HomePod Sounds Great, Siri Sucks; Pixel 2 Visual Core Works With Apps; France Bans Handheld Smartphone Use in Cars; Military-Self Driving Vehicles & Auto Weapons

A number of reviews are out for Apple’s HomePod. According to 9to5mac.com (as I am way too small potatoes to have actually gotten a review unit), reviewers are pretty universally impressed with the HomePod’s great sound. On the other hand, they hate the stupidity of Siri compared to Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. The semi-smart speaker also gets knocks for being a closed system (like Apple would ever make it otherwise!) It won’t work with Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, etc. If you have all your music on Apple’s system, and love great sound with tight, loud, punchy bass and crisp highs, that sounds good anywhere in the room, by all means…go for it.

Google’s Pixel 2 had gotten accolades from it’s great camera app. The pix are just great on its proprietary processor Now, techcrunch.com says Google is opening up that tech to third party apps. As of today, it will work on Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Snapchat if you update the software. That software is showing up as part of the monthly software update today…although it may take a day or two to get to you…your mileage may vary.

Love ‘em…hate ‘em, it’s often fun to pick on the French. Now, they’ve done something that may have their own citizens up in arms. 9to5google.com reports that France has banned hand held smartphone use in cars…EVEN if the car is sitting still with the engine off! Apparently, France changed their legal definition of driving to include everything except being parked off-road or in a designated parking spot! The fine is 135 Euros, and points on your license, same as if you were motoring down the road doing it. I suspect the French may invent a new hand sign to display in protest of this!

Welcome to the future and our new, robotic overlords! The military is now testing autonomous vehicles equipped with robotic weapons systems! According to zdnet.com, the Army has announced ‘Wingman,’ and they have successfully destroyed targets from a self-driving Hummer with an autonomous 7.62mm weapon system. The Army claims that, for the foreseeable future, there will always be a human soldier in the loop, making the decisions.

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Apple’s Siri Speaker in Production; Skype Gets Major Makeover With ‘Me Too’ Features

Apple’s smart speaker, powered by Siri, is apparently in production and will be showed off at WWDC, according to bloomberg.com. In an effort to outshine Amazon and Google offerings, it will feature virtual surround sound, be louder and reproduce sound more ‘crisply’ than others, and (of course) have deep integration with other Apple products. It will also serve as a hub for Apple HomeKit connected devices. The device will be built by the Taiwanese company Inventec, which produces AirPods for Apple. It is expected to be out later this year.

Microsoft is giving Skype yet another makeover, but this one is much more than a fresh coat of paint. The latest iteration takes on the look of Snapchat. Theverge.com reports that although Skype has done well for video and audio calls, it hasn’t made much of a dent in Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, iMessage, or Snapchat….and messaging is where the growth in conversations live. The new interface includes 3 sections in a conversation: find, chat, and capture. Chat is what is sounds like, but the other two allow you to search a convo, or find images, restaurants, or content to drop into a message. Capture is where Microsoft has added the Snapchat like capabilities….the cam opens so you can shoot pics or video, then you can add stickers, text, or annotate the shot. There’s also a Highlights feature so friends can stream pics and videos of yours and react with emoji.


Facebook’s WhatsApp Leans on Telegram; Apple May Drop Headphone Jack on iPhone 7.

Facebook is using its muscle to make it tougher to use a competitor for one of their apps. WhatsApp has started blocking outbound links to Telegram, the secure messaging service. Businessinsider.com reports that any such links are dead, and can’t be copied an pasted out of WhatsApp. The blocking came with a silent update yesterday. In an unintended but ironic side consequence, the app also now blocks links to telegram.com, a domain for a newspaper in Worcester, Mass that has nothing to do with the Telegram messaging app!

A rumor that has popped up everywhere the last 24 hours, including gizmodo.com, is that Apple may drop the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, opting for earbuds that plug into the Lightening port. Besides meaning you couldn’t charge the phone and listen at the same time, or use your old…and perhaps expensive headphones…this means if you listen on a computer, iPad, or any other device that uses the standard 3.5mm headphone plug, you either will have to carry a dongle adapter around with you, or two sets of headphones or earbuds. You also won’t be able to plug directly into another system and feed your music from your phone to it…like at a party where they’re playing terrible music, and need a musical rescue! While Apple has done this sort of thing before…think the floppy disk and DVD/CD slot…it’s likely that dropping the headphone jack will REALLY make people mad, and could hurt sales. Let’s hope common sense prevails at Apple in this case!


Tesla’s Home Batteries Could Be Leased

The poorly kept secret Tesla home batteries may be leased instead of sold. Engadget.com picked up a report from the Guardian that says some have already been leased to a few SolarCity customers. SolarCity is, of course, run by Tesla boss Elon Musk. The 10 year deal has been test run at $1500 down and $15 a month, or $27.50 a month, making the decade lease cost $3300. Subsidies from energy companies could drop the price even lower. Whatever the deal will be should be revealed in a few days.

A new app is out for renters, that works like Venmo for shared meal tabs. Splittable lets housemates divvy up rent and expenses evenly…a big help in places like the Bay Area and New York City, where house and apartment sharing are common. It was already given a trial run in London for 1000 renters, and is available on Android, iOS, and the web. TEchcrunch.com says you can invite housemates over email, Facebook message, or WhatsApp.


Microsoft Surface 3 Grows Up

Microsoft has just unveiled the latest version of their Surface 3 tablet. The verge.com says the $499 tablet may have cracked the code this time…it has an Intel Atom chip instead of an ARM processor, and will run full Windows 8.1 and apps like the Surface Pro or a laptop.

Techcrunch.com reports that Amazon has launched a dedicated STEM toy shop. Toys for all ages focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math skills are featured.

WhatsApp has been updated for Android. According to thenextweb.com, you can now make and receive voice calls. It’s in the Google Play store now. WhatsApp says an iOS version will be out in a few weeks.