Twitter Announces Super Follows-Can Charge for Tweets; Spotify Rolls Out Genre and Mood Filters; Biden Signs Order Re Chip Shortage; iMacs May Revert to Multi-Color Cases

Twitter has announced a couple of new features. One is called ’Super Follows’, and gives the ability for users to charge their followers for access to additional content, and the other allows the ability to creat and join groups based around particular interests. Twitter used an example where a user charges $4.99 a month for followers to get a series of perks. Twitter positions this as a way to let creators and publishers to get paid directly by their fans. You can expect Twitter to skim off a cut…just like every other platform that allows for payments from fans. The second feature is Communities, which smells a lot like Facebook Groups. People can create and join groups based on shared interests…cats, cars, plants, affiliations like schools, etc. No date has been set for when the features will actually be released as yet. 

Spotify has unveiled a couple of new filters that make it easier to find and locate music you like. They are available to both free users and Premium subscribers. According to 9to5mac.com, the Genre and Mood filters will allow up to 15 personalized options to sort your ‘Liked Songs,’ which will then allow you to play the sort of mix you are wanting at a particular moment. The filters started rolling out today, and should be everywhere in the next few weeks. 

President Biden signed an executive order yesterday that hopes to address the worldwide chip shortage, which is snow causing auto makers to cut production, among other industries who are having to pare back. CNBC.com says the order calls for a 100 day review of key products like semiconductors and advanced batteries used in EVs. The goal is to strengthen supply chains and to make the US less dependent on overseas production of critical items…not only manufactured devices as above, but also the rare earths used in many electronic devices. 

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iMacs Getting Colorful

It may be back to the future for Apple’s upcoming iMac refresh. Macrumors.com reports that leaker Jon Prosser claims that there will be 5 color options…echoing the original iMacs. The colors will be Silver, Space Gray, Green, Sky Blue, and Rose gold. The upcoming iMacs are expected to have slimmer bezels and run on Apple’s own new silicon chips. Also, Prosser says a version of the Mac Pro will look like 3 or 4 Mac Minis stacked on top o each other. The Mac Pro will supposedly have the ‘compute unit on the bottom’ and a ‘big heat sink’ on top.


Spotify HiFi; Consumer Reports ‘Green Choice’ for Vehicles; Apple Top Smartphone Maker Again; Google Drops Political Ad Ban

Spotify is going ‘HiFi.’ The streaming giant is playing catch up on this with Tidal and amazon Music. Nonetheless, the new lossless streaming ether will allow listeners to get the most out of their digital music library. According to theverge.com, Spotify HiFi will be available later this year, and will feature CD quality, lossless audio. Pricing has not yet been announced. Amazon charges $12.99 a month fort their lossless music if you have Prime, $14.99 otherwise. Tidal gets a princely $19.99 a month. Tidal also offers a Master Quality Audio tier that goes up to 96kHz/24 bit. Apple Music has yet to roll out lossless music on stream, although downloads through Apple Music use the Apple Lossless format. 

Major auto makers are gearing up to go electric…or at least hybrid…across much or all of their fleets. Now, Consumer Reports will begin grading vehicles according to their environmental impact. Arstechnica.com reports that CR has launched a new ‘green choice’ rating, which is indicated by a green leaf icon. The idea is to help buyers quickly identify vehicles with the best fuel efficiency and lowest contribution to atmospheric CO2 levels and smog formation. A CS survey last month showed that nearly half of buyers will use emission info to help them make their buying choice. CS says that right now, some 20% of the cars they rate qualify as green choices based on EPA data. the 4 top green picks right now out of CR’s top 10 recommended cars: Toyota Prius, Corolla, and Camry, and the Tesla Model 3. 

Good news for Apple…and a response to some bad news. First, the iPhone is now #1 in smartphone sales again….beating Samsung got the first time in five years. Zdnet.com says that worldwide smartphone sales fell 5% in the 4th quarter of 2020, but that Apple passed up Samsung as well as Huawei after introducing the 4 new iPhone 12 models. They may not hold on to the top spot long, as more makers roll out cheaper 5G smartphones. Apple really doesn’t have anything in the moderate to low price range. 

On the down side for Cupertino, over the weekend a piece of malware dubbed Silver Sparrow was detected on at least 30,000 Macs. Not only that, a version already runs on the new Apple M1 proprietary chips! So far, the malware doesn’t do anything or have any sort of payload, BUT it phones home to servers every hour, so someone is up to no good. Now, Apple has taken some steps to prevent further spread. They have revoked certificates of the developer accounts used to sign the packages, which will stop attackers from attacking more computers. Interestingly, the malware has a self-destruct mechanism…which is something you normally only see from malware built by state operators so they can escape detection. Expect Apple to take steps to neutralize the malware in MacOS updates soon.

Google has lifted its ban on political ads that was levied after the Capitol riot on January 6th. The ban was instituted on the 13th. According to axios.com, political ads will be accepted again beginning on Wednesday. An emailed statement from Google said “If they [the ads] are otherwise policy compliant, then our reviewers will approve the ad and it will be eligible to begin serving.” At this point, facebook has not yet lifted their ban on political ads. 


NY Sues Amazon; YouTube to Debut Shorts in US-TikTok Cline; Google Maps Lets You Pay for Mass Transit; Microsoft Edge Helps Cut Irritating Notifications

New York has sued Amazon, accusing the online giant of ‘flagrant disregard’ for the health and safety of workers. Geekwire.com reports that Attorney General Letitia James filed the action last night. Amazon is accused of failing to protect workers from COVID-19. Amazon had filed a pre-emptive suit on Friday in an effort to defend its COVID response. AG James says in the suit that Amazon failed to comply with cleaning and safety requirements after positive COVID-19 cases were identified at its facilities. The suit notes that Amazon’s record profits amid the pandemic came “at the expense of its frontline workers who have experienced significant risks of COVID-19 infection while working at Amazon.” It also accuses Amazon of illegally retaliating against employees who complained about the company’s COVID-19 response. Amazon, of course, denies all of this. 

YouTube is going to start testing Shorts, its competitor to TikTok in the US, starting in March. According to cnet.com, YouTube has been trialing the service in India since September. YouTube says that it has been getting 3.5 billion views a day! The feature lets creators upload videos that run a maximum of 15 seconds. Google gives you tools for adding music and splicing clips together. Now that the Biden administration has killed Ex-president Trump’s plan to neuter TikTok in the US through a sale, it remains to be seen if the YouTube competitor will lure away users from TikTok. 

A couple of welcome new additions to Google Maps: the ability to pay for parking or to buy a train ticket right inside the app. Theverge.com says they have integrated two mobile parking services into the app, Passport and ParkMobile. As far as mass transit, when you search for directions in Google Maps, you will see an option to buy tickets right along with your results. You need a Google Pay account linked to a valid credit or debit card to use it. 

Microsoft is now crowdsourcing data for it’s Edge browser regarding pop up notices. According to engadget.com, the company will track the options people choose — to allow, block, ignore or dismiss notifications entirely — and compile that information into an annoyance score. If the number is too high, Edge will automatically quiet notifications from that site. You can also select ‘Quiet notification requests and mute all of the annoying things!


Fitbits Now Available via Google Store; Apple May Be Making 7 Inch Folder Phone with Pencil; Metropolis Raises $41 Million-Automated Parking; Microsoft’s New Office App Comes to iPad

Fitbit watches and trackers are now officially for sale from the Google Store. 9to5google.com reports that you can now pick up your fitness band right there with Pixel phones and Nest thermostats. Right now, the Fitbit Sense, Versa 3, Inspire 2, and Charge 4 are on the site. Prices are the same as elsewhere, but a plus is that you can get purchase financing via the Store like is available for unlocked Pixel phones. Watchbands, chargers, and other accessories are also up on the site now. 

Folding phones got a pretty rocky start (looking at you, Samsung) and are pricey, but may well be the way to go if you’d rather not schlep around both a smartphone and a tablet. Now, Apple may have one in the works that could be out in 2023. It will have a 7.3 to 7.6 inch OLED screen, and utilize the Apple Pencil (although the leak says it will support an ‘activity pen.’) According to macrumors.com, the 7.6 inch screen would be nearly the size of the present 7.9 inch iPad Mini. The device would obviously be heavier and thicker than an iPhone, but as a way to ditch the iPad and just carry one device, it may be just the device some people need. 

LA based startup Metropolis is going after BMW owned ParkMobile in the automated parking realm. Techcrunch.com says the startup has raised $41 million. Upgrading ParkMobile’s license plate-based service with a computer vision based system that recognizes cars as they enter and leave garages has been Metropolis’ mission since founder and chief executive Alex Israel first formed the business back in 2017. The company hopes to expand to over 600 locations over the next year. They already manage 10,000 parking slots. The plate based system is in place with several firms. A friend in NYC says the little sign flashes when she leaves work…’Goodbye Ms X. Have a nice day!’ Personalized or creepy…you decide!

Microsoft’s new unified Office mobile app is now out for iPad. It rolls up Word, Excel, and PowerPoint into a single app. Theverge.com notes the app has been out on iOS as well as Android since 2019. Up to now, its run in a windowed mode instead of a fully optimized iPad app. BTW, if you prefer, the stand alone apps are still available and being updated on an ongoing basis. 


Chevy Making a Bolt Electric SUV; iPhone 13-Always On Screen & Matte Back; Graphene Microchips = Thousand Times Faster; Microsoft Xbox Cloud Gaming on Web

With a splashy video made in conjunction with Disney…complete with Disney characters and special effects…Chevrolet has showed off its new Bolt EVs. Yes, plural. Theverge.com reports that the Bolt EV has gotten a refresh…AND been cut $5,000 in price to $31,995. The big excitement? There is a new model small SUV which Chevy has dubbed an EUV. The Bolt EUV has more rear legroom and good rear space for hauling your precious ‘stuff.’ The EUV will sell for $33,995. Fully tricked out, there isn a special Launch version, with GM’s amazing Super Cruise, it will chew up $43,495 of your hard earned cash…or credit. It also has unique wheels, special badging, and an illuminated charge port…be still my heart. Honestly, watch the video…the Super Cruise is just unbelievable. Here’s the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoHqUzys0bU&feature=emb_logo

More rumors popping up about the iPhone 13. A couple over the weekend point to an always-on display like the Apple Watch (or like Android has had for years.) According to 9to5mac.com, the display would only show clock and battery charge at all times. You will be able to customize notifications to pop up then go away. The matte back glass will apparently be ‘more grippy’ than on the present iPhone 12 series. For the very few people who don’t use a case, a nice feature. Except for tech writers doing tests, this seems rare. In the Bay Area, I have yet to see a single soul who carries an iPhone and doesn’t have it in some sort of case. Another feature rumored is the ultra-wide lens going from a 5 element to 6 elements. It will still be lower quality than the other two lenses, although Apple is apparently working to correct this. One cool new feature….portrait mode VIDEO! Apple has apparently been working on this for quite a while now. As previously reported, Touch ID will return, but be under screen…no external button, and Face ID will remain, giving you two biometric unlocking technologies. 

Ok, this is nerdy, but really exciting. Researchers in the UK are working on super tiny graphene microchips that will be able to make your laptop and phone thousands of times faster…THOUSANDS! Zdnet.com says the trick is folding the graphene, which unlocks electronic properties that effectively enable the material to work as a transistor. The researchers say it kind of resembles nano-origami. Chips have been getting smaller and faster already, but getting to 1000 times or more faster and smaller…would be astounding. Graphene is only one atom thick!

Microsoft has started testing Xbox cloud gaming on the web. Engadget.com reports that the streaming in browsers will feel a lot like the Android experience. A launcher helps you launch recent games or find new ones via your Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription (required.) Of course you will still need a controller. Right now, the testing out is just on Chrome and Microsoft Edge, and it’s closed…although MS says they will add iOS and PC streaming over the web later in the Spring. The Game Pass? It’s $15 a month.


Salesforce Reveals Permanent Remote Work Plan; TikTok’s Forced Sale Now On Hold; Apple Glasses Will Be micro-OLED; Twitter Gained New Users After Trump Ban

After a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Salesforce is unveiling plans to let employees work remotely on a permanent basis. Zdnet.com reports that this will necessitate a revamp of its iconic office towers. Under the new plan, once its safe to return to offices, the majority of Salesforce’s employees will only go in to the office one to three days a week. Although employees surveyed indicated the desire to continue to work from home, some 80% did want to maintain at least some connection to the physical workspace of their employer. Besides the iconic Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, the tallest building West of the Mississippi, Salesforce has towers worldwide. The company intends to redesign its workplaces as ‘community hubs’ with collaboration and break out spaces. Additionally, the company plans to introduce new protocols like at-home wellness attestations, temperature screenings before entry (where applicable), face coverings, regular and frequent deep cleaning, and manual contact tracing. CEO Marc Benioff said at a Salesforce event in Singapore, ‘The past is gone.’

The forced sale of US TikTok operations to Oracle…mainly due to a temper tantrum by Ex-President Trump, has been put on hold, and looks to be ending entirely. According to TechCrunch.com, TikTok parent ByteDance had won several legal battles over the sale anyway. Discussions between TikTok and U.S. national security officials are continuing though… because there are valid concerns around TikTok’s data collection and the potential for manipulation and censorship of content on the app.

New information points to Apple Glasses going with micro OLED displays, not microLED. 9to5mac.com says the micro OLED tech is more advanced, in that the display tech is built directly on to chip wafers. This is considered ideal for small displays like in AR or VR glasses. The project with partner TSMC, and apparently it is being run with even tighter secrecy than most other Apple projects. TSMC is also working on microLED tech at the same campus…a display tech used in the Apple Watch. The reputed micro OLED displays will be less than an inch in size, and trial production has already started. 

Twitter continued to gain new users in January…even after banning Donald Trump.. The platform ended 2020 with 192 million daily users. Theverge.com quoted CEO Jack Dorsey as saying “We are a platform that is obviously much larger than any one topic or account.” The new information came out with Twitter’s release of their Q4 earnings data. Twitter did predict that their growth will likely slow as more people get back to offices. The platform said in the data release that they had benefited from “the significant pandemic-related surge” in usage last year.


Amazon Building Alexa ‘Command Center’-Possible Wall-Mounted; British MPs Lobby Apple to Build Car in UK; US Drops Suit vs California Net Neutrality Rule; Reddit Raises $250 Million in New Funding

Amazon continues its relentless effort to further weave its Alexa assistant into the fabric of homes around the world. Theverge.com reports Amazon is working on a thin Echo screen that could act as a ‘smart home command center,’ and it is reportedly designed to be wall mounted. The device would be a 10 or 13 inch touch screen, and be capable of controlling smart home devices, playing music and videos, and video chatting thanks to a built-in camera. The as yet unannounced Echo would sell for between $200 to $250, and be released either late this year or early in 2022. 

Some British Members of Parliament (MPs) are pressing the government there to make a bid to get Apple to build its expected electric vehicle there. A port city in NE England, Sunderland, is already home to a factory for the Nissan EV. although…as reported here…Hyundai has said they (and subsidiary Kia) are out of Apple talks (which seems unlikely), Kia has the only production plant that has been discussed…the one in West Point Georgia in the US. It remains to be seen if notoriously secretive Apple would even entertain discussing a deal with a government…which are even more porous than firms such as Hyundai. 

The Department of Justice has dropped a suit brought under the Trump Administration that was intended to block California’s net neutrality law. Arstechnica.com notes that even with the dismissal of the case, it’s not the end of the fight over this rule. There is still a suit in progress brought by groups representing major broadband lobbying groups…which represent the biggest ISPs and some smaller ones. California agreed back in 2018 to suspend enforcement of the law until litigation is over. Meanwhile, the FCC is likely to reinstate net neutrality rules. This will likely happen after a new Democratic commissioner is nominated by Biden and approved by the Senate. 

Reddit has raised an additional $250 million in funding. Techcrunch.com notes that this comes shortly after the increased visibility for the platform from Redditors joining together to bid up the stock in GameStop. Reddit ran a 5 second ad in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Reddit said in a statement that “now was the right opportunity to make strategic investments in Reddit including video, advertising, consumer products and expanding into international markets.”


Apple May Announce ‘Apple Car’ Partner before Summer; Twitter Explores Subscriptions; New Lens Tech Could Juice Smartphone Sales; Tesla Buys $1.5 Billion Bitcoin, May Accept it For Payment

Apple may announce a partner for its Apple Car EV in the first half of this year. Appleinsider.com reports that it’s a matter of ‘when, not if,’ citing a report from analyst Daniel Ives. Although Hyundai (and subsidiary Kia) have now said that all talks have ended, the analyst thinks that is a smokescreen. Apple HATES when a prospective partner blabs about a possible deal. According to Ives, the two front runners are in fact Hyundai and Volkswagen. He says its a better than 85% chance the announcement will come in the next 6 months. 

In a move to be less dependent on ad revenue, Twitter is exploring subscriptions and even tipping. According to engadget.com, there have been rumblings of a ‘Rogue One’ subscription, details of which haven’t been leaked, and also Twitter is thinking of charging extra for Tweetdeck or getting a premium fee for advanced profile customization. As for tipping, that might allow you to get access to special content from accounts you follow. Twitter did just buy newsletter creation service Revue, and has looked at a subscription button, although they haven’t pulled the trigger on that as yet. While subscriptions do provide steady revenue, there is a limit to the number of things people will pay for, so Twitter may have to carefully balance between subscriptions and ads. 

The cameras get better every year in smartphones, but they may be poised to take an even bigger jump. Wired.com says that up to now, it’s all been software, sensor size, and megapixel count. Now, a company called Metalenz may blow things up using a new tech called optical metasurfaces. A camera built around this new lens tech can produce an image of the same if not better quality as traditional lenses, collect more light for brighter photos, and can even enable new forms of sensing in phones, all while taking up less space. In other words, better pictures without any sort of ‘lens bump’ on the back of the phone. The iPhone 12 Pro, for example, uses 7 lens elements. More lenses makes for cleaner pictures. The Metalenz tech uses nanostruuctures in a single lens that are 1/1000th the thickness of a human hair! Metalenz plans to go into production by the end of this year. 

Tesla reported in an SEC filing that they bought $1.5 billion in bitcoin. That is somewhat interesting, but Elon Musk has been a big proponent of cryptocurrency for years. What’s more interesting is that Tesla may be getting ready to accept bitcoin in payment for their cars. Techcrunch.com reports that Tesla stated that they “expect to begin accepting bitcoin as a form of payment for [its] products in the near future, subject to applicable laws and initially on a limited basis, which [it] may or may not liquidate upon receipt.”


Apple Dropping $3.6 Billion in Kia-Partnering With Hyundai; New Zoom Features Anticipate Office Return; Amazon E-Vans Will Be Rolling This Year; Rundgren Will Mount Geofenced Virtual Tour

Apple is apparently prepping to drop $3.6 billion into Kia Motors as part of a manufacturing partnership that will see Kia build Apple Cars at a plant in Georgia. Macrumors.com notes that Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai, which had been strongly rumored to be in talks with Apple. Hyundai hadn’t wanted to be seen as being a sub for Apple like Foxconn, and this neatly avoids that. The rumor has Apple Cars hitting the road in 2024, and they plan to build 100,000 per year in the deal with Kia as they get started. The vehicles will be made on the Hyundai E-GMP battery electric vehicle platform right out of the gate. Since Apple has picked up a chassis engineering manager from Porsche, look for them to expand on that. 

Zoom is looking ahead to people getting back to the office, and to more hybrid working. Cnet.com reports that it is adding features to its Zoom Rooms to boost employee health and productivity…no matter if work is in the office or home office. Zoom Room customers can now pair their Zoom Room with their mobile device, to more easily join meetings directly from your phone. You can also download the Zoom Rooms Controller app to turn your phone into a remote control, giving you the ability to start or join a meeting and full audio, video and participant controls. In addition, IT admins can view how many are in a conference room in real time, to ensure social distancing. Zoom will also connect with the Neat Bar that will allow monitoring air quality, humidity, 

Amazon’s e-vans from Rivian will be hitting the streets in some dozen cities yet this year. According to theverge.com, they are already making some deliveries in Los Angeles. Amazon plans to have a fleet of 10,000 of the vans on the roads by 2022. Rivian is also planning an R1t pickup and the R1S SUV. Both those are said to have 400 miles of range, and will start at $70,000. 

If you have been missing live entertainment like a lot of folks, the always forward-looking Todd Rundgren has come up with an unique idea. He is planning a geo-fenced, virtual tour. Techcrunch.com says Todd and his band will play all the sets from Chicago, and the songs will span his career from the early hits to his entire album ‘Nearly Human.’ The virtual tour will start in Buffalo February 14th and finish up March 22nd in Seattle. They will play the shows starting at 8PM local time. Besides the geo-fenced local shows, they will do a virtual meet and greet with fans. Todd thinks we will be looking at a hybrid model of both virtual and live shows in the future. 


Uber Buys Booze Delivery Service; Ford Switching to Android; Google Must Pay $2.5 Million to Underpaid Female Employees; Next iOS Update-Open Phone With Face ID & Mask-IF You Have Apple Watch

Uber is going to acquire alcohol delivery service Drizly. According to techcrunch.com, the $1.1 billion deal includes both stock and cash, and should close in the first half of the year. Instead of taking an Uber to avoid a DUI, you can have the booze Ubered to you and get smashed in the comfort of your home! With Uber Eats, you can get munchies to go along with it. (Suppose they will start delivering pot too at some point?) 

Ford is partnering with Google for its in-car tech. Arstechnica.com reports that FoMoCo will switch to Android for its infotainment systems by 2023. The Ford Sync system will also use Google Maps and Android voice recognition, and will use Google Cloud for its connected services. Lest you freakout as an iOS user who’s a Ford fan, you will still be able to use Apple CarPlay.

Google has agreed to pay per $2.5 million to more than 5,500 employees and job applicants who were impacted by alleged systematic pay and hiring discrimination. Theverge.com says the US Department of Labor found that female software engineers were being underpaid. It also identified “hiring rate differences that disadvantaged female and Asian applicants” for Google engineering positions. The alleged disparities impacted employees at Google offices in Mountain View, Seattle, and Kirkland, Washington. Google will also set aside $1,250,000 for pay-equity adjustments, for a total of $3.8 million to resolve this issue. Just for reference, the $2.5 million, if spread evenly over the 5,500 employees comes to a miserly $454 each!

In the next update to iOS, V. 14.5, Apple is adding a cool feature. The system will let you open your iPhone with Face ID even if you are wearing a mask…IF you have an Apple Watch. According to macrumors.com, the phone will do a partial face scan, then open. Your Watch will give you a haptic buzz and a notification on screen. Things like App Store purchases and Apple Pay payments will not be able to be authenticated through the Face ID + Apple Watch pairing, so you’ll still need full Face ID authentication or a passcode for some actions. iOS 14.5 is in beta right now.