HTC’s Blockchain Phone; Magic Leap Signs With AT&T; Britain Fines Facebook over Cambridge Data

HTC may have a reduced presence, but they are still kicking, and plan to release the fabled first major blockchain phone in third quarter. Techcrunch.com says HTC has partnered with CryptoKitties, and the popular blockchain game will be available on a few of the company’s handsets, leading off with the U12+. HTC says that ‘the partnership with Cryptokitties is the beginning of a non fungible, collectible marketplace and crypto gaming app store.” Although a blockchain phone may not be mainstream, it may be enough of a hook for HTC to revive its flagging smartphone line.

Magic Leap, the company with the unusual and secretive AR glasses, has signed a deal for mobile data service with AT&T. Theverge.com reports that, in addition to selling the device, AT&T will let customers demo the glasses at stores in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco. Magic Leap is supposed to be putting out a ‘Creator Edition’ later this year. In this deal, AT&T will only start distributing the glasses once the consumer version becomes available. So far, Magic Leap hasn’t released a timeline for that. AT&T seems to feel that the Magic Leap AR glasses will be a game changer. They previously had cut an exclusive deal with Apple for the iPhone…and we know how that turned out!

Britain’s data watchdog has fined Facebook $664,000 over the Cambridge Analytica mess. It will take the social media giant a screaming 18 minutes to pay the fine! According to businessinsider.com, if they had been fined under the new EU law that went into effect in May, the maximum penalty would have been $1.6 billion. Facebook made $4.8 billion in profit just in the first 3 months this year. The EU fine can be up to 4% of a company’s global turnover. Zuckerberg can eat a sandwich at his desk, and the British fine will be paid.

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MS Surface Go Debuts at $399; Facebook Tests AR Ads; Auto Download for Netflix; Apple iOS 11.4.1 With GrayKey Killer

Microsoft is diving back in to the budget-priced tablet market with the Surface Go. The 10 inch screen tablet has a built-in kickstand, and is loaded with Windows 10, and starts at $399. Theverge.com reports that preorders are open now, and it will ship in August. It basically looks like a Surface Pro that shrunk in the wash, except with somewhat more rounded corners. The smaller Surface weighs 1.15 lbs, which is a little more than the similar iPad, but still half a pound lighter than the Surface Pro. As the Pro, it has the optional keyboard cover in 4 colors, and uses the optional Surface Pen.

In the continuing quest to get and keep more advertisers, Facebook is testing out ads with augmented reality in the newsfeed. According to techcrunch.com, the ads look like normal ads in the feed but there’s a ‘Tap to try it on’ option that activates the AR capabilities. If you like the way the product looks in AR, you can go ahead and buy it. The first test advertiser to test the feature is Michael Kors. Sephora, NYX Professional Makeup, Bobbi Brown, and Pottery Barn are planning to launch tests with AR ads yet this summer.

Your Netflix binge watching just got easier on Android phones. Buzzfeed.com says Netflix is automating downloads of a series with a feature called Smart Downloads. When you finish watching an episode, Netflix will automatically delete it and download the next one as long as you are on a WiFi network. The feature will be coming to iOS phones and tablets later this year. It really only works for series…they haven’t figured out how to program the feature for movies you might want to see next. BTW, if you don’t want the feature…what’s wrong with you? You can go to settings and turn it off.

Apple has dropped iOS 11.4.1, which is mainly just bug fixes and not a terribly big deal…except for what could be one of Steve Jobs’ famous ‘One more things.’ Cnet.com reports that the lates version of iOS brings USB Restricted Mode with it. That’s the feature that keeps the police, government, or thieves from plugging a GrayKey into the handset and using that box to unlock your phone and get your data. A charger will still work, but if you haven’t used the phone in an hour, the phone has to be unlocked with your Face ID and Passcode or Touch ID and Passcode. Apple claims they were more concerned with bad guys using the GrayKey device to hack peoples’ phones than police or governments, but neither of those latter two groups will be any too happy.


Tesla Model 3 Orders; Facebook-Not Listening; Google Gaming; CIMON Robot to ISS

If you have a reservation and deposit on a Tesla Model 3, you’re in luck….you can start spec’ing out your future car. On the occasion of Elon Musk’s 47th birthday, techcrunch.com says you can now log on to the Tesla website and start configuring your car with the online design studio. For now, only the two higher cost Model 3s are available to be configured, and they aren’t giving an estimated delivery time for some models, but if you pick the dual motor performance version…the most expensive one…Tesla says you should have it in two to four months. For advance order holders that plunked down $1000 to get in line, it will be nice to at least spec out their car.

There was a flurry of reports yesterday that a patent showed that Facebook might be getting ready to switch on your phone’s mic when your TV was on and secretly record you and what you are watching…to better serve you ads. Theverge.com has pointed out that a number of sources saw the title and what’s called the ‘abstract’ of a patent, and got this idea…without actually reading the claims…which are the actual subject matter of the patent.  It’s really a system that receives a user ID and an audio fingerprint, matches that audio fingerprint to some content, sees if that content was played for a certain duration, and then checks a counter to see if that content has been played a specific number of times. No microphone use at all. With all they already know about all of us, they could practically write a conversation in our living room, IMHO!

Earlier this year, there was a rumor that Google might be getting into gaming. Now, further reporting from 9to5google.com indicates that it’s happening. The project apparently involves a streaming platform to offer games from the cloud without presumably having to download large files in the tens of gigabytes, as well as hardware. In other words, you could open a tab on your browser and play a game. Google has been in talks with some major game studios about content. They have also hired some top game developers and marketers lately. Here’s a Google-esque wrinkle they are considering…if you hit a tough level or boss, you could hit a key to activate an overlay on your screen that cues up a YouTube walkthrough of the game you’re playing.

The International Space Station is getting a new crew member. On the SpaceX supply ship that blasted off this morning is a round robot with a flat side for a face dubbed CIMON…for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion. Engadget.com says it can speak, respond to spoken commands using AI, and fly…well, obviously fly…there’s no gravity on the ISS! The helpful robot can display repair instructions on a screen with just a voice command, so astronauts can keep both hands free for doing the repair. It will also be able to display procedures for experiments, and be something of a floating database. The ‘brains’ of the little robot are made by IBM, and the body and flight mechanism are built by Airbus.


Facebook Keyword Snooze; Apple Content Bundle; Google Duplex; Amazon Delivery Entrepreneurs

Facebook is trying out a useful feature to add to their 30 day snooze feature. Instead of snoozing accounts that annoy you, you can snooze by keyword to fight spoilers for sports events, movies, and even triggers…like the names of politicians you may be fed up with seeing posts about. The test drive of this feature is rolling out this week to a small number of users, who will be able to make such things go away for 30 days in their news feeds and groups. Techcrunch.com reports you go to a post in your feed with the subject, then hit the dropdown and look for the word you want to snooze…say for example ‘World Cup.’ Facebook says requests for the feature kept coming up in interviews with users, so they’re giving it a test run.

Apple is reported to be working on a big bundle of services including original TV content, Apple Music, and news. Macrumors.com says Apple has ordered multiple original shows, so won’t continue to offer all of them for free like Carpool Karaoke on Apple Music. The news and digital magazines from Texture will also be included in the service along with Apple Music…all for one price. Apple will continue to offer all of the services a la carte, too. The original TV series are expected to roll out next March, and it’s likely the bundled service will debut at that time, too. Pricing is apparently still up in the air, but top tier Netflix is about $14, so a good guess would be something like $25 a month for the 4 bundled services. 

Yesterday, Google gave some journalists the chance to demo their Duplex intelligent assistant. The AI with the human-like voice and delivery had been debuted earlier with a call to make a hair appointment at a beauty shop. According to theverge.com, this demo had reporters (actually at a restaurant in Mountain View) call a restaurant and try to book a reservation. Google says they will be expanding tests for the AI system in coming weeks with a group of ‘trusted tester users.’ The larger test will be with businesses Google has already partnered with. The test calls are limited to holiday hours, booking a restaurant reservation, and hair appointments, the only 3 domains Duplex has been trained for so far. As a backup, Google does have a bank of human operators standing by for when Duplex inevitably goes sideways.

Amazon has rolled out…in home town Seattle at first…a new delivery program, staffed by entrepreneurs decked out in Prime branded vans and uniforms. Geekwire.com notes that Amazon has already been using this type of ‘last mile’ service to supplement the post office, UPS, and FedEx, but those have been plain white vans and only in some cases, an Amazon branded safety vest. This new program lets entrepreneurs own a delivery fleet of up to 40 vehicles and field staff of up to 100 employees. Amazon requires them to offer healthcare, paid time off, and competitive wages. The online giant said entrepreneurs can get started with as low as $10,000 and earn up to $300,000 annually in profit.


Galaxy S10 Biometrics; Printable 3D Organs; Facebook Renegade Shareholders; AT&T Buys AppNexus

There have been rumors in the past that Samsung was going to completely ditch their iris scanner in favor of an improved version of their Apple-like Face ID. Now, it looks like the Galaxy S10 may actually do it. On top of that, 9to5google.com reports that Samsung may have figured out how to put the fingerprint reader under the screen, so they could drop the fingerprint sensor on the back of the S10. It looks like Samsung will be selling 5.8 and 6.2 inch sizes, unchanged from the S8 and S9 models. There may be a third model in the 5.8 inch form factor that will add a second camera, too.

A startup in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco called Prellis Biologics has apparently taken a big step toward developing viable 3D printed organs for people. According to techcrunch.com, the company has figured out a new tech that allows them to manufacture capillaries, a key component of making printable hearts, livers, kidneys, and lungs. Based on the new tech, Prellis has published findings that indicate that they could be able to deliver 3D printed organs implantable in people within 5 years. They are using holographic printing tech, which allows for the organs very quickly…before cellular material can deteriorate. Before humans, animal trials have to be run…and Prellis expects those to start in about 2-1/2 years!

Facebook shareholders with nearly $3 billion invested in the company are trying to topple Mark Zuckerberg as chairman and tear up the company’s governance structure. A report from Business Insider says  there is an unprecedented level of unrest among Facebook’s backers following a series of scandals.  At least a half dozen Facebook investors boasting nearly $3 billion in shares are making moves to remove Zuckerberg as chairman and break up his power base at the company. They want Zuckerberg to step down as chairman and an independent executive to be hired in his place. Shareholders also want Facebook’s dual-class share structure to be abolished because they believe it concentrates too much power into the hands of Zuckerberg and his top team. It’s a tough hill for the renegade shareholders to climb: Zuckerberg holds 75% of the class A voting stock.

Hot on the heels of their approval for snapping up Time Warner, AT&T is buying again…this time, a company called AppNexus, that delivers personalized ads based on Internet users’ Web browsing habits. The company will now be able to not only gather more information about people’s video watching habits, both online and on cable and satellite TV services, but can combine this data with AppNexus in order to deliver more personalized ads based on its customers’ TV watching and Web browsing histories.  AT&T has 60 million smartphone subscribers, 16 million home internet customers, plus DirecTV already. They expect to close on the AppNexus purchase by 3rd quarter.


YouTube Creator Plusses; Apple vs Qualcomm; Facebook Messenger Translations; Stanford Blockchain Research

YouTube has announced new ways for content creators to make money. Now, according to engadget.com, channels with over 100,000 subscribers will have access to Memberships, which will let viewers pay a monthly $4.99 fee to get exclusive access to badges, emoji, livestreams, members-only videos and shoutouts. YouTube had already offered this with Sponsorships, but that category was only available to a select group of content producers. If you have less than 100,000 subscribers, YouTube says it will offer Channel Memberships at $5 a month to more people in upcoming months. They are also partnering with Teespring for a merchandise shopping tool creators can use to sell custom gear on their channel. Initially, there are 20 different kinds of gear available. YouTube claims 1.9 billion monthly logged in viewers. 

The Apple-Qualcomm legal battle rages on. Apple has now filed petitions with the US Patent and Trademark Office challenging validity of 4 Qualcomm patents…saying they don’t cover new ideas. Macrumors.com says they cover camera autofocus, a gadget that functions as a phone and digital assistant, touch-sensitive displays, and circuit memory. This type of challenge is a favorite of Apple lawyers…Apple has filed just shy of 400 such challenges with the Patent Office. A panel of 3 judges will now consider Apple’s petition and Qualcomm’s response. Apple and Qualcomm have been hashing it out legally since early 2017, mainly in a dispute over royalties due Qualcomm.

Facebook has rolled out M Translations for Messenger. M Translations join the existing M Suggestions features that are already built into Messenger for things like quick replies, polls, and sharing your location. English-Spanish translation should now be available in both the US and Mexico. The feature was announced at Facebook’s F8 gathering earlier this year. Theverge.com reports that translation had been available for Marketplace transactions, but now all Messenger conversations have the feature. It should work pretty seamlessly. The app will note if, for example, English is your default language, and the Messenger bot will automatically pop up and offer to translate a message you receive in Spanish. Facebook says other languages will be coming, but hasn’t offered a time line as to when.

A group of crypto startups and organizations are sponsoring a new blockchain research center headquartered at Stanford University. According to coindesk.com, The Center for Blockchain Research is being led by two professors who have specialties in blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The research outfit plans to “develop best practices” for blockchain by bringing the university scientists and the industry’s top leaders together. The center will focus on designing a blockchain curriculum for both students and working professionals. The new center notes that blockchain is becoming increasingly critical to doing business globally.


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.