Storied Harley Readies e-Bike; Comcast Cord Cutter Stream Box; BigBox Building Online VR Games; Google to Rebrand Nest

LiveWire 2018. Spain

Every early morning it’s not pouring rain, I can hear a number of roaring Harley-Davidson bikes thunder nearby on a freeway I’m close to. That thunder may be fading as H-D will be releasing details of their new electric bike in January. Engadget.com says range, acceleration, price, and other specs will be announced then. Right now, we know all H-D dealers will have Level 2 fast chargers, and will be selling Level 1 chargers for home. The bike is called the Live Wire, and it comes with 7 different riding modes you can program, and has an adjustable color touchscreen. Oh…and as pictured….it looks awesome!

Comcast can see the writing on the wall…or at least on screen. The big cable provider is working on a streaming set top box for cord cutters. Theverge.com reports that the box would be able to offer streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, and include a voice control remote for navigation. If you think this sounds a lot like their X-1 system without the cable, you’re right. Will it be able to compete with Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku for cord cutters? That remains to be seen…a lot may hinge on what they price it at. The cord cutter box should be out next year.

Several refugees from Valve and Disney have now raised 5 million to supercharge BigBox. The company is building online VR games. According to geekwire.com, BigBox has been around since 2016, but the new round of funding will help them build out more online VR games and the ecosystems that support them. Their first title is positioned as something of a ‘Counter-Strike meets Mario Kart.’ It’s called ‘Population: One,’ and lets gamers climb, fly, and shoot like they were doing so in real life, but without some of the discomfort from earlier VR tech. The biggest challenge with BigBox and others…getting more headsets into homes. The devices have been selling well for commercial training purposes, but need to be penetrating homes closer to the level of traditional gaming systems to really take off.

Google has been looking to expand its line of smart home devices, and now may be considering a rebrand of Nest. 9to5google.com says after moving the Nest line back under more direct Google control, they are angling for a way to tie the Nest hardware products more closely with Google’s other hardware and software products.

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Facebook Messenger Autoroll Ads; Disney Sweetens Fox Offer; Uber EV Incentive; EU Internet Copyright Vote

 Well, people are going to love this. Facebook is starting to put autoplay video ads in Messenger.. Recode.net says they appear in the inbox right next to messages from friends and family.  The company has complained of late that they were running out of room in the main Facebook app for ads, so are moving on to Messenger and also Marketplace, their quasi-Craigslist. Facebook does say they will be monitoring how the ads are received, and peoples’ behavior, to see if they turn people off. Note to Facebook…you’re not Stan Freeberg or a major creative ad shop, so they probably will! 

 The battle over content and eyeballs has heated up. Disney is making a $70.3 billion counterbid for Fox’s entertainment businesses following Comcast’s $65 billion offer for the company. The fight for Twenty-First Century Fox reflects a new imperative among entertainment and telecommunications firms. They are building up ever more programming to better compete with technology companies such as Amazon and Netflix for viewers’ attention – and dollars. The deal would include Fox film and TV studios, some cable networks and international assets, but not Fox News Channel or the Fox television network.  AT&T just bought Time Warner for $81 billion, after a federal judge rejected the government’s antitrust concerns.  Disney had made a $52.5 billion all-stock offer in December. It’s now offering $38 per Twenty-First Century Fox share, up from $28 per share. Who knows if Disney or Comcast will win, but we can definitively say that Rupert Murdoch will be the real winner!

 Uber has launched a pilot program to encourage drivers to start using electric vehicles. the program runs in 8 cities in the US and Canada, including San Francisco. According to mashable.com, the EV Champions Initiative includes a number of features…including one in the driver app that helps combat range anxiety, a key issue with electric cars. Uber has already alerted drivers of rides that will run over 45 minutes before they accept…for EVs, that will be dropped to 30 minutes. Other incentives include a buck or $1.50 back per electric ride, and free access to fast charging networks. Earlier this year, arch competitor Lyft set its EV and environmental goals, including a billion carbon neutral rides by 2025. 

 While Wall Street and the world worry about trade war, now there’s another issue creeping up that may drastically change the internet as we know it. AN EU Parliament committee has voted to make content providers to filter for copyright infringement. While the Article 13 rule still has to be agreed on by representatives from the EU’s 28 governments before becoming law, this vote reduces the chances of serious changes. Over 70 experts…including Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have said this will turn the internet into’a tool for the automated surveillance and control’ of it’s users. Theverge.com notes that such talk sounds like hype, but the rule would essentially be something of a YouTube Content ID for the entire internet. Internet platforms would have to filter uploads for copyright infringement.


Smartphone Sales Contract; Vicis Extends High Tech Helmet Expertise to Military; Comcast Mesh WiFi Extenders Launched; Starbucks-More Mobile Payments than Apple or Google

Smartphone sales dropped overall by 11% year over year first quarter according to counterpointresearch.com. There were 38.7 million sold, the first time in 3 years that number was under 40 million in a quarter. Prepaid phones dropped, most likely due to a ramp-down of government subsidized ‘lifeline’ programs. Apple was actually up 16% in the quarter. Apple seems to be selling less at introduction, but steadier through the year. Samsung was down 4% year over year. Google Pixel 2 sales were solid during the promo period on Verizon. Apple held the top 5 slots first quarter plus #7, with Samsung taking #6, #8, and #9. Motorola…remember them? They squeaked in with #10.

Vicis has made a deal with the US Army to bring their high tech helmet expertise honed in footballl helmets to military ones. According to geekwire.com, they will be working to improve the safety of both Army and Marine combat helmets. Vicis already sells to all 32 NFL teams, 90 NCAA teams, and over 500 high schools.

If you have a larger home, or one with multiple stories, good for you. Sometimes, not so good for WiFi reception. Now, theverge.com reports that Comcast has rolled out Xfinity xFi Pods…mesh WiFi pods to cover dead zones in houses. The little plug in pods were supposed to be out last year, but were delayed. Comcast has 3 packs for $119 and 6 packs for $199, plus shipping.

By the end of this year, almost a quarter of US smartphone users…some 55 million people…will make an in-store mobile payment. It might be a bit of a surprise…or not, but recode.net says Starbucks mobile payment app beats Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay! Starbucks notches some 30 million, with Apple Pay at just under 28 billion. Google Pay has about 13 million users so far, and Samsung Pay around 11 million, all according to eMarketer.


Apple Folding Phone Patent; SodaStream Water into Wine; Paid Comcast Fast Lane; SoftBank Uber Share Offer

While Samsung has teased about a folding phone, and we just recently reported that they may actually put one out in a couple years, now Apple may be eyeing something similar. Thenextweb.com reports that Apple has applied fora patent on a foldable electronic device with a flexible display. Granted, ‘electronic device’ could also mean a laptop, tablet, or even watch, but considering Samsung’s rumblings, a phone is a good bet. As with Samsung, it could be in a couple years or even not at all…we’ll just have to stay tuned.

Before you start typing in the web address to buy one, this next gadget is reportedly only available in Germany and only for a limited time. That said, SodaStream has announced ‘Sparkling Gold’ drink mix. According to theverge.com, German users will be able to turn water into wine…basically sparkling Riesling. It’s designed to be 10% alcohol by volume at the 1 to 5 recommended ratio…but you know some people will double up! SodaStream says an independent test found that three quarters of the participants found it comparable to real French Champagnes like Moet and Chardon. One bottle can make 12 glasses of wine…again it will only be on the German SodaStream online shop…awwww!

Comcast has promised for years that they wouldn’t charge for fast lanes, or throttle or block internet content. With the FCC about to vote to drop net neutrality, the company has been running Twitter ads saying they won’t block or throttle content…but they have quietly dropped their promise about not charging extra for fast lanes. Arstechnica.com says with then NBCUniversal purchase in 2011, the company agreed to limit paid prioritization…but that condition expires in September 2018.

SoftBank and a group of investors are looking to buy a good-sized chunk of Uber…and do it for 30% less than the company presently values itself. According to bloomberg.com, if the deal flies, they would have at least 14% of Uber. Besides buying the stock for 6 billion and letting shareholders cash out, SoftBank would inject a billion of fresh cash into the ride hailing service. The tender offer is expected to start today, and the process could take some 20 business days to complete.


iPhone May Have Smart Connector for AR; Minecraft Getting It’s Own Money; Comcast Plans Netflix Rival, No In-Flight Cell Phone Use; Radiation Blocking Undies

Yes, all the buzz is that the iPhone 8 gets and OLED screen and catches up with Samsung, but the ‘one more thing’ may be connecting to an AR or VR headset via a Smart Connector like the iPad Pro has. The connector could also be used for wireless charging, although that can be done through the back inductively. If Apple is finally ready to jump into AR, that would be huge!

Microsoft is rolling out a new marketplace and currency for Minecraft. According to bloomberg.com, businesses will be able to sell content and creations to the millions of Minecraft players. The rollout…which is due yet this spring….will have feature packs including new story lines, in-game activities, and landscapes, and they will run anywhere from a buck to $10 each. The literal ‘coin of the realm’ will be Minecraft Coins! Up to now, you could only buy items created by the Minecraft development team. 10 third party sellers will kickoff the new Minecraft store. The coins can be bought by any supported device running iOS, Android, or Windows. Microsoft didn’t disclose how much developers will get as a cut, but did say it’s over half.

Comcast is going to create its own rival to Netflix in the next 12-18 months, using NBC shows. Theverge.com says it may also include material from Comcast cable channels SyFy, USA, and Bravo. Yet to be decided is whether or not it will feature a live sports feed. Comcast has owned NBC Universal since 2011.

The new Republican FCC Chairman may have done something you will actually love. The Friendly Candy Company, as broadcasters have called it for decades, plans to kill proceedings that would relax rules and allow people to use cell phones while airborne. Macrumors.com reports that the Chairman calls the plan ‘ill-conceived’ and called tabling cell phones on airliners ‘a victory for Americans all across the country.’ Next time you’re trying to snooze or watch a flick on your mobile device in airplane mode, without some jerk shouting into their phone, thank the FCC!

For guys who carry their cell phone in their pocket that are worried about damaging their little swimmers, check out Spartan boxers and briefs. Mashable.com says they have silver woven into the fabric to protect your boys from electromagnetic radiation from the phone, The maker adds that the silver is also naturally anti-bacterial. Oh…did we mention they’re $45 per PAIR. They should last 300 wash cycles at any rate.


Comcast Partners with YouTube; Twitch Readying ‘Buy Now’ Button for Games; iPhone Getting Cam with 3D For Both Biometrics and Putting Users in Games

Comcast is partnering with YouTube, and will offer an app to watch it over their Xfinity boxes later this year. According to variety.com, no details are out about the deal, but you will be able to browse and watch YouTube’s entire catalog of videos, and use the X1 remote to do it by voice command if you like.

Twitch is getting ready to roll out a buy now button to allow you to pay streamers and buy games right in a stream you’re watching. Partnered streamers will get 5% share of the purchase, an game developers 70% of the revenue. Cnet.com says for starters it will only be available in the US to players with Amazon accounts. Ubisoft, Telltale Games and 11Bit are making their games available through Twitch stream.

Apple appears to be working on a camera for iPhones with ‘3D sensing and modeling capabilities,’ that will reinvent the user experience. Businessinsider.com reports that KGI Securities thinks it may appear in the new iPhone 8, but may well be improved on even more in a later phone. One application might be facial recognition for new biometric security, but another could be to put the user’s face into games on a character.


Chevy Bolt Will Break the 200 Mi Ceiling; Netflix-Caps Are Dumb; T-Mobile iPhone Preorders Explode, Longer Tweets in Days

Chevrolet has announced that the Bolt…the smaller, all electric sibling to the hybrid Volt….will have a range of 238 miles. Engadget.com notes that 200 miles is the ‘sweet spot,’ and cars having range exceeding that seem to ease driver fear of being stranded. Chevy says the Bolt will be in showrooms before the end of the year. The Tesla Model 3 is still about a year away from hitting the roads.

Days ago, Netflix wrote the FCC, imploring the Federal Cookie Company…as broadcasters have loved to call it…to disallow data caps. Bgr.com reports that Netflix argues caps serve no legitimate purpose and ‘are an ineffective management tool,’ really serving as a way for Comcast and TWC to stifle competition…primarily from services like Netflix. The Federal Communications Commission…which generally moves with the speed of an elderly snail…has yet to respond.

For months, the tech media has whined that the iPhone 7 would be SO boring with not changing the case design that sales would tank. According to appleinsider.com, T-Mobile’s CEO says sales of the iPhone 7 are quadruple that of the iPhone 6. So far on T-Mobile, Matte Black is the most popular color…that’s what I have coming. CEO Legere has a Jet Black one on the way.

The wait is nearly over…next Monday, Twitter’s longer Tweets will finally be live. Theverge.com reminds us that media attachments…including images, videos, polls, etc, as well as quoted Tweets, will no longer count towards the 140 character limit. Usernames at the beginning of Tweets will also no longer be counted. Go crazy, Twitterati!