Alexa Can Send SMS Messages; Amazon QR ‘Smile’ Codes; Samsung Chip Biz Eclipses Intel; Apple Still Bringing iOS Apps to Macs

Bringing us one step closer to a Star Trek future, Amazon just rolled out another skill for Alexa. Thenextweb.com reports that now you can send SMS text messages by voice command over your Echo or other speaker that has Alexa. A couple of notes, though. It doesn’t work for texting 911 or sending group messages or MMS. Should be pretty handy though, if you need to send a text, and your phone’s across the room or across the house!

Yet another trick Amazon has pulled out of its sleeve…they are working with their own version of QR codes…those little boxes with gibberish patterns. TechCrunch.com says they call them ‘SmileCodes.’ In this case, you can open the scanner that is built into the Amazon app, scan the code, and it will take you to that item on Amazon’s site, or play a related movie trailer or product review. Right now, the codes are listed to pop-up shops and Amazon Lockers in Europe, but the test should be over soon, and expect a rollout in the US before long.

After decades as the top dog in chip manufacturing, Intel has been eclipsed by Samsung as of 2017. The numbers have been crunched, and according to theverge.com, Samsung raked in $69.1 billion worth of the little silicon rascals, while Intel’s take was $62.8 billion. To be fair, Samsung produced more memory and flash, while Intel still leads in processor chips. With the demand only set to increase with self-driving vehicles and more AI coming on line, Samsung should be sitting pretty with this segment of their business.

Yesterday, there was a story out that Apple would be holding back some features for iOS 12 in order to focus on security and reliability of the OS. Apparently, one feature that won’t be held back will be the ability to port iOS apps to Macs. Cnet.com says the team developing that is still on track to roll it out this year, which will make the App Store on the Mac a lot more fun and interesting.

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Waymo & Fiat Chrysler Expand Ride-Hailing; Facebook Looks to Local News; iPhone X Top 3 Worldwide; Verizon Won’t Carry Huawei Line

Fiat Chrysler is preparing to provide Google’s Waymo with thousands of Pacifica hybrid minivans, as Waymo’s self-driving division rolls out public ride hailing services later this year. Reuters.com says this could press GM and Lyft to pick up the pace, as well as Uber, which already has a test fleet running. Waymo had been been testing out 500 Fiat Chrysler self-driving mini-vans through 2017 in 25 cities.

Facebook plans to start showing more local news in user newsfeeds. According to businessinsider.com, they will start this in the US, and expand to other countries later in the year. The Facebook definition of ‘local’ is if its links ‘are clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area,’ not the logical ‘is actually IN a local geographic area!’

With reports out that Apple is cutting iPhone X production from 40 to 20 million this quarter, some good news popped up. 9to5mac.com reports that Kantar found the pricey Apple hero phone was the #3 phone in all the regions they monitor during December. That includes Europe, China, Japan, Australia, and the US. iOS sales overall were down half a percentage point in the US, but loyalty hit a record high 96%. Apple and Samsung account for more than 2/3 of the US market at a combined 70.8%.

Under pressure from the government, Verizon has dropped plans to carry Huawei mobile devices. 9to5google.com says AT&T had previously backed out of carrying the Mate 10 Pro. The government apparently is concerned about the closeness of the Chinese government to the phone maker and their possible ability to manipulate upcoming 5G cellular networks.


3 New Macs Coming; Google Home Catching Up With Amazon Echo; Nationalized 5G Network; Nissan Self-Parking Slippers

Apple is reportedly working on 3 new Models (maybe more). They will be integrated with custom co-processors, and Cupertino has both new laptops and desktops in the works, according to macrumors.com. Some could be out yet this year. Apple had already confirmed it was working on an new, modular Mac Pro, but what other models could be refreshed are only an educated guess at this point. The MacBooks and MacBook Pros could use it for sure, as well as the Air, and Mac Mini.

Amazon has held the lion’s share of home speakers with it’s Echo line, powered by Alexa, sitting at 69%. 9to5google.com points out that Google Home has grown from almost nowhere to 31% already, though, and now with the Apple HomePod just out, expect more erosion in that number. Google Home barely registered in June of 2017, but during the holidays grabbed 40% of sales…mainly due to success of the Home Mini! Microsoft’s Cortana speakers haven’t really moved the needle, but Apple could…recall how they jumped into the already going portable music market years ago with the iPod, and virtually took that segment over.

You have to go a ways to freak out and infuriate both the far left and the far right, but it looks like an idea from the Trump Administration has done just that. According to businessinsider.com, they are exploring a form of nationalized 5G wireless network. The government apparently fears a huge cybersecurity threat…mainly from China…if they don’t. Folks on the left and the right are more freaked out by the prospect of the government controlling the wireless network. The administration is looking at a totally government one, or a national network in partnership with the wireless companies. Both AT&T and Verizon have responded, noting that they are ‘already well down the road’ to 5G wireless networks nationwide. In other words…’bug off!’

Self-driving cars? Pfft! Get me some of these self-driving, self-parking slippers. Bgr.com says Nissan has made some for a Japanese hotel, the ProPILOT Ryokan. Little wheels drop out of the bottom, and a small electric motor run by a processor magically returns the slippers to their proper place! Apparently the TV remote will do the same in rooms, and the bedding is wired with tricks of their own. Personally, I bow down to our robot overlords…and request that my slippers head over here to my feet!


Samsung Galaxy Invite/Cam Tease; Porsche Plans ‘More Super’ Superchargers; AT&T’s ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ Ploy

Samsung has sent invites to the Galaxy S9 launch, which is February 25th in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress. It will be at noon Eastern time, 9am Pacific. The invite teases cam improvements with ‘Camera, reimagined.’ It’s expected to have improved battery life, in addition to whatever camera tricks are announced. The verge.com notes that the event will be live streamed on Samsung’s website.

With most auto makers racing to produce many electric and hybrid models, you can expect fast ones from Porsche. Speed on the highway is apparently not all, according to bgr.com. Porsche’s head of Electrics/Electronics Development, Uew Michael said in an interview that the upcoming Mission E (which will start at $85,000, right in the breadbasket of the Tesla Model S) will not only be fast, but charge fast. Porsche is going to put out its own supercharger recharging stations that will give you 250 miles of range on a 20 minute charge! Right now, Tesla can get you a half charge in 30 minutes and it takes 75 minutes on a supercharger for a full charge. The Porsche Mission E will have a max range of 310 miles, and do 0-60 in under 3.5 seconds, with a top speed of 155 mph!

AT&T is running ads saying it is pro net neutrality, and always has been. Techcrunch.com reports that they are pushing for an ‘internet Bill of Rights’ for users. If that sounds like the opposite of what they have favored to you, you’re right. It’s really just a sneaky way to try to get Congress to tightly regulate Facebook and Google. Even the FCC noted in a report that AT&T favored content at its own DirecTV over other content providers. Of course, what the phone company doesn’t come out and say when they call for control of these internet companies. is that they are content providers that furnish content ON the internet, they don’t provide ACCESS to the internet like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. The ISPs would love to kneecap content providers besides them…it’s good for their business and bad for Facebook, Google…and users.


Facebook to Update Privacy; Apple iOS 11.3 Features; Bitcoin & Real Estate

Facebook will roll out a global privacy settings hub later this hear. Techcrunch.com says. The social media giant claims it will put core privacy settings on FB in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data. This has been expected due to their need to support the General Data Protection Regulation…or face penalties. Those standards go into effect for the European Union starting May 25th. Fines can reach 4%, which would be over a billion dollars based on 2016 revenue…so we can anticipate compliance!

Apple will roll out iOS 11.3 this spring, with controls to allow you to undo throttling of older iPhones to save battery life, new Animoji, and health record access. Macrumors.com reports that the new Animoji include a lion, bear, dragon, and skull, bringing the total to 16. Apple is expanding the Health App, and you will be able to view available medical data from providers who are participating including Johns Hopkins and Cedars-Sinai. That data is encrypted, and will be protected by a passcode. In addition to removing processor throttling to save battery on older iPhones, the updated software will give more info about the health of a device’s battery, including a recommendation that the battery be serviced (translation: replaced.)

In Bitcoin news, real estate has become a hot market. It may seem crazy to trade in the cryptocurrency with transactions involving pricey real estate, but properties are for sale and changing hands in the US, Canada, and Australia now using it. In fact, according to Mashable.com, At the end of 2017 a Miami condo reportedly sold for 17.7 bitcoin and actual cryptocurrency was exchanged between the buyer and seller. Not just bitcoin converted into cash, which is the more popular way to use the coin. Meanwhile, at the lower end, online payments company Stripe is dropping Bitcoin as a payment option effective April 23rd. They say it’s just too expensive for small transactions. Mining fees spiked at $37 per purchase in December.


Apple HomePod Launch Date & Feature Delay; iPhone X Discontinued When Successor Debuts; Amazon Discounts Echo Spot; Netflix Exceeds Growth Estimates

They didn’t have it ready for the holidays, but Apple’s HomePod goes on pre-order this Friday, and will finally launch February 9th. The premium smart speaker isn’t the priciest, but it’s close at $349. The initial launch is just in the US, UK, and Australia. Macrumors.com reports that the device will launch later in Germany and France, and also will launch without the multi-room connectivity or the ability to set up two in a room for stereo…those features will come in a software update later this year. It probably won’t hurt sales…at $700 for a pair, a lot of Apple fans will probably want to hear how just one sounds before springing for another $350!

Apple is apparently going to try a different tack with the launch of the successor to the iPhone X. The present iPhone X will be dropped. Apple hasn’t done this before, but accroding to reports from KGI Securities, Cupertino doesn’t want to drop the price since they already have a new lower-priced model coming out, and it would spit sales. KGI says they will probably price the 2nd gen iPhone X at $999, like the present one, and the larger 6.5 inch screen model (iPhone X Plus) should start at $100 more. Then, the new mid-range 6.1 inch screen iPhone will be $649 or $749…this is the one with Face ID and a full screen front, but has the LCD screen instead of OLED. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will remain at $549 and $669, and the 7 and 7 Plus will come in at $449 and $569. The entry level iPhone SE will be $349. Even with the original iPhone X as a single year orphan, there will be a wider range of iPhones than ever to pick from.

The Amazon Echo Spot is a cool little gadget…the small smart speaker sports a little color display, in addition to Alexa taking verbal commands. It’s been $130, but if you order a pair of them now, Amazon will knock off $40 bucks for the price of the pair.

Netflix picked up a lot more viewers through the holidays than analysts had predicted. According to bgr.com, they signed up enough to hit 8.33 million, blowing past the anticipated 6.3 million. The company hit the expected financials, and is now raising estimates for early 2018…but will have more competition ahead, as Disney will be rolling out its streaming service soon, and has poured cash into Hulu as well.


Amazon Go is a Go; Alexa for Business; Microsoft Goes For School Market; Moderating Kids’ Screen Time

The first Amazon Go convenience store is now open to the public in Seattle. Geekwire.com says anyone with an Amazon account and the Amazon Go app can now enter the world of checkout free shopping. The online giant originally planned to go live a year ago, but has been test running the concept on their own employees. You scan in a QR code when you go in, then sensors and cams detect what has been taken off shelves, and kept…they know what you put back…then, your account is charged when you exit. There are only a couple of people in the store to help, with more in the back that restock, and a crew making fresh food…that’s it. The draw of a no-checkout-line convenience store, and perhaps grocery and other retail stores, may eventually be irresistible. The only location so far is at 2131 7th Ave in Seattle, and it’s open 7am to 9pm, if you happen to be in the area and want to check it out…so to speak!

Amazon is getting into the smart office market with Alexa for Business. Zdnet.com reports that they plan to leverage it with giant Amazon Web Services, and custom Echo devices. This could eat up a lot of the smart office assistant market, at the expense of Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Echo. One thing that immediately comes to mind…what about the security of business and trade secrets when there are always on, internet connected microphones, and speakers listening in…allegedly for commands?

For a generation, the education market was the domain of Apple…then along came Google with the Chromebook. Now, Microsoft is going after it and Google with $189 Windows 10 laptops for schools. According to theverge.com, the machines are built by Lenovo, and are called the 100e. There is also a 300e model for $279…it’s a 2-in-one, that has pen support. Microsoft is also putting out content, such as a new Chemistry Update for Minecraft: Education Edition, and they plan to put out some Mixed Reality content for the education market, too.

Some academics at University of St Thomas have offered a new theory on kids and smart devices….instead of limiting screen time to 1-2 hours, moderate it. 9to5google.com says it may work better to divide time into ‘passive’ screen time like viewing videos, and ‘active’ time such as (parent approved) video games. The professor types aren’t the only ones who have come to believe this. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, saying alternating between consuming and acting appears to work better than a hard limit of an hour or two.