Zillow- 90% Work From Home TFN; Impossible Burgers Now at Walmart; PayPal Sees Big Profit Jump; Apple Leads China Smartphone Growth

Zillow has announced that around 90% of its employees will have the option of working from home indefinitely. According to geekwire.com, the company put work from home in place in April due to the pandemic, and now says while they historically discouraged employees from working from home, “Our old preferences have been debunked during the pandemic.” That coming in a blog post from Dan Spaulding, Zillow’s chief people officer. Zillow has onboarded around 500 new employees since March, all digitally, via a new virtual program.

If you have been meaning to try an Impossible Burger, but haven’t been somewhere that has them…or haven’t picked some up in a grocery like Kroger, Safeway, Albertsons, or Vons, now giant retailer Walmart has added the plant-based burgers to some 2,000 stores. Engadget.com reports that the discounter will be selling 12 ounce packages of Impossible Burger in stores in all 50 states. Adding in Walmart’s 2,000 centers, the meatless burger should be available in over 8,000 grocery stores by the end of the year. I have tried them a couple times. They really do taste like a real burger…but were saltier than I normally would eat actual meat.

A big surge in e-commerce, coupled with new accounts boosted quarterly profits at PayPal by a whopping 86%! Reuters says the stock was up over 6% in after hours trading yesterday after the announcement. PayPal stock had already seen a 44% rise since May. They are now projecting 22% revenue growth for the year. This is quite a boost after PayPal withdrew full year guidance due to uncertainty over the pandemic. As it turns out, it has been a boon for them, as well as other online titans like Amazon.

Following a decline in the market in the 1st quarter, Apple has bounced back in China..growing 32% on the year thanks to continued strength of its iPhone 11 lineup (not to mention substantial discounting during an annual shopping festival Cupertino has avoided in the past.) Apple had the fastest growing smartphone brand in China in the 2nd quarter, according to macrumors.com and stats from Counterpoint Research. The new iPhone SE was one of the top 3 selling phones in the quarter…duplicating the smaller, cheaper phone’s performance in the US.


Tech Chiefs Grilled by Congress; TikTok Opening Algorithm; Starbucks Mobile Up, But Overall Down; Tesla may License Autopilot

The four big tech CEOs have been getting grilled by Congress today. As has been the case for some time now, Democrats and Republicans in the House differ widely in their questioning and in the direction the hearing is taking. CEO’s of Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Apple, and Amazon have been testifying after making opening statements…mainly defending their positions and urging continued hands off of their businesses by the government. Axios.com reports that Democrats have been probing about competitive abuses, while the GOP members seem more concerned (as is Trump) with alleged anti-conservative bias.

Rep. David Cicilline, the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee chair overseeing the hearing, accused Google CEO Sundar Pichai of stealing content from smaller companies to build out its search results. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced a grilling from Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, who sought to pin him down on the company’s 2012 acquisition of Instagram. Nadler said previously unseen emails reveal that Zuckerberg “saw Instagram as a threat that could potentially siphon business away from Facebook.”

In a ‘Well, duh’ moment, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos acknowledged that, despite past denials and company policy against it, he can’t rule out the possibility that employees have tapped third-party sales data to develop in-house products. A 2015 internal Apple email, meanwhile, appeared to show the company putting Chinese tech giant Baidu on a fast track for app review, contra claims the company treats all app developers equally. CEO Tim Cook insisted as much under questioning Wednesday.

Republicans brought a different focus. Ranking antitrust panel member Jim Sensenbrenner praised tech companies for their size and power, narrowing his criticism to the bias allegations. Rep. Jim Jordan, top Republican on the full Judiciary panel, greatly amplified that line of attack, stating flatly, “Big tech is out to get conservatives.”

TikTok has been getting slammed for connection to the Chinese government, so now the CEO, Kevin Mayer, say they will give outsiders access to the algorithms they use to sort and share user video…letting the outsiders “observe our moderation policies in real-time,” as he put it. TikTok hopes to counter the spate of bans of their product from company and government phones that has been growing lately. The Trump administration has even suggested an outright ban in the US might be coming. TikTok argues that without access to its platform, US ‘advertisers would again be left with few choices.’ I will pause here while folks in the ad and media business stop laughing and compose themselves. …..TikTok goes on to argue they are willing to take all necessary steps to ensure long-term availability and success of the platform.

The pandemic is hurting a lot of businesses, but also altering how they work. Starbucks has announced that in their 3rd quarter, mobile orders hit 22% of transactions, and delivery orders tripled from the prior quarter. Geekwire.com says Starbucks reported same-store sales plunged 40%, however. The coffee giant lot $3.1 billion in the quarter, due to reduced foot traffic, temporary store closures, and cutbacks in hours. The are moving more quickly to roll out their new store concept called Pickup. Coffeeholics would order ahead with the app, then just swing by and pick up their order. More of the conventional stores have begun doing curbside pickup also.

In a move to appear magnanimous, Elon Musk has Tweeted that Tesla is open licensing its Autopilot, and supplying powertrains and batteries to competitors. Techcrunch.com notes that German car makers are closing the gap between themselves and Tesla in the EV marketplace. It is worth noting that early investors in Tesla included Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, in part to access the EV maker’s battery tech, so Musk may have a bit of a hard sell on that part. Musk claims the interest in licensing flows form its major goal “to accelerate sustainable energy, not crush competitors.” Considering that several competitors are about to bow 15-30 EV models in the next couple years, I don’t think they are going to be crushed much by Tesla. VW is already licensing its tech, and cut a deal with Ford that could net it up to $20 billion.

CES- Online Only in 2021; Study: Masks Thwart Most Facial Recognition; Numbers Show Power of Big Four Tech Firms; Alexa Jamming Gadget

The giant Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s biggest consumer tech show held in Vegas in January each year, will be ‘online only’ in 2021. Engadget.com reports that the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the show, decided it just isn’t possible to bring tens of thousands of people into Las Vegas by January…knowing that there likely won’t be many people vaccinated against COVID-19 by then..IF we even have a vaccine by that time. The CES brings in some 182,000 folks from al over the world, and that would be the mother of all super spreader events in all likelihood. The CTA hasn’t yet released dates and details, but as they do, we’ll pass those on.

If you have been trying to use Apple’s Face ID during the pandemic, you have been irritated by it not opening when you wear a mask. In an iOS update, Apple did speed up the smartphone’s inability to recognize a user, and the keypad for your key code shows up a bit faster. So…how masks affect facial recognition tech out in the world? According to venturebeat.com, the National Institutes of Science and Technology (NIST) has done a study now, and can tell us that 89% of facial recognition algorithms from Panasonic, Canon, Tencent, and others had error rates between 5% and 50% in matching digitally applied masks with photos of the same person without a mask. For reference, when using the software on pictures, most only failed to authenticate a person about .3% of the time. Interestingly, the more of the nose that was covered by a mask, the worse the software did. Many companies are now working on software that focuses on the eyes and above…but Apple’s Face ID already does that, and it is still pretty helpless with a face in a mask.

How big is big tech, really? Here are some numbers that bring their size and power into focus. Axios notes that the rough combined market capitalization of Facebook, Apple, Google (Alphabet), and Amazon is $5 TRILLION dollars! How about their combined annual revenue for last year? $773 billion. Facebook’s $70.7 billion is about equal to Venezuela’s gross domestic product. Alphabet’s $161 billion is more than Ukraine’s GDP. Apple’s $260 billion haul nearly matches Vietnam’s GDP, and Amazon’s monster $280 billion about matches Pakistan’s GDP. All 4 together match the GDP of Saudi Arabia! How about cash on hand? Combined $420 billion…that’s more than the US government has on hand much of the time!

If you worry about Alexa listening in when you’d prefer it didn’t, and you love TV’s ‘Clapper,’ here ya go. It is probably too much to ask to get up and unplug your Echo or other device…we’re terminally lazy in that respect. Check out Alexagate…an ultrasonic speaker that sits on most Alexa smart speakers. Mashable.com reports you plop it on top of the smart speaker, turn it on, and it uses “pulsed ultrasound to jam the Echo’s microphone.” You clap 3 times to turn it on, and 3 more to turn it off. It’s $99…cheaper to get off your butt and just Turn Alexa off when you want more privacy.

Google- Work From Home ‘Till Summer ’21; Apple’s 1st India-Made Flagship Phone; Garmin Coming Back After Ransomware Hack; Tesla Sues Rivian

Google has announced it is extending its employee work from home policy until June, 2021. Businessinsider.com reports that Google had already kicked the can down the road from July 6th to September. Several other tech companies had already extended work from home policies, but Google’s extends furthest into the future (except Twitter-which declared that its staff can work from home for as long as they like…forever, if they wish). CEO Sundar Pichai said they hoped this would help employees with kids to plan for working through the school year without having to deal with switching back to commuting into their work centers.

Apple has begun making its first flagship smartphone in India. Cupertino has made lower line iPhones there since 2017. According to theverge.com, Apple is ramping up production in India, and intends to make a significant percentage of their smartphones there. India is the second largest smartphone market after China…with the US third. Building the phones there not only helps Apple avoid issues should trade disputes continue with China, it also avoids a 20% import duty that India imposes on foreign made electronics.

Garmin is slowly getting services on line after a big outage last week caused by ransom demanding hackers. Engadget.com says no update from the company has been forthcoming since a Twitter post and FAQ Saturday. As of yesterday, the activity tracking app Strava was again able to send workout data to Garmin’s Connect service. You can apparently also now register a new device. Garmin still is yet to confirm or deny the ransomware attack.

Tesla has sued Rivian over theft of trade secrets. According to arstechnica.com, Tesla claims that about 70 former employees have left them for Rivian….including 22 in just the last 4 months. The e-car maker claims that several employees took confidential documents with them. Rivian is working on a pickup truck, an SUV, and a delivery truck that all run on batteries and electric motors. Amazon is a major investor in Rivian, and they have ordered 100,000 of the e-delivery trucks.

iPhone Release Now Late October; Autonomous Cars-MIT Says 10 More Years; Plex Bows 80 Free Channels in Live TV Service; Microsoft Revenue up 13% Thanks to Cloud

In a totally unsurprising rumor, Apple probably won’t launch its new iPhone line until late October. Macrumors.com reports that Mac Otakara is making that prediction based on sources in the supply chain. Most still think Apple will have an event around the third week of September announcing the phones. They have delayed models this late before (albeit not all or most of them.) The iPhone XR wasn’t available until late October. Unfortunately, the October date will just be for the LTE phones…the 5G models won’t drop until November.

Bad news if you were counting on your car to effortlessly chauffeur you around soon…an MIT task force now predicts we are at least 10 years away from fully autonomous vehicles. I will pause for you to have a ‘sad.’ ________ According to venturebeat.com, MIT launched a Task Force on the Work of the Future, which was an ‘institute wide’ effort to study the evolution of jobs during what the university terms ‘an age of innovation.’

In addition to technical challenges, the group points to cost as a barrier to adaption. The complicated sensor array autonomous vehicles require and powerful computers (which won’t be built at the type of mass volume as for example, advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS) which prices the vehicles up substantially. The delay due to expenses doesn’t just apply to personal vehicles: One case study found that robo-taxis would struggle to remain cost-competitive with personal vehicle ownership in San Francisco due to expenditures on remote operators, licensing, insurance, maintenance, and other systems.

They DO see autonomous over the road trucks making inroads sooner…partly to the shortage of drivers, and partly because the driverless trucks could go from hub to hub, and then could be taken over by actual human drivers for the last few miles.

Plex has unveiled 80 free channels in its live TV service…the majority of which are available worldwide. Techcrunch.com says the channel lineup include Reuters TV, Yahoo Finance, Toon Goggles, Kidoodle TV, KidsFlix, fubo Sports Network, Cooking Panda, DrinkTV, IGN TV, AFV Family, Tastemade, Revry, FailArmy, Dove Channel, Docurama, The Pet Collective, WeatherSpy, Made in Hollywood, and others. Oooh, you can also get the Bob Ross Channel, so you can binge on ‘happy little trees’ to your hearts content! You can only tune in and watch the live TV shows…you can’t record the shows or movies.

The pandemic has caused havoc in many lives and business sectors, but some people are making bank…Amazon, mask makers, and now Microsoft has announced revenue up 13% to $38 billion due to cloud usage and gaming…all attributable to the coronavirus. Geekwire.com reports that Xbox content and services revenue was up 68% for the quarter.

Office software licensing and LinkedIn took hits due to the slowdown in the economy, however. Microsoft profits were off 15% at $11.2 billion, but that included a $450 million hit from closing retail stores and they had an unusual $2.6 billion tax benefit in the prior year’s quarter.

Facebook Messenger Can Now Use Face ID; Apple Looks to Periscope Telephoto in 2022; Galaxy Z Flip 5G Bows; Slack Sues Microsoft in EU Over Teams Tie to Office

Facebook has added an extra letter of security for their Messenger product on iPhones and iPads. According to theverge.com, the app itself can now be locked upon or shortly after closing, requiring you to use Face ID or Touch ID or a similar authentication method, giving a robust extra level of protection for your Messenger chats. This may be a real relationship saver for some, but you have to think that people that need to hide chats from a partner or lover ought to rethink their being in a relationship in the first place! Facebook calls the new feature App Lock. the feature is expected to bow on Android in ‘the next few months.’ Facebook is also working on giving users more control concerning who can message them, and will start blurring photos from people who message you without your approval…so you don’t have to, for example, see an unwanted dick pic. Instagram and WhatsApp already have a similar feature. No word on when Messenger will get this particular improvement.

Pop up, or ‘periscope’ lenses have been tried on smartphones before, but never by the likes of an Apple or Samsung. Now, macrumors.com reports that noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple is lining up suppliers for a periscope type telephoto lens on the 2022 iPhones. He sees Semco out of Korea and Sunny Optical from China as the likely suppliers. The advantage of a periscope type telephoto lens is that you can get a much higher optical zoom. Many phones have 2X or more optical zoom, then up to 10X in digital zoom, which is noticeably poorer in quality. Right now Huawei has a periscope zoom with 5X optical zoom, and they have a 10X version in the pipeline. Apple has patents on what they call a ‘folded telephoto camera lens system’ dating back to 2016.

The latest, greatest Samsung Galaxy Z Flip has been officially announced, complete with 5G, new colors, and again with an eye-watering price of $1449 (which is actually only a $70 bump over last year). 9to5google.com says the folder gets an upgraded Snapdragon 865+ processor. New colors are ‘Mystic Bronze’ and ‘Mystic Gray.’ It will be available at AT&T, T-Mobile, Best Buy, and Amazon. Samsung says it will be available August 7th.

Slack has brought an antitrust action against Microsoft in Europe, alleging that Redmond is unlawfully leveraging its dominant Office suite to give Microsoft Teams an unfair advantage over collaboration products like Slack’s. According to geekwire.com, Slack is claiming that Microsoft has “created a weak, copycat product and tied it to their dominant Office product, force installing it and blocking its removal, a carbon copy of their illegal behavior during the ‘browser wars.’” Microsoft has yet to respond to the suit, and in the meantime Slack says it is also talking to US authorities about antitrust issues with Microsoft.

Spotify Launches Video Podcasts Worldwide; Apple-100% Carbon Neutral Supply Chain by 2030; Samsung Will Drop 5 Devices at August 5th Unpacked; Microsoft Cuts LinkedIn Jobs

Spotify has launched video podcasts worldwide. Techcrunch.com reports that this new feature will allow both free users and paid subscribers to view video content from a select group of creator podcasts. In a move to differentiate from YouTube, all users…not just paid subscribers…will be able to listen to the video content in the background while doing other things on their device. Spotify says its users will all be able to moves seamlessly between the video version and audio. Podcasts available now include Book of Basketball 2.0, Fantasy Footballers, The Misfits Podcast, H3 Podcast, The Morning Toast, Higher Learning with Van Lathan & Rachel Lindsay, and The Rooster Teeth Podcast. If you don’t see them available now, you should soon..it is a rolling start.

Apple has been 100% carbon neutral for a couple years now, but is looking to go beyond that. According to 9to5mac.com, Apple is committing to a 100% carbon neutral supply chain by 2030. Cupertino started in on greening its supply chain in 2015. Apple has said that carbon removal programs will be a part of this, which they admit isn’t the same as not generating it in the first place…but it’s still a giant move towards a greener future they they hope other manufacturers will emulate.

Prognosticators now think Samsung will unveil 5 devices at Unpacked on August 5th. Engadget.com says it looks like 3 new phones…Galaxy Note 20, Note 20 Plus, and Note 20 Ultra. In addition, they are expected to show a pair of true wireless headphones named Galaxy Buds Live, and a new smartwatch.

Microsoft is cutting about 960 LinkedIn jobs, amounting to 6% of the workforce there. According to zdnet.com, a lot of the cuts are due to the coronavirus pandemic, and its impact on demand for hiring. Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in 2016, but has mainly taken a hands-off approach to the division. LinkedIn will continue to migrate all its workloads to Microsoft’s Azure over the next few years.

Win 10X Rollout Spring 2021; Zuck-No Secret Trump Deal; Nissan’s $40,000 300 Mile Range SUV; GM Plans Full-Size e-Pickup

Microsoft is targeting Spring of 2021 for the release of Windows 10X. Zdnet.com notes this is not a new OS, but a variant of Windows 10 with a more modular forma and a new, simpler interface. It was apparently originally planned to be released on dual-screen devices like the now postponed Surface Neo. Now, it appears the OS will roll out for both single screen and dual screen devices, but won’t be widely released until Spring of 2022. Microsoft had no comment on what would be coming to ‘regular’ Windows 10.

In an interview with axios.com, Mark Zuckerberg insisted that he has no ‘secret deal’ with Donald Trump. According to Axios, the Facebook CEO said “I’ve heard this speculation, too, so let me be clear: There’s no deal of any kind,” Zuckerberg told Axios. “Actually, the whole idea of a deal is pretty ridiculous.” “I do speak with the president from time to time, just like I spoke with our last president and political leaders around the world,” he added.

He did point to a number of areas of disagreement with Trump, “whether it’s the immigration policies, which I think have not only been unfair, but I think put the country at a huge disadvantage going forward, compared to the opportunities that we should be going after … climate change, where I think moves like pulling out of Paris agreement were a huge step back for the world … things like his divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.” With the serious possibility of a Biden administration, which might be inclined to break up Facebook, the online giant has made some changes, including removing Trump ads and posts.

The EV wars are heating up further, as Nissan has unveiled a new Ariya e-SUV with 300 miles of range. Electrek.co says the crossover SUV has a base price of $40,000. The down side…it won’t hit showrooms until next summer. The rig will be available with FWD and all-wheel drive, and have options for two battery sizes…63kWh and 87kWh. It features a liquid cooled battery design, and will have 130kW DC quick charging. According to Nissan, it can gain 175 miles of range from a half hour charge. A ‘novel’ feature is Nissan’s one-pedal driving system. It will be equipped with driver monitoring to enable hands-off single-lane highway operation.

With the Bolt out on the roads, GM is well under way in rolling out EVs, and now a report indicates that a full-sized electric Chevy pickup is on the drawing board with a 400 mile range. According to theverge.com, the report describes a “Chevrolet BET Truck, which will be the brand’s first electric full-size pickup, offering 400+ miles of range on a single charge.” The truck could be out by next year, but more likely will drop in 2023…one of 20 EVs GM intends to introduce for that model year. So far, there’s no indication of the range the e-PU will have while towing…something many GM full-sized trucks are used for.

Apple has won its appeal against the EU, which had ordered that Cupertino pay $15 billion in back taxes, after the 2nd highest court in the EU threw out claims that the tax breaks were an illegal subsidy. Thenextweb.com reports that an EU commission hadn’t shown that Apple received an unfair advantage “to the requisite legal standard”. The Irish government had joined Apple in the appeal.

In something of a surprise move into hardware, Zoom has introduced Zoom for Home-DTEN ME, an all-in-one device claimed to be dead simple to set up and operate for home office workers to more easily do Zoom Meetings. According to techcrunch.com, the $599 device is a 27 inch screen…basically a tablet…preloaded with Zoom software and sporting 3 wide angle hi-resolution cams and 8 microphones. Zoom says you can take it out of the box, and launch it by entering a pairing code on a website on your laptop or mobile phone. The interface should then appear automatically on the Zoom device’s screen. You can link your calendar, so all upcoming meetings show up in a sidebar on the screen. It works with an existing Zoom license. They are taking pre-orders, and the gadget is expected to ship next month.

Apple has won its appeal against the EU, which had ordered that Cupertino pay $15 billion in back taxes, after the 2nd highest court in the EU threw out claims that the tax breaks were an illegal subsidy. Thenextweb.com reports that an EU commission hadn’t shown that Apple received an unfair advantage “to the requisite legal standard”. The Irish government had joined Apple in the appeal.

Photos used to train facial recognition tech were obtained without the subjects’ permission, according to a lawsuit. Cnet.com says Amazon, Google parent Alphabet, and Microsoft used the photos to train their facial recognition tech without permission in contravention of an Illinois biometric privacy statute. Three federal lawsuits have been filed on behalf of two Illinois residents, with the suits filed in California and Washington where the companies are based. No comment thus far from any of the tech firms.

Tesla is cashing in on tax breaks to build its Cybertruck factory in Texas. Austin officials have approved at least $60 million in property tax rebates for Tesla to bring the electric pickup plant there. Theverge.com reports that Austin, along with Tulsa, OK have been the leading contenders for the new factory. Although tax breaks are a factor in locating the plant, Elon Musk has said he is also considering “logistics costs, access to a large workforce with a wide range of talents, and quality of life.” The company will build the Cybertruck at the factory, as well as Model Y SUVs that are destined for the East Coast of the US.

Amazon’s Smart Shopping Cart; Softbank May Sell ARM Holdings; Germany-Tesla Autopilot Misleading; Salesforce Chief Scientist Leaves for Own Co

Amazon has bowed the Dash Cart, a smart shopping cart. According to theverge.com, the smart cart is bound for Amazon’s grocery store in Woodland Hills, CA. It features a touchscreen and other hardware to automatically detect what items you have put into the cart and even how many you have picked off the shelf. When shopping is complete, you can roll through a special lane that checks you out digitally without requiring a human cashier to ring up your total. Your Amazon account is automatically debited with the amount. The LA area store doesn’t have cameras and sensors like the smaller Amazon Go stores. It is in operation for online purchases right now, but the physical space has yet to open to the public. It is unclear at this point why Amazon hasn’t branded it as a Whole Foods, but apparently it will be a different animal from Whole Foods or Amazon Go.

Softbank, which owns chip designer ARM Holdings is looking at selling all or part of the investment. Macrumors.com reports that they are working with Goldman Sachs as an advisor. Apple licenses the tech from ARM for it’s A-series chips…those used in iPhones since 2006, and later iPads. The ARM tech is bound for Apple laptops…maybe as soon as late this year. Apple may even be a potential buyer for ARM Holdings, as it was one of the original investors that started the company.

A German court has ruled that Tesla’s Autopilot claims are misleading, and banned them from using them in ads. Businessinsider.com says the ban includes claims that the vehicles are capable of autonomous driving. Tesla can appeal the ruling. Elon Musk has famously hyped this feature, which has yet to actually exist. Right now, the vehicles are ‘Level 2,’ but not even near actual self-driving. The court bans include the phrases “full potential for autonomous driving” and “Autopilot inclusive” in Tesla’s advertising materials.

Richard Socher is leaving his chief scientist gig at Salesforce for his own startup. According to venturebeat.com, he came to Salesforce with the acquisition of MetaMind in 2016. He had overseen research and development and the rise of the Einstein cloud AI services. He will apparently retain a role as an advisor to Salesforce. No word on when he will separate from the company or who Salesforce might bring in as its new chief scientist.