Google Home Outships Amazon Echo; Apple-VW Self-Driving Pact; Uber Self-Driving Leaves Arizona; Silicon Valley Longs to Tax Big Tech Like Seattle

In a first, Google Home has shipped more smart speakers than Amazon…3.2 million vs 2.5 million first quarter of this year. According to cnet.com, it may be due to retailers prioritizing Google over Amazon because they see Amazon as more of a direct competitor. Alibaba had the third biggest shipping smart speaker, with Xiaomi 4th. Apple’s HomePod was lumped in with the 17% ‘other’ smart speakers.

After lots of back and forth with Mercedes and BMW the last several years that never made it to a deal, Apple has cut a deal with Volkswagen. Macrumors.com reports that Apple will be buying VW vans and converting them to employee shuttles to run between San Francisco Bay Area campuses and buildings. The vans will be fitted with Apple’s self-driving tech. Word is, no deal ever came through with BMW and Mercedes, because Apple insisted on partner companies handing over control of data and design…which no car maker was willing to do.

Uber has canned its self-driving program in Arizona, and along with it, 300 employees. Businessinsider.com says this comes 2 months after a self-driving Uber Volvo (with safety driver behind the wheel) hit and killed a woman in Tempe. The governor had already suspended their ability to test the autonomous cars there. Uber says it will regroup and double check its safety procedures and be back testing somewhere soon.

Since Seattle has dropped an annual head tax on big tech companies, a number of Silicon Valley cities are angling to do the same. Bloomberg.com reports that Seattle intends to use the revenue to help with homeless problems and relieve housing shortages caused by the influx of higher paid tech workers. San Francisco, Mountain View, Cupertino, and East Palo Alto are all looking at similar taxes on large local employers (which are virtually all tech companies) to offset growing inequality and overcrowding. The Bay Area cities have learned from Seattle’s battle with Amazon, and instead of shooting for $500 per head, are looking to extract more like $250-$300 per employee.


Switch Online Launches in September; Owl Auto Security Cam; Google Issues Router Fix; Amazon Hand Tracker Patent

Nintendo’s Switch online service, which had been delayed from last year, is now scheduled to be activated in September. Theverge.com says it will cost $3.99 a month, or $19.99 a year. Besides online play, the subscription will give players access to classic games, and features like leaderboards and multiplayer. The hot Switch has already outsold its predecessor Wii U…more than 14 million have been bought since it was launched.

An ex-Apple manager who helped develop the iPod has a startup that is making what they call the 1st security cam for your car. According to 9to5mac.com, the Owl security cam is always connected over AT&T’s LTE system, and it’s powered by the OBD (on-board diagnostics) port every modern car has. Owners can access 24 hours of video footage with a companion app. It has LED lights on either side for theft deterrence, and a 2.4 inch display. Since its always on, it is able to send alerts if activity is detected. The cam is $299, with cellular service for $10 a month, but at launch, a special bundle price of $349 includes the cam and 1st year of cellular service. Preorders are open today at owlcam.com, with delivery expected by the end of the month.

We reported earlier about a bug from Google Play Services that was causing routers to crash when Google Home or Chromecast devices were awakened. 9to5google.com reports that Google has rolled out a fix to all users. It’s version 11.9.75, and should be downloadable from the Play Store if it hasn’t updated your devices already on its own.

In what may be a useful tech that can’t outrun its creepy factor, Amazon has patented wristbands that track where warehouse workers’ hands are. The idea is to make sure they are reaching the right shelf or cubby to grab an item to be boxed and shipped out. Geekwire.com notes that not every patent actually makes it into use, and this one that has the wristbands which emit ultrasonic sounds or radio pulses to help guide the employees’ hands to the right bins may never see actual use. They seem extremely intrusive and super creepy!


3 New Macs Coming; Google Home Catching Up With Amazon Echo; Nationalized 5G Network; Nissan Self-Parking Slippers

Apple is reportedly working on 3 new Models (maybe more). They will be integrated with custom co-processors, and Cupertino has both new laptops and desktops in the works, according to macrumors.com. Some could be out yet this year. Apple had already confirmed it was working on an new, modular Mac Pro, but what other models could be refreshed are only an educated guess at this point. The MacBooks and MacBook Pros could use it for sure, as well as the Air, and Mac Mini.

Amazon has held the lion’s share of home speakers with it’s Echo line, powered by Alexa, sitting at 69%. 9to5google.com points out that Google Home has grown from almost nowhere to 31% already, though, and now with the Apple HomePod just out, expect more erosion in that number. Google Home barely registered in June of 2017, but during the holidays grabbed 40% of sales…mainly due to success of the Home Mini! Microsoft’s Cortana speakers haven’t really moved the needle, but Apple could…recall how they jumped into the already going portable music market years ago with the iPod, and virtually took that segment over.

You have to go a ways to freak out and infuriate both the far left and the far right, but it looks like an idea from the Trump Administration has done just that. According to businessinsider.com, they are exploring a form of nationalized 5G wireless network. The government apparently fears a huge cybersecurity threat…mainly from China…if they don’t. Folks on the left and the right are more freaked out by the prospect of the government controlling the wireless network. The administration is looking at a totally government one, or a national network in partnership with the wireless companies. Both AT&T and Verizon have responded, noting that they are ‘already well down the road’ to 5G wireless networks nationwide. In other words…’bug off!’

Self-driving cars? Pfft! Get me some of these self-driving, self-parking slippers. Bgr.com says Nissan has made some for a Japanese hotel, the ProPILOT Ryokan. Little wheels drop out of the bottom, and a small electric motor run by a processor magically returns the slippers to their proper place! Apparently the TV remote will do the same in rooms, and the bedding is wired with tricks of their own. Personally, I bow down to our robot overlords…and request that my slippers head over here to my feet!


Next iPhones May Sport Smaller Notch; Tesla Model 3-Lots of Voice Commands; Google Devices Causing WiFi Outages

After getting universally panned for the notch at the top of the screen, it seems reviewers and actual people really embraced the blacked out area on the iPhone X where Face ID and the front cam live. Now, macrumors.com hears that Apple is looking into combining Face ID and the front cam to produce a smaller notch in the iPhone X successors that will be out in September 2019. It doesn’t look like the combined setup will make this year’s phones. It isn’t clear at this point how they would roll the infrared camera, dot projector, and flood illuminator all into the cam module, but Apple has dumped $821 million into LG Innotek, the company that will make most of all the 3D sensing modules for the upcoming iPhones.

With an answer to a question on Twitter, Elon Musk revealed that the Tesla Model 3…once production is really humming….will be getting a whole slew of voice control options. TechCrunch.com reports that Musk said in response to the question that once the software people got the core product right, you’ll be ‘able to do pretty much anything via voice command’ in the Model 3. So how about “Tesla…Tea. Earl Gray. Hot?”

This isn’t exactly something you want to hear…Google Home and Chromecast devices are causing temporary outages on many routers from ASUS, Linksys, Netgear, TP-Line, and Synology. According to 9to5Google.com, some become completely inoperable for a little bit, and others just drop their internet connection. The short explanation: the Google devices send a giant burst of information when they wake from sleep mode, causing the routers to drop their net connection or shut down the connection to the device. Google says they have a team working quickly to come up with a fix.


PC & Mac Sales; Smart Speaker Market Booming, Wireless Earbuds-‘Assistive Hearing’ Coming

It’s easy, especially when covering tech, to be all over the latest mobile devices, and lose track of what’s happening with the venerable PC…which most of us still have and use. Bgr.com has the numbers as tracked by IDC, and here’s where computer brands stood in 2017: #1 was H-P with 22.7% of the market. Lenovo came in 2nd with 21.1%. In third place was Dell with 16.1% market share, and 4th was Apple at 7.6%. Acer was in 5th place with 6.8%, and ASUS grabbed 6th with 6.6%, hot on their trail. The other 19.1% of computer sales was ‘everybody else.’ Of all of them, Apple had the most growth in the 4th quarter covering the holidays.

While Apple fanboys and fangirls breathlessly await the Apple HomePod, the smart speaker market is absolutely booming. According to 9to5mac.com, it’s up 128% since a year ago. Research from Edison Research and NPR indicates one in 6 Americans own a smart speaker of one type or another. 65% of owners say they would never want to go back to not having one! Of the 16% of us that have smart speakers, 11% are Amazon Alexa powered, while 4% use Google Home.

Since Congress passed a law allowing some hearing aid tech without prescription, wireless earbud makers are looking to that as a new market. Engadget.com reports that wireless earbud pioneer Bragi announced at CES that they would be diving into personalized hearing enhancement for their Dash earbuds. On top of that, they are working to develop personalized fitting for hearing loss using the so-called ‘Earprint’ test….pointing out that correcting for hearing loss needs to be as personalized as fitting for glasses. Another company called Nuheara showed off their updated product called IQBuds Boost.


Patent Reveals Striking Future Google Pixel Feature; Survey Shows Way More Switching PC to Mac Than Vice Versa; Best Buy’s Interactive Alexa and Google Home Displays

Google will continue the unusual glass/metal back with the Pixel 2, and now we may know where they’re going with it. Bgr.com reports on a Discovery by Patently Mobile -a patent that highlights a touch sensitive surface on the back that would let the user control the device without touching with any elements on the screen-instead, touching the back of the handset. This allows commands and selection without obstructing anything you would be viewing on the screen.

A survey of US computer owners indicates that 21% of Windows laptop users will switch to Mac next time, but only 2% of Mac owners will change to Windows. The number switching Windows to Mac is even higher for Windows desktop users. According to 9to5mac.com, the survey is from Verto Analytics. The biggest no shock in the survey— most of the PC to Mac flippers are in higher income brackets, reflecting Apple’s pricey offerings!

Best Buy is rolling out Amazon Alexa and Google Home products in 700 stores, to be highlighted in separate, free standing display areas. Geekwire.com says the setup will allow customers to use Alexa devices and Google Home devices to interact with nearby products like Nest thermostats, Philips Hue lighting, and Insignia Smart Plugs…a way to try before you buy. 80 million smart home devices were delivered worldwide last year according to IHS Markit, up 64% from 2015. They expect 130 million to be sold this year.


Google Stand Alone VR Headsets; Google Indoor Location VPS; Google Home gets Hands Free Calling, More; Galaxy Note 8 Will Sport Dual Cams

Google is working on a standalone VR headset with HTC and Lenovo. 9to5google.com says the new system will be much easier to use, and will heighten the feeling of presence. Headsets should be out in the world and available later this year.

At I/O, Google has also revealed it is working on detailed indoor location positioning using its Tango 3D sensing computer vision tech. According to techcrunch.com, they call this Visual Positioning Service, or VPS. As an example, it could lead you directly to a certain item in a big box home improvement store. No word on when the system will be rolled out, but it will be a cool addition to the AR and VR systems Google and others are working on.

Speaking of indoors, Google Home is getting hands-free calling, proactive assistance, and Bluetooth streaming. Proactive assistance will be timely info like traffic alerts. The hands free calling can call any land line or mobile in the US or Canada with just a ‘Hey, Google call X. No setup is required, and it will default to private number, unless you want to have your number display. You can stream music from your Android of iPhone over Bluetooth, or use SoundCloud.

The Galaxy S8 and Plus didn’t get it, but it looks like the Note 8 will have dual rear cams. Bgr.com reports that there will be a 12Mp wide angle lens and a 13 Mp telephoto with a 3x optical zoom, leapfrogging Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus with the 2x optical zoom.


Voice Calling On Amazon Echo & Google Home; Big Facebook Video Update; Apple May Add Additional OLED Screen Supplier

Voice calling may be coming to Amazon Echo and Google home. Theverge.com reports that the feature could be rolled out this year, but both companies ‘have concerns about privacy, emergency services, and regulatory hurdles.’ Apparently, you will only be able to make calls over speakerphone, which may put off some users. Google will probably just extend Google Voice, while Amazon is looking at options such as syncing to your present number, call forwarding, or even having the Echo get its own number. They also haven’t finalized switching to your phone if you leave the house or room where the Echo is located.

Facebook is rolling out a major update for video. Thenextweb.com says one of them will seem more like a bug than a feature…videos will now auto play sound. There is apparently an app setting to disable it, at least. On the plus side, vertical video will now take up more of the screen on Android and iOS devices, and there is a picture in picture mode. Facebook will also be rolling out a video app for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Samsung Smart TV, as well as other platforms, but no firm date on those yet.

Apple is apparently looking at adding China’s BOE as a supplier of OLED screens for the iPhone 8, according to macrumors.com. Samsung, LG, Sharp, and Japan Display are already believed to be used, but there are concerns that they couldn’t keep up with demand. At this point, it’s still thought that the OLED screen will only be available on the iPhone 8, with the 7S and 7S Plus models staying with LCD displays. BOE is opening an additional factory this summer, and another about 2 years down the line.


Yesterday’s Googlepalooza

Google rolled out several new gadgets yesterday, but an understated star of the show was the Assistant. Assistant is now positioned as an ‘individual Google’ for each user sporting image recognition, language translation, and text-to-speech. As for the hardware, let’s start with the smartphones:

Nexus is gone, long live Pixel and Pixel XL. Both phones closely follow rumors ahead of the event touting a Snapdragon 821 quad-core 2.15GHz processor, 4GB of RAM and storage options starting at 32GB or 128GB. The 5-inch Pixel is powered by a 2,770mAh battery, while the larger 5.5-inch XL model features a 3,450mAh battery. They also feature 15 minute fast charging to get up to 7 hours of use.

According to DxOMark it’s the best camera ever made, with an 89 rating — superior even to Apple’s highly touted iPhone 7 Plus. Both Pixel devices feature a 12-megapixel shooter in the rear and with an f/2.0 aperture and a large 1.55 micron pixel sensor. Google is offering free unlimited storage on Google Photos, in original quality. The front-facing shooter gets an upgrade as well, with an 8-megapixel camera. Both are loaded with Android Nougat 7.1 and are available in ‘quite’ black, ‘really’ blue, or ‘very’ silver. OK, really stupid names, Google! The smaller Pixel starts at $649 or $27 a month and pre-orders started October 4th in the US. The only real knock is they aren’t water resistant? What? At this price?

Daydream ‘View,’ is Google’s ‘soft and cozy’ fabric-lined VR viewer that’s ’30 percent lighter’ than typical headsets and available in three colors: snow, slate, and crimson. Yes, more dumb names. Bonus: It fits over eyeglasses. Unlike Cardboard, the new headset comes paired with a handheld controller that should alleviate the problem of attempting to navigate the VR world through the use of wonky smartphone or head tracking controls. The simplistic remote has full-on motion tracking that’s precise enough for handwriting, and features a two-button control system. It also slides neatly into the headset when you’re done. Pixel is the first Daydream-ready phone, but it won’t be the only one. Google is partnering with the likes of Samsung, HTC, ZTE, Huawei, Xiaomi, Alcatel, Asus and LG to provide a stellar mobile VR experience no matter which device you choose.
Aside from some amazing games, over 50 experiential partners are coming on board. Google will have its own products — Photos, Play Movies, YouTube, and Street View — as well as content from partners like Netflix, HBO, The New York Times and Hulu.
Daydream view and the controller are coming in November for $79.

Google’s new Chromecast Ultra is 4K-capable, and delivers high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Vision output. The hockey-puck-shaped device does away with the Chrome branding and adds an ethernet port integrated into the adapter for additional connectivity options. Google says it’s 1.8x faster than previous versions as well as offering improved WiFi performance. The 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra doubles the price of the existing Chromecast 2, at $79. You can get yours in November.

Back in May, Google gave us our first look of its Amazon Echo-like smart hub ‘Home.’ Like the Echo, Home is essentially a small speaker that that’s activated with a simple command.
It’s powered by Google’s much improved Assistant that can handle all the basics like answering simple queries, controlling music or adjusting connected devices. Aside from that, it supports a plethora of Google-specific options, such as Cast for video viewing, Chromecast Audio, and any other cast-enabled device in your home.
Google Home is also contextually-aware. Rather than telling the device you want listen to music on Spotify, if it’s your most-chosen streaming service, Google Home learns where you typically listen.
The hub allows for connection across a variety of connected devices from Nest, Samsung Smart Things, Phillips and IFTTT. More device partnerships are planned.
Voice control is a central idea of Google Home, but you can also operate the device with a smartphone or tablet. Netflix is on board to support ‘voice casting’ and will soon allow you to completely control playback with nothing more than your voice.
Adding multiple Google Home devices in the house allows for whole-house audio, or the ability to pick and choose certain rooms. With a $35 Chromecast, you’ll also be able to extend the voice control to higher end speakers and home entertainment systems.
Google Home comes in several colors: mango marine, violet, carbon, snow, and copper.
Home is $129 and it’s available for pre-order. It’ll ship November 4.

‘WiFi’ is about the size of an Amazon Echo Dot, and packed with smart functionality that allows users to extend its range over an entire house.
As the first Google router to make use of mesh networking, Wifi allows users to connect multiple access points as a single, large network. For the user, this means an end to Wi-Fi dead zones throughout the house as well as a strong and consistent signal anywhere with in it.
It’s $129, or a three pack for $299. They’ll be available in November.