Amazon Go is a Go; Alexa for Business; Microsoft Goes For School Market; Moderating Kids’ Screen Time

The first Amazon Go convenience store is now open to the public in Seattle. Geekwire.com says anyone with an Amazon account and the Amazon Go app can now enter the world of checkout free shopping. The online giant originally planned to go live a year ago, but has been test running the concept on their own employees. You scan in a QR code when you go in, then sensors and cams detect what has been taken off shelves, and kept…they know what you put back…then, your account is charged when you exit. There are only a couple of people in the store to help, with more in the back that restock, and a crew making fresh food…that’s it. The draw of a no-checkout-line convenience store, and perhaps grocery and other retail stores, may eventually be irresistible. The only location so far is at 2131 7th Ave in Seattle, and it’s open 7am to 9pm, if you happen to be in the area and want to check it out…so to speak!

Amazon is getting into the smart office market with Alexa for Business. Zdnet.com reports that they plan to leverage it with giant Amazon Web Services, and custom Echo devices. This could eat up a lot of the smart office assistant market, at the expense of Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Echo. One thing that immediately comes to mind…what about the security of business and trade secrets when there are always on, internet connected microphones, and speakers listening in…allegedly for commands?

For a generation, the education market was the domain of Apple…then along came Google with the Chromebook. Now, Microsoft is going after it and Google with $189 Windows 10 laptops for schools. According to theverge.com, the machines are built by Lenovo, and are called the 100e. There is also a 300e model for $279…it’s a 2-in-one, that has pen support. Microsoft is also putting out content, such as a new Chemistry Update for Minecraft: Education Edition, and they plan to put out some Mixed Reality content for the education market, too.

Some academics at University of St Thomas have offered a new theory on kids and smart devices….instead of limiting screen time to 1-2 hours, moderate it. 9to5google.com says it may work better to divide time into ‘passive’ screen time like viewing videos, and ‘active’ time such as (parent approved) video games. The professor types aren’t the only ones who have come to believe this. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, saying alternating between consuming and acting appears to work better than a hard limit of an hour or two.

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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.


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.