Google Expands Vacay Search; Uber Ride Pass to More US Cities; EU- Cars get Governors & Lane-Assist; Census Bureau Asks Tech Giants for Help

Google is adding to its vacation search, including cabins, beach houses, and other rental properties. Until now, the results were for hotels only. 9to5google.com says the service is rolling out to mobile now, and will hit desktops by net month. Filtering and sorting help you zero in what you are looking for. Expedia, TripAdvisor, HomeAway, and others are partnered in the expansion.

Uber is bringing its monthly subscription Ride Pass to more cities in the US, including Dallas, Las Vegas, New York, and San Diego. According to 9to5mac.com, pricing starts at $15 per month. The service doesn’t mean unlimited free rides or the like…but does ensure that you are exempt from surge pricing. You’ll pay the standard rate regardless of time of day or weather. It DOES include a free e-bike or scooter in some cities.

For years, firms have installed governors on delivery vehicles, trucks, and the like, to keep employees from speeding. Now, zdnet.com reports that the European Union is agreeing to put into effect new regulations that would require auto makers to build in cameras and sensors to control speed, assist drivers with lane keeping and reversing, and monitor drowsiness and distractions from the likes of smartphones. A number of these safety and driver assist features are already included on many luxury car models…the EU would make manufacturers add them to cheaper vehicles, too. The cars would also have to have a ‘black box’ like airliners do to record and save data about accidents. If the new rules are formally adapted, they will go into effect after 2022.

The Census Bureau is enlisting help of Facebook, Google, and Twitter to help it fend off ‘fake news’ campaigns it is concerned about, which might disrupt the upcoming 2020 count. Reuters.com says evidence of increasing chatter on platforms like 4chan indicates a keen interest in foreign interests in undermining the survey. The census is a big target…it shapes US election districts and also the allocation of some $800 billion a year in federal spending. The Bureau has been meeting with social media companies since 2017 in an effort to get their help in squelching fake news. None of the social media companies would comment on the discussions. The Census Bureau has already amassed some 30 URLs to keep them away from fakers putting up fake sites.

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EU Gives Thumbs Up to Online Copyright Revamp; Facebook Pulls More Fake News Pages; Google to Fund Local Digital News Sources; Apple Card Extra Fraud Prevention Features

The EU’s revamp of its Copyright Directive has been approved by the EU Parliament after a 2 year process. Theverge.com reports that supporters claim it will balance the playing field between US tech giants and European content creators. It gives copyright holders more power over how big internet platforms distribute their content. Opponents of the new directive say it is too vague and will not only restrict how content is shared online, but will stifle free speech. One controversial part is effectively a ‘link tax’ that lets publishers charge Google News and others when they display snippets of stories. Another clause puts new requirements on YouTube and similar sites to filter and remove copyrighted content, or pay penalties. As with all things internet, a prime complaint is that it will be moot anyway, as people will find ways around it, while the new directive stifles free speech.

Facebook has killed another 2600+ pages, groups, and accounts, citing ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior.’ According to businessinsider.com, Facebook identified 3 separate operations, originating from Russia, Iran, Kosovo, and Macedonia. The Russians had the lion’s share of them, 1907 pages, groups, and accounts. The Russian ones were mostly spam, but also produced fake news about Ukraine. The reach of the Russian ones was some 1.7 million! An Iranian account was impersonating the BBC on Instagram.

Google is beginning an experiment to directly fund creation of local, digital-only news publications. 9to5google.com says they want to fund dozens of the in mid-sized cities…those of less than a half million people, that Google says ‘don’t have access to significant local sources of news and information.’ The initiative is called ‘The Compass Experiment,’ and Google will partner with McClatchy for the next 3 years. Google claims they will have no editorial control or ownership of the publications. The first 3 cities will be selected in the next few months….stay tuned.

With the surprising announcement of the Apple Card yesterday, here are some further details to flesh out the branded MasterCard Apple will offer through Goldman Sachs. We noted yesterday that it will primarily be a virtual card in your iPhone’s wallet, and now tech crunch.com fleshes out how the physical, titanium card will work…having no number, expiration date, or CVV on it. All that info will apparently live in the secure enclave on the iPhone, so when you use the physical card (and not Apple Pay), you check the Wallet on your iPhone to retrieve the card number and the rest. In actual use, the card will send a one-time unique dynamic security code that will act as the CVV. Since it will always change, it adds an extra layer of security should the card be compromised by a skimmer or the like. Other cards are now using biometrics like a fingerprint reader on their cards to fight this sort of thing…but Apple’s one-time CVV will even work online. The Apple Card is expected out this summer.


Apple’s Video, Gaming, News, & Credit Card Rollout; Nintendo- 2 New Switch Models Coming

Apple officially rolled out its new services today. Businessinsider.com notes that the $9.99 News+ service was pretty well as expected…300+ magazines, Wall Street Journal and LA Times content, and more. As we reported previously, the NY Times and Washington Post decided not to play. The News+ subscription will launch later today with iOS 12.2.

Besides the news service, the TV Plus video subscription service bowed. All will be on demand and ad free….for a fee! According to theverge.com, the Apple TV app is designed so you can view what you want (that Apple offers) in one place. No firm date for the app on Macs, except ‘soon.’ It will also be available on TVs from Sony, LG, Vizio, and others.

One thing that wasn’t leaked ahead…Apple Arcade…and iOS subscription gaming service. Apple claims it will run across mobile, desktop, and TVs in your living room. They are working with developers from Sega, Devolver, Disney, and others. Cupertino says there will be over 100 games available at launch, which will take place this fall in 150 countries. No pricing was given.

A second item that was a ‘one more thing’ worthy of Steve Jobs…Apple has introduced Apple Card, a new payment service that’s a part of Apple Pay. It’s supposed to be an easier to use credit card…not that using those is hard. Appleinsider.com reports that it will take advantage of the ease of iOS to make the card easy to acquire and use. You can sign up right from your iPhone, and will be able to use Apple Pay to make transactions the same day you apply. The Wallet App will show you where the card has been used, utilizing Apple Maps, and can track spending habits. It’s offered in conjunction with Goldman Sachs, and will have a 2% Daily Cash back on purchases, or 3% if the purchase is from Apple. Besides the card, Apple announced that you can use Apple Pay now on transit systems in Portland, New York City, and Chicago.

Rejoice, gamers…Nintendo is working on 2 new versions of the Switch. Theverge.com says one will be a cheaper variant, and the other will have ‘enhanced features targeted at avid video gamers.’ It appears the vibration feature will be dropped from the cheaper model. Look for both handsets to be announced at E3 in June.


Apple Snags WSJ for News Service; Qualcomm-New Wireless VR Headsets; Race to be ‘Netflix of Gaming’; BMW EVs Up Range Game

The New York Times and Washington Post passed, but the Wall Street Journal agreed, and will join Apple News and the new subscription service…a service that will be announced next Monday, March 25th at Cupertino’s Steve Jobs Theater. According to 9to5mac.com, the big stumbling block for the other publishers has been Apple’s demand for 50% of the revenue and ‘unlimited access to all their content.’ Apple News is expected to run $10 a month.

Qualcomm is apparently working on VR headsets that will work as wireless PC-connected head-mounted displays. Cnet.com reports that the hardware will start arriving later this year, and should be demoed at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The headset will be a stand alone device like the upcoming Oculus Quest, but when in range of a PC it can double as a wireless way to play games and use apps.

Just this week, Google showed off its new streaming service for games and controller. Google would like its Stadia platform to become ‘the Netflix of Games.’ While that sounds cool, there is a fair amount of competition to become Netflix-like when it comes to gaming. Businessinsider.com says Amazon is also working on a Netflix like service for game play, which would allow players to stream games rather than buy and download individual titles.

Verizon is also hard at work on Verizon Gaming, which would do much the same thing. They aren’t sitting on their hands in Cupertino, either…Apple is also working on a subscription based, Netflix of games…although theirs is reportedly in the early stages. Microsoft has said they will be going public later this year with their own streaming service, ‘Project xCloud.’ The difference is, it would be very xBox Centric, since Microsoft already has their own large catalog of games.

Sony has quietly been operating a subscription based video game service in their Playstation Now for 5 years. It hasn’t really gotten much traction so far as it has its limitations…and is pretty pricey for the general gaming public. Who will prevail? Like the old movies and TV series “Highlander,” companies will fall by the wayside until the Netflix of Games is left standing. “In the end, there can be only one.”

Like all manufacturers, BMW is running full speed ahead towards getting an EV fleet on the road. Engadget.com says BMW intends to produce EVs, hybrids, and gas cars on the same assembly lines, and has come up with a couple interesting innovations to do so. First, the EV ‘pack’, or module will bundle the electric motor and variable transmission, making it easy to drop into any car in the line…from the tiny Mini BMW makes to SUVs. It’s built totally in-house, so BMW can quickly upgrade or change it.

The electric motor uses no rare-earth materials…it’s a synchronous electric motor that just uses the copper windings to induce current. That’s cheaper…and doesn’t rely on rare earths that will only become more difficult to source. BMW says all future EVs will support fast charging up to 150Kw…that could give 15-20 minute recharges. Audi is going with 155Kw, but Tesla is upgrading its V3 Superchargers to 200Kw.

BMW says their battery packs will have a potential range of 420 miles, easily outstripping a lot of the competition. Over at Tesla, however, they plan a new model roadster with a 600 mile range. BMW says it will be able to adjust the chemistry of its battery packs, though…giving more torque and power to sports sedans, but more range to crossovers.


EU Fines Google $1.7 Billion; Apple’s New AirPods Drop; Amazon-New Entry-Level Kindle; Waymo Expands in Arizona

The EU has fined Google $1.69 billion over what they term ‘abusive practices in online advertising.’ This is in addition to the $5 billion and $2.4 billion fines from 2018 and 2017, respectively. Engadget.com reports that the EU competition commissioner says Google has ‘shielded itself from competitive pressure’ by imposing exclusive contractual arrangements on advertiser over a 10 year period. The commission points out that ‘market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules. However, dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant, or in separate markets.’ Google hasn’t commented, but is likely to appeal.

Apple has rolled out its new AirPods, and they are available now. According to thenextweb.com, the wireless earbuds sport the H1 chip, which gives faster connections and increases talk time by an hour. The upgraded version also features Hey Siri. The case has wireless charging using the Qi standard, so no cable to lose or break. It’s thought Apple will come out with their long-delayed charging pad very shortly. With a wired charging case, the new models remain $159, but if you want the wireless charging case, it will set you back $199.

Amazon has freshened its entry level Kindle and bumped the price up. Theverge.com says the main new feature is a built-in light. The Kindle also has be re-designed a bit to make it easier to hold as well. Amazon has raised the price by 10 bucks…it’s now $89.99 for the ad-supported model. The entry level Kindle still keeps the 167 ppi display, instead of upgrading to the easier to read 300 ppi display like the Paperwhite and Oasis have. If Amazon doesn’t raise prices on the Paperwhite, it was already on sale for $90, so would be a better deal at this point…UNLESS you trade in your old one. they will give you a trade-in amount (to be determined depending on condition) on the old one, plus a 25% discount on the newer Kindle.

Waymo has announced a huge expansion for their Tech Service Center in Mesa, AZ. 9to9mac.com reports that the 85,000 square foot center will more than double Waymo’s ability to service, maintain, and grow the fleet of Waymo One driverless vehicles they run there. They had just opened a 60,000 square foot center in Chandler last year.


Apple Freshens iMacs; Netflix Won’t Join Apple’s Streaming Service; Firefox Mutes Auto-Play Vids; Instagram Adds In-App Check Out

Apple has updated iMacs with up to 8 core, 9th generation Intel processors and Radeon Pro Vega graphics options. Macrumors.com reports that Apple claims a 60% speed boost for the 21.5 inch iMacs, while the 27-inchers are 2.4 times faster…slicing the gap a bit between the high end standard iMac and the iMac Pro. The base 21.5 inch 4K iMac starts at $1299, with the 27 inch model at $1799. Both are available for order today, with availability in Apple stores and reseller locations next week. (The non-4K entry level 21.5 inch iMac was not updated…and is still $1099.)

When Apple rolls out its streaming service next Monday, Netflix won’t be part of the party. According to cnet.com, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says Netflix ‘has chosen not to integrate’ into Apple’s streaming service. He pointed out that Netflix is already competing with a very deep-pocketed rival in Amazon, so they aren’t all that worried about Apple. Netflix remains frozen out of China, after a failed attempt at partnering with a local company there. Hastings said it might be a while before they try cracking that market again.

One of the most annoying things ever is the auto play video. Engadget.com notes that after promising to do so, Firefox has blocked auto-playing videos by default in release 66. Some sites will still auto roll the video, but Firefox will put the audio unless you choose otherwise. another improvement…slow-loading ads and images that yank you out of position on a page. Firefox now includes scroll anchoring that should hold your place even if tardy content pops in.

Instagram continues to push into e-commerce…announcing today it is adding a checkout feature to its mobile apps. Theverge.com reports that you can store your payment info with Instagram to make purchases more quickly. Instagram is charging retailers a selling fee for the feature. Over 20 brands, including Nike, Adidas, Dior, MAC Cosmetics, H&R, Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, Prada, Uniqlo, Warby Parker, and Zara are in the initial wave of brands ready for you to hit the ‘take my money’ button!


New Apple iPads Bow; Google Gaming Initiative; Tesla Increases Model 3 Power Remotely; Lyft Public Offering Imminent

Apple has rolled out the expected refreshes to the iPad line. According to 9to5mac.com, there is a new iPad Mini, and a new iPad Air with a 10.5 inch screen. the Air has a thinner design and is powered by an A12 Bionic chip. The Mini keeps the 7.9 inch screen, but gets upgraded to the A12 chip. In something of a surprise, both get support for the 1st generation Apple Pencil. The Mini starts at $399 for 64 Gigs, and the Air at $499. Both can be ordered right now from Apple.

Google will be rolling out their gaming initiative March 19th, and if rumors hold, the company is planning to focus on something of a Netflix-like game streaming service. Busionessinsider.com reports that Google did a test run of what was then called ‘Project Stream’ in 2018. There may be a Google gaming console, although it doesn’t appear that it will be as powerful as the Xbox One or Playstation 4….or even an Nintendo Switch. As we reported earlier, the Google controller will have the ability to select different hardware to play on…like a TV, tablet, etc.

Tesla started remotely increasing power output of all Model 3 vehicles via an over the air software update. Electrek.co says this is in conjunction with an update Tesla had already implemented increasing Model 3 range. The power increase is about 5%, ‘improving acceleration and performance.’ In a call, Elon Musk mentioned that the company was more comfortable pushing the battery packs and and motors can be pushed to higher levels after accumulating real world street data for over a year.

Lyft apparently is shooting to go public as soon as next week. The ride hailing company plans to raise more than $2 billion in the IPO, according to engadget.com. This would put the stock at $62 to $68 per share. Like Uber, Lyft has been been burning cash..mainly due to rider and driver subsidies. The company has also been dumping cash into autonomous driving. Last August they hit 5000 paid driverless test rides in Las Vegas since early 2018.