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TikTok's story is getting more challenging, adding WeChat to the mix

Last week, President Trump told a group of reporters that he was looking to ban TikTok in the coming days. The ban is over national security issues after it was revealed the company was copying data from users without letting users know. This comes after months of companies and governments around the world banning the app in various forms. Many companies have banned the app from corporate phones. The US and others banned its use on government phones and, in some cases, banning employees and the military from using it entirely.

This week, the Executive Order, which comes under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, was signed. It gives ByteDance, the owner, 15 days (until September 15) to sell at least their US operations to a US company or face an outright ban in the country. This will obviously affect Google and Apple, who both distribute the app through their mobile stores. Both stores would likely be forced to remove the apps from the store, and access would be closed.

In an unexpected twist, President Trump also wrote a similar order against WeChat, another Chinese-owned communication platform. While not particularly popular in the US, the service does feature an option to transfer money between users. Unfortunately for WeChat, and parent company Tencent, money transfer in the US is highly regulated and WeChat falls outside of that regulation. As a result, the company is in a similar position to ByteDance - sell the brand or get out.

That is a noticeably short period of time for such a big deal to be finalized, especially for WeChat, who likely did not see this coming and had no time to prepare. For TikTok and ByteDance, they have been in discussions for a short while, trying to decide what their future might look like. They've been actively in discussion with Microsoft, but also Twitter, according to The Wall Street Journal. While Twitter has more experience with consumer-facing social media, Microsoft has done great things with LinkedIn.

The interesting aspect of all of this is on the WeChat side of things. The surprise of including WeChat in the ban has likely been even stronger for the company itself. However, this could be a bigger issue than it looks Tencent is a controversial investor with its fingers in a lot of pots. These include Epic Games, Activision, Universal Music, and Tesla. As tensions heat up with China, shining a spotlight onto Tencent through WeChat could be the beginning of the company's troubles in the US.

If Tencent is forced to divest from its US holdings that could potentially involve national security, there could be massive results. For example, Tesla has a large hand in artificial reality, which could potentially come under fire.

August 9, 2020 - Episode 569 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, we're feeling the presidential ban hammer, upset by the Apple walled garden, and jealous of the Quibi free tier.

Choosing a Webcam in a Shortage - Episode 234 (Piltch Point)

Ever since the beginning of the international lockdown, several products have become difficult or impossible to find. One of the most high-profile products that are in short supply is webcams. The most sought after webcams are the Logitech c920 and the Razer Kiyo. Because they are the top-rated webcams, they were the first to disappear. Other manufacturers have made webcams in the past, but a whole new crop of companies have entered the fray in this hour of need.

Some of the companies make a high-quality product. Among these rising-star manufacturers is Ausdom. Better known for low-cost headphones, the company's webcams are quickly making their way onto best webcam lists. The top model is the Ausdom AF640, with the Ausdom AW615 right behind. But Ausdom is not the only company to creep onto the list, there is also the strangely named Papalook. While the Papalook PA452 may look sci-fi, it still does a great job for streams and conference calls.

Papalook is far from the strangest named webcam available, however. Amazon is filled with small brands with some bizarre names, and that tradition has carried over to the webcam industry. Sometimes the letters themselves look funny, while others are pronounced oddly. For example, Aoozi sounds more like a weapon than a webcam. However, its price could make it attractive at only $40, plus a 5% coupon. User reviews also look good on the platform, but we have no official knowledge. There's also DEPSTECH, which seems to have been created with a random letter generator. With a sale price of $30 and great user reviews, it might also be an option.

Your best bets will always be the top-rated products if you can get them, but at least we have a wide array of options in the current webcam drought.

August 2, 2020 - Episode 568 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, TikTok is starting to sink, Xbox Live is going free, and Patreon is paying for its policies.

The Future of Silicon in 2020 - Episode 233 (Piltch Point)

Right now, a lot of tech-based industries are seeing massive shake-ups, but none are quite as prominent as what is happening within the processor and circuitry industry. The most visible has been the rise of AMD. While some of this market share increase has been because of quality design from AMD itself, another cause has been the slip of Intel in its competition. The two companies have spent decades on par with one another, but lately, Intel has been falling behind.

Last week, the company announced major delays to its 7nm chip timeline. As a result, they will continue to fall behind AMD, which is working on its timeline to swap to 5nm from the current 7nm architecture, which is already aging. In response, Intel saw a leadership change, likely in an attempt to gain back some traction on Wall Street, which is no longer looking at Intel favorably.

On the other hand, is Nvidia - a company known for its videocards, but has been branching out in recent years. As video processors tend to be excellent for AI processing, Nvidia has gone heavy into AI-based hardware. In May, Avram showed off the Jetson Xavier NX hardware, which provides a lot of interesting possibilities. Now, Nvidia is looking at another market: system processors. While they have long made the Tegra processors, based on ARM, now they are looking to be in charge.

This will come care of a purchase of the ARM-managing corporation. This would be a big shift for the industry, as everyone from Qualcomm to Apple would be licensing the ARM processor design from Nvidia. This purchase, which is likely the only way forward for ARM, is going to face fierce opposition by regulators, especially in the EU. The deal wouldn't be as far along as it is without having considered this, but it could still be a problem in the process.

In just one week, TikTok's future has changed to nearly impossible

In just one week, TikTok's future has changed incredibly challenging to nearly impossible. Last week, the company was struggling to regain trust. This week, they are simply trying to survive through the weekend. This change for the company comes as the White House has taken direct aim at TikTok and parent company ByteDance. On Friday, President Trump told reporters on Air Force One that they were drafting an Executive Order to ban TikTok within the US.

The move comes at the same time that ByteDance was looking to unload the brand onto an American company. The idea being that, if TikTok were owned by an American tech company and the daily management and operations were managed within the borders of the US, it would change the perception of the brand within the government. This concept comes during a week where the US government has taken 4 of the biggest tech companies, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, to task for their own behavior. So, clearly being owned by a US company does not mean the US government will leave them alone.

The top contender for the purchase has been Microsoft. The fact that Microsoft wasn't part of the Congressional inquery this week could have made the sale a more calm possibility. The White House seems to have an affinity for Microsoft, with some encouragement being made for Microsoft to win the JEDI contract. But, the sale to Microsoft was also mentioned during the Friday conversation with reporters. President Trump said that he was not a fan of the idea of a sale of TikTok to Microsoft and would oppose it if it were to become a reality.

As a result on this comment, reports suggest that Microsoft and ByteDance have suspended their conversations about the sale. This doesn't mean that the deal is dead, but both companies involved are looking to the White House to seek additional information about what a sale could look like in regards to interaction with regulators.

So, this brings us back to the potential outright ban on the platform within the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today that the ban is coming in the next few days. This would be a massive move, and potentially the biggest presidential move for Trump. However, there is some fight back against the potential of a ban. But, the concern doesn't come from where you might think, but instead from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). They claim that banning the app is an affront to free speech. Of course, if that were the case, it would mean that TikTok is the only way for people to commuinicate. The case is, it is far from the only way that people can communicate with one another. In fact, it is far from the only short form video platform.

As this upcoming week progresses, this scenario will continue to change. In the end, there is no telling what the future of TikTok will be, but chances are that it will not be the same on Friday as it is on Monday.

July 26, 2020 - Episode 567 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, AT&T's asking for more sales, Xbox is giving more value, and TikTok really wants more trust.

Back to School Tech (2020 Virtual Learning) - Episode 232 (Piltch Point)

The world may have some new rules this year, but it doesn't change the fact that school is going to be starting soon. This might involve being in person or, more likely, distance learning, especially in the first few weeks or months. That means that your needs may be different for the 2020 school year from years past. So, what are the best options to improve learning in 2020?

As always, anything that improves the speed of your computer is going to be a benefit. Taking the opportunity to add extra RAM to your system will allow for better group videos (like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or Zoom). You'll likely see fewer freezes and hiccups, though it won't eliminate network issues. Also, adding an SSD as your system drive will make starting up your computer and launching applications quicker.

Another way to enhance your experience is through peripherals. The most direct upgrade is with your monitor. An extra screen will allow you to do more. With a single screen, you're limited to the group chat or your productivity software. With two screens, you can have your teacher on one and Word or PowerPoint on another. It also makes displaying your screen during a presentation easier, as you're not switching between apps while sharing your screen.

Enhancing the group chat experience can also be accomplished through peripherals. An upgraded webcam will make you look more together. The webcam built into most laptops is poor, and an external webcam is easy to add. While many webcams are unavailable, Tom's Hardware currently recommends the AUSDOM AF640, which can be found for around $90. Another great place to upgrade is your headset - something that will make your experience and your class's experience better.

Of course, a full system might also be an important upgrade. There are a lot of factors to consider when purchasing a new system, including what you'll use it for outside of class. Check out Tom's Hardware's recommendations depending on your needs.

AT&T and T-Mobile are taking a different approach to network upgrades

This week, AT&T created concern with its customer base when an email was sent out informing users that their phone would not work following an upcoming network upgrade. The solution to their problem was simply to purchase a new phone. Easy, right? Obviously not. The price of a phone can be incredibly high, especially if you're purchasing more feature-rich devices. Plus, the process of changing devices can be a challenge, either because of the transition of data or because of our general comfort level with what we already know.

However, there's a bigger problem here. While AT&T says that users should purchase a new phone soon to avoid service interruption, the network upgrade will not be happening until 2022. That means that the phone replacements, according to the company's own email, should not be required until that time. Yet, the email that was sent out doesn't reveal that information directly. Instead, you needed to click a link and read further before this important information was revealed. AT&T claims that this was an accidental omission from the email, but how many people had to vet that email before it was released? And, through that process, no one noticed that they forgot to give a time table?

On the other side of the coin is T-Mobile. Both companies are planning on shutting down their 3G networks, requiring some users to replace phones. However, T-Mobile has been very open with its information. The company's network transition will take place in January 2021, and will require users without Voice Over LTE capability to replace their devices. The company has already discontinued all incompatible devices, and will not allow customers to activate existing incompatible devices after August 4.

But, let's take a look at the major device families and where their cutoff lines are. For Apple, iPhone 6 and newer are all compatible (that's 7 generations of iPhone). For Samsung, the Galaxy S7 and newer are all compatible (5 generations), and the Galaxy Note 3 and newer are compatible. So, as you can see, it requires a very old device to be in trouble - at least in regards to the flagships. If your device is incompatible, you'll soon be receiving a text message informing you of the issue.

July 19, 2020 - Episode 566 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, The FCC's got your back, Twitter's giving away access, and Peacock's got some confusing problems.

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