Amazon Buys Ring; Apple Watch Tracks Skiing & SnowBoarding; Cheaper Fitbit Coming; BMW Smartphone Car Key

Amazon has swallowed up Ring, the smart doorbell and video maker. Ring’s WiFi equipped doorbells with cam detect when there is someone at the door, and notify you via your smartphone or tablet, and allow talkback. Geekwire.com says Amazon claims it will let Ring operate pretty autonomously like they have done with Zappos and Twitch, but expect tighter integration with Alexa powered devices as the online giant moves further into IoT.

As of today, if you have an Apple Watch Series 3, you can track skiing and snowboarding activity. Macrumors.com reports that apps snoww, Slopes, Squaw Alpine, Snocru, and Ski Tracks have been updated to enable custom tracking of specialized metrics including: total vertical descent and horizontal distance, number of runs, average and maximum speeds, total time spent, and of course, calories burned. Right now the SkiTracks app is integrated with Activity and Workout, so it will show up as credit towards Activity rings, and Snowcru will port active calorie measurements to the Activity app. Besides a Series 3 watch with the altimeter function, you’ll need WatchOS 4.2 or later. The apps are in the App Store now.

Fitbit didn’t get the kind of sales they wanted with the $300 Ionic smartwatch when it came out last fall. Now, cnet.com says they are close to rolling out a lower priced watch. Leaked renderings show a more rounded case, and the lower line watch won’t have GPS, but will have 50 meter water resistance. The lower priced watch apparently looks a lot like the Pebble Time Steel, which Pebble was making before Fitbit bought them a couple years ago. No pricing or precise release date is out as yet.

BMW showed a smartphone enabled car locking and unlocking at Mobile World Congress this week. According to mashable.com, the BMW Digital Key will be available to owners with Samsung smartphones. Besides the lock function, you can start the car from the phone, and there’s a wireless charging pad. Apparently, up to 5 family members will be able to use the feature, as long as they are on Samsung phones. BTW, you will still need the physical key fob to drive…for now.

Advertisements

More on the 6.5 Inch iPhone; California Allows Self-Driving Car Tests Sans Driver; Ford Tests Self-Drivers as a Business in Miami; Barclaycard Testing Legal Dine and Dash

Some new details have leaked out about the rumored 6.5 inch iPhone…which is phablet sized, really. 9to5mac.com says it may have dual sim card slots, which would make overseas travel or multiple numbers much easier to handle, especially for corporate travelers. There is a conflicting rumor that Apple may actually go with eSIM like they have on the iPad. Also out is the screen resolution…1242×2688, and word is, Apple may reintroduce gold as a color. Apple apparently dropped gold on the iPhone X due to production problems, but those may be solved.

California has green lighted testing self-driving cars without a driver riding along. TechCrunch.com reports that the DMV announced new rules yesterday that go into effect April 2nd. There will still need to be an always on 2-way communications channel with a live person at a remote location to take control, should the need arise. Right now, the rules only cover cars, not big rigs. Alphabet’s Waymo and GM look to be the first to put such driverless, remote supervised cars on the pavement.

In the meantime, Ford thinks they have a better idea….Florida. The automaker has started testing self-driving cars in Miami…but not just the cars, also the business model. Also according to tech crunch, Ford is testing out cars with its Argo AI software doing business tasks like delivering Domino’s Pizza and Postmates. Miami was selected because it is one of the most congested cities in the country. Ford says it will trial ride hailing in conjunction with Lyft later on in Miami.

If a trial run works out in London, Barclaycard may have a solution for legal dine and dash. According to engadget.com, they are testing out a tabletop device partnered with a smartphone app. If you’ve ever been frustrated by not being able to get the bill from a server and get out after you’ve eaten, you’ll love this. When you’re ready to leave, you just get up and leave. The app lets the in-restaurant equipment know, and the bill is charged to whatever card you have selected in advance…including the tip. No muss, no fuss, and no waiting around trying to flag down your server.


Samsung Galaxy S9 is Here; Sony Xperia XZ2 Gets 3D Scanning; Nokia Bows Retro Matrix Banana Phone; Apple Working on High End Over Ear Headphones

With all the leaks, there was precious little unknown about the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, but they were finally shown over the weekend at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. 9to5google.com notes that we did get the pricing, which isn’t as bad as predicted. The S9 will be $719 unlocked, and the S9+ weighs in at $839. They can be preordered March 2nd, and will be out March 16th. As predicted, it has a dual aperture camera, with the settings f/1.5 and f/2.4. The larger S9+ has the dual rear cams, too. Both phones have Face Unlock as well as IrisScanning. Samsung’s ‘Intellegent Scan’ turns out to actually just be a way to fallback to IrisScan if Face Unlock can’t be used. IrisScan and your fingerprint are still used for secure authentication, like Samsung Pay.

Sony has really never been able to gain traction in smartphones like they have in other electronics, so with the Xperia XZ2, they tout features ported over from their other devices. Zdnet.com reports that the phones have added 3D scanning to the front cam. This isn’t a huge feature now, but can create 3D selfies that can be uploaded to Facebook and be for avatar creation…which could be used in gaming features later. Sony has added a vibration system that they say adds to the ‘feel’ of bass heavy music, and they claim the screen tech comes from their Bravia TVs.

Once dominant, Nokia has been an also-ran in the era of smartphones. Now owned by HMD, the Nokia brand is re-introducing the Nokia 8110 from the 1999 movie ‘The Matrix.’ It comes in black like the movie, and banana yellow. Theverge.com says t’s still just a feature phone, not s smartphone, so you can’t run all your Android apps on it, but on the plus side…25 days of standby battery and it will be on sale in May for only $97. Use it and throw it in the trash when you’re zapped back to the Nebuchadnezzar.

A world away from smartphones….Apple is working on some high end over hear headphones to be released later this year. They will be Apple branded, not Beats, according to macrumors.com. The rumor is that they will have the ease of use of AirPods only with better sound. The leak indicates that the ‘cans’ will be more expensive than AirPods, but not as pricey as some super premium headphones, so may be in the price range of Apple’s Home Pod…under $400.


iPad Refresh Imminent; New Air Pods; Whole Foods Break for Amazon Prime Shoppers; 5G Coming to Intel Laptops

A reliable tip-off that Apple is about to release new devices has popped up. Macrumors.com says Cupertino has registered new tablets with the Eurasian Economic Commission. This points to new iPads in just weeks. Most prognosticators are looking for a refresh of the current lower cost 9.7 inch iPad, and then either a cheaper yet version of it, or possibly an iPad Mini, which hasn’t gotten updated in a while. It’s thought that the updated iPad Pro with FaceID will bow at WWDC in June. Apple has dropped either an iPad or other new piece of hardware in March every year for the last 4 years.

While we’re in the Apple orchard, plucking rumors from the trees, there’s also one from Bloomberg that Apple is working on new models of AirPods. Apple is apparently developing a new wireless chip that helps better manage Bluetooth connections. An expected feature is a touch less Siri model…the present ones require a press in order to activate the Apple assistant, but a new model may allow for a voice only command of ‘Hey Siri’ to give total hands free use to people wanting to access the feature. A water resistant design is also thought to be in the works for at least one model of new Air Pods.

Amazon has added another perk for Amazon Prime. According to bgr.com, Prime members with an Amazon Rewards Visa card will now get 5% back on Whole Foods purchases, in addition to the 5% back on amazon.com purchases. Most such programs don’t offer as high as 5%, and almost all others restrict purchases, so having it available on all of Amazon and Whole Foods could really add up fast.

We just covered the 1st 3 cities that AT&T will wire for 5G service later this year. Now, word comes from reuters.com that Intel’s upcoming XMM 8000 modem chips will power laptops with 5G connectivity starting in the 2nd half of 2019. Blazing fast, always-connected internet could be a killer feature to push a lot more people into trading for a new laptop!


3 First Cities to Get 5G; Apple May Buy Cobalt Direct from Miners; Renault’s “Smart Island”; EV Batteries May be Able to Recharge 5X Faster

Even though phones don’t have it yet, the cellular providers have been busily working on building out 5G infrastructure. We have been hearing that AT&T would have some 12 markets on the super fast cellular connection that can carry vast data loads, very soon. Now, AT&T has announced that at least 3 markets will have it by the end of this year. The lucky cities are: Atlanta, Dallas, and Waco, TX. Qualcomm has announced its first 5G modem for smartphones, but it isn’t expected to actually be out and in users new phones until 2019!

With cobalt supply iffy, Apple is in talks to buy it direct from miners. According to bloomberg, the cobalt is used in iPhone and iPad batteries, as well as in EVs. Apple wants to ensure that they have enough for their products. They are apparently working on a deal to buy several thousand metric tons of cobalt per year over a 5 year period. Samsung, BMW, and VW are also working to secure long term supplies….BMW is angling for a 10 year contract. An iPhone takes 8 grams of refined cobalt…an electric car over 1,000 times more! The price of cobalt has tripled in the last 18 months…supply and demand, you know!

Renault is experimenting with an island totally free of fossil fuels. The island in Portugal, Porto Santo, will have only renewable and independent energy production and use. Solar and wind generators, the Renault Zoe and Kango utility van electric vehicles, home batteries, etch. Engadget.com reports that the more diffuse, less massive installations can be used because the island only has 5400 people plus tourists….so won’t require anything like the Tesla Powerpack mega installation in Australia.

Some researchers at University of Warwick have discovered that the lithium-ion batteries used in most electric cars can be recharged up to 5 times faster than they presently are being charged. Engadget.com says the makers have been conservative about charging, due to fear of overheating (which can cause fires and explosions.) The researchers used a fiber optic sensor protected by a chemical layer…it is inserted right into the cell, and can track the temperature precisely. In testing on over 18000 li-ion cells, they were able to quintuple charging times. The increased time does reduce battery life, but the researchers point out that if charging time could be reduced from 25 minutes to 5, it might really jump start e-car purchases.


Google Pay Replaces Android Pay; Android P Blocks Unannounced Cam Use; Samsung’s Monster 30TB SSD; Site Tracks Musk’s Space Tesla

Google had previously pulled all its payment tools into the Google Pay tent except for Android Pay. Today, that changes. Techcrunch.com says an update to Android Pay brings it into the fold and adds some new functionality….including displaying stores nearby that accept it. Google Wallet now becomes Google Pay Send for sending and requesting money.

Android P should be unveiled at google I/O in a couple months. Meanwhile, it looks like word of a new security feature has gotten out. According to 9to5google.com, it’s to ease users minds about surreptitious camera use by apps (which has happened.) The new feature will block use of cams by any app not actively in use. If the system detects that the app is idle (running in the background), it is blocked from cam access.

We talk about Samsung smartphones all the time, because they are such a high profile, widely used product, but Samsung the company is into enough different businesses to fill a book. Now, cnet.com reports they have started production of a record breaking solid state drive weighing in at 30 TB…you read right, not 30 gigs, terabytes! While it’s unlikely you will need such storage, it will be great for government, health care, and education users that have massive troves of data. To give you a handle on how much that is, it’s enough room to store 5700 HD movies at 5 gigs each!No price has been disclosed, but you probably can’t afford it or justify it at any rate!

Practically the whole world watched as we saw shots of Elon Musk’s red Tesla roadster in space with the dummy in the spacesuit dubbed ‘Starman’ in the driver’s seat. It had been expected that batteries would allow 12 hours of transmission from space, but they died after only 4 hours. No more pictures, but now, bgr.com says at least you can track the little red car and Starman on their journey. A developer named Ben Pearson has built a site called ‘Where is Starman?’ It updates continuously, so you can check obsessively on where they are.


WWDC; SpaceX Broadband Sat Launch Delay; More Galaxy S9 Leaks; Starbucks Digital Guru to J. Crew

It looks like some folks have figured out the dates for Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference. Apparently, there are events all through June at San Jose’s McEnery Convention Center…….EXCEPT for Monday June 4th through Friday, June 8th. Macrumors.com says a reliable source has told them WWDC will again be in San Jose like last year. Previously, it was at Moscone Center in San Francisco from 2003 to 2016. With the exception of last year, Apple has released the date officially in April, so we won’t know until then. Usually, there around 5,000 developers and a thousand engineers for the event. Tickets go via a random lottery, and have been $1599 a pop.

There’s a lot of interest in SpaceX’s internet satellite launch. Now, the launch has been delayed for a few days. According to engadget.com, they want to run further final checkouts on the farings used to protect the Falcon 9’s payload. the Launch had been scheduled for February 17th…… now it will be on the 19th. The rocket will be taking up a Spanish radar imaging satellite, but most of us are interested in the Microsat-2a and 2b internet satellites. They would be the first of a number which would provide gigabit internet speeds around the globe.

Samsung will roll out its latest…the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus… next week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Of course, there was a huge leak yesterday, so much of what we had heard about the handset was confirmed, plus more. German site WinFuture says both phones will have variable aperture cameras…which should make them better than ever for low light pictures. The Plus gets a dual lens cam, the S9 a single, but both are 12 megapixel. The selfie cam is 8 megapixel with autofocus. That all-important battery capacity….it will be 3000 mAh on the S9 and 3500 on the Plus. Both phones have iris and face recognition, as well as a fingerprint sensor for biometric unlocking, and the Samsung version of Apple’s Animoji. The screens are the same as on the S8,  all changes are ‘under the hood.’ They will be available in  Midnight Black, Titanium Gray, Lilac Purple, and Coral Blue.

The man who headed up Starbucks digital business,  including its Mobile Order and Pay features and in-store Wi-Fi efforts, is leaving the coffee retailer to work his magic in apparel business. Adam Brotman, has jumped to J. Crew to help lead the struggling retailer as president and chief experience officer.  Geekwire.com notes that Starbucks is perceived as one of the most forward-looking companies when it comes to the use of technology in its operations.  J. Crew needs the help… same store sales dropped nine percent during the third quarter of 2017, and its net loss jumped to $17.6 million for that period.  Before Brotman joined them, J. Crew had pitched selling themselves to Amazon.