Apple Supplier Cuts Deal to Make Lenses for AR Glasses; Self-Driving Nissan Leaf Taxi Test; Amazon Handmade in Hand in 2 Hours

It’s an open secret that Apple has been working on AR smart glasses. Now, 9to5mac.com reports that Apple supplier Quanta has inked a deal to start making lenses for augmented reality smart glasses. This deal isn’t apparently specific to Apple, but it sure opens the door for Cupertino to bring such a wearable to market. Last year, Quanta poured $45 million into Lumus, which makes AR lenses, and they now have apparently struck a licensing agreement that will make AR glasses much more affordable. Quanta has indicated that full AR headsets could be priced at less than the cost of a high end cell phone, or under $1000. Quanta says an AR product may be out in 2019, but maybe not from Apple, which is shooting for 2020.

Nissan has fired up 2018 Leaf production in the US, with the promise of battery packs coming that will get drivers 150 miles between charges…and down the road 225 miles. Now, according to techcrunch.com, the company is working with Japanese software maker DeNA to test an autonomous ride-hailing service. They expect to start testing the self-driving cabs in Japan this March. The interesting wrinkle about Nissan’s project is not just getting from point A to point B…you can apparently put in a general written inquiry such as wanting a specific kind of food, and the car will find and take you to a restaurant that serves it!

Stepping things up a notch for people using Amazon Handmade so they can better compete with Etsy, Amazon will start offering Prime Now 2 hour delivery for handmade artisan products. According to geekwire.com, customers in select Prime Now cities will be able to buy handmade items between now and Christmas Eve for the 2 hour delivery. The cities include: Austin, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle.

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Alexa for Business; Automation vs Jobs; iPhone Batteries Getting Apple Power Management; Smart Wearables Starting to Take Off

Amazon is apparently gearing up to release a version of Alexa for business. More could be out later today at the Amazon Web Services re:Invent meetings. A CNBC report picked up by Geekwire.com says the release would focus on features and skills for workers and businesses. One tricky issue still being navigated is how to authenticate who is speaking so access can be granted based on their permissions.

On a related topic, there’s a new report out that sees up to 375 million workers displaced by AI, robots, or some other form of automation by 2030! The report was produced by the McKinsey Global Institute, which notes that displaced doesn’t mean REplaced. Some will be, but many will add new job skills…others will need to switch occupations. Full employment will be more difficult to attain. The report says what it calls ‘predictable physical work,’ including dish washing, food preparation, and protective services, will take the biggest hit. Demand will increase in India and Mexico, but the US might see 31% less jobs!

Apple is busily working on its own power management chips for iPhone batteries. According to macrumors.com, they could be out in phones in 2 years, and will give users better battery life. Cupertino could replace half the main power management chips in iPhones as soon as next year, but it might be 2019 before they are being built into all Apple mobile devices.

After a very slow start, smart wearables are beginning to take off. Cnet.com reports that global shipments of wearables hit 26.3 million devices in the third quarter of this year, up 7.3%. Most of the growth is in smart wearables…those that can run third party apps. In fact, basic wearables actually declined, but smart watches like the Apple Watch and Android Wear increased by 60%. Fitbit and Xiaomi tied for 1st place in the market, with the Apple Watch third.


Waymo Self-Drivers More Independent Last Year; Apple Watch Owns Wearable Market; AT&T Starting 5G Rollout

Alphabet’s Waymo division continues to march relentlessly towards fully autonomous self-driving cars. 9to5google.com says California DMV figures showed far fewer safety related disengages in 2016 and considerably more miles driven. In 2015, there were .8 disengages per 1000 miles, and in 2016 that dropped to .2 per thousand. Both numbers are exceptionally low, and now word is, Waymo has started using an updated sensor suite just last month…which presumably will drive the figures lower.

Apple said they had record sales 4th Quarter for the Apple Watch, but still doesn’t release details. According to data from Strategy Analytics, though, they pumped out 5.2 million of them for the holidays, grabbing 63.4% of the market. Samsung was next at 9.8%. Overall, smartwatches were up a tiny 1% in 2016 from 2015.

Later this year, Austin, Texas and Indianapolis, Indiana will be first to get blazingly fast 5G service from AT&T. Theverge.com reports that speeds will hit 400 Mbps. That’s not true 5G, which is 1Gigabit, but AT&T claims some top speeds will hit that by year’s end. At any rate, it’s 40 times faster than 4G, and unquestionably in the ballpark with fiber speeds.


UK Military Picks iPhone Over Android; Fitbit Cutting Staff 10%, Focusing On Software

Due to security concerns, the British military has gone for the iPhone 7 instead of Android. According to bgr.com, they feel the overall security is tighter. BT Group is adding some additional security level for them on the handsets. They had originally looked at the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but just couldn’t lock it down enough, according to TechRepublic.

The wearables market still hasn’t caught fire as many expected it to, and now Fitbit is cutting 10% of its workforce. Arstechnica.com reports that the company is pivoting to software and may be developing its own app store. The cutback is expected to reduce costs $200 million as Fitbit is getting ready to announce lower than expected Q4 earnings. Fitbit did show a freshened app at CES. With purchases of both Pebble and Vector, a European smartwatch startup, it’s possible that Fitbit may be writing a complete OS that could power a future full blown smartwatch.


Apple iPhone ‘Ferrari’; Wearables Market Hitting the Skids

As we’ve reported, it’s looking more and more like there will be 3 iPhone models next year….a couple of incremental upgrades to the 7 and 7 Plus, and a ‘wow’ factor model. Bgr.com reports that a new leak says the top line iPhone 8 is code named ‘Ferrari.’ The leak also outed the internal code numbers for the models. Interestingly, Chinese site cnBeta claims Apple will drop prices noticeably on the 7s and 7s Plus models to grab market share, with the 8 commanding a premium price…maybe even more than the present models do.

Apple still says its Watch sales are ‘doing great,’ without releasing figures to back that up, but according to a report from eMarketer picked up by techcrunch.com, wearables like the Fitbit and Apple Watch were supposed to grow 60% from 2015 to 2016, but only grew 25%. It should be pointed out that a lot of product categories would kill to have growth as high as 25%, but in a newish tech category, expectations are always high. Without making a clear case for people to want or need a smartwatch, those wearables in particular have failed to impress enough buyers. eMarketer expects wearable devices to hit 15.8% of the population this year, and 21.1% by 2020. Apple Watch did sell better in the runup to the holidays this year, but market watchers are skeptical that Apple alone can save the wearable category as a whole.


‘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!


Facebook’s Crazy 360 Degree Camera; New Kindle Out; Apple Owns Teens

At F8, Facebook revealed the “Surround 360”, a 17-lens 3D VR camera yesterday that looks like a UFO on a stick and requires almost no post-production work. They won’t make or be selling the Surround 360. Techcrunch.com says that later this summer Facebook will put the hardware designs and video stitching algorithms on Github. All the parts can by bought online for $30,000.

As expected, Amazon has launched a brighter, smaller, thinner Kindle Oasis for $290, with a leather case increasing battery life to 20 months standby time, It has a funky bump on one side Amazon says helps make it easier to hold with one hand like a book. Theverge.com says it’s available for pre-order today, and ships April 27th.

For decades, it’s been a marketing truism that if you get buyers when they’re teens, you can often keep them for life. Apple seems to be doing this…they did it with the original Macs in schools, and now with iOS and wearables. According to a Piper Jaffray survey picked up by appleinsider.com, only 12% of teens had a smartwatch. Of those, 71% were Apple’s. 69% of teens owned an iPhone, and 64% an iPad. The iPad percentage is up slightly…analyst Gene Munster says probably with the introduction of the 9.7 inch iPad Pro that can use a Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. Parents…keep your wallet handy!