Microsoft Buying Parent of ZeniMax; Amazon Goes to Echelon for Prime Bike; Apple PCs & Tablets #1 With Consumers; Nikola Founder Resigns-Fraud AllegationsPosted: September 22, 2020
Microsoft will acquire ZeniMax Media, the parent company of studio Bethesda Softworks. Theverge.com notes that they are the maker of Doom and Fallout. Microsoft will now gain control of new games like the upcoming space epic Starfield. Future games like Starfield will launch on Xbox Game Pass the day they come to Xbox and PC. Even with the purchase, there are still a couple of Playstation 5 and PC exclusives….Deathloop and Ghostwire:Tokyo. Microsoft will honor those deals, but in the future, they say games will come to non-Xbox platforms on a ‘case by case’ basis. The next gen Xboxes drop November 10th.
Amazon has tapped Echelon to build and sell it’s Prime Bike. According to techcrunch.com, it’s almost a clone of the $1900 Peloton bike, only without the screen. The price? $500 from Amazon. Walmart has the same unit, except with different branding, of course. Echelon makes other bikes and fitness equipment…including a couple smart bikes that DO feature video screens. One runs $999 and the other is $1199. Sans screen, the Prime bike is only 80 lbs, compared to the 135 lb. Peloton. Since the bike has a book/tablet rest, you could actually do Peloton classes via their app on your tablet. By the way, if you prefer Walmart, it’ $500 there as well…under the name Connect Sport Bike.
Apple Macs and iPads continue to rule in customer satisfaction for 2020, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Macrumors.com shows that PCs overall get a 78% satisfaction rate. Macs make 82%, Samsung has 81, Acer 78, Amazon 78, and ASUS is 77%. When you drill down to just tablets, Samsung and Apple are tied. The rankings closely track the cell phone satisfaction rate. Both Apple and Samsung have had high and stable rates the last 5 years for PCs, tablets, and cell phones. For value, Samsung rates best in class among all PC makers.
Nikola founder Trevor Milton haas resigned as executive chairman, 10 days after it came out that the Nikola One wasn’t really fully functional as claimed when he rolled it out in 2016. Arstechnica.com reports that the stock has plunged over 18%. Apparently the Nikola One truck that appeared to be driving down a highway under its own power in a promo video in 2018 was faked, too…the truck was rolling down hill. The company acknowledged last week that it had never gotten the thing to work. The beans were spilled by short-seller Hindenburg Research. Now, the DOJ and SEC are investigating possible fraud. Nikola has appointed former GM etc Stephen Girsky as chairman. Mark Russell will remain CEO. Nikola has moved on to other products anyway, and i working to bring the Nikola Two and Nikola Tre big rigs to market, as well as the Badger pickup. There IS a functioning prototype of the Nikola Two, and since the company has now partnered with GM, Bosch, and Iveco, the newer product will likely make it to market. As we reported here earlier, GM will actually build the Badger pickup and provide design help, as well as the powertrain.
TikTok Deal in Trump Jeopardy; Facebook Will Let People Claim Image Ownership; Amazon ‘Sidewalk’ Neighborhood Network; Apple’s U1Chip PlansPosted: September 21, 2020
After it came out that Oracle and Walmart would take a minority share of TikTok in the US and host the service here, the latest from Reuters is that Donald Trump has said his administration will turn thumbs-down on the deal. Trump is insisting that a US company or companies have total control or else. He is not only doing this in his continuing squabble with China, but apparently is also still angry that young people on the platform put in for some one million tickets to his Oklahoma rally earlier this year (and of course, didn’t show up…so the crowd was much smaller than he expected.) It appears that he doesn’t understand that many of the younger users already bailed from TikTok to other platforms when he first said he would ban it, so shutting it down in the US will do nothing to stop any further shenanigans by young folks involving his campaign, should they choose to troll him further.
Facebook has updated policy to give people more control over the images they own, and ‘where they end up.’ According to theverge.com, the company is starting to work with some partners today to give them power to claim ownership of images, then moderate where those images show up on Facebook’s platforms…including Instagram. Eventually, the plan isn to open this feature to everyone, as i the car with music and video rights. No timeline for that has been forthcoming from Facebook at this point. To claim their copyright, the image rights holder uploads a CSV file to Facebook’s Rights Manager that contains all the image’s metadata. They’ll also specify where the copyright applies and can leave certain territories out. Once the manager verifies that the metadata and image match, it’ll then process that image and monitor where it shows up.
Amazon has disclosed more detail about its Sidewalk network, the low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol it developed to help connect smart devices inside and outside of your home. Techcrunch.com reports that in the near future, Echo units will become Bluetooth bridges for the sidewalk network later this year, and some Ring Floodlight and Spotlight cams will also be part of the network. Tile will become the first 3rd party device to use the Sidewalk network when it launches a comparable tracker…supposedly coming soon.
It was noted last week that Apple has included its U1 ultra-sideband chip in the new Watch 6. There has been much speculation over what the chip will be used for. Now, in a new leak, it appears that the upcoming AirPods Studio headphones will also have the chip. Macrumors.com says it can not only be used to sense the position of the headphones…so they will send left audio to your left ear and right to right no matter how you put them on, and locate the ‘cans’ with the Find My app, but the chip allows other applications…like directional detection of other in-range U1 devices. Apple had already disclosed that the chip will enable the next generation of digital car keys, and improved AirDrop. Besides the Watch, and the upcoming AirPods Studio, the chip is already in the iPhone 11 series, and is expected to be in the new iPhone 12 models.
Oculus Quest 2-Standalone VR; Google “Nearby” Search Filter for COVID Safety; AT&T Considering Cell Plans Subsidized by Ads; Library of Congress-AI Tool Searches 16 Million News Articles for PhotosPosted: September 16, 2020
Facebook has announced the Oculus Quest 2 at the Connect conference. According to engadget.com, the new unit has sharper displays…50% higher resolution than the prior model, and it also features smoother 90Hz refresh rates. Most importantly, the 2 starts at $299…a nice drop in price point for standalone VR. The 2 is 10% lighter than before, according to Facebook, and the head strap is a more flexible material. They will also offer different face plate options for wider and narrower heads. The Quest 2 will be available October 13th. For $299, you get 64 gigs of storage, and for another hundred, 256 gigs of storage.
Google has showed off a couple new features, including a “nearby” filter to determine if a product you are hunting for is available near you. 9to5google.com reports that the feature will also help you find in-store pickup, curbside pickup, and delivery options from stores. The features should be available soon, and Google isn also adding new features to its Merchant Center to help businesses optimize product listings to display the new features. This is all in response to what Google says has been a hefty spike in the past few months of people looking for ‘safe shopping’ and curbside pickup due COVID-19.
In the continued search for more money, AT&T is considering offering wireless plans subsidized by ads…maybe by next year. Reuters.com says it could mean a $5 or $10 cheaper phone bill per month. Although this has been tried before by Sprint’s Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, AT&T thinks better targeting will be the key to success with this plan. It ties in with the ad-supported version of AT&T’s video streaming service HBO Max.
The Library of Congress (LOC) had put out an AI search tool that lets you comb through some 16 million old newspaper pages for historical images. According to thenextweb.com, you just enter a keyword in the Newspaper Navigator, and the AI will surface matches with a data set of 1.56 million newspaper images. You can then narrow things to a date range and state where the paper was published. The images are clickable, and you can download them, plus read the article it is in…or even view the full issue of that paper.
No big surprises today…it seems more had leaked out about the Watch and iPad updates than is usual for Apple. There will be two new lines of Watch…the Series 6 and a new, cheaper SE. Apple is also keeping the Series 3 as an entry level model. The banner feature of the 6 is the blood oxygen sensor. The Watch can check this in 15 seconds. The top line Watch has a new processor (of course) which Apple claims is 20% faster than the last model, Series 5. It is supposed to have better performance but still keeps 18 hours of battery life. Charging time has been improved from dead to full in 1.5 hours.
The always-on display is 2.5 times brighter, for better outdoor viewing. It also has an always-on altimeter, and in fact, if you take a blood oxygen reading at high altitude, it will notify you of that fact below the reading number. Apple has added a new blue to sliver, gray, and gold colors, and a first…you can get a Product(RED) version, too. Stainless steel comes in either graphite or yellow gold, but no silver. The high line comes in either natural or black titanium…ceramic is gone. There are a number of new strap and face options, including a Memoji watch face. Family Setup lets a person connect a Watch for a child or children or with elder adults that don’t have an iPhone.
Apple has also bowed the Watch SE, which is a cheaper watch with the features of last year’s Series 5. The Series 6 starts at $399, and i available for order today, shipping this Friday. Note that there is no longer a USB power adapter included. The SE starts at $279. The Series 3 stays in the lineup at $199, but won’t have a number of the features of the new models, and has a smaller display size. You can finance the Watch via Apple Card and spread out payments if you like. (Apple has become like Sears…with Easy Pay, LOL!)
Apple also showed off the new iPad Air today, which is very similar to the Pro. It has thinner bezels all around, for more screen space, and the Touch ID has moved to the ON button at the top of the unit. The Air has a 10.9 inch screen in the same size package as the older model. Naturally, there is a new chip, the A14 Bionic, which Apple says gives a 40% bump in performance. The new Air will also get a USB-C port, will support the Pencil (which not only attaches magnetically to the side but charges that way, too.) The Air supports the $179 (yikes) Smart Keyboard Folio. It starts at $599 and is available next month. Five colors are available: silver, space gray, rose gold, green, new sky blue.
Amazon Hiring 100K in Operations; Google Will Bow New Pixel & More; Oracle Gets USS TikTok; Nvidia Confirms Arm PurchasePosted: September 14, 2020
Amazon had previously announced plans to hire some 30,000 corporate and tech employees. Now, comes word from geekwire.com that they are also looking to hire an additional 100,000 full and part time operations employees around the US and Canada, to keep up with exploding demand. They have also announced plans to open 100 new warehouses and fulfillment centers. Amazon just tacked on 175,000 new operations workers in March and April, so now will swell their ranks to over a million employees. The career day for corporate and tech employees, featuring some 20,000 free coaching sessions, is this Wednesday.
Google is planning to roll out a new Pixel phone, Chromecast, and smart speaker on September 30th. According to techcrunch.com, the event may feature a 5G Pixel 5 and 4a, although there has been some talk about Google ‘going in a new direction,’ which might not allow the new handsets to run 5G. Google had filed patents for a Nest that responds to hand gestures earlier, so that may be something which shows up at the event, as well as other Google Home hardware.
Microsoft is apparently out, and Oracle has won the TikTok sweepstakes. Arstechnica.com says that ByteDance rejected Microsoft’s bid yesterday. According to the Wall St. Journal, it won’t be an outright sale. Instead, Oracle will become ByteDance’s US “tech partner.” The details of the transaction aren’t yet public, but they will soon be submitted to US regulators for their approval. Oracle doesn’t have any apparent business operations that seem to sync up with TikTok, but the chairman, Larry Ellison, is one of a handful of tech billionaires who openly support Trump, so perhaps ByteDance and the Chinese government see this as a way of greasing the skids and keeping a toehold in TikTok’s US presence. The lack of an outright sale is most likely a way to save face for the Chinese government.
Nvidia has confirmed it is acquiring Arm Holdings for $40 billion. Arm chip designs are licensed by Apple for the iPhone and iPad, and will also power the next generation of Macs, as 9to5mac.com notes. At this point, it isn’t clear what the move of Arm from SoftBank to Nvidia will mean for Apple. Nvidia and Apple have had a rough relationship for a while now. Nvidia says Arm will “continue to operate its open-licensing model while maintaining the global customer neutrality that has been foundational to its success.” Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized that the company has no intentions of doing anything that would cause clients like Apple to walk away. Apple has licensed Arm tech since 2006.
Amazon Career Day-Thousands of Jobs; Nintendo Ramping up Switch Production; Panasonic Increasing Battery Production at Tesla Gigafactory; Google Phone App to More DevicesPosted: September 9, 2020
Amazon will be holding its virtual career day on September 16th. Cnet.com reports that the online and cloud giant wants to add about 33,000 corporate and tech positions, as well as thousands of additional hourly gigs within its operations network. Amazon will provide around 20,000 career coaching sessions during the event, and will also have panel discussions, code workshops, and interviews with Amazon execs. Registration for the event should be open now.
Nintendo is ramping up Switch production again to keep up with increased demand continuing during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to engadget.com, they are shooting for 30 million of the units this year, up from 19-22 million early in the year, and after re-setting to 25 million later during the pandemic. Both the Switch and Switch Lite are in short enough supply to command premium prices on Amazon and elsewhere. Nintendo has a new Switch on the drawing board for next year. It may be a high-end model, as some game makers have been asked to program 4K upgrades to their titles.
Panasonic is firing cup another production line at the giant Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada. Techcrunch.com says the expansion will increase cell capacity by 10%. The line will mean adding 100 more jobs at the Sparks, NV factory. The line will produce the so-called ’2170’ lithium-ion cells it supplies to Tesla, an improved tech that boasts a 5% better energy density than previous batteries. It also reduces expensive cobalt content. They are saying continued improvement could bring 20% better energy density over the next 5 years.
Google has announced ‘verified calls’ as a feature for its phone app, which will give users more info about who is calling you. Theverge.com reports that that app, which has only been on Pixel and Android One phones, will be made available as a download for a limited set of additional phones running Android Pie and higher. The feature can be configured by the business to not only give the business name, but nature of the call…for example, your bank might flag it under the verified badge with ‘fraud alert.’ Google also has a verified SMS feature that came out last year.
New Watch and iPads.
Samsung Snags $6.6 Billion Verizon Order; Microsoft-Xbox Series S; Apple Watch 5 Scarce-New Models Soon; GM Pours $2 Billion into EV Maker NikolaPosted: September 8, 2020
Samsung has nailed down an order for 5G equipment from Verizon valued at $6.6 billion. According to venturebeat.com, Verizon has noted that it does not use any Huawei equipment, a major concern to the US government. Verizon had already been a Samsung customer. This will help Samsung make inroads into the global total telecom equipment market. Right now, they have a 3% share. Huawei holds 28% for #1, followed by Nokia with 16%, Ericsson at 14%, ZTE with 10%, and Cisco at 7%.
Microsoft has now officially confirmed a smaller, lower-line Xbox….the Series S console. Theverge.com reports that the price will be the previously leaked $299. Both it and the Series S will launch November 10th. The higher end unit will be $499. The Series S (codenamed Lockhart) is designed to play next-gen games in a smaller, cheaper package with less GPU power and lower resolution output than the Series X.
People are noting that the Apple Watch Series 5 in most configurations are not available from the Apple website. Considering the registering of a number of new unit numbers with the EU for Watches and iPads, it looks like Apple is close to announcing their virtual roll out of the iPhones and Watches. 9to5mac.com notes that one tout..Jon Prosser…had Tweeted that they would announce the Watch this week, but he was contradicted by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman…who theorizes that there will just be an announcement this week and invitation to the Apple event later this month. As we already are pretty sure that at least the higher line iPhones will be out late, it seems early in September for the actual event. The new Watch 6 models may have a blood oxygen level detection and better sleep monitoring. It appears they will have a brand new lower line watch to replace the 3 and 5 Series.
GM has announced a strategic partnership with EV maker Nikola. According to techcrunch.com, they will take an 11% stake in the company, and will build Nikola’s fuel cell pickup starting the end of 2022. Nikola plans to build both electric and fuel cell pickups, as well as big rigs, and vans (which Amazon has invested in and has ordered some 100,000 of). GM will supply fuel cells for the upcoming class 7/8 trucks, and will give Nikola their Ultium battery tech for the EVs. Access to GM’s manufacturing virtually assures that Nikola will be able to crank out EVs and fuel cell vehicles at volume quickly.
Facebook Limits Messenger Forwards & Will Ban New Political Ads Week Prior to Election; Amazon Day Delivery Option for Prime; Feds Can’t Ask Google for All phones Within 300 Meters; Court-NSA Bulk Phone Data Collection UnlawfulPosted: September 3, 2020
Facebook has now put a forwarding limit on Messenger. According to engadget.com, you will only be able to forward to 5 people or groups at a time. Facebook says this will slow the speed of viral misinformation and harmful content. (It will also slow the spread of spammy ‘chain letter’ crap and stupid videos some people insist on sending all the time.) Facebook owned WhatsApp introduced a similar rule in April, and saw a 70% decrease in forwarded messages.
In something that sounds better than it is, Facebook will now block NEW political ads a week before US elections, in an effort to protect voter integrity. They touted their support of election integrity in a post from CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The catch is, candidates and PACs will still be able to buy ads in the last week if their campaign started before October 27th. Facebook’s Zuckerberg claims that’s ok, as “Those ads will already be published transparently in our Ads Library so anyone, including fact-checkers and journalists, can scrutinize them.” Twitter has been blocking political ads since last November. Facebook has added a little box that appears under any post that mentions voting directing users to their Voter Information Center, which has “accurate, verified information and videos about how to vote.”
Amazon has introduced a new delivery option for Prime members….Amazon Day. The feature allows you to choose any day but Sunday to have all your current Amazon orders delivered to you at one time. Businessinsider.com notes that they give you the option to change your day preference at any time, too…as peoples’ schedules can change. You will still be able to choose same day, one day, two day, or no rush as before…this is an additional option. Amazon also says they will attempt to box up items in a single box or less boxes, cutting waste when people use this option.
The third time was not the charm, for the government. Courts in the Chicago area have now ruled 3 times that the government can’t get a warrant to make Google produce a list of smartphones near two specific commercial establishments during one of 3 45 minute periods. Arstechnica.com says the ruling was made last week, but was just made public. Google has complained of a huge increase in law enforcement use of this type of ‘geofence’ searches. In fact, it’s been a 1500% increase between 2017 and 2018, then another 600% from 2018 to 2019. That amounts to a 100-fold increase in two years. Google says last year it got 180 of the requests a WEEK! If this ruling is affirmed on appeal, it means law enforcement will have to be more particular and specific when they go to Google and other tech and broadband companies for location and other customer data.
The gears of the law grind slowly. Recall when Ed Snowden leaked about the NSA mass surveillance going on back in 2013? Now, Cnet.com reports that a federal appeals court has ruled that collection of bulk citizens’ phone records was illegal, and possibly Unconstitutional. The spy agency had tapped into the backbone of the internet in the US and cooperating countries, allegedly in the name of foreign surveillance. Congress ended the bulk collection program back in 2015 as part of the USA Freedom Act. The court’s ruling, written by Judge Marsha Berzon, held that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, didn’t permit bulk collection of phone users’ call records, as some had claimed. “The metadata collection exceeded the scope of Congress’s authorization,” she wrote.
Microsoft Launches ‘Deepfake’ Detector Tool; T-Mobile Promises Faster 5g at Thousands of Locations; Mandalorian Season 2 Date; Battery Free Gameboy Looks to FuturePosted: September 2, 2020
Just in time to assist in detecting fakes before the US election, Microsoft has launched a deep fake detector tool. Techcrunch.com reports that its called Video Authenticator. The tool gives ‘a percentage chance, or confidence score’ that the media has been artificially manipulated. This manipulation score works in real time on each frame as the video plays. Microsoft has partnered with the San Francisco based AI foundation to make the tool available to organizations involved in the democratic process this year — including news outlets and political campaigns.
T-Mobile beat its competitors out of the blocks with 5G, covering more than half the country with low band 600MHz signals early. The problem is, most of that coverage is barely faster than plain ol’ 4G (or LTE, as some call it.) Now, according to venture beat.com, T-Mobile has activated much faster 2.5GHz mid band 5G towers in some 90 cities and towns, and claims they will add thousands more by the end o 2021. Part of the delay was the merger with Sprint…they couldn’t repurpose the 2.5 Gig spectrum until the deal was done.
A brief, but highly awaited announcement from Disney + today….the start date for streaming season two of The Mandalorian! Engadget.com says you can begin enjoying Mando and Baby Yoda’s continuing saga on the most popular show from Disney + October 30th! Disney didn’t tell us if they are going to follow last year’s format of releasing an episode per week, or if they will make them all available at once, so you can binge clear through Halloween. The Mandalorian snagged 15 Emmy nominations for its 1st season. We’ll know what it may have won when the Primetime Emmy Awards airs on September 20th.
It’s not something coming to stores or websites, but a cool proof of concept looking to less battery reliance in the future. Cnet.com reports that a fellow from the Netherlands named Jasper de Winkel has converted Nintendo Gameboys to run battery free. The Dutch computer scientist has powered the rigs with a combination of solar panels and kinetic energy recycled from punching the buttons during gameplay. He and other computer scientists have been working on the concept for over a year. It looks pretty much like a classic Gameboy, but weighs half as much sans battery pack. It isn’t just a Gameboy without battery, though. The scientists are running modern processing power and what you see is really an emulator. This early iteration only runs about 10 seconds on solar, then you have to mash a button, but expect more of this sort of thing in the future.