SiriusXM Buying Pandora; Walmart Using Oculus Go For Employee Training; A Stake in Airbnb for Hosts; Apple Adding Depth Control During Photo ShootingPosted: September 24, 2018
SiriusXM is to buy Pandora via an all stock deal, with the value set at $3.5 billion. According to cnbc.com, the deal includes a provision where Pandora can potentially enter into a better deal if they can find it. Pandora claims about 6 million premium subscribers. It’s possible another deal could come in for more, but Apple and Spotify have looked at the streamer already, and didn’t bite. Barring an angel stepping in, the deal with SiriusXM will close the first quarter of 2019.
Walmart is putting Oculus Go VR headsets in all its stores nationwide, to be used in employee training programs. Zdnet.com reports that there should be around 17,000 of the virtual reality headsets deployed in Walmarts around the country by the end of the year. Walmart plans to train on new technology, compliance, and ’soft skills’ like empathy and customer service.
Airbnb has reportedly sent a letter to the SEC asking the government agency to allow offering equity in the company to hosts. Engadget.com says basically this would allow shares to go to gig economy workers, not just investors and staff. Uber has asked for this kind of deal more than once, but in Airbnb’s case, they are asking for a rule change to allow it, not just an exception. So far, the SEC has not responded.
The new iPhone Xs and Xs Max have a cool feature for the bokeh portrait effect. When the phones rolled out, Apple announced that users could adjust the depth of field on an image after shooting it. Now, according to 9to5mac.com, Apple may add to this in an upcoming software update. Apparently, they are testing letting users adjust the depth of field while shooting a picture. The feature may come later this year in iOS 12.1 or 12.2, according to reports.
Twitter Tightening; WPA3 WiFi Security; Alexa Voice Hits iOS; Motion Sickness Fix for Self-Driving Car RidersPosted: June 27, 2018
It’s widely known that Twitter has had ongoing issues with spam accounts and malicious automation. Twitter is saying that now, using AI, they are able to identify a lot more spam accounts and deactivate them more quickly…9.9 million a week, up from 3.2 million last September. Engadget.com reports that Twitter is not only using AI on present spammy accounts…going forward, new accounts will have to verify with an email address or phone number when they are being created. That feature will be out later this year. Meanwhile, the ‘firehose of social media’ will continue to audit and challenge what appear to be spammy accounts…like ones that do high volume Tweeting using the same hashtag or Tweeting at the same handle without getting a reply.
After it got out that a huge number of routers had been infected with malware, here’s a little good news going forward: WPA3 has been finalized. New Wi-Fi routers will come with the stronger protections for your data using the new standard. Cnet.com says it will make it harder to run a common hacking attack on your router…frequently called an ‘offline dictionary-based attack,’ which allows hacker to make endless guesses of your Wi-Fi password. WPA3 is available on new routers certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. It updates WPA2, which has been around since 2004 and has bee woefully out of date. Some manufacturers are looking for ways to update existing routers, but the best bet may be to upgrade your router in the coming months to one that comes with WPA3.
Alexa voice control for the Android app has been out nearly half a year, and Amazon says now it is finally coming to iOS. According to techcrunch.com, it isn’t baked in…you’ll need to tap a button in the app, but after that you can ask Alexa questions, listen to music, access skills, and control smart devices. The update is being rolled out to users over the next few days, so if you love controlling everything possible around your abode with Alexa voice commands, you’re going to have a way to do so on iOS. The touch of a button is unfortunate, but since Apple wants you to use their Siri, iOS devices are unlikely to get voice access without first touching the app. Since their last try at smartphones, Amazon has been at a disadvantage in the mobile market, having to rely on apps on Android and iOS without having and Alexa native device.
As with the space program years ago, Virtual Reality tech is throwing off some cool side benefits. Macrumors.com says Apple engineer and popular YouTuber Mark Rober is the primary inventor of some tech patents that can be used to help stop in-car motion sickness for passengers in self-driving cars. One replaces the view of the real world with virtual environments including visual cues to match the physical motion the passengers are experiencing. Another helps allow passengers to work or surf without getting sick. Drivers are usually not affected by motion sickness, as they are watching the road ahead and their surroundings. Besides his Apple engineer gig, Rober’s YouTube channel with science related videos has some 3.4 million subscribers!
Qualcomm-New AR & VR Chips; Microsoft Passes Alphabet Market Cap; Amazon Expands Whole Foods Discount; Siri Driven Beats speaker comingPosted: May 30, 2018
Qualcomm has rolled out a dedicated chipset for mass market AR and VR headsets. According to techcrunch.com, the Snapdragon XR1 will support 4K streaming at 60fps. The chipset is aimed at helping manufacturers cut the cord to PC tethered systems. Qualcomm says the chipset won’t match PC based systems, but says for a lot of users, the higher graphics and memory bandwidth of chips like the Snapdragon 845 aren’t needed for a good VR or AR experience.
The horserace is on! Fully 4 tech companies are in the hunt to become the first company in the world with a trillion dollar market cap. Businessinsider.com reports that Microsoft has passed up Google parent Alphabet for the first time in 3 years this week, hitting $753 billion…compared to Alphabet’s $739. Apple and Amazon are still #1 and #2, and it is most likely one of them will cross over the mark first, but it’s still amazing to see 4 tech giants nearing the trillion dollar milestone!
On the subject of Amazon, they are expanding their 10% off discount deal at Whole Foods for Prime members to 12 additional states. According to geekwire.com, all 365 Whole Foods stores will be included now. Available deals will rotate weekly. Customers also get the savings with Whole Foods grocery delivery, which is free for Prime members using Prime Now on orders over $35. Amazon is really trying to unload the upscale grocer’s ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation. Of course, Amazon also just raised the cost for prime 20 bucks to $119 a year!
Among predictions of things to debut at Apple’s WorldWide Developers Conference next week, analyst Gene Munster says look for a Beats branded cheaper version of the HomePod…also powered by Siri. Macrumors.com says it may sell for around $250. We’ll recap the WWDC keynote highlights next week.
Google & LG-Highest Res AR&VR OLED Display; Amazon Sells Face Recognition Tech to Police; Drink a Day Purveyor Hooch ExpandsPosted: May 23, 2018
Google has taken the wraps off a high resolution OLED display that more than triples the pixels per inch of the Oculus and the HTC Vive. 9to5google.com says the mobile display was developed in partnership with LG, and has 1443 PPI, a wide field of view, and is optimized for both AR and VR. No word yet on when you might be able to wrap one of these around your face or how much it will cost, but it will essentially take mobile VR and AR headsets from 2-3 megapixels to 18!
Amazon has begun selling facial recognition technology called Rekognition to police. The tech, which Amazon boasts can track and analyze hundreds of people in a photo using a database with tens of millions of faces, has been used in Orlando, Florida, and by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon. According to cnet.com, Rekognition isn’t used for active surveillance… but in a video clip posted online, it was noted that Rekognition could follow Orlando’s mayor using cameras throughout the city. Amazon says the tech matches photos and videos uploaded by the customer — not by Amazon. They note on the positive side that it has been used to help find lost children at amusement parks, and was used for public safety at the Royal Wedding on Saturday to identify attendees. Both the EFF and ACLU have expressed grave concerns about this kind of tech in the hands of law enforcement and government…particularly since tests in London show that facial recognition tech can be wrong up to 98% of the time!
Drink-a-day startup Hooch has announced that it has raised almost 3 million in seed money. Techcrunch.com reports that they are also adding to their base plan…which
offers a basic subscription of $9.99 that gets you one free drink per day from a variety of partner bars and restaurants. Hooch Black (which you have to apply for, and which costs $295 per year) adds hotel deals, concierge service and other perks on top.
On top of that, Hooch is planning to launch its blockchain initiative this summer. They believe that by having their own cryptocurrency token, Hooch could work with partners to create a “decentralized model for consumer rewards.” After reading about the Amazon facial recognition for law enforcement, you might want to subscribe to Hooch!
So far, there has been no response at Facebook from CEO Mark Zuckerberg or COO Cheryl Sandburg. The head of internet security is leaving. Now, it’s being reported by cnet.com and others that Zuckerberg will respond publicly about ‘rebuilding trust’ within 24 hours. There is also an all-hands meeting scheduled for Friday at 10am Pacific, and both Zuck and Sandburg are supposed to talk then. The hashtag #wheresZuck has been appearing on Twitter.
Most rumors point to 3 new iPhone models this fall, and most have also said that there will be 5.8, 6.1, and a 6.5 inch model. A fresh report from 9to5mac.com says Digitimes is now hearing that Apple has been able to slash materials costs by 10%. Now, it looks like the cheapest of the 3 will be the 5.8 inch OLED screen model, not the 6.1 inch LCD screen one. This is apparently because they have cut a better deal on the OLED screens with Samsung and will have cheaper memory costs. It’s unclear if that means less RAM or crummier RAM. At any rate, it’s possible the bottom end phone will start at around $800, which might reel in more customers than the $999 price point, which has apparently put off a significant number of prospective buyers.
Google is buying the assets of Lytro, the makers of the light field camera. You may recall the odd, rectangular cams that allowed you to take a picture, then adjust the focus after the fact. 9to5google.com reports that Google could incorporate the tech in their Pixel phones, already arguably the best cameras in smartphones, but more interestingly, Google is wanting to use the tech in virtual and augmented reality. The asset sale means not all Lytro employees will be picked up by google, but Lytro’s 59 patents for light fields and digital imaging will be.
The new iMac Pro can be ordered online today from Apple. It’s a beast, aimed at audio and video pros, and as we told you earlier starts at $4999. Now, macrumors.com lets us know that it tops out at an eye-watering and wallet melting $13,199. Geek number crunchers have determined that the $4999 base is a reasonably fair price…a similarly equipped PC costs around $5100. The mid-range version of the iMac Pro completely smokes a 2013 Mac Pro…it’s 45% faster! Do you need one? Unless you ar doing advanced video and graphics editing, recording and editing an album, creating virtual reality content or doing real-time 3D rendering, probably not. For now, until the modular updated Mac Pro comes out, this may be the go to machine for video and audio pros.
Some renderings and specs have leaked out about the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+. Bgr.com describes is as an ’S’ generation of the Galaxy S8…quite similar in design and features, with some improvements. One bump up is reputed to be better cameras. Taking a page from Apple’s book (again), Samsung will, for the first time, put a better dual lens camera in the S9+…the S9 will just have a single lens cam on the back. Samsung has apparently moved the fingerprint sensor on the back a bit, too…it’s under the camera.
The Walt Disney Company has acquired the film and TV divisions of 21st Century Fox, as has been rumored. TechCrunch.com reports the price is over $52 billion in stock. Disney will get enough of Hulu to be majority shareholder, and also pick up Nat Geo, Star TV, Fox’s movie and TV studios, and Sky. Fox News and national sports channels will be spun off into a new company. With the film studio comes ownership of the original Star Wars film, the X-Men franchise, the Deadpool franchise, as well as Avatar. The mega deal will probably take 12-18 months to close, pending government approvals.
New Samsung & LG Hero Phones Out in January; Amazon Jumps into VR & AR, Lyft Gets Self-Driving PermitPosted: November 27, 2017
We were expecting Samsung to show off the new Galaxy S9 in January. Now, it looks like it will be launched at CES 2018, and according to bgr.com, LG will also show its latest and greatest, the G7. Last year, the LG G6 was overshadowed by Apple and Samsung, and with the runaway success of the iPhone X and a strong Samsung Galaxy S9, they will need the new G7 to have some ‘wow’ factor. The G7 is rumored to have and OLED display, like the iPhone X and Galaxy S9, but does add its own wrinkle…the fingerprint sensor will be under the screen, not on the back like the S9’s. For those leery of the iPhone X’s facial recognition scheme, this might be a real draw.
Google, Apple, and Microsoft are busily working on VR and AR products, so it was only a matter of time. Geekwire.com reports that Amazon is jumping in with its new ‘Sumerian’ service for Amazon Web Services. Sumerian will allow creation of VR, AR, and 3D scenes for Oculus, Vive, iOS, and Android. Sumerian has a web based editor for creating interactive 3D scenes, and a library of objects and templates. It launches in preview today on all but Android, which Amazon says is coming soon.
Another company has a permit to test self-driving cars in California, and this one is a biggie. Cnet.com says Lyft was granted a permit, and now brings to 45 the number of companies testing or getting ready to roll driverless cars on public roads. They join VW, General Motors, Tesla, Google’s Waymo, Uber, and Apple. You’ll be able to spot them by the apparatus on top, but don’t expect to see no one in the driver’s seat…all the permits require a driver on board, just in case.