DOJ Looking at Google Maps; Smartphone Demand Softening-TSMC; Apple May Enter 1st Party Financial Services; Dyson’s Wild Headphones With Air Purifier

The EU has been on Google’s case about stifling competition. Now, the US Department of Justice is getting in on the act. Arstechnica.com reports that the DOJ is looking at Google’s bundling of Android Automotive….the product that runs in cars, as opposed to the Android Auto app that runs on phones. The DOJ, like the EU, is looking at the crushing of competition from Google’s bundling of maps…which also requires the manufacturers to take the Play Store, Google Assistant, and YouTube Music. It is a bit puzzling that the DOJ hasn’t gone after the app for phones, as there are  more of those in use than the software in cars (like 2.5 billion), but hey…it’s the government, LOL! Android Automotive is only baked into about 10 vehicles so far, but will be in all 2023 Fords. The DOJ is also taking issue with how Google limits the use of Maps data for app and website developers, and how Google blocks use of Maps data use with any other mapping service. No suit has been filed by the DOJ as yet.

We reported earlier this week about Apple cutting iPhone SE production 20% just weeks after rolling out the new model. Now comes word from TSMC that demand is softening for smartphones. 9to5mac.com says that actually, Apple’s sales are doing better than any other maker, but the slowdown is primarily in China, and is being attributed to increasing chip prices and the Russian war in Ukraine. In addition to phones, PCs an TVs are seeing reduced demand, too. China is the biggest market for cell phones. Analysts at Bank of America say demand in the US for Apple’s phones is still strong. Apple has already had ‘buy now, pay later’ payment plans with no interest charged on iPhones, Watches, and computers. They are reportedly working on a hardware subscription program, where you would basically lease an iPhone for a period of time, then it would go back to Apple and you would lease a newer model. 

Apple has been working under the radar to provide first party financial services without the need for outside partners. According to appleinsider.com, the project is codenamed ‘Breakout.’ Apple wants to do their own payment processing, risk assessment, fraud analysis, credit checks, and other customer service functions. Up to now, Apple has been using Goldman Sachs for the Apple Card and its own financing programs, as well as CoreCard Corp. and Green Dot Corp. Apple would like to offer the Apple Card outside the US. 

Dyson is getting into headphones in the most Dyson way possible: the Zone, a pair of noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones with air purification technology built in, thanks to a bizarre-looking magnetic face visor. It’s both the strangest and most ambitious product that the company has ever made. According to theverge.com, the visor, which looks like a modern, cleaner Bane mask from the Batman universe, doesn’t touch your face, but furnishes a layer of clean, pure air. The rather heavy headset won’t be out until fall, and no battery life figure or price yet (although considering it’s Dyson, it will be a bundle!) Tech reviewers who have had a listen say it sounds very good, but not great or better than other high end headphones. It does have noise reduction…which you need, since the purifier visor has little fans in it.


Google Building Bluetooth Tracker into Android; Messenger Gets New Shortcuts; Waymo Bringing Driverless Rides to SF; Hamburger Vending Machine in New Jersey Mall

Apple waited a while to jump into the tracker business (which Tile had championed for several years), and quickly sucked plenty of air out of that room. Now, Google is getting into Bluetooth tracking…but with a twist…building it directly into Android. 9to5google.com reports that code has been spotted that would allow for tracking. After initially only being an Apple to Apple feature, Apple pushed out ‘Tracker Direct’ last year to let Android users track AirTags, and Tile launched such a feature this month. Google is apparently baking in the feature in a yet to be released version of Android. In mid-March, a pre-release version of Android showed up with ‘unfamiliar device alerts’ and ‘Unfamiliar Tag Detected Notification.’ What Google appears to be making won’t have to be activated by the user to scan for nearby trackers…it will be on in the background. As is always true with this kind of in the weeds find in a software build, no clue as to when or if it might be released into the wild, or what other features Google might add.

Facebook’s (Meta) Messenger is picking up some new shortcuts that will let you send silent replies, or ping everybody in a group chat, like Slack allows for. According to theverge.com, those two shortcuts are available now, and there will be more unveiled in the next few weeks. For example, /pay will let you send or request money right from the Messenger chatbox on both iOS and Android. You will also be able to key in /gif and a topic and get a selection of graphics to drop into your chat. (As with everything computers, this is all relative…when I typed ‘chatbox’ above as well as just now, auto-correct helpfully changed it to ‘hatbox.’ Who the hell these days uses or needs to type hatbox?

Waymo is getting set to offer totally driverless rides in San Francisco…with NO safety driver aboard! Theverge.com says the Google (Alphabet) subsidiary is going to test the program on employees first, but will then expand to members of its ‘Trusted Tester’ program. I have always joked about being into work in San Francisco unless I get hit by a bus…now, it looks like I will have to update to being hit by a driverless car! Waymo has been running driverless rides outside Phoenix for over a year now, and is also going to add downtown Phoenix in addition to SF. Eventually, the service is expected to expand to regular humans. General Motors’ Cruise division has been running driverless car tests in San Francisco for quite a while, now. The last several years, you would have been hard-pressed to walk a block or two in SF without seeing a Waymo car, one from Cruise, or a Zoosk vehicle tooling down the street. 

It won’t do any good to yell at it if it messes up your burger order. A startup has put a hamburger vending machine in Jersey City’s Newport Centre Mall. RoboBurger says its robot burger vending machine will be the ‘biggest innovation in hot food vending since the invention of the microwave. Engadget.com reports that the contraption takes about 6 minutes to make you your burger…using a process that’s pretty much the same as a fast food restaurant’s. Automated grill fries the burger while the bun is toasted elsewhere in the 12×12 box. It supposedly will ad ketchup, cheese, etc based on what you key in when you order the sandwich. The startup says it has a built in cleaning system that meets the National Sanitary Foundation’s standards. RoboBurger says they do use grass-fed Angus beef. They plan to expand to a number of other malls and airports this year. Yum?


Apple Paring Back iPhone SE Production; Sony Reviser Game Subs Service; TikTok Offers TikTok Library in-App Creation Tool; Get a Text From Yourself-Yep, Spam

After only rolling out the new iPhone SE weeks ago, Apple is already scaling back production. Macrumors.com reports that Apple is doing this due to uncertainty caused by the current global conflict, but also because of low demand for the low line iPhone. Apple has also cut iPhone 13 production, but most Apple watchers say that is due to regular seasonal demand change. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says he looks for 15-20 million SE phones to be shipped in 2022 instead of 25 million.

In a move to better compete with Xbox’s Game Pass, Sony has officially rolled out its revised game subscription service. According to engadget.com, Sony will stick with PlayStation Plus branding, but now it will be a 3 tier service. They pour PS Plus and PlayStation Now into the 3 tier service. The new middle tier is PlayStation Plus Extra. The base service is $10 a month, with the Extra tier running $15 a month. The top tier, now called PlayStation PlusDeluxe, is $18 a month, but each has a slew of payment options…the better to confuse gamers and suck more money out of them….just like all subscription services that are the darling of the tech industry right now.

TikTok has announced a new in-app creation tool called TikTok Library. It is intended to make it easier for creators to access entertainment content and participate in trends. Techcrunch.com says it will initially be populated with content from GIPHY, but TikTok says more content sources will be added. The videos and clips can be shared anywhere across the web with a link. 

PSA- If you get a text from your own number, it’s spam. This trick has been tried before, but it’s baaaak, so beware. 9to5mac.com notes that most say something to the effect that your cell phone bill is paid, and here’s ‘a little gift for you.’ Clicking the link is really a gift for the scammers, as they will need your info to send you the ‘gift.’ DON’T tap that link!


New AMD Release Date; Amazon Gets EU Approval to Buy MGM; Now There’s A Robot Goat; Tesla- 2nd Price Raise in a Month

AMD’s latest desktop processor, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, has finally gotten a release date and price after being announced earlier this year at CES 2022. It’ll hit stores next month on April 20th for $449, ushering in what AMD proudly declares to be the “world’s fastest gaming processor. The new Ryzen 7 5800X3D is extremely similar to the original Ryzen 7 5800X model, with eight cores, 16 threads, and compatibility with AMD’s AM4 socket. But there’s one major difference: the Ryzen 7 5800X3D marks the debut of AMD’s 3D-stacking V-Cache technology, allowing AMD to up the L3 cache from 32MB to 96MB. The company says that the additional cache should translate to about a 15 percent boost in overall performance compared to the Ryzen 5900X .

European Union officials have unconditionally rubber stamped Amazon’s $845 million bid to buy famed movie and TV studio MGM. Engadget.com purports that the European Commission’s antitrust regulators determined there was limited overlap between the companies and said the merger wouldn’t severely reduce competition in the theatrical film and audio-visual content markets. Amazon still needs to get the sign off from the US Federal Trade Commission….that doesn’t look like a slam dunk, as a recent report had the FTC looking at an anti-trust lawsuit.

 Spot the Boston Dynamics robot dog regularly makes headlines —  but robot dogs and even humanoid ones are old news now that Kawasaki has created a robotic, rideable goat. According to CNET.com, the goat has been dubbed Bex, because it’s really supposed to be an ibex, which refers to certain species of wild goat. It has horns that light up, and delicate legs that can be lowered and then sprout wheels. And it’s strong enough that a full-sized human can mount it like a horse and ride it around. Bex can carry light cargo or crops, and it contains cameras that can help with industrial plant inspections. Its upper body can be adapted for different needs, depending on how it’s going to be used. It can carry up to 220 pounds.

Tesla has raised the prices of its electric vehicles for the second time within the month. After adding $1,000 to some long-range models last week, the automaker has now implemented a much larger price increase across its lineup. As Electrek  notes, its prices now start at $46,990 for the base Model 3. Meanwhile, Model Y’s prices now start at $62,990. For both Model S options, Tesla has added $5,000 on top of their previous prices, so you’ll have to spend at least $99,990 for one. One of the materials affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is nickel, with its prices soaring and more than doubling since the war started. Russia is a key supplier of the metal, which is a critical component of lithium-ion batteries used by Tesla and other EV manufacturers.


iPhone Factory on Hold-COVID Lockdown; Website Breaks Through Russian Iron Curtain; Subaru Sunsets Gas WRX STI-Future EV? Smartwatch Market Grows 24%

Well, we may be done with COVID-19, but it isn’t done with us yet. Foxconn has had to shut down iPhone factory operations in Shenzhen due to the local Chinese government locking things down due to a new COVID-19 outbreak there. 9to5mac.com reports that Foxconn operates two campuses there dedicated to building the popular Apple phones. Foxconn, fortunately, has built out other plants over the last few years, and is shifting a lot of production to them. They have facilities in India, Mexico, South America, and elsewhere. The lockdown is in effect until March 20th. Huawei, DJI, and Tencent have also had to temporarily suspend operations there due to the lockdown.

Russia has been systematically chasing out foreign journalists and shutting down social media in an effort to feed propaganda about the Ukraine war to its citizens without any of that….you know…pesky actual accurate news. According to engadget.com, a group of Polish programmers have built a website called Squad303 that randomly generates a phone number or email address for you to contact. It draws from a database that has some 20 million cell numbers and around 140 million email addresses. People have been using it to send some nearly 7 million texts and 2 million emails in Russian to the phones of Russians…including images and videos from the Ukraine war. Some of the pro-Putin Russian TV presenters have complained about getting massive amounts of these texts showing the reality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is bad enough for the Russians, that you may have heard of police there stopping people on the street and demanding to see their text messages…or they will confiscate your phone and arrest you! 

Subaru is sunsetting its halo WRX STI. The WRX series has been something of the Corvette of Subaru…I’ve known a couple guys who had them and raced the quick rascals on weekends. Now, theverge.com says that the company has no plans to build a newer gas version…BUT….they are looking at an EV version in the next generation of WRX STI. The first Subaru electric…the Solterra, will go on sale this year, and sports a 71.4kWh battery pack. A good-sized battery pack with a couple electric motors in an updated WRX would be a real screamer!

It was a market that was slower than expected to get traction, but smartwatches are showing up more and more now. In fact, counterpointresearch.com reports that global smartwatch shipments grew 24% year over year in 2021, after a lackluster 2020 due to COVID-19. The 4th quarter was the highest ever, with 40 million reported shipped. Health and fitness continue to be the main drivers, and more of the devices are supporting cellular. Apple slipped a couple of points, but continues to dominate with 30.1% of the market. Samsung is a distant 2nd with 10.2%. Huawei takes 3rd with 7.7%, with a couple unfamiliar (in the US) brands at 4th and 5th. Garmin has just 4.6%, with Fitbit surprisingly at only 3.8%.


VW Electric Microbus Finally Coming; Sony Suspends Playstation Sales in Russia; House Asks DOJ to Look at Amazon Over Obstruction of Congress; Twitter Testing New Accessibility Features

Some 5 years ago, VW got the world excited with a car of the future type rendering of an electric VW Microbus. Now, it appears it is about to become a reality. According to techcrunch.com, the ID.Buzz and ID.Buzz Cargo will go on sale third quarter of this year in Europe. A long wheelbase passenger model will debut in North American in 2023 and go on sale in 2024! The rig is based on the platform the VW group has developed that will run under Audi, Seat, Skoda, and VW to help with cost effectiveness of producing EVs. The EV Microbus will be built at the VW main plant in Hannover. Sadly, a futuristic feature from the dream van will be missing from the actual vehicle. The ID. Buzz will not have an “autonomous mode,” in which the steering wheel retracts and merges into the instrument panel and then wisks its passengers to their destination. 

Joining over 200 other companies in the West, Sony has suspended all PlayStation sales in Russia over the Ukraine war. The PlayStation Store will also no longer be available in Russia. CNBC reports that Sony will also donate $2 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and to Save the Children, in support of those in Ukraine. 

On a day when Amazon has announced a 20 for 1 stock split, the House Judiciary Committee has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the giant company for possible criminal obstruction of Congress. According to Engadget.com, Members from both sides of the aisle complained in a letter to the DOJ that Amazon declined to provide info related to an antitrust investigation, relating to how they treat their third party sellers. The investigation started in 2019, and included Apple, Meta (Facebook then), and Alphabet (Google.) only Amazon has been accused of obstruction.

Twitter is trialing new accessibility feature to make alt text descriptions much more useful. According to theverge.com, images that have a description will sport a badge that says ALT, and clicking the badge will show the description. According to Twitter, around 3 percent of users will get to try out the new features for a month, and it’ll roll out globally at the beginning of April. Until then, it seems like most people still won’t have access to alt text descriptions unless they’re using a screen reader or are willing to jump through a lot of hoops. Twitter has been way behind others on accessibility, not actually getting a dedicated team until 2020. Prior to that, some staffers just did work voluntarily, in addition to their regular gigs there. 


Spring Applepalooza

Apple rolled out refreshed iPhone SE and iPad Air models today, as expected, and also bowed a couple of new products which had been rumored…that will fit nicely into their Mac line. As for the third gen iPhone SE, the form factor is the same, and still one cam and just touch ID…but the diminutive iPhone gets the A15 Bionic Chip, 5G connectivity, and 12MP cams and the better cam software. It will run $429…cheap (for an Apple product!) You can preorder starting on March 11th, and they will be available March 18th.

As for the freshened iPad Air (Ok, sorry about that, ha, ha), it gets the M1 Apple silicon, 5G connectivity in the models with cellular, and new colors. As with the iPhone SE, it also has a 12MP ultra wide front camera and supports Apple Center Stage. You can use the 2nd gen Apple Pencil with it, too. The base model is $599, and as with the SE, preorders start this Friday, with availability in store and delivery March 18th. 

A pro level Mac with a less eye-watering price has been rumored, and it was unveiled today. It’s the Mac Studio. The Studio will have the M1 chip for a base, with a brand new M1 Ultra in the top line version. The Studio looks like a larger Mac Mini, and can sit on a desktop. It is about the same footprint as the Mini, but twice as tall. This is designed for music, movie, graphics, and software creators. It is a la carte…you pick what keyboard, trackpad, and monitor(s) you need. It will support up to four Pro Display XDR monitors. The base model with the M1 Max chip starts at $1999. WIth the blazing fast and powerful new M1 Ultra chip, you’ll drop $3999. You can order for first availability March 18th. 

Up to now, the only Apple branded display has run about $5 grand, and has mainly been positioned with the Mac Pro. Today, they showed off the Apple Studio Display, a new monitor intended for use with the Mac Studio above, but also with other Macs. It’s a 27 inch screen with 5K, 6 speakers that will support Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, and a 12MP camera that supports Center Stage. It has a built in A13 Bionic processor, too. The new display will run $1599. You can order it right now, and it will be out March 18th.


US Speeds Plan to Cut Truck Pollution, Netflix Axes Russian Service; Tech Worker Burnout Crisis; Sony & Honda Joint Deal Building EVs

The Biden administration is accelerating the move to clean up truck emissions. Theverge.com reports that the EPA has proposed a new rule that would require new trucks to reduce harmful nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent from current standards by 2031. Biden is also taking aim at greenhouse gas pollution by boosting efforts to switch out diesel-burning vehicles with electric or hydrogen-powered trucks and buses. This follows an infusion of cash for cleaner-burning vehicles laid out in the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year.

Netflix becomes the latest to exit from Russia over the weekend. Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and PayPal have all cut off the country, according to cnet.com. Now, Russian citizens have to stand in long lines at banks to get their rubles that are now worth around a penny. That and no Netflix ought to make for a pretty irate public. Late last week, Russian police were stopping people and demanding to read their texts on phones, or face arrest and confiscation of their cell phones. Meanwhile, with most foreign press and social media shut down, Ukrainians have taken to texting pictures of Russians bombing cities and killing civilians in Ukraine. They have gone to thousands of cell phones in Russia…including those of tv presenters that have been pumping out propaganda for Putin. 

This will come as no great surprise to anyone who works in or is around people who work in tech and IT, but there is a ‘burnout crisis’ happening. Now, there are some stats to back that up. ZDnet.com says that a study by mental well being platform Yerbo, which included 36,200 IT pros from 33 countries, found that 2 out of 5 were at high risk of burnout. Its all the result of longer hours, more demanding workloads and conflicts in work-life balance. 42% of IT workers who are facing high levels of burnout are considering quitting their company in the next six months, Yerbo found, while 62% of IT professionals report being “physically and emotionally drained”. Again, not a shock…but a validation….and something the tech industry had better get moving in addressing.

In case you missed it, late last week Sony and Honda signed a memo of understanding to build EVs together. Engadget.com reports that it isn’t yet a final deal, but would marry Sony’s infotainment, mobile, and image sensor expertise with Honda’s car building and sales savvy. Honda will design, manufacture and market the first model, with Sony creating the mobility service platform. After coming late to the EV party, Honda now says it will shift its entire lineup to EVs by 2040. Some makers will be 100% EV by 2030. 


Amazon Closing 68 Retail Locations; Ford Splits EV Division from Gas; Google Blocks RT & Sputnik; Facebook & Instagram Demote Russian State-Owned Content

Amazon is closing all its brick and mortar Amazon Books stores, and also Amazon 4-Star and Amazon Pop-Up stores. There will be 68 total locations affected. CNBC reports that the company will try to find roles for employees elsewhere in the company. Employees who don’t opt to stay with Amazon will get severance. The physical stores have lagged notably compared to the online business. Even Whole Foods and Fresh stores had lower sales in 2021 than in 2018. So far, no closures are indicated for Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, or for Amazon Go or Just Walk Out locations. 

Ford has announced that it is splitting into “two distinct, but strategically interdependent, auto businesses” called Ford Blue and Ford Model E. According to theverge.com, the company feels like this will give more of a start up urgency to the EV business, which will be run by Doug Field, who previously oversaw the Ford Model E and before that worked at Tesla and at Apple on their Project Titan self-driving vehicle. Ford President and CEO Jim Farley will be president of the Model E division, while Kumar Galhotra will head up Ford Blue. Ford is saying they will stick with the franchised dealer model in North America, but will have dealers ‘opt in’ to a new setup with a ‘reworked, standardized customer experience and transparent pricing.’ 

Google has followed Apple in blocking mobile apps connected to RT and Sputnik from the Play Store. Apple moved to delete the apps from the App Store yesterday. Reuters.com says Google had already removed Russian state publishers from its news related features. A number of tech companies have limited distribution and advertising tools to Russian news outlets in recent days as the European Commission readies a ban on them out of concern that they are spreading misinformation about the war in Ukraine.

Facebook and Instagram are de-emphasizing content from Russian State-Controlled media. Cnet.com notes that the Meta owned platforms have been under pressure to take steps against Russian disinformation and propaganda since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The social media giant said it will also make content from those outlets tougher to find and demote posts globally that contain links to Russian-state controlled media on Facebook. Over the next few days, Facebook will label links and provide more information to people before they share them. The label says “This link is from a publisher Facebook believes may be partially or wholly under the editorial control of the Russian government.”


Uber’s Explore Tab; Waymo Can Start Charging Fares; Wiper Malware in Ukraine-Microsoft Counterattacks; Zoom Looks to Bigger Customers

Uber has unveiled a feature to help users find new things in the areas around them. With a new Explore tab, engadget.com reports that you can make dinner reservations, check out concert listings, and learn about cultural highlights. You will also be able to check Yelp reviews, photos, and directions to a variety of experiences. Recommendations will be based on your Uber and Uber Eats history. Uber won’t charge a booking fee for reservations, but may add a service or booking fee for some of the experiences. The feature goes live today in 15 areas: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis – St. Paul, New Orleans, New Jersey, Upstate New York, Orlando, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle and Mexico City.

Google (Alphabet’s) Waymo has gotten the ok to begin charging fares and to operate 24.7 in both San Francisco and San Mateo. According to 9to5google.com, the CPUC issued a ‘Drivered Deployment’ permit to Waymo, which allows charging fares and shared rides between different groups of passengers. They will be able to operate only in “designated parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties at any time of day or night at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour.” You can sign up for rides using both iOS and Android.

It wasn’t just Russian armor and troops that invaded Ukraine…malware attacks also struck. The New York Times reports that some particularly destructive malware posed as ransomware, but was actually a never before seen piece of ‘wiper’ malware, that was intended to wipe the Ukrainian government ministry computers and those of financial institutions. Three hours after the first strike, Microsoft jumped in, and began taking the malware…code named ‘Foxblade’…apart. By the end of 3 hours, Microsoft updated their virus detection systems to block the malicious code. the White House asked MS to share the details of the code, to prevent its use in the Baltics, Poland, and other nations, disrupting governments, banks, and alliances like NATO. 

Zoom revealed better than predicted financials for the 4th quarter, but warned of a weak outlook for 2023. Zdnet.com reports that Zoom is going to focus more on enterprise customers. That segment grew for them by 35% year over year. This is good, as the rest of their business is much slowed from during the height of the pandemic, when huge numbers of employees were Zooming in to work from home. For Q1 2023, Zoom projects a bit over a billion in revenue.