Google Fined $5 Billion by EU; Prime Day Breaks Record; Instagram Testing Creep Removal Feature

The EU has fined Google a record $5 billion for breaking antitrust laws. The European Commission says Google abused its market dominance with Android in 3 key areas. Theverge.com says Google has bundled it’s search engine and Chrome apps into the OS, allegedly blocked phone makers from running forked versions of Android, and “made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators” to exclusively bundle the Google search app on handsets. The Commission demands that Google cease this conduct within 90 days. Google says it will appeal the decision and fine.

After the crashing problems of the first hour, never mind some striking workers in Germany, Amazon’s Prime Day once again was it’s biggest sales day in history by a wide margin. Yesterday’s Prime day exceeded Cyber Monday, Black Friday, and last year’s Prime Day, techcrunch.com reports. It is worth noting that this year, Prime Day ran 36 hours, and it was only 30 hours last year. Amazon hasn’t released precise numbers, but did say they sold over 100 million products and well exceeded $1 billion in sales.

Instagram is trialing a new feature with some public Android users that lets them manually remove followers without the followers getting notice. According to thenextweb.com, the only way you have been able to remove followers so far has been to block then unblock them, block them completely, or set the account to private. You can check to see if you are one of the users that is getting to test drive the feature by checking your followers list, and look for an icon with 3 vertical dots to the right of a user’s name. If it’s there, tap it, and a prompt pops up to remove them without letting them know.

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Digital Car Key; Instagram’s IGTV; German Flying Taxi; Netflix Sharing

First, we got the key fob that you don’t have to pull out of pocket or purse to open and start your car. Now, the Car Connectivity Consortium, and organization of the likes of Apple, Samsung, and LG on the electronics end and Audi, BMW GM, VW, and Hyundai representing the automotive side unveiling a new Digital Key specification. Macrumors.com says it will allow manufacturers to transfer a digital key to a Trusted Service Manager via NFC directly to the secure area of the smartphone. It could not only be used for operation of your own car key-free, but also car rentals and car sharing. 

Instagram has fired a cannon blast over the bow of YouTube and Snapchat. They just rolled out IGTV, which is a new app for publishing long form videos. According to businessinsider.com, content creators will be able to make 4K videos that are significantly longer that the current Instagram 60 second limit. What remains to be seen is whether high profile users, or even we mortal video shooters, will bite when it comes to shooting and uploading mobile-first vertical video.  There is a 10 minute limit, with exceptions running to an hour for accounts with huge numbers of followers. Initially, the longer form videos will be ad-free, but they will have them later. CEO Kevin Systrom says there will be a way for creators to make a living. The IGTV app is available now on  Android and iOS just by updating the Instagram app. F

The world has missed the George Jetson 60’s flying car debut so far, but now Germany is preparing to test out a flying taxi concept from Airbus and Audi! Engadget.com reports that the government has signed a letter of intent to green light tests around Audi’s home city of Ingolstadt. Uber has also been trying to develop a flying taxi at their research center in Paris. The letter didn’t give any indication as to when tests would start. At this point, neither the Airbus-Audi partnership nor Uber has produced and flown a functional prototype, but the letter from the German Transportation minister authorizing tests shows that a flying taxi concept isn’t just hot air any longer.

There have been jokes floating for years to the effect that there is only one paid Netflix subscriber…everyone else is using their password. Now, Exstreamist has done a survey to gauge just how much password and account sharing really goes on. Bgr.com says 22% of users log in with their parents’ credentials. For 20%, it’s the password of a friend, with another 17% using the login of their current boyfriend or girlfriend. 13% are even using the Netflix account of an ex! Netflix keeps growing and seems unconcerned. A few years ago, CEO Reed Hastings said they find that password sharers are likely to become paid users anyway down the road. Netflix revenue the 1st quarter of 2018 is up 43%, with a subscriber base of 125 million worldwide.


Fire TV Cube Gets Alexa; Lyft Redesigns App; Waymo Passes Big Milestone; Instagram Long Form Video

Amazon has announced the Fire TV Cube. It’s a set top box with all the usual suspects: Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, HBO Go, Sling, And Amazon Prime Video. It also features Alexa…which Engadget.com notes was already available in the Stick and Fire TV box…but the Cube has full-featured Alexa. You can access thousands of third party ‘skills’ on the Cube just like an Echo. The Cube had eight built-in microphones, and can turn on your TV, sound system, cable box. Amazon demoed it by saying ‘Alexa…I’m home,’ and it turned on the entire home theatre system, and brought up the lights in the room. It supports cable boxes from Comcast as well as Dish and DirecTV. There is an IR extension cable for the cable box so the Cube can turn it on and off when the gadgets aren’t line of sight. It ships June 21st for $119. ***UPDATE*** Prime members can preorder and save $30 for a limited time!

Lyft is updating its app for the 1st time in 3 years, and putting more emphasis on shared rides and public transit. Theverge.com reports that it should roll out to everyone by the end of the month. A few changes include Lift Line being rebranded ‘Shared Rides’ and giving that feature a more prominent place in the app. Lyft says it wants shared rides to be 50% of its business by 2020, and has promised to lower its carbon footprint. The updated app will be customized based on a riders’ preferred services and locations. The algorithm considers account fare price, trip time, and more to present the most efficient ride for users, whether a solo rider or shared ride. There is a tweak that encourages riders to get picked up on side streets…which has been piloted in San Francisco (on Valencia Street), and Lyft got 20,000 riders to divert to side street pickup.

Now, more than ever, there’s Google’s Waymo and everyone else when it comes to self-driving cars. According to arstechnica.com, Waymo hit 7 million self-driven miles this week. For reference, they just announced that they had passed up 6 million less than a month ago! Waymo plans to launch commercial driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area before the end of the year.

Instagram is adding support for video of up to an hour in length, with the long form video hub designed to compete with YouTube and Snapchat Discover. According to 9to5google.com, all the videos will be in vertical orientation and 4K resolution. The company has been reportedly meeting with social media stars and content publishers in prep for launching the feature, which is planned for June 20th. No details have gotten out on monetization, but Instagram apparently intends to let creators and publishers earn money from the longer form videos.


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.


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.


LG May Supply OLED Screens for iPhone X; Instagram Tests Standalone Messaging App; PS4 Sales Pass Big Milestone

LG had already been rumored to be working on a deal to supply OLED screens to Apple for the iPhone X. Its been expected that something would work out for the next generation by September 2018, but now it could happen before that. 9to5mac.com reports that while Samsung has been the exclusive supplier to Apple for OLED screens, both LG and Chinese maker BOE have been trying to get in as suppliers. Apple earlier invested almost 14 billion in LG’s OLED production, with 2/3’s of it earmarked for iPhone screens.

Facebook is going full speed ahead in standalone messaging apps. Earlier this week, they announced Messenger Kids, and now it’s out that they are testing a standalone Instagram app for direct messaging. TechCrunch.com says right now the app is only available in Uruguay, Chile, Turkey, Italy, Portugal, and Israel. Besides sharing messages and stories (and of course pictures), there are exclusive filters. It may be out to everyone next year.

Sony has announced the Playstation 4 sales have crossed the 70 million mark, a notable milestone, because the PS3 sold just over 80 million over its lifespan, and the PS4 has gotten to this point in 4 years. According to theverge.com, best estimates for the Xbox One sales are 20 million. Another notable mark…Playstation VR, the virtual reality version has passed 2 million sold!


Twitter Use Back on An Upswing; Instagram Use Balloons; Mattel ‘Alexa for Kids’ Coming

Twitter is still a rather shaky proposition to Wall St. types, but did add 9 million users last quarter, the most since early 2015. Recode.net says they also made 11 cents a share on $548 million in revenue, beating the expected penny a share on $512 million for the quarter. Importantly, daily active users went up 14% year over year. Twitter doesn’t release the number of active users, only the percentage, but 14% growth is a good sign. Twitter claims about 328 million users.

Meanwhile, at Instagram, they now boast 700 million users, and added 100 million the last 4 months. Engadget.com reports that the last time they put on that many new users it took 6 months. If they can keep adding at that pace, they will be the second social network to pass a billion users, like parent Facebook has.

Mattel is about to release Aristotle, a $349 voice-activated speaker launching in May that functions like Google Home or Amazon Echo devices, but for kids. Aristotle is built to live in a child’s room—and answer a child’s questions. Think a combination of: a nanny, friend, and tutor, equally able to soothe a newborn and aid a tween with foreign-language homework. It’s an AI to help raise your child. Mashable.com says they have particularly worked on making little voices understandable to it and making it as hack proof as possible…since it’s equipped with a camera that streams video to your phone.