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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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.


More on the 6.5 Inch iPhone; California Allows Self-Driving Car Tests Sans Driver; Ford Tests Self-Drivers as a Business in Miami; Barclaycard Testing Legal Dine and Dash

Some new details have leaked out about the rumored 6.5 inch iPhone…which is phablet sized, really. 9to5mac.com says it may have dual sim card slots, which would make overseas travel or multiple numbers much easier to handle, especially for corporate travelers. There is a conflicting rumor that Apple may actually go with eSIM like they have on the iPad. Also out is the screen resolution…1242×2688, and word is, Apple may reintroduce gold as a color. Apple apparently dropped gold on the iPhone X due to production problems, but those may be solved.

California has green lighted testing self-driving cars without a driver riding along. TechCrunch.com reports that the DMV announced new rules yesterday that go into effect April 2nd. There will still need to be an always on 2-way communications channel with a live person at a remote location to take control, should the need arise. Right now, the rules only cover cars, not big rigs. Alphabet’s Waymo and GM look to be the first to put such driverless, remote supervised cars on the pavement.

In the meantime, Ford thinks they have a better idea….Florida. The automaker has started testing self-driving cars in Miami…but not just the cars, also the business model. Also according to tech crunch, Ford is testing out cars with its Argo AI software doing business tasks like delivering Domino’s Pizza and Postmates. Miami was selected because it is one of the most congested cities in the country. Ford says it will trial ride hailing in conjunction with Lyft later on in Miami.

If a trial run works out in London, Barclaycard may have a solution for legal dine and dash. According to engadget.com, they are testing out a tabletop device partnered with a smartphone app. If you’ve ever been frustrated by not being able to get the bill from a server and get out after you’ve eaten, you’ll love this. When you’re ready to leave, you just get up and leave. The app lets the in-restaurant equipment know, and the bill is charged to whatever card you have selected in advance…including the tip. No muss, no fuss, and no waiting around trying to flag down your server.


Waymo & Fiat Chrysler Expand Ride-Hailing; Facebook Looks to Local News; iPhone X Top 3 Worldwide; Verizon Won’t Carry Huawei Line

Fiat Chrysler is preparing to provide Google’s Waymo with thousands of Pacifica hybrid minivans, as Waymo’s self-driving division rolls out public ride hailing services later this year. Reuters.com says this could press GM and Lyft to pick up the pace, as well as Uber, which already has a test fleet running. Waymo had been been testing out 500 Fiat Chrysler self-driving mini-vans through 2017 in 25 cities.

Facebook plans to start showing more local news in user newsfeeds. According to businessinsider.com, they will start this in the US, and expand to other countries later in the year. The Facebook definition of ‘local’ is if its links ‘are clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area,’ not the logical ‘is actually IN a local geographic area!’

With reports out that Apple is cutting iPhone X production from 40 to 20 million this quarter, some good news popped up. 9to5mac.com reports that Kantar found the pricey Apple hero phone was the #3 phone in all the regions they monitor during December. That includes Europe, China, Japan, Australia, and the US. iOS sales overall were down half a percentage point in the US, but loyalty hit a record high 96%. Apple and Samsung account for more than 2/3 of the US market at a combined 70.8%.

Under pressure from the government, Verizon has dropped plans to carry Huawei mobile devices. 9to5google.com says AT&T had previously backed out of carrying the Mate 10 Pro. The government apparently is concerned about the closeness of the Chinese government to the phone maker and their possible ability to manipulate upcoming 5G cellular networks.


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.


iPhone X Preorders Start at midnight Friday; Waymo to Test Self-Driving on Snow & Ice in Michigan; Daimler Shows Electric Truck

Preorders go live tonight at the stroke of a little after midnight for the iPhone X (because Apple is NEVER ready right at midnight!) According to bgr.com and me, your best chance of getting one of the pricey new hero phones is to use the iOS app and buy from Apple…since you know they are holding the lion’s share of phones for their own sales channel. I have found in the past that it pays to keep the app open in both your iPhone and an iPad, and alternate trying to complete the buy until one goes through. It may take you 15-30 minutes, but you are likely to score a phone…and Apple is guaranteed to score a mountain of cash!

Waymo is hauling some of it’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans to Michigan to test their self-driving system out in ice and snow. Arstechnica.com reports that most testing up to now has been in Mountain View, CA, Phoenix, AZ, and Austin, TX…all places that rarely if ever get snow. Besides ice and snow, Michigan already has a Waymo facility they use to collaborate with car makers headquartered in Detroit. Meanwhile, as they test out cold weather conditions, Waymo is making plans to expand their self driving taxi service from Phoenix to other warm weather locations like San Diego, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.

Tesla may have postponed the rollout of their electric truck, but original car maker Daimler has rolled right ahead, and showed their E-Fuso Vision One at the Tokyo Motor Show this week. Theverge.com says the truck can haul 11 tons, and make it 217 miles on a charge. Daimler didn’t indicate how quickly the truck can be recharged, but did say they would be aiming for mature markets with more charging stations like Japan and Europe before looking to the US.