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. 


Amazon-Government Data Demands Way Up; Hedge Fund Melvin Takes a 53% Pounding After Redditors Play Gamestop; Amazon Ring Now Partnered With 2,000+ Police Agencies; iMessage’s Stealth Security Feature

It says something that I am writing two stories about your data being Hoovered up in one blog post, but more and more, we live in a surveillance society. Techcrunch.com reports that Amazon has announced that government demands for user data spiked by 800% in 2020! Amazon says it handled 27,664 government demands for data the last 6 months of 2020, up from 3222 data data demands in the first 6 months of the year! Besides, Ring, mentioned below, the info included shopping searches and data from Amazon’s Echo and Fire devices. Amazon Web Services is reported separately, but Amazon says it processed 523 demands for data there, with 75% of requests made by US authorities. Amazon turned over user’s content in just 15 cases. 

How it ends remains to be seen, but the runup in Gamestop stock last week powered by Redditors using apps….mainly Robinhood…has definitely had an impact. Arstechnica.com reports that hedge fund Melvin took a 53% hit last week from it. Melvin apparently exited its bet against Gamestop on Wednesday, with their leverage ratio sitting at its lowest point since the firm was founded in 2014. The rally in GameStop shares has captivated Wall Street and forced many hedge funds to rethink risk management practices. On Monday and Tuesday last week, other long-short hedge funds cut their exposure to the market by covering short bets and selling out of stocks. “The market action has been a wake-up call and retail traders are likely to continue to be a force to be reckoned with, which will probably permanently affect the business models of institutional investors,” said Maneesh Deshpande, a strategist at Barclays. It may be brief, but for now, the little guys have beat the Street.

Despite criticism of the feature, Amazon’s Ring continued to expand partnerships with police agencies last year, and is now up to over 2,000 of them. Engadget.com says that Montana and Wyoming are the only two states at this point where Ring doesn’t have an alliance. Ring did recently add end-to-end encryption, and the police agencies allegedly have to get home owners’ permission to access the video. Reportedly, Ring only handed over 57% of data requested in 2020, compared to 68% in 2019. The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that neighbors and passers-by might be caught on camera without granting consent. This amounted to a “massive and unchallenged” surveillance network, according to the EFF.

With the rollout of iOS 14, Apple added a security feature that hasn’t been touted…or even mentioned. It’s called BlastDoor. According to bgr.com, it was actually first noted by a Google from Project Zero. Everything coming in via iMessage goes through a secure location meant to contain threats that hackers might include in messages. Highly sophisticated information bombs can allow hackers to attack unsuspecting iPhone users, but BlastDoor will now stop all of that. The new security feature is amazing, and it’s something other operating systems and chat apps will undoubtedly copy. After all, hackers target all devices and programs, not just Apple’s. This will be an absolutely bulletproof protection…until it isn’t, like all security features, so use and enjoy it until its hacked, and Apple and others have to rush to come up with more protections!


Walmart Adding Robot Assisted Fulfillment Centers; Google Opens Pixel & Nest Hub in Taiwan; Microsoft Profit up 33%; Apple Logs Best Quarter Ever in India

Walmart has announced an increase in the number of robot-assisted fulfillment centers. According to theverge.com, the new centers will either be built within or adjacent to existing Walmart retail locations, and will employ wheeled robots they have dubbed Alphabots pick items from the shelves and prepare orders placed online. Walmart did a pilot with a warehouse in New Hampshire in 2019. If you are wondering about humans, they will still be the ones picking fresh meat and produce, in addition to larger items. Walmart is trialing new tech, though….including an automated curbside pickup feature, which will allow buyers or delivery drivers to drive up to a specific location, scan a code, grab their order, and go, all without leaving their vehicles.

Google has opened a new hardware engineering hub in Taiwan for Pixel, Chromecast, and Nest teams. 9to5google.com reports that Google’s workforce there has grown 10 times in the last 5 years, and is now operating out of 6 different locations. The new hub will be at New Taipei City. As more places go green, this hardware office joins a Taiwan data center that’s powered by a solar farm and Google Cloud region for third-party developers/services.

Microsoft got a 17% bump in revenue for the December quarter, with profits moving up 33%. Geekwire.com says a lot of the growth was powered by growing demand for their cloud service, as has been true of cloud services in general. Microsoft saw a 50% increase in revenue for its Azure cloud computing platform and related services. The largest division by revenue is what they now call More Personal Computing, which includes Windows and Xbox…Redmond saw a 14% gain there. LinkedIn was up 23%, while Surface revenue only increased by about 3%.

Apple had a 100% increase year over year in India, shipping 1.5 million iPhones there 4th quarter (as of the end of 2020.) According to techcrunch.com, they saw improved sales of older generation models like the iPhone 11 and XR. The 12 and new SE were also good sellers for Cupertino there. For the year, Apple moved 3.2 million iPhones in India, which was a 60% increase from the previous year. Apple just launched an online store in India in 2020, and saw a lot of the increase after that. 


Twitter Launches ‘Birdwatch’ to Fight MisInfo; Biden-Government Fleet to Go EV; Future Apple Watch May Measure Blood Sugar; Hyundai Trials Showroom Robot Assistant

Twitter has rolled out ‘Birdwatch,’ which it says is ‘a community-based approach to misinformation.’ According to TechCrunch.com, Twitter has launched a pilot version via the Birdwatch website. From a post by Twitter VP/Product Keith Coleman, the goal is to expand beyond the labels that the company already applies to controversial or potentially misleading tweets, which he suggested are limited to “circumstances where something breaks our rules or receives widespread public attention.” Users can sign up on the Birdwatch site to flag Tweets they find misleading, ad context via notes and rate notes from other contributors, based on helpful/not helpful. It appears that Twitter intends to incorporate the notes into the main Twitter experience after a trial run. 

President Biden ha pledged to replace the US government fleet of almost 650,000 vehicles with electric models as soon as possible. Reuters.com notes that, in a speech this week, he talked specifically about American built products and referred to cars in particular, and how the government would be changing metrics to ensure that cars assembled in the US were really made from more than half US parts. It could cost $20 billion or more to replace the whole fleet, and the president didn’t give a time frame. Right now, the US fleet burns 375 million gallons of gas and diesel, and the government spends some $4.4 billion on upkeep, so an electric fleet would be cheaper in the long run. Biden has also pledged to build out 350,000 EV charging stations.

A report is out that Apple plans to include blood sugar measurements as a banner feature on the next iteration of the Apple Watch. 9to5mac.com says this would be a huge plus for millions of people, and could really explode the use of the Watch. All rides right now on the accuracy of the watch’s readings. Millions of diabetics would love to give up finger sticks, or a device on their shoulder that a smartphone reads (which has a needle stuck in your arm all the time). It is expected that Apple won’t release the feature unless it is accurate enough. The current latest models read blood oxygen, as well as ECG measurements (dating back to series 4.) It is thought that the blood sugar measurement feature might be available on current Apple Watches, too…as they can already measure blood oxygen. This could be huge for Apple Watch and for diabetics….who need to stay on top of their sugars all the time. 

Hyundai has unveiled a cute little robot assistant dubbed DAL-e, to assist customers who are iffy about other human interaction due to the pandemic (or maybe otherwise!) Engadget.com reports, the little robot is being piloted in a Seoul showroom. The name is an acronym for ‘Drive you, Assist You, Link with you-experience.’ It has facial recognition, and can detect when someone has entered the showroom not wearing a mask, and advise them to put one on. It is allegedly programmed with ‘smooth dialogue,’ and has a touchscreen on the top of its head. The little robot has 4 wheels and can accompany a customer all around the showroom, or lead them to the service department. If it pans out, you could see DAL-e robots in other Hyundai and Kia showrooms around the world.


Googlers Form 10 Country Union Alliance; Google Opening up Facilities for COVID-19 Vaccinations; The Great Facebook Logout; Tesla Accuses Engineer of IP Theft; Apple-iPhone 12 May Interfere with Pacemakers

Employees of Alphabet have formed Alpha Global, a coalition of 13 unions in 10 countries, including the US, UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden. According to mashable.com, the deal is in coordination with global union federation UNI Global Union, which boasts 20 million members. Alpha Global issued a statement saying its goal is to “see a world in which Alphabet respects human and labour rights across its global operations and supply chain.” “Alphabet has long lost its commitment of “Don’t be evil,” but we haven’t. Together, we will hold Alphabet accountable. Together, we will change Alphabet,” the statement reads. As of this writing, there has been no comment from Google/Alphabet. 

Some warm and fuzzy news from Google…or really, some Fauci Ouchie news…Google will open up office facilities for COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Cnet.com reports that Google will be partnering with One Medical, and the facilities will be opened ‘as needed.’ Right now, they are talking about campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area, LA, New York City, and Kirkland, WA. Just last week, Amazon sent a letter to President Biden offering help on vaccinating at their fulfillment centers and Whole Foods stores. Expect more tech firms and other companies to step forward to try to get a large number of people vaccinated and get the country back into business as a bit more usual. 

You say you got logged out of Facebook suddenly Friday evening? There was lots of company in that, apparently. What happened? Over the weekend, Facebook released a statement that gave a rather cryptic excuse that it was due to a ‘configuration change.’ In other words, they f*cked up a software change. 9to5mac.com says it affected almost entirely iOS users, mainly on iPhones, and the issue was corrected about 6AM Saturday morning, East Coast time. 

For once, someone is being accused of trying to steal software from Tesla that didn’t have anything to do with their self-driving tech. The electric car maker has sued an engineer named Alex Khatilov for allegedly stealing their custom Warp Drive software…which is used to automate online purchasing and other systems. Engadget.com reports that Tesla says he downloaded a massive number of script files, numbering in the thousands, to his Dropbox account within 3 days of being hired in December. So far, the car maker doesn’t think he had been working with others at the time. The engineer is another in a fairly long list of people who have tried to make off with Tesla’s technology over the years. 

A bit of scary news about the new iPhone 12 series. Apple has acknowledged that the handsets, which use ‘Magsafe’ magnetic charging, can affect medical devices like implanted pacemakers and defibrillators. According to macrumors.com, Apple put out this warning: 

Medical devices such as implanted pacemakers and defibrillators might contain sensors that respond to magnets and radios when in close contact. To avoid any potential interactions with these devices, keep your iPhone and MagSafe accessories a safe distance away from your device (more than 6 inches / 15 cm apart or more than 12 inches / 30 cm apart if wirelessly charging). But consult with your physician and your device manufacturer for specific guidelines.’  

The net is, if you have a pacemaker or defibrillator, don’t carry your iPhone 12 in your breast pocket of a jacket right over your heart! Hold it in your hand, put it in a pants pocket or purse! It may be crappy tech, but use your Bluetooth headsets…it beats having your pacemaker go into suspended mode and opening yourself up to a heart attack!


Apple VR Headset Rumors; LG May Drop Smartphones; Amazon Offers COVID Response Help to Biden; Cybersecurity Spending Projected to Increase

The latest rumor about Apple’s AR or VR products indicates that the first virtual reality headset will be bulked up with powerful processors, a high res display, a fan, and an Applesque (read HIGH) price. Cnet.com reports that it will likely be noticeably more expensive than mot of the headsets on the market now, which generally range from $300 to $900. A prototype includes external cameras, apparently. Apple is expected to roll out their VR headset by 2022. 

After years of being an afterthought to smartphone heavyweights Apple and Samsung, LG is thinking about exiting the smartphone market this year. According to theverge.com, LG has dropped about $4.5 billion the last 5 years. The company is also considering selling off its smartphone division as opposed to just closing it down. Even some innovative products like the Wing smartphone have failed to move the needle in market share or profitability for LG. 

With virtually no national plan from the previous administration, the new Biden administration is quickly trying to build out its COVID response from the ground up. For production of vaccines and PPEs, President Biden signed an executive order today to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production. That leaves the distribution and actual act of getting the vaccine into arms part. Now, engadget.com says Amazon has offered help from the online and logistics giant. Amazon notes that its Whole Foods division has already partnered with a 3rd party firm to vaccinate its 800,000 strong workforce once vaccine is available. 

According to a study by Canalys, worldwide cybersecurity spending will increase by 10% this year. Venturebeat.com reports that the continued move to cloud computing has spurred the boost in spending, in addition to some very high profile hacks of supposedly secure software and platforms. The figure is put at $60.2 billion for security products and services in 2021. That investment includes beefing up areas such as “endpoint security, network security, web and email security, data security, vulnerability and security analytics, and identity access management,” according to the report. Spending could fall short of that by over 6% though, if the pandemic keeps many businesses closed for extended periods.


Netflix Passes Another Milestone; Malwarebytes Admits Hacking By solarWinds Hackers; Israeli Battery Charges as Fast As You Can Gas Up; Facebook Keeps Trump Ban

Netflix has now surpassed 200 million subscribers worldwide. Engadget.com reports that Netflix has pointed out that its original TV shows accounted for 9 of the top 10 most Googled series in 2020. Netflix is rolling out its shuffle play feature (which some users have had for several months now.) The feature picks shows for you. In a big deal for investors, Netflix says the  will no longer need to raise external financing for day to day operations. 

Malwarebytes has revealed that it was hacked by the same bad guys who pierced SolarWinds last year. According to zdnet.com, Malwarebytes says the hackers only got access to a limited subset of internal company emails. The company said it has made further adjustments to secure its systems, but claims its products were never affected and that they remain safe. 

A company in Israel has developed a battery for electric cars that can be recharged  to a good level in 5 minutes, about the time it takes to gas up a car! Bgr.com says the company, StoreDot, has now produced its first 1,000 EV battery packs. They are utilizing batteries made by Eve Energy in China. The packs can get you 100 miles of range in 5 minutes. While the batteries are still lithium ion, they substitute nanoparticles of germanium instead of graphite. Future runs will use silicon nanoparticles, to be more cost effective. They will cost the same as present lithium ion batteries. StoreDot expects them to be in cars by 2025.

Facebook now says there is no plan to lift the indefinite suspension of Donald Trump’s Facebook account, even since he’s no longer in the White House. According to NBC, the ban will say in effect due to his incitement of the rioters who attacked the US Capitol. It still could be lifted at some point…it’s not a permanent ban like Twitter and Snapchat have on Trump accounts.


Microsoft Drops $2 Billion in Cruise; Snapdragon 870 Announced; Foxconn-$270 Million for Vietnam Plant, Smartwatches May Detect Signs of COVID-19 Early

GM’s Cruise self-driving car spin-off has just picked up another $2 billion in funding…from Microsoft. Redmond will be an investor and partner, according to techcrunch.com. GM itself and Honda have also pumped more funding into the company as it gets closer to commercializing its tech. As part of the deal, Cruise will leverage Azure, Microsoft’s cloud and edge computing platform, to commercialize its autonomous vehicle solutions at scale. Microsoft also becomes GM’s preferred cloud provider. GM plans to launch some 30 electric vehicles globally by 2025. 

Qualcomm has announced the new Snapdragon 870, which will power many higher line smartphones. Theverge.com reports that the 870 will actually not be the top of the line processor…that is the Snapdragon 888. The 870 will be dropped into phones selling for $800 or less, while the 888 powers top line phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 series. The 870 should be showing up soon in handsets from Motorola, OnePlus, Oppo, and Xiaomi towards the end of the first quarter of this year.

Foxconn has acquired a license to build a plant in Vietnam, and plans a $270 million dollar factory there to build MacBooks and iPads. Reuters.com says that the finished factory should be able to crank out around 8 million laptops and tablets a year. Foxconn has already poured $1.5 billion into Vietnam for production centers, and plans to invest $700 million more in the country as they move away from so much dependence on manufacturing in China. They also have plants now in India, South America, and Mexico.

Researchers at Mt. Sinai have found that the Apple Watch can pick up small changes in a user’s heartbeat that may indicate coronavirus a full week before they feel sick. According to engadget.com, the watches pick up changes in heart rate variability metrics (using a special app). The Watch already measures heart rate variability right out of the box, but the app traces it in a way that can match the accuracy of the nasal swab. Researchers at Stanford found that trackers from Garmin and Fitbit can do the same, finding the virus 81% of the time up to 9-1/2 days before any symptoms. A company called NeuTigers formed out of research from Princeton is using software to do this, and is now developing an app that will work on Fitbit, Apple, Samsung, and Withings smartwatches…they claim with 90% accuracy. 


Samsung Rolls Out Latest Phones at Unpacked; Health & Tech Firms Partner on Digital Vaccination Records; NHTSA Calls for Recall on Tesla Touchscreens; Parler CEO Says App May Not Return

As expected, Samsung showed off it’s latest and greatest phones at Unpacked today. Theverge.com reports that the Galaxy S21 will sell for $799 and the S21 Plus for $999. The S21 Ultra will be a wallet-melting $1199! The displays are virtually identical to last year’s phones, but the rounded edges have been eliminated. RAM in the two less expensive phones has been cut from 12 gigs to 8 gigs. The back panel of the lower end S21 is polycarbonate plastic, not glass, and it doesn’t have the ultrawideband radio the Plus and Ultra have that help integrate better with Samsung’s new Galaxy SmartTag. Aping Apple, Samsung will no longer ship with a charging brick and headphones (also citing environmental reasons…neither they nor Apple will admit to the nice cost savings they reap.) All 3 phones are available for preorder now, and launch on January 29th.

There is a new cross-industry initiative to set up digital vaccination records to enable employers to verify that people have and COVID-19 vaccinations before returning to the workplace. According to techcrunch.com, The so-called ‘Vaccination Credential Initiative’ includes a range of big-name companies from both the healthcare and the tech industry, including Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and Epic, as well as the Mayo Clinic, Safe Health, Change Healthcare and the CARIN Alliance. Paper vaccination credentials have actually been around since the 1700’s. I can recall having a little card from my doctor’s office showing all the vaccinations I had had for school. The system could be used for travel as well as workplace returns. 

The Feds are calling for an analysis that could lead to a recall of Teslas over touchscreens. The NHTSA says there is an apparent defect in Model S and Model X touchscreens that could end up bricking some 158,000 cars. Arstechnica.com says the issue is in the Media Control Unit. Buried within the MCU is an 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory chip, which can only be written to a finite number of times. Once this number of read/write cycles is reached—something that takes between three and four years depending on how much the car is driven—the touchscreen dies. The Feds say Tesla has attempted to patch the systems, but that isn’t working, and they have asked for a recall. 

In an interview with Reuters, John Matze, CEO of Parler, said the platform may not ever get back online. After being dropped from the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, then getting the boot from Amazon Web Services last Sunday, other vendors have also cut ties with the platform. Prior to going down, Parler had claimed to have over 12 million users. The platform was looking for another hosting service, and according to Matze, there had been no changes to investors in Parler as of yesterday. Hedge fund investor Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer and conservative commentator Dan Bongino are investors of the service.