Facebook AR Glasses; New Portal TV & Other Portal Models; Amazon Letting US Users Pay Cash Via Western Union PayCode; Salesforce Unveils Pollution Tracking ToolPosted: September 18, 2019
Facebook is partnering with glasses giant Luxottica, to help it market its augmented reality glasses.
CNBC reports that the Orion glasses are a pet project for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck’s concept is for them to replace a smartphone, letting users take calls, display information on a small screen, and livestream video to social media followers — features that aren’t huge stretches from some of the industrial AR solutions available today. Facebook’s is said to be working on Agios, a ring-shaped motion sensor that would help with physical input, as well as a voice assistant that could process text-to-speech output and speech-to-text inputs for the wearer. New partner Luxottica controls many if not most of the world’s top eyewear brands, including Ray-Ban, Oakley, and licensed labels like Armani, Burberry, Coach, and Polo Ralph Lauren. Orion isn’t expected to hit shelves until 2023 at the earliest, or as late as 2025.
In other Facebook news, they rolled out a new line of Portal gadgets. All feature the auto-zoom AI camera, in-house voice assistant, plus Alexa, Spotify, and now Amazon Prime Video, Messenger Video Chat, and newly encrypted WhatsApp video calling in a smaller form factor unit. According to techcrunch.com, the main event is the $149 Portal TV, which can turn most tv sets with an HDMI connection into a video chat smart screen. If a friend has the setup, you can use the Watch Together feature, and see a picture in picture in the corner. An 8 inch Portal Mini is just $129. The 10 inch one that was out a year ago is redesigned, and the price cut from $199 to $179. If you really must, there’s a monster 15.6 inch Portal + that’s on a swivel, and it has dropped in price from $349 to $279. Facebook will still cut an additional $50 of the bill if you buy two devices. For all the data they are getting, they ought to be paying US to put these things in our houses!
Amazon has announced a partnering with Western Union to let US customers pay cash on checkout with WU’s PayCode. Businessinsider notes that the majority of shopping is still in person, not online…and that a third of those transactions are cash payments. PayCode is in use in 19 other countries. Customers who pay with PayCode are given a code upon checkout, which they will be able to take to any Western Union and settle with cash. Their online order will ship after Western Union transfers the money to Amazon. PayCode will allow Amazon to move in on the market of customers who are unwilling or unable to pay for online orders with credit or ATM cards, potentially widening their business.
Salesforce has just unveiled Sustainability Cloud, software that helps businesses track and analyze their environmental data. Theverge.com says there are already such tools available, but since Salesforce has 150,000 businesses and organizations as clients, it has a huge advantage in possibly spreading a way for them to track their environmental impact and carbon footprint. In fact, the system actually was developed out of one Salesforce uses to track its own carbon footprint, in an effort to reach 100% renewable energy use by 2022. A key issue is pricing….most companies haven’t dumped a ton of money into sustainability departments, so that could put a damper on widespread use. Salesforce hasn’t yet released pricing.
Samsung May Merge Flagship Lines; Pixel 4 Event October 15th; Amazon Bows High-Def Streaming Service; e-Car Drivers May Get to Select SoundsPosted: September 17, 2019
After ‘flaming out’ a few editions ago, the Samsung Galaxy Note has done nothing but grow in popularity. Now, it appears that the flagship phablet may either be merged into the S brand, or replace the top Galaxy S as early as next year. Bgr.com reports that these sort of rumors have popped up and been denied by Samsung in the past, but now a well-known leaker says the merger may happen. Samsung will then use its pricey Fold as the flagship release for the 2nd half of the year, with whatever the Note/S is called holding sway over the 1st half of the year. The rumor has the combined line being re-branded ‘Galaxy One.’ If makes some sense…even a company that sells as many phones as Samsung doesn’t really need THREE flagship lines! Of course, this all hinges (ok, go ahead and groan at the pun) on how well the Fold is received with its new, more robust hinge and screen.
Google has sent out invites to a hardware event in New York City on October 15th. According to theverge.com, Google is expected to formally announce the Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL, a Pixelbook 2 and new Google Home speakers. The media invite says “Come see a few new things Made by Google.” There have been quite a few details leaked already, including that the Pixel 4 will have the Google version of Face ID.
Amazon has bowed a new feature for its music streaming service. Geekwire.com says its Amazon Music HD, and it includes 50 million songs with ‘lossless’ audio quality…which Amazon equates to CD quality, and millions of songs with ‘Ultra HD’, which is 24 bits and sample rate up to 192 KHz for you audio nerds. The HD service will set you back $12.99 a month if you’re a Prime member, or $14.99 a month otherwise. If you already subscribe to Amazon Music, it will cost you another $5 a month. Songs can be streamed OR downloaded using the Amazon Music app.
A notable feature of all electric vehicles is their stealth. They are all much quieter than an internal combustion engine vehicle, and that can be a problem….particularly around pedestrians and animals in city settings. Now, cnet.com reports that the NHTSA- which finalized regs for e-cars to produce sounds at speeds under 18.6 mph last year- is proposing that drivers be able to choose from a variety of sounds. There will be a public comment period, which could be entertaining in and of itself (recall the public naming contest for a ship where ‘Boaty McBoatface’ was the leading name!) The government wants people’s opinions on whether thee should be a limit on the number of sounds a car maker can build in, and what that limit should be. Actually, starting this month, all manufacturers have to equip 50% of their ‘quiet cars’ (i.e. electric vehicles) with an alert noise at low speeds. The NHTSA has determined that above 18.6 mph, there is enough tire and noise to make the sounds unnecessary. Anyone for ‘vroom, vroom,’ or the sound effect of playing cards in bicycle spokes?
iPhone Demand Higher Than Expected; VW’s Car OS; Amazon Changed Search Algorithm To Their Benefit; AI Calculates Risk of Heart Condition DeathPosted: September 16, 2019
Apple has been diversifying, but is still primarily and iPhone company, that lives and dies by iPhone sales. Sales have been expected to be weaker this model year, as smartphone sales in general have slid, and since it’s an ’S’ year, with less major changes. Now, 9to5mac.com reports that well respected Apple Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo put out a report yesterday that iPhone 11 and 11 Pro demand is beating expectations after the pre-order launch Friday. Kuo is seeing strong demand for the new colors…midnight green on the 11 Pro, and the green and purple colors on the 11. He warns that production problems on the glass for the midnight green phone have restricted output of that one so far. Demand is higher for the 11 Pro in the US, while in China, the less costly iPhone 11 is selling better. The sales estimate has now been raised for 2019 from 65-70 million units to 70-75 million smartphones. Kuo notes that the trade in programs and zero interest payment plans are boosting sales as more people are choosing to upgrade.
Cars have been running on an insane number of multiple processors for years. With the advent of infotainment systems, such as Apple Car Play and Android Auto, those systems have not only been integrated in to the existing systems, but in some cases, the car can’t run without them. According to arstechnica.com, an example is some cars that use Android Auto which use the Navigation GPS to provide the vehicle’s master time counter. If the Nav system dies, the car won’t run! Makers have been loathe to consolidate all functions under the likes of Android Auto. As VW pointed out: “When you do this, you get a great package of function and services, no doubt. But you also have to open up all the car’s sensor data [to Google], and when I say all, it really is all sensor data.” VW has decided instead to build out its own OS which would span all 12 VW group brands. They are staffing up now, and will have between 5,000 and 10,000 employees working on the OS. VW hopes to have it in place by 2025.
Amazon apparently revised its product search system last year to feature items that are more profitable for the company. The Wall Street Journal says the change came on the heels of an internal fight between executives at Amazon retail in Seattle, and the company’s search team in Palo Alto (which opposed the move.) At least the initial version was also opposed by Amazon’s own lawyers, who pointed out ongoing investigations by the EU and US over Amazon’s dual role as as seller and the marketplace…effectively competing with its own independent sellers. After the legal objection, the company tweaked to algorithm, and left out an overt profitability metric, opting instead for a slightly less in-your-face one called ‘contribution profit.’ Expect this to be fodder for more calls for regulation or even breakup…especially in the EU.
MIT researchers have come up with a machine learning system called RiskCardio that can estimate risk of death due to cardiovascular issues that block or reduce blood flow. According to engadget.com, the AI needs a 15 minute ECG reading, and takes it from there. It can apparently figure whether or not someone will die within 30 days or even up to a year later. There is more to be done, but this could be a huge breakthrough for docs to be able to quickly diagnose heart health, and decide on the appropriate level of treatment. A caveat: without pre-existing condition protection as in the Affordable Care Act (unless that’s taken away), it’s another thing that would make you more uninsurable.
Alexa Answers Goes Crowd Sourcing; France Will Block Facebook’s Cryptocurrency in the EU; Tesla Announces 3 Motor ‘Plaid Powertrain’; Huawei Tries Selling 5G Patents to Western Buyer Skirting TrumpPosted: September 12, 2019
Amazon has just started allowing anyone to field questions from users that Alexa doesn’t already have a response for. Fastcompany.com reports that any such answer will be tagged by Alexa as ‘according to an Amazon customer.’ The program has been running as a private beta for about a year. Whether the crowdsourced answers will be able to reasonably compete with Google Assistant…which can grab answers from the billions of pages Google has indexed…remains to be seen. Amazon has been in a limited partnership with Microsoft’s Bing. Amazon claims that in the beta, a ‘substantial majority’ of users’ questions were answered with vetted sources. Amazon not only hopes to keep people asking questions within the community but also those know-it-alls who want to answer them!
France has announced that it ‘cannot authorize’ the use of Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency on European soil. According to cnbc.com, the French government felt it would but the sovereignty of governments at risk. Facebook has already said it would wait until it has regulatory approval from all quarters before rolling out Libra, so this ma be a pretty substantial challenge to that rollout occurring. Considering Facebook’s record with user data (see Cambridge Analytica), this seems like a reasonable position right now for the French and the EU.
Staying with its speed references from the movie “Spaceballs,” Elon Musk has announced the next iteration beyond Ludicrous speed. Electrek.co says Tesla has announced the upcoming ‘Plaid Powertrain,’ which will rock 3 motors. The powertrain will debut next year in the Model S and Roadster, along with a new chassis prototype which Tesla has tested in conjunction with the trimotor powertrain. They just used the combination to break a record at Laguna Seca. The system will not be available in the lower cost Model 3 or Model Y. Musk claims it will be a little pricier in the Model S, but still in line with competitors’ offerings.
Huawei is going to try an end run around the US blockade of its 5G system. Businessinsider.com reports that they are looking to sell a bundle of the company’s 5G patents, licenses, code, and tech blueprints in a one time transaction. They claim this would create a ‘balanced distribution of interests’. The major problem for Huawei with the US blacklisting is cutting them off from Google. the company has run Android, and without Android and the Google Play Store, it has severely impacted their smartphone business. Huawei has developed their own OS as a backup plan, but no Android is an ongoing problem for the company. The US has cited national security concerns, as they claim Huawei can act as a proxy for the Chinese government to spy..something Huawei has denied.
California Gig Economy Bill Clears Senate; McRobots at McDonald’s Drive Through; Amazon Grabs Unique Seattle Warehouse; AppleCare+ New Subscription ModelPosted: September 11, 2019
California’s Senate has passed and sent back to the Assembly a bill that will be a profound change to gig economy workers if passed. The Assembly will have to ok some amendments, then it is on to governor Newsom’s desk, and he has said he will sign it. Venturebeat.com reports that it will not only affect Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, but will ripple throughout all sectors. The gig economy has relied for years on companies utilizing contractors, and touting the benefits of flex time….but most companies have retained such a great degree of control over the hours and duties that of people have felt like they were misclassifying employees as contractors just to dodge paying benefits and a competitive salary. This law would change that. The bill actually codifies a 2018 California Supreme Court ruling, Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court, which set out a new standard for determining whether workers are properly classified as independent contractors. The court said workers are a company’s employees under state wage laws when the company exercises control over their work, or they are integral to its business.
Soon, when you order some McFood at McDonald’s, you may be talking to software and not a person. According to cnet.com, Mac’s is testing out software from an AI company it acquired called Apprente. The Silicon Valley-based startup was founded in 2017 to create voice-based platforms for “complex, multilingual, multi-accent and multi-item conversational ordering,” which McDonald’s plans to incorporate in its drive-thrus initially. The system has already been tested at a few restaurants, so maybe you’ve been talking to robots about your Big Mac and Fries. As testing proceeds, McDonald’s plans to add the AI tech to its mobile ordering and kiosks in the future.
Amazon has lease a half million square feet in a first of kind warehouse in Seattle. The goal of the online giant is to cut down delivery times as it moves to one day shipping. Geekwire.com says the warehouse setup is common in other parts of the world, but unique to the US so far in that it features the ability of trucks to access multiple levels via ramps. Home Depot has apparently also leased 100,000 square feet in the unique warehouse. Amazon has noted that their expenses are higher than expected so far with the changeover to single day delivery, so this will be a step towards rectifying that issue.
With the blizzard of Apple announcements yesterday, here’s one you may have missed hearing about. Last year, Apple rolled out an option to pay monthly for some of its two and three year AppleCare+ plans for iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch. Now, 9to5mac.com reports that Apple has moved it to a subscription model. Here’s what they say about it now:
For Monthly Plans, your Plan Term is one (1) month. Your Plan will automatically renew each month unless cancelled as set forth in the “Cancellation” Section 9 below, including in the event that Apple is no longer able to service your Covered Equipment due to the unavailability of service parts, in which case Apple will provide you with thirty (30) days’ prior written notice of cancellation, or as otherwise required by law.
This sounds like you can continue your AppleCare+ plan until Apple can’t service the device any more. Many people are likely to sign up if they just get hit with a small monthly fee like $3.99 instead of dropping $191 or $149 right up front.
Instead of starting small, and building up excitement (hype) like Apple does, you’re going to get the good part first, and can scroll down further for the less impactful Apple lines they touted.
Yes, the rumors were right about the naming of this year’s phones. You’ll get to choose form 6 new colors for iPhone 11—the 6.1 inch LED display with aluminum back form factor is unchanged. New colors are: purple, white, yellow, green, black, and Product (RED). Dual cams on the 11, with a new 12MP ultra wide lens…120 degree field of view. You will see on the display what switching to the ultra lens will give you in the shot. New portrait effect lets you crop out the background. Night mode switches on automatically and the results are pretty dramatic.
For video…there’s an on-screen zoom wheel to transition between the two cams. they feature 4K resolution, up to 60 FPS on both cams. Quick take returns! Tap and hold shutter button when taking a pic to roll video. The front cam has 12MP and a wider sensor….you can include more in your selfie by rotating to horizontal. The front cam now has slo-mo. They are calling them ‘slofies’. (Feel free to groan here.) The new A13 chip increases Apple’s lead over other smartphones. iPhone 11 will have an hour more of battery life over XR. Face ID is faster and wider angle on the new model. iPhone 11 starts at $699.
iPhone 11 Pro
Three cams, as predicted, on a raised glass square. The Pro has new matte glass on the back…and new colors are: Midnight Green, Space Grey, Silver, Gold.….5.8 inch and 6.5 inch displays are held over from last year. They are calling (hyping) the display as the ‘Super Retina XDR display.’ Battery life is 4 hours more on the 11 than iPhone XS and the Pro Max has 5 hours more than XS Max. Both will ship with faster charger than before.
The 3 cams….Apple dubs them wide, telephoto, and ultra wide. The cams can all work together. You have 4X optical zoom now! They showed off a number of pics by pro photographers using the 3 different cameras. A new feature will come with software update this fall. They call this feature Deep Fusion. It uses machine learning and will shoot 9 images…starting before you press the shutter, the long shot, and post shots. It then takes the best pixels from each shot and combines into one great shot.
For video, it’s 4K, 60 FPS, like on the iPhone 11. New advanced editing in iOS 13. You can now do editing for exposure, color temperature, cropping and scaling like you could photos…right on the phone. They showed off the Filmic app, which can choose 2 shots you can film, choosing from all 3 rear cams and the selfie cam, giving you your choice of framing and shots. The pro models are Priced at $999 like last year and $1099 for the Max. Price has been cut on XR to $599, and iPhone 8 will be $499. Preorders for the new phones starts Friday morning at 5AM Pacific, and they will ship September 20th. Monthly payment plans are about the same as they were through Apple…starting at $17 a month on the iPhone 11, $25 a month for the iPhone 11 Pro, and $29 a month for the 11 Pro Max. They will continue to offer the trade in program.
For Series 5, the Retina Display is always on….albeit at a lower light level. Time and complications are in view. A tap or raise of wrist brings it back to full brightness. It still has an 18 hour battery life. Series 5 also has a built in compass like the iPhone has. It shows latitude longtitude, incline, and elevation.
The SOS function will now work internationally on the new model with cellular. Besides aluminum and stainless, there are new titanium and ceramic models. Watch Series 5 starts at $399 with GPS. The cellular model $499. Preorder today, and available in stores on the 20th. Watch 3 is now cut to $199.
Three new health studies will be starting, like the successful afib study.
2) Women’s Health (menstrual cycles)
3) Heart and Movement
There is a new Apple research app you can enroll over. You needn’t, and it won’t see your data unless you do.
The entry level iPad gets a refresh, joining the other updated models. It goes from 9.7 to 10.2 inch. It has an A10 chip. It comes with a smart connector that attaches to a keyboard that can close like a clamshell and protect the screen…oh…like a laptop! A pinch of the virtual keyboard gives you a smaller floating keyboard you can move around.
More editing for video available. Apple Pencil now works with the entry level iPad. It starts once again at $329. Educational customers can get it for $299. Preorder today, ships September 30th.
Tim Cook talked about the trailers for the original videos Apple has coming to Apple TV+. They premiered a video for ‘See,’ a new show with Jason Momoa. Apple TV+ will be available November 1st…also $4.99 a month for a family subscription. Starting today, when you buy an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV, you get 1 year free. So basically, if you buy one device a year, you get Apple TV+ free.
Apple Arcade….1 fee to play 100 new games on mobile, computer, or Apple TV, with new games to be added monthly. Konami showed a new iteration of Frogger, and Capcom previewed an underwater game. Annapurna showed off what they called a ‘playable music video’ called Sayonara Wild Hearts.
Arcade will be available September 19th worldwide. $4.99 a month for a family access, and a 1 month free trial.
Daimler Self Driving Trucks Hit US Road; Tesla-New Battery Could Last a Million Miles; Amazon Career Day in 6 Cities; Google Maps Learns New WazePosted: September 9, 2019
Daimler, the Mercedes-Benz parent, has started testing autonomous big rigs on Virginia highways. According to venturebeat.com, the semis are outfitted in conjunction with Torc Robotics, a startup in which Mercedes recently acquired majority stake. The Freightliner Cascadias are retrofitted with arrays of lira sensors, cameras, and radar…not to mention Torc’s self-driving software. As has been true in other over the road tests, there are trained drivers and engineers aboard just in case. Right now, Daimler says the rigs are classified as level 4, which is defined by the SAE as capable of operating with limited human oversight under select conditions. Daimler Trucks of North America has owned the Freightliner brand since the 1980’s. There are at least 4 other companies working on self-driving for semi trucks, so expect to see more of them fanning out across the country.
A researcher named Jeff Dahn and his team have been doing battery research for Tesla. Now, electrek.co reports they have released test results for an impressive new battery cell that they claim will go a million miles. That’s two to three times the life of the present Tesla battery cells. The new battery tested is a Li-Ion battery cell with a next-generation “single crystal” NMC cathode and a new advanced electrolyte. Tesla sees these as being ideal for ‘robo-taxis,’ which they believe will be a big market in the future. Tesla is also moving to manufacture its own cells, instead of relying on Panasonic, which could also be a big boost for the company.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em (or maybe both), it’s hard to argue with the success of Amazon. Now. geekwire.com says the company will hold Career Days on September 17th to try to fill more than 30,000 available jobs in the company…including warehouse workers, retail jobs and high-tech positions. For reference, 30,000 is about the number of jobs at the Kroger Company! The job fair will also include help for people looking to start their own businesses using Amazon platforms. Amazon presently has a headcount of some 653,000 people!
Google has ported over a couple handy new features from its Waze platform to Google Maps. Bgr.com notes that they are Street View support on Android and weather info on iOS. Now, they are going to add more, as Google Maps becomes more Waze-like. Incident reports and more public transit info are coming, and even the ability to save a user’s preferred public transit options for quick access. Google is cleaning up the interface, too. There will be just 6 notification groups instead of nine. Each is customizable by the user.