Smartphone Sales Contract; Vicis Extends High Tech Helmet Expertise to Military; Comcast Mesh WiFi Extenders Launched; Starbucks-More Mobile Payments than Apple or Google

Smartphone sales dropped overall by 11% year over year first quarter according to counterpointresearch.com. There were 38.7 million sold, the first time in 3 years that number was under 40 million in a quarter. Prepaid phones dropped, most likely due to a ramp-down of government subsidized ‘lifeline’ programs. Apple was actually up 16% in the quarter. Apple seems to be selling less at introduction, but steadier through the year. Samsung was down 4% year over year. Google Pixel 2 sales were solid during the promo period on Verizon. Apple held the top 5 slots first quarter plus #7, with Samsung taking #6, #8, and #9. Motorola…remember them? They squeaked in with #10.

Vicis has made a deal with the US Army to bring their high tech helmet expertise honed in footballl helmets to military ones. According to geekwire.com, they will be working to improve the safety of both Army and Marine combat helmets. Vicis already sells to all 32 NFL teams, 90 NCAA teams, and over 500 high schools.

If you have a larger home, or one with multiple stories, good for you. Sometimes, not so good for WiFi reception. Now, theverge.com reports that Comcast has rolled out Xfinity xFi Pods…mesh WiFi pods to cover dead zones in houses. The little plug in pods were supposed to be out last year, but were delayed. Comcast has 3 packs for $119 and 6 packs for $199, plus shipping.

By the end of this year, almost a quarter of US smartphone users…some 55 million people…will make an in-store mobile payment. It might be a bit of a surprise…or not, but recode.net says Starbucks mobile payment app beats Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay! Starbucks notches some 30 million, with Apple Pay at just under 28 billion. Google Pay has about 13 million users so far, and Samsung Pay around 11 million, all according to eMarketer.

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Offline Gmail Support Rolls Out; Warrantless Cellphone Tracking; Apple v Samsung, Round 3; Amazon Go to San Francisco

The offline Gmail support for search, archive, and compose is rolling out on the web. the feature was promised at Google I/O. Up to now, Gmail over the web had offline capability via the Gmail Offline Chrome app. Google recommends you uninstall the app, as the functionality is not built right into the web app. When you reconnect with the web, your changes will synch up automatically. You’ll need chrome 61 or better to use the feature. Just go to settings and hit the Offline tab, then ‘enable offline mail.’ The default stores 30 days of messages, but you can select 7 or 90 days.

As if there wasn’t enough to worry about over lack of privacy…now, it turns out that a company which mainly works with prison phone systems has leveraged a data-sharing service offered by phone carriers that allows police to track any cellphone number, with no legal checks…like a warrant…to keep the practice from being abused. The New York Times says the company is called Serurus, and they an another company are making available data the phone carriers already offer to marketers to police agencies…basically uncontrolled access to nationwide location tracking. Senator Ron Wyden has already written to the FCC and the carriers, asking them to tighten these disclosures up.

Facebook is apparently working behind the scenes, to try to make up for the Cambridge Analytica debacle. They have now suspended over 200 suspicious apps, and have reviewed ‘thousands so far,’ in the audit promised by Mark Zuckerberg, according to techcrunch.com. The social network has not released the names or info on those apps so far, and says in some cases, apps will be reinstated after reviews, interviews, and even some on-site inspections of the makers. Apparently, apps that don’t agree to the through audit are banned outright. Apps that have grabbed data will be listed on https://www.facebook.com/help/yourinfo, if you want to check whether or not one has gotten your data.

It’s the third trial in 8 years in Silicon Valley for Apple and Samsung over smartphone intellectual property. This one is centered around the $500 million judgment Apple got in the last one.
The judge is the same one who heard both the previous trials. The jury will have to interpret a completely new (and extremely vague) test that came out of the US Supreme Court appeal of this case. The outcome could well re-write US patent law, in a way that could greatly affect makers of complex products such as electronics or electric cars.

Amazon Go appears to be coming to San Francisco. The Chronicle reports that they have their eyes on a site around Post and Kearny near Union Square. Amazon Go is the ‘frictionless’ shopping experience, where you simply log in with an app, pick what you want from the shelves, then just walk out and your account is automatically billed…no waiting in lines at the checkout. Amazon hasn’t commented, but there may be an announcement in a few weeks.


1st Phone With Diamond Screen Coming; Intel Smart Non-Glasshole Glasses; Galaxy S9 to Get Price Jump; iPad Crushed Competing Tablets Last Year

Cracked screens are a constant worry…even if low level…for everyone who carries a smartphone. Now, cnet.com says something better than either Gorilla Glass or sapphire crystal is on the way. It’s Akhan Semiconductor’s Mirage Diamond Glass. It can be layered on top of screens, much like Gorilla Glass, but is of course, stronger…being made from lab grown diamonds. Akhan will initially work with just one smartphone maker in each category. They are still working on minimizing glare, and pricing, but again…if all works out, we would have the much less breakable screens on phones by next year.

Two of the bigger complaints of GoogleGlass were the way they looked and the fact that ‘Glassholes’ could have the video on at any given time, which was way creepy. Now, theverge.com reports that Intel has a prototype called the Vaunt that may be what we all would have liked in smart glasses in the first place. They use a very low power laser to project the images right into your eyes…it looks like what’s on a screen, but the plus is, the glasses look just like regular…albeit….nerdy…black glasses. According to a Verge reporter who tried them out, they are comfortable enough to wear all day, and Intel says they will come in several styles and work with prescriptions. The electronics and batteries are built into the stems and frames of the glasses. Basically, they are more simple than GoogleGlass. They just display a small heads up display with simple messages or notifications, transmitted by Bluetooth from and Android or iPhone…a lot like how the Apple Watch works. Intel will launch an ‘early access’ program this year. No details yet on getting in that or cost yet.

Another rumor about the imminent Samsung Galaxy S9, and this one is about pricing. According to a leak in Britain, it will sell for £100 more than the S8. The S9 will be £789 in the UK, while the S8 was £689. converting currency, that’s $1114 in the US, with the S8 at $973. Of course, checking actual pricing in the US, the retail is $750, so expect the S9 to be set at more like $850 in the US. Still, a $100 (or £100) bump is not insignificant. It will bet interesting to watch and see how preorders are affected by this increase.

Apple’s decision to release a lower cost but upgraded iPad last year apparently hit the public’s sweet spot. Macrumors.com says Apple’s tablet sold more than Samsung and Amazon’s offerings combined in 2017! Apple pumped out 43.8 million iPads, while Samsung sold 24.9 million and Amazon 16.7 million…even put together, that’s 2.2 million less than Apple’s iPads. Apple grabbed 26.8% of the tablet market last year.


Verizon Rolls Out $80 Unlimited Data Plan; Google Maps Lets You Share Faves; Cook Says AR May Rival iPhone’s Impact

For the first time since 2011, Verizon has an unlimited data plan. Macrumors.com says the $80 a month plan called Verizon Unlimited gets you unlimited talk, text and 4G LTE data on one smartphone or tablet or $45 a month for 4 lines. Verizon has had an access charge of $20 per month per smartphone, but it’s not clear if that applies or is included. If it applies, the plan is really $100 per month. Unlike the cheaper T-Mobile and Sprint unlimited plans, Verizon’s includes full HD streaming.

Google Maps has unveiled Lists on Android and iOS. According to techcrunch.com, the feature lets you make lists of places you can share with friends. Some power users have been testing this out since Fall. It appears that Starred and Favorites have some overlap. The Lists can be shared with friends, and even public Lists can be created, similar to Foursquare.

More and more, AR looks like Apples Next Big Thing. In an interview with The Independent, picked up by cnet.com, Tim Cook called Augmented Reality a big idea, like the smartphone. He noted that like a smartphone, AR isn’t limited to certain demographics, countries, or other niche….it can be for nearly everyone. With AR overlays seen through some lightweight glasses….which Apple is reputedly working on with Carl Zeiss, Apple’s Next Big Thing could soon be right before our eyes.


‘Great’ Desktop Macs Ahead; ’Tis the Season to Shop-Online; Hyundai ‘Affordable’ Self-Drivers Coming; AR Wearables Will Replace iPhones?

There was no mention of desktop machines at the MacBook rollout, but Apple CEO Tim Cook did post to an internal employee message board that Apple has ‘great desktops in our roadmap.’ According to theverge.com, Cook commented that the desktop is very strategic to Apple, noting ‘…you can pack a lot more performance in a desktop — the largest screens, the most memory and storage, a greater variety of I/O, and fastest performance.’ The iMac got a minor refresh last year, but the Mac Pro hasn’t been updated in 3 years. Some analysts think it may be dropped.

Never let it be said that most shoppers aren’t bargain hunters. TechCrunch.com says this is the main thing driving online shopping, NOT convenience. A full 79 percent of us now shop online in the US…up from 22% in 2000! Over half of people have bought something via their smartphone. That said, in the PEW study, 65% of people said that…all things being equal, they would rather shop in a physical store. Price, time constraints, and availability of products often dictate going online, though.

Most of the self-driving cars we see in the pipeline are upscale models. Teslas are cool, but pricey. Mercedes, BMW, Volvo…none of them will have anything on the cheap. Hyundai is working on one, though, and they claim it will be a self-driver for the masses. Techcrunch.com reports that the Korean maker rolled out their tech this week, with rides in Vegas ahead of CES coming up in January. The cars look pretty close to stock Ioniq models…no big cluster of sensors on the roof…they do include four optical cameras behind the windshield, front and side facing LiDAR unit, front mid- and long-range radars and rear-facing radars, too…so they’re not exactly rolling blind! Hyundai hopes to have something on the road by 2019-21, but full self-driving may be a few years after that.

AR seems to be nearly the operating system of the future, if you talk to some people, and Apple analyst Gene Munster, who is striking out on his own after Piper Jaffray, thinks AR wearables may eclipse smartphones like the iPhone. Zdnet.com points out that although Munster has a very good track record, he has predicted an Apple branded TV several times, and we’re still waiting for that! Nonetheless, Munster says that in the next 10 years, we may all be using some type of wearable in PLACE of our pocket smartphone from Apple. The amount of miniaturization is staggering, to say nothing of batteries, but considering that the iPhone would by then be 20 years old…that’s a lifetime in tech!


Samsung Clones ‘Jet Black;’ HTC May Leave Smartphone Biz; Amazon’s Clarkson Show Has Big Debut; Electric VWs to be Made in USA

In the past, when Samsung has just plain poached Apple ideas and designs, it’s been a big hit for them. (It’s also hit them in the wallet sometimes, as Apple has sued and won.) Now, Samsung is going to clone Apple’s hot “Jet Black” color. According to bgr.com, they aren’t even waiting for the Galaxy S8….they will roll out Jet Black S7 models as soon as next month. Hey, it’s hard to get sued for using the same color!

HTC has made some really cool phones, and I have several friends that have had them and loved them. They haven’t really caught fire…figuratively…not in the Galaxy Note 7 way, however. Digitaltrends.com says rumors are flying now that HTC will bail out of smartphones completely by this coming spring. They have quietly been shopping the division around, but nothing so far. It wouldn’t be out of the question for Google to snap them up, since the success of the new Google Pixel phones.

Yesterday, Netflix snarked that Amazon hadn’t really paid $160 million to produce their ‘Top Gear’ type show titled ‘The Grand Tour,’ saying it was more like $250 million. The show, starring Jeremy Clarkson, and his former Top Gear colleagues, debuted Friday. It was the biggest premiere ever on Amazon Prime Video, according to businessinsider.com, eclipsing ‘The Man in the High Castle.’ Not only that, it was the top rated show on IMDB with a 9.6 and got 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon says it got the second most one day sign ups for Prime ever last Friday. Sounds like a hit!

Volkswagen says they will begin building electric vehicle models in North America,and even the US by 2021. Techcrunch.com picked up a report from Automotive news, citing VW brand lead Herbert Diess. Vee Dub will also build large SUVs and limos here. The Mexico factories will also crank out EVs for the North American market.


Android Rules the World in Number of Smartphones; Apple Watch Coming to Kohl’s

A report out from strategyanalytics.com says that Android now accounts for 88% of global smartphone shipments in the third quarter of this year, with a total of 375 million phones. Apple slipped to 12%, mainly on losing ground in China and Africa. Other operating systems only account for .3% at this point, including Tizen. Apple’s iPhone running iOS obviously does far better in the US and in the narrower market for higher priced phones.

Kohl’s Department Stores will start selling the Apple Watch at 400 locations ahead of Black Friday. 9to5mac.com says they’ll roll out the smartwatch starting November 15th. Kohl’s has 1100 stores, so you’ll have to check ahead if one near you will carry the Watch. Macy’s has the Watch, but only in 180 stores. You can get the Nike+ version of Apple Watch at Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nike stores.