So It’s the ‘Metaverse’…We Just Live In It

Kara Swisher, in an MSNBC interview Tuesday, correctly called it that Facebook would not rebrand the actual platform, but an overall company— of which Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus would be divisions (just like Alphabet/Google.) Now, look for Zuck to become CEO of the holding company and basically disappear…letting some new person take the CEO chair of Facebook, and the slings and arrows that go with it. 


Facebook Refocusing on ‘Serving Young Adults’; Verizon Teams with Amazon For Rural Satellite Broadband; Microsoft tries (Yet Again) for K-12 Kids; Plastic Pollution Will Overtake Coal by 2030

In an investor call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he is re-aiming the company to “make serving young adults their north star.” He said they know usage among older users will grow more slowly that it otherwise would, but believes the new direction is ‘the right approach.’ Instagram will be the first to see changes, as they lean further into video and make Reels the centerpiece of the IG experience. This is an obvious attempt to try to stem the bleeding of young users to TikTok. Zuck called that platform “one of the most effective competitors we’ve ever faced.” With all the bad press from document leaks and testimony, Facebook fears regulation more than ever. Recent articles have noted that they can’t even buy a flack with connections to the Democrats in power to try to lobby for them. 

Amazon and Verizon are teaming up to bring better fixed wireless internet access in the rural US. CNBC says the partnership will initially aim at expanding Verizon’s LTE and 5G service, using Amazon’s Project Kuiper for ‘backhaul,’ boosting coverage in areas with little or no high-speed data. After that, Amazon and Verizon hope to offer unified internet accessor industries worldwide…including smart farms and transportation. The companies expect to have the full constellation of satellites in low earth orbit no later than July, 2029.

First Apple had a lock on K-12 school kid computing, then along came Google’s Chromebook. Now, Microsoft is taking another bite at the Apple…or Chrome (ouch…) with a new, low-cost 11.6 inch Surface laptop. According to zdnet.com, it will be powered by an Intel Celeron N4120 processor and have a plastic exterior. Redmond expects it to go head-to-head with Chromebooks. Up to now, Microsoft and its partners have put out devices that are just way more money, and schools have taken a pass. Most have run $400 to $550 a unit. Microsoft does say that they have a new edition of Windows 11 that will be aimed at schools. Besides getting right on price (they say…), the new edition will give schools a better way to manage the devices…something that has been lacking compared to what Chromebooks could do when it comes to simple provisioning, wiping, and re-provisioning.

As coal continues to lose market share, at least in the US, to the benefit of the environment, plastic is emerging to take its place…as soon as 2030. Arstechnica.com notes this doesn’t mean plastic grocery bags and the rings that hold a 6-pack of beer cans together. Plastic production is a large source of carbon pollution. Plastic production in the US generates at least 232 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses…this according to a report by Bennington College and the nonprofit Beyond Plastics. If nothing changes, that will increase by another 55 million tons. For comparison, coal belched out 786 million metric tons of CO2 last year….but coal dropped by 166 million metric tons between 2019 and 2020, so by 2030 plastic will be generating more to contribute to global warming. 


Facebook’s Declining Youth Numbers; Hertz Orders 100,000 Teslas; Pre-Release Intel Chip Edges Past Mac M-1 Max; Cardboard Shortage-Really?

Facebook is getting slammed by numerous line employees for the ongoing scandal around the platform’s inability to block (or refusal by top execs to stop) the organizing and ginning up of the January 6th insurrection. Many are outraged that the company has put their rather huge profits ahead of safety. Another leak points to why Zuck and co. may have done so. Theverge.com reports that teen use of Facebook in the US is down 13% since 2019, and is projected to drop another 45% the next 2 years! Young adults 20 to 30 are expected to drop by 4% over that time frame. According to internal documents, the social network is concerned about losing an entire generation. The part the top execs don’t seem to grasp is that the young people highly value truth and honesty….they are very idealistic, and plugged in…and many are probably leaving DUE to the platform’s refusing to block Stop the Steal and other inflammatory posts. The kids increasingly see Facebook as something for people in their 40’s, 50’s and up…not for them. All the misinformation and posts that keep older people angry and engaged are actually driving away the younger generation. It is unlikely that the planned name change will do anything to stop that. They really need to change their ways…and fast.

Good news and bad news at Tesla. First the good…or really great news. Hertz has ordered 100,000 Teslas, the biggest EV purchase ever. According to Bloomberg, that rings up the cash register to the tune of about $4.2 billion for the EV maker. The cost of the order indicates that Hertz is paying sticker price, and not getting a discount…rental car firms usually get a nice discount for fleet orders from car makers. Model 3’s will be available to rent in major USSS markets and parts of Europe by early November. 

On the down side, ‘issues’ have forced Tesla to pull its latest full self-driving beta. One of those is a ‘regression’ with left turns. Testers have posted about phantom forward collision warnings, too. Elon Musk says they are rolling back from version 10.3 to 10.2 temporarily. He Tweeted ‘Please note, this is to be expected with beta software. It is impossible to test all hardware configs in all conditions with internal QA, hence public beta.’

The past year, Apple’s M1 chip has embarrassed Intel’s chips with their speed and power. That era may over for a bit. Zdnet.com says that a pre-release version of Intel’s Alder Lake chip beats Apple’s latest M1 Max chip by a slim margin. The Intel chip bested the Apple one in both single-core and multi-core benchmarks. The Intel single-core score was 1851, while Apple’s was 1785. Multi-core it was 13256 to 12753. Both Intel and Apple blew past AMD’s top chip by a big margin, though. The Alder Lake CPU chips should be available by the end of the year in Windows machines.

After the Great Toilet Paper shortage, then computer chips and other shortages of numerous items, here’s one we didn’t see coming….a cardboard shortage! Relax…the biggest buyer of cardboard, Amazon, is first in line, and you will get your packages! Arstechnica.com reports that many of the mills that produce cardboard around the world were down due to the pandemic for periods of time. Now, they are scrambling to make up orders. Adding to the issue…the power outage in Texas last winter closed plants that produce plastic from oil, and some shippers had to switch to cardboard instead. What you can expect is smaller shippers that don’t have Amazon’s clout may have delays in getting your stuff, or may have to use some interesting alternative packaging!


Facebook Name Game; Netflix Beats the Street; Apple Delays AR Headset; Backblaze IPO With Little Venture Cash

Years ago, a number of the tobacco companies diversified into food and changed the corporate name when the bad publicity started stacking up. Facebook has been getting plenty of heat lately, and appears to be taking a page out of Big Tobacco’s book…a rebranding is looming…maybe by the end of this week. Theverge.com reports that Facebook will position the renaming as a change of focus…with the company claiming to be building ‘the metaverse.’ The name change is expected to be covered in detail by CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the annual Connect conference coming up on October 28th. At this point, the name is a closely held secret…known only to a few top folks besides Zuck. It’s worth noting that the social networking giant does have some 10,000 people building hardware like AR glasses…which both Facebook and Apple see eventually replacing smartphones. Of course, in 2015, Google rebranded to Alphabet, but does anyone really ever call them that? Nope. They’re still Google! 

Netflix beat expected earnings yesterday. According to cnbc.com, they brought home $3.19 in earnings per share instead of the $2.56 expectation. Revenues hit expectations, at $7.48 billion. Even with more people going back to work, Netflix paid subscribers world wide grew to 4.4 million, while the forecasts are for 3.84 million. The latest greatest show, ’Squid Game,’ grabbed 142 million households watching in its first 4 weeks streaming! 

Apple has delayed its AR headset…now, to the end of 2022. This according to appleinsider.com, citing the often reliable Ming-Chi Kuo. Apparently, Cupertino is still working on design details, and wants to have the device ecosystem built up before rolling them out. Kuo noted that “The AR/MR HMD requires much more industrial design requirements than smartphones because the comfort of wearing them involves so many design details,” Kuo writes. “Therefore, we believe Apple continues to test the best industrial design solutions so far.” Apple intends to have a more multi-purpose headset, not one tied to gaming and entertainment exclusively. The initial headset is still expected to rely heavily on the iPhone for processing functions.

Backblaze has taken very little venture money over the years…in fact, less than $3 million since they started in 2007. Techcrunch.com reports they have done an IPO now, issuing $10 million in convertible notes. What the devil is Backblaze? Glad you asked. They are most simply a cloud backup and storage company. For companies and developers, it’s useful to be able to store your info, but for most reading this, its the computer backup product that makes them. For around $70 a year, you can back up your stuff effortlessly in the background…and should things go south, you can restore from the cloud, or get your data on a USB drive, a hard drive, or burned to a DVD. NOTE: I have used this service and actually knew the spouse of one of the renegades from Apple who started it. I’ve only desperately needed a file I accidentally deleted a couple times, but the service made it about as easy as Apple’s Time Machine to go back and grab them. A pretty remarkable company to have made it so far, and grown to a $60 million business after only borrowing $3 million in venture money, and NEVER losing money. 


New Google Pixels Bow; Foxconn Unveils 3 EVs; Amazon Will Add 150K Seasonal Workers

A great deal leaked out in advance about the latest Google Pixels, but today we have confirmation…as well as pricing and other info. Google showed off its Pixel 6 and 6 Pro today. According to theverge.com, both are available for preorder now, and will ship October 28th. Probably the biggest reveal is the pricing. The Pixel is $599 and the Pro $899…undercutting the prices of market leading Apple and Samsung phones. Not only that, but the price point gets you 128 gigs of storage in both…upgradable to 256 gigs in the Pixel and 512 in the pro (for extra $, of course!)

One of the big things leaked about the new Pixels is that they feature a system on a chip like Apple’s latest iPhones.The custom-designed ARM is called Tensor, and Google says it is competitive with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. 

Also leaked and confirmed is the 50MP back camera main sensor. It is ‘hard coded’ to output 12.5 MP images. It is larger than the iPhone 13 sensor, and Google says it will take in 150% more light than the previous Pixel cam. There is also a 12MP ultra wide cam, and if you go for the Pro, you also get a 4x telephoto shooter. This beats out the iPhone 13 in physical telephoto, but still isn’t close to the 10x lens on the Samsung top line phones. 

The cheaper Pixel has an 8MP selfie cam, and the Pro and 11.1MP one. The back cams don’t live in a bump, but a bar or ‘shelf’, that goes all the way across the back of the phone. A new processor lets you edit out items in your pix…Google’s ‘magic eraser.’ You can edit out elements like poles, or even people that barge into your shots. 

The screens are 6.4 inch for the Pixel and 6.7 inches for the Pro, and both are OLED displays. Both phones ship with Android 12 installed. Will all this and the lower price be enough to put a dent in Samsung and Apple’s grip on the market? Time will tell, but it would be nice to have another major brand to give them a run for the money.

Foxconn, mainly known as a supplier (particularly of Apple products like the iPhone line) has unveiled 3 new EV’s! The top sedan is designed by famous Italian design house Pininfarina…which has styled Ferraris and other high end sports cars for decades. Cnet.com reports that Foxconn will be marketing the cars through partnerships. In addition to the EV sedan, there is an electric SUV and and electric bus. Foxconn says the SUV will have the space of a large luxury car, but with a smaller footprint for city driving. They are claiming a range of 434 miles on a charge, and a 0-62 time of 3.8 seconds! The vehicles sport names much like Tesla’s…with the SUV called the Model C, and the sedan the Model E. The sedan is claimed to have a range of 466 miles and do 0-62 in 2.8 seconds. The bus is called the Model T…which obviously won’t be available as a brand in the US, since the Model T was a rather famous and widely sold model of Ford cars. Foxconn did pick up Lordstown Motors’ car factory in Ohio, and has bought a chip making plant. They will be marketed in a joint venture with Yulon Motors…which already has the Foxtron name. 

Amazon is ramping up for the holidays, looking to hire on some 150,000 seasonal workers. Geekwire.com says Amazon already employs more than 1.3 million people worldwide, counting both full and part time. Average starting pay will be $18 an hour for these roles, and Amazon is offering a $3000 signing bonus, plus a $3 per hour shift differential for a number of locations. 


Apple’s MacBook Pro Event 

As expected, Apple rolled out new 14 and 16 inch MacBook Pro models today. Also expected…a newer, faster version of the M1 Apple-designed chip…but Apple provided something of a Steve Jobs style ‘one more thing’ that was a surprise. There are actually TWO new chips…the M1 Pro and the M1 Max. Both are many times faster and more efficient that the M1 chip…which will stay in the Mac line. Also predicted…more ports, and Apple didn’t disappoint on that account. The base model with the M1 Pro chip has 3 Thunderbolt 4 ports, PLUS an HDMI port and SDXC port AND…a new version of the beloved MagSafe called MagSafe3. You can still charge over the Thunderbolt (USB-C) ports, too. 

The new MacBook Pros come with mini-LED displays, and Apple has a notch…like on the iPhone…at the top for the new, 1080p camera, light, and sensors.  The notch actually lives inside the top bar, so really doesn’t eat up any useable screen space. There is a 6 speaker sound system with ‘spatial audio’ included. Apple is also claiming 2-4 times better battery life, and crows about 17 hours battery for video playback. 

The 14 inch model starts at $1999 and the 16 inch one at $2499. You can order today, and they will start deliveries or pickup next week! 

In addition to the MacBook Pro models, Apple revealed the 3rd generation AirPods. The new models start at $179, and can be ordered now, and will be available on October 26th. Like the Macs, they feature ‘spatial audio,’ which Apple claims is as immersive as the theater experience, and a step beyond stereo. out of the charging case, they immediately pair with all your Apple devices…a very nice, slick feature lacking on other ear buds. 


Samsung Unpacked 2 Oct. 20th; Sony & TSMC May Partner to Ease Chip Shortage; Future AirPods Might Monitor Body Temp; Facebook ‘Dangerous’ List Leaked

Samsung has announced its Unpacked 2 event for next Wednesday, October 20th. According to theverge.com, it will be online only, and will be at 7AM Pacific, 10AM Eastern. It may not be for next gen Galaxy phones, but could be iterations on existing models. The date is interesting, because it appears that Apple and Samsung, the two biggest smartphone players, are bracketing Google, and will likely steal most of the thunder for their Pixel event on Tuesday the 19th. Apple, of course, announced earlier this week that they will hold an event on Monday, the 18th (instead of the usual Tuesday.) Although the Apple event is expected to be MacBook Pro centric, the coverage of it will spill into Tuesday, and then…boom…along comes Samsung to steal more of Google’s Pixel thunder. We will do our best to cover all three here, however!

It’s not a done deal, but the world chip shortage may make for some strange corporate bedfellows. Engadget.com reports that Sony and TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor) are looking at joint creation of a semiconductor factor in Japan…specifically in the western Kumamoto Prefecture. TSMC would have majority ownership, but the plant would operate on Sony land. The Japanese government is allegedly poised to pony up about half of the $7 billion investment. Chips would be made for cameras, cars, and other products. 

Apple continues to have an intense interest in health when it comes to their products…from iPhones, to the Apple Watch, and now AirPods. Appleinsider.com says future AirPods might have amplifications like a hearing aid, be able to monitor core body temperature, and track a user’s posture…a feature I would certainly have to turn off if I ever used AirPods! Apple already has patents for sensors to track heart rate, movement, and other health metrics. No timetable for any of these at this point, though. 

The intercept has published a Facebook list of ‘dangerous individuals and organizations’ that was leaked. The social network bans more than 4,000 people and groups that the company considers dangerous…including white supremacists, militarized social movements and alleged terrorists. More than half of the list consists of alleged foreign terrorists that are predominately Middle Eastern, South Asian and Muslim. Facebook has a three-tiered system that indicates the type of enforcement the company will take in regard to content. Terrorist groups, hate groups and criminal organizations are part of the most restrictive level, Tier 1. The least restrictive level, Tier 3, includes militarized social movements, which The Intercept said “is mostly right-wing American anti-government militias, which are virtually entirely white.”


Apple Event Next Tuesday; Amazon-Remote Work Choice Up to Team Head; Twitter Unwanted Follower Tool to Desktop; Woz Co Wants to Be Google Maps of Space; Chevy Bolt Battery Recall Underway

Apple today announced that it will be holding a special event on Monday, October 18 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time. The event is set to take place at the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, and macrumors.com notes it will once again be a digital only event.

In their latest policy move, Amazon has said they will leave remote work decisions to individual team leaders. According to geekwire.com, Amazon had initially planned to bring all corporate employees back to the office in January. Amazon had previously planned for 3 days in the office, and two days remote as part of an ‘office-centric’ policy. There is one caveat…employees must be close enough to be able to easily travel into the office for a meeting on a day’s notice. Some companies have continually pushed back their return to office date…Microsoft, for instance. Numerous articles have been written about the excitement of executives about having offices filled back up, but the major lack of enthusiasm by most employees…who have enjoyed being productive without burning up hours a day (to say nothing of burning up money) commuting to and from an office. 

Now, all Twitter users can remove a follower without having to block them. Engadget.com reports that Twitter started testing a new tool last month to do this, and as of now, everyone has access to it. To quietly stop someone from seeing your tweets in their feed, go to the Followers tab on your profile, click the three-dot menu next to the user in question and select the “Remove this follower” option. The feature is part of Twitter’s effort to remove harassment from the platform. Blocking trolls and jerks often leads to retaliation, while this will be more like hiding someone from your news feed on Facebook without ‘unfriending’ them, which can be seen if they have a third party plug in. 

Recently, it was revealed that Steve Wozniak was involved in a space startup called Privateer. Now, it turns out that the company he co-founded with Alex Fielding won’t really be a direct competitor with SpaceX, Blue Origin, or Virgin. Techcrunch.com says they intend to become ‘the Google Maps of space.’ Privateer plans to map every piece of space junk orbiting the earth, so the mess of space crap we have launched into orbit over the past decades can be removed. Fielding pointed out that orbital clean up companies would like to get started, but don’t have the resolution to locate everything accurately….they only have a resolution of about 3-400 km. From the clean up of junk, Woz and Fielding really do intend for the company to be the Google Maps of space…precisely locating everything within range, which should go a long way in making space exploration safer and more achievable. 

The recall of virtually every single Chevy Bolt has started. The huge black eye to GM’s small EV is expected to cost Almost $2 billion, as they replace every single battery pack after a software fix failed. Arstechnica.com notes it will be a 2 day job at the dealerships, and LG, which supplied the defective battery packs, will shoulder nearly all of the cost. The new battery packs will be covered by an 8 year, 100,000 mile warranty. This is probably the biggest recall due to fire danger since the Ford Pinto in the 1970’s. GM is proceeding full speed ahead on electrification, but it remains to be seen if the Bolt will survive. The Bolt small SUV generally got rave reviews before the fire hazard emerged.


Instagram ‘Take a Break’; Congress Doesn’t Get TikTok; Google Pixel 6 Cam; 85% World Population Affected by Climate Change-German AI

Facebook continues in siege mode, announcing a new ‘take a break’ feature, and measures aimed at nudging teens away from harmful content. Yesterday, Facebook rolled out VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ to tout the features. Also coming online…optional controls for parents to supervise teens (and of you think that will work, I have a big, orange bridge between San Francisco and Marin County to sell you). Clegg didn’t give a timeline for when the features will launch, so may be in the vaporware stage at this point. Clegg did say that Facebook’s algorithms “should be held to account, if necessary, by regulation so that people can match what our systems say they’re supposed to do from what actually happens.” Will all this be enough to keep the government from making Facebook spin off Instagram and WhatsApp? Stay tuned. 

While members of Congress from both sides of the aisle seem appropriately fired up about regulating Facebook and its subsidiaries, TikTok…owned by ByteDance out of China, seems to be under the radar. The Atlantic reports that most lawmakers (and older people in general) just think of it as a dance/video app. We reported last week on its explosive growth- now up to some one billion plus users….mostly younger ones. Besides dance and entertainment, it appears a significant number of teens are getting their news and discussing politics on the platform. Remember the use of the app last year to overbook tickets to a Trump rally in Tulsa. Yes, it was a teen prank, but gives one indication of the power of the app. Congress should have its eye on TikTok every bit as much as on Facebook and it’s Instagram. 

More info has leaked out about the upcoming Google Pixel 6 phones. 9to5google.com says the camera captures 150% more light. Apparently, both Pixel 6 models will sport a 50MP primary sensor for the cams! The Pixel 6 Pro will have a 12MP ultra wide camera and a 48MP 4X telephoto, which will be exclusive to that model. A feature previously leaked, ‘Magic Eraser,’ was again confirmed, but no real details to flesh it out. It is apparently powered by Google Photos, and will be able to erase ’stranger and unwanted objects’ from you photos. Also expected: face de-blur and better handling of skin tones. The reveal event is October 19th.

Researchers in Germany used AI to crunch over 60,000 climate change studies, and the result? 85% of humanity is affected by human-induced climate change. Cnet.com notes that the AI also determined that climate change is not only here, but will get a lot worse if we don’t act very soon. The study was led by Max Callaghan of Berlin’s Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change. The changes not only affect 85% of us, but impact 80% of the land people inhabit. 


Public Opinion of Big Tech Dips; Amazon Working on Smart Fridge; EU Parliament Calls for Ban of Facial Recognition in Public Spaces; AirPod Pro and Max Get ‘Find My’ Access

The Verge has released their latest survey of 1,200 US adults, and here’s what they think of Big Tech at this point: 66% view Facebook favorably, down from 71% in 2020, compared to 79% for Apple (down 2%), 87% for Amazon (down 4%), and 90% for Google. Theverge.com has been doing the survey since 2017. This year, they added TikTok. 31% recognized the brand, but a whopping 64% of those surveyed replied that they don’t trust it. There is also an increased interest in breaking up Big Tech. This year, 61 percent of our respondents said that the government should split up tech companies if they get too big; last year, only 56 percent of people said that. 

As if the little rolling robot dog ‘Astro’ wasn’t enough, Amazon is reported to be working on a smart fridge that ‘helps’ you shop. Cnet.com says it detects your groceries through computer vision and can order more food when you start to run low. If this is introduced, ‘Whole Paycheck’ (Amazon-owned Whole Foods) could become ‘Whole Paycheck and a Loan!’ The smart fridge has apparently been in development for several years. Amazon will likely not be making a fridge, but will provide the tech to appliance makers…and they have had talks with some already. Samsung already has a fridge with computer vision which can now access Alexa. Like the food from Whole Foods, the fridge won’t be cheap, and it won’t be aimed at the low end or mass market when it eventually rolls out.

It’s showing up everywhere, and it’s controversial everywhere. Facial recognition…which some developers have claimed has accuracy in the high 90% range…but some evidence points to it not even being 80% reliable, is in the sights of the European Parliament. According to engadget.com, that body voted on a non-binding resolution 377-248 to ban the use of automated facial recognition in public spaces. The MEPs said citizens should only be monitored when they are suspected of a crime. They are also calling for EU officials to ban private facial recognition database (some law enforcement agencies in Europe are using Clearview AI‘s one), as well as “predictive policing based on behavioral data.” As the resolution is only non-binding, it won’t really have an effect right away, but is a big shot over the bow when it comes to facial recognition tech.

Apple has not integrate4d AirPods Pro and AirPods Max with their ‘Find My’ service. Appleinsider.com reports that the new firmware is being pushed out, and you may be able to set your ear buds by your phone and get the update…but it is a rolling one, so be patient. Apple notes that the ear buds only use Bluetooth, and don’t have the Ultra Wideband chip, so the location info won’t be as exact as with AirTags. You can put the AirPods into the operation alert function, so you will get a notice if you take off and leave them laying somewhere, too. One thing that isn’t clear…will it work with the ear buds themselves individually, or only the case. For example, if you happen to lose one…which happens, can you locate that one, or will Find My just home in on the case and good luck finding the lost AirPod.