your PC’s sound card inputs, so it’s basically the same as playing any music through your computer and re-recording it (with a very minimal loss in sound quality).

But the net effect is that you can then make duplicates of any music you get through Nokia’s service and then move it to a new cell phone, or to, say, your car or iPod. Which is exactly what Nokia doesn’t want you to do, but hey, we’re just reporting on it.

AOL Upgrades Bebo

Bebo_Mobile_Web.jpgAOL is determined to get something out of its $850 million investment in social network Bebo. As AllThingsD reports, today the portal is unveiling a new home page, adding a new “social inbox” profile for its users in the process.

The new inbox “essentially gives its users a one-stop destination, with aggregated social feeds from across the Web, multiple email accounts and media recommendations.”

AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher writes that “while it looks like eye candy at first, it is also pretty useful—especially a mobile version. And it is definitely the most visually striking version of a news feed that is offered by competitors.” To date, Bebo has lagged behind the other major social networking services in offering mobile services, so it will be interesting to see how Bebo attempts to catch up here.