Ultrasound Powered Qualcomm Fingerprint Sensor; Snapdragon 855; Google & Amazon Making AirPod Alternatives; Apple Adding Health Sensors to AirPods

Adding an extra layer to fingerprint sensor security, Qualcomm is baking in ultrasound to beef up its in-display fingerprint sensor. Engadget.com reports that the ultrasound will allow creation of a 3D mold of your finger, which will be much harder to copy. It will pick up on the ridges and even pores. As a bonus, the sensor should be able to tell it’s you, even though you still have a little of today’s lunch on your finger (wash up, you slob!) They didn’t allow testing at the demo, so we’ll have to wait to see how fast the new tech is.

Speaking of fast, Qualcomm also showed off its Snapdragon 855 at its event in Hawaii. According to 9to5google.com, the chip will power the 2019 flagship phones, including from Samsung. It will support multi-gigabit 5G, which also rolls out next year in a number of markets. Qualcomm says the chip has 3x the AI performance of last year’s chip.

It’s not that there aren’t already cheaper alternatives to Apple’s AirPods on the market, but a couple are coming from some heavyweights…Google and Amazon appear to be preparing to launch competitor products.

9to5mac.com says Apple isn’t exactly waiting around for the increased competition…they are working on more water resistance, support for Hey Siri, and interchangeability…so you could put one in an ear without checking to see if it’s Left or Right, and the AirPod would orient itself and the audio automatically. Apple is also expected to integrate health sensors into the next gen AirPods, and integrate the data with Apple Watch as well as the health app on iPhones. Well known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says to look for Cupertino to sell 26-28 million sets this year, 50-55 million in 2019, and over 100 million in 2021.

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Samsung Will Have 5G Phone in 2019; Apple-All New AirPods, But No 5G Phone Until 2020; Amazon Testing King Sized Amazon Go Store

Samsung is partnering with Verizon to bring a 5G smartphone to the US in the middle of 2019! Cnet.com reports that they will show off a concept handset this week at the Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii. 5G is expected to significantly boost the speed, coverage, and responsiveness of wireless networks. Phones will upload and download data at anywhere from 10 to 100 times faster than the 4G network we have today! Samsung has not said if the phone will be exclusive to Verizon, and did note that they will continue to work with other wireless partners.

Over at Apple, the word is that it will be at least 2020 before a 5G iPhone will be in peoples’ hands. According to macrumors.com, Apple will hold off a bit instead of being on the leading edge…which they have done before when new generations of wireless capability rolled out. Bloomberg points out that there has often been poor coverage when a new layer of connectivity rolls out, with phones often having to drop back to the old tech, or jumping back and forth between the two systems. Besides Samsung, Huawei and Oppo will also put out 5G smartphones next year…although neither of those two are really factors in the US market like Samsung is. Part of the delay for Apple may be the ongoing litigation with Qualcomm. Apple is partnering with Intel on 5G chips, and those won’t be out in time to get phones to market in 2019.

There will be all-new AirPods in 2020, but prior to that, Apple will release wireless charging AirPods early next year. 9to5mac.com picked up a report from well known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that says the wireless model will also include yet to be disclosed upgrades, but that the total revamp will be set for a 2020 release.

Amazon is reported to be testing out a large-sized Amazon-Go type store, sans cashiers, in Seattle. Geekwire.com says it is set up to look more like a traditional grocery store. Now what grocery store could it be designed like…oh, yeah…Whole Foods, which Amazon owns! They are particularly working on seeing if the system that tracks what shoppers grab off the shelves works well with the higher ceilings and bigger spaces with vastly more products. It remains to be seen when or if the tech will reach Whole Foods or other stores. Amazon has said in the past they have no plans to add the tech to Whole Foods stores…but such claims are often made, then things change. We do know Amazon is planning opening up to 3,000 Amazon Go stores by 2021.


Tesla ‘Premium’ Connectivity; Apple Ups Audio Game; Whole Foods Prime; Volvo Level 4 Self-Driving By 2021.

If it’s free, it’s probably not forever or there’s a catch. That’s the case with internet on Tesla cars. Starting July 1st, the free connection…which will be dubbed ‘Standard Connectivity’  cell access will just give you navigation (with traffic-based routing), live Supercharger usage info, and safety-related car updates. Engadget.com reports that most everything else will be part of the Premium Package. Satellite view, live traffic visuals, web browser, streaming audio, and non-safety updates will fall under it. At least Tesla has added WiFi access to the model 3. No official price as yet, but it’s expected to be about $100 a year…that’s not going to bend or break any Tesla owners! BTW, if you had a car ordered before July 1st, everything will stay free…at least for now. 

Apple has the HomePod, with very good audio, but has never had top notch audio in their earbuds, including the AirPods. That may be about to change. Bloomberg is reporting that Cupertino is working on a higher end version, that are water resistant and have noise cancellation and biometric sensors. In addition, Apple is working on higher end over-ear headphones, that will be positioned above their Beats brand. Apple has built an in-house audio team headed by Gary Geaves, a former engineer from higher end speaker and headphone maker B&W. Accessories are a decent side line for Apple…while no iPhone, they generated slightly less than $13 billion for Apple last year.

Amazon is opening up their Prime discount programs to all Whole Foods locations in the US this week. Stores in Florida have had the perk for almost 2 months, included with the $119 per year Prime membership. According to geekwire.com, you get a 10% discount on sale items, and other special deals. To use the discount, you sign in to your Amazon account with the Whole Foods app, then scan the “Prime Code” inside the app when you check out. As with most grocery store sales, the deals will change weekly. You will also still be able to get a 5% discount when you buy with an Amazon credit card. Amazon is hoping the various discounts will help them to shed the ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation for Whole Foods, which they bought last year.

While everyone in the auto biz is racing towards self-driving, with Google’s Waymo apparently well in the lead, Volvo has now issued a pretty amazing pledge…level 4 autonomous cars in showrooms you can buy and drive by 2021. According to bgr.com, Volvo is calling it ‘Highway Assist,’ and it sounds a great deal like Tesla’s Autopilot…only with Volvo’s legendary attention to safety detail. Volvo Senior VP Henrik Green says you will be able to ‘eat, sleep, work, watch a movie, relax, do whatever’ with the Volvo Highway Assist in operation. Note it will only work on appropriate roads that have been mapped out…basically highways and freeways.


iPad Refresh Imminent; New Air Pods; Whole Foods Break for Amazon Prime Shoppers; 5G Coming to Intel Laptops

A reliable tip-off that Apple is about to release new devices has popped up. Macrumors.com says Cupertino has registered new tablets with the Eurasian Economic Commission. This points to new iPads in just weeks. Most prognosticators are looking for a refresh of the current lower cost 9.7 inch iPad, and then either a cheaper yet version of it, or possibly an iPad Mini, which hasn’t gotten updated in a while. It’s thought that the updated iPad Pro with FaceID will bow at WWDC in June. Apple has dropped either an iPad or other new piece of hardware in March every year for the last 4 years.

While we’re in the Apple orchard, plucking rumors from the trees, there’s also one from Bloomberg that Apple is working on new models of AirPods. Apple is apparently developing a new wireless chip that helps better manage Bluetooth connections. An expected feature is a touch less Siri model…the present ones require a press in order to activate the Apple assistant, but a new model may allow for a voice only command of ‘Hey Siri’ to give total hands free use to people wanting to access the feature. A water resistant design is also thought to be in the works for at least one model of new Air Pods.

Amazon has added another perk for Amazon Prime. According to bgr.com, Prime members with an Amazon Rewards Visa card will now get 5% back on Whole Foods purchases, in addition to the 5% back on amazon.com purchases. Most such programs don’t offer as high as 5%, and almost all others restrict purchases, so having it available on all of Amazon and Whole Foods could really add up fast.

We just covered the 1st 3 cities that AT&T will wire for 5G service later this year. Now, word comes from reuters.com that Intel’s upcoming XMM 8000 modem chips will power laptops with 5G connectivity starting in the 2nd half of 2019. Blazing fast, always-connected internet could be a killer feature to push a lot more people into trading for a new laptop!


Apple AirPods Available-But Ship Next Year; Google Partnering on Self-Driving Car Now; Samsung Will Have Only Curved Screen Phones; Uber Continued to Spy on Users

The Apple Store earlier suddenly had AirPods available today-Tuesday for delivery next Monday. Now, 9to5mac.com says delivery has slipped already to 4 weeks from today. Apple did note on their site that they have rolled out the wireless Bluetooth ear buds in 100 countries. If you want to drop $159 for the ill-fitting and odd-looking Apple wireless cans, you might try an Apple Store next week.

Google is apparently no longer going it alone in developing a self-driving car. According to theverge.com, which picked up a story from the Information, Google is now partnering with automakers on more conventional cars, with a goal of launching an autonomous ride-sharing service by the end of next year. Fiat Chrysler is making a new prototype for Google based on a minivan. Reports are that they found their own radical car with no steering wheel or pedals just too radical. The so-called ‘spin out’ division for Google’s car project is being called Waymo, and will be run like a startup, only with the resources of Alphabet, the parent company, according to a news conference today.

A hot feature for Samsung has been the curved screen on the Edge models. Apparently due to that, and Apple’s rumored move to curved OLED screens next year made by Samsung, the Galaxy S8 models will all come with the curved screens. Bgr.com reports that there will be 5.7 and 6.2 inch S8 models with the front panel being over 90% screen. Samsung continues to work on two foldable smartphone models, which can be unfolded into tablets. They may roll out in 2017.

Uber has previously been dinged for having a ‘God mode,’ that allowed some company employees to track customers. Now, in a legal filing by a former Uber security exec, it turns out that dubious feature is still around. Bgr.com notes In the filing, Ward Spangenberg said “Uber’s lack of security regarding its customer data was resulting in Uber employees being able to track high-profile politicians, celebrities, and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and ex-spouses.” Spangenberg is at least the 5th former Uber security pro to reveal the mode, which might be more accurately be called ‘stalker mode.’


Apple AirPods to Launch Next Week; Snapchat’s Spectacles Will Sell From Pop Up Vending Machines

Apple delayed the rollout of its AirPods wireless earphones last month, and some had said we wouldn’t see them until the 1st of the year. Now, macrumors.com says a source at European online retailer Conrad claims they will be available next week. The Conrad website still says 6-8 weeks, but there’s hope they might be in customers’ hands sooner, not later.

Snapchat will apparently sell its Spectacles camera glasses through pop up vending machines. That’s according to businessinsider.com. The camera glasses will run $130 and be available at ‘surprising’ pop up locations for one day only. Snapchat will show the locations on a map on their website 24 hours ahead of time. The first is expected to appear in Venice Beach, CA…snapchat’s home. The Snapbot vending machines will have motion sensors that turn on its circular screen when someone steps into view. The screen will show footage of video recordings from the eyewear, which can record 10-second clips that sync with the Snapchat app. The machines have 3 buttons for the three color selections (coral, black, and teal). They claim the screen lets you virtually try on each color (on the screen) before you pay.


Apple’s Event-Dual Cameras and High Gloss and AirPods…Oh, My!

Apple unveiled the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus to the world yesterday, and generally the leaks were pretty well accurate. They have a faster processor with 4 cores…which, interestingly, work in 2 pairs for either performance or power saving. The Home button now doesn’t move (or leak or break) and uses Haptic feedback to let you know if picked up your touch or presses, the phones are dust and water resistant, and our beloved and venerable headphone jack is gone. Screens are 25% brighter, and produce cinema grade color.

The big headlines, as noted by macrumors.com and others, are new glossy piano black (which Apple calls Jet Black) and matte black colors joining gold and rose gold, and improved cameras. The 7 gets a faster camera with image stabilization previously only available on the Plus, and the Plus gets the dual lens setup…one is wide angle, the other a telephoto.

The latter has a 2 power optical zoom and 10 power digital zoom. All the rear cams are 12 megapixel, with the selfie cam now bumped to 7 megapixel. The zoom is a welcome addition, as is better low light performance. The Plus will also get a software update that will allow portraits with the subject in sharp focus, and a blurred background, like pros have had on SLR and DSLR cameras.

Preorders start tomorrow, and memory has been bumped to 32, 128, and 256 gigs. The 32 gig 7 starts at $649, or $27 a month with the upgrade plan.

The ‘one more thing’, if there was one, was the new wireless headphones called AirPods. They feature internal chips for a claimed 5 hours of use, simpler pairing across Apple devices, tight Siri integration, and a charging case that can recharge them up to 4 times before needing to plug in. Apple will provide a Lightening to mini phone jack adapter for those of us with many sets of wired headphones and other accessories that need one. The $159 AirPods will be out late October, and it remains to be heard if Apple has really solved the issues of drops and noisy audio over Bluetooth to make AirPods truly worthy of replacing high end headphones.