Google- Pixel 5 for $699; Nikola’s GM Deal Hasn’t Closed; Facebook Crosse-App Communication Between Messenger and Instagram; Uber & Lyft Must Pay Seattle Drivers Minimum Wage TherePosted: September 30, 2020
Google has rolled out the Pixel 5, its latest Android flagship, and it isn a moderately priced $699. Theverge.com reports that Google isn’t touting so much ‘wow’ technology…such as last year’s Motion Sense gestures. They are sticking to the Pixel’s stand out camera software, and other unique or banner features. The 5 runs a Snapdragon 765G processor…not one of the powerful top-line Snapdragon 865 or 865 Plus systems. The new model does feature IPX8 water resistance, and stronger, Gorilla Glass 6 screen. Also, you get reverse wireless charging (for earbuds) and more RAM. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack. The 5 has two rear cams…a 12.2 megapixel main cam with 77 degree field of view, and a 16 MP ultra wide that shoots 107 degrees. The front selfie cam is an 8 MP camera. It will be available in Japan on October 15th, and ships in the US on October 29th.
Nikola and GM announced a partnership earlier this month…September 8th, in fact. The deal was supposed to close today, but hasn’t. A spokesman for The General said “Our transaction with Nikola has not closed. We are continuing our discussions with Nikola and will provide further updates when appropriate.” According to arstechnica.com, Nikola also announced today that it was indefinitely postponing Nikola World, their event scheduled for December where they planned to bow the Badger. The company has blamed COVID-19 and social distancing rules for the delay.
The melding continues of the Facebook message platforms. Facebook is rolling out new functionality that allows Instagram and Messenger users to communicate across apps, and brings a number of Messenger’s features to Instagram. Techcrunch.com says this is part of Facebook’s moves to try to keep users inside their walled gardens. I would analogize it to Disneyland and California Adventure…your Facebook ‘park hopper pass’ lets Facebook users message on Instagram without an account there, and vice versa. The next step, of course, is doing much the same with WhatsApp. You CAN opt out from being reachable cross platform using new privacy controls…after the fact.
Even as Uber, Lyft, and Doordash drop a whopping almost $200 million to get a proposition passed in California negating the law referred to as AB5, that classifies drivers as employees, The companies will have to start paying drivers in Seattle the minimum hourly wage in that city of $16.39….assuming they spend half their time waiting for or driving to rides. Engadget.com reports the new law is designed to protect the pay of drivers hurt by the COVID-19 lockdowns. “The pandemic has exposed the fault lines in our systems of worker protections, leaving many frontline workers like gig workers without a safety net,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan in a statement. Seattle has based its pay standard on a similar law that went into effect in New York in 2018. the California statute goes further…by making the drivers be classified as employees, they will get benefits and a living wage.
Amazon One-Your Palm For the Buy; Audi Cell to Everything Tech; Google Play- Android Apps Must Use Their Billing System; Algorithms & Diverse Data Hasn’t Helped Facial Recognition of Darker Skinned PeoplePosted: September 29, 2020
More fun with biometrics! Amazon has unveiled Amazon One, a system that lets your use your palm print to authenticate purchases, as well as gain access to gated locations like offices, gyms, and stadiums. Engadget.com reports that you will have to enroll at one of two (for now) Amazon Go stores. You insert your credit card, and follow on-screen instructions. Once the card and your hand are paired, you can use it to enter the stores by holding your hand over a terminal for a couple seconds. If it pans out, look for the feature at Whole Foods stores before long. With the coronavirus still haunting us, it’s nice that this is contactless…no laying your hand on a sensor and spreading your fingers…then having to plaster your hands with hand sanitizer!
Audi is working on their next generation ‘C-V2X’ tech, which stands for cellular vehicle to everything communications. According to CNET.com, they believe this could reduce crashes and save lives. The tech allows cars to ping other vehicles with cellular to avoid accidents, and if road workers wore vests with cellular transmitters embedded, the car could ‘see’ and avoid them, too. The system will work hand in hand with the existing Traffic Light Information and Green Light optimized Speed Advisory features already available in Audi cars. The idea of direct communication is that it is quicker and more responsive than spending a signal to the cloud and getting data back. As a bonus, the system can work in an area with limited or no cell service. The system is being tested out right now on highways and roads in Virginia.
Google will start requiring apps on the Play Store to start using its IAP billing system next year for in-app purchases. 9to5google.com says that, up to now, Netflix, Spotify, and other big services haven’t used Google billing…consumers directly enter their credit card info with that third party. The plus for Google, of course, is that they take a cut. Actually, this has always been the rule, as with Apple, but the big streaming services had been allowed to skate. 97% of apps already have been paying their figurative tithe to ‘The Google.’
Facial recognition models are till failing badly to recognize Black, Mid-Eastern, and Latins, at the rate they recognize folks with lighter skin. Venturebeat.com reports that a study at Wichita State University indicates that popular algorithms used on data sets with tens of thousands of facial images brought this result. An earlier paper from University of Colorado also summed up an investigation with similar results. For light skinned men and women, the algorithms were 95% accurate. For darker skinned folks, some of the models were WRONG 96% of the time. The programs also identified trans men as women 38% of the time. A lot of work needs to be done if tech is going to continue to try to use biometric like facial recognition to identify and unlock devices, log into websites, etc.
Prime Day Set-October 13th; LinkedIn Rolls Out Stories & Video Integration for Zoom, Blue Jeans, & Teams; Leak Pegs Small iPhone Name; Court Blocks US Ban on TikTok for NowPosted: September 28, 2020
Well, they say it won’t be a week, or even 3 days long this time, but Amazon has announced their two-day Prime Day event for this year…delayed since summer. Prime Day will kick off October 13th. According to engadget.com, the ‘day’ will last 48 hours. Besides offering deep discounts on a myriad of products, Prime Day has been a nice driver of new Prime subscriptions for Amazon. Amazon has said the main reason for delaying it was the huge strain the extra pandemic business has put on their warehouse and logistics systems. They say now they’re ready, so set your calendar and clock, and crack your knuckles…get ready to shop ‘till your eyes can’t focus on the screen anymore!
LinkedIn has jumped on the ‘stories’ bandwagon, rolling out their own version of Stories…the kind of short, limited life videos that have snagged lots of attention on Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat. Techcrunch.com reports that LinkedIn now haas 706 million registered users, so this could pump up engagement at least by some of them. Besides stories, Inkedin has announced integration of Zoom, Blue Jeans, and Microsoft Teams for video chats, a tremendously useful new feature with all the work from home and constant video meeting that has gone on the last several months. The feature will be available over LinkedIn’s messaging service.
Everything points to the naming of the upcoming iPhones as ‘iPhone 12’ in some manner. Now, appleinsider.com says a leak of what appear to be Apple distribution stickers confirms the naming of the phones expected to be rolled out in a couple weeks. The small phone will be the iPhone Mini, then the lower priced 6.1 inch screen model will be the iPhone 12. The two higher line phones will be the iPhone 12 Pro (also a 6.1 inch screen) and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. These were leaked via Twitter by DuanRui, who doesn’t have an extensive record as a leaker, but who has been accurate so far. Apple’s event is expected to be October 13th…the same day as Amazon’s Prime Day, as noted above.
A court has issued a temporary injunction blocking the Trump administration from ordering Apple and Google to cease offering TikTok at their respective online stores. According to reuters.com, US District Judge Carl Nichols granted it, but did decline ‘at this time’ to block additional Commerce Department restrictions that are take effect November 12th. Those would have the impact of making the app virtually impossible to use in the US. More to come on this story in the upcoming days for sure.
Another Leak Touts iPhone 12 Event Date; Google Maps Gets COVID-19 Layer; TikTok Asks Court to Block Trump Ban Order; MS Office Sans Subscription Still Possible in 2021Posted: September 24, 2020
Another leaker has identified October 13th as the date for the Apple iPhone 12 event. Appleinsider.com reports that Jon Prosser, a rather well-known and frequent leaker, was the source, and this confirms other leaks already out there. Prosser gave more detail…saying that Pre-orders will start on October 16th (which is also a date another earlier leak had), and said that the “iPhone 12 mini” and “iPhone 12 Max” would arrive in stores on October 23. As a number of other sources, Prosser says the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max will be shown at the event, but won’t launch until some time in November. Most Apple watchers point to the more complex part orders for the hero models, a well as the inclusion of LiDAR. Apple also did a split rollout with the iPhone X series a couple years ago.
Google has rolled out an update to Google Maps that brings a COVID-19 layer to help you better understand the number of cases in a particular area. According to techcrunch.com, user can enable the feature and see a color-coded map based on the number of cases per 100,000 people, and labels that indicate if the case numbers are trending up or down. The Maps feature will work in all 220 countries and territories that Maps currently supports. It’s a rolling update, but you should have it on Android and iOS sometime this week.
TikTok went to court late yesterday and asked for it to block Trump’s order requiring Apple and Google to remove their app from the respective app stores. Reuters.com notes that a federal judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction blocking a similar Commerce Department order from taking effect on Sunday that was aimed at WeChat. The Trump Administration has persistently expressed concern that personal data of up to 100 million Americans that use the app was being passed on to China’s government. Oracle and Walmart had agreed to collectively take a 20% stake in ByteDance’s TikTok Global, but the administration balked at ByteDance keeping 80% and effective control. Oracle claimed that the way the deal was structured, the investors would keep the 80%, and the Beijing based firm would actually have no stake in TikTok Global.
If you want nothing to do with having a subscription to Microsoft Office in the cloud (raises hand), here’s some possible good news. 9to5mac.com reports that Windows Central spotted a sentence in a Microsoft announcement confirming that the one-time purchase will survive into 2021. It reads: ‘Microsoft Office will also see a new perpetual release for both Windows and Mac, in the second half of 2021.’ It is most likely that it will be the same deal as with Office 2019, and should contain Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Skype for Business. No information was in the announcement concerning pricing or availability date.
Tesla Battery Day Update; Amazon Fire Stick Lite & Prime Day; iPad Pro Going to Mini-LED Screen; Microsoft Teams- Virtual Commutes & Headspace MeditationPosted: September 23, 2020
Tesla held their delayed Battery Day event yesterday. Some of what Elon Musk unveiled included the so-called ‘biscuit tin’ battery, which has a larger cell canister and losses the tabs that act as positive and negative connection points between the anode and cathode and the battery casing. Cnet.com reports that Tesla claims the new design will give a 16% boost in range due to a 5 times increase in energy. They also say the new batteries are cheaper to make. The Model S Plaid was also touted, and Musk claims it will have a grange of one 520 miles, and do zero to 60 in under 2 seconds. You can configure and order one now, but first deliveries won’t be until late 2021.
The Cybertruck now has 600,000 preorders, according to Tesla. That sounds impressive, but since it only takes a $100, refundable deposit, it’s possible that some are vapor. The e-truck will be built in Austin, TX in the new plant that is being built right now. Elon Musk also claimed a private beta will be available in the next few months for the Full Self-Driving option. This feature has never actually been real self-driving with no driver involvement, but some upgrades are coming, including use of what they call 3D video.
Musk also touted a future $25,000 electric car, although he only spoke of it in the long term…possibly the next 3 years. The stock took a pretty good beating after hours with the news that it might be 3 years away if that. It’s still off 8% this morning as this is written.
Amazon has a big Alexa hardware event tomorrow, and ahead of that, a new Fire TV stick Lite has leaked. According to engadget.com, it might be a replacement for the $30 model of 2019…OR, could be an even cheaper Stick Lite. Amazon is also expected to reveal more about the new Eero WiFi 6 routers. In another Amazon leak, Prime Day is said to begin on October 13th this year. Amazon will likely reveal the date for sure on September 27th. Amazon helpfully noted that you can tell Alexa to keep you updated on Prime Day!
The ink isn’t yet dry, and pixels dimmed on Apple’s September event, where they showed off new iPads, and now comes word that a new iPad Pro series will be coming in 2021, but possibly late 2020. Macrumors.com says noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says the next iPad Pros will go to a mini-LED display. Kuo says that Apple has at least 6 iPad and Mac products in the pipeline with mini-LED displays by the end of 2021. The mini-LED has the advantage of being less power hungry and brighter than present displays. They also have darker blacks and richer colors. The only fly in the ointment is that they cost more…until the economies of scale kick in. Kuo says that is what Apple and its suppliers are working on right now.
Microsoft has unveiled a number of Teams features. Some are available right away, and others will be rolled out later this year. According to venturebeat.com, headline features are ‘virtual commutes’ and meditation breaks. The virtual commute is actually designed as a way to “Think about what we were going into in the day and think about clearing up what we are coming out of in a day. And so this virtual commute experience allows you to take a step back, again going into and coming out of your day to just organize your thoughts and to make sure you’re really processing, doing some pre- and post-processing of your work. It turns out the research shows us that can be very helpful.” Microsoft has also partnered with Headspace to bring a curated set of mindfulness experiences and science-backed meditations to Teams. They claim use can reduce burnout by 14%.
Microsoft Buying Parent of ZeniMax; Amazon Goes to Echelon for Prime Bike; Apple PCs & Tablets #1 With Consumers; Nikola Founder Resigns-Fraud AllegationsPosted: September 22, 2020
Microsoft will acquire ZeniMax Media, the parent company of studio Bethesda Softworks. Theverge.com notes that they are the maker of Doom and Fallout. Microsoft will now gain control of new games like the upcoming space epic Starfield. Future games like Starfield will launch on Xbox Game Pass the day they come to Xbox and PC. Even with the purchase, there are still a couple of Playstation 5 and PC exclusives….Deathloop and Ghostwire:Tokyo. Microsoft will honor those deals, but in the future, they say games will come to non-Xbox platforms on a ‘case by case’ basis. The next gen Xboxes drop November 10th.
Amazon has tapped Echelon to build and sell it’s Prime Bike. According to techcrunch.com, it’s almost a clone of the $1900 Peloton bike, only without the screen. The price? $500 from Amazon. Walmart has the same unit, except with different branding, of course. Echelon makes other bikes and fitness equipment…including a couple smart bikes that DO feature video screens. One runs $999 and the other is $1199. Sans screen, the Prime bike is only 80 lbs, compared to the 135 lb. Peloton. Since the bike has a book/tablet rest, you could actually do Peloton classes via their app on your tablet. By the way, if you prefer Walmart, it’ $500 there as well…under the name Connect Sport Bike.
Apple Macs and iPads continue to rule in customer satisfaction for 2020, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Macrumors.com shows that PCs overall get a 78% satisfaction rate. Macs make 82%, Samsung has 81, Acer 78, Amazon 78, and ASUS is 77%. When you drill down to just tablets, Samsung and Apple are tied. The rankings closely track the cell phone satisfaction rate. Both Apple and Samsung have had high and stable rates the last 5 years for PCs, tablets, and cell phones. For value, Samsung rates best in class among all PC makers.
Nikola founder Trevor Milton haas resigned as executive chairman, 10 days after it came out that the Nikola One wasn’t really fully functional as claimed when he rolled it out in 2016. Arstechnica.com reports that the stock has plunged over 18%. Apparently the Nikola One truck that appeared to be driving down a highway under its own power in a promo video in 2018 was faked, too…the truck was rolling down hill. The company acknowledged last week that it had never gotten the thing to work. The beans were spilled by short-seller Hindenburg Research. Now, the DOJ and SEC are investigating possible fraud. Nikola has appointed former GM etc Stephen Girsky as chairman. Mark Russell will remain CEO. Nikola has moved on to other products anyway, and i working to bring the Nikola Two and Nikola Tre big rigs to market, as well as the Badger pickup. There IS a functioning prototype of the Nikola Two, and since the company has now partnered with GM, Bosch, and Iveco, the newer product will likely make it to market. As we reported here earlier, GM will actually build the Badger pickup and provide design help, as well as the powertrain.
TikTok Deal in Trump Jeopardy; Facebook Will Let People Claim Image Ownership; Amazon ‘Sidewalk’ Neighborhood Network; Apple’s U1Chip PlansPosted: September 21, 2020
After it came out that Oracle and Walmart would take a minority share of TikTok in the US and host the service here, the latest from Reuters is that Donald Trump has said his administration will turn thumbs-down on the deal. Trump is insisting that a US company or companies have total control or else. He is not only doing this in his continuing squabble with China, but apparently is also still angry that young people on the platform put in for some one million tickets to his Oklahoma rally earlier this year (and of course, didn’t show up…so the crowd was much smaller than he expected.) It appears that he doesn’t understand that many of the younger users already bailed from TikTok to other platforms when he first said he would ban it, so shutting it down in the US will do nothing to stop any further shenanigans by young folks involving his campaign, should they choose to troll him further.
Facebook has updated policy to give people more control over the images they own, and ‘where they end up.’ According to theverge.com, the company is starting to work with some partners today to give them power to claim ownership of images, then moderate where those images show up on Facebook’s platforms…including Instagram. Eventually, the plan isn to open this feature to everyone, as i the car with music and video rights. No timeline for that has been forthcoming from Facebook at this point. To claim their copyright, the image rights holder uploads a CSV file to Facebook’s Rights Manager that contains all the image’s metadata. They’ll also specify where the copyright applies and can leave certain territories out. Once the manager verifies that the metadata and image match, it’ll then process that image and monitor where it shows up.
Amazon has disclosed more detail about its Sidewalk network, the low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol it developed to help connect smart devices inside and outside of your home. Techcrunch.com reports that in the near future, Echo units will become Bluetooth bridges for the sidewalk network later this year, and some Ring Floodlight and Spotlight cams will also be part of the network. Tile will become the first 3rd party device to use the Sidewalk network when it launches a comparable tracker…supposedly coming soon.
It was noted last week that Apple has included its U1 ultra-sideband chip in the new Watch 6. There has been much speculation over what the chip will be used for. Now, in a new leak, it appears that the upcoming AirPods Studio headphones will also have the chip. Macrumors.com says it can not only be used to sense the position of the headphones…so they will send left audio to your left ear and right to right no matter how you put them on, and locate the ‘cans’ with the Find My app, but the chip allows other applications…like directional detection of other in-range U1 devices. Apple had already disclosed that the chip will enable the next generation of digital car keys, and improved AirDrop. Besides the Watch, and the upcoming AirPods Studio, the chip is already in the iPhone 11 series, and is expected to be in the new iPhone 12 models.
Oculus Quest 2-Standalone VR; Google “Nearby” Search Filter for COVID Safety; AT&T Considering Cell Plans Subsidized by Ads; Library of Congress-AI Tool Searches 16 Million News Articles for PhotosPosted: September 16, 2020
Facebook has announced the Oculus Quest 2 at the Connect conference. According to engadget.com, the new unit has sharper displays…50% higher resolution than the prior model, and it also features smoother 90Hz refresh rates. Most importantly, the 2 starts at $299…a nice drop in price point for standalone VR. The 2 is 10% lighter than before, according to Facebook, and the head strap is a more flexible material. They will also offer different face plate options for wider and narrower heads. The Quest 2 will be available October 13th. For $299, you get 64 gigs of storage, and for another hundred, 256 gigs of storage.
Google has showed off a couple new features, including a “nearby” filter to determine if a product you are hunting for is available near you. 9to5google.com reports that the feature will also help you find in-store pickup, curbside pickup, and delivery options from stores. The features should be available soon, and Google isn also adding new features to its Merchant Center to help businesses optimize product listings to display the new features. This is all in response to what Google says has been a hefty spike in the past few months of people looking for ‘safe shopping’ and curbside pickup due COVID-19.
In the continued search for more money, AT&T is considering offering wireless plans subsidized by ads…maybe by next year. Reuters.com says it could mean a $5 or $10 cheaper phone bill per month. Although this has been tried before by Sprint’s Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, AT&T thinks better targeting will be the key to success with this plan. It ties in with the ad-supported version of AT&T’s video streaming service HBO Max.
The Library of Congress (LOC) had put out an AI search tool that lets you comb through some 16 million old newspaper pages for historical images. According to thenextweb.com, you just enter a keyword in the Newspaper Navigator, and the AI will surface matches with a data set of 1.56 million newspaper images. You can then narrow things to a date range and state where the paper was published. The images are clickable, and you can download them, plus read the article it is in…or even view the full issue of that paper.
No big surprises today…it seems more had leaked out about the Watch and iPad updates than is usual for Apple. There will be two new lines of Watch…the Series 6 and a new, cheaper SE. Apple is also keeping the Series 3 as an entry level model. The banner feature of the 6 is the blood oxygen sensor. The Watch can check this in 15 seconds. The top line Watch has a new processor (of course) which Apple claims is 20% faster than the last model, Series 5. It is supposed to have better performance but still keeps 18 hours of battery life. Charging time has been improved from dead to full in 1.5 hours.
The always-on display is 2.5 times brighter, for better outdoor viewing. It also has an always-on altimeter, and in fact, if you take a blood oxygen reading at high altitude, it will notify you of that fact below the reading number. Apple has added a new blue to sliver, gray, and gold colors, and a first…you can get a Product(RED) version, too. Stainless steel comes in either graphite or yellow gold, but no silver. The high line comes in either natural or black titanium…ceramic is gone. There are a number of new strap and face options, including a Memoji watch face. Family Setup lets a person connect a Watch for a child or children or with elder adults that don’t have an iPhone.
Apple has also bowed the Watch SE, which is a cheaper watch with the features of last year’s Series 5. The Series 6 starts at $399, and i available for order today, shipping this Friday. Note that there is no longer a USB power adapter included. The SE starts at $279. The Series 3 stays in the lineup at $199, but won’t have a number of the features of the new models, and has a smaller display size. You can finance the Watch via Apple Card and spread out payments if you like. (Apple has become like Sears…with Easy Pay, LOL!)
Apple also showed off the new iPad Air today, which is very similar to the Pro. It has thinner bezels all around, for more screen space, and the Touch ID has moved to the ON button at the top of the unit. The Air has a 10.9 inch screen in the same size package as the older model. Naturally, there is a new chip, the A14 Bionic, which Apple says gives a 40% bump in performance. The new Air will also get a USB-C port, will support the Pencil (which not only attaches magnetically to the side but charges that way, too.) The Air supports the $179 (yikes) Smart Keyboard Folio. It starts at $599 and is available next month. Five colors are available: silver, space gray, rose gold, green, new sky blue.
Amazon Hiring 100K in Operations; Google Will Bow New Pixel & More; Oracle Gets USS TikTok; Nvidia Confirms Arm PurchasePosted: September 14, 2020
Amazon had previously announced plans to hire some 30,000 corporate and tech employees. Now, comes word from geekwire.com that they are also looking to hire an additional 100,000 full and part time operations employees around the US and Canada, to keep up with exploding demand. They have also announced plans to open 100 new warehouses and fulfillment centers. Amazon just tacked on 175,000 new operations workers in March and April, so now will swell their ranks to over a million employees. The career day for corporate and tech employees, featuring some 20,000 free coaching sessions, is this Wednesday.
Google is planning to roll out a new Pixel phone, Chromecast, and smart speaker on September 30th. According to techcrunch.com, the event may feature a 5G Pixel 5 and 4a, although there has been some talk about Google ‘going in a new direction,’ which might not allow the new handsets to run 5G. Google had filed patents for a Nest that responds to hand gestures earlier, so that may be something which shows up at the event, as well as other Google Home hardware.
Microsoft is apparently out, and Oracle has won the TikTok sweepstakes. Arstechnica.com says that ByteDance rejected Microsoft’s bid yesterday. According to the Wall St. Journal, it won’t be an outright sale. Instead, Oracle will become ByteDance’s US “tech partner.” The details of the transaction aren’t yet public, but they will soon be submitted to US regulators for their approval. Oracle doesn’t have any apparent business operations that seem to sync up with TikTok, but the chairman, Larry Ellison, is one of a handful of tech billionaires who openly support Trump, so perhaps ByteDance and the Chinese government see this as a way of greasing the skids and keeping a toehold in TikTok’s US presence. The lack of an outright sale is most likely a way to save face for the Chinese government.
Nvidia has confirmed it is acquiring Arm Holdings for $40 billion. Arm chip designs are licensed by Apple for the iPhone and iPad, and will also power the next generation of Macs, as 9to5mac.com notes. At this point, it isn’t clear what the move of Arm from SoftBank to Nvidia will mean for Apple. Nvidia and Apple have had a rough relationship for a while now. Nvidia says Arm will “continue to operate its open-licensing model while maintaining the global customer neutrality that has been foundational to its success.” Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized that the company has no intentions of doing anything that would cause clients like Apple to walk away. Apple has licensed Arm tech since 2006.