Waymo Offers Free Rides in Self-Driving Vans; Galaxy S8 Grabs Big Preorders; Google Tweaks Search to Tamp Down Fake News

If you live in the Phoenix area, and intrigued by self-driving cars, has Waymo got a deal for you. According to theverge.com, you can sign up for a free ride in a Waymo minivan…in fact, you can sign up as often as you like on their website. They will select riders based on the types of trips they want to take and agreeableness to using the self-driving service as their primary mode of transportation. All the test cars will have a safety driver along to grab the controls if needed. Besides Phoenix, the service will be available in Gilbert, Tempe, and Chandler. Waymo says the service area there is about twice the area of San Francisco, to give you an idea of the covered territory. They have 100 minivans there, and will add 500 more for this free project, which they are calling “Easy Rider.”

Despite the disastrous Galaxy Note 7 with the fires and recall, Samsung says the Galaxy S8 preorders are their best ever, with 30% year over year growth compared to the S7. Macrumors.com reports that this is despite launching without one of the signature features, the personal assistant Bixby in English language countries. Samsung says that should be available by the end of May…maybe they hooked up the software with a Berlitz course.

Google has announced that it has altered its search engine to ‘surface more high quality content from the web,’ or in English, tamp down fake news, offensive, or clearly misleading content. Cnet.com says Google is also allowing users to flag results that are offensive or unhelpful.


iPhone Claws Back Market Share from Android; Tesla’s Gigafactory Will Be Solar Powered; Amazon Prime Bows Cashback Rewards Visa Card

According to the latest data, Apple’s iPhone picked up 6.4% in market share in the US for the 3 months ending last November. 9to5mac.com also says that Apple did the same in 7 of 9 other key markets. The iPhone 7, 7 Plus, and 6s were the 3 most popular phones in the US for the period, combining for 31.3%. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge where next, grabbing 28.9% share. Apple snagged a whopping 9.1% in the UK…mainly crushing the hopes of Windows phones.They did drop 5.4% in China to local brands and lost out 3.2% in Germany, where Android picked up share.

Theverge.com reports that Tesla plans to power its Gigafactory with a 70 megawatt solar installation on the roof! That would make it 7 times larger than the present largest rooftop solar array. Excess power picked up would be stored by Powerpack storage units for use after dark, etc. The solar panels will all come from Solar City of course. Tesla acquired them last year.

If you need a reason to spend even more money with Amazon, have they got a deal for you. TechCrunch.com says Amazon is partnering with Chase to offer Prime members an Amazon Prime Visa card with 5% cash back on Amazon purchases. The card would give 2% back for restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores, and 1% elsewhere. There’s no annual fee on the card. Amazon is believed to have between 58 and 69 million members, or roughly half of US households. The card is available today.

Samsung Clones ‘Jet Black;’ HTC May Leave Smartphone Biz; Amazon’s Clarkson Show Has Big Debut; Electric VWs to be Made in USA

In the past, when Samsung has just plain poached Apple ideas and designs, it’s been a big hit for them. (It’s also hit them in the wallet sometimes, as Apple has sued and won.) Now, Samsung is going to clone Apple’s hot “Jet Black” color. According to bgr.com, they aren’t even waiting for the Galaxy S8….they will roll out Jet Black S7 models as soon as next month. Hey, it’s hard to get sued for using the same color!

HTC has made some really cool phones, and I have several friends that have had them and loved them. They haven’t really caught fire…figuratively…not in the Galaxy Note 7 way, however. Digitaltrends.com says rumors are flying now that HTC will bail out of smartphones completely by this coming spring. They have quietly been shopping the division around, but nothing so far. It wouldn’t be out of the question for Google to snap them up, since the success of the new Google Pixel phones.

Yesterday, Netflix snarked that Amazon hadn’t really paid $160 million to produce their ‘Top Gear’ type show titled ‘The Grand Tour,’ saying it was more like $250 million. The show, starring Jeremy Clarkson, and his former Top Gear colleagues, debuted Friday. It was the biggest premiere ever on Amazon Prime Video, according to businessinsider.com, eclipsing ‘The Man in the High Castle.’ Not only that, it was the top rated show on IMDB with a 9.6 and got 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon says it got the second most one day sign ups for Prime ever last Friday. Sounds like a hit!

Volkswagen says they will begin building electric vehicle models in North America,and even the US by 2021. Techcrunch.com picked up a report from Automotive news, citing VW brand lead Herbert Diess. Vee Dub will also build large SUVs and limos here. The Mexico factories will also crank out EVs for the North American market.

New iPhone Color; Google Maps & Pokemon; Galaxy Note Blows Up in Samsung’s Face; Google Self-Drivers Spot Cops; Netflix Grabs 3 ‘Mythbusters

Tomorrow, we’ll know for sure, but for weeks, the tech media has been complaining that there’s nothing cool about the upcoming iPhone 7…not even a dual lens camera that may allow focusing after the fact. Now, they’re all excited about a….color. Mac rumors.com says there will be a glossy ‘piano black’ color. Never let it be said the tech media isn’t shallow!

Google Maps has added a Catching Pokemon feature to the timeline. According to thenextweb.com, you can now show in Maps when and where you’ve been Playing Pokemon Go.

In an amazing gift to Apple, Samsung is recalling all Galaxy Note 7’s..up to 2.5 million, due to batteries that can explode when charging! What has been reviewed as the best Android ever will now be recalled just as the iPhone 7 is rolled out. Bgr.com reports that you can either take it back to where you bought it, or call Sammy at 1-800-SAMSUNG. Whether you decide to swap it for a less ‘explody’ one, or trade for a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge, Samsung will throw in a $25 gift card.

A couple of quick notes….Google has gotten a patent for self-driving cars detection of police vehicles. Thenextweb.com says it picks up on the flashing lights. The cars will automatically move to yield.

The ‘Mythbusters’ build team is getting a show on Netflix. According to bgr.com, Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara will star in ‘The White Rabbit Project,’ which will start airing on Netflix December 9th. They’ll investigate things from science, pop culture, and history…and it’s a good bet some things will blow up. Hopefully, not any Samsung batteries.

iPhone 7 May Have Fast Charging; New Audis Help With Speed & Green Lights; Ford Teams With Baidu, Buying LIDAR Tech

According to a rumor out of Asia, Apple’s iPhone 7 will have improved, fast charging circuitry supporting at least 5 volt, 2 amp charging. Right now, iPhone chargers put out a measly one amp. According to appleinsider.com, Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge already have fast charge tech that gets them from totally drained to half charged in 30 minutes. As a lot of iPhone users have griped for years that their phones don’t even make it through the day, this will be a welcome upgrade if true.

New Audi models have what is really a gimmick, but a pretty cool one at that. Arstechnica.com reports that they’ll have a display that will show the real time time to green light countdown in cities that have city-wide traffic management systems. It will be on 2017 A4s and Q7s. Now, you’ll be able to check that display, and know when to mash the pedal to the metal and beat that light. As Evel Knievel used to say, ‘Speed and Green Lights!’ (Ok, no he didn’t…I made that up.)

Ford and Chinese search giant Baidu have dropped a combined 150 million into LIDAR tech. Theverge.com says the two companies, which are both hard at work on developing self-driving tech, have invested in Velodyne, a Silicon Valley operation that makes LIDAR sensors for autonomous cars. LIDAR works on the same principle as RADAR, except using light waves, which gives you the ability to make more detailed 3D maps of what’s around the vehicle. Baidu already has 100 people in the Valley working on self-driving tech, and Ford plans to triple the size of its test fleet this year.

Samsung Unpacked August 2-Galaxzy S7 Outselling iPhone 6S; Apple’s ‘Planet of the Apps’;Twitter gets the 72 New Emoji

Samsung officially announced their Unpacked 2016 event as August 2nd as rumored. 9to5google.com expects a reveal of the newest Galaxy Note 7. In the meantime, Samsung is excited to see the Galaxy S7 pulling ahead of Apple’s iPhone 6S in sales in the US…16% to 14.6%. Of course, the S7 is new, and most expect demand to pick up for the iPhone after the 7 rolls out in September. Both phones are keeping a loyal following, with 88% of iPhone users saying they’ll buy another, and 86% of Samsung Galaxy users.

According to macrumors.com, Apple has posted an open casting call for its upcoming original TV show Planet of the Apps, an unscripted program about apps and the people who make them. The show is currently looking for developers from San Francisco, Austin, New York and Los Angeles to participate. No islands are involved, unless it’s the concrete ones in the middle of busy intersections.

Unicode 9’s 72 new emoji officially rolled out today, and Twitter is getting support for them, including the creepy clown one. Thenextweb.com reports that skin color modifiers are available. A lot of computers don’t support manually typing them in yet, but you can always copy and past from places like Emojipedia. Take it easy on the clown, ok?

Leak Points to Couple Surprises With iPhone 7; 10 Million Twitterers in China; Samsung Sailing Towards Great Numbers With Galaxy S7; Apple Sandbagging With iPhone 7

A leaked slide from a Foxconn internal presentation shows a couple of features that may be coming on iPhone 7 that have been rumored, but not really solidly. Bgr.com reports that the Apple handset may indeed have an IP68 water and dust resistant rating and wireless charging support. If this slide posted by myDrivers.com pans out, it may be a ‘one more thing’ that Apple was saving back for the iPhone 7 rollout in September.

Twitter estimates it has 10 million users in China, which gives an indication of how many people there are using VPN to get around government censorship. According to techcrunch.com, earlier estimates were as high as 35.5 million. There’s no solid data, since the VPNs the scofflaws are using to Tweet show up as being in other countries besides China. With only around 10 million users out of Twitter’s 310 million, it’s not a crucial part of their business, but does give an idea of the people using VPN to get around the government censorship….and that’s usually journalists, activists, prominent business leaders, and decision makers. This is a significant leak in China’s ‘Great Firewall.’

According to analysts, Samsung is heading for the best quarter in a couple years, when they release smartphone numbers later this week. After some iffy quarters and phones that underwhelmed, Reuters.com says the Galaxy S7 has done better than expected…with about 16 million pumped out between April and June, and the curved screen model outselling it’s flat screened sibling.

Speaking of marketing, most everybody is predicting that since the iPhone 7 will be more like a 6 SS, and not a wow-year upgrade, it will mean a sales slump. Business insider.com reports that this may be intentional. Some Apple watchers are now saying that the so-called ‘tick-tock’ system of a major iPhone upgrade every other year is not sustainable, and Apple is just going with the math. Normally, about 33% of iPhone owners might upgrade this fall…that’s been consistent for 6 quarters, but if things really are a little disappointing, Apple can look forward to a huge jump of about 43% for the next 5 quarters after an iPhone 7S, or 8, or Anniversary model or whatever the 2017 model will be called. That will be a bonanza for them, and it sounds like just the kind of thing a nuts and bolts guy like Tim Cook might ‘cook up!’

Galaxy S7 Is a Hit Compared to the S6; Facebook Adds Video Search

After just a month, the new Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are handily outselling their S6 predecessors year over year. In fact, 9to5google.com says sales are up 25% overall, and 30% in the US. The company had a shortage of screens for the curved Edge model, but that’s not the case this year, and they say it is now accounting for 47% of S7 sales.

Facebook is pulling out all stops to get users to watch original videos. Earlier this week, they launched the dedicated video browsing hub, and now have announced a video search engine. According to techcrunch.com, they are also now baking Live videos into Trending Topics on the home page. Facebook is trying to use live video to reverse a trend of less original sharing. Apparently, only 57% of weekly users post on a given week, and only 39% post original content. We all know a few people who re-post a couple dozen memes a day, though!

Leak-HTC 10 More Powerful than Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6S; Google’s Echo Clone & Nest Security System

After disappointing with the M One 9, HTC looks poised to come roaring back and nip at Samsung and Apple with the HTC 10. The 10…they’ve dropped the ‘M’ designation…will be revealed April 10th, but a couple of big leaks shed a great looking phone, and one that tests out better by benchmarked AnTuTu than either the Samsung Galaxy S7 or Apple’s iPhone 6S. It has a 5.1 inch screen, 12 Mp cam with laser-assisted autofocus, and 4 gigs of RAM.

Google is apparently working on a voice recognition device that competes with Amazon Echo…basically Siri in a box. According to arstechnica.com, Google already has the voice tech in place from Android and google.com, so now they’re working on baking it into a box. It’s code named ‘Chirp.’ They are also working on a security system from Nest with a wireless hub dubbed ‘Flintstone’ for now. The hub would connect with window and door sensors using the low power Thread communication standard. As with a lot of projects, these may or may not be released by Google.

Galaxy S7 Costs Samsung About What the S5 Did; Amazon Applies for Pay By Selfie Patent

Costs are dropping for high end smartphone components apparently. 9to5google.com reports that an IHS teardown shows it costs Samsung about $255 to make the new Galaxy S7. That’s in the same range as the S5 cost 2 years ago. The priciest item? The Qualcomm quad core Snapdragon 820 processor at $62. In the US, the S7 sells for $670 unsubsidized, so Samsung pulls in $415 each on them. Of course, they have to cover marketing, R&D, software development, etc, so that’s not all pure gravy.

Amazon has filed a patent application for a process that lets people pay by selfie, instead of keying in their password. According to recode.net, it’s a companion patent for one Amazon has on tech to verify a user by photo or video. Amazon believes this will encourage customers to buy when they’re out and about, or chatting with friends….you do that right? ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got to buy this thing right now from Amazon?’ All joking aside, it actually should be a simpler and safer way to log in than remembering a password.