Google Opens Retail Store; Facebook Tests Ads on Oculus; Spotify Launches Clubhouse Clone; Windows 11 Leak

Google is opening its first physical store, after a slew of pop-up experiments over the years. Theverge.com reports that it will be beneath Google’s New York City offices in the Chelsea neighborhood. The store will mainly feature Google’s own products like Pixel phones, Nest smart home devices, Fitbits, and more. There will also be third party accessories and Google branded swag…hats, tee shirts, and the like. The store opens tomorrow morning, June 17th, at 10AM…Eastern, of course.

Facebook will start testing ads in its Oculus VR headsets. According to CNBC, ads will first appear in the shooter game Blaston. Facebook claims it won’t be saving data (ha, ha, ha.) Ads should be no surprise, coming from a company that gets 97% of its total revenue from ads. Facebook is touting the ads as a way developers can get more revenue, in addition to Facebook getting more cash in the door, of course.

Spotify has dropped its live audio app and what the are calling Greenroom…their Clubhouse clone. Techcrunch.com says Greenroom will allow Spotify users to either host or join live audio rooms, which can optionally be made into podcasts. Greenroom is based on Locker Room’s existing code. Spotify picked up Locker Room in March. To join the new app, Spotify users will sign in with their existing Spotify credentials, and then will be walked through the onboarding process to get connected with their interests. If you have used Clubhouse, Twitter’s Spaces, or Facebook Live Audio Rooms, the format looks very similar. Note that re the podcast option that Spotify is recording all of the live audio sessions. Those can also be used by Spotify in the event of abuse by users. 

Windows 11 details are leaking out as if through a sieve. Engadget.com reports that there is a centralized Start menu with round corners. Many Microsoft watchers see a lot of resemblance to the now dead Windows 10X. Officially, Microsoft has a launch event set for June 24th. Most of the visual cues seem to be more tweaks to Windows 10 than revolutionary changes. New snap controls have been spotted, that let you more easily move a window into a particular place on your screen. What we don’t know yet is how well the new OS will work on tablets, ARM powered computers, and dual-screen PCs. Those details will hopefully become clear on the 24th.


Shopify Expands One-Click Checkout; Amazon Launches Cashierless System in Full Grocery Store; Twitter Looks at Letting You ‘Unmention’ Yourself; EVs Pass Up Diesels in the UK as Hottest Lease Cars

Shopify has announced they their Shop Pay one-click checkout service can now be used by any merchant that sells via Facebook or Google…whether or not they use Shopify’s software to power their online stores. Techcrunch.com reports that the pay system just expanded Shop Pay to Facebook and Instagram in February. Google announced last month that they would partner with Shopify as well…which now means nearly 2 million merchants will be able to use the one click setup via Google. (There is overlap between Facebook and Google, but neither has revealed that number.) Shopify claims a 70% faster checkout with their Shop Pay one-click system.

As we reported several weeks ago, Amazon was bringing their ‘Just Walk Out’ tech to a full sized grocery store. Now, the company has announced they will open a 25,000 square foot Amazon Fresh store in Bellevue, WA. According to geekwire.com, the store winn not offer the smart carts that automatically detect and log items on a digital display like at some of their stores. The store WILL have traditional check out lines for shoppers that don’t want to use Just Walk Out. They will feature the palm reading ID Amazon One that has recently showed up in Whole Foods stores. Amazon is looking to sell its tech to other grocers now. It remains to be seen whether the big chains like Safeway, Kroger, Walmart, and the like will show interest. 

Twitter is apparently experimenting with a new method to prevent unwanted attention that can frequently turn to harassment. It’s just in the concept stage right now, but the platform may allow users from mentioning them without using block or mute. Engadget.com says the feature would work something like untagging yourself on Facebook. Doing so would prevent that Twitter account from tagging you in future replies. Twitter is even looking at making a temporary version of this available…so you could choose to ‘unmention’ yourself for a period of time, not necessarily forever. 

In what might herald the future in developed countries, EVs have now passed up diesels as the most popular lease cars. Thenextweb.com reports that diesel registrations have dropped off and not amount to 18% market share of leases, while EVs have now hit 21.7%! This may be an indicator that ranges and charge times have improved enough that lessees are no longer having ‘range anxiety,’ and are ready to jump into the new tech.


Google Workplace & Chat for Everyone; Upcoming Apple Watches; Chip Shortage & Smartphones; Amazon Warehouse ‘Bots-Bert and Ernie

Google is opening up things in its Workspace suite of apps and services. As of now, anyone who has a Google account can switch over to Google’s more modern system for Gmail, Docs, and Chat. Google has about 3 billion users of its apps (mostly Gmail), so that’s a lot of people that potentially may jump to their Chat. Theverge.com reports that the apps can be integrated into a single tab, too. They are changing the nam of Chat Rooms, though…they will become Spaces. Google says they will have a streamlined interface for Spaces by later this summer. 

It’s not that long until September, and the traditional roll out of new iPhones and Apple Watches. According to appleinsider.com, the latest has the new Watch getting a faster processor and a better screen. Apple is also working on even more for next year…the 2022 Watch line will have more health features, and extreme sports model, and a freshened entry-level Watch. This Fall’s Watch will be very slightly thicker, but reports are that people won’t really notice. The processor will allow Ultra Wideband connectivity. In a letdown for many, it looks like no glucose monitoring feature will be out this year. No word on if it will be in the 2022 Watch, either…but a body temperature sensor is apparently in for 2022, along with a ‘Walking Steadiness’ feature. 

The worldwide chip shortage has already been affecting computers, laptops, and cars, as has been widely reported. Now, it looks like it’s hitting smartphones, too. Zdnet.com says smartphone shipments should hit 1.4 billion this year, a 12% growth figure. Apparently, demand is higher than that, so not only will there be some shortages, but also we could see prices rise. The toughest shortages are with LTE chips, which will affect low and mid price smartphones mostly. All the top line phones have 5G now. Those phones accounted for 37% of shipments in the 1st quarter, and analysts are looking for a 43% share for the year. 

You have to love the moxie of a company like Amazon, where there has been pretty continuous criticism for their treatment of warehouse workers, naming robots in those fulfillment centers warm fuzzy names like Bert and Ernie. Geekwire.com reports that Amazon touted their robots in a blog post. Apparently Ernie is designed to take boxy product containers known as totes off shelves at different heights, and then use its robotic arm to deliver the totes to warehouse employees at a standard height. The goal is to reduce the amount of reaching up or bending down that workers have to do. Bert carries items across the warehouse. Perhaps Amazon is taking the advice of the German auto maker of Mercedes-Benz, which clear back in the 80’s stated that the goal of robots in its factories was ‘to save backs, not replace hands.’ 


Samsung Bows Tiny 50MP Cam Sensor; Microsoft-Xbox Everywhere; Ford Tallies 100,000 F-150 EV Preorders; Facebook Plans Smartwatch

Samsung has revealed a new 50MP camera sensor module that is small enough to use for selfies, and would cut down on the camera ‘bumps’ we all know and hate. According to 9to5google.com, the JN1 sensor will be able to capture more light than smaller sensors, and in fact, has an improvement in light sensitivity of 16%. More importantly for most of us, it is small enough to cut the stupid camera bumps down by 10%. The sensor has already gone into production…it should be out in smartphones later this year. 

Microsoft continues to push for the ability to play Xbox games anywhere. Whether you are playing on one of their $499 or $399 gaming boxes, or on a PC, or dropping $15 a month to play on your tablet or phone, apparently Redmond wants even more reach for their game platform. Cnet.com reports that Microsoft is looking at getting Xbox games to you over a hotel room TV or via a small streaming set top box you can jack into at TV or monitor at a friend’s house (or work, if you can get away with it!) Microsoft is working with internet capable TV makers to build the streaming platform in like many other streaming services, so that all you would need is a controller. E3 is coming up on Sunday, there may be more announcements then.

Ford has now banked 100,000 preorders for its F-150 Lightening electric pickup in 3 weeks. Although that’s not near what Tesla did with the Cybertruck….250,000 preorders in 5 days…it’s significant in that Ford isn’t known for a line of EVs, and IS the biggest seller of pickups in the world. Engadget.com says Ford sold some 787,000 F-150 pickups last year….and there are over 16 million Ford trucks on the road in the US. With the announce of the under $20 grand Maverick Hybrid pickup this week, Ford now says the Explorer SUV will be the next big Ford model to get and EV version. 

Given Facebook’s…well, just plain crappy track record with hardware so far, you’d think Zuck would get a clue and leave hardware to companies who are better at making and selling it. Nope. According to theverge.com, Facebook iss working on a smartwatch to drop next summer with two cameras and a heart rate monitor. Apparently, the display can be popped off the wrist for shooting video or taking pics, which can be shared over Facebook, Instagram, and other Facebook apps. They are apparently working with US carriers to be able to have LTE connectivity in the watch, which means they will work without having to be paired with a smartphone. Facebook is shooting for making the watch in black, white, and gold colors. It is believed they would also use the watch eventually as an input device for the smart glasses they are still working on. The watch would be priced around $400, according to rumors.


Pixel Folder in Production by October; Apple WWDC Recap; Website Outages Early Tuesday Morning; Ford Building Cheap Hybrid Maverick-Truck

We recently reported that Google was looking at building a folding phone…now, it appears that they not only are, but that it will go into production in October. 9to5google.com reports that The Elec has picked up information that Samsung Display will start building folding OLED screens for Google, Vivo, and Xiaomi by October. That would mean that Google will announce the phone in October, but it will not be available until later. The Pixel will probably have a similar style to the Galaxy Z Fold 2, and will have a 7.6 inch internal display. 

Apple announced a number of features to its upcoming operating systems at WWDC yesterday, but to the disappointment of many…no hardware announcements. A MacBook Pro with an M series chip may not be seen until October now. According to engadget.com, a big feature was the expansion of FaceTime. The Apple video calling system gets spatial audio, background blur like in the portrait mode photos, and a grid view (Zoom, anyone?) It will now work with Android and PC devices via a web app, too. iOS will feature more privacy improvements, and Apple has announced Focus…which is really just a way to filter and block notifications so they won’t constantly interrupt you. 

For Mac OS, a cool feature is that your mouse or trackpad for your Mac or MacBook will now automatically control the screen for an iPad nearby if you set it up. You can drag files from screen to screen, use it as a second screen (which I do often, but haven’t had this ability), or cast the iPad display to your bigger Apple screen.

Watch OS didn’t have much new to announce….a Mindfulness app adds to the Breathe app to help you mellow out. Watch will allow you to track more metrics now while you sleep if you wear a watch while sleeping. You can follow time to sleep, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and respiratory rate. 

If you were trying to hit certain big websites at about 2 Pacific Tuesday morning, you probably had trouble. Techcrunch.com says things were back to normal by a bit before 4am Pacific, but the outage was with a provider called Fastly. This wasn’t just a few dinky or rarely hit sites…it included Reddit, Spotify, Twitch, Stack Overflow, GitHub, gov.uk, Hulu, HBO Max, Quora, PayPal, Vimeo, Shopify, Stripe, and news outlets CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times, BBC and Financial Times. A content delivery network (CDN) glitch was apparently the culprit. CDNs act as proxy servers and cache some data as close to the end user as possible.

Ford continues to make waves in the massive pickup market that they dominate. After a big splash, and thousands of preorders for the new electric F-150 Lightening pickup, Dearborn has now revealed an affordable, efficient pickup bearing a heritage name….Maverick. Arstechnica.com reports that the new Maverick will ride on a monocoque chassis instead of a body on frame. It is a small pickup…200 inches compared to 232 for the F-150. The Maverick will run on a hybrid system with a 162 HP four cylinder Atkinson motor (like Honda and Toyota hybrids run), and a 126 HP electric motor. It will drive the front wheels with a continuously variable transmission. The Maverick will be able to haul 1500 lbs and tow loads of up to 2,000 lbs. An upgraded engine model with tow package will be able to drag along 4,000 lbs worth or trailer. Here’s the key…the entry level version starts at $19,995! Deliveries should start this fall, and online preorders are available now!


TikTok Collecting Biometrics; Facebook-Trump & Politicians; Air Tags Update; Cops Can’t Get Ring Video Privately Now

A change to TikTok’s U.S. privacy policy has introduced a new section that says the social video app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from its users’ content. Techcrunch.com reports that this includes things like “faceprints and voiceprints”. They are claiming they will ask permission first.  While that may sound creepy, other social networks do object recognition on images you upload to power accessibility features, as well as for ad targeting purposes. Yeah..it’s still creepy.  

You have no doubt heard that Donald Trump is now suspended for 2 years from Facebook and Instagram. In addition to that, Facebook is also ending its controversial policy that mostly shields politicians from the content moderation rules that apply to other users, a sharp reversal that could have global ramifications for how elected officials use the social network. Theverge.com reports that the Facebook Oversight Board decided the “same rules should apply to all users.” Facebook is also set to begin disclosing when it uses a special newsworthiness exemption to keep up content from politicians and others that would otherwise violate its rules. 

Apple’s AirTag tracker discs are getting a firmware update to prevent them from being used to track unsuspecting third-parties (in other words, stalkers and exes.) According to cnet.com, existing AirTags will be updated automatically when in range of an internet-connected iPhone. Apple will cut the time before the tags away from the owner start to beep from 3 days to 8 to 24 hours. To further reassure people about its AirTags,  Apple also announced that it is working on an app for Android devices. That should be out by the end of the year. 

In an effort to lessen concerns about privacy and civil liberties, Amazon will require police departments seeking Ring doorbell video data to make public requests for the information in the open user portal and not anymore as private inquiries to individuals who possess the footage. Geekwire.com notes that an estimated 2,000 police departments across the country contract with Ring and the Neighbors app to get access to footage gathered by millions of the popular camera doorbells. 


Facebook Adding Features to Messenger and Instagram; TSMC Building Chip Plant in Arizona; Apple Trademarks May Reveal MacOS 12 Name; Trump Kills His Blog

Facebook is adding multiplayer AR to video calls in Messenger and Instagram. Think of the craziness that will reign when people in a game or chat start sharing the effects. By the way, cnet.com notes that none of the effects are actually new…but the sharing part and in gam part is. Expect some new material though…as Facebook is opening things to creators. Some are speculating that Facebook, via its Oculus division, will be adding hardware to that line that will support the expanded feature set in Messenger and Instagram.

TSMC is building a semiconductor plant in Arizona. Considering the chip shortage that has been raging since the pandemic, and the always present threat from China to Taiwan, this has to be considered a good thing. Reuters.com reports that TSMC expects to be building 5 nanometer chips there by 2024. Intel is also building 2 plants in Arizona, and TSMC plans up to 6 in the next 10-15 years. Samsung is also in the mix to be building in the US. 

It is always a big deal…at least until Apple actually releases an operating system update, then the name of the thing generally recedes, and we all call it macOS 12 (which is the upcoming version.) 9to5mac.com says that, after poring over trademarks for the OS, it looks like it will be either Monterey or Mammoth. Apple trademarked a number of area names from California in 2013-14. We already have seen Mavericks, Yosemite, El Capitan, Sierra, High Sierra, Mojave, Catalina, and Big Sur. I’m betting on Monterey. World Wide Developers Conference starts next week…virtually again. We will know soon about this and what host of features Cupertino has for Mac users that upgrade.

The blog ‘From the Desk of Donald J. Trump’ is dead. According to CNBC, quoting Trump aide Jason Miller, it was mainly intended as a backup to being kicked off Facebook permanently. The Facebook Oversight Board punted, and threw that decision back to Facebook. The Ex-president’s advisors must feel that Zuckerberg and company will allow him back on the platform by year’s end. Miller claims there is something else in the works. As engadget.com notes…’There’s always podcasts and TikTok…’


Pixel May Get Samsung’s Ultra-Thin, Folding Glass; iPhone 13-Maybe 18% Bump in Battery Capacity; Twitter Launching Local Weather Service; Amazon Customers Can Now Sue Amazon in Court

After a truly disastrous roll out and later restart of its folding phone offerings, Samsung seems to have hit a certain stride. There are almost no reports of the folders having the kind of problems the initial models had. Now, according to 9to5google.com, Samsung may be ready to sell its ultra-thin glass used in the folding models to others. At the top of the list, according to a late rumor…the Google Pixel! After an initial rumor of a folding Pixel over a year ago, the code name for that device has showed up again in the past few weeks. Meanwhile, expect to see a Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Flip 3 coming out from Samsung in August. 

There can never be too much when it comes to some things. One of those is smartphone battery capacity. Now, 9to5mac.com reports that we may see up to an 18% increase in the ones coming in the iPhone 13 models. It will be needed too, if the rumor that Apple is adding power hungry ProMotion displays and an always on display. Of course, the phones will be heavier, and most likely thicker with a beefier battery. 

In a move to roll out something that no one knows they need, Twitter is teaming up with veteran climate journalist and meteorologist Eric Holthaus in a local weather news service. Axios.com says it will be called ‘Tomorrow, and will be constructed with Twitter’s new creator products…which we’ve covered here, and include paid newsletters, ticketed live audio rooms and other creator products that can be monetized. The weather service expects to ramp up to 18 meteorologists, 20-30 climate writers, and a handful of part time editorial staffers. They will generate newsletters and long form content, ass well as members only short form material. If you are an uber weather junkie, and your phone apps just don’t cut it, maybe this will be for you!

Amazon has…up to now…required customer disputes to go to arbitration. After being swamped by thousands of individual arb cases, the online giant has quietly changed its terms of service: “Any dispute or claim relating in any way to your use of any Amazon Service will be adjudicated in the state or Federal courts in King County, Washington, and you consent to exclusive jurisdiction and venue in these courts. We each waive any right to a jury trial.”  Cnet.com notes that the cases have to be brought in Amazon’s ‘home court’ as it were, and I note that customers still have to waive their right to a jury trial…which realistically would have put Amazon at a hell of a disadvantage. Amazon was out millions in filing fees under the arbitration requirement…now, with customers having to file their own fees to get into court, it may stem the flood to some degree.