DJI Palm-Sized Drone—30 Minute Flying Time; Disney+ Will Launch With 6 Pixar Shorts; e-Hallpass Tracks Students’ Personal Data; xHelper Malware on Android Keeps Re-installing ItselfPosted: October 30, 2019
DJI has bowed its lightest and smallest model ever. Engadget.com is reporting that the foldable Mavic Mini weighs only 249 grams, and is so small you don’t even need to get an FAA registration for it. It only has a range of 2.5 miles, but has a better that average flight time…30 minutes. Many drones have 20 minutes or less in the air on a charge. It sports GPS receivers and downward visual sensors that allow for precise hovering and stable flying. It can shoot 2.7k video at 30 fps. Note that the Mini does NOT have obstacle avoidance features of DJI’s bigger drones, or as many pre—programmed Quickshots options. It folds to fit in the palm of your hand and is $399. Preorders are open now, and it ships November 11th.
With all the hoopla about Disney +’s banner ‘The Mandalorian,’ people have wondered what other original material would be coming out in the next couple weeks when the service launches. Disney obviously has a giant back catalogue, but what about new goodies? According to cnet.com, now we know. Disney + will launch November 12th with 6 new Pixar shorts. The shorts all have pretty simple titles: Purl, Smash and Grab, Kitbull, Float, Wind and Loop. They’re part of Disney Pixar SparkShorts, an experimental initiative designed to let Pixar employees tell personal stories.
Schools have started using an app called e-Hallpass, which operates on school Chromebooks, and is used when a student wants to go to the restroom. The Washington Post says this is cool in that the youngster doesn’t have to raise a hand and call as much attention to their tiny bladder or whatever. The teacher approves the break, then logs the student back in. If the student is gone too long, the program calls an administrator to check on them. Well, surprise, surprise! The app allows school administrators to check pass histories and look for patterns. e-Hallpass says it does not collect data, and it is up to the school whether to keep or delete it.
Here’s a little turnabout I found out about a couple weeks ago. Returning to my hometown for a reunion, I took a tour of the remodeled high school. It was led by a classmate who, among other things, had taught computer science until he retired. The school there was using software to track the administrator’s smartphones, to see where they were, so the closest one could be dispatched to take care of problems. An administrator came to my friend and asked him what kind of code he was teaching those kids. Apparently, the students wrote a hack, and could also track the administrators on THEIR phones, enabling them to dodge the school brass and hide out, smoke, or whatever. My friend just laughed. He said he had nothing to do with it…they just had some really smart kids!
Over the last 6 months, malware called xHelper has infected over 45,000 Android devices. Malware is nothing new, but this is…zdnet.com reports that the malware can be removed, but then manages to re-install itself. It gets into your device when you download software from outside the Play Store. The upside? At least so far, the trojan doesn’t carry out any destructive operations….it seems to be limited to intrusive popup ads and notification spam. Symantec says the malware ‘phones home’ to websites and downloads a morphed version of itself, making it extremely hard to permanently delete. Until Google or the antivirus companies come up with a fix, stick with the Play Store! This xHelper could be loaded with ransomware, banking trojans, DDoS bots, or password theft software at some point!
Alphabet Earnings Miss; Alphabet Looks to Buy Fitbit; Apple Bluetooth Tracker; iPhone SE 2 Release Rumor; Amazon Drops Fresh Fee- Free Prime Grocery DeliveryPosted: October 29, 2019
Google parent Alphabet missed on Wall Street’s earnings expectations, mainly due to some investments. Businessinsder.com reports that it was a $1.5 billion loss that blew a hole in what otherwise was a quarter of solid growth in their advertising and cloud businesses. Although Alphabet didn’t indicate which investments they took a haircut on, it is widely thought that Uber and Slack are among them. Google’s net revenue grew 21% during third quarter, hardware sales were up 39% year over year, to now account for 16% of the company’s total revenue.
Google’s parent Alphabet has made an offer to buy Fitbit. After halting trading on the news yesterday, Fitbit resumed, and was up 30% on the news. According to CNBC.com, there hasn’t been any reveal on the pricing. Google did acquire some type of smartwatch tech back in January for $40 million, but that was reportedly for a ‘new product innovation that’s not yet hit the market.’ Google had toyed with a Pixel branded smartwatch, but with Fitbit, the name and wide use might encourage them to stick with the existing branding.
Apple is apparently working on a Bluetooth tracker similar to the Tile, and it may be called AirTag. Macrumors.com says Bluetooth tags have appeared several times in previous iOS updates. A folder in the latest version says ‘AirTag.’ There is also a BatterySwap video asset in the latest update, suggesting that the AirTags will have batteries that can be swapped out. As opposed to Tile’s square configuration, it looks like Apple is going with little round tags that can be attached and Bluetooth connected to iPhones, iPads, Macs, and other devices. (I know a relative who could also use them for his glasses, keys, and wallet, but that’s another story!)
In other Apple news, the latest from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is that we can expect the iPhone SE 2 by around March. It’s not clear that Apple will actually call the handset that, but the diminutive and less pricey iPhone will have most of the innards of the new iPhone 11, so it won’t be a slug. It’s expected to sell for $399, by far the cheapest iPhone with the latest tech. Apple still sells the iPhone 8 at $329, but it has the tech of 2 generations ago, and Apple may kill the model when the new SE 2 bows.
Amazon has dropped the $14.99 Amazon Fresh fee, making grocery delivery free for Prime members. Techcrunch.com reports that the service is in operation in 2,000 cities. Amazon is also giving users one and two hour options, and making local Whole Foods store inventory available online and via the Amazon app. So far, no one has been able to determine if Amazon Fresh is turning a profit, or even how many users are availing themselves of the service. The free delivery, however, will increase pressure on Walmart and on the various grocery delivery services.
Air Pod Pro Launch; Spotify Returns to Profit; Electric Mini- Mini Price and Mini Range; Instagram Bans Self-Harm ImagesPosted: October 28, 2019
For those who have ears that they fit (I do not), Apple has dropped the new Air Pod Pros. The headlines: active noise cancellation, Transparency mode, in-ear design with multiple tips, wireless charging case, and water and sweat resistance. They run $250, which is a bump of $50 from the regular AirPods with wireless charging case. Apple has room to price them up with the extra features, and noting that they already sell pricey Beats models…not to mention there are other premium brands with ear buds that can run from $300-$500. Still to come, but maybe in 2020…the 16 inch MacBook Pro previously touted by Cupertino.
In a surprise, Spotify has returned to profit. This is only the 2nd quarterly profit that the streamer has had in 13 years! According to 9to5mac.com, the stock jumped 7% on the news. Spotify claims 113 million paid subscribers, a bump of 5 million in the 3rd quarter. When you add in free members on the ad-supported tier, Spotify has 248 million monthly users. Spotify points to podcasts as playing a big roll in the move into the black. The company claims to be doing better than either Apple Music or Amazon Music…saying they are adding twice the users per month as Apple. They say they have half the churn of Apple. As for Amazon, Spotify says they have about 3 times the engagement that Amazon has.
BMW has announced the Mini Cooper EV, the first totally electric Mini. Theverge.com says the diminutive electric vehicle will be out in March in the US, and BMW says the MSRP is $29,000. With the destination fee of $850 and taxes, it will still break the $30,000 barrier, but not by much. That seems to be the magic number that everyone is shooting for to get EVs to truly become a mass market car. On the down side, BMW says the car will go 146 miles on a full charge, and that number could well be lower when the EPA does a more realistic test. Most buyers get range anxiety with less than 200 miles, but Nissan has been selling the Leaf with 150 to 226 miles of range…and the original Leaf didn’t even make it 100 miles. The Mini EV will be nicely equipped with Apple CarPlay, heated front seats, keyless entry, auto rain-sensing wipers and headlights, and a driver assistance package all coming standard. It will have 181 horsepower, so should be fine tooling up freeway on ramps and the like. Keep in mind that even at a touch over $30 grand, BMW cars are still eligible for the full federal tax credit, so your price could drop to $20 grand or below, depending on your state’s tax credits.
In something of a baby step, Instagram has promised to remove images of self-harm. According to bbc.com, this will include drawings and even cartoons. This is largely in response to the public outrage over the death of a British teen named Molly Russell in 2017. Instagram says it will take time to fully implement the takedown, and they also said this won’t be the last thing they do with regards to the problem.
Twitter in Sh*tter- Stock Tanks After Earnings Miss; Foxconn ‘Conned’ WisCONsin; Apple TV+ May Make 9 Billion; CNN Targets Apple News+ With Subscription ServicePosted: October 24, 2019
Twitter shares dropped 12% before the market opened when they missed third quarter earnings and Wall Street’s profit expectations…and it’s still down this morning. Businessinsider.com reports that Twitter warned of product issues and weaker advertising demand. Their ad revenue actually rose 8%, worldwide and 11% in the US, which sounds pretty good, but that’s a big drop from the 32% growth in the 3rd quarter last year. The 4th quarter guidance is now below expectations, with the social platform looking for revenue of $940 million to $1.01 billion, under the $1.06 billion expected by analysts.
Foxconn made big promises to Wisconsin and got some nice tax breaks and the like in exchange. Now, two years in, their footprint in Wisconsin is akin to ‘vaporware,’ according to theverge.com. The promise of 5 so-called innovation centers employing 100 to 200 high paid jobs each have not materialized, nor has the factory they promised that would employ 13,000 people. The buildings they bought are sitting empty….although Wisconsin Public Radio notes they did install HVAC in one. After 2 years of sliding deadlines, Foxconn says they hope to have the factory open in 2020. Now, it will employ 1500 people if it happens, not 13,000. Wisconsin…you got conned!
Apple TV+ is about to happen (November 1st), and analysts at Goldman Sachs predict that TV+ could be a 9 billion a year business for Apple as soon as 2025. 9to5mac.com says this is figuring that 10% of Apple users sign up for the service, which will run a relatively cheap $4.99 per month. On top of that, if you buy a new iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV, you get a free year of Apple TV+. Goldman expects synergy between pent up iPhone sales next year when 5G comes online and the free Apple TV+ deal to push growth of both for Apple.
it seems like everyone and their brother are trying to get a piece of the streaming– but also the nice cash flow from subscriptions. Now, CNN has announced that they plan a new news aggregation service to compete with Apple News +. According to The Information, the CNN product would include a mix of subscription and ad-based content. There’s no official name yet, but inside CNN, it’s being dubbed ‘NewsCo.’ CNN, like everyone in the media business, is seeing a decrease in revenue from ads, and is looking to the subscription model as a way to replace some of those dollars. No word on when the service will bow, or how much it will be monthly as yet.
Google’s Quantum Computer; Apple Pay Rises to Top; Amazon Joins Deepfakes Battle; Steer Clear of Celeb Selfie AppPosted: October 23, 2019
In a first, Apple Pay has captured the top spot of all mobile payment apps. According to emarketer.com, this is the first time the Starbucks mobile app has been knocked out of that top spot. Apple Pay was used by 27.7 million people last year, while Starbucks had 25.2 million users. In 2019, Apple Pay is on track to have 30.3 million users. Interestingly, adults 25 to 34 are the largest demographic group in terms of absolute size and penetration. 21.2 million mobile payment users are in that demo….about 50% of smartphone users. The fastest growth, however, is with Americans 55 to 64…but it is a smaller base of users!
Google has announced that it has been able to perform a target computation in 200 seconds. Cnet.com reports that the computation would take the world’s fastest compute 10,000 years to perform the same function. They have used their own quantum computing chip named Sycamore. Google released the results in the journal Nature today. They have been working on the project for more than 10 years. Quantum computing power may eventually revolutionize the world, but for now, it appears to be particularly well suited to optimizing investment portfolios, and developing new drugs at the molecular level. Google sees quantum computing eventually replacing many classical computers…although don’t expect to have one on your desk or lap….they have to be run at a tad above absolute zero. That might cause quite a freezer burn on your thighs!
It isn’t even known yet if the things can be stopped or slowed, but now Amazon has joined Facebook and Microsoft in fighting the so-called ‘deepfakes.’ Thenextweb.com says Amazon joined the DeepFake Detection Challenge. The consortium is working to identify manipulated content. Most notably, deep fakes use computing power to put celebrity faces into videos they wouldn’t remotely make. Especially troubling…and so far, this has mainly applied to actresses…is the use of software to put a famous actress into a porn movie. One on Facebook before it was axed put Jim Carrey into a video that had people asking ‘Is that really him?’ Google has released a slew of deepfake videos to researchers to help them develop ways to weed out the fake content. Twitter has now also announced it is asking for user help to build a policy around the phony videos.
A celeb look alike app shot to the top of the Apple App store after getting the blessing of several Kardashians. According to Mashable.com, you don’t want to download Gradient. The app has been popularized by its ‘celebrity look alike’ feature. Gradient has sketchy ownership, but the main issue is the 3 day ‘free trial.’ Apparently, lots of people haven’t realized that they are also opting in to an automatically renewing $19.99 a month subscription. The shadowy maker of Gradient, ‘Ticket to the Moon,’ has raked in $1.1 million via the App Store and Google Play in short order. The app actually does have a different $3.99 a month subscription, but that isn’t the default on the sign up page. Beware, don’t be so vain, and save yourself at least $20 by not downloading Gradient!
Samsung AR Headset Seen in Patent App; Facebook Deleted Dozens More Fake Russian Accounts; Nielsen Can Now Measure Amazon Prime Video, Apple AR Headset; AI Face Scanning Algorithm May Determine if You Get JobPosted: October 22, 2019
Usually, when patent applications are dug up by the tech press, all you get is a lot of dense text and some drawings. Now, according to engadget.com, one has been uncovered about Samsung’s augmented reality headset that actually has a 3D rendering of the device. As with all patent applications, you have to take it with a grain of salt…companies like Samsung and Apple file patent applications by the gross, and some things never see the light of day. This one may have legs, though…since it’s reported that Apple may be on the verge of releasing an AR headset in 2020 sometime. More on that one below.
Facebook says it has banned dozens more fake Russian and Iranian accounts for what they term ‘coordinated inauthentic activity.’ Vox.com reports that three groups tied to Iran and one tied to Russia’s Internet Research Agency— the group that spearheaded Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections—created ‘networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing.’ The accounts have been banned from both Facebook and Instagram. Facebook also announced that they would billboard items that they weren’t banning that are posted by foreign governments and are directed at voters. Instead of labeling items ‘disputed,’ they will now mark them ‘False Information.’
Nielsen says it can now measure Amazon Prime Video via its Subscription on Demand Content Ratings Solution. TechCrunch.com notes that Nielsen launched that product 2 years ago with its prime focus on Netflix viewing numbers. The ratings service will be able pick up streaming not only on TVs but also connected and smart devices like streaming media players. Being able to report streaming viewership on both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video will be a huge plus for the ratings company.
Bloomberg says Apple is targeting 2020 for release of its AR headset. As with al new devices, this timeline is probably bound to slip, but it does support the patent of the Samsung AR headset discussed above. Apple’s AR headset is expected to pair wirelessly with an iPhone and show messages, email, and maps over the wearer’s field of vision. Gaming is also considered to be a big use for the headset, as you might expect. If they do roll out the headset in 2020, don’t expect it until the 2nd half of the year.
In the ‘just when you thought things couldn’t get much creepier’ department, comes HireVue’s AI face scanning algorithm, that may well decide whether you get a job or interview. The Washington Post reports that the system uses candidates’ computer or cellphone cameras to analyze their facial movements, word choice and speaking voice before ranking them against other applicants based on an automatically generated “employability” score. There are now over 100 employers using HireVue’s system, including Hilton, Unilever, and Goldman Sachs. Critics have rightly observed that this is pseudo-science running rampant. Facial movements, tone of voice, and mannerisms that don’t fit into an algorithm can’t really predict how productive or good an employee will be. People who are shy but nerdy, or are non-native speakers particularly would tend to be screened out by the Big Brother software. Beware!
New Alexa & Google Vulnerability; Facebook Dark Mode Gets to Some Desktops; New GeneEditing Tool Almost Like Word Cut & Paste; Malware Invades WAV FilesPosted: October 21, 2019
Here we go, with another vulnerability for smart speakers…and this one hits both Amazon and Google ones. Theverge.com reports that researchers at SRLabs have spotted this one, and it can allow hackers to eavesdrop or even phish unsuspecting users. It works by uploading a malicious piece of software disguised as an Alexa Skill or Google Action. So far, no one has found any of these in the real world, but the best advice is not to install 3rd party skills or actions, but stick with those that have been vetted (as much as they are) by either Google or Amazon. Both say they have put processes in place to look for extra listening or asking for passwords, and stamp those bad actions out.
Some users are starting to see Dark Mode show up as an option on the web interface for Facebook. According to androidpolice.com, users have been prompted in the last few days and asked if they want to try the new interface. It then becomes available under the quick settings at the top right of the page. A few have reported some readability issues with text, but otherwise it seems to be pretty similar with dark mode on other web pages and in apps on mobile devices. So far, there doesn’t seem to be a way to force try it without the invite from Facebook.
It sounds like science fiction, but a research piece published in the October 21st edition of Nature describes a new way of editing DNA. Cnet.com notes that…up too now, tools like CRISPR have worked, but have suffered from a lack of precision, high error rate…and limited scope. All that limits their ability to treat human genetic diseases. The new method, developed by a team at Harvard, has the ability to make very precise DNA edits. It has been called ‘prime editing,’ and has been likened to using cut and paste in Microsoft Word.
As someone who works with audio files all the time, this is particularly disconcerting. ZDnet.com reports that malware makers are experimenting with using .WAV files to hide malicious code. The technique uses steganography…hiding info in plain sight in another data medium. Previously, this has been done by hiding text files within image files like .PNG or .JPG. Symantec first spotted a Russian group hiding malicious code in .WAV files in June. Now, Cylance reports that they have also seen this technique in the wild. Fortunately, in all cases, the computer already needs to be infected with malware that can read the files hidden in the audio or picture files. As long as your security software keeps executable malware off your system, you should be safe from this new threat…or so they say.