Netflix Releases Shuffle Play Feature; Ford- EV Battery Center in S.E. Michigan; Google Rakes in Cash in Q1; Microsoft Teams-Big Boost in Daily Use

Netflix has rolled out a shuffle play feature. Engadget.com reports it should be a boon to people who are just plain overwhelmed by the thousands of possible shows to watch on the platform. The feature is simply called ‘Play Something.’ It isn’t available on mobile yet, but Netflix says it will be soon. As you watch, Netflix should learn from the choices…like on normal Netflix, and it will try to play something it determines you like. 

Ford will build a new EV battery center in Southeast Michigan which they are dubbing ‘Ion Park.’ The center will encompass all aspects of battery tech development…manufacturing, mining, and recycling, according to Ford. The center will have a staff of 150 when it is up and running next year. It will join Ford’s new Battery Benchmarking and Test Laboratory in Allen Park, Michigan. That site, which opened in 2020, is where the company tests new battery cell types. Ford claims to have tested over 150 different types of cells with various chemistries. Besides the Mustang EV, Ford will bow an electric transit van next year, and a fully electric version of the F-150 pickup. 

After a small drop off of 2% when the pandemic first raged last year, Google has come roaring back. Theverge.com says that at the end of the 1st quarter, Google pulled down $55.3 million…compared to $56.9 million in the final quarter of 2020. It’s a stunning 34% increase year over year. YouTube was a $15 billion per year business in 2020, and $6 billion in the quarter just ended alone!

It’s not a big shock as so many continue to work from home, but Microsoft Teams has now amassed 145 million daily active users. Zdnet.com reports that its up from 115 daily just last October. A year ago, Teams only had 75 million active daily active users. Considering that more people are trickling back to offices, Teams seems to have gotten a pretty huge foothold in the video meeting area…and Microsoft has been working on turning it into nearly an operating system like product as they add features. 


Spotify Bows Podcast Subscriptions; Lift Sells Self-Driving Division to Toyota; Apple’s M1 Chip Successor in Production; Microsoft on Cusp of $2 Trillion Market Cap

Spotify has rolled out podcast subscriptions. Theverge.com reports that Podcasters won’t have to pay Spotify anything for the first two years. Creators will, however, have to cover the cost of transaction fees through Spotify’s payment partner Stripe. In 2023, Spotify will begin taking a 5 percent cut of total subscription revenue. That’s significantly less than Apple will charge; its new subscription service will take 15 to 30 percent of revenue. Podcasters have three monthly pricing options to choose from: $2.99, $4.99, or $7.99. Within Spotify, paid content will be indicated by a padlock icon where you would normally find a play button. You can’t subscribe in-app, but will have to head to the program’s dedicated Anchor landing page. This is kludgy, but what it does is avoids Spotify having to pay Apple for subscriptions old under the App Store terms.

Lyft has sold off its self-driving division to Toyota’s Woven Planet for a tidy $550 million. According to techcrunch.com, around 300 people from the Lyft Level 5 division will go to the Toyota subsidiary. As of early 2020, there were 400 people around the world that worked in Level 5. Those staying will continue to work out of the office in Palo Alto, CA. Besides cash, Lyft expects to save some $100 million in operating expenses. Lyft is shooting to become profitable by the third quarter of this year. 

The successor generation to Apple’s M1 system on a chip is now in production. Asia.kikkei.com says the chip is presumed to be dubbed the M2, and could be shipping by July…and in Apple MacBooks in the second half of the year. The chipset is made by TSMC, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. one of Apple’s prime suppliers. Apple is now the world’s #4 PC maker, behind Lenovo, HP, and Dell. Mac shipments were up 111% last year, mainly due to working from home because of the pandemic.

Microsoft is knocking on the door of the very exclusive $2 trillion dollar valuation club for companies. Right now, geekwire.com reports that MS is at $1.97 trillion market capitalization. Companies that already exceed the $2 trillion benchmark are Apple and Saudi Aramco. A lot of Microsoft’s gain is being powered by the Azure cloud division. Microsoft shares have increased by 20% this year. 


Facebook’s Mini-Player; Apple Will Drop $430 Billion on North Carolina Campus; Zoom Rolls Out ‘Immersive View’; Clubhouse NFL Draft Deal

One of the things Facebook had announced last week was ‘Project Boombox,’ which would allow listening to music and podcasts right inside the Facebook App…including Spotify. Now, techcurnch.com reports that the platform has rolled out a ‘miniplayer’ that will allow Facebook users to stream Spotify via the Facebook app on iOS and Android. The feature is available to both free Spotify users and Premium subscribers. Now, when Spotify users are listening to content they want to share to Facebook, they’ll be able to tap the existing “Share” menu (the three dot-menu at the upper right of the screen) and then tap either “Facebook” or “Facebook News Feed.” In order to use the feature, users will have to have the Spotify mobile app on their phone and a Spotify account. 

Apple has announced a step making good on adding additional facilities here in the US…a $430 billion dollar campus and research hub in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area. According to zdnet.com, it should mean about 3,0000 new jobs in machine learning, AI, software engineering, and other tech fields. Apple will also kicking $100 million to support local schools and community initiatives in the Raleigh-Durham area. Overall, Apple has set a goal of creating an additional 20,000 jobs in states across the US.

Zoom has talked about it, and today rolled out its immersive video feature, claiming it will help businesses to hold more engaging and collaborative virtual meetings. Venturebeat.com says the feature will allow Zoom meeting participants to appear as if they are in the same room together. Immersive View is really pretty much the same as Microsoft Teams’ Together Mode, which has been out for months. The host gets to choose where each participant ‘sits’ in the virtual room. Right now, Immersive view can hold up to 25 participants, and the backgrounds include a boardroom, auditorium, or a classroom. It is activated by default for all free and Individual Pro accounts. 

Clubhouse has announced a deal getting users access to chat rooms during NFL Draft Week. Engadget.com reports that its invitation only, as other Clubhouse connections, and only on iPhone…a Clubhouse Android app is weeks off. For draft fanatics, a chance to be in a Clubhouse chat with athletes, coaches, and network stars could be quite a draw. It’s a big win for Clubhouse, but the NFL may just be doing a test drive to see how it goes, and could expand to Facebook and Twitter if it does well.


Instagram-Tool Filters DM’s; Whole Foods Launches Palm Reader Payments; VW’s ID4-World Car of Year; Netflix Sags on Subscriber Miss

Instagram has rolled out a new tool, primarily aimed at celebs, that will automatically filter out abusive DMs. It can be set to filter offensive words, phrases, and emojis. Again, it is mainly intended for celebrities and public figures, who receive large numbers of unwanted direct messages. The message requests filter can be toggled on or off in a new section of the app called “hidden words.” When it’s on, offensive messages will be pushed to a separate folder. DMs in this folder are concealed, allowing users to browse messages without needing to read what they say. If a user taps into a message, they can read, delete, or report it.

Giving a whole new meaning to ‘palm reading,’ Whole Foods has Launched the Amazon palm reader payment system at its Madison Broadway location in Seattle. According to gizmodo.com, they plan to roll out the biometric system in 7 more stores over the next few months. The palm reader is dubbed Amazon One, and it lets a customer pay for everything with a swipe of the hand, as long as they are registered for the service with Amazon. The tech has been trialed at Amazon’s small brick and mortar stores before the rollout to their Whole Foods division. You can enroll with just one palm, or both, by the way.

The World Car Awards have been announced, and Volkswagen takes top honors with their new 2021 electric ID 4. Cnet.com says the award is after voting from 93 jurors spread over 28 countries. In subcategories, the World Luxury Car is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Performance Car is the 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo, Urban Car the 2021 Honda E, and World Car Design goes to the 2021 Land Rover Defender. VW’s new electric crossover edged out the Honda E and Toyota Yaris for the top spot.

Netflix beat the Street’s expectations in revenue and profit for the 1st quarter, but still tool an 11% hit on the stock, as they missed their subscriber target by a fair amount. Zdnet.com reports that Netflix ended with 208 million paid memberships, but had predict4ed 210 million. They were still up 14% year over year, and the revenue was up 24% year over year to $7.16 billion. 


Apple iPad & Mac Spring Loaded Event Recap

Apple crammed a lot of announcements into today’s event, streamed from Apple Park. The expected upgrade to the iPad Pro saw the introduction of new models that feature the M1 chip, like the Macs and MacBooks run on. Highlights include a 8 core CPU that’s 50% faster than before, and 40% faster graphics from the system on a chip. Apple claims all-day battery life, and an available 2TB version. The Pro gets 5 G and LiDAR, and a new ultra wide camera with 12MP that pans to keep you centered in frame. The 12.9 inch Mini-LED display makes a debut, after several years of rumors. The 11 inch iPad Pro stays $799 and the 12.9 inch one starts at $1099..BUT…brace yourself…a maxed out one with the 2TB memory and all will set you back $2400! Preorders open April 30th, they will ship the second half of May.

New iMacs were unveiled…impossibly thin, and in a rainbow of colors (shades of the old days…you can sue me for the pun, but good luck.) The new iMacs also rock the M1 system on a chip that the Macs, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros have been moving to. The iMac has an all glass front, the base model features a 24 inch screen in nearly the same size as the prior 21.5 incher, and there is (finally!) a 1080p cam. A three mic array is included, that minimizes background noise and clarifies your voice on the likes of Zoom calls. The new iMacs get 4 tiny woofers and two tweeters, for better sound. Apple claims they are 85% faster than the previous iMac, with 2X faster graphics. You can run iOS on them, too. There are 4 USB-C ports (two of which are also Thunderbolt), and a version of the Mag Safe power connector. There are three different keyboards to choose from…two of which have TouchID. The mouse and trackpad are mainly changed cosmetically. New iMacs start at $1299 and $1499, and will be out the 2nd half of May.

Apple TV+ gets a new aluminum remote and can be used in conjunction with an iPhone to adjust color on your TV to cinema standards automatically. 

Air Tags finally make their debut. They are small round discs, which can be used with the Find My app to track your stuff…keys, wallet, or whatever. Air Tags will sell for $29 each, or 4 for $99. Preorders open Friday, and out next month. Apple has a number of key fobs, etc. to hold them and as I was writing this, I ALREADY got a third party email about them, LOL! The Air Tags use a readily available button battery that is user replaceable….a refreshing change from most everything else Apple sells.

iPhone (I know, they will be out in September) gets a mid-season refresh, with the addition of a purple color. You can preorder your new purple iPhone this Friday, and they will be out next month.

A cool announcement about Apple Card. Unlike most every credit card and credit vehicle, the Apple Card is now not only sharable with your spouse or partner, but they will get credit for your score on their credit report as you will. This is a change long overdue in the finance world! You can also add kids over 13 with limits.


Facebook Audio Announcements; WordPress Will Disable Google FLoC-Security Concerns; Apple App Store Re-Admits Parler; Mastercard Acquiring Identity Verification Co

In a virtual event today, Facebook made a series of announcements, including the expected answer to audio platform Clubhouse. Facebook will be testing Live Audio Rooms in Groups, and expects to roll the feature out to all users of the Facebook app by summer. Facebook will allow users to charge for access to their Live Audio rooms via a single purchase or a subscription, which will allow content creators to monetize the feature. The social network is also working on a short-form audio clip feature called Soundbites, that will let users upload brief audio (they gave jokes as an example). Facebook will provide audio editing tools to edit the Soundbites. According to cnbc.com, Facebook is also working on an integration with Spotify that could let musicians more easily reach potential audience. That feature is being called Project Boombox internally. 

WordPress will automatically disable Google FLoC by default on WordPress sites. Bleepingcomputer.com reports that WordPress sees the tracking tech as a security concern. Google has been testing out the tech as an alternative to cookies, which are blocked more and more by sites. In a statement, they “said WordPress powers approximately 41% of the web – and this community can help combat racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and discrimination against those with mental illness with four lines of code.” WordPress plans to disable FLoC using the following four lines of code, which will cause the blogging platform to issue a HTTP request header tells the browser that FLoC should be disabled for the site.

After getting what they claim are improvements to the platform’s detection and moderation of hate speech and incitement, Apple is letting Parler back into its App Store. CNN says Apple notified Congress via a letter. Parler should be downloadable again shortly. A number of conservatives who left the app may not come back, after the massive leak of personal data that occurred last year. Parler is continuing to slug it out in court with Amazon, after being booted from Amazon Web Services, and being off line for a period of time. 

Mastercard is picking up Ekata, an identity verification company, for $850 million. According to techcrunch.com, the tech allows identifying the online identity of a person making a transaction in real time…using various elements that can indicate if the transaction is true or fraudulent as the party opens and account or transacts business. Ekta provides a score and other data that they claim predicts the likelihood that the person is who they say they are. Barring regulatory hold ups, the deal should close this Fall.


2022 iPhone Rumors; Samsung April Unpacked; Gaming Exercise Bike; Hundreds of Companies Oppose Voter Restrictions

It’s been previously rumored that Apple would roll out a major camera upgrade to next year’s iPhones. Now, apple insider reports that Ming-Chi Kuo has dropped some specifics. In the past, Apple has focused on other elements besides ‘megapixel escalation.’ Well, the 2022 iPhone shooters will have a huge 48 megapixel wide angle cam. Previously, Apple has introduced upgrades to the wide angle cam first, and added it later to the telephoto and ultra-wide one. The camera assemblies will come from Sony as in the past. There will be a tilt control plus a more complicated cam module. Besides the camera, Kuo says Cupertino will drop the iPhone Mini in 2022. The 6.1 inch base iPhone, 6.1 inch Pro, and 6.7 inch Pro Max will continue. 

Get ready for another Samsung Unpacked…the third in 4 months! According to cnet.com, rumors are that this one will reveal new laptops. The event is virtual, and will be held at 7AM Pacific on April 28th. All the invite says is that ‘the most powerful Galaxy is coming.’ Besides upgraded Galaxy Books, there may be new Chromebooks, too. The Pro models could have 5G built in and feature OLED screens. While some sectors have suffered during the pandemic, laptops have been burning things up as more people snap up better ones to more easily work from hime. 

If you just need some more motivation to get off the couch or your chair and exercise, and are a gamer or web surfer, you’re in luck…but bring some cash. Businessinsider.com says Playpulse’s new indoor exercise bike lets you play virtual bumper cars and a racing game called ‘Heat Street, and a couple other games, as well as accessing streaming services including Netflix , HBO Now, Hulu , Amazon Prime Video, and Twitch , along with YouTube. The bike is delivered to your home and set up, and there is a free trial and return policy. Before you wave a fistful of cash and yell ‘Take my money!’ you should know it runs $1999. You do get 6 months of the Playpulse Live service, which is regularly $19.99 a month. If you don’t want to be locked into their games, advanced data tracking, and workouts, you can still access the streaming services. There are delivery delays, though. It could be December, but they have a sale on right now…if you buy now for later delivery, 40% off…Which is $1199, and still includes the Playpulse Live service. 

The opposition to restrictive voting laws has spilled over from the political sphere into the world of business. First, we had around 100 major corporations sign on in opposition to the flood of voter restriction laws in the states. Then, 60 major law firms joined in. Now, according to the New York Times, there are hundreds of companies who have joined the opposition to the newly minted and proposed laws…including Amazon, BlackRock, Google, Warren Buffett, American Express, Merck, Microsoft, Starbuck’s, General Motors, Facebook, Apple, and Google. The push was organized by Kenneth Frazier, Chief Executive of Merck, and former chief of American Express Kenneth Chenault. 


Apple Event April 20th; Microsoft New Webcam & Speakers; Spotify has a ‘Car Thing’; Facebook Oversight Board Now Lets Users Appeal To Have Content Removed

Earlier today, Siri spilled the beans on Apple’s next upcoming event, they are dubbing “Spring Loaded.”. It’s April 20th. Engadget.com notes that it is widely expected to show off the new iPad Pro and the long expected AirTags. It will start at 10 AM Pacific time, and will again be completely virtual. With the ongoing chip shortage, it seems unlikely that a new MacBook Pro will be unveiled, or a new iMac. Those are more likely to bow this Fall  a few weeks after the September iPhone event.

Microsoft has released their new ‘Modern Webcam’ and also a USB-C speaker. According to theverge.com, the new hardware….aimed at work from home…is pretty basic, but the price isn’t bad. The 1080p webcam will ship in June for $69.99. It does use USB-A not C. the USB-C “Modern Speaker” is intended mainly for Microsoft Teams. It features a launch control panel for Teams, and includes omnidirectional mics and background cancellation. It comes with mute, volume, and call button controls on the top. The speaker will also be out in June, and is priced at $99.99.

Spotify has unveiled their first consumer gadget, and it’s Spotify for you car. No snappy name, either. Thenextweb.com says it’s just called ‘Car Thing.’ What you get is basically a touchscreen with a large volume knob and voice controls that allow you to run Spotify music through your car speakers. There are 4 preset buttons you can set for podcasts or playlists you frequently use. It needs to talk to your phone over Bluetooth, and also has to be plugged in to power via USB or the 12V outlet. The device is available to a limited number of people in the US, and is FREE, although you have to pay shipping and have a Spotify Premium account. Hit the waitlist at carthing.spotify.com.

We still don’t know if Donald Trump will be allowed back on Facebook, but the Oversight Board there has dropped a new decision. Mashable.com reports that theBoard will accept appeals from users that want to have content removed from the social media platform. After a user reports content to Facebook, there will be options to appeal the company’s decision. After the final appeal within Facebook is exhausted, a user will receive an Oversight Board Reference ID, which they can cite if they do appeal to the Oversight Board. The Oversight Board will then consider whether to take on the case and analyze whether the content at hand “violates Facebook’s Community Standards and values and international human rights standards.”


Microsoft Buys Nuance; Apple Working on TV Box With HomePod Speaker & FaceTime Cam; Tesla Jacks Up Solar Roof Prices; Facebook Spent Millions on Zuck Security

Microsoft has announced that they have acquired Nuance. According to the Microsoft News site, Redmond says the ‘acquisition will combine solutions and expertise to deliver new cloud and AI capabilities across healthcare and other industries.’ Microsoft has dropped $19.7 billion on Nuance, in an all-cash deal. It’s the 2nd largest acquisition by MS since snapping up LinkedIn. The CEO of Nuance, Mark Benjamin, will remain. Nuance is most known for their Dragon software, that uses deep learning to transcribe speech, and which gets more accurate over time guy adapting to a user’s voice. The tech has been licensed out to numerous services, including Apple’s Siri. 

Apple is apparently working on a new product for their smart home line. It iss essentially an Apple TV box with and added HomePod smart speaker and a FaceTime camera. 9to5mac.com reports that the integrated device would be similar to the Roku Streambar or Fire TV Cube. Mark Gurman of Bloomberg notes that it is in the early stage of development, and as such, might not see the light of day. You can still buy discontinued original HomePods…in White only. The original $349 device is slightly discounted to $299 now. The $99 HomePod Mini is selling much better. It is unlikely that this new gadget will be done in time for the next Apple TV release this Fall. 

It’s not unusual for companies to increase prices of products and services that occur a year after a contract is signed. What IS unusual is a really big jump. Electrek.co says that Tesla has jacked up the prices for Solar roofs and Powerwall installations by some 30%! Needless to say, this is quite a shock to customers who have had a signed contract for more than a year, and who have already spent thousands in preparation for the job! In a few cases, customers logged into their accounts and have seen 50% price increases! Tesla also says that now, it is sending out updated agreements, and will do the jobs in the order of updated agreement receipt. In other words, agree right away, or lose you spot in line!

Facebook spent more than a lot of CEOs get paid per year on Mark Zuckerberg’s security last year. Theverge.com reports that an SEC filing shows the company dropped a princely $23 million last year for its CEO. The filing showed that protection for Zuck and his family increased in 2020 primarily due to COVID-19 travel protocols, and increased security during the run up to the US election. Zuck also got an extra $10 million in compensation to go towards other security costs. This year, Facebook says they may offer personal security to non-employee directors from time to time as well, particularly in the aftermath of the attack attack on the US Capitol January 6th.


Chip Shortage Hits MacBooks; Facebook Labels Satire; Fake Vaxx Cards for Sale; Mustang Mach-e Bug

The chip shortage is hitting Apple. MacBook production is being hindered due to the shortage of chips mounted onto the circuit board before final assembly, which is a key step in the overall production process. ‌iPad‌ production is being impacted due to display and display component shortages. According Macrumors.com, Apple has postponed component orders for the two devices to the second half of the year.  iPhone production is so far not affected. For 

Facebook is adding additional labels to posts from Pages that appear in users’ News Feeds in a bid to reduce confusion about their origin. These labels will include “public official,” “fan page,” and “satire page.” Theverge.com says the company says it’s already started testing the deployment of these labels in the US, and will gradually add them to more posts. Sadly, identifying satire seems particularly important. Maybe some people will be less outraged by an Onion post.

The sudden surge of forged vaccine cards online has overwhelmed social platforms dealing with scammers taking advantage of pandemic anxieties. “Hundreds” of sellers have profited off of Americans’ fervent clamor for official vaccine cards, according New York Times reported Thursday. Despite policies banning the sale of fake cards on their platforms,  eBay, Etsy, Facebook, Twitter, and Shopify each were hosting sellers that purport to have vaccine cards for sale. All those platforms are now taking extra steps to remove the fakes. 

Add a software bug to the list of issues affecting Ford’s recently released Mustang Mach-E electric crossoverThe Verge.com reports that a problem with the car’s secondary 12-volt battery is leaving some vehicles unable to start, even when their primary lithium-ion battery is fully charged. Ford has acknowledged the issue, and says the problem is a software-related issue with the car’s powertrain control module. The company claims the bug only affects a “small number” of Mach-E vehicles, and they’re working on a patch.