Supremes Vote Apple App Store Monopoly Suit Can Proceed; Google Digital Wellbeing Drags Performance; Amazon-Robots to Box Up Orders; Mercedes-Carbon Neutral Fleet by 2039

Apple got spanked 5-4 by the Supreme Court, and the class action lawsuit alleging that the App Store is anticompetitive will be allowed to proceed. Macrumors.com reports that the suit (filed clear back in 2011!) alleges Apple violates antitrust laws by requiring apps to be sold through its App Store, where they skim off a 30% commission on every app sold. There are still some hurdles the suit has to overcome, but for now, it’s game on against Apple.

More and more reports have come out that say users have eliminated performance issues in Pixel 3 phones and others running Android Pie by turning off Google’s Digital Wellbeing tools. According to 9to5google.com, a long Reddit thread documents users of several generations of Google Pixels getting a big boost in performance, and even picking up better battery life. Here’s a link with instructions on how to turn it off: https://9to5google.com/2019/05/13/how-to-turn-off-digital-wellbeing/

We’ve been hearing warnings for a while now about AI and robotics taking jobs. Amazon has its fleet of robots that roll selected items around the distribution centers to be packed up for delivery. Now, engadget.com says they are testing out equipment at several locations…2 machines that can possibly replace about 24 hobs at each location. If those pan out, and go into all 55 US fulfillment centers, it could mean loss of 1300 jobs. The machines can build boxes around custom orders, and add seals and labels. They can reportedly complete 600-700 per hour! That’s 4 to 5 times faster than a human! The machines run a million each, but Reuters calculated Amazon could recover that cost in 2 years or less. As Amazon already has pretty high turnover in the jobs the machines can do, the online giant may not even have to lay anyone off…they could just not hire replacement people and install one of the CMC packing machines.

The world’s oldest auto maker has never been one to rest on its laurels…even the laurel wreath in their logo…but now Mercedes-Benz is shooting for a carbon-neutral car fleet by 2039. Cnet.com reports that the auto maker already had a plan in place to have 50% of its fleet be EVs and plug-in hybrids by 2030. The first carbon neutral manufacturing plant will be an addition to the giant Sindelfingen plant in the Stuttgart area. That plant will build luxury and electric vehicles and is being built to be carbon neutral. The German automaker is planning for 85% of its vehicles to be recycled by 2022.


Google Releases App-Shrinking Tools; Time To Break Up Facebook; Tesla Cars Self-Diagnosing Software; Edgewell Buys Harry’s Razors

Last year, Google rolled Android App Bundle…a publishing format that shrinks app installs. Engadget.com reports that it’s now out in beta for developers, and should be able to make a significant space savings on your smart device. According to Google, some 80,000 apps are working on production using the feature….it gives an average size savings of 20% leading to an 11% install uplift. Soon, ‘storage full’ notices may become a lot less frequent on Android devices.

In an editorial in the NY Times, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes unloaded on his former partner Mark Zuckerberg and said it’s time to break up Facebook. Hughes opines that Zuck’s influence is vastly greater than anyone else in the private sector or government. Hughes says this is via his control of 3 core communications platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp…apps that billions of people use daily. The Facebook board is more of an advisory committee, according to the former co-founder, since Zuckerberg controls about 60% of the voting shares in the company. Hughes affirms that he thinks Zuck is a good person, but that he has sacrificed security and civility for ‘clicks.’ He calls for the US and other governments to start holding Facebook accountable, and putting in regulations with teeth that will reign in the influence of the social network, Instagram, and WhatsApp….something he points out the US has done throughout its history with monopolies.

There was no big announcement, but Tesla has released a couple of interesting features in a software update. Mashable.com reports that one of them allows the cars to diagnose themselves, and pre-order parts if needed. If it happens, the car’s screen will display “an unexpected condition has been detected” and that a “replacement part has been pre-shipped to your preferred Tesla Service Center.” The screen then prompts the user to make an appointment using their app or Tesla account on a computer. Another improvement…a new setting to allow your car to receive software updates as soon as they are released.

All good things must come to an end, and that is especially true of startups. They either become mature companies, are bought out, or go away. Techcrunch.com says that Harry’s razors is now joining the ranks of those snapped up by bigger companies. Edgewell Personal Care, which owns Schick, Banana Boat sunscreens, and Wet Ones (moist wipes) has snagged Harry’s in a $1.37 billion dollar acquisition. Harry’s co-founders Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeff Raider will become co-presidents of US operations for Edgewell. Raider is also a co-founder of glasses maker Warby Parker.


Pixel 3A from Google; Google Rebrands ‘Home’ as Nest; Microsoft Tools to Secure Elections; Facebook & Instagram Don’t Ruin Kids’ Lives

Lots of announcements from Google from I/O, including the rollout of the Pixel 3A line of what some are calling ‘Junior Flagship’ phones. According to cnet.com, the major difference is price…the 3A starts at $399 for the 5.6 inch model and $479 for the 6 inch screen 3A XL. Concessions with the cheaper phones include a slower processor, they aren’t water resistant, they don’t have wireless charging, and have a less powerful front cam. The rear cam is the same as the hero phones, and so is the software! As a bonus, the 3A models bring back the beloved 3.5mm headphone jack! To top it off, they are available on T-Moble and Sprint, as well as US Cellular. Up to now, Google phones have been exclusively Verizon. Google says they are still negotiating with AT&T.

Microsoft has revealed a big initiative to make voting more secure and verifiable, and even allow for accurate, independent tracking long after ballots are cast. The AP says it’s software that will run on 90% of the voting machines in the US, and actually the rest of the world. The software is being developed with Galois out of Oregon, in conjunction with DARPA, the Pentagon’s advanced research agency that pretty well created the net years ago. The software is being called ‘ElectionGuard,’ and it will be available this summer. It will also be ready to pilot for next year’s general elections in the US. Two of the 3 leading vendors, Election Systems and Software and Hart International have expressed interest in partnering with Microsoft on the software, and the third…Dominion Voting Systems has said they want more info on it. The software allows for end to end encryption, and it can be used on any ballot marking device…even optical scanners reading hand marked ballots.

At one time, it was watching too much TV. After that, video games. Now it’s Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat and the rest that are ruining kids’ lives…allegedly. Zdnet.com reports on a new study from Oxford that surveyed 12,000 teens in the UK, and concluded that the effect of social media on their life satisfaction was tiny….in fact, it was only .25%! The survey also found that the amount of screen time mattered little…exactly as was found with TV viewing time for kids some 40 years ago. Exhale, parents….the kids are all right!


Samsung May Cancel Galaxy Fold Pre-Orders; World’s Fastest Supercomputer- Cray & AMD; Instagram To Let Users Appeal Take Downs; Dropbox Adding Cold Storage

If Samsung can’t ship the Galaxy Fold by March 31st, pre-orders will automatically be cancelled. Businessinsider.com reports that an email notice also says “If we do not hear from you,” so buyers are getting a chance to reaffirm their pre-orders. Samsung says the auto cancellation is due to US regulations. A new release date has yet to be announced. The nearly $2000 folding smartphone/phablet had problems with a crease at the hinge and screen failures in the hands of reviewers…some within just 2 days.

There has been something of a back and forth race to have the fastest supercomputer between the US and China the last couple years. Now, according to theverge.com, AMD will partner with Cray to build “Frontier,” a supercomputer pitched as able to produce more than 1.5 exaflops per second of processing power. It will be built for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The brute will be used in nuclear and climate research. How much is 1.5 exaflops? They say it is the power of the next 160 supercomputers combined! It will take up almost two basketball courts worth of floor space and need 90 miles of cabling. China says they will have their new supercomputer running by next year, a year ahead of the US.

Instagram is planning to roll out a new appeals procedure for posts that have been taken down. It should be out within a couple months. engadget.com says users will get a response in ‘a timely manner.’ The platform said the takedown feature had been added to combat bullying and misinformation, but up to now, hasn’t had a way to appeal the take downs.

A few years ago, Dropbox started moving to its own data centers and away from AWS in order to control how files were stored and accessed. Since then, they have found that a lot of people upload files, then rarely access them again. Techcrunch.com says that now they will add a Cold Storage feature to the service. The trick is making it so users can access both the ‘warm’ files and cold storage ones without a lot of delay in the files opening. Box claims that the cold storage will save them 25% on disk space, and 10-15% in costs over time, while still offering quick access to files by users.


Apple-WWDC & iPhone News; Amazon One Day Shipping & Shrinkage; Google Pixel Price Screw Up; USAF Gets Lasers Dr. Evil Would Love

New rumors for what we might see at Apple’s WWDC have landed. According to 9to5mac.com, the Apple Watch may get its own App Store ON the Watch! This would launch with WatchOS 6. ‘Dose’ and ‘Cycles’ apps for pill reminders and menstrual cycle tracking respectively. A couple watch faces with ‘X-Large’ fonts. iOS 13 will get Dark Mode toggling right in the Control Center, and a new, systemwide Sleep Mode is coming that also works in Control Center. It turns on Do Not Disturb, darkens the Lock Screen, and mutes all notifications. An improved Maps app, including easier setting of frequent locations.

On the iPhone front, well-reputed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says the 2019 iPhones will get a new antenna design…a modified-PI structure. It should help coverage with high-frequency cellular transmissions. It should bring better performance to LTE, and obviously looks ahead to 5G tech. A down side…the new tech is 10-20% more expensive…but don’t expect that kind of a bump in prices…that’s just for the antenna part, which isn’t a huge factor in iPhone materials costs.

It’s been reported that Amazon is gearing up for 1 day shipping for Prime members as standard. Now, CNBC has crunched the numbers, and determined that Amazon can ALREADY ship one-day to 72% of the US population. The have made significant progress in building their delivery network in the past 4 years, via acquiring planes for Prime Air and adding more delivery partners. According to RBC Capital Markets, Amazon has double the distribution space as Home Depot! If you need something immediately, a brick and mortar store is still your best bet in most cases, but one-day delivery cuts in to that advantage significantly.

With all the security Amazon has around their distribution centers, and horror stories about employees tracked so closely that can barely take a bathroom break, you’d think shrinkage…or employee theft…would be almost impossible. Apparently not! Geek.com reports that 4 Amazon warehouse workers have been busted in Delaware for making off with $100,000 worth of Apple Watches and other merchandise. In a police photo after the bust, you can make out some 9 Apple watches, an iPad, and a laptop. Trial dates have been set for 3 of them, with a warrant out for the 4th, who flew the coop.

We reported last week on how soft sales had seen Google offer 50% off on Pixel phones if bought through GoogleFi. Now, 9to5google.com says there was a screw up. People who chose to but the phone with a payment plan were accidentally charged full price for the phones…not even the $200 discount Google is still offering on them! Google has acknowledged the goof, and is making the discount price good to all who bought phones through this channel.

Dr Evil’s greatest thrill in Mike Myers’ Austin Powers movies was ‘Sharks with fricking laser beams!’ He would probably get a pretty good rise out of what theverge.com is reporting now. Apparently, the US Air Force has successfully tested a jet mounted laser system that can shoot down multiple targets…whether they are surface to air launched missiles or air to air from enemy planes. The laser system can reportedly recharge nearly instantly, so it is a formidable defensive weapon. Of course, it comes with the usual military naming convention…SHiELD….for Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator. The one down side is true of all lasers…weather. It will be of limited or zero usefulness in heavy fog, etc. The Army is also testing such a system for Apache attack choppers, and the Navy is working on one for warships. Pew, pew, pew!


Facebook Bans Alex Jones & Others; Facebook Under FTC Scrutiny; Google Pixel 3a Price Leak; Samsung Galaxy Tab Drops WiFi; Apple Watch Dominates Wearables

Facebook has banned several (mainly) far right people and groups for violating their rules. Alex Jones & Infowars, Louis Farrakhan, Laura Loomer, Paul Nehlen, Paul Joseph Watson, and Milo Yiannopoulos and groups that follow them were cut. Engadget.com quoted Facebook’s statement: “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology.” They claimed it took so long to deliver these bans due to the “extensive” process of evaluating potential offenders.

Probably helping to move them along in this and other actions to clean up their act is the FTC. In addition to some $3 billion in fines that have already been disclosed, the FTC is apparently demanding creation of an ‘independent’ privacy oversight committee, so it is safe to say that the FTC is probably also dangling requirements concerning those who have stirred up hate and spread blatant lies.

We’ve reported on Google’s practically official budget Pixel line, thought to be coming out to pick up the slack in sagging hero Pixel sales. Now, a leak may indicate the pricing. According to theverge.com, YouTube channel This Is Tech Today claims they will be $399 for the Pixel 3a and $479 for the 3a XL. That’s for the base model with 64 Gigs. The channel showed off what looks like official packaging with a bar code, which indicates a Walmart listing for an unlocked Pixel 3a. The packaging indicates a 5.6 inch screen size.

Only Samsung could have two disasters on equipment at the same time, and be likely to actually survive and move on. After the fiery Galaxy Note a couple years ago, they now have the Galaxy Fold screen issues that have delayed release, and NOW the new Galaxy Tab has an unfixable problem. In shades of an iPhone that could have its antenna blocked by your hand, bgr.com says the Galaxy Tab S5e has a similar problem. If you hold the tab horizontally, with your hand on the lower left corner, the WiFi will drop…or drop off badly. No software fix will really help this, so if you buy this tablet, just keep in mind not to hold it horizontally with your left hand on the lower left corner.

Apple Watch retains its crown as the world’s most popular smartwatch by a wide margin. According to macrumors.com, the Watch was snagging 35.8% of the market January through March of this year. Samsung is a distant 2nd, with 11.1%, with Fitbit getting 5.5%. A survey found that the ECG function on the new Series 4 that came out last fall is the most desired feature.


Facebook F8; Google Tool Limits Data Retention Time; Fitbit Bests Q1 Predictions; Netflix Is Rolling Out Better Audio

Facebook kicked off its F8 developer conference yesterday with Mark Zuckerberg repeating again the ‘future is private.’ Although he tried to joke that they hadn’t been so great with peoples’ data in the past (and got an awkward silence from the audience), he went on to show off changes coming. 9to5mac.com reports that the primary Facebook app will lose the blue bar at the top, and will sport a redesigned top bar that should make it easier to navigate. There will be a greater focus on Groups…with a featured tab at the top bar. The build is out to day for mobile-at least for developers- and coming soon to desktops. Messenger gets end to end encryption, and they are building in interoperability between Messenger, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Preorders opened for the wireless Oculus Quest VR headset. It doesn’t require a PC or Mac with the VR option, and starts at $399.

Google says in the next few weeks, they will roll out a setting for their apps that will let users delete location data automatically. According to venturebeat.com, you will be able to choose a 3 month window or an 18 month window. The deletion choice will also extend to web and app activity like things searched or browsed for in Discover on Android, Maps, Search, and Google Play. Google also says older data will be deleted on a regular basis.

Fitbit announced that he beat Q1 expectations as their smartwatch business grew 117% year over year. Techcrunch.com says Wall Street looked for $259.7 million in revenue, and Fitbit brought home $271.9 million. The tracker part of their business grew more modestly….17% year over year.

Netflix has been working of making the audio better, both for its original content and licensed content. Bgr.com reports that they are bumping the bit rate up form 192Kbps to 640Kbps, and using a machine learning algorithm that analyzes your connection in real time and adjusts the audio. You will need an extra 10Mbps to handle the higher quality audio in the stream. If you are just listening over the little, crappy speakers in your TV, none of this will make much difference. If you have good speakers or a sound bar that supports Dolby 5.1 and Dolby Atmos, you’re in luck.