Facebook Closing Irish Subsidiary; Samsung Pre-Pre Galaxy Orders Open; FAA Drone Rules; COVID Vaccine Proof-Apple Wallet & Google Pay

Facebook is winding down its Irish holding company in light of wider disputes over the way it pays taxes in the the European Union.Businessinsider.com notes that in 2018, the social networking giant’s Irish subsidiary paid just $101 million in tax, while recording profits of more than $15 billion. The subsidiary, Facebook International Holdings I Unlimited Company, also brought in around $30 billion of revenue, accounting for more than half of the firm’s total annual turnover of $56 billion. 

This fall, Apple let users kind of pre-preorder iPhones. Now, Mashable.com reports that Samsung is doing the same for the upcoming Galaxy S21 smartphones—which don’t even have a fixed launch date yet! Samsung started offering pre-order reservations in the U.S. through its Samsung Shop app. The app lets customers reserve their phone now, and get a $60 credit they can spend toward accessories for the upcoming phone. We don’t officially know when the new Galaxy S21 phone will be launched, but rumors say it’ll happen at a virtual Samsung Unpacked event on January 14

New rules from the Federal Aviation Administration have moved us closer to drone deliveries. Both Amazon and UPS have been testing such deliveries. According to mashable.com, drones will need to broadcast their identification through a new system called Remote ID, which will help the government track both the drones and their base “control” stations, have nighttime lights, and no “exposed rotating parts”. People who manage the drones will need a drone pilot’s license with them whenever operating the aircraft.

As the COVID-19 vaccine has begun to be distributed in the United States, Los Angeles County has developed a new way to let its residents prove that they have taken the vaccine. Citizens can now add the COVID-19 vaccination proof in the Apple Wallet app and in Google Pay for Passes. Bloomberg.com says this integration was made possible thanks to a partnership between Los Angeles County and the startup Healthvana, which specializes in delivering test results to patients for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and now, the company does the same for COVID-19 test results. Healthvana says that the company stores everything as securely as possible on Amazon Web Services servers that are in accordance with HIPAA.


China Heading for Top Economy Sooner; Tesla Still Battery King of EVs; Japan-Dropping Gas Cars in 15 Years; CO2 for Net Zero Emission Jets

China will overtake the United States to become the world’s biggest economy in 2028, five years earlier than previously estimated due to the contrasting recoveries of the two countries. The prediction comes from the Centre for Economics and Business Research in an annual report published on Saturday. According to Reuters, “The COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding economic fallout have certainly tipped this rivalry in China’s favour.” Japan would remain the world’s third-biggest economy, in dollar terms, until the early 2030s when it would be overtaken by India.

Analysts at UBS had 7 competing car batteries torn down and compared. Businessinsider.com reports that Tesla appears poised to keep its lead at least for now. They looked at batteries from Volkswagen, General Motors, Toyota, BMW, and more, and found that Tesla came out on top by most measures. The cost and efficiency of battery packs is the most key issue for electric vehicles. Elon Musk should be looking over his shoulder though…they found that Volkswagen is the fastest follower on a global scale. Its €33 billion Euros committed EV investments of over a 5-year period is unmatched.” 

Japan aims to eliminate gasoline-powered vehicles in the next 15 years, the government said on Friday in a plan to reach net zero carbon emissions and generate nearly $2 trillion a year in green growth by 2050. Reuters says Japan has made green investment a top priority to help revive the economy hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and to bring the nation into line with the European Union, China and other economies setting ambitious emissions targets. The plan seeks to replace the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles with electric vehicles, including hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles, by the mid-2030s. 

Researchers may have found a way to reduce the environmental impact of air travel in situations when electric aircraft and alternative fuels aren’t practical. Wired reports that Oxford University scientists have successfully turned CO2 into jet fuel, raising the possibility of conventionally-powered aircraft with net zero emissions. The technique effectively reverses the process of burning fuel by relying on the organic combustion method. The process would let airlines keep their existing aircraft and go carbon neutral until they’re truly ready for eco-friendly propulsion. 

Apple Ups iPhone Orders 30%; FTC Demands Amazon, Facebook and Others Explain Collection & Use of Personal Data; Signal Adds Encrypted Group Video Call Support; Snap Launches Bitmoji Paint

We just reported that noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted a good sized jump in iPhone sales in 2021. Now, according to macrumors.com, picking up a story from Nikkei Asia, we hear that Apple has boosted iPhone orders with its suppliers by 30%, which would amount to 96 million iPhones! There is an additional rumor indicating that at least one of the 2021 iPhones (iPhone 13) will be completely portless…there will be no Lightning port…all charging will be wireless, and everything will come over the air. It will also have a ’shallower notch,’ but it won’t be less wide…just less long, giving slightly more useable screen below it.

The Federal Trade Commission has announced that they are requiring nine tech companies to produce info about how they collect and use data from their users. CNBC.com reports that Amazon, TikTok owner ByteDance, Discord, Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp, Reddit, Snap, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube were each sent orders to hand over information about their data practices. The companies have 45 days to respond from the date they received the orders. The FTC also wants to know how they determine how they serve ads to users. The FTC had already field charges last week against Facebook over alleged monopolistic practices. 

Signal is joining the party, adding support for group video calls for up to 5 people. Theverge.com notes, that’s not really enough for larger scale business meetings as take place on Zoom, Bluejeans, MS Teams, and the like, but they are end-to-end encrypted, like all other Signal calls. You can expect Signal to increase the number of call users, though, and they have said they will be doing so soon. The new feature is available on both iOS and Android. 

Snap has launched a new game inside Snapchat called Bitmoji Paint. According to venturebeat.com, it lets hundreds of players simultaneously contribute to a massive collage. Players make their Bitmoji, which then acts in the Paint game. There are 3 modes in the game: move, paint, and map. In the game, players can’t view other players’ Snap IDs. In the Android version, there are also Snap Tokens which allow buying of digital goods in the game app. Snap now claims over 249 million daily active users. 75% of the US 13-35 year old population uses Snap’s platform. 

Galaxy S21 Leaks; iPhone 13-Apple Back on Schedule; Facebook Launches Collab-Experimental Music Video App; Amazon Sidewalk & ‘Forced Opt-In’

There have been a myriad of leaks about the Samsung Galaxy S21 already, but over the weekend, there was a video out that shows the handset…apparently the real thing…working alongside a new iPhone, so you can see the smaller bezels and flat screen. Theverge.com reports that the S21 continues with a hole punch selfie cam, as opposed to the much maligned notch of the Apple phones. The new S21 phones should out next month, with a standard, a Plus, and an Ultra model. The Ultra has 5 rear cams, and the S21 and Plus feature 3. The S21 has a 6.2 inch screen, the Plus 6.7 inch, and the Ultra 6.8 inch. Like Apple’s latest, all the Samsung phones will have 5G.

As we see the vaccine for COVID-19 go into arms today, the hope is for a lot more relative normalcy in 2021. One of those normal things apparently will be the release of the iPhone 13 series. According to 9to5mac.com, noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is advising that the production and release schedule should be in the normal range for the next iPhone models…so we can expect all of them to be rolled out in mid-September 2021, as most have been in the past. Kuo also says iPhone 12 Pro sales are staying strong, and that, in fact, they are better than expected. The only hitch is that Apple is having supply issues with the Sony cam sensors used in the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. Ah, normal…what a concept!

Facebook has released a public version of Collab, their experimental app for making collaborative music videos. Techcrunch.com says it is available at the App Store. With the pandemic, and live music pretty well non-existent, this will allow musicians to work together, and even let non-pros to sing and play along with one another in videos. The app handles the complexities of audio and video syncing, and gives you a tool to move your clip back into alignment with the one you are playing with to sync up just right. You can also use external audio interfaces and bring in your keyboards, guitars, and drum sets to the mix. Note that the app does not have direct integration to Facebook, but links can be shared to your Instagram Story or even TikTok. 

Amazon has started automatically activating Sidewalk in the Echo and other devices. According to geekwire.com, the Sidewalk program was initially announced as a solution for connectivity for small Internet of Things gadgets…like pet trackers or Tile. It seems intrusive, to carve out a bit of your home network to keep things always connected, but right now it only works for Amazon customers and Sidewalk-enabled devices. The wireless Sidewalk taps into ‘is encrypted and capped to segregate it from the rest of the customer’s traffic and minimize disruption.’ according to Amazon. 

This is not unlike Comcast’s Xfinity Wi-Fi, which is beamed out from your Comcast cable modem/router, and can be accessed by any Xfinity customer wherever the service appears. The issue is the ‘forced opt-in’ part. When you lease a Comcast modem, you have to agree to the semi-public channel. You can opt out, but it’s a big hassle. While Amazon is mainly following Comcast’s model, they do get a gold star for actually giving notice about Sidewalk. They even give steps in an email about opting out without having to hunt for a support website. This forced opt-in could be pretty common in the future, and probably needs some government oversight…at least to make firms give clear notice and clear, simple ways to choose to opt out!

FTC & 48 States Sue Facebook; Amazon Launches HealthLake; YouTube Bans Videos Claiming Trump Won; Hackers Grab COVID-19 Vaccine Documents

The FTC and a coalition of the attorneys general from 48 states have sued Facebook in two separate actions filed today. CNBC reports that the suits target two of Facebook’s major acquisitions….Instagram and WhatsApp. Both seek remedies for alleged anticompetitive conduct, and would likely require Facebook to divest the two apps. Facebook has only responded by noting that they are reviewing the suits and ‘we will have more to say soon. Years after the FTC cleared our acquisitions, the government now wants a do-over with no regard for the impact that precedent would have on the broader business community or the people who choose our products every day.”

Amazon has launched HealthLake, a new platform for storing and analyzing healthcare data. According to venturebeat.com, Amazon is saying the service will give health care services a way to store, transform, and analyze petabytes of life science data in Amazon Web Services. HealthLake is HIPAA eligible and it can automatically understand and extract medical information including rules, procedures, and diagnoses in real time. Amazon claims it will be able to accept data from a number of differing sources, then allow the health care professionals to analyze and monitor….for example, whether a patient has been properly prescribed a drug, pulling out information from blood glucose monitoring systems, physicians notes, insurance forms and lab reports, and more to inform its conclusions. The AI healthcare market is expected to be a $19 billion dollar market by 2026. 

Effective today, YouTube is all done with bogus claims about the US election. Arstechnica.com says the Google subsidiary posted that “We will start removing any piece of content uploaded today (or anytime after) that misleads people by alleging that widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election.” Now that most of Trump’s legal challenges have been thrown out of court, YouTube says that the legitimacy of Biden’s election is no longer up for debate.

Hackers hit the European Medicines Agency, and were able to get documents related to approved COVID-19 vaccines. Cnet.com reports that the agency reviews vaccine effectiveness. They didn’t say what documents had been stolen. The prime suspects are from Russia, China, and North Korea, all of which have targeted pharma firms working on COVID-19 vaccines.. BioNTEch…which is the partner with Pfizer, said its own servers were intact. 

Uber Sells Self-Driving Unit; Apple Announces AirPods Max Over Ear Headphones; Dish-$210 Million Telemarketing Fine; Mercedes May Bring eSprinter to US

Uber is exiting the self-driving biz. The company has sold Uber ATG to startup Aurora (backed by Sequoia Capital and Amazon) for $10 billion. Techcrunch.com reports that the deal isn a complicated one which includes NO cash. It will give the combined company a valuation of the $10 billion. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will take a board seat in the newly expanded Aurora. Aurora intends to bring autonomous trucks to market before other vehicles, but they are still planning to enter the robotaxi market with their full self-driving stack later on. 

No big dog-and-pony show at the spaceship campus in Cupertino streamed over the net, but Apple today announced the AirPods Max Over Ear headphones with noise cancellation. According to macrumors.com, they will sell for…are you sitting down? $549…yes, that’s just for the cans! They are available for order today, and feature high-fidelity audio (one would hope for THAT price!), Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, and spatial audio. The pricey cans will ship December 15th. You can choose from 5 colors: space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink. 

Dish Network just got whacked by the DOJ to the tune of $210 million for telemarketing violations. The Department of Justice posted that it will include $126 million in civil penalties, and $84 million to four states for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The case was filed clear back in 2009 and went to trial in 2016….but was just settled. The states are California, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio. The suit had claimed that Dish made millions of unlawful telemarketing calls..some 66 million in fact. They were also charged with getting retailers to make even more telemarketing calls. 

Mercedes announced an eSprinter for the Euro market earlier this year, but with no plans for a US model. The reason for no US model was supposedly limited range. Now, cnet.com reports that Stuttgart is considering rolling out a US model in 2023. It appears the US model would be beefed up with a 120 kWh battery to increase range, The Euro one on sale now only has a 55 kWh battery pack. Ford’s planned electric cargo van only has a 55 kWh pack right now. Amazon has ordered 100,000 e-vans from startup Rivian, and Mercedes is no doubt looking at the expanding delivery market here a lot more positively now. 

Samsung-600 MP Sensor; Apple Blazes Ahead To All-ARM MacBooks; Amazon Zoox Robotaxi Spotted; Bond-James Bond-Free on YouTube

As if their crazy high megapixel count wasn’t high enough at 108, Samsung is rumored to be working on a 192 MP cam, and a truly WTF 600 MP sensor! Thenextweb.com reports that it will be 1/0.57-inches in size. That still isn’t the biggest in sensor size, though. Huawei has on in the P40 Pro+ that is 1/1.28 inches. The monster Samsung sensor will cover a lot of back panel real estate, and will be 22mm thick…compared to most phones’ cam modules that are under 10mm thick. Rumors are, it can pick up more detail than the human eye can see. Will we see this Frankencam in a phone? Too early to tell.

After rolling out their first two ARM chipped MacBook models, Apple is pushing ahead at full throttle, including a successor to their M1 chip with up to 20 CPU cores. According to 9to5mac.com, they would be 16 high performance cores, and 4 efficiency ones. Apple plans to show higher end MacBook Pro models and both entry level and high-end iMac desktops with ARM chips in 2021, with an ARM Mac Pro slated for 2022. They are also working on 16-core and even 32-core GPUs, too. Down the road, even 64 or 128 graphics cores may be coming…which would be several times faster than the present modules Apple gets from Nvidia and AMD. It seems that with computers, as with cars, there is never enough speed!

Amazon picked up Zoox earlier this year. The self-driving taxi company had been tooling around San Francisco in matte black Lexus SUVs. Now, geekwire.com says the Amazon/Zoox robotaxi has been spotted in the wild. It was shot over the weekend being photographed outside the Fairmont Hotel in SF. There were two of the unusual looking vehicles on scene…they look like they are coming and going at the same time, and have coach type seating. From the looks of them, it appears they could deliver packages, too…hmmm. Amazon…packages…there’s a thought. The vehicles are to be officially unveiled December 14th. 

If you have binged your way through everything on Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and the rest, how about something old school? Engadget.com reports that YouTube is streaming the first 19 James Bond movies for free right now. That will take you through all the iterations of Bond…James Bond up to the Daniel Craig era. (If you want to revisit a couple of Craig films, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are on Netflix….not Skyfall or Spectre, though.) If you are interested, better get going…it’s likely to only be a short time deal in the ‘Free to Watch’ Section of YouTube.

Two ’21 MacBook Pros Getting mini-LEDs; GPU Shipments Up; Waymo’s New Mock City; 5 Tech Firms’ Employees Rate Them

Noted Apple watcher analyst Ming-Chi-Kuo predicts that Cupertino will roll out 2 MacBook Pro models next year that will use mini LED screens. According to appleinsider.com, one will be the new 14 inch MacBook Pro, which will also have a redesigned form factor. Kuo also sees a new, ‘more affordable’ MacBook Air in 2022. The advantage to mini LED screens is they can be located all through the backlight layer of the screen….giving a more even lighting and higher level of contrast, but at a price point lower than OLEDs. While they DO cost more than the present LEDs, Kuo says Apple will make up the difference with savings from using their own silicon. Kuo also makes a rather amazing prediction that apple will be shipping some 30 million MacBook Pro and Air models by 2023. 

With the work from home boom due to the pandemic, consumers have been snapping up new computers, and that has pushed demand for GPUs way up. Nvidia, Intel, and AMD are reporting a 10.8% increase in shipments during third quarter, year over year. Venturebeat.com reports that the overall PC market increased 9.47% year over year. Discrete GPUs from AMD and Nvidia were up 13.44% quarter to quarter. 

Waymo is opening a couple of new autonomous vehicle facilities, which include a dense, simulated urban area to test out the self-driving abilities of their cars. Slashgear.com says a new R&D facility for self-driving trucks will open in Menlo Park, CA some time next year. They are also working with Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio. That one will be primarily for cars. Waymo already has a 91 acre city mock up at Castle Air Force Base in Merced, CA. 

Anonymous professional network Blind used it’s BlindHub data analysis tool to see what employees thought of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and Google. Zdnet.com reports how things stacked up, considering best leadership teams and companies with most equal opportunities. In the top slot…Los Gatos based Netflix. 67% of Netflix employees said they would recommend it as a great place to work. #2 was Facebook, where 42% said that about the social net firm. Apple, Google, and Amazon following along behind. 

Salesforce Buys Slack; Samsung May Drop High End Galaxy Notes; Nikola Cancels Badger PU; Zoom Revenue Quadruples

In a deal that’s been rumored for at least a week, Salesforce has announced it is picking up Slack for a whopping $27.7 billion! Techcrunch.com reports that Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO is saying “This is a match made in heaven. Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world.” This will put Salesforce in direct competition with rival and frenemy Microsoft, as it will allow Salesforce to compete directly with Teams…which Slack has been doing, but now with the financial muscle of Salesforce. 

Samsung appears poised to drop its premium Galaxy Note phone next year. According to Reuters, it’s due to a sharp drop in demand for high end smart phones due to the coronavirus pandemic. Samsung will still offer its top line Galaxy S phone, but will no longer have a phablet with a large screen and stylus as a separate product. The Galaxy S21 will have a stylus instead, and apparently the company will also add a stylus to their big foldable phone. 

In a move that has hit their stock hard, Nikola has announced that the deal they tentatively had with General Motors won’t happen. Arstechnica.com says GM won’t take a position in Nikola as previously indicated, but will furnish fuel cells to Nikola’s future big rig trucks. Nikola had planned on having GM build the Badger for them, but the General decided not to allow a re-badged GM vehicle be sold by the fledgling alternate fuel vehicle firm. In a controversy earlier, the CEO of Nikola, Trevor Milton, had to leave when it was disclosed that the big rig the company had showed off as being an actual prototype was a fake, and was filmed rolling down hill….not moving on its own. 

The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin asked in song years ago, ‘Who’s Zooming Who,’ and it turned out it’s all of us! Zoom continues to mint money as people work from home during the pandemic. Theverge.com reports that Zoom has again quadrupled revenue year over year. The third quarter haul was $777 million in revenue. Zoom says they expect to quadruple revenue year over year again in the 4th quarter. The company claims 433,700 subscribers with over 10 employees…up from 370,000 last quarter.