SpaceX Will Build BFR in L.A.; Netflix Adds Yet More Subscribers; Big Walmart Web Makeover; If Facebook Went Subscription

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti let the cat out of the bag during a speech yesterday…and it’s a BIG cat! SpaceX will build their BFR- Big Falcon Rocket at the Port of L.A. According to arstechnica.com, SpaceX has leased an 18 acre site at Berth 240 at the port. SpaceX is apparently already moving hardware to temporary facilities, but will build a state of the art facility. The waterside site allows for easy shipping to test sites and launch pads. Preliminary tests could start in 2019. SpaceX has said the BFR might be used for colonizing Mars.

Netflix added over 7 million subscribers in the 1st quarter, and projects picking up another 6.35 million this quarter. Recode.net reports that Netflix is now up to 1245 million subscribers globally. This puts Netflix at the fastest growth rate since they went into streaming.

Walmart has done a major makeover to its website, in hopes that a cleaner, more modern walmart.com will better compete with Amazon. Reuters.com says the company has been investing heavily in its e-commerce business, including trying to leverage its 4700 brick and mortar stores to help fuel the web growth. Walmart has been letting pick up and return online orders in stores, and last month, announced that it was adding grocery delivery that would reach more than 40% of American households. Look for the big website update to be fully in place in a couple weeks. The company announced that its online sales had increased 23% last quarter, doing a bit over 11 billion. That’s just a trickle of sales compared to the nearly 319 billion the company does overall, though.

Although Mark Zuckerberg again insisted during recent Congressional hearings that Facebook would always remain free to everyone, so those who can’t afford a fee could use it, they have been considering an ad-free subscription. Techcrunch.com reports that based on ad earnings in the US and Canada, they would have to charge $7 per month. Of course, ads aren’t the only way they make money. Some users are more well heeled, and might buy nicer products and services, so they are worth more to advertisers. They also might spend more time on the platform….but would they pony up as much as $11 to $14 a month, like a higher end subscription to Netflix or Hulu? If so, would they be able to opt out of not only ads, but having their data sold off to third parties? Nothing is rumored as happening yet, but we could be seeing both a free tier and paid tier Facebook, and even multiple subscription prices at some point. Will that help ‘save’ Facebook from the Cambridge Analytica fallout? Stay tuned.

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Samsung In-Person Phone Repairs; Google Bans Crypto Ads; Netflix May Bow Weekly Newsmagazine Show; Walmart Expands Grocery Delivery

A strong plus for Apple’s iPhone line has been the ability to make an appointment, and hit an Apple store when your phone is on the fritz. Now, Samsung has announced they are acting to offer in-person service for Galaxy phones in the US. Engadget.com reports that after March 15th, users will be able to visit one of 300+ uBreakiFix locations around the country and get Samsung authorized repairs in person on late model high end Galaxy phones, from the S6 and Note 5 on up to the new S9’s. Both Samsung and uBreakiFix are promising same day repairs, and in most cases 2 hour fixes. Walk-ins are ok, but appointments are encouraged. The repair chain is also adding 200 more locations, and that is expected by 2019.

Google AdWords has banned all cryptocurrency ads. 9to5google.com says the ban will take effect in June to give advertisers time to wrap up schedules. The ban includes related content in addition to actual cryptocurrencies…initial coin offerings, exchanges, wallets, and trading advice ads will be stopped. The action is no doubt in response to the high volatility in the virtual currency market lately. Google notes the havoc that can wreak in less savvy people.

Word is, Netflix may be dipping its toe into news. According to cnet.com, the streaming programming giant is working on something in the vein of ’60 Minutes’ or ’20/20,’ a newsmagazine type format that will run weekly. In addition to entertainment programming, Netflix has already expanded to documentaries, so this may be another nature extension to position them as a full service program provider.

With Amazon now utilizing their acquisition of Whole Foods to expand their own grocery delivery business, Walmart has reacted with an aggressive lan to expand its own grocery delivery service from the present 6 test markets to 100 metro areas. Geekwire.com says Walmart will be able to leverage its 800 physical stores to reach what they say is over 40 percent of US households. Walmart will charge a $9.95 fee on orders of over $30. Using the Whole Foods grocery delivery service, Amazon Prime Now members can get free delivery in 4 test markets: Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas, and Virginia Beach. If they want delivery in an hour or less, it’s an additional $7.99.


Apple Invests in Laser Chips for iPhone; T-Mobile Launching TV Service; Amazon Expands Same and One Day Delivery Service; Target Enters Same Day Delivery Biz

Apple has plowed $390 million into laser chip maker Finisar. Cnet.com says they will use the money to refurbish a plant in Texas to make chips designed for iPhones, running features like Face ID, animojis, and portrait photography. The plant is in Sherman Texas, and will employ 500 skilled workers…Finisar expects to start shipping by the 2nd half of 2018.

Oft times renegade wireless provider T-Mobile is launching a TV service in 2018, with the purchase of Layer4 TV. According to geekwire.com, T-Mobile CEO John Legere says will take on cable companies Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Frontier and Fox with the same competitive zeal that he has applied to Sprint, AT&T and Verizon. Legere made the announcement in a video, noting about cable and satellite providers ‘It’s no secret that these guys are the absolute worst”

Amazon has announced that it is expanding same day and one day delivery service to thousands more cities for Prime members. Now, the rapid deliveries will be available in some 8,000 cities! Faster delivery has been a major selling point for Prime, and lately Walmart has been getting into Amazon’s jeans with their 2 day delivery service. Now, techcrunch.com reports that Target is buying same day delivery service Shipt for $550 million. Shipt will run as an independent division of Target, and work to expand partnerships with other retailers in addition to serving Target. Target customers will need to sign up to be able to use Shipt. The first products available for same-day delivery will include groceries, non-perishable essentials, home and electronics equipment, and will expand over time to include all of Target’s wares by 2019.


Apple Making a Killing on iPhone X; Walmart Pay Close to Surpassing Apple Pay; Waymo Tests Self-Drivers on Public Roads; Super Tiny Japanese Phone

A fair amount of noise has been made about US companies stashing cash overseas and not paying taxes, especially using an accounting trick through Ireland. Apple is at the top of the list, although they claim they pay plenty of tax…some 35 billion dollars. That said, where does it come from? iPhones, of course. Macrumors.com says TechInsights ran numbers, and it costs about $357.50 to make a gorgeous new iPhone X…which sells for a base of $999! That’s a gross margin of 64%…compared to the iPhone 8’s already good 59% margin. Having had several friends in the retail electronics business, a lot of goods only have 28-35% margin, so Apple is making a killing….enjoy that new iPhone X…and buy a case…it’s the most breakable phone ever!

Walmart says they are close to passing up Apple Pay with their Walmart Pay system, in terms of mobile payments usage in the US. Walmart Pay, of course, runs in 4774 Walmart stores, and is available on both Android AND iOS systems. Macrumors.com reports that the average Apple Pay user makes 2 transactions per month. I must be an outlier…I use it 5-6 times a month, and would use it more if more places accepted it. By the numbers, a Forrester survey of 58,000 online consumers found that 7% used Apple Pay the last 90 days, and 6% used Walmart Pay.

Watch out drivers and pedestrians in Chandler, AZ. If you’re in the Phoenix area, you may see cars tooling down the streets sans driver. According to techcrunch.com, Google’s Waymo has driverless cars loose on the streets of Chandler…and not just a couple pre-set routes, either! In technical terms, the cars are at full level 4 autonomy. Waymo expects their first actual product to be basically a replacement for Uber, Lyft, and cabs….and it could be here sooner, not later!

A Japanese firm called FutureModel, is putting out the NichePhoneS, a credit card sized smartphone…or maybe it should be called a ‘not quite dumb’ phone. Businessinsider.com says all it does is make calls, send texts, and play some music…shades of one Motorola made years ago…remember the Rokr? It’s $88 and will be out this week in Japan. It runs Android 4.2…a 2012 operating system! If it makes it over here, it could be ok as a 2nd or 3rd phone or burner.


GM Will Have 20+ Electric Cars by 2023; Apple’s TrueDepth Cam is 2-1/2 Years Ahead of Android; Walmart Buys Delivery Service Parcel; Headphones Customize Music to Your Hearing

Joining a growing number of car makers, General Motors will launch at least 20 all electric cars by 2023. Theverge.com reports that two of those will join the Bolt in the next 18 months, and that the General will also make a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. GM has said it is committed to an all-electric future. Daimler has said they will have an electric model of every Mercedes-Benz by 2022, Volkswagen will be completely electrified by 2030, and Volvo plant to cease production of gas-only vehicles by 2019.

According to an analysis by KGI Securities, it will take Android makers 2-1/2 years to catch up to the functionality of Apple’s True Depth Camera featured on the iPhone X. 9to5mac.com reports that Apple will ship 30-35 million of the new hero phone by year’s end. The True Depth cam system enables Face ID, and other advanced features like face tracking and analysis for the Animoji. Apparently, it is the difficulty in making the cam system that has delayed production of the iPhone X, which the majority of people seem to be waiting for over the just-released iPhone 8.

With Amazon now doing some of its own deliveries, and not relying on UPS and the post office for everything, Walmart has jumped into the logistics business and picked up Parcel, a Brooklyn based delivery startup. Arstechnica.com says the 4 year old company has focused on getting city dwellers packages at convenient times. They offer a 2 hour pick up window, so your orders aren’t stolen off the porch or out of the entryway. Parcel also sends live updates over text to recipients and shippers updating them on last mile location of the package as its delivered. Walmart plans to expand service beyond New York City, combining Parcel’s infrastructure with that of Jet, which it bought a year ago.

Always of interest to those of us who have made our living wearing headphones…better headphones! According to engadget.com, those might be the Nuraphones. Nura claims they are like prescription headphones for your ears. The cans are over the ear, but contain earbud like inserts inside. They tune themselves to your ears using ‘otoacoustic emissions’…sound returns from the inner ear when stimulated…that produce an aural ‘fingerprint’ of sorts. The processor then creates a personal equalization setting for each ear, custom tailored to your hearing. The app that works on either Android or iOS gives you 3 different hearing profiles, and there are a couple programmable buttons on the headphones. They last 20 hours on a charge, and speaking of charges, they will set you back a princely $399!


Google & Walmart Team Up to Take on Amazon’s Voice Based Shopping; Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 Launch Date; Samsung’s Bixby Spreads to 200 Countries

Samsung officially rolled out the Galaxy Note 8 in New York today. The widely anticipated successor to the flameout Note 7 has a 6.3 inch display, dual cams, and 6 gigs of RAM. You get 64 gigs of storage plus what you can add with an SD card. 9to5google.com reports It has a more ‘boxy’ look than the 7, in a callback to previous Notes. The dual 12Mp cameras on the back are different than Apple’s different focal length system. One is a standard cam, and the other shoots black and white. The standard lens takes wide angle shots and the monochrome one shoots telephoto. This should produce a 2X optical zoom and take better low light shots. The phablet should be available September 15th, and will come in silver, orchid gray, gold, and the new ‘deep sea’ blue.

Google and Walmart have announced you will be able to use Walmart’s ‘Easy Reorder’ feature via Google Assistant through a Google Home speaker. Techcrunch.com says Google Express has also ditched membership fees and now promises 1 to 3 day free delivery for minimum orders or more. Amazon with Alexa will still remain the 800 pound gorilla of voice online shopping, but a partnership of Google and Walmart should give them a serious run for their money. It’s a LOT of money, too…RBC Capital figures Alexa could be a $10 billion business by 2020.

Bixby…the intelligent assistant which Samsung dropped very late earlier this summer in the US, for the Galaxy S8 phones, is now live in 200 countries in addition to Korea and the US…including UK, Australia, and Canada. This rollout just a day before today (Wednesday’s) big unveiling of the Galaxy Note 8 in New York City.


Google Looking to Xiaomi to Produce Next Android One; Bay Area Check-Out Free Startup Takes on Amazon; VW WILL Have Electric Microbus in 2022

Xiaomi of China makes an array of gadgets, that are generally high quality and noticeably cheaper than any competition. They have already been producing smartphones, and now may be connecting with Google to make the next Android One. Thenextweb.com reports that they are reworking their 5.5 inch Mi 5X into basically an Android One. It has a dual cam like the iPhone 7 Plus’ Portrait mode, and has good build quality and battery life. If everything pans out, Google could bring an Android One phone to the US by late this year or early next for $200-$300!

We’ve reported on Amazon’s check-out free system they are working on called Amazon Go. Now, Standard Cognition out of Palo Alto is releasing what they call an ‘alternative technology’ to eliminate the checkout process at retailers. According to geekwire.com, the startup is in talks with retailers to set up pilots in stores. Their tech uses machine vision and artificial intelligence to identify each item and detect which ones are picked up, put back, or left elsewhere in the store. They will have two apps…one for shoppers and one for the stores. As a shopper, you just grab your stuff and leave. The bill will be charged to you automatically via the app. ‘Appless’ customers will be directed by store staff to kiosks like self checkouts, where they can pay with cash or credit. Walmart also is testing a similar system they call ‘Scan & Go’

We’ve seen pictures, renders, and teases, now we know that Volkswagen will build the I.D. Buzz electric Microbus by 2022. Mashable.com says it should have a version that can make 300 miles on a charge, and be able to recharge to 80% in 30 minutes with VW’s fast charge system. Since it’s electric, it will have tons of space, and VW plans a commercial version companies can use for deliveries in inner cities that are going to eventually ban gas and diesel vehicles. It will have Level 3 self-driving, so some cruising without full driver participation will be possible. I’m seeing lines of old hippies showing up at VW dealerships looking like Fry from Futurama yelling ‘take my money!’