Facebook Keyword Snooze; Apple Content Bundle; Google Duplex; Amazon Delivery Entrepreneurs

Facebook is trying out a useful feature to add to their 30 day snooze feature. Instead of snoozing accounts that annoy you, you can snooze by keyword to fight spoilers for sports events, movies, and even triggers…like the names of politicians you may be fed up with seeing posts about. The test drive of this feature is rolling out this week to a small number of users, who will be able to make such things go away for 30 days in their news feeds and groups. Techcrunch.com reports you go to a post in your feed with the subject, then hit the dropdown and look for the word you want to snooze…say for example ‘World Cup.’ Facebook says requests for the feature kept coming up in interviews with users, so they’re giving it a test run.

Apple is reported to be working on a big bundle of services including original TV content, Apple Music, and news. Macrumors.com says Apple has ordered multiple original shows, so won’t continue to offer all of them for free like Carpool Karaoke on Apple Music. The news and digital magazines from Texture will also be included in the service along with Apple Music…all for one price. Apple will continue to offer all of the services a la carte, too. The original TV series are expected to roll out next March, and it’s likely the bundled service will debut at that time, too. Pricing is apparently still up in the air, but top tier Netflix is about $14, so a good guess would be something like $25 a month for the 4 bundled services. 

Yesterday, Google gave some journalists the chance to demo their Duplex intelligent assistant. The AI with the human-like voice and delivery had been debuted earlier with a call to make a hair appointment at a beauty shop. According to theverge.com, this demo had reporters (actually at a restaurant in Mountain View) call a restaurant and try to book a reservation. Google says they will be expanding tests for the AI system in coming weeks with a group of ‘trusted tester users.’ The larger test will be with businesses Google has already partnered with. The test calls are limited to holiday hours, booking a restaurant reservation, and hair appointments, the only 3 domains Duplex has been trained for so far. As a backup, Google does have a bank of human operators standing by for when Duplex inevitably goes sideways.

Amazon has rolled out…in home town Seattle at first…a new delivery program, staffed by entrepreneurs decked out in Prime branded vans and uniforms. Geekwire.com notes that Amazon has already been using this type of ‘last mile’ service to supplement the post office, UPS, and FedEx, but those have been plain white vans and only in some cases, an Amazon branded safety vest. This new program lets entrepreneurs own a delivery fleet of up to 40 vehicles and field staff of up to 100 employees. Amazon requires them to offer healthcare, paid time off, and competitive wages. The online giant said entrepreneurs can get started with as low as $10,000 and earn up to $300,000 annually in profit.

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Tesla ‘Premium’ Connectivity; Apple Ups Audio Game; Whole Foods Prime; Volvo Level 4 Self-Driving By 2021.

If it’s free, it’s probably not forever or there’s a catch. That’s the case with internet on Tesla cars. Starting July 1st, the free connection…which will be dubbed ‘Standard Connectivity’  cell access will just give you navigation (with traffic-based routing), live Supercharger usage info, and safety-related car updates. Engadget.com reports that most everything else will be part of the Premium Package. Satellite view, live traffic visuals, web browser, streaming audio, and non-safety updates will fall under it. At least Tesla has added WiFi access to the model 3. No official price as yet, but it’s expected to be about $100 a year…that’s not going to bend or break any Tesla owners! BTW, if you had a car ordered before July 1st, everything will stay free…at least for now. 

Apple has the HomePod, with very good audio, but has never had top notch audio in their earbuds, including the AirPods. That may be about to change. Bloomberg is reporting that Cupertino is working on a higher end version, that are water resistant and have noise cancellation and biometric sensors. In addition, Apple is working on higher end over-ear headphones, that will be positioned above their Beats brand. Apple has built an in-house audio team headed by Gary Geaves, a former engineer from higher end speaker and headphone maker B&W. Accessories are a decent side line for Apple…while no iPhone, they generated slightly less than $13 billion for Apple last year.

Amazon is opening up their Prime discount programs to all Whole Foods locations in the US this week. Stores in Florida have had the perk for almost 2 months, included with the $119 per year Prime membership. According to geekwire.com, you get a 10% discount on sale items, and other special deals. To use the discount, you sign in to your Amazon account with the Whole Foods app, then scan the “Prime Code” inside the app when you check out. As with most grocery store sales, the deals will change weekly. You will also still be able to get a 5% discount when you buy with an Amazon credit card. Amazon is hoping the various discounts will help them to shed the ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation for Whole Foods, which they bought last year.

While everyone in the auto biz is racing towards self-driving, with Google’s Waymo apparently well in the lead, Volvo has now issued a pretty amazing pledge…level 4 autonomous cars in showrooms you can buy and drive by 2021. According to bgr.com, Volvo is calling it ‘Highway Assist,’ and it sounds a great deal like Tesla’s Autopilot…only with Volvo’s legendary attention to safety detail. Volvo Senior VP Henrik Green says you will be able to ‘eat, sleep, work, watch a movie, relax, do whatever’ with the Volvo Highway Assist in operation. Note it will only work on appropriate roads that have been mapped out…basically highways and freeways.


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.


Microsoft Plans Cheaper iPad Rival; Apple Vein Face Scan; New Whole Foods Discount for Prime Members

Microsoft is gearing up to release a line of lower cost Surface tablets by later this year that would compete with the hot selling cheaper iPad. Bloomberg.com reports that the last (somewhat) cheaper Surface kind of bombed at $499 back in 2012, but the pricey Pro has sold well. Of course the cheaper iPad is just over $300, so that may be a sweet spot. The cheaper Surface would have a 10 inch screen…just above the 9.7 inch size of the iPad. It is expected to sell for $400, will have USB-C, and be lighter than present Surface tablets. That comes at the cost of battery life…only 4 hours! The Surface Pro can make 13.5 hours on a charge. Again look for these the 2nd half of the year.

As if Apple’s Face ID and the fact that Ticketmaster is testing out facial recognition for concert admission wasn’t enough, now Apple may be going deeper…literally. According to appleinsider.com, Apple is are looking at taking biometrics to the next level…scanning the veins in a user’s face! In a patent just published called ‘Vein imaging using detection of pulsed radiation,’ Apple can scan the blood vessel patterns below the skin in your face. They claim it can even tell identical twins apart. By the way, ‘radiation’ is relative…you won’t glow in the dark…it’s from infrared light, not radioactive material! As with all Apple patents, this may or may not make it into a phone.

In an effort to build business, Amazon has dangled two new discounts for Prime members at Whole Foods. Arstechnica.com says one is an additional 10% off sale items, and another is ‘deep discounts’ on select best-selling items (or what grocers have called ‘loss leaders’ for decades.’) The deep discounts at Whole Foods will include meat and fish, however. The first deep discount items include organic strawberries, wild-caught halibut, cold brew coffee, and granola.


Next iPhones-Smaller Then No Notches; Amazon Expands Discounted Prime; Cam Makers Partner for Easier Smartcams; Brits Refine Laws for Self-Driving Cars

The latest word, which comes from Korea’s ET News by way of macrumors.com, is that the next iPhones will have a notably smaller notch for the TrueDepth camera system. This will apparently be true for all 3 models expected in the fall. In addition to that, a sketchier rumor says Apple will be able to ditch the notch entirely in 2019!

Amazon already discounts Prime for people with an EBT card to $5.99 a month, instead of $12.99. Now, according to geekwire.com, they will expand this program to people on Medicaid, too. Users will still get free 2 day shipping, Prime Video, etc. Amazon says they plan to add other ways for people on assistance to qualify for the discount moving forward. The 2 day delivery for people on Medicaid is especially interesting since Amazon is looking to get into the prescription business.

Smartcams can bee cool to have for checking on kids, pets, or just for home security, but some can be a pain to set up, and even more so to get to work with other kinds, and with various systems. Now, Sony, Nikon, iPhone maker Foxconn, as well as others, are working together to make it possible for you to monitor video streams from different cams through a unified interface. Thenextweb.com reports that the makers are devising a specification called NICE so the footage from various cams can be split into scenes, indexed, made searchable and scannable in thumbnails, and more easily stashed in cloud storage. If all works out, there should be NICE cams and related products on the market by 2019.

Self-driving cars are gearing up to hit the roads, and like in the US, the Brits are trying to get things ready. Techcrunch.com says regulators in the United Kingdom are shooting for 2021 as the year driverless cars without a safety operator can be rolling on the roads there. A number of issues have to be worked out, including who is the responsible party if there’s no driver, and how to allocate civil and criminal responsibility where there is shared control through some human-machine interface. If things go as planned, car makers may not have to worry one day about building right hand drive cars for the UK and a number of former British colonies that still drive on the left side of the road.


iPad Refresh Imminent; New Air Pods; Whole Foods Break for Amazon Prime Shoppers; 5G Coming to Intel Laptops

A reliable tip-off that Apple is about to release new devices has popped up. Macrumors.com says Cupertino has registered new tablets with the Eurasian Economic Commission. This points to new iPads in just weeks. Most prognosticators are looking for a refresh of the current lower cost 9.7 inch iPad, and then either a cheaper yet version of it, or possibly an iPad Mini, which hasn’t gotten updated in a while. It’s thought that the updated iPad Pro with FaceID will bow at WWDC in June. Apple has dropped either an iPad or other new piece of hardware in March every year for the last 4 years.

While we’re in the Apple orchard, plucking rumors from the trees, there’s also one from Bloomberg that Apple is working on new models of AirPods. Apple is apparently developing a new wireless chip that helps better manage Bluetooth connections. An expected feature is a touch less Siri model…the present ones require a press in order to activate the Apple assistant, but a new model may allow for a voice only command of ‘Hey Siri’ to give total hands free use to people wanting to access the feature. A water resistant design is also thought to be in the works for at least one model of new Air Pods.

Amazon has added another perk for Amazon Prime. According to bgr.com, Prime members with an Amazon Rewards Visa card will now get 5% back on Whole Foods purchases, in addition to the 5% back on amazon.com purchases. Most such programs don’t offer as high as 5%, and almost all others restrict purchases, so having it available on all of Amazon and Whole Foods could really add up fast.

We just covered the 1st 3 cities that AT&T will wire for 5G service later this year. Now, word comes from reuters.com that Intel’s upcoming XMM 8000 modem chips will power laptops with 5G connectivity starting in the 2nd half of 2019. Blazing fast, always-connected internet could be a killer feature to push a lot more people into trading for a new laptop!


Amazon Prime Shipped 5 Billion; Apple’s iPhone Battery Replacement; Germany Enforcing Social Media Hate Speech Law; Yes-Robocalls Have Gotten Worse; Wireless Android Auto Coming

Order lots or stuff with free shipping using Amazon Prime? Yeah, you and everyone else. According to techcrunch.com Amazon shipped over 5 billion items with Prime in 2017. We don’t know how much growth this shows, as they’ve never released numbers before, but 5 billion is a staggering number! A third party estimate from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners has 63% of all Amazon customers as Prime members, though, and calculates that there are 90 million Prime members just in the US!

You probably heard the flap over the holidays about Apple using software to slow down older iPhones to conserve dying batteries…and not telling anyone, and hence, the uproar. Apple last week issued a rare apology, and dropped the price of replacement batteries from $79 to $29…available right now in limited quantities. The replacement applies to ‘anyone with an iPhone 6 or newer whose battery needs to be replaced.’ In the rush, Apple didn’t note what happened if the phone fails an official Genius Bar diagnostic test. Now, macrumors.com reports that Apple will replace the batteries at their stores even if the phone doesn’t flunk the Genius Bar test! How about phones older than iPhone 6? Basically…you’re screwed….you’ll have to pay the $79 bucks.

Germany has waded into the arena of hate speech, fake news, and illegal material on social media. BBC.com says they are now starting enforcement of a law banning such content. If the content isn’t removed within 24 hours after the social media company is notified, the fine is up to 50 million Euro…or about $60 million bucks! That MIGHT get their attention. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will be the law’s main focus but it is also likely to be applied to Reddit, Tumblr and Russian social network VK. Other sites such as Vimeo and Flickr could also be caught up in the dragnet.

If it seems like you’ve been getting more robocalls…you are. According to theverge.com, a recent FTC report shows they have quintupled since 2009! The agency has gotten 375,000 complaints a month in 2017, compared to 63,000 a month in 2009. One reason is cheap access to internet calling services and autodialing. Now, there is vastly more neighborhood or area number spoofing, with the calls really calling from almost anywhere in the world. The do not call registry and blocking tools from phone companies and phone makers MAY have helped, but aren’t remotely keeping up with the problem.

Lots of cool things will be rolled out at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show. 9to5google.com says one will be wireless Android Auto. JVC/Kenwood will show off an Android Auto screen that doesn’t have to be plugged into your USB port, but runs over the Bluetooth. There was already such a device for Apple CarPlay rolled out by Alpine a few months ago. They use a 6.8 inch screen, and will sell under the JVC and Kenwood brands. It’s expected that they will also be bringing out an Apple CarPlay compatible version later on. Let’s hope they are easily detachable and can be hidden in trunks, for break-in prone cities like San Francisco!