Facebook Launches Portal Video Chat Screens; Google’s Pixel 3 Event; Microsoft Game Streaming Service; Oct Windows 10 Update Pulled

Facebook has dropped its first hardware product in the Portal line. TechCrunch.com says they are auto-zooming video chat screens ranging in price from $199 to $349. The Portal units will run Alexa and eventually Google Assistant in a countertop video chat screen that zooms to always keep you in frame. The big question will be whether people will want a Facebook cam and microphone in their house, even with a physical clip-on privacy shield. At any rate, the presale starts now. For $199, you get the 10 inch screen Portal, and for $349 you will be the proud owner of a 15.6 inch swiveling screen with a hi-fi audio Portal+. Save $100 if you buy any two Portal devices. The screens come with ‘Hey Portal’ voice navigation, bluetooth and voice activated music, Facebook Messenger for video calls, Spotify and Pandora. More video provers to come. Facebook claims there is built in privacy…no facial recognition but something called 2D pose that runs locally on the device to keep you in picture. They claim the unit only turns on with the wake word, and that it doesn’t save recordings…also they have data encryption. With a tap you can automatically disable the cam and mic, and it does have a plastic privacy shield you can slide over the cam if you still want to chat…without video. They ship in November. You can preorder at Portal.Facebook.com, Amazon, and Best Buy.

Tomorrow, October 9th, Google will be showing their latest at an event scheduled for 11am Eastern, 8 Pacific. Theverge.com reports that the flood of leaks has given us a good idea of what to expect. The Pixel 3 and 3 XL phones top the list…in fact, someone got hold of a working Pixel 3 in Asia a couple days ago from a source…talk about a leak! The phones sport target screens, wireless charging, and a second selfie cam. Also expected is a wireless charging stand for the handsets. There MAY be a Google Home speaker with a smart display to compete with the Amazon Echo Show. An expected item is the Pixel Slate, A Google branded Chrome OS tablet. Rumors have it with a detachable keyboard, and expect it to be fairly high end like the iPad Pro and Surface Pro.There will probably be a Pixelbook update, but probably not a major overhaul there. We’ll have details after the actual event tomorrow.

Look for a beta in 2019 of Microsoft’s game streaming service, Project xCloud. According to engadget.com, the idea behind the cloud system is to allow users to play any video game where they feel the most comfortable or where it’s convenient….on a console, a computer, or mobile device. Of course, Microsoft is most interested in making it as frictionless as possible for users to play their own Xbox One games. Even with the beta out next year, Redmond cautions that this is a complicated project, and may take a while longer to perfect.

Microsoft has pulled the October update to Windows 10 (version 1809) after complaints that it deleted user’s files. ZDnet.com says some users said they couldn’t even recover all files using a recovery product like Recuva. There was a similar issue with the April, 2018 update. In that case, Microsoft delayed the update until the end of the month to squash the bugs.

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Twitter-Giving Back Chron Timeline; 8 New Alexa Devices from Amazon; Galaxy Note 9 Blows Up; Mercedes Delivers e-Truck

Twitter is going to start testing a way to switch between what they think are the ‘best’ Tweets for you to pure chronological like they used to have. Engadget.com reports that the testing should start within the next few weeks. Eventually, they will have something similar to Facebook’s news feed switch between ‘Top Stories’ and ‘Most Recent.’ It can’t happen too soon!

Amazon will be dropping at least 8 new Alexa powered devices by the end of the year, according to CNBC. Look for a Microwave oven, an amplifier, a receiver, subwoofer, some sort of in-car gadget, and more. Alexa will be baked in to all. Expect Amazon to unveil at least some of the new gear at an event later this month.

Not a good sign for the Samsung Galaxy Note 9….a woman from New York says one ‘spontaneously combusted’ in her purse, echoing the old Galaxy Note 7. The story picked up by appleinsider.com came from the New York Post. Apparently, a Long Island real estate agent said her phone got ‘extremely hot’ and she dropped it into her bag. The bag smoked, caught fire, and burned up the stuff in her bag. This seems to be the only instance involving a Note 9 so far…stay tuned….

Mercedes has started delivery of the eActros electric trucks. Electrek.co says it ws to Hermes, Germany’s biggest logistics company. They are buying about 1500 all electric vans from Mercedes. The delivery vans have dual electric motors and two battery packs at 240 kWh. Even at that, it is only good for 125 miles of range with a full payload. The trucks can recharge in 3-11 hours depending on charge rate, which can run from as low as 20 kW up to 80 kW. Mercedes says Hermes is one of 20 ‘test customers’ as they work the kinks out of their all electric truck fleet.


NOkay Google; New iPhones Get Apple Pencil Support & Lower Price; Banks Monitoring Phone & Computer Use; No Wake Word for Cars

In the ‘just another thing to creep you out’ department, Google can apparently track your location even if you have Location Services switched off. Businessinsider.com reports that on Android devices and iOS devices running Google’s apps, if you use Google Maps, the app stores your minute to minute location. Even with Location History paused, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you open Maps. Also, daily weather updates on Androids pinpoint your rough location. Google searches…even if location neutral? Yep, they store your location. Google says this is ‘made clear’ in their agreement…like anything is clear and easy to find in those!

Apple may have a couple things up their sleeve with the new iPhones that will rattle SamsungWorld. According to zdnet.com, Cupertino will not only add Apple Pencil support to the new iPhones (in direct threat to the brand new Samsung Galaxy Note 9), but also may have squeezed suppliers on costs to offer lower across the board prices. The price range will apparently be from $699 for the mid-sized LED screen, single cam ‘budget’ model people are calling iPhone 9 to $999 for the supersized OLED screen XI Plus (or whatever they are calling it.) All three new iPhones will have Face ID.

In an effort to fight fraudsters, banks are secretly Hoovering up as many as 2,000 data points on how you use your phone and computer. 9to5mac.com says they run from the angle at which you hold your phone to whether you use the numeric keypad or the numbers at the top of the keyboard, and even if you use the mouse scroll wheel or not. Royal Bank of Scotland said they already caught one fraudster with the data…the hacker used the scroll wheel and typed numbers with the keys at the top…something the customer had never done before. Then, the crook tried to transfer a 7 figure blast of cash out of the account…and was blocked. Yeah, it seems creepy as hell, but OTOH, who wants a million or so sucked out of your account? For the record, I’m ok with any of you transferring a million or more IN to my account as often as you want to!

Wake words…they work for voice assistants, but sure sound stupid. “Hey, Siri,” “OK, Google,” “Alexa”, and all may not be necessary in cars much longer. Engadget.com reports that Nuance is putting an updated system into next year’s BMWs that will understand when the driver is talking to passengers, on the phone, or to the car. Nuance calls it ‘Just Talk’ mode. According to Nuance, the system listens for expressions, grammar, phrases, words and even sentence structure that it can determine with a high probability that the driver is directing toward the car. A plus for you, not to use a wake word or push a button or touch a screen…but also, a plus for the car makers. They feel it will help keep drivers in their system instead of using Apple Car Play or Android Auto.


Lots of Alexa, Little Buying; Apple Thinks Virtual Keyboard; Zillow Adds Mortgages; Way Cheaper June Oven

Amazon has been pumping out Alexa devices like crazy, but so far, people love them for playing music, videos, adjusting lights, and all sorts of ‘skills,’ as Amazon dubs them, but very few are actually buying stuff from Amazon with the Alexa enabled devices. Thenextweb.com says only about 2% of people have used it for shopping (according to a report from The Information.) Even worse, 90% of people who tried shopping only did it once. 20% of users have used Alexa to track things they’ve bought or hunt for deals, but actual buying is mainly done on other devices like their phones, laptops, and tablets. Amazon hasn’t given up…they are known for playing a long game…but this has to be disappointing to them.

Although their tablets sell better than about any others, Apple has consistently said they won’t add touchscreens to MacBooks…citing bad ergonomics, among other problems. Now, mashable.com reports that Cupertino may be thinking of a virtual keyboard. Patents recently discovered point to Apple expanding on their TouchBar by looking at fully customizable virtual keyboards…in place of the normal keyboard. A plus would be that you could resize the virtual keyboard on the lower panel, and have increased screen size or even a second screen. Apple’s patent app indicates haptics would allow for feedback for keystrokes. The panel could be modified by the user easily to switch from keys to sliders, which would be great for people doing audio production on a laptop!

Zillow has jumped into the mortgage business with the acquisition of Mortgage Lenders of America. According to techcrunch.com, the real estate portal and lead generation service will now not only provide buyers with quotes from third party lenders but be able to offer real estate brokers in-house type mortgage operations and mortgage affiliation. The jury is out on this move initially….Zillow stock dropped on the news of the acquisition of Kansas-based MLoA.

June rolled out a smart oven a couple years ago. A cool countertop gadget with a built in processor, sensors galore, and a bit of AI. It did an amazing job of cooking various foods with its preset programs…BUT…it was $1500! Now, engadget.com says June has dropped a newer model that’s faster, smarter, and maybe most importantly….cheaper. You will have to live without the stainless steel knob (no loss, since there’s a touchscreen) and weight scale, but more oven for less money should be a winner. The new oven adds functions like slow cooking, air fryer, and dehydrator. In 2016, there were 25 presets…now you get over 100. Lazy cooks and people who really don’t like to cook but love to eat are all set! Yes, there’s even a setting for ‘leftover pizza!’


Twitter Tightening; WPA3 WiFi Security; Alexa Voice Hits iOS; Motion Sickness Fix for Self-Driving Car Riders

It’s widely known that Twitter has had ongoing issues with spam accounts and malicious automation. Twitter is saying that now, using AI, they are able to identify a lot more spam accounts and deactivate them more quickly…9.9 million a week, up from 3.2 million last September. Engadget.com reports that Twitter is not only using AI on present spammy accounts…going forward, new accounts will have to verify with an email address or phone number when they are being created. That feature will be out later this year. Meanwhile, the ‘firehose of social media’ will continue to audit and challenge what appear to be spammy accounts…like ones that do high volume Tweeting using the same hashtag or Tweeting at the same handle without getting a reply. 

After it got out that a huge number of routers had been infected with malware, here’s a little good news going forward: WPA3 has been finalized. New Wi-Fi routers will come with the stronger protections for your data using the new standard. Cnet.com says it will make it harder to run a common hacking attack on your router…frequently called an ‘offline dictionary-based attack,’ which allows hacker to make endless guesses of your Wi-Fi password. WPA3 is available on new routers certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. It updates WPA2, which has been around since 2004 and has bee woefully out of date. Some manufacturers are looking for ways to update existing routers, but the best bet may be to upgrade your router in the coming months to one that comes with WPA3.

Alexa voice control for the Android app has been out nearly half a year, and Amazon says now it is finally coming to iOS. According to techcrunch.com, it isn’t baked in…you’ll need to tap a button in the app, but after that you can ask Alexa questions, listen to music, access skills, and control smart devices. The update is being rolled out to users over the next few days, so if you love controlling everything possible around your abode with Alexa voice commands, you’re going to have a way to do so on iOS. The touch of a button is unfortunate, but since Apple wants you to use their Siri, iOS devices are unlikely to get voice access without first touching the app. Since their last try at smartphones, Amazon has been at a disadvantage in the mobile market, having to rely on apps on Android and iOS without having and Alexa native device.

As with the space program years ago, Virtual Reality tech is throwing off some cool side benefits. Macrumors.com says Apple engineer and popular YouTuber Mark Rober is the primary inventor of some tech patents that can be used to help stop in-car motion sickness for passengers in self-driving cars. One replaces the view of the real world with virtual environments including visual cues to match the physical motion the passengers are experiencing. Another helps allow passengers to work or surf without getting sick. Drivers are usually not affected by motion sickness, as they are watching the road ahead and their surroundings. Besides his Apple engineer gig, Rober’s YouTube channel with science related videos has some 3.4 million subscribers!


Fire TV Cube Gets Alexa; Lyft Redesigns App; Waymo Passes Big Milestone; Instagram Long Form Video

Amazon has announced the Fire TV Cube. It’s a set top box with all the usual suspects: Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, HBO Go, Sling, And Amazon Prime Video. It also features Alexa…which Engadget.com notes was already available in the Stick and Fire TV box…but the Cube has full-featured Alexa. You can access thousands of third party ‘skills’ on the Cube just like an Echo. The Cube had eight built-in microphones, and can turn on your TV, sound system, cable box. Amazon demoed it by saying ‘Alexa…I’m home,’ and it turned on the entire home theatre system, and brought up the lights in the room. It supports cable boxes from Comcast as well as Dish and DirecTV. There is an IR extension cable for the cable box so the Cube can turn it on and off when the gadgets aren’t line of sight. It ships June 21st for $119. ***UPDATE*** Prime members can preorder and save $30 for a limited time!

Lyft is updating its app for the 1st time in 3 years, and putting more emphasis on shared rides and public transit. Theverge.com reports that it should roll out to everyone by the end of the month. A few changes include Lift Line being rebranded ‘Shared Rides’ and giving that feature a more prominent place in the app. Lyft says it wants shared rides to be 50% of its business by 2020, and has promised to lower its carbon footprint. The updated app will be customized based on a riders’ preferred services and locations. The algorithm considers account fare price, trip time, and more to present the most efficient ride for users, whether a solo rider or shared ride. There is a tweak that encourages riders to get picked up on side streets…which has been piloted in San Francisco (on Valencia Street), and Lyft got 20,000 riders to divert to side street pickup.

Now, more than ever, there’s Google’s Waymo and everyone else when it comes to self-driving cars. According to arstechnica.com, Waymo hit 7 million self-driven miles this week. For reference, they just announced that they had passed up 6 million less than a month ago! Waymo plans to launch commercial driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area before the end of the year.

Instagram is adding support for video of up to an hour in length, with the long form video hub designed to compete with YouTube and Snapchat Discover. According to 9to5google.com, all the videos will be in vertical orientation and 4K resolution. The company has been reportedly meeting with social media stars and content publishers in prep for launching the feature, which is planned for June 20th. No details have gotten out on monetization, but Instagram apparently intends to let creators and publishers earn money from the longer form videos.


Uber Wants Waymo Self-Drivers On Network; WWDC Apple Watch Leak; Reddit Passes Up Facebook; WeChat China-Divorce by Button

At the Code Conference, Uber CEO Dara Khosroshahi revealed that Uber has been in discussions to have Waymo self-driving cars added to its network. This is somewhat remarkable considering the two companies are just coming off a legal battle over alleged trade-secret theft. Theverge.com reports that the Uber CEO also forces self driving tech as ‘a horizontal technology that should be available to everybody.’ He believes that it will be open to all via third party licensing. What about the drivers? Khosrowshahi says they think ‘machines augment humans’ and that ultimately their network will be a machine network and a human network together.

A cool little nugget has been revealed ahead of time that Apple had planned for WWDC. June is Pride Month, and Apple will unveil a special Pride watch face at noon Pacific right at the end of the World Wide Developers Conference keynote. Mashable.com reports that the colors of the rainbow flag are strings on the watch face, and you can interact with them, like strumming a guitar. The special face has two complication spots.

The Facebook/Cambridge Analytics may be hurting the social media platform more than first thought. According to thenextweb.com, Amazon’s Alexa web traffic analyzing platform has determined that Reddit has passed up Facebook as third most visited site in the US. This is probably as scientific as a Survey Monkey poll, but it still gives pause. Google is the top site, with YouTube second, then Reddit, Facebook, and Amazon. Interestingly, average Reddit users spend over 15 minutes a day on the platform, compared to Google with about 7 and a quarter minutes, YouTube 8-1/2 minutes, Facebook at almost 11 minutes, and Amazon just over 7-1/2 minutes.

In what may be the ultimate for a no-deposit, no-return society, people in China can now file for divorce with a button on the WeChat app! Businessinsider.com says the trial divorce function is available right now in th eGuangdong Province, home to cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Just click, enter info, and make an appointment for the local divorce registrar. Payments can also be handled through WeChat, but so far they haven’t opened it up to spousal support payments! WeChat has a billion active users globally.