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.

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iPhone Rollout Date; Google Pixel Reveal Date; Samsung’s Echo to the Echo

The highly anticipated (and even more highly hyped) iPhone 8 will roll out on September 12th. Techcrunch.com reports that the date was confirmed by rooting around with the telecom companies and finding that Apple plans a press event for that date. If the usual format since 2012 is followed, the phone should be on sale a week later on September 22nd. Multiple sources have cautioned that the iPhone 8 will be in extremely tight supply until close to the holidays.It’s expected that the upgraded Apple Watch 3 will drop with the iPhone, and of course the next version of the OS, iOS 11.

Google will unveil the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2XL on October 5th, according to android police.com. The next gen phones will be powered by Snapdragon 836 chips. All rumors point to the XL just being a larger version of the 2. Both will have 4 gigs of RAM, dual front facing speakers, an always on display, and as we noted earlier, the feature Mr Whipple of Charmin would love, a squeezable frame to relay commands to the phone.

In a MSNBC interview, Samsung’s mobile division boss confirmed that they are working on a smart speaker…something previously defined. Engadget.com says it will be announced ‘soon,’ but probably not by next week’s IFA show. A smart speaker is a logical next move, since Samsung just expanded their Bixby voice assistant to over 200 countries this week. It’s expected that Bixby will be the ‘star feature’ of the Samsung smart feature.


Facebook Working on Smart Speaker & Picks up Content Creator Pay Startup; Google Adds Real-Time SOS for Search and Maps; 11 More Smartphones Will be Daydream VR Compatible; Prescription Video Games Coming

Last week, we heard that Samsung was abandoning plans to make a smart speaker…a market dominated by Amazon and with Google in it and Apple planning a Christmas release of the HomePod. Now, businessinsider.com says Facebook is working on a smart speaker similar to Amazon’s that will bow in 2018. It will feature a 15 inch touchscreen, is being designed by Facebook, and will be built for them by Pegatron.

The social giant has picked up a startup which will help it crack down on users that share pirated videos and other content without permission. According to recode.net, it’s Source3. Facebook already has had Rights Manager for a couple years. It’s similar to YouTube’s Content ID. Facebook has wanted to host lots more professional video, but publishers are reluctant to provide them when they think they won’t be paid.

Google is launching a new feature called SOS Alerts, that will work with Search and Maps. Thenextweb.com reports that it’s designed to keep users safe, and will feature emergency hotlines and websites, and even translations of useful phrases. They are partnering with Red Cross and FEMA to help with keeping users abreast of emergency situations and providing safety info to them.

Of course, you may be a bit dialed out of the reality of an emergency if you are wearing a VR headset, but that’s the wave of the future. Google says it’s adding 11 more Daydream VR compatible phones by the end of this year. Pixel, Moto Z, and others are already compatible, according to 9to5google.com, but Huawei and Samsung will join the party, as well as HTC.

Hey, Doc, I need to play more video games…will you write me a prescription? Actually, so-called ‘brain training’ games have been out there, but not without controversy. Some say they really don’t work or work much. Now, theverge.com says a company called Akili is partnering with UCSF’s Neuroscape lab to develop a mobile game called Project:EVO. They aim to get it up to speed for FDA approval to be used to treat kids with ADHD! Clinical trials have already started. It’s not a sure thing, but prescription video games could actually be coming!


Apple’s Siri Speaker in Production; Skype Gets Major Makeover With ‘Me Too’ Features

Apple’s smart speaker, powered by Siri, is apparently in production and will be showed off at WWDC, according to bloomberg.com. In an effort to outshine Amazon and Google offerings, it will feature virtual surround sound, be louder and reproduce sound more ‘crisply’ than others, and (of course) have deep integration with other Apple products. It will also serve as a hub for Apple HomeKit connected devices. The device will be built by the Taiwanese company Inventec, which produces AirPods for Apple. It is expected to be out later this year.

Microsoft is giving Skype yet another makeover, but this one is much more than a fresh coat of paint. The latest iteration takes on the look of Snapchat. Theverge.com reports that although Skype has done well for video and audio calls, it hasn’t made much of a dent in Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, iMessage, or Snapchat….and messaging is where the growth in conversations live. The new interface includes 3 sections in a conversation: find, chat, and capture. Chat is what is sounds like, but the other two allow you to search a convo, or find images, restaurants, or content to drop into a message. Capture is where Microsoft has added the Snapchat like capabilities….the cam opens so you can shoot pics or video, then you can add stickers, text, or annotate the shot. There’s also a Highlights feature so friends can stream pics and videos of yours and react with emoji.


More Cortana Driven Smart Speakers; Waymo Logs Millions of Miles; Apple Buys Sleep Tracker; iPhone 8 Leaked CAD Drawings

Earlier this week, Harman Kardon unveiled Invoke, their Cortana powered Amazon Echo competitor. Now, techcrunch.com says HP is also jumping into the smart speaker market. Instead of following their rather successful Surface marketing effort of rolling their own, Microsoft seems to be using the formerly wildly successful PC model of licensing to numerous makers. The speakers will reportedly use Skype for calling. The Amazon Alexa device can take and make calls, and Apple’s is expected to as well.

Waymo, the self-driving car people from Alphabet/Google, says they have now logged 3 million miles on public roads. According to 9to5google.com, a million of those self-driven miles have been in the last 7 months! In March, Waymo greatly expanded their fleet with 500 Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Apple has bought Beddit, a company that tracks sleep. According to business insider.com, they make a $150 sleep monitoring pad that goes between the sheets. The monitor tracks a person’s heart rate, awake time, and snoring, then the companion app calculates a ‘sleep score’ and can wake users at an ‘optimal’ time with a smart alarm. The page linked to the Watch App Store is gone from their website, but the app is still live there as of today.

Some CAD drawings have leaked out from a manufacturer of the upcoming iPhone 8. 9to5mac.com says that these show no fingerprint sensor on the back, but do depict the all glass front and back with stainless steel edges and the vertical dual cams on the back. The phone appears to be thicker than the current iPhone 7 and Plus. It’s still possible the 8 will have an ugly and clumsy fingerprint sensor on the back like the Samsung Galaxy S8, but we probably won’t know that until Fall.


Apple Echo-Type Smart Speaker Coming; Galaxy S8 Random Reboots; Samsung Approved for Testing Self-Driving Cars in Korea

There are now two sources saying Apple will make a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google’s speaker. Bgr.com reports that now KGI Securities says they will launch a ‘Siri Speaker’ at WWDC in June. No word on the cost (don’t think cheap), but it’s expected to hit stores and the web in the second half of the year. It will reportedly have 7 tweeters and a subwoofer, which should give it great sound. It will use some type of Beats tech and run a version of iOS.

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 had record preorders, but as it gets to peoples’ hands, there’s word that some are having random reboots. 9to5google.com reports there’s quite a thread about this on Samsung’s forums. It can happen when in use, or just sitting around. The phone does fully reboot, and it appears it may be related to an SD card issue, as removing the SD card seems to fix the problem until Samsung rolls out a software patch.

Speaking of Samsung…for those of you who thought they only made phones and TVs, etc, the Korean giant is now approved to test self-driving cars on roads in Korea. According to techcrunch.com, Hyundai has been at it for about a year now, so Samsung will be playing catch up to an extent. Samsung started as a trading company, and has interests in shipping, insurance, and more. The Korean approval allows for operating without steering wheels or pedals, which is also part of proposed new regulations in California and which Michigan already allows.