Galaxy Note 9 ‘Unpacked’; NYC Whacks Uber and Lyft; Facebook May Drop From #2 Website; Apple Considers Subwoofer for iMacs

Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy Note 9 at their Unpacked event. 9to5google.com notes that it bows with up to 512 gigs of storage, a Bluetooth S-Pen, and has a base price of $999. It’s not a revolutionary update, but has some nice adds…the Bluetooth connected S-Pen, for one. The connection lets you use the pen as a remote shutter for the camera, and a remote for presentations. The Note 9 still rolls with dual cams and the dual aperture primary sensor like the S9 family. It does have a built in AI camera mode that adjusts settings to get the best possible shot. Besides the Bluetooth pen, another notable advance is the 4000 mAh battery, which is up 20% from the Note 8. It should give virtually everyone an all day battery, and has USB-C fast charging as well as wireless charging (with charging pad.) You’ll drop the $999 for the 128 gig model, and a wallet crushing $1249 for the 512 gig memory rig.

New York City’s Council voted to cap the number of for-hire delivery and transportation vehicles yesterday, in a kneecap to Uber and Lyft. According to theverge.com, the city will halt new for-hire licenses for 12 months while it studies the industry. The council made an exception to vehicles that are wheelchair accessible…those can still be licensed. Exceptions can also be had for particular neighborhoods that are low on ride-hail vehicles. The council also passed a bill that establishes a $15 living wage for drivers. Both bills head for Mayor de Blasio’s desk, and he’s likely to sign them. Uber already has 80,000 vehicles in NYC.

Facebook has taken some real hits lately, but may be about to get another body blow. Businessinsider.com reports that SimilarWeb has released a study showing that Facebook is about to be passed up as the number two website in America by YouTube. YouTube is projected to blow past Facebook in traffic in the next 3 months, making it #2 to parent Google. Facebook’s monthly visits have dropped from 8.5 billion two years ago to 4.7 billion this past July. YouTube is up to 4.5 billion in July, and on an upswing.

Apple may be getting ready to improve the tinny sound of the built in speakers in their iMac. They have patented a way of putting in a subwoofer that would double as a cooling device. Without getting into the weeds technically, Apple would use sub-audible air flow to reduce the amount of noise the computer makes in addition to providing cooling and sub-woofer thump for music. Geek.com points out it may be another great idea that never sees the light of day, but a very interesting combination that would go well into Apple’s impossibly skinny computers.

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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.


Lyft To Test Self-Driving Cars Outside Concord, CA; Tesla’s Nav-Maps Engine Nears Completion; United Healthcare Looks to Apple Watch

A number of auto manufacturers are already testing self-driving equipment at the old Concord Naval Weapons Station on the Northeast part of Concord, CA. Now, Lyft has joined the party, according to theverge.com. Lyft will be testing out its self-driving tech at the 5000 square foot proving area. Uber already has a leg up on them, having started testing on public streets in several US cities. Besides Concord, there are 9 other official autonomous vehicle proving ground locations around the country, and of course, the auto makers all have had their own proving grounds for decades. Self-driving cars will be here sooner than you think…trucks, too…as Tesla is hauling a couple loads of batteries from the Gigafactory in Northern Nevada to their plant in Fremont, CA right now.

Speaking of Tesla, the Muskman has now said that their navigation and maps engine, which he claims is ‘light years ahead’ of all the others, is nearly done. Electrek.co reports that a hacker was able to get into a site Tesla is using, and posted screen shots. The hacker, who goes by ‘verygreen,’ says it looks like Google Maps, but is smoother and more detailed. Expect the software to be pushed out the Tesla owners sooner, not later.

Another company has joined the growing group offering people Apple Watches in an effort to monitor and keep them healthy…and this one is a biggie. 9to5mac.com says United Healthcare will make it so customers can earn an Apple Watch 3 basically for free, and on top of that will let users earn up to $1000 towards medical bills after the cost of the wearable.


Waymo & Fiat Chrysler Expand Ride-Hailing; Facebook Looks to Local News; iPhone X Top 3 Worldwide; Verizon Won’t Carry Huawei Line

Fiat Chrysler is preparing to provide Google’s Waymo with thousands of Pacifica hybrid minivans, as Waymo’s self-driving division rolls out public ride hailing services later this year. Reuters.com says this could press GM and Lyft to pick up the pace, as well as Uber, which already has a test fleet running. Waymo had been been testing out 500 Fiat Chrysler self-driving mini-vans through 2017 in 25 cities.

Facebook plans to start showing more local news in user newsfeeds. According to businessinsider.com, they will start this in the US, and expand to other countries later in the year. The Facebook definition of ‘local’ is if its links ‘are clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area,’ not the logical ‘is actually IN a local geographic area!’

With reports out that Apple is cutting iPhone X production from 40 to 20 million this quarter, some good news popped up. 9to5mac.com reports that Kantar found the pricey Apple hero phone was the #3 phone in all the regions they monitor during December. That includes Europe, China, Japan, Australia, and the US. iOS sales overall were down half a percentage point in the US, but loyalty hit a record high 96%. Apple and Samsung account for more than 2/3 of the US market at a combined 70.8%.

Under pressure from the government, Verizon has dropped plans to carry Huawei mobile devices. 9to5google.com says AT&T had previously backed out of carrying the Mate 10 Pro. The government apparently is concerned about the closeness of the Chinese government to the phone maker and their possible ability to manipulate upcoming 5G cellular networks.


New Samsung & LG Hero Phones Out in January; Amazon Jumps into VR & AR, Lyft Gets Self-Driving Permit

We were expecting Samsung to show off the new Galaxy S9 in January. Now, it looks like it will be launched at CES 2018, and according to bgr.com, LG will also show its latest and greatest, the G7. Last year, the LG G6 was overshadowed by Apple and Samsung, and with the runaway success of the iPhone X and a strong Samsung Galaxy S9, they will need the new G7 to have some ‘wow’ factor. The G7 is rumored to have and OLED display, like the iPhone X and Galaxy S9, but does add its own wrinkle…the fingerprint sensor will be under the screen, not on the back like the S9’s. For those leery of the iPhone X’s facial recognition scheme, this might be a real draw.

Google, Apple, and Microsoft are busily working on VR and AR products, so it was only a matter of time. Geekwire.com reports that Amazon is jumping in with its new ‘Sumerian’ service for Amazon Web Services. Sumerian will allow creation of VR, AR, and 3D scenes for Oculus, Vive, iOS, and Android. Sumerian has a web based editor for creating interactive 3D scenes, and a library of objects and templates. It launches in preview today on all but Android, which Amazon says is coming soon.

Another company has a permit to test self-driving cars in California, and this one is a biggie. Cnet.com says Lyft was granted a permit, and now brings to 45 the number of companies testing or getting ready to roll driverless cars on public roads. They join VW, General Motors, Tesla, Google’s Waymo, Uber, and Apple. You’ll be able to spot them by the apparatus on top, but don’t expect to see no one in the driver’s seat…all the permits require a driver on board, just in case.


Lyft & Waymo Partner on Self-Drivers; EV Battery That Charges in 5 Min; 10.5 Inch iPad Pro at WWDC, Google Asst Coming to iOS

Lyft and Google’s Waymo will team up on self-driving cars, according to a report from the New York Times. The plan is to introduce a wide swath of people to them using fleet services. Waymo had already started a public pilot in Arizona where they will pick up people and families on demand. The Lyft deal will quickly help them to expand that, and explore not only demand modeling, but efficient routing as well. Meanwhile, a judge has banned a Uber employee, who was a former Google manager and is the subject of a lawsuit, from working with Lidar at all for the time being.

If this pans out to any degree, it will be a game changer for electric vehicles. StoreDot, and Israeli startup, has shown its new battery model for EVs at the CUBE Tech Fair in Berlin. Engadget.com reports that the battery can reach full charge in FIVE minutes, and run the car for 300 miles! Compare that to Tesla’s Supercharger, which takes two hours to fully charge a Tesla EV. StoreDot also claims their batteries are safer than litihum-ion. They use layers of nano materials and proprietary organic compounds not used in batteries before.

Apple will probably show a new 10.5 inch iPad Pro at WWDC next month. Theverge.com says KGI Securities, generally one of the most reliable sources, is reporting this. Ming-Chi Kuo, of KGI also says it’s 50-50 that Apple will launch their Siri powered speaker at WWDC.

Siri could be in for some ‘Siri-ous’ competition soon. Google may be rolling out Google Assistant on iOS, and could show it at I/O this week! It will debut first in the US, and apparently will be slightly different than the Android version. The voice controls will be the same, but it will used the chat style fro Allo. This is probably necessary since it will be a free standing app, and not a baked in extension that’s part of the Google platform.


Nintendo Scores big with the Switch; Lyft Donation Program Going Live; SiriusXM Buys Automatic

Nintendo has a serious hit in the Switch. The new gaming system sold 2.74 million in less than a month, and geekwire.com says that’s more than the Wii U sold in its first full year. The flagship game, “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” slightly outsold the console, too!

Lyft had announced it would be offering a ‘Round Up and Donate’ feature, allowing users to top off their fare to the nearest buck and give to a worthy cause. Now, tech crunch.com reports that the program will go live May 1st. It will bow on Android first, followed quickly by an iOS version. The first organization Lyft is supporting is the USO, the folks that provide support and entertainment to military members and veterans. There will be a number of other charity partners, with the user getting to choose which one they donate to.

SiriusXM has snapped up smart car accessory maker Automatic for a cool $100 million plus. Automatic makes a Bluetooth gadget that lets you track and read driving data from your iPhone.The Automatic Link plugs into the OBD….on board diagnostic port of your car, and transmits data to your phone. They also have a cheaper device called the Automatic Lite.