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.

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Samsung Upcoming Exynos Chip Challenges iPhone X; Lenovo’s Cool Low Tech Laptop Feature; Philip Morris Says It Will Ditch Cigarettes

Leading up to this year’s CES, Samsung is showing off its new Exynos 9810 chip, that will power some of the Galaxy S9 Smartphones. 9to5google.com says it brings a 40% bump in multi-core performance. With an obvious reference to iPhone X, Samsung says it uses neural networks for “accurately recognizing people or items in photos for fast image searching or categorization, or through depth sensing, scan a user’s face in 3D for hybrid face detection.” Samsung also mentions in a news release “realistic face-tracking filters” and “stronger security when unlocking a device with one’s face.” So, they are not only teasing their answer to Face ID, but also Apple’s popular animoji. They also tout an improved portrait mode. It looks like the S9 will be breathing down the neck of iPhone X when it rolls out later this spring.

We get so excited about the latest and greatest into the weeds high tech advancements, that sometimes it pays to pull back and admire an elegant low tech feature addition. According to businessinsider.com, the new Lenovo laptops will have such a feature. No more piece of tape or post-it note over your webcam! Lenovo has added a built in webcam cover. If you want to use the cam, just slide the cover…which Lenovo has dubbed the ThinkShutter cover, and cam or Skype away. No worries about the sticky note falling off at an inappropriate time!

Advancing tech may be finally killing off the cigarette. Philip Morris…venerable maker of Marlboro, Chesterfield, and Parliament….has announced it will be phasing out cigarette production. Bgr.com says the maker will abandon smoking products for so-called ‘smoke free products.’ They will make ‘heated tobacco’ gadgets that don’t actually burn the stuff and eCigarettes and vaping devices that deliver nicotine without any tobacco use. All these may be only marginally better than smoking, but it’s at least a step in the right direction. For non-smokers, it’s a huge plus…no more smelling nasty second hand smoke while someone gets their nicotine fix nearby!


Samsung Will Make a Note 8; New Lenovo Gaming Notebooks; Synaptics Fingerprint & Facial Recognition ID System; 27 Inch Dell Ultrathin Monitor

For the many fans who very reluctantly gave up their Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phablets, happy news…there will be a Note 8! According to 9to5google.com, it will roll with a 4K display, and be Gear VR wearable. Presumably, it will have a less ‘explody’ battery, too!

Lenovo is dropping a new line of gaming laptops for CES. They are called Legion, and will optionally have a 4K anti-glare screen, Dolby Atmos sound, and have an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU that will drive your VR headset. Arstechnica.com says they will rock Kaby Lake processors and up to a 2 TB hard drive.

Synaptics has announced a multi-factor biometric engine for smartphones, tablets, & PCs. Macrumors.com reports that they partnered with facial recognition firm KeyLemon, and the new engine will use both fingerprint and facial recognition. Apparently, the user can select either facial or fingerprint, or for the most secure two-factor apps like banking, require both. It has AI anti-spoof technology that can allegedly distinguish between fake and real fingers. The facial recognition engine detects blinking and head movement to weed out fakes, too.

Dell has unveiled a new 27 inch ultra thin monitor. 9to5mac.com says it has USB-C support and will hit the streets in March for $700. It isn’t 4 or 5K, but they claim it’s the world’s thinnest monitor, and it’s a lot less pricey than the LG UltraFine 5K Apple is using since it exited the monitor business.


Pixel Preorders Outstrip Demand; Microsoft VR Headset Partners; Surface Book i7; Renewables Pass Up Coal

Since the sputtering flameout of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, Apple has increased production of iPhones, expecting to pick up new customers. According to 9to5google,com, they aren’t alone. Google Pixel phone preorder deliveries have now slipped to mid-November. Some phones originally slated for delivery this week will now be shipped November 18th!

At their event today, Microsoft announced they are working with partners to release standalone VR headsets starting at $299. Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer are all involved. Thenextweb.com says Redmond also showed off a ‘HoloTour’ app that was initially developed for the HoloLens that lets you take Street View like trips around the globe.

Microsoft adds the Surface Book i7 to the Surface family. It contains a number of internal upgrades according to arstechinca.com, including a welcome 16 hour battery life! More from the Microsoft event-which is going on now-tomorrow.

Noting a major milestone, slashdot.org reports that renewable energy sources like solar and wind have passed up coal as the world’s largest source of power capacity! The International Energy Agency says a million solar panels were installed every day last year, and two wind turbines were added every hour last year in China alone.


Samsung Gets Laptop That Converts to Tablet; Repositioned Sensors on iPhone 7 Mean New Cases

Samsung is getting in on the growing market for laptops that convert to a tablet, thanks to a bendy hinge. Lenovo has had success with their convertibles, and Mashable.com reports that now Samsung had dropped the Notebook 7 Spin in 13.3 and 15.6 screen sizes. They run Windows 10 with Intel’s Core i5 or i7 processors, and start at $800 for the 13 incher and a grand for the 15. The Notebook 7 Spins should be in Best Buy stores the 26th.

Besides moving the antenna bands, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus should be indistinguishable from the 6S models…that is, unless you are a case or screen protector maker. According to appleinsider.com, Apple has moved the ambient light and proximity sensors, on the front panel. Those, in addition to the larger camera openings needed will make present case models and screen protectors obsolete. I will probably go for the larger phone model anyway, but for those who aren’t…thanks a lot, Apple….you’ll have to buy new cases when you upgrade.


Periscope Live Video Tweets in Twitter Stream; Lenovo’s Moto Plans’ Musk on Apple Car

Twitter bought Periscope a year ago, and now the live video is available in your feed…in fact, you can broadcast live video directly into your feed without leaving the Twitter app. Businessinsider.com reports that Periscope…which only launched in March 2015…is consistently one of the top 20 social networking apps on iPhone. Twitter hopes this will help engagement, like Facebook has done with Facebook Live Video.

Lenovo is killing the Motorola name for Moto, and now, we hear that all Moto phones in 2016 will have at least 5 inch screens and fingerprint sensors. That’s according to Chen Xudong of Lenovo, in a story from 9to5google.com. For now, at least, Lenovo will use its Vibe brand for smaller and low end phones, and keep Moto as the flagship oriented line. The only down side is they plan to stop using the pure version of Android for a custom version…like almost everyone else.

Elon Musk is on a roll…in an interview yesterday covered by appleinsider.com, he says the Apple electric car is an open secret in Silicon Valley. Musk points out that they’ve hired a thousand engineers, including a number they have poached from Tesla. Musk claims that whatever Apple does automotive-wise won’t hurt Tesla. Apple now holds the domains apple.car, apple.auto, and apple.cars.


Did Google Just Win the Cloud Wars?

According to bgr.com, Google may have won the cloud wars, with the announcement at I/O yesterday that their Photos app will allow for unlimited photos and videos in the cloud for FREE! By comparison, Apple gives you 5 Gigs of free storage on iCloud, then hits users with a buck a month for 20 gigs or $20 a month for a terabyte. If you have a large collection, and switched from Apple to Google, you’d save $240 a year. Google photos runs on Android, iOS, or the web, and syncs across all your devices.

Although that was just one of the things rolled out at Google I/O that caused gnashing of teeth at Apple, they should be smiling about this: Appleinsider.com says Consumer Reports ranked Apple highest for computer tech support in their annual survey. According to Consumer Reports, 4 out of 5 Mac owners using AppleCare said the service was able to solve their problem, compared to 61% for Dell and Lenovo. They were ranked pretty much even with indy stores for retail support, although Best Buy’s Geek Squad and Staples EasyTech both charge, and Apple’s geniuses will diagnose problems for free.