Samsung Prepares 5X Optical Zoom for Phone Cam; Apple Tried to Buy Tesla in 2013; Facebook-Fake Shares Outstrip ‘Real’ News; Huawei Gets 3 Month Reprieve

Samsung is putting finishing touches on a 5X optical zoom, which will go into future smartphones and phablets. 9to5google.com reports that a couple companies already have had 5X, including soon-to-be-banned in the US Huawei. Most only have 2X zoom. If you have ever shot pics at a sporting event, and especially video, you know that using up to 10X electronic zoom blurs and smears badly with motion. Optical zoom is the gold standard. I have an add on lens from Moment on my iPhone and it makes a huge difference (they also make them for Samsung and Google Plxels.) Samsung’s 5X zoom is only 5mm thick…thinner than many 2X zooms out right now. It is likely this zoom won’t make it into the Galaxy Note 10, as that is pretty well set, but could be out as soon as the next round of Galaxy phones and phablets next year.

Multiple sources point to an Apple attempt to buy Tesla back in 2013….for $240 a share. According to electrek.co, the word has slipped out since Tesla’s share price has now dipped under the price Apple was apparently willing to pay. Analyst Craig Irwin of Roth Capital Partners noted on CNBC today that $240 was the figure Apple was game for back in 2013. He claims to have multiple sources, and says Apple still might have an interest in scooping up the electric car maker. It’s known that their Project Titan electric vehicle works is still going, and apple has continued to poach senior Tesla engineers and execs. As Tesla recently was back to the market to raise a few billion dollars, they might not be interested in selling, but Elon Musk has noted that they may well burn through their cash by the end of the year. Who knows? Apple might step back in.

Academics at Oxford have followed how news is shared on social media ahead of regional elections in Europe coming up. Techcrunch.com says it’s bad news! The scholars have found that junk news is being shared on Facebook at up to 4X the rate of professionally produced news stories from reliable sources. The ‘junk’ news is ‘ideologically extreme, misleading, and factually incorrect information,’ according to the study. The Oxford crew studied shares in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Swedish…all with similar results. Facebook’s efforts to reduce fake news haven’t had much impact. Last month, Twitter had introduced a report option. Since then, only about 4% of the sources circulating on Twitter were junk news, (or ‘known Russian sources’). Twitter users are sharing more links to mainstream news sources…34%…over the study period. A bright spot? It appears from the research that users are on to junk or fake news to a much greater degree than say, the 2016 US elections.

The US Commerce Department has granted Huawei a 90 day license to help existing users. Engadget.com reports that this means they will be able to support existing mobile phone users and rural broadband networks for that period. As part of the deal, Google has now said its suspension of Android services to Huawei is also on hold for 90 days. If you have a Huawei phone, better update your Android system and download any apps from the app store before August 19th!

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Glass Enterprise Edition 2 Launches; Google & Chipmakers Freeze Out Huawei; China Overtakes US in Smart Speakers

Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2 is now officially out of the X ‘skunkworks,’ and part of Google AR/VR. 9to5google.com is reporting that it looks about the same as the 1st enterprise edition that came out after the original Explorer Edition was discontinued. Edition 2 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1, which Google says is a ‘significantly more powerful multicore CPU,’ and has a new AI engine. It runs on Android Oreo! Edition 2 has an 8 megapixel cam with 80 degree find of view. The 820mAh battery fast charges via USB-C. It connects over WiFi or Bluetooth 5. It is even available with safety frames for industrial environments. Look for pricing and availability in the next few months. UPDATE: The new version of Google Glass is priced at $999, down from $1,599 for the original version, and like the prior Enterprise Glass option, it is not available directly to consumers.

Google also announced that they are cutting ties with Huawei, after the US tariffs and rules. According to Bloomberg, Huawei, can now only access the pubic version of Google’s Android…they won’t be able to update it or get access to proprietary apps and services like Gmail. Huawei is also cut off from the Google Play Store. Intel, Qualcomm, and Broadcom are also cutting ties with Huawei, as are Micron Technology and Western Digital. Huawei is thought to have about a 3 month supply left of chips from US makers. The company is thought to be developing in-house alternatives to Android and Windows.

Techcrunch.com says the US is no longer the leader in the smart speaker market….China has overtaken that spot. In Q1, Chinese smart speaker shipments grew by 500% and they now hod 51% of the market. Baidu shipped 3.3 million smart speakers, coming in third after Amazon’s 4.6 million and Google’s 3.5 million. Alibabi and Xiaomi each had 3.2 million shipped. Overall, the smart speaker market had triple digit annual growth based on the 1st quarter of this year…specifically at 131%.


Facebook, Google, & Twitter Sign to Cull Terrorist Content; Apple iPhone 6S-Made in India; Exploitable Intel Chip Flaw; FCC Rule Proposed-Carriers Can Block Robocalls

In a summit in Paris, Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, & Microsoft…along with 17 national governments and the EU, signed the so-called ‘Christchurch Call.’ Cnet.com reports that its a 9 point plan for them to work more collaboratively to ensure terrorist content is stopped. This deal is on the heels of the horrifying mass killing in New Zealand that was live streamed on Facebook, and viewed some 4000 times before it was taken down. Strangely absent….the US. The White House announced Tuesday that they would not be signing due to free speech concerns. (This, in spite of the fact that free speech in the Constitution is about government restriction of speech, not that of commercial companies.)

The iPhone 6S is apparently the Energizer Bunny of iPhones now. Apple has launched a new marketing campaign trumpeting that the handset is still made…and in India. According to theverge.com, Apple started making the phones in India in 2017 after a tariff hike there. Although Apple is having moderate success with the iPhones there, they will probably have to start making the higher line phones there. Of note….the 6S is the last remaining iPhone to have a headphone jack!

A new class of vulnerabilities has been found by security researchers in Intel chips that goes back to 2011! Techcrunch.com says the bugs are similar to Meltdown and Spectre, which exploited a weakness in speculative execution. This one is called ‘ZombieLoad,’ and it is a side-channel attack…allowing hackers to effective exploit design flaws instead of injecting malicious code. The ZombieLoad is made up of 4 bugs, which were apparently reported to Intel only a month ago. AMD and ARM chips aren’t affected by the exploit…but again, all Intel chips from 2011 on are! The good news is, this new exploit is fairly hard to use, and Intel is rolling out patches today. Use those patches!

The FCC has proposed a new rule that would allow mobile carriers to block robocalls. Theverge.com reports that the rule would require carriers like AT&T, Verizon, & T-Mobile to automatically register their customers for call-blocking technology. The Commission will vote on the rule June 6th. Once fully launched, the protocols would notify customers when a call is coming from a legitimate source and not a spoofed number. The FCC is also looking to provide a safe harbor for carriers to block unauthenticated calls.


WhatsApp Bug-Update Now!; Walmart Next Day Delivery; SF Looks to Ban Facial Recognition; Google Assistant Tests ‘Light Bar’

You need to update WhatsApp if you use it right now. Zdnet.com reports that there’s a hole that lets bad guys remotely inject Israeli spyware on iPhones and Androids just by calling the target phone! It exploits a memory flaw in WhatsApp’s VOIP to allow the spyware to control the phone. You don’t even have to answer for it to be implanted, and the calls usually vanish from call logs. The spyware is made by NSO group, which has sold it to governments with iffy human rights records. The malware can record conversations, steal private messages, exfiltrate photos, turn on the mic and cam, and collect location data. The latest update for Android or iPhone should plug the hole.

On the heels of Amazon gearing up to make Prime one day delivery the rule nationwide, Walmart has countered with next day delivery of up to 200,000 items on its website. According to CNBC.com, the rollout will start in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Southern California, and Walmart expects it to reach 75% of the US by the end of the year. The Walmart next day delivery is supposed to be free for orders over $35.

The San Francisco Supervisors are voting today on barring the police and other city agencies from using facial recognition on residents. If it passes, it would be the first such ban in the nation. Cnet.com says it also requires the police to disclose what surveillance tech they use, like license plate readers and Stingray, the cell site simulators that can track the movement of your phone. Other cities are also looking at banning facial recognition. Oakland and Berkeley in the Bay Area of California are, as is Somerville, Mass. One major reason: the tech isn’t close to foolproof yet…some systems are only 85% accurate.

Google is giving some users early access to a total redesign of Google Assistant. 9to5google.com reports that it’s a big change from the white overlay in use now. The new one is transparent, but darkens the bottom third of the display and puts up “Hi, I’m listening,” to let you know Assistant is active. Under the message are buttons for the keyboard and for the Updates page. There’s also a lighter at the bottom, a call back to the old Chromebook Pixel. Once you give it a command, it goes to the full screen Assistant mode and displays what you’ve asked for. No word on when, of if, this redesign will become widely available.


Supremes Vote Apple App Store Monopoly Suit Can Proceed; Google Digital Wellbeing Drags Performance; Amazon-Robots to Box Up Orders; Mercedes-Carbon Neutral Fleet by 2039

Apple got spanked 5-4 by the Supreme Court, and the class action lawsuit alleging that the App Store is anticompetitive will be allowed to proceed. Macrumors.com reports that the suit (filed clear back in 2011!) alleges Apple violates antitrust laws by requiring apps to be sold through its App Store, where they skim off a 30% commission on every app sold. There are still some hurdles the suit has to overcome, but for now, it’s game on against Apple.

More and more reports have come out that say users have eliminated performance issues in Pixel 3 phones and others running Android Pie by turning off Google’s Digital Wellbeing tools. According to 9to5google.com, a long Reddit thread documents users of several generations of Google Pixels getting a big boost in performance, and even picking up better battery life. Here’s a link with instructions on how to turn it off: https://9to5google.com/2019/05/13/how-to-turn-off-digital-wellbeing/

We’ve been hearing warnings for a while now about AI and robotics taking jobs. Amazon has its fleet of robots that roll selected items around the distribution centers to be packed up for delivery. Now, engadget.com says they are testing out equipment at several locations…2 machines that can possibly replace about 24 hobs at each location. If those pan out, and go into all 55 US fulfillment centers, it could mean loss of 1300 jobs. The machines can build boxes around custom orders, and add seals and labels. They can reportedly complete 600-700 per hour! That’s 4 to 5 times faster than a human! The machines run a million each, but Reuters calculated Amazon could recover that cost in 2 years or less. As Amazon already has pretty high turnover in the jobs the machines can do, the online giant may not even have to lay anyone off…they could just not hire replacement people and install one of the CMC packing machines.

The world’s oldest auto maker has never been one to rest on its laurels…even the laurel wreath in their logo…but now Mercedes-Benz is shooting for a carbon-neutral car fleet by 2039. Cnet.com reports that the auto maker already had a plan in place to have 50% of its fleet be EVs and plug-in hybrids by 2030. The first carbon neutral manufacturing plant will be an addition to the giant Sindelfingen plant in the Stuttgart area. That plant will build luxury and electric vehicles and is being built to be carbon neutral. The German automaker is planning for 85% of its vehicles to be recycled by 2022.


Google Releases App-Shrinking Tools; Time To Break Up Facebook; Tesla Cars Self-Diagnosing Software; Edgewell Buys Harry’s Razors

Last year, Google rolled Android App Bundle…a publishing format that shrinks app installs. Engadget.com reports that it’s now out in beta for developers, and should be able to make a significant space savings on your smart device. According to Google, some 80,000 apps are working on production using the feature….it gives an average size savings of 20% leading to an 11% install uplift. Soon, ‘storage full’ notices may become a lot less frequent on Android devices.

In an editorial in the NY Times, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes unloaded on his former partner Mark Zuckerberg and said it’s time to break up Facebook. Hughes opines that Zuck’s influence is vastly greater than anyone else in the private sector or government. Hughes says this is via his control of 3 core communications platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp…apps that billions of people use daily. The Facebook board is more of an advisory committee, according to the former co-founder, since Zuckerberg controls about 60% of the voting shares in the company. Hughes affirms that he thinks Zuck is a good person, but that he has sacrificed security and civility for ‘clicks.’ He calls for the US and other governments to start holding Facebook accountable, and putting in regulations with teeth that will reign in the influence of the social network, Instagram, and WhatsApp….something he points out the US has done throughout its history with monopolies.

There was no big announcement, but Tesla has released a couple of interesting features in a software update. Mashable.com reports that one of them allows the cars to diagnose themselves, and pre-order parts if needed. If it happens, the car’s screen will display “an unexpected condition has been detected” and that a “replacement part has been pre-shipped to your preferred Tesla Service Center.” The screen then prompts the user to make an appointment using their app or Tesla account on a computer. Another improvement…a new setting to allow your car to receive software updates as soon as they are released.

All good things must come to an end, and that is especially true of startups. They either become mature companies, are bought out, or go away. Techcrunch.com says that Harry’s razors is now joining the ranks of those snapped up by bigger companies. Edgewell Personal Care, which owns Schick, Banana Boat sunscreens, and Wet Ones (moist wipes) has snagged Harry’s in a $1.37 billion dollar acquisition. Harry’s co-founders Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeff Raider will become co-presidents of US operations for Edgewell. Raider is also a co-founder of glasses maker Warby Parker.


Pixel 3A from Google; Google Rebrands ‘Home’ as Nest; Microsoft Tools to Secure Elections; Facebook & Instagram Don’t Ruin Kids’ Lives

Lots of announcements from Google from I/O, including the rollout of the Pixel 3A line of what some are calling ‘Junior Flagship’ phones. According to cnet.com, the major difference is price…the 3A starts at $399 for the 5.6 inch model and $479 for the 6 inch screen 3A XL. Concessions with the cheaper phones include a slower processor, they aren’t water resistant, they don’t have wireless charging, and have a less powerful front cam. The rear cam is the same as the hero phones, and so is the software! As a bonus, the 3A models bring back the beloved 3.5mm headphone jack! To top it off, they are available on T-Moble and Sprint, as well as US Cellular. Up to now, Google phones have been exclusively Verizon. Google says they are still negotiating with AT&T.

Microsoft has revealed a big initiative to make voting more secure and verifiable, and even allow for accurate, independent tracking long after ballots are cast. The AP says it’s software that will run on 90% of the voting machines in the US, and actually the rest of the world. The software is being developed with Galois out of Oregon, in conjunction with DARPA, the Pentagon’s advanced research agency that pretty well created the net years ago. The software is being called ‘ElectionGuard,’ and it will be available this summer. It will also be ready to pilot for next year’s general elections in the US. Two of the 3 leading vendors, Election Systems and Software and Hart International have expressed interest in partnering with Microsoft on the software, and the third…Dominion Voting Systems has said they want more info on it. The software allows for end to end encryption, and it can be used on any ballot marking device…even optical scanners reading hand marked ballots.

At one time, it was watching too much TV. After that, video games. Now it’s Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat and the rest that are ruining kids’ lives…allegedly. Zdnet.com reports on a new study from Oxford that surveyed 12,000 teens in the UK, and concluded that the effect of social media on their life satisfaction was tiny….in fact, it was only .25%! The survey also found that the amount of screen time mattered little…exactly as was found with TV viewing time for kids some 40 years ago. Exhale, parents….the kids are all right!