Fire TV Cube Gets Alexa; Lyft Redesigns App; Waymo Passes Big Milestone; Instagram Long Form Video

Amazon has announced the Fire TV Cube. It’s a set top box with all the usual suspects: Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, HBO Go, Sling, And Amazon Prime Video. It also features Alexa…which Engadget.com notes was already available in the Stick and Fire TV box…but the Cube has full-featured Alexa. You can access thousands of third party ‘skills’ on the Cube just like an Echo. The Cube had eight built-in microphones, and can turn on your TV, sound system, cable box. Amazon demoed it by saying ‘Alexa…I’m home,’ and it turned on the entire home theatre system, and brought up the lights in the room. It supports cable boxes from Comcast as well as Dish and DirecTV. There is an IR extension cable for the cable box so the Cube can turn it on and off when the gadgets aren’t line of sight. It ships June 21st for $119. ***UPDATE*** Prime members can preorder and save $30 for a limited time!

Lyft is updating its app for the 1st time in 3 years, and putting more emphasis on shared rides and public transit. Theverge.com reports that it should roll out to everyone by the end of the month. A few changes include Lift Line being rebranded ‘Shared Rides’ and giving that feature a more prominent place in the app. Lyft says it wants shared rides to be 50% of its business by 2020, and has promised to lower its carbon footprint. The updated app will be customized based on a riders’ preferred services and locations. The algorithm considers account fare price, trip time, and more to present the most efficient ride for users, whether a solo rider or shared ride. There is a tweak that encourages riders to get picked up on side streets…which has been piloted in San Francisco (on Valencia Street), and Lyft got 20,000 riders to divert to side street pickup.

Now, more than ever, there’s Google’s Waymo and everyone else when it comes to self-driving cars. According to arstechnica.com, Waymo hit 7 million self-driven miles this week. For reference, they just announced that they had passed up 6 million less than a month ago! Waymo plans to launch commercial driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area before the end of the year.

Instagram is adding support for video of up to an hour in length, with the long form video hub designed to compete with YouTube and Snapchat Discover. According to 9to5google.com, all the videos will be in vertical orientation and 4K resolution. The company has been reportedly meeting with social media stars and content publishers in prep for launching the feature, which is planned for June 20th. No details have gotten out on monetization, but Instagram apparently intends to let creators and publishers earn money from the longer form videos.

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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.


UberEATS Going Live in 10 Cities; More On iOS Nightshift and New Music Memos App; GM Launches Ridesharing Business

If you’re really wanting carry out, but don’t want to get out, and don’t want a pizza, there have been limited options. Uber has been testing UberEATS, where they’ve partnered with restaurants to deliver food to your door. According to thenextweb.com, UberEATS will go live in March in LA, Dallas, Seattle, Chicago, NY, Austin, Washington, D.C., Houston, San Francisco, and Atlanta. The test service has been lunch only, but in March, you’ll be able to order breakfast, lunch, or dinner delivered.

Nightshift, the new feature coming to iOS that dims the blue portion of screens evenings so users don’t disrupt their sleep so much, may be available on the Control Center pull up. Macrumors.com says it has showed up on Apple Canada’s iOS 9.3 preview page there. It may not fit on the smaller iPhone screens, but there’s room on the Plus models and iPads. Apple also rolled out a nice companion app to GarageBand. Music Memos lets musicians and songwriters record, analyze, and manipulate uncompressed audio on iPhones and iPads. You can also overlay the tracks with added bass and drums…it calculates the correct tempo and chords. GarageBand has added Live Loops, a visual feature to help in loop creation, and gesture controlled DJ type effects.

Just days ago, we reported that General Motors quietly bought defunct ride sharing business Sidecar, and previously had put $500 million into Lyft. Now, detroitnews.com reports that GM has launched Maven, a car sharing brand, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The citywide service-something like Zipcar- features GM vehicles in 21 spots around the city a person can rent for as low as $6 and hour. Although the auto maker sees private car ownership continuing for some time, they note that 5 to 6 million people right now already use transportation sharing services. The cars are equipped with 4G wireless internet, and sync smartphones with Apple Pay and Android Auto while the owner uses the GM shared vehicle. Price includes insurance and fuel.


Apple Investigates Li-Fi for Mobile Devices; GM Quietly Buys Sidecar

Not long ago, we reported on Li-Fi, and how it could use light to replace Wi-Fi, only with much more speed and bandwidth. Now, thenextweb.com has found a reference to Li-Fi compatability in Apple’s iOS 9 code and iOS 9.1 firmware. This, along with an Apple patent dug up from 2013 that appears to be a Li-Fi transmitter point to Cupertino baking it in to iOS devices. Don’t look for it by the iPhone 7, though…the infrastructure doesn’t even exist yet…no one’s built a Li-Fi router, for example.

Recently, General Motors dropped $500 million into Uber rival Lyft. The plot thickens, and now it’s been revealed that they have quietly purchased failed rival Sidecar for $30 million. Most of the employees are moving over to GM. It looks like their plans to build autonomous vehicles specifically for ride sharing are heating up. Ford and Mercedes are also working on similar projects. Uber has lots of valuation and a head start, but it looks like the car makers are getting serious about not going the way of the buggy whip.