Apple announces its 2021 Apple Design Award winners

Apple incorporated the announcement of this year’s Apple Design Award winners into its virtual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) online event, instead of waiting until the event had wrapped, like last year. Ahead of WWDC, Apple previewed the finalists, whose apps and games showcased a combination of technical achievement, design and ingenuity. This evening, Apple announced the winners across six new award categories.

In each category, Apple selected one app and one game as the winner.

In the Inclusivity category, winners supported people from a diversity of backgrounds, abilities and languages.

This year, winners included U.S.-based Aconite’s highly accessible game, HoloVista, where users can adjust various options for motion control, text sizes, text contrast, sound, and visual effect intensity. In the game, users explore using the iPhone’s camera to find hidden objects, solve puzzles and more. (Our coverage)

Image Credits: Aconite

Another winner, Voice Dream Reader, is a text-to-speech app that support more than two dozen languages and offers adaptive features and a high level of customizable settings.

Image Credits: Voice Dream LLC

In the Delight and Fun, category, winners offer memorable and engaging experiences enhanced by Apple technologies. Belgium’s Pok Pok Playroom, a kid entertainment app that spun out of Snowman (Alto’s Adventure series), won for its thoughtful design and use of subtle haptics, sound effects and interactions. (Our coverage)

Image Credits: Pok Pok

Another winner included U.K.s’ Little Orpheus, a platformer that combines storytelling, surprises, and fun and offers a console-like experience in a casual game.

Image Credits: The Chinese Room

The Interaction category winners showcase apps that offer intuitive interfaces and effortless controls, Apple says.

The U.S.-based snarky weather app CARROT Weather won for its humorous forecasts, unique visuals, and entertaining experience, which is also available as Apple Watch faces and widgets.

Image Credits: Brian Mueller, Grailr LLC

Canada’s Bird Alone game combines gestures, haptics, parallax, and dynamic sound effects in clever ways to brings its world to life.

Image Credits: George Batchelor

A Social Impact category doled out awards to Denmark’s Be My Eyes, which enables people who are blind and low vision to identify objects by pairing them with volunteers from around the world using their camera. Today, it supports over 300K users who are assisted by over 4.5M volunteers. (Our coverage)

Image Credits: S/I Be My Eyes

U.K.’s ustwo games won in this category for Alba, a game that teaches about respecting the environment as players save wildlife, repair a bridge, clean up trash and more. The game also plants a tree for every download.

Image Credits: ustwo games

The Visuals and Graphics winners feature “stunning imagery, skillfully drawn interfaces, and high-quality animations,” Apple says.

Belarus-based Loóna offers sleepscape sessions which combine relaxing activities and atmospheric sounds with storytelling to help people wind down at night. The app was recently awarded Google’s “best app” of 2020.

Image Credits: Loóna Inc

China’s Genshin Impact won for pushing the visual frontier on gaming, as motion blur, shadow quality, and frame rate can be reconfigured on the fly. The game had previously made Apple’s Best of 2020 list and was Google’s best game of 2020.

Image Credits: miHoYo Limited

Innovation winners included India’s NaadSadhana, an all-in-one, studio-quality music app that helps artists perform and publish. The app uses A.I. and Core ML to listen and provide feedback on the accuracy of notes, and generates a backing track to match.

Image Credits: Sandeep Ranade

Riot Games’ League of Legends: Wild Rift (U.S.) won for taking a complex PC classic and delivering a full mobile experience that includes touchscreen controls, an auto-targeting system for newcomers, and a mobile-exclusive camera setting.

Image Credits: Riot Games

The winners this year will receive a prize package that includes hardware and the award itself.

A video featuring the winners is here on the Apple Developer website.

“This year’s Apple Design Award winners have redefined what we’ve come to expect from a great app experience, and we congratulate them on a well-deserved win,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations, in a statement. “The work of these developers embodies the essential role apps and games play in our everyday lives, and serve as perfect examples of our six new award categories.”

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#a-i, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-watch, #apps, #awards, #belarus, #belgium, #companies, #computing, #denmark, #games, #gaming, #india, #ios, #league-of-legends, #loona, #susan-prescott, #text-to-speech, #united-states, #wwdc, #wwdc-2021

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watchOS 8 brings new health and messaging features to the Apple Watch this year

watchOS 8 brings new health and messaging features to the Apple Watch this year

Enlarge

Today, Apple detailed its plans for watchOS 8, the next major software update for the Apple Watch. Apple introduced some smaller updates to health and fitness features, improved texting and photo sharing, and new HomeKit integrations.

The Apple Watch’s Breathe app has new animations and adds “Reflect,” which gives you mindfulness prompts to accompany a calming animation while you reflect. These new features are found under the new Mindfulness app.

In Fitness, Apple is adding two new workouts: Tai Chi and Pilates. Apple Fitness+ is adding another set of workouts focused on HIIT (high-intensity interval training), along with Artist Spotlights, which suggests music to aid your workout. watchOS8 will also add respiratory-rate tracking to sleep but not workouts.

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#apple, #apple-watch, #fitness-tracking, #health, #health-trakcing, #tech, #watchos, #watchos-8, #wearable

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More people are buying wearables than ever before—and Apple is in the lead

The Apple Watch Series 6.

Enlarge / The Apple Watch Series 6. (credit: Corey Gaskin)

The wearables category of consumer devices—which includes smartwatches, fitness trackers, and augmented reality glasses—shipped more than 100 million units in the first quarter for the first time, according to research firm IDC. Q2 2021 saw a 34.4 percent increase in sales over the same quarter in 2020.

To be clear: wearables have sold that many (and more) units in a quarter before, but never in the first quarter, which tends to be a slow period following a spree of holiday-related buying in Q4.

For the past several years, wearables like the Fitbit Versa have made up one of the fastest-growing categories of personal electronics, but the devices still lag far behind smartphones in terms of total units moved each quarter or year.

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#apple, #apple-watch, #idc, #tech, #wearables

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Spotify brings offline listening to the Apple Watch, at last

The relationship between Spotify and Apple has been…understandably contentious at times. After all, Apple runs the streaming service’s biggest competitor. At the end of the day though, the Apple Watch and Spotify maintain the No. 1 spot in their respective categories by a wide margin. And playing nice ultimately benefits a wide swath of users in that overlapping Venn diagram.

Today Spotify announced that it’s finally bringing to the smartwatch what’s no doubt been one of its most requested features. Starting today, Premium subscribers can download music and podcasts to the wearable for offline listening. That means users will be able to leave their phone at home when they go for a jog.

The new feature works more or less like standard downloading and sharing. Users click the three ellipses next to an album, playlist or podcast and click “Download to Apple Watch.” Once downloaded, green arrows will populate next to the title. With headphones paired, you’ll be able to stream directly from the watch.

Samsung has already offered the feature on some of the competition, including Samsung’s Galaxy Watch line. The service is also coming to Google Wear OS watches soon, per an announcement at I/O. Apple Music, of course, has offered offline listening on the Watch for a while, as has Pandora. Deezer also beat Spotify to the popular wearable by a matter of days.

#apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #spotify, #streaming-music, #wearables

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Apple rolls out a slew of new accessibility features to iPhone, Watch, and more

On Wednesday, Apple announced a bunch of new accessibility features coming to iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch. The new features and services will roll out in the coming days, weeks, and months.

The first feature to arrive will be a new service called SignTime, which Apple says will launch tomorrow, May 20. SignTime will allow users to communicate with Apple’s customer service representatives (either AppleCare or Retail Customer Care) using sign language. The service will launch first in the US, UK, and France with American Sign Language, British Sign Language, and French Sign Language, respectively. Further, customers at Apple Stores will be able to use SignTime to get in touch with an interpreter while shopping or getting customer support without having to make an appointment in advance.

While SignTime’s arrival is right around the corner, software updates loaded with new features aimed at making Apple’s software and hardware more accessible for people with cognitive, mobility, hearing, and vision disabilities will hit Apple’s platforms sometime later this year.

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#accessibility, #apple, #apple-watch, #ios, #ipad, #ipados, #iphone, #tech, #watchos

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Apple Watch gets a motion-controlled cursor with ‘Assistive Touch’

Tapping the tiny screen of the Apple Watch with precision has certain level of fundamental difficulty, but for some people with disabilities it’s genuinely impossible. Apple has remedied this with a new mode called “Assistive Touch” that detects hand gestures to control a cursor and navigate that way.

The feature was announced as part of a collection of accessibility-focused additions across its products, but Assistive Touch seems like the one most likely to make a splash across the company’s user base.

It relies on the built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, as well as data from the heart rate sensor, to deduce the position of the wrist and hand. Don’t expect it to tell a peace sign from a metal sign just yet, but for now it detects “pinch” (touching the index finger to the thumb) and “clench” (make a loose fist), which can act as basic “next” and “confirm” actions. Incoming calls, for instance, can be quickly accepted with a clench.

Most impressive, however, is the motion pointer. You can activate it either by selecting it in the Assistive Touch menu, or by shaking your wrist vigorously. It then detects the position of your hand as you move it around, allowing you to “swipe” by letting the cursor linger at the edge of the screen, or interact with things using a pinch or clench.

Needless to say this could be extremely helpful for anyone who only has the one hand available for interacting with the watch. And even for those who don’t strictly need it, the ability to keep one hand on the exercise machine, cane, or whatever else while doing smartwatch things is surely an attractive possibility. (One wonders about the potential of this control method as a cursor for other platforms as well…)

Memoji featuring new accessibility-focused gear.

Image Credits: Apple

Assistive Touch is only one of many accessibility updates Apple shared in this news release; other advances for the company’s platforms include:

  • SignTime, an ASL interpreter video call for Apple Store visits and support
  • Support for new hearing aids
  • Improved VoiceOver-based exploration of images
  • A built-in background noise generator (which I fully intend to use)
  • Replacement of certain buttons with non-verbal mouth noises (for people who have limited speech and mobility)
  • Memoji customizations for people with oxygen tubes, cochlear implants, and soft helmets
  • Featured media in the App Store, Apple TV, Books, and Maps apps from or geared towards people with disabilities

It’s all clustered around Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which is tomorrow, May 20th.

#accessibility, #apple, #apple-watch, #gadgets, #hardware

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Apple releases iOS 14.5, the biggest update since iOS 14 first launched

Apple's 2020 iPad Air.

Enlarge / Apple’s 2020 iPad Air. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Today is the day: Apple has finally released iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 worldwide after a longer-than-usual beta period. If you’re using a supported device, you should be able to find the update on the software update page in the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch’s Settings app.

This is arguably the biggest update of the iOS 14 cycle that began with iOS 14.0 and iPadOS 14.0 on September 16 of last year. The most consequential change for many is App Tracking Transparency, a new policy whereby app developers are required to get user opt-in to track users between apps.

But iOS 14 and iPadOS 14.5 also introduce a long-needed workaround for using Face ID when wearing a mask, support for the new AirTag accessory, several changes aimed at making experiences within the software more inclusive for a diverse user base, new Siri features and voices, and changes to the Reminders, News, Music, and Podcasts apps, among other things.

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#airtag, #app-tracking-transparency, #apple, #apple-music, #apple-news, #apple-podcasts, #apple-watch, #dualsense, #emoji, #face-id, #ios, #ios-14, #ios-14-5, #ipad, #ipados, #ipados-14, #ipados-14-5, #iphone, #privacy, #tech

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New versions of macOS, watchOS, and tvOS hit supported devices today

MacBook Air laptops, new and old.

Enlarge / MacBook Air laptops, new and old. (credit: Lee Hutchinson)

After an extended beta-testing period, Apple launched updates for all of its operating systems today, including macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS.

In general, the updates are focused on supporting the various new products Apple announced last week, as well as implementing App Tracking Transparency, fixing bugs, and adding new features and tweaks to existing software like Safari, Music, and Reminders.

We’ll discuss iOS and iPadOS (as usual, arguably the biggest updates) in another article. For now, here’s what you can expect to see in today’s tvOS, watchOS, and macOS updates.

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#app-tracking-transparency, #apple-tv, #apple-tv-4k, #apple-watch, #mac, #macos, #macos-11-big-sur, #macos-big-sur-11-3, #tech, #tvos, #tvos-14, #tvos-14-5, #watchos, #watchos-7, #watchos-7-4

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Here are the updates that didn’t make it in Apple’s livestream yesterday

Promotional image of a casually dressed man speaking in front of a giant video display.

Enlarge / Apple presents the new iPad Pro at its April 20, 2021 event. (credit: Apple)

Apple crammed quite a few announcements into a short, one-hour presentation yesterday: new iPad Pros, new iMacs, a new Apple TV 4K, and the long-rumored launch of AirTags, to name a few. But for everything Apple executives and product managers said onstage, there was something else that didn’t get mentioned (or got passed over quickly, perhaps).

Many of these smaller details were hidden on product, specs, or support pages after Apple updated its website with the event’s new products. This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the things that changed on Apple’s website, but we’re picking some of the most interesting ones.

Let’s start with OS updates.

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#120hz, #apple, #apple-card, #apple-card-family, #apple-podcasts, #apple-podcasts-subscriptions, #apple-tv, #apple-tv-4k, #apple-tv-hd, #apple-watch, #applecare, #ethernet, #ios, #ios-14-5, #ipad-pro, #ipados, #ipados-14-5, #m1, #mac-mini, #macos, #macos-big-sur-11-3, #magic-keyboard, #podcasts, #ram, #siri-remote, #spring-loaded, #tech, #tvos, #tvos-14-5, #watchos, #watchos-7-4

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Peloton responds to concerns over Apple GymKit integration

Third-party hardware integration can be a tricky thing. Peloton this week raised some eyebrows by dropping Apple GymKit compatibility for its Bike Bootcamp program. Users were, naturally, quick to react. The situation left some wondering whether the move was a direct response to Apple’s recent entry into the home exercise market with Fitness+.

A Peloton spokesperson offered the following statement to TechCrunch, “Apple GymKit is designed to work with equipment-based cardio workouts. However, Peloton recently implemented GymKit with Bike Bootcamp, a multi-disciplinary class type that combines strength and cardio, which the feature does not support. Members can still use GymKit to sync their cycling-only workouts to their Apple Watch from the Bike+.”

The comment appears to reflect one of the bigger issues with its initial GymKit implementation. Designed with the gym in mind, Apple’s program engages with specific exercise equipment. In other words, use the integration on the treadmill and the Watch specifically goes to work tracking run metrics. Use it with a bike and it tracks cycling.

A program like Bike Bootcamp complicates things, adding to the mix things like weightlifting. Likely that didn’t quite mesh with the third-party guidelines around GymKit implementation. The bigger issue for Peloton owners is that GymKit was a primary distinguisher between the standard Peloton bike and the Bike+ — two products with a $500 gulf between them.

Truth is, for now at least, working together is still a net positive for both parties. Apple may have its own fitness platform, but Peloton has a huge footprint — one that likely has significant overlap with Apple Watch users. GymKit may have been developed with gyms in mind, but people haven’t visited the gym much in the past year, and there’s a reasonable expectation that the industry might never entirely bounce back.

For Peloton’s part, it’s probably good to play nice with the company that utterly dominates the smartwatch category.

 

#apple, #apple-watch, #fitness, #gymkit, #hardware, #health, #peloton

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Apple-funded Stanford study concludes Apple Watch can be used to measure frailty

Close-up photo of a black smartwatch on a wood table.

Enlarge / Buttons on the side of an Apple Watch Series 3. (credit: Valentina Palladino / Ars Technica)

A new study on the effectiveness of the Apple Watch and iPhone as tools for measuring functional capacity in patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been published by researchers at Stanford University.

The study, which involved 110 participants, found that the health-monitoring capabilities in these products could supplement or replace in-clinic tests for “frailty” in patients with CVD.

Frailty in this case is measured in terms of the distance a patient can travel in a six-minute walk. This is normally tested with a six-minute walk test (6MWT), and frailty was defined in the study “as walking <300m on an in-clinic 6MWT.”

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#apple, #apple-watch, #cardiovascular-disease, #cvd, #stanford, #study, #tech, #wearables

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Apple addresses WebKit security flaw with iOS and iPadOS 14.4.2

Apple's 2020 iPad Air.

Enlarge / Apple’s 2020 iPad Air. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Today, Apple began rolling out iOS 14.4.2, iPadOS 14.4.2, and watchOS 7.3.3, and the company issued an advisory to users to upgrade as soon as possible. Like iOS/iPadOS 14.4.1 before it, this update addresses a security flaw.

Additionally, Apple released a similar security update—12.5.2—for older devices like the iPhone 5S or 6 that cannot run iOS 14.

The release notes for iOS 14.4.2 and iPadOS 14.4.2 are minimal, simply stating:

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#apple, #apple-watch, #ios, #ios-14, #ios-14-4-2, #ipad, #ipados, #ipados-14, #ipados-14-4-2, #iphone, #tech, #watchos, #watchos-7, #watchos-7-3-3

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Apple releases results from its Women’s Health Study

Last week, Apple announced early results from its ongoing hearing health study. Conducted alongside the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the figures were released to mark World Hearing Day. Now, a day after International Women’s Day, it’s releasing results tied to its Women’s Health Study.

As with the hearing study, the figures are collected from those who choose to participate via the Research app the company launched back in 2019. It’s all a part of Apple’s attempts to take a more serious approach to user health, built, in part, on data collected through the Apple Watch and iPhone.

Early results note that symptoms like nausea and sleep changes are common, along with more frequently discussed things like bloating and cramps. The study also notes that many of the tracked symptoms are common and consistent across age, race and location — even though they may not be widely discussed. The company says the efforts are, in part, to de-stigmatize discussions around these sorts of symptoms.

Data was collected from some 10,000 participants around the U.S. with a range of different ages and ethnic backgrounds. While much of the data collection is still in early stages, Apple and research partner Harvard are looking to study the connection between menstrual cycles and a variety of different health conditions, including infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome and perimenopause.

“What researchers and physicians in the scientific community want and need to know is more about the menstrual cycle, its relation to long-term health, as well as more about what environmental factors might affect cycle length and characteristics,” Harvard’s Dr. Shruthi Mahalingaiah said in a statement. “With this study, we are creating a larger foundational data set on this topic, which can eventually lead to further discovery and innovation in women’s health research and care.”

#apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #harvard, #health, #womens-health

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Toronto’s UHN launches a study to see if Apple Watch can spot worsening heart failure

A new study underway at Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN), a group of working research hospitals in the city, could shift our approach to treatment in an area of growing concern in human health. The study, led by Dr. Heather Ross, will investigate whether the Apple Watch can provide early warnings about potentially worsening health for patients following incidents of heart failure.

The study, which is aiming to eventually span around 200 patients, and which already has a number of participants enrolled spanning ages from 25 to 90, and various demographics, will use the Apple Watch Series 6 and its onboard sensors to monitor signals including heart rate, blood oxygen, general activity levels, overall performance during a six minute walk test and more. Researchers led by Ross will compare this data to measurements taken from the more formal clinical tests currently used by physicians to monitor the recovery of heart failure patients during routine, periodic check-ups.

The hope is that Ross and her team will be able to identify correlations between signs they’re seeing from the Apple Watch data, and the information gathered from the proven medical diagnostic and monitoring equipment. If they can verify that the Apple Watch accurately reflects what’s happening with a heart failure patient’s health, it has tremendous potential for treatment and care.

“In the US, there are about six-and-a-half million adults with heart failure,” Ross told me in an interview. “About one in five people in North America over the age of 40 will develop heart failure. And the average life expectancy [following heart failure] is still measured at around 2.1 years, at a tremendous impact to quality of life.”

The stats point to heart failure as a “growing epidemic,” says Ross, at a cost of some “$30 billion a year at present in the U.S.” to the healthcare system. A significant portion of that cost can come from the care required when conditions worsen due to preventable causes – ones that can be avoided by changes in patient behavior, if only implemented at the right time. Ross told me that currently, the paradigm of care for heat failure patients is “episodic” – meaning it happens in three- or six-month intervals, when patients go into a physician’s office or clinic for a bevy of tests using expensive equipment that must be monitored by a trained professional, like a nurse practitioner.

“If you think about the paradigm to a certain degree, we’ve kind of got it backwards,” Ross said. “So in our thinking, the idea really is how do we provide a continuous style monitoring of patients in a relatively unobtrusive way that will allow us to detect a change in a patient status before they end up actually coming into hospital. So this is where the opportunity with Apple is tremendous.”

Ross said that current estimates suggest nearly 50% of hospitalizations could be avoided altogether through steps taken by patients including better self-care, like adhering to prescribed medicinal regimens, accurate symptom monitoring, monitoring dietary intake and more. Apple Vice President of Health Dr. Sumbul Desai echoed the sentiment that proactivity is one of the key ingredients to better standards of care, and better long-term outcomes.

“A lot of health, in the world of medicine, has been focused on reactive responses to situations,” she said in an interview. “The idea to get a little more proactive in the way we think about our own health is really empowering and we’re really excited about where that could take us. We think starting with these studies to really ground us in the science is critical but, really, the potential for it is something that we look forward to tackling.”

Desai, has led Apple’s Health initiatives for just under four years, and also spent much of her career prior to that at Stanford (where she remains an associate professor) working on both the academic and clinical side. She knows first-hand the value of continuous care, and said that this study is representative of the potential the company sees in Apple Watch’s role in the daily health of individuals.

“The ability to have that snapshot of an individual as they’re living their everyday life is extremely useful,” she said. “As a physician, part of your conversation is ‘tell me what’s going on when you’re not in the clinic.’ To be able to have some of that data at your fingertips and have that part of your conversation really enhances your engagement with your patients as well. We believe that can provide insight in ways that has not been done before and we’re really excited to see what more we’re learning in this specific realm but we already hearing from both users and physicians how valuable that is.”

Both Ross and Desai highlighted the value of Apple Watch as a consumer-friendly device that’s easy to set up and learn, and that serves a number of different purposes beyond health and fitness, as being key ingredients to its potential in a continuous care paradigm.

“We really believe that people should be able to play a more active role in managing their well-being and Apple Watch in particular, we find to be — and are really proud of — a powerful health and wellness tool because the same device that you can connect with loved ones and check messages also supports safety, motivates you to stay healthy by moving more and provides important information on your overall wellness,” Desai said.

“This is a powerful health care tool bundled into a device that people just love for all the reasons Sumbul has said,” Ross added. “But this is a powerful diagnostic tool, too. So it is that consumer platform that I think will make this potentially an unstoppable tool, if we can evaluate it properly, which we’re doing in this partnership.”

The study, which is targeting 200 participants as mentioned, and enrolling more every day, will span three months of active monitoring, followed by a two-year follow up to investigate the data collected relative to patient outcomes. All data collected is stored in a fully encrypted form (Ross pointed to Apple’s privacy track record as another benefit of having it as a partner) and anyone taking part can opt-out at any point during the course of the research.

Even once the results are in, it’ll just be the first step in a larger process of validation, but Ross said that the hope is to ultimately “to improve access and equitable care,” by changing the fundamental approach to how we think about heart failure and treatment.

#anatomy, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-watch, #biotech, #hardware, #health, #heart, #north-america, #physician, #science, #self-care, #stanford, #tc, #toronto, #united-states

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Apple urged to root out rating scams as developer highlights ugly cost of enforcement failure

Apple is facing calls to beef up enforcement against fake reviews and rating scams after a developer took to social media to shine a light on unfair practices he’s forced to compete with as a result of fraudulent activity on the App Store not being rooted out by the tech giant.

Kosta Eleftheriou, one of the founders of the Fleksy keyboard app (who was acquihired by Pinterest in 2016), has — since March 2018 — been applying his expertise in autocorrect algorithms to make typing on the Apple Watch’s tiny screen not only possible but “simple, enjoyable and highly effective”, as Forbes’ reviewer put it.

His app, FlickType, has also been described by app reviewers as “astonishingly accurate”, a “fundamentally better keyboard” and “way faster” than the letter-by-letter scribble method Apple supports natively.

User reviews also include a large amount of glowing five-star ratings. The overall rating from users currently is 3.5 because a number of lower scores have pulled down the average. But if you take the time to dig in the developer can be seen responding consistently and constructively to issues being raised by users who leave lower scores.

Sometimes complaints are related to Watch platform issues outside his control (as Apple limits how third party text input can be accessed). Missing features are another common issue — and in many responses Eleftheriou responds by saying he’s added the setting the person was after (such as the ability to disable Auto-Correction) or highlighting a “brand new look & feel to make typing even easier”. Other times he thanks users for raising bugs that he says have now been fixed.

Anyone reading how specifically each complaint is addressed would be confident the developer of FlickType is working hard to make sure the app meets customers expectations. Even though the overall rating means other Watch keyboard apps are ‘rated’ higher overall.

The problem for Eleftheriou is all his genuine hard work is being undercut by copycat app makers who are able to leverage weak App Store enforcement to profit unfairly and at his expense.

The scam goes like this: A bunch of Watch keyboard apps are published that purport to have the same slick features as FlickType but instead lock users into paying eye-wateringly high subscription fees for what is, at best, a pale imitation.

You might expect quality to float to the top of the App Store but the trick is sustained by the clones being accompanied by scores of fake reviews/ratings which crowd out any genuine crowdsourced assessment of what’s being sold.

Fake reviews outnumber the real deal. It’s only if you take the time to read through the comments that alarm bells might start ringing…

“Wish I read the reviews before buying. I can’t even get it to work on my watch,” runs a one-star review of WatchKey, one of the rival apps Eleftheriou has complained about — which nonetheless has a higher overall rating than his app owing to also having a very large proportion of five-star reviews.

“We are so sorry for any inconvenienced caused. Please kindly email us to describe more about your scenario so that we can support you as soon as possible,” is WatchKey’s generic response to the one-star review.

“Terrible,” writes another one-star reviewer. “I bought this app to use T9 on my watch. I haven’t been able to get T9 to work on my watch, I’ve also reached out to the customer service email that’s listed on the app. But I haven’t gotten a response, I would advise to find a different app.”

WatchKey’s response to another abysmal verdict on its software? More platitudes: “Thank you for your feedback. Unfortunately, we haven’t received your email yet. Please kindly email us once more via support@vulcanlabs.co to describe more your scenario so we can support you as soon as possible.”

The pattern repeats across negative reviews. Even one of the ‘five’ star reviews warns: “You need to pay if you want to use the T9. They make you write a review to ‘unlock’ and then they ask for a payment.”

One component of the manipulation involves posting generic platitudes to do the bare minimum required by Apple to manage (genuine) negative reviews. The other is flooding listings with fake five star reviews to ensure the app’s overall rating remains high. Step 3: Profit.

Eleftheriou’s Twitter thread highlights some of what he says are “hundreds” of fake five star reviews which are being used to drive Watch owners toward downloading the malicious clones — using wording that refers to non-existent features or references things you’d be doing on other types of devices (suggesting the text may have been cut and pasted from genuine reviews elsewhere).

A quick Google search for ‘buy ios reviews’ returns a staggering 643M results — including ads for companies touting “app reviews, installs and ratings [as] the best way to improve the rank of your apps at Appstore and Google Play” and selling “high quality iOS app reviews with ratings for $2.5… from 100% Real Users”.

Clearly selling fake reviews is a booming business — which in turn speaks to the woeful lack of effective enforcement.

In an extra fake kicker, Eleftheriou found that one of the scammy competitors had even ripped off his own app promo video — which was demoing the features offered by FlickType — and used it in ads targeting app consumers on Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook does have policies against third-party infringement (under section 4 of its prohibited content policy) — but you might as well whistle for pro-active enforcement from the adtech giant. It only acts when it gets a complaint of infringement so preventing abuse of his marketing materials would require Eleftheriou to spend even more of his time hunting for and reporting the malicious ads ripping off his stuff. (“I did report and Facebook did eventually take it down. But… I knew this was not going to be any sort of lasting relief,” he confirms.)

Of course the really big kicker here is that Apple’s rules for developers clearly stipulate that submitting fraudulent reviews is a violation of the developer program licence agreement.

Its App Store review guidelines also warn that developers who attempt to cheat the system (such as by manipulating ratings) may only have their apps removed from the App Store — and could be expelled from Apple’s developer program entirely.

So — to put it politely — it’s not a good look for Apple that an indie developer with proven expertise and reputation is having to spend so much resource fighting App Store scams because its own enforcement has failed to stamp them out. To the point where he feels the only path forward is to resort to a public call out on social media to highlight systematic enforcement failures.

Eleftheriou tells TechCrunch he decided to raise the complaint on social media after what he describes as “simply depressing results” from engaging with Apple’s official ‘app dispute’ channel.

“They put you in contact with the other developer in question, and oversee the thread while they hope you will resolve the issue with the other party directly,” he explains. “The scammers I complained about in that dispute weren’t even the bigger scammers I mention in my Twitter thread. Yet, the complaint I had with them barely got addressed, and there was no response from Apple whatsoever on the issue of the fake ratings and reviews. Simply a ‘if we don’t hear back from you very soon we consider the matter resolved’. We even reached out to Apple privately after that but got no response.”

“What was most impressive to me, was that in the presence of the Apple legal team, the scammers did not feel threatened one bit — almost as if they know Apple is unlikely to do anything,” he adds. “In my view, Apple simply does not devote enough resources on this area.”

Since raising the issue on Twitter, Eleftheriou has reported a partial win — in that some of the apps he had complained about have been taken down from the App Store. (At the time of writing Apple has not made any public statement confirming any action.)

However the developer accounts do not appear to have been banned at this time. “It’s astounding that even pulling a scam like that, doesn’t get your developer account revoked!” Eleftheriou told us. “I mean if that didn’t do it, what would??”

We reached out to Apple about this issue and it provided some background information related to its developer policies — which forbid attempts to cheat the system (such as by trying to trick the review process, steal user data, copy another developer’s work, or manipulate ratings or App Store discovery), among other relevant provisions.

We also asked Apple if it’s considering any policy changes in light of the issues raised by Eleftheriou — and will update this post with any response.

“The main issue in my view is not the cloning here. I didn’t even care that they were using my name, or made their screenshots similar to mine etc. If only there was a system to better prevent fake ratings and reviews, none if this would matter,” Eleftheriou also told us. “People would be able to collectively protect themselves through their 1-star ‘votes’ but when that system is allowed to get rigged, everything else goes out the window.

“The promise of ratings and reviews you can trust does not exist any more which erodes consumer trust at an ever accelerating pace,” he adds. “I did a Google search to see what those ‘companies’ look like, if you want to buy ratings and reviews. These are proper, full blown companies, with support systems, and claims that their ratings won’t get deleted by Apple, unlike their competitors. It was shocking to see that this is an industry that is thriving.”

The issue of fake reviews certainly goes far beyond Apple’s App Store. And is a very insidious one.

Fake reviews are pretty much a universal experience across the Internet — whether you’re trying to buy stuff on Amazon, looking at places to visit on Tripadvisor or trying to find a local dentist with the help of reviews on Google Maps (in short; don’t) — given how many platforms now incorporate user reviews.

But the issue does look especially toxic for Apple.

A core part of the USP for its App Store is the claim that Apple’s review process sums to a higher quality, more trustworthy experience than alternative marketplaces that aren’t so carefully overseen.

So a failure to do more to enforce against review scams and rating manipulations risks taking a lot more shine off Apple’s brand than Cupertino should be comfortable with.

Simply put: Consumers expect a higher standard from Apple. That’s why they’re willing to pay a premium for its products. Under-resourcing App Store review and enforcement thus looks like a false economy — not least because it risks driving quality developers like Eleftheriou away.

If a developer with so much pedigree can’t reliably sell his wares on the App Store what does that say about Apple’s ‘premium’ marketplace?

The issue is also likely to be increasingly on the radar of consumer watchdogs and regulators in the coming years. The European Union, for example, is planning to bake binding transparency and reporting requirements into incoming platform regulations — as it seeks to promote fairness and accountability in digital businesses.

While an EU Omnibus Directive that came into force at the start of last year — with a two year deadline for Member States to transpose it — aims to beef up consumer rights through enhanced enforcement and transparency requirements — including directly addressing the issue of fake reviews by placing an obligation on traders to take ‘reasonable and proportionate’ steps to ensure reviews are genuine, among other measures.

In the EU platforms will therefore start being required to ‘justify’ their enforcement failures vis-a-vis fake reviews. And if they can’t, well, the regime includes tough ‘GDPR-level’ fines for breaches of consumer protection law. So the costs won’t only be reputational, as currently.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, meanwhile, has also been cracking down on the trade in fake reviews — specifically targeting Facebook, Instagram and eBay in recent years. Further attention to the issue from UK oversight bodies, which are now operating independently of the EU, also seems likely.

#app-store, #apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #fake-reviews, #flicktype

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Mask-wearers will be able to unlock their iPhone with the Apple Watch

In addition to AirPlay support for Fitness+, today’s iOS 14.5 developer beta is bringing some key new features to mobile operating system. At the top of the list is undoubtedly Apple Watch unlock for users wearing face coverings.

The long-awaited feature arrives a year or so into a pandemic that has made face masks a reality in parts of the world that previously had not seen wide scale adoption. The Apple Watch has, of course, long had the ability to unlock Macs, so this integration seems like a pretty sensible addition.

Starting with iOS 14.5, Apple Watch wearers will be able to opt-in to iPhone unlock under the phone’s Face ID & Passcode settings. Once enabled, the Watch will give a haptic buzz to notify the wearer that the handset has been unlocked. The Watch needs to be unlocked, on a wrist and in close proximity to the iPhone in order to work.

It beats having to pull your mask down in public (even if some folks are still feeling nostalgic for Touch ID).

The addition should be included in the consumer version of the software when it launches. Also included are the ability to ask Siri to call emergency contacts and app tracking controls that require permissions from developers. Support for new Xbox and PlayStation game controllers has been added, as well.

#apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #face-id, #ios, #mobile, #wearables

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iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 hit supported devices today

The 2020 iPad Air—one of several devices supported by today's new software releases.

Enlarge / The 2020 iPad Air—one of several devices supported by today’s new software releases. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Today, Apple began rolling out iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 to supported iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices. The company also pushed watchOS 7.3 to Apple Watches and tvOS 14.4 to Apple TVs.

iOS 14.4/iPadOS 14.4 is a somewhat small feature update. New additions in the release notes include the ability to read smaller QR codes with the iPhone cameras, notifications to tell users “when the camera of your iPhone is unable to be verified as a new, genuine Apple camera,” and a number of bug fixes.

Here are Apple’s full iOS 14.4 release notes:

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Walking with Dolly

A walk is, more often than not, a solitary experience. As far as the age of COVID-19 is concerned, that’s probably more bug than feature. It’s a way to escape the confines of a shutdown for a few glorious moments, to get some air and, for better or worse, reflect on the day that’s passed or the one to come.

It can, like many things these days, however, be isolating.

For me, long weekend walks have been a sort of lifesaver throughout this bizarre year. Following two months of being completely sidelined over (non-COVID) health issues, I began walking more per week than I ever have. It was a slow process at first — frankly, never leaving my one-bedroom apartment for April and May made it so it was physically painful to walk around the block when I finally felt comfortable going outside.

These days, I walk every morning, regularly crossing the bridge into Brooklyn and Manhattan. Until I started using Apple’s new Fitness+ service a few times a day, it was easily my main source of exercise. In November, however, my Apple Watch Activity bars swapped the more generic gray for the Fitness+ yellow. But even as I’ve made a point to do a couple of indoor exercises a day, I still start each day with a walk. Rain, snow, this weekend’s sub-freezing weather — skipping a day would feel like breaking a promise to myself.

My actual bars (not sure what happened in September — maybe testing a competitor’s device)

This morning Apple dropped the first five installments (episodes?) of Time to Walk. The feature is an attempt to expand the Fitness+ experience beyond the confines of its titular iOS app. A largely Watch-based experience, the feature leverages much of the wearable’s existing features (and Apple’s growing software ecosystem) to offer a more tailored and multimedia experience than you would get listening to a podcast or music alone.

As with the canny arrival of Fitness+ (December) and handwashing for watchOS (September), Apple says the timing was something of a happy coincidence. The company had been working on the feature well before COVID-19 entered the picture.

“Everything from Time to Walk and our launch of Fitness+ was something we had been working on well before COVID,” the company’s senior director of Fitness Technologies Jay Blahnik tells TechCrunch. “From the very beginning, we thought of Fitness+ as a place where everyone was welcome. We wanted it to feel like a place where, whether you’re new to fitness or very fit, there was something for everyone.”

For many, a walk (or push, in the case of those who use a wheelchair for mobility) is square one when it comes to daily workouts. For my part, I was certainly far more comfortable taking quick strolls around the neighborhood. With limits on space and no real exercise equipment to speak of beyond a kettlebell and yoga mat, attempting to approximate the gym experience at home has seemed a fool’s errand.

April found me trying some YouTube yoga classes with limited efficacy. Like most attempts to exercise, it didn’t stick. Walking every day was the only thing that did. And for the first time in my life, COVID-19 found me walking without any particular destination in mind. That old cliché about it being about the journey not the destination is fine when you don’t mind constantly being late to meetings. Walking for the sake of itself, however, changes the dynamic significantly. I speak to artists, writers and musicians on a regular basis for my podcast. The common sentiment is a familiar one: You simply can’t force creativity. But for those who make a point to regularly walk and run, it’s perhaps the most surefire way to kickstart the process.

Time to Walk is Apple’s attempt to capture some of that lightning in a bottle — to follow a rotating cast of big names as they walk through locations that mean something to them. The company says it’s been making an effort to meet guests where they are and essentially coach them through the process. The ability to do so is, of course, depends on their given location — especially with all of the sorts of travel restrictions that have been in place since early last year.

Ultimately, Apple says, the decisions of where to record are made by the guests. “Some guests said, ‘this is where I want to go,’ ” says Blahnik. “And some guests were like, ‘no, I want to to do the walk I normally do.’ For us, it’s not about Shawn Mendes in the Grand Canyon, it’s about where they want to go. Sometimes that’s limited by COVID, but what we found delightful was for many people, they loved to take the walk they loved to take.”

The first four guests — Mendes, Dolly Parton, Draymond Green and Uzo Aduba — run the gamut on approaches. “We think about the stories, we think about the diverse guest,” says Blahnik. We think about all of the ways you’d like the conversations to go. But what was important to us was that the idea resonated with them. The idea of going out for a walk, having a lovely conversation and hearing stories that could give you a different perspective.”

Parton, who turned 75 earlier this month, recorded her session in a studio — in contrast to the other three names. She relates a handful of stories largely revolving around her upbringing in Sevier County (pronounced “severe”), Tennessee. There’s a story about a Christmas tree and one about opening a literacy center with the help of her father (who struggled with his own ability to read and write).

She somewhat self-effacingly relates a story about the time her hometown erected a statue of her. “So I went home, and I said, ‘Daddy, did you know they’re putting a statue of me? Do you know about the statue down at the courthouse?’ ” Parton explains. “And Daddy said, ‘Well, yeah, I heard about that.’ He said, ‘Now, to your fans out there, you might be some sort of an idol. But to them pigeons, you ain’t nothing but another outhouse.’ ”

According to Parton, her father would visit the statue at night with a bucket of soap and water to clean the pigeons’ mess off his daughter’s likeness. Her segment culminates with something approaching a behind the music-style segment, describing stories behind three of her own songs: “Coat of Many Colors,” “Circle of Love” and “9 to 5.” The latter is the real gem of the bunch, contrasting her morning routines to costars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, while describing the role her acrylic nails played in the songwriting and recording process.

Image Credits: Apple

Green’s stories are more emblematic of the rest. On a walk around Malibu, the Warriors power forward discusses some inspiration stories on and off the court, from being told he would never be a star to a time he tried and failed to cheat on a test in school. The stories are purposefully personal. Aduba relates some of her own struggles to break into acting, as she walks her amusingly named dog Fenway Bark through Fort Green Park in Brooklyn.

The guests share images relating to their stories or snapshots of where they go on their walks, which are delivered to the wrist with a haptic buzz. At they end of the journey, they share three handpicked songs that can be saved to a playlist on Apple Music, similar to what the company has done for its Fitness+ workouts.

Write-ups of the Time to Walk have thus far compared it to podcasting — understandably so, given that it’s an on-demand, audio-first experience. Though the feature, which downloads directly onto the Watch when the new installment drops once a week, has its own flavor, according to Apple.

“Often podcasts are hosted,” Blahnik says, by way of distinction. “In our journey to build out this experience, we certainly considered if there should be a host walking with this person. What we realized is that, for what we were trying to create, the intimacy of having the singular guest talk to you felt a lot more like you were on a walk with them. The notion that it’s not happening in a studio (in almost all cases), that they’re walking someplace that inspires them. You’ll hear that with Draymond and Shawn — with Shawn he’s huffing and puffing up that hill and it’s kind of nice because you’re in that moment together.”

Time to Walk isn’t raw, exactly. It is an Apple production, after all. The company’s certainly not tossing out found audio here. But the content does seem more off-the-cuff than many of its productions, even as it’s packaged together with a slick intro and a trio of songs at the end. But it’s a nice change of pace for those looking for something that feels a little more personal than we’re accustom to from some of the names involved.

Your own mileage will vary, depending on, among other things, your interest in the guest. Though, there’s always a chance someone you’ve never been particularly interested in — or even heard of — will offer some unique tidbit or interesting way of looking at things. That’s one of the potential upsides of having Apple doing the curating here — there’s some interesting potential for discovery. And even in the case of artists you’re familiar with, there’s good potential to discover something new.

The weekly 20 to 45-minute audio supplement won’t make the actual act of walking any less solitary — but for a little while, at least, it’s nice to feel like someone’s along for the ride.

#apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #fitness, #fitness-plus, #health, #time-to-walk

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Apple doubles down on Fitness+ with new “Time to Walk” Apple Watch content

Today, Apple launched a new component of its Fitness+ personal health subscription service: “Time to Walk.” With it, users who own an Apple Watch can take a tracked walk exercise while listening to stories or inspiring talks from “influential and interesting people.”

These talks will be automatically downloaded to users’ Apple Watch, provided those users subscribe to Fitness+. When users start listening to one of the 25-40 minute episodes, the Watch will begin tracking a Walk workout. For users in weelchairs, Time to Walk is instead called “Time to Push” and offers up an Outdoor Weelchair Walk Pace workout instead.

The announcement states that “each Time to Walk episode is shaped by the guest’s personal, life-shaping moments and includes lessons learned, meaningful memories, thoughts on purpose and gratitude, moments of levity, and other thought-provoking topics, recorded while walking outside or in locations that are meaningful to them.”

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Apple’s new Fitness+ feature brings celebrity-guided walks to your wrist

Here’s a bit of a curve ball from Apple. A month-and-a-half or so after launching the Fitness+ app premium workout service, the company’s offering up an add-on intended to offer an exercise dimension beyond the confines of iOS (and your living room). Arriving today for Fitness+ subscribers, Time to Walk is a new, guided walking tour hosted by a rotating cast of celebrity guests.

It’s a pretty diverse cast, as evidenced by the first round of names, which are dropping via a software update today. Included in the first five are Dolly Parton – who is probably about as universally beloved a celebrity as exists in 2021 – and Warriors power forward Draymond Green, who is no doubt a less universal, because, well, sports. Also included in the first round are musician Shawn Mendes and Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba.

Image Credits: Apple

There are five episodes up front, which will be available as activity cards on the Apple Watch Workout app. In fact, they should start showing as cards in the app’s feed shortly.  Going forward, they’ll be updated at a pace of one a week.

The experience is straightforward on the face of it. Essentially, Apple asks guests to record themselves on a walk, telling stories and sharing three songs. Music is played through the app and images are delivered to the small screen in an effort to build a semi-immersive (but not distracting) accompaniment for your own walk. You can save the songs on an Apple Music playlist or save the episode for later, if you want to listen again. For those who utilize wheelchairs for mobility, the feature will appear as “Time to Push,” which builds on top of the wheelchair-based fitness tracking Apple introduced several year back.

An Apple Fitness+ subscription is required to follow along. That’s due, in part, to a deeper integration with the premium fitness service. Both are also tied directly into other Apple services, like Music, which the company has made a kind of foundational element of its workouts.

I’ve always been a big walker — trying to avoid driving or public transit when time and distance allow. But the past year has really prioritized the activity for me as both an excuse to leave my one-bedroom apartment and way to get a workout in with all of the gyms closed for months on end. It is, frankly, a pretty big factor in keeping me going throughout the pandemic.

Image Credits: Apple

When I walk, I do so with music or podcasts. I’ve tried some “walking meditations” in the past, but found that the experiences have revolved around notions of “quiet reflection,” which doesn’t quit do the trick when you’re walking over the 59th street bridge into midtown Manhattan. Time to Walk turns the idea on its head a bit, by approximating the experience of walking along with someone. As they walk, they relate a kind of stream-of-consciousness, relating often personal stories in the process. The idea of course, being that walking is a head-clearing tool for many — creatives especially.

“Walking is the most popular physical activity in the world, and one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies. A walk can often be more than just exercise: It can help clear the mind, solve a problem, or welcome a new perspective,” Apple’s Jay Blahnik said in a release. “Even throughout this challenging period of time, one activity that has remained available to many is walking. With Time to Walk, we’re bringing weekly original content to Apple Watch in Fitness+ that includes some of the most diverse, fascinating, and celebrated guests offering inspiration and entertainment to help our users keep moving through the power of walking.”

Like Fitness+ before it, the new feature is well-timed, as many parts of the world (the U.S. in particular) are still very much in the throes of pandemic-fueled shutdowns. It seems there’s a new story about a new potential mutation warning us off the sorts of things we used to do every day. Time to Walk is an effort to give you some interesting company for those walks.

 

#apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #fitness

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Apple’s watchOS 7.2 is out, offers new health and fitness metrics

Two smartwatches are intertwined in this promotional image.

Enlarge / Apple Watch series 6, launched this September, offers health and fitness monitoring in a dizzying array of styles. (It can also tell you the time, if you’re looking for that.) (credit: Apple)

There’s a new version of watchOS, the operating system used by the Apple Watch, out today. WatchOS 7.2 includes support for Fitness+, Apple’s new subscription-based fitness service, as well as new cardio fitness notifications.

“Including support for Fitness+” might actually be putting the cart before the horse—Apple Fitness+ requires an Apple Watch to function. The service bundles trainer-led workout videos and regimens with Apple Music, for $9.99 per month, and you can’t sign up for it without an Apple Watch. The watch syncs with whatever device you’re watching the class on, overlaying metrics and progress measured by the watch on top of the video.

WatchOS 7.2 also includes new cardio fitness notifications:

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It won’t replace the gym, but Fitness+ will help you break a sweat

I’m glistening. My heart rate is finally slowing a bit as I type this. The slightest hints of my asthma are subsiding. I’m not going to tell you I feel “good,” as relative as that term might be in a year when everything has gone to hell somehow both gradually and all at once over the course of 12 awful months. But I certainly don’t feel “bad,” either.

There is, of course, a kind of serendipity in today’s launch of Fitness+. While Apple gets points for general prescience, one assumes the company wasn’t privy to any better information than the rest of us, and certainly couldn’t have predicted how radical a shift the exercise industry would undergo over the past nine months.

Most of the information on COVID-19’s impact on gyms is, at best, either myopic or anecdotal, but there seems little doubt the industry has been — and will continue to be — radically impacted by the pandemic. “Devastated” might be a more accurate term. After all, it’s mid-December as I’m writing this and many are still scared to venture back into a business that routinely ranks among the highest risk for the virus’s spread. As if people needed another excuse to skip daily workouts.

What we can say for certain, however, is that Wall Street and Silicon Valley cultures have reacted, big time. In late-June, Lululemon purchased Mirror for a jaw-dropping $500 million. Shortly after, Bank of America started tossing out predictions, noting the guided workout company could generate $700 million and hit 600,000 subscribers by 2023. Peloton stock hit a slight blip with Apple’s Fitness+ launch announcement last week, but otherwise, it’s a been a terrific year from the home treadmill/stationary bike maker.

None of this is to say, of course, that these companies weren’t already doing gangbusters, but the pandemic has certainly — in the words of an overzealous fitness instructor — kicked it up a notch. Yes, I grimaced a bit as I wrote that last sentence, but ultimately, what is a fitness class if not an exercise in swallowing one’s pride?

My own experience with group workouts is limited. Prior to the pandemic, I went to the gym five to seven days a week. When on a work trip, I would be the weirdo at the hotel gym, trying to figure out how to change the one giant-tube television from Fox News at 6AM. I don’t care what your political leanings are — no Fox and Friends for me before coffee and a run.

Since the pandemic, my options have been…limited. In addition to the harrowing COVID fallout in my home of Queens in March/April, I dealt with some of my own health complications that severely limited my workout options. I’ve weaned myself back into a kind of makeshift workout regimen in the intervening few months — first through some YouTube yoga and now through five to 15-mile daily walks.

It’s an improvement. And I’m counting my blessings and all of that, knowing well that as bad as things had and have gotten, they ultimately could be worse. Truth is, though, like many Americans (and non-Americans, no doubt), the cost-benefit analysis of going back to the gym still doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense for me. Given the space constraints of my New York City apartment, however, neither does a Peloton.

I do, however, have an Apple Watch. And a yoga mat. And just about enough space in my bedroom to make this work. I’ve been at this for a few days — doing a couple of workouts a day, ranging from about 10 to 20 minutes a piece. Like Matthew did last week with his AirPods Max writeup, I’m going to opt not to call this a “review.” It’s not fair to the product and — more to the point — it’s not fair to you, the reader.

Image Credits: Apple

What I can say definitely, however, is that I do plan to continue using the service beyond these first few days. Perhaps that’s a testament to the product’s potential. Or maybe it’s just a sign that I’m looking for a way to stop feeling like a wet garbage bag full of room temperature cottage cheese all of the time. The truth, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Fitness — like anything health related — is a highly personal thing. There has never and likely will never be a kind of one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of working out. And while Fitness+ is the latest, shiny attempt to tackle the issue, that’s certainly the case here as well. The best I can do for you right now is discuss my own personal needs and experiences. Some will likely sound familiar, others not.

My biggest fitness hurdles are: time and space. The time bit should be self-explanatory — and familiar to most. Even during a year-long quarantine, there’s somehow never enough of the stuff. Space is mostly — but not entirely — a side effect of my decision to live in New York City on a journalist’s salary.

There’s also the matter of variety. Once I find something I like at a particular restaurant, I will continue to order it until I’m sick of it. And that likely won’t be for a while. That’s usually the case with how I work out as well (likely to the detriment of my overall health). Once I discovered that I could tolerate running (and keep the pounds off doing it), I ran until I messed up both of knees.

As I said above, walking long distances across bridges and into different boroughs has been a small but important respite for me during hell year. In doing that, I’ve pretty consistently closed my Apple Watch rings (“Stand” can still be a stickler on work days). But while I generally don’t have an issue hitting those goals, switching up how I can get there has been something of a challenge.

Image Credits:

Fitness+ does offer some key benefits right off the bat. The first — and arguably most important — is convenience. For $10 a month, you get whatever peace of mind comes with knowing that every Monday, Apple is going to drop a new crop of new workout videos for you every week. That content can be accessed across a number of Apple devices. Namely: the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.

Another thing you should probably know about me (you’re learning all sorts of fun stuff today, right?) is that I’m one of those no TV weirdos, and therefore my own experiences are limited to the iPad and iPhone. There are a number of reasons to go for the Apple TV in this setup, but the most important of all, to be honest, is sheer screen real estate. I found the iPad Air’s 11-inch display was totally acceptable in close range, however.

The iPhone was a lot trickier, on the other hand, when it comes to following the trainers. The upshot of both of these, however, is flexibility. That’s a nice feature when it comes to moving between standing and sitting exercises. The other big upshot will come when we all start traveling again. I can certainly see the appeal of busting out one or two of these workouts in my hotel room, instead of gambling that the elliptical machine will be up and running (about 50/50 in my experience).

For now, at least, Fitness+ doesn’t have its own standalone app. Like other premium services before it, Apple’s snuck it into an update of an existing app — a move that ensures the new paid offering is instantly available on millions of devices starting today. In the iPhone app, it appears as one of three tabs. It always felt a little superfluous to have individual apps for Fitness, Health and Watch, but I suppose that now we know why they’ve kept those things separate. Today also marks the arrival of the standard Fitness app for iPadOS, where Fitness+ is more or less the entire experience.

The Apple Watch is required for the Fitness+ experience. There’s apparently a way to circumvent things if, say, you accidentally forgot your Watch at home or your battery dies or what have you. But on the whole, no watch, no Fitness+. Ecosystem’s gonna ecosystem, friend.

The necessity for this particular piece of hardware makes sense when you consider how deeply integrated it is. The Watch really is the core of the Fitness+ experience. It does its usual job collecting your metrics, which are now also displayed for you in real time on screen as you work out. The primary information at the ready is how far you are into the activity bar and your heart rate — the latter in particular seems like an important piece of information for many. And it is pretty fascinating to watch your numbers climb and drop between intervals.

Image Credits: Apple

Honestly, the Apple Watch integration is probably the best-executed aspect of the entire undertaking — down to the way the wearable doubles as a start and stop button for the workout. It also ensures a more complete rundown of your workouts at the end of the day. The truth of a wrist-worn monitor — whether Apple wants to admit it or not — is that it can be hit or miss with full body workouts.

That’s a big part of the reason why the device asks you to start or confirm workout types during normal usage. Give the current sensor technology available for these products, there’s a limit to how precisely you can measure movement. If you’re wearing the Watch and doing pre-selected Fitness+ workouts, on the other hand, the system is able to offer a more complete picture. Collected data is also aggregated into a “Burn Bar,” which will show you roughly where you rank compared to others who have done the exercises (I generally found myself somewhere in the middle). This can be toggled off if you’re not feeling competitive.

Beyond that, there’s really not much in the way of gamification here. The closest Apple’s hand-selected trainers come is the fairly regular encouragement to “close your rings.” It’s tough to strike the balance of motivating without overwhelming. Go too far in either direction and you risk losing people. I’d say on the whole Apple does a decent job striking the balance, down to the fact that there are often three trainers in the videos, each showing you a different level of intensity for the on-screen exercises.

One key thing Apple does lose here, versus both in-person fitness classes and live-streamed ones from the likes of Peloton, is instant feedback. The company has positioned its “on-demand” approach as a way of letting users complete courses at their own pace. In a more ideal world, however, there would be some combination of the two. Apple certainly has the resources to do both — though there’s a fair bit more that goes into live-streaming with real-time bio feedback.

If I had to venture a guess here, I would say that in all likelihood Apple will add live classes at some point. There’s value in having a set appointment you feel obligated to attend. And for all of the Fitness+ trainers’ encouragement that “you’re doing great,” let’s be real: they’re speaking to a camera in a studio for a video that was recorded days — if not weeks — ago.

YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW I’M DOING!

The variety of exercises on offer is pretty good. I’ve mostly been alternating between Core and HIIT (high intensity interval training). Given that it’s all right there in front of me, I have found myself trying some new stuff. Turns out I still hate dancing in basically all of its forms — but it’s nice to check in every decade or so. The biggest limitation for me (beyond those outlined above) is equipment.

I don’t have a stationary bike or treadmill. I have a kettlebell, but not a complete weight set. I do have a yoga mat, however, which is probably the most common piece of equipment here. Honestly, if you’re thinking of trying Fitness+, I would shell out $25 for a yoga mat. Turns out you can still use it even if you cancel your account. There’s a small description letting you know what equipment is needed below the video. It would be great if Apple added an easie way to filter by equipment, though, given the percentage of workouts that require something.

Ditto for music. Apple really prides itself on the music choices here (and the trainers seems encourage to talk a lot about it). In fact, each course includes an Apple Music playlist of the song choices (ecosystems for the win). I recognize that music choices are every bit as personal as fitness needs, so I know I’m not speaking for everyone when I say the music is, on a whole, mostly bad. As you’d expect.

There are exceptions for different trainers and different exercises, but the selections I mostly encountered in my workouts are more or less the same sort of high energy Top 40 crap you’ve probably already encountered at your gym. If that’s your thing, cool. If not, you’re going to find the alternatives fewer and farther between. I would love if Apple eventually adds an option to toggle off the music or replace it with your own stuff. You can filter by genre within a given exercise category, but for obvious reasons, that’s going to limit the workout selections in the process.

Once you’ve completed a course, a small checkmark will show up in the corner. It sticks around, which is nice if you find something you like, but it would be great if the app more dynamically cycled through things and offered quick reference for what you’ve already done. Again, this is all coming from someone who’s done six or so workouts over three or so days. The app adds customization the more you use it, and I just haven’t been using it long enough.

Image Credits: Apple

The overall execution is about as polished as you’d expect from an Apple production, down to the fact that the trainers were taught some sign language for greetings and goodbyes (in addition to closed captioning). Money has been spent on production value and hiring a diverse group of trainers. And certainly you’re getting more consistent quality here than you would just perusing YouTube for random exercises.

Is it worth $10 a month (or $80 a year), though? My main hesitation on that front is that it’s yet another in a seemingly endless pile of monthly fees from the ever-growing subscription economy. It’s significantly cheaper than a gym, obviously. Though the equipment here is very much bring your own, in the case of Apple, and the Watch doesn’t take the place of in-person feedback from classes or even the kind offered on some of the full-body fitness mirrors.

Like I said at the top I plan to keep using the app for the timing being. I’m still wary of the gym and am generally averse to working out in front of others. And thankfully, I live on the first floor, so none of my neighbors are any the wiser about all of the weird jumping around I’ve been doing lately (though my rabbit finds it amusing).

Here in the States, at least, it seems a safe bet we’ve got at least another four, maybe five months of this pandemic left to deal with. For Apple, that means a solid opportunity to get people on board with its new service. For me, it probably means at least that much more time doing squats in front of an iPad — especially as we’re heading into some truly cold months here on the eastern seaboard. I’ll probably check in my progress in a few weeks or months and maybe feel more comfortable calling it a proper review.

Beyond that, it’s hard to say.

#apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #fitness, #fitness-plus, #fitness-trackers, #hardware, #health, #ios, #ipados

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Apple Fitness+ launches on December 14

Apple is launching its subscription fitness service, which is built mainly to complement Apple Watch, on December 14. Apple Fitness+ was first announced at Apple’s iPhone event in September, and will offer guided workouts on iPhone iPad and Apple TV, with live personal metrics delivered by the Apple Watch’s health metrics monitoring.

The fitness offering will cover 10 workout types at launch, including Hight Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), strength, yoga, dance, core, cycling, indoor walking and running, as well as rowing and cooldown. All cases are led by real trainers that Apple selected to record the interactive sessions, and they’re soundtracked from “today’s top artists” according to the company.

The interactive elements are fed mostly by Apple Watch stats, and will display heart rate metrics, countdown timers, and goal achievement ‘celebration’ graphics which display on the screen when a user fills up their Apple Watch Activity rings. This is a level of direct integration that’s similar to what Peloton achieves with its service, but without requiring a whole connected stationary bike or treadmill to work.

Other distinguishing features of the service include a recommendation engine that leverages data including previous Fitness+ courses taken by a user, as well as their Apple Watch Workout App data and other third-party health and fitness app integration information from Apple Health to recommend new workouts, trainers and exercise routines. Apple’s use of third-party integrations is particularly interesting here, since it’s using its platform advantage to inform its service personalization.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple is also committing to weekly updates of new content across all categories of workouts, with varying intensity and difficult levels. Anyone using Fitness+ can also share their workouts with friends and family, and compete with others directly in the app if they want.

There’s also an optional Apple Music integration, which allows users to favorite songs and playlists directly from workouts to add them to their library, but users won’t require Apple Music in order to access the music used for the training videos, which are divided into different selectable “styles” or genres.

Apple Fitness+ is available starting December 14, and will retail for $9.99 per month, or $79.99 when paid for a twelve month period up front. It’s also part of Apple’s new Apple One Premier service bundle alongside other services.

This is definitely a major competitive service launch to existing subscription fitness offerings, including Peloton. Apple’s bundle offering, along with its system’s flexibility and syncing across its devices, could make it an easier choice for beginners and those just getting started with more serious training, though the lack of live classes might be a downside for some.

#apple, #apple-inc, #apple-one, #apple-tv, #apple-watch, #computing, #health, #ios, #ipad, #iphone, #itunes, #premier, #smartwatches, #software, #subscription-services, #tc, #wearable-devices

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A tween tries Apple’s new ‘Family Setup’ system for Apple Watch

With the release of watchOS 7, Apple at last turned the Apple Watch into the GPS-based kid tracker parents have wanted, albeit at a price point that requires careful consideration. As someone in the target demographic for such a device — a parent of a “tween” who’s allowed to freely roam the neighborhood (but not without some sort of communication device) — I put the new Family Setup system for the Apple Watch through its paces over the past couple of months.

The result? To be frank, I’m conflicted as to whether I’d recommend the Apple Watch to a fellow parent, as opposed to just suggesting that it’s time to get the child a phone.

This has to do, in part, with the advantages offered by a dedicated family tracking solution — like Life360, for example — as well as how a child may respond to the Apple Watch itself, and the quirks of using a solution that wasn’t initially designed with the needs of family tracking in mind.

As a parent of a busy and active tween (nearly 11), I can see the initial appeal of an Apple Watch as a family tracker. It has everything you need for that purpose: GPS tracking, the ability to call and text, alerts, and access to emergency assistance. It’s easy to keep up with, theoretically, and it’s not as pricey as a new iPhone. (The new Apple Watch SE cellular models start at $329. The feature also works on older Apple Watch Series 4 or later models with cellular. Adding on the Apple Watch to your phone plan is usually around $10 per month more.)

I think the Apple Watch as a kid tracker mainly appeals to a specific type of parent: one who’s worried about the dangers of giving a younger child a phone and thereby giving them access to the world of addictive apps and the wider internet. I understand that concern, but I personally disagree with the idea that you should wait until a child is “older,” then hand them a phone and say “ok, good luck with that!” They need a transition period and the “tween” age range is an ideal time frame to get started.

The reality is that smartphones and technology are unavoidable. As a parent, I believe it’s my job to introduce these things in small measures — with parental controls and screen time limits, for example. And then I need to monitor their usage. I may make mistakes and so will my daughter, but we both need these extra years to figure out how to balance parenting and the use of digital tools. With a phone, I know I will have to have the hard conversations about the problems we run into. I understand, too, why parents want to put that off, and just buy a watch instead.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

After my experience, I feel the only cases where I’d fully endorse the Apple Watch would be for those tech-free or tech-light families where kids will not be given phones at any point, households where kids’ phone usage is highly restricted (like those with Wi-Fi only phones), or those where kids don’t get phones until their later teenage years. I am not here to convince them of my alternative, perhaps more progressive view on when to give a kid a phone. The Apple Watch may make sense for these families and that’s their prerogative.

However, a number of people may be wondering if the Apple Watch can be a temporary solution for perhaps a year or two before they buy the child a smartphone. To them, I have to say this feels like an expensive way to delay the inevitable, unavoidable task of having to parent your child through the digital age.

Given my position on the matter, my one big caveat to this review is that my daughter does, in fact, have a smartphone. Also, let’s be clear: this is not meant to be a thorough review of the Apple Watch itself, or a detailed report of its various “tech specs”. It’s a subjective report as to how things went for us that, hopefully, you can learn from.

Image Credits: Apple

To begin, the process of configuring the new Apple Watch with Family Setup was easy. “Set Up for a Family Member” is one of two setup options to tap on as you get started. Apple offers a simple user interface that walks you through pairing the Watch with your phone and all the choices that have to be made, like enabling cellular, turning on “Ask to Buy” for app purchases, enabling Schooltime and Activity features, and more.

What was harder was actually using the Apple Watch as intended after it was configured. I found it far easier to launch an iPhone app (like Life360, which we use) where everything you need is in one place. That turned out not to be true for Apple Watch Family Setup system.

For the purpose of testing the Apple Watch with Family Setup, my daughter would leave her iPhone behind when she went out biking or when meeting up with friends for outdoor activities.

As a child who worked her way up to an iPhone over a couple of years, I have to admit I was surprised at how irresponsible she was with the watch in the early weeks.

She didn’t at all respect at the multi-hundred dollar device it was, at first, but rather treated it like her junk jewelry or her wrist-worn scrunchies. The Apple Watch was tossed on a dresser, a bathroom counter, a kitchen table, on a beanbag chair, and so on.

Thankfully, the “Find My” app can locate the Apple Watch, if it has battery and a signal. But I’m not going to lie — there were some scary moments where a dead watch was later found on the back of a toilet (!!), on the top of the piano, and once, abandoned at a friend’s house.

And this, from a child who always knows where her iPhone is!

The problem is that her iPhone is something she learned to be responsible for after years of practice. This fooled me into thinking she actually was responsible for expensive devices. For two years, we painfully went through a few low-end Android phones while she got the hang of keeping up with and caring for such a device. Despite wrapping those starter phones in protective cases, we still lost one to a screen-destroying crash on a tile floor and another to being run over by a car. (How it flew out of a pocket and into the middle of the road, I’ll never understand!)

But, eventually, she did earn access to a hand-me down iPhone. And after initially only being allowed to use it in the house on Wi-Fi, that phone now goes outdoors and has its own phone number. And she has been careful with it in the months since. (Ahem, knocks on wood.)

The Apple Watch, however, held no such elevated status for her. It was not an earned privilege. It was not fun. It was not filled with favorite apps and games. It was, instead, thrust upon her.

While the iPhone is used often for enjoyable and addictive activities like Roblox, TikTok, Disney+, and Netflix, the Apple Watch was boring by comparison. Sure, there are a few things you can do on the device — it has an App Store! You can make a Memoji! You can customize different watch faces! But unless this is your child’s first-ever access to technology, these features may have limited appeal.

“Do you want to download this game? This looks fun,” I suggested. pointing to a coloring game, as we looked at her Watch together one night.

“No thanks,” she replied.

“Why not?”

“I just don’t think it would be good on the little screen.”

“Maybe a different game?”

“Nah.”

And that was that. I could not convince her to give a single Apple Watch app a try in the days that followed.

She didn’t even want to stream music on the Apple Watch — she has Alexa for that, she pointed out. She didn’t want to play a game on the watch — she has Roblox on the bigger screen of her hand-me down laptop. She also has a handheld Nintendo Switch.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Initially, she picked an Apple Watch face that matched her current “aesthetic” — simple and neutral — and that was the extent of her interest in personalizing the device in the first several weeks.

Having already burned herself out on Memoji by borrowing my phone to play with the feature when it launched, there wasn’t as much interest in doing more with the customized avatar creation process, despite my suggestions to try it. (She had already made a Memoji her Profile photo for her contact card on iPhone.)

However, I later showed her the Memoji Watch Face option after I set it up, and asked her if she liked it. She responded “YESSSS. I love it,” and snatched the watch from my hand to play some more.

Demo’ing features is important, it seems.

But largely, the Apple Watch was only strapped on only at my request as she walked out the door.

Soon, this became a routine.

“Can I go outside and play?”

“Yes. Wear the watch!,” I’d reply.

“I knowwww.”

It took over a month to get to the point that she would remember the watch on her own.

I have to admit that I didn’t fully demo the Apple Watch to her or explain how to use it in detail, beyond a few basics in those beginning weeks. While I could have made her an expert, I suppose, I think it’s important to realize that many parents are less tech-savvy than their kids. The children are often left to fend for themselves when it comes to devices, and this particular kid has had several devices. For that reason, I was curious how a fairly tech literate child who has moved from iPad to Android to now iPhone, and who hops from Windows to Mac to Chromebook, would now adapt to an Apple Watch.

As it turned out, she found it a little confusing.

“What do you think about the Watch?” I asked one evening, feeling her out for an opinion.

“It’s fun…but sometimes I don’t really understand it,” she replied.

“What don’t you understand?”

“I don’t know. Just…almost everything,” she said, dramatically, as tweens tend to do. “Like, sometimes  I don’t know how to turn up and down the volume.”

Upon prodding, I realize she meant this: she was confused about how to adjust the alert volume for messages and notifications, as well as how to change the Watch from phone calls to a vibration or to silence calls altogether with Do Not Disturb. (It was her only real complaint, but annoying enough to be “almost everything,” I guess!)

I’ll translate now from kid language what I learned here.

First, given that the “Do Not Disturb” option is accessible from a swipe gesture, it’s clear my daughter hadn’t fully explored the watch’s user interface. It didn’t occur to her that the swipe gestures of the iPhone would have their own Apple Watch counterparts. (And also, why would you swipe up from the bottom of the screen for the Control Center when that doesn’t work on the iPhone anymore? On iPhone, you now swipe down from the top-right to get to Control Center functions.)

And she definitely hadn’t discovered the tiny “Settings” app (the gear icon) on the Apple Watch’s Home Screen to make further changes.

Instead, her expectation was that you should be able to use either a button on the side for managing volume — you know, like on a phone — or maybe the digital crown, since that’s available here. But these physical features of the device — confusingly — took her to that “unimportant stuff” like the Home Screen and an app switcher, when in actuality, it was calls, notifications, and alerts that were the app’s main function, in her opinion.

And why do you need to zoom into the Home Screen with a turn of the digital crown? She wasn’t even using the apps at this point. There weren’t that many on the screen.

Curious, since she didn’t care for the current lineup of apps, I asked for feedback.

“What kind of apps do you want?,” I asked.

“Roblox and TikTok.”

“Roblox?!,” I said, laughing. “How would that even work?”

As it turned out, she didn’t want to play Roblox on her watch. She wanted to respond to her incoming messages and participate in her group chats from her watch.

Oh. That’s actually a reasonable idea. The Apple Watch is, after all, a messaging device.

And since many kids her age don’t have a phone or the ability to use a messaging app like Snapchat or Instagram, they trade Roblox usernames and friend each other in the game as way to work around this restriction. They then message each other to arrange virtual playdates or even real-life ones if they live nearby.

But the iOS version of the Roblox mobile app doesn’t have an Apple Watch counterpart.

“And TikTok?” I also found this hilarious.

But the fact that Apple Watch is not exactly an ideal video player is lost on her. It’s a device with a screen, connected to the internet. So why isn’t that enough, she wondered?

“You could look through popular TikToks,” she suggested. “You wouldn’t need to make an account or anything,” she clarified, as these details were would fix the only problems she saw with her suggestion.

Even if the technology was there, a TikTok experience on the small screen would never be a great one. But this goes to show how much interest in technology is directly tied to what apps and games are available, compared with the technology platform itself.

Other built-in features had even less appeal than the app lineup.

Image Credits: Apple

Though I had set up some basic Activity features during the setup process, like a “Move Goal,” she had no idea what any of that was. So I showed her the “rings” and how they worked, and she thought it was kind of neat that the Apple Watch could track her standing. However, there was no genuine interest or excitement in being able quantify her daily movement — at least, not until one day many weeks later when were hiking and she heard my watch ding as my rings closed and wanted to do the same on hers. She became interested in recording her steps for that hike, but the interest wasn’t sustained afterwards.

Apple said it built in the Activity features so kids could track their move goal and exercise progress. But I would guess many kids won’t care about this, even if they’re active. After all, kids play — they don’t think “how much did I play?” Did I move enough today? And nor should they, really.

As a parent, I can see her data in the Health app on my iPhone, which is the device I use to manage her Apple Watch. It’s interesting, perhaps, to see things like her steps walked or flights climbed. But it’s not entirely useful, as her Apple Watch is not continually worn throughout the day. (She finds the bands uncomfortable — we tried Sport Band and Sport Loop and she still fiddles with them constantly, trying to readjust them for comfort.)

In addition, if I did want to change her Activity goals later on for some reason, I’d have to do from her Watch directly.

Of course, a parent doesn’t buy a child an Apple Watch to track their exercise. It’s for the location tracking features. That is the only real reason a parent would consider this device for a younger child.

On that front, I did like that the watch was a GPS tracker that was looped into our household Apple ecosystem as its own device with its own phone number. I liked that I could ping the Watch with “Find My” when it’s lost — and it was lost a lot, as I noted. I liked that I could manage the Watch from my iPhone, since it’s very difficult to reacquire a device to make changes, once it’s handed over to someone else.

I also liked the Apple Watch was always available for use. This may have been one of its biggest perks, in fact. Unlike my daughter’s iPhone, which is almost constantly at 10-20% battery (or much less), the watch was consistently charged and ready when it was time for outdoor play.

I liked that it was easier for her to answer a call on the Apple Watch compared with digging her phone out of her bike basket or bag. I liked that she didn’t have to worry about constantly holding onto her phone while out and about.

I also appreciated that I could create geofenced alerts — like when she reached the park or a friend’s house, for example, or when she left. But I didn’t like that the ability to do so is buried in the “Find My” app. (You tap on the child’s name in the “People” tab. Tap “Add” under “Notifications.” Tap “Notify Me.” Tap “New Location.” Do a search for an address or venue. Tap “Done.”)

Image Credits: TechCrunch

I also didn’t like that when I created a recurring geofence, my daughter would be notified. Yes, privacy. I know! But who’s in charge here? My daughter is a child, not a teen. She knows the Apple Watch is a GPS tracker — we had that conversation. She knows it allows me to see where she is. She’s young and for now, she doesn’t feel like this a privacy violation. We’ll have that discussion later, I’m sure. But at the present, she likes the feel of this electronic tether to home as she experiments with expanding the boundaries of her world.

When I tweak and update recurring alerts for geofenced locations, such alerts can be confusing or even concerning. I appreciate that Apple is being transparent and trying to give kids the ability to understand they’re being tracked — but I’d also argue that most parents who suddenly gift an expensive watch to their child will explain why they’re doing so. This is a tool, not a toy.

Also, the interface for configuring geofences is cumbersome. By comparison, the family tracking app Life360 which we normally use has a screen where you simply tap add, search to find the location, and then you’re done. One tap on a bell icon next to the location turns on or off its alerts. (You can get all granular about it: recurring, one time, arrives, leaves, etc. — but you don’t have to. Just tap and be alerted. It’s more straightforward.)

Image Credits: Apple

One feature I did like on the Apple Watch, but sadly couldn’t really use, was its Schooltime mode — a sort of remotely-enabled, scheduled version of Do Not Disturb. This feature blocks apps and complications and turns on the Do Not Disturb setting for the kids, while letting emergency calls and notifications break through. (Make sure to set up Shared Contacts, so you can manage that aspect.)

Currently, we have no use for Schooltime, thanks to this pandemic. My daughter is attending school remotely this year. I could imagine how this may be helpful one day when she returns to class.

But I also worry that if I sent her to class with the Apple Watch, other kids will judge her for her expensive device. I worry that teachers (who don’t know about Schooltime), will judge me for having her wear it. I worry kids will covet it and ask to try it on. I worry a kid running off with it, causing additional disciplinary headaches for teachers. I worry it will get smashed on the playground or during PE, or somehow fall off because she meddled with the band for the umpteenth time. I worry she’ll take it off because “the strap is so annoying” (as I was told), then leave it in her desk.

I don’t worry as much about the iPhone at school, because it stays in her backpack the whole time due to school policy. It doesn’t sit on her arm as a constant temptation, “Schooltime” mode or otherwise.

The Apple Watch Family Setup is also not a solution that adapts as the child ages to the expanding needs of teen monitoring, compared with other family tracking solutions.

To continue the Life360 comparison, the app today offers features for teen drivers and its new privacy-sensitive location “bubbles” for teens now give them more autonomy. Apple’s family tracking solution, meanwhile, becomes more limited as the child ages up.

For instance, Schooltime doesn’t work on an iPhone. Once the child upgrades to an iPhone, you are meant to use parental controls and Screen Time features to manage what apps are allowed and when she can use her device. It seems a good transitional step to the phone would be a way to maintain Schooltime mode on the child’s next device, too.

Instead, by buying into Apple Watch for its Family Setup features, what you’ll soon end up with is a child who now owns both an Apple Watch and a smartphone. (Sure, you could regift it or take it back, I suppose…I certainly do wish you luck if you try that!)

Beyond the overboard embrace of consumerism that is buying an Apple Watch for a child, the biggest complaint I had was that there were three different apps for me to use to manage and view data associated with my daughter’s Apple Watch. I could view her tracked activity was tracked in my Health app. Location-tracking and geofence configuration was in the Find My app. And remotely configuring the Apple Watch itself, including Schooltime, was found in my Watch mobile app.

I understand that Apple built the Watch to be a personal device designed for use with one person and it had to stretch to turn it into a family tracking system. But what Apple is doing here is really just pairing the child’s watch with the parent’s iPhone and then tacking on extra features, like Schooltime. It hasn’t approached this as a whole new system designed from the ground-up for families or for their expanding needs as the child grows.

As a result, the whole system feels underdeveloped compared with existing family tracking solutions. And given the numerous features to configure, adjust, and monitor, Family Setup deserves its own app or at the very least, its own tab in a parent’s Watch app to simplify its use.

At the end of the day, if you are letting your child out in the world — beyond school and supervised playdates — the Apple Watch is a solution, but it may not be the best solution for your needs. If you have specific reasons why your child will not get their own phone now or anytime soon, the Apple Watch may certainly work. But if you don’t have those reasons, it may be time to try a smartphone.

Both Apple and Google now offer robust parental control solutions for their smartphone platforms that can mitigate many parents’ concerns over content and app addiction. And considering the cost of a new Apple Watch, the savings just aren’t there — especially when considering entry-level Android phones or other hand-me-down phones as the alternative.

[Apple provided a loaner device for the purposes of this review. My daughter was cited and quoted with permission but asked for her name to not be used.]

 

#apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #families, #family, #gadgets, #kids, #mobile, #parents, #tc, #tweens

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Apple Magsafe Duo Charger Review: Useful, but expensive and underwhelming 

In addition to the new iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, I was able to try out Apple’s new MagSafe Duo Charger. It’s a folding dual travel charger that will hold both an iPhone using MagSafe and an Apple Watch using its more traditional magnetic charger.

Does it work? Yep, works exactly as advertised. Your iPhone will rest comfortably on the MagSafe side of the charger, aligning using the internal magnets. The Apple Watch side pops up and out to allow easy access for closed loop bands. The whole unit folds over to make it easier to travel with and will even fold over backwards if you don’t need one side or the other. It works, for sure.

But that folding is where we start to get to the iffy stuff. For context, you have to understand that this thing is $129 but feels like it should be $70. When you realize that it is a charger that doesn’t come with a power adapter, I would not be shocked if you mentally downgraded it to $40. 

The hinge and casing are coated in soft touch rubber that is sort of press molded on. While the hinge works fine, it is wobbly and immediately creases. The rubber is thick enough that it doesn’t give the impression that it will rip immediately or anything — but it’s not exactly confidence inducing. This is an inexpensive hinge solution that you would expect to see from a price conscious third-party accessory, not from Apple. 

Because the whole thing is press molded, there is also this ridge that runs around the exterior of the unit. It has a basic seal on it but you can see the layers of lamination if you look closely. It looks ripe to nick, fray, bend and get dirty. Not great for something that’s meant to throw in a bag. 

White also a bad choice there, mine’s already getting dingy and I can’t even travel anywhere right now.  

The thing charges adequately fast and the devices lock on well. The Watch charging part of it feels the most premium with its smooth little chrome hinge. The MagSafe Pad and Watch charger are Apple’s typically nicely peened aluminum, and the whole thing has a decent amount of heft to it. For what it’s worth, I was unable to test one thing which is whether it will charge an Apple Watch and an iPhone in fast charge at the same time with the 20W power adapter. I’ll try to update this review with that info.

Of course, because the iPhone side is magnetic, you do get the MagSafe benefit of being able to pick the phone up if it’s attached, but that’s more awkward when it’s a big bundle of charger vs when it’s a slim MagSafe puck on the back of your phone. Fine for a quick alarm check in your hotel maybe.

But I’m sorry to say that I find the whole thing a bit underwhelming after the hype of AirPower and its eventual demise. Apple may very well have had this thing planned the whole time that it was trying to make AirPower happen, but the arc of that story landing on this device is sad trombone indeed.

The MagSafe Duo does work, and there are a couple of engineering bright spots. But you will not feel that it’s worth the money by the time you purchase the $129 charger and the $19 20W power brick to go with it, and there are many third party accessories on the market that do this job just fine.

#airpower, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-watch, #charger, #inductive-charging, #ios, #iphone, #iphone-12-pro, #magsafe, #mobile-phones, #rubber, #tc, #telecommunications

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Apple Watch Series 6 review

When it comes to smartwatches, it’s Apple against the world. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of other products to choose from — it’s more that the company has just utterly dominated the space to such a point that any other device is relegated to the realm of “Apple Watch alternatives.”

The company has been successful in the space for the usual Apple reasons: premium hardware with deeply integrated software, third-party support, a large cross-device ecosystem play and, of, course, simplicity. Taken as a whole, the Watch just works, right out of the box.

Five years after launch, the line is fairly mature. As such, it’s no surprise, really, that recent updates have largely amounted to refinements. As with most updates, the watch has gotten a processor boost up to the A14 processor, which the company claims is 20% faster than the last version. Perhaps the biggest hardware upgrade, however, is the addition of a blood oxygen sensor, an important piece in the company’s quest to offer as complete an image of wearer health as is possible from the wrist.

I wrote a pretty lengthy piece about the watch last week after wearing it for a few days. As I mentioned at the time, it was an odd kind of writeup, somewhere between hands-on and review. A week or so later, however, I’m more comfortable calling this a review — even if not too many of my initial impressions have changed much in the past several days. After all, a mature product largely means most of the foundations remain unchanged.

The Series 6 certainly looks the part. The Watch is tough to distinguish from other recent models — and for that matter, the new and significantly cheaper SE. The biggest visual change is the addition of new colors. In addition to the standard Gray and Gold, Apple’s added new Blue and (Product)Red cases. The latter seems to be the more ostentatious of the pair. The company sent me a blue model, and honestly, it’s a lot more subtle than I expected. It’s more of a deep blue hue, really, that reads more as black a lot of the time.

It’s tough to imagine the product undergoing any sort of radical rethink of the device’s design language at this point. We may see slight tweaks, including larger screen area going forward, but on the whole, Apple is very much committed to a form factor that has worked very well for it. I will probably always prefer Samsung’s spinning bezel as a quick way to interface with the operating system, but the crown does the job well and scrolling through menus even feels a bit zippier this time, perhaps owing to that faster silicon.

The new Solo Loop bands hit a bit of a hiccup out of the gate. I’ve detailed that a bit more here, but I suspect that much of the problem came down to the difficulty of selling a specifically sized product during a strange period in history where in-person try-ons aren’t really an option. In other words, just really bad timing on that front.

Personally, I quite like the braided model. I’ve been using it as my day to day band. It’s nice and blends in a lot better than the silicone model (I’ve frankly never been much of a fan of Apple’s silicone bands). But I do need to mention that Apple sent me a couple different sizes, which made it much easier to find the right fit. I recognize that. Especially when the braided Solo Loop costs a fairly exorbitant $99. The silicone version is significantly cheaper at $49, but either way, you’re not getting off cheap there. So you definitely want to make sure you get the right fit.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

This is doubly important given the fact that the Series 6’s biggest new feature — blood oxygen monitoring — is highly dependent on you getting a good fit. The sensor utilizes a series of LEDs on the bottom of the watch to shine infrared and red light through the wearer’s skin and into their blood vessels. The color of light that reflects back gives the watch a picture of the oxygen levels in the blood. The whole thing takes about 15 seconds, but only works if your fit is right. Even with the right Solo Loop on, I found myself having to retake it a few times when I first started wearing the watch.

Beyond the on-demand measurements, the watch will also take readings throughout the day and night, mapping these trends over time and incorporating them into sleep readings. The overall readings will give you a good picture of your numbers over time. Honestly though, I get the sense that this is really just the tip of the iceberg of future functionality.

For now, there’s really no specific guidance — or context — given as far as what the numbers mean. Mine are generally between 90-100%. The Mayo Clinic tells me that’s good, but obviously there are a lot of different factors and variations that can’t properly be contextualized in a single paragraph — or on a watch. And Apple certainly doesn’t want to be accused of attempting to diagnose a condition or offer specific medical guidance. That’s going to be an increasingly difficult line for the company to walk as it gets more serious about these sorts of health tools.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say that the combination of sleep tracking in watchOS 7 and the on-board oximeter opens the door pretty nicely for something like sleep apnea tracking (again, more focused on alerts of irregularity versus diagnosis). We’ve seen a small handful of companies like Withings tackle this, so it seems like a no-brainer for Apple, pending all of the regulatory requirements, et al. There are all sorts of other conditions that blood oxygen levels could potentially alert the wearer to, if not actually diagnose.

Sleep was probably the biggest addition with the latest version of watchOS. This was probably the biggest blind spot for the line, compared to the competition. At the moment, the sleep tracking is, admittedly, still pretty basic. Like much of the rest of the on-board tracking, it’s mostly compared with changes over time. The metrics include time in bed versus time asleep, as well as incorporating heart rate figures from the sensor’s regular check-ins. More specific breakdowns, including deep versus light versus REM sleep haven’t arrived yet, but will no doubt be coming sooner than later.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The door is also wide open for Apple to really get mindfulness right. The company has incorporated a mindfulness reminder for a while now, but it’s easy to imagine how the addition of various sensors like heart rate could really improve the picture and find the company going all-in on meditation, et al. The company could partner with a big meditation name — or, more likely, disrupt things with its own offering. The forthcoming Fitness+ offering could play an important role in the growth of that category, as well.

The other issue that sleep brings to the front is battery life. I was banking on the company making big strides in the battery department — after all, a big part of sleep tracking is ensuring that you’ve got enough charge to get through the night. Apple really only briefly touched on battery — though a recent teardown has revealed some smallish improvements on battery capacity (perhaps owing, in part, to space freed up by the dropping of Force Touch).

The company has also made some improvements to energy efficiency, courtesy of the new silicon. Official literature puts it at a “full-day” of  battery life, up to 18 hours. I found I was able to get through a full day with juice to spare. That’s good, but the company’s still got some ground to make up on that front, compared to, say, the Fitbit Sense, which is capable of getting nearly a week on a charge. I think at this point, it’s fair to hold wearables to higher standards of battery life than, say, handsets. More than once, I’ve found myself intermittently charging the device — 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there — in order to have enough juice left by bedtime.

If you can spare more time than that, you should be able to get up to 80% in an hour or 100% in an hour and a half, courtesy of faster wireless charging. All told, the company has been able to shave significant time off of charging — a definite plus now that you’re not just leaving it overnight to charge. The latest version of watchOS will also handily let you know before if you don’t have enough charge to make it through a full night.

Other updates include the addition of the always-on Altimeter, which, along with the brighter screen doesn’t appear to have had a major impact on the battery. I’ll be honest, being stuck in the city for these last several months hasn’t given me much reason to need real-time elevation stats. Though the feature is a nice step toward taking the Watch a bit more seriously as an outdoor accessory in a realm that has largely been dominated by the likes of Garmin.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Of course, the company now has three watches on the market — including the Series 3, which just keeps on ticking, and the lower-cost SE. The latter retains the design of the Series 6, but drops a number of the key sensors, which honestly should be perfectly sufficient for many users — and $170 cheaper than the 6’s $399 starting price ($499 with cellular).

Taken as a whole, the Series 6 isn’t a huge leap forward over the Series 5 — and not really worth the upgrade for those who already own that recent vintage. But there are nice improvements throughout, augmented by good upgrades to watchOS that make the best-selling smartwatch that much better, while clearly laying the groundwork for Apple Watches of the future.

#apple, #apple-watch, #apple-watch-series-6, #hardware, #reviews, #smartwatch, #watchos, #wearables

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Apple Watch Series 6 Review: Still the best smartwatch, but tracking is lacking

Apple Watch Series 6 on a reviewers wrist, showing the striped watch face

Enlarge (credit: Corey Gaskin)

Apple’s latest smartwatch, the Apple Watch Series 6, gives us almost every feature one could ask for in a fitness tracker while reasserting Apple Watch’s position as the most fun, connected, and complete smartwatch experience.

To be fair, the Apple Watch Series 5 also held those distinctions in its time. You could argue the same going for annual releases farther back in the Apple Watch’s history. But with the Series 6 addition of native sleep tracking and blood oxygen measurements to complement the already solid fitness foundation, there isn’t much more you could ask for in a fitness tracker, or smartwatch, at this point. So, to sweeten the deal, Apple finally gave us some fun colors to keep our eyes from wandering. And at the company’s recent fall event, Apple also introduced the less-expensive Apple Watch SE.

With the Series 6 and SE sitting alongside the even more affordable and still available Apple Watch Series 3, we now have a hard time telling anyone they should buy any other smart watch instead of one of Apple’s. Instead, the more pressing question in 2020 is, “Which one?”

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