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.

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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!


Amazon Doorbell To Let Delivery People in Once; Amazon Prime ‘Really Valuable’ to Whole Foods Shoppers; Google Mini Bug Left Mics On; Movie Studios Band Together For Easier Film Downloads

The battle of grocery home delivery has heated up, with Amazon matching Walmart with in home, right to the fridge deliveries. Amazon, however, may have an ace up its sleeve…theverge.com says they are working on a smart doorbell device that could allow delivery drivers one-time access to enter a home and drop off a package or groceries to the fridge! Amazon has been talking to Phrame, which makes smart license plate frames that secure an emergency key.

If, like a lot of people, grocery shopping means running to the store, Amazon is also touting Prime membership further…according to geekwire.com, Amazon is promising to make Prime membership ‘really valuable’ to Whole Foods shoppers, essentially making Amazon Prime the customer rewards program at Whole Foods. Amazon says that so far, the merger is going well enough they are thinking about shutting down their own grocery services and doing everything through the Whole Foods subsidiary.

Google is working on a fix for the Google Home Mini. Some of the pre-production ones don’t wait for you to address them….they have been listening and recording every word. 9to5google.com says it’s because the devices think they are getting a touch to activate. They have put out a patch to make them respond only to the verbal ‘OK Google’ command, and are working on a fix for the hardware gesture.

In a move that’s amazing for Hollywood, Disney, Fox, Warner, & Universal may team up on downloadable movies. Engadget.com reports that they have signed up to make flicks available through Disney’s new film service. The studios hope people will just buy more movies directly through the service instead of going through iTunes, Amazon, etc. to get links to download. It isn’t known if the studios will continue to support Ultraviolet to provide cross platform links.


Samsung Has ‘Walk Mode’; Amazon Prime Day; iPhone’s Birthday

While Apple appears ready to bake in an option to iOS 11 that blocks texting and the like while you are driving, Samsung is out with another needed feature, and you can download it as an app from the Play Store right now. 9to5google.com says Walk Mode will sense when there’s danger in front of you, and tell you to look up from your screen! With all the ‘smartphone zombies’ walking around cities, Samsung says it runs in the background, and pops up an overlay to warn you of walls, tripping hazards, or…oh yeah, OTHER HUMANS you might walk into! The initial version is a bit buggy….seeing phantom things, and sometimes blocking the phone from being used while moving. Let’s see if version 2.0 addresses these.

Ok, power shoppers, it’s official. Amazon has announced Prime Day 2017. It’s July 11th, and according to bgr.com, it will last 30 hours…because Amazon knows we can’t possibly buy enough bargains in 24! As usual, it’s for Prime members only, and Amazon always gets a lot of sign ups…even just for the 30 day free trial. Besides the 30 hours of fevered keyboarding to buy lots of stuff, Amazon will again feature promotions leading up to the 11th. July 5th, it’s Alexa voice shopping, the 6th is for Amazon Music, on the 7th, Amazon Video, the 8th is for Everyday Essentials, and the 9th, Amazon Reading. The 10th is when they will actually start Prime day at 6pm Pacific time.

Finally, Happy Birthday iPhone, and actually all smartphones. Macrumors.com reminds us that it was 10 years ago today that Steve Jobs revealed the iconic iPhone that has literally changed the world, putting a touch screen computer in pockets and purses everywhere. Having been one of those early adapters, I can remember that the original one really didn’t do much compared to modern models. Here’s a couple of numbers though…by October 2008, Apple had sold 10 million iPhones. As of now, they have sold over a billion…it’s like McDonald’s hamburgers, only way more expensive and fragile! Happy Birthday, iPhone!


Affordable Amazon Prime for Folks on Assistance; Google Maps Shows Local Pollution; Crowd Cow Sustainable Beef-Because Crowd Cow

Amazon has rolled out a Prime program for folks on government assistance, like food stamps. The online giant apparently doesn’t want to leave a single market untapped! Techcrunch.com says the program is available to any customer with a valid EBT card, and it cuts the price of Prime membership from $10.99 a month to $5.99 a month. The card can only be used to get the discount, Amazon isn’t accepting payment for the Prime fee or for items purchased via EBT cards. The membership comes with all the other parts of Prime…streaming video and music, free photo storage, the Kindle lending library, etc. At the other end of the spectrum, more than 70% of households with over $112,000 a year income already have prime.

Google Maps just keeps adding things to make it better and better. Now, here’s a feature that may make you want to avoid an area…and maybe freak you out about your own. According to zdnet.com, they are adding a block-by-block map of air pollution levels. Google has used sensor equipped vehicles, and also uses available data, like from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which has 15 lager sensors in the San Francisco Bay Area. Google has completed Oakland, and is planning on data for 25 of the largest US urban areas, covering a third of the US population.

Ok, I admit this one is all about the name….Crowd Cow made it irresistible. Geekwire.com is reporting that the Seattle based startup which delivers sustainably raised beef is now going nationwide. Crowd Cow works with independent ranches and cuts out the middleman to bring quality beef direct to consumers. Ranches in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania will ship their cattle to USGA processors to get the meat “cut and wrapped. It will then be shipped from the Lancaster, PA facility where Crowd Cow does the packaging with dry ice, etc. Delivery will be available to the lower 48 states. If you want to get on their wait list for beef deliveries, get ‘mooving.’