Apple Wins Holiday Mobile Device Derby; Google’s AI Speech Synthesis; Sites Strike Back with Anti-Ad Blocking

Apple has again won the holiday activation war, with Samsung a distant second, and after that ‘everybody else. Macrumors.com reports that Flurry, which analyzes the data, found in the week from 12/19-12/25, Apple iOS devices grabbed 44% of activations…same as last year. Samsung took 26%. The Apple number is the same as last year in that week, while Samsung rose from 21% to 26%. Samsung’s 2016 numbers were impacted by loss of sales due to the recall of Note 7 devices. Through app makers that use their analytics service, Flurry is able to pull together data from over 2.1 billion devices around the world!

Google is claiming that the latest version of its AI speech synthesis…Tacotron 2…is nearly indistinguishable from human speech. 9to5google.com says the system works directly from written text, and Google claims it can use context to pronounce correctly words that are spelled identically like ‘read’ ( meaning to read) and ‘read’ (as in have read already). So…it has read what was written by Reid, and can voice it with the appropriate read? It apparently can also learn to stress or emphasize words.

Ad blockers have been effective for people using the web…so much so, that now nearly a third of the top 10,000 sites are taking ad blocking measures. According to techcrunch.com, many of the countermeasures are silent and highly sophisticated. Researchers at UC Riverside and University of Iowa have been following this, and say some ad blockers are responding by rewriting code to fend off the countermeasures. Sites have been using ‘bait’ content that is ad-like, and also taken to not loading any divs marked ‘Banner_ad’. The battle is beginning to resemble that between police radar makers and radar detectors!


10 Most Searched for Consumer Tech Products

Because we all love lists, and anyway….it lets me channel my inner Casey Kasem, what were the most searched for consumer tech products this past year? According to Google’s Year in Search report, here are the top 10 hottest items people were looking for:

10- The Samsung Galaxy Note 8…even with the firey demise of the popular Note 7, the Note 8 was widely anticipated by fans of the 7.

At #9, the Apple Watch 3…mainly propelled by the addition of cellular connectivity and improved health and fitness tracking.

The 8th biggest search item was Google’s own Pixel 2 smartphones. The model 1 had a shakey start, but the Pixel 2 looks like a big hit for Google.

At #7, the Super NES Classic…the $80  pint-sized version of the original Super NES that plays 21 built-in games.

The 6th most searched for consumer tech item was the iPhone 8 Plus…which has better internals than the 7 Plus and wireless charging in Apple’s biggest handset.

Holding down #5, and a bit of a surprise…the Razer phone. The maker of gaming computers and accessories touts the Razer’s incredibly smooth visual images in their first phone, priced at $700.

The fourth most searched item was Samsung’s hot selling Galaxy S8 smartphone, with its beautiful wrap around screen and wireless charging.

#3 was the Nintendo Switch, which has been a runaway smash hit for Nintendo. The Switch has sold over 10 million since March.

The #2 spot was taken by Apple’s widely anticipated all glass iPhone 10, or X as some people call it. The thousand dollar hero phone with no home button was eclipsed by Apple’s own iPhone 8…which was the #1 most searched consumer tech item of 2017.


Galaxy S9 Keeps Headphone Jack; True Depth Cam & Face ID Big iPhone X Draws; Netflix Kids See Way Less Ads; Google Poaches Apple Chip Engineers

Yes, it’s ‘old tech’, and yes it takes up space that prevents the screen from going clear to the top or bottom of a smartphone, but according to a rumor spotted by bgr.com, Samsung will keep the venerable 3.5 mm headphone jack on the upcoming Galaxy S9. The Galaxy will have the same size bezels as the S8, but upgraded internals…much like Apple’s ’S’ updates. The S9 Plus will get a dual camera, again taking a page out of Apple’s book. With Apple and most other makers opting to drop the headphone jack, though, swimming against the tide may draw in a significant number of users that refuse to go all in on Bluetooth only smartphones….particularly if they have invested hundreds of dollars in good noise cancelling wired headphones…you supposedly can’t use Bluetooth while flying, because ‘airplane mode’ turns it off.

In a report picked up by appleinsider.com, the big draws for the iPhone X are the TrueDepth camera and FaceID. Some analysts thought the FaceID concept might put buyers off, but according to the study by Strategy Analytics, buyer interest in the two features is ‘extremely positive.’ The firm surveyed 568 early adapters of the iPhone X, and also found that the so-called Super Retina HD display and improved battery life were big selling points.

It may be the death knell for sugary cereal and toy ads on TV. ‘It’ being the cord cutter household. According to bigstockphoto.com, so-called Netflix only households that use only streaming services and not over the air or cable channels have kids who see 230 hours LESS of ads per year….that’s a full 9.6 days of ads! Don’t cry your eyes out for the advertisers, though. Some will figure out ways to use ‘product placement’ in the actual kids shows to hawk their goods to the younger set…the same way products have been seen in movies for decades!

Apple has been designing chips in house for its mobile devices for several years, and is moving that way with Macs, too. Now, Google has stepped up its effort to poach Apple chip engineers, as it does the same. 9to5mac.com reports that Google has hired several key chip engineers away from its rival in Cupertino, including noted designer John Bruno. Prior to Apple, Bruno had worked at AMD.Google is not only designing chips for its Pixel line of smartphones, but also working on custom silicon for AI devices, like the wearables they, Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft are viewing as the future.


Magic Leap Unveals AR Headset; Apple Allowing Universal Apps-Mac and iOS; UK Deems High Speed Internet a Legal Right

We’ve been hearing whispers for years, and now Google-backed Magic Leap has taken the wraps off their augmented reality headset’s Creator Edition. 9to5google.com says they will be shipping in 2018, too! The setup consists of a ‘Lightwear’ headset connected to a circular ‘Lightpack’ via a couple cords…the Lightpack contains the processing and graphics, in a mid-sized disk that hangs off a belt or pocket…and a Control’ remote (smaller than most TV remotes) that provides for 6 degrees of freedom and movement. The headset has tech that detects and stores the exact location of walls, surfaces, and physical objects, and also what they are calling ‘360 degree sound field audio.’ The interface accepts inputs from voice, gestures, head poses, and eye tracking. No word on pricing for the Creator Edition yet, but their SDK should be released along with it, in addition to other tools for web and game developers.

Apple is readying to let developers release universal apps that will work across iPhones, iPads, and Macs early next year. In a Bloomberg News writeup picked up by macrumors.com, the official announcement and details could come in June at WWDC 2018. So far, it’s not known if Apple will merge the Mac App Store with the vastly more popular App Store for iOS, but that seems logical. The move would mean better apps for the Mac, since developers put a lot more time and energy into making apps for the more widely used iPhones and iPads.

In the wake of the FCC killing net neutrality here in the US, Britain has taken the opposite position. According to rawstory.com, the UK has deemed high speed internet a legal right for all citizens, and will require that never household is wired for it by 2020.. Communications company BT has pledged to drop around $788 million to connect about a million and a half rural homes to the net. Right now, about 95% of homes in the UK have broadband connections with 24 Mbps or higher speed.


More Galaxy S9 Rumors; Huawei Mate 10 Coming to US New Facebook Tools & Facial Recognition; Worst Passwords

It appears that Samsung will be again aping Apple, and the Galaxy S9 will be something of an ’S’ model…virtually identical on the outside to the present model. According to bgr.com, though, there will be some desirable upgrades inside. First off, it looks like a beefy 3200 mAh battery, up 7% from the S8. Also, the S9 reportedly will support Quick Charge 3.0 tech and 12W fast wireless charging. For comparison, Apple’s iPhone X, 8, and 8 Plus just have 7W fast charging. We should see the Galaxy S9 and S9+ in late February, and they should be in hand by March.

Huawei has be rumored to be working on coming to the US via at least one of the mobile carriers. Now, 9to5google.com reports that we will probably find out who at CES next month, and that the Mate 10 will go on sale in the US in 2018. The rumor is, the Huawei hero handset will be offered through AT&T and Verizon.

Facebook has announced some new features, including one that keeps people you’ve blocked from making up a new profile and trying to contact you. Techcrunch.com says the tool kit detects the IP address and other signals to make sure the person stays blocked. They also have added one to ignore conversations, and move those to your filtered messages folder. A really slick addition now uses facial recognition to notify you if someone uploads a photo with you in it…even if you’re not tagged. You can choose to stay untagged, tag yourself, or report the photo if you think it’s inappropriate.

What are the worst passwords of the year? Splash data has put out the list, taken from over 5 million passwords that were leaked across 2017 by hackers. Macrumors.com reports that the top one is an old favorite from way back. Here are the top 5…PLEASE tell me none of you reading this has ever used these!!
1. 123456
2.password
3. 12345678
4. querty
5. 12345
If you ‘have a friend’ who’s using any of these, ask them to change to something stronger, and don’t admit it!


Possible Folding Samsung Phone Features; Toyota Plans 10 Battery EV Models; Twitter Enforces Hate & Violence Policies; Facebook Demotes Clickbait Posts

Another patent has surfaced for the folding Galaxy phone from Samsung. This one seems to indicate that the phone will not fold in half compactly like the old flip phones, but will open like a book, according to bgr.com. Also, when not in use, one screen can act as a touchpad for the other. The screens are attached with hinges, and can fold outward as well as inward to protect them, and stylus support appears to be in the plan. Ok…the phone in the drawings is really ugly and kludgy, but we’ll see what….if anything actually gets built.

Every car maker is now in full EV future mode. Reuters.com reports that Toyota is shooting for more than 10 battery EV models by the early 2020’s. They will initially bulk up EV sales in China, then move into Japan, India, the US, and Europe. Every Toyota and Lexus model will have either an electric hybrid or full battery electric version by 2025!

It’s been the wild, wild west up to now, but Twitter says it’s starting to enforce the new rules they announced a month ago about abuse, hateful conduct, and threats of violence. Theverge.com says the rules will apply to usernames and profiles as well as Tweets. They will also extend to cover accounts affiliated with hate groups both on and off the platform. They won’t apply to military or government entities, so don’t expect to see a lot of kindler and gentler posts from a well-known Tweeter on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C.

Rejoice, Facebookers! Facebook is starting to crack down on clickbait posts! According to recode.net, they have adjusted their algorithm to drop such posts down in News Feeds. The vast majority of us won’t miss those ‘like and share if you agree’ posts. It’s doubtful they can keep all such posts off our walls, but less of them will be a welcome change!


iMac Pro Ordering Open; Samsung Galaxy S9 Leak; Disney Buys Fox Film & TV Divisions

The new iMac Pro can be ordered online today from Apple. It’s a beast, aimed at audio and video pros, and as we told you earlier starts at $4999. Now, macrumors.com lets us know that it tops out at an eye-watering and wallet melting $13,199. Geek number crunchers have determined that the $4999 base is a reasonably fair price…a similarly equipped PC costs around $5100. The mid-range version of the iMac Pro completely smokes a 2013 Mac Pro…it’s 45% faster! Do you need one? Unless you ar doing advanced video and graphics editing, recording and editing an album, creating virtual reality content or doing real-time 3D rendering, probably not. For now, until the modular updated Mac Pro comes out, this may be the go to machine for video and audio pros.

Some renderings and specs have leaked out about the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+. Bgr.com describes is as an ’S’ generation of the Galaxy S8…quite similar in design and features, with some improvements. One bump up is reputed to be better cameras. Taking a page from Apple’s book (again), Samsung will, for the first time, put a better dual lens camera in the S9+…the S9 will just have a single lens cam on the back. Samsung has apparently moved the fingerprint sensor on the back a bit, too…it’s under the camera.

The Walt Disney Company has acquired the film and TV divisions of 21st Century Fox, as has been rumored. TechCrunch.com reports the price is over $52 billion in stock. Disney will get enough of Hulu to be majority shareholder, and also pick up Nat Geo, Star TV, Fox’s movie and TV studios, and Sky. Fox News and national sports channels will be spun off into a new company. With the film studio comes ownership of the original Star Wars film, the X-Men franchise, the Deadpool franchise, as well as Avatar. The mega deal will probably take 12-18 months to close, pending government approvals.


Apple Invests in Laser Chips for iPhone; T-Mobile Launching TV Service; Amazon Expands Same and One Day Delivery Service; Target Enters Same Day Delivery Biz

Apple has plowed $390 million into laser chip maker Finisar. Cnet.com says they will use the money to refurbish a plant in Texas to make chips designed for iPhones, running features like Face ID, animojis, and portrait photography. The plant is in Sherman Texas, and will employ 500 skilled workers…Finisar expects to start shipping by the 2nd half of 2018.

Oft times renegade wireless provider T-Mobile is launching a TV service in 2018, with the purchase of Layer4 TV. According to geekwire.com, T-Mobile CEO John Legere says will take on cable companies Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Frontier and Fox with the same competitive zeal that he has applied to Sprint, AT&T and Verizon. Legere made the announcement in a video, noting about cable and satellite providers ‘It’s no secret that these guys are the absolute worst”

Amazon has announced that it is expanding same day and one day delivery service to thousands more cities for Prime members. Now, the rapid deliveries will be available in some 8,000 cities! Faster delivery has been a major selling point for Prime, and lately Walmart has been getting into Amazon’s jeans with their 2 day delivery service. Now, techcrunch.com reports that Target is buying same day delivery service Shipt for $550 million. Shipt will run as an independent division of Target, and work to expand partnerships with other retailers in addition to serving Target. Target customers will need to sign up to be able to use Shipt. The first products available for same-day delivery will include groceries, non-perishable essentials, home and electronics equipment, and will expand over time to include all of Target’s wares by 2019.


Apple iMac Pro Out This Week; AmEx Drops Signatures; Switch Passes 10 million in As Many Months; Clapboss Wins the Irritating War

As Jobs used to say, ‘One more thing’…yes, Apple kicked the HomePod down the road into next year, but today announced that the iMac Pro will go on sale Thursday. Businessinsider.com reports that the pricey and powerful (starting at $4999) iMac sports a 27 inch Retina display, and can be upgraded (pushing up the nosebleed price even further) to 128 gigs of RAM, 4TB of storage, and an 18 core Intel Xeon processor. The Pro is really made for pros…audio and video pros who need all that power. Unlike the MacBook Pro, which has irritated Pros with only USB C ports and not even a Mag Safe connector, the iMac Pro rocks 4 USB ports, 4 Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, and a wired ethernet port. Did I mention it starts at almost 5 grand? My eyes are still watering!

American Express has announced that it will stop requiring signatures for purchases. Engadget.com notes that in the last few months, both MasterCard and Discover had announced the same, but only in the US and Canada starting in April. AmEx is dropping signatures globally. All say that tech advances have made signatures obsolete. In some regions people will still have to sign where required by law. This should move lines at check stands faster and increase the spread of cardless transaction systems like ApplePay.

Gaming is more than alive and well! Nintendo has announced that it has pumped out 10 million Switch consoles in 10 months! Variety.com says they are on track to pass up the Wii U soon, which took 5 years to sell 13.6 million! Three games account for over half of game sales: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Odyssey, and Splatoon 2.

If you’ve ever been irritated by thos obnoxious TV ads with the guy clapping to turn lights and Christmas trees on and off…or worse, been to Grandma’s and she actually bought and uses one, get ready for the ultimate annoyance….the Clapboss! Techcrunch.com says it’s a net connected dongle that lets you clap to turn things off and on. The Kickstarter is $39, and the irritating little dongle…which has a smug, smiley face on it…will be $80 retail. It supports 6 different clap patterns so you can turn on and off 6 different devices….and annoy the hell out of anyone living with you nearly to the point of justifiable homicide.


Google Home Max Out; Big Apple Watch Series 3 Sales Uptick Coming; Deactivated Keylogger in Some HP Laptops

Google Home Max is rolling out to stores….it should be available in limited numbers today in Best Buy and Verizon stores, according to arstechnica.com. The $399 Home Has has dual 4.5 inch woofers and custom tweeters, and Google says it’s 20 times more powerful than the original Home. You can set it up either horizontally or vertically, and it has an aux input jack. Google’s ‘smart sound’ measures the room and it adjusts itself sonically to fit. With the delay of Apples HomePod, this gives Google a head start now in the premium home smart speaker market.

Number crunchers scouring supply lines are predicting that the Apple Watch Series 3, which was up in record territory for a wearable in November, will grow by 20% in 2018. 9to5mac.com reports that the Series 3 will hit 25 to 35 million units sold next year. The addition of health tracking, Gym Kit, Apple Pay Cash, and of course LTE connectivity seem to have been the magic combination that are propelling Watch sales now.

It’s bad enough that the FCC may be voting to allow paid fast lanes on the internet this week. Now, here’s a chilling nugget: Some HP laptops have a deactivated key logger on them. Techcrunch.com says the software has been found on over 460 HP laptop models. It’s deactivated by default, but could be turned on by any hacker getting physical access to the laptop. Upon raising the issue to HP, they have responded that it is a debug trace, that that there’s a software update out to remove it. Here’s a link to download the update: https://support.hp.com/us-en/document/c05827409