TIME Big Picture

Phablets and Bluetooth Headsets Are Perfect Companions

When I saw the original Samsung Galaxy Note a few years ago, I couldn’t believe it was actually a smartphone.

It sported a 5.3-inch screen and at the time, it looked more like a small tablet. But I was told that it was indeed a full-fledged smartphone, designed to be used as a phone as well as a small tablet.

When I picked it up and put it to my ear, I thought I looked ridiculous. In fact, in one of my columns at the time, I pointed out that something this large did not make sense for use as a phone given its form factor and what I considered its unruly size.

Yet the Galaxy Note struck a nerve in many regions of Asia and became quite a hit. In these markets, people generally only carry one device with them and with the Galaxy Note, they got a small tablet and a smartphone in one.

Now Apple has jumped in with a phablet of its own, which has immediately become a hit in all of the markets that it’s sold, including the U.S. and Europe. To be clear, the iPhone 6 with its smaller 4.7-inch screen is outselling the 6 Plus at least five to one, but there are still many people buying the 6 Plus who like its actual size. I am one of them. I struggled with which new iPhone to get but decided on the 6 Plus because of its large screen and the fact that I could read its screen without my glasses. Now I love it and feel like a hypocrite for dissing phablets in the past.

However, I will not put it up to my ear and use it as a phone, as I still think I look ridiculous putting something this size to my ear and talking on it. I might be the only one who feels this way, but I find that for me, a Bluetooth headset is the best solution. I use one religiously when making or receiving calls with the iPhone 6 Plus.

The Bluetooth headset I like the most has been the one from Bose. It fits in my ear well and delivers great sound, and the people who hear me on the other end say I come in clear.

I have tested over 15 headsets and while I especially like a couple of models from Plantronics and Jabra, so far I keep coming back to my Bose Bluetooth headset for use with the iPhone 6 Plus. However, I recently got to test a new Bluetooth headset that has the potential to become my primary headset. While it works like a Bluetooth headset with any smartphone, it’s unique in that this feature is secondary to its purpose.

The folks from Soundhawk, who make this new headset, call it the worlds first smart listening system:

Soundhawk was founded by one of the world’s leading hearing experts, Dr. Rodney Perkins. He started his career as an ear surgeon but quickly became one of the world’s most successful life sciences entrepreneurs. He has started twelve companies, four of which were in the hearing sciences and three of which went public. As a physician, he realized that there were limits to the number of patients he could help. As a result, he began to apply his knowledge and creativity to building products and companies that could have a much broader impact.

What makes the Soundhawk headset so different is that its main purpose is to help enhance and amplify the conversations around you, especially in noisy restaurants, sporting events, or any gathering when you want to hear people but it’s too loud to hear them clearly. This is not a hearing aid in the traditional sense, although its use to help people hear better has its roots in Dr. Perkins’ medical practice. He would often have people come to him thinking they might need a hearing aid but when they were tested, they didn’t have the aural problems that qualified them for such a device. Yet he understood that these folks had real issues with hearing, so he started Soundhawk with the idea of creating a headset that would help people hear better in noisy situations.

The Soundhawk system from left to right: charging case, wireless mic, smartphone app and Scoop earpiece Soundhawk

The Soundhawk smart listening system consists of four components. The first is a smartphone app that gives the headset precise controls for four distinct situations. It can be fine-tuned for use indoors, when dining, when driving and for outdoor activities. Then there is the headset itself, called the Scoop. It’s smaller than my Bose headset and fits well in any ear. It uses adaptive audio processing to enhance key sound frequencies in order to elevate what you want to hear while reducing unwanted background noise.

Its third component is a wireless mic that gets you closer to what you want to hear in even the noisiest environments. You simply place the wireless mic near what you want to hear and it will pick up that sound and deliver it in great clarity to the Scoop. The wireless mic is perfect for noisy places like restaurants, coffee shops or even at home.

I spent last week in Honolulu working on a project, taking many meetings in restaurants. I took the Soundhawk mic and placed it on the table front of the person speaking, and even in these very loud environments, I could hear them clearly. The mic even has a clip on it, so if the environment you’re in is really loud, you could ask the person you’re talking with to clip it on their lapel instead.

One interesting thing about using the Scoop and the mic together is that when someone was talking to me in a noisy area, it was like the person was speaking only to me. Their voice came in loud and clear, making the conversation seem even more personal.

The fourth component is the case that houses the Scoop and the mic. The case has a rechargeable battery inside and protects, organizes and recharges them so they are always ready to go. This is a really cool feature. All other Bluetooth headsets need to be plugged into a wall outlet directly to charge them. This charges in the case and the case itself can be recharged over night. This is a very handy feature.

According to Michael Kisch, CEO of Soundhawk, “As our world gets noisier, many people are hearing less of what matters most. At Soundhawk, our mission is to transform the listening experience simply and affordably, and empower people to hear the world the way that they want to.”

The Soundhawk’s Smart Listening System launched recently, and at the moment is only available on the company’s website for $299. I realize that most high-end Bluetooth headsets are priced much lower than this, but keep in mind that this product has a lot of added value to it. It works on iOS and Android devices.

It’s an interesting product, and one I think will meet a need for a lot of people who would like to be able to hear better in noisy environments and also want a great Bluetooth headset for use with any of the larger smartphones on the market. Of course you could use this with any size smartphone, but at least in my case, it’s a perfect companion to my iPhone 6 Plus. Even though I have only been testing it for a week, it has the potential to become my primary headset.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

The Force Disrupting Samsung and Other Tech Giants

Shenzhen
Shenzhen is an ultra-modern city of 14 million people located in southern China approximately 30 miles from Hong Kong. Getty Images

Over the past five years, Samsung has become one of the big tech giants, enjoying a lot of success with its smartphones and tablets. It became a dominant player in China, Korea and other parts of Asia, and became Apple’s biggest competitor in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world.

However, over the last two quarters, Samsung’s profits have declined substantially, with its executives recently warning that profits could be off as much as 60% in the most recent quarter. So in such a short time, how did a tech giant go from the top of the mountain to a place where it’s looking like the next BlackBerry?

The High-Tech Flea Market

This came about because of the Shenzhen ecosystem effect. Shenzhen is a large town about 30 miles north of Hong Kong and an important part of the China manufacturing area. What makes this area interesting is that it has emerged as a kind of technology parts depot that provides off-the-shelf components that can be used to create everything from smartphones, tablets, PCs or any other type of tech device, which can then be sold as no-name — or what we call white-box — products.

During my first visit to Shenzhen many years ago, I was taken to a six-story building that was affectionately called the flea market for cell phones. On every floor were dozens of vendors with glass showcases peddling cell phones and early smartphones by the hundreds. In Asia and many other parts of the world, users actually buy their cell phone of choice first and then go to a store to buy a SIM card that provides voice and data services.

In this part of China, the Shenzhen flea market was a hotbed for locals to come and buy their phones, providing all types of sizes and models to choose from. Most of the cell phones were of this white-box nature, carrying no known brand name and having been manufactured cheaply from readily available components. They were sold all over China and parts of Asia, and up until around 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone, these types of phones dominated these markets.

Upstarts Aplenty

Over the last seven years, the Shenzhen ecosystem of component makers has become much more sophisticated, supplying high-quality components to vendors of all types, which are then used to make smartphones and tablets that can rival products from Apple, Samsung and anyone else making top of the line devices. And vendors from all over the world are making the trek to Shenzhen to buy these components, get them manufactured in quantity and take them back to their regions of the world to sell against established brands.

The best example of this comes from a company called Xiaomi, which didn’t even release its first smartphone until a few years ago but is now the number one smartphone provider in the region. It did this by leveraging the Shenzhen ecosystem to create well-designed smartphones. Until early 2013, Samsung was a top player in China, but big brand Lenovo jumped into the China market with smartphones and gave Samsung some serious competition. Apple also entered China in a big way. Between these three companies making aggressive moves in China, Samsung began to lose market share dramatically.

Micromax has done something similar in India, coming from nowhere to own 40% of that market today. Cherry Mobile did the same thing in the Philippines, and this similar pattern is being replicated in Brazil, South Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere – all markets that Samsung had leads in but where it’s now coming under major competitive threats.

Big Apple

Samsung has a double whammy going on here, too. One of the reasons the company has been so profitable in the mobile business is because of the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 smartphones and the Galaxy Note 3 phablet. These smartphones are in the premium category and Samsung dominated the five-inches-and-up smartphone space for almost three years.

However, research is showing that Samsung benefited from a lack of a similar products from Apple, but now Apple has the new 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch 6 Plus. These products take direct aim at Samsung’s similar models and demand for these new iPhones has been very strong, so Samsung is impacted by this Apple move as well.

Hardware Headaches

What makes this even more problematic for Samsung is that its business model is to make money from the hardware. These white-box vendors can take these phones to their local regions and sell them pretty much at cost because they make their money on apps and local services that they provide their customers. Samsung and many of the other big vendors aside from Apple make most of their money on hardware, while Apple makes money on hardware, software and services.

When it comes to PCs, we have always had white-box products in the market. In fact, no-name white boxes represent about 40% of all PCs shipped. However, companies like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Asus and others have had solid brands and offered things like warranties and service agreements. Even though brand-name PCs are priced much higher than white-box PCs, the big players have been able to compete around the world based on brand, distribution and customer services.

This has been especially true in the U.S., Europe and most of the developed markets. However, if you look at what’s going on with laptops now and see how products like Chromebooks and low-end laptops and desktops are dominating consumer markets, even these major vendors are being squeezed when it comes to trying to actually make money just on hardware.

We are starting to see new PC players go to the Shenzhen components market in order to create PCs to sell in their home markets. Once there, they add local apps and services while pricing these laptops and PCs almost at cost. If they gain more ground in these local markets, this could have real impact on traditional PC vendors who are still trying to compete in these markets but have to make profits from hardware alone in most cases.

For Samsung, the Shenzhen effect is a serious problem — one that will be very difficult to counter while still maintaining profitability. Even with new hardware products, Samsung’s lack of software and services for local markets will continue to make it difficult to compete with Xiaomi, Huawei and others, especially in markets like China and other parts of Asia.

Even worse for Samsung are rumors that companies like Alibaba and Tencent may jump into these markets with smartphones of their own in the next year. Both of these Chinese companies have strong local services they can tie to these smartphones, allowing them to almost give these devices away since they are assured an ongoing stream of revenue from preloaded apps and services.

The Shenzhen ecosystem will continue to be a disruptive force as hardware becomes commoditized and real money is made from apps and services. Companies just selling hardware will continue to be challenged by these upstarts, who can buy components cheaply and get them manufactured cheaply. This can leave even the big tech players hurting, as we’re seeing now with what’s happening to Samsung.

To get a better understanding of the Shenzhen ecosystem and Xiaomi in particular, check out Ben Bajarin’s short presentation on this topic.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Nobody Can Predict the Success of Apple’s Watch Yet

The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.
The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

It’s interesting to read all the coverage Apple got for its watch announcement, and the amazing amount of analysis and predictions that came out shortly after the launch event.

Critics went after everything, from style, form and function. Others lauded its design, potential capabilities and eventual usefulness.

Part of this discrepancy in views is due to the fact that while Apple did show us the watch and give us some early details about what it would do, the company didn’t actually give us a lot of details about things like costs, storage, future apps and security features that could help people develop a more informed view of the product.

Since it doesn’t come out until sometime in early 2015, there’s a lot of time for speculation. And even though we have some solid details we can use to try and draw some conclusions about its potential success, I would like to suggest that to actually try to predict the future success of the Apple Watch today would just be folly. We only have the bits and pieces that Apple wanted to share; it’s not enough to really determine how this product will fare when it finally reaches the market next year.

Why Unveil It So Early?

Many people thought it was odd for Apple to introduce a product like the Apple Watch months before it will ever come to market. For one, it gives competitors a lot of time to try and create something similar that can compete with the Apple Watch when it ships. It also gives the media, detractors and a whole host of folks plenty of time to try and guess what Apple’s really doing and whether it’ll actually have any serious impact on Apple’s bottom line. Given Apple’s penchant for secrecy, one would think that it would have been smarter for the company to hold off announcing the watch until a day or two before it would actually ship.

For those of us who follow Apple very closely, this move, while unique, was a necessary for a couple of reasons. First, this is a brand new category for Apple and the watch market is very complex. Apple actually needs real feedback from people in the watch, entertainment, fashion and tech worlds in order to help refine the final product.

However, there’s another critical reason that the watch was unveiled months before it’s supposed to come to market, and it’s one of the major reasons why it’s impossible to actually predict its success at this time in Apple’s history.

Much More Than Hardware

The proper way to actually view the new Apple Watch is to see it as a platform that includes more than just hardware. It has to have apps and services designed for the new, smaller-screen form factor. This actually follows Apple’s overall formula for success.

Before the company introduced the iPod, it spent two years working with the music industry in order to have media content available for use on the iPod when it shipped. The same thing happened with the iPhone. Apple had to create a special SDK (software development kit) so the developer community could create apps for the new smartphone. While Apple did have its own apps and some special partner apps at launch, the software community moved rapidly to create apps and services for the new iPhone, which ultimately is why people actually buy an iPhone these days.

This similar approach was used when Apple introduced the iPad. At launch, the company had some of its own apps and a couple from partners — and in this case, it could use iPhone apps, although they had to be upscaled up for the iPad’s larger screen. But the software community soon created native iPad apps, and Apple’s tablet took off. In the end, with all three of these products, it’s all about providing customers with hardware, a rich operating system, apps and services.

Waiting for the Killer App

This will be the same case with the Apple Watch. We need a lot more info about what it can do, how it works and, of course, the ultimate value proposition of what it will deliver those who buy it. But the really important unknown factors lie in the types of apps that can be created for such a small screen, and if any “killer” apps emerge that take it from a “nice to have” device to an “everyone needs one” type of product.

The best example of a killer app came from the birth of the PC era. Apple introduced the Apple II computer in 1977, but at the time, it was viewed only as a hobbyist machine. Then in 1979, a program was created that ran on the Apple II called VisiCalc, which was the first spreadsheet. It literally became the killer app that brought the Apple II out of the hobbyist category and into the world of business computing. A they say, the rest is history.

The second killer apps were the word processors that came out about the same time, followed by a product called Lotus 1-2-3 that included a spreadsheet, graphical charts and a database. This was the first killer app for the IBM PC when it came out in 1983, launching the true PC era we know today.

The importance of apps was driven home to me when the iPhone was first launched. When Apple SVP Phil Schiller first showed it to me, he put his iPhone on the coffee table in front of me and asked me what I saw? I told him I saw a blank piece of glass in a metal case. He said that was exactly what Apple wanted me to see until I turned it on. The magic would come from the apps on the device itself. While the hardware is important, he stressed that it would be the apps that make the iPhone dance and sing.

After the launch of the iPhone, I talked to Steve Jobs and asked him if he was certain he had a hit on his hand with the iPhone. He told me he was pretty sure the iPhone would be important, but went on to say that it would be the apps that third-party vendors create that would ultimately make it successful. He also told me that the exciting thing for him was that Apple had developed an SDK to create apps for the iPhone and that he couldn’t wait to see what software developers created.

This really is the formula for the success of any device like this. A company can create a great piece of hardware, but the magic comes from the software community. Who will create the “killer” app or apps that make the device appealing to everyone?

While we only have part of the story about the Apple Watch from Apple, I suspect that even when it launches, we won’t really be able to judge its ultimate success at first. However, I am betting that Apple gets strong support from the software community, who will create a host of apps that may appeal to people from all walks of life. That will ultimately determine the success or failure of Apples new watch.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Why Apple Didn’t Use Sapphire iPhone Screens

Early last month when I was on my weekend hike, I accidentally dropped my iPhone face down on the cement.

As you might expect, the screen broke and made it unusable. Thankfully, I was able to get a Genius Bar appointment at the Apple Store that same afternoon and got the screen replaced for the hefty price of $150.

So in a column I did recently about what I wanted in a new iPhone, I lamented about my iPhone breaking and said I wanted a sapphire screen on any new iPhone I might buy in the future. I formed that opinion because of all the hype surrounding Apple buying $578 million worth of sapphire in way of partnership with GT Advanced, a sapphire manufacturing company. All of us assumed that this meant Apple would put sapphire screens in the new iPhones, but when it didn’t happen, I started digging into why this was not the case.

What I have learned about this issue and why Apple chose not to include sapphire in the iPhone 6 line is fascinating and reinforces to me why all of us need to be more careful before jumping to conclusions in areas like this.

Many have suggested that the decision not to use sapphire was the result of manufacturing issues – that with more time, Apple would have used sapphire screens for the iPhone 6. As I looked closer at the Apple announcement, and after looking more at the benefits and drawbacks of sapphire, it seems that Apple had good reasons to go with ion-strengthened curved glass (Gorilla Glass) instead of sapphire.

While sapphire has been hyped as an alternative screen cover for smartphones, the continued use of strengthened glass has less to do with production issues and more to do with what smartphone manufacturers know about consumers, their preferences and, more importantly, how people actually use phones and what they’re willing to pay for them.

By the way, some reports stated that up until a few weeks before the iPhone announcement, Apple was going to use sapphire but dropped it because of yield issues. This is not true. My sources tell me that sapphire was never targeted for the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and its role in future iPhones hasn’t even been decided yet. Also, anyone who knows the manufacturing process knows that to make tens of millions of screens for an iPhone launch, the orders for those screens had to be put in place well over six months ago and planned meticulously into the final manufacturing of these new smartphones.

Here is what I was able to find out about sapphire versus glass by doing many interviews and looking at the current research:

Design

The trend in smartphone design is to achieve thinner, lighter devices, while making them bigger at the same time. That’s not easy to do. To increase the size of a smartphone and still keep the weight down requires thinner, lighter material. What we know about sapphire is that it is more than 30% denser than glass and would require a compromise on both fronts for widespread use in phones. Corning has shown that it can manufacture Gorilla Glass to be thinner than a sheet of paper and strengthened with a process that makes it more damage resistant. Design flexibility and adaptability are important. The latest smartphone designs from Samsung, Apple and others include sleek displays with glass that curves to the edges of the devices. Because glass can be manufactured to extremely thin dimensions and still be chemically strengthened, it’s more flexible and can be formed and shaped into the sleek designs you see in the iPhone 6 and others. Sapphire is bulkier and must be cut into shape, creating both cost and production issues on larger surfaces.

Cost

Cost is a big factor with consumers, and the smartphone category is hugely competitive these days. Apple is already pushing the high end on price as comparable devices are priced at or lower than the iPhone 6, and it would have had to charge even more for a sapphire-covered phone. The cost to produce a sheet of sapphire is estimated to be roughly 10 times that of strengthened glass. In fact, one source I talked to said that cost could be even higher. Our researched opinion early on was that if Apple did add a sapphire screen to the new iPhone, it would add at least $100 to the base cost. That could be a deal-breaker for mainstream iPhone customers.

Battery Life

By far, the number one phone-related complaint from consumers is battery life, so manufacturers look at every component that draws energy and work to minimize the impact of each. And one of the biggest drains on battery life is the brightness of the screen. According to Bernstein Research — which conducted research on the benefits of glass versus sapphire as a cover material — glass transmits light much better than sapphire. Therefore, to get the same level of brightness using a sapphire screen requires more energy. That problem can’t be fixed easily, as the basic properties of sapphire make it transmit less light than glass. This also impacts other things like glare. Glass can have an anti-reflective solution embedded into the material, reducing the effects of the sun when reading outdoors. To achieve anti-reflection with sapphire, it has to have a coating applied which, over time, will wear off. This issue alone may make it tough for Apple to ever use sapphire in future iPhones, since most people have their iPhones for at least two years.

Environmental Impact

Manufacturers know that consumers are starting to care a lot more about the impact that the products they buy are having on the environment. Sapphire requires 100 times more energy to produce than glass. The energy requirements alone make sapphire problematic as a viable material to use on a smartphone. None of the folks I talked to had any idea how they could solve this problem given the nature of the material itself.

Durability

This is by far the most promoted benefit of sapphire, and perhaps the most misunderstood. This is the area I got tripped up by assuming too much from Apple’s investment in GT Advanced. Sapphire is extremely hard, which is to say highly scratch resistant. That is why it is found on products such as luxury watches. It is largely untested on phone screens, though. In fact, sapphire is a crystal that is very hard, but inflexible and extremely brittle. Sapphire’s inherent structure makes it susceptible to flaws that can occur along the crystal plane. I was told by multiple sources that various field tests subjected sapphire to scratch and break tests against strengthened glass. It performs better on scratch resistance, but when you drop it, it is more likely than glass to break. Glass actually flexes and can absorb the shock of a drop more successfully than sapphire. Sapphire is prevalent on luxury watches and other products that don’t experience the same drop risk as smartphones.

Like many who jumped on the sapphire bandwagon without really understanding it, I had assumed that it was unbreakable. But in talking to various experts, they said that the way to look at this is to think of a sheet of ice (also a crystal); small cracks weaken the surface and it will hold together for only so long before some impact will cause it to break. Those small cracks add up like the normal wear and tear we put our phones through every day – knocking around in our purses and pockets with keys and change, or scuffing against the surface of a counter repeatedly. Current solutions, such as Gorilla Glass, apparently are reinforced with a chemical that alters its atomic structure and actually strengthens the area around scratches to insulates the glass longer against breaking. While surface scratches may be more visible earlier on, a glass screen will stay more intact over time than a sapphire one. Once sapphire is exposed to a scratch or a flaw, visible or invisible, its risk of breakage and eventual failure is high. On watches, this is less of an issue because they are seldom dropped and the watch surface is smaller. But in a smartphone with a larger screen and many usage variables, it’s difficult to guarantee that it’s less prone to breakage.

I don’t doubt that over time, there could be some breakthroughs with sapphire and new coating processes that could make it possible to use on a smartphone. However, from the research I did, it does not appear that it could happen anytime soon. Plus, sapphire’s less flexible and more brittle nature suggests, as least to me, that using it in large-screen smartphones would still be difficult — even if it was possible to coat it in a way to keep the screen from splintering. I now at least understand why Apple didn’t use it in the new iPhones — and the more I study this, it seems that it could be problematic for Apple to use sapphire outside of its smartwatch line anytime in the near future.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

San Francisco 49ers Go Long on STEM Education at Levi’s Stadium

In 2010, when the San Francisco 49ers’ brain trust was drawing up the plans for what is now Levi’s Stadium, they went to one of the tallest buildings in the area and looked out over Silicon Valley.

According to Joanne Pasternack, director of community relations and the 49ers Foundation, these executives could see Google, Intel, Apple, HP, Facebook and many of the leading tech companies in the world laid out right in front of them.

It was at that point that they made the commitment to somehow use the new stadium to help create tech leaders of tomorrow. As one of the 49ers execs told me recently, they wanted to “help develop the people who will someday engineer and create greater features for Levi’s Stadium and develop innovative technologies that can impact the planet in the future.”

Educational Roots

The 49ers have had a long history of supporting education. “Our family has always been interested in education,” said Dr. John York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers. “My father-in-law, Ed DeBartolo, Sr., always felt that if you could give people an education, they can make a way for themselves and their lives. And the 49ers Foundation’s mission has been to keep kids safe, on track and in school.”

“My mother was a school teacher, my father was the son of Italian immigrants,” said Denise DeBartolo York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers. “They always thought that education could level the playing field with at-risk students that were disadvantaged. Once you enable them to get an education, it’s an even playing field.” Mrs. York also told me that she and her husband, Dr. York, have contributed significantly to various underprivileged children’s causes and Title I school initiatives, as well as programs for at-risk kids.

The 49ers organization’s philanthropic contributions — much of which is focused on education — are at least $3.3 million per year. For years, the organization has supported what is called the 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, CA. According to the academy’s website:

The San Francisco 49ers Academy was established through a partnership with Communities in Schools (CIS) in 1996. CIS started as a small grassroots movement led by Bill Milliken, one of the nation’s foremost pioneers in the movement to help young people graduate from high school and go onto rewarding careers. The 49ers Academy is a unique partnership – a public school, supported by a private non-profit agency. The 49ers are the major underwriter of this program.

Cultivating STEM

However, what they are doing in STEM education at Levi’s Stadium itself is amazing. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and is a dedicated educational program to get kids interested in these disciplines, eventually guiding them into related career endeavors.

“On and off the field, talent alone will not lead to success,” said Dr. York. “The game changer for promising future leaders is to provide a stimulating environment where their natural talent and drive will be fed by motivating mentors, meaningful activities and academic enrichment. The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute’s vision is to be a leader in STEM education, preparing and inspiring talented learners to meet the challenges of the global society through innovation, collaboration and creative problem solving.”

Budding Brains

The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute program will bring 20,000 students to Levi’s Stadium for daylong programs that tie sports and education around the STEM focus. Each day during the school year, 60 kids from one of the various schools in the Bay Area are brought to Levi’s Stadium in one of the 49ers’ official team buses. They are then broken up into three different groups of 20 each to rotate through three distinct activities.

The first activity features a full tour of the stadium, focusing on the engineering involved with creating a stadium. It shows off the green aspects of the stadium, including a visit to the garden on the roof as well as a look at the solar panels and how they’re used to create energy. The tour also demonstrates how clean technology is used to irrigate the field in order to care for the grass and turf. The kids also get to see the visiting team’s locker room, the field and many of the public areas of the stadium.

The second activity takes place in the new 49ers Museum and includes lessons using various games and interactive screens. Students learn how engineering and math are used to create 49ers football equipment, and how physics is applied to things like passing, kicking and running. The day I was there, they also included a section on careers in math and science. By the way, a trip to the 49ers Museum is highly recommended. It’s one of the best sports museums in the U.S. They use Sony Xperia tablets and various technologies to really enhance the overall museum experience — and for those of us in the Bay Area, it evokes some great memories of five 49ers Super Bowl wins.

The third activity takes place in an actual high-tech classroom that’s built into the new 49ers Museum. This classroom has multiple screens as well as half a dozen touch-based video worktables created by Cortina Productions. They serve as interactive teaching tools that the students can use to do various projects.

49ers STEM
Students receive instructions from teacher Matt Van Dixon while sitting at interactive video tables made by Cortina Productions at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

I was privileged to attend the inaugural class where they were studying the engineering principles of making a football. Using all of the materials needed to make a football, each group got to assemble a football from scratch, sew it up, inflate it and then test it in a special kicking area where the students could see how each ball performed based on how well they created it.

49ers STEM
Denise DeBartolo York helps students assemble a football at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers
49ers STEM
Students assemble a football at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

Many of the 49ers star players become the students’ tutors and team captains via video at each workstation table, giving instructions and encouragement for each project.

The interactive lessons vary: One class might teach how a helmet is engineered. Another might be on the physics of throwing a ball, explaining how a physical object like a football deals with airflow, throwing mechanics and force, and how each impacts the direction and length of a throw. There are even lessons on engineering your plate, including nutrition facts and a fitness class that uses the 49ers’ training camp as an example.

The class on applied mathematics explains angular attack and game geometry as well as teaching about statistics, using the Super Bowl and its various Roman-numeral numbering schemes as part of the lesson plan. All lessons are designed to emphasize how math, science, technology and engineering are used in everything from building a stadium to creating sports equipment to the math and physics that go into playing the game of football.

The teacher of the class is Matt Van Dixon, who is the education program manger for the 49ers Museum. Matt is one of the most dynamic teachers I have ever observed, his teaching style grabbing the kids from the beginning of each class. I was extremely impressed with how he developed the lesson plans to integrate the role of engineering and math into all of the sports examples. He and his team created various simulations to make the class interactive and highly entertaining. I asked a couple of kids who were in this inaugural class what they thought about the program and each gave it a huge thumbs up.

49ers STEM
Matt Van Dixon instructs students at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

Branching Out

The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute has also been implemented in the Cabrillo Middle School in Santa Clara, CA, which is just down the street from Levi’s Stadium. With the 49ers’ support and big help from the Chevron Corporation, who created the STEM labs at the school, 60 students from the Santa Clara Unified School District are selected each year to go through a six-year program designed to inspire and prepare students with high academic potential to pursue STEM majors at top-tier universities and become future leaders in their fields. In addition to enriched math and science instruction, students have regular access to the Chevron STEMZone, a tech lab equipped with a laser cutter, 3D printers and other fabrication tools.

Steve Woodhead, Chevron’s global social investment manager, told me that when the 49ers approached them to help with the STEM Institute, they were glad to be involved and worked hard to create the learning labs used in these special education programs.

Another important partner in this program is the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. SVEF’s charter is to be a resource and advocate for students and educators. They provide advocacy, programs and resources to help students reach their full potential in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and math. According to Muhammed Chaudhry, president and CEO of SVEF, his non-profit group played an important role in advising the 49ers and Chevron on STEM studies and helped with the development of the curriculum used in the institute’s educational programs.

What the 49ers are doing is using sports — a subject that most kids understand and can relate to — and tying it to math, science, technology and engineering in a way that brings these disciplines to life, making learning these subjects fun and entertaining. Getting to see this program in action was truly enlightening. I saw how the 49ers’ STEM Leadership Institute could help create future tech leaders, the major goal of their vision and program from the start.

I hope that all of the folks in the sports industry school themselves on the 49ers’ pioneering STEM education program and how it takes full advantage of the role sports can play in teaching STEM-related disciplines.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Meet Levi’s Stadium, the Most High-Tech Sports Venue Yet

Levi's Stadium
A general view during a preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium on August 17, 2014 in Santa Clara, California Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Most people have heard of smartphones, smart cars and smart homes. Say hello to the smart stadium.

Set in the heart of Silicon Valley, Levi’s Stadium — home to the San Francisco 49ers — is now the most high-tech stadium anywhere in the world.

It’s in the center of the tech universe, of course, so it’s only natural that 49ers management decided to devote a significant sum of money to building high-tech infrastructure. The stadium will allow all 70,000+ fans to connect to Wi-Fi and 4G networks to take advantage of personalized services, making the event experience more enjoyable.

I had the privilege of attending the inaugural event at Levi’s Stadium, where the San Jose Earthquakes took on the Seattle Sounders in an MLS league game. About 49,000 people attended that event, well below the stadium’s 70,000+ seat capacity, so the game served as a dry run to work out some of the kinks. I also attended the first NFL game to be played in the stadium: the Denver Broncos came to town to help the 49ers christen the stadium in a preseason game on Aug 17. The first regular-season NFL game will be held there on Sept 14, and will serve as the official grand opening of the stadium.

Turning Downtime Into Screen Time

What I discovered from these two experiences is that the 49ers’ stadium is indeed the most tech-advanced stadium in the world, using technology to make the fan experience much richer and more entertaining. Al Guido, the COO of the 49ers, told me that one challenge that’s been an issue in the NFL is that the amount of action that takes place in a football game only about amounts to about 15 minutes. People want access to things like stats, replays and other media when live play isn’t taking place.

During that downtime, the 49ers organization wanted to deliver all types of new ways to enjoy the game, turning to technology to deliver it through a connected experience. According to Mr. Guido, “The 49ers wanted to transform the in-stadium fan experience and make it possible to see the action live but still have the similar features that a fan has at home while watching the game on TV.”

Cables, Routers and Bandwidth Aplenty

So how did the 49ers and their tech partners achieve the goal of enhancing the fan experience by harnessing technology for this purpose?

According to Dan Williams, the VP of technology for Levi’s Stadium, they laid out 400 miles of cabling, 70 miles of which are just dedicated to connecting the 1,200 distributed antenna systems that serve the Wi-Fi routers that are placed to serve every 100 seats throughout the stadium. Levi’s Stadium features a backbone of 40 gigabits per second of available bandwidth, easily scalable to accomodate event attendance, which is 40 times more Internet bandwidth capacity than any known U.S. stadium, and four times greater than the standard for NFL stadiums that’s been mandated by the league to be in place by 2015.

Levi's Stadium Router
Access points are spread throughout the stadium every 100 seats, serving up wireless Internet service to fans during the games Ben Bajarin for TIME
Levi's Stadium Repeater
Repeaters placed throughout Levi’s Stadium pass Internet service along from section to section Ben Bajarin for TIME

The stadium also has about 1,700 high-tech beacons. Using the latest version of the Bluetooth Low Energy standard, these beacons can be used to give people pinpoint directions to their seats as well as to any other place in the stadium. They can also be used to send them alerts about specials from concession stands and other promotions from time to time.

Tech Partnerships

One of the companies that contributed to the overall strategy and execution of some the stadium’s high-tech features is Sony. Sony’s technology is at the center of the stadium’s control room, which manages all of the video for the over 2,000 Sony TVs that have been placed around the venue, as well as the 70 4K TVs found in most of the suites and the two giant LED displays in each end zone.

When I asked Mike Fasulo, the president and COO of Sony Electronics, about his company’s involvement in the new Levi’s Stadium, he told me, “Our partnership with the San Francisco 49ers and the new Levi’s Stadium goes well beyond technology and products. This is truly a one-of-a-kind fan experience, with the world’s greatest showcase of 4K technology from the best of Sony’s professional and consumer products. For every event, every fan will be immersed in the pinnacle of entertainment and technology to enhance their experience.”

Other major sponsors from the tech world include Intel, SAP, Yahoo and Brocade.

An App to Tie It All Together

There’s also a Levi’s Stadium smartphone and tablet app, which offers the following features:

  • The app can guide people to the parking lot entrance closest to their seats, and then once inside, guide them to their actual seats.
  • Fans can watch up to four replays at a time during the game, seeing the exact replays shown by the studio as if they were watching at home on their TV. A fan can actually watch the game live on this app as well. They can also get stats and other info related to the game via this app.
  • It can guide fans to the closest bathroom with the shortest lines, which I predict will become the most used feature at any game.
  • Fans can connect either by Wi-Fi or to one of the 4G networks from the major carriers. Each of the big telecom networks has expanded its antenna service to enhance its customers’ wireless connections within the stadium.
  • Fans can order food and drink from any seat in the stadium and it will be delivered directly to their seats. People also have the option of ordering food from their seats and going to an express line at the concession stands to pick up their food in person, too.

The painstaking attention to tech detail that the 49ers and its partners have integrated into Levi’s Stadium is sure to be the envy of NFL stadiums throughout the U.S. For the time being, it’s the gold standard in high-tech stadiums and one that’s sure to be copied by many sports facilities around the world.

The Valley Advantage

However, I suspect that by being in the heart of Silicon Valley, this stadium may keep the lead in high-tech wizardry for some time. Keep in mind that the tech companies partnered with the 49ers on Levi’s Stadium because it also provided them a showcase for their technology. As Sony’s Fasulo stated above, it provided the company with a major showcase for its 4K professional and consumer products. Intel loves the fact that all of the servers that are used to power the networks show off the power of Intel processors, and Brocade’s networking technology is showcased as a world- class solution.

Silicon Valley is also the center of tech innovation. As people in the industry continue to create new technologies that can be used to enhance the sports experience, where do you think they will take it first? Since the 49ers have already shown a commitment to using technology for delivering the ultimate in-stadium fan experience, the organization will most likely be open to all sorts of new technology to help it deliver an even greater experience in the future. Think of this symbiotic relationship between Silicon Valley’s tech companies and the 49ers as home field advantage for both.

It’s probably not a stretch to say that the pioneering efforts of the 49ers to make Levi’s Stadium a truly smart stadium will force other NFL stadiums to follow the team’s lead, striving to make all of their stadiums smarter. It will also serve as a potential blueprint for other sports stadiums around the world. Being in Silicon Valley does have its advantages, though: With the kinds of tech sponsors and partners that are in its back yard, I suspect that Levi’s Stadium will continue to get smarter and smarter.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Intel Promises Faster, Lighter and Thinner with Its New Processor Line

Intel
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Intel looks to prove that Moore’s law is alive and well almost half a century later.

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore stated that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention. The doubling of transistors and chip performance about every 12-18 months became known as Moore’s law and is one of the laws that has guided the innovation in computers and technology for almost five decades.

Over the years, however, Moore’s law as come under some heat, with detractors saying that Moore’s law will soon run out of steam, mostly due to basic physics arguments. These detractors can’t see how you can cram more and more transistors into such tiny silicon wafers, so they expect Moore’s law to peter out. The only problem is that the engineers at Intel scoff at these detractors and continue to drive Moore’s law forward year after year.

This is highly evident in the company’s newest processor line, code-named “Broadwell Y.” Broadwell Y uses a 14-nanometer manufacturing process and is poised to change the power and size of all types of mobile devices. It will be branded “Core M.”

Intel’s Recent Processor Technologies

Intel’s major journey to extend Moore’s law, especially to mobile computers, started in 2010 with the introduction of its Core i3, i5 and i7 line of processors. The first generation of some of these processors was codenamed “Westmere” and used Intel’s 32-nanometer manufacturing process to produce ultra-low-voltage processors for mobile devices.

The lower the voltage of a processor, the longer the battery life can be. However, while people want long battery life, they also want powerful processing and great graphics. By using a 32-nanometer manufacturing process and doubling the amount of transistors found in previous Intel processors, the company made it possible to deliver lighter and more powerful laptops with longer battery life.

The next year, Intel introduced its next 32-nanometer chips, code-named Sandy Bridge. These processors were even faster and more power-efficient than Westmere chips, with graphics integrated onto the chips themselves. These chips drove Intel’s “Drive to Thin” campaign, with Intel and its partners bringing out even thinner and lighter laptops.

In 2012, Intel moved to 22-nanometer processor manufacturing technology, introducing Ivy Bridge chips. The transistor count basically doubled, giving us even faster processors with lower power draw and even thinner and lighter laptops. This chip also included integrated 3D graphics and support for Direct X11, making imaging laptops even better and paving the way for laptops with modern touchscreens. In 2013 Intel, still using the 22-nanometer manufacturing process, introduced a chip code named Haswell, which extended the battery life mobile computers by 2X, and had a 20X idle power reduction and very low latency idle states. This allowed for even thinner and lighter ultrabooks and the introduction of what Intel and partners call two-in-ones.

Today: Broadwell Y

Now enter Broadwell Y chips and the Core M brand name. This will mark the next big leap in manufacturing process, using 14-nanometer technology. By using the 14-nanometer manufacturing process, Intel again basically doubles the amount of transistors on a chip, yet delivers a processor that runs only at about four to five watts and uses very low voltage. This again extends battery life further on these products and at the same time makes them thinner, lighter and more powerful.

For our geekier readers, Broadwell delivers the following:

  • 14-nanometer, second-generation Tri-Gate transistors
  • Thermal reduction that enables nine-nanometer-and-smaller fabless designs
  • System-optimized dynamic power and thermal management
  • Reduction in system-on-a-chip idle power and increased dynamic range operating
  • Next-generation graphics, media and display features
  • A lower-power chipset, voice features and faster storage

This means that hardware makers can create even more efficient devices using Intel’s newest x86 semiconductor designs. During this journey to extend Moore’s law aggressively to mobile that started in 2010, these new processors have enabled Intel and its partners to bring down the thickness of a laptop from 26 millimeters to 7.2 millimeters. They have reduced heat dissipation by 4X and increased graphics by 7X. Intel’s core architecture has doubled while battery size has been halved, yet Intel is promising that the battery life of the laptops and tablets that use these new 14-nanometer Broadwell Y processors will double.

The Not-Too-Distant Future

What’s amazing to me is that Intel has no intentions of slowing down the progress of Moore’s law anytime soon. I spoke with Intel chairman Andy Bryant recently and he assured me that Intel will not stop innovating with the 14-nanometer process. In fact, he said that engineers are already working on next-generation processors using 10-nanometer technologies, and have plans to create chips using seven- and even five-nanometer manufacturing processes over the next 10 years. It seems to me that given the accomplishments Intel has achieved with its 14-nanometer Broadwell Y chips, the company clearly has the capability of extending Moore’s law for at least another decade.

So why would anyone want a processor with more transistors that uses lower voltage to power them? The simple answer is to create laptops and tablets that are even thinner, lighter, last longer and still have enough power to handle any task we throw at them. However, a bigger reason is that while we’re used to navigating these devices via keyboards, trackpads and touchscreens, these new processors will eventually let companies create new devices that add greater 3D imaging, voice navigation, real-time translation, and new types of games and applications. In other words, the more power we have on these devices, the less we’re limited by what they can do for us.

Intel is shipping these new 14-nanometer Broadwell chips to their customers in volume now, and we should see the first generation of laptops and two-in-ones with these processors around the holidays. Imagine having a MacBook Air that is even thinner, lighter and faster than the ones out today. Or a two-in-one that’s ultra thin and ultra light, making today’s Surface Pro 3 seem large.

And all of them will have even better battery life than those on the market today. That’s what people can expect once Broadwell Y/Core M laptops and two-in-ones hit the market, showing that Moore’s law is alive and well almost half a century later.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Questions About a 5.5-inch iPhone

There’s already a bit of controversy surrounding the launch of Apple’s new iPhones this fall.

Most informed sources seem to all agree that Apple will introduce an iPhone 6 sporting a 4.7-inch screen, as compared to the 4-inch screen on today’s iPhone 5s and 5c models. But there are several rumors coming from the supply chain that suggest Apple is also preparing to release a 5.5-inch version of its newest iPhone, too.

The possibility that Apple could be making a 5.5-inch iPhone leads to a few important questions.

Why make a giant iPhone?

The first: If Apple really wants the 4.7-inch model to be what we in the industry call the “hero” model — one that would drive the majority of iPhone sales going forward — why even make a 5.5-inch model at all?

While we will sell about a billion smartphones this year, fewer than 70 million will feature screens larger than five inches. However, the answer to this question is actually pretty simple: While demand for smartphones larger than five inches is minimal in the U.S. and Europe, there is great interest in smartphones in the 5.5- to 5.7-inch range in many parts of Asia.

For example, well over 80% of smartphones sold in Korea have screens that are at least five inches and above. They have also become big hits in China and other parts of Asia where larger smartphones double as a small tablets, thus driving demand in these regions of the world for what are called “phablets.”

I suspect that if Apple is making a larger iPhone 6 in the 5.5-inch range, it will most likely be targeted at these Asian markets where demand for large smartphones is relatively strong. This is not to say that Apple wouldn’t offer a 5.5-inch iPhone in the U.S. — I believe there could be some interest in one of this size — but like most of my colleagues in the research world, we believe that the lion’s share of those buying the new iPhone would want the 4.7-inch version if indeed this is the size of it when it comes out.

Would you buy it?

The second question: If Apple does bring a 5.5-inch iPhone 6 to the U.S. market, would you buy one?

For the last month or so, I have been carrying three smartphones with me of various screen sizes all day long, and have learned a lot about my personal preferences. In my front pocket is an iPhone 5 that has a four-inch screen. In my back pockets are a Galaxy Note 3, which has a 5.7-inch screen and the new Amazon Fire, which sports a 4.7 inch screen — the same size that is purported to be on the new iPhone 6 when it comes to market.

Here are my observations. Keep in mind they are personal observations, but I suspect that my preferences are pretty close to what the majority of the market may prefer when it comes to the screen sizes in a larger smartphone.

I like to keep my primary smartphone with me all of the time, so my iPhone 5 is in my front pocket. The screen size is very important in this case and, at four inches, it easily fits in my right-front pants pocket and is easy to access as I need it. The other thing that is important about the four-inch screen is that I can operate it with one hand. From a design point, one-handed operation has been at the heart of all iPhones to date, as Steve Jobs was adamant that people wanted to be able to use their phones with one hand. So the idea of possibly moving up to a new iPhone with a 4.7-inch screen has intrigued me, as I wondered if a smartphone with this size screen would fit in my pocket and still be usable with one hand.

So when I got to test the 4.7-inch Amazon Fire phone, I immediately put it in my front pocket. Thankfully, it fit well and continued to be just as easy to access as the smaller iPhone 5s with its four-inch screen. Also, while I had been skeptical that I could still use it with one hand since I have medium-sized hands, I found that I could still operate the Amazon Fire with one hand easily. The other thing about a 4.7-inch screen is that the text is larger; for my aging eyes, this is a welcome upgrade. However, on these two issues, the Galaxy Note 3, with its 5.7-inch screen, flunked both tests. This phablet-sized smartphone did not fit in a front pocket, nor could I use it for one-handed operation.

That led me to wonder if a Samsung Galaxy S% smartphone, with its five-inch screen, would work in these similar scenarios. So I took a Galaxy S5 that I have, put it into my front pocket and tried to use it with one hand. To my surprise, it also worked well. But I had another smartphone with a 5.2-inch screen and, amazingly, that failed both tests. On the surface, at least for me, a smartphone up to five inches did fit in my pocket and allowed me to use it one-handed, but any screen larger than that was a bust.

I also did this test with some of the women in our office. We have a very casual workplace and most wear jeans to work, so I had them try the 4.7-inch Amazon Fire. They were also surprised that it fit O.K. in their front pockets and could still be used in a one-handed operation mode. However, like me, a screen larger than five inches did not fit in pockets and was impossible to use with one hand for all of them. These women did point out to me though that for most women, it’s less likely that they would carry a smartphone in their pockets as more keep them in a purse or handbag. That being the case, at least for the women in our office, a smartphone with a 5.5-inch screen was acceptable to them, although one person said she would prefer the smaller 4.7-inch smartphone if push came to shove.

Ultimately, it probably comes down to personal preference, yet I suspect that an iPhone with a 4.7-inch screen would take the lion’s share of Apple’s iPhones sales if this is indeed the size of the company’s new iPhone.

What about tablets?

But a 5.5-inch smartphone begs a third question that, at the moment, has stymied many of us researchers: Would a 5.5- or 6-inch smartphone eat into the demand for a small tablet?

I find that in my case, even though I do use the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 often for reading books while out and about or while standing in line, my iPad Mini is still my go-to tablet due to its size. I also have a 9.7-inch iPad Air with a Bluetooth keyboard, but I almost exclusively use that tablet for productivity and less for any form of real data consumption.

Some researchers have suggested that, especially in parts of the world where larger smartphones or “phablets” are taking off, this has really hurt the demand for smaller tablets — and that’s partially why demand for tablets has been soft in the last two quarters. Unfortunately, the data is still inconclusive on this, but my gut says that “phablets” are at least having some impact on demand for tablets in many regions of the world.

With the expected launch of Apple’s new larger-screen iPhones just around the corner, those planning to buy a new iPhone might want to keep my experience in mind. There’s a very big difference between how a person uses smartphones that are less than five inches and smartphones that have larger screens. For those who keep them in their pockets and/or want to use them with one hand, they have only one real choice. For them, a smartphone smaller than five inches is their best bet.

But for those that don’t keep their smartphones in their pockets, the virtue of a larger screen is that it delivers much more viewing real estate. Consequently, it’s much easier to use when reading books, web pages and for other tasks where a large screen can deliver a real benefit. The good news is that if these Apple rumors are true, people will have better options coming from Apple. For the first time in the iPhone’s history, Apple might give users multiple screen sizes to choose from.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Understanding Apple’s ‘Continuity’ Strategy

Apple Continuity
Getty Images

Imagine all your screens working together harmoniously.

For years, I have been writing about the many screens in our lives. We have at least three primary screens we use almost on a daily basis: a TV, a PC (laptop or tablet) and a smartphone.

And lately, more screens have been showing up in our cars, appliances and wearable devices. However, even when it comes to major companies’ operating systems, too often the screens’ user interfaces and data are different on each device.

For example, the Mac’s user interface is different than the user interface on Apple’s iOS devices. And Google’s Android user interface on its tablets and smartphones is different than what’s found on the company’s Chromebooks. Same goes for these companies’ TV products. Also, some of your data is stored locally, so it’s not shared with or available on any other device you own.

At Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, the company introduced a concept it calls “continuity.” What this basically means is that in the future, the new Mac operating system, called Yosemite, will look and feel much more like an iOS-based device. In fact, if the continuity theme plays out as I expect it will, Apple will eventually make all of its products — including Apple TV and Apple CarPlay and any wearable devices — have the same look and feel, making it very easy to go from one device to another seamlessly. Also, in this continuity idea, everything would be in sync. That means if you change something on one device, it would be changed and updated on any other Apple device you had tied to the company’s ecosystem of apps and services.

Over at Re/code, my good friend Walt Mossberg did a great piece called “How the PC Is Merging With the Smartphone.” In it, he talks about Apple’s continuity approach to make the PC act, look like and work like an iPhone or iPad. He also mentions how Google is doing something similar with Chromebooks and Android.

For many years, I have thought that in an ideal digital world, people would ultimately have many screens as part of their lifestyles. In that vision, I also had this idea that all of these screens would be connected, work together seamlessly and, perhaps more importantly, would always be in sync with one another. The other part of this vision is that the user interface on each of these devices would be the same. I have always felt that people would be more likely to use new devices if each device worked the same as any other device they already had.

In a sense, I think Apple’s continuity strategy pretty much maps to this vision I have written about for two decades. Now, lest you think I am a serious visionary when it comes to these types of connected ecosystems, keep in mind that this vision came out of my own need for something like this. For most of my career, I really only had to deal with one computing screen — that being the one on a personal computer.

However, my digital life became more complicated when I got my first feature phone. It, too, had apps on it, albeit very limited ones. But the operating system and user interface on my feature phone were completely different than the ones on my PC. I had to learn how to use it from scratch. Then, as early as 1990, I started to use tablets. Again, because of the form factors and designs, the operating systems and user interfaces on my first three or four tablets were all different. I had another set of learning curves to contend with before I could use them with any sense of ease. Also, all of the data on these devices was local and none of these devices talked to each other.

What I wanted was for all of my devices to work together seamlessly, talk to each other, have the same operating system and user interface, and to always be in sync. Interestingly, we have had the technology to deliver on this vision for over five years, but only now have the big companies started to really move us in this direction. If Apple’s overall continuity strategy is fully realized, it would mean that every one of my Apple devices will look and act alike, talk to each other and always be in sync. If I get a new device that is part of Apple’s portfolio, I would have no new learning curve.

For consumers, this would is a big deal. First, if you learned the user interface on one device, it would be the same on all of your devices. Second, the apps and data would all be the same or extremely similar, and available on most of the screens you would be using. The exception would be wearables. These screens bring limitations, so any interface and operating system would be highly streamlined. However, even in this case, they would work very much like the other devices and, more importantly, would be connected to these devices either directly or through the cloud. And third, all of the data on all of the devices would be in sync and, at least in theory, would work together seamlessly.

Apple is not the only one driving us in this direction. Microsoft and Google are similar in that all of their respective devices will eventually look, feel and work in similar ways, tying directly into their cloud-driven ecosystems. The goal, of course, is to hook consumers into one particular ecosystem, making it hard to leave once you’re invested in the products that are tied to their respective apps and services. At the moment, it appears to me that Apple has the broader ability to deliver on this “continuity” concept since it owns the devices, processors, interfaces and services layer, making it easier to make all of its devices work together with a look and feel that’s similar across all of the company’s products.

Google would like to do the same, but there is still too much fragmentation in the Android world at the moment. But over time, I suspect it will achieve a similar level of device continuity. Microsoft’s concept would be the most challenging to deliver due to its various operating systems. And with the acquisition of Nokia, Microsoft adds Android to its product line, which has a completely different ecosystem tied to it. However, all three companies are working hard to deliver on this continuity vision, and as they succeed over time, it should make it easier for customers to better fit these companies’ devices into their digital lifestyles.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Big Picture

Where Wearable Health Gadgets Are Headed

fitbit
A person wearing a Fitbit fitness band types on a laptop Getty Images

Every once in a while, I’m shown a tech product and I can’t figure out why it was created. One great example of this was a two-handed mouse I was shown at large R&D-based company many years ago.

I was asked to review it to see if they should bring it to market. After trying to use it and viewing the complicated things you had to do to make it work, I told them it would never succeed. However, the engineer behind it was convinced he had created the next great mouse and was determined to try and get it to market. Thankfully, the management at this company killed it, as it would have been a complete failure and provided no real value to any customer. However, the technology was available to create it and this engineer did it because he could.

In the world of tech, most successful products address serious needs that people have. This is very much the case behind the current movement to create all types of wearable devices designed to make people healthier.

Folks behind products like the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuel, Fitbit and others have solid backgrounds in exercise and exercise science. They wanted to create stylish wearable products that could be used to monitor steps, count calories and track various other fitness metrics. Other products such as ones from iHealth, which has created a digital blood pressure device and a blood glucose testing kit that are tied to smartphones, were designed by people close to the health industry who saw a need to create products that could utilize digital technology to power new health monitoring tools.

At a personal level, I’m pleased that these folks are utilizing key technologies like accelerometers, sensors, Bluetooth low-energy radios and new types of semiconductors to create products that aim to impact people’s health. Readers of this column may remember that two years ago I suffered a heart attack and had a triple bypass. As you can imagine, this provided a serious wake up call to me about taking better care of myself. Since then, my Nike Fuelband has been my 24-hour wearable companion: I check its step-monitoring readout religiously to make sure I get the 10,000 steps in each day that my doctor has required of me as part of my recovery regimen.

While I would like to think that these tech folks are doing it for the altruistic reasons, the bottom line is that there is a lot of money to be made in health-related wearables. The folks from IHS published a good report last year on the market for wearables, which are mostly driven by health-related apps.

Most researchers that track this market believe that the wearable health market will represent at least $2 billion in revenue worldwide by 2018. In many developed countries around the world, people are becoming much more health conscious. Reports seem to come out daily, talking about the good or bad effects some foods have on our lives. And more and more, we hear that we need to exercise to either maintain our health or to improve it.

So a combination of the right technology becoming available and an increased awareness for better health has created this groundswell of health-related wearable devices and digital monitoring tools designed to help people have healthier lives. But there is another major reason that we are seeing more and more health-related wearables and digital monitoring products come to market now. This is driven by most healthcare providers and is one of their major initiatives: In simple terms, it’s cheaper to keep a person healthy than to cover their costs in the hospital when they’re sick.

Almost all the major health care providers have created web sites with all types of information about managing one’s health. These sites have information and programs for cancer patients, diabetics, and many other health issues that help people better manage these diseases. Health insurers are also really getting behind the various digital monitoring tools and health wearables, too, viewing them as vital tools that can help their customers stay healthier and keep them out of the hospital as much as possible.

Interestingly, as I talk to many of the executives of these health-related wearable companies, many of them claim to be on a mission. Yes, they admit there is money to be made, but most I speak with are serious about giving people the technology to help them keep themselves healthy. In fact, in at least two cases, the executives I have talked to have special funds they personally set aside to donate to major health causes as part of their personal commitment to using technology to make people healthier.

While there is some chatter about the market for wearable technology not being a sustainable one, I suspect that it will stay on track to eventually become integrated into everyday objects such as watches, hats and even clothes, becoming part of a broader trend called “self-health monitoring.” This trend basically says that people will want to have more and more information about calories the number of calories they’ve burned, the number of steps they’ve steps taken, their pulse and other metrics. Thanks to these new technologies, this data would be available to them in a variety of ways.

Of course, not everyone may want to know these health-related data points, but the research shows that at least one-fourth of U.S. adults have these types of health-related wearable monitoring devices on their personal radars. The fact that this market is growing around 20% or more each year suggests that we could continue to see growth for at least another three years. As these devices become part of our wardrobes, they could eventually fade into the background while still providing health-related info that many people may need to stay motivated. This is the goal that the tech world has embraced wholeheartedly, providing more and better tools for this purpose.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

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