Apple Picks Up Waymo Wheel; Facebook Limits Weapon Ad Views to Teens; Foxconn N.A. HQ to Milwaukee; Google Pumps Half Billion into Chinese e-commerce Firm

Although Apple has been seen as withdrawing from the self-driving car race, they have continued to busily work on software and hardware integration they could license to others for self-driving cars. Now, Apple’s secretive autopilot Project Titan has picked up a biggie from Alphabet’s Waymo…Jaime Waydo. Before Waymo, she worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Waydo was responsible at Waymo for checking prototype safety and had a big hand on giving the ok for them to start real-world tests in Phoenix. At NASA, she worked on the Mars rovers. Appleinsider.com points out that Apple has continued to build up its test fleet, and may well need to beef up quality control. 

Facebook has announced that they will begin preventing minors from seeing ads for gun accessories like magazines and holsters. According to theverge.com, ads were already banned for guns and modifications, but now such items as above, and also including gun mounted scopes, flashlights, slings, etc. will be restricted to those over 18. Facebook’s rationale is to age-limit accessories that might make guns seem cooler to teens. The change comes in the aftermath of school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas, Parkland, Florida, and others. Some have grumbled that it’s a baby step, but it’s a start. The new policy is effective June 21st.

It’s been promised for some time, and now main Apple supplier Foxconn has announced that their North American headquarters will be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The firm has bought a seven story building in the city’s downtown area, and reuters.com says will eventually be staffed with some 500 employees. Foxconn had also previously promised to pump $10 billion over 4 years into a 20 million square foot LCD panel plant in Wisconsin. That operation is slated to eventually employ up to 13,000 people. Foxconn is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, employing over a million people worldwide.

Google will pour $550 million in cash into China’s second largest e-commerce operator, JD.com. According to CNBC, Google and JD will work together to develop retail infrastructure that can better personalize the shopping experience and reduce friction in many markets, including Southeast Asia. JD.com will also make a selection of items available for customers in the US and Europe via Google Shopping…a service that lets people search for products on e-commerce sites and compare prices between sellers. Google hopes to win back product searches from Amazon with the beefed up selection from JD.com.  In another case of synergy between Google and JD, JD has been testing drone deliveries to reach rural customers in China.

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Samsung Galaxy X Folder; iPhones Beef Up Hack-proofing; Waymo Ridership; Microsoft Eyes Automated Check Out

The mythic Samsung Galaxy X folding smartphone may yet be coming…the latest rumors say in 2019…pretty cool news for those excited about a phone with a large, folding screen. Ok…that’s the good news. The not-so-good news? According to Golden Bridge Investment, it will probably cost a bit under $1850…or almost double the cost of the present iPhone X. In addition to the two OLED screens with virtually no bezel between them that fold in, the handset will have a third panel for use when the phone is folded. Bgr.com reports that unfolded, the inner screens will combine for a phablet-sized  7.3 inch display! Samsung partners should get a preview at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Apple has confirmed a leak that says it is closing the tech loophole that has been letting law enforcement hack iPhones via USB based hardware like the GrayKey box. The GrayKey box is designed to plug into the Lightening port of an iPhone, and it then uses a data connection to brute force a passcode in as little as a few hours.  In an upcoming software update, the port will be disabled and require a password starting an hour after the phone is locked. The setting will be enabled by default. Macrumors.com says an exception is charging…which doesn’t require a data connection. Apple notes that they aren’t anti-law enforcement…in 2017 they responded to over 29,000 National Security Requests from the US government.

This Spring, Google’s Waymo kicked off an Early Rider program to let people in Arizona get their feet wet in experiencing self-driving cars. They have now let us in on a bit of a progress report. Waymo has gotten 20,000 applications to participate, and so far, riders have ranged in age from 9 to 69. Destinations pretty well mirror rides from Uber or Lyft…the most popular is getting to work…followed by restaurants, schools, and bars. According to 9to5google.com, the biggest request by riders: closer pickup and drop-off points. You’ll be glad to know that Waymo is working on how to gently wake napping riders upon arriving at their destination!

Amazon’s checkout-less stores…Amazon Go… have been covered here a number of times, but now there’s word of a heavyweight challenger in the push to eliminate the check out line at stores….Microsoft. Reuters.com says The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is developing systems that track what shoppers add to their carts. Microsoft has shown sample technology to retailers from around the world and has had talks with Walmart  about a potential collaboration. While it isn’t clear how soon Microsoft could get their system to the market, it’s worth noting that they are the #2 provider of cloud services behind Amazon. According to analyst Gene Munster of Loop Ventures, the US market for automated checkout is worth some $50 billion dollars.


Fire TV Cube Gets Alexa; Lyft Redesigns App; Waymo Passes Big Milestone; Instagram Long Form Video

Amazon has announced the Fire TV Cube. It’s a set top box with all the usual suspects: Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, HBO Go, Sling, And Amazon Prime Video. It also features Alexa…which Engadget.com notes was already available in the Stick and Fire TV box…but the Cube has full-featured Alexa. You can access thousands of third party ‘skills’ on the Cube just like an Echo. The Cube had eight built-in microphones, and can turn on your TV, sound system, cable box. Amazon demoed it by saying ‘Alexa…I’m home,’ and it turned on the entire home theatre system, and brought up the lights in the room. It supports cable boxes from Comcast as well as Dish and DirecTV. There is an IR extension cable for the cable box so the Cube can turn it on and off when the gadgets aren’t line of sight. It ships June 21st for $119. ***UPDATE*** Prime members can preorder and save $30 for a limited time!

Lyft is updating its app for the 1st time in 3 years, and putting more emphasis on shared rides and public transit. Theverge.com reports that it should roll out to everyone by the end of the month. A few changes include Lift Line being rebranded ‘Shared Rides’ and giving that feature a more prominent place in the app. Lyft says it wants shared rides to be 50% of its business by 2020, and has promised to lower its carbon footprint. The updated app will be customized based on a riders’ preferred services and locations. The algorithm considers account fare price, trip time, and more to present the most efficient ride for users, whether a solo rider or shared ride. There is a tweak that encourages riders to get picked up on side streets…which has been piloted in San Francisco (on Valencia Street), and Lyft got 20,000 riders to divert to side street pickup.

Now, more than ever, there’s Google’s Waymo and everyone else when it comes to self-driving cars. According to arstechnica.com, Waymo hit 7 million self-driven miles this week. For reference, they just announced that they had passed up 6 million less than a month ago! Waymo plans to launch commercial driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area before the end of the year.

Instagram is adding support for video of up to an hour in length, with the long form video hub designed to compete with YouTube and Snapchat Discover. According to 9to5google.com, all the videos will be in vertical orientation and 4K resolution. The company has been reportedly meeting with social media stars and content publishers in prep for launching the feature, which is planned for June 20th. No details have gotten out on monetization, but Instagram apparently intends to let creators and publishers earn money from the longer form videos.


Uber Wants Waymo Self-Drivers On Network; WWDC Apple Watch Leak; Reddit Passes Up Facebook; WeChat China-Divorce by Button

At the Code Conference, Uber CEO Dara Khosroshahi revealed that Uber has been in discussions to have Waymo self-driving cars added to its network. This is somewhat remarkable considering the two companies are just coming off a legal battle over alleged trade-secret theft. Theverge.com reports that the Uber CEO also forces self driving tech as ‘a horizontal technology that should be available to everybody.’ He believes that it will be open to all via third party licensing. What about the drivers? Khosrowshahi says they think ‘machines augment humans’ and that ultimately their network will be a machine network and a human network together.

A cool little nugget has been revealed ahead of time that Apple had planned for WWDC. June is Pride Month, and Apple will unveil a special Pride watch face at noon Pacific right at the end of the World Wide Developers Conference keynote. Mashable.com reports that the colors of the rainbow flag are strings on the watch face, and you can interact with them, like strumming a guitar. The special face has two complication spots.

The Facebook/Cambridge Analytics may be hurting the social media platform more than first thought. According to thenextweb.com, Amazon’s Alexa web traffic analyzing platform has determined that Reddit has passed up Facebook as third most visited site in the US. This is probably as scientific as a Survey Monkey poll, but it still gives pause. Google is the top site, with YouTube second, then Reddit, Facebook, and Amazon. Interestingly, average Reddit users spend over 15 minutes a day on the platform, compared to Google with about 7 and a quarter minutes, YouTube 8-1/2 minutes, Facebook at almost 11 minutes, and Amazon just over 7-1/2 minutes.

In what may be the ultimate for a no-deposit, no-return society, people in China can now file for divorce with a button on the WeChat app! Businessinsider.com says the trial divorce function is available right now in th eGuangdong Province, home to cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Just click, enter info, and make an appointment for the local divorce registrar. Payments can also be handled through WeChat, but so far they haven’t opened it up to spousal support payments! WeChat has a billion active users globally.


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.


Google’s Waymo Pedestrian Detection Breakthrough; Facebook Reorganizes into 3 Divisions; iPhone Strikes Back at GreyKey

At Google I/O, Waymo took the stage with the claim that they have “unlocked truly autonomous vehicles.” Thenextweb.com reports that they have really made a breakthrough in making driverless cars safer for pedestrians…claiming to reduce the error-rate for detecting pedestrians by 100X (not 100%). The tech was even able to detect a man’s head sticking up out of a manhole and a person wearing a goofy costume like a sports mascot.

Facebook has reorganized into 3 new divisions, or product areas. The first consists of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. According to businessinsider.com, the 2nd category is for the more experimental parts of the company….AR, VR, and a new blockchain unit. The third area is for what they call ‘central product services. That consists of ads, analytics, integrity, growth, and product management. Facebook has moved around executive management to oversee the 3 new areas.

Apple is striking back at the GreyKey box, that allows law enforcement (or crooks that get hold of one) to get into iPhones. In iOS 11.4, which is in beta, there’s a USB restricted mode. Macrumors.com says that if the phone isn’t unlocked with a passcode or connected to the paired computer within a week, the Lightening port becomes useless for everything but charging.


Waymo’s Jaguar Deal; Facebook Speaker Delayed; President Criticizes Amazon

When you call a self-driving e-car, sometimes you may want to go posh. At least Waymo thinks so. Apparently, their latest partner for their autonomous taxi fleet is Jaguar. Jag’s new BEV–…battery electric vehicle, goes on sale later this year, and Waymo has ordered a whopping 20,000 of the classy e-cars with their I-Pace self driving system. The sensors will be built right into the Jags at the factory in Graz, Austria. Waymo says they want to give users a choice…, so will continue to run the Chrysler Pacifica vans, and add in the Jaguar I-Pace BEVs in 2020, with the full fleet of Jags on the roads by 2022. 

In the aftermath of Facebook’s frankly terrible couple of weeks with the Cambridge Analytica data mis-use disclosure, followed by the discovery that they had been logging call and text data from Android phones for years, Facebook has postponed release of their connected speaker. Originally, it was thought that the new gadget would roll out at their developer conference F8 May 1st, and be available to buyers this fall, but now the connected speaker will debut late in the year. The Facebook speaker will reportedly not only have voice control, but also video chat capability.  Continuing damage control, Facebook has now introduced a new privacy shortcuts menu, simplified shortcuts menu on mobile, and tools to find, download, and delete your Facebook data. 

While Congress is digging into Facebook and their data use or mis-use,  the president is more obsessed with Amazon. Axios is reporting that he is concerned with both the online giant’s tax treatment, and the fact that they are hurting brick and mortar stores and malls. Another thing that disturbs the Chief Executive is Amazon’s so-called ‘cushy deal’ with the US Postal Service. There has been some pushback on the latter, as the Post Office actually makes a ton of money from Amazon. There isn’t much question that Amazon has taken a big bite out of brick and mortar retailers, and that the US Treasury would benefit if Amazon collected and paid in sales tax the way physical stores all do. So far, there’s no plan from the White House dealing with these issues, but they are on Trump’s radar. Amazon stock was down as much as 7%, or 52 billion, after this report came out. In other words, it dropped 5 times more than than the president has claimed he was worth.