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.

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Google’s Waymo Pedestrian Detection Breakthrough; Facebook Reorganizes into 3 Divisions; iPhone Strikes Back at GreyKey

At Google I/O, Waymo took the stage with the claim that they have “unlocked truly autonomous vehicles.” Thenextweb.com reports that they have really made a breakthrough in making driverless cars safer for pedestrians…claiming to reduce the error-rate for detecting pedestrians by 100X (not 100%). The tech was even able to detect a man’s head sticking up out of a manhole and a person wearing a goofy costume like a sports mascot.

Facebook has reorganized into 3 new divisions, or product areas. The first consists of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. According to businessinsider.com, the 2nd category is for the more experimental parts of the company….AR, VR, and a new blockchain unit. The third area is for what they call ‘central product services. That consists of ads, analytics, integrity, growth, and product management. Facebook has moved around executive management to oversee the 3 new areas.

Apple is striking back at the GreyKey box, that allows law enforcement (or crooks that get hold of one) to get into iPhones. In iOS 11.4, which is in beta, there’s a USB restricted mode. Macrumors.com says that if the phone isn’t unlocked with a passcode or connected to the paired computer within a week, the Lightening port becomes useless for everything but charging.


Triple Lens iPhone Cam-in ’19; Fitbit Adds Female Health Tracking, Quick Replies; Facebook’s Oculus Go Ingeniously Ditches Headphones; California Requires Solar on New Homes

‘You’re riding high in April, shot down in May.’ That’s what Frank Sinatra sang in “That’s Life,” and that’s the story as far as Apple’s iPhone getting a 3 lens camera system this fall! According to appleinsider.com, reports from analysts checking with a couple of Apple vendors indicate that the 3 lens system isn’t going to make it by this September. The system will allegedly include a 5x optical zoom instead of the 2x one on present iPhones. The third lens may also improve low light image quality or even play a part in range finding, or possibly add new camera effects. Personally, I hope the earlier rumors are right anyway…the zoom feature is one I have used the most on my iPhone 7 Plus.

Fitbit has rolled out two new features…’female health tracking’ (on iOS and Windows now, Android is on the way), and quick replies on Android with an Ionic or Versa. theverge.com says the female health tracking was announced a couple months ago when the Versa was unveiled. It allows for logging data about periods, including symptoms like cramps or acne. Over time, this should give women more accurate cycle predictions. The quick replies feature can be used to respond to texts or messages in apps like Facebook Messenger. they include yes and no, but also ‘sounds good,’ ‘can’t talk now, will reply later,’ and ‘what’s up?’ You can also customize them, but they have to stay 60 characters or less.

The big reveal on Facebook’s new Oculus Go headsets at F8 was that they operate entirely without an attached computer. It was immediately noted that there were no headphones or earbuds attached, though. Now, businessinsider.com reports why. Oculus has ingeniously built little speakers into the front of the side straps on the $200 VR headset. This means a bit less immersive experience, since your ears aren’t sealed in, but that might be a plus if you are viewing on a plane, train, or bus. BTW, there IS an audio jack right by the micro USB charging port if you insist on plugging in your own headphones or earbuds.

California has often been the trendsetter for many decades, and is ramping up to do it again. According to engadget.com, the states Energy Commission will begin requiring solar panels on roofs of almost all new homes, condos, and apartment buildings by 2020. There will be exceptions for homes that can’t fit panels, or would be blocked by taller buildings or trees. There will also be compliance credits for builders that install batteries like the Tesla Powerwall. It’s estimated that this will add $25,000 to $30,000 to the initial cost, but then will save owners $50,000 top $60,000 over the 25 year lifespan of the solar system. the final vote at the Energy Commission is May 9th, and it is widely expected that the rule making will pass.


Facebook F8 Keynote; UK Tells Zuck Show Up or Subpoena; 2 Bigger Samsung Galaxy Phones; Another Hint Apple May Roll Without Qualcomm or Intel

Mark Zuckerberg dropped a big bombshell in his F8 keynote this morning….a Facebook dating app! Businessinsider.com reports that the social network will also launch a possible rival to Apple’s FaceTime…video chat via Instagram. WhatsApp will be getting video calling, and Messenger will get simplified, and some AR camera tools are coming. As for VR, the Oculus Go, Facebook’s new standalone VR headset ships today. It’s $199, a big drop from the present $399 Oculus headset (which you need a high end PC to use!) A crowd pleaser—Facebook is handing out a free Oculus Go headset to everyone at F8! FB will also be adding upvotes and downvotes to comments, like Reddit. Also, Stories will be opened up to third party developers. They are also adding ‘live commenting’ to videos…they will appear in a video alongside the video and narrate it in real time.

The UK Parliament really wants to hear from Mark Zuckerberg in person. According to techcrunch.com, they have let Facebook know that since Zuck is giving evidence to the European Parliament in May, if he lands in Britain, he will be hit with a summons.

Up to now, you have only been able to get Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ phones with 64 gigs of storage in the US, but starting May 18th, you can go crazy with more space. Bgr.com reports that both phons will add 128 and 256 gig capacities by then. Preorders are open now. The 128 gig S9 runs $769.99, with the S9+ gobbling up $889.99 of your bucks. For the maxed out 256 gig S9, expect to drop $819.99, or pony up $939.99 for the S9+ .

A job posting was dropped from Apple’s site that some say points to the company rolling their own modem chips and dropping Qualcomm. Businessinsider.com says the gig was for a ‘mmWave IC design engineer.’ That would appear to indicate that Apple was wanting to design in house its own chip for next gen 5G networks. Although Apple is locked in a courtroom battle with Qualcomm, this shouldn’t be a stunner…they have been running iOS mobile devices on processors of their own design for a decade.


Next Samsung Phone Further into Phablet Range; Alphabet Coins Money in Q1 & Adds Employees; iPhone X Users Love Everything-But One; 27 Pages of Facebook No-Nos

It looks like Samsung’s successor to the Galaxy S9 will be going big…bigger than the LCD third iPhone Apple plans for this fall. According to the dailymail.com, it will sport a bigger 6.3 inch super AMOLED screen (the bigger Apple phone is slated to be 6.1 inch, and LED…while the iPhone X successor will be 5.8 inch.) The present Galaxy S9 has a 6.2 inch screen. Also expect a 12 MP camera which will move to the left of the handset’s back like iPhone, faster processor, and that 6.3 inch screen should go edge to edge…but WON’T be curved, according to rumors!

Google parent Alphabet blew past expectations, with first quarter revenues of over 31 billion…that’s up a whopping 26% from first quarter last year. 9to5google.com says the company also hired on another 5,000 employees, and now exceeds 85,000. This is in great part a one time event, as Google brought on board about 2000 engineers in Taiwan from smartphone maker HTC. Google has been hiring 2-3000 employees per quarter since 2017, though.

Early adapters of the iPhone X in the US adore their phones…Creative Strategies found that it has a 97% satisfaction rate. There’s only one thing they don’t like, according to macrumors.com…Siri. The miserably executed voice assistant just had a 20% satisfaction rate! Maybe the AI wizard Apple wooed from Google can fix the mess that is Siri. Just yesterday, a friend was texting me…she dictates to Siri. Most of the garbled things, I was able to figure out from the context, but one paragraph was absolute gibberish! The friend immediately clarified…laboriously with the virtual keyboard. Come on, Apple…fix this mess!

It’s always been kind of like black magic, trying to figure out what facebook won’t allow to be posted…but now it’s clearer. Bgr.com reports that the social network has published 27…count ‘em…pages of Community Standards that have been used in their internal moderation policies. Want to be edgy, or wonder why your hate speech or bullying wouldn’t post…check out the document. Facebook has also unveiled an appeals process. Facebook claims the appeal reviews are done by an actual person, and usually within 24 hours.


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!


iPhone X Made Bank in 4th Quarter; New iPhone SE Soon; Facebook’s EU Privacy Compliance; Company Using Facebook for Massive Facial Recognition Database

There has been so much coverage about what a big flop the iPhone X is…now, comes word that the flagship handset brought in 35% of total worldwide iPhone profits in the 4th quarter….and really only 2 months of that quarter! Macrumors.com reports that Counterpoint Research crunched the numbers, and also found that the handset generated five times the profit of over 600 Android OEMs that quarter! For comparison at Apple, the iPhone 8 brought in 19.1% of the profits, and the iPhone 8 Plus 15.2%.

The diminutive (by today’s standards) and dated iPhone SE only amounted to .9% of Apple’s iPhone profits in the 4th quarter last year, and now it looks like it will be getting a long-overdue refresh. According to bgr.com, Apple has registered a number of new model numbers for iPhones that will run iOS 11 with the EU and with Russia, which require them in advance. The smaller and less pricey iPhone may be out in May, or around WWDC in June. It will have greatly improved internals, but one rumor has it staying the same on the outside, with another indicating a brand new design. At any rate, we will know in a matter of weeks.

The EU’s new privacy regs go into place next month, and Facebook has released some details about how they will comply. 9to5google.com says the US will get a watered down version, as had been previously rumored. The GDPR….General Data Protection Regulation compliance makes Facebook ask users specifically to agree to a number of things, and is not allowed to present pre-selected defaults. Three key things they must ask are to chose whether or not you want them to use data from partners to show you ads, if you want Facebook to continue to let them use info you’ve shared about political, religious, or relationship info (hint: they will still have the data!), and lastly if you will allow them to use face recognition tech (like for tagging in photos.) These are such mild requirements, don’t expect much change in the ‘watered down’ US version!

If you thought the Cambridge Analytica scandal was creepy, you’ll love this…a surveillance company founded by former Israeli intelligence officers called Terrogence has been using social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube to build a giant facial-recognition database. Mashable.com reports they’ve been at this for five years! The database is part of their facial recognition service called Face-Int. Terrogence, and its parent company Verint supply intelligence tech to the US government including the NSA and the Navy. They would not disclose whether or not the US government utilizes their face database.