Qualcomm-New AR & VR Chips; Microsoft Passes Alphabet Market Cap; Amazon Expands Whole Foods Discount; Siri Driven Beats speaker coming

Qualcomm has rolled out a dedicated chipset for mass market AR and VR headsets. According to techcrunch.com, the Snapdragon XR1 will support 4K streaming at 60fps. The chipset is aimed at helping manufacturers cut the cord to PC tethered systems. Qualcomm says the chipset won’t match PC based systems, but says for a lot of users, the higher graphics and memory bandwidth of chips like the Snapdragon 845 aren’t needed for a good VR or AR experience.

The horserace is on! Fully 4 tech companies are in the hunt to become the first company in the world with a trillion dollar market cap. Businessinsider.com reports that Microsoft has passed up Google parent Alphabet for the first time in 3 years this week, hitting $753 billion…compared to Alphabet’s $739. Apple and Amazon are still #1 and #2, and it is most likely one of them will cross over the mark first, but it’s still amazing to see 4 tech giants nearing the trillion dollar milestone!

On the subject of Amazon, they are expanding their 10% off discount deal at Whole Foods for Prime members to 12 additional states. According to geekwire.com, all 365 Whole Foods stores will be included now. Available deals will rotate weekly. Customers also get the savings with Whole Foods grocery delivery, which is free for Prime members using Prime Now on orders over $35. Amazon is really trying to unload the upscale grocer’s ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation. Of course, Amazon also just raised the cost for prime 20 bucks to $119 a year!

Among predictions of things to debut at Apple’s WorldWide Developers Conference next week, analyst Gene Munster says look for a Beats branded cheaper version of the HomePod…also powered by Siri. Macrumors.com says it may sell for around $250. We’ll recap the WWDC keynote highlights next week.

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Google & LG-Highest Res AR&VR OLED Display; Amazon Sells Face Recognition Tech to Police; Drink a Day Purveyor Hooch Expands

Google has taken the wraps off a high resolution OLED display that more than triples the pixels per inch of the Oculus and the HTC Vive. 9to5google.com says the mobile display was developed in partnership with LG, and has 1443 PPI, a wide field of view, and is optimized for both AR and VR. No word yet on when you might be able to wrap one of these around your face or how much it will cost, but it will essentially take mobile VR and AR headsets from 2-3 megapixels to 18!

Amazon has begun selling facial recognition technology called Rekognition to police. The tech, which Amazon boasts can track and analyze hundreds of people in a photo using a database with tens of millions of faces, has been used in Orlando, Florida, and by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon. According to cnet.com, Rekognition isn’t used for active surveillance… but in a video clip posted online, it was noted that Rekognition could follow Orlando’s mayor using cameras throughout the city. Amazon says the tech matches photos and videos uploaded by the customer — not by Amazon. They note on the positive side that it has been used to help find lost children at amusement parks, and was used for public safety at the Royal Wedding on Saturday to identify attendees. Both the EFF and ACLU have expressed grave concerns about this kind of tech in the hands of law enforcement and government…particularly since tests in London show that facial recognition tech can be wrong up to 98% of the time!

Drink-a-day startup Hooch has announced that it has raised almost 3 million in seed money. Techcrunch.com reports that they are also adding to their base plan…which
offers a basic subscription of $9.99 that gets you one free drink per day from a variety of partner bars and restaurants. Hooch Black (which you have to apply for, and which costs $295 per year) adds hotel deals, concierge service and other perks on top.
On top of that, Hooch is planning to launch its blockchain initiative this summer. They believe that by having their own cryptocurrency token, Hooch could work with partners to create a “decentralized model for consumer rewards.” After reading about the Amazon facial recognition for law enforcement, you might want to subscribe to Hooch!


Zuckerberg Will Respond to Cambridge Scandal; Latest On Upcoming iPhones; Google Buying Lytro

So far, there has been no response at Facebook from CEO Mark Zuckerberg or COO Cheryl Sandburg. The head of internet security is leaving. Now, it’s being reported by cnet.com and others that Zuckerberg will respond publicly about ‘rebuilding trust’ within 24 hours. There is also an all-hands meeting scheduled for Friday at 10am Pacific, and both Zuck and Sandburg are supposed to talk then. The hashtag #wheresZuck has been appearing on Twitter.

Most rumors point to 3 new iPhone models this fall, and most have also said that there will be 5.8, 6.1, and a 6.5 inch model. A fresh report from 9to5mac.com says Digitimes is now hearing that Apple has been able to slash materials costs by 10%. Now, it looks like the cheapest of the 3 will be the 5.8 inch OLED screen model, not the 6.1 inch LCD screen one. This is apparently because they have cut a better deal on the OLED screens with Samsung and will have cheaper memory costs. It’s unclear if that means less RAM or crummier RAM. At any rate, it’s possible the bottom end phone will start at around $800, which might reel in more customers than the $999 price point, which has apparently put off a significant number of prospective buyers.

Google is buying the assets of Lytro, the makers of the light field camera. You may recall the odd, rectangular cams that allowed you to take a picture, then adjust the focus after the fact. 9to5google.com reports that Google could incorporate the tech in their Pixel phones, already arguably the best cameras in smartphones, but more interestingly, Google is wanting to use the tech in virtual and augmented reality. The asset sale means not all Lytro employees will be picked up by google, but Lytro’s 59 patents for light fields and digital imaging will be.


Magic Leap Unveals AR Headset; Apple Allowing Universal Apps-Mac and iOS; UK Deems High Speed Internet a Legal Right

We’ve been hearing whispers for years, and now Google-backed Magic Leap has taken the wraps off their augmented reality headset’s Creator Edition. 9to5google.com says they will be shipping in 2018, too! The setup consists of a ‘Lightwear’ headset connected to a circular ‘Lightpack’ via a couple cords…the Lightpack contains the processing and graphics, in a mid-sized disk that hangs off a belt or pocket…and a Control’ remote (smaller than most TV remotes) that provides for 6 degrees of freedom and movement. The headset has tech that detects and stores the exact location of walls, surfaces, and physical objects, and also what they are calling ‘360 degree sound field audio.’ The interface accepts inputs from voice, gestures, head poses, and eye tracking. No word on pricing for the Creator Edition yet, but their SDK should be released along with it, in addition to other tools for web and game developers.

Apple is readying to let developers release universal apps that will work across iPhones, iPads, and Macs early next year. In a Bloomberg News writeup picked up by macrumors.com, the official announcement and details could come in June at WWDC 2018. So far, it’s not known if Apple will merge the Mac App Store with the vastly more popular App Store for iOS, but that seems logical. The move would mean better apps for the Mac, since developers put a lot more time and energy into making apps for the more widely used iPhones and iPads.

In the wake of the FCC killing net neutrality here in the US, Britain has taken the opposite position. According to rawstory.com, the UK has deemed high speed internet a legal right for all citizens, and will require that never household is wired for it by 2020.. Communications company BT has pledged to drop around $788 million to connect about a million and a half rural homes to the net. Right now, about 95% of homes in the UK have broadband connections with 24 Mbps or higher speed.


Apple Supplier Cuts Deal to Make Lenses for AR Glasses; Self-Driving Nissan Leaf Taxi Test; Amazon Handmade in Hand in 2 Hours

It’s an open secret that Apple has been working on AR smart glasses. Now, 9to5mac.com reports that Apple supplier Quanta has inked a deal to start making lenses for augmented reality smart glasses. This deal isn’t apparently specific to Apple, but it sure opens the door for Cupertino to bring such a wearable to market. Last year, Quanta poured $45 million into Lumus, which makes AR lenses, and they now have apparently struck a licensing agreement that will make AR glasses much more affordable. Quanta has indicated that full AR headsets could be priced at less than the cost of a high end cell phone, or under $1000. Quanta says an AR product may be out in 2019, but maybe not from Apple, which is shooting for 2020.

Nissan has fired up 2018 Leaf production in the US, with the promise of battery packs coming that will get drivers 150 miles between charges…and down the road 225 miles. Now, according to techcrunch.com, the company is working with Japanese software maker DeNA to test an autonomous ride-hailing service. They expect to start testing the self-driving cabs in Japan this March. The interesting wrinkle about Nissan’s project is not just getting from point A to point B…you can apparently put in a general written inquiry such as wanting a specific kind of food, and the car will find and take you to a restaurant that serves it!

Stepping things up a notch for people using Amazon Handmade so they can better compete with Etsy, Amazon will start offering Prime Now 2 hour delivery for handmade artisan products. According to geekwire.com, customers in select Prime Now cities will be able to buy handmade items between now and Christmas Eve for the 2 hour delivery. The cities include: Austin, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle.


New Samsung & LG Hero Phones Out in January; Amazon Jumps into VR & AR, Lyft Gets Self-Driving Permit

We were expecting Samsung to show off the new Galaxy S9 in January. Now, it looks like it will be launched at CES 2018, and according to bgr.com, LG will also show its latest and greatest, the G7. Last year, the LG G6 was overshadowed by Apple and Samsung, and with the runaway success of the iPhone X and a strong Samsung Galaxy S9, they will need the new G7 to have some ‘wow’ factor. The G7 is rumored to have and OLED display, like the iPhone X and Galaxy S9, but does add its own wrinkle…the fingerprint sensor will be under the screen, not on the back like the S9’s. For those leery of the iPhone X’s facial recognition scheme, this might be a real draw.

Google, Apple, and Microsoft are busily working on VR and AR products, so it was only a matter of time. Geekwire.com reports that Amazon is jumping in with its new ‘Sumerian’ service for Amazon Web Services. Sumerian will allow creation of VR, AR, and 3D scenes for Oculus, Vive, iOS, and Android. Sumerian has a web based editor for creating interactive 3D scenes, and a library of objects and templates. It launches in preview today on all but Android, which Amazon says is coming soon.

Another company has a permit to test self-driving cars in California, and this one is a biggie. Cnet.com says Lyft was granted a permit, and now brings to 45 the number of companies testing or getting ready to roll driverless cars on public roads. They join VW, General Motors, Tesla, Google’s Waymo, Uber, and Apple. You’ll be able to spot them by the apparatus on top, but don’t expect to see no one in the driver’s seat…all the permits require a driver on board, just in case.


Apple Push on AR Headset iPhone Replacement; Harry Potter AR Game; Facebook Working on Anti-Revenge Porn System

We commented recently that AR- augmented reality and AI-artificial intelligence, will be the next really big thing. Now, word is from bloomberg.com that Apple is working on a breakthrough product to replace the iPhone. It’s an AR headset that could be in customer hands (or more to the point, on their faces) by 2020. That’s only 3 years away, kids! The device will have its own display and run on its own chip and operating system. The whole project is spread over several Apple facilities and code named T288. It builds on the ‘system-on-a-package’ concept of the also small Apple Watch. Not mentioned is how Apple will deal with powering the device…the Apple Watch can easily run all day, but only for an hour when talking on LTE. Streaming video overlays along with live visuals through the glasses won’t exactly be thrifty when it comes to battery use!

Staying with AR, Niantic’s follow up game to the wildly successful Pokemon Go will be a Harry Potter AR game. According to techcrunch.com, it will be out next year. No precise time frame, but the game is expected to let users roam their real surroundings in search of Potter items, casting spells, and fighting villains.

Facebook is working on a system to combat revenge porn. That’s a great idea, but with a catch…9to5google.com says you have to upload your nudes to Facebook…what could possibly go wrong? The idea is that FB would create an encrypted version of the raw data in the image file…if an EX tries to upload a file with that data, it’s blocked. You still have to send the nude to yourself in Messenger…which means people with stupid, simple passwords (lots of them) and people who can be Phished would be vulnerable. No word on how the system would work on altered photos…like the EX pulling the nude of you out of the pic and Photoshopping it into another background or just grabbing (the naughty) parts and posting them, which might show up as different data. Let’s hope Facebook thinks this all through…it’s being trialled in Australia and 3 other countries right now.