$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.

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T-Mobile & Sprint to Merge; Twitter Also Sold Data to Cambridge Analytica; Siri Mother-Effing Glitch; Fitbit To Use Google Cloud Healthcare API; Dating Apps Employ Paid Impersonators

It’s been a while in the making, but over the weekend, T-Mobile & Sprint announced their $146 billion merger. The companies are crowing about how the combination will bring the only company with the network capacity to launch a nationwide 5G network, according to bgr.com. The merged company will keep the T-Mobile name, and John Legere insists they will stay ‘magenta.’ Legare will be the CEO, and they will remain in Bellevue, WA but keep a second headquarters in Overland Park, KS, the present home of Sprint.

Twitter confirmed Saturday that Dr. Kogan, who supplied data from Facebook to Cambridge Analytica, also bought a one-time API that gained access to a random sample of public Tweets over a 5 month period. In a Bloomberg report picked up by techcrunch.com, Twitter claims that the company didn’t find any access to private data about people who use Twitter. The net is, Cambridge would have been unable to get the treasure trove of personal data from Twitter it got from Facebook, but after an investigation, Twitter has decided to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica.

Another embarrassing glitch has popped up involving Apple’s Siri. Arstechnica.com reports that if you ask it to ‘define the word mother,’ then wait for the assistant to offer an additional definition and say yes, Siri will offer ‘As a noun, it means short for “motherf**ker.” ‘ Be careful trying this out in public…

Fitbit has announced that it is partnering with Google to use their new Cloud Healthcare API to help you and your doctors to manage your healthcare better. Cnet.com says the deal will eventually let users connect results from Fitbit wearables to your electronic medical records. The deal will help Fitbit stay in the game with the likes of Apple Watch, which has the CareKit and ResearchKit platforms to manage medical conditions.

If you use a dating app, you could have flirted with a paid impersonator called a ‘closer.’ According to quartz, there are people who do this for prospective daters that find it to much work or too tedious to do the actual online flirting! One paid impersonator said the makes a screaming $1.75 for every phone number he gets, and the service…which spans a number of dating sites…has quite an extensive training program. If you are too lazy or too clueless to do the online flirting youself, check out ViDA….and good luck when you meet someone in person, and can’t flirt in real life, either!


Next Samsung Phone Further into Phablet Range; Alphabet Coins Money in Q1 & Adds Employees; iPhone X Users Love Everything-But One; 27 Pages of Facebook No-Nos

It looks like Samsung’s successor to the Galaxy S9 will be going big…bigger than the LCD third iPhone Apple plans for this fall. According to the dailymail.com, it will sport a bigger 6.3 inch super AMOLED screen (the bigger Apple phone is slated to be 6.1 inch, and LED…while the iPhone X successor will be 5.8 inch.) The present Galaxy S9 has a 6.2 inch screen. Also expect a 12 MP camera which will move to the left of the handset’s back like iPhone, faster processor, and that 6.3 inch screen should go edge to edge…but WON’T be curved, according to rumors!

Google parent Alphabet blew past expectations, with first quarter revenues of over 31 billion…that’s up a whopping 26% from first quarter last year. 9to5google.com says the company also hired on another 5,000 employees, and now exceeds 85,000. This is in great part a one time event, as Google brought on board about 2000 engineers in Taiwan from smartphone maker HTC. Google has been hiring 2-3000 employees per quarter since 2017, though.

Early adapters of the iPhone X in the US adore their phones…Creative Strategies found that it has a 97% satisfaction rate. There’s only one thing they don’t like, according to macrumors.com…Siri. The miserably executed voice assistant just had a 20% satisfaction rate! Maybe the AI wizard Apple wooed from Google can fix the mess that is Siri. Just yesterday, a friend was texting me…she dictates to Siri. Most of the garbled things, I was able to figure out from the context, but one paragraph was absolute gibberish! The friend immediately clarified…laboriously with the virtual keyboard. Come on, Apple…fix this mess!

It’s always been kind of like black magic, trying to figure out what facebook won’t allow to be posted…but now it’s clearer. Bgr.com reports that the social network has published 27…count ‘em…pages of Community Standards that have been used in their internal moderation policies. Want to be edgy, or wonder why your hate speech or bullying wouldn’t post…check out the document. Facebook has also unveiled an appeals process. Facebook claims the appeal reviews are done by an actual person, and usually within 24 hours.


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!


iOS 12-Better QC & FaceTime Emoji; Apple Watch is So Number 1; Government Sites Mining Cryptocoin; Facebook Patents Social Class Tracking Tech

A relatively long time ago, Apple used to release OS updates that were pretty bulletproof. Of late…not quite so much. Now, according to macrumors.com, Cupertino is going to get back to a less concrete update release schedule and focus on quality more with iOS 12. This probably means more of a 2 year update cycle for iOS and the MacOS, instead of yearly. You can expect deeper Siri integration into iPhone searches, and a better Do Not Disturb feature, as well as Animoji on FaceTime…but all only if the engineers say the OS is ready, NOT because of an ironclad marketing release schedule!

There has been plenty of reporting on what a dud the Apple Watch has been. Well, guess what, kids? It’s all BAD reporting. Businessinsider.com reports that last quarter, Apple sold more watches than Swatch, Rolex, Omega, and all the rest of Swiss watch brands combined! The data came from industry researcher Canalys and IDC, and also publicly released shipment stats from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Apple apparently sold 8 million Apple Watches in the final quarter of 2017. Obviously, Rolex isn’t a high sales brand, but Swatch is, and they sell for about $180, comparable with the price of some of the Apple Watch line. As far as other smartwatches from Samsung and Google…they don’t even register!

Lots of people are trying to get into mining cryptocurrency, and they appear to have enlisted some government websites in that endeavor. Thenextweb.com says a security researcher has found that thousands of otherwise legit websites have had crypto mining scripts injected into them, which has let miners use unwitting folks’ computers to mine coin for them. Sites that were infected include those of the state of Indiana and also the US court system! Apparently, someone tainted the BrowseAloud software, which is embedded in those sites to allow accessibility services. The good news is, the hack was discovered within 24 hours, and the makers of BrowseAloud are working to squash the hack.

As if social media didn’t already know enough about all of us, Facebook has patented tech to determine users class without even knowing their income. The software can divide us up into ‘working class,’ ‘middle class,’ or ‘upper class’ using a variety of data sources and qualifiers, according to engadget.com. Facebook says the algorithm is intended for use by “third parties to increase awareness about products or services to online system users.” Examples given include corporations and charities. It remains to be seen how accurate it will be…apparently, their idea of middle class is a home owner in pricey Palo Alto. Own a home in San Jose, CA? Oh…you’re working class. WHAT? Million dollar working class houses? With an algorithm like this, probably 90% of us are ‘the poors,’ by Facebook standards!


HomePod Sounds Great, Siri Sucks; Pixel 2 Visual Core Works With Apps; France Bans Handheld Smartphone Use in Cars; Military-Self Driving Vehicles & Auto Weapons

A number of reviews are out for Apple’s HomePod. According to 9to5mac.com (as I am way too small potatoes to have actually gotten a review unit), reviewers are pretty universally impressed with the HomePod’s great sound. On the other hand, they hate the stupidity of Siri compared to Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. The semi-smart speaker also gets knocks for being a closed system (like Apple would ever make it otherwise!) It won’t work with Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, etc. If you have all your music on Apple’s system, and love great sound with tight, loud, punchy bass and crisp highs, that sounds good anywhere in the room, by all means…go for it.

Google’s Pixel 2 had gotten accolades from it’s great camera app. The pix are just great on its proprietary processor Now, techcrunch.com says Google is opening up that tech to third party apps. As of today, it will work on Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Snapchat if you update the software. That software is showing up as part of the monthly software update today…although it may take a day or two to get to you…your mileage may vary.

Love ‘em…hate ‘em, it’s often fun to pick on the French. Now, they’ve done something that may have their own citizens up in arms. 9to5google.com reports that France has banned hand held smartphone use in cars…EVEN if the car is sitting still with the engine off! Apparently, France changed their legal definition of driving to include everything except being parked off-road or in a designated parking spot! The fine is 135 Euros, and points on your license, same as if you were motoring down the road doing it. I suspect the French may invent a new hand sign to display in protest of this!

Welcome to the future and our new, robotic overlords! The military is now testing autonomous vehicles equipped with robotic weapons systems! According to zdnet.com, the Army has announced ‘Wingman,’ and they have successfully destroyed targets from a self-driving Hummer with an autonomous 7.62mm weapon system. The Army claims that, for the foreseeable future, there will always be a human soldier in the loop, making the decisions.


Facebook Working On Voice Assistant; Waymo Focuses on Ride-Sharing & Big Rigs; Apple’s Face ID Only Does One Face at Launch

Facebook always has a number of things going on under the radar, and now businessinsider.com says one of those is a voice assistant much like Siri or Alexa. Code was spotted by a developer in a prior mobile app that indicates the assistant would be capable of making suggestions and finding basic information like scores or times of ball games. Facebook said they weren’t working on such a feature ‘right now’ earlier this year, but BI has learned that they are doing so in their secretive Building 8. The voice is code named Aloha, and Facebook is shooting for rolling it out in May 2018.

Waymo’s CEO confirmed in an interview at a Bloomberg conference that the Google subsidiary is focusing…at least initially…on ride sharing and trucking. 9to5google.com reports that CEO John Krafcik said ‘there’s a good and compelling use-case’ for ‘goods transportation,’ in other words, self-driving trucks. The ride-sharing is well underway with the fleet of Chrysler minivans that begun a public trial in Phoenix earlier this year. Also bearing down on the trucking sector….Tesla. Elon Musk announced that they will reveal their electric big rig October 25th.

According to multiple people who spoke to Apple at the rollout Tuesday, Face ID on the new iPhone X will only support one registered face per device…at least at first. According to techrunch.com, which also confirmed this separately, this could limit letting a loved one have that type of access to your phone. The iPhone Touch ID can store up to 5 fingerprints. The fix for now…or even always…is to merely give your loved one your passcode. Presumably Apple will make allowances for additional faces as Face ID expands to iPads and laptops, as those are even more likely to be shared by family members.