Uber Wants Waymo Self-Drivers On Network; WWDC Apple Watch Leak; Reddit Passes Up Facebook; WeChat China-Divorce by Button

At the Code Conference, Uber CEO Dara Khosroshahi revealed that Uber has been in discussions to have Waymo self-driving cars added to its network. This is somewhat remarkable considering the two companies are just coming off a legal battle over alleged trade-secret theft. Theverge.com reports that the Uber CEO also forces self driving tech as ‘a horizontal technology that should be available to everybody.’ He believes that it will be open to all via third party licensing. What about the drivers? Khosrowshahi says they think ‘machines augment humans’ and that ultimately their network will be a machine network and a human network together.

A cool little nugget has been revealed ahead of time that Apple had planned for WWDC. June is Pride Month, and Apple will unveil a special Pride watch face at noon Pacific right at the end of the World Wide Developers Conference keynote. Mashable.com reports that the colors of the rainbow flag are strings on the watch face, and you can interact with them, like strumming a guitar. The special face has two complication spots.

The Facebook/Cambridge Analytics may be hurting the social media platform more than first thought. According to thenextweb.com, Amazon’s Alexa web traffic analyzing platform has determined that Reddit has passed up Facebook as third most visited site in the US. This is probably as scientific as a Survey Monkey poll, but it still gives pause. Google is the top site, with YouTube second, then Reddit, Facebook, and Amazon. Interestingly, average Reddit users spend over 15 minutes a day on the platform, compared to Google with about 7 and a quarter minutes, YouTube 8-1/2 minutes, Facebook at almost 11 minutes, and Amazon just over 7-1/2 minutes.

In what may be the ultimate for a no-deposit, no-return society, people in China can now file for divorce with a button on the WeChat app! Businessinsider.com says the trial divorce function is available right now in th eGuangdong Province, home to cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Just click, enter info, and make an appointment for the local divorce registrar. Payments can also be handled through WeChat, but so far they haven’t opened it up to spousal support payments! WeChat has a billion active users globally.

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Qualcomm-New AR & VR Chips; Microsoft Passes Alphabet Market Cap; Amazon Expands Whole Foods Discount; Siri Driven Beats speaker coming

Qualcomm has rolled out a dedicated chipset for mass market AR and VR headsets. According to techcrunch.com, the Snapdragon XR1 will support 4K streaming at 60fps. The chipset is aimed at helping manufacturers cut the cord to PC tethered systems. Qualcomm says the chipset won’t match PC based systems, but says for a lot of users, the higher graphics and memory bandwidth of chips like the Snapdragon 845 aren’t needed for a good VR or AR experience.

The horserace is on! Fully 4 tech companies are in the hunt to become the first company in the world with a trillion dollar market cap. Businessinsider.com reports that Microsoft has passed up Google parent Alphabet for the first time in 3 years this week, hitting $753 billion…compared to Alphabet’s $739. Apple and Amazon are still #1 and #2, and it is most likely one of them will cross over the mark first, but it’s still amazing to see 4 tech giants nearing the trillion dollar milestone!

On the subject of Amazon, they are expanding their 10% off discount deal at Whole Foods for Prime members to 12 additional states. According to geekwire.com, all 365 Whole Foods stores will be included now. Available deals will rotate weekly. Customers also get the savings with Whole Foods grocery delivery, which is free for Prime members using Prime Now on orders over $35. Amazon is really trying to unload the upscale grocer’s ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation. Of course, Amazon also just raised the cost for prime 20 bucks to $119 a year!

Among predictions of things to debut at Apple’s WorldWide Developers Conference next week, analyst Gene Munster says look for a Beats branded cheaper version of the HomePod…also powered by Siri. Macrumors.com says it may sell for around $250. We’ll recap the WWDC keynote highlights next week.


ARM Based MacBook; Uber Panic Button; Cali Digital License Plates; Pixel 3 XL May Get ‘Notch’

Reports were out earlier this year that Apple will be releasing a new 13 inch entry level MacBook to take the place of the Air in the latter half of 2018. Now, macrumors.com says that Pegatron will be making ARM chips for the laptop…ditching Intel silicon as has been rumored. Using the ARM chips not only reduces Apple’s dependence on Intel, but the chips require less power and fewer transistors and are smaller…which is why they power iPhones and iPads. If another rumor holds, Apple may be trying to get a MacBook out with an entry level price of $799.

Because being able to call 911 on your phone isn’t enough, and because Uber wants to buff up its tarnished image for safety, you can now call 911 directly from the Uber app in the US. Theverge.com reports that Uber has been testing this out in as part of its ‘safety center.’ You can press the 911 button, and it will ask you if you really want to call 911…then puts the call through. It does send the rider’s location and trip details to the dispatchers when the app is used. Uber plans to add a panic button to the driver app soon, too.

From the ‘what could possibly go wrong’ department, California is rolling out a pilot project for digital license plates. According to the Sacramento Bee, the connected plates will have to be installed at a dealership for a pricey $699 PLUS installation. After that, owners will have to pay $7 a month. The plates have their own chip and battery, and can notify authorities if the car is stolen and give the location (at least of the plates…smart thieves will probably pitch them immediately.) If DMV decides to allow it, the plates can display a message as well as the tag number. Also, when you renew, it just changes the year…no stickers need be attached. It goes without saying that hackers should have a field day with these!

Some leaked images of new screen protectors indicate that Google’s Pixel 3 phones may get the dreaded Appleesque ‘notch.’ 9to5google.com says that the Pixel 3 appears to have somewhat thicker bezels than the XL, but could match features of the bigger phone. The cut outs in the notch may be for an ambient light sensor and front cam, or could be for dual front cameras. The notch on the 3XL doesn’t take up as much screen real estate as Apple’s. We’ll have to wait a few months to see if this turns out to be the real deal (or at least for more leaks.)


Google Home Outships Amazon Echo; Apple-VW Self-Driving Pact; Uber Self-Driving Leaves Arizona; Silicon Valley Longs to Tax Big Tech Like Seattle

In a first, Google Home has shipped more smart speakers than Amazon…3.2 million vs 2.5 million first quarter of this year. According to cnet.com, it may be due to retailers prioritizing Google over Amazon because they see Amazon as more of a direct competitor. Alibaba had the third biggest shipping smart speaker, with Xiaomi 4th. Apple’s HomePod was lumped in with the 17% ‘other’ smart speakers.

After lots of back and forth with Mercedes and BMW the last several years that never made it to a deal, Apple has cut a deal with Volkswagen. Macrumors.com reports that Apple will be buying VW vans and converting them to employee shuttles to run between San Francisco Bay Area campuses and buildings. The vans will be fitted with Apple’s self-driving tech. Word is, no deal ever came through with BMW and Mercedes, because Apple insisted on partner companies handing over control of data and design…which no car maker was willing to do.

Uber has canned its self-driving program in Arizona, and along with it, 300 employees. Businessinsider.com says this comes 2 months after a self-driving Uber Volvo (with safety driver behind the wheel) hit and killed a woman in Tempe. The governor had already suspended their ability to test the autonomous cars there. Uber says it will regroup and double check its safety procedures and be back testing somewhere soon.

Since Seattle has dropped an annual head tax on big tech companies, a number of Silicon Valley cities are angling to do the same. Bloomberg.com reports that Seattle intends to use the revenue to help with homeless problems and relieve housing shortages caused by the influx of higher paid tech workers. San Francisco, Mountain View, Cupertino, and East Palo Alto are all looking at similar taxes on large local employers (which are virtually all tech companies) to offset growing inequality and overcrowding. The Bay Area cities have learned from Seattle’s battle with Amazon, and instead of shooting for $500 per head, are looking to extract more like $250-$300 per employee.


Google & LG-Highest Res AR&VR OLED Display; Amazon Sells Face Recognition Tech to Police; Drink a Day Purveyor Hooch Expands

Google has taken the wraps off a high resolution OLED display that more than triples the pixels per inch of the Oculus and the HTC Vive. 9to5google.com says the mobile display was developed in partnership with LG, and has 1443 PPI, a wide field of view, and is optimized for both AR and VR. No word yet on when you might be able to wrap one of these around your face or how much it will cost, but it will essentially take mobile VR and AR headsets from 2-3 megapixels to 18!

Amazon has begun selling facial recognition technology called Rekognition to police. The tech, which Amazon boasts can track and analyze hundreds of people in a photo using a database with tens of millions of faces, has been used in Orlando, Florida, and by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon. According to cnet.com, Rekognition isn’t used for active surveillance… but in a video clip posted online, it was noted that Rekognition could follow Orlando’s mayor using cameras throughout the city. Amazon says the tech matches photos and videos uploaded by the customer — not by Amazon. They note on the positive side that it has been used to help find lost children at amusement parks, and was used for public safety at the Royal Wedding on Saturday to identify attendees. Both the EFF and ACLU have expressed grave concerns about this kind of tech in the hands of law enforcement and government…particularly since tests in London show that facial recognition tech can be wrong up to 98% of the time!

Drink-a-day startup Hooch has announced that it has raised almost 3 million in seed money. Techcrunch.com reports that they are also adding to their base plan…which
offers a basic subscription of $9.99 that gets you one free drink per day from a variety of partner bars and restaurants. Hooch Black (which you have to apply for, and which costs $295 per year) adds hotel deals, concierge service and other perks on top.
On top of that, Hooch is planning to launch its blockchain initiative this summer. They believe that by having their own cryptocurrency token, Hooch could work with partners to create a “decentralized model for consumer rewards.” After reading about the Amazon facial recognition for law enforcement, you might want to subscribe to Hooch!


Smartphone Sales Contract; Vicis Extends High Tech Helmet Expertise to Military; Comcast Mesh WiFi Extenders Launched; Starbucks-More Mobile Payments than Apple or Google

Smartphone sales dropped overall by 11% year over year first quarter according to counterpointresearch.com. There were 38.7 million sold, the first time in 3 years that number was under 40 million in a quarter. Prepaid phones dropped, most likely due to a ramp-down of government subsidized ‘lifeline’ programs. Apple was actually up 16% in the quarter. Apple seems to be selling less at introduction, but steadier through the year. Samsung was down 4% year over year. Google Pixel 2 sales were solid during the promo period on Verizon. Apple held the top 5 slots first quarter plus #7, with Samsung taking #6, #8, and #9. Motorola…remember them? They squeaked in with #10.

Vicis has made a deal with the US Army to bring their high tech helmet expertise honed in footballl helmets to military ones. According to geekwire.com, they will be working to improve the safety of both Army and Marine combat helmets. Vicis already sells to all 32 NFL teams, 90 NCAA teams, and over 500 high schools.

If you have a larger home, or one with multiple stories, good for you. Sometimes, not so good for WiFi reception. Now, theverge.com reports that Comcast has rolled out Xfinity xFi Pods…mesh WiFi pods to cover dead zones in houses. The little plug in pods were supposed to be out last year, but were delayed. Comcast has 3 packs for $119 and 6 packs for $199, plus shipping.

By the end of this year, almost a quarter of US smartphone users…some 55 million people…will make an in-store mobile payment. It might be a bit of a surprise…or not, but recode.net says Starbucks mobile payment app beats Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay! Starbucks notches some 30 million, with Apple Pay at just under 28 billion. Google Pay has about 13 million users so far, and Samsung Pay around 11 million, all according to eMarketer.


$200 Beats HomePod; Microsoft Snaps Up Veteran AI Team; AT&T No WiFi Smart Button

Apple’s HomePod has had underwhelming sales so far, and now they may be trying to rectify that with a cheaper model than the $350 one with killer sound but anemic voice command abilities. Bgr.com reports that Apple is looking at bringing out one for $199 under the Beats brand. With a decent sounding Google Home speaker going for $130, and Amazon Alexa speakers for less yet, Apple might have a fighting chance at under $200 if the gadget still sounds better than its competitors.

Microsoft has picked up an AI team that includes the former chief speech scientist for Siri. According to businessinsider.com, Redmond has acquired AI startup Semantic Machines, to boost its ‘conversational AI’ and potentially make Cortana better at understanding natural language inquiries. At least for the short term, the artificial intelligence team will remain in Berkeley where Semantic Machines has been based. Besides Larry Gillick, the former chief speech scientist for Apple’s Siri, the team includes Cal professor Dan Klein and Stanford professor Percy Liang. Several other members worked at Nuance, the voice recognition company that built Siri.

AT&T has launched the LTE-M button, which you can use to order something online with a single click. Engadget.com says the gadget…which not only sounds like and Amazon Dash button, but is actually powered by Amazon Web Services….does have a new trick up its sleeve…it works over AT&T’s network, so doesn’t need WiFi. The AT&T button is not preprogrammed, so you can set it up to order different things, unlike the single function Dash buttons. It is pricier than an Amazon button, though. the first 5000 will be $30, then it will be $35. Since it has to be programmed, the price may not be the only limiting factor…you’ll also need to be geeky enough to figure out how to program the LTE-M button.