Amazon Adds E-Vans; Netflix Teases Non-Subscribers With Freebies; Next iPad-More like Pro; Samsung Claims Mobile Memory Breakthrough

We have reported here, as have many others, on Amazon’s deal with EV startup Rivian. Amazon apparently still intends to buy 100,000 e-vans from the maker, starting next year. In the meantime, according to mashable.com, Amazon has signed up for 2,000 new Mercedes e-vans. The Mercedes-Benz rigs will include 1200 eSprinter vans and 600 eVito vans. The smaller eVito van just has a 93 mile range. No range was given on the Sprinter models. When Rivian rolls out its e-vans, they are claiming they will have a 400 mile range.

As hard to believe as it may be, there are still plenty of people who don’t have Netflix. Now, in a new push to woo some of those folks into subscribing, Netflix is offering some original movies and TV shows without a subscription. Cnet.com reports that the deal will be available on browsers on computers and Android, but that iOS browsers aren’t supported…at least at this time. The original movies are available in their entirety, but for series…including ‘Stranger Things,’ you only get the first episode for free. Naturally, at the end of each show, there is a pitch to get you to sign up for Netflix!

The next generation iPads will pick up both design cues and features from the iPad Pro lineup, according to some leaked design schematics. Appleinsider.com says we should see thinner bezels, sensors for Face ID, and support for the Magic Keyboard. The 7th generation iPad bowed last September, and got the bigger 10.2 inch display and support for the full-sized (and not cheap) Smart Keyboard. The leak shows a 10.8 inch display, slimmer bezels, and no home button for Touch ID. As another leak indicated that Touch ID might be migrated to the power button, its unclear if the next iteration will have that or Face ID, since this later leak shows the Face ID sensors. The new iPads may roll out with the iPhone 12 series in September or October, so could be available for the holiday selling season.

Samsung is no shrinking violet when it comes to touting their progress in electronics, but here’s one that is a real first. According to engadget.com, Samsung has started mass production of 16 gig LPDDR5 mobile RAM chips, and they are saying its the first time extreme ultraviolet lithography has been used to etch the silicon. Samsung says after clearing environmental hurdles, the new 6.4 Gbps bandwidth chip will be 16% faster than the previous 12 gig chips and the new models are about 30% thinner, too. This could mean thinner phones (or more room for bigger batteries and cameras!) Besides smartphones, Samsung is also aiming at the car tech market with the new generation of chips.


TikTok May Announce US Sale in Days; Amazon’s Halo Fitness Band; Apple Newsroom Makeover; FBI Helped Block Tesla Ransomware Attack

TikTok may be announcing sale of its US assets in the next few days. According to cnbc.com, the most likely buyers are still Microsoft and Oracle. Walmart has also apparently expressed interest, but since they don’t have their own cloud tech, they are probably a non-starter with the US government. Twitter had also expressed interest, but like Walmart, doesn’t really have the powerful cloud and back end tech to support TikTok free of its Chinese owner. It is believed that TikTok is valuing its US, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand operations at between $20 and $30 billion.

Amazon has jumped into the health market, with Halo, a fitness band and app…joining Fitbit, Apple, Google, and others. Theverge.com reports that…unlike the Apple Watch or even the entry level Fitbit, the Amazon Halo band has NO screen! The companion app has the usual set of fitness tracking features, along with a couple of innovative ones…that may be a bit unsettling. First is using your camera to create 3D scans for body fat…and on top of that, listening for the emotion in your voice! The Halo band is $99.99, and the service (which is required for advanced features) will set you back $3.99 a month. Amazon has launched an invite-only early access program today with an introductory price of $64.99 and free service for a few months. Halo is NOT part of Amazon Prime.

Apple has freshened its Newsroom, putting more weight on featured stories. Macrumors.com says the also did a feature profile on a teacher from Alabama. The profile is a nice touch, but also touts the use of Apple ed tools like Everyone Can Code and the Clips app to assist in remote learning. The teacher featured, Portice Warren, took part in Apple’s virtual coding academy earlier this summer, along with 500 other educators. Many teachers are finding that they are doing basically triple work right now…planning 100% virtual, planning mixed virtual and in person, and planning 100% in-class at the same time.

Ransomware has been a pretty lucrative scam, hitting businesses and cities, and locking down their systems until they pay up…or refuse and start from scratch (or hopefully, uncontaminated backups.) This week, the FBI arrested a Russian national who had traveled to the US after connecting with a Russian speaking non-citizen working at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada. Engadget.com reports that the employee ratted the guy out to Tesla that the Russian national wanted him to deliver malware to the company’s computers. The FBI was called, and they were able to nail the Russian in a sting. Egor Kriuchkov was busted in LA as he attempted to leave the US. Apparently, the FBI found that thee have been previous attacks in the US by associates of the Russian. One that hit CWT Group in July cost that firm $4.5 million.


Apple Allegedly Working on AR Content for Apple TV+; Facebook Moves Further from Oculus Brand With its AR/VR Division; Palintir Prospectus- Never Profits So Far; Bird Deaths Drop 70% After Painting Wind Generator Blades

Apple is said to be developing augmented reality content for Apple TV+. Cnet.com reports that the move has a couple of goals: stoking interest in AR tech, and attracting more subscribers to the streaming service. Apparently, the AR feature would display elements of a TV show in the room where the viewer is watching it — like a lunar rover traversing the coffee table during For All Mankind, Apple’s alternate-history series about the space race of the 1960s. Apple has been moving to roll out a bundled service with one price, putting Apple TV+, Apple Music and the Apple Arcade game platform together in the bundle. The bundle deal could premiere in October. Apple is known to be working on AR glasses, which may be out in 2022, and possibly some AR goggles next year.

Facebook ha taken more steps to distance from the Oculus brand. According to techcrunch.com, they are changing the name of the VR division to ‘Facebook Reality Labs,’ which will cover their AR/
VR products under the Oculus, Spark, and Portal brands. In addition, Oculus Connect, the virtual reality developer conference, is renamed Facebook Connect, and it will be held entirely virtually on September 16th.

According to a prospectus filed with the government in preparation for taking the company public, data mining firm Palantir hasn’t made a profit since it was founded back in 2003. Theverge.com says the company intends to bow with a direct listing rather than selling shares in an IPO. Slack did this last year, and Spotify did it in 2018. According to the S-1 filing, Palantir lost $580 million in 2019, and is $175 million in the red for the 1st half of 2020. The filing further shows the company had 125 customers in the first half of this year, “including some of the largest and most significant institutions in the world,” the filing states, and its software “is used by customers across 36 industries and in more than 150 countries.” They plan to trade on the NY Stock exchange under the symbol PLTR.

No, there’s never been ‘windmill cancer,’ despite the rant of one ill-informed president…but there have been worrisome bird kills over the years. Now, arstechnica.com reports that a little touch of black paint on a single blade of wind turbines drops bird deaths by 70%. This comes from a study from Norway that started in 2013. They apparently found that there is some variation in bird deaths depending on the season…less of them in spring and autumn. The deaths seemed stable in winter, but did increase during summer months. The scientists are looking to do more long term studies in other areas, but this result is encouraging.


Court Protects Unreal Engine-But not Fortnite; Google Discover-Short Vids Like TikTok; Tesla Major Construction at Battery Facility in Fremont; Nintendo- 4K Capable Switch in 2021

Epic games got a split decision from a court on their temporary restraining order against apple. Theverge.com reports that the court ruled that Apple can’t retaliate against the company by terminating the developer account used to support the company’s Unreal Engine. In the same ruling, the judge, Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers held that Apple is not required to bring back Fortnite to the App Store. Because keeping Epic from supporting the Unreal engine could affect others besides the parties, the court said “Epic Games and Apple are at liberty to litigate against each other, but their dispute should not create havoc to bystanders.” The ruling today is only temporary and limited in scope unit the court can hear more detailed arguments concerning a preliminary injunction. That hearing is on the docket for September 28th.

With TikTok under the gun to be banned from the US if it doesn’t sell its US assets to an American company, a number of firms have been in talks to pick up those assets. Meanwhile, according to 9to5google.com, Google Discover has been testing TikTok like ‘short videos’. Discover has appeared to the left of most Android home screens or in the Google app. Now, there is also a carousel of the short videos. The videos open in your device’s default browser. There are controls to un/mute and share, and you also see a progress indicator. YouTube is also working on a TikTok competitor called ‘Shorts’ that is slated for later this year. It will likely also appear in the new Discover carousel.

Tesla has been doing some major construction at its Tera battery manufacturing facility on the campus of its Fremont, CA plant. Electrek.co says this revolves around the company’s secret ‘Roadrunner’ project…Tesla’s in-house designed battery cell manufacturing system which is expected to increase production and reduce cost. There is already a pilot manufacturing line up and running, and new machinery developed in-house will be used. Tesla applied to expand its pace at the facility in June. and also applied to increase electrical consumption to almost 92,800 MWh/year, up from 72,800 MHh/yr. Right now, the plan is to hold their ‘Battery Day’ event at the facility…unless it has to be delayed again due to the coronavirus.

Both Microsoft and Sony have shown off their 4K ready consoles that will be out later this year….the PS 5 and Xbox Series X, so what about Nintendo? Engadget.com notes that they are cooking up an upgraded version of the Switch with support for 4K. It’s also believed that a number of new games from both Nintendo and outside studios will drop, too.


Whole Foods May Get Amazon Go Tech Next Year; TikTok Sues US Over Ban; Foxconn & Others Look to Mexico for Factories; DoorDash Launches Grocery Delivery

Amazon may be putting in its cashless tech from the Go convenience stores at Whole Foods locations as soon as next year. Theverge.com reports that the installations could start in the 2nd quarter of 2021. Amazon has used the tech in their Go stores since 2016…albeit for employees only at first, but since 2018 for the general public. The cashierless model is cool…walk in, buy the goods, and just walk out. The dark side is that it could allow a massive loss of retail jobs if widely adapted. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union calls it “a direct threat to 16 million American retail jobs and is part of a ruthless strategy to eliminate as many good jobs as possible.”

As expected, TikTok has filed a suit against the Trump Administration over its plans to ban the popular service who’s parent company is criticized as being too much under the control of the Chinese government. According to the AP, ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, has insisted it is not a national security threat and that the US is acting without evidence or due process. The suit was filed in federal court in California against the Commerce Department, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and President Donald Trump. It seeks to prevent the government from ‘impermissibly banning’ the app. Trump issued two executive orders this month relating to the situation, and giving ByteDance 45 days before they take effect. He then ordered them to sell assets used to support TikTok in the US. The app has over 100 million US users. ByteDance has held talks with Microsoft, Twitter, and Oracle so far with regards to selling off those assets involved.

Foxconn and Pegatron, both based in Taiwan, are now eyeing Mexico as a site for new factories in light of the ongoing disruption from the US-China trade war. Reuters.com says such factory plans would inject billions into Latin America’s 2nd largest economy over the next several years. According to two different sources, Foxconn would use a factory in Mexico to build iPhones for Apple. They are set to pull the trigger or not by early next year on such a deal. Foxconn just started building top line iPhones last month in India. Foxconn unit Sharp is already building TVs in Mexico. Pegatron would mainly assemble chips and other electronic components in Mexico.

DoorDash is ratcheting up its on demand delivery efforts with the rollout of grocery delivery, starting with select chains in California and parts of the Midwest. According to theverge.com, they will initially only be working with Smart & Final, Meijer, Fresh Thyme, and Hy-Vee. Smart and Final will only serve California customers in the Bay Area, LA, Orange County, Sacramento, and San Diego. Customers in Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee will have access to Meiher and Fresh Thyme, with support for Hy-Vee stores coming at a later date. To help get the new service off the ground, DoorDash is even enrolling grocery delivery into its DashPass subscription service, which means those who pay the $9.99 monthly fee can get free delivery.


Update-Apple Event September 20? Uber & Lyft Set for California Shut Down; Google Pixel Buds Alert for Sirens, Babies, & More

Apple may have had its usual secrecy penetrated a bit today, as a user on Twitter put up a shot of what looks like a scheduled live stream on the Apple iPhone account for September 20th. According to cnet.com, it has already been pulled down. This may be the date for the unveiling of the new iPhones. It is worth noting that the 20th is a Sunday, however. Apple most often holds events on Monday or Tuesday, but with everything virtual in the age of COVID-19, they may figure they can get more eyeballs (and pre-sales) by posting a slick recorded event on a Sunday. Stay tuned, as we say.

They are going to take their ball and go home, starting tonight. Reuters.com reports that both Uber and Lyft are about to shut down ride hailing operations in California in the ongoing dispute over AB5, and classifying drivers as employees. Lyft will shut down tonight at midnight, according to a blog post from the company. Uber had posted Tuesday they they plan to temporarily shut down unless the appeals court intervenes, but didn’t give a specific date and time. Uber Eats is not impacted by the shutdown, and apparently DoorDash and Instacart will be able to continue for now under the contractor model. The 5 companies: Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates have dropped $110 million in support of a November ballot measure called Prop. 22 which would set into law what they call their ‘third way’…that would effectively overwrite the state’s gig worker law.

[[ Lyft and Uber were granted an emergency stay by the California Court of Appeals, averting their planned shutdown. The companies will now have until October to convince the court to toss out an order that they classify drivers as employees. In a statement, Lyft hailed the ruling as a victory, but said it would continue to push for a ballot measure that would allow it to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors.]]

As you see people from time to time…less in the age of the pandemic….walking around with those ubiquitous ear buds, and often staring at their phones, instead of where they are going, you have to wonder how more haven’t been run over by oncoming vehicles, or had other lesser mishaps happen to them. Venturebeat.com says Google is now using AI to help alert users of Google Pixel Buds to alert you to the sound of a siren from an emergency vehicle, and even to a baby crying or a dog barking. the buds will play a chip to alert you during music or a conversation. The feature is called Attention Alerts, and it’s an experimental feature being added to Google’s flagship earbuds in a firmware update. Amazon Echo speakers already have the ability to detect sounds that may be important in a home setting, like alarms, breaking glass, or sounds indicating someone is in your home when you’re away.


Zoom Coming to Amazon, Google, & Facebook Smart Speakers; Google Maps Gets Accuracy Boost; Walmart e-Commerce $ Jumps; Oculus to Require Facebook Account

Zoom for Home is coming soon to the Amazon Echo Show devices, as well as Google smart displays and the Facebook Portal line. According to engadget.com, people should be able to take Zoom meetings on such devices by year’s end. You will be able to say ‘Alexa, join my Zoom meeting’ and the like, and if your calendar is integrated into your Alexa system, software can even start your scheduled meeting automatically if you want. With the working from home explosion since the pandemic, Zoom has ‘zoomed’ from 10 million daily users last December to over 300 million by this past April.

Google is updating Maps to correctly reflect what’s actually happening on the ground with color. Thenextweb.com reports that previously, you might see an area marked as a park that didn’t show up that way…in some cases, something might be indicated as a park and actually be a desert! The update will green up parks, show deserts as a beige-type color, and snow pack areas in white. The new color algorithm can even tell the difference between dense vegetation and forest. It will be available in all 220 countries and territories supported by Google Maps.

There has been plenty reported about how Amazon has cashed in on the pandemic, as people shelter in place and order online. Now, we have information about Walmart’s growth, and it’s pretty stunning. Geekwire.com says Walmart’s e-commerce business in the US grew 97% in the company’s 2nd quarter, which ended July 31st. As for dollars, Walmart’s haul was over $110 billion for the quarter from online sales, taking e-commerce to over 11% of the company’s over all net U sales. They are now a real competitor to Amazon, although have a lot of ground to make up…Amazon reported at total net sales of $88.9 billion…that was up 40% in the quarter.

Before long, anyone using Oculus headsets will be required to sign up with a Facebook account. According to theverge.com, support for separate Oculus accounts will be pulled in October, although you will be able to use it until the end of the year. Developers will be able to keep using headsets with no Facebook account, but without any social functionality. Oculus for Business will continue with a separate login that will not be changed. Facebook says all future Oculus devices will require a Facebook login.


Amazon Adding 3500 Tech & Corporate Jobs; Panasonic- Home Cube; Secret Service Buys Location Data; Oracle Now in Hunt for TikTok

Amazon has been making bags of money since the start of the pandemic, as Jeff Bezos’ huge jump in worth has shown. Techcrunch.com reports that Amazon is going to be hiring about 3500 jobs to 6 US cities. Most of the gigs will be ‘corporate and tech’, according to the company’s descriptions. They span AWS, Alexa, Amazon Advertising, Amazon Fashion, OpsTech, and Amazon Fresh. They will be located in Dallas, Denver, Detroit, NYC, Phoenix, and San Diego.

You know that working from home, so many people badly miss their beloved cube at the office (dripping sarcasm.) Now, according to business insider.com, Panasonic has the answer…you can buy your very own tiny cube for $835 that can be customized and fit in a living room or spare bedroom. The walls are pegboard, so you can hang all sorts of personal crap the office might not let you..or just some decorative things to brighten the workspace up. The desk, called Komoru, will be out in September, starting in Japan.

In yet another creepy ‘you have no privacy’ story, the Secret Service has been buying location data on the open market that would otherwise need a warrant. Arstechnica.com says The Secret Service back i 2017-18 paid $2 million to a business called Babel Street to use its service Locate X. Locate X provide location data harvested and collated from a large variety of other apps. ICE and Customs and Border Protection have also bought access to cellphone location activity for investigations. Needless to say, this is distressing. Senator Ron Wyden has said he is drafting legislation to close this loophole around peoples’ Fourth Amendment rights. Hopefully, in the next year he will get it introduced and passed.

Microsoft has been talking to them, Twitter has been rumored to have looked at it, and now Oracle is in the hunt for the US assets of TikTok. Engadget picked up a report from Financial Times saying that Oracle is working with investors that already have a stake in TikTok owner ByteDance. FT says that Twitter may not have the financial wherewithal to do the deal, and Microsoft wants to buy in countries besides the US that ByteDance doesn’t want to sell, so Oracle may be a player. The question I asked immediately was how the heck does a video app used by teens fit into Oracle’s business to business portfolio of services..and apparently, that has crossed the minds of a number of others. If Larry Ellison wants to buy it, though, he can. Oracle is worth about $166 billion, with $43 billion in cash or equivalents.


Facebook Merging Instagram & Messenger Chats; ICE Deals With Clearview AI; ZTE Teases Notchless Phone; Musk- 2 Factor ID Coming to Tesla App

As part of a previously-announced plan, Facebook has started merging Instagram chats with Facebook Messenger chats. 9to5mac.com reports that eventually, WhatsApp messaging will also be rolled into the expanded Messenger. Instagram users are now being notified to join their accounts with Messenger. The colorful chats, reactions with any emoji, and swiping to reply to individual messages will become available to Messenger users. For now, the merge is optional, but expect that option to be taken away before too long. WhatsApp staffers have warned about the integration for a while now, noting that WhatsApp’s strong encryption may be lost in the merge with Messenger and Instagram.

Controversial facial recognition firm Clearview AI has signed a deal with ICE. According to businessinsider.com, the company that is notorious for scraping photos from social media to be used by their software in identifying photos uploaded to their system for comparison and identification. The deal is worth $224,000. ICE had already been using facial recognition to carry out raids of undocumented immigrants. They had already accessed state drivers’ license database to add to their facial recognition capabilities. A bill currently in Congress, introduced by Democrats in June, would ban law enforcement agencies like ICE from using facial recognition. Fifteen lawmakers have signaled support for the bill so far.

While some users don’t seem super bothered with the dreaded ‘camera notch’ or ‘hole punch’ for cameras on their smartphone screens, the tech press has been obsessed with them for several years. A holy grail of sorts has been an under display front cam that doesn’t mar the use of your precious screen space. Cnet.com says that ZTE has teased the release of their new Axon 20 5G smartphone in China on September 1st. It will be the first phone mass-produced with an under-display front cam. Several other makers have been working on this tech, including Chinese competitor Xiaomi. Otherwise, the handset will have a 6.92 inch OLED screen, and 4120 mAh battery. The under-screen front cam is 32 megapixels, and there are 4 rear cameras…64, 8, and a pair of 2 megapixel lenses. No word yet on pricing. We may not see the phone in the states, as the Trump administration has deemed ZTE a security threat like they have with Huawei.

In a Tweet, Elon Musk said two factor authentication is coming to the Tesla app, saying “Sorry, this is embarrassingly late.” According to techcrunch.com, Musk first promised the beefed up security in May of 2019, then again in April this year. Musk says two factor is going through final validation right now, and will work through sms message or an authenticator app. As both methods wee mentioned, it isn’t known yet if Tesla will use the sms type…which CAN be intercepted, or the more robust authenticator app system.


Fortnite’s Apple Suit; Laptop Sales Up; Dropbox’s New Features; Amazon Liability Ruling

Game developer and publisher Epic Games has filed a lawsuit against Apple following the removal of the iOS version of its battle royale game Fortnite from the App Store yesterday. Theverge.com reports that besides the lawsuit, they also released a video mocking Apple’s legendary 1984 ad. The suit, argues Apple’s App Store as a monopoly,. Epic effectively provoked Apple’s removal of Fortnite when it implemented its own payment processing system into the iOS version of the battle royale hit, an apparent violation of Apple’s App Store guidelines.

Notebook sales soared in the 2nd quarter, with Lenovo and HP claiming half the market. According to ZDNet.com, consumers, commercial clients and schools — all looking for tech to stay productive and entertained through the COVID-19 pandemic — pushed global notebook sales up by 27 percent in Q2 compared to the year prior, as reported by Strategy Analytics. Lenovo and HP were the top vendors in the quarter. Dell was the third-most popular laptop, followed by Apple then Acer.

Dropbox has officially launched new consumer features out of beta.
Venturebeat says the cloud storage giant first introduced its password manager back in June. It’s similar to other password management apps on the market. Dropbox also launched its backup feature today. It automatically creates a cloud-based backup of any folder stored on a PC or Mac and is continuously synced. In addition, ‘Box launched its new Vault feature-to help users share access to specific files while keeping those documents secure behind a PIN code.

An appeals court in California has ruled that Amazon is legally liable for defective products sold on its site by third parties. The court said Amazon “was pivotal in bringing the product,” a defective replacement laptop battery, to a customer, who alleged she was burned when it exploded. Businessinsider.com notes that the ruling reverses an earlier court’s decision in favor of Amazon, and could open up Amazon to huge legal costs or force it to police sellers on its site more strictly. Amazon is expected to appeal.