Microsoft Plans Cheaper iPad Rival; Apple Vein Face Scan; New Whole Foods Discount for Prime Members

Microsoft is gearing up to release a line of lower cost Surface tablets by later this year that would compete with the hot selling cheaper iPad. Bloomberg.com reports that the last (somewhat) cheaper Surface kind of bombed at $499 back in 2012, but the pricey Pro has sold well. Of course the cheaper iPad is just over $300, so that may be a sweet spot. The cheaper Surface would have a 10 inch screen…just above the 9.7 inch size of the iPad. It is expected to sell for $400, will have USB-C, and be lighter than present Surface tablets. That comes at the cost of battery life…only 4 hours! The Surface Pro can make 13.5 hours on a charge. Again look for these the 2nd half of the year.

As if Apple’s Face ID and the fact that Ticketmaster is testing out facial recognition for concert admission wasn’t enough, now Apple may be going deeper…literally. According to appleinsider.com, Apple is are looking at taking biometrics to the next level…scanning the veins in a user’s face! In a patent just published called ‘Vein imaging using detection of pulsed radiation,’ Apple can scan the blood vessel patterns below the skin in your face. They claim it can even tell identical twins apart. By the way, ‘radiation’ is relative…you won’t glow in the dark…it’s from infrared light, not radioactive material! As with all Apple patents, this may or may not make it into a phone.

In an effort to build business, Amazon has dangled two new discounts for Prime members at Whole Foods. Arstechnica.com says one is an additional 10% off sale items, and another is ‘deep discounts’ on select best-selling items (or what grocers have called ‘loss leaders’ for decades.’) The deep discounts at Whole Foods will include meat and fish, however. The first deep discount items include organic strawberries, wild-caught halibut, cold brew coffee, and granola.

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Google Revamps Storage Plans; Apple has 2nd Biggest Self-Driving Fleet in CA; Ticketmaster Plans Facial Recognition

Google has unveiled its consumer storage plans. The new plans are dubbed “Google One,” although the Google Drive is still Google Drive. TechCrunch.com says Goggle has added a new 200 gig tier for $2.99 a month, and dropped the price for its 2 terabyte plan from $19.99 to $9.99 a month. The old 1 terabyte plan at $9.99 goes away. You can still get in on 100 gigs or $1.99 per month, but keep in mind that now, you’ll be able to share your storage with up to five family members! An outstanding new feature is expert support 24.7 over chat, email, or phone. Previously, this was only open to business users.

Apple has been bulking up its fleet of self-driving cars, and now is up to 55, making it the 2nd biggest fleet in California, according to the DMV. As recently as January, Cupertino only had 27 cars. The biggest fleet of self-drivers is that of Cruise, a company owned by GM, which has 104. Google’s Waymo has 51 cars, and Tesla 39. It’s worth noting that both Waymo and Uber previously had more cars in California…Waymo had 100, but has moved some to Arizona and Michigan.

Your face will literally be your ticket to concerts, as the Ticketmaster division of Live Nation has announced a pilot program to drop tickets and use facial recognition tech. Thenextweb.com says Ticketmaster is partnering with Blink Identity, which claims they can make a positive ID in half a second. Some worry that this is a little too much Big Brother, since China recently put in place a similar system…but theirs is for law enforcement. If the pilot program is successful, you may see it before long for air travel, building access and more.

Amazon has resumed construction in Seattle after a squabble with the city over a controversial tax per employee on employers that make more than $20 million a year. Engadget.com reports that the ‘head tax’ had been set at $500 per employee, but ended up compromising after considerable protestation from Amazon, and set the tax at $275 per employee on businesses that make over $11 million a year. The funds are supposed to go towards helping the homeless problem there. Amazon is still grumbling, and considering not adding 7,000 expected jobs…they may hire that staff at their new ‘2nd headquarters’ when it is finalized.


Offline Gmail Support Rolls Out; Warrantless Cellphone Tracking; Apple v Samsung, Round 3; Amazon Go to San Francisco

The offline Gmail support for search, archive, and compose is rolling out on the web. the feature was promised at Google I/O. Up to now, Gmail over the web had offline capability via the Gmail Offline Chrome app. Google recommends you uninstall the app, as the functionality is not built right into the web app. When you reconnect with the web, your changes will synch up automatically. You’ll need chrome 61 or better to use the feature. Just go to settings and hit the Offline tab, then ‘enable offline mail.’ The default stores 30 days of messages, but you can select 7 or 90 days.

As if there wasn’t enough to worry about over lack of privacy…now, it turns out that a company which mainly works with prison phone systems has leveraged a data-sharing service offered by phone carriers that allows police to track any cellphone number, with no legal checks…like a warrant…to keep the practice from being abused. The New York Times says the company is called Serurus, and they an another company are making available data the phone carriers already offer to marketers to police agencies…basically uncontrolled access to nationwide location tracking. Senator Ron Wyden has already written to the FCC and the carriers, asking them to tighten these disclosures up.

Facebook is apparently working behind the scenes, to try to make up for the Cambridge Analytica debacle. They have now suspended over 200 suspicious apps, and have reviewed ‘thousands so far,’ in the audit promised by Mark Zuckerberg, according to techcrunch.com. The social network has not released the names or info on those apps so far, and says in some cases, apps will be reinstated after reviews, interviews, and even some on-site inspections of the makers. Apparently, apps that don’t agree to the through audit are banned outright. Apps that have grabbed data will be listed on https://www.facebook.com/help/yourinfo, if you want to check whether or not one has gotten your data.

It’s the third trial in 8 years in Silicon Valley for Apple and Samsung over smartphone intellectual property. This one is centered around the $500 million judgment Apple got in the last one.
The judge is the same one who heard both the previous trials. The jury will have to interpret a completely new (and extremely vague) test that came out of the US Supreme Court appeal of this case. The outcome could well re-write US patent law, in a way that could greatly affect makers of complex products such as electronics or electric cars.

Amazon Go appears to be coming to San Francisco. The Chronicle reports that they have their eyes on a site around Post and Kearny near Union Square. Amazon Go is the ‘frictionless’ shopping experience, where you simply log in with an app, pick what you want from the shelves, then just walk out and your account is automatically billed…no waiting in lines at the checkout. Amazon hasn’t commented, but there may be an announcement in a few weeks.


Tesla-Better Financials & Rideshare Net; Google Assistant Adds Many IoT Devices; Amazon Pet Product Brand Launches

Tesla managed to beat Wall Street expectations yesterday, with losses of $3.35 a share on revenue of $3.4 billion. Analysts expected them to lose $3.48 a share. Techcrunch.com reports that they hit 2270 Model 3 cars a week for 3 straight weeks in April. Elon Musk still says they will be cranking out 5000 a week by mid-summer. Musk still says the company will be profitable by 3rd quarter. Musk also said that from a purely technical standpoint, the company would e ready to launch an autonomous vehicle ride sharing network by the end of next year. He noted that it probably wouldn’t happen that fast, considering various government regulations and other issues. Analyst Gene Munster says there’s a 50/50 chance Tesla will field a ride sharing fleet by 2023, though.

On launch, Google Assistant only worked with a handful of Internet of Things devices. In fact, as recently as January…4 months ago…it still just connected with 1500. Now, according to 9to5google.com, Assistant can interface with some 5000 devices, including every major smart brand! Cameras, dishwashers, doorbells, dryers, lights, plugs, thermostats, security systems, switches, vacuums, washers, fans, locks, sensors, heaters, AC units, air purifiers, refrigerators, ovens…go crazy with IoT connected devices….Google can help you talk to them!

Amazon has launched its own line of pet products, called Wag. Bloomberg.com reports the first offering became available yesterday with dry dog food. It’s only available to Prime subscribers. Amazon is on doubt responding to Petco and Petsmart, which bought Chewy.com last year to enter the home delivery biz. Dog food is tough to sell online profitably because it’s heavy and expensive to ship. Having bought name brand dry cat food from Amazon, it’s only a couple bucks cheaper than at a store…but at least comes direct to your door.


Amazon Will Deliver Your ‘Junk’ to Your Trunk; Updated Gmail Bows; iPhone Unlocker GrayKey Hacked; Twitter Revenues Up..& Profit!

Amazon has launched a new service that gives its couriers access to a person’s vehicle for the purpose of leaving package deliveries inside. The service is in partnership with two major automakers — General Motors and Volvo — and will be rolling out in 37 cities in the US starting today. Theverge.com reports that initially, the service will only be available to Amazon Prime subscribers. who are also owners of 2015 or later GM and Volvo vehicles, with active OnStar and Volvo on Call accounts. Amazon says it plans to add other automobile brands over time. Packages that weigh over 50 pounds, are larger than 26 x 21 x 16 inches in size, require a signature, are valued over $1,300, or come from a third-party seller also are not eligible for in-car delivery. To access the new delivery service, add your car to your Amazon Key app and include a description of the vehicle, so Amazon’s couriers will be able to locate it. The car will need to be parked within a certain radius of an address used for Amazon deliveries, so either home or work. Driveways, parking lots, parking garages, and street parking are all eligible locations, Note that the courier will just send code to the Amazon Cloud, which contacts the OnStar or Volvo Cloud, and that service pops the trunk…Amazon doesn’t get access directly to unlock your car.

The freshened Gmail, with come new features, is live now. According to techcrunch.com, some highlights include an ever present sidebar with built in Google Calendar, Tasks, and Keep, and both snoozing and disappearing email (which Google calls Confidential Mode.) The confidential email can’t be forwarded, copied and pasted, or downloaded and printed…and goes ‘poof’ after a selectable amount of time. Another key feature is offline mode…you can save up to 90 days of email even when you aren’t connected to the web.

GrayKey, the unlocking system in a box that can crack an iPhone in 3 days…has been hacked. 9to5mac.com says part of their code leaked onto the internet, and the leaker has demanded $15,000 from the company…which happens to be the price of an entry level GrayKey device. Turnabout is fair play, it would appear!

Here’s a headline we haven’t seen in a while…well, actually ever! Twitter’s revenue was up 21% year over year first quarter, and the company made a profit! 9to5google.com reports that Twitter beat Wall Street expectations, with a net income of $61 million, and daily active users increased by 10%. Twitter also Tweeted out their updated privacy policy yesterday, and emailed about it early this morning. Video now accounts for more than half Twitter’s ad revenue.


Amazon Working On 1st Home Robot; iPhone Price Rumor; Streaming Music Growth Exploding; Google And (Lots of) Your Data

It was bound to happen, and of course Amazon is involved. Theverge.com reports that Amazon is working on a robot for homes…code named ‘Vesta.’ The development is happening in Lab126, the Amazon ‘Skunk Works’ that cranked out the Kindle, Fire Phone, and Echo. Apparently, the device is something of a ‘mobile Alexa,’ that would follow you around the house, awaiting your commands. It could be out for the public…at least in beta…by next year!

There’s been talk for months about Apple bringing out 3 phones this fall….successors to the iPhone X and X Plus with OLED screens (and a budget-busting price), and a less expensive 6.1 inch LED screen phone. According to businessinsider.com, KGI Securities…probably the most reliable leaker about things Apple on the planet…says it could be priced starting at $550! But wait….there’s more! This more reasonably priced iPhone could also have a $650 version with TWO sim cards for 2 different numbers! This is not only a plus for travelers or for having both a home and business number, but it’s a really big deal inAsia, where people like to be able to easily switch between carriers and data plans. If these rumors pan out, KGI says the phone could account for 65-75% of iPhone sales next year.

The death of the recorded music business has apparently been ‘highly exaggerated!’ After dropping for the last 10 years, the music biz is being buoyed by…of all things…streaming music. 9to5mac.com says streaming music now makes up some 43% of total revenues, but it grew a full 39% last year! On top of that, the combined revenue of indie artists was nearly as big as that for Universal Music, the biggest label. Apple Music now boasts 40 million subscribers, and some analysts think it may grow another 40% a year for the next 3 years!

Facebook has been getting pounded for the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving the data of millions. Meanwhile…amazingly under the radar….Google rolls merrily along, Hoovering up even more of your data! Bgr.com is reporting that Google is able to track you even better than Facebook can, and has vast information on people…especially people who use Google services like gmail. A report finds that Google collects enough data on some users to fill a stack of pages 8 feet high every two weeks! The European Union is cracking down on such data grabs, and Google is working to change their policies to comply…but be aware that even if you don’t use their services and opt out of ad targeting, Google still has plenty of info on you! They know what you want and where you go, and even what you read. Again…even if you don’t use anything but the web, and no services but Google search, they have piles of info about you!


SpaceX Will Build BFR in L.A.; Netflix Adds Yet More Subscribers; Big Walmart Web Makeover; If Facebook Went Subscription

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti let the cat out of the bag during a speech yesterday…and it’s a BIG cat! SpaceX will build their BFR- Big Falcon Rocket at the Port of L.A. According to arstechnica.com, SpaceX has leased an 18 acre site at Berth 240 at the port. SpaceX is apparently already moving hardware to temporary facilities, but will build a state of the art facility. The waterside site allows for easy shipping to test sites and launch pads. Preliminary tests could start in 2019. SpaceX has said the BFR might be used for colonizing Mars.

Netflix added over 7 million subscribers in the 1st quarter, and projects picking up another 6.35 million this quarter. Recode.net reports that Netflix is now up to 1245 million subscribers globally. This puts Netflix at the fastest growth rate since they went into streaming.

Walmart has done a major makeover to its website, in hopes that a cleaner, more modern walmart.com will better compete with Amazon. Reuters.com says the company has been investing heavily in its e-commerce business, including trying to leverage its 4700 brick and mortar stores to help fuel the web growth. Walmart has been letting pick up and return online orders in stores, and last month, announced that it was adding grocery delivery that would reach more than 40% of American households. Look for the big website update to be fully in place in a couple weeks. The company announced that its online sales had increased 23% last quarter, doing a bit over 11 billion. That’s just a trickle of sales compared to the nearly 319 billion the company does overall, though.

Although Mark Zuckerberg again insisted during recent Congressional hearings that Facebook would always remain free to everyone, so those who can’t afford a fee could use it, they have been considering an ad-free subscription. Techcrunch.com reports that based on ad earnings in the US and Canada, they would have to charge $7 per month. Of course, ads aren’t the only way they make money. Some users are more well heeled, and might buy nicer products and services, so they are worth more to advertisers. They also might spend more time on the platform….but would they pony up as much as $11 to $14 a month, like a higher end subscription to Netflix or Hulu? If so, would they be able to opt out of not only ads, but having their data sold off to third parties? Nothing is rumored as happening yet, but we could be seeing both a free tier and paid tier Facebook, and even multiple subscription prices at some point. Will that help ‘save’ Facebook from the Cambridge Analytica fallout? Stay tuned.