Taking Some Time Off- Back in a Couple Weeks

Taking some time off….back in a couple weeks.

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Amazon New Product Event Recap; 2020 iPhone Rumors

Amazon has rolled out a new model of Echo Dot with a clock, priced at $59.99 with pre-orders starting today. The previous Echo Dot will still be available. There’s also an all-new Echo priced at $99 with preorders starting today. It features improved sound and new fabric designs, including twilight blue. According to geekwire.com, a new feature called Alexa Guest Connect lets you play music on your friends Echo devices. Another new Echo device: the Echo Studio, a higher-end speaker at $199. A new Echo Show 8 has an 8-inch HD display and a privacy shutter, priced at $129.99 with preorders starting today. The somewhat explanatory New Echo Glow, targeted to kids rooms. $29.99, shipping for holidays.

The online giant also showed off a new Stick-Up Cam—the company’s first indoor-only camera. It’s also the cheapest Ring security camera to date, selling at $59.99 and available for preorder today.
Ring doorbells will get Alexa built in to interact with visitors at the door on your behalf, when you’re not home.

Shades of a Steve Jobs ‘One More Thing,’ Amazon waited until the end of the event to reveal what earlier reports hinted at: Echo Buds, priced at $129.99, compatible with Siri and Google Assistant, in addition to Alexa. The price point undercuts Apple’s AirPods, which debuted more than two years ago and range from $159 to $199.

Also a ‘One More, Even More Thing’ was dropped: New “Echo Frames”. They come with built-in mics and a small speaker so you can access Alexa on-the-go, similar to the Buds. Alexa eyeglasses. Sound directed to your ears for privacy. Work with phone. No display. Alexa reads notifications, takes reminder notes. Controls Smarthome. Priced at $179.99. Sound is directed to your ears for privacy. It will with smart phones. There is no display… Alexa reads notifications, and takes reminder notes. The Alexa specs also control Smarthome.

Amazon is using neural text-to-speech to improve make Alexa more fluid and natural. Alexa will use a “newscaster” voice when reading news and can now respond in celebrity voices.

Samuel L. Jackson will be first celebrity whose voice will be available as alternative in Alexa voice interface, for 99 cent upgrade.

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Apple’s next iPhones will have a redesign with a metal band around them similar to the one on the old iPhone 4…8 models ago! The band will be injected into a groove in the glass case, and have sapphire glass over the grooves that allow the antennas to function. Of course, all this will increase the prices! Macrumors.com reports that there will be new sizes…5.4 and 6.7 inches for the top line ‘Pro’ models, and the 6.1 inch phone will apparently finally get an OLED display. There will be a rear-facing time of flight 3D camera for augmented reality, something rumored previously. Ming-Chi Kuo says all 3 iPhones next year will support 5G…which may be a major reason for the band redesign. It will help accommodate the 5G antenna system. Kuo believes the new form factor will goose sales, from the 75 million expected this year to 85 million in 2020.


Facebook Buys Neural Monitoring Startup; Apple Will Still Build Mac Pro in Texas; Amazon-Alexa Earbuds With Fitness Tracking; Honda Offsetting 60% of US Electricity Use With Renewables

Facebook is acquiring a New York startup that makes an armband which translates movement and the wearer’s neural impulses into digital input signals, according to techcrunch.com. CTRL-labs will be folded into Facebook Reality Labs division when the acquisition is complete. “We know there are more natural, intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology. And we want to build them,” Facebook AR/VR VP Andrew Bosworth wrote in a post announcing the deal. “It’s why we’ve agreed to acquire CTRL-labs. They will be joining our Facebook Reality Labs team where we hope to build this kind of technology, at scale, and get it into consumer products faster.” Facebook has indicated that for many things, body sensing may be better than anything a camera can pick up. No problems with field of view, and it doesn’t matter if your hands are naked, or in a glove, or even a spacesuit.

After extracting some tariff exemptions, Apple will build the next generation of the Mac Pro in Texas. Macrumors.com reports that production is being readied in the Austin facility where Mac Pros have been built since 2013. Suppliers span 8 states in addition to the parts coming in under exemption from overseas. Apple didn’t say if machines destined for overseas distribution would also be made in Teas. Apple noted that it was on track to invest $350 billion in the US economy by 2023, as previously promised.

Amazon is apparently working on wireless Alexa-powered earbuds that can do fitness tracking. CNBC.com says they would follow distance, run, calories burned, and pace of running. No word on when they will hit the market, but the earbuds are expected to be previewed tomorrow at the Amazon event in Seattle, and are thought to be priced at less than $100…far less than Apple’s or B&O’s earbuds. Most Amazon watchers also expect new Echo gear, and new Ring products to be bowed. Last year, Amazon showed off a number of new products.

Honda has announced that they will cover 60% of the electricity use of their North American manufacturing plants with renewables. Engadget.com reports that, starting next fall, Honda will buy 530,000 MWh a year from a wind farm in Oklahoma. Then, in the fall of 2021, they will pick up 482,000 MWh from a Texas solar facility. Honda claims this is the single largest purchase of wind and solar by any automaker. The car maker plans to electrify 2/3 of its vehicles by 2030.


Galaxy Fold Launches the 27th; Pixel 4 Leak-$$$; Snap Dossier Tracked Facebook Copying; TiVo-PreRoll Ads for All

After the misfire this Spring, Samsung will finally release the Galaxy Fold on the 27th. 9to5google.com reports that it will be less widely available…but still as pricey as originally announced…$1980. The Fold will bow with an AT&T version in AT&T stores, online, and at Best Buy. There will also be an unlocked version at Best Buy. No T-Mobile version and the phone won’t be available on Samsung’s website, either. The Fold is more robust, but still a pretty fragile device. It does come with Premier Service, Samsung’s special care service that includes one-on-one access to Samsung experts for device support.

Google will be showing its Pixel 4 at their event on October 15th. A leak indicates it may sell for more than the new iPhone 11, which Apple bowed at $50 less than last year’s iPhone XR. According to bgr.com, the Pixel 4 may be 820 Euros, which puts it at $903. European pricing usually includes the VAT tax, so if it is 15%, that would be $768. Last year’s Pixel 3 was $50 more than the iPhone XR…this one would be more than $70 higher after Apple’s price reduction for the 11. Colors are rumored to be Just Black, Clearly White, and Oh So Orange. We’ll know all for sure on October 15!

Facebook has never been shy about stealing features and concepts from competitors. Now, engadget.com says Snap has kept a dossier it named ‘Project Voldemort’ that has detailed all the alleged anti-competitive moves by Facebook it has observed. Copying stories, preventing people from linking to Snapchat profiles, and even intentionally suppressing Snapchat related content are all detailed. According to a Wall Street Journal piece, when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg met with Snap’s Evan Spiegel, he allegedly told the Snap CEO to either accept an acquisition at a set price or deal with Facebook copying Snapchat’s features. The FTC has previously been reported as looking into Facebook’s anti-competitive practices. With info from this dossier, the government may well end up fining facebook or even might unwind some of its previous acquisitions.

It was passed off as an early, experimental test. Now, TiVo has announced that pre-roll ads will be tacked on to all DVR recordings for all customers…including those with the lifetime subscription plan. Theverge.com reports that the ads will be showing up on all ‘eligible retail devices within 90 days.’ Eligible means boxes running TiVo Experience 4…the latest software iteration. TiVo says you will still be able to skip past the ad as soon as it starts to roll.


Facebook AR Glasses; New Portal TV & Other Portal Models; Amazon Letting US Users Pay Cash Via Western Union PayCode; Salesforce Unveils Pollution Tracking Tool

Facebook is partnering with glasses giant Luxottica, to help it market its augmented reality glasses.
CNBC reports that the Orion glasses are a pet project for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck’s concept is for them to replace a smartphone, letting users take calls, display information on a small screen, and livestream video to social media followers — features that aren’t huge stretches from some of the industrial AR solutions available today. Facebook’s is said to be working on Agios, a ring-shaped motion sensor that would help with physical input, as well as a voice assistant that could process text-to-speech output and speech-to-text inputs for the wearer. New partner Luxottica controls many if not most of the world’s top eyewear brands, including Ray-Ban, Oakley, and licensed labels like Armani, Burberry, Coach, and Polo Ralph Lauren. Orion isn’t expected to hit shelves until 2023 at the earliest, or as late as 2025.

In other Facebook news, they rolled out a new line of Portal gadgets. All feature the auto-zoom AI camera, in-house voice assistant, plus Alexa, Spotify, and now Amazon Prime Video, Messenger Video Chat, and newly encrypted WhatsApp video calling in a smaller form factor unit. According to techcrunch.com, the main event is the $149 Portal TV, which can turn most tv sets with an HDMI connection into a video chat smart screen. If a friend has the setup, you can use the Watch Together feature, and see a picture in picture in the corner. An 8 inch Portal Mini is just $129. The 10 inch one that was out a year ago is redesigned, and the price cut from $199 to $179. If you really must, there’s a monster 15.6 inch Portal + that’s on a swivel, and it has dropped in price from $349 to $279. Facebook will still cut an additional $50 of the bill if you buy two devices. For all the data they are getting, they ought to be paying US to put these things in our houses!

Amazon has announced a partnering with Western Union to let US customers pay cash on checkout with WU’s PayCode. Businessinsider notes that the majority of shopping is still in person, not online…and that a third of those transactions are cash payments. PayCode is in use in 19 other countries. Customers who pay with PayCode are given a code upon checkout, which they will be able to take to any Western Union and settle with cash. Their online order will ship after Western Union transfers the money to Amazon. PayCode will allow Amazon to move in on the market of customers who are unwilling or unable to pay for online orders with credit or ATM cards, potentially widening their business.

Salesforce has just unveiled Sustainability Cloud, software that helps businesses track and analyze their environmental data. Theverge.com says there are already such tools available, but since Salesforce has 150,000 businesses and organizations as clients, it has a huge advantage in possibly spreading a way for them to track their environmental impact and carbon footprint. In fact, the system actually was developed out of one Salesforce uses to track its own carbon footprint, in an effort to reach 100% renewable energy use by 2022. A key issue is pricing….most companies haven’t dumped a ton of money into sustainability departments, so that could put a damper on widespread use. Salesforce hasn’t yet released pricing.


Samsung May Merge Flagship Lines; Pixel 4 Event October 15th; Amazon Bows High-Def Streaming Service; e-Car Drivers May Get to Select Sounds

After ‘flaming out’ a few editions ago, the Samsung Galaxy Note has done nothing but grow in popularity. Now, it appears that the flagship phablet may either be merged into the S brand, or replace the top Galaxy S as early as next year. Bgr.com reports that these sort of rumors have popped up and been denied by Samsung in the past, but now a well-known leaker says the merger may happen. Samsung will then use its pricey Fold as the flagship release for the 2nd half of the year, with whatever the Note/S is called holding sway over the 1st half of the year. The rumor has the combined line being re-branded ‘Galaxy One.’ If makes some sense…even a company that sells as many phones as Samsung doesn’t really need THREE flagship lines! Of course, this all hinges (ok, go ahead and groan at the pun) on how well the Fold is received with its new, more robust hinge and screen.

Google has sent out invites to a hardware event in New York City on October 15th. According to theverge.com, Google is expected to formally announce the Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL, a Pixelbook 2 and new Google Home speakers. The media invite says “Come see a few new things Made by Google.” There have been quite a few details leaked already, including that the Pixel 4 will have the Google version of Face ID.

Amazon has bowed a new feature for its music streaming service. Geekwire.com says its Amazon Music HD, and it includes 50 million songs with ‘lossless’ audio quality…which Amazon equates to CD quality, and millions of songs with ‘Ultra HD’, which is 24 bits and sample rate up to 192 KHz for you audio nerds. The HD service will set you back $12.99 a month if you’re a Prime member, or $14.99 a month otherwise. If you already subscribe to Amazon Music, it will cost you another $5 a month. Songs can be streamed OR downloaded using the Amazon Music app.

A notable feature of all electric vehicles is their stealth. They are all much quieter than an internal combustion engine vehicle, and that can be a problem….particularly around pedestrians and animals in city settings. Now, cnet.com reports that the NHTSA- which finalized regs for e-cars to produce sounds at speeds under 18.6 mph last year- is proposing that drivers be able to choose from a variety of sounds. There will be a public comment period, which could be entertaining in and of itself (recall the public naming contest for a ship where ‘Boaty McBoatface’ was the leading name!) The government wants people’s opinions on whether thee should be a limit on the number of sounds a car maker can build in, and what that limit should be. Actually, starting this month, all manufacturers have to equip 50% of their ‘quiet cars’ (i.e. electric vehicles) with an alert noise at low speeds. The NHTSA has determined that above 18.6 mph, there is enough tire and noise to make the sounds unnecessary. Anyone for ‘vroom, vroom,’ or the sound effect of playing cards in bicycle spokes?


iPhone Demand Higher Than Expected; VW’s Car OS; Amazon Changed Search Algorithm To Their Benefit; AI Calculates Risk of Heart Condition Death

Apple has been diversifying, but is still primarily and iPhone company, that lives and dies by iPhone sales. Sales have been expected to be weaker this model year, as smartphone sales in general have slid, and since it’s an ’S’ year, with less major changes. Now, 9to5mac.com reports that well respected Apple Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo put out a report yesterday that iPhone 11 and 11 Pro demand is beating expectations after the pre-order launch Friday. Kuo is seeing strong demand for the new colors…midnight green on the 11 Pro, and the green and purple colors on the 11. He warns that production problems on the glass for the midnight green phone have restricted output of that one so far. Demand is higher for the 11 Pro in the US, while in China, the less costly iPhone 11 is selling better. The sales estimate has now been raised for 2019 from 65-70 million units to 70-75 million smartphones. Kuo notes that the trade in programs and zero interest payment plans are boosting sales as more people are choosing to upgrade.

Cars have been running on an insane number of multiple processors for years. With the advent of infotainment systems, such as Apple Car Play and Android Auto, those systems have not only been integrated in to the existing systems, but in some cases, the car can’t run without them. According to arstechnica.com, an example is some cars that use Android Auto which use the Navigation GPS to provide the vehicle’s master time counter. If the Nav system dies, the car won’t run! Makers have been loathe to consolidate all functions under the likes of Android Auto. As VW pointed out: “When you do this, you get a great package of function and services, no doubt. But you also have to open up all the car’s sensor data [to Google], and when I say all, it really is all sensor data.” VW has decided instead to build out its own OS which would span all 12 VW group brands. They are staffing up now, and will have between 5,000 and 10,000 employees working on the OS. VW hopes to have it in place by 2025.

Amazon apparently revised its product search system last year to feature items that are more profitable for the company. The Wall Street Journal says the change came on the heels of an internal fight between executives at Amazon retail in Seattle, and the company’s search team in Palo Alto (which opposed the move.) At least the initial version was also opposed by Amazon’s own lawyers, who pointed out ongoing investigations by the EU and US over Amazon’s dual role as as seller and the marketplace…effectively competing with its own independent sellers. After the legal objection, the company tweaked to algorithm, and left out an overt profitability metric, opting instead for a slightly less in-your-face one called ‘contribution profit.’ Expect this to be fodder for more calls for regulation or even breakup…especially in the EU.

MIT researchers have come up with a machine learning system called RiskCardio that can estimate risk of death due to cardiovascular issues that block or reduce blood flow. According to engadget.com, the AI needs a 15 minute ECG reading, and takes it from there. It can apparently figure whether or not someone will die within 30 days or even up to a year later. There is more to be done, but this could be a huge breakthrough for docs to be able to quickly diagnose heart health, and decide on the appropriate level of treatment. A caveat: without pre-existing condition protection as in the Affordable Care Act (unless that’s taken away), it’s another thing that would make you more uninsurable.