TIME Gadgets

Check Out Microsoft’s Very First Wearable Fitness Tracker

It's Microsoft's new foray into the wearables market

Microsoft is joining the parade of tech companies flooding the crowded wearable health space with a big bet that it can make its way not only to consumers’ desks and laps, but onto their wrists, too.

The company announced a new device Wednesday evening called the Microsoft Band, which will be coupled to a service called Microsoft Health.

Microsoft Band works much like a Fitbit or a Jawbone Up: throughout the day, it tracks your heart rate, steps, calories burned and the quality and length of your sleep. It contains a GPS device, so it tracks distance traveled, too. The Band feeds data back to your Microsoft Health app, which works on Microsoft phones as well as Android and Apple.

The Band does things some other wearables can’t: it notifies you when you receive a text message or a call and allows you to monitor your email. It also lets you interact with Microsoft’s intelligent personal assistant, Cortana, provided you have a Windows Phone. Microsoft also touted Microsoft Health’s coordination with its HealthVault program, which can share information with doctors. And at $199, The Microsoft Band is considerably cheaper than the cheapest Apple Watch will be when that launches early next year at a $349 starting price.

“We don’t think there’s any other device with this level of functionality,” Yusuf Mehdi, a Microsoft vice president, said according to the New York Times in a demonstration of the device on Wednesday. Microsoft released the Band after it apparently leaked early in some app stores.

The big question for the Microsoft Band is whether it’ll hold users’ interest. In a recent survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers found about a third of respondents said they no longer use their wearable device or do so infrequently just a year after purchasing one.

TIME Companies

Nike CEO Hints at Apple Collaboration

The athletic brand and tech giant may come together in the near future

For those looking for wearable tech that’s significantly less nerdy than Google Glass and the Apple Watch, you may not be looking for long.

TIME Gadgets

Teens Aren’t So Hot on the Apple Watch

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

It may be the $350 starting price tag

Fairly or not, teenagers are often seen as arbiters of taste in the tech sector. So it might be a little disconcerting for Apple that they’re expressing little interest in the company’s upcoming Apple Watch, according to a new survey by an investment bank.

The Piper Jaffray survey of 7,200 teens, conducted in person and online across 41 states, aims to find out about teens’ consumption habits and technological preferences. While Apple’s iPhone was popular among the teens surveyed—two-thirds said they had one—just 16% said they were interested in buying an Apple Watch, according to Re/Code. Currently just 7% of the teens surveyed own a smartwatch, numbers that reflect their slow adoption across the board. The Apple Watch’s price tag, which starts at $350, could be one factor muting teens’ interest.

There is some good news for Apple in the survey as well. 54% of teens said they own an iPad, compared to 16% with an Android tablet and 6% with a Kindle Fire. Beats by Dre headphones, a part of the Beats Electronics company that Apple is buying for $3 billion, are also growing in popularity among young people.

Overall, kids prefer to splurge on many things besides electronics. Teens surveyed spend 21% of their money on clothes, 9% on their cars and 8% on shoes, compared to 7% on gadgets.

TIME

How Apple Is Invading Our Bodies

Apple Watch Cover
TIME Photo-illustration. Hand: Milos Luzanin–Alamy

The Silicon Valley giant has redrawn the line that separates our technology and ourselves. That may not be a good thing

For the full story, read this week’s TIME magazine.

With the unveiling of the Apple Watch Tuesday in Cupertino, California, Apple is attempting to put technology somewhere where it’s never been particularly welcome. Like a pushy date, the Apple Watch wants to get intimate with us in a way we’re not entirely used to or prepared for. This isn’t just a new product, this is technology attempting to colonize our bodies.

The Apple Watch is very personal—“personal” and “intimate” were words that Apple CEO Tim Cook and his colleagues used over and over again when presenting it to the public for the first time. That’s where the watch is likely to change things, because it does something computers aren’t generally supposed to: it lives on your body. It perches on your wrist, like one of Cinderella’s helpful bluebirds. It gets closer than we’re used technology getting. It gets inside your personal bubble. We’re used to technology being safely Other, but the Apple Watch wants to snuggle up and become part of your Self.

This is new, and slightly unnerving. When technologies get adopted as fast as we tend to adopt Apple’s products, there are always unintended consequences. When the iPhone came out it was praised to the skies as a design and engineering marvel, because it is one, but no one really understood what it would be like to have it in our lives. Nobody anticipated the way iPhones exert a constant gravitational tug on our attention. Do I have e-mail? What’s happening on Twitter? Could I get away with playing Tiny Wings at this meeting? When you’re carrying a smartphone, your attention is never entirely undivided.

The reality of living with an iPhone, or any smart, connected device, is that it makes reality feel just that little bit less real. One gets over-connected, to the point where the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers start to feel more urgent than those of your loved ones who are in the same room as you. One forgets how to be alone and undistracted. Ironically enough experiences don’t feel fully real till you’ve used your phone to make them virtual—tweeted them or tumbled them or Instagrammed them or YouTubed them, and the world has congratulated you for doing so. Smartphones create needs we never had before, and were probably better off without.

The great thing about the Apple Watch is that it’s always there—you don’t even have to take it out of your bag to look at it, the way you would with an iPhone. But unlike an iPhone you can’t put the Apple Watch away either. It’s always with you. During the company’s press event the artist Banksy posted a drawing to his Twitter feed of an iPhone growing roots that strangle and sink into the wrist of the hand holding it. You can see where he was coming from. This is technology establishing a new beachhead. To wear a device as powerful as the Apple Watch makes you ever so slightly post-human.

What might post-humanity be like? The paradox of a wearable device is that it both gives you control and takes it away at the same time. Consider the watch’s fitness applications. They capture all data that your body generates, your heart and activity and so on, gathers it up and stores and returns it to you in a form you can use. Once the development community gets through apping it, there’s no telling what else it might gather. This will change your experience of your body. The wristwatch made the idea of not knowing what time it was seem bizarre; in five years it might seem bizarre not to know how many calories you’ve eaten today, or what your resting heart rate is.

But wearables also ask you to give up control. Your phone will start telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat and how far you should run. It’s going to get in between you and your body and mediate that relationship. Wearables will make your physical self visible to the virtual world in the form of information, an indelible digital body-print, and that information is going to behave like any other information behaves these days. It will be copied and circulated. It will go places you don’t expect. People will use that information to track you and market to you. It will be bought and sold and leaked—imagine a data-spill comparable to the recent iCloud leak, only with Apple Watch data instead of naked selfies.

The Apple Watch represents a redrawing of the map that locates technology in one place and our bodies in another. The line between the two will never be as easy to find again. Once you’re OK with wearing technology, the only way forward is inward: the next product launch after the Apple Watch would logically be the iMplant. If Apple succeeds in legitimizing wearables as a category, it will have successfully established the founding node in a network that could spread throughout our bodies, with Apple setting the standards. Then we’ll really have to decide how much control we want—and what we’re prepared to give up for it.

TIME Apple

Apple’s Watch Will Make People and Computers More Intimate

The new device will bring us one step closer to human-machine symbiosis

A fundamental quest of the digital age has been to make our devices more personal. Steve Jobs was the Zen master of this, and he ingrained it into the DNA of Apple. That was reflected in the Apple Watch that current Apple CEO Tim Cook and his team launched this week, the latest leap toward creating a more intimate connection between people and computers.

The great pioneer of computer personalization was Vannevar Bush, an MIT engineering dean who oversaw scientific research for the U.S. government during World War II. In 1945 he wrote a seminal article titled “As We May Think” for the Atlantic that envisioned a personal information device that he called a memex. A person would be able to store all of his communications and information in it, and it would serve as “an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” The word intimate was key, and it was one that Cook used when describing the Apple Watch.

Other ingenious innovators enhanced the intimacy between computers and humans. J. C. R. Licklider, an MIT psychologist and engineer who best deserves the title of father of the Internet, helped design a massive U.S. air defense system that involved networked computers in twenty-three tracking centers. He created easy and intuitive graphic displays, since the nation’s fate might depend on the ability of a console jockey to assess data correctly and respond instantly. He called his approach “man-computer symbiosis.” As he explained, “human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly.” Douglas Engelbart, an acolyte of Bush and Licklider, invented the mouse as part of his mission to make the connection between humans and computers more personal, and at Xerox PARC, Alan Kay and others came up with friendly screen displays with folders and icons that users could point to and click.

For the Macintosh that he launched at the Flint Center thirty years ago, Jobs famously appropriated the graphical user interface from Xerox PARC, quoting Picasso as saying that “great artists steal.” He had an intuitive genius for making devices that established an intimate connection with the user. The iPod, for example, performed the simple but magical task of putting a thousand songs in your pocket. It harkened back to another great triumph of personalization. In 1954, Pat Haggerty of Texas Instruments was looking for a way to create a mass market for transistors. He came up with the idea of a pocket radio. The radio no longer would be a living-room appliance to be shared; it became a personal device that allowed you to listen to your own music where and when you wished—even if it was music that your parents wanted to ban.

Indeed, there was a symbiotic relationship between the advent of the transistor radio and the rise of rock and roll. The rebellious new music made every kid want a radio. And the fact that the radios could be taken to the beach or the basement, away from the disapproving ears and dial-controlling fingers of parents, allowed the music to flourish. Its plastic case came, iPod-like, in four colors: black, ivory, Mandarin Red, and Cloud Gray. Within a year, 100,000 had been sold, making it one of the most popular new products in history.

In the decades since Bush envisioned the intimate and personal memex, a competing school of computer science has set its sights on artificial intelligence, repeatedly predicting the arrival of machines that could think without us, perhaps even make us irrelevant. That goal has been elusive, a mirage always a few decades away. The Apple Watch, designed to touch our wrists and beat with our hearts, again shows the greater power of the approach that Bush and Licklider proposed, that of seeking an intimate symbiosis and deeply personal partnership between humans and machines.

Walter Isaacson’s history of the digital age, The Innovators, will be published in October.

TIME Apple

Here’s Exactly Why Apple Will Make an iWatch

Apple expands China business, moving beyond big cities
Xiao qiang xg—Xiao qiang xg - Imaginechina

One very qualified observer weighs in

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

 

Ironfire Capital‘s Eric Jackson achieved an admirable density of insight Monday in an e-mail exchange with Asymco‘s Horace Dediu.

“The interview is vintage Horace,” writes Jackson. “So much to think about in so few words.”

A few excerpts:

  • On sapphire: “I expect Sapphire will become a signature feature across many products. I don’t know if they will have capacity to deploy on iPhone this year but on a watch it’s essential… It’s a significant material because it allows design freedom in new directions, especially curved (concave) touch surfaces that retain a jewel-like feel. This has Jony Ive [written] all over it.”
  • On prices: “I think Apple holds a black belt in pricing. They seem to define their position in the market by anchoring certain prices and ‘owning’ them… The average selling price (ASP) I expect to remain constant on a year-long average.”
  • On the ‘iWatch’: “I will be shocked to the core if it does not run iOS. It is my opinion that making iOS work on it is the entire reason Apple is sweating this segment. They are in it because they are trying to make a platform product with a novel user experience and all the power of an ecosystem run on a wrist.”

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME Wearables

Android Wear Face-Off: LG G Watch vs. Samsung Gear Live

LG's G Watch (left) and Samsung's Gear Live (right) Jared Newman for TIME

How to pick a smartwatch if you're one of Android Wear's earliest adopters.

Let’s say you plan to ignore the advice of most reviews and buy an Android Wear smartwatch right now. Even though more stylish designs are on the way, you’ve got money to spend and want to see what the fuss is about.

How do you choose between Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G Watch? After using each one over the last couple of weeks, I think it’s pretty easy to decide. But first, let’s go through the pros and cons of each watch:

Style

You won’t win a lot of style points for either watch, as they are both thick, square slabs that take up a lot of space across the wrist. In fact, if you hold them next to each other, the watch bodies, bezels and screens are almost exactly the same size.

Where Samsung’s Gear Live stands out, though, is the use of metal around the body and on the clasp under your wrist. The watch band also appears thinner due to its tapered edges, and the snap-in mechanism is less bulky than the G Watch’s more traditional buckle. The Gear Live is a bit gaudier, but it also makes a statement. That’s more my style, given that neither watch is understated to begin with.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live

Features

The Gear Live and G Watch have almost exactly the same features, as they are required to run the same Android Wear software. Samsung does include a heart rate monitor, but I had trouble getting consistent readings and question whether this is a useful feature anyway. (If you can check your own pulse, you can just as easily measure it with the basic stopwatch function on either watch.)

The G Watch’s best feature, oddly enough, is its selection of watch faces. It has a lot of sharp-looking ones that Samsung doesn’t, and while this will become less of an issue as more third-party watch faces hit the Google Play Store, it’s nice to have some quality faces out of the box.

Advantage: LG G Watch, slightly

Jared Newman for TIME

Comfort

As I mentioned above, the Samsung Gear Live’s watch band has a couple of pins on the end, which you snap into any two holes further up the band. The G Watch has a standard buckle that keeps the watch securely fastened, along with a loop of plastic for holding down the excess strap material.

I found the Gear Live’s band to be more comfortable overall, with ridges on the inside that let your wrist breathe a bit, and it’s nice not to have any excess material to deal with. By comparison, the G Watch’s flat, rubberized band seemed to make my wrist feel sticky and sweaty before long. Both watches do have removable straps, at least.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live

Battery and Charging

This one isn’t even close. Not only does LG’s G Watch have a larger battery, it also has a better charging cradle that you can just drop the watch onto at night. It’s much more convenient than the Samsung Gear Live’s charging pod, which needs to be snapped onto the underside of the watch in a particular way.

You’ll likely want to charge either watch every night, which actually isn’t a big deal once you get in the habit. (In a way, it’s better than having to charge every few days, because the nightly charge becomes routine.) But the need for a nightly top-up makes a convenient charging mechanism all the more important.

Advantage: LG G Watch

Jared Newman for TIME

Display Quality

In theory, the 320-by-320 resolution AMOLED panel on Samsung’s Gear Live should be the winner over LG’s 280-by-280 LCD screen, as it provides sharper images and better viewing angles.

But the G Watch does have one advantage in its outdoor readability. While neither watch performs well in direct sunlight, LG’s watch does a slightly better job of fending off the sun’s glare at full brightness. It’s not a big enough difference to beat the Gear Live’s display overall, but it does make the displays closer in quality than they look on paper.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live, slightly

Verdict

Style and comfort are extremely important to me considering this is something I have to wear every day, and the Gear Live’s advantages in those areas outweigh its pesky charger and inferior watch faces. (If I was buying one myself, the Gear Live’s $199 price tag compared to $229 for the LG G Watch wouldn’t hurt.)

LG’s G Watch is still worth considering for some users, especially those who plan to swap in their own straps. But I’m not going that route, so the Samsung Gear Live will be my go-to smartwatch as I continue to get a feel for Android Wear.

TIME Gadgets

Too Many Android Wear Apps Are Missing the Point

Jared Newman for TIME

Watered-down smartphone apps are spreading like weeds on Google's new wearable platform.

If you want an example of everything wrong with smartwatch apps right now, just look at all the Android Wear calculators.

I currently count four calculator apps for Google’s wearable platform, and they’re all useless. You need pinpoint touch precision to enter each number, and none of the apps include a backspace key for when you inevitably mistype something. Using a calculator app on your phone would be faster and less frustrating.

These unnecessary calculator apps underscore the biggest challenge for Android Wear–and for that matter, all smartwatches–right now: Most people are happy to just take out their smartphones, so there’s little need for a watch that tries to do all the same things on a smaller screen.

For smartwatches to make sense, they need to go beyond what a phone can do on its own. That idea seems lost on developers who are creating weak imitations of existing smartphone apps, including games, drawing apps, flashlights and calendars.

Google has tried to discourage these kinds of apps, both in its documentation (“inputs requiring fine-grained motor skills are avoided”) and through Wear’s interface, which deliberately makes smartphone-like apps difficult to launch. But developers are undeterred. In fact, someone has even come out with a third-party app launcher for Wear that seems likely to encourage more bad behavior.

Even some of the highlighted Android Wear apps in the Google Play Store miss the point: Why would anyone want to browse Tinder on a smartwatch, when the smartphone version offers a better experience? How often are you really going to ask the Eat24 app for delivery when you can only get exactly what you’ve ordered in the past?

To make the case for smartwatches, developers need to think more critically about the apps they’re building. To that end, I think it might help to consider a few basic questions:

  • Does the app provide a useful service in specific situations where taking out a phone is impractical?
  • Does the watch show users something important that they’d miss if they didn’t take out their phones in time?
  • Does the watch app save significant time without sacrificing significant functionality?

Android Wear does have a handful of apps that answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, and app makers should take inspiration from these good examples.

Last weekend, for instance, I played a round of golf with help from the Golfshot app. After using the smartphone app to select the course I was playing on, the watch provided a constant read-out of my distance from the hole. If I was any good at golf, this would have been tremendously helpful for deciding which club to use, as my phone was safely stowed away in my golf bag for the rest of the outing. (See question number one.) It’d be even better if the app let you enter a score at the end of each hole, but this is a fine start.

Delta’s Android app is another example of a wearable app done right. If you check into a flight on your phone, the watch provides up to date boarding information right on your wrist (question two) and presents your boarding pass to use at the gate (question three).

Similarly, Allthecooks’ Android Wear functions can save time by showing recipe instructions on your wrist. Having those instructions follow you around the kitchen makes a lot more sense than having to constantly look back to your phone or tablet for reference.

One of the big criticisms of smartwatches so far is that they only make life more complicated. They represent another device to carry, another screen to keep charged every night, another set of apps to deal with.

The thing that interests me about Android Wear is its potential to simplify, presenting information in a way that helps us think about our phones less often. That’s not going to happen if developers keep taking the easy path, turning Android Wear into another screen full of apps.

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