Amazon Drops Non-Disparagement Clause; Microsoft Surface Duo; Facebook & COVID-19; Foxconn Increases Non-China Production

Amazon has removed a clause prohibiting disparaging comments about the company from its podcast content license agreement on Amazon Music and Amazon’s Audible subsidiary. According to geek wire.com, there was an immediate, big backlash when word of the non-disparagement clause got out earlier this week. Amazon and Audible have yet to comment publicly on their plans to offer podcasts from third-party content providers directly on their platforms, which will be competing with Apple, Google, Spotify and others major podcast distribution platforms.

Microsoft is launching its Surface Duo dual-screen Android phone on September 10th, priced from $1,399. The verge.com says the company is now allowing anyone to preorder the Surface Duo today in the US. at AT&T, Microsoft’s online store, and Best Buy. The device includes two separate 5.6-inch OLED displays that connect together to form a 8.1-inch overall workspace. Unlike foldables like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, the Surface Duo is using real Gorilla Glass, and the displays are designed to work in a similar way to multiple monitors on a Windows PC.

Facebook will begin using a new pop-up that appears any time a user shares a link to content about COVID-19. Engadget.com reports that the notification will include a link to the company’s coronavirus information center, and include details about how old the article is and when it was first shared. They will be similar to warnings from Facebook when users share old news articles, in June. By adding an extra layer of context, Facebook is hoping to slow the spread of outdated or less credible information (official health organizations like the WHO are exempt.)

China will no longer be the world’s manufacturing epicenter going forward, according to Apple’s largest supply chain partner Foxconn, which has been gradually expanding its operations in other countries amid the U.S.-China trade war. According to macrumors.com, while China will continue to be a key location for Foxconn’s factories, the country’s “days as the world’s factory are done.” Foxconn’s manufacturing capacity outside China is now 30 percent of its total, up from 25 percent last June.


Lucid EV’s Great Range; Microsoft’s Cash Cloud; AMEX Eyes Kabbage; Google Eases Virtual Education

In a shot over the bow of Tesla and every other electric vehicle maker, Lucid Motors said Tuesday that its upcoming all-electric luxury sedan can travel 517 miles on a single charge — a range that, if validated by the U.S. EPA, blows past every other EV on the road today including Tesla. Techcrunch.com reports that the estimated EPA range was released ahead of the September 9 reveal of the Lucid Air. The estimated EPA range was verified by independent firm FEV North America.

Windows OS is no longer Microsoft’s biggest cash cow. In a government filing noted by geekwire.com, Microsoft’s back-end server products and cloud services are booming. Revenue grew by nearly 27% to $41.4 billion in the product category of Server and Cloud Services in the fiscal year ended June 30. Office and Cloud Services revenue was the second-fastest growing category, at 11%, reaching $35.3 billion in revenue for the year. Windows grew by 9% to $22.3 billion.

American Express is in advanced talks to buy the online small-business lender Kabbage, which is backed by investors including Japan’s SoftBank Group and Reverence Capital Partners, according Bloomberg. The all-cash deal could value the closely held lender at as much as $850 million. An agreement could be announced as soon as this month, though talks could still fall apart. AmEx is already the largest provider of small-business credit cards in the country. With Kabbage, it could be a bigger provider of loans to mom-and-pop shops as well.

Google has announced a number of new features to help make virtual education easier. Theverge.com says for Meet, a larger tiled view that can show up to 49 participants will now arrive in September. Google will integrate its digital whiteboard product, Jamboard, into Meet too. In October, teachers will be able to track attendance in Meet meetings. Also, Google will let students get help with a homework problem just by taking a photo of it using Google Lens.


iPhones & WeChat; Facebook Financial; More 5G Spectrum; Video Game Spending Up

The US executive order banning WeChat could have a big impact on Apple. Noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is quoted in Macrumors as saying if Apple has to drop the app from iPhones, it could cost them 25-30% of their sales in China. Apparently, Mobile users there use the app for messaging, payment, e-commerce, social networking, news reading, and productivity…kind of a one-stop app. If WeChat only has to come out of the US App store, Apple would only take a 3% hit. Last quarter, China accounted for 15% of Apple revenue.

Facebook has decided to wade further into commerce with the creation of a new group focused on payments. According to Bloomberg, it’s called F2 internally (short for Facebook Financial), and is intended to take care of all payments-related projects including Facebook Pay, the company’s own e-commerce system. The plan is to unify payments on the company’s various platforms such as Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp under one roof. Facebook believes that enabling such purchases will make advertising more valuable.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has agreed to give up 100MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum for commercial use, a process that will augment U.S. 5G networks over the next two years. That band is considered a good compromise between older low band cell range and the new 5G bands. The band will support towers and devices operating at “full commercial power levels” from coast to coast. Spectrum will be auctioned in 2021, and it should be available for consumers by 2022.

If it wasn’t already obvious that the coronavirus has been a boon for the video game market, industry analysts at the NPD Group have more evidence. Engadget.com reports that people spent more on video games in the US in the second quarter than ever before. Total spending of $11.6 billion marked a 30 percent year-over-year increase and a seven percent bump over the prior quarter, when spending hit a then-record of $10.9 billion. Hardware sales were “only” $848 million, but that mark represented a massive 57 percent bump from Q2 2019.


Twitter Eyes TikTok; Simon Malls Look to Amazon;, Hyundai Will Add EV’s to Lineup; Surface Duo to AT&T

Add Twitter to TikTok’s list of potential dance partners. The Wall Street Journal reports that the social network has had preliminary talks with TikTok about buying the US operations of the hugely popular, Chinese-owned video app. On Thursday, President Trump issued an executive order that would effectively ban TikTok in the US. mid-September, so there’s the prospect of a sale to a US company. Meanwhile, TikTok could file a federal lawsuit challenging the order as soon as tomorrow.

Simon Property Group, the biggest mall owner in the U.S., has been in talks with Amazon.com to turn some of its Sears and JC Penny anchor department-store spaces into Amazon fulfillment centers. For Amazon, more fulfillment centers near residential areas would speed up the crucial last mile of delivery. For Simon, turning over what was once prime mall space to fulfillment centers shows it would be willing to relinquish an essential way to bring in more mall traffic to secure a steady tenant.

Hyundai is going to market a range of new battery-electric cars under Ioniq branding. Arstechnica.com says the present subcompact that comes in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and EV flavors, but early in 2021 those cars will be joined by the Ioniq 5, a midsize EV crossover based on a 2019 concept called 45. In 2022, Ioniq will launch the Ioniq 6. Hyundai is aiming to sell 1 million EVs a year by 2025. By that same year it also plans to sell more than half a million hydrogen fuel cell EVs.

Microsoft’s Android Foldable is rumored to go on sale and start shipping as soon as this month. Official-looking renders have leaked that show the final hardware design of the Surface Duo. 9to5google.com notes the big difference from earlier leaks is the inclusion of a flash in the top-right corner. This is a leak of “Microsoft Surface Duo for AT&T.” That could be the carrier Microsoft is offering the Surface Duo on, and the origin.


Google May Announce Folding Pixel Next Year; Twitter Users Can Now Limit Replies; US Wants to Purge ‘Untrusted’ Chinese Apps; Ceiling Fans With UV Light to Kill Viruses

Just after previewing their own new flagship Pixel phones, and on the heels of the new Galaxy Z Fold 2 introduction at Samsung’s Unpacked yesterday, an internal document has been uncovered that indicates Google may be hard at work on a folding phone of its own, slated for a 2021 rollout. According to Digital Trends, the document notes that they are trialing Android on 4 new handsets, including one code-named Passport,’ which is labeled in the document as ‘foldable.’ Google added support for ‘foldable’ last year in Android for developers to start optimizing apps for multi-display phones.

As promised a few months ago, Twitter is now allowing some users to limit who can reply to their Tweets. Engadget.com reports that the Twitter iOS app has been updated with options to restrict replies to tweets to people you follow or just those you mention. As yet, the platform hasn’t announced when the feature will be available on Android. As with anything like this, it’s a two-edged sword…it will further reduce harassment and prevent uninvited clutter into your Twitter convos, but it will also reinforce filter bubbles where users don’t go outside their own perspective and therefore have no idea about what folks with other points of view might be thinking.

The Trump government continues to go after China…now, they want to purge App Stores of ‘untrusted’ Chinese apps. Macrumors.com says Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims the U.S. “Clean Network” program would focus on five areas and include steps to prevent various Chinese apps and telecoms companies from accessing the sensitive information of American citizens and businesses. One U.S. official said it was a push back against a “massive campaign to steal and weaponize our data against us.” As with everything on the web, the devil will be in the attempt to enforce this ban. It’s mind-numbingly easy to build an app say in China, then get it to other alleged developers or a shell company located elsewhere…and they would still be able to scoop up data on US users. One day, hopefully soon, we will have leaders who either understand this concept, or are smart enough to hire people that do and listen to them.

This sounds like a news of the weird item, but here’s at least an innovative idea for fighting COVID-19 and other viruses and bacteria. Big Ass Fans out of Lexington Kentucky is touting a ceiling fan with built in UV light to help rid your home of viruses. According to cnet.com, their higher end Haiku ceiling fan can be equipped with the UV lights. It does boost the price by $500…making the already pricey fans at $1250 even more so…$1750…whew? Big Ass fans first worked with UV in 2011 when they teamed with an architecture firm to equip a hospital in Rwanda to help kill TB. You are probably thinking that it might be unsafe to be bathed in UV light. These fans point the UV light upward, and the company says they kill ‘up to 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, mold and other harmful airborne agents that pass through the disinfection zone.’ While they can’t say it kills COVID-19 with certainty, the UV does kill SARS and MERS, two other coronaviruses. The fans’ lamps put out UV in the same range as medical grade ones. After a bit more testing, Big Ass hopes to have the fans out soon.


Samsung Unpacked-Note 20 Series, Galaxy Fold 2; Instagram Launches Reels; Musk- Smaller Cybertruck ‘Likely’; Zynga Posts Record Revenue, Still Has Net Loss

As anticipated, Samsung rolled out new Galaxy Note 20 phones today, as well as a freshened Galaxy Fold Z at their Unpacked event. Theverge.com reports that The Note 20 Ultra is pretty similar to the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The cam is unchanged with the 108MP sensor, and it retains the 6.9 inch screen. The Note 20 has a 6.7 inch screen, and a 12MP primary camera. the Note 20 starts at $999, and the Ultra at $1299. Both are available from Samsung.com and retailers. Both have Mystic Bronze, but the Ultra also comes in Black or White. the Note 20 offers Gray and Green.

The Galaxy Z Fold 2 now has a full-size 6.2 inch outside screen that covers the entire front of the phone…a vast improvement over the last model’s small outside screen. the Main display inside has grown to 7.6 inches. There is no longer the odd, notched corner…just a hole punch cam in the screen. The biggest question is durability…will the new model hold up better long the actual fold. The original was delayed months after review units sent to media members failed almost immediately. Not cool on a phone that runs $1980. The Z Fold 2 will be out in Mystic Black and Mystic Bronze, but Samsung didn’t give us a release date or a price as yet. They are promising both in September.

In a direct shot at trying to steal users from the insanely popular TikTok, Facebook’s Instagram has launched Reels. According to engadget.com, the launch is going live now in 50 countries, including the US, UK, France, Australia, and Japan. Facebook has been down this path before, but it may be with Reels, they will have a real shot. Instagram already skews younger for Facebook, and that’s the users that TikTok has and Facebook wants. The app feature lets you record a series of clips from Instagram’s in-app camera, including music and AR effects. Facebook claims much more sophisticated editing tools than it has in Stories on the main app. Once you upload, the Reels pile is automatically shared to the new Reels section of Explore. They hope this will ape TikTok’s ForYou page, and get viral use going.

If you are one who likes the unusual…to say the least…Tesla Cybertruck, but it’s just too big for your use, you’re in luck. Elon Musk has said (in Tweets) that a smaller version is ‘Highly likely down the road.’ Mashable.com notes that, when asked about one with less width…which would be better suited to cities and European roads, Musk replied it was true that a narrow track would be better for those uses, intimating that a smaller truck would also be less wide. The full-sized Cybertruck is supposed to go on sale in 2021. As for ‘down the road’ for a smaller one, that could be several years away.

Zynga has posted the highest revenue figure ever…$452 million, a 47% increase over last year. According to The Hollywood Reporter, this came largely due to better results for the match-3 puzzle and RPG crossover game Empires & Puzzles. Even with the revenue boost, Zynga had a net income loss of $150 million…partly offset by an increase in contingent consideration expenses on the heels of acquiring Small Giant Games and Small Gram Games.


Apple Updates iMacs; T-Mobile 5G Net-Better Indoor & Rural Coverage; Google Brings Nearby Share to Android; Microsoft-Much Bigger Bug Bounties

Apple freshened its iMacs today. Theverge.com reports that both the 21.5 inch and 27 inch models get Intel’s 10th ten Comet Lake processors, and the webcams will also be 1080p HD instead of the low-res 720p ones found on other Macs. SSDs are now standard across the line. There are a raft of configurations, but the base 27 inch iMac starts at $1799, and the entry level 21.5 inch iMac is priced at $1099. They ship next week. Note that the powerhouse iMac Pro is not getting updated at this time.

An Apple feature I use daily is AirDrop..which lets me send a file from my phone to my laptop, or vice versa. Now, Google is bringing this handy feature (albeit with a different name) to Android devices. According to businessinsider.com, Google calls it ‘Nearby Share.’ It will allow sharing between Android devices, and also will be coming to Chromebook in the next few months. It will work on Android 6.0 and higher. Google Pixels and some Samsung phones will be first to get the update with the new feature.

By now, most everyone has heard about the blindingly faster speed coming with 5G networks and phones. Cnet.com says that’s not all. T-Mobile’s 5G network upgrade is also bringing better indoor and rural coverage. T-Mobile claims its Standalone 5G doesn’t have to be anchored to any existing 4G LTE service, which allows them to offer better coverage and performance. For one thing, you won’t get the latency that happens on nets that are tied to older LTE services. This will make the net seem much faster. T-Mobile claims latency improvements of up to 40%. You should have pretty glitch free streaming over this new network, even if indoors or out further into the countryside.

Microsoft has stepped up its bounty game for bug finds, paying out $13.7 million to security researchers since last July. Zdnet.com reports that now Microsoft’s bounties have far exceeded Google’s, which were about $6.5 million in 2019. So far this year, 11 zero-day vulnerabilities have been squashed, and Microsoft patched a grand total of 115 vulnerabilities in just March alone.


Google Bows Pixel 5, 5G, & 4A Phones; Microsoft Still Dealing for TikTok; Apple Grabs Payment Terminal Startup; GM- 2700 Fast EV Chargers; Starbucks Reports Interesting Home Working Effect

Google made it official, with 3 updated Pixel phones today. According to theverge.com, the budget Pixel 4A is available for preorder now, and ships August 20th. They also bowed the Pixel 5 and 5G, but those models won’t be available until fall. If you are on a budget, and want 5G, some good news….the Pixel 4A 5G (say that 3 times fast!) is starting at $499, but won’t drop until fall like like the 5 and 5G. As with Apple, Google blamed the pandemic for the delayed release. The regular 4A is $349.

After talks paused over the weekend due to rumblings that Donald Trump would try to block TikTok in the U, it looks like things are back on for Microsoft to acquire TikTok in the US and several other territories. Macrumors.com reports it took a call from the White House to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to get things back on track. Trump appears to have changed hiss position on a deal between ByteDance and Redmond. Microsoft says that it is “committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.” Discussions will reportedly be complete between ByteDance and Microsoft by September 15th.

Apple has snapped up startup Mobeewave. Mobeewave has developed tech that turns iPhones into mobile payments terminals. 9to5mac.com says the deal was worth $100 million. The process works via NFC. Basically, the seller inputs the transaction amount into the app, then taps the client’s card onto the back of their iPhone. The payment gets processed right away. This could not only open up more options for the Apple Card, but could be a direct competitor for Square. Apple and partner Goldman Sachs would have to really step up for that, though, as Square is pretty well thought of for great customer service to their merchants.

One of Tesla’s big selling points has been its coast to coast Supercharger networks for quick charging cars. Now, mashable.com reports that General Motors is teaming up with EVgo’s charging network to add 2700 fast chargers in cities across the country. Right now, they are slated to install the hook ups in 35 cities over the next 5 years. EVgo has 800 fast charging stations already, and this partnership will add 650 more by 2025. They claim to be able to juice up electric vehicle batteries in 15 to 30 minutes. Tesla is still far ahead, with 2035 public stations and 18,100 individual chargers, though. One difference….GM and EVgo note that their chargers are open to all EV drivers, not just those with GM vehicles.

With people working from home more, Starbucks has noticed a marked change in coffee buying habits. According to zdnet.com, the early morning rush is gone. People are apparently making their own at home before jumping on the laptop. Now, Starbucks says their morning rush is happening around 9:30, as people sneak out for a coffee break. The coffee giant has also reported another new peak time…around 2 in the afternoon…as folks go out and grab a cup of java for that boost to get them through the afternoon and often…with home working…into the early evening.


Zillow- 90% Work From Home TFN; Impossible Burgers Now at Walmart; PayPal Sees Big Profit Jump; Apple Leads China Smartphone Growth

Zillow has announced that around 90% of its employees will have the option of working from home indefinitely. According to geekwire.com, the company put work from home in place in April due to the pandemic, and now says while they historically discouraged employees from working from home, “Our old preferences have been debunked during the pandemic.” That coming in a blog post from Dan Spaulding, Zillow’s chief people officer. Zillow has onboarded around 500 new employees since March, all digitally, via a new virtual program.

If you have been meaning to try an Impossible Burger, but haven’t been somewhere that has them…or haven’t picked some up in a grocery like Kroger, Safeway, Albertsons, or Vons, now giant retailer Walmart has added the plant-based burgers to some 2,000 stores. Engadget.com reports that the discounter will be selling 12 ounce packages of Impossible Burger in stores in all 50 states. Adding in Walmart’s 2,000 centers, the meatless burger should be available in over 8,000 grocery stores by the end of the year. I have tried them a couple times. They really do taste like a real burger…but were saltier than I normally would eat actual meat.

A big surge in e-commerce, coupled with new accounts boosted quarterly profits at PayPal by a whopping 86%! Reuters says the stock was up over 6% in after hours trading yesterday after the announcement. PayPal stock had already seen a 44% rise since May. They are now projecting 22% revenue growth for the year. This is quite a boost after PayPal withdrew full year guidance due to uncertainty over the pandemic. As it turns out, it has been a boon for them, as well as other online titans like Amazon.

Following a decline in the market in the 1st quarter, Apple has bounced back in China..growing 32% on the year thanks to continued strength of its iPhone 11 lineup (not to mention substantial discounting during an annual shopping festival Cupertino has avoided in the past.) Apple had the fastest growing smartphone brand in China in the 2nd quarter, according to macrumors.com and stats from Counterpoint Research. The new iPhone SE was one of the top 3 selling phones in the quarter…duplicating the smaller, cheaper phone’s performance in the US.


Tech Chiefs Grilled by Congress; TikTok Opening Algorithm; Starbucks Mobile Up, But Overall Down; Tesla may License Autopilot

The four big tech CEOs have been getting grilled by Congress today. As has been the case for some time now, Democrats and Republicans in the House differ widely in their questioning and in the direction the hearing is taking. CEO’s of Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Apple, and Amazon have been testifying after making opening statements…mainly defending their positions and urging continued hands off of their businesses by the government. Axios.com reports that Democrats have been probing about competitive abuses, while the GOP members seem more concerned (as is Trump) with alleged anti-conservative bias.

Rep. David Cicilline, the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee chair overseeing the hearing, accused Google CEO Sundar Pichai of stealing content from smaller companies to build out its search results. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced a grilling from Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, who sought to pin him down on the company’s 2012 acquisition of Instagram. Nadler said previously unseen emails reveal that Zuckerberg “saw Instagram as a threat that could potentially siphon business away from Facebook.”

In a ‘Well, duh’ moment, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos acknowledged that, despite past denials and company policy against it, he can’t rule out the possibility that employees have tapped third-party sales data to develop in-house products. A 2015 internal Apple email, meanwhile, appeared to show the company putting Chinese tech giant Baidu on a fast track for app review, contra claims the company treats all app developers equally. CEO Tim Cook insisted as much under questioning Wednesday.

Republicans brought a different focus. Ranking antitrust panel member Jim Sensenbrenner praised tech companies for their size and power, narrowing his criticism to the bias allegations. Rep. Jim Jordan, top Republican on the full Judiciary panel, greatly amplified that line of attack, stating flatly, “Big tech is out to get conservatives.”

TikTok has been getting slammed for connection to the Chinese government, so now the CEO, Kevin Mayer, say they will give outsiders access to the algorithms they use to sort and share user video…letting the outsiders “observe our moderation policies in real-time,” as he put it. TikTok hopes to counter the spate of bans of their product from company and government phones that has been growing lately. The Trump administration has even suggested an outright ban in the US might be coming. TikTok argues that without access to its platform, US ‘advertisers would again be left with few choices.’ I will pause here while folks in the ad and media business stop laughing and compose themselves. …..TikTok goes on to argue they are willing to take all necessary steps to ensure long-term availability and success of the platform.

The pandemic is hurting a lot of businesses, but also altering how they work. Starbucks has announced that in their 3rd quarter, mobile orders hit 22% of transactions, and delivery orders tripled from the prior quarter. Geekwire.com says Starbucks reported same-store sales plunged 40%, however. The coffee giant lot $3.1 billion in the quarter, due to reduced foot traffic, temporary store closures, and cutbacks in hours. The are moving more quickly to roll out their new store concept called Pickup. Coffeeholics would order ahead with the app, then just swing by and pick up their order. More of the conventional stores have begun doing curbside pickup also.

In a move to appear magnanimous, Elon Musk has Tweeted that Tesla is open licensing its Autopilot, and supplying powertrains and batteries to competitors. Techcrunch.com notes that German car makers are closing the gap between themselves and Tesla in the EV marketplace. It is worth noting that early investors in Tesla included Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, in part to access the EV maker’s battery tech, so Musk may have a bit of a hard sell on that part. Musk claims the interest in licensing flows form its major goal “to accelerate sustainable energy, not crush competitors.” Considering that several competitors are about to bow 15-30 EV models in the next couple years, I don’t think they are going to be crushed much by Tesla. VW is already licensing its tech, and cut a deal with Ford that could net it up to $20 billion.