Facebook Adding (Back) ‘Most Recent’ to Timeline; Nest Hello Successor Indicated; Apple Maps Adds COVID Measures; LinkedIn Working on Clubhouse Clone

If you constantly have to toggle to Most Recent on your Facebook timeline, you are in luck. Macrumors.com reports that Facebook has announced a number of changes coming up in both iOS and Android, that make it easier for users to turn off the algorithmically ranked News Feed, and also new tools for controlling who can comment on posts. The ‘Most Recent’ mode shows posts in chronological order, as opposed to being served to you based on their algorithm. It is out now on Android, and should be in the next couple weeks on iOS. You will also be able to turn off political ads (!!) and ’Snooze’ annoying people or pages, so you can stop seeing their posts. 

Google Home V. 2.35 is being released on Android and iOS, and has an interesting item. According to 9to5google.com, there is a graphic of the back of a new Google Nest gadget, and it appears to be a new version of the Hello doorbell. Also in the update…they have made ‘Accessibility’ options for Smart Displays and Assistant speakers…well, more accessible. In the list, the Accessibility options appear in a new menu under ‘Device Features.’ The toggles were previously split between the Display and Audio pages…now, they are conveniently consolidated. As for the pic of the possible updated Hello doorbell…The device appears narrower than the 2018 model, while the diagnostic micro-USB connector has been replaced and modernized.

Apple Maps has added a cool feature, and one which will be especially handy as folks start to travel more again. Engadget.com says when you search for an airport, the place card will include a summary of coronavirus related procedures that airport has. The summary may include things like the need to wear a mask, quarantine guidelines and any testing requirements. Each card also includes a link to the airport’s website where you can find out about those in more detail.Apple has also listed vaccination sites and testing locations in Maps. Google Maps has already rolled out a similar suite of COVID-19 related features.

As has been true forever, someone comes out with an idea, it gets hot, and gangs of other companies try to clone it. Now, LinkedIn is joining the scrum of companies trying to duplicate the buzzy Clubhouse. Techcrunch.com reports LinkedIn is testing out a social audio experience in its app. Unlike the Clubhouse copies being built by Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn thinks it will have a good niche because it will connect people via their professional identity, not just a social community. LinkedIn has also just launched a new ‘Creator’ mode that lets anyone set their profile so it can be followed for updates, like Facebook Stories and LinkedIn Live videos. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, Telegram and Discord have also been working on Clubhouse rivals. It will be interesting to see what LinkedIn does, should they succeed in buying Discord.


Virtual WWDC Announced; Google & T-Mobile Multi-Pronged Partnership; Hyundai KONA EV Fire Danger; Biden-30 Gigawatts Offshore Wind Turbines by 2030

Apple has announced WWDC 2021, and yes, it will be completely virtual again. According to 9to5mac.com, it will run June 7th through June 11th. Expected reveals include iOS 15, macOS 12, and watchOS 8. It’s a free event for all developers. Last year’s virtual WWDC was quite well received, and got kudos for being much more inclusive. As opposed to the limited number of attendees possible in-person in Silicon Valley, the virtual WWDC last year was seen by 22 million across all of Apple’s streams. Besides the operating systems and usual breakouts for developers, expect Apple to tease upcoming hardware running their own Silicon. New iMacs and MacBook Pro models are expected in the fall. 

Google and T-Mobile have announced a broad partnership that will have the carrier plugging key Google services like RCS, Google One, and YouTube…and of course, the Pixel line. According to 9to5google.com, Messages by Google will become the ‘default rich messaging solution’ and app on Android devices. The carrier will better promote the “full suite of Pixel devices” and other products running Google’s OS, including Android TV. YouTube TV is becoming T-Mobile’s premium streaming solution with customers getting a $10 discount. At $54.99 per month, it comes as TVision launched less than six months ago and is now shutting down on April 29.

Public service notice: Don’t park your Hyundai Kona EV in your garage or near your house! Theverge.com says the NHTSA has issued a recall for 2019-20 Hyundai Kona and 2020 Ioniq EVs following reports of over a dozen battery fires. An electrical short in the Kona’s lithium-ion battery cells increases the risk of fire while parked, charging, and driving, NHTSA said, adding, “The safest place to park them is outside and away from homes and other structures.”

The Biden administration has designated New York Bight, a shallow-water area off the coast of Long Island and New Jersey as a new priority area for offshore wind turbines. Engadget.com reports that they are shooting for 30 gigawatts of power from the project by 2030! The White House says they will work to get expedited permitting to jump start development. The 30 gigawatts would power 10 million homes, and avoid pumping some 78 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 


Apple Watch Explorer Edition; NY- First Digital COVID Passport; Jeep Building EV Chargers at Off-Road Trails; San Diego Comic-Con in Person This Fall

Apple is apparently working on an ‘Explorer Edition’ Watch, which would be ruggedized for extreme sports or harsh environments. According to cnet.com, it will feature a rubberized exterior and better impact resistance.  It would be aimed at rock climbing, motocross, and other sports activities where a normal Apple Watch might take a beating…and not keep on ticking…to paraphrase the old Timex slogan. The Explorer Edition is NOT expected to be out by this fall. Speaking of fall, you would presumably turn off the hard fall detector feature on this watch, or it would be calling 911 for you every time you had a hard bump. Mine goes off sometimes when banging on a cat box I’m emptying! The rumors have the Explorer Edition being priced up with the top line Watch…don’t expect it with the lower cost models.

There has been buzz around the world about digital COVID-19 vaccination passports that would live in your smartphone wallet. Now, New York state has launched theirs…the Excelsior Pass. Engadget.com reports that now, You can use your phone’s virtual wallet (on Android or iOS) or a printout to flash a QR code and otherwise show that you’re safe when you want to go to a concert or stage performance. Madison Square Garden will begin using the pass this week with other large venues to follow…and smaller ones starting on April 2nd. The pass is completely voluntary for both the public and for businesses. Although some are grousing about the invasion of privacy from carrying medical info on smartphones, right now this seems the best way to ensure that people in venues with sizable crowds are relatively safe from COVID-19.

While Tesla has its system of Superchargers, GM is ready to build thousands of EV charging stations, and other makers are preparing to put in 10,000 or more coast-to-coast, what about folks who want to do some off-roading in there e-RV? Businessinsider.com says that Jeep is building charging points at popular off-roading trails around the country. They are being put up in partnership with Electrify America. The first ones should be available late this spring in Moab, Utah and in California at Big Bear, and the Rubicon Trail. The planned chargers are level 2. Jeep presently has a plug in hybrid, but is planning a fully electric version of every model.

Comic-Con will be back! An in-person one, too! The event is scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend, November 26th through the 28th in San Diego. According to theverge.com, this will be the 2nd summer in a row the event was cancelled due to COVID-19…but better late than never, huh? Comic-Con is normally one of the biggest conventions in the US, pulling in 130,000 people to San Diego. Comic-Con International says that if you purchased a ticket to Comic-Con 2020, your rolled over 2021 ticket is valid for the next in-person event in 2022. However, the organization is “working on an option for those wishing to transfer their badge or exhibitor deposits/payments as full or partial payment towards our 2021 November event.”


Qualcomm Making Switch-Type Android Console; Watch OS 7.4-Mask Unlock Feature; Smart Airless Bike Tires; Slack Lets Users DM Outside Organization

Although chip manufacturers have a rather sketchy history of selling hardware straight to consumers, Qualcomm is going this route, teasing plans to build an Android—powered Nintendo Switch. According to 9to5google.com, Qualcomm will drop a Snapdragon chip into an Android-powered game console with detachable controllers and the ability to connect to TV sets. The chipmaker is shooting for a handheld that appears to be a ‘thicker, bulkier smartphone’. It will probably have a Snapdragon 888 and a 6000mAh battery, and will rock Quick Charge and 5G. Qualcomm says the gaming system will run Android 12 with a ‘customized launcher.’ They are shooting for a $300 price tag. No word on when the device might hit the market. 

The latest beta for WatchOS from Apple, 7.4, has a welcome feature should it make it into the final release. 9to5mac.com reports that it uses the Watch to replace Face ID and the passcode to unlock your iPhone when the user is wearing a mask as well as their Apple watch. The Watch has to be on your wrist and unlocked (and protected by a passcode.) As someone who has grown tired of repeatedly keying in the passcode on my phone when checking my shopping list, I say this will be a welcome feature! Of course, after the mask wearing eases with the COVID-19 pandemic easing, the feature will also be handy when an iPhone user is wearing a helmet or face covering for whatever other professional or cultural purpose. 

The private sector has been benefiting from NASA tech since the 60’s. Now, bike tires may be one of the latest to borrow from NASA for airless bike tires. Engadget.com says a startup called Smart is using the space agency’s airless shape memory alloy (SMA) tech that was created for lunar and Mars rovers in their ‘Metl’ bike tires. The tires are made up of interconnected springs that don’t require inflation. According to Smart, the ‘superelastic’ tires are built like titanium to withstand rugged terrain without going flat. A puncture free ride sounds pretty great, but so is saving landfills from millions of ruined rubber tires and tubes. Smart hopes to have the tires out next year. The tech could ultimately make its way into cars.

Slack has moved more towards being a full messaging platform, by adding the ability to direct message people outside your company. According to cnet.com, Slack Connect DMs are available now. The feature works by creating a new message and choosing ‘DM outside your company.’ You need their email address to use it. The initiator of the message needs to be a paid user (or your company is one), but you can message any user of Slack, including ones on the free plan. ** Note that as of this afternoon, Slack has disabled the ability to send a message along with an invite…to prevent harassment and spamming…something they probably should have considered BEFORE rolling out the feature!


Microsoft in Talks re Buying Discord; Niantic Partners With Nintendo; Waymo Driverless Taxis-Multi Stop Now; Class Action Certified Over crApple Butterfly Keyboards

In a hot deal that may or may not happen, Microsoft is in talks to buy Discord for over $10 billion. Bloomberg.com reports that discord has been talking to a number of potential buyers, but that a deal is not imminent. In a rumor that may please Discord users, one party close to the situation has leaked that Discord is more likely to go public at this point than to sell itself. Gamers have loved Discord as the go-to way to chat by video, voice, and text. Through the pandemic, the platform has also added study groups, dance classes, book clubs, and other virtual gatherings. Previously, Microsoft had tried to by TikTok, and in the past had looked at picking Pinterest. The company’s purchase of Skype seemed to chase off most users, and even business users have mostly abandoned that for Microsoft Teams, which has had robust use through the pandemic. 

Niantic has announced it is partnering with Nintendo to co-develop a new game based on the Pikmin franchise. According to TechCrunch.com, it will launch later this year. The new augmented reality app ‘…will include gameplay activities to encourage walking and make walking more delightful.” Although Pokemon Go has disappeared from most peoples’ radar, it brought in over a billion dollars to the San Francisco based company in 2020! 

Waymo has added a new feature to his autonomous taxis in the phoenix area. Mashable.com says you can now ‘add a stop’. Now, you can stop for groceries, or pick up a friend without having to reorder a car for each leg. If it is a long stop, the vehicle will wait nearby, and pick up up when you are ready for the next leg of your trip. Waymo stresses that “the meter is not running while on your long stop,” unlike with a traditional taxi. Another plus…you can now connect your phone via Google Cast and play music from other music systems besides Google Play Music. 

A judge has certified a class action against Apple for its crappy butterfly keyboard design. According to theverge.com, The suit covers anyone who purchased an Apple MacBook with a butterfly keyboard in seven states: California, New York, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, and Michigan. That includes people who bought a MacBook model dating between 2015 and 2017, a MacBook Pro model between 2016 and 2019, or a MacBook Air between 2018 and 2019. It is my fervent hope that this doesn’t result in everyone involved getting something like a $25 Apple gift card! I am typing and re-typing this on one on a MacBook Pro. The worst offender is the letter ’s,’ which either won’t type, or becomes multiples of the letter, but there are a number of other keys that intermittently screw up…including the space bar that won’t always ‘space.’ (I retyped that 3 times, trying to get only one letter ’s,’ btw. Even with a warranty, who wants to have to make an appointment, go to an Apple Store, drop of the laptop, and hope you get a decent refurbished one that isn’t worse? After that, you can reinstall from backup every single thing to the wiped drive. Grrr.


Google-More Custom Chips; Facebook’s Experimental Wrist Gadget; Trump Plots Launching Social Net; Micro EV Beating Tesla Model 3 Sales Last 60 Days

Apple has gone big in their own silicon, moving from iOS devices to Macs in the last year. Now, Google has announced that it is ‘doubling down’ on custom chips as well, as “one way to boost performance and efficiency now that Moore’s Law no longer provides rapid improvements for everyone.” According to 9to5google.com, the company is focused on Systems on Chip (SoC), where ‘multiple functions sit on the same chip, or on multiple chips inside one package,’ as opposed to on motherboards. Google plans to use the tech in servers as well as in their consumer hardware, like Pixel phones and Pixelbooks. 

Facebook has not had the best luck with hardware…think the Facebook phone or their in-home screens that creepily follow you around the room so you can be on camera. Now, a new wearable is in the works…or at least being experimented with. Arstechnica.com reports that the wrist worn device senses nerve activity that controls your hands and fingers. They claim it could enable new types of human-computer interactions. Technically, it is called an electromyography device. It allows you to just flick your fingers in space to control virtual inputs, either to a VR headset or other device. Facebook is apparently trying to make it trainable…so it can sense the intention of your fingers, so actions could happen even when your hands are totally still. Don’t expect to see this gadget by Christmas…it could be 5 to 10 years out.

Ex-President Donald Trump has been holed up in the Bridal Suite at his Mar-a-Lago resort (mostly closed due to a COVID outbreak.) engadget.com says he’s scheming to start a new, Trump=branded social network in the next ‘two to three months.’ His aide Jason Miller claimed on Fox News it would ‘redefine the game,’ and attract millions of users. So far, the response from his supporters has ranged from tepid to angry. Many are complaining on actual social media that he should be planning to run for office again, not attempting to get into a business he knows nothing about. One feature that might kill the millions of users off before it even gets off the ground…he is apparently thinking of charging users to be on the platform!

A micro-sized EV has beat Tesla’s Model 3 in sales during January and February. It’s the Hong Guang Mini, made by a joint venture between China’s state-owned SAIC Motor, Wuling Motors, and General Motors. According to theverge.com, the Mini sold 36,000 units in January and 20,000 in February…compared to the Model 3’s 21,500 units in January and 13,500 in February. It sells in China for about $4500, and has a range of 106 miles on a charge…with the top speed being 62 mph! As a short distance commuter car, it might work, but if you look at a photo, the claim that its seats 4 adults is laughable. It appears to be the size of a Smart Car. In gross numbers, a big win…but as a practical matter, Tesla probably doesn’t have much to worry about with their vast range superiority…not to mention size and capacity.


Huawei Plans Charging for 5G Patents; Samsung to Delay Galaxy Note Refresh; UK Uber Drivers Now Employees; Foxconn May or May not Make EVs in Wisconsin

Since the US blocked Huawei with sanctions that cut the company off from Android and mobile chips, the company has been looking to make up for the loss. According to zdnet.com, Huawei is looking at charging Apple and Samsung a ‘reasonable’ fee for using Huawei 5G patents in their smartphones. Jason Ding, head of Huawei’s intellectual property rights department, says it will probably amount to about $2.50 per phone. It’s likely Apple and Samsung will just eat that amount. For comparison, Dolby used to charge about $2 bucks decades ago for the Dolby System in cassette players and use of the Double D symbol, so Huawei’s fee doesn’t seem excessive. Huawei owns a massive number of 5G patents, and both Samsung and Apple probably use over 30 of them in their phones. 

Samsung has warned that it is being seriously affected by the worldwide chip shortage. Bloomberg.com reports that the shortage means Samsung is considering putting off introduction of a refreshed Galaxy Note…one of its best-selling models. Samsung CEO Koh Dong-jin claims that any delay or cancelling of the Note might really be geared towards streamlining their line. The car industry has already taking quite a hit from the chip shortage. Samsung, TSMC, and Qualcomm are all working to clear the chip shortage, and hope supplies will be back to normal by the middle of this year. 

Despite the successful campaign to get a proposition (Prop. 22)…at the cost of some $200 million bucks…in California to overturn AB5, which characterized Uber and Lyft drivers and others as employees, Uber has taken a loss in that regard in the UK, and will have to classify drivers as employees. Theverge.com says they will have to pay some 70,000 drivers minimum wage as employees, and give them holiday time and a pension plan beginning today. The reason? Uber lost an appeal in the British Supreme Court. Uber and companies like it have long argued that classifying drivers too rigidly would make it harder for them to work when they wanted, and that flexibility was just as, if not more, important than benefits and other protections afforded by more official employment status. In an op ed, Uber’s CEO called employment laws ‘outdated.’ 

Foxconn has said it is considering using its yet to be used Wisconsin facility to make its 1st electric vehicle. According to electrek.co, the maker of iPhones and more for Apple and the Nintendo Switch has developed a platform of open-sourced hardware and software for building EVs. In the past month, Fisker announced plans to work with Foxconn to build and EV. They plan to be producing in 2023. Foxconn projects it can crank out about 250,000 vehicles a year. Considering that the company has had the Wisconsin location for several years, and has yet to really do much with it, take their talk or building EVs there with a grain of salt….or a whole salt shaker. 


Google- New Nest Hub; Apple Event March 23rd Rumors; Surface Duo Refresh Coming; Wearables Jumped During Pandemic

Google has unveiled a new Nest Hub, which will feature Soli ‘Sleep Sensing.’ Techcrunch.com reports that the 2nd generation Nest Hub will keep the floating display deign of the original and the Hub Max. It has a 7 inch screen, and while it still has rather thick bezels, the raised surround is gone, which makes wiping it clean easier. The updated Hub comes in Chalk, Charcoal, Sand (pink) and Myst (blue.) Google says the new model has 50% more bass than the original, which they claim gives it richer sound (or at least boomier!) It also sports a third microphone. The ‘killer’ feature is a Soli radar chip in the upper right hand corner. This allows you to play or pause media by tapping in the air. You can wave to snooze alarms, AND it has ‘Sleep Sensing.’ The sleep sensing is opt-in, by the way. If you choose to do sso, its will analyze your sleep based on movement and breathing, and will identify ‘disturbances’…like coughing, snoring light fluctuation, and temperature changes. In the morning, you can ask ‘Hey Google, how did I sleep,’ and get a Sleep Summary (a button also does this.) How much, you say? the new Nest Hub is $99.99…just a $10 buck bump from the old one, and you can preorder today for a March 30th launch.

March 23rd is getting more widely touted as the date for the next Apple event. According to cnet.com, this one will most likely feature an iPad Pro update, AirPods 3, and maybe…just maybe…the long-rumored tracking tags, the AirTags. Most Apple watchers think the AirPods will be very similar in form factor to the AirPods Pro. A late report by Ming-Chi Kuo has those ear buds being delayed until later in the year, however. 

Microsoft’s Surface Duo, the folding dual-screen Android phone, will apparently get a refresh later this year. 9to5google.com notes that the initial model had an outdated chip, and a so-so camera, and what have been called major software issues, so the hope is that the upgrade will be a much better phone. Microsoft is continuing to hire Android engineers, and seems intent to prioritize fixing the software issues. They are also working at getting better pictures out of the handset with software, as Google has done with the Pixel phones. It’s a cool concept, but just as other folders, has lacked in the execution.

With all the changes due to the pandemic, wearables jumped 28.4% in 2020. Idc.com reports that shipments hit 153.5 million in the final quarter of the year. While some bump was due to new models and lower prices, it appears a number of consumers redirected disposable income from other electronics to wearables. Apple again was on top with 36.2% market share for its Apple Watch line. Xiaomi was 2nd, although its Mi band line fell 18.3%. Samsung was third, with 8.8 million.


Facebook’s Vaccination Tools; Disney+ Will Pass Up Netflix; Honda-Two EVs for 2024; Google Incognito Tracking Lawsuit Proceeds

Facebook has caught criticism for its failure to stop misinformation about COVID-19 and about vaccines, and now is stepping up its game to mitigate the damage. The platform is releasing new tools to make it easier for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Cnet.com reports one feature is a tool to find a time and place to get the shot. “The data shows the vaccines are safe and they work. They’re our best hope for getting past this virus and getting back to normal life,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a statement, noting he’s looking forward to getting the vaccine himself. Facebook has teamed up with Boston Children’s hospital on the tools, and is also partnering with health authorities and governments to get people registered for vaccinations via its messaging service WhatsApp. Meanwhile, Facebook says they will continue to label or remove false info about both COVID-19 and the vaccines. As with most new tools, expect there to be a rolling release…not everyone will have them available as of today.

As Disney+ continues its explosive streaming growth…powered in part by the big success of ‘The Mandalorian,’ the House of Mouse is now poised to pass up streaming king Netflix. According to the guardian.com, Netflix had 203.7 million subscribers as of last month. Disney+ launched in late 2019, and had originally predicted they would have 90 million subscribers in the next 5 years…but has already blown past 100 million. At this rate, Disney+ will be the top streaming service by 2024. Netflix has pumped millions into product…and has not only gotten lots of eyeballs, but critical acclaim for its original product. Disney is powered by the deep library of Disney cartoons and movies, the Star Wars franchise, and the Marvel Universe movies….a pretty formidable stable of products that cut across all demographics. Disney plans to add 100 new titles to its service each year. 

They are a bit late to the party compared to other brands, but Honda is now jumping into the ever growing EV market. Theverge.com says they will offer two full EV SUVs in the 2024 model year. The vehicles will use General Motors battery and electric systems in Honda designed vehicles. One will be a Honda, the other will be an Acura model. Honda is playing catch up here, as Toyota will have its first mass market EV out by the end of this year. Honda does note that both SUVs will be good-sized, and not mini-SUVs.

Google couldn’t get a class action suit dismissed over Incognito mode tracking, so they will have to defend the practice in court. Engadget.com reports that Judge Lucy Koh ruled that Google “did not notify” users it was still collecting data while Incognito’s privacy mode was active, giving the plaintiffs enough ground to move forward with their case. The search giant has been accused of continuing to collect data while users were in private mode. Google claims it warned that Incognito ‘does not mean invisible,’ and that site could still see search activity. As with most class actions, if the users succeed, they will likely get pennies….but maybe more importantly, Google would have to be very explicit in telling users that they are being tracked no matter what ‘mode’ they may select.


Alexa Smart Speaker as Heart Monitor; Apple Cuts iPhone Mini Production; Twitter Possible Fix For Bad Image Cropping; TikTok-New Tools for ‘Unkind’ & ‘Inappropriate’ Comments

Researchers at the University of Washington have managed to turn one of Amazon’s Alexa smart speakers into a heartbeat monitor. Geekwire.com reports that they figured out a way to use machine learning algorithms to make an Alexa powered speaker into a sensitive medical device that can detect irregular heartbeats. They have also been able to get the result with a Google Home speaker. The smart speakers send out an inaudible sound that bounces of a person’s chest, and back to the device, where it can pick up uneven cardiac rhythm, which can indicate strokes or sleep apnea. Privacy advocates often raise concerns about the ability of smart speakers to listen in on people and collect personal information. This new skill does not use frequencies that have audible data, helping preserve privacy. It also works in a limited range, only monitoring someone within a couple of feet of the device.

Apple has slashed iPhone 12 Mini production due to ‘far lower’ demand for the pint-sized iPhone. According to macrumors.com, Apple is cutting production for all iPhones by about 20%….but the lion’s share of the cuts are for the Mini. Even with the cuts, Apple’s overall iPhone production and sales are running a bit ahead of last year at this time. Demand remains pretty strong for the top of line iPhone 12 models, with Apple expecting to make over 75 million iPhones in the first half of this year. Most Apple watchers think Apple will still make a Mini next year. 

Twitter has come up with a solution of sorts to its less than good image cropping…NO cropping! Theverge.com notes that the image preview in the compose box will be the final result. Twitter says this will make images ‘bigger and better.’ The platform is also testing 4K uploading on iOS and Android in order to improve how users share and others view media on it. Twitter has not said when this change might go live for everyone on the platform. 

TikTok has unveiled new features to rein in ‘unkind’ and ‘inappropriate’ comments. The features remind users about community guidelines but also allows creators to ‘filter’ their comments. You can filter all comments, which enlarges on filtering spam, by key words, and now ‘offensive comments.’ Businessinsider.com reports that besides the creator side, when users try to leave a comment the app sees a ‘unkind’ or ‘inappropriate’, it will prompt them to edit or delete their post, and will remind them of TikTok’s community guidelines. The changes were made in partnership with the Cyberbullying Research Center.