New Google Pixelbook Coming; HomePod Siri Features; Qualcomm Shows 5G Module; Tesla Supplier Cash Ask

The Pixel 2 was a big improvement on the original Google Pixel phone, and the 3 is eagerly anticipated this Fall. Now, 9to5google.com says leaker Evan Blass, who has a pretty decent track record, is touting the release of and updated Pixelbook alongside the Pixel 3 and 3XL handsets. Bless claims the updated Chrome OS Pixelbook will be shipping by the holidays. The fall event is expected to also show off A Pixel Watch and new generation of Pixel Buds.

Apple is testing a private beta version of OS12 for HomePod that includes multiple Siri timers and allows people to make and answer phone calls…in an effort to keep up with Alexa and Google Home. 9to5mac.com reports that corporate and some retail employees are test driving the beta. The multiple timers feature is one Alexa has that allows, for example, someone to put a couple timers on different things they are cooking at the same time. Right now, it’s unclear which, if any, of these features will make it to the final release of OS12 for HomePod this fall.

Qualcomm has showed off the first completely integrated 5G module for smartphones…including 5G mmWave antenna, wave radio, power amp, and antenna array. According to macrumors.com, the whole system has been crammed into a package small enough to sit on your fingertip. It is thin enough to fit the bezel of a phone, and Qualcomm sees up to 4 being put into a handset so if one antenna is covered by a hand or otherwise blocked, the unit will still transmit and receive. The tiny 5G modules are being shipped to phone makers this week.

Tesla has reportedly ask for cash back from suppliers, in order to cut their costs and become profitable in Q4. While it’s not unusual for a company to ask for or demand price cuts from suppliers….Walmart is a past master at this…it IS unusual to ask for money back from previously furnished and paid for items. That’s what electrek.co says Tesla has done. Some of the clawbacks would date back to 2016. It remains to be seen if any suppliers will cooperate, now that Tesla is producing the promised 5,000 Model 3s per week.

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$200 Beats HomePod; Microsoft Snaps Up Veteran AI Team; AT&T No WiFi Smart Button

Apple’s HomePod has had underwhelming sales so far, and now they may be trying to rectify that with a cheaper model than the $350 one with killer sound but anemic voice command abilities. Bgr.com reports that Apple is looking at bringing out one for $199 under the Beats brand. With a decent sounding Google Home speaker going for $130, and Amazon Alexa speakers for less yet, Apple might have a fighting chance at under $200 if the gadget still sounds better than its competitors.

Microsoft has picked up an AI team that includes the former chief speech scientist for Siri. According to businessinsider.com, Redmond has acquired AI startup Semantic Machines, to boost its ‘conversational AI’ and potentially make Cortana better at understanding natural language inquiries. At least for the short term, the artificial intelligence team will remain in Berkeley where Semantic Machines has been based. Besides Larry Gillick, the former chief speech scientist for Apple’s Siri, the team includes Cal professor Dan Klein and Stanford professor Percy Liang. Several other members worked at Nuance, the voice recognition company that built Siri.

AT&T has launched the LTE-M button, which you can use to order something online with a single click. Engadget.com says the gadget…which not only sounds like and Amazon Dash button, but is actually powered by Amazon Web Services….does have a new trick up its sleeve…it works over AT&T’s network, so doesn’t need WiFi. The AT&T button is not preprogrammed, so you can set it up to order different things, unlike the single function Dash buttons. It is pricier than an Amazon button, though. the first 5000 will be $30, then it will be $35. Since it has to be programmed, the price may not be the only limiting factor…you’ll also need to be geeky enough to figure out how to program the LTE-M button.


2 Facebook Smart Speakers Coming; HomePod Makes Apple Less than Google and Amazon; Dyson to Make e-Cars

Facebook appears to be getting into the hardware business, and it will do it with smart speakers. According to mashable.com, they will launch a couple of models of smart speakers in July. The code names for the gadgets are Fiona and Aloha. Facebook will apparently give them 15 inch touchscreens, but one is expected to have higher quality. They will include both facial recognition and voice control tech.

After a few days to tear into Apple’s HomePod, TechInsight has determined that the device costs Apple about $216 to make, giving them 38% profit. For comparison, Google makes 66% on their smart speakers and Amazon 56%. Businessinsider.com says the difference is due to the higher quality components Apple puts in its smart speaker.

After getting into one mature business and disrupting it, now Dyson looks to do the same with cars…specifically, electric cars. According to theverge,com, Dyson is working on solid state batteries, and hopes to have ‘radically different’ cars out sometime after 2021. Dyson will initially produce a higher end, limited production vehicle…much like Tesla, then move into more mass market vehicles. One advantage for Dyson…they have experience getting products manufactured and out to buyers.


HomePod Pre-Orders Sell Out; Apple Patents Stylus for Thin Air; Twitter Makes Money; Amazon Prime Tries Limited Whole Foods Prime Now Delivery

Apple’s HomePod has gotten great reviews all around for sound, but knocked for it’s lack of support of music other than Apple’s and the puny skills of Siri so far. That said, it has sold out in pre-orders a day before it officially launches. TechCrunch.com reports that some retailers do have it in stock, so if you desperately want one now, check around. People that pre-ordered are getting shipping notices for delivery tomorrow.

Also from Apple, Cupertino has apparently patented a stylus you can write in thin air…think air guitar only with drawing and words. The stylus…or ‘pencil’ in Appletalk, can be used on a tablet, any flat surface, or actually in the air, according to the patent. Thenextweb.com says on use of the latter would be to aid in drawing 3 dimensional objects…that is, for those of you who can draw at all. I can’t draw a straight line with help on a page or tablet, so it’s rather academic to me!

Twitter lost monthly users in the US…a million of them…down from 69 to 68 million. They are living steady worldwide at 330 million, though. On the plus side…and it’s a BIG plus…Twitter finally made a quarterly profit! Theverge.com points out it’s the first time they’ve turned a profit in 12 years or existence! Their revenue also grew last quarter, after declining in most of 2017. Twitter says the drop in use in the US is due to a change in Safari’s third party app integration. Interestingly, the expansion to 280 character Tweets seems to have helped pick up use…although most people rarely exceed the old limit.

Amazon is dipping its mighty toe in the water of Prime Now delivery for Whole Foods. They had already rolled out discounts related to Amazon use, and now, 4 markets will get in on Prime Now delivery of Whole Foods items delivered to your door in 2 hours. According to arstechnica.com, the cities are Austin and Dallas, Texas, Virginia Beach, Florida, and Cincinnati, Ohio. If all goes well, Amazon will be expanding Prime Now delivery to other cities, but no time frame has been given. The two hour delivery is free for all Prime members on orders of $35 or more, or customers can pay an extra $7.99 to get one hour delivery.


HomePod Sounds Great, Siri Sucks; Pixel 2 Visual Core Works With Apps; France Bans Handheld Smartphone Use in Cars; Military-Self Driving Vehicles & Auto Weapons

A number of reviews are out for Apple’s HomePod. According to 9to5mac.com (as I am way too small potatoes to have actually gotten a review unit), reviewers are pretty universally impressed with the HomePod’s great sound. On the other hand, they hate the stupidity of Siri compared to Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. The semi-smart speaker also gets knocks for being a closed system (like Apple would ever make it otherwise!) It won’t work with Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, etc. If you have all your music on Apple’s system, and love great sound with tight, loud, punchy bass and crisp highs, that sounds good anywhere in the room, by all means…go for it.

Google’s Pixel 2 had gotten accolades from it’s great camera app. The pix are just great on its proprietary processor Now, techcrunch.com says Google is opening up that tech to third party apps. As of today, it will work on Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Snapchat if you update the software. That software is showing up as part of the monthly software update today…although it may take a day or two to get to you…your mileage may vary.

Love ‘em…hate ‘em, it’s often fun to pick on the French. Now, they’ve done something that may have their own citizens up in arms. 9to5google.com reports that France has banned hand held smartphone use in cars…EVEN if the car is sitting still with the engine off! Apparently, France changed their legal definition of driving to include everything except being parked off-road or in a designated parking spot! The fine is 135 Euros, and points on your license, same as if you were motoring down the road doing it. I suspect the French may invent a new hand sign to display in protest of this!

Welcome to the future and our new, robotic overlords! The military is now testing autonomous vehicles equipped with robotic weapons systems! According to zdnet.com, the Army has announced ‘Wingman,’ and they have successfully destroyed targets from a self-driving Hummer with an autonomous 7.62mm weapon system. The Army claims that, for the foreseeable future, there will always be a human soldier in the loop, making the decisions.


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!


Apple HomePod Launch Date & Feature Delay; iPhone X Discontinued When Successor Debuts; Amazon Discounts Echo Spot; Netflix Exceeds Growth Estimates

They didn’t have it ready for the holidays, but Apple’s HomePod goes on pre-order this Friday, and will finally launch February 9th. The premium smart speaker isn’t the priciest, but it’s close at $349. The initial launch is just in the US, UK, and Australia. Macrumors.com reports that the device will launch later in Germany and France, and also will launch without the multi-room connectivity or the ability to set up two in a room for stereo…those features will come in a software update later this year. It probably won’t hurt sales…at $700 for a pair, a lot of Apple fans will probably want to hear how just one sounds before springing for another $350!

Apple is apparently going to try a different tack with the launch of the successor to the iPhone X. The present iPhone X will be dropped. Apple hasn’t done this before, but accroding to reports from KGI Securities, Cupertino doesn’t want to drop the price since they already have a new lower-priced model coming out, and it would spit sales. KGI says they will probably price the 2nd gen iPhone X at $999, like the present one, and the larger 6.5 inch screen model (iPhone X Plus) should start at $100 more. Then, the new mid-range 6.1 inch screen iPhone will be $649 or $749…this is the one with Face ID and a full screen front, but has the LCD screen instead of OLED. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will remain at $549 and $669, and the 7 and 7 Plus will come in at $449 and $569. The entry level iPhone SE will be $349. Even with the original iPhone X as a single year orphan, there will be a wider range of iPhones than ever to pick from.

The Amazon Echo Spot is a cool little gadget…the small smart speaker sports a little color display, in addition to Alexa taking verbal commands. It’s been $130, but if you order a pair of them now, Amazon will knock off $40 bucks for the price of the pair.

Netflix picked up a lot more viewers through the holidays than analysts had predicted. According to bgr.com, they signed up enough to hit 8.33 million, blowing past the anticipated 6.3 million. The company hit the expected financials, and is now raising estimates for early 2018…but will have more competition ahead, as Disney will be rolling out its streaming service soon, and has poured cash into Hulu as well.