Facebook Launches Portal Video Chat Screens; Google’s Pixel 3 Event; Microsoft Game Streaming Service; Oct Windows 10 Update Pulled

Facebook has dropped its first hardware product in the Portal line. TechCrunch.com says they are auto-zooming video chat screens ranging in price from $199 to $349. The Portal units will run Alexa and eventually Google Assistant in a countertop video chat screen that zooms to always keep you in frame. The big question will be whether people will want a Facebook cam and microphone in their house, even with a physical clip-on privacy shield. At any rate, the presale starts now. For $199, you get the 10 inch screen Portal, and for $349 you will be the proud owner of a 15.6 inch swiveling screen with a hi-fi audio Portal+. Save $100 if you buy any two Portal devices. The screens come with ‘Hey Portal’ voice navigation, bluetooth and voice activated music, Facebook Messenger for video calls, Spotify and Pandora. More video provers to come. Facebook claims there is built in privacy…no facial recognition but something called 2D pose that runs locally on the device to keep you in picture. They claim the unit only turns on with the wake word, and that it doesn’t save recordings…also they have data encryption. With a tap you can automatically disable the cam and mic, and it does have a plastic privacy shield you can slide over the cam if you still want to chat…without video. They ship in November. You can preorder at Portal.Facebook.com, Amazon, and Best Buy.

Tomorrow, October 9th, Google will be showing their latest at an event scheduled for 11am Eastern, 8 Pacific. Theverge.com reports that the flood of leaks has given us a good idea of what to expect. The Pixel 3 and 3 XL phones top the list…in fact, someone got hold of a working Pixel 3 in Asia a couple days ago from a source…talk about a leak! The phones sport target screens, wireless charging, and a second selfie cam. Also expected is a wireless charging stand for the handsets. There MAY be a Google Home speaker with a smart display to compete with the Amazon Echo Show. An expected item is the Pixel Slate, A Google branded Chrome OS tablet. Rumors have it with a detachable keyboard, and expect it to be fairly high end like the iPad Pro and Surface Pro.There will probably be a Pixelbook update, but probably not a major overhaul there. We’ll have details after the actual event tomorrow.

Look for a beta in 2019 of Microsoft’s game streaming service, Project xCloud. According to engadget.com, the idea behind the cloud system is to allow users to play any video game where they feel the most comfortable or where it’s convenient….on a console, a computer, or mobile device. Of course, Microsoft is most interested in making it as frictionless as possible for users to play their own Xbox One games. Even with the beta out next year, Redmond cautions that this is a complicated project, and may take a while longer to perfect.

Microsoft has pulled the October update to Windows 10 (version 1809) after complaints that it deleted user’s files. ZDnet.com says some users said they couldn’t even recover all files using a recovery product like Recuva. There was a similar issue with the April, 2018 update. In that case, Microsoft delayed the update until the end of the month to squash the bugs.

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HP’s Leather Laptop; Google Pixel Slate Rumors; Google Maps Gets Commute Tab; US Internet & Social Media Flattens; California Presses for Electric & Hydrogen Vehicles

HP has rolled out the Spectre Folio, and is claiming they are ‘reinventing the PC.’ While some would love it if they’d reinvent their printers to not take expensive ink cartridges so often, the Spectre Folio does have a cool and interesting set of features. Theverge.com reports that it has a skeletal magnesium frame that attaches to a leather skin, and that HP has shrunk down to tiny size the convertible laptop’s motherboard to maximize battery size. HP claims 18 hours of battery life. It runs on an 8th gen. Intel Core i7, with 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 Gig solid state drive. The display is 13.3 inches, and a 4 K display is coming by year’s end. With the mag frame and leather skin, it folds down almost like a magazine or thin book. You can use it in laptop mode, or slide the display forward to slot it in media mode when the keyboard is covered by the display. A Core i5 version is $1299, the Core i7 starts at $1399, and one with LTE connectivity and i7 runs $1499….all available at Best Buy or HP.com.

Meanwhile, over at Google, the Pixel Slate is rumored to be able to run Windows 10 as well as the Chrome OS. 9to5google.com says that other Chromebooks may be getting dual boot capability later, but we’ll probably see it exclusively on the Pixel Slate first. The Slate should roll out at Google’s October 9th event.

Here’s a Google update that’s rolling out right now…a new version of Google Maps will have a ‘Commute’ tab. Google is claiming it will give you one tap access to live traffic and transit info, and introduces support for mixed mode commutes…like driving to a park and ride lot then taking mass transit. According to engadget.com, you can also listen to streaming over Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play music within the app! The Maps update should be available everywhere by week’s end.

After years of growth, US internet, social media, and device use has flattened out. It’s stayed basically the same since 2016, according to Pew Research Center. 65% say they have broadband internet, down a couple ticks from the 67% in 2015. Similarly, laptop ownership is off slightly…from 78% in 2016 to 73% today…possibly due to the increased capability of tablets. Pew points out the obvious that growth has slowed because a lot of the population has reached near saturation level. 9 out of 10 adults under 50 report that they go online or use a smartphone. The use and confidence level in electronics is notably lower among the elderly. One growth area….digital voice assistants. Right now, about 46% of adults use them.

California is often in the vanguard of progress, and the Golden State is increasing its push towards electric and hydrogen vehicles. Arstechnica.com says the California Air Resourses Board has announced tighter restrictions on transportation fuels, calling for a 10% reduction in ‘carbon intensity’ for all fuels sold by 2020. This buzzy expression basically means lower lifetime carbon emissions…including from processing oil into gas, or feedstock into ethanol, or transporting fuel from a refinery to a point of sale (gas station.) The CARB mandates that carbon intensity drop by 20% by 2030. They are allowing the state to issue credits to utilities for installing electric vehicle charging stations. the utilities can then sell those credits to fuel producers who can’t hit the 20% reduction number.


Fall iPhone Sales Expected to Be Highest in Years; Dell Rolls out New Convertible Chromebook; Sign In to Windows 10 With Google Account

The iPhone X last year ended up selling better than some expected, but wasn’t the explosive ‘super cycle’ some thought it might be. Now, macrumors.com says DigiTimes is predicting something approaching that super cycle…the biggest iPhone selling season since the iPhone 6 in 2014. One key reason: the expected cheaper 6.1 inch LCD screen handset. As previously reported, the cheaper phone is expected to be $600-$700, while the replacement 5.8 inch OLED model will be $800-$900, with the new bigger 6.5 inch near-phablet starting at $1000. Suppliers are estimating 70-75 million phones will ship by the end of 2018 with this lineup. As we reported, it looks like the rollout will be September 12th, with preorders starting Friday September 14th.

Dell has announced the new Inspiron Chromebook 14. The rig is a two in one, a Chrome OS convertible on steroids. Arstechnica.com reports that it has the look and feel…and even power…of Dell’s Windows based Inspiron machines. It has a metal body, and comes with a pen to use with the 14 inch touch screen. The convertible starts at $599, and has an Intel Core i3 processor, 4 gigs or RAM, and either 64 or 128 gigs of storage. Battery should last 10 hours on a charge.

Google appears to be working on a way to let users log into Windows 10 machines using their Google accounts. 9to5google.com says the system takes advantage of Windows’ ability to use 3rd party credential providers. Without getting into the weeds, you would just use your Google account email and password to log in. It does look like users will need to have Chrome installed to take advantage of this. No date on when it might be available, but much more detail is available at Bleeping Computer.


iPhones May Get USB-C Ports; Microsoft Revamps Office; Tesla Laying Off 9%; Big Names Back Better Battery Quest

After going all-in on USB-C on the MacBook Pro line, it looks like Apple may be getting ready to retire the Lightening connectors on the upcoming iPhones in favor of the more universally used connection. 9to5mac.com reports that Apple may also include an 18 watt charger to take advantage of quick charging…which the current phones are already capable of, but only with 3rd party chargers. It’s worth noting that this rumor comes from Digitimes, which doesn’t have the stellar accurate leak record of the likes of KGI Securities. That said, Apple has run with the Lightening port since 2012, so a change is more likely than not.

Microsoft is porting over its Fluent Design system from Windows 10 to Office, in an effort to simplify them for the some billion users of the productivity suite. According to theverge.com, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook will all get a new, simplified ribbon that is smaller and easier to use. There are new animations, icons that are more accessible, and more. The goal is to modernize Office, and make it more intuitive. The changes will hit the main desktop versions first, but also will be brought over to the web versions. They should appear on the apps for Windows next month, and on Macs by August. Microsoft also promises and increase in speed for the productivity suite.

As first indicated last month, Tesla has begun laying off salaried employees as they move to what Elon Musk calls ‘flattening the management structure’, and a ‘thorough reorganization’ of the company aimed at helping Tesla achieve profitability by the end of this year. Electrek.co notes that as many as 3,500 employees could be let go. No line workers will be involved in the layoffs, as Tesla continues to ramp up Model 3 production, and they will still be hiring ‘mission critical’ people. After the Solar City acquisition, Tesla laid off about 20% of that workforce, cutting duplicate positions and restructuring. They are also not continuing the residential sales agreement with Home Depot…although those employees will have the opportunity to move to Tesla retail locations.

Billion dollar startup Breakthrough Energy Ventures has dived into a couple startups aimed at power storage. Form Energy is working on novel chemistries for low-cost, long-term, high-density batteries, and Quidnet Energy is working on storing energy in highly compressed water. Geekwire.com says Breakthrough is backed by some really big players in tech: Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Ma. The fund was started a couple years ago, but the two energy storage tech startups are two of the first investments revealed by Breakthrough. Cheap, efficient energy storage will allow power generated by renewable energy sources to be stored for use 24/7 on the energy grid.


Two Wild TVs From CES; iOT-Everything Including the Kitchen Sink; Alexa Baked into Some New Windows 10 PCs; Sony Bows 3 New Phones

It’s CES week, the BIG Show for consumer electronics, and you can always count on some off the wall, ‘wow’ items. Theverge.com reports there are a couple of TVs that won’t disappoint in that department. Samsung has rolled out a 146 inch TV called The Wall. It uses Micro LED, which has a lot of the same benefits of OLED, and is ‘module based.’ The modules can be assembled to make a TV just the size to fit your needs…although 146 inch would probably be perfect for a man cave. You have to think the price will exceed that of many houses, though! The Wall launches this spring.

If a wall sized TV isn’t to your liking, how about a 65 inch screen that rolls up like a piece of paper? LG is showing their updated roll-up TV. It’s a 4K model that rolls down into a base when not in use. No word from LG when this marvel might be available.

The old joke is something has ‘everything but the kitchen sink.’ Well now, the Internet of Things can even control that! According to mashable.com, Delta is showing a sink that can be controlled by Alexa. They plan to have these in model homes to show the tech off by later this year, with the sinks hitting the market sometime in 2018.

Speaking of Alexa…and I realize you know what I did there, last year Amazon and Microsoft announced plans to let Cortana and Alexa talk to each other on Windows 10 PCs. Now, arstechnica.com says Acer, Asus, and HP have all announced that Alexa will be baked into some of their notebooks that will be coming out this year. All will apparently use the Alexa Windows 10 app that will be released later this year. It should be just about like using an Echo.

Sony has unveiled 3 new smartphones at CES. According to bgr.com, they are mid-range phones, not flagship type devices. Nothing spectacular about them, with one exception….the Xperia XA2 Ultra has two FRONT facing cams, and a 23 megapixel rear cam! The phones should be out late this month, giving people a chance to see if the buzz over the cam setup is worth it, or just a cool gimmick.


Next iPad Pro Gets Face ID; Microsoft Joins AirDrop Party; Amazon Makes Sub-$100 Sound Bar

Apple is going all-in on Face ID. The iPad Pro will get it in 2018, according to a Bloomberg report picked up by 9to5mac.com. The top line Apple tablet will also get an improved Apple Pencil, and smaller top and bottom bezels, but no OLED screen, which could be quite pricey on a 12.9 inch device.

Just a couple days ago, there was a report that Google was working on an answer to Apple’s AirDrop over Android, which allows sharing between devices nearby that are connected via WiFi or Bluetooth. Now, theverge.com reports that Microsoft has begun testing its own similar system called ‘Near Share’ for Windows 10 devices. It’s available now on the latest Insider build of Windows 10, and makes sharing documents or photos to nearby PCs virtually seamless over Bluetooth. Redmond is also adding a mute tab to the Edge Browser.

Amazon has brought out its own sound bar for under $100 under the AmazonBasics line. Bgr.com says the $94.99 system works over Bluetooth, and has a built in subwoofer. It has 3 sound modes: Standard, News, & Movie, plus its own remote (it’s not compatible with universal or TV remotes.) If you want to spring for a few bucks more, and get a sound bar with a REAL, 6” subwoofer, check Amazon’s deal on the Klipsch Reference Series R-4B, for just under $150 while supplies last.


Microsoft Win 10 Update & Microsoft Windows Story Remix; iPhone Facial Recognition & Release Timing

Some very cool things coming in the Windows 10 update later this year. According to businessinsider.com, Windows Story Remix will take your photos and videos and stitch them into a story, including a soundtrack and transitions. It seems to echo a similar function to Google Photos. Also, Win 10 will keep track of a timeline of your apps and sites, so you can go back to where you were…AND pick up on your PC, or your mobile device running iOS or Android. It’s a lot like Apple’s “Handoff”, but that only works between Macs, iPhones, and iPads. (Disclosure: I use Handoff, and it works great, but only on Apple devices.) The Microsoft version will work across platforms, which is very cool. Redmond is also working on a universal clipboard that will cut and past across platforms.

LG will supply Apple 3D facial recognition modules for the iPhone 8. Macrumors.com says LG already builds the dual lens cams for the iPhone 7 Plus, and will be building a $238 million dollar plant to crank out the 3D modules for Cupertino’s anniversary flagship phone. According to KGI Securities, the system runs tech from PrimeSense, which Apple bought 4 years ago, and can also do iris scanning, and a combination of augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality.

A number of reports have warned that the iPhone 8 will be out later in the Fall due to problems with the embedded fingerprint sensor under the screen. According to bgr.com, a reliable leaker has said hiring and training at Foxconn has started, and they will begin building iPhone 8 in August for a September launch.