Amazon Buys MGM Studios; Microsoft Working on Next Version of Windows; Valve Making a Switch Clone-‘SteamPal?’; Tesla Dumps Radar from Models 3 and Y

Amazon has just announced the second biggest purchase in their history…second only to the swallowing of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017. According to CNBC, Amazon is buying MGM Studios for $8.45 billion! This will bring Amazon Prime some 4,000 movies and 17,000 TV shows….to say nothing of bring some new (old) blood to amazon Studios. The purchase should put Amazon in a better position to compete with the likes of Disney and Netflix, as well as Discovery’s merger with the WarnerMedia spinoff from AT&T. The deal will need to clear some antitrust hurdles before being finalized. 

At Microsoft’s Build 2021, CEO Satya Nadella announced that they were working on the biggest and most significant update to Windows in the last 10 years. Engadget.com reports the CEO said “Soon we will share one of the most significant updates to Windows of the past decade to unlock greater economic opportunity for developers and creators.” Nadella went on to say he has personally been testing the new build over the past several months. This announcement comes just after Redmond admitted that it was killing development on Windows 10, the ’skinny’ version of its OS designed for dual-screen devices. Some of the elements of Windows 10X will be rolled out in regular Windows 10 later this year. 

Valve has been working on building a Switch type portable gaming platform on the down low, which is designed to run a large number of games on the Steam PC platform using Linux. Arstechnica.com says the system could launch by the end of the year. Some new hardware related code has been spotted in the latest version of Steam, which further indicates that the new box…dubbed ‘SteamPal’…is on the way before long. The project had formerly been named Neptune in code. It is expected to run on a system on a chip from Intel or AMD. No details about battery life, or price…but many observers think it will be a notch above the $299 list price for the Nintendo Switch. 

On the heels of backpedaling about using lidar, which we just reported, now Elon Musk says Tesla will drop radar from the Model 3 and Model Y. According to thenextweb.com, the Muskman claims they will be able to do just fine with only TeslaVision…that is, cameras, when it comes to self-driving. Actually, as has been noted by people inside the auto business and out, cars will really need a combination of cameras, radar, and lidar if they are ever to be fully self-driving. Tesla is keeping radar on the Model S and Model X, so it really appears to be purely a cost-cutting move. 


Possible 10 New US Chip Factories; Apple WWDC in 2 Weeks; Peloton Factory Coming to US, Musk Backtracks-Tesla Deal for Lidar

After the pandemic has made a hash of worldwide supply chains for over a year, more firms are looking at bringing manufacturing back to the US. Now, Reuters reports that US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in Senate testimony that a boost of $52 billion in government funding for semiconductor production and research could sprout 10 new US factories. Of course, Senator Bernie Sanders whined about giving money to the rich tech sector….but 10 new US factories would employ a decent number of US employees in good paying jobs, and that is nothing to sneeze at. Considering the global chip shortage that has hampered the auto industry’s comeback, in addition to the computer and electronic devices that have had to throttle back production, it seems like a worthwhile expenditure. In 1990, the US made 37% of semiconductors and microelectronics. Today that number is around 12%.

Apple WWDC is less than 2 weeks away, kicking off with a keynote on June 7th at 10AM Pacific. According to zdnet.com, Cupertino should preview iOS 15, iPad OS 15, WatchOS 8, MacOS 12, and TVOS 15. Other than that, the biggest rumor to seep out so far is a major redesign to the PAD OS home screen, which will let users put widgets anywhere, like iOS users can do. The invite features several Memoji faces, and the tag line….’And away we go.’ If not a purposeful one, that’s at least an inadvertent hat tip to the Great One, the late Jackie Gleason…who used to start every show with that line. 

Despite the fallout from a death and some 70 injuries involving its treadmills lately, Peloton is moving to build its first dedicated factory in the US. Cnet.com says the Peloton Output Park will make the Bike, Bile Plus, and Tread products. the plant will be in Wood County, Ohio. It should employ around 2,000 workers when finished, and will operate using renewable energy sources. Peloton said that the pandemic has “demonstrated the need to on-shore manufacturing and rebuild supply chains.” The factory will be up and running by 2023. 

After bad-mouthing lidar earlier as a ‘crutch’ a while back, Elon Musk has backtracked. Theverge.com reports that Tesla has partnered up with Luminar to use lidar for ‘testing and developing.’ It seems logical to add lidar to the mix…cameras alone won’t really get us to full self-driving. In fact, it may take a cocktail of cameras, lidar, and radar…plus the computers in car interacting with other nearby vehicles…to really make that dream come true. Lidar units have been spotted lately on a Model Y, a Cybertruck prototype, and another Tesla model…all with Tesla manufacturer license tags. 


Samsung 43 Inch Studio Monitor; Ford F-150 Lightening Pro; Beats Studio Buds Get FCC Go-Ahead; Pro-Palestine Activists Ding Facebook Ranking

So…a 27 or 32-inch monitor isn’t enough screen for you? You’re in luck…Samsung is rolling out a 43-inch Smart Monitor. Engadget.com notes that that is a size lending itself to both productivity and entertainment. It has built in speakers, and the smart TV functionality runs on the Tizen OS, letting you stream Netflix or Amazon Prime without powering on your computer. While this seems like overkill for productivity, it will be nice for entertainment. I have a Samsung smart TV of about that size, and can easily mirror my laptop screen on it, so Samsung will do well to keep the price down. None has been released yet, but the 27-incher is $230 and the 32-inch one runs $400. 

Ford has released more info about its upcoming F-150 Lightning electric pickup. According to arstechnica.com, the previous info wass that the base priced model starts at $39,974 before incentives or tax credits, and has a 230 mile range. Today, Ford announced that the pro model, with 300 mile range, will tart at $49,974…also before incentives and credits. They are putting together an online tool for fleet managers and commercial customers for them to calculate the cost of going electric. At rollout, Ford expects to have 644 EV certified Ford Commercial vehicle centers around the country, on top of Ford’s 2,300 EV certified dealerships. The pro version will lack some of the whistles and bells of the pimped out top line trucks, but will have some cool features. It will have the 2.4kW onboard AC power outlets..with option to upgrade to 9.6kW. They will also offer their Co-Pilot 360 2.0 driver assistance system…but NOT the Blue Cruise hands-free system. 

In the latest release of iOS that went to developers, new Beats Studio Buds showed up. Now, 9to5mac.com says those buds have gotten the official FCC sign-off, so they could be unveiled at any time. As with most higher end buds, there will be a true wireless design and a smart charging case, in addition to Noise Cancellation. They will have the easy pairing chip and Siri support built in. No hint of cost, but the present Powerbeats Pro model sells for $199. 

In a twist to the old boycott technique for protesting about the behavior of companies, pro-Palestine activists have flooded Apple and Google’s app stores with 1-star ratings for Facebook. According to theverge.com, this is in protest of what they see ass Facebook’s censorship of Palestinian accounts on the platform. Apparently, Facebook is treating this with a pretty high level of priority. As of yesterday, the Facebook app on iOS at the Apple App Store was 2.3 out of 5! It was at 2.4 out of 5 on Google’s! Neither Apple nor Google had a comment, and Facebook didn’t respond for requests to comment, either. 


Google I/O Highlights; Amazon ‘Pauses’ Selling Facial Recognition Software to Police; Auto-Transcribe Zoom Meetings With Otter

Google kicked off I/O yesterday, and there is a lot of buzz about the new Android 12 look. Theverge.com reports that one of the big features is allowing more customization of the interface and apps by users. 

On a less whimsical note, there is also a new privacy dashboard. The beta is out. Google has also made Workspace more connected. They are touting ‘smart canvas,’ and you should find it easier to work between products. Included is the ability to start a Meet video call right from Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide.

On the Wear front, a big move…Wear OS and Samsung’s Tizen are being rolled into one platform. The result should be more seamless operation, faster app launches, and extended battery life. 

The AR Live View tool has more info in Maps now. Different restaurants at different times of the day and points of interest will be featured, in addition to being able to see how busy an area of town is. 

Digital car keys will come to ‘select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones.’ Right now, BMW is the only car maker supporting, just as they were the first with Apple’s iOS.

There has been no shortage of criticism of Amazon’s facial recognition software, and its use by police agencies. Now, according to cnet.comm, Amazon will pause sale of the software to police ‘indefinitely.’ There have been numerous accounts of the Rekognition software disproportionately misidentified women and also people with dark skin tones, incorrectly flagging them as matches to photographs. Amazon had already paused selling the software after the killing of George Floyd, but it was due to start back up next month. 

Couldn’t make the Zoom meeting, but really need a recap of what went on? Now, there’s a way. Mashable.com says that Otter Assistant can be linked to your Google or Microsoft Outlook calendar, and can instantly join and transcribe meetings as they happen…with a link shared to the attendees. Attendees can even collaborate on the transcription, highlighting parts, or adding slides. The Assistant is available with Otter.ai Business accounts, which run $20 a month. 


MacBook Pros With Apple Silicon Coming Soon; Twitter ‘Blue’; Amazon Go Becomes Amazon Fresh

Apple is preparing to roll out multiple redesigned Macs with the new Apple silicon…starting this summer. Appleinsider.com reports that there will be a Mac mini, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro freshen. A new report indicates that the Pros may even drop this summer, with the redesigned Air debuting by the end of the year. The Pro will have two different processor options. Both will have 8 performance cores and 2 efficient ones, but there will be versions with either 16 or 32 graphics cores.  They will reportedly support up to 64GB of Unified RAM, up from 16 gigs in the present MacBook Pros. It’ unclear if the refreshed Pros will have the M1 chip or the successor that is in the works. There will be a MagSafe charging port, HDMI, and SD card support, as well more Thunderbolt ports that the present model. 

The rumored Twitter paid service, ‘Twitter Blue,’ will apparently cost $2.99 a month, and will carry exclusive features. Mashable.com says the premium features will include tools for better organizing bookmarks and an ‘undo’ button that will let users delete a Tweet within a certain time frame. It’s not known at this point if the ‘Blue’ features will be included in the ’Super Follow’ Twitter announced in February. That one is $4.99 a month, and lets users subscribe to certain accounts for exclusive content. 

Amazon is rebranding its Amazon Go Grocery stores as Amazon Fresh, and closing the store near Microsoft’s HQ in Redmond. According to geekwire.com, Amazon plans to continue to open the larger Amazon Fresh markets with the smart grocery carts and cashier-less checkout. The employees at the Redmond store are being transferred to a new store opening up in Bellevue, WA. It and one in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle will remain the two stores in that area for now, although 2 more will be opened soon. 


AT&T Spins Media in Discovery Deal; Apple Music-Lossless Audio to All-No Extra $; Google I/O Looming Tomorrow; Clubhouse-Worldwide on Android by Next Week

AT&T jumped into the media business just 3 years ago, but now is jumping out. The New York Times reports that the Telco will spin off its WarnerMedia Group and merge it with rival programmer Discovery. The deal will combine HBO, Warner Bros. studios, CNN and several other cable networks with a host of reality-based cable channels from Discovery, including Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, HGTV, The Food Network and Animal Planet. The two companies expect the deal to be approved and finalized by the middle of next year. The combined media entity will be bigger than Netflix or NBCUniversal. Together, WarnerMedia and Discovery did over $41 billion in sales lat year, with an operating profit exceeding $10 billion. That places it behind Walt Disney Company as the 2nd largest media company in the US.

Apple ha announced that it is bringing lossless audio to its entire catalog at no extra cost, starting next month. According to 9to5mac.com, the pristine audio will be available on over 75 million tracks in the Apple Music library. Cupertino will also launch support for spatial Audio music with songs authored in Dolby Atmos. Keep in mind that lossless formats use significantly higher bandwidth to stream, so the feature will be opt-in. 

Google I/O starts tomorrow at 10 AM Pacific. CEO of Google/Alphabet Sundar Pichai will be showing the later and greatest…again in virtual form online, as the other major tech companies have all had to do the past year because of the pandemic. Arstechnica.com says that we may see a beta release of Android 12, which has looked from the developer preview to be a pretty major overhaul. Google has already advised that the new Pixel phones will be out on schedule with last year…so that will be August, not tomorrow. We’ll have a recap of things announced tomorrow here, though.

Clubhouse will expand its Android app worldwide next week. Techcrunch.com reports that it will hit Japan, Brazil, and Russia tomorrow, and be worldwide by as soon as Friday Afternoon. Clubhouse started as iOS only last year. The Android version still lacks a number of features the iOS app has…users can’t follow a topic, create or manage a club, link their social profiles, make payments, or change their profile name of user name. The startup said it is working to bring iOS features to the Android app.


US Lifting Ban on Xiaomi; Redfin Forecast-Record Home Sales; Samsung & AMD System on Chip; Chinese Suppliers Gone from Amazon

The US will lift the blacklisting one Xiaomi that was put on by the Trump administration last year. Xiaomi had filed a lawsuit earlier this year over the matter. According to engadget.com, the firm had been added to a US military list of alleged Chinese military companies in January, which blocked any American investment in the company. A joint proposal between them and the US government should be out by May 20th. China asserted that the two company founders held 75% voting ownership, and that there were no military links to the ownership. 

In what would be the largest gain since 2013, Redfin has forecast a record $2.53 trillion in US home sales this year. Geekwire.com says that the market is being fueled by low mortgage rates, high demand, and a wave of migration made possible by remote work. According to Redfin, the national median home sale price hit a record $353,000 in March, up 17% from 2020. They project that even more buyers will enter the market in the 2nd half of this year and during 2022. 

Apple is migrating all the Macs to its new M1 system on a chip (which by Fall will be superseded by the M2), and now Samsung is jumping in to the SoC game, planning to reveal a new Exynos chip for laptops and smartphones in the 2nd half of the year. Arstechnica.com reports the SoC GPU is being developed jointly with Advanced Micro Devices. Samsung is positioning the new Exynos SoC as equal to the Qualcomm chips they have traditionally touted as the superior chip. It’s unclear if they will ditch the Qualcomm silicon (which seems unlikely), or if Samsung will also move to an ARM laptop CPU. 

Meanwhile, Qualcomm is working to get into the SoC game…having bought Nuvia in January. Nuvia hans’t made anything yet, but was tarted by renegades who left Apple’s CPU division, including their chief CPU architect. Qualcomm says they may be shipping internally designed CPUs by the 2nd half of 2022. 

With the sheltering on place and working from home during the pandemic, millions of things have passed through the Amazon store. In January, analysts calculated that 75% of Amazon’s new sellers were in China…up from 47% in 2020. According to TechCrunch.com, Chinese sellers are also filling the ranks of sellers on eBay, and other platforms. Now, comes an interesting wrinkle…at least 11 accounts that originated in China have disappeared from Amazon over the last few days. 

Those accounts had been contributing over a billion dollars in gross merchandise value (GMV) to Amazon. Amazon had no comment, other than a statement that it has “long-standing policies to protect the integrity of our store, including product authenticity, genuine reviews, and products meeting the expectations of our customers.”

“We take swift action against those that violate them, including suspending or removing selling privileges.”  It is an ongoing game of ‘whack-a-mole,’ though…as bad actor selling firms seem to pop up again all the time with new names, and information.


iPhone 13 Rumors; Facebook-Read Article, Like Twitter; Ford F-150 Lightening EV; Bose Hearing Aids

We are roughly 4 months from the rollout of iPhone 13. Here are a few of the rumors swirling around it at this point. Cnet.com reports that the new iPhone 13 may get a bigger battery. The battery life isn’t really bad on the 12 or 12 Pro, but more use per charge is always good. The Samsung Galaxy S21 lasts a couple hours longer than the iPhones. 

Again, this year, we get the rumor that the iPhone will become a completely portliness phone. Even noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has written this, so the 13 could be the iPhone that loses the port forever. With the MagSafe charging system and over the air updates, downloads, and uploads, this might not be totally jarring. If Apple does drop the port, it would stand to reason that they will include data transfer over the MagSafe connector though, just for emergencies when no signal is available or reliable. 

It wouldn’t be an iPhone upgrade without some camera improvements. One mentioned is giving the 13 Pro the same telephoto as the 13 Pro Max. Also…the ultra wide lens may get better low light performance. A video portrait mode is also rumored. 

Finally, one persistent rumor is a return on Touch ID…but operating under the screen…and anywhere on the screen. It would apparently be in a addition to Face ID. That would give double biometric security. 

Since last summer, Twitter has had a feature when you re-Tweet, asking if you want to read the article first. Now, Facebook will join that party. According to theverge.com, a popup on Facebook will ask if a user is sure they want to share an article before clicking on it and posting it. Right now, Facebook is just trialing the feature on about 6% of Android users around the world. I will note that I almost never click through on Twitter to read the article, because normally when I see a Tweet about one in my feed, I have already read the article…either there, or on another trusted news source. Still, it’s a welcome feature if they roll it out 100% to try to get people used to checking things out before they post b.s. that ends up not to be true. 

Ford’s upcoming electric F-150 pickup will carry the name Lightening, a name that was revived from Ford pickups in the 90’s. Techcrunch.com says the truck will have a big enough battery pack to power your house during a power outage! Also, it will feature over the air software updates, and the EV will be quicker than the original F-150 performance truck with a thumping V-8! Ford will reveal the truck via a live stream May 19th. 

Whether you’ve fried your hearing by wearing headphones for 50 years, or from playing in a band, or from going to concerts…or a trifecta…hearing aids may be looking more and more likely. Congress had already passed a law allowing for buying hearing aids without visiting an audiologist or paying thousands. Now, Bose has rolled out the first FDA approved hearing aids sold directly to customers. Engadget.com reports that the gadgets are similar in form factor to a lot of them out there. 

The Bose units will lean on Bose’s expertise in audio, using a Custom Tune feature in a companion app that personalizes volume, tone, treble, and bass for your ears within 30 minutes. You can also magnify quiet sounds or highlight the vocal range to make it easier to hear people talking around you. You can schedule free video appointments if you really want to. The rigs use a standard battery and Bose claims 4 days worth of use,14 hours a day. 

One bummer…they don’t port music or phone through them like some higher end hearing aids. They are $850, and will be available in Massachusetts, Montana, the Carolinas, and Texas starting May 18th. Other states will follow. 


Electric Vehicles=Cheaper Than Gas by 2027; Sony-PS5 Shortages Into 2022; DarkSide Hackers Fess Up to Colonial Pipeline Ransom Hack; Cal Legal Rulings & Effect on Amazon

Electric cars will be cheaper to build than gas and diesel vehicles within 6 years, and could amount to 100% of new vehicle sales by 2035, according to a study out today. Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that sedan and SUV-sized EVs will be as cheap to make as combustion engine cars by 2026! Smaller EVs will match the cost of gas cars by 2027. Light electric vans will be cheaper by 2025, and larger electric van by 2026. An electric sedan, which cost nearly 40,000 euros ($49,000) pre-tax in 2020, is expected to sell at the same price as a combustion model — around 20,000 euros (about $23,300) — in 2026, the study showed. If so, EVs will make up about 50% of all new car sales by 2030.

The Sony PlayStation 5 is a hot seller, but Sony has warned that it may be in short supply into 2022, limiting sales and keeping more buyers from getting the unit. According to engadget.com, Sony sold 7.8 million PS5’s through March 31st, and projects they will sell a bit shy of 15 million by the close of their current fiscal year. As is the case with numerous things electronic…and even autos…the chip shortage is partially to blame. Nintendo just warned last week that they are suffering a component shortage, although they did turn in an epic quarter’s sales. 

It was suspected, but now hacker group DarkSide has come out and admitted that they hacked Colonial Pipeline in last week’s ransomware attack. CNBC.com notes that the pipeline is still down, but expected to come back on line late this week. It supplies about half the gasoline and fuel to a lot of the East Coast. The hacker gang, based in Russia, claims they are in it purely for the money. Although President Biden would not finger the Russian government in questions following a speech this morning, it is widely believed that nothing of this magnitude happens in Russia without at least the tacit approval of Putin. President Biden said a whole of government action is involved in getting the line back online, and that there will be consequences. DarkSide has extorted as much as $20 and $30 million out of companies. 

A couple of California court rulings may have an impact on Amazon’s liability for third party goods it sells. Geekwire.com reports that a recent 2nd Appellate District court ruling against Amazon in the case of a hoverboard they sold catching fire and burning the owner, and a case from last year involving an exploding laptop battery (Bolger v. Amazon.com LLC), may leave the online giant with some legal liability. In the battery case, Amazon’s liability came due to it being fulfilled by the company…which had stored and shipped the item. In the hoverboard case, Amazon never stored or shipped the board, but it was sold via their platform. Third party sales are presently about 55% of sales on Amazon. Policing the millions of sellers and items could be a monumental task. Although their current position is that they are functioning like a shopping mall, Amazon has begun to pivot, and supervise their sellers a bit more closely. 


Chromebook Sales Explode, Facebook Keeps Trump Ban; Facebook Blocks Signal Ads Exposing Facebook’s Targeting; Peloton Problems Increase-Data Leak

Chromebook sales grew a stunning 275% in the first quarter of the year! Geekwire.com reports that Amazon tablet shipments grew by almost 200%! The record Chromebook sales were spread over HP, Lenovo, Acer, Samsung, and Dell. HP scooped up 36.4% of Chromebook sales, with the education market accounting for the majority of Chromebook shipments. 

The Facebook Oversight Board released the promised decision about Donald Trump’s ban from the platform today. According to arstechnica.com, they have recommended to Facebook that the ban stay in place. The Board did say that Facebook should review the ban again within the next 6 months. In the meantime, Trump has launched a blog (no comments) and is posting things that his followers can re-post on Facebook and Twitter. He still claims he will launch his own social media platform in the future.

It’s no secret that Facebook has highly targeted ads…we’ve all noticed it. You look at something somewhere online, and presto! Facebook or Instagram serves up an ad to you about the fool item. Engadget.com says Signal has raised Facebook’s ire by running ads of their own on Instagram which exposes the intimate categories that facebook uses to classify users and serve up such micro-targeted ads. An example: “You got this ad because you’re a certified public accountant in an open relationship. This ad used your location to see you’re in South Atlanta. You’re into natural skin care and you’ve supported Cardi B since day one.” Facebook temporarily shut down Signal’s ad account…allegedly to an unrelated payments issue…but called the ads a ‘stunt.’ Facebook is also battling Apple, which in the latest version of iOS, forces iPhone app makers to explicitly ask users for permission to collect their data to use in ads. 

Under pressure, Peloton has recalled the treadmills that caused the death of a child and injuries to others. Now, TechCrunch.com reports that the company has another PR problem. Apparently, their ‘leaky’ API lets anyone grab a rider’s private data! The data leak works EVEN if your profile is set to private and friends list is set to zero. Many well-heeled and/or famous people ride their bikes, right up to President Biden (who’s is off line by Secret Service decree.) A researcher-Jan Masters, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners- told Peloton about the issue in January, and gave them 90 days to fix it…but they didn’t, so he has outed the problem.