Tesla ‘Premium’ Connectivity; Apple Ups Audio Game; Whole Foods Prime; Volvo Level 4 Self-Driving By 2021.

If it’s free, it’s probably not forever or there’s a catch. That’s the case with internet on Tesla cars. Starting July 1st, the free connection…which will be dubbed ‘Standard Connectivity’  cell access will just give you navigation (with traffic-based routing), live Supercharger usage info, and safety-related car updates. Engadget.com reports that most everything else will be part of the Premium Package. Satellite view, live traffic visuals, web browser, streaming audio, and non-safety updates will fall under it. At least Tesla has added WiFi access to the model 3. No official price as yet, but it’s expected to be about $100 a year…that’s not going to bend or break any Tesla owners! BTW, if you had a car ordered before July 1st, everything will stay free…at least for now. 

Apple has the HomePod, with very good audio, but has never had top notch audio in their earbuds, including the AirPods. That may be about to change. Bloomberg is reporting that Cupertino is working on a higher end version, that are water resistant and have noise cancellation and biometric sensors. In addition, Apple is working on higher end over-ear headphones, that will be positioned above their Beats brand. Apple has built an in-house audio team headed by Gary Geaves, a former engineer from higher end speaker and headphone maker B&W. Accessories are a decent side line for Apple…while no iPhone, they generated slightly less than $13 billion for Apple last year.

Amazon is opening up their Prime discount programs to all Whole Foods locations in the US this week. Stores in Florida have had the perk for almost 2 months, included with the $119 per year Prime membership. According to geekwire.com, you get a 10% discount on sale items, and other special deals. To use the discount, you sign in to your Amazon account with the Whole Foods app, then scan the “Prime Code” inside the app when you check out. As with most grocery store sales, the deals will change weekly. You will also still be able to get a 5% discount when you buy with an Amazon credit card. Amazon is hoping the various discounts will help them to shed the ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation for Whole Foods, which they bought last year.

While everyone in the auto biz is racing towards self-driving, with Google’s Waymo apparently well in the lead, Volvo has now issued a pretty amazing pledge…level 4 autonomous cars in showrooms you can buy and drive by 2021. According to bgr.com, Volvo is calling it ‘Highway Assist,’ and it sounds a great deal like Tesla’s Autopilot…only with Volvo’s legendary attention to safety detail. Volvo Senior VP Henrik Green says you will be able to ‘eat, sleep, work, watch a movie, relax, do whatever’ with the Volvo Highway Assist in operation. Note it will only work on appropriate roads that have been mapped out…basically highways and freeways.

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Qualcomm-New AR & VR Chips; Microsoft Passes Alphabet Market Cap; Amazon Expands Whole Foods Discount; Siri Driven Beats speaker coming

Qualcomm has rolled out a dedicated chipset for mass market AR and VR headsets. According to techcrunch.com, the Snapdragon XR1 will support 4K streaming at 60fps. The chipset is aimed at helping manufacturers cut the cord to PC tethered systems. Qualcomm says the chipset won’t match PC based systems, but says for a lot of users, the higher graphics and memory bandwidth of chips like the Snapdragon 845 aren’t needed for a good VR or AR experience.

The horserace is on! Fully 4 tech companies are in the hunt to become the first company in the world with a trillion dollar market cap. Businessinsider.com reports that Microsoft has passed up Google parent Alphabet for the first time in 3 years this week, hitting $753 billion…compared to Alphabet’s $739. Apple and Amazon are still #1 and #2, and it is most likely one of them will cross over the mark first, but it’s still amazing to see 4 tech giants nearing the trillion dollar milestone!

On the subject of Amazon, they are expanding their 10% off discount deal at Whole Foods for Prime members to 12 additional states. According to geekwire.com, all 365 Whole Foods stores will be included now. Available deals will rotate weekly. Customers also get the savings with Whole Foods grocery delivery, which is free for Prime members using Prime Now on orders over $35. Amazon is really trying to unload the upscale grocer’s ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation. Of course, Amazon also just raised the cost for prime 20 bucks to $119 a year!

Among predictions of things to debut at Apple’s WorldWide Developers Conference next week, analyst Gene Munster says look for a Beats branded cheaper version of the HomePod…also powered by Siri. Macrumors.com says it may sell for around $250. We’ll recap the WWDC keynote highlights next week.


Microsoft Plans Cheaper iPad Rival; Apple Vein Face Scan; New Whole Foods Discount for Prime Members

Microsoft is gearing up to release a line of lower cost Surface tablets by later this year that would compete with the hot selling cheaper iPad. Bloomberg.com reports that the last (somewhat) cheaper Surface kind of bombed at $499 back in 2012, but the pricey Pro has sold well. Of course the cheaper iPad is just over $300, so that may be a sweet spot. The cheaper Surface would have a 10 inch screen…just above the 9.7 inch size of the iPad. It is expected to sell for $400, will have USB-C, and be lighter than present Surface tablets. That comes at the cost of battery life…only 4 hours! The Surface Pro can make 13.5 hours on a charge. Again look for these the 2nd half of the year.

As if Apple’s Face ID and the fact that Ticketmaster is testing out facial recognition for concert admission wasn’t enough, now Apple may be going deeper…literally. According to appleinsider.com, Apple is are looking at taking biometrics to the next level…scanning the veins in a user’s face! In a patent just published called ‘Vein imaging using detection of pulsed radiation,’ Apple can scan the blood vessel patterns below the skin in your face. They claim it can even tell identical twins apart. By the way, ‘radiation’ is relative…you won’t glow in the dark…it’s from infrared light, not radioactive material! As with all Apple patents, this may or may not make it into a phone.

In an effort to build business, Amazon has dangled two new discounts for Prime members at Whole Foods. Arstechnica.com says one is an additional 10% off sale items, and another is ‘deep discounts’ on select best-selling items (or what grocers have called ‘loss leaders’ for decades.’) The deep discounts at Whole Foods will include meat and fish, however. The first deep discount items include organic strawberries, wild-caught halibut, cold brew coffee, and granola.


Segway Scooter; Dyson’s New Gorilla V10 Cordless Vac; Outlook Cortana for iOS & Android; Whole Foods Amazon Delivery Expands

You see a few Segways around, but they never caught on as anticipated. Now, businessinsider.com reports the company has launched an Indiegogo preorder for the Loomo, a robotic platform that you can ride, or park a bag or briefcase on and it will follow you around. It’s kind of a mashup of a hoverboard and a personal robot with a personal assistant…like if you could ride R2D2 and it responded like Alexa. The Loomo is $1300, not cheap, but it not only will carry you or your stuff, or follow you around like a puppy, but will also shoot pics or video on command. It takes about 3 hours to charge, and has a range of 22 miles. It runs on a customized version of Android. BTW, if you think the $1300 pre-order price is a bit steep, it will be $1800 later at retail!

Dyson’s vacuums suck like no others. That’s a good thing when it comes to vacuums, of course. Now, they’ve rolled out the Cyclone V10, the most powerful cordless one yet, which they claim can completely replace a corded canister vac. TechCrunch.com says the suction is 20% better than the V8 model it replaces, and the new canister holds 40% more dirt and dust. It also is lighter due to some ceramics used in place of metal. The vac charges in 3.5 hours, and will run an hour on normal, or 10 minutes on super suction. There’s also an in-between setting for semi-super suction and more battery life. The new rig sports LEDs that tell you when to clean the filters, which has been kind of a guess up to now. Being a Dyson, it’s $499…of course, and on the market in April.

A huge number of businesses use Microsoft Outlook for their email and calendaring, and now Redmond is testing out using Cortana with Outlook over iOS and Android to read you your emails while commuting. According to arstechnica.com, Google Assistant doesn’t offer that functionality with Outlook. Siri will, but only if you have the email poured into the Apple Mail app, not with the Outlook app. Right now, the Cortana for email is only being internally testing, but if it works well enough, they plan to roll it out for a public test before long.

Amazon continues to eat the world, and is making it a bit easier for you to eat, too…at least in San Francisco and Atlanta. Geekwire.com says those cities are getting the expansion of Amazon’s Whole Foods grocery delivery service. The service is already available in Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas, and Virginia Beach. You will be able to get 5% back on purchases on the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card, just like in store purchases in these Whole Foods delivery cities.


iPad Refresh Imminent; New Air Pods; Whole Foods Break for Amazon Prime Shoppers; 5G Coming to Intel Laptops

A reliable tip-off that Apple is about to release new devices has popped up. Macrumors.com says Cupertino has registered new tablets with the Eurasian Economic Commission. This points to new iPads in just weeks. Most prognosticators are looking for a refresh of the current lower cost 9.7 inch iPad, and then either a cheaper yet version of it, or possibly an iPad Mini, which hasn’t gotten updated in a while. It’s thought that the updated iPad Pro with FaceID will bow at WWDC in June. Apple has dropped either an iPad or other new piece of hardware in March every year for the last 4 years.

While we’re in the Apple orchard, plucking rumors from the trees, there’s also one from Bloomberg that Apple is working on new models of AirPods. Apple is apparently developing a new wireless chip that helps better manage Bluetooth connections. An expected feature is a touch less Siri model…the present ones require a press in order to activate the Apple assistant, but a new model may allow for a voice only command of ‘Hey Siri’ to give total hands free use to people wanting to access the feature. A water resistant design is also thought to be in the works for at least one model of new Air Pods.

Amazon has added another perk for Amazon Prime. According to bgr.com, Prime members with an Amazon Rewards Visa card will now get 5% back on Whole Foods purchases, in addition to the 5% back on amazon.com purchases. Most such programs don’t offer as high as 5%, and almost all others restrict purchases, so having it available on all of Amazon and Whole Foods could really add up fast.

We just covered the 1st 3 cities that AT&T will wire for 5G service later this year. Now, word comes from reuters.com that Intel’s upcoming XMM 8000 modem chips will power laptops with 5G connectivity starting in the 2nd half of 2019. Blazing fast, always-connected internet could be a killer feature to push a lot more people into trading for a new laptop!


HomePod Pre-Orders Sell Out; Apple Patents Stylus for Thin Air; Twitter Makes Money; Amazon Prime Tries Limited Whole Foods Prime Now Delivery

Apple’s HomePod has gotten great reviews all around for sound, but knocked for it’s lack of support of music other than Apple’s and the puny skills of Siri so far. That said, it has sold out in pre-orders a day before it officially launches. TechCrunch.com reports that some retailers do have it in stock, so if you desperately want one now, check around. People that pre-ordered are getting shipping notices for delivery tomorrow.

Also from Apple, Cupertino has apparently patented a stylus you can write in thin air…think air guitar only with drawing and words. The stylus…or ‘pencil’ in Appletalk, can be used on a tablet, any flat surface, or actually in the air, according to the patent. Thenextweb.com says on use of the latter would be to aid in drawing 3 dimensional objects…that is, for those of you who can draw at all. I can’t draw a straight line with help on a page or tablet, so it’s rather academic to me!

Twitter lost monthly users in the US…a million of them…down from 69 to 68 million. They are living steady worldwide at 330 million, though. On the plus side…and it’s a BIG plus…Twitter finally made a quarterly profit! Theverge.com points out it’s the first time they’ve turned a profit in 12 years or existence! Their revenue also grew last quarter, after declining in most of 2017. Twitter says the drop in use in the US is due to a change in Safari’s third party app integration. Interestingly, the expansion to 280 character Tweets seems to have helped pick up use…although most people rarely exceed the old limit.

Amazon is dipping its mighty toe in the water of Prime Now delivery for Whole Foods. They had already rolled out discounts related to Amazon use, and now, 4 markets will get in on Prime Now delivery of Whole Foods items delivered to your door in 2 hours. According to arstechnica.com, the cities are Austin and Dallas, Texas, Virginia Beach, Florida, and Cincinnati, Ohio. If all goes well, Amazon will be expanding Prime Now delivery to other cities, but no time frame has been given. The two hour delivery is free for all Prime members on orders of $35 or more, or customers can pay an extra $7.99 to get one hour delivery.


Amazon Doorbell To Let Delivery People in Once; Amazon Prime ‘Really Valuable’ to Whole Foods Shoppers; Google Mini Bug Left Mics On; Movie Studios Band Together For Easier Film Downloads

The battle of grocery home delivery has heated up, with Amazon matching Walmart with in home, right to the fridge deliveries. Amazon, however, may have an ace up its sleeve…theverge.com says they are working on a smart doorbell device that could allow delivery drivers one-time access to enter a home and drop off a package or groceries to the fridge! Amazon has been talking to Phrame, which makes smart license plate frames that secure an emergency key.

If, like a lot of people, grocery shopping means running to the store, Amazon is also touting Prime membership further…according to geekwire.com, Amazon is promising to make Prime membership ‘really valuable’ to Whole Foods shoppers, essentially making Amazon Prime the customer rewards program at Whole Foods. Amazon says that so far, the merger is going well enough they are thinking about shutting down their own grocery services and doing everything through the Whole Foods subsidiary.

Google is working on a fix for the Google Home Mini. Some of the pre-production ones don’t wait for you to address them….they have been listening and recording every word. 9to5google.com says it’s because the devices think they are getting a touch to activate. They have put out a patch to make them respond only to the verbal ‘OK Google’ command, and are working on a fix for the hardware gesture.

In a move that’s amazing for Hollywood, Disney, Fox, Warner, & Universal may team up on downloadable movies. Engadget.com reports that they have signed up to make flicks available through Disney’s new film service. The studios hope people will just buy more movies directly through the service instead of going through iTunes, Amazon, etc. to get links to download. It isn’t known if the studios will continue to support Ultraviolet to provide cross platform links.