Google Revamps Storage Plans; Apple has 2nd Biggest Self-Driving Fleet in CA; Ticketmaster Plans Facial Recognition

Google has unveiled its consumer storage plans. The new plans are dubbed “Google One,” although the Google Drive is still Google Drive. TechCrunch.com says Goggle has added a new 200 gig tier for $2.99 a month, and dropped the price for its 2 terabyte plan from $19.99 to $9.99 a month. The old 1 terabyte plan at $9.99 goes away. You can still get in on 100 gigs or $1.99 per month, but keep in mind that now, you’ll be able to share your storage with up to five family members! An outstanding new feature is expert support 24.7 over chat, email, or phone. Previously, this was only open to business users.

Apple has been bulking up its fleet of self-driving cars, and now is up to 55, making it the 2nd biggest fleet in California, according to the DMV. As recently as January, Cupertino only had 27 cars. The biggest fleet of self-drivers is that of Cruise, a company owned by GM, which has 104. Google’s Waymo has 51 cars, and Tesla 39. It’s worth noting that both Waymo and Uber previously had more cars in California…Waymo had 100, but has moved some to Arizona and Michigan.

Your face will literally be your ticket to concerts, as the Ticketmaster division of Live Nation has announced a pilot program to drop tickets and use facial recognition tech. Thenextweb.com says Ticketmaster is partnering with Blink Identity, which claims they can make a positive ID in half a second. Some worry that this is a little too much Big Brother, since China recently put in place a similar system…but theirs is for law enforcement. If the pilot program is successful, you may see it before long for air travel, building access and more.

Amazon has resumed construction in Seattle after a squabble with the city over a controversial tax per employee on employers that make more than $20 million a year. Engadget.com reports that the ‘head tax’ had been set at $500 per employee, but ended up compromising after considerable protestation from Amazon, and set the tax at $275 per employee on businesses that make over $11 million a year. The funds are supposed to go towards helping the homeless problem there. Amazon is still grumbling, and considering not adding 7,000 expected jobs…they may hire that staff at their new ‘2nd headquarters’ when it is finalized.

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Tesla-Better Financials & Rideshare Net; Google Assistant Adds Many IoT Devices; Amazon Pet Product Brand Launches

Tesla managed to beat Wall Street expectations yesterday, with losses of $3.35 a share on revenue of $3.4 billion. Analysts expected them to lose $3.48 a share. Techcrunch.com reports that they hit 2270 Model 3 cars a week for 3 straight weeks in April. Elon Musk still says they will be cranking out 5000 a week by mid-summer. Musk still says the company will be profitable by 3rd quarter. Musk also said that from a purely technical standpoint, the company would e ready to launch an autonomous vehicle ride sharing network by the end of next year. He noted that it probably wouldn’t happen that fast, considering various government regulations and other issues. Analyst Gene Munster says there’s a 50/50 chance Tesla will field a ride sharing fleet by 2023, though.

On launch, Google Assistant only worked with a handful of Internet of Things devices. In fact, as recently as January…4 months ago…it still just connected with 1500. Now, according to 9to5google.com, Assistant can interface with some 5000 devices, including every major smart brand! Cameras, dishwashers, doorbells, dryers, lights, plugs, thermostats, security systems, switches, vacuums, washers, fans, locks, sensors, heaters, AC units, air purifiers, refrigerators, ovens…go crazy with IoT connected devices….Google can help you talk to them!

Amazon has launched its own line of pet products, called Wag. Bloomberg.com reports the first offering became available yesterday with dry dog food. It’s only available to Prime subscribers. Amazon is on doubt responding to Petco and Petsmart, which bought Chewy.com last year to enter the home delivery biz. Dog food is tough to sell online profitably because it’s heavy and expensive to ship. Having bought name brand dry cat food from Amazon, it’s only a couple bucks cheaper than at a store…but at least comes direct to your door.


Facebook is going to provide some of its data to elections researchers selected by a new panel of experts. Ahead of Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress this week, axios.com says the outside experts will “develop a research agenda about the impact of social media on society — starting with elections.” A group of private, blue chip foundations will pay for the effort. (Frankly, Facebook should reimburse them, with all the money they make!)

As rumored over the weekend, Apple has rolled out Product (RED) iPhone 8 and 8 Plus models today. According to theverge.com, preorders open tomorrow, the 10th, and the phones should start shipping on Friday the 13th…ooh, scary. The price is the same as other colors, starting at $699 for the 8 and $799 for the Plus.

Earlier in the year, Tesla registered new VINs that correspond to dual motor Model 3s. As reported here last week, the company is now producing more than 2000 of the smaller model per week now. Yesterday, Elon Musk Tweeted that they need to hit 5000 per week before adding the complexity of a 2nd motor. He then sent out a follow up Tweet saying ‘So probably July.’ the added motor will increase both the acceleration and extend the range of the Model 3. That is also when they will add white interiors…at the present, only black upholstery is available.

Word is, Spotify has been working on hardware for cars…either an in-car controller or standalone player. Now, engadget.com reports that some people have received offers for such a device, with plan pricing from $12.99 to $14.99 a month…when they clicked on the offer in the Spotify app, an error page popped up. A few sharp eyed users said their offer noted the gadget had built in 4G cellular. Spotify does have an event April 24th…maybe we’ll get more info at that time.


Apple Working On Own CPUs for Macs; Cheaper Google Pixel 3; Tesla Model 3 Production Scramble; Facebook Adds HD Video and 360 Degree Photos to Messenger

Just as Intel is rolling out i9 and updated i7 chips, comes word that Apple is working on Macs that run its own CPUs. Arstechnica.com reports that Apple could be shipping computers running its own processors by 2020, but it will take a serious rewrite of the MacOS. On the plus side, the Apple designed chips will use less juice, increasing battery life on MacBooks, and developers will be able to publish apps that run on both the MacOS and iOS for mobile devices. Apple is thought to be treading carefully in this, and would continue to use Intel CPUs for a time, as developers still need to build apps that run on Intel processors, and they would not want to take a huge hit to the App Store if developers balk at non-intel processors.

Google is apparently going to have 3 models in the Pixel 3 lineup pater this year. According to bgr.com, one will be a more affordable model. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news? The cheap model may only be available in India and similar markets, and not here in the US. As a mid range device, it would also lack features most smartphones offer as standard…specifically, the other two Pixel models. The lower priced Pixel 3 could hit the market in July or August. No date range for the two higher line Pixel 3 phones yet…or pricing.

By now, Tesla was supposed to be cranking out 2500 Model 3s per week. They are still falling short, but are now producing 2000 per week, so at least have gotten into the ballpark after a number of production hiccups. Theverge.com says Elon Musk claims to be sleeping at the factory until they hit the 2500 number. Tesla has promised to be building 5000 per week by later the end of the 2nd quarter, as they try to clear the backlog of orders and deposits still numbering several hundred thousand. The continued misses, have spooked Wall Street and the stock has dropped 22% in March.

Facebook is trying to put on a happy face in the wake of all the negative news about privacy. The social network’s newsroom has announced that Messenger will now be able to handle 360 degree photos and panoramic shots, as well as HD quality, 720p videos right from the camera roll of smartphones. They note you will need to download the latest software update to Messenger to get the new features.


Amazon & Retailer Store Automation; Saudi Prince in the Valley; Cloudflare’s Privacy DNS; Tesla Updates Model 3 Autopilot

Now that Amazon has opened Amazon Go, their checkout-less brick and mortar store, retailers are going into overdrive to automate stores. Some are turning to robots to help assess and maintain stock, but a big push is to eliminate the check out wait, which frustrates shoppers. Of course, that will make it quicker and more convenient for shoppers, who can just scan items with their phone apps, to have the tab hit their debit or credit card upon leaving, but it also endangers between 30 and 50% of the world’’s retail jobs if auto check out were to be fully implemented….that’s according to the World Economic Forum. Another issue to deal with is protection of customer data. There was another reminder of this over the weekend, as Lord and Taylor and Saks disclosed that data for 5 million customers’ cards had been stolen.

What could possibly close one of the toniest hotels in Silicon Valley for a week? The official story says the need to accommodate ‘a large VIP delegation,’ at the request of the State Department. Most observers say is is very likely the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, and his entourage. Through the 7th, neither rooms nor any of the Four Seasons Silicon Valley facilities will be available. In New York last week, a $200 billion memo of understanding was signed with the Prince and SoftBank for investment in solar power in the Saudi Kingdom. Will a giant deal come out of the visit to the Valley this week? Stay tuned, as they say. F

Cloudflare launched what it calls a ‘privacy first’ consumer DNS service yesterday, which they promise will speed up your internet connection, and perhaps more importantly, keep it private. It’s Https://1.1.1.1, and Cloudflare claims it is ‘the internet’s fastest, privacy-first consumer DNS service.  DNS- or Domain Name System- services work behind the scenes to convert the google.com name and all the rest into a real IP address that the routers and switchers of the internet can understand.

Tesla has addressed one of the biggest knocks to the Model 3…the autopilot controls. The automaker has moved the controls to the steering wheel, so drivers don’t have to take eyes off the road for a glance over to the center display, and reach across. With just a software update, however, drivers can now adjust the Autopilot’s cruise speed and follow distance via the steering wheel scroll buttons. The autopilot system can still be accessed through the central display if a driver prefers. The Model 3 is even more software intensive than the bigger Model S. 


Facebook Privacy Issues Multiply & Their Damage Control; iPhone X Will Add a Color; FedEX Orders Tesla e-Big Rigs; Google Assistant Gets Philips Hue Scene Support

Over the weekend, Facebook ran full page ads in several US and British newspapers, with an apology from Mark Zuckerberg for the recent data privacy scandal involving Cambridge Analytica. Since the ads ran, a new report from arstechnica.com says in some cases, Facebook’s Android apps will keep logs of the names of people you called and texted, how long the convos were, and the other person’s phone number. Users are now madder than ever. Facebook claims it got permission to scrape the call and text data, but that likely won’t help. A Reuters/Ipsos poll came out Sunday indicating less than half of Americans trust the social media giant to obey US privacy laws. It’s 41% that trust Facebook, compared to 66% trusting Amazon, 62% trust Google, 60% trust Microsoft, and 47% Yahoo. The Federal Trade Commission has an investigation underway into Facebook now.

After production problems limited the iPhone X to two colors, it looks like Apple will add another color to try to boost sales of the successor phones out this fall. According to 9to5mac.com, it will be a ‘blush gold’ tone. A more iffy rumor also has a (Product)Red iPhone in the mix. Apple’s education event in Chicago is Tuesday…we’ll cover what they bow there…a cheaper iPad is expected.

FedEx has preordered 20 electric big rigs from Tesla. The rigs go into production next year, and rival UPS has preordered 125 of the e-rigs. Techcrunch.com says each of these orders is a pretty small pilot fleet, but will jump start the Tesla truck production. Tesla is already running test rigs between the Gigafactory in Reno, Nev. and the production factory in Fremont, CA.

Google Assistant has picked up a handy feature…native support for Philips Hue scenes. 9to5google.com reports that Assistant has been supporting Hue lights since it came out, but that support didn’t extend to the preset ‘scenes’…which the Hue app and Amazon Alexa could control. Now, Assistant can use them, too. One note…you may have to delete and re-add your Hue lights to Assistant, or at least sync before the new feature works. A lot of users find it quite handy to be able to adjust colors on several lights or in multiple rooms with just a voice command.


Apple Buys Texture; Fitbit Releases 2 New Models; Tesla Model 3 Production Pains

Apple has picked up Texture, the digital newsstand, focusing in on content ‘from trusted sources.’ Techcrunch.com says the so-called Netflix of Magazine Publishing will continue to operate as it has, offering some 200 magazines online for the monthly $9.99 fee. The service will continue to run on apps for iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle Fire, and Windows 8 and 10. Texture has been owned by Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Rogers Media, and investment firm KKR.

Fitbit has rolled out a couple of new models. The Versa is positioned as an Apple Watch competitor, while the Ace is touted as being kid friendly. Macrumors.com reports that the Versa, which is more rounded at the corners than previous models, is the lightest metal smartwatch in the US…made of ultra-thin, anodized aluminum. It has a brighter touchscreen and battery that lasts over 4 days on a charge. The Ace looks like a slimmer Fitbit and band, and is for kids 8 and up. It will track steps, active minutes, and sleep on a 5 day battery charge. It works with a Fitbit family account, so parents can monitor and control what the kids connect with. It launches in Q2, but can be pre-ordered today for $99.95 from fitbit.com. The Versa ls also open for preorders at $199.95 at the website, and other online retailers by tomorrow.

Production of the Tesla Model 3 continues to sputter. The company shut down production February 20th to the 24th to ‘improve automation and systemically address bottlenecks,’ according to engadget.com. So much for 5,000 units per week in March. The new goal is 5,000 per week in June.