Google Home Outships Amazon Echo; Apple-VW Self-Driving Pact; Uber Self-Driving Leaves Arizona; Silicon Valley Longs to Tax Big Tech Like Seattle

In a first, Google Home has shipped more smart speakers than Amazon…3.2 million vs 2.5 million first quarter of this year. According to cnet.com, it may be due to retailers prioritizing Google over Amazon because they see Amazon as more of a direct competitor. Alibaba had the third biggest shipping smart speaker, with Xiaomi 4th. Apple’s HomePod was lumped in with the 17% ‘other’ smart speakers.

After lots of back and forth with Mercedes and BMW the last several years that never made it to a deal, Apple has cut a deal with Volkswagen. Macrumors.com reports that Apple will be buying VW vans and converting them to employee shuttles to run between San Francisco Bay Area campuses and buildings. The vans will be fitted with Apple’s self-driving tech. Word is, no deal ever came through with BMW and Mercedes, because Apple insisted on partner companies handing over control of data and design…which no car maker was willing to do.

Uber has canned its self-driving program in Arizona, and along with it, 300 employees. Businessinsider.com says this comes 2 months after a self-driving Uber Volvo (with safety driver behind the wheel) hit and killed a woman in Tempe. The governor had already suspended their ability to test the autonomous cars there. Uber says it will regroup and double check its safety procedures and be back testing somewhere soon.

Since Seattle has dropped an annual head tax on big tech companies, a number of Silicon Valley cities are angling to do the same. Bloomberg.com reports that Seattle intends to use the revenue to help with homeless problems and relieve housing shortages caused by the influx of higher paid tech workers. San Francisco, Mountain View, Cupertino, and East Palo Alto are all looking at similar taxes on large local employers (which are virtually all tech companies) to offset growing inequality and overcrowding. The Bay Area cities have learned from Seattle’s battle with Amazon, and instead of shooting for $500 per head, are looking to extract more like $250-$300 per employee.

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Apple Talking to Goldman About Financing Your iStuff; Mercedes Building an E-Sprinter Van; UK Government Looks to Bolster Gig Workers’ Rights

Apple is in talks with Goldman Sachs to offer consumer financing for people buying iPhones, Apple Watches, iPads, etc. 9to5mac.com reports that it is a type of loan or finance deal, not a credit card. It would allow people buying an iPhone X for a grand to finance it with Goldman instead of charging to a high interest credit card. It’s possible that any deal Apple makes with Goldman would also roll up the iPhone Upgrade Program. There are no further details, and it’s not a done deal…stay tuned.

You see Mercedes Sprinter delivery vans on the freeways and streets all the time…even more so in Europe. Now, according to engadget.com, Mercedes is planning an -Sprinter version. It looks like it would be geared at city deliveries, where short hauls wouldn’t need a huge range and the accompanying huge battery packs. Mercedes says the costs are on par with running diesel vans, but without the smog issues. The e-version will be much more connected…allowing fleet managers to schedule maintenance and order parts, and consumers…with a camper van, for example…to be able to turn the heat on in the van while returning from a hike. The e-Sprinter should debut in 2019.

The ‘gig’ economy is a two edged sword…it allows work flexibility, albeit without the benefits of a regular job. Now, the government in the UK is looking at a plan to get and improve benefits for gig workers like sick pay, holiday pay, and stable contracts. Cnet.com says such regulations will provide a much more stable workforce without continued fights, as with Uber, over whether the workers are employees or not.


iPhone is 10; Freshened iPads Coming, Waymo Says It’s Cut Self-Driving Equipment Cost in Half; Mercedes Autopilot Will Give Tesla a Run

Ten years ago today Steve Jobs…remember him?…stood in front of the crowd at Macworld, and introduced the iPhone. Of course, we didn’t get it until almost July, but smartphones were absolutely revolutionized. Now, we wait until September to see if the iPhone 8 will be anywhere near as revolutionary with a wraparound screen that covers the front and wireless charging.

Meanwhile, 9to5mac.com reports that KGI Securities is expecting 3 updated iPads, and they believe a sales slump will be blunted. Apple appears to be preparing a 12.9” model, 10-10.5” size, and a 9.7” version. The first two will get a higher end A10X chip, with the smaller one keeping the A9. More business and enterprise users will gravitate to the larger models, but KGI thinks the cheaper model will grab 50-60% of total iPads sold. They may drop this spring.

The Waymo self driving car division of Google…or if you insist, Alphabet….has cut the cost of LIdar sensors for the rigs by 90%. They’re still pricey, but in 2009 ran $75,000! They have done it by building the sensors in house, according to recode.net. At $7500, and likely to fall more, self driving tech is becoming something that can roll out in vehicles to the mass market soon!

Mercedes showed off its Drive Pilot in conjunction with CES in Las Vegas. Theverge.com says it actually works better than Tesla’s system…in fact, so well, that Mercedes has ‘detuned’ it a bit to make it move around in the lane so drivers won’t be lulled into dialing out completely. It does the emergency stop routine like the Tesla, but in the case of the Mercedes, automatically calls the Mercedes SOS service to connect a live person…a nice touch since both are in the luxury car strata. Drive Pilot will bow this summer in the S class Mercedes cars.


‘Great’ Desktop Macs Ahead; ’Tis the Season to Shop-Online; Hyundai ‘Affordable’ Self-Drivers Coming; AR Wearables Will Replace iPhones?

There was no mention of desktop machines at the MacBook rollout, but Apple CEO Tim Cook did post to an internal employee message board that Apple has ‘great desktops in our roadmap.’ According to theverge.com, Cook commented that the desktop is very strategic to Apple, noting ‘…you can pack a lot more performance in a desktop — the largest screens, the most memory and storage, a greater variety of I/O, and fastest performance.’ The iMac got a minor refresh last year, but the Mac Pro hasn’t been updated in 3 years. Some analysts think it may be dropped.

Never let it be said that most shoppers aren’t bargain hunters. TechCrunch.com says this is the main thing driving online shopping, NOT convenience. A full 79 percent of us now shop online in the US…up from 22% in 2000! Over half of people have bought something via their smartphone. That said, in the PEW study, 65% of people said that…all things being equal, they would rather shop in a physical store. Price, time constraints, and availability of products often dictate going online, though.

Most of the self-driving cars we see in the pipeline are upscale models. Teslas are cool, but pricey. Mercedes, BMW, Volvo…none of them will have anything on the cheap. Hyundai is working on one, though, and they claim it will be a self-driver for the masses. Techcrunch.com reports that the Korean maker rolled out their tech this week, with rides in Vegas ahead of CES coming up in January. The cars look pretty close to stock Ioniq models…no big cluster of sensors on the roof…they do include four optical cameras behind the windshield, front and side facing LiDAR unit, front mid- and long-range radars and rear-facing radars, too…so they’re not exactly rolling blind! Hyundai hopes to have something on the road by 2019-21, but full self-driving may be a few years after that.

AR seems to be nearly the operating system of the future, if you talk to some people, and Apple analyst Gene Munster, who is striking out on his own after Piper Jaffray, thinks AR wearables may eclipse smartphones like the iPhone. Zdnet.com points out that although Munster has a very good track record, he has predicted an Apple branded TV several times, and we’re still waiting for that! Nonetheless, Munster says that in the next 10 years, we may all be using some type of wearable in PLACE of our pocket smartphone from Apple. The amount of miniaturization is staggering, to say nothing of batteries, but considering that the iPhone would by then be 20 years old…that’s a lifetime in tech!


Ford Driving for 2021 for Self-Driving Car; Amazon Patents Several Drone Systems

Ford announced yesterday that they expect to have self-driving cars on the road by 2021…the same time frame as Google and Apple’s secretive Project Titan. According to appleinsider.com, the car will be specifically built ‘’for ride sharing and ride hailing.’ The cars will have no steering wheel or pedals, and will only drive a pre-programmed area that’s been 3D mapped. Ford says these will meet SAE Level 4 standards for autonomous operation…Tesla and Mercedes only make Level 2 right now. Ford didn’t say if the cars would be hybrid, electric, or even still take old-fashioned gasoline.

A couple of interesting patents show that Amazon is looking at different kinds of drones for different applications. Geekwire.com reports that one shows 4 rotors in a protective shroud. Another design has shrouded rotors, plus two smaller pusher props, and a fixed wing. It’s thought the shrouds are to protect people and property in the event of a crash. The extended wing would provide extra lift, perhaps giving the small electric motors more range and a better flying time than 20 minutes, like a lot of drones out there now. Amazon has said they have a goal of delivering small packages weighing 5 pounds or less in a half hour or less.


We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ AR Headsets; Amazon & Microsoft Look to Mapping for Self-Driving Cars

Having just recently had a conversation with a couple of friends in tech about how everyone is excited about virtual and augmented reality, but no one all that much about wearing big, bulky headsets, this caught my eye immediately…and it may be catching your eyes sooner, not later, and immersing them in VR and AR. Cnet.com reports Samsung has gotten a patent for smart contact lenses that will house a camera, movement sensors, transmitter, and display unit. They work in conjunction with a smartphone. You can look at photos and videos from the phone through the lenses. Google is also working along with medical provider Novartis on some smart contacts, albeit ones centering around health. Shrinking VR and AR down to contacts and earbuds? Now THAT’s something that can really take virtual reality mass market!

According to a report, both Amazon and Microsoft are close to getting involved with Here, the digital mapping business for autonomous vehicles. Here was started by Nokia, but bought by a group of German car makers….Mercedes, BMW, & Audi. Theverge.com says a board member at Daimler-parent of Mercedes-confirmed that both Amazon and Microsoft were interested in providing cloud computing capabilities for the mounds of data being gathered by Here’s sensors for autonomous vehicles.


Leak Has More Reveals About iPhone 6S

In a leak similar to one last year near the release date of the iPhone 6, we now know a bit more about the successor iPhone 6S. The next generation handset will be slightly thicker to accomodate the Force Touch and Taptic Engine features borrowed from the Apple Watch. Force Touch tells the handset different things, depending on how hard you press on the screen, while the Taptic Engine gives it a more versatile vibration motor for alerts. Despite the increase in thickness from 6.9 to 7.1 mm, there is still a bump on the back for the camera…which has unduly bothered some in the tech media…despite the fact that nearly everyone else buys a case for their iPhones that negates that issue.

As rumored earlier, Nokia has sold its HERE mapping business to a group made up of Audi, BMW, and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz. Previously, it was rumored that Uber, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple had shown interest. The German car makers are dropping $3.07 billion for the service. It was probably only a matter of time before some car makers started to ‘roll their own’ for their navigation systems.