Tesla ‘Premium’ Connectivity; Apple Ups Audio Game; Whole Foods Prime; Volvo Level 4 Self-Driving By 2021.

If it’s free, it’s probably not forever or there’s a catch. That’s the case with internet on Tesla cars. Starting July 1st, the free connection…which will be dubbed ‘Standard Connectivity’  cell access will just give you navigation (with traffic-based routing), live Supercharger usage info, and safety-related car updates. Engadget.com reports that most everything else will be part of the Premium Package. Satellite view, live traffic visuals, web browser, streaming audio, and non-safety updates will fall under it. At least Tesla has added WiFi access to the model 3. No official price as yet, but it’s expected to be about $100 a year…that’s not going to bend or break any Tesla owners! BTW, if you had a car ordered before July 1st, everything will stay free…at least for now. 

Apple has the HomePod, with very good audio, but has never had top notch audio in their earbuds, including the AirPods. That may be about to change. Bloomberg is reporting that Cupertino is working on a higher end version, that are water resistant and have noise cancellation and biometric sensors. In addition, Apple is working on higher end over-ear headphones, that will be positioned above their Beats brand. Apple has built an in-house audio team headed by Gary Geaves, a former engineer from higher end speaker and headphone maker B&W. Accessories are a decent side line for Apple…while no iPhone, they generated slightly less than $13 billion for Apple last year.

Amazon is opening up their Prime discount programs to all Whole Foods locations in the US this week. Stores in Florida have had the perk for almost 2 months, included with the $119 per year Prime membership. According to geekwire.com, you get a 10% discount on sale items, and other special deals. To use the discount, you sign in to your Amazon account with the Whole Foods app, then scan the “Prime Code” inside the app when you check out. As with most grocery store sales, the deals will change weekly. You will also still be able to get a 5% discount when you buy with an Amazon credit card. Amazon is hoping the various discounts will help them to shed the ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation for Whole Foods, which they bought last year.

While everyone in the auto biz is racing towards self-driving, with Google’s Waymo apparently well in the lead, Volvo has now issued a pretty amazing pledge…level 4 autonomous cars in showrooms you can buy and drive by 2021. According to bgr.com, Volvo is calling it ‘Highway Assist,’ and it sounds a great deal like Tesla’s Autopilot…only with Volvo’s legendary attention to safety detail. Volvo Senior VP Henrik Green says you will be able to ‘eat, sleep, work, watch a movie, relax, do whatever’ with the Volvo Highway Assist in operation. Note it will only work on appropriate roads that have been mapped out…basically highways and freeways.


Amazon Will Deliver Your ‘Junk’ to Your Trunk; Updated Gmail Bows; iPhone Unlocker GrayKey Hacked; Twitter Revenues Up..& Profit!

Amazon has launched a new service that gives its couriers access to a person’s vehicle for the purpose of leaving package deliveries inside. The service is in partnership with two major automakers — General Motors and Volvo — and will be rolling out in 37 cities in the US starting today. Theverge.com reports that initially, the service will only be available to Amazon Prime subscribers. who are also owners of 2015 or later GM and Volvo vehicles, with active OnStar and Volvo on Call accounts. Amazon says it plans to add other automobile brands over time. Packages that weigh over 50 pounds, are larger than 26 x 21 x 16 inches in size, require a signature, are valued over $1,300, or come from a third-party seller also are not eligible for in-car delivery. To access the new delivery service, add your car to your Amazon Key app and include a description of the vehicle, so Amazon’s couriers will be able to locate it. The car will need to be parked within a certain radius of an address used for Amazon deliveries, so either home or work. Driveways, parking lots, parking garages, and street parking are all eligible locations, Note that the courier will just send code to the Amazon Cloud, which contacts the OnStar or Volvo Cloud, and that service pops the trunk…Amazon doesn’t get access directly to unlock your car.

The freshened Gmail, with come new features, is live now. According to techcrunch.com, some highlights include an ever present sidebar with built in Google Calendar, Tasks, and Keep, and both snoozing and disappearing email (which Google calls Confidential Mode.) The confidential email can’t be forwarded, copied and pasted, or downloaded and printed…and goes ‘poof’ after a selectable amount of time. Another key feature is offline mode…you can save up to 90 days of email even when you aren’t connected to the web.

GrayKey, the unlocking system in a box that can crack an iPhone in 3 days…has been hacked. 9to5mac.com says part of their code leaked onto the internet, and the leaker has demanded $15,000 from the company…which happens to be the price of an entry level GrayKey device. Turnabout is fair play, it would appear!

Here’s a headline we haven’t seen in a while…well, actually ever! Twitter’s revenue was up 21% year over year first quarter, and the company made a profit! 9to5google.com reports that Twitter beat Wall Street expectations, with a net income of $61 million, and daily active users increased by 10%. Twitter also Tweeted out their updated privacy policy yesterday, and emailed about it early this morning. Video now accounts for more than half Twitter’s ad revenue.


Uber to Buy Volvos for Self-Driving Fleet; Apple Looks to Micro-LED for Displays; Galaxy S9 Camera Rumors

Uber is preparing to gear up for self-driving, with plans to buy up to 24,000 SUVs, then equip them with Uber’s own self-driving technology. Reuters.com says the SUVs would come equipped with Volvo’s autonomous tech, and Uber would install theirs in addition. The loaded XC90s have a starting retail price of about $50,000. Earlier this year, Lyft inked a research deal with Google’s Waymo and another with Ford, looking to moving to self-driving cars in their own fleet.

The OLED screens it has to buy from Samsung have been rumored all year to be a stopgap measure for Apple. Now, macrumors.com reports they are working with TSMC to scale up production of micro-LED panels. The advantage to the micro-LED panels is that they are both thinner and brighter, have better color accuracy, faster response times, and are more energy efficient than OLED screens.

The upcoming Samsung Galaxy S9 apparently won’t have an under screen fingerprint reader, as had been rumored for some time. It WILL use facial recognition, but according to bgr.com will just use 2D sensors. Some other Samsung devices will get 3D sensors…probably the Note series. The S9 will have 5.8 and 6.2 inch sized screens, and a single cam on the front, with dual cams on the back like the Note 8 has. The form factor is rumored to stay virtually the same as the S8 models out now.


3 New iPhones Next Year; HomePod With Face ID; Sweat ID to Unlock Phones; Self-Driving Trucks Proliferation

Apple is due to roll out 3 new iPhones next year…two with OLED screens. Businessinsider.com reports that there will be a model like the present iPhone X, a king-sized OLED screen version with a 6.5 inch screen, and a 6.1 inch LCD screen version which will sell for substantially less money. All 3 will have the full screen design and TrueDepth Camera for 3D sensing and Face ID. This is all according to Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI securities, who has one of the best track records on future Apple devices. The LCD screen model will sell for between $649 and $749, with the two OLED screen models aimed at ‘the high end market.’

With Apple pressing ahead on Face ID, the iPad and MacBooks are a no-brainer, but here’s one you may not have thought of…apparently, Apple is looking at adding the feature to it’s 2nd generation HomePods. Appleinsider.com notes that obviously the feature won’t make it into the model that comes out in a few weeks, but we may see it by 2019. If so, they will have to develop a system that allows more than one user…the iPhone is one to one right now.

With fingerprint readers on many phones, and Apple adding Face ID across their line, here’s a new biometric that sounds weird but may be hard to crack…’Sweat ID.’ Thenextweb.com says scientists at University if Albany think the unique amino acid profile in our sweat could accurately and securely authenticate us to unlock devices. Unlike your fingerprints, which can be copied, and same (albeit with greater difficulty) with Face ID, it would be harder for someone to take a reading of your perspiration profile. Researchers claim that no two people can have the same profile…and no, you don’t have to have sweaty palms to use it…the sensors detect a very small amount of sweat from the eccrine glands on your fingertips!

Otto made a beer run across Colorado on autopilot in one, Tesla will show off their electric big rig this week with at least some self-driving ability…but meanwhile, a startup called Embark has been making runs since early October. According to Wired, Embark has been hauling loads of new Frigidaires from El Paso, TX to Palm Springs, Ca under the radar. A driver picks the trailer load up at the warehouse, gets them to a rest stop on the highway, and then hands off to another driver with a self-driving cab that makes the run to CA. The human driver rides along, but the truck basically plods along in the slow lane at the limit all the way to CA. Daimler, Volvo, and Tesla are working on this, and Uber’s Otto made one trip, but Embark is out there doing it!


ALL Volvos Will Be Electrified by 2019; Twitter Predicts Situations Before Police Reports Come in

Volvo has announced they will offer electrified versions of every model starting in 2019. Cnet.com reports that by that model year, there won’t be any Volvo without some degree of electrification. Some will be hybrids, with gas engine plus electric, some will be total e-vehicles. Volvo says this is in response to customer demand. They would be the only company besides Tesla to offer electrification across their entire line.

New research from Cardiff University, which examined 1.6 million tweets from the London 2011 riots, has noticed that Twitter can be used to detect dangerous situations up to an hour faster than police reports. According to mashable.com, researchers wrote event detection algorithms that use various features of Twitter data — like sentiment, frequency of tweets containing certain words, and geolocation and timing of the tweets. They discovered they were able to map out real-time disruptive events from five minutes to an hour before the Met Police were aware of them. They believe this prediction element could be used to help first responders and emergency services before the threat escalates. The down side? An argument that “predicting” some kind of activity before it escalates could lead to a Minority Report-kind of scenario, in which law enforcement intervenes to curb freedoms of assembly or interfere with freedom of speech. [There was a big outcry a couple years ago in San Fransisco where WiFi was killed to underground BART stations so moving protesters couldn’t use social media to communicate.] The scientists claim their research works at an aggregate level so really only flags events once there is sufficient ‘noise’ around a certain event, avoiding identifying individuals in a effort to retain privacy.


Screen Cost Much Higher for iPhone 8; Pricey But Cool Smartwatch; Volvo Rolls Out Cheaper Electric Car Than Tesla With Greater Range

We’ve reported, along with numerous others, that the upcoming iPhone 8 or Edition or whatever will probably break the $1000 barrier…now we know why. According to 9to5mac.com, the OLED screen and 3D Touch module is costing 60% more to make than the ones on the iPhone 7. That, along with other premium components that integrate the fingerprint sensor and allow wireless charging will cause the new hero phone to break the 1 grand barrier. BTW, that 60% increase? It’s to $15, so don’t feel sorry for Cupertino!

Even though smartwatches haven’t really caught fire…FIGURATIVELY, Samsung fans….the latest Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch is from premium watchmaker Tag Heuer partnering with Intel. Theverge.com says it’s $1600, which kind of gives perspective to the next iPhone and to the Samsung Galaxy S8 topping a thousand dollars! On the other hand, it’s a Tag Heuer, so it looks gorgeous AND it’s modular…both when you order, and later. They say you can swap out the internals when the current one becomes obsolete for new smartwatch guts or even an analog chronograph!

Volvo is out with an electric car that will compete with the Tesla Model 3, only apparently is cheaper and has better range. Bgr.com reports that the Volvo will have a 250 mile range and sell for $35,000 to $40,000. Chevy already has the Bolt out in that price band with a 238 mile range. It’s expected that since it’s a Volvo, a mini-SUV body will be offered. It’s out this year.


‘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!