TIME FindTheBest

4 Reasons Nobody Cares About Smartwatches

If you watched Google present Android Wear last week, you’d think the smartwatch was the hottest product on the market. What could be better than an intelligent timepiece that can take calls and understand voice commands?

It turns out nobody cares. At FindTheBest, we compared traffic and user engagement for dozens of product categories, from smartphones and laptops to printers and processors. The results? FindTheBest users are three times more likely to research fitness trackers than smartwatches, and over 40 times more likely to research smartphones. Even the godawful Bluetooth headset is more popular.

So we asked ourselves: why isn’t the smartwatch as popular as its wrist-based cousin, the fitness tracker? Why hasn’t the mainstream market bought in? Here are four reasons:

1. Smartwatches are too thick

According to WatchStation, the average case thickness for a standard wristwatch is between 8-12 mm, while anything in the 6-8 mm range is considered “thin.” Unfortunately, most smartwatches clock in north of 10 mm, making them seem more like clunky gadgets than sleek, sophisticated timepieces of the future. For a tech geek, this might seem like a petty complaint, but for the mass market, design and comfort beat specs and features any day (see Jobs, Steve).

 

Yes, the recent Sony SmartWatch 2 (9 mm), Samsung Gear Live (8.9 mm), and LG G Watch (9.9 mm) are thinner than most of their rivals—a promising trend for the industry. But you can’t disrupt a market when your product is about the same as existing options—you need something noticeably and undeniably better. Shave off another 3-5 mm and then we’ll talk.

2. Smartwatches are too expensive

For classic wristwatches, prices are either dirt cheap (ex: a $10 grocery store Casio) or criminally expensive (ex: a $20k Rolex). The problem? People tend to think about watches as one of these two things, and rarely anything in between. Smartwatch manufacturers have attempted to create a new price category altogether, where most models range from $100 to $250. It seems reasonable enough on paper, but regrettably, wealthy consumers don’t want Twitter updates and digital displays (smartwatches) as much as they want Swiss craftsmanship and family heirlooms (Rolexes). Meanwhile, average Joes won’t want to spend much more than they did on last year’s Casio.

 

Obviously, $10 is unreasonable for a smartwatch, but what about $50 to $99? If manufacturers can price these things more like Apple TVs and less like iPods, we might see a bump in mainstream adoption.

3. Smartwatches haven’t solved the battery life conundrum

Like prices for standard wristwatches, battery life on smartwatches is polarized. A few select models—like the Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity and ConnecteDevice Cookoo—can run for months without a single charge. Pretty much everything else will be lucky to survive a week. It gets even worse for the prettiest displays (like the LG G’s LCD screen or the Galaxy Gear’s AMOLED display), where you’ll need to plug in every night—in other words, a charging ritual no better than a smartphone’s.

The problem is that the more “smart” a watch is, the worse battery life it tends to have. Even with their months of battery life, the Citizen Eco-Drive and Cookoo are hardly smartwatches—they’re mostly analog timepieces with a couple of neat notification features. The 7-day-battery Pebble Steel is a little better, but it can’t compete feature-for-feature with the 1.5-day-battery Galaxy Gear.

 

 

In the end, smartwatch manufacturers need to rethink battery life entirely. They need to ask themselves how they can bake in all the same features without requiring customers to plug in night-after-night. If you’re not convinced this is a problem, consider that the best idea the industry has had yet is to “flick your wrist to turn on the backlight.” I mean seriously.

4. Smartwatches don’t have a compelling reason to exist

Quick: what is a smartwatch’s primary benefit, in just a few words? Voice-based texting? Safer driving? Taking calls without getting your phone out of your pocket or purse? Seeing a Facebook notification three seconds faster?

The smartwatch’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t solve any tangible problem. The first personal computers revolutionized productivity. The first MP3 players allowed people to store thousands of songs in one place. Smartphones let consumers take the Internet with them in their pocket. Even fitness trackers let people seamlessly track their exercise goals. Until the smartwatch proves it can do one thing really well—that it can solve one simple, common, necessary problem—the device will be nothing more than a hobby for geeks and an excuse for Samsung to make creepy ads. Time is ticking.

TIME Pentagon

The $100 Billion Helicopter Dogfight

The AVX entry in the Pentagon's $100 billion chopper competition. AVX

The original story of David and Goliath took place on the ground, and involved five smooth stones. But there’s a new airborne version of that ancient Biblical tale involving a pair of Davids battling three Goliaths—and a chance to land up to $100 billion in Pentagon business.

It’s all because the Army is looking to revamp its helicopter fleet over the coming decades, replacing thousands of its trusted UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache choppers with something that can fly heavier, faster and further: the trifecta of flight. The industry heavyweights—Bell Helicopter and a Boeing-Sikorsky team—are in the running.

But so are two pipsqueaks: AVX Aircraft and Karem Aircraft.

While Karem is offering a tilt-rotor design like the Bell-Boeing V-22 now being flown by the Marines, AVX’s entry is what’s called a compound coaxial helicopter. It has a pair of rotors spinning in opposite directions atop its carbon-fiber fuselage to lift it, and two ducted-fans at its rear end to push it.

The Army wants its next-gen chopper to be able to fly 265 mph (426 kph), 50% faster than a Black Hawk, and to travel 2,100 miles (3,400 km) from California to Hawaii on its own. And to be able to make that flight autonomously—with no pilot at the controls.

Both of the rotorcraft whippersnappers are run by aircraft heavyweights: AVX’s come from Bell, while Abe Karem is the engineer responsible for the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, being built by another company.

These small bidders consist only of a relative handful of engineers and have no experience producing manned aircraft. But they seem to think of themselves more as designers and integrators who would buy the components they need from others, and perhaps team with a major partner for final assembly.

The U.S. military has upgraded its existing helicopter fleet for decades, but there is only so much improvement that can be bolted onto Reagan-era airframes. “We’ve never had the opportunity to start over fresh across [the Department of Defense] to bring a new fleet to bear that takes innovation into account,” the Army’s Dan Bailey said at a Tuesday briefing on the program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Army wants to buy up to 4,000 of the choppers beginning in the mid-2030s. It plans to narrow the four contenders down to perhaps two in about a month. If the Army scratches AVX and/or Karem from the program, they could team up with—or be bought by—one of the winners.

“It is thrilling to see how new ideas broad by a startup aircraft company, few people ever heard before, will stack-up against the arrogance of the U.S. defense establishment,” DefenceTalk.com said of AVX. “Competition cleans out inefficiency and incompetence, and the U.S. defense establishment is in need of it.”

There’s betting inside defense circles that the upstarts have scant chance against the combined clout and experience of Bell, Boeing and Sikorsky.

Of course, that’s how Chrysler, Ford and General Motors felt about newcomer Tesla, before Consumer Reports rated its battery-powered Model S the best car of the year in February.

TIME Amazon

Amazon to FTC: We’ve Done Enough to Stop Kids’ In-App Purchases

Amazon Kindle Fire
The new Amazon tablet called the Kindle Fire is displayed on September 28, 2011 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The online retailer says it'll defend itself in court over charges that it made in-app purchases too easy

Amazon plans to fight the Federal Trade Commission over in-app purchase policies, saying it’s done plenty to keep children from running amok with parents’ credit cards.

The FTC wants Amazon to agree to a consent order, similar to the one Apple entered earlier this year. According to the Wall Street Journal, the order would require password protection for every in-app purchase and a streamlined refund process. It could also involve fines and two decades of additional disclosures and record-keeping.

But in a response letter, published by The Next Web, Amazon said it’s ready to defend its approach in court. The retailer said it already offers prominent notice of in-app purchases and instant alerts to cardholders, and it has always offered refunds upon request. Amazon also pointed to its Kindle FreeTime service, a kid-friendly mode that blocks all purchases and lets parents select which apps their children can use. While Apple offers parental controls on its iOS devices, it doesn’t have a mode specifically for children like Amazon does.

“Pursuing litigation against a company whose practices were lawful from the outset and that already meet or exceed the requirements of the Apple consent order makes no sense, and is an unfortunate misallocation of the Commission’s resources,” Amazon said in its letter.

Amazon’s fighting words come a day after the FTC accused T-Mobile of allowing its customers to get hit with fraudulent “cramming” charges. T-Mobile said that complaint is without merit, as the company stopped allowing these charges last year, and is reaching out to offer refunds to affected customers.

[The Next Web]

TIME Google

Google Bans Porn Ads From Search Results

Updated July 2, 4:39 p.m.

Following an earlier announcement of the change, Google has begun banning pornographic ads from its search engine. As of Monday, the company now blocks explicit content from AdWords, the Google ad units that appear above users’ search results and across the Web, according to CNBC. Google now no longer accepts ads that promote “graphic sexual acts with intent to arouse.”

Google first announced the change to its advertising policy back in March. The new policy affects all countries. The company also bans ads promoting underage and non-consensual sexual content, as well prostitution and escort services. However, Google does allow ads for strip clubs and what it terms “adult and sexual dating sites.” The changes will not affect the organic results users see when conducting Google searches.

The search giant has made several moves recently to limit the amount of explicit content on its services. Earlier this year, the company issued new developer guidelines for the Google Play store that banned apps featuring erotic content.

[CNBC]

TIME National Security

Privacy Board Gives Approval to NSA Snooping

James Cole
Deputy Attorney General James Cole testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 5, 2014, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on reforming the practice of bulk collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency and other government agencies. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

But highlights concerns about Americans getting caught in the surveillance net

The privacy oversight panel tasked with reviewing the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance activities says snooping on foreigners is legal and effective, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board ruled unanimously that Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the NSA uses to snoop on data centers located inside the U.S.—like Google, for instance—to collect the communications of foreigners “reasonably believed” to be outside the country, “has been subject to judicial oversight and extensive internal supervision.”

The panel found “no evidence of intentional abuse.” Instead, it was deemed “clearly authorized” by Congress, “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment and “an extremely valuable and effective intelligence tool.” The board added that the program “has led the government to identify previously unknown individuals who are involved in international terrorism, and it has played a key role in discovering and disrupting specific terrorist plots aimed at the United States and other countries.”

The program has been at the center of controversy over NSA documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden. The scope of this surveillance can potentially sweep up the communications of Americans, who can also be specifically targeted for surveillance if their communications yield information “about” a foreign target.

Tuesday’s report contrasts sharply with the panel’s earlier report that harshly scolded the agency and comes soon after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) slammed the intelligence community for what he called a “huge gap in oversight” of the “backdoor searches.” Wyden had been sent a letter from the Director of National Intelligence that detailed the communications collected by the program in 2013 and revealed the FBI uses the NSA data to conduct surveillance on Americans, though the agency reports it does not keep a record of how many.

TIME technology

Now You Can Be The Person Who Brews Apple’s Coffee

Getty Images

Proof that every position at Apple starts with the letter "i"

If you’re looking to work at Apple but you don’t have a degree in computer science, then there may still be hope. You could apply to be an “iCup Technician.”

The job summary of the listing on Apple’s website, posted June 28, 2014, says, “The Apple iCup Services is specially designed to provide a fresh brew coffee to all Apple employees within their department.”

Applicants may not have to code for the position, but they should have “some computer skills.” The ideal person for this 40-hour-a-week job in Santa Clara Valley, California, would also have “prior experience working with coffee machines” and be someone who “continually grows in knowledge.”

Can’t wait to see how many applicants start their cover letters with “iBrew.”

 

 

 

 

TIME Mobile

‘Cramming’ Suit Could Mean Big Trouble for T-Mobile

T-Mobile's John Legere
John Legere, chief executive officer of T-Mobile US Inc., holds an Apple Inc. iPhone as he speaks during an event in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Allegations that T-Mobile made millions off scam text messages could tarnish its consumer-friendly 'Un-Carrier' image.

T-Mobile has spent the last year and a half telling us again and again that it’s not like the other wireless carriers. Stuck in fourth place in the market after a failed merger with AT&T, the company transformed into the “Un-Carrier” as a way to differentiate itself from rivals Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. The campaign is part disruptive business model, part slick marketing. T-Mobile has ended two-year contracts, eliminated automatic overage fees and prevented its customers from racking up huge data charges while traveling abroad. And T-Mobile CEO John Legere, once a buttoned-up executive at AT&T, now hurls vulgarities at his competitors and crashes their corporate parties, essentially trolling them the way we all wish we could when our phone bill comes in each month. It’s an effective one-two punch that instantly conveys that T-Mobile is a company run by real people that want to help the little guy.

The “Un-Carrier” image is now in peril, thanks to a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission claiming that T-Mobile profited from bogus charges for unwanted premium text message services on customers’ bills. The annoying spam texts for things like flirting tips and horoscopes cost $9.99 per month and were charged to customers via third-party companies in a process known as “cramming.” T-Mobile kept as much as 40 percent of the money from these fees, generating hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the FTC. The Commission also claims T-Mobile buried these charges deep in users’ bills and refused to refund some customers’ money when they complained. T-Mobile could be on the hook for millions of dollars to repay customers for the charges, according to the FTC.

T-Mobile, however, says the allegations are without merit. In a statement, CEO John Legere said the company stopped billing for premium texting services last year and has already launched a program to refund customers for fraudulent charges. “T-Mobile is fighting harder than any of the carriers to change the way the wireless industry operates and we are disappointed that the FTC has chosen to file this action against the most pro-consumer company in the industry rather than the real bad actors,” he said.

Whatever punishment the courts might levy, the real cost to T-Mobile is in how this legal battle could affect its image. The company claims to be on a righteous campaign to save customers from petty charges from their cellphone carriers. Burying unwanted fees for daily horoscopes in customers’ bills is the antithesis of the “Un-Carrier” ethos.

“It does hurt T-Mobile’s brand because obviously it’s built around consumer-friendliness,” Chetan Sharma, a mobile industry analyst, says of the FTC complaint. “I was a bit surprised that T-Mobile didn’t just try to settle it.”

In Legere’s statement, the T-Mobile chief pointed out that deceptive charges from shady third parties have plagued the entire wireless industry for a long time. Last fall, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint all signed an agreement with 45 states to stop billing customers for premium text messages. Verizon did not sign the specific agreement but committed to the same principle. Meanwhile, the FTC is also pursuing non-carriers involved in cramming schemes, like companies that feed wireless carriers false phone numbers for billing, several of which it has already sued.

An FTC spokesman declined to comment on the cramming practices of other wireless carriers or whether the agency would file legal action against them as well.

It’s likely that T-Mobile’s actions regarding cramming were not out of the ordinary for the wireless industry—and the problem itself, a relic of the days when people bought digital goods through SMS rather than through online app stores, has mostly been eradicated. But this is supposed to be a company that’s about flouting the rules, not playing by them. A T-Mobile without the arrogant CEO and the customer-first mentality is just a fourth-place carrier with a wireless network that can’t stack up to AT&T’s or Verizon’s in many areas. Now that the company has been singled out by the FTC, it will be critical for T-Mobile that it proves it has customers’ best interest at heart.

“They should probably put out the data on [cramming] as to how big of an issue it is so people can understand the scale,” Sharma says. “The FTC’s lawsuit makes us believe that it’s a much bigger problem than it might be. Without the numbers, it’s very hard to say which way it is.”

TIME China

China Is Using Drones to Fight Pollution

China Enlists Drones in War on Pollution
Buildings are shrouded in smog on December 8, 2013 in Lianyungang, China. Getty Images

China has a novel approach to addressing its air pollution issues: drones.

In the country’s first aerial pollution-monitoring efforts, China deployed 11 unmanned vehicles in June designed to detect illegal nighttime emissions from 254 factories using infrared lights and thermal imaging, according to a Saturday statement from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Covering over 2000 square km. in 20 hours, the small- and medium-sized drones monitored cities in Hebei and Shanxi, provinces heavily polluted by city smog and coal mining emissions. The drones also surveyed cities in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, another northern area suffering from mining-related pollution and dust storms.

In all, the drone data resulted in 64 companies being suspected of violating of environmental laws, said the Ministry’s statement. The major infractions included air pollutants exceeding safe atmospheric concentrations, unregulated smoke emissions and improper functions of desulfurization plants and waste water facilities. The next step will involve conducting on-the-ground investigations of sites, the results of which will be released to the public.

China has previously tested using drones to fight the country’s heavy atmospheric pollution — in March, China tested large drones equipped with parachutes that sprayed chemicals to disperse smog, though the country has yet to use these widely. China has also tested stealth drones and funneled billions into military spending to modernize its arsenal of aerial vehicles.

The country’s air traffic control regulators are “in strong support” of the pollution-monitoring drones, which meet its aviation regulations, according to the statement.

China has long been considered one of the world’s most polluted countries. In accordance with the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Program, which debuted in 2013, China has made plans to cut millions of tons of outdated steel, cement and coal operations by the end of the year, according to Reuters.

Chinese environmental experts have estimated that the country’s air pollution will drop to a safe level by 2030.

TIME Social Networking

Sheryl Sandberg Apologizes for Facebook News Feed Experiment

Sheryl Sandberg Facebook Apology
Facebook chief operating officer (COO), Sheryl Sandberg addresses an interactive session organized by the women's wing of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in New Delhi on July 2, 2014. Chandan Khanna—AFP/Getty Images

But it was a non-apology, really

After Facebook revealed that it secretly toyed with some users’ emotions for a science experiment, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has offered something of an apology.

“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,” Sandberg said during a meeting with potential advertisers in India, according to the Wall Street Journal. “And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”

Note that Sandberg did not say sorry for the study itself, which involved seeing if users became unhappier when they saw a greater proportion of negative posts, or happier when they saw more positive posts. (They did, in both cases.)

Sandberg didn’t say how Facebook would better do a better job of “communicating” in the future, or what that would look like. (Maybe the solution is not to communicate.) Basically what we have here is a variant on the classic corporate non-apology: Sorry if we upset you.

Note that the study–regardless of the communication around it–was designed to upset people, or at least see if it was possible to do so. And as Sandberg notes, Facebook does this type of research all the time. What the study brings to light is the idea that Facebook has immense power to model peoples’ emotions through algorithms. It’s a frightening notion, and one that not easily dismissed with a halfhearted apology.

Sandberg’s apology comes a few days after a Facebook researcher involved in the study also offered an apology.

[WSJ]

TIME Wireless

T-Mobile and the FTC: What Is Text Message ‘Cramming?’

T-Mobile Cramming
John Legere, chief executive officer of T-Mobile US Inc., speaks during an event in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Bloomberg/ Getty Images

The FTC says T-Mobile made millions off "cramming," but what is that, anyway?

Government watchdogs on Tuesday charged T-Mobile with making hundreds of millions of dollars by turning a blind eye to a text message scam scheme known as “cramming.” Here’s what you should know about it:

What is cramming?

Cramming happens when scammers attach hard-to-spot charges to text message services like horoscopes or trivia games. Those charges either come without your permission or at a higher rate than you expected. The fees are attached to your monthly phone bill, and your carrier often takes a cut, as it would for other forms of third-party billing-by-text. The crammers hope their charges stay hidden in plain sight on your often-confusing monthly phone bill.

Here’s what a cramming charge would look like on a T-Mobile bill, according to the FTC:

tmobile-samplebill
Federal Trade Commission

Is cramming legal?

Some states have passed anti-cramming laws, but monitoring for and responding to cramming schemes is largely the job of the FTC, the nation’s federal consumer watchdog, and the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees wireless carriers and other telecoms.

The FTC has been successful in clamping down on cramming before: a group of companies which the Commission said were running a massive cramming scheme recently settled those charges to the tune of $10 million. The FCC, meanwhile, says it’s penalized companies nine times for cramming — and will look at the FTC’s T-Mobile charges as well. And Verizon agreed last year to settle a class-action cramming lawsuit, agreeing to refund every single cramming charge to any customer who asked for his or her money back in a big win for consumers.

Should I be worried about cramming?

At this point, not really. Not long after that Verizon settlement — and under pressure from state attorneys general — the four major American carriers — Big Red plus AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, agreed to drop most forms of third-party text billing. That effectively eliminated text message cramming as a worthwhile scam, so it’s not happening so much anymore. The carriers still let you make some payments via text, like to the Red Cross during emergencies and, more recently, to political campaigns.

But if you think you’ve been crammed, you can complain to your carrier and to the FTC to get the ball rolling on a refund — an option available to you even before the carriers’ pact. You can also contact the FTC about pretty much anything else confusing about your phone bill.

But wait, I thought the FTC said T-Mobile was allowing cramming?

You’re right! But the FTC’s accusing T-Mobile of allowing cramming back before the carriers made their pact against the practice. The Commission’s saying that so many T-Mobile customers were requesting refunds for certain third-party charges, it should have been clear to T-Mobile that something fishy was going on — but according to the FTC, T-Mobile didn’t act on those red flags. Instead, the FTC says, T-Mobile made millions by taking 30-40% of the obviously fraudulent charges.

What’s all this mean for T-Mobile?

T-Mobile is in hot water here. Under the leadership of feisty and controversial CEO John Legere, T-Mobile’s branded itself as the “un-carrier,” a hip wireless carrier that’s more consumer-friendly than rivals Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Getting hit with a charge like this could put a serious dent in that image, as my colleague Victor Luckerson writes: What’s consumer-friendly about reaping millions off text message scams? Legere himself has already responded to the FTC’s charges, calling them “factually and legally unfounded” and “misdirected.” Legere also says T-Mobile’s been working to refund cramming fees.

The cramming charges could also throw a monkey wrench into Sprint’s plans to merge with T-Mobile in a massive $32 billion deal that has yet to pass regulators’ smell tests — it’s likely the charges will need to be addressed before that deal can be given the green light.

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