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.

Bitcoin Tanking; 1st Million Apple HomePods Shipped; Galaxy S9 Release Date Leaked

As correctly predicted by ‘the Oracle of Omaha,’ Warren Buffett, Bitcoin is crashing. It’s now under 10,000, half of it’s high, according to bgr.com. Investors are selling off massive amounts of the virtual currency. Other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Ripple are also slumping. While this sounds apocalyptic, keep in mind that even of Bitcoin traders, most is held by a group of people numbering in the low single digits. It’s not going to trash lots of 401(k) accounts or the like. Much of the drop is based on worry of stricter regulations being considered by South Korea and China.

After missing the important holiday shopping season, Apple’s home pods have started shipping from supplier Inventec. 9to5mac.com reports the first million are on the way, with an expected run of between 10 and 12 million this year. Hon Hai Precision Industry is also making the HomePods for Apple. The delay has been blamed on fine tuning software and hardware integration. No release date from Apple yet, but it should be soon for the $350 smart speaker.

Trusted leaker Evan Bless Tweeted yesterday that a C-level executive at a major case maker spilled the beans on the release of Samsung’s Galaxy S9. The handset will launch on February 26th, pre-orders will open on March 1st, and the new hero phone will ship on March 16th. Limber up those fingers for some fast ordering!

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.