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.

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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.


$200 Beats HomePod; Microsoft Snaps Up Veteran AI Team; AT&T No WiFi Smart Button

Apple’s HomePod has had underwhelming sales so far, and now they may be trying to rectify that with a cheaper model than the $350 one with killer sound but anemic voice command abilities. Bgr.com reports that Apple is looking at bringing out one for $199 under the Beats brand. With a decent sounding Google Home speaker going for $130, and Amazon Alexa speakers for less yet, Apple might have a fighting chance at under $200 if the gadget still sounds better than its competitors.

Microsoft has picked up an AI team that includes the former chief speech scientist for Siri. According to businessinsider.com, Redmond has acquired AI startup Semantic Machines, to boost its ‘conversational AI’ and potentially make Cortana better at understanding natural language inquiries. At least for the short term, the artificial intelligence team will remain in Berkeley where Semantic Machines has been based. Besides Larry Gillick, the former chief speech scientist for Apple’s Siri, the team includes Cal professor Dan Klein and Stanford professor Percy Liang. Several other members worked at Nuance, the voice recognition company that built Siri.

AT&T has launched the LTE-M button, which you can use to order something online with a single click. Engadget.com says the gadget…which not only sounds like and Amazon Dash button, but is actually powered by Amazon Web Services….does have a new trick up its sleeve…it works over AT&T’s network, so doesn’t need WiFi. The AT&T button is not preprogrammed, so you can set it up to order different things, unlike the single function Dash buttons. It is pricier than an Amazon button, though. the first 5000 will be $30, then it will be $35. Since it has to be programmed, the price may not be the only limiting factor…you’ll also need to be geeky enough to figure out how to program the LTE-M button.


Beats Gets Adaptive Noise Canceling; Huawei Building AI into Mobile Chips; Jaguar Land Rover Shows ‘Tron’ Steering Wheel; iPhone Name Claims

Beats has added adaptive noise canceling to Studio 3 Headphones. Techcrunch.com reports it’s a direct shot at Bose, with the new Beats models claiming to screen out sounds better and more comprehensively…not just jet plane roar. The now Apple division has also toned down its colors, and offers a bit less pumped up bass. They claim 22 ours of battery life, and the price? That’s still pumped up at $350…available now.

All the tech product companies are betting big on AI…AI has even made it into the realm of politics, with Russia’s Vlad Putin claiming that whomever nails AI first and best will rule the world. Now Huawei says they are going to bake AI processing into their next chip, with the first ever Neural Processing Unit for smartphones. Thenextweb.com explains that what that means to you is no need to phone home to the cloud for the handset to offer AI assistance. Huawei also says it will get 50% longer batter life. If you are a little skeptical…we’ll all find out how much of this is real and what’s vaporware in October when the successor to the Mate 9 drops.

For decades auto makers have shown cars of the future, and now Jaguar Land Rover has given a peek at their steering wheel of the future. Cnet.com notes that it’s right out of Tron…the ‘wheel’ is more of a flattened octagon, with no visible buttons or switches. Jag says it will be totally AI operated, and will detach and dock in your home when you’re not driving…so it can be used there as a personal assistant, too. The so-called ‘Sayer’ will be attachable to any car you like, based on what tasks you have for the day. Maybe just a sedan for your commute….or a pickup if you are helping a pal move. Jag presumes by the time something like this bows, almost all vehicles will be self-driving…at least primarily. They will show a prototype in London September 8-10, and then the week after at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

A week before the new iPhone bows, and it’s the silly season with rumors. Now, one report picked up by bgr.com says it will be iPhone X for sure. Another that relies on what major case makers are planning…9to5mac.com says that the name will be iPhone Edition, and there won’t be any 7S models…those will jump right to iPhone 8. Of course, we’ll know for sure next week!


Apple’s Back to School Freebie- ‘Music to Your Ears’

Yes, it’s time for Apple’s annual back to school promotion, and this year, Cupertino is giving away a free pair of Beats Solo2 headphones to students and teachers that buy a Mac through their education program…literally music to your ears! Theverge.com notes that the headphones usually go for $200, and that for an additional $100 bucks, you can upgrade to wireless ones. The deal’s good on iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac Pros through September 18th.

The latest iteration of the Motorola Moto X should roll out next Tuesday. 9to5google.com says leaked pictures indicate a 5.5 inch screen and a front facing flash for selfies. It’s also rumored to have a fingerprint sensor integrated into the bottom speaker, and there may be a version with dual SIM cards to allow for multiple numbers.


Beats Solo 2 Headphones Cut the Cord

Beats best selling Solo 2 headphones have cut the cord. Gigaom.com says the wireless Bluetooth phones should last 12 hours on a charge, and are $299. There’s no Apple branding, and they charge with Micro USB, not Apple’s Lightning cable.

For the cat lover with everything, there’s Tailio…a $100 net connected scale that sits under the letterbox. Engadget.com reports the kickstarter device weighs kitty, and tells you when to change the box…if your nose hasn’t already!

Last summer Amazon asked permission from the FAA to test drone deliveries. Now, not content to wait on the US, thenextweb.com says they’re planning to start testing in Britain.


New Sony Smartphones Send Data to China

Not many people are buying Sony smartphones, but if you did, heads up. They are transmitting data to servers in China right out of the box. Geek.com says some have a Baidu folder that keeps coming back after deletion. A workaround is on their forum.

Upstart T-Mobile keeps on outgrowing the other phone providers. They signed 2.3 million new customers in 3rd quarter according to engadget.com. AT&T picked up 2 million, and Verizon grabbed 1.53 million.

If you have young girls, or are a fangirl, it’s jackpot time. Just in time for Christmas, Beats has unveiled Hello Kitty headphones. Cnet.com says they’re for Kitty’s 40th anniversary. As you might expect, they’re a pricey $249, and available mid-november.