Amazon Employees Deleting Bad Reviews; Microsoft May Field Black Surface 2; Fire at Tesla Gigafactory; US Leading in 5G

Amazon is investigating claims that some employees are deleting bad reviews for cash…from $80 up to $2000. According to arstechnica.com, it’s happening in the US but is ‘rampant’ in China.
Employees are allegedly also selling out info involving keywords used in searches for products and buyer habits. Most of the activity is facilitated by middlemen via WeChat. No comment from Amazon beyond that they are investigating.

Microsoft may have decided that black is the new black. Theverge.com reports that there may be a Black Surface Laptop 2 unveiled at the Surface event October 2nd. The original Surface RT came in a black magnesium alloy, but Redmond rapidly switched to a silver color for the Surface 2. Besides the Surface Laptop 2, Microsoft is expected to show ra refresh of the Surface Pro at their upcoming event in New York City.

There was apparently a fire at the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada late Saturday. Engadget.com sys it was in the cooling tube coating oven area. The factory was evacuated and shut down, but the fire was quickly dispatched. Production resumed early Sunday. It appears that the factory was only down a brief time, and that it shouldn’t seriously impact vehicle production at the plant in Fremont.

For years, the US has lagged in internet speeds while paying more. Now, the US may be leading Europe and Asia in one area of tech infrastructure…we may be getting 5G coverage faster. According to Ericsson’s VP of 5G Commercialization Thomas Noren, via ZDnet.com, the US has been able to iron out tech challenges and is ahead of the pack. South Korea is also further along than most other countries. You still shouldn’t expect 5G coverage to be very widespread much before 2020 in the US.

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Fresh Apple Rumors; Microsoft Kills Russian Phishing Domains; Facebook Gives Us Reputation Score; Aston Martin Building 25 ‘Goldfinger’ DB5 Replicas

Several Apple tidbits seeped out yesterday. Businessinsider says Apple will release a new Mac Mini this fall aimed at pro users. The $500 Mini has no screen or keyboard, but you can hook them up and make it into an inexpensive computer. Often, however, they are used in computer rooms as remote computers and storage options for businesses. Also in the wings is a new laptop which will be like a MacBook Air. It’s unclear if it will BE an Air or just called MacBook, but will come with a 13 inch ‘Retina’ display…allegedly with a higher resolution than Apple uses on other products. It will also have thinner bezels around the screen.

In addition, Apple will be dropping new Watch models….they have registered 6 numbers with the EU. The Watch is supposed to get a bigger screen, better health sensors, and longer battery life. The Watch could bow with new iPhones..no date, but thought to be on September 12th if Apple follows previous years.

Finally, from Cupertino, the iPhones may be getting faster wireless charging. Presently, they can be charged at a maximum of 7.5 watts with a software update, but it looks like Apple will jump that up to 15 watts, matching what Samsung phones can do for wireless fast charging.

Microsoft has pulled 6 phishing domains that belong to Russian government hackers. They had been registered to the GRU military intelligence agency….the ones alleged to have stolen and leaked the hacked Clinton emails in 2016. Theverge.com says the domains were aimed at spoofing government targets like ‘senate.group’ and ‘adfs-senate-email.’ Others were aimed at the International Republican Institute and the Hudson Institute…two conservative think tanks which have been critical of President Trump. It appear that these domains had yet to be used, to Microsoft may have prevented more Russian interference into the 2018 election.

In an effort to fight gaming of their systems that has allowed malicious users to post fake news, and false reporting of true items as untrue, Facebook has started assigning users a reputation score ranging from zero to one. According to bloomberg.com, it’s not intended to be an absolute indicator of a person’s credibility, but it’s one of numerous behavioral clues the company is using to try to fight fake news and people who tag items as false just because they disagree with them. Academics are already complaining that Facebook isn’t being transparent about this, but OTOH, if they were, people would be able to more easily game this safeguard.

You may get a chance to buy a copy of one of the most legendary movie cars ever made. Aston Martin is going to build 25 new DB5 cars like the one featured in James Bond’s ‘Goldfinger.’ Arstechnica.com says the cars won’t have an ejection seats, and even though they won’t be street legal, probably won’t have machine guns, oil slick dispensers, or tire flatteners, but will have a rotating license plate. No word on the pop up bulletproof shield. Dust off your checkbook…they will go for $3.51 million bucks EACH!


Apple Car in 5+ Years; OneDrive Auto Backup for All; Fitbit Charge 3-Touchscreen; MoviePass Zombie Accounts

A VP of engineering recently left Tesla to go back to Apple. He had previously worked at Ford. This seemed to point to Apple shifting Project Titan back to building an Apple car, not just software they could sell to auto makers. Now, Ming-Chi Kuo, who has one of the most accurate records when it comes to Apple predictions, says Apple will launch an Apple Car between 2023 and 2025, and calls it ‘the next star product.’ According to macrumors.com, Kuo thinks Apple will revolutionize the auto business the way they did the phone market with the iPhone in 2007. Apple’s work in AR could help ‘differentiate the Apple Car from peers’ products.’

If you are on Windows 10 and use Microsoft’s OneDrive, MS has added a great new feature…OneDrive can now automatically back up documents, pictures, and desktop folders. Theverge.com reports that if you use multiple Win 10 PCs, OneDrive folder protection will automatically keep all these folders in sync, too! Business users saw this feature appear available in June, but now it’s coming out for all users. Just hit OneDrive Settings, and go to the Auto Save tab, then click the update folders button.

The upcoming Fitbit Charge 3 will have a full touchscreen, unlike the present Charge 2 with its quasi-touchscreen. TechCrunch.com says that, in addition, Android Authority has discovered that it will be swim-proof down to 50 meters, and have notification reply capability, but on the down side…it won’t have built-in GPS….so you’ll still have to schlep your smartphone along for a jog if you want GPS data. No pricing has leaked out, but the fitness tracker should be out in plenty of time for the holiday season.

MoviePass may be only 3 months from ‘passing away,’ but in the meantime, has a new issue for subscribers…or former subscribers…to deal with. According to engadget.com, people who had cancelled their accounts, then later either checked the app about their account or just to see what movies were available (there were TWO last weekend) got a splash screen with ‘Updates to Your MoviePass Plan’. If you clicked the ‘agree’ button to make it go away, MoviePass reactivated your account! There’s an X in the upper right corner…best to click that and close the screen. Meanwhile, MoviePass will run out of money in 90 days if some movie angel doesn’t show up with lots of cash.


Whole Foods Rolls Out Curbside Delivery; SnapChatting a Bit Less; Magic Leap One; Pixel 3 Leak Shows Apple-esque ‘Notch’

Amazon is launching curbside pickup at Whole Foods. Reuters.com reports the service is available starting today in Sacramento, CA and Virginia Beach, VA…other cities should follow later this year. Since pickup is cheaper than delivery, it has been pushed by bigger grocers like Kroger and Walmart. Amazon is gigantic, but Whole Foods actually only has about 1% of the vary fractured grocery market. Pickup in an hour is free for orders of at least $35, while pickup in 30 minutes costs $4.99.

Snapchat has decidedly mixed results the last quarter. They lost 3 million users, a drop of 2%, but is still up 8% year over year. They also lost $353 million, but that’s still 20% less than the previous year’s loss. Their monthly audience is up 3 million for 11 of its Shows, users spend over 30 minutes a day with the platform.

The Magic Leap One Creator Edition AR headset is available….some places…for developers now. It’s a breathtaking $2295. While cnet.com notes that the price is less than the Microsoft HoloLens at 3 grand, you may need to drop another $495 for the ‘professional development edition’, which comes with an extra hub cable and a service called RapidReplace…which gets you a replacement within 24 hours. Another catch: it’s only available in Chicago, LA, Miami, New York, San Francisco Bay Area, and Seattle. For the princely price, they deliver it and set it up for you in-home, to ensure a perfect fit. You can’t wear the headset with glasses, but can get prescription pop-in lenses at extra cost…or just get contacts. It does sport a bigger field of view than HoloLens, but not as wide as a regular VR headset. It’s brawn is PC-like, with a powerful system on a chip, 128 gigs of storage, 8 gigs ram.

Pictures of what’s said to be a pre-release final production Google Pixel 3 XL shows a notch at the top like the iPhone X has, and a number of other phones have emulated. Macrumors.com says the pics were put out by a Russian blogger and picked up by Android Police. The display on the 3 XL is not as wide as the iPhone X, but it is noticeably taller. It is supposed to be a 6.2 inch screen. The smaller Pixel 3 apparently does not have the notch…which reportedly holds improved cameras with two lenses.


Alphabet Crushes Estimates; Foxconn Staffs Up For New iPhone; Microsoft Building 2 New Xbox Consoles; YouTube Tests Explore Feature

Google parent Alphabet reported financials yesterday, with a nice beat of Wall Street expectations. According to reuters.com, expenses from Google search didn’t grow as much as expected, which pushed profits up. Their operating margin ticked up from 22 to 24%, excluding the $5 antitrust fine from the EU…which appears like a rounding error. Alphabet hauled in $32.66 billion second quarter, 86% of which came from Google advertising, and beating the estimate of $32.17 billion. Alphabet still trails, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter in valuation, but is in the hunt. Apple still leads in the quest to be the first billion dollar company.

Foxconn is getting ready for the next generation iPhone by offering bonuses to workers who renew their contracts. The $295 bonus and hiring campaign will extend through this November. Macrumors.com reports that Foxconn is expected to assemble the majority of all 3 new iPhone models…the 2nd generation iPhone X, 90% of the iPhone Plus (or whatever Apple ends up calling it), and about 75% of the lower priced 6.1 inch iPhone with the LED screen. All 3 phones are expected to bow in September.

Microsoft is already hard at work on the next iteration of the Xbox console. in addition to the traditional version, Redmond is apparently working on a cheaper ‘streaming box’ designed to work with its previously reported streaming service. The streamer is code named ‘Scarlett Cloud’, and would run games both locally and in the cloud…which has been dubbed slice or splice. The idea is to help reduce latency. Geekwire.com reports that Sony, EA, and Nvidia are also working on cloud based game streaming services.

In the ongoing quest to grab and hold more eyeballs, YouTube is testing out a new feature on around 1% of iOS YouTube app users the next several weeks. Thenextweb.com says it’s an explore feature, similar to the Instagram Explore tab…and the idea is to help users discover more videos and content creators that may be lost in the thousands of others. Personalized recommendations will be based on the user’s previous viewing history.


MS Surface Go Debuts at $399; Facebook Tests AR Ads; Auto Download for Netflix; Apple iOS 11.4.1 With GrayKey Killer

Microsoft is diving back in to the budget-priced tablet market with the Surface Go. The 10 inch screen tablet has a built-in kickstand, and is loaded with Windows 10, and starts at $399. Theverge.com reports that preorders are open now, and it will ship in August. It basically looks like a Surface Pro that shrunk in the wash, except with somewhat more rounded corners. The smaller Surface weighs 1.15 lbs, which is a little more than the similar iPad, but still half a pound lighter than the Surface Pro. As the Pro, it has the optional keyboard cover in 4 colors, and uses the optional Surface Pen.

In the continuing quest to get and keep more advertisers, Facebook is testing out ads with augmented reality in the newsfeed. According to techcrunch.com, the ads look like normal ads in the feed but there’s a ‘Tap to try it on’ option that activates the AR capabilities. If you like the way the product looks in AR, you can go ahead and buy it. The first test advertiser to test the feature is Michael Kors. Sephora, NYX Professional Makeup, Bobbi Brown, and Pottery Barn are planning to launch tests with AR ads yet this summer.

Your Netflix binge watching just got easier on Android phones. Buzzfeed.com says Netflix is automating downloads of a series with a feature called Smart Downloads. When you finish watching an episode, Netflix will automatically delete it and download the next one as long as you are on a WiFi network. The feature will be coming to iOS phones and tablets later this year. It really only works for series…they haven’t figured out how to program the feature for movies you might want to see next. BTW, if you don’t want the feature…what’s wrong with you? You can go to settings and turn it off.

Apple has dropped iOS 11.4.1, which is mainly just bug fixes and not a terribly big deal…except for what could be one of Steve Jobs’ famous ‘One more things.’ Cnet.com reports that the lates version of iOS brings USB Restricted Mode with it. That’s the feature that keeps the police, government, or thieves from plugging a GrayKey into the handset and using that box to unlock your phone and get your data. A charger will still work, but if you haven’t used the phone in an hour, the phone has to be unlocked with your Face ID and Passcode or Touch ID and Passcode. Apple claims they were more concerned with bad guys using the GrayKey device to hack peoples’ phones than police or governments, but neither of those latter two groups will be any too happy.


Samsung Galaxy X Folder; iPhones Beef Up Hack-proofing; Waymo Ridership; Microsoft Eyes Automated Check Out

The mythic Samsung Galaxy X folding smartphone may yet be coming…the latest rumors say in 2019…pretty cool news for those excited about a phone with a large, folding screen. Ok…that’s the good news. The not-so-good news? According to Golden Bridge Investment, it will probably cost a bit under $1850…or almost double the cost of the present iPhone X. In addition to the two OLED screens with virtually no bezel between them that fold in, the handset will have a third panel for use when the phone is folded. Bgr.com reports that unfolded, the inner screens will combine for a phablet-sized  7.3 inch display! Samsung partners should get a preview at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Apple has confirmed a leak that says it is closing the tech loophole that has been letting law enforcement hack iPhones via USB based hardware like the GrayKey box. The GrayKey box is designed to plug into the Lightening port of an iPhone, and it then uses a data connection to brute force a passcode in as little as a few hours.  In an upcoming software update, the port will be disabled and require a password starting an hour after the phone is locked. The setting will be enabled by default. Macrumors.com says an exception is charging…which doesn’t require a data connection. Apple notes that they aren’t anti-law enforcement…in 2017 they responded to over 29,000 National Security Requests from the US government.

This Spring, Google’s Waymo kicked off an Early Rider program to let people in Arizona get their feet wet in experiencing self-driving cars. They have now let us in on a bit of a progress report. Waymo has gotten 20,000 applications to participate, and so far, riders have ranged in age from 9 to 69. Destinations pretty well mirror rides from Uber or Lyft…the most popular is getting to work…followed by restaurants, schools, and bars. According to 9to5google.com, the biggest request by riders: closer pickup and drop-off points. You’ll be glad to know that Waymo is working on how to gently wake napping riders upon arriving at their destination!

Amazon’s checkout-less stores…Amazon Go… have been covered here a number of times, but now there’s word of a heavyweight challenger in the push to eliminate the check out line at stores….Microsoft. Reuters.com says The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is developing systems that track what shoppers add to their carts. Microsoft has shown sample technology to retailers from around the world and has had talks with Walmart  about a potential collaboration. While it isn’t clear how soon Microsoft could get their system to the market, it’s worth noting that they are the #2 provider of cloud services behind Amazon. According to analyst Gene Munster of Loop Ventures, the US market for automated checkout is worth some $50 billion dollars.