TIME Gadgets

Fitbit CEO: Wearables Aren’t a Cancer Concern

Fitbit Inc.'s Fitbit Flex wireless activity and sleep wristband sit on display at the Wearable Expo in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015.
Bloomberg/Getty Images Fitbit Inc.'s Fitbit Flex wireless activity and sleep wristband sit on display at the Wearable Expo in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015.

Fitbit's CEO pushes back against a controversial new story

Fitbit CEO James Park is rebuking a recent high-profit report raising health concerns in the use of wearable technology.

“In general, cell phones are definitely a very different beast than the low powered wearables,” Park told TIME. “The transmit energies are orders of magnitude higher. So if people are comfortable wearing Bluetooth headsets, I think wearables are even less of a concern because Bluetooth headsets are also close to your head. Wearables are not, unless you happen to sleep right on top of your wrists. For us we feel, again, whatever the studies might show, the overall health benefits of fitness trackers probably vastly overweighs the risks of any type of RF [radio frequency] issues.”

Earlier this week, The New York Times published an article—originally titled online as “Could Wearable Computers Be as Harmful as Cigarettes?”—that discussed the potential links between cellphone radiation, cancer and modern wearable devices. While the report noted that wearables like the Apple Watch or Fitbit’s fitness trackers should be fine since they don’t have a cellular connection, the overall carcinogenic concerns raised and sources used were widely derided. While the author stands by his Times report, the Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote that the article “clearly needed much more vetting” and that a careful interpretation of the facts was “lacking.”

Park said he had not “thoroughly researched” the Times’ claims, but took particular issue with comparing cell phones to wrist wearable devices. Fitbit, whose ubiquitous digital consumer fitness trackers now even claim the wrists of fitness fanatic President Barack Obama, has a 72% market share in its category, according to Park.

 

TIME Companies

Google Narrowly Dodged Lawsuit Over Search Monopoly

BELGIUM-EU-INTERNET-ANTITRUST-BUSINESS-GOOGLE
GEORGES GOBET—;AFP/Getty Images Google logo is seen on a wall at the entrance of the Google offices in Brussels on February 5, 2014.

FTC staff accused it of anti-competitive tactics in newly revealed documents

High-ranking officials at the Federal Trade Commission recommended a lawsuit against Google in 2012 because of the tech giant’s alleged use of anti-competitive tactics, and accused it of abusing its monopoly over the Internet, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The search engine’s practices negatively impacted users as well as its rivals, claimed the officials in a 160-page report obtained by the Journal. They argued that the company’s conduct “has resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

The commissioners voted to drop the investigation in 2013, however, after Google voluntarily amended some of its practices.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

TIME Gadgets

How Fitbit’s CEO Sees a Future In the Medical Industry

James Park, co-founder and chief executive officer of Fitbit Inc. in San Francisco on Aug. 22, 2014.
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images James Park, co-founder and chief executive officer of Fitbit Inc. in San Francisco on Aug. 22, 2014.

Fitbit looking at making the leap from products you talk about with your coworkers to those you talk about with your doctor

The last time James Park was in Washington, D.C., it was for a sixth-grade field trip. So the fact that the CEO of San Francisco-based Fitbit decided to stop by Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers was surely not solely for pleasure.

In an interview with TIME, Park insisted he was simply here to make some new friends and discuss issues such as privacy and data security, a process paved by his company’s hire of super lawyer Heather Podesta. He said the company doesn’t have any bills or regulations it’s concerned about in the pipeline.

“It’s just mainly about introducing ourselves to people and letting them know that we’re willing to work very cooperatively with policy makers and trying to craft pretty balanced policies,” Park said.

But Park, in a tie underneath a sporty company zip-up, did have an unusual amount to say about an area that could be of interest to Fitbit down the road: the regulation of medical devices through the Food and Drug Administration.

Fitbit is among the most successful fitness trackers aimed at the consumer market, with 72% market share, according to the company. But the next big evolution for the company, founded in 2007, might be to create products you talk about with your doctor instead of those you talk about with your coworkers.

“I think right now everyone is focused on pure consumer benefits and motivating people to change their behavior,” said Park, who spoke with TIME for 40 minutes in its D.C. bureau. “I think there’ll be a next big leap in benefits once we tie into more detailed clinical research and cross the hurdles and dialogue with the FDA about what we can do for consumers and what’s regulated or not.”

As an example, Park noted that some Fitbit products measure your resting heart rate. Some customers have written in to the company to note that they noticed their heart rate went down after they quit smoking, which gave them an added incentive to quit. But for now, that’s an anecdotal argument, and one that Fitbit can’t use in an advertisement without risk.

Park says that consumer-oriented wearable technology produced by companies like Fitbit could further help customers in the coming few years by making sense of data and making “lightweight” medical diagnoses. He also believes that such companies would have an easier time adapting to the medical device industry than those companies already in it flipping around to create the next Fitbit Flex or Apple Watch.

“I would definitely prefer to be in our position where we’ve really focused on the consumer experience,” said Park. “I think most likely the regulatory issues can be learned and addressed over time but having a consumer product DNA is I think something really difficult for medical device companies to replicate. You look at blood glucose meters today, I wouldn’t necessarily say that those are the most attractive or consumer friendly devices. I would say consumer focused companies, whether it’s us or Apple, probably have an inherent advantage in the future.”

“There’s no cool blood glucose meters,” he added.

TIME Amazon

Amazon’s Drone Delivery Dreams Just Took a Step Closer to Reality

Amazone Drone Delivery
Amazon/AP Amazon's 'Prime Air' unmanned aircraft project prototype.

But don't expect a drone on your doorstep anytime soon

Amazon’s hopes of delivering shipments to customers via drones got a little more real Thursday as federal regulators granted the company approval to test its unmanned aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration gave Amazon’s drones what’s called an experimental airworthiness certificate, which lets the company fly its aircraft for research, testing and crew training purposes. Amazon must follow a handful of rules laid out by the FAA: It must keep flights at 400 feet or below, only fly in daylight, and pilots must hold at least a private pilot’s certificate, among other stipulations. The company also has to report a wealth of data about its drone flights to the agency every month.

However, the FAA is not yet allowing Amazon to conduct commercial drone flights. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first said back in late 2013 that he wants to use drones to deliver packages directly to customers’ doorsteps in a program dubbed “Prime Air.”

The FAA’s Thursday decision comes after Amazon petitioned the agency last July to let it test its drones. In February, the FAA proposed new commercial drone rules that would make it significantly easier to legally operate a drone for money in the U.S., an activity that currently requires case-by-case approval from the agency. However, the plan would require drone pilots to fly their aircraft with “unaided vision” and avoid flying over people, rules that would seem to preclude Amazon’s drone delivery concept.

The FAA is expected to vote on those new rules later this year.

 

TIME apps

These 8 March Madness Apps Are a Slam Dunk

Kentucky v Arkansas
Andy Lyons—Getty Images Tyler Ulis #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats goes to the basket as Rashad Madden #00 of the Arkansas Razorbacks defends during the championship game of the SEC basketball tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 15, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.

These sure-shots will get you in the games you love

With the tip-off of the NCAA’s national men’s basketball championship tournament, all eyes and ears are pointed towards the hardwood Thursday, whether you’re perched in a corner office or cheering from some nosebleed seats. But wherever you watch the games from, your experience will no doubt be enhanced by a second screen where March Madness apps can do everything from keep track of your bracket to stream live video of the action.

Here are eight great March Madness apps worth loading into your tablet or smartphone:

Bracket The Madness

If you’re a fan of the dark horse or the underdog, this is the app you’re rooting for this March. A breakaway hit among basketball fans, this app lets people create their own pools which can be shared with Facebook friends or even via text.

And while you might’ve missed out on most of this app’s magic after the initial tip-off, it’s also got an easy to read bracket that’s updated live (ideal for staying in the loop on hoops as the month goes on) and a fun, beat-the-clock game where you try to pick the winner of all of 2014’s tournament games. (It’s even hard to pick the winners after the game has ended.)

Bracket The Madness is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

CBS Sports

Whether you load this onto a tablet or a smartphone, this play-maker can do it all: scoring big with great, succinct analysis of the games (before and after tip-off), or passing you off to the NCAA March Madness Live app (see below) for live, in-game video. Though it overs all major sports, the app excels in its college basketball coverage, with links to breaking news, its blog, and expert picks.

CBS Sports is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

Fanatic

Wherever life has brought you, it’s probably far from your alma mater. No bother — with Fanatic, you can find fan-friendly watering holes where you can enjoy a game in the company of people who bleed the same sports colors that you do.

Now, truth be told, this app isn’t as accurate as I’d like it to be. When using its location-based search to find a nearby bar for my team, it didn’t give top-billing the one I know to be the home court for my town’s displaced fans. So, if you’re hoping to find the best spot, I’d recommend pairing Fanatic with a Google search for maximum effect. But it’s good for every major sport, so don’t delete this app after they cut down the nets.

Fanatic is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

Sports Betting

If I were a betting man — and I am not — I’d put my money on this app when it comes to sizing up the individual March Madness match-ups. Sure, there may be more comprehensive odds-making apps out there, but for the casual fan (which includes most people who get swept up in basketball hysteria each March), Sports Betting provides clear information on the money line, point spread, and total points. And by simply tapping on the figures, the app shows you how much you’d win if you put down a bet — which you would do for entertainment purposes only, of course.

Sports Betting is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

NCAA March Madness Live

No matter what television station the game is on, it’s also available to watch live on the NCAA’s official app. Free to download, the app requires you to log in with your cable provider information to watch the games. (Don’t be fooled by the app’s free, temporary preview — you will have to log in.)

The best way to get the hardwood action at your office or even on-the-go, the app goes beyond the live game streams, offering a great array of behind-the-scenes videos and historical highlights. And setting it up with notifications is another great way to stay up to speed on the scores, right from the source, while doing other things (like your job).

NCAA March Madness Live is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

Thuuz

Watching all sixty-seven games is a big commitment, but Thuuz helps make it more manageable by telling you when the action is heating up. Rating games on a scale of 0-100, it tells sports fans of all stripes whether a game is worth watching. But once the first whistle blows, the app adjusts those ratings in real-time, telling, for example, if a low-ranked underdog who was expected to be blown out is in the mix to pull off a fantastic upset. In addition, the app can track your favorite teams and even your fantasy football and baseball players, so you can turn on the TV when they’re having a game for the ages.

Thuuz is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

TuneIn Radio

Radio may be a shorter-wave technology, but TuneIn takes it worldwide with their streaming of local stations. By dumping a video stream for an audio play-by-play, the app will let you focus on the job at-hand, whether you’re a truck driver or a desk jockey. And TuneIn has a lot of live game broadcasts available — check out this link for what’s airing right now — which means even if you can’t watch the game, you don’t have to miss a minute of the action.

TuneIn Radio is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

WatchESPN

Okay, so the worldwide leader in sports may not be broadcasting the NCAA games, but you know they are drooling over the highlights, digesting the effects of the surprise outcomes, and breaking down all the daily news. To watch the network’s channels (which include everything from the flagship station to the ESPN SEC Network), you’ll need a cable company log-in. But once you get past that gatekeeper, the only thing keeping you from watching as many basketball highlights as you can handle is your bandwidth. (Speaking of that, you might want to only use this app on Wi-Fi, because it will crush your wireless data budget.)

WatchESPN is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

TIME Innovation

Tesla’s New Software Will Help Drivers Avoid Running Out of Juice

Preview Day Two At The 2014 Paris Motor Show
Simon Dawson—Bloomberg / Getty Images The driver's electronic dashboard sits illuminated inside a Tesla Model S automobile, produced by Tesla Motors Inc., at the Paris Motor Show on the final preview day in Paris, France, on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014.

The 'range assurance app' will keep track of cars' distance from charging stations

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled a new app Thursday for the company’s all-electric cars that will help drivers keep their vehicles charged.

The new range assurance software will use maps and sensors to warn drivers before their car gets too far from a charging station to arrive using its current energy reserves. Every 30 seconds, the car will check energy usage against the amount of energy needed to get to the nearest charging station.

“This makes it effectively impossible for the driver of the model S to run out of range unintentionally,” said Musk at a press conference. “The car will actually double check. You’ll have to say, ‘Yes, I’m sure,’ twice, before you actually run out of range.”

The app will be released as an “over-the-air” software update for all Tesla Model S vehicles. The update will also include a Trip Planner that will guide drivers to the most convenient charging stations, factoring in a range of energy-sapping variables, including wind speed and mountainous passes.

This new update comes after Tesla recently improved the acceleration time on the high-end Tesla Model S P85D through a similar software update. Musk said Thursday that Tesla will continue to improve its cars’ sensitivity to their surrounding environment through quarterly software updates.

“We’re kind of waking up the car, if you will, and increasing its capabilities over time,” he said.

Tesla shares slipped by roughly 1.6% following the announcement, deflating a brief speculative surge of buying in the days leading up to the press conference.

 

MONEY payments

Facebook Will Lose Money on Mobile Payments—and Like It

Facebook on mobile phone
Anatolii Babii—Alamy

The payments business isn't very lucrative by itself, but Facebook has bigger plans.

This week Facebook became the umpteenth tech giant to enter the payments game, adding a feature to its messenger app that lets users send money the same way they would a send text. The move follows Snapchat, Apple, Samsung, and Google, all of whom announced new payment offerings over the past few months.

Digital transactions aren’t exactly a new idea, of course—Venmo launched in 2012, Google has let users send cash “attachments” since 2013, and Paypal was doing payments as far back as the 1990s.

But the flurry of new offerings suggests something’s afoot. What’s behind the sudden obsession with transferring cash?

If you’re thinking “Obviously, these companies all want to skim a little cash from every transaction in the universe and get even richer by doing so” you’re wrong—or at least mostly wrong.

The thing about running a payments service is that, even though a lot of money flows through your hands, it’s not easy to keep much for yourself. That’s because card-issuing banks, credit card companies, and other transfer services rely on minuscule transaction fees and turn a profit by doing so on a massive scale. “Making money on moving money requires volumes that are truly astounding,” says James Wester, a research director at IDC specializing in payments. “You have to move hundreds of billions of dollars and have millions and millions of transactions.”

So much so that many of the recent entrants in this business aren’t even trying to make money on transactions. Venmo, Square, and Snapchat don’t charge users a fee for sending funds and cover all the behind-the-scenes transaction fees themselves, which means they literally lose money on every transfer. (“They’re not generating revenue,” confirms Jordan McKee, a senior analyst at 451 Research.) Samsung, too, will forgo any fees on its own payment platform.

Due to its unique market power, Apple appears to be the exception to this rule, having convinced banks to share a cut of each Apple Pay transaction. But the fees will add up to a rounding error for the tech giant.

So if payments are a bad business, why does everyone want in?

The answer is that mobile payments are essentially a value-add that can make other products more desirable. Apple Pay was never meant to generate money but to help sell more iPhones.

The same logic applies to Facebook, and the company has been relatively open about how its payment service is primarily intended to make Messanger more popular. “We’re not building a payments business here,” Facebook’s payment product manager told TechCrunch. The goal is simply to make Messenger “more useful, expressive and delightful.”

Ditto for Snapchat, Samsung, et al, which “couldn’t care less about generating money off interchange,” says McKee. But by getting in the center of each transaction, he argues, their respective eco-systems become much “stickier” and thus better able to generate revenue other ways. “Once the consumer is comfortable using a particular payment network, you have other things you can then do,” explains Wester.

Those things could include getting data on how users spent their money, or even selling goods directly. Facebook already makes nearly $1 billion through e-commerce, and while most of that money comes from microtransactions in games like Candy Crush, the Times notes the company has been dabbling in a system that also lets merchants sell products on the Facebook platform.

That leaves just one more question: Why now? That is, why have all these companies pulled the trigger at the same moment? It may be that businesses have detected some kind of e-payments tipping point.

“I’ve been surprised it’s taken this long,” says Wester. “Now consumers are seeing the mobile device as part of their fiancial lives. We’ve reached the point where paying with your phone is completely normal, or normal to enough people.”

TIME Innovation

The Surprising New Tech in March Madness Refs’ Whistles

Michigan St. v Pittsburgh
Doug Pensinger—Getty Images A referee holds his whistle during the second round game of the South Regional between the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Michigan State Spartans on March 22, 2008 in Denver, Colorado.

One ear-piercing blow will automatically stop the game clock

This March Madness, a ref’s whistle blast will instantly stop the game clock, thanks to a a new technology that detects the shrill cry above the din of the crowd.

The technology relies on a breakthrough in whistle design, the New York Times reports.

The classic pea-rattling whistle suffers from occasional lapses in noise if the referee blows too hard or after saliva has collected in its chamber. Those whistles were gradually replaced in the late 80’s by a fail-proof design that funnels the breath through three chambers, which combine to create a shrill, three-toned screech.

This season the N.C.A.A. will sync up the whistle tone to a Precision Time System that automatically brings the game clock to a screeching halt. Tests show that the speed of the system, which stops the clock faster than the average human operator, could add up to 30 seconds of playtime to a typical college game.

Read more at the New York Times.

TIME

This App Alerts You When You’re Near a Spot Where a Woman Made History

Like getting a text from the great women of the past

A girls activist organization is partnering with Google to put women’s history on the map– literally.

SPARK, a group that works with girls age 13-22 to challenge sexualization in the media, launched a mapping project through Google’s Field Trip app that sends you a notification whenever you’re near a location where a woman once made history.

“It connects women’s stories to specific landmarks, so that wherever you are in the world, you could get an alert on your phone saying ‘hey, did you know that a woman once did a really cool thing right nearby?” explains SPARK executive director Dana Edell. The project is focused on telling stories of women who have been left out of traditional history books.

The partnership with Google began after SPARK published a report last year finding that only 17% of Google Doodle subjects were women, and only 4.3% were of women of color. Within an hour, Edell says, she got a call from Google asking how they could help spread the word about women’s history. That’s when they started talking about launching Women on the Map through Google Field Trips, an app which monitors where you are on Google Maps and notifies you when you’re near something interesting.

Women on the Map launched March 3, just in time for Women’s History Month, with 119 stories of women in 28 countries, all written and researched by girls aged 13-22. The project is crowdsourced, so anyone can submit a 300-word story about a woman in history– and it doesn’t have to be Susan B. Anthony. In fact, SPARK encouraged the girls to focus on women in their communities who might not ordinarily make it into their high school history textbook. “We didn’t want to start with women who everyone had heard of,” Edell says. “We want the project to expand what it means to be part of history.” So far, 60% of the stories are about women of color.

Anyone can submit a story– all you have to do is email a 300 word story about an important woman to Sparksummit@gmail.com, and describe how she influenced her community. And although she loves the partnership with Google, Edell hopes one day to host the project on a standalone app, so that the entries could be divided into artists, scientists, activists, and more. Right now, she says, she’s excited about getting the project off the ground “so that girls, boys and people of all ages can see that the world was created by more than just white men.”

TIME Gadgets

You’ll Try On the Apple Watch in a 15-Minute Appointment

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

Devices will be demoed in Apple Stores starting April 10

Trying an Apple Watch before you buy one may not be as simple as strolling into an Apple Store and slapping one on your wrist.

According to 9to5Mac, Apple customers will be encouraged to schedule 15-minute appointments to try on an Apple Watch with the assistance of an Apple Store employee. Walk-in appointments will be accepted, but it’s likely those people will end up waiting a long time to try the device, given the care Apple is taking in presenting it to customers.

Stores are expected to have at least 10 “try-on stations” for the Apple Watch, where employees will guide customers through the device’s featureset and give them an opportunity to pre-order the watch. For the gold Apple Watch Edition, which starts at $10,000 and will only be sold in select stores, specially-trained Apple Store employees called “Experts” will pitch big-spending customers on the device.

Employees are expected to walk through the health, communication and timekeeping features of the device, according to 9to5Mac. Apple Stores will dedicate most of their employees to selling or explaining the Apple Watch for the device’s initial launch period.

Apple will begin in-store previews of Apple Watch on April 10. The device goes on sale April 24 and can be pre-ordered at physical Apple Stores or on Apple’s website.

Read next: Tim Cook: The Apple Watch Is the First Smartwatch ‘That Matters’

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