Switch Numbers Drive Nintendo; Facebook Earnings Beat; Seattle: Tax Amazon & Microsoft for Homeless; Apple- High End Headphones, Wireless Charger, Tag Trackers Coming

Nintendo is upping its profit forecast for the fiscal year that ends March 31st. Venturebeat.com reports that the company sees its operating profit hitting $2.75 billion, up from an earlier projection of $2.38 billion. The Switch continues to drive Nintendo…by December, they had sold 52.5 million to date. Software hit 310.6 million. For comparison, the Wii U only sold 13.56 million units, and 103 million copies of software. Nintendo says the Switch Lite thus far hasn’t cut in to sales of the Switch. By the end of the fiscal year, they expect to sell 19.5 million Switch systems, with 5.2 million of those being the Lite.

With all the bad PR over misinformation and poor protection of user privacy, Facebook has had a rough year. According to cnet.com, it has hit the bottom line. Facebook beat earnings expectations, but profit dipped due to rising expenses. The social network took in $21.08 billion in the last quarter of 2019, surpassing the $20.89 estimate analysts had expected. Revenue grew 25%, down from a 30% rate in the last quarter of 2018. Full year profit was down 16% to $18.49 billion, while expenses were up 51%. A bright spot for Facebook…active users grew to 2.5 billion in the 4th quarter, up 8% over 2018.

Homelessness has been a problem for decades, but the tech era has really caused it to explode…especially in tech heavy areas like the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle. Now, geekwire.com says Washington state lawmakers are considering a regional tax that would rake in $121 million a year from the Seattle area’s largest employers, including Microsoft and Amazon, aimed at easing homelessness. The bill would let King County tax payroll at large companies with employees earning more than $150,000 per year. The funds would be directed to affordable housing, homeless services, behavioral health treatment, and other programs to help the homeless population. It’s unclear after 2018’s head tax fight if the bill will pass, or how much pushback it will generate from Big Tech, but the problem certainly isn’t going away, and this is one possibility for easing it.

We are expecting the successor to the iPhone SE this Spring, as well as updated MacBook Pros and Airs, and iPad Pros. Even with all that in the pipeline, Apple is busy working on extras besides phones and computers to try to get you shouting ‘take my money’ and waving cash in the air. Theverge.com reports that after blowing up the expected AirPower wireless charger in the Fall, Apple will take another swing at a new ‘smaller’ wireless charger. It isn’t known if it will be aimed at charging multiple devices simultaneously like the AirPower, and there are plenty of these out already, but Apple can always count on a certain number of fanboys and girls to buy only stuff with their logo on it…for more money! Also apparently in the pipeline is a set of ‘high end Bluetooth headphones’. These will reportedly be Apple-branded, NOT Beats-branded. With all the success Apple has had with AirPods and the AirPods Pro, it isn’t surprising that Cupertino wants to cash in on over or on-ear headphones, too. Rumors are unclear if they will be noise cancelling models at this point. Also expected…Apple Tag or AirTags…Tile-like bits that use Bluetooth to track easily lost items. I knew a guy who could have really used these…he was constantly misplacing his glasses, wallet, and keys. OTOH, if you also misplace your iPhone, AirTags or Tile won’t do you a heck of a lot of good!

I’m Clark Reid

Apple Grows User Base, Makes Bank (Again); Google Translate Getting Audio Transcription; Cadillac Enhances Super Cruise; London Deploying Live Facial Recognition

Apple released their numbers yesterday, and as you might expect, made a bundle of dough in the holiday quarter. Appleinsider.com reports that Apple had an 8% revenue growth year over year, raking in $91.8 billion. That’s a huge number, but the real eye-popping number was the installed user base. Apple now has over 1.5 billion active devices in use by customers around the world, up from 1.4 billion a year ago! Bumping up by 100 million in a year is a pretty sweet jump for Cupertino. CEO Tim Cook also noted that it was Apple’s 5th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth outside iPhone sales, and they set a new record for growth in services. More than ever, they are proving that they are not just an iPhone company.

A new feature is coming to Google Translate that will make it more useful than ever. Google will be adding transcriptions in the next few months…at least on Android versions. As is common, iOS will get the feature later down the road. According to mashable.com, the feature will be similar to the real-time transcription in Google’s Recorder app, but will be translating the speaker’s words (in whatever specific language) as opposed to simply transcribing them. Unlike the transcription feature, the translation and transcription will be done in chunks instead of word by word, so the software can process what is said and make sense of the translation…much like a human translator does when translating speeches of world leaders…there is a bit of a delay. Maybe Apple can license some of the tech…their visual voicemail has enough trouble trying to transcribe calls in English without making absolutely laughable gibberish a lot of the time!

It won’t be retroactive, like Tesla’s software updates to its Autopilot, but Cadillac will be rolling out models with Super Cruise that will be able to change lanes automatically much like Tesla has had for a while now. Techcrunch.com says the update will be available on 2021 CT4, CT5, and Escalade models that will bow later this year. Much like Tesla’s, the software will note that you have signaled, and check on distance between you and the car in front, oncoming traffic, etc and then execute the pass. Caddy has also made some changes to the UI, and added better steering control software and better HD map info that should make the whole process pleasant.

London Metro police will be adding live facial recognition systems to their sensor collection to spot wanted persons walking through targeted areas. Arstechnica.com reports that the system is based on NEC’s NeoFace Watch system and will give the Bobbies the ability to check live footage for people on their ‘watch list,’ including suspects in violent crimes, child exploitation, mission children, and vulnerable adults…’among others.’ The officers monitoring screens will notify officers in the field, who will check out the people spotted. Each department will have what is being called a bespoke ‘watch list’. They claim the system isn’t much different from what’s been used in Vegas for years to spot card counters and others that have been banned from casino gaming floors. As with every other facial recognition system, this one isn’t close to error free, so expect some innocent people being detained, and the like. The long reach of George Orwell continues to stretch into our modern lives.

I’m Big Brother….er…Clark Reid

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip- Cheaper Than New Razr; Clear Your Off-Facebook History; Advanto Shoots for Smaller, Longer Lasting Batteries; Apple- Prelim. Talks With MGM for Movie Library

The Motorola Razr is making some noise with it’s folding format (albeit in flip phone style and tiny outer screen), but now Samsung seems to be about to kneecap the Razr before it even hits the market. 9to5google.com reports that the Razr has basically mid-range specs with a flagship price…$1500! The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip will come in at $1400, undercutting it by $100…to say nothing of being $500 less than Samsung’s own Galaxy Fold. Even at that, the price is eye-watering…and hundreds more than the rumored figure of ‘under $1000’ that had been making the rounds. The Z Flip will not only have flagship level innards, but will come in Gold, Black, Purple, and Silver. The silver one is apparently engine turned with a sort of ‘football-like pattern’ on it. The Z Flip will launch on Valentine’s Day for $1400, and may be an AT&T exclusive for a period. It will also be sold unlocked.

A court case set this back a year, but now you should be able to use a Facebook tool to force the social net platform to forget everything it knows about your off-Facebook activity. According to cnet.com, now that the court case that argued valuable evidence would be lost is out of the way, the tool is rolling out globally. If you have it already, on the iOS app go to the menu at the bottom right, hit Settings & Privacy, then Settings, and scroll down to the ‘Your Facebook Information’ header. Then, tap Off-Facebook Activity. If you don’t have it yet, it is rolling out via a silent update, so check back later. **NOTE: You will have to clear this periodically, as Facebook will continue to hoover up your data!

Advanto, a company out of New Orleans, has now pulled in over $18 million in backing to fund their quest to manufacture battery components that will produce more powerful, smaller, and longer lasting batteries. Techcrunch.com says their concepts have now attracted Tony Fadell, the so-called ‘father of the iPod’ and founder of Nest. Advanto claims that by utilizing a silicon anode with lithium ion batteries, they can increase the run time by 10 times, eliminating range anxiety for electric vehicles. There have been 4 stumbling blocks so far in doing this: material expansion, cycle-life, cost, and drop-in manufacturing capability. Fadell says Advanto is the first company to successfully tackle them all, and in addition is using ‘sustainably-sourced’ silicon to fight the environmental effects of our economy’s transfer to electric everything. Time will tell if they really have found the holy grail of battery tech, but getting the interest and money of a big hitter like Tony Fadell is a good indication that they are in the ballpark!

Apple TV+ has a couple of hit shows, and some original movies, but is hobbled compared to Netflix and others with their lack of a deep library. Now, a 2nd report is out (after one in the Wall St. Journal last month) that Apple has had preliminary talks with MGM about an acquisition. 9to5mac.com notes that Netflix had also talked with MGM, but they already have a fat library of films. Besides the library, MGM owns several franchises that could be continued like James Bond, RoboCop, and The Magnificent Seven. MGM believes their content is worth over $10 billion, which is a ton…but kind of a rounding error for Apple. It’s unclear if Apple will go for a back catalog like MGM’s, or stay purely original, but having a solid back catalog may be the only way they have a chance to stay in the game with the likes of Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video.

iPhone 12 May Look Identical to 11; GM Dropping $2.2 Billion Building EVs and Self-Drivers; Tesla-Leak Reveals New Hardware Updates, Tinder Panic Button Shares Your Data

Rumors over the last months have had the next iPhones looking like the iPhone 4, with the flat metal wrap around squared edges. Noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has been one that has predicted this. A new rumor from Mac Otakara says the iPhone 12 will have a very similar metal chassis to the 11, but with ‘slightly bowed edges.’ Their sources do confirm the 4 models in 3 sizes: 5.4 inch, two 6.1 inch handsets, and a 6.7 inch screen. Mac Otakara has the biggest phone being taller and slimmer than the current iPhone 11 Pro Max. One detail: no word about the 11’s midnight green continuing, but there may be a new navy blue color, which could be branded ‘phantom blue.’ Word is that Apple was granted a patent for an OLED display with a built in fingerprint reader, but it’s unclear if TouchID will join FaceID in the iPhones due out this September.

We reported on the Cruise Origin last week, the odd (to put it mildly) looking self-driving vehicle from the GM subsidiary. Now, according to theverge.com, GM will be dropping $2.2 billion to retool and retrofit its Detroit area Hamtramck plant to build autonomous and electric vehicles. The factory will build the Origin, and also all-electric SUVs and pickups. GM intends to have 20 electric nameplates by 2023, with the electric pickup out next year. Hamtramck will be GM’s first ‘fully-dedicated’ EV assembly plant. It’s good news for the area, as the General had originally planned to close that factory, which has been building the chevy Impala and Cadillac CT6. The plant employs about 900.

Geeks are always out there, digging through code updates, and finding out things before they are released. Electrek.co says some hackers have discovered new hardware on the way at Tesla via code. The upgrades include new Model S and Model X battery packs, a new suspension update, a new inductive phone charger, new lumbar support (presumably in new seats), and a new charge port type. The seats may only be in Chinese models…all the rest of the features should be worldwide.

Last week, Tinder gave users a ‘panic button’ feature. Sounds like a good idea. Now, it turns out that you have to download Noonlight to use the feature…and thenextweb.com reports that Noonlight is sharing your data with ad tech companies. It is reasonable for Noonlight to gather and share user location, name, phone number, and health related info with law enforcement. Well, after denying it, they admit they are indeed sharing with third party ‘partners’, including Branch and Blaze…companies that connect a user’s behavior across their devices for ‘retargeting’ purposes. Translation: serving you targeted ads! Facebook and YouTube are among the recipients. A panic button is a good thing, but just know you are paying a price to have it.

I’m Clark Reid

GM-Cruise’s First Driverless…Um…Car; Lower Cost iPhone This Spring; Amazon Patents Dalek-Like Delivery Robots; Saudi Prince’s Account Hacked Bezos’ Phone

They aren’t calling it a car, and it sure doesn’t look like one. GM’s Cruise has revealed their first vehicle, which is named the Origin, but which the company so far calls ‘the property.’ Theverge.com got a preview, and in a number of photos and a brief video, you can take a look. My take is that famous designer of iconic GM cars Harley J. Earl must be spinning in his grave like a pinwheel! The doors slide open, and there are a couple bench seats inside for passengers…which face each other. It appears to seat 6. Video screens are above the seating, which can show various things like the pick up or drop off of passengers. There doesn’t appear to be anything like a trunk to store luggage, so it presumably is for short taxi type runs. Cruise says it’s designed for everything to be replaceable, so it can be used over a number of years. The vehicle is about the size of an SUV. There are no pedals, no steering wheel, no controls at all for a human to take over should something go sideways. The running gear and exterior are done by GM, the interior by Honda, and the self driving portion by the Cruise division. If I were predicting, I would predict that there will be a couple more ‘draft’ designs before this hits the streets!

We’ve been reporting that Apple will drop 4 new iPhones this year, including a cheaper model that many have been calling the ‘SE 2.’ Now, 9to5mac.com has picked up a Bloomberg report that the cheaper model will start production next month, and may be out in March…with the other iPhone models coming in September as usual. It will feature Touch ID and not Face ID, and will have the form factor of the iPhone 8…a 4.7 inch screen with a large ‘chin’ and ‘forehead,’ and a single lens camera on the back. The new model will be bulked up with the processor of the iPhone 11…the A13, and will have more memory. Most are predicting it will start around $399. It’s possible they will call it the iPhone 9, since Apple skipped that number a couple years ago.

Amazon has patented delivery robots that can trek around neighborhoods, handling that important ‘last 50 feet’ delivery issue that has many logistics companies attention. Geekwire.com reports that the thing has multiple doors like the Amazon lockers, and the correct one will open for a person to pop out their own package, then the little bot will be on its way to the next drop off. It really does have a creepy resemblance to the lethal Daleks…the evil robots that have haunted Doctor Who for the last 50 years. EX-TER-MIN-ATE!

In other scary Amazon news, a story out in the Guardian yesterday alleges that Jeff Bezos got his phone pwned when he used WhatsApp and communicated with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Apparently, the hack happened in May 2018, when Bezos got an unsolicited message from the prince…or at least from some person or persons with control of his WhatsApp account. There was a video file that was later analyzed and said to be ‘highly likely’ to carry malware that allowed ‘large amounts of data’ to be secretly copied from the Amazon CEO’s phone. While the Guardian story shines more light on the mechanics of Saudi cyber-operations, Amazon — and Bezos — had long suspected the kingdom’s involvement in a data breach. In March 2019, following the public airing of Bezos’s extramarital affair, Amazon head of security Gavin de Becker wrote in a piece published by the Daily Beast that “our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information.” Careful about accepting files over your chat service!

6.7 Inch iPhone- Thinner Yet; Cal Uber Drivers to Set Own Pricing; Citrix Pushes VPN Patch; FBI Grabs Data Breach Selling Site

The latest iPhone rumors have a 6.7 inch model that’s been on a reducing plan…it is rumored to be 7.4mm thick, which is 10% thinner than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Macrumors.com also reports that all 4 new iPhones will have OLED displays and Face ID. The smaller 5.4 inch screen model and a 6.1 inch model will have two rear cams, with the other two phones having 3. In addition, the big, 6.7 inch model will have larger sensors for its cams than the 11 Pro Max. We may yet see someday actual phones like the parody one with the entire back covered with camera lenses!

In one response to California’s new gig work law, Uber is going to let drivers increase fares in 10% increments over the base fare set by Uber….for up to 5 times the base price! According to theverge.com, this would create a bidding system where drivers that keep the price down will get the first customers. For now, the test is limited to drivers who are making trips from airports in Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, and Sacramento. (Interestingly, this is happening since a major airport van service folded up at the end of 2019…nothing like raising prices when there’s less outside competition!) Uber hopes the new pricing will help them continue to classify drivers as independent contractors, and not employees under the new California law. With Uber’s new system, riders are no longer given an exact price up front…it’s a price ‘range.’ Passengers will also be able to select specific ‘favorites’ and request them again.

Another day, another way for hackers to get into systems. Sigh. Citrix has released some patches for a vulnerability in its Citrix Application Delivery Controller and Citrix Gateway VPN servers. The hold allowed an attacker to remotely execute code on the gateway without a login. There are tens of thousands of known VPN servers, including at least 260 at federal, state, and local government agencies. Arstechnica.com says that at least two VPNs were operated by the US Army! The patches are for versions 11.1 and 12.0, which used to be marketed under the NetScaler name. More patches will be out on January 24th. There are at least 26,000 VPN servers that need to be patched…pronto!

In part of an international operation, the FBI seized and shut down a website called WeLeakInfo. The thieves had sold private user data from over 10,000 data breaches. According to engadget.com, cops in Northern Ireland and the Netherlands hauled in two 22 year olds connected with the site. The site claimed to have over 12 billion usernames and passwords from some 10,000+ breaches at various companies and websites. The operators had organized the info into an easily searchable database, letting users look up and email address and find what passwords, names, phone numbers, and IP addresses were linked. Access by subscription was for as little as $2!

Google CEO-AI Needs Regulation; Netflix Happiest Workplace; Clearview Lets Strangers Find Your Info

Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai says AI is too important and potentially dangerous not to be regulated. According to 9to5google.com, he wrote an OpEd in the Financial Times, saying…among other things…’Now there is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. It is too important not to. The only question is how to approach it.’ Pichai added ‘Good regulatory frameworks will consider safety, explainability, fairness and accountability to ensure we develop the right tools in the right ways. Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms, especially in high-risk areas, with social opportunities.’

As if to add to his argument, a story out today covered by engadget.com says Kaylen Ward, the woman promising to send a naked pic of herself to donors to the Australian fires (and who has raised over a million dollars for fire relief doing so) got kicked off her 3 Instagram accounts…NONE of which were used for the fundraiser. Ward, ‘The Naked Philanthropist,’ had already ended her Twitter campaign for fire relief. Apparently, it’s not just Instagram that is the Morality Police. Airbnb is now using ‘trait analyzer’ algorithms that compile data dossiers on users, decide whether you’ve been bad or good, give you a score, and then “flag and investigate suspicious activity before it happens.”

The Evening Standard reported on Airbnb’s patent for AI that crawls and scrapes everything it can find on you, “including social media for traits such as ‘conscientiousness and openness’ against the usual credit and identity checks and what it describes as ‘secure third-party databases’.” They added, “Traits such as “neuroticism and involvement in crimes” and “narcissism, Machiavellianism, or psychopathy” are “perceived as untrustworthy.”

How about AI for job candidates? HireVue poses pre-determined questions, and analyzes words, grammar, facial expressions, and tone of the applicant’s voice to conclude ‘whether the candidate is tenacious, resilient, or good at working on a team, for instance.’ The problem with this is that humans can’t even do this…and who wrote the code? HUMANS! Psychiatrists and behavioral experts have warned that there is no way this AI analyzed interview can possibly accurately predict how the person will work on a team or if they are tenacious, and so forth. Beware!

On a happier note…unless you are the House of Mouse…the so-called ‘Happiest Place on Earth,’ Netflix has the happiest US employees for 2019. Businessinsider.com reports that this is the result from anonymous professional networking app Blind. Almost 86% of Netflix employees said they are happy at work. #2 and trying harder…Bloomberg. Netflix got the top spot despite its rep for being a high performance culture that is quite demanding, and that routinely fires underperformers. If you are applying there, it apparently helps for a present employee to have recommended you to the recruiters…like numerous other businesses across the country and world! Sorry, Disney…you will have to try harder to be the Happiest Place next time.

In more creepy AI news, startup Clearview uses a photo from its database of some 3 billion pictures scraped from Facebook, Venmo, YouTube, and other sites, and claims its AI can match up names and other info with those photos. Cnet.com says the database is now being used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies, as it is an order of magnitude bigger than that of the FBI, which claims 641 million images. The database isn’t available to the public right now, but could be opened to businesses and the public.

The House Oversight Committee is looking into this, and has already held 3 hearings on this type of use of AI. In November, 2 senators introduced a bill that would limit the use of this type of tech by law enforcement including the FBI. ICE, and others. “Facial recognition technology can be a powerful tool for law enforcement officials,” one of the senators, Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, said in a statement at the time. “But its very power also makes it ripe for abuse.”