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Apple eyes satellite internet for data project

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How can a Mac Pro cost $52,599? There are a few extras
Apple’s new Mac Pro has landed, and while the starting price is only — only — $5,999, that quickly spirals to $52,599 with a few clicks.

Apple is reportedly hiring engineers to help deliver a satellite project that would beam internet services directly to devices without the aid of mobile networks.

Bloomberg reports that Apple has an early stage project with about 12 engineers from the aerospace, satellite and antenna design industries who hope to launch the project within five years.

Exactly what Apple is cooking up is not clear and it could have many different interpretations. The company is expected to launch a 5G iPhone in 2020, as usual a little later than rivals. Apple is also focussing more on services these days, which makes the idea of it providing internet connectivity directly to iPhone users from a SpaceX-like satellite constellation a tantalizing prospect.

SEE: Sensor’d enterprise: IoT, ML, and big data (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Apparently Apple CEO Tim Cook has shown interest in the project but Bloomberg’s source said that a clear direction and use for satellites has not been finalized. 

Bloomberg reports that Apple’s “work on communications satellites and next-generation wireless technology means the aim is likely to beam data to a user’s device, potentially mitigating the dependence on wireless carriers, or for linking devices together without a traditional network.”

The second piece of speculation at least fits with some recent moves, such as what Apple describes as “the groundbreaking capability of distributed finding of an offline Mac” with its Find My app. The app works offline by devices emitting short range Bluetooth signals that are picked up by other Apple devices, creating a kind of mesh network.  

Apple could also be hiring engineers with satellite experience just to improve maps and location-tracking services, which again could feed into its services business. 

Bloomberg notes that it isn’t known whether Apple wants to launch something on the scale of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet program, which recently launched 60 small satellites into low Earth orbit. But other internet giants looking at space for tomorrow’s internet include Facebook and Amazon, which is planning to launch over 3,000 satellites into low Earth orbit. 

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Toyota foils leakers by offering an official image of the 2022 Tundra

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Earlier this week, leaked images were going around claiming to show the next generation 2022 Toyota Tundra. Automakers never like leaks, and often they simply deny that the images are of their vehicle or ignore the leak altogether. However, Toyota used a different tactic when images of its 2022 Tundra leaked, choosing to release an official image of the truck.

2022 Tundra TRD Pro

With Toyota’s move, talk of the 2022 Tundra has moved from the leaked images to Toyota’s official image. However, it’s worth noting that Toyota only offered a single image of the TRD Pro version of the Tundra and offered no details on the truck. Last month, SlashGear posted a review of the 2021 Tundra TRD Pro, highlighting that it was the last hurrah for the current generation of the truck.

However, it does offer a nice opportunity for us to compare the exterior of the 2021 model to the 2022 model. What we see is significant changes on the exterior of the truck. While the overall profile remains virtually the same, the 2022 has a completely new front end that closely resembles the style used on the Tacoma and 4Runner SUV. That means a large black grille with hexagonal openings and bulky Toyota branding on the grille.

It’s unclear if non-TRD Pro versions will have the same front-end treatment. Another interesting tidbit that is easily seen from the official Toyota photograph is that the truck is equipped with an LED light bar underneath the Toyota logo in the grill and what appear to be LEDs underneath the grill on the front black portion of the bumper. The headlights are much smaller and appear to be LED.

2021 Tundra TRD Pro

The truck has modest black fender extensions and rolls on very attractive black wheels. We also note that the truck has integrated sidesteps to make it easier to get in and out. Unfortunately, there’s no indication of what changes might have been made to the interior or under the hood of the truck at this time.

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Ford to purchase Electriphi for integration with Ford Pro services for EV fleets

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Ford has announced it will purchase Electriphi, a California-based provider of charging management and fleet monitoring software for electric vehicles. Ford intends to integrate Electriphi capabilities with its Ford Pro services to develop advanced charging and energy management experiences for commercial users. Many large commercial fleet operators are actively transitioning from combustion-powered vehicles to electric vehicles, and managing charging is a significant challenge.

Ford believes that the acquisition of Electriphi will help spur the adoption of the new F-150 Lightning Pro and E-Transit van by fleet operators around the country and the world. The automaker also notes that the acquisition is part of its plan to invest more than $30 billion by 2025 to enable it to lead in electrification for both commercial and retail customers.

Ford Pro is a new global business within Ford designed to help improve commercial customer productivity and develop advanced charging and energy management services. Charging infrastructure and managing charging capabilities for large fleets of electric vehicles is seen as one of the biggest challenges to the adoption of electric vehicles by commercial users. Ford Pro estimates that the depot charging industry will grow to over 600,000 full-size trucks and vans by 2030.

Ford Pro expects to have over $1 billion in revenue from charging by 2030. Ford’s full-electric E-Transit van is currently scheduled to begin shipping later this year, and the F-150 Lightning Pro will begin shipping in the spring of 2022. Electriphi had a team of over 30 employees, and the software they developed is designed to simplify the electrification of fleets, save energy cost, and track critical metrics like the real-time status of vehicles, chargers, and maintenance services. Ford expects to close the acquisition this month at undisclosed terms. Ford Pro will begin for customers in North America, but it will launch in Europe later.

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2021 Volkswagen Jetta Review: Sober Value

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Volkswagen would probably call the 2021 Jetta “pragmatic,” and rationality certainly is the name of the game for one of the most affordable cars on the market right now. A mainstay of the compact sedan segment since 1979, the Jetta always promised a balance between the playful Golf and the grown-up Passat. These days, though, the Jetta may have matured a little too far.

Much as with the Golf in the US, VW has pared back the Jetta configurations to a single engine. In fact it’s the same engine: a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, with 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The cheapest 2021 Jetta, the S trim from $18,995 (plus $995 destination), comes with a six-speed manual. So, too, does the $22,795 Jetta R-Line.

Otherwise you get an eight-speed automatic, with front-wheel drive across the board. In the case of my 2021 Jetta SEL Premium – the swankiest Volkswagen offers – it pushes pricing to $28,045 plus destination. Part of that is the Cold Weather Package, which is $500 on lesser trims, and the equally priced Driver-Assistance Package.

All Jetta get LED front and rear lights, and R-Line and above upgrade the 16-inch alloy wheels to 17-inch versions. SE and above have heated side mirrors and a panoramic power sunroof. SE and above get dual-zone automatic climate control and heated front seats; cars with the Cold Weather Package have a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats. Only the SEL Premium has actual leather upholstery, though.

On the safety side, automatic post-collision braking is standard across the board, while SE and above get forward collision warnings with emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts. SEL and SEL Premium cars throw in adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance.

The Jetta may have the same engine as the 2021 Golf, but the end result still feels fairly different. The Golf has, of course, near-sublime chassis tuning, and is altogether more eager with its 147 horses. Even with the same platform underneath, the Jetta plays things a little more grown-up. It’s surprisingly zippy from a standing start, easily pulling away, but corners see more body roll and the steering is dialed in light.

I suspect that’s what Jetta owners like, though, and certainly it’s a relaxed and unchallenging experience from behind the wheel. The Jetta GLI promises a few more thrills, thanks in no small part to its active damping, but this regular car is unlikely to get your heart rate up.

The same could be said for the cabin, which is dark and sober enough that you could assume Volkswagen is going through its goth phase. Matte black plastics sit alongside gloss black plastics, and the sprinkling of dark silver trim around the clusters of controls isn’t enough to lift the interior out of its somber monochrome.

The switchgear feels good, but the rest of the plastics are only middling, and all the button blanks around the transmission shifter are a reminder that even in SEL Premium form you don’t get a huge number of toys. The 8-inch touchscreen on SEL and SEL Premium trims now runs MIB3, a newer version of VW’s infotainment system; S, SE, and R-Line cars get a 6.5-inch touchscreen and the older MIB2. So, too, the two highest trims pack the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, with a screen replacing the analog gauges.

MIB3 is clean and easy to use, though VW’s graphics don’t stray from the pallid aesthetic of the rest of the interior. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a wireless charging pad, and both SEL and SEL Premium cars get a 400 watt Beats Audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer. There’s a surprising degree of bass from that, along with two USB-C ports.

Where the Jetta does stand out – including against the Golf – is in economy. The EPA says you’ll get the same 29 mpg in the city, but highway driving is rated for up to 39 mpg (versus the Golf’s 36 mpg) for a single point advantage at 33 mpg combined. In practice, it’s not difficult to meet those figures either, not least because the Jetta doesn’t especially encourage profligate manners behind the wheel. Highway driving in particular feels tuned for steady plodding rather than anything approaching urgency.

Practicality tips things back in the Golf’s favor, with the Jetta offering 14.1 cu-ft of trunk space versus its hatchback cousin’s 17.4 cu-ft. Still, it feels bigger than that, there’s a 60/40 split rear seat, and adult passengers back there only had a slight dip in headroom to complain about. A four-year/50,000 mile warranty is a little more generous than what many in the category are offering.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Verdict

I’ve said it before: VW’s attentions seem to be on its electrification strategy and the ID range, and that leaves cars like the 2021 Jetta out in the shadows. The compact sedan isn’t a bad car, just an unmemorable one, and the problem there is that it finds itself with competition that rival automakers are taking a lot more seriously.

The new 2022 Honda Civic Sedan, for example, is similarly priced but has a fantastic cabin and is more rewarding dynamically. The Mazda3 has beguiling looks and is far more enjoyable to drive than the Jetta. There’s not really anything objectively wrong with Volkswagen’s car, and those on an extreme budget might find its lesser-equipped trims appealing, but even those who think of their vehicles as appliances will find more to appreciate elsewhere.

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