Google Meet Video Goes Freebie; Lyft Lays Off 17%; OLED iPhone 12 for $649; iOS 13.5 Beta-Easier Unlock With Masks

Google has opened up Google Meet video conferencing to all, not just enterprise and education users over G Suite. According to theverge.com, anyone with a Google account can create free meetings of up to 100 people that can last any amount of time until September 30th. After that, Google may restrict meeting length to an hour. Of note…people won’t be able to just click a link to join a meeting…they will have to log in, affording better control by hosts…and perhaps avoiding unwanted drop ins like so-called ‘Zoombombing.’ Also…those who haven’t been added by a calendar invite will automatically be placed in a green room, and will need host approval to join the meeting. The free version has no landline support.

As we reported earlier this week, Uber is looking at a substantial layoff (20% of staff) due to the huge drop in their core ride-sharing business from the coronavirus. Now, Lyft has laid off 17% of their workforce, some 982 employees, and and additional 288 have been furloughed. CNBC reports that Lyft has also put into effect salary reductions for base pay for execs for a 12 week period. The salary cuts, which begin in May, amount to a 30% reduction for executive leadership, 20% for vice presidents and 10% for all other exempt employees.

A rumor has Apple releasing an iPhone 12 model with an OLED screen for $649 this fall. Macrumors.com notes that Apple has never sold an OLED screen handset for under $999. The rumor came from Jon Prosser of the YouTube channel Front Page Tech. Prosser claims the info came from the same source that accurately revealed the new iPhone SE release date. Here’s what his source says the iPhone 12 lineup’s pricing will look like:

• 5.4-inch iPhone 12: $649
• 6.1-inch iPhone 12: $749
• 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro: $999
• 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max: $1,099

All 4 phones will not only have OLED screens but also 5G support, which has previously been reported. The more expensive 6.1-inch model and 6.7-inch models are expected to have triple-lens rear cameras with a LiDAR Scanner.It is still believed that Apple will show the phones in late September, as usual, but the actual order and delivery dates will slip to late October or early November.

In another report from Appleland, iOS 13.5 beta is out, and has a cool and necessary feature in today’s world. If you are wearing a mask, it takes a while to try to get Face ID to give up, and show you the password screen. this is a hassle if you are, say, outside a store or mass transit. The beta apparently has new code that will let Face ID recognize almost immediately that you have a mask on and present you with the password screen. If all the bugs are squashed in a timely manner, expect iOS 13.5 to be out in the next few weeks.


Google Earnings; Facebook Earnings, Tesla Backs Down on Reopen; Top Engineer Leaves Uber- Cuts Coming; Ford Delays Autonomous Vehicle Service Until 2022

Despite the effect of the coronavirus, Google parent Alphabet still bested Wall Street expectations. 9to5google.com reports that revenue rose 13 percent to $42.1 billion from a year earlier, and net income edged up 3 percent to $6.8 billion. Ad dollars took a hit…in fact, one of Google’s biggest categories…travel…virtually disappeared. Even with that loss of a category, revenue from search ads increased 9 percent to $24.5 billion, while YouTube ad spending increased 33 percent to $4 billion. Google saw more traffic at YouTube and for search with all the working from home. The cloud-computing business had a 52 percent increase in quarterly revenue, helped by greater demands from customers for its services, and subscriptions for YouTube.

Facebook also beat both its top line and bottom line expectations, but did see stock drop over 7% after they rising costs and expenses and a narrowing operating margin. According to CNBC, Facebook’s revenue grew 24.7% year over year. Operating margin fell from 45% in 2018 to 34% in 2019. Revenue was $21.08 billion, beating the forecast of $20.89 billion. They reported 1.66 billion daily active users, bettering the expectation of 1.65. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a call with analysts that they are looking at an ‘intense year’, but the company is still staffing up, as opposed to cuts…although it will be more like 10% more employees rather than the originally projected 20%.

Tesla had apparently emailed factory workers over the weekend that they should report for work the first of next week. After the announcement Monday that 6 Bay Area counties…including Alameda, where the factory is located…will extend the stay home orders, the car maker has reversed itself, and it is now telling workers to stay home. Theverge.com said the plant may remain closed through May, although there is a chance that it could open sooner. San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who is speaking for the group of counties, said she expects “some lower-risk activities to be allowed to resume,” but urged residents that the goal is to “build on the progress we’ve made.” Tesla did manage to beat expectations in the first quarter of this year, but the second quarter will obviously be down, with possibly two months of an idle factory contributing to that as people continue to shelter in place.

Uber’s chief technology officer and longest-serving executive, Thuan Pham, has resigned effective May 16, the company said Tuesday. Businessinsider.com says Uber is considering staff cuts that may run as many as 5,400 due to the drastically lower volume for its core ride-hailing business during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s about 20% of the company’s work force, and could save up to a billion in expenses.

Ford will kick the can down the road, and not launch their autonomous vehicle service now until 2022. Techcrunch.com says Ford wants to study the long-term impact of the coronavirus on potential customers and their behavior. Ford did say that their deal with VW for autonomous and electric vehicles continues to be on track, however.


NY-AG: Amazon Safety ‘Inadequate;’ Google Wireless Pixel Buds; Co’s Use AI to Track Social Distancing; Rise of Skywalker Streams on ‘Force Day’

The New York Attorney General’s office says Amazon may have violated federal safety standards at its New York warehouses, by providing ‘inadequate’ protections. NPR got a copy of a letter from the AG to Amazon with information pointing to this, and additionally, stating that the company may have broken the state’s whistleblower law in firing a warehouse worker who helped organize a protest in Staten Island. the letter also says the state is investigating “other cases of potential illegal retaliation.” An Amazon spokesperson named Rachael Lighty put out a statement saying the company respects workers’ rights to protest, “however, these rights do not provide blanket immunity against bad actions, particularly those that endanger the health, well-being or safety of their colleagues.” Workers had previously called for Amazon to temporarily shut down warehouses where COVID-19 outbreaks occurred in order to do deep sanitization…which Amazon to date has refused to do.

Google has rolled out V 2.0 of its truly wireless Pixel Buds. According to 9to5google.com, they are available right now at the US Google Store. These buds don’t have a connecting cord between buds, so really are ‘truly wireless.’ In addition, they have a claimed 5 hours listen time or 2.5 hours talk time on a charge, and the charging case gives you 24 hours or use. A 10 minute charge will get you two hours of listening time. They are $179, and come in Oh So Orange, Clearly White, Quite Mint, and Almost Black. Note that the part that goes into the ear is black for all colors. They will be available soon at AT&T, Best Buy, Target, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon, and Walmart.

Even Orwell couldn’t have predicted this….some companies, in an effort to halt the spread of coronavirus, but still get back to work, are equipping cams with artificial intelligence software that tracks compliance with health guidelines like social distancing and mask wearing. Reuters says the companies claim the tools will only be used for a few months to a year, until a vaccine is widely available. Even at that, there is a lot of privacy concern over such use of AI cams in the workplace. Other uses may extend the AI driven cams…Al Gidari, a law professor at Stanford says “Video in the store today to ensure social distancing remains to identify shoplifters tomorrow.” At present, there are no less than 16 video analytics companies that have added some version of AI to security cam systems.

The Forth will be with you, and big time. Disney has announced that ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ is coming to Disney + streaming on ‘Star Wars Day,’ May 4th. The House of Mouse moved the date up by two months due to all the shelter in place going on. Expect a sizable number of employees working from home to get a little less done on the 4th…and for the truly hard core, this means you can binge through every single movie in the 9 flick saga on Star Wars Day if your eyes can hold up!


iPhone 12 Production-Delay by Month; Facebook Messenger Rooms; UPS- Drone Rx Deliveries; Teslas React to Stop Lights

A number of reports have indicated that the iPhone 12 will be delayed…notably by reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Now, the Wall Street Journal joins Kuo in saying the phones will be delayed by a month. The WSJ goes on to say that the mass production delay may not mean the rollout date will also be delayed. In the past, Apple has shown phones that weren’t widely available until late October or even early November….but it has generally only been one model…others have been dropped around a week and a half after the rollout presentation. The Journal also says Apple has cut build estimates for July-December by as much as 20%.

Everyone wants to get in on the popularity of Zoom, which in spite of the terrible reports of ‘Zoombombing’ and other security flaws…which Zoom says are now fixed…continues to be the most popular video mass-conferencing platform. Now, theverge.com reports that Facebook is rolling out a suite of new products to expand chat capabilities. Messenger Rooms is a tool for starting what they are terming ‘virtual hang outs,’ where up to 50 people can be in on the chatfest, and friends can drop in whenever they like. Facebook has also doubled the capacity on WhatsApp video calls from four to eight, added video calls to Facebook Dating, and is adding new live streaming features to both Facebook and Instagram. More than 700 million people are now making calls on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp every day, so the push into more video is no small potatoes. Messenger Rooms Should be available worldwide right now.

As contactless delivery accelerates with the pandemic driving us to ‘social distance,’ UPS is getting ready to deliver prescriptions in partnership with CVS in part by autonomous drones. According to engadget.com, at first the drone will drop off the Rx at a pickup location, then a driver on the ground will take them the last mile. The process could begin in The Villages, Florida in May! UPS has previously tested transporting meds by drone in North Carolina. They say they have successfully completed 3,700 flights.

Tesla has started pushing out a software update that allows vehicles to recognize and respond to traffic signals and stop signs in properly equipped cars. Techcrunch.com says the feature had been available to a small set of Tesla vehicles, but now a larger chunk of the fleet will have the new abilities. Only cars with the most recent Hardware 3 package and fully optioned Autopilot (the one called ‘full self-driving’) will get the new features. With the software, the vehicle will indicate an intention to slow down as it approaches a regulated intersection. It will then duo so, and stop at a red line on the driving visualization on the center display. Owners will need to pull the Autopilot stalk once or manually hit the accelerator to proceed through the stop line. Tesla says the software will be very conservative at first, but over time will learn from the fleet. Besides the stopping, they have added stop lights, stop signs, and select road markings on the center screen. Tesla cautions that the new feature is NOT a substitute for an attentive driver stopping the car.


Google Ad Verification; 2021 Apple Macs Will Get Custom ARM Chips; Tesla Adds Heavyweight Board Member; Workplace Rolls Out New ‘Draft For’ Feature

Google is now requiring all all advertisers to complete a “verification program” in order to buy ads on its platforms, including Google Search, YouTube and its display ad network. The search giant previously rolled out a verification program for political advertisers. Cnet.com says Advertisers will need to submit information that proves their identity and the country where they operate. People will start seeing this info in “Why This Ad?” disclosures starting this summer. Annual revenue for Alphabet is more than $160 billion, and roughly 85% comes from ads.

Apple is set to release its first Mac based on a custom ARM chip next year, according to Bloomberg. Apple is working on a range of chips aimed for future Macs. The first Apple-designed chip will apparently be based on a 5-nanometer fabrication process, and feature 12 CPU cores: 8 high-performance cores and 4-efficiency cores. Apple’s own chips are widely expected to best Intel’s current lineup in performance, and the addition of more cores will certainly help achieve that. The 12-core chip will be “much faster” than the A13 chip currently found in Apple’s latest iPhones and iPads.

Tesla just added the chief investment officer of Japan’s $1.5 trillion government pension fund to its board of directors. According to Businessinsider.com (Hiro) Mizuno, most recently served as the chief investment officer of Japan’s $1.5 trillion government pension fund, the largest pension fund in the world, which owns roughly $874 million worth of Tesla stock. Before that post, Mizuno worked in finance roles in New York, San Francisco, and other global business centers. This year, the company’s board will be reduced to just seven directors.

Collaborative enterprise solution Workplace from Facebook has introduced several new features, including ‘Draft For,’ which lets administrators select individual employees to draft posts for executives to publish in an internal company social network. Venturebeat.com says if executives approve of the post, they can review and publish the post under their name. Facebook says the changes are geared toward helping people work remotely as people around the world practice social distancing to combat COVID-19.


iPhone Bug; Hackers Weaponize COVID-19; AT&T Expands 5G Footprint; Zoom Boosts Security

Apple will patch a newly discovered iPhone vulnerability that security researchers say hackers have already used to steal data from their victims’ devices. Techcrunch.com says the bug is in the iPhone’s default Mail app. By sending a specially crafted email to the victim’s device, an attacker can overrun the device’s memory, allowing the attacker to remotely run malicious code to steal data from the device. Worse, the bug doesn’t require any user interaction on the latest version of iOS 13. A fix will be rolled out in an upcoming update. Until then, high-risk users should disable the Mail app.

From hawking fake vaccines and stolen masks to phishing attempts designed to take advantage of the pandemic, the internet has seen coronavirus-related scams and attacks skyrocket over the past few weeks. According to mashable.com, Google’s Threat Analysis Group released a report, saying it has specifically identified attacks targeting U.S. governmental workers and health agencies, phishing emails going after employees working from home, and fake charity solicitations, and more than a dozen of the hacker groups were state-sponsored-like ‘Charming Kitten’ out of Iran!

AT&T is dramatically ramping up the rollout of its 5G network to new markets. The carrier is nearly doubling the availability of its low-band 5G network, bringing it to 90 new areas starting today. 9to5mac.com reports that with today’s expansion, the low-band 5G network is now available in over 190 markets, according to the carrier, covering more than 120 million people. The added markets include Sacramento, Chico, Redding, and Yuba City. AT&T plans to reach nationwide coverage of its low-band 5G by sometime this summer.

Zoom promised a 90-day feature freeze to fix privacy and security issues, and the company is delivering on some of those promises. Theverge.com says A new Zoom 5.0 update is rolling out this week that’s designed to address some of the many complaints that Zoom has faced in recent weeks. With this new update, there’s now a security icon that groups together a number of Zoom’s security features. You can use it to quickly lock meetings, remove participants, and restrict screen sharing and chatting in meetings. Zoom is also now enabling passwords by default for most customers.


Google Assistant Sensitivity; Snapchat Use Gets Big Increase; Facebook Algorithm Squashes Fake Accounts; Amazon Looks at Ring Facial Recognition

Google is starting to “roll out gradually” a feature allowing you to customize voice detection sensitivity on Google Assistant devices, a spokesperson confirmed to The Verge. Although the feature has not been widely released yet, the “‘Hey Google’ Sensitivity” feature displays a slider that allows you to increase or reduce the sensitivity with which Google Assistant devices pick up the command “Hey Google.” The new setting is meant to decrease accidental activations of your Assistant.

With more users stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, Snapchat has more users than ever. Engadget.com says Snapchat gained 11 million users during the first quarter of 2020, a significant uptick from the 8 million it added last quarter quarter, and well ahead of the company’s expected growth. It now has 229 million daily active users, up 20 percent from last year. Like other social networks, Snapchat has seen a surge in usage in recent weeks, but CEO Evan Spiegel says that not all the extra growth is due to the coronavirus. They have also grown programming consumption with Snapchat Discover.

Facebook engineers, in a blog post, describe an algorithm — SybilEdge — that detects fake accounts that evade Facebook’s anti-abuse filters at registration time but that haven’t friended enough people to perpetuate abuse. According to venturebeat.com, The goal is to mitigate the accounts’ ability to launch attacks against other users. An analysis from Oxford found that 33% of people have seen some form of misinformation about COVID-19 on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Amazon subsidiary Ring, which has partnerships with almost 1,200 law enforcement agencies nationwide, does not currently include facial recognition or license plate scanning tools in its home surveillance line of consumer products. Arstechnica.com reports that The company appears to be evaluating adding both tools… raising additional privacy concerns. Potential new features for Ring include options for enabling or disabling the camera both physically and remotely, both visual and audible alarms to ward off “would-be criminals,” and potential object, facial, and license plate detection.


Fandango Buys Vudu; Netflix Android ‘Screen Lock’; Electric Co’s Look to AI; iPad Pro Delay

Movie ticketing company Fandango has agreed to buy Walmart’s on-demand video streaming service, Vudu, for an undisclosed sum. Techcrunch.com says the video service reaches more than 100 million living room devices across the U.S., including smart TVs, Blu-ray players, game consoles and other over-the-top streaming devices, as well as Windows 10 and Mac computers, and iOS and Android mobile devices. To date, the Vudu app on mobile has been installed more than 14.5 million times. As a part of the agreement, Vudu will continue to power Walmart’s digital movie and TV store on Walmart.com.

It can be frustrating-to put it lightly- to accidentally tap a button and mess up playback when watching Netflix on your phone. Now, Netflix is rolling out a new feature for Android devices that tries to prevent that. This new feature, which 9to5Google spotted, lets Android users avoid accidental touches when using the Netflix mobile app. A “screen lock” option will now appear at the bottom of your screen after you start watching a TV show or movie. Enabling screen lock will stop the button prompts, helping to prevent you from stopping playback or accidentally enabling subtitles.

With the shelter in place due to the coronavirus, the shift has strained the utilities supplying power to the nation’s electrical grid. According to venturebeat.com, U.S. electricity use on March 27, 2020 was 3% lower than the prior year, a loss of about three years of sales growth. The rise in household electricity demand won’t offset reduced business electricity demand, because residential demand is just 40% of the total. Some utilities are now employing AI to ensure that operations aren’t interrupted in the coming months, thereby preventing blackouts and brownouts.

Last week, analyst Jeff Pu told investors that the rumored high-end ‌iPad Pro‌ may be delayed until early next year due to the device’s “complex panel design.” Macrumors.com reports that Apple originally planned to launch the device in the fall, but has given up on meeting this roadmap because of the outbreak. Back in December, before the global health crisis took hold, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple was developing up to six Mini-LED products, including a 12.9-inch ‌iPad Pro‌. The iPad Pro with LIDAR that just launched looks like it will be the standard bearer for the rest of this year.


Tesla Updates Powerwalls; Facebook- New Game Streaming App; Uber Revives Goods Delivery; Amazon-Thermal Cams for Warehouse Employee Fever Checks

What happens if you have a Tesla Powerwall, and there’s a power outage and the battery pack has to juggle the needs of both your home and your EV? Engadget.com reports that Tesla has released a software update that will coordinate with the company’s cars to prioritize charging during power outages. Charging will slow down if there’s a high load in your household during the outage, and will even stop entirely if the Powerwall dips below an “energy threshold.” The feature is currently available to North American owners who drive a Model 3 or Model Y.

Twitch and YouTube don’t have much competition when it comes to streaming platforms for the gaming community, but Facebook wants to change that with a new dedicated mobile gaming app. The verge.com notes that Facebook initially had a number of games in their main app from the likes of Zynga. Facebook’s gaming app will largely curate and focus on the streaming community, although it will also highlight casual games that people might play online already, including Words with Friends. The app, which is set to be introduced today on Android, then on iOS devices once “Apple approves them.”

Uber is reviving an attempt to offer deliveries of goods as well as people and food, as it searches for new sources of revenue during the coronavirus outbreak.
Its latest effort to transport items ranging from medical supplies to pet food via two new services, Direct and Connect, follows a recently accelerated push into online groceries. Financial Times says Uber has cautioned that its new logistics services may not outlast the current lockdown if the car-booking service cannot run the operations profitably.

Amazon has started to use thermal cameras at its warehouses to speed up screening for feverish workers who could be infected with the coronavirus, according to Reuters. The cameras in effect measure how much heat people emit relative to their surroundings. They require less time and contact than forehead thermometers, earlier adopted by Amazon.Cases of the virus have been reported among staff at more than 50 of Amazon’s U.S. warehouses.


Bezos Calls for Global COVID-19 Testing; Google Slowing Hiring; Facebook Warns Users Re Interacting With Fake COVID-19 Info; Apple-Modular, High-End Noise Cancelling Headphones

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has called for testing everyone regularly for COVID-19, and not just his own employees, as the effort begins to bring the world back to work and some intermediate step towards normalcy as we wait for a vaccine for the virus. Geekwire.com reports that Bezos made the virus and response to it the main topic of his annual letter to shareholders. He noted how the company has been adapting to the crisis, and also how Amazon has seen the extent of how people depend on the company. Bezos feels that there needs to be regular testing of people, even those showing no symptoms, as we move to get the economy back up and running. People who test positive would be quarantined and those who aren’t could continue working without fear of constantly being exposed to the virus. Bezos ended the letter quoting Dr. Seuss: He quoted Dr. Seuss to end the letter: “When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”
“I am very optimistic about which of these civilization is going to choose,” Bezos said.

Google has said that it will slow hiring for the rest of 2020, and will adjust its investments in areas like data centers and marketing…all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to theverge.com, the info came out in an email from CEO Sundar Pichai to employees, which was obtained by Bloomberg. The Verge got this from Google when they inquired: “We’ll be slowing down the pace of hiring, while maintaining momentum in a small number of strategic areas, and onboarding the many people who’ve been hired but haven’t started yet.” Google had hired 20,000 in 2019, and had planned on a similar number of hires in 2020. Microsoft is also temporarily ratcheting back hiring a bit due to the epidemic. As we reported earlier, Facebook will still tack on an additional 10,000 this year, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Google drops back to a similar number.

Facebook will start notifying users if they have liked, reacted, or commented on COVID-19 misinformation that has since been removed. Engadget.com says that the alerts will appear in a person’s news feed, and will include links to COVID-19 myths debunked by the WHO. The alerts should start popping up in the next few weeks. The effort will be similar to the bogus pages run by the Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency. There will also be notices posted when users search for vaccine related content, and referrals to the WHO and CDC for actual, credible information. In March, Facebook displayed warnings on about 40 million posts related to COVID-19. Facebook claims that on flagged posts 95% of users didn’t go ahead and view the fake content.

Apple has been rumored to be working on pricey noise-cancelling headphones…bearing the Apple brand and not Beats. Now, techcrunch.com reports that the noise-cancelling ‘cans’ will use tech like the AirPod and AirPod Pro ear buds have…and more. They will apparently be made with interchangeable parts that will allow some moddiing with custom accessories. They may have some different headbands and ear cups for workouts as opposed to long term wearing, for example. They will apparently have a ‘retro look,’ stealing from such brands as Master + Dynamic…which already makes high-end, noise-cancelling headphones with Bluetooth and replaceable ear cups. As previously reported, Apple will continue to market the Beats brand as a separate line of headphones. An FCC filing points to imminent release of an updated PowerBeats Pro fully wireless in ear sport headphone.