Daily Crunch: Reviewing the new Apple Watch

We’ve got an in-depth review of the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple gives Facebook a temporary break on App Store fees and Alexis Ohanian is raising a new fund. This is your Daily Crunch for September 25, 2020.

The big story: Reviewing the new Apple Watch

Brian Heater has already been writing about the Apple Watch Series 6, but now he’s published his full review.

His verdict? Well, the core product hasn’t changed dramatically, but he notes that the biggest new feature, blood oxygen monitoring, requires a good fit, which makes sizing issues with the Solo Loop extra awkward. He also suggests that what we’re seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to monitoring functionality.

The verdict:

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.

The tech giants

Apple is (temporarily) waiving its App Store fee for Facebook’s online events — This arrangement will last until December 31 and will not apply to gaming creators.

Twitter warns developers that their private keys and account tokens may have been exposed — Twitter has emailed developers warning of a bug that may have exposed sensitive data.

Google Meet and other Google services go down — Yesterday was a rough day for Google’s engineers.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Alexis Ohanian files for a new $150M fund, with a nod to his Olympian family — According to an SEC filing, Ohanian is raising a new fund, named 776 (the first Olympics were supposedly held in 776 B.C.E.).

Indonesian cloud kitchen startup Yummy gets $12 million Series B led by SoftBank Ventures Asia — Launched in June 2019, Yummy Corporation’s network of cloud kitchens now includes more than 70 facilities in Jakarta, Bandung and Medan.

HumanForest suspends London e-bike sharing service, cuts jobs after customer accident — The service suspension comes only a few months after HumanForest started the trial in North London.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Want to hire and retain high-quality developers? Give them stimulating work — With demand for developers on the rise, companies are under pressure to do everything they can to attract and retain talent.

Privacy data management innovations reduce risk, create new revenue channels — A new generation of infosec tools is needed to address the unique risks associated with the management of privacy data.

4 things to remember when adapting AI/ML learning models during a pandemic — New machine learning and AI-powered tools highlight a few pervasive challenges faced by both machines and the humans that create them.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Cambridge Analytica’s former boss gets 7-year ban on being a business director — Alexander Nix signed a disqualification undertaking earlier this month, which the U.K. government said yesterday it had accepted.

NASA commissions report to show its economic impact: $64B and 312K jobs — Perhaps anticipating budget pushback from the federal government, NASA has released its first-ever agency-wide economic report.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#apple, #daily-crunch, #hardware

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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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You can now return Apple’s Solo Loop for a new size, without sending back the Watch

Call it Apple Bandgate, if you must. It’s the latest online dustup, following Apple’s recent Watch Series 6 release. The announcement of the Solo Loop was more or less glossed over during last week’s big event, because, well, watch bands don’t often take center stage at hardware events.

As is often the case, retail availability was quickly followed by purchaser returns. That happens just about any time a new product is released, of course, but things were complicated here for a couple of reasons. For starters, the clasp-free bands come in a variety of different sizes to fit different-sized wrists. That’s further complicated by the fact that trying bands on in-store really isn’t a great option these days.

The initial returns were met with buyer frustration. For starters, many were reporting difficulty getting the correctly sized band, based on online measurements. Also many expressed frustration with a policy that required the entire watch to be sent back to Apple as part of the return process.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple has since clarified and addressed some of the issues. For starters, users can now just replace the band (rather than the entire Watch) either in-store or by mail. That is assuming they have the replacement size. Apparently the company’s been having some trouble keeping some of the styles/sizes in stock. The company has also updated the pricing chart for the bands with additional detail to get a better fit. The process involves printing out the tool, cutting it out and then wrapping it around your wrist. Not exactly the  most high-tech or most ideal method, but it should hopefully work in a pinch.

I will say for my part that I quite like the band. It’s comfortable and it’s got a nice elastic spring that adheres nicely to movement. I’m a fan of the braided version in particular. That said, the company seemed to have triangulated my potential size and gave me a couple of options to try. One of them fits nicely. Not everyone has the ability to do that from home, so you’ll want to get it as close as you can using that tool.

And keep in mind, it’s not simply a comfort thing, either. Some features like the new SpO2 monitor require the right fit, otherwise it can be a bit of a frustrating experience.

#apple, #apple-watch, #hardware, #wearables

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Fitbit Sense review

The Versa helped Fitbit reverse its fortunes after a long, gradual slide. The company was slow to embrace the smartwatch, and stumbled somewhat out of the gate with the Ionic. But the Versa found a perfect sweet spot that build atop generations of wearable health knowhow, key acquisitions like Pebble and a pricing sweet spot at $200.

In fact, other big-name smartwatch makers like Apple and Samsung have since followed suit, offering up more budget-friendly approaches to the category. The moves came as Fitbit and a slew of Chinese device makers were nabbing market share through budget plays. But while the competition zigs, Fitbit zags, I suppose. That’s where the Sense comes in. It’s a return to the premium pricing the company put on hold when it let the Ionic fade away.

At $330, the Sense falls under the lower end of premium — at least compared to say, the Apple Watch Series 6 and Galaxy Watch 3, which both start at $399. The premium market isn’t the most logical play for a company that has been successful at a lower price point, but it’s perhaps understandable that the company is interested in expanding on its fortunes, legacy software and health metrics and finally, properly trying to beat Apple at its own game.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

While Fitbit has a bit of a history flooding the market with different devices, I do think the decision to introduce an entirely new product makes sense here. Really, the worst Fitbit could have done was add a bunch of features to the Versa and raise the price by $100, thus removing one of the product’s primary selling points in the process (though the Versa’s price has also increased to $220).

The truth is, the Sense and Versa 3 are actually more alike than they are different. The similarities start with the casing. The two products look virtually identical, aside from some different color options. The Sense comes in, arguably, classier colors with either gray or gold. The display is the company’s familiar squircle, which is only available in the one size.

I suspect Fitbit learned its lesson about unwieldy watch designs with the Ionic. The device sports a 1.58-inch display, which feels about right. And the square design makes it feel more compact than Apple’s comparably sized watch. That said, more watch sizes is always a good thing, particularly for a product like the Sense that’s attempting to appeal to a wide range of wearers.

Unlike Samsung and Apple’s smartwatches, there’s no standalone dial-button for navigating through screens. There is a pressure-sensitive button on the side of the device, though that ultimately was a bit of a nuisance. I found myself repeatedly accidentally triggering it while moving my wrist. And honestly, for most actions, simply swiping across screens is perfectly fine.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

As the name implies, the biggest difference between Fitbit’s latest smartwatches comes down to sensors. The Sense has a lot packed in here. Both feature optical heart-rate monitoring, a temperature monitor and an SpO2 sensor — which was possibly the biggest upgrade announced for the Apple Watch Series 6. The Sense, however, is alone as the first Fitbit to adopt an ECG sensor, bringing it up to speed with the new Apple Watch on that front.

As is often the case with these sorts of sensors, I’m unable to really highlight it in the review. FDA clearance seems to be a bit more straightforward as the feature has become more and more common on consumer devices, but while Fitbit has cleared it, the functionality won’t be rolled out on the devices until next month. When it does arrive, you’ll get the kind of health readouts we’ve come to expect from these sensors, including heart rhythms and notifications for any usual activity.

Sleep tracking is one place Fitbit has had Apple beat for some time. The latter is attempting to change that with the latest version of watchOS, but still has a lot of work to do in order to catch up. The array of sensors go a long ways toward providing a more complete picture of your sleep over the course of the night. While Apple’s offering largely revolves around things like time in bed and time asleep, Fitbit provides a fuller picture, including, importantly, sleep quality, broken up by REM, light and deep sleep. SpO2 and heart rate are also factored into the picture. SpO2, in particular, will become an increasingly important factor in sleep going forward, as these devices look to track things like sleep apnea.

Another big piece of sleep is battery life. That’s something Fitbit’s been good at for a while. The Sense is rated at six days. Your mileage is going to vary considerably, however, depending on whether you opt for the always on display and other features. As it stands, I was able to get several days on a single charge with the feature switched off. Frankly, that’s a pretty big advantage over Apple’s stated 18 hours. Charging each night before bed or first time in the morning isn’t ideal.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I appreciate Fitbit’s focus on mindfulness. I think it’s something we can all use a bit more of these days. I definitely include myself in that boat. Fitbit is one of a handful of smartwatch makers currently looking to push the concept beyond simple breathing exercises. That’s included in the Mindfulness tile. The company will quantify relaxation using the the on-board sensors. I honestly haven’t used it a ton, but anything that can help jumpstart a mindfulness practice is a net positive.

The Sense’s software continues to still be fairly basic. And while there are plenty of watch faces, the app selection lags behind some of the bigger names. It will be interesting to watch how Fitbit’s approach to software changes if/when the Google acquisition goes through. After all, wearOS has been around for a while and received plenty of updates, but still has its share of shortcomings.

The Sense’s strong suit is also Fitbit’s: a strong underpinning of health and fitness focus. The company certainly has a good, solid history of upgrades. But while it packs more sensors than the Versa 3, for many the difference will be relatively minor — and perhaps difficult to justify that $100 price gap. I’ve yet to spend a lot of time with the latest version of that device, but if past is any prologue, it’s a solid choice for those looking for an Android-compatible Apple alternative at a good price.

#fitbit, #fitbit-sense, #hardware, #reviews, #smartwatch, #versa, #wearables

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Here’s everything Amazon announced at its latest hardware event

From new Ring flying indoor drone cameras to an adorable new kids version of one of its most popular Amazon home products, Jeff Bezos’ Seattle retailer unveiled a slew of new hardware goodies just ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Echo updates

Image Credits: Amazon

Amazon kicked off its latest hardware showcase by unveiling a new version of the company’s Echo devices, which now include spherical speakers (with a version for kids featuring cute animal graphics). Amazon also unveiled an updated, more personalized Echo capabilities and a new tracking feature for its Show 10 that mirrors Facebook’s Portal in its ability to follow users as they move around a room.

Ring’s new things

Ring also had plenty to pitch at the Amazon hardware show. The security camera company is updating its line with the Always Home Cam, a diminutive drone that can be scheduled to fly preset paths, which users can determine themselves.

It also rolled out new hardware for the automotive market with three different devices focused on car owners. A Ring Car Alarm that will retail for $59.99; and the Car Cam and Car Connect will both be $199.99. Ring Car Alarm provides basic features that work with the Ring app, sending alerts to trigger a series of potential responses. The alarm also integrates with other Ring devices or Amazon Alexa hardware and connects using Amazon’s low-bandwidth Sidewalk wireless network protocol.

Meanwhile, the Car Cam allows users to check in on their car via video as long as users are in range of a wifi network, or opt-in to the additional LTE companion plan Ring is selling. The cam also includes an Emergency Crash Assist feature that alerts first responders, and a recording feature that turns on if a user says “Alexa, I’m being pulled over”. Finally, the car connect is an API that manufacturers, starting with Tesla, can use to provide Ring customers with mobile alerts for events detected around vehicles or watch footage recorded with onboard cameras.

Ring also added new opt-in end-to-end video encryption for those users who want it.

New ways to Fire TV

Image Credits: Amazon

The company’s TV platform got several updates. The biggest is probably the addition of the new, lower cost Fire TV Stick Lite at $29.99. For $39.99, meanwhile, you can pick up the new Fire TV Stick, which features a process that’s 50% faster. The platform is also adding Video Calling — a nice addition in the era of working from home — along with a new, improved layout.

Amazon goes ga-ga for gaming

Last, but certainly not least, Amazon announced its new game-streaming platform, Luna.

The long-awaited gaming competitor to Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud is launching an early access version at a price of $5.99 per-month, the company said. Users will be able to stream titles wirelessly without downloading games and can play across PC, Mac, and iOS (via the web).

Initially, the company will have more than 50 titles in the Luna+ app, including at least one Sonic title and Remedy Entertainment’s control. There’s a partnership with Ubisoft in the works, but access to those games may require a separate subscription.

 

#alexa, #amazon, #amazon-alexa, #amazon-echo, #artificial-intelligence, #bing, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #google, #google-nest, #hardware, #jeff-bezos, #luna, #microsoft, #ring, #seattle, #smart-speakers, #sonic, #subscription-services, #tc, #tesla, #ubisoft, #xcloud

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Amazon’s new Echo Show 10 follows you as you move

So this is crazy. Amazon’s new Echo Show 10 swivels on its base to follow you around the room. The on-board camera is capable of recognizing a person and spins around to follow them — essentially taking the person tracking feature found on Facebook’s Portal and Google’s Nest Hub Max to the next, creepier lever.

Amazon is quick to note — from a privacy perspective — that the device doesn’t identify people individually, so much as just recognizing the general shape of a person and spinning around in such a way that always keep the display facing them. Not sure how it works with multiple people, et all, but will be interesting to see in person. I’m also, frankly, wondering how useful a feature this is ultimately — and whether it’s worth that extra level of tracking.

Image Credits: Amazon

As the name implies, there’s a 10-inch HD touch display on board. That’s paired with a. 13-megapixel camera and a 2.1 audio system. Like the new Echo, it has Zigbee functionality built-in, so the device also serves as a smart home hub.

Amazon’s been adding a bunch of third-party software functionality to the Show in recent months, and the list now includes Zoom, Skype and, get this, Netflix. Those are all big wins int he era of working from home, but Netflix especially, since the Show was dealt a major blow when Google removed YouTube support from Echo devices.

The Echo Show 10 runs $250. That’s pretty expensive, as far as these smart screens go. I suspect a lot of what you’re paying for here is that pricy mechanism to follow you around as you move — for many, that addition is probably not worth the premium.

#amazon-hardware-event-2020, #echo, #echo-show, #hardware

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Ring’s newest security camera is a $249 autonomous indoor drone shipping in 2021

Ring built its entire business on reinventing the doorbell – and now it’s taking a similar approach to the humble home security camera, with the Ring Always Home Cam, set to be available sometime next year. You might not guess from its name, but this security camera is actually mobile: It’s a drone that flies autonomously throughout your home, to provide you with the view you want of whatever room you want, without having to have video cameras installed in multiple locations throughout your house.

The Always Home Cam is a diminutive drone that can be scheduled to fly preset paths, which you lay out as a user. The drone can’t actually be manually flown, and it begins recording only once its in flight (the camera lens is actually physically blocked while it’s docked) – both features the company says will help ensure it operates strictly with privacy in mind. Always Home Cam is also designed intentionally to produce an audible hum while in use, to alert anyone present that it’s actually moving around and recording.

As you’d expect, the Always Home Cam doesn’t have the exposed rotors you’d see on a drone designed for use in outdoor open spaces. It has a plastic border and grills that enclose those for safety. It’s also small, at 5″x 7″x7″, which is useful for safety of both people and household objects.

I spoke to Ring founder and CEO Jamie Siminoff about why they decided to create such an ambitious, unorthodox home security camera – especially given their track record of relatively down-to-Earth, tech-enabled versions of tried-and-tested home hardware like doorbells and floodlights. He said that it actually came out of user feedback – something he still personally pays close attention to, even now that Ring is part of the larger corporate apparatus of Amazon . Siminoff said that a lot of the feedback he was seeing was from customers who wished they’d either been home or been able to see when some specific thing happened at a specific place in their house, or that they wanted a camera for particular room, but only for certain times – and then a different camera in a different room for others.

“It’s not practical to have a camera at every angle in every room of the home,” he said. “Even if you had unlimited resources, I think it’s still not practical. What I love about the Always Home Cam is that it really does solve this problem of being one cam for all – it allows you to now see every angle of the home, in every part of the home.”

Drones are also not Ring’s main business, and yet the Always Home Cam will be available at the relatively low price of $249 when it becomes available, despite the technical challenges of creating a small aircraft able to operate indoors safely, and fully autonomously. I asked Siminoff how Ring was able to achieve that price point in a category that’s outside its core expertise, with a design developed fully in-house.

“As the technology has kind of aged, a lot of these parts come down in price,” he said. “There’s also a lot of price compression happening because auto manufacturers are using a lot of these parts now at higher volumes, because to have an autonomous drone, you need some similar things to autonomous cars. Obviously, it’s not the same exact parts, but so all of those costs have been coming down, and we were able to go with a fresh perspective to it. But I also challenged the team when we came up with this, that this has to be affordable.”

The Ring Always Home Cam will also work with Ring’s existing suite of products, including Ring Alarm, to automatically fly a pre-set path when an alarm is triggered. You’re able then to stream the video live to your mobile device via the Ring app. In many ways, it does seem like a natural extension of the Ring ecosystem of products and services, but at the same time, it also seems like something out of science fiction. I asked Siminoff if he thinks consumers are ready to take this kind of technology seriously as something that’s part of their daily lives.

“I think it is sort of something that is, in some ways, way out there,” he acknowledged. “What I love about it, though, is that it’s what happens when you just take the constraints away of this linear thinking. I love that we are doing stuff from really looking at the need backwards, and then what technology exists, and ask what can we build? It’s really exciting for me to be able to do somethin,g and put our stamp on something that is an industry first.”

#amazon, #camera, #computing, #devices, #gadgets, #hardware, #home-security, #jamie-siminoff, #mobile-device, #publishing, #ring, #tc, #technology

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Ring to offer opt-in end-to-end encryption for videos beginning later this year

Ring will be stepping up its efforts to make its security products secure for users by enabling end-to-end video encryption later this year. The company will be providing this toggle in a new page in tits app’s Control Center, which will provide more information about Ring’s current encryption practices, and measures to keep user video secure, until the end-to-end encryption feature goes live. Ring is also taking the covers off a range of new devices todayincluding its first drone – but Ring CEO and founder Jamie Siminoff says that this new security measure could actually make the biggest difference to its customers.

“[End-to-end encryption] could be our most important product that we’re sort of putting out there, because security and privacy, and user control are foundational to Ring, and continuing to push those further than even the industry, and really even pushing the res of the industry, is something I think that we have a responsibility to do.”

Siminoff also points to Ring’s introduction of mandatory two-factor authentication earlier this year as something that’s above and beyond the standard across the industry. I asked him them why not make end-to-end encryption for video on by default, with an opt-out option instead if users feel strongly that they don’t want to take part.

“Privacy, as you know, is really individualized – we see people have different needs,” he said. Just one example for end-to-end, is thatwhen you enable it, you cannot use your Alexa to say ‘Show me who’s at the front door,’ because of the physics of locking down to an end-to-end key. As soon as you do something like that, it would actually break what you’re trying to achieve. So it really is something that is optional, because it doesn’t fit every user in terms of the way in which they want to use the product. But there are some users  that really do want this type of security – so I think what you’re going to see from us in the future, and I hope the industry as well, is just really allowing people to dial in the security that they want, and having transparency, which is also with the Video Control Center that we’ve launched today to provide you with the knowledge of what’s happening with your data, in this case with Ring videos.”

Overall, Siminoff said that the company hopes through all of its products, to be able to provide its users to build the system that they want to use, its the way that they want to use it. The Alway Home Cam drone, he points out, is another expression of that, since it provides the potential to monitor every room in your home – but also the ability to be selective about when and where.

“I think it’s just about building the options to allow people to use technology – but use it comfortably, understand it, and control it,” he said.

#alexa, #amazon-hardware-event-2020, #computer-security, #control-center, #cryptography, #data-security, #digital-rights, #encryption, #end-to-end-encryption, #gadgets, #hardware, #jamie-siminoff, #ring, #security, #tc

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Ring gets into automotive security with three new car products, including one debuting first for Teslas

Amazon -owned Ring is expanding from home and neighborhood security to the automative world, with three new products it debuted today at Amazon’s expansive devices and services extravaganza. These include Ring Car Alarm, Ring Car Cam, and Ring Car Connect – two new devices and one API/hardware combo aimed at automotive manufacturers, respectively. Each of these will be available beginning sometime next year.

“Truly since we started Ring, and even back in Doorbot days, people were asking for automotive security,” explained Ring CEO and founder Jamie Siminoff in an interview. “It was something that we always kind of had top of mind, but obviously we had to get a lot of other things done first – it does take time to build a product, and to do them right. So while it did take us some time to get into it, our mission is making neighborhoods safer, and a lot of the stuff that happens to cars happens in the neighborhood.”

Siminoff said that he’s especially pleased to be able to launch not just one, but a full suite of car security products that he feels covers the needs of just about any customer out there. Ring Car Alarm is an OBD-II wireless device that can detect any bumps while the car’s unoccupied, or even break-ins and when the car’s begin towed. Ring Car Cam is a security camera, which can work either via wifi, or LTE available via an add-on plan, and check for incidents while parked, or offer emergency crash detection and traffic stop recording when on the road. Finally, Ring Car Connect is an API and aftermarket device for carmakers that allows them to integrate a vehicle’s built-in cameras, and lock/unlock state.

I asked Siminoff why start right out the gate with three separate products, especially in a new market that Ring’s entering for the first time.

“As we started looking into it more, we realized that really, it wasn’t a one-size-fits all kind of product line, even to start,” he said. “We realized that it really was about trying to build more of a suite of products around the car. At Ring. we try to – and I won’t say we hit this 100% of time – but we’ve certainly tried to only launch something when it’s truly inventive, differentiated for the market, fits our mission and can really make a customer’s life better.”

The products definitely span a range of price points – Ring Car Alarm will retail for $59.99, while Car Cam and Car Connect will both be $199.99. Ring Car Alarm is obviously aimed at the broadest swath of customers, and provides a fundamental feature set that can work in concert with the Ring app to hopefully provide deterrents to potential criminal activity around a user’s vehicle. The device sends alerts to the Ring app, and they can then trigger aa series if they want. Car Alarm can also be linked up to other Ring devices, or Amazon Alexa hardware, and Alexa will provide audible alerts of any bumps, break-ins or other events. Ring Car Alarm will require connectivity via Amazon Sidewalk, the low-bandwidth, and free wireless network protocol that Ring’s parent company is set to take live sometime later this year.

Ring Car Cam goes the extra mile of actually letting a user check in on their vehicle via video – provided they’re either within range of a wifi network, or connected via the optional built-in LTE with a companion plan. It also provides additional security features when the car in which it’s installed is actually in use. Ring’s Emergency Crash Assist feature will alert first responders to the car’s location whenever it detects what it determines to be a serious crash. Also, you can use the voice command “Alexa, I’m being pulled over” to trigger an automatic recording in case of a traffic stop, which is automatically uploaded to the cloud (again, provided you’ve got active connectivity.). On the privacy side, there’s a physical shutter on the camera itself for when you don’t want it in use, which also stops the mic from recording.

Finally, Ring Car Connect consists of an API that car manufacturers use to provide Ring customers access to mobile alerts for any detected events around their vehicle, or to watch footage recorded from their onboard cameras. This also allows access to information that wouldn’t be available with a strictly aftermarket setup – like whether the car is locked or unlocked, for instance. Ring’s first automaker partner for this is Tesla, which is enabling Ring Car Connect across the 3, X, S and Y models. Users will install an aftermarket device coming in 2021 for $199.99, but then they’ll be able to watch Tesla Sentry Mode footage, as well as video recorded while driving, directly in the Ring app.

Image Credits: Ring

Ring’s security ecosystem has grown from the humble doorbell, to whole-home (now, much more now) and exterior, to a full-fledged alarm service, and now to the car. It’s definitely not resting on its laurels. And it’s also releasing a $29.99 mailbox sensor, which will quite literally tell you when “You’ve got mail,” which is Iike a delightful little cherry on top.

#alarms, #alexa, #amazon, #amazon-alexa, #amazon-hardware-event-2020, #api, #articles, #ceo, #gadgets, #hardware, #jamie-siminoff, #products, #ring, #science-and-technology, #tc, #technology, #tesla

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This is the newer, rounder $100 Amazon Echo

Amazon kicked things off at today’s big (virtual) hardware event in Seattle by introducing a very new and very round take on the Echo. The biggest change appears to be aesthetic, turning the smart speaker into a big, fabric covered call. That’s a nice improvement from a sound perspective, doing a better job of offering fuller sound from all sides. It’s a design the company is carrying across the speaker line, including similarly shaped versions of the Dot.

The new smart speaker automatically tunes itself to the size and layout of your room, according to the company. It also features Zigbee and Bluetooth low energy built-in, serving as a smart home hub and essentially negating the need for the Echo Plus. Amazon Sidewalk is also built-in now, so the speaker works with the company’s new home networking system.

The blue light ring that lets you know the device is working has been moved to the bottom of the device, which appears to be a largely pragmatic choice, so as to not break up the all-over speaker design. The speaker ships in three colors at launch: Charcoal, Glacier White, and Twilight Blue. It’s a subtle color scheme, not far removed from Google’s Nest/Home offerings.

#amazon-hardware-event-2020, #hardware

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Roli’s light-up learning keyboard goes up for pre-order at $299

Roli is cool startup that makes fascinating music products. The Seaboard led the way, with a clever take on the keyboard that allowed players to bend notes like guitar strings. Blocks were even more fascinating — the modular light pads offered innovative control for electronic music makers.

As a music fan with no discernible skills when it comes to actually making it, I’ve mostly admired the London-based company’s music from afar. Lumi, however, finds Roli getting into musical education, with a small, portable keyboard whose keys illuminate to teach beginners what to play.

Available initially via Kickstarter, the kit is up for pre-order starting today and set to start shipping in November. The Lumi Keys 1 is currently available for $299, a price that includes a carrying case and access to the Lumi subscription service. That last bit, clearly, is the key to Roli’s plans to monetize the kit, moving forward, with a $10 a month fee. The library now includes more than 100 lessons and 400 songs, with a broad range of artists — “from Beyonce to Beethoven” as the company puts it in its press material.

Image Credits: Roli

The Lumi has been refined since the initial Kickstarter version, with a stronger (and heavier) build and better/more precise key response. Like Blocks, the system is modular — here that means specifically that you can connect multiple Lumis together and create a longer keyboard. As the company’s noted early, the keyboard also doubles as a MIDI controller, for those who graduate from the learning functionality.

#hardware, #kickstarter, #lumi, #midi, #roli

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NUVIA raises $240M from Mithril to make climate-ready enterprise chips

Climate change is on everyone’s minds these days, what with the outer Bay Area on fire, orange skies above San Francisco, and a hurricane season that is bearing down on the East Coast with alacrity (and that’s just the United States in the past two weeks).

A major — and growing — source of those emissions is data centers, the cloud infrastructure that powers most of our devices and experiences. That’s led to some novel ideas, such as Microsoft’s underwater data center Project Natick, which just came back to the surface for testing a bit more than a week ago.

Yet, for all the fun experiments, there is a bit more of an obvious solution: just make the chips more energy efficient.

That’s the thesis of NUVIA, which was founded by three ex-Apple chip designers who led the design of the “A” series chip line for the company’s iPhones and iPads for years. Those chips are wicked fast within a very tight energy envelope, and NUVIA’s premise is essentially what happens when you take those sorts of energy constraints (and the experience of its chip design team) and apply them to the data center.

We did a deep profile of the company last year when it announced its $53 million Series A, so definitely read that to understand the founding story and the company’s mission. Now about one year later, it’s coming back to us with news of a whole bunch of more funding.

NUVIA announced today that it has closed on a $240 million Series B round led by Mithril Capital, with a bunch of others involved listed below.

Since we last chatted with the company, we now have a bit more detail of what it’s working on. It has two products under development, a system-on-chip (SoC) unit dubbed “Orion” and a CPU core dubbed “Phoenix.” The company previewed a bit of Phoenix’s performance last month, although as with most chip companies, it is almost certainly too early to make any long-term predictions about how the technology will settle in with existing and future chips coming to the market.

NUVIA’s view is that chips are limited to about 250-300 watts of power given the cooling and power constraints of most data centers. As more cores become common pre chip, each core is going to have to make do with less power availability while maintaining performance. NUVIA’s tech is trying to solve that problem, lowering total cost of ownership for data center operators while also improving overall energy efficiency.

There’s a lot more work to be done of course, so expect to see more product announcements and previews from the company as it gets its technology further finalized. With $240 million more dollars in the bank though, it certainly has the resources to make some progress.

Shortly after we chatted with the company last year, Apple sued company founder and CEO Gerald Williams III for breach of contract, with the company arguing that its former chip designer was trying to poach employees for his nascent startup. Williams counter-sued earlier this year, and the two parties are now in the discovery phase of their lawsuit, which remains ongoing.

In addition to lead Mithril, the round was done “in partnership with” the founders of semiconductor giant Marvell (Sehat Sutardja and Weili Dai), funds managed by BlackRock, Fidelity, and Temasek, plus Atlantic Bridge and Redline Capital along with Series A investors Capricorn Investment Group, Dell Technologies Capital, Mayfield, Nepenthe LLC, and WRVI Capital.

#apple, #chips, #data-center, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hardware, #nuvia, #semiconductors, #startups

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The eighth-generation iPad is a fine choice for casual users

It happens to the best of us. Some newer, flashier model comes along and we’re no longer the latest and greatest new thing. The iPad’s had a plenty good run, of course. Ten years ago, the device redefined what a tablet is and has maintained a dominant spot atop the category, as countless competitors have fallen away. Apple recently announced that it has sold north of 500 million units over the life of the device.

These days, the device has been overshadowed by its own brand. The standard iPad has become something of an also-ran, compared to the Pro and Air. Now in its eighth generation, the product represents the entry level for Apple’s tablet offerings. While the Air took center stage at the company’s recent hardware event, it did extend some love to the iPad.

The latest version of the tablet retains the familiar design of recent generations, including the 10.2-inch display (up from 9.7) and smart connector on the side of the device for accessories introduced the last time out. The size isn’t too dissimilar from the Air — it’s a touch taller and about a millimeter and a half thicker, weighing in at an additional 32 grams.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

This is the last of three iPads to hang onto the Lightning Port — that’s certainly starting to feel like a bit of a relic. The upshot of that, however, is that the product continues to be compatible with older accessories, which means there’s a good chance you’ll save a little extra cash on that end, as well. The tablet also ships with a larger charger than the previous generation.

The biggest update this time out is, unsurprisingly, internal. The new version of the slate gets the same A12 — marking the first such upgrade for the device in two years. The update puts it a generation behind the Air, which received the A12 last year and has been upgraded to the A14. The Pro, meanwhile, currently sports the A12Z. Confusing, I know, but the main thing you need to know here is that the iPad is the entry-level model.

That includes the display, which is smaller than the other models and lacks the 120Hz refresh rate and brighter display of the Pro. Nor does it sport Apple’s True Tone display tech or the Face ID found on the Pro, instead retaining the home button Touch ID (versus the power button on the Air). The two-speaker system is also lacking compared to the quad-speakers on the Pro, most notably when you’re watching a movie on the tablet in landscape mode.

The battery is rated at 10 hours, which puts it in line with the other devices. I found I was able to get something in line with the company’s stated “all day life” for the product. If you’re someone like me who just uses a tablet for a couple of hours a day for entertainment purposes, you should be able to get away with charging it every few days.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The iPad is compatible with the standard Smart Keyboard, but not the new Magic Keyboard. If you’re looking for something that can seriously replace your PC, you’re going to want to take a good long look at the Pro. The iPad is fine for sending emails and the like, but beyond that, you’re going to want to consider something more robust.

The iPad is really the workhorse of the line. Starting at $329 for the 32GB model, it’s by far the least expensive iPad model. The Air and Pro start at $599 and $799, respectively. And sale prices are a certainty, heading into the holiday season. As I type this, the entry-level device is currently marked down to $299 on Amazon.

The truth is, for most users, the standard iPad will be more than enough for most applications. Certainly that applies to people who are looking for devices to check email, visit some sites, play mobile games and watch Netflix (though it might be time to reconsider its camera placement in the age of teleconferencing). The iPad isn’t the king of the hill it once was among Apple tablets, but it remains a fine device.

#apple, #apple-ipad, #hardware, #ipad, #tablet

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Teachers deserve two screens, and Two Screens for Teachers aims to get them just that

The pandemic has caused K-12 classrooms, chaotic at the best of times, to descend into Zoom call chaos. What’s more, thousands of teachers who must wrangle this new, weird system are doing so with just a single monitor, making it difficult to see their students and the lesson at the same time. Two Screens for Teachers hopes to help out educators with this elementary, but hugely important, home office upgrade.

It’s a charity, so right up front we might as well say if you like the idea, you can donate here — the average cost is about $150 and gets the teacher everything they need.

This isn’t a large operation, just a few people who noticed this need and decided to do something about it. In retrospect it seems obvious, but the truth is teachers are used to getting by with less than enough and probably had more important things to worry about (like almost everything else).

Few people have the luxury of putting together a real “home office” on such short notice, and teachers, like everyone else, have been making do. A couple teachers sent in their setups:

Two teachers' minimal home offices.

Image Credits: Two Screens for Teachers

Having used two monitors for a decade now, and large ones at that, I can’t imagine going back — and I’m just a writer. Imagine having 30 kids on a video call for hours at a time while also trying to get through presentations, homework assignments, emails and all the rest. On a laptop or a single monitor? Forget about it. Yet many teachers didn’t even know it was an option.

“Most teachers I spoke with had never considered getting a second monitor but they immediately understood the value of putting their students on one screen and lesson plans on the other,” he said. “When they get a new monitor the gratitude is intense.”

So far over 9,000 teachers have requested monitors through the site, Lerner told me, and over a thousand have been sent. It’s not just saying “me!” but filling out a form so it’s known what type of monitor and cable will be needed for maximum compatibility. That way donors can be told exactly what to order (on Amazon) and where to send it. Small operation, remember? No warehouses here, just people helping people.

That said, the crew isn’t flying completely by the seats of their pants. Two Screens for Teachers is partnering with DonorsChoose to make sure donations are tax-deductible, and they’re chatting with monitor providers like Dell to get bulk deals. Their ambitious goal is to distribute a quarter of a million monitors to teachers before the end of the year — and obviously they can only do that with 30 million bucks or so.

Hopefully they meet and exceed their goal. You can help by buying a monitor for a teacher, of course, but if you work for a company that has lots of spares or maybe a bit of budget set aside for social good, you might reach out to see if a larger gift can be arranged.

And of course, if you’re a teacher, feel free to sign up. Any full-time teacher in the U.S. is eligible.

#edtech, #education, #gadgets, #hardware, #tc, #teachers, #two-screens-for-teachers

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The Galaxy S20 FE is Samsung’s new $699 budget flagship

One thing Samsung knows for certain: it’s interested in budget flagships. The category makes sense these days, as users are increasingly unwilling to spend north of $1,000 on new phones. That’s doubly the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, with people leaving the house far less often and simply not possessing the same sort of disposable income they once had, amid economic slowdowns and widespread unemployment.

What’s less certain is how to position such a device. Samsung’s been through a lot of different names, including, most recently, the “Lite” line. That name made sense from a utility perspective. The S10 Lite was simply a lower-spec’d version of the flagship of similar name. Ultimately, however, I suspect that Samsung decided that pointing to the device’s shortcomings wasn’t ideal from a branding perspective, which is why we’re currently looking at the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE — or “Fan Edition.”

Image Credits: Samsung

The name implies that the product is an update to the S20 aimed firmly at Samsung’s fans. Here’s what Mobile head TM Roh had to say about the new device: “We are constantly speaking to our fans and taking feedback, and we heard what they loved about our Galaxy S20 series, what features they used most often and what they would want new smartphone. The S20 FE is an extension of the Galaxy S20 family and is the start of a new way to bring meaningful innovation to even more people to let them do the things they love with the best of Galaxy.”

That’s true from a certain perspective. Samsung says it did some focus grouping to come up with the right combination for the FE, which I believe. It’s also probably true that “cheaper” was a big feature many folks have been looking for in their handsets in recent years, so from that standpoint, Samsung’s got fans’ numbers here — $699 for something approaching a flagship isn’t that bad, these days.

And Samsung’s made a point to be mindful of the comprises it made here in the name of keeping the prices down. The biggest changes from the rest of the S20 series are a downgrade in materials, from a glass and metal to plastic (polycarbonate) design, display and camera specs. At 6.5 inches, the screen size actually falls between the S20 and S20+, but it’s been reduced from a QuadHD+ resolution to FHD+ — similar to what you’ll find on the Galaxy A71. The refresh rate stays at 120Hz, though the curved screen is gone.

Image Credits: Samsung

The S20’s 8GB of RAM has been reduced to 6GB, though the 128GB of standard storage remains the same. You’ll find the same Snapdragon 865 on board and, interestingly, the battery has actually been upgraded from 4,000mAh to 4,500mAh, owing to a larger device footprint. There are three rear-facing cameras, with the telephoto dropping from 64-megapixels down to eight — though the front-facing selfie cam has been upgraded from 10 megapixels to 32.

Not the latest and greatest, but in all, pretty reasonable compromises made in the name of shaving $300 off the device’s starting price. Pre-orders start today. The device starts shipping October 2.

#galaxy-s20, #galaxy-s20-fe, #hardware, #mobile, #samsung, #samsung-galaxy-s20, #smartphones

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MWC plans to go forward in person in 2021, but pushes show back to late-June

Over the past several months, it’s become painfully clear that COVID-19 isn’t a problem that we’re going to leave behind in 2021. After hemming and hawing a bit, the CTA ultimately pulled the trigger for an online-only version of the show in January. Other tech shows are similarly — at best — still up in the air. There’s also the example of IFA, which was recently held in Berlin — albeit at a greatly reduced capacity.

Mobile World Congress, which traditionally falls in a the late-February/early-March timeframe was among the first major tech show to be canceled on account of the pandemic. There was understandably a lot of last minute handwringing on that one — but in hindsight, it’s pretty clear the GSMA made the correct decision.

This week, MWC’s governing body announced that organization’s flagship evening will go on in Barcelona, but has pushed things back a few months. The show is now planned to run June 28 through July 1. A lot can happen between now and then, of course. Numbers could go down, a vaccine could be issued. But even this far out, a show of that magnitude still feels overly optimistic.

The calendar shuffling also finds the GSMA pushing its MWC Shanghai event into the February slot. That is, for what it’s worth a considerably smaller show. In both cases, the organization would be well-served to have a robust online plan in place. Even if things go exactly according to plan, many potential attendees are still understandably wary of travel and big crowds. It seems likely that an event like this will have some permanent impact on the way trade shows are handled moving forward.

It’s certainly a difficult decision when dealing with a hardware show, where so much of its appeal lies in the ability to interact with devices in-person. That’s been a consistent shortcoming in all of 2020’s online-only hardware events. Such a show loses a lot of luster when it occurs entirely through a computer screen.

#corona-virus, #covid-19, #events, #hardware, #mobile-world-congress, #mwc-2021

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Apple partner Servify raises $23 million to scale its devices after-sales and management platform overseas

Servify, a Mumbai-headquartered startup that operates a device lifecycle management platform and works deeply with brands including Apple and Samsung in a number of geographies, has raised $23 million in a new financing round.

The Series C financing round for the five-year-old startup was led by existing investor Iron Pillar, and other existing investors including Blume Ventures, Beenext, and Tetrao SPF participated in the round. The new round pushes Servify’s to-date raise to $48 million.

Servify works with enterprises such as Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Nokia, Motorola, and Airtel and handles after-sales services such as device protection, exchange, and trade-in programs for its partners, explained Sreevathsa Prabhakar, founder and chief executive of the startup, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The startup, which offers its services through a whitelabel arrangement with enterprises, works with over 50 brands and reaches over 50 markets. With Apple, it works in three geographies, and in over half a dozen with OnePlus .

The new round, which was oversubscribed, will help the startup expand its expertise in many new product categories and deepen its reach in international markets, said Prabhakar, who has more than a decade of experience in overseeing after-sales and other device management businesses.

“We are keenly interested in unique businesses addressing hard problems in very large and global markets and are excited to continue to back the company in its next phase of growth. Stellar execution by Servify’s team combined with its differentiated technology platform have led to the company’s impressive growth this year despite Covid-19 related challenges,” said Anand Prasanna, Managing Partner at Iron Pillar, in a statement.

The coronavirus outbreak has deeply impacted the business of Servify, which was profitable in the financial year that ended in March. The month of April and May, when many countries enforced lockdowns, the startup’s business reached a complete halt. But in the months since, it has not only fully-recovered but grown to new heights, said Prabhakar.

TechCrunch asked Prabhakar if he would ever consider engaging with customers directly. He said the current model of Servify enables it to acquire customers at no charge and he thinks it’s the right model to maintain moving forward.

“It is very satisfying as we have more than quadrupled our revenue in 2020 till date, and raised funds for expansion even during the tough economic climate. This further strengthens our belief that we have built a globally scalable sound business that is not only trusted by large brands, but also the investor community,” he said.

More to follow…

#apple, #asia, #funding, #hardware, #india, #motorola, #nokia, #oneplus, #samsung, #xiaomi

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HMD is bringing a 5G smartphone and wireless earbuds to the US

Over the past four years or so, HMD has carved out a nice little niche for itself with its Nokia-branded handsets. The instant name recognition of a legacy brand was a nice little perch on which to gain some footing in an overcrowded market.

Pricing has long been a key to its appeal, as well, and that’s on display with the arrival of the company’s first 5G-enabled handset. The Nokia 8.5 5G runs $699 and goes up for pre-order today in the U.S. It will also be hitting Amazon in the coming weeks. It’s not cheap by the company’s standards, but it’s definitely among the more competitively priced 5G handsets around.

The phone is also set to make an appearance in the upcoming Bond film. It features four rear-facing cameras, including a 64-megapixel lens and a macro — an uncommon but increasingly popular alternative on the latest batch of smartphones. The screen is a massive 6.81 inches, and the device is — unsurprisingly — powered by Qualcomm’s mid-tier Snapdragon 765G.

Today’s announcement also finds Nokia bringing its fully wireless earbuds stateside. No specific time frame was given for the Power Earbuds, but they’ll be priced at a reasonable $99. There’s stiff competition in the market, these days — especially in the low end of the market — but the buds have been getting a pretty positive reaction for their price point, thanks to a comfortable design and a ridiculous 150 hours of battery courtesy of their massive charging case.

#5g, #earbuds, #hardware, #hmd, #nokia, #smartphones

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Bose introduces a new pair of sleep-focused earbuds

Sleep is tough to come by even when there isn’t a pandemic raging. Even when it doesn’t feel like the world is coming apart at the seams every damn day. Bose’s original Sleepbuds pre-date the current desperate moment of “coronasomnia” (not my turn of phrase, mind) by a couple of years, but the timing of the Sleepbuds II could hardly be better.

The new version follows the same principle as its predecessor: comfortable buds that you can wear to sleep. And once again, they rely on Bose’s proprietary content. That was one of my bigger issues with the original buds, and that seems to still be the case here. Bose continues to update its content, but you can’t listen to your own calming music on these $250 headphones.

Image Credits: Bose

Per Bose, “They aren’t active noise cancelling headphones or in-ear headphones with an added feature, and they don’t stream music or let you take and make calls — because every last detail was optimized for one thing — better sleep, all night, every night.” That understandably may be a dealbreaker for some — particularly at that price point. That said, there are a number of other sleep-focused earbuds that do let you customize content if you’re like me and enjoy falling asleep to weird ambient albums.

The content library is still a bit limited, but expanding. There are 35 free tracks, including,

When that’s caused by noise, 14 noise-masking tracks mirror the frequencies of night-time disruptions, hiding them under soothing layers of audio. When it’s caused by how you feel, new relaxation options are now available: 15 Naturescapes help calm racing thoughts with walks down a Country Road, Shore Line, Boardwalk, and beyond; 10 Tranquilities help lower stress and tension with tones to Lift, Drift, Dream, and more.

The buds themselves are lighter than before, and the noise canceling has been improved. There are also new, proprietary ear tips for added comfort. All welcome additions, no doubt. The battery should give you 10 hours of playback on a charge — more than enough for most nights. The new charging case provides an extra 30 hours — that will be nice for when we travel again. There’s also a tiny bit of storage for up to 10 sound files on the bud.

The Sleepbuds II go up for preorder today and will start shipping in early October.

#bose, #hardware, #sleepbuds, #sleepbuds-2, #wearables

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Royole returns with another foldable

I first spent time with the Royole Flexpai at a TechCrunch event in China back in 2018. The devices was exciting. It was the first commercially released foldable, after all, before Samsung and Huawei offered their respective takes on the form factor. But ultimately it felt like, at best, a proof of concept. It was a shot across the bow from a little known Shenzhen-based hardware maker and ultimately little else.

The last two years have been — let’s say “complicated” for the category. I don’t think anyone was anticipating that $2,000 foldable phones were going to disrupt the industry right out of the gate or anything — especially in a time where more people are spending less money on their mobile devices. But to say foldables got off to a rocky start is something of an understatement. Royole has announced a few more products here and there, but the the Flexpai continues to be the company’s most engaging from a consumer perspective.

At an event in Beijing this morning, the company announced the the Flexpai 2. The device in similar in design the the first model, which is to say it folds with the screen facing outward. The design makes sense from the stand point of offering up notifications while closed (there’s a reason the Galaxy Fold 2 got a larger front-facing screen), but now you’ve got two screens to scuff up when the big old device is in your pocket.

The device itself got a bit of screen time during the press conference, though not a ton. For now we mostly have press shots to rely on, which is going to continue to be one of the pain points of covering hardware in the COVID-19 era. Fittingly, the company spent a lot of time talking hinges here — that, after all, was a high profile point of failure for Samsung’s first-ten device.

Here’s how Royole describes it in the press material,

The structure of the hinge is stable and shockproof, providing the great protection for the screen. It has more than 200 precision components with 0.01 mm processing accuracy. The hinge technology holds around 200 patents and solved many issues seen in other foldable smartphones.

Image Credits: Royole

Having had limited time with the Flexpai, I’ll say that robustness didn’t seem like one of the primary issues with a product that had some other first-gen bugs. The thing was pretty massively thick, though — which Royole has address with a design here that’s around 40% thinner than the first gen. The display is a generous 7.8 inches — though no mention of whether there’s glass reinforcement, which could be an issue.

There’s 5G support, a healthy 4450mAh battery and a Snapdragon 865 processor. The company updated its waterOS, which is built on top of Android 10 to offer a more seamless foldable experience. It arrives in China this week priced at around $1,427, which is wildly expensive for a standard smartphone but actually pretty good for a foldable.

U.S. availability is, once again, a big question mark.

#flexpai, #foldable, #hardware, #mobile, #royole

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Latch, a smart lock company, looks to become a platform with the launch of LatchOS

Tech that powers physical spaces is in the midst of a growth spurt. One company in the mix, Latch, is today announcing the next phase of the company with the launch of LatchOS.

Latch was founded back in 2014 with the mission of creating a vertically integrated hardware/software solution for door access in apartment buildings. Unlike some smart home locks that replace the lock on the door, Latch looked at the different locks that exist in apartment buildings and created solutions that work with each.

This allows building managers and apartment renters/owners to manage their doors and who has access, including the maintenance staff, deliveries, etc.

With the launch of LatchOS, the company is getting even deeper into the buildings, giving users the ability to manage more than just the door but integrate the app with other devices in a building. These integrations include Sonos speakers, Honeywell and ecobee thermostats, and Jaso and Leviton light switches all from their Latch app.

This is just the start. LatchOS was built to become the backbone of the platform, allowing more integrations to be implemented or built out based on the needs of the buildings and users.

Though the company has flown somewhat under the radar, it’s raised more than $150 million and says it did more than $100 million in sales in 2019, with one of every ten buildings in the United States being built with Latch products.

Latch makes money by selling hardware to building owners and then charging a monthly software fee, allowing the service to be free to renters and apartment owners. With the launch of LatchOS, the company can now build out integrations to earn revenue off of end users, as well, should they choose to upgrade to new features or purchase services through the platform.

The company, helmed by former Apple employees Luke Schoenfelder and Thomas Meyerhoffer, as well as full stack hardware engineer Brian Jones, has more than 230 employees and declined to share any information around the diversity of its staff.

“People have always seen us as a lock company and they wonder why a lock company is doing this other stuff,” said Schoenfelder. The reality is that we’ve never wanted to be a lock company. We just needed to build the locks to make the rest of the system work. That’s why we built our own hardware. We’ve always been focused on building the system that makes the building better for everybody.”

#hardware, #latch, #startups, #tc

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Pure Watercraft ramps up its electric outboard motors with a $23M series A

Electric power only started making sense for land vehicles about ten years ago, but now the technology is ready to make the jump into the water. Pure Watercraft hopes that its electric outboard motor can replace a normal gas one for most boating needs under 50 HP — and it just raised $23.4M to hit the throttle.

Pure’s outboard works much like a traditional one, but runs on a suitcase-sized battery pack and is, of course, almost silent except for the sound of the turbulence. It’s pretty much a drop-in replacement for an outboard you’d use on a 10-20 foot boat meant for fishing or puttering around the lake, though the price tag looks a little different.

Founder and CEO Andy Rebele started the company in 2011, and it turns out they had shown up a bit early to the party. “The Model S had not yet been released; the plan of making boats electric was not really fundable,” he told me.

Rebele kept the company going with his own money and a bit of low-key funding in 2016, though he admits now that it was something of a leap of faith.

“You have to bet that this small market will become a big market,” he said. “We developed our entire battery pack architecture, and it took — it’s obvious at this point — millions of dollars to get where we are. But our investors are buying into a leader in the electrification of an entirely new sector of transportation that hasn’t gotten the same attention as cars and trucks.”

A boat with an electric outboard motor cruising on a lake.

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

They haven’t been wasting time. Pure claims an energy density — how much power is packed into every kilogram — of 166 watt-hours per kilogram, meeting industry leader Tesla and beating plenty of other automotive battery makers. Users can easily add on a second pack or swap in a fresh one. The cells themselves are sourced from Panasonic, like Tesla’s and many others are, but assembling them into an efficient, robust, and in this case waterproof pack is something a company can still do better than its competition.

Having plenty of power is crucial for boats, since they use up so much of it to fight against the constant resistance of the water. The amount of power it takes to go a kilometer in a car is a fraction of what it takes to do so in a boat. Even boats designed for electric from the ground up, like those from Zin, face fundamental limits on their capabilities simply because of physics.

Rebele is aiming for the allure of simplicity. “The most popular outboard motor in the world is 40 horsepower,” he pointed out, and a replacement for that type of motor is exactly what Pure makes. “The mistake car companies made was saying, here’s the electric car market; it’s small, we tried it,” he said. Then Tesla came along with a great car that just happened to be electric.

It’s the same with boating, he suggested — sure, there are lots of different kinds of boats, and motors, and hull materials, and so on. But if Pure offers a motor that’s just as good or better than what powers a huge number of small boats, and just happens to be electric, it starts to sell itself.

Pure Watercraft's battery box.

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

“We can’t count on people picking our product to save the world,” Rebele said. “The tipping point comes when you have a critical mass of people for whom a good selfish choice is to go electric.”

The benefits, after all, are easy to enumerate: It’s silent, which is great for fishing or social boating; It fills up for a buck or two at any outlet; It’s extremely low maintenance, having vastly fewer parts than a tiny gas engine; And of course it doesn’t spew fumes and particulates into the water and air like most of the depressingly dirty motors currently in use.

The only real advantage left to gas is initial cost and range. If you’re willing to spend some money for a better product, then cost isn’t as much of an issue. And if like most boaters you’re only going to ever go a few miles per trip, the range isn’t an issue. If you’re fishing or just cruising around a lake, it’ll last you all day. The people for whom electric isn’t an option will quickly realize that, while the others will find it increasingly hard to resist the idea.

Pure Watercraft's electric outboard motor lifted out of the water

Image Credits: Pure Watercraft

There’s still a good amount of sticker shock. A good new outboard in the 20-50 HP range runs a few thousand dollars to start, and marine gas costs add up quick; the Pure motor comes in a combo deal with the charger system and one battery pack for $16,500 (additional packs cost about $8,000). They’re working with some boat manufacturers to do complete boat deals for 30 grand or less, but it’s still firmly in the high end for the “outboard on a 2-6 person boat” crowd.

The $23.4 million A round, led by L37 and a number of individuals (including some Amazon execs and , is aimed squarely at spinning up production. After implementing the changes to the “beta” product they’ve been testing with, the first thousand Pure motors will be built in Seattle, where the company is based. The company has essentially finished R&D, so there’s little question of putting off customers for a few years while the product is engineered — and Rebele said they had no intent to build another for now.

“We make this product, at this power level, and that’s all,” he said. The company’s focus makes for good engineering and, hopefully, good margins. Pure should be shipping its motors in time for the 2021 boating season.

#electric-boats, #electric-vehicles, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #hardware, #pure-watercraft, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #transportation

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Despite slowdowns, pandemic accelerates shifts in hardware manufacturing

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t hit every factory in China at once.

The initial impact to China’s electronics industry arrived around the time the nation was celebrating its new year. Two weeks after announcing 59 known cases of a new form of coronavirus, the national government put Wuhan — a city of 11 million — under strict lockdown.

As with most of the rest of the word, the manufacturing sector was caught somewhat flat-footed. according to Anker founder and CEO Steven Yang .

“Nobody had a great reaction,” said Yang, whose electronics company is based in Shenzhen. “I think this all caught us by surprise. In our China office, everybody was prepared to go on vacation for the Chinese New Year. I think the first reaction was that vacation was prolonged the first week and then another several days.

People were just off work. There wasn’t a determined date for when they could come back to work. That period was the most concerning because we didn’t have an outlook. They had to find certainties. People had to work from home and contact supplies and so forth. That first three to four weeks was the most chaotic.”

Numbers from early 2020 certainly reflect the accompanying slowdown in the manufacturing sector. In February, the Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) — a metric used to gauge the health of manufacturing and service sectors — hit a record low.

These bottlenecks resulted in product shortages — a fact that was rendered relatively moot in some sectors as demand for nonessentials dropped, many small businesses shuttered and COVID-19-related layoffs began. The U.S. lost 20.5 million jobs in April alone, hitting a record high 14.7% unemployment. (When you suddenly find yourself indefinitely unemployed, a smartphone upgrade seems much less pressing.) Such events only served to compound existing mobile trends and has delayed the adoption of 5G and other technologies.

It seems likely, too, that COVID-19 will accelerate other trends within manufacturing — notably, the shift toward diversifying manufacturing sites. China continues to be the dominant global force in electronics manufacturing, but the price of labor and political uncertainty has led many companies to begin looking beyond the world’s largest workforce.

#anker, #asia, #automation, #disrupt-2020, #eric-migicovsky, #hardware, #health, #kate-whitcomb, #rob-playter, #robotics, #sonny-vu, #steven-yang, #y-combinator

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The Lumos Matrix is the ideal urban bike helmet for a smarter, safer day trip

With many of us are still more or less confined to our own homes and limited social spaces for the foreseeable future, and for a lot of you, that has led to a rediscovery of the joys of biking. Bike riding is a great way to spend time outdoors exploring your own town or city, and if you’re just getting into exploring this hobby, or if you’re a long-time bike rider looking for an upgrade, the Lumos Matrix smart helmet is a sensible piece of tech with a solid design that combines a number of connected features into one great package.

The basics

The Matrix is a version of Lumos’ smart helmet updated with modern, urban helmet aesthetics and a new large LED display on the back that can be programmed to show a variety of different patterns, including simple images. It includes a built-in front light in addition to the rear light panel, as well as integrated turn signals that work with an included physical handlebar remote, or in concert with an Apple Watch app. It’s available in either a gloss white finish, or a matte black (as reviewed).


Lumos has designed the Matrix to work with a wide range of head sizes, thanks in part to two sets of included velcro pads for the inside of the helmet, but due mostly to the adjustable, ratcheting sizing harness on the inside. This can be easily dialled to tighten or loosen the helmet, helping it fit heads ranging between 22 and 24-inches in size.

The exterior of the Lumos is made of an ABS plastic that provides full weatherproofing, so that you can wear it in the rain without having to worry about the condition of the embedded electronics. There’s also a MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) option that you can add on if you want an additional level of safety and security, though that’s not yet shipping and should be “available soon” according to the company.

A button integrated into the helmet’s strap lets you turn it on and off, and cycle between the built-in patters. You can pair the helmet via Bluetooth with your smartphone, too, and use the dedicated app to customize features including brightness, and even creating your own custom patterns for the rear display. In the box, you’ll also find a charging cable with a standard USB A connector on one end, and a proprietary magnetic charging surface on the other for powering up both your helmet and the handlebar remote.

Design and performance

The Lumos Matrix features a mostly continuous surface, with four vents on the top of the helmet for airflow, with an integrated brim built into the shell. As mentioned, there’s a front-facing light built-in to the helmet and protected by a transparent plastic covering, as well as a rear panel of 7×11 led lights, which create a dot matrix-style display that can display images or animations, including scrolling text. These LEDs are all full RGB, allowing the user to take full advantage for their own, or built-in display creations.

Lumos also makes the Kickstart, which features a more aerodynamic, thoroughly vented design. The look of the Matrix is more akin to helmets used in skateboarding, and for urban commuter bicyclists. Despite its more solid-looking design, in testing I found that it was actually very comfortable and cool, allowing plenty of airflow. The helmet sits a bit high on the head, but has ample hard foam padding and definitely feels like a solid piece of protective gear. Overall, the extreme quality of the construction and level of the finishes on the Matrix help it earn its higher price tag.

The Matrix is also comfortable, and the adjustable sizing straps ensure a snug fit that means the helmet won’t be shifting around at all while worn. The activation button located on the chin strap near your ear is easy to find and press, with a tactile response combined with an auditory signal so you’ll know it’s on. There’s also a built-in magnetic holder for the included two-button handlebar turn signal remote in the rear interior of the helmet itself, which is super useful when wearing the helmet out on errands.

In terms of the smart features, Lumos has created a very sensible set of defaults for the on-board lighting that make it easy to just turn on the helmet and get riding. The built-in patterns offer a range of options, but all do the job of increasing your visibility – and the bright lighting means that it adds to your ability to be seen by motorists, other cyclists and pedestrians even while you’re biking in bright daylight.

The customizability of the rear dot matrix display is also super handy. Even if you’re not interested in creating colorful designs to express your artistic self, you can use it for much more practical reasons – like displaying a simple scrolling message (ie. ‘biking with kids’) in order to alert anyone else around to reasons to pay heightened attention.

The included Lumos handlebar remote is paired out of the box, and is extremely reliable in terms of activating the turn signals on the helmet. Lumos’ smartwatch app was much more hit-or-miss for me in terms of recognizing my arm gestures reliably to automate the signalling, but that’s really a value-add feature anyway, and totally not necessary to get the full benefit of the helmet. The app’s integration with Apple Health for workout tracking while biking is also fantastic, and really adds to the overall experience of using the Matrix helmet.

Bottom line

The Lumos Matrix is a fantastic bike helmet, with an amazing integrated smart lighting system that’s both bright and highly customizable. There’s a reason this thing is carried at Apple Stores – it’s top quality in terms of construction, software integration and design. That said, its retail price starts at $249.95 – which is a lot when you consider that a good quality MIPS helmet without smart features will only set you back about $60 or so.

When you consider just how much technology is onboard the Matrix, however, the pricing becomes a lot easier to swallow. It’s true that dedicated lights also aren’t expensive, but the ones on the Matrix are very high quality and extremely visible in all lighting conditions. And the Matrix offers unique features you won’t find anywhere else, including active turn signals and automated brake lights, which really add to your ability to safely share the road with other cyclists and vehicles.

#apple, #bicycle, #films, #gadgets, #hardware, #helmets, #lumos, #reviews, #smartphone, #tc, #the-matrix

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MIT engineers develop a totally flat fisheye lens that could make wide-angle cameras easier to produce

Engineers at MIT, in partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, have devised a way to build a camera lens that avoids the typical spherical curve of ultra-wide-angle glass, while still providing true optical fisheye distortion. The fisheye lens is relatively specialist, producing images that can cover as wide an area as 180 degrees or more, but they can be very costly to produce, and are typically heavy, large lenses that aren’t ideal for use on small cameras like those found on smartphones.

This is the first time that a flat lens has been able to product clear, 180-degree images that cover a true panoramic spread. The engineers were able to make it work by patterning a thin wafer of glass on one side with microscopic, three-dimensional structures that are positioned very precisely in order to scatter any inbound light in precisely the same way that a curved piece of glass would.

The version created by the researchers in this case is actually designed to work specifically with the infrared portion of the light spectrum, but they could also adapt the design to work with visible light, they say. Whether IR or visible light, there are a range of potential uses of this technology, since capturing a 180-degree panorama is useful not only in some types of photography, but also for practical applications like medical imaging, and in computer vision applications where range is important to interpreting imaging data.

This design is just one example of what’s called a ‘Metalens’ – lenses that make use of microscopic features to change their optical characteristics in ways that would traditionally have been accomplished through macro design changes – like building a lens with an outward curve, for instance, or stacking multiple pieces of glass with different curvatures to achieve a desired field of view.

What’s unusual here is that the ability to accomplish a clear, detailed and accurate 180-degree panoramic image with a perfectly flat metalens design came as a surprise even to the engineers who worked on the project. It’s definitely an advancement of the science that goes beyond what may assumed was the state of the art.

#fisheye-lens, #gadgets, #glass, #hardware, #imaging, #lenses, #massachusetts, #medical-imaging, #mit, #optics, #science, #science-and-technology, #smartphones, #tc

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Steven Yang and Sonny Vu discuss COVID-19’s impact on tech manufacturing

Like most of the rest of the world, COVID-19 hit the manufacturing sector by surprise. That China — which continues to comprise the vast majority of electronics manufacturing — was the first global epicenter of the virus certainly didn’t help the industry sufficiently brace for the impact of a pandemic on a scale the world has not seen for more than a century.

“Nobody had a great reaction,” Anker founder and CEO Steven Yang concedes during our Disrupt interview. “I think this all caught us by surprise. In our China office, everybody was prepared to go on vacation for the Chinese New Year. I think the first reaction was that vacation was prolonged the first week and then another several days. People were just off work. There wasn’t a determined date for when they could come back to work. That period was the most concerning because we didn’t have an outlook. They had to find certainties. People had to work from home and contact supplies and so forth. That first three to four weeks was the most chaotic.”

The impact of the earliest days of the pandemic continues to have knock-on effects that have sent shockwave throughout the global hardware industry. In early 2020, it was easy enough for many throughout the globe to write off the novel coronavirus as the latest in a string of outbreaks that didn’t move too far beyond select pockets. Ultimately, however, it would bring much of the world to a screeching halt.

Manufacturing, in particular, suffered first from a workplace depletion. Soon,  the hamstringing of its supply was outpaced in lowered demand. Economic recessions and skyrocketing unemployment have — and in many sectors continue to —torpedo consumer demand for a number of electronics. While it’s true that some categories  — like PCs — ultimately benefited for the shift in lifestyles, an overall decreasing in disposal income has had a profound impact on the industry.

On the manufacturing side, COVID-19 has served to propel existing trends. “I feel like it’s accelerated this depolarization to some extent,” Arevo CEO Sonny Vu explains. “We’re seeing across the board soft goods, hardware.” Vu, who spends much of his time in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, notes that the advent of COVID-19 has increased the appeal of manufacturing sites outside of China. Areas like South East Asia and India, which are continuing to increase in popularity as manufacturing hot beds, are becoming increasingly appealing for those looking to diversify sites to help prepare for similar issues in the future.

Robotics and automation is an other key category seeing increased potential acceleration, as manufacturers look toward streamline processes that can’t call in sick or increase transmission of human viruses.

“It’s our firm belief that automation will not only be efficient, but effective. We have invested heavily in robotic automation,” says Yang. “It’s to a certain point — because if you were to take a certain wire and push it through a hole, the cost of a robot that does that is still, I don’t know, 20 years of a single worker’s salary. It’s very challenging to take an entire assembly line and replace it with robots.”

#anker, #arevo, #disrupt-2020, #hardware, #sonny-vu, #steven-yang

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China’s vaping giant Relx gears up for US entry

The backlash against vaping in the United States has not deterred a Chinese challenger from entering the world’s largest vaping market.

Relx, one of China’s largest e-cigarette companies, is seeking to submit its Premarket Tobacco Product Application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of 2021. Upon completion of a review process that will take no longer than 180 days, the FDA will take “action”, which could be marketing authorization, a request for more information, or denial.

The vaping startup has requested a pre-submission meeting with the FDA and is expected to meet with the regulator in October, said Donald Graff, the two-year-old startup’s head of scientific affairs for North America, appearing in a video during a press event this week in Shenzhen.

Graff had a brief stint at Juuls Labs as its principal scientist after a 13-year streak at clinical research company Celerion where he oversaw tobacco studies. He’s now spearheading PMTA for Relx. Another scientist from Juuls, Xing Chengyue, who helped invent the nicotine salts critical to e-cigarettes, also joined in China’s vaping industry and founded her own startup Myst.

PMTA is an extensive, meticulous, costly bureaucratic process for vaping products to establish that they are “appropriate for the protection of public health” before being marketed in the U.S. Relx, headquartered in the world’s e-cigarette manufacturing hub Shenzhen, has set up a team to work on the application process, including hiring third-party consulting services and clinical partners to generate data from tests that are necessary for the submission.

All e-cigarette companies currently on the U.S. market needed to submit their PMTA by September 10 this year. To date, no products have received marketing authorization by the FDA.

The high costs of PMTA keep many small players from entering the U.S., but Relx has the financial prowess to bear the expense — it estimates the entire process will cost it more than $20 million. A Nielson survey Relx commissioned showed that the company had a nearly 70% share of China’s pod vape market as of April.

As the risks associated with e-cigarettes continue to draw attention from regulators around the world, Relx has ramped up its research investments to examine vaping’s impact on public health. At this week’s event, its chief executive Kate Wang, a rare female founder of a major tech company in China, and previously the general manager of Uber China, repeatedly highlighted “science” as a key focus at her startup.

Recently unveiled is the company’s Shenzhen-based bioscience lab, which is measuring the effects of Relx vapors through in vivo and in vitro tests, as well as conducting pre-clinical safety assessments.

Despite its ongoing efforts to prove the benefit of switching from smoking to vaping, Relx alongside its rivals faces regulatory uncertainties across various markets. The Trump administration banned flavored vape products last year (Relx plans to submit unflavored products for FDA review) and India banned e-cigarettes citing adverse health impacts on youth.

When asked how the startup plans to cope with changing policies, a Relx executive said at the event that “the company keeps a good relationship with regulators from various countries.”

“You can’t make conclusions on something that is still in the process,” said the executive, referring to the early stage of the vaping industry.

#asia, #hardware, #juuls, #relx

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Boston Robotics delivers plan for logistics robots as early as next year

Boston Dynamics is just months away from announcing their approach to logistics, the first real vertical it aims to enter, after proving their ability to build robots at scale with the quadrupedal Spot. The company’s new CEO, Robert Playter, sees the company coming into its own after decades of experimentation.

Playter, interviewed on the virtual main stage of Disrupt 2020, only recently ascended from COO to that role after many years of working there, after longtime CEO and founder Marc Raibert stepped aside to focus on R&D. This is Playter’s first public speaking engagement since taking on the new responsibility, and it’s clear he has big plans for Boston Robotics.

The recent commercialization of Spot, the versatile quadrupedal robot that is a distant descendant of the famous Big Dog, showed Playter and the company that there is a huge demand for what they’re offering, even if they’re not completely sure where that demand is.

“We weren’t sure exactly what the target verticals would be,” he admitted, and seemingly neither did the customers, who have collectively bought about 260 of the $75,000 robots and are now actively building their own add-ons and industry-specific tools for the platform. And the price hasn’t been a deterrent, he said: “As an industrial tool this is actually quite affordable. But we’ve been very aggressive, spending a lot of money to try to build an affordable way to produce this, and we’re already working on ways to continue to reduce costs.”

boston dynamics spot

Image Credits: TechCrunch

The global pandemic has also helped create a sense of urgency around robots as an alternative to or augmentation of manual labor.

“People are realizing that having a physical proxy for themselves, to be able to be present remotely, might be more important than we imagined before,” Playter said. “We’ve always thought of robots as being able to go into dangerous places, but now danger has been redefined a little bit because of COVID. The pandemic is accelerating the sense of urgency and, I think, probably opening up the kinds of applications that we will explore with this technology.”

Among the COVID-specific applications, the company has fielded requests for collaboration on remote monitoring of patients, and automatic disinfection using Spot to carry aerosol spray through a facility. “I don’t know whether that’ll be a big market going forward, but we thought it was important to respond at the time,” he said. “Partly out of a sense of obligation to the community and society that we do the right thing here.”

The “Dr Spot” remote vitals measurement program at MIT.

One of the earliest applications to scale successfully was, of course, logistics, where companies like Amazon have embraced robotics as a way to increase productivity and lower labor costs. Boston Dynamics is poised to jump into the market with a very different robot — or rather robots — meant to help move boxes and other box-like items around in a very different way from the currently practical “autonomous pallet” method.

“We have big plans in logistics,” Playter said. “we’re going to have some exciting new logistics products coming out in the next two years. We have customers now doing proof of concept tests. We’ll announce something in 2021, exactly what we’re doing, and we’ll have product available in 2022.”

The company already offers Pick, a more traditional, stationary item-picking system, and they’re working on the next version of Handle, a birdlike mobile robot that can grab boxes and move them around while taking up comparatively little space — no more than a person or two standing up. This mobility allows it to unload things like shipping containers, trucks and other confined or less predictable spaces.

In a video shown during the interview (which you can watch above), Handle is also shown working in concert with an off-the-shelf pallet robot, and Playter emphasized the need for this kind of cooperation, and not just between robots from a single creator.

“We’ll be offering software that lets robots work together,” he said. “Now, we don’t have to create them all. But ultimately it will take teams of robots to do some of these tasks, and we anticipate being able to work with a heterogeneous fleet.”

This kinder, gentler, more industry-friendly Boston Dynamics is almost certainly a product of nudging from SoftBank, which acquired the company in 2018, but also the simple reality that you can’t run a world-leading robotics R&D outfit for nothing. But Playter was keen to note that the Japanese tech giant understands that “we’re only in the position we’re in now because of the previous work we’ve done in the last two decades, developing these advanced capabilities, so we have to keep doing that.”

One thing you won’t likely see doing real work any time soon is Atlas, the company’s astonishingly agile humanoid robot. It’s just not practical for anything just yet, but instead acts as a kind of prestige project, forcing the company to constantly adjust its sights upward.

atlas gymnastics boston dynamics

“It’s such a complex robot, and it can do so much it forces us to create tools we would not otherwise. And people love it — it’s aspirational, it attracts talent,” said Playter.

And he himself is no exception. Once a gymnast, he recalled “a nostalgic moment” watching Atlas vault around. “A lot of the people in the company, including Marc, have inspiration from the athletic performance of people and animals,” Playter said. “That DNA is deeply embedded in our company.”

#artificial-intelligence, #boston-dynamics, #gadgets, #hardware, #robotics, #techcrunch-disrupt

0

A closer look at the new Apple Watches

I’m very much still working on a full review of the new Apple Watches — specifically the Series 6. As of this posting, I’ve had the wearables in my possession (and on my person) for a little under 24 hours. It’s a special circumstance attributable to the virtual nature of this week’s event.

Simply put, it has given me significantly more time than I would traditionally get amid the press scrum after an Apple event, but not nearly enough to feel comfortable calling this a full review. It’s important to spend some quality time with any device you’re planning to review — and that’s doubly true for a wearable.

A smartwatch needs to be a part of your life for a bit before you can feel comfortable using the word. I have, however, been living with watchOS 7. I’ve also spent plenty of time with the Series 5 and feel comfortable discussing some of the key differences between operating systems and devices.

The design language has remained more or less consistent across the life of the line, with some subtle aesthetic refinements over the years. Given how many of these things Apple has sold — and how the company continues to dominate the category — it’s easy enough to understand why it hasn’t messed too much with the formula here. That goes double for the lower-cost SE, which has a lot of common DNA with the discontinued Series 5.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There are some new case colors, however. Blue and a new (Product)RED join silver, space gray and gold aluminum. Apple sent the former, and honestly, I’m a bit surprised at how subtle and deep the blue is. In most lighting, the color looks more like a blueish hue than a louder shade. For most users, that’s probably for the best. The deep blue is something more appropriate for a wider range of situations. From what I’ve seen, the red is a bit louder — more akin to the color on (Product)RED iPhones.

And there’s always the bands if you really want to stand out. It continues to be a proprietary design, but there are a ton of choices on the market at this point — and a lot of third-party options (though I admit I recently had a bad experience with one that tore after a week or so). Solo Loop is probably the biggest addition on the band front, removing the buckle/Velcro from the equation.

There are two primary styles (and a bunch of different colors). I’m partial to the braided version. It more closely resembles the fabric bands I prefer, while adding a little additional design into the mix. I’m less of a fan of the straight-up silicone model — I’ve never really been a fan of the rubbery silicon bands. The Loops are nice and stretchy, but you’ll still want to find which of the 12 sizes best fits you. You can measure and approximate from home, but honestly, it’s going to be a lot easier to deal with when more Apple Stores open for in-person sizing.

The biggest addition for the Series 6 on the hardware front is a blood oxygen sensor. Apple’s hardly the first smartwatch maker to offer the functionality, but it arrives at a key time, when more people are tuned into such numbers amid COVID-19. Here’s how Apple describes it,

The new blood oxygen sensor is made up of four LED clusters and four photodiodes. Incorporated into the completely redesigned back crystal, this new sensor works in concert with the Blood Oxygen app to determine your blood oxygen level. The testing will work in the background, or you can enable it through the app. The process takes about 15 seconds, though there are a lot of variables that can mess up a reading, including how much you move and the tightness and placement of your band. I found myself having to repeat it a couple of times to get a good reading.

It would be great if Apple offered up more contextual information about what blood oxygen levels actually mean. I assume a vast majority of people don’t know what constitutes a healthy level. It’s a tricky line to walk, however. Healthy levels vary from person to person, and Apple certainly doesn’t want to position itself as diagnosing people. The company did, however, mention COVID-19 a few times with regard to health monitoring.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It is participating in some early studies, but again, for obvious reasons, it can’t come out and say it’s going to diagnose you with the condition. Rather, like the rest of the vitals, it can offer early detection of potential underlying problems. The SE, meanwhile, drops ECG monitoring altogether, which may or may not be worth the price differential, depending on what you’re looking to get out of such a device.

My biggest disappointment with Tuesday’s news (and the hands-on thus far) is that the battery life hasn’t changed much. I was really hoping the company was going to announce a big upgrade this time out, to coincide with new sleep tracking. Instead it suggests that users charge right before bed or in the morning (watchOS will pop up a warning if you need a charge before bedtime).

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There were some early reports that the company upgraded the battery just slightly, but the current official stated life is 18 hours (same as the 5). I’ve been wearing the watch for about eight and a half hours as of this writing and am at 74%, with the cellular running. The company has stated, however that the S6 processor is more battery efficient than its predecessor. The Watch can also be charged faster, with a full charging in around 90 minutes, which should help with topping up before bed.

Looking forward into more depth with sleep tracking and fitness features soon (though the Fitness+ service will sadly have to wait a bit). I have exactly one night with the Watch under my belt. I apparently slept seven hours and 31 minutes — which is surprisingly good for me. Chalk it up to Disrupt/Apple week exhaustion. The tracking is pretty basic so far, though I imagine it will offer a fuller picture over time. Right now it’s limited to time in bed and time asleep, attached to iOS’s new bed time features. It will also show you what your heart rate looked like over the course of the night.

The hand-washing feature introduced with watchOS 7 works reasonably well, though there’s still so much variation in bathroom acoustics and sinks it can sometimes be an issue, even while listening for the sound of soap squishing between your fingers. For instance, it had a little trouble with my bathroom sink, but was happy to start the 15-second countdown when I wash my hands (or the dishes) in the sink. The Health app collects hand washing metrics over time, including the average time washed and the number of times per day. It’s an odd thing to see mapped out, but Apple’s timing couldn’t have have been better.

So far, the Series 6 isn’t a giant leap forward, but it’s nice to see Apple taking health more and more seriously — and again, it’s going to be great to revisit the hardware when Fitness+ drops. The Series 6 is available starting Friday at $499 for the cellular version and $399 without. The SE, meanwhile is $329 and $279, respectively, while the old standby Series 3 starts at an extremely accessible $199.

The new Watches go on sale tomorrow. Full review soon, seriously.

#apple, #apple-hardware-event-2020, #apple-watch, #apple-watch-series-6, #hardware, #smartwatches, #wearables

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