TIME Gadgets

Ask Yourself This 1 Thing Before Buying a Smartwatch

Samsung Gear S2
Samsung Samsung Gear S2

You face a very simple choice

Right now, many of the world’s biggest technology companies are waging a war for control over a potentially valuable piece of real estate: Your wrist. Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Pebble and more are all duking it out for smartwatch supremacy, making big but uncertain bets that millions of people will want to spend their hard-earned money on yet another flashing, buzzing piece of consumer electronics calling for their constant attention.

When a company like Apple or Samsung decides it’s time to make a smartwatch, it faces a very basic question early on in the process: Round or square?

The vast majority of analog watches out there are circular, making it a familiar shape that’s perhaps easier to sell to first-time smartwatch buyers. But our computers, laptops and cellphones have always been some form of rectangle, so we’re more used to seeing digital information displayed that way.

And if you decide you want a smartwatch, you’ll face the same decision. So what are your options? Apple and Pebble are firmly in the rectangular camp, while Motorola, which makes the widely well-received Android-powered Moto 360, is more fond of circles. Samsung, for its part, started off rectangular with its Galaxy Gear and several follow-ups, only to reverse course and go full circle with its new Galaxy Gear S2, revealed this week and going on sale in early October.

The Gear S2, among other features, has one particularly neat trick. It sports what Samsung calls a “rotating bezel,” meaning you can navigate around apps and menus by turning the outer face of the device in one direction or another. It’s especially intuitive if you’ve ever owned an analog watch with a rotating bezel of its own, and makes for a nice answer to Apple’s “Digital Crown,” which turns an analog-style crown into an app control mechanism.

But does a rotating bezel alone make a circular smartwatch the way to go? I don’t think so. After months of using Apple’s rectangular Apple Watch, I’m convinced that shape is the way to go.

A circular watch might be fine when you’re just looking at watch faces, but things tend to break down when you start opening apps. Unless an app was designed very carefully with a circular display in mind, those displays tend to cut off valuable information as data gets lost around the circumference. That experience was particularly jarring when using the Gear S2, especially with third-party apps. Some were better than others, but by and large I wished the device was simply able to display more data without my having to scroll down.

Still, this may all come down to personal preference. If you’re in the market for a smartwatch, it’s a good idea to get some hands-on time with both styles before you make your pick. And your options have never been as plentiful. New smartwatches seem to be popping up every day, and Google recently introduced an iPhone app that promises to expand Apple users’ choices beyond the Apple Watch.


There’s a Cool New Easter Egg Hidden in Google Search

Googling this phrase offers a surprising result

Google is known for hiding all kinds of secrets within its search engine. The latest goodie is an unusual new way to discover random bits of trivia.

If you type “fun facts” into the Google search bar, the search engine will return the answers to the exact kinds of questions people often find themselves Googling out of the blue: Why does a comet’s tail always face away from the sun? How many episodes are there of The Price Is Right? What is the most used color in flags?

Users can click the “Ask Another Question” button to be fed another piece of random minutia.

Helpfully, each answer also includes the source of the fact, so you can read further to learn more.


Here’s How Uber is Fighting Its Rival in China

Uber Tops Taxis
Jeff Chiu—AP

Uber has been trailing behind its Chinese rival, but hopes to get back on top

Ever since Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s offer to invest in its Chinese rival was rejected last summer, the two companies have been in an epic battle to take over China’s ride-hailing market.

Cheng Wei, CEO of rival company Didi Kuaidi, told the Wall Street Journal that Kalanick’s message during that meeting was: “They had conquered the whole world and would also conquer China.” Cheng said that although Uber had an advantage by entering the ride-hailing game earlier, Didi would outdo it.

And it has. As Uber tries to expand its business in China, Didi seems to always be one step ahead. The Chinese company is available in over 80 cities as compared to Uber’s 16, and it raised $2 billion this summer while Uber is just now reportedly closing in on a $1 billion investment for UberChina. Didi’s company is also much larger that UberChina with 4,000 employees (not including drivers) to UberChina’s 200.

China’s urban commuter market is unmatched, which is why both companies are fighting so hard for it. The market alone is over twice the total U.S. population and anticipating growth as China’s middle class is expected to see an influx of hundreds of millions of people over the next decade.

Uber has plans that will hopefully help it catch up to its competitor. First of all, Kalanick, who ensures investors he is overseeing day-to-day operations in China, wants UberChina to be its own entity, separate from Uber. Didi has a huge advantage with the Chinese government because its local, and Uber hopes this will put the two companies on the same playing field.

UberChina plans to launch in 45 more cities over the next year. It has teamed up with Baidu Inc., a search-and-mapping leader, for more accurate mapping and an increased range of services. It will also be adding over 100,000 full-time-equivalent jobs per month in China. The company is luring in more drivers and enticing current drivers to work harder by offering large bonuses.


Watch a Bunch of Puppies Test Out the Latest Star Wars Toy

Vanity Fair recruited cute canines to play with the new BB-8

Sphero’s new spinning robot is the new Star Wars toy every kid will want for Christmas this year. We now believe it’s also the toy every dog will want, too.

Vanity Fair recruited a pack of cute puppies to test out this toy, the BB-8, which is based on the new Star Wars’ film’s spinning droid. It’s controlled with a Star Wars-themed smartphone app and, according to Sphero Chief Creative Officer Rob Maigret, is “the closest we get to an actual droid.”

So, will this high-tech toy be a good plaything for your pet? Watch above and decide.

TIME Gadgets

This Will Be the Star Wars Toy Every Kid Wants This Holiday

Sphero's BB-8 is a smartphone-controlled rolling robot

“Merchandising, merchandising. Where the real money from the movie is made!,” quipped the Yoda-esque character in Mel Brooks’ 1987 Star Wars spoof Spaceballs. And he was right, especially when it comes to A Galaxy Far, Far Away. By 1997, sales of Star Wars toys hit an estimated $9 billion, making over $3 billion more than the movies themselves.

In that time-honored tradition of turning imaginary Jedi knights, Sith warriors, aliens and droids into real money, toy companies from Mattel to Hasbro to LEGO are primed and ready to release a smorgasbord of toys tied to the upcoming The Force Awakens, the first new Star Wars film in a decade. But there’s a newcomer among their ranks, too: Sphero, a Boulder, Colorado-based startup that makes smartphone-controlled spherical robots. On Thursday, Sphero rolled out its toy version of BB-8, the new film’s spinning droid who looks to be a spiritual successor to the perennially popular R2-D2.

Sphero’s BB-8 is controllable with a Star Wars-themed smartphone app and the help of a Wi-Fi signal. It responds to simple directional inputs as well as pre-set commands like “patrol,” which sends it automatically zipping here and there around a room. The company took care to breathe life into the toy, having it emit the chirps and squeaks that make Star Wars‘ droids feel somehow alive. It comes with a recharging dock and gets about an hour of play time on a three hour charge. BB-8’s software is updatable via the app, meaning the company can add new features over time.

The idea behind the BB-8 toy, Sphero Chief Creative Officer Rob Maigret told TIME, is that it’s “the closest we get to an actual droid.” Everything about the toy, from the Apple-style packaging on down, is designed with that goal in mind. “We’ve proven we can give personality to a ball,” said Maigret.


But the most impressive thing about Sphero’s BB-8, which is just slightly bigger than a baseball, is the droid’s head. As in the movie, BB-8’s cranium sits generally near the top of the toy regardless of the robot’s orientation or speed, like a geostationary satellite locked in position over Earth. When the movie BB-8 was first seen in a Force Awakens trailer, many fans thought the seeming impossibility of how the head worked meant the rolling robot was created via computer graphics. Not so. It’s a physical effect brought to the film after Disney CEO Bob Iger personally enlisted Sphero’s help. Now, Sphero has gone and brought basically the same functionality to a toy that will retail for $149.99. Maigret wouldn’t tell TIME how the head worked, but allowed that some curious consumers will almost certainly rip BB-8 apart and post their findings online. One downside here: BB-8’s head isn’t permanently attached, and a high-speed collision into a wall can temporarily decapitate it.

Sphero may not have the size, money, or brand recognition of a Mattel or Hasbro. But Disney, which owns the Star Wars franchise after a $4 billion deal in 2012, has given the company a real chance to break out this holiday season. As a movie character, BB-8 feels destined to become a fan favorite. Some Star Wars fans have already tattooed likenesses of the droid on various parts of their body, and the movie isn’t even out until December. Fans’ interest in a movie character can easily translate into big money for toymakers — just ask LEGO, which saw about an 11% sales boost in the months after its well-received Lego Movie hit theaters.

Still, there will be challenges. Star Wars toymakers in the 1970s and 80s didn’t have to compete with computers and iPads for kids’ hearts and minds and, therefore, mom and dad’s dollars. The asking price, too, is steep. But Sphero’s timing is great, with both The Force Awakens and the holiday season quickly approaching (other new Star Wars toys are being announced this week as well; the release schedule was surely planned out like a general plans an invasion of a foreign land). And Sphero will have the marketing power of the Mouse House behind it. If the five-year-old company can successfully tap into what’s already becoming a fresh bout of Star Wars mania, it could use BB-8 as a launching pad to blast into homes across the country.

TIME Companies

See Everything You Need to Know About eBay in 2 Minutes

On the site's 20th birthday

Happy 20th birthday, eBay.

Pierre Omidyar founded “AuctionWeb” in September 1995. Eventually retitled eBay, the company pulled in nearly $18 billion in revenues last year.

The site is home to the macabre, the wondrous and the luxurious. With just a few clicks, your PayPal account, and a generous credit line, you could buy a demonic doll, the meaning of life, or a yacht—just a few things that’ve been sold on the site.

Above, have a look at the numbers behind the world’s largest auction site.

TIME twitter

Twitter Is Feeling Pressure to Name a New CEO

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 2
Kimberly White—Getty Images for Vanity Fair Jack Dorsey

Co-founder Jack Dorsey is reportedly among the candidates

Investors are getting antsy over the precarious situation over at Twitter.

The social network, which saw CEO Dick Costolo depart at the end of June, has been without a permanent head since then. That may change after a company board meeting Thursday, a report says.

Twitter’s board will discuss the progress in its search process at the meeting and may provide investors with an update, according to Bloomberg. The company is considering naming interim CEO and Twitter Co-founder Jack Dorsey as its permanent chief. However, Dorsey is currently the CEO of mobile payments startup Square, and some analysts have reservations about letting the man permanently helm two companies at once.

Other candidates on the reported shortlist include former Cisco Systems executive Padmasree Warrior, CBS Interactive executive Jim Lanzone, and Twitter revenue chief Adam Bain.

Twitter has faced a rough summer, with a steep drop in its stock price, the departure of several product heads, and slow user growth. Upcoming changes—such as a robust marketing campaign and a new feature that will aggregate compelling tweets around specific topics—could help reverse the company’s fortunes.

TIME technology

The Small-Scale Story Behind eBay’s Big Bucks

Chairman and founder Pierre Omidyar and CEO Meg Whitman of EBay.com
James D. Wilson—Getty Images Chairman and founder Pierre Omidyar and CEO Meg Whitman of EBay.com, the online auction service, in California on June 15, 1998.

The site that became eBay was founded 20 years ago, on Sept. 3, 1995

The origin story of eBay—which was founded 20 years ago, as AuctionWeb, on Sept. 3, 1995–is fairly well-known: other tech giants have their garages, eBay has its Pez dispenser. Or, rather, founder Pierre Omidyar’s then-fiancée didn’t have a Pez dispenser. It was her desire to more easily expand her collection that inspired Omidyar to create a way for her to arrange sales and purchases online.

But, as any number of start-ups have found, a good idea and good code do not a profitable business make. And the reason for eBay’s transition from small project to a functioning company is much less cute than the Pez story. Omidyar was running the business at home, and his Internet provider started to charge him more, as TIME explained in a 1999 story about the rise in online auctions:

eBay started out free, but it quickly attracted so much traffic that Omidyar‘s Internet service upped his monthly bill to $250. Now that it was costing him real money, Omidyar decided to start charging. He concocted a fee scale similar to the one eBay uses today: a nominal fee for listing an item (10¢back then, as little as 25¢ now) and a percent of the final sale price.

The payments that arrived with Omidyar‘s daily mail were small–in some cases dimes and nickels taped to index cards. But those little payments were coming in piles. eBay took in $1,000 the first month, more than it cost to run. Omidyar really knew he was onto something when he put up a listing for a broken $30 laser pointer that he was about to throw out. He fully disclosed that it didn’t work–even with new batteries–and started it at $1. Inexplicably, a bidding war ensued, and someone ended up taking it off his hands for $14. Meanwhile, the site’s revenues kept doubling: they were $2,500 the second month, then $5,000, then $10,000. Omidyar eventually had another insight. “I said O.K., I’ve got a hobby that’s making me more money than my day job,” he recalls. “So it might be time to quit the day job.”

As of May 2015, Forbes placed eBay’s market value at nearly $69 billion.

Read more from 1999, here in the TIME Vault: The Attic of E

TIME Apple

Apple Will Likely Debut a Bigger iPad Next Week

Inside A SoftBank Store As Apple Inc. New iPads Go On Sale
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It will be called the ‘iPad Pro,’ a report says

Next Wednesday, Apple will cram a big crowd of journalists, executives, and other lucky people into San Francisco’s Bill Graham Auditorium, and will reportedly unveil, among other things, a bigger iPad.

The bigger iPad has been rumored for quite some time, but 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman—a prolific Apple news whisperer—reported Wednesday that Apple will almost certainly materialize on Sept. 9. Trip Chowdhry, managing director of equity research at Global Equities Research, also told Fortune that the device will likely debut next week.

Geared toward power users, the “iPad Pro,” as Gurman reports it is actually named, will sport a 12-inch display, run iOS 9.1, support a Force Touch-based stylus, and have speakers on two sides. The iOS 9.1 operating system will reportedly include special versions of the Siri and Notification Center interfaces.

With all that said, there’s still a chance that Apple won’t reveal the bigger iPad next week. Pre-orders are slated for October, and shipments for November, so Apple could be planning a special event for it in October, according to Gurman.

Other rumored announcements for next include new iPhones, a revamped Apple TV, new bands for the Apple Watch, and possibly a new iPad mini.

TIME Google

Google Docs Has a New Killer Feature

It's called voice typing

Welcome back to the feature war. On Wednesday, Google will unveil a spate of new functions to Google Docs including voice dictation (Google’s calling it voice typing) which should be very nifty if it works as advertised.

Not only can you speak what needs to be typed, Google can translate what you say into 40 languages. A caveat: “We’re not sure it can handle the Boston accent yet,” said Ryan Tabone, director of product management for Google Docs.

To use the feature, a user needs to click on a microphone button and go. Microsoft Office does not have this yet, although since Microsoft has translation and speech recognition capabilities of its own, it’s probably just a matter of time.

Google, which gained early recognition for its applications by enabling team members to collaborate on documents, also added a “see new changes” option that lets you view all the changes made by your group while you were away. Perfect for control freaks.

“The idea is to make creating a document more of a conversation,” Tabone told Fortune.

There is also a new “research” feature on the Google Docs Android app which lets a user working on a particular topic highlight text to pull up relevant charts and graphs on that topic for easy insertion into her document. I’m not sure how Google handles intellectual property rights on all that stuff, but for anyone over 30, typing on a phone is a challenge and making it easier to add pertinent information to a document would be helpful.

And, Google also spiffed up its Sheets spreadsheet application with more polished templates. Sheets is probably where Google needs to make up the most ground against Microsoft since most spreadsheet jockeys still see Excel as the defacto standard. But remember, Google Sheets could do to Microsoft Excel what Microsoft Excel did to Lotus 1-2-3, the spreadsheet standard 20 years ago. Just saying.

Microsoft Office 2016, slated to debut broadly later this month, adds more collaborative capabilities including simultaneous edits on Word documents.

Google gained traction by taking the productivity suite to a subscription on-demand model. Microsoft has responded but Google Docs remains the cheaper option with a free version for consumers and a business edition starting at $5 per month per user or $60 a year. Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions start at $10.00 per user per month or $120 per year.

Office has been a cash cow for Microsoft and no one doubts how serious Microsoft is about it. Some still aren’t sure if Google, on the other hand, sees these applications as a priority. Google says it has added 100 features and improvements this year, and Google Docs is well entrenched among consumers, startups, and even some larger companies.

Analyst Sara Radicati, chief executive of the Radicati Group, said there should be no doubt that Google’s serious about these applications.

“They have invested heavily for the past 10 years or more and continue to do so,” she said via email. The Google lineup compares well with Office, and Google still sports a better cloud model while “Microsoft has to integrate with many desktop components that require constant updates,” she added.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

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