Apple Watch Detect Coronavirus? Top Google Pixel People Leave; Waymo AI-Vectors to Predict Pedestrians & Bikes; Senate Votes Against Ban on Snooping on Internet History

Stanford is gearing up for a wearables study to determine if the Apple Watch could detect the coronavirus. According to 9to5mac.com, they want to see if data like ECG and respiration rate can be used to track COVID-19 and other infectious diseases…even before any symptoms present themselves. If you have An Apple Watch Series 4 or other wearable like a Fitbit that can detect ECG, and are interested, hit this link: https://redcap.stanford.edu/surveys/?s=YJ3FRCWX8X. In order to participate, you’ll need to agree to three things:
1 Wear your device continuously
2 Download an app
3 Fill out a daily symptom survey (which takes 1-2 minutes)
The study will run for up to two years, but they hope to complete the first phase in a matter of weeks.

A couple of major members of the Pixel team, Marc Levoy and Mario Queiroz, have left. Techcrunch.com reports that both Levoy and Queiroz were key members of the imaging team, and were widely believed to be major players in developing the Pixel’s amazing camera capabilities. Some observers believe the two were pushed out after Google was disappointed with the penetration of the Pixel into the smartphone market. The budget Pixel 3A has gotten decent numbers, as opposed to the hero model. The upgrade to the Pixel 4A has been delayed due to the coronavirus.

As is obvious…even to cameras with a speck of programming behind them…cars and trucks are big. Pedestrians and bicyclists are harder for self-driving AI to pick up. Now, venturebeat.com says Google’s Waymo has taken the wraps off an AI model it claims will “significantly” improved its driverless systems’ ability to predict the behavior of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. Called VectorNet, it ostensibly provides more accurate projections while requiring less computing compared with previous approaches. VectorNet helps predict movements of road users using info from maps and sensor data to alert the ‘full-stack’ driverless system. The VectorNet system essentially adds info to maps like traffic signs, lanes, and round boundaries. The system has an added bonus of taking computing load from the primary driving stack. Waymo just resumed road testing its self driving cars a week ago, after a pause due to the shelter-in-place.

Yesterday, the Senate failed by a single vote to approve an amendment to parts of the Patriot Act that would explicitly bar law enforcement from using it to justify collecting individuals’ internet browser and search history without a warrant. According to Mashable.com, the amendment needed 60 votes to pass, and got 59. 24 Republicans voted for it, 10 Democrats…somewhat amazingly…voted against it, including normally progressive Senators Dianne Feinstein and Sheldon Whitehouse. Senator Bernie Sanders was not present for the vote, which could have made the difference. The amendment was sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden. The Act itself doesn’t specifically allow warrantless searches, but not passing this amendment leaves a great area that is ripe for abuse by police and government authorities…including action against potential political rivals.


Facebook Head of AI-Musk Has No Clue; Facebook Paying $52 Million Settlement to Content Moderators; 13 State AGs Probing Amazon Over COVID-19; Apple May Offer Audio Versions of Some Apple News Stories

In a Tweet this (Wednesday) morning, Facebook head of AI Jerome Pesenti said with regards to comments by Elon Musk that AI is on the brink of outsmarting humans and that it could prove more dangerous to mankind than nuclear weapons, that Musk “has no idea what he is talking about when he talks about AI.” According to businessinsider.com, the Tweet was in reaction to an CNBC story that quoted anonymous AI researchers and CEO’s who were questioning Musk’s AI credentials. Musk WAS an early investor in several AI startups, including OpenAI lab and DeepMind (which was later picked up by Google.) Pesenti says there’s no AI system in the world that’s close to achieving “artificial general intelligence,” or intelligence on par with a human mind. He did note that he was speaking personally, and wasn’t speaking on behalf of Facebook. Edward Grefenstette, a former DeepMind engineer who now works for Facebook called Musk an “opportunistic moron” after the Tesla CEO tweeted “FREE AMERICA NOW” last month. There has been no response to a request for comment to a Tesla spokesperson so far.

In other Facebook news, the social media giant will pay out $52 million to current and former moderators to compensate for mental health issues they have developed on the job. Theverge.com reports that the amount appeared in a preliminary settlement filed last Friday in San Mateo Superior Court. Facebook also agreed to provide more counseling to the moderators while they work. Each moderator will get a minimum of $1000 and will be legible for additional compensation if they are diagnosed with PTSD or other related conditions. 11,250 moderators are covered by the settlement.

Even as Amazon touted their changes to protect employees against COVID-19 to 60 Minutes Sunday, the Attorneys General of 13 states are calling on the company to release data on the number of their workforce COVID-19 cases and deaths. Geekwire.com says the AGs also want Amazon to extend its unlimited, unpaid time off policy wherever a state of emergency exists. They’re also seeking an explanation of how Amazon deals with reports of retaliation against employees who speak out about workplace safety, citing “disturbing media reports alleging such retaliation by Amazon.” Those acts could be in violation of the Occupation Safety and Health Act, according to the top state lawyers. Amazon did respond, noting what they showed off on 60 Minutes, including their UV robot that rolls along disinfecting items and told the program that at least 600 workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Other reports have indicated a notably higher number of cases. ‘But my stuff is still coming in 2 days, right?’

Apple News+ is considering providing an option to listen to audio versions of some stories at some point. According to macrumors.com, they have asked publishers that participate in Apple News + for permission to produce audio versions of stories produced on the platform. Apple has told producers it will handle production costs, and compensate publishers the same way it does for written content they put up…50% of subscriber revenue to publishers based on how much time the Apple subscribers spend with the publishers’ content in a 30 day period. So far, no word on when Apple might launch the audio version of News + stories.


April Smartphone Shipments Up 17% in China; Twitter Adding Labels to Misleading CCOVID-19 Claims; AirPods Studio Features; LG Looks to ‘Wing’ Smartphone Design

In a glimmer of good news regarding the pandemic and its effects, government data from China shows smartphone shipments in China up 17% in April compared to April 2019. Reuters.com reports that the numbers point to an early domestic rebound for makers like Huawei and Apple…at least in China. Phone makers shipped 40.8 million handsets in April 2020, up from 34.8 million in the same month of 2019. This is according to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology…a state-backed think tank. Private research firms like Canalys, IDC, and Counterpoint Research all reported first quarter shipments of Apple devices in China declined in the low single digits, while Huawei managed to stay flat for the first quarter. We’ll have to see how May numbers stack up to see if 2nd quarter shipments in China hold up and really indicate a recovery.

Twitter is…thankfully and at long last…going to label Tweets with misleading COVID-19 claims. Engadget.com reports that they will say ‘disputed or misleading information.’ This is an expansion of the warnings already in place since March applied to ‘fake and ineffective treatments’ and other coronavirus hoaxes. The new label will include a link to a Moment curated by Twitter or an external site that includes facts about COVID-19. In some cases, you will also find a blurred out Tweet with the warning “conflicts with guidance from public health experts regarding COVID-19.” You will have to click through to view those Tweets.

Info about Apple’s over ear headphones, which may be called ‘AirPods Studio,’ is trickling out. 9to5mac.com says that…unlike the AirPods ear detection, which auto-pauses when you take them off…the Studio will actually sense if the headphones are on your head or your neck. When you drop them around your neck, they will pause music, but stay on and at the ready for use again. Another unique sensor will detect left and right ears…so there will be no having to look at the ‘cans’ to see which side is right or left…the Studio will detect that, and route the left channel sound to your left ear and right sound to your right! They will have Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode, as do most higher line headphones. Pairing them with a Mac or iOS device will automatically unlock your custom equalizer settings, too! Apple will apparently offer at least two versions…one with leathers and another with lighter materials for fitness use. They are also testing modular interchangeable magnetic ear pads, like the Master & Dynamic headphones already have…a feature I highly approve of! There will be at least two color options, and it looks like they will be priced competitively with other higher line wireless headphones at around $349.

LG was big back in the feature phone days, and even did ok during the early years of smartphones….then pretty well fell off the charts. Now, 9to5google.com reports that they are looking to a radical ‘wing’ design to regain a foothold in the smartphone market. The phone pivots in the middle to make what is basically a T-shape. The upper part that you then hold horizontally is the main dlsplay, and the one that swivels to the bottom can be sued for editing tools, browsing info, and a keyboard. The wing reportedly would run on a Snapdragon 765 chip, and would have a 6.8 inch main screen with the 4 inch part of the ’T’ the aux display. Estimates put the pricing at around $800. No release date has been leaked yet, but it’s expected later this year.


iPhone 12Pro- 3X Zoom, 120 Hz Screen-More; Facebook Rolling Out Dark Mode & Cleaner Desktop; Zillow-Virtual Tours New Normal for Real Estate; Thunderbolt Flaw- Local Access & Data Gone in 5 Minutes; 46% of Companies-Still Hiring

As the new iPhones are probably finalized, here’s more that has leaked out about the top line models. 9to5mac.com says the latest from Max Weinbach (of EverythingApplePro) is that the iPhone 12 Pro models will feature 120 Hz displays, up from the 60 in the present phones. Apple has built in a feature to gear down automatically to 60 when you aren’t needing the high refresh rate (not watching video, etc) to save battery. Battery life on the 6.76 inch iPhone 12 Pro Max will be over 4400mAh. There’s an improved Face ID, which will support a wider angle of view to unlock, and as we previously reported, a LIDAR scanner to improve autofocus and Portrait Mode. Also, the telephoto zoom gets a bump up from 2X to 3X for physical zoom…which is always much cleaner than digital zoom.

You may not have seen it yet…I haven’t…but Facebook started rolling out its new cleaner desktop redesign late last week…including a dark mode. I have had a tease bar at the top of the page for almost a month about the new look coming, so it will be interesting to see how it runs. I have used Twitter in dark mode since it came out, and find it much easier on the eyes. Cnet.com reports that most people should be getting the new desktop Facebook over the next couple weeks…it was previewed last year at its F8 developers conference. It has a lot more white space…or dark space if in that mode, brighter icons, and streamlined navigation which more closely mirrors that on the mobile app. It also should load faster!

With the pandemic pretty well halting open houses, real estate sales has been hobbled. Zdnet.com reports that Zillow is working to “accelerate technology to deliver seamless and now more virtual real estate shopping and transaction experiences.’ They believe the future lies in virtual tours, not in-person ones…and not just for Zillow users. Zillow also sees in-person appraisals, filings, and closings as becoming something of the past after the pandemic becomes a bad memory…due to a vaccine and treatment advances. Zillow created 525% more 3D home tours in April than February. Like other entities, they see many more people continuing to work from home in jobs that can be done from a home or remote location. Of course, before the pandemic, you could find local Starbucks locations filled with people nursing a coffee and doing business from their coffee shop office, so this is something of an evolutionary change. Zillow sees what they call Zillow 2.0 ‘becoming a reality even sooner than we had planned.” Richard Barton, Zillow CEO remarked, “You’re seeing years of technology progress get accelerated down into months.”

If you are running a PC or Linux computer, a new flaw in Thunderbolt allows on-site hackers to hoover up your data in 5 minutes…even if the computer is locked and data encrypted! Engadget.com says it takes a screwdriver and about $400 worth of what’s called ‘easily portable hardware.’ The hack involves changing the firmware that controls the Thunderbolt port, allowing any device to access it. The hack leave NO trace! Right now, it’s recommended that you use hibernation or powering off the system when you are away…don’t use sleep mode (Suspend-to-RAM.) Apple computers running MacOS are not affected by the hack…unless you are running Boot Camp.

Crowdsourced data from Candor indicates that 46% of companies are still hiring, even during the pandemic. According to venturebeat.com, 21% are laying off, and 32% have frozen hiring. Candor surveyed 7,000 companies. Candor helps tech workers negotiate salaries. The info is reported by employees, and offers what the company calls ‘a real time look’ at the impact of the coronavirus on the economy. The situation varies by area…for example, only 36.1% of New York companies are hiring. The Bengaluru region of India still has strong job growth, and 48.1% of San Francisco Bay Area companies are still hiring, even as more employees have transitioned to remote work. According to the survey, larger companies are tending to use the pandemic to ‘rightsize,’ while 60% of the companies hiring have 10 or fewer employees, and over half of those hiring have 50 people or less on staff. The large private companies are hiring at a rate of 42.68%, while public ones are down to 31.85% still hiring.


Zoom Picks Up Encryption Startup; Peloton Sports Big Revenue & Membership Bump; Volvo Eyes Lidar and ‘Eyes Off’ Driving; Tile Partners with Intel to Track PCs

Zoom has been repeatedly pounded for its rather porous system and the ‘Zoombombing’ by hackers, and the like. Now, they have taken action…acquiring encryption startup Keybase. According to zdnet.com, it is the first ever acquisition by Zoom. The new tech will enable end to end encryption of video calls for all paid accounts, a big step in Zoom’s promised 90 day security push. Zoom says it will publish a draft cryptographic design May 22nd, and ask for feedback from crypto experts and customers before locking in the final design and rolling it out to Zoom users. They have assured users they won’t be building any back doors in, either.

You’d think with all the sheltering in place, Peloton would do well…and you’d be right. In fact, they even beat the Street, blowing past Wall Street’s lofty expectations. Techcrunch.com says quarterly revenues were up 66%! Peloton reported $524.6 million for the quarter, passing up the expected $488.5 million by a country mile. The connected bike runs $2245, with the treadmill coming in at $4295. As people head back to work, a lot will probably keep their subscription, but the big unknown is how many who tried the 90 day free trial will sign up for the paid sub.

In what could be a huge challenge to Tesla and others, Volvo will start building cars with powerful lidar sensors from Startup Luminar. Arstechnica.com reports that Volvo pumped money into Luminar in 2018. The lidar equipped Volvos will be out in 2023, and will likely be available on the XC-90 and maybe other models. Some higher end lidar units spin at 360 degrees, but the ones from Luminar are fixed with a 120 degree field of view. Volvo will build them into the car just above the windshield, giving a good, clear view of the road ahead. Top line lidar has run up to $75,000 as recently as a few years ago, but Volvo thinks this different tech will bring the price down to under $1000 per car!

Tile has announced it is partnering with Intel to get its tracking tech into laptops….to help track down stolen or lost PCs. According to theverge.com, we could start seeing PCs with the trackers by late this year or early 2021. Tile trackers connect over Bluetooth to aa Tile Mobile app. If the PC is in Bluetooth range, you’ll see the location on a map. If the computer is moved out of range, a loud alarm sounds. You can also ping Tile’s crowd-finding network, which will notify you with the device’s location if it gets in range of another Tile equipped device. The HP Elite Dragonfly is already out, and features the tech, if you are so inclined and in the market…but it’s no bargain basement laptop!


Microsoft Unveils New surface Book 3; VW Readying Sale of New EV- ID.3; Uber Laying off 3700; Disney + Posts Big Subscriber Number

Microsoft has rolled out its latest hardware…but via blog post instead of the usual splashy presser in New York City. Zdnet.com reports that Redmond showed the new Surface Book 3, the Surface Go 2, Surface Dock 2, Surface Earbuds, and Surface Headphones 2. In addition to all that, Microsoft has added a new USB-C Travel Hub to the collection. Orders for all can be put in today, and most will ship next week. The Surface Go 2, Microsoft’s “more affordable and portable” 2-in-1 at 10.5 inches, is slightly larger than the original Surface Go and features smaller bezels. It starts at $399 tablet only…no keyboard, and is available May 12th. The Surface Book 3 is touted as MS’s most powerful laptop. They are claiming it is 50% faster than the Surface Book 2, and has up to 17.5 hours of battery life. The base model starts at $1599 and is available on May 21st. The new Surface Earbuds are $199 as expected, and have ‘all day battery life’ and…like other earbuds…a wireless charging case. The Surface Headphones 2 sport up to 20 hours battery life, ear cup rotation of 180 degrees, and will come in either black or platinum. They are out May 12th for $249.

Next month, Volkswagen will launch its ID.3 electric vehicle. According to techcrunch.com, customers who had preordered the Golf-sized hatchback can start putting in actual orders by June 17th. VW has banked 37,000 reservations for the first edition, which will be limited to 30,000 units. Orders for right hand drive models will open in July. VW is shooting for selling a million electrics per year by 2025. The ID.3 is a Europe only model, but VW says they will sell other models under the ID brand in North America. The ID.3 has an estimated range of 260 miles, and will sell for 30,000 euros in Germany.

We had previously reported that Uber was looking hard at layoffs with the drop in ride sharing. Earlier, Lyft sent 1,000 packing. Now, engadget.com says Uber is laying off 3700 full time employees, amounting to about 14% of its 26,900 person work force. Airbnb has announced it would lay off 1900. California is still moving forward with a lawsuit that alleges that Uber and Lyft misclassify drivers…who the state claims under a recent law qualify as employees. The companies, and others such as Doordash, are fighting the suit.

Although Disney is hurting from the closure of theme parks and cruise lines, etc due to the coronavirus, steaming is a bright spot. CNBC.com reported that they had 33.5 million Disney + subscribers as of the end of March, but as of Tuesday, has 54.5 million! Hulu jumped 27% from last year and now has 32.1 million, and ESPN is now up to 7.9 million subscribers. Disney had been predicting they would have between 60 million and 90 million Disney + subscribers by the end of 2024! The company did warn that viewership would drop off once shelter in place orders are lifted.


Facebook Prepping Smaller Oculus; Zillow House Market Projections; Apple-Virtual WWDC June 22; Self-Cleaning Transparent Mask

Facebook is reportedly prepping a new, smaller Oculus Quest VR headset. Cnet.com notes that the headset was due out this year, but is likely being pushed back to 2021 due to the coronavirus. There are apparently ‘multiple potential successors’ to the Quest, with some getting a better refresh rate for ‘more realistic content’. Facebook is also working on redesigned controllers. The newer models will still not be featherweight….according to Bloomberg, the test models weigh in at around a pound, while the original unit is 1.25 lbs. They will still run independently or be able to be connected to a computer.

allow is out with housing market projections. According to geekwire.com, the latest analysis points to real estate feeling the effects of COVID-19 until late 2021…maybe even beyond that. Interestingly, Zillow sees home sales dropping 60%, but prices only easing by 2-3%. They expect pricing to firm up by 3rd quarter 2021. They predict much more short term disruption than long term. Redfin reports that home listings are down 50% year over year, but say demand has firmed back up again after a dip in April.

Apple’s big show, the World Wide Developers Conference was cancelled, as other big tech shows, with the promise of a virtual one. Now, Cupertino has posted details on their website, The virtual WWDC will begin on June 22nd. the Apple Developer App on the Apple Developer website is free for all developers. There will be a student challenge using their Swift programming language, and of course, early access to Apple’s various operating systems. Apple says further details, including keynote, platform state of the union details, sessions and lab schedules will be shared in June on the developer website and by email.

Of late, Apple has been working on iOS to switch to password right away if Face ID detects a mask…the new normal. Now, though, Chinese tech company Huami, maker of Amazfit wearables, is working on an N95-like transparent mask! Cnet.com reports that the mask will not only allow use of facial recognition while wearing it, it’s self-cleaning! The mask features removable filters, and has a USB port for power. When you take it off, UV light built in cleans the filters! They say this allows the filters to be effective for a month to 6 weeks! It won’t be out until late this year or early next, and the company says it will be affordable…their Bip smartwatch is $80, so that gives an idea of what they mean.