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.

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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.


iPhones May Get USB-C Ports; Microsoft Revamps Office; Tesla Laying Off 9%; Big Names Back Better Battery Quest

After going all-in on USB-C on the MacBook Pro line, it looks like Apple may be getting ready to retire the Lightening connectors on the upcoming iPhones in favor of the more universally used connection. 9to5mac.com reports that Apple may also include an 18 watt charger to take advantage of quick charging…which the current phones are already capable of, but only with 3rd party chargers. It’s worth noting that this rumor comes from Digitimes, which doesn’t have the stellar accurate leak record of the likes of KGI Securities. That said, Apple has run with the Lightening port since 2012, so a change is more likely than not.

Microsoft is porting over its Fluent Design system from Windows 10 to Office, in an effort to simplify them for the some billion users of the productivity suite. According to theverge.com, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook will all get a new, simplified ribbon that is smaller and easier to use. There are new animations, icons that are more accessible, and more. The goal is to modernize Office, and make it more intuitive. The changes will hit the main desktop versions first, but also will be brought over to the web versions. They should appear on the apps for Windows next month, and on Macs by August. Microsoft also promises and increase in speed for the productivity suite.

As first indicated last month, Tesla has begun laying off salaried employees as they move to what Elon Musk calls ‘flattening the management structure’, and a ‘thorough reorganization’ of the company aimed at helping Tesla achieve profitability by the end of this year. Electrek.co notes that as many as 3,500 employees could be let go. No line workers will be involved in the layoffs, as Tesla continues to ramp up Model 3 production, and they will still be hiring ‘mission critical’ people. After the Solar City acquisition, Tesla laid off about 20% of that workforce, cutting duplicate positions and restructuring. They are also not continuing the residential sales agreement with Home Depot…although those employees will have the opportunity to move to Tesla retail locations.

Billion dollar startup Breakthrough Energy Ventures has dived into a couple startups aimed at power storage. Form Energy is working on novel chemistries for low-cost, long-term, high-density batteries, and Quidnet Energy is working on storing energy in highly compressed water. Geekwire.com says Breakthrough is backed by some really big players in tech: Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Ma. The fund was started a couple years ago, but the two energy storage tech startups are two of the first investments revealed by Breakthrough. Cheap, efficient energy storage will allow power generated by renewable energy sources to be stored for use 24/7 on the energy grid.


Microsoft Works on New Xbox Consoles, Tesla Greenlights Full Self-Driving Features in August; Ads Bolt Facebook for Cheaper Traditional Media; Uber-Drunk Detecting Patent

The gaming console is far from dead, according to Microsoft. Geekwire.com reports that in the keynote at E3, Microsoft gaming chief Phil Spencer said there will be new generations of the Xbox console. Spencer says the team is ‘deep into architecting’ the next generation Xboxes. On Sunday, Microsoft also announced that they had picked up 4 gaming studios, and have created their own called The Initiative….and they plan more first-party titles. They will continue to work on AI and cloud resources as applied to gaming, too.

Elon Musk Tweeted over the weekend that Tesla is on track to begin enabling full self-driving features starting in August. That’s when Autopilot 9 will arrive for owners, according to engadget.com. Keep in mind that this won’t mean they will activate so much that you’ll be able to climb into the back seat and take a nap…the full features may only operate at low speed….like allowing you to let go of the wheel only in a parking lot…for now.

In a twist a lot of people didn’t see coming, direct marketers are cutting back on Facebook ads for….traditional media like Radio, TV, and even print! Digiday.com reports that they surveyed 10 good sized direct to consumer companies, and every one had cut back on Facebook and Instagram ads in favor of traditional media. Clutter of feeds was mentioned, but the primary motivator: Facebook ads have gotten too high for the audience segments they target. Apparently since January, CPMs on Facebook’s platform have rocketed up 122% over last year, while impression rate had dropped. This was confirmed by AdStage. Pricing on the other hand has eased on traditional media like Radio, TV, and print.

Uber has applied for a patent that detects drunk passengers. Techcrunch.com says it measures behavior via their phone against usual behavior…including data on location, data input accuracy and speed, speed of walking. The system would alert drivers, and indicates that riders in a particularly ‘unusual’ state might be matched with drivers with special expertise or not be allowed rides at all. WHAT? Won’t that put a serious dent in their business? Isn’t being tipsy at night one of the main reasons people even CALL an Uber? Stay tuned and we’ll see if they actually start using this system.


Some Apple WWDC Highlights; Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Launch In August; Microsoft Buys GitHub

Apple’s keynote at the World Wide Developers Conference was a bit of a marathon, going on for over 2 hours. While I kept wondering if Steve Jobs would have made them keep it to an hour and 15 minutes, here are a few high points: for coolness, the ‘wow’ award goes to the new Animoji….and specifically a new feature Apple has dubbed ‘Memoji.’ It allows you to build your own animoji of yourself and send it in iMessage. They seem to have a massive variety of skin tone, face shape, hair color and style, eye color, and accessories like glasses, hats, etc. People will go nuts with this feature, I’m thinking.

iOS 12 will bring a performance boost to older devices, and there are some pretty spectacular AR abilities that were demoed….including a cool app using Legos. Photos search picks up better object and scene recognition.

Siri is getting Shortcuts. These are quick actions like ‘I lost my keys’ that Siri can then help with….another example was texting meeting attendees that you will be late. In addition to stock Shortcuts, an app lets you make your own using drag and drop.

Something for mobile device addicts and especially for kids….Apple has beefed up Do Not Disturb to work outside of just bedtime. You can also fine tune all notifications to cut down on the number of the things that pop up.

Something called Screen Time gives people and idea about how much they use (or over use) their phone. Parents can even set up to report child use on a main device.

FaceTime has added Group Chat for up to 30.

One feature a lot of people will be happy to hear about tis that Apple’s Car Play will now play nice with Google Maps.

Apple Watch got a new Pride band and watch face…available today, but also Watch OS 5 picks up automatic workout detection and a walkie-talkie feature. It also adds yoga! as a workout.

The next iteration of MacOS is called Mojave. It includes a much wanted Dark Mode, and also enhanced privacy, and Desktop Stacks, that group things automatically by date, type, or tag…then kind of unfurl with a click. Finder has a new Gallery View to preview images, video, pdf’s, etc. The App Store has gotten a fresh coat of paint. Safari has Intelligent Tracking Prevention to stop social media ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons, and makes it harder for advertisers to track you online.

While Apple is putting on their big show, word is out that Samsung’s delayed Galaxy Note 9 should get here in early August. Bloomberg.com says it will run on the same CPU as the S9 and S9+, the Snapdragon 845. It appears to be an incremental upgrade to the Note 8, not a major overhaul.

Rumors have flown, and now Microsoft has announced that the are picking up social coding platform GitHub in and all-stock deal running $7.5 billion. According to thenextweb.com, the deal will close by the end of 2018. Microsoft is putting in a new CEO, Nat Friedman…late of Xamarin, but also claims GitHub will run independently. Former CEO and co-founder Chris Wanstrath joins Microsoft as a technical fellow.


Qualcomm-New AR & VR Chips; Microsoft Passes Alphabet Market Cap; Amazon Expands Whole Foods Discount; Siri Driven Beats speaker coming

Qualcomm has rolled out a dedicated chipset for mass market AR and VR headsets. According to techcrunch.com, the Snapdragon XR1 will support 4K streaming at 60fps. The chipset is aimed at helping manufacturers cut the cord to PC tethered systems. Qualcomm says the chipset won’t match PC based systems, but says for a lot of users, the higher graphics and memory bandwidth of chips like the Snapdragon 845 aren’t needed for a good VR or AR experience.

The horserace is on! Fully 4 tech companies are in the hunt to become the first company in the world with a trillion dollar market cap. Businessinsider.com reports that Microsoft has passed up Google parent Alphabet for the first time in 3 years this week, hitting $753 billion…compared to Alphabet’s $739. Apple and Amazon are still #1 and #2, and it is most likely one of them will cross over the mark first, but it’s still amazing to see 4 tech giants nearing the trillion dollar milestone!

On the subject of Amazon, they are expanding their 10% off discount deal at Whole Foods for Prime members to 12 additional states. According to geekwire.com, all 365 Whole Foods stores will be included now. Available deals will rotate weekly. Customers also get the savings with Whole Foods grocery delivery, which is free for Prime members using Prime Now on orders over $35. Amazon is really trying to unload the upscale grocer’s ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation. Of course, Amazon also just raised the cost for prime 20 bucks to $119 a year!

Among predictions of things to debut at Apple’s WorldWide Developers Conference next week, analyst Gene Munster says look for a Beats branded cheaper version of the HomePod…also powered by Siri. Macrumors.com says it may sell for around $250. We’ll recap the WWDC keynote highlights next week.


$200 Beats HomePod; Microsoft Snaps Up Veteran AI Team; AT&T No WiFi Smart Button

Apple’s HomePod has had underwhelming sales so far, and now they may be trying to rectify that with a cheaper model than the $350 one with killer sound but anemic voice command abilities. Bgr.com reports that Apple is looking at bringing out one for $199 under the Beats brand. With a decent sounding Google Home speaker going for $130, and Amazon Alexa speakers for less yet, Apple might have a fighting chance at under $200 if the gadget still sounds better than its competitors.

Microsoft has picked up an AI team that includes the former chief speech scientist for Siri. According to businessinsider.com, Redmond has acquired AI startup Semantic Machines, to boost its ‘conversational AI’ and potentially make Cortana better at understanding natural language inquiries. At least for the short term, the artificial intelligence team will remain in Berkeley where Semantic Machines has been based. Besides Larry Gillick, the former chief speech scientist for Apple’s Siri, the team includes Cal professor Dan Klein and Stanford professor Percy Liang. Several other members worked at Nuance, the voice recognition company that built Siri.

AT&T has launched the LTE-M button, which you can use to order something online with a single click. Engadget.com says the gadget…which not only sounds like and Amazon Dash button, but is actually powered by Amazon Web Services….does have a new trick up its sleeve…it works over AT&T’s network, so doesn’t need WiFi. The AT&T button is not preprogrammed, so you can set it up to order different things, unlike the single function Dash buttons. It is pricier than an Amazon button, though. the first 5000 will be $30, then it will be $35. Since it has to be programmed, the price may not be the only limiting factor…you’ll also need to be geeky enough to figure out how to program the LTE-M button.