Apple Event April 20th; Microsoft New Webcam & Speakers; Spotify has a ‘Car Thing’; Facebook Oversight Board Now Lets Users Appeal To Have Content Removed

Earlier today, Siri spilled the beans on Apple’s next upcoming event, they are dubbing “Spring Loaded.”. It’s April 20th. Engadget.com notes that it is widely expected to show off the new iPad Pro and the long expected AirTags. It will start at 10 AM Pacific time, and will again be completely virtual. With the ongoing chip shortage, it seems unlikely that a new MacBook Pro will be unveiled, or a new iMac. Those are more likely to bow this Fall  a few weeks after the September iPhone event.

Microsoft has released their new ‘Modern Webcam’ and also a USB-C speaker. According to theverge.com, the new hardware….aimed at work from home…is pretty basic, but the price isn’t bad. The 1080p webcam will ship in June for $69.99. It does use USB-A not C. the USB-C “Modern Speaker” is intended mainly for Microsoft Teams. It features a launch control panel for Teams, and includes omnidirectional mics and background cancellation. It comes with mute, volume, and call button controls on the top. The speaker will also be out in June, and is priced at $99.99.

Spotify has unveiled their first consumer gadget, and it’s Spotify for you car. No snappy name, either. Thenextweb.com says it’s just called ‘Car Thing.’ What you get is basically a touchscreen with a large volume knob and voice controls that allow you to run Spotify music through your car speakers. There are 4 preset buttons you can set for podcasts or playlists you frequently use. It needs to talk to your phone over Bluetooth, and also has to be plugged in to power via USB or the 12V outlet. The device is available to a limited number of people in the US, and is FREE, although you have to pay shipping and have a Spotify Premium account. Hit the waitlist at carthing.spotify.com.

We still don’t know if Donald Trump will be allowed back on Facebook, but the Oversight Board there has dropped a new decision. Mashable.com reports that theBoard will accept appeals from users that want to have content removed from the social media platform. After a user reports content to Facebook, there will be options to appeal the company’s decision. After the final appeal within Facebook is exhausted, a user will receive an Oversight Board Reference ID, which they can cite if they do appeal to the Oversight Board. The Oversight Board will then consider whether to take on the case and analyze whether the content at hand “violates Facebook’s Community Standards and values and international human rights standards.”


Microsoft Buys Nuance; Apple Working on TV Box With HomePod Speaker & FaceTime Cam; Tesla Jacks Up Solar Roof Prices; Facebook Spent Millions on Zuck Security

Microsoft has announced that they have acquired Nuance. According to the Microsoft News site, Redmond says the ‘acquisition will combine solutions and expertise to deliver new cloud and AI capabilities across healthcare and other industries.’ Microsoft has dropped $19.7 billion on Nuance, in an all-cash deal. It’s the 2nd largest acquisition by MS since snapping up LinkedIn. The CEO of Nuance, Mark Benjamin, will remain. Nuance is most known for their Dragon software, that uses deep learning to transcribe speech, and which gets more accurate over time guy adapting to a user’s voice. The tech has been licensed out to numerous services, including Apple’s Siri. 

Apple is apparently working on a new product for their smart home line. It iss essentially an Apple TV box with and added HomePod smart speaker and a FaceTime camera. 9to5mac.com reports that the integrated device would be similar to the Roku Streambar or Fire TV Cube. Mark Gurman of Bloomberg notes that it is in the early stage of development, and as such, might not see the light of day. You can still buy discontinued original HomePods…in White only. The original $349 device is slightly discounted to $299 now. The $99 HomePod Mini is selling much better. It is unlikely that this new gadget will be done in time for the next Apple TV release this Fall. 

It’s not unusual for companies to increase prices of products and services that occur a year after a contract is signed. What IS unusual is a really big jump. Electrek.co says that Tesla has jacked up the prices for Solar roofs and Powerwall installations by some 30%! Needless to say, this is quite a shock to customers who have had a signed contract for more than a year, and who have already spent thousands in preparation for the job! In a few cases, customers logged into their accounts and have seen 50% price increases! Tesla also says that now, it is sending out updated agreements, and will do the jobs in the order of updated agreement receipt. In other words, agree right away, or lose you spot in line!

Facebook spent more than a lot of CEOs get paid per year on Mark Zuckerberg’s security last year. Theverge.com reports that an SEC filing shows the company dropped a princely $23 million last year for its CEO. The filing showed that protection for Zuck and his family increased in 2020 primarily due to COVID-19 travel protocols, and increased security during the run up to the US election. Zuck also got an extra $10 million in compensation to go towards other security costs. This year, Facebook says they may offer personal security to non-employee directors from time to time as well, particularly in the aftermath of the attack attack on the US Capitol January 6th.


Chip Shortage Hits MacBooks; Facebook Labels Satire; Fake Vaxx Cards for Sale; Mustang Mach-e Bug

The chip shortage is hitting Apple. MacBook production is being hindered due to the shortage of chips mounted onto the circuit board before final assembly, which is a key step in the overall production process. ‌iPad‌ production is being impacted due to display and display component shortages. According Macrumors.com, Apple has postponed component orders for the two devices to the second half of the year.  iPhone production is so far not affected. For 

Facebook is adding additional labels to posts from Pages that appear in users’ News Feeds in a bid to reduce confusion about their origin. These labels will include “public official,” “fan page,” and “satire page.” Theverge.com says the company says it’s already started testing the deployment of these labels in the US, and will gradually add them to more posts. Sadly, identifying satire seems particularly important. Maybe some people will be less outraged by an Onion post.

The sudden surge of forged vaccine cards online has overwhelmed social platforms dealing with scammers taking advantage of pandemic anxieties. “Hundreds” of sellers have profited off of Americans’ fervent clamor for official vaccine cards, according New York Times reported Thursday. Despite policies banning the sale of fake cards on their platforms,  eBay, Etsy, Facebook, Twitter, and Shopify each were hosting sellers that purport to have vaccine cards for sale. All those platforms are now taking extra steps to remove the fakes. 

Add a software bug to the list of issues affecting Ford’s recently released Mustang Mach-E electric crossoverThe Verge.com reports that a problem with the car’s secondary 12-volt battery is leaving some vehicles unable to start, even when their primary lithium-ion battery is fully charged. Ford has acknowledged the issue, and says the problem is a software-related issue with the car’s powertrain control module. The company claims the bug only affects a “small number” of Mach-E vehicles, and they’re working on a patch. 


Fitbit Blood Pressure Study; Twitter Looked at Clubhouse; Twitch Curbs Offline Misconduct; Virtual Google I/O

Fitbit’s most advanced smartwatch today can track heart rate, blood oxygen, and skin temperature, and now, the company is investigating if it can measure blood pressure with a new study for Sense owners. 9to5google.com says Fitbit Labs is launching a blood pressure study this month to “potentially measure”  the “time it takes for a pulse of blood to reach your wrist after your heart beats.” Sense owners over 20 in the US will receive a notification in the Fitbit app about this study.  

Twitter held talks recently to acquire Clubhouse, the buzzy audio-based social network. Bloomberg reports that the companies discussed a potential valuation of roughly $4 billion for Clubhouse. Discussions are no longer ongoing, and it’s unclear why they stalled. A Twitter spokesman declined to comment. A Clubhouse representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor, called Spaces, launched in late 2020, though it’s still in beta form and not all users can create or host public discussions. 

Twitch will start taking disciplinary actions against people for misconduct that takes place offline or entirely on other platforms. According to engadget.com, the company may ban people for off-service misconduct under its expanded harassment and hateful conduct policy.The service will still target misconduct that takes place both on and off of Twitch (like if a user is harassing a streamer on its platform as well as Twitter). The updated policy adds a second category to tackle misconduct that doesn’t happen on Twitch at all. 

Last year, due to the pandemic, Apple and Microsoft went virtual for their big developer events. Google called off I/O all together. Techcrunch.com says this year, the Google show is set to return in virtual form. Google sent out its customary puzzle invites today, noting that the event will be held May 18-20.  Like other online-only events of a recent vintage, this version of the developer’s conference will be free to attend and open to all.


Starlink Sat Dishes; Vitals by Smartphone; TikTok Gets Captions; Chip Shortage

SpaceX has been shipping satellite dishes to Starlink customers that are actually worth far more than the $499 it’s charging its customers. It initially cost the company $3,000 to produce each satellite dish, according to CNBC.The company has since reduced the manufacturing cost to $1,500, and then down to $1,300. The manufacturing costs are expected to fall even further to “the few hundred dollar range within the next year or two.”  The $499 for the Starlink dish and Wi-Fi modem is a one-time fee. Users must also pay $99 a month to receive the internet service. 

Scientists with the University of Washington and Microsoft Research have new technology that allows medical providers to remotely check a patient’s pulse and heart rate.The tool uses the camera on a smartphone or computer to capture 18 seconds of video of a person’s face. Geekwire.com says that the video is analyzed to measure changes in the light reflected by a patient’s skin, which correlates to changes in blood volume and motion that are caused by blood circulation. 

TikTok has announced the launch of a new feature designed to make its app accessible to people who are hard of hearing or deaf. The company is today debuting auto captions — a feature that, when enabled, will automatically transcribe the speech from a video so viewers can read what’s being said in the video as an alternative to listening. Techcrunch.com reports that initially, auto captions will support American English and Japanese, with additional languages coming in the months ahead. 

Auto manufacturers and other companies are hoping that the global chip shortage will end soon, but snarled semiconductor supply chains may not untangle until 2022. According to arstechnica.com, the pandemic upended the market for semiconductors. As demand for cars plummeted, automakers slashed their orders. But at the same time, demand for chips that power laptops and data centers skyrocketed. Shortages of wafers and packaging substrates are compounding the problem. 


Clubhouse Allows Creator Pay; Cook-Apple AR & Car; Android Auto-More Apps; Softbank Invests in Warehouse Robotics

Buzzy social audio app Clubhouse will let all users pay other creators . Theverge.com says it’s the first monetization tool built right into the app. Clubhouse says it won’t take a cut of payments, meaning that creators get the entirety of what somebody sends them. Not everyone will be able to receive payments just yet, though; that will be rolling out in waves, “starting with a small test group,” according to Clubhouse. Right now, Clubhouse is only available on iOS as an invite-only app, though an Android version is in the works. 

Tim Cook has hinted at Apple’s vision for augmented reality tech, telling Sway’s Kara Swisher that charts and other visual elements could enhance conversation. Cnet.com notes that he wouldn’t confirm reports that the company is working on a mixed reality headset, but he agreed with Swisher’s suggestion that AR is “critically important” to Apple’s future. Also—Cook didn’t rule out the possibility of the long-rumored Apple Car, noting that such a device’s autonomy would be its “core technology.” 

Android Auto users will soon see a greater variety of navigation, parking and charging apps on the Play Store. Google is now allowing third-party developers to push software in those categories to production. According to engadget.com, that means you’ll soon start seeing those apps show up on the Play Store. Up to now, Google allowed third-party developers to release messaging and media apps for Android Auto, but not much else. 

Japanese investment firm The SoftBank Group has announced it will spend $2.8 billion to buy a 40% stake in robotics company AutoStore System, which specializes in robotics for warehouses. Zdnet.com says that company develops a line of robots, including the “R5,” a member of its Red Line series, for moving bins full of goods around a warehouse. Its software offerings, such as AutoStore’s “The Router,” optimize the movement of robotics systems around a warehouse. 


WFH- Boss Enjoys More; Saudis Price Up Asian Oil; Samsung’s Fat Profits; LG Exits Smartphones

A lot has been made of surveys showing how the hybrid of work from home and office is great. Zdnet.com found in a study Microsoft did that it depends. Apparently, it’s working great for bosses. For the rest of us…maybe not so much. Redmond found 52% of the company’s IMs were being sent between 6pm and midnight. Sixty-one percent of leaders described themselves as “thriving.” However… that those who don’t make the decisions are thriving 23 points less than their bosses! 

The Saudis think the economy is improving. Aramco, the Saudi state energy firm, will increase its grades for Asia in May by between 20 and 50 cents a barrel. It will raise the key Arab Light grade for the region by 40 cents from April to $1.80 per barrel above the benchmark. The company had been expected to hike the grade by 30 cents, according to a Bloomberg survey of eight traders and refiners. Western Europe is flat, Saudi exports to the US are down a dime. 

Samsung Electronics likely saw a 45% jump in profit for January through March on robust sales of smartphones, TVs and home appliances, though chip division earnings are seen tumbling after a storm suspended production at its U.S. plant. Reuters says its attributed to spending more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Consumers have splurged on an array of high-margin consumer electronics which in turn has helped cause a global shortage of semiconductors. Samsung is scheduled to officially announce preliminary first-quarter results on Wednesday. 

LG said on Monday it will close its loss-making mobile phone business worldwide as the once pioneer brand looks to focus its resources in “growth areas” such as electric vehicle components, connected devices, smart homes, robotics, AI and B2B solutions, and platforms and services. Techcrunch.com reports that the South Korean firm said in a statement that its board of directors approved the decision today. LG, which maintained No. 3 spot in the smartphone market in the U.S. for a long time, said it will continue to sell handsets until the inventory lasts.


Facebook Adding (Back) ‘Most Recent’ to Timeline; Nest Hello Successor Indicated; Apple Maps Adds COVID Measures; LinkedIn Working on Clubhouse Clone

If you constantly have to toggle to Most Recent on your Facebook timeline, you are in luck. Macrumors.com reports that Facebook has announced a number of changes coming up in both iOS and Android, that make it easier for users to turn off the algorithmically ranked News Feed, and also new tools for controlling who can comment on posts. The ‘Most Recent’ mode shows posts in chronological order, as opposed to being served to you based on their algorithm. It is out now on Android, and should be in the next couple weeks on iOS. You will also be able to turn off political ads (!!) and ’Snooze’ annoying people or pages, so you can stop seeing their posts. 

Google Home V. 2.35 is being released on Android and iOS, and has an interesting item. According to 9to5google.com, there is a graphic of the back of a new Google Nest gadget, and it appears to be a new version of the Hello doorbell. Also in the update…they have made ‘Accessibility’ options for Smart Displays and Assistant speakers…well, more accessible. In the list, the Accessibility options appear in a new menu under ‘Device Features.’ The toggles were previously split between the Display and Audio pages…now, they are conveniently consolidated. As for the pic of the possible updated Hello doorbell…The device appears narrower than the 2018 model, while the diagnostic micro-USB connector has been replaced and modernized.

Apple Maps has added a cool feature, and one which will be especially handy as folks start to travel more again. Engadget.com says when you search for an airport, the place card will include a summary of coronavirus related procedures that airport has. The summary may include things like the need to wear a mask, quarantine guidelines and any testing requirements. Each card also includes a link to the airport’s website where you can find out about those in more detail.Apple has also listed vaccination sites and testing locations in Maps. Google Maps has already rolled out a similar suite of COVID-19 related features.

As has been true forever, someone comes out with an idea, it gets hot, and gangs of other companies try to clone it. Now, LinkedIn is joining the scrum of companies trying to duplicate the buzzy Clubhouse. Techcrunch.com reports LinkedIn is testing out a social audio experience in its app. Unlike the Clubhouse copies being built by Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn thinks it will have a good niche because it will connect people via their professional identity, not just a social community. LinkedIn has also just launched a new ‘Creator’ mode that lets anyone set their profile so it can be followed for updates, like Facebook Stories and LinkedIn Live videos. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, Telegram and Discord have also been working on Clubhouse rivals. It will be interesting to see what LinkedIn does, should they succeed in buying Discord.


Virtual WWDC Announced; Google & T-Mobile Multi-Pronged Partnership; Hyundai KONA EV Fire Danger; Biden-30 Gigawatts Offshore Wind Turbines by 2030

Apple has announced WWDC 2021, and yes, it will be completely virtual again. According to 9to5mac.com, it will run June 7th through June 11th. Expected reveals include iOS 15, macOS 12, and watchOS 8. It’s a free event for all developers. Last year’s virtual WWDC was quite well received, and got kudos for being much more inclusive. As opposed to the limited number of attendees possible in-person in Silicon Valley, the virtual WWDC last year was seen by 22 million across all of Apple’s streams. Besides the operating systems and usual breakouts for developers, expect Apple to tease upcoming hardware running their own Silicon. New iMacs and MacBook Pro models are expected in the fall. 

Google and T-Mobile have announced a broad partnership that will have the carrier plugging key Google services like RCS, Google One, and YouTube…and of course, the Pixel line. According to 9to5google.com, Messages by Google will become the ‘default rich messaging solution’ and app on Android devices. The carrier will better promote the “full suite of Pixel devices” and other products running Google’s OS, including Android TV. YouTube TV is becoming T-Mobile’s premium streaming solution with customers getting a $10 discount. At $54.99 per month, it comes as TVision launched less than six months ago and is now shutting down on April 29.

Public service notice: Don’t park your Hyundai Kona EV in your garage or near your house! Theverge.com says the NHTSA has issued a recall for 2019-20 Hyundai Kona and 2020 Ioniq EVs following reports of over a dozen battery fires. An electrical short in the Kona’s lithium-ion battery cells increases the risk of fire while parked, charging, and driving, NHTSA said, adding, “The safest place to park them is outside and away from homes and other structures.”

The Biden administration has designated New York Bight, a shallow-water area off the coast of Long Island and New Jersey as a new priority area for offshore wind turbines. Engadget.com reports that they are shooting for 30 gigawatts of power from the project by 2030! The White House says they will work to get expedited permitting to jump start development. The 30 gigawatts would power 10 million homes, and avoid pumping some 78 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 


Apple Watch Explorer Edition; NY- First Digital COVID Passport; Jeep Building EV Chargers at Off-Road Trails; San Diego Comic-Con in Person This Fall

Apple is apparently working on an ‘Explorer Edition’ Watch, which would be ruggedized for extreme sports or harsh environments. According to cnet.com, it will feature a rubberized exterior and better impact resistance.  It would be aimed at rock climbing, motocross, and other sports activities where a normal Apple Watch might take a beating…and not keep on ticking…to paraphrase the old Timex slogan. The Explorer Edition is NOT expected to be out by this fall. Speaking of fall, you would presumably turn off the hard fall detector feature on this watch, or it would be calling 911 for you every time you had a hard bump. Mine goes off sometimes when banging on a cat box I’m emptying! The rumors have the Explorer Edition being priced up with the top line Watch…don’t expect it with the lower cost models.

There has been buzz around the world about digital COVID-19 vaccination passports that would live in your smartphone wallet. Now, New York state has launched theirs…the Excelsior Pass. Engadget.com reports that now, You can use your phone’s virtual wallet (on Android or iOS) or a printout to flash a QR code and otherwise show that you’re safe when you want to go to a concert or stage performance. Madison Square Garden will begin using the pass this week with other large venues to follow…and smaller ones starting on April 2nd. The pass is completely voluntary for both the public and for businesses. Although some are grousing about the invasion of privacy from carrying medical info on smartphones, right now this seems the best way to ensure that people in venues with sizable crowds are relatively safe from COVID-19.

While Tesla has its system of Superchargers, GM is ready to build thousands of EV charging stations, and other makers are preparing to put in 10,000 or more coast-to-coast, what about folks who want to do some off-roading in there e-RV? Businessinsider.com says that Jeep is building charging points at popular off-roading trails around the country. They are being put up in partnership with Electrify America. The first ones should be available late this spring in Moab, Utah and in California at Big Bear, and the Rubicon Trail. The planned chargers are level 2. Jeep presently has a plug in hybrid, but is planning a fully electric version of every model.

Comic-Con will be back! An in-person one, too! The event is scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend, November 26th through the 28th in San Diego. According to theverge.com, this will be the 2nd summer in a row the event was cancelled due to COVID-19…but better late than never, huh? Comic-Con is normally one of the biggest conventions in the US, pulling in 130,000 people to San Diego. Comic-Con International says that if you purchased a ticket to Comic-Con 2020, your rolled over 2021 ticket is valid for the next in-person event in 2022. However, the organization is “working on an option for those wishing to transfer their badge or exhibitor deposits/payments as full or partial payment towards our 2021 November event.”