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A roundup of the latest high-tech news “Hot Off the Wire” from The Associated Press and Local Tech Wire:

Amazon releasing Kindle software for Android

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Amazon.com is hoping to snag even more customers for the electronic books it sells by releasing a version of its Kindle e-reader software for phones that use Google’s Android operating system.

The free Kindle for Android software will be out this summer and will join a growing roster of programs for such products as Apple’s iPhone and iPad and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry smart phones.

The software lets users read books they have bought from Amazon’s online Kindle store.

As with other versions of the online retailer’s Kindle software, Kindle for Android keeps track of where you are in a book. That means you can start reading on an Android phone and continue at the same place on a Kindle e-reader or another gadget with Kindle software.

It’s a way for Amazon to make money from e-book sales from people who may not own the $259 Kindle device or the larger-screen Kindle DX, which costs $489.

Amazon has been building up its Kindle ecosystem as competition rises in the e-book market from Apple, Sony and Barnes & Noble. All three companies sell devices that, like the Kindle, can get e-book downloads directly over wireless connections. Apple’s iPad, released in April, has been emerging as the first real threat to the Kindle.

Amazon, which is based in Seattle, said Tuesday that the Android Kindle software offers the ability to switch font sizes and, with a tap or the flick of a finger on the phone’s screen, go to the next page in a book.


Upgrade aims to make Hotmail cool again

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Microsoft Corporation is trying to make Hotmail cool again.

The free Web mail service soon will be switching to a new approach that Microsoft hopes will give Hotmail an edge over rival offerings from Yahoo and Google.

The upgrade, expected to be available in July or August, will automatically sort incoming messages into different categories devoted to users’ key contacts and Internet social networks. It also will provide previews of incoming photos, videos, and other material without having to open an attachment or click on a link.

Other tools are being added to make it less cumbersome to send photos, videos, documents and other attachments to e-mail recipients. Another tweak is supposed to make is easier to sync Hotmail on mobile phones.

It’s all part of the most extensive overhaul to Hotmail since Microsoft bought the service 12 years ago, said Chris Jones, a Microsoft executive who is overseeing the renovations.

"Our service wasn’t doing the best job that it could," Jones said.

The new features are supposed to enable people to spend less time managing their inboxes and more time enjoying and digesting what’s in the messages.

Microsoft is hoping the added convenience will help overcome the perception that Hotmail was growing stale as Google and Yahoo added more bells and whistles to their free Web mail services.

Even as it made relatively few changes, Hotmail remained the world’s most-used service with 360 million users, according to statistics compiled by comScore Inc. Yahoo ranks second globally with about 284 million users followed by Google’s Gmail at 173 million users.

Microsoft now thinks it might have shot of supplanting Yahoo as the top Web mail service in the U.S. (Yahoo’s e-mail service has 95 million U.S. users compared to 47 million for Hotmail and 43 million for Gmail, according to comScore).

Hotmail’s most significant changes will provide new ways to look at photos and videos sent through e-mail. Microsoft expects this feature to be particularly popular because it says 55 percent of Hotmail’s storage is consumed by photos sent as attachments.

The new technology will detect when an e-mail contains a photo attachment and automatically display a thumbnail of the image (or images) at the top of the message. Hotmail will provide similar previews when it detects links to photo-sharing sites Flickr and SmugMug or to video-sharing sites YouTube and Hulu.

Other changes are designed to make it easier to send photos, video and other Web content. A new insert bar will allow users to send up to 10 gigabytes – about 200 photos each containing 50 megabytes – by uploading them to Microsoft’s free online storage service Skydrive, where they can only be viewed by the recipients of the e-mail.

Videos and other Internet material can be found through a new panel that will connect Hotmail to Microsoft’s Internet search engine, Bing. The videos and other Bing-generated content can then be inserted into an e-mail with a mouse click. The e-mail recipient will then be able to see the video or other material without having to click through a Web link.

As it spruces up Hotmail, Microsoft also will try to make it more secure.

Embracing a change recently made by Gmail, Microsoft plans to add a secure sockets layer (SSL) – denoted by "https" before a Web address – that encrypts e-mail to make it less vulnerable to computer hackers.

Yahoo buys freelance news site Associated Content

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Yahoo Inc. is buying freelance news site Associated Content in a deal that will add a more folksy touch to one of the world’s biggest Web sites.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The acquisition announced Tuesday will enable Yahoo to supplement its regular lineup of stories by full-time reporters with independently produced material that typically isn’t covered by traditional media outlets.

Associated Content, launched in 2005 by Luke Beatty, bills itself as "the people’s media company." It has developed a low-cost news model that relies on about 380,000 freelancers who share their expertise on a variety of subjects.

The material includes how-to advice, review, opinion pieces, and coverage about what’s happening in neighborhoods around the United States.

The stories evidently are striking a chord: Associated Content attracted 16 million visitors last month, according to comScore Inc. That exceeded the roughly 14 million people who visited The New York Times’ Web site last month, comScore said.

Yahoo plans to sprinkle Associated Content’s contributions throughout its news, sports, finance, and entertainment sections. Yahoo will continue to publish stories that it gets from newspapers, its own editorial staff and outlets that include The Associated Press.

Associated Content "gives us more local gravitas," Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said Tuesday.

By providing more parochial stories, Yahoo hopes to widen its audience and create more opportunities to sell online ads tied to the neighborhoods or topics that Associated Content’s freelancers are covering. Yahoo has been slumping for most of the past four years because it has been losing online ad revenue to rivals such as Google and Facebook.

Yahoo’s decision to expand the breadth of its local coverage is similar to a strategy being pursued by AOL as its CEO, Tim Armstrong, tries to turn around that company.

AOL is trying to build two low-cost local news sites, Seed.com and Patch.com.

Armstrong stands to personally profit from Associated Content’s sale because he is among the startup’s early investors and even served as its chairman until two years ago. He helped fund Associated Content while he was still a top advertising executive at Google.

Associated Content’s CEO, Patrick Keane, used to work at Google with Armstrong.

Yahoo plans to close Associated Content’s Web site after it completes the acquisition in the third quarter.