Review: Oura Ring 3 and Whoop 4.0 are 2 ambitious wearables, but they’re tough sells

The Oura Ring Gen3 and Whoop Strap 4.0 look dedicated and sporty, but they only made me feel like an athlete by making me pine for what's missing.

Enlarge / The Oura Ring Gen3 and Whoop Strap 4.0 look dedicated and sporty, but they only made me feel like an athlete by making me pine for what’s missing. (credit: Corey Gaskin)

Recently, some wearables have started to place a heavier emphasis on recovery and restoration between exercise instead of just tracking more common activity metrics. Fitbit’s recently launched Daily Readiness Score, for instance, measures your sleep quality, activity levels, and heart rate variability (HRV) to quantify whether your body is prepared for an intense training session or if it needs a break. Like other features of this type, it’s locked behind a paywall—in this case, the $10-a-month Fitbit Premium subscription service.

The Oura Ring (Gen 3) and Whoop 4.0 are two buzzy, celebrity-endorsed fitness wearables built using these sorts of “health and performance optimization” insights. They look nothing alike—the former is, well, a ring, while the latter is an unassuming little wrist module. Whoop’s marketing aims more narrowly at optimizing training for athletes, while Oura casts a wider net.

But both focus more squarely on recovery assessment than typical activity tracking and aim to tell you how your activity, sleep, and recovery rates intertwine. Both lack any sort of screen and require subscriptions for their data, and neither is cheap. And both come from fast-rising companies—though they aren’t exactly household names, Oura was reportedly valued at $800 million in 2021, while Whoop was valued at $3.6 billion.

Read 57 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ars-shopping, #features, #fitness-trackers, #oura-ring, #tech, #wearables, #whoop-strap

Fitbit gains FDA approval for new atrial fibrillation-detection feature

The Fitbit app showing information on irregular rhythm notifications.

Enlarge / The Fitbit app showing information on irregular rhythm notifications. (credit: Google)

Google-owned wearable brand Fitbit announced Monday that it will soon introduce a new atrial fibrillation-detection feature to its devices.

According to a blog post from Google, Fitbit received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), clearing the way for the feature to be deployed to Fitbit wearables in the near future.

Google cites data from a global disease study to state that atrial fibrillation affects around 33.5 million people around the world. Citing another study, it claims that those who suffer from atrial fibrillation have five times as much stroke risk as others.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#afib, #atrial-fibrillation, #fda, #fitbit, #google, #health, #irregular-heart-rhythm, #smartwatch, #tech, #wearables

Garmin’s new Fenix 7 maximizes solar power and finally adds a touchscreen

Garmin’s new Fenix 7 maximizes solar power and finally adds a touchscreen

Enlarge (credit: Garmin)

Garmin has released two new high-end smartwatches, the Fenix 7 and Epix, less than two weeks after launching the Venus 2 Plus and Vivomove Sport at CES. The Fenix 7 is the latest iteration of the company’s robust, multi-sport flagship, while the Epix picks up the torch of a similarly high-end watch that hasn’t seen an update since its release in 2015. Both are aimed at the outdoor adventurer who treks far and wide.

That’s why all three sizes (42 mm, 47 mm, and 51 mm) of the Fenix 7 can be equipped with solar charging. The smallest and mid-sized variants (Fenix 7s and Fenix 7) make this feature a $100 premium add-on, while the largest (Fenix 7X) has the feature standard. That tacks on an extra nine days of battery (on top of 19 days without solar charging) in smartwatch mode, according to Garmin’s estimates.

The Fenix series has always been a more utilitarian, yet highly specced device. Garmin has only now added traditional smartwatch comforts, like a touchscreen, to accompany the Fenix line’s button-based navigation. Tracking features like marathon performance prediction, trail ascent and descent evaluation, and downloadable maps for trails and courses have long set the Fenix apart from traditional smartwatches, though.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ars-shopping, #epix, #fenix-7, #fitness, #garmin, #tech, #wearables

7 good deals on fitness tech from this week’s early Black Friday sales

The galaxy watch 3 on a user's wrist

Enlarge (credit: Corey Gaskin / Ars Technica)

It’s the first week of November, which means Black Friday month has started. This year’s holiday shoppers may benefit from these early deals more than in previous years due to disrupted supply chains and delayed shipping times.

As such, the Dealmaster is here to give you the play-by-play at every step to make sure you get what you need, when you need it, at a good price. We put together a more general roundup of the best early Black Friday deals we could find earlier this week, but today, we’re calling out a few recommended fitness smartwatches that are seeing some decent discounts. We also have a couple of tried and true workout earbuds to complement them.

Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ars-shopping, #black-friday, #dealmaster, #fitness, #tech, #wearables

VR, AR, wearables, and smart home tech are now mainstream, research says

It wasn’t long ago that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets, smartwatches, and voice-controlled homes were the fantasies of books and movies. Today, VR, AR, wearables, and smart home tech have passed the early-adoption phase and are all firmly part of the “mass market,” according to research that the International Data Corporation (IDC) shared today. The global research firm predicted that the combined market will hit $369.6 billion by the end of 2021 and grow to $524.9 billion in 2025. 

IDC expects AR and VR combined to show the most growth out of the three categories, thanks to both businesses and individual consumers. The latter is particularly interested in “robust gaming solutions,” IDC said. Businesses represent the bulk of AR spending today, but IDC thinks the market for AR headsets targeting the general public will grow. It predicted a 67.9 percent compound annual growth rate from 2020 to 2025 for AR and VR combined, which is more than 10 times the next competitor, smart home tech (10.1 percent growth rate).

Smart home tech will represent the most valuable market, however, with a predicted 2025 value of over $400.3 billion. The biggest sellers will reportedly be smart TVs, streaming players, and other “networked entertainment devices,” which are expected to represent $229 billion in 2025. 

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ar, #augmented-reality, #idc, #smart-home, #tech, #uncategorized, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearables

Apple Watch Series 7 orders begin next week, leaks claim

The Apple Watch Series 7.

Enlarge / The Apple Watch Series 7. (credit: Apple)

Two different apparent leaks have stated that preorders for the Apple Watch Series 7 will begin next week and that the wearable will ship the following week.

Jon Prosser, a leaker with a long track record on Apple products, wrote on Front Page Tech that “multiple sources familiar with the release” have said that preorders would begin “as soon as next week, with shipping happening mid-October.”

And as reported first by AppleTrack, an email blast to customers from luxury brand Hermès (which makes Apple Watch-related products) got more specific: it named the first day to order the Watch. “The Apple Watch Series 7 will be available for preorder beginning October 8, 2021,” the brief email said.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #apple-watch, #apple-watch-series-7, #hermes, #jon-prosser, #smartwatch, #tech, #watchos, #wearables

The Apple Watch gets a visual makeover with the Series 7

The Apple Watch gets a visual makeover with the Series 7

Enlarge

As expected, Apple has announced details about the next version of the Apple Watch. Dubbed the Apple Watch Series 7, it has a new display new retina display with 20% more screen area and smaller bezels that are 40% thinner.

The Series 7 now detects biking sessions and auto-pauses and restarts for stops. Fall detection for while biking has been added, as well. Apple also improved the algorithm for ebikes to calculate calories more accurately.

The Apple Watch Series 7 will be available for preorder next week starting at $399. Units will start shipping “later this fall.”

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #apple-watch, #apple-watch-series-7, #tech, #wearables

What we expect from next week’s Apple event

We’ve been scouring the latest rumors and leaks and playing all of The Mamas and The Papas songs forward and backward to get the best possible picture of what we’re in store for with next Tuesday’s “California Streaming’” event.

The invites, which went out a week in advance, don’t appear to give the game away here. There was some extremely cool AR trickery, accessible through Safari on mobile, which could point to some fancy camera upgrades, though augmented reality has become a bit of a staple on these invites.

The California Streaming title, meanwhile, seems likely to be more of a nod to the all-virtual nature of the event, rather than anything to do with, say, Apple TV (of course, we’ve been one-more-thinged in the past). And as for that lovely shot of the Sierras — that could well be a nod to macOS, though the company has moved onto Monterey. It seems just as likely to be a reference to the aforementioned title.

The biggest, simplest and most important answer to the question of what to expect is a new iPhone. Last year’s models saw a notable delay due to COVID-19-related supply chain bottlenecking. Supply chain problems have persisted, of course, but by all accounts, the company appears to be back on track with its pre-pandemic release cycle.

The iPhone 12’s biggest upgrade was, of course, the long-awaited addition of 5G. That, coupled with the delay, led Apple to some pretty massive sales quarters amid a broader stalling of the overall mobile market. While other manufacturers have skipped the number out of superstitious concerns, Apple seems firmly on board with iPhone 13 (even as renders of its successor, the iPhone 14 have reportedly already leaked).

Image Credits: Getty Images / Qi Heng/VCG

Recent reports suggest that the iPhone 13 will arrive in four different configurations — much like its predecessor. So: the iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. The screen sizes should remain the same: 5.4, 6.1 (x2) and 6.7 inches. A separate report, meanwhile, suggests that we’ll see additional colors, with the full lineup being black, white, blue, purple, pink (rather than green) and Product (Red). But, keep in mind that offering different color availabilities in different markets isn’t entirely out of the question.

Unsurprisingly, camera upgrades appear to be the biggest news here. Word from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is that last year’s Pro Max model specs will graduate to the rest of the line (including, potentially, lidar). A ProRes video mode is said to be following the addition of ProRAW to further advance the handset’s bonafides as a semi-pro video shooting rig. Cinematic Video, meanwhile, is said to bring a Portrait-mode-style effect to video. Kuo has also suggested that the devices will be getting a feature based on the Qualcomm X60 that allows for emergency satellite calls — reportedly only available in select markets.

Of course, the phone will also be getting Apple’s latest chip, the A15, said to be coupled with 120 Hz ProMotion display. Apple could also be bringing an always-on feature to the screen, hopefully with minimal impact on battery life. Looks-wise we anticipate it will be more or less the same as its predecessor, albeit with a somewhat smaller camera notch up front — though not to the point of the fake Ted Lasso iPhone. The camera bump around back, meanwhile, is said to be getting larger, perhaps offering an improved telephoto lens.

Oh, and apparently they’ll be more expensive than the iPhone 12 — clearly not one of the new features Apple is going to be actively promoting.

Image Credits: Apple

The Apple Watch 7 seems destined to be the other big news of the event. Apple’s massively popular wearable is reportedly set to get more massive, with a larger display, resulting in a slightly larger case size, from 40 mm and 44 mm to 41 mm and 45 mm. The overall size won’t be too large a change, however, as the company is said to be reducing its bezels this go-round.

Perhaps the most exciting rumor around the Watch is the addition of significant battery life. That’s long felt like a blind spot for the product, compared to competing smartwatches — particularly after Apple significantly improved sleep tracking. Most aren’t anticipating major new health features for the Watch this outing, which is a bit of a surprise here, given that health and fitness have been a major cornerstone for Apple.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

AirPods 3 seem like a reasonably good bet. The latest version of the company’s entry-level earbuds (and their case) are said to be getting a more Pro-style redesign, along with a new chip that’s designed to improve battery life. Active noise cancelation and replaceable tips are apparently not going to make an appearance to maintain the distinction between the two models.

With the company’s rangewide upgrade to its own silicon chugging along, don’t be surprised if we see a number of new Macs. Rumors suggest a new MacBook Pro, Mac Mini and a larger, 27-inch version of its ARM-powered iMac.

The event kicks off Tuesday, September 14 at 10 a.m. PDT/1 p.m. EDT. We’ll be here, bringing you the news as it arrives.
Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#airpods, #apple, #apple-watch, #hardware, #health, #iphone, #iphone-13, #macbook, #mobile, #wearables

Ray-Ban Stories: These are Facebook’s first mass-market smart glasses

As previously rumored, Facebook has partnered with EssilorLuxottica to produce Ray-Ban Stories, one of the first potentially viable attempts at mass-market smart glasses. They are similar in some ways to early iterations of Snapchat Spectacles but with a more stylish aesthetic that looks right in line with other Ray-Ban glasses.

The glasses have two front-facing cameras, each at 5 megapixels. Users can take a photo either with a touch gesture or with a “Hey Facebook” voice command. So people in the room can tell that pictures or video are being taken, a white LED on the front of the frames will light up. Videos can be as long as 30 seconds.

Photos and videos taken with the glasses are sent to a new smartphone app called Facebook View, which offers essential editing and sharing capabilities. In addition to photo and video capture, the glasses allow you to take calls or listen to music and podcasts or with built-in speakers and microphones.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ar, #augmented-reality, #facebook, #ray-ban, #smart-glasses, #tech, #wearables

Sila Nanotechnologies’ battery technology will launch in Whoop wearables

Sila Nanotechnologies next-generation battery technology made its commercial product debut Wednesday in the new Whoop fitness tracker, a milestone that caps a decade of research and development by the Silicon Valley startup all aimed at cracking the code to packing more energy into a cell at a lower cost.

Billions have been spent over the past few years on improving battery chemistry, with different startups aiming to either replace the anode or the cathode with a conversion material, like silicon or even lithium in the case of solid state companies.

Sila Nano’s battery chemistry recipe replaces graphite in a battery cell’s anode with silicon to create a more energy-dense and cheaper battery pack. Other companies, like BASF are focusing on creating a high energy dense cathode. 

While numerous companies are working on a variety of different battery chemistries, they have yet to take over the traditional cell technology found in today’s lithium-ion cells. The Sila battery used in the upcoming Whoop 4.0, the company’s latest health and performance tracker, could be the first time in the last few decades the world has seen a next-generation battery chemistry ship to market. 

“Launching a small fitness tracker doesn’t seem like a big thing, but this is really the first device in the market that proves our breakthrough, and over time, this will scale and lead to the electrification of everything,” Gene Berdichevsky, founder and CEO of Sila Nano, told TechCrunch.

Electric vehicles, and Sila Nano’s role in powering them, is at the top of Berdichevsky’s “electrification of everything” list. And the company has already made headway.

Sila Nano has joint battery ventures with BMW and Daimler to produce batteries containing the company’s silicon-anode technology, with the goal of going to market in the automotive industry by 2025. 

“You can translate this success with Whoop to cars in many ways,” said Berdichevksy. “Today, if you want a really long range vehicle, it better be a pretty big car. The smaller the EV, the shorter the range because there’s nowhere to put the battery. But as our technology advances into the automotive market, you’ll be able to have a city car that has 400 miles of range on it. This is enabling more segments of the auto industry to electrify.” 

Whoop, which earlier this month announced a $200 million raise at a $3.6 billion valuation, is introducing the Whoop 4.0 as a wearable that’s 33% smaller, in large part as a result of Sila’s battery, which has about 17% higher energy density, according to Berdichevsky. Not only does a denser, better battery lead to a smaller wearable, but Whoop was able to add additional features – like a sleep coach with haptic alerts, a pulse oximeter, a skin temperature sensor and a health monitor – without compromising its five-day battery life. 

“One of the key outcomes of enabling a chemistry like ours is it allows you to build things that couldn’t otherwise be built,” said Berdichevsky. 

In Whoop’s case, that’s referring to its new Any-Wear tech that allows the wearable to be integrated into a new line of garments like bands that can collect sensor data from areas including the torso, waist and calf.

It’s not just Sila’s chemistry that’s allowing for a successful product to go to market. It’s the scalability of the product that’s really important. Scalability has been built into Sila’s roadmap from the beginning. 

“One of the things we did very early on is we told our scientists and engineers they could only use global commodity inputs so that we know we can make enough for millions of cars,” said Berdichevsky. “Next we said you had to use only what we call ‘bulk manufacturing’ techniques, and that means you use volumetric reactors rather than planar reactors.”

An easy way to think about the difference in reactor types is through the analogy of making enough food to feed a crowd: A big pot of chili (the volumetric reactor) will go a lot farther than individual pizza pies (planar reactors).

Berdichevsky also told his team that anything they created had to be able to seamlessly drop into any battery factory process, whether that factory is supplying batteries for smartphones, cars or drones. 

Sila Nano has already proven scalability twice, Berdichevsky said. The first time it scaled 100x from lab to pilot, starting with volumetric reactors that were about the size of a liter. Wednesday’s partnership with Whoop marks the second time the company has scaled up 100x, and this time to 5,000 liter reactors. To put that in relative terms, a couple of humans could probably climb into one of those reactors. The next stage of scaling will involve reactors large enough that you could drive a car through, says Berdichevsky, which is fitting given Sila Nano’s goal of scaling up to automotive quantities over the next three years. 

“The reason we’re not in cars today is we have to go scale up 100x to have enough to really deploy in cars, but the material is the same,” said Berdichevsky. “The particles, the powder we make, it’s the same in every one of the scales we’ve made so far.”

#automotive, #gadgets, #health, #sila-nanotechnologies, #transportation, #wearables

Women’s health tech brand, Elvie, tops up Series C to $97M

Elvie, the women’s health tech pioneer behind a connected breast pump and smart pelvic floor exerciser, has topped up a Series C which it announced earlier this summer (July) — adding a further £12.7m to bring the total raised to £70 million ($97m).

The 2013-founded, UK-based startup previously raised a $42M Series B in 2019, and a $6M Series A in 2017 — when femtech startups were a lot rarer than they are now. Products designed for (and often by) women have gained a lot of momentum over this period as female-led startups have blazed a trail and shown there’s a sizeable market for femtech — leading investors to slow clock on to the opportunity too.

Analysts now project the femtech industry will become a $50 billion market by 2025.

Elvie says the Series C extension includes funds sponsored by the co-founders of Blume Equity – a PE firm that focuses on the food and health sectors – plus further capital from existing investors IPGL, Hiro Capital and Westerly Winds.

In July, when it announced the earlier ($80M) tranche of the raise, Elvie said the Series C was led by BGF and BlackRock alongside existing investors including Octopus Ventures.

The Series C will be used to drive for more growth through geographical expansion (including entering new markets) and diversifying its product portfolio to target other “key stages” in women’s lives, it said.

That means it’ll be splashing out on R&D to support product development — connected hardware that blends physical gadgetry with software still looks to be a strong focus — and also on strengthening its ops and infrastructure to prep for further scale.

Elvie sells four products at this stage: Its connected kegel trainer, and a wearable breast pump (plus two non-electric pumps).

Where the company goes next in terms of product will be an interesting one to watch.

Commenting in a statement, Tania Boler, CEO and founder, said: “Elvie is ready for the next phase of our growth. We have already revolutionized the categories we operate in, but we know that there is vast untapped potential to create better technology products and services for women in new areas.”

She added that Elvie’s goal is to create “the go-to destination for women’s health at all life stages” — selling “sophisticated, accurate and personalised solutions” to its target female consumer.

#blackrock, #elvie, #europe, #femtech, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #health, #medical-technology, #octopus-ventures, #startup-company, #tania-boler, #united-kingdom, #wearables, #womens-health

The cocktail party problem: Why voice tech isn’t truly useful yet

On average, men and women speak roughly 15,000 words per day. We call our friends and family, log into Zoom for meetings with our colleagues, discuss our days with our loved ones, or if you’re like me, you argue with the ref about a bad call they made in the playoffs.

Hospitality, travel, IoT and the auto industry are all on the cusp of leveling-up voice assistant adoption and the monetization of voice. The global voice and speech recognition market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.2% from 2019 to reach $26.8 billion by 2025, according to Meticulous Research. Companies like Amazon and Apple will accelerate this growth as they leverage ambient computing capabilities, which will continue to push voice interfaces forward as a primary interface.

As voice technologies become ubiquitous, companies are turning their focus to the value of the data latent in these new channels. Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Nuance is not just about achieving better NLP or voice assistant technology, it’s also about the trove of healthcare data that the conversational AI has collected.

Our voice technologies have not been engineered to confront the messiness of the real world or the cacophony of our actual lives.

Google has monetized every click of your mouse, and the same thing is now happening with voice. Advertisers have found that speak-through conversion rates are higher than click-through conversation rates. Brands need to begin developing voice strategies to reach customers — or risk being left behind.

Voice tech adoption was already on the rise, but with most of the world under lockdown protocol during the COVID-19 pandemic, adoption is set to skyrocket. Nearly 40% of internet users in the U.S. use smart speakers at least monthly in 2020, according to Insider Intelligence.

Yet, there are several fundamental technology barriers keeping us from reaching the full potential of the technology.

The steep climb to commercializing voice

By the end of 2020, worldwide shipments of wearable devices rose 27.2% to 153.5 million from a year earlier, but despite all the progress made in voice technologies and their integration in a plethora of end-user devices, they are still largely limited to simple tasks. That is finally starting to change as consumers demand more from these interactions, and voice becomes a more essential interface.

In 2018, in-car shoppers spent $230 billion to order food, coffee, groceries or items to pick up at a store. The auto industry is one of the earliest adopters of voice AI, but in order to really capture voice technology’s true potential, it needs to become a more seamless, truly hands-free experience. Ambient car noise still muddies the signal enough that it keeps users tethered to using their phones.

#apple, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #column, #google, #healthcare-data, #natural-language-processing, #nuance, #speech-recognition, #tc, #united-states, #voice-technology, #wearable-devices, #wearables

Whoop raises another $200M for its athlete-focused fitness wearable

Founded in 2012, Whoop is far from a household name in the world of fitness trackers. But over the years, the company has attracted its share of converts. It hasn’t had any issue attracting venture capital over the years, either. Last time we checked in on the Boston-based company was in late-2019, when it raised $55 million. Now it’s back with a massive $200 million raise.

The Series F round brings Whoop’s total funding to nearly $405 million — a pretty massive investment for a company of its size. The round, led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, puts the valuation at a jaw-dropping $3.6 billion valuation.

Additional investors include IVP, Cavu Venture Partners, Thursday Ventures, GP Bullhound, Accomplice, NextView Ventures and Animal Capital. They join a long list of former backers, including the National Football League Players Association, Jack Dorsey and a number of professional athletes.

The company’s targeting of athletes marks a strong contrast with leading consumer wearables like the Apple Watch and Fitbit. In fact, the company has a specific offering for sports teams, as well as solutions for businesses, healthcare and government/defense.

Whoop’s name made the rounds recently when Fitbit announced a “Daily Readiness Score” for the Charge 5, which many likened to the company’s more advanced analytics.

The company cites “rapid growth” in its membership offering over the past year as a motivation behind seeking additional funding. That was likely driven, in part, by the decision in 2019 to make the $500 wearable free, while focusing on a subscription service that starts at $18 a month for an 18-month membership (the shorter the membership, the more the monthly fee).

Whoop is eying international expansion beyond the U.S. and using the massive influx of cash on R&D for its hardware, software and analytics solutions. Money will also go toward expanding headcount, which is currently in excess of 500 (with nearly half of those employees having joined in the past year).

“We are thrilled to deepen our partnership with SoftBank as we grow internationally,” founder and CEO Will Ahmed said in a release. “While we have experienced amazing growth in the past year, the potential of our technology and the vast market for health monitoring remains largely untapped.”

#fitness, #fitness-trackers, #funding, #hardware, #health, #recent-funding, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #startups, #wearables, #whoop

Fitbit adds ECG and stress-level scanning to its Charge fitness tracker

Fitness band market share is undoubtedly contracting, thanks in no small part to the massive popularity of smartwatches. But 13.1 million overall shipments in Q1 2021 is nothing to sneeze at. People are still buying non-watch fitness trackers, due to their lower price and non-invasiveness.

Announced this morning via the Google Keyword blog, the latest version of Fitbit’s Charge line looks to further blur the line line between the categories. The latest version of the premium fitness band adds a color touchscreen, along with ECG (heart) and EDA (stress) sensors.

Naturally those sorts of smartwatch-level features also come with a $30 price increase, up to $180 — putting it at the same price point as 2019’s Versa 2 and $50 less than the Versa 3. Like I said, the lines have blurred. Fitbit also offers a number of cheaper trackers, including the $100 Inspire 2, though the company is well aware that it can’t really compete on the super low end of the market.

The addition of ECG monitoring brings a feature to the band that has largely been the realm of pricier smartwatches. It’s been popular with both users and doctors, who often recommend it for day to day monitoring of conditions like a-fib. That’s in addition to heart rate monitoring, which can be used around the clock, courtesy of a battery that’s rated at a full week (though the always-on option for the full-color AMOLED touchscreen will undoubtedly eat into that).

Still photography of Fitbit Charge 5. Image Credits: Fitbit

EDA monitoring, which Fitbit first offered on the Sense last fall, is designed to detect a wearer’s stress levels by way of their finger sweat glands. That’s coupled with a “Stress Management Score” available through the Fitbit app, “so you can see each morning if you’re mentally ready to take on more challenges, or if you need to recharge.” The idea of viewing my own stress numbers over the past year is likely enough to drive them up even higher.

All of that feeds into the larger Health Metrics dashboard, which the company is setting up as a kind of one-stop shop that also includes sleep and standard fitness. The Charge also offers integration with third-party mindfulness apps like Ten Percent Happier and Calm, the latter of which is a part of a new partnership that brings the wildly popular meditation app’s content to Fitbit Premium members.

Premium also gets a new feature called Daily Readiness Score, which Fitbit describes thusly:

Coming soon to Premium is our new Daily Readiness Score, which will use insights from your body via your Fitbit device, including your activity, heart rate variability (HRV) and recent sleep, to help you assess when you’re ready to push yourself physically — in other words, if you should workout or prioritize recovery. By wearing your Fitbit device daily (including while you sleep), you’ll receive a personalized score each morning along with details on what impacted it, with suggestions like a recommended activity level and Premium content to help you make the best decisions for your body and make your workouts more efficient.

Oh, and here’s a picture of Fitbit’s new brand ambassador, for good measure. Looks familiar:

Image Credits: Fitbit

The Charge 5 is the first major release since Fitbit officially became a part of Google. We haven’t seen a lot of major changes yet (though CEO James Park is now officially “VP, GM & Co-founder,” per his billing). Expect to see something more significant on that front when the company unveils its next smartwatch.

#fitbit, #fitness-trackers, #hardware, #health, #tc, #wearables

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic: A well-rounded smartwatch

For smartwatches, it’s Apple against the world. Per recent numbers from CounterPoint, the Apple Watch commanded more than one-third of global shipments in Q1. Samsung/Tizen’s own market share is a distant — but respectable — second place, with 8%. With Google’s Wear OS at fifth place at just under 4%, it’s easy to see both companies — utterly dominant in other categories — are itching for competitive advantages.

For Google, the answer is two-fold. First, the Fitbit acquisition effectively doubles its existing market. Convincing Samsung to return to Wear OS after a long time in the Tizen woods. For Samsung, a return to the Google operating system made sense from the standpoint of developer access — and the resulting apps. And hey, if it means Google gets to deal with the underlying support issues, that’s all the better.

From a pure market share standpoint, Samsung has the clear upper hand here. And while building out its own version of Tizen hasn’t necessarily caught the world on fire, it has helped the electronic giant secure a solid second place. Clearly if the company was going to return to Google, it would need to do so on its own terms.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Following an announcement at Google I/O that the two companies were once again working together in the smartwatch category, Samsung finally unveiled the first fruit of that labor last week, in the form of the Galaxy Watch 4. The new wearable, available in both the standard and Classic form, runs “Wear OS Powered by Samsung.” What that means in practical terms is that Samsung worked closely with Google to build out a customized version of Wear OS — one that, effectively, looks, swims and quacks like Tizen.

It’s an effort to make a leap to a robust — if struggling — wearable OS ecosystem, without losing the familiarity of the experience Samsung spent years building out. And honestly, I’m here for it. The Samsung/Google team-up has done a fine job determining what works about their respective ecosystems and building out an experience that pulls from the best of both. It’s an ideal situation for Google, certainly, and one the company would no doubt benefit from by recruiting other big hardware makers — though none has anywhere near Samsung’s momentum in the category.

That’s coupled with several generations of hardware iteration and health improvements that go a long way toward making the Galaxy Watch 4 one of the few smartwatches that can truly go head to head with Apple. And like Apple, the new wearable is explicitly tied to the Samsung ecosystem — after all, even the other week was nothing if not an ecosystem play.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new Galaxy Buds are arguably the best earbuds for a Samsung user, and the same can be said for the company’s solid new smartwatch. As much as the company is opening things up to third parties by way of Wear OS (fewer than Apple, but a step in the right direction), this is still decidedly a Samsung smartwatch that works best with first-party Samsung apps on Samsung’s mobile hardware. It’s the sort of gamble you can take when you’re the No. 1 smartphone maker in the world. Let the Huaweis, Garmins and Fitbits fight for the rest of the non-iOS market.

As with its smartphones and earbuds, the Galaxy Watch line hasn’t always been the most straightforward, in terms of how things break down. The company has flirted with different models and SKUs over the years, but I think it’s finally hit on a setup that makes sense. Effectively, the lower-end, haptic bezeled Galaxy Watch Active is now the standard Galaxy Watch, and the standard Galaxy Watch is now the Galaxy Watch Classic.

Now that I’ve typed that, I recognize that it’s not as straightforward as it sounded in my head. Basically it breaks down thusly: Galaxy Watch 4 = thinner, lighter, sportier. Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is a bit classier looking, trading the digital bezel for Samsung’s trademark rotating hardware bezel.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I’ve said it before and I’ll say again: The spinning bezel is Samsung’s ace in the hole. It’s the place where the company unequivocally has Apple beat in the smartwatch category. Apple’s crown is fine, but the bezel is currently the best way to navigate a smartwatch interface. I was, frankly, baffled when the company ditched it for the Galaxy Watch 2 in favor of a digital version. The company clearly thought better of it, bringing it back for the 3.

If you read my earlier review, you know my biggest sticking point with earlier Samsung watches was size. The things were giant. I’m not a small man, nor do I possess an abnormally small wrist, but even I had issues walking around with them on. Some people like big, clunky watches, but only making these devices available in the one size is severely limiting your potential audience right out of the gate.

Thankfully, you’ve got a number of choices here. The Galaxy Watch is available in 40mm and 44mm versions ($250 and $300, respectively), while the Classic comes in 42mm and 46mm ($350 and $380, respectively). You’re already talking about a pretty sizable premium for what mostly amounts to design differences. Add LTE onto the classic and you’re talking $379 and $429. Of course, that still compares favorably to the Apple Watch Series 6’s $399 starting price.

I opted to go somewhere in the middle, with the 42mm Galaxy Watch Classic. Having worn the device for several days now, I’m feeling pretty good about the choice. Given the design, I’m fairly certain the 46mm would have been too much watch for my day to day use. And certainly it would have been too large to attempt to sleep in.

I’m still curious how the 44mm version of the standard Watch would have fit, but if you’ve got the choice of rotating bezel, go for rotating bezel. A 40mm version of the Classic would be a nice option for users with smaller wrists looking for that functionality, but Samsung’s heading in the right direction here, with four distinct sizes.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Like much of the competition, Samsung is leading with health offerings here. I’ve been trying to up my exercise game, a year and half into the pandemic, and the watch does a solid job with workout detection. It’s about on par with the Apple Watch, in terms of auto detecting walks and runs. I’ve gotten into the rowing machine at the gym of late, and it does a solid job there, as well. It understandably is considerably more difficult with my morning HIIT routines, and yoga was a wash, so you’re best starting those manually, unless you’re using one of the company’s connected routines.

There’s an ECG on-board to detect heart irregularities. It’s a quickly standardizing tool that many medical professionals have begun to recommend for detecting early heart issues. Body Composition is a standout new feature here that offers key health metrics like skeletal muscle, body water, metabolic rate and body fat percentage by placing two fingers on the device.

Sleep tracking offers solid insight, including blood oxygen, light/deep/rem and total sleep score (hint, mine is low). If you’re able/willing to sleep with your phone near you, the app will also let you know how much time you’ve been snoring during the night. Taken together, the numbers can offer some good, actionable insight into your sleeping patterns.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Of course, wearing a watch to sleep is not only a matter of comfort — it’s also a matter of battery life. The life on the Watch Classic is okay — I was able to go a day and a half of standard to light usage. That’s enough to do fitness and sleep tracking, assuming you can find some time in the morning or around lunch to charge it up again. Perfectly acceptable for most usage, but not really anything to write home about.

All of these elements add up to a solid smartwatch experience. The Galaxy Watch 4 is the best smartwatch for Samsung users, and there’s a strong case to be made for it being the best Android-compatible smartwatch, period.

 

#galaxy-watch, #hardware, #reviews, #samsung, #samsung-galaxy-watch-4, #smartwatch, #wear-os, #wearables

Ultrahuman raises $17.5M, touting a wearable blood glucose tracker

Fitness platform Ultrahuman has officially announced a $17.5 million Series B fund raise, with investment coming from early stage fund Alpha Wave Incubation, Steadview Capital, Nexus Venture Partners, Blume Ventures and Utsav Somani’s iSeed fund.

A number of founders and angel investors also participated in the Bangalore-headquartered startup’s Series B, including Tiger Global’s Scott Schleifer, Deepinder Goyal (CEO of Zomato), Kunal Shah (CEO of Cred), and Gaurav Munjal and Romain Saini (the CEO and co-founders of unacademy), among others. The latest tranche of funding brings its total raised to date to $25M.

While the subscription platform has been around since 2019, offering a fairly familiar blend of home workout videos, mindfulness content, sleep sessions and heart rate tracking (integrating with third party wearables like the Apple Watch), its latest fitness tool looks rather more novel — as it’s designed for monitoring metabolic activity by tracking the user’s glucose levels (aka, blood sugar).

Keeping tabs on blood sugar is essential for people living with diabetes. But in the US alone millions of people are prediabetic — meaning they have a higher than normal level of blood glucose and are at risk of developing diabetes, though they may not know it yet.

More broadly, Ultrahuman claims over a billion people in the world suffer from a metabolic health disorder — underlining the scale of the potential addressable market it’s eyeing. 

Having sustained high blood glucose is associated with multiple health issues so managing the condition with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise is advisable. Lifestyle changes can reduce elevated blood glucose and shrink or even avoid negative health impacts — such as by averting the risk of a prediabetic person going on to develop full blown diabetes.

But knowing what type of diet and exercise regime will work best for a particular person can be tricky — and involve a lot of frustrating trial and error — since people’s glucose responses to different food items can differ wildly.

These responses depend on a person’s metabolic health — which in turn depends on individual factors like microbiome diversity, stress levels, time of day, food ingredient and quality. (See also: Personalized nutrition startups like Zoe — which is similarly paying mind to blood glucose levels but as one component of a wider play to try to use big data and AI to decode the microbiome.) 

With metabolic health being so specific to each of us there’s a strong case for continuous glucose monitoring having widespread utility — certainly if the process and price-point can be made widely accessible.

Here, Ultrahuman is having a go at productizing the practice for a fitness enthusiast market — launching its first device in beta back in June — although the price-point it’s targeting is starting out fairly premium. 

The product (a wearable and a subscription service) — which it’s branded ‘Cyborg’ — consists of a skin patch that extracts glucose from the interstitial fluid under the skin, per founder and CEO, Mohit Kumar, with the data fed into a companion app for analysis and visualization.

Image credits: Ultrahuman

The patch tracks the wearer’s blood glucose levels as they go about their day — eating, exercising, sleeping etc — with the biomarker used to trigger the app to nudge the user to “optimize your lifestyle”, as Ultrahuman’s website puts it — such as by alerting the user to a high blood glucose event and suggesting they take exercise to bring their level down.

If the product lives up to its promise of continuous glucose monitoring made easy, lovers of junk food could be in for a rude awakening as they’re served fast feedback on how their body copes (or, well, doesn’t) with their favorite snacks…

“We use medical grade sensors that have been used in the sports technology domain for the last 6-7 yrs with decent accuracy levels,” says Kumar when we ask about the specifics of the wearable technology it’s using. (The sensing hardware is being ‘worn’ here in the sense that it’s directly attached to (i.e. stuck into/on) bare skin.)

While Ultrahuman’s platform has plenty more vanilla fitness content, the company is now billing itself as a “metabolic fitness platform” — putting the nascent product front and center, even though the glucose tracking subscription service remains in closed beta for now.

The startup is operating a waitlist for sign-ups as it continues to hone the technology.   

Ultrahuman touts “thousands” of people signed up and waiting to get their hands on the glucose tracker service — and says it’s seeing 60% week over week growth in sign ups, with wider availability of the product slated for “early 2022”.

Some of the Series B cash will be used to make improvements to the quality of the glucose biomarkers ahead of a full product launch.

On the enhancements side, Kumar tells TechCrunch the team is exploring “other form factors and other types of sensors that could help us capture glucose in a more accurate way and for a longer duration than 14 days”, as they work to hone the wearable. (The current version of the skin-worn sensor only lasts two weeks before it must be replaced with another patch.)

“We want to add more biomarkers like HRV [heart-rate variability], sleep zones and respiratory rate to help people understand the impact of metabolic health on their recovery/sleep and vice-versa,” he adds.

Ultrahuman says it decided to focus on tracking glucose as its “main biomarker” as it can be used as a proxy for quantifying a number of fitness and wellness issues — making it a (potentially) very useful measure of individual health signals.

Or provided the startup’s technology is able to detect changes to glucose levels with enough sensitivity to be able to make meaningful recommendations per user.

“Glucose is interesting because it is a real-time biomarker that’s affected by exercise, sleep, stress and food,” says Kumar, adding: “We are able to help people make lifestyle changes across many vectors like nutrition, sleep, stress and exercise vs being unidimensional. It is also highly personalized as it guides you as per your body’s own response.”

He gives some examples of how the product could help users by identifying beneficial tweaks they could make to their diet and exercise regimes — such as figuring out which foods in their current diet yield “a healthy metabolic response” vs those that “need more optimization” (aka, avoiding the dreaded sugar crash). Or by helping users identify “a great meal window” for their lifestyle — based in their body’s glucose consumption rate.

Other helpful nudges he suggests the service can provide to sensor-wearing users — with an eye on athletes and fitness fanatics — is how best to fuel up before exercise to perform optimally.

Optimizing the last meal of the day to improve sleep efficiency is another suggestion.

If Ultrahuman’s Cyborg can do all that with a (bearably) wearable skin patch and a bit of clever algorithmic analysis it could take the quantified self trend to the next level.

A simple stick-on sensor-plus-app that passively amplifies internal biological signals and translates individual biomarkers into highly actionable real-time personalized health insights could be the start of something huge in preventative healthcare.

Again, though, Ultrahuman’s early pricing suggests there will be some fairly hard limits on who is able to tap in here.

Early adopters in the closed beta are shelling out $80 per month for the subscription service, per Kumar. And — at least for now — the startup is eyeing adding more bells and whistles, rather than fewer. “[Product pricing] will mostly be in the same range but may introduce more services/premium features on top of this,” he confirms.

The (typically higher) cost of eating healthily and having enough leisure time to be able to look after your body by taking exercise are other hard socioeconomic limits that won’t be fixed by a wearable, no matter how smart.

 

#alpha, #bangalore, #blume-ventures, #cred, #deepinder-goyal, #diabetes, #fundings-exits, #gaurav-munjal, #glucose, #health, #junk-food, #kunal-shah, #nexus-venture-partners, #nutrition, #scott-schleifer, #steadview-capital, #tc, #tiger-global, #ultrahuman, #wearable-technology, #wearables, #zomato

Fitbit’s Luxe activity tracker is a stylish way to casually care about fitness

Fitbit Luxe on a users wrist

Enlarge (credit: Corey Gaskin)

In the game of fitness wearables, it’s hard to give everyone what they want. That’s why Garmin offers a seemingly endless array of watches, Apple currently sells no less than three Apple Watches, and Fitbit has an array of wearables from kid-centric trackers to a smartwatch the company hopes can one day detect early symptoms of COVID-19.

The Fitbit Luxe, which retails for $150, is the latter’s latest style-focused fitness tracker. It attempts to provide some smartwatch luxuries in a device that looks like a piece of jewelry. The Luxe is a cute tracker, but it has some questionable choices and oversights to be aware of—most of which are endemic to Fitbit devices.

If you’re looking for an ultracasual fitness tracker and a stylish smart device for your wrist, the Fitbit Luxe could be one of your best options. If you’re looking to get active and stay active, though, you may want to look elsewhere.

Read 45 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#features, #fitbit, #fitbit-luxe, #fitness-trackers, #review, #tech, #wearables

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review: Getting out of their own way

Earlier this year, Nothing launched the Ear (1) with a grand idea: earbuds as fashion accessories. Sure, the company talked a lot about the non-invasiveness of transparent design, but at the end of the day, the product’s launch on StockX betrayed a focus on the fashion forward.

In that respect, Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds 2 are the anti-Nothing. They’re almost aggressively unassuming in their approach. It’s in keeping with previous generations of Buds, but still in stark — and refreshing — contrast for a company that prides itself on creating some of the world’s most ostentatious smartphones. Look no further than the two (!) new foldables launched along with the headphones at the Unpacked event.

Samsung’s almost casual approach to its headphones is something of a mixed blessing. The company could certainly be clearer with the branding of what seems to be an ever-shifting lineup of models. I asked for clarification of how things break down ahead of this week’s launch, and the company responded thusly:

As our premium offering, the Galaxy Buds Pro leverage cutting-edge technology to deliver immersive audio, intelligent Active noise cancelling, and effortless connectivity. For those looking to show off their unique style, the Galaxy Buds Live combine high quality sound with an eye-catching design.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

So, the short answer is there are three versions of Galaxy Buds on the market: Buds 2, Buds Pro and Buds Live. The above quote should confirm any suspicion you may have had that the new $149 version of the entry-level Buds make the $170 Buds Live Buds more or less redundant. Barring some major upgrade, they’re probably not long for this world, leaving a clearer two-level offering of the Buds 2 and the higher-end Buds Pro.

I’ve mentioned this before — the world of wireless earbuds were quick to reach a consensus of “pretty good.” Frankly, you’d have to go out of your way to find a bad pair for over $100. And for many or most intents and purposes, I’m inclined to recommend people go with a pair made by the company that made their phone. There’s a definite market advantage in having direct access to a device’s hardware and software.

That, of course, is a decided advantage for a company with as massive a global market share as Samsung. And the Galaxy Buds 2 are the epitome of “pretty good” in the pretty good way. They’re not flashy, and with a design that’s 15% smaller and 20% lighter than the already compact original Galaxy Buds, they’re designed to practically disappear, with minimal surface area exposed.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The size and shape makes for an extremely comfortable pair of buds. I’m not sure why I’m blessed with the gift of ear pain with roughly half of the earbuds I try out, but these are ergonomic and designed for the long haul. There’s enough surface area to access the touch control on the exposed side. The biggest downside to the small size is there’s really no way to adjust them in your ear without accidentally triggering that touch. That became a nuisance when I constantly found myself adjusting them to deal with sweaty ears during a run — a bad time to have to worry about dealing with music controls.

The sound is solid, courtesy of Samsung subsidiary AKG. Not exceptional, but pretty much exactly what you need/want out of a pair of $149 buds. I was impressed with the active noise canceling, as well. A perfectly good, totally unexceptional experience — utilitarian, really. Again: in a good way. If better sound is a must, the Pros are an easy upgrade — or else, there’s Nura’s new buds or Sony’s, depending on how lavish you want get. The Buds Pro also bring features like 360 Audio — which is likely only a make-or-break for an exceedingly small number of potential buyers.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Wireless charging for the case is a welcome touch, which along with ANC, catapults them above a number of other entry-level pairs. The battery is rated five hours with ANC and 7.5 with it off. The glassy little case bumps that up to a respectable 20 hours. The IPX2 water resistance, meanwhile, is good for sweat, but otherwise can be added to the list of things the company can improve next around.

All in all, it’s a pretty short list, however. The Galaxy Buds 2 are solid, unassuming and an easy addition for those in the Samsung Galaxy ecosystem.

 

 

#earbuds, #galaxy-buds, #galaxy-buds-2, #hardware, #reviews, #samsung, #wearables, #wireless-earbuds

Samsung announces new Galaxy Watch 4, drops iOS support for new wearables

samsung's new galaxy watch 4

Enlarge / The Galaxy Watch 4 (credit: Samsung)

Samsung just wrapped its 2021 Unpacked event, and in addition to releasing a few high-end foldable phones, the company announced new Galaxy Watches. The watches’ designs have been updated moderately, as have their innards, and they will be the first smartwatches running Google and Samsung’s new Wear OS.

For the first time—and perhaps as a result of the Google/Samsung collaboration—the newest Galaxy Watches will not be able to pair with iOS devices. Samsung told us that it currently has no plans to stop legacy support for previous Galaxy Watches that were compatible with iOS devices.

Google’s revamped Wear OS platform was first announced at Google I/O earlier this year as a collaboration between Samsung and Google. The new Galaxy Watches give us our first glimpse at the software since the announcement. For now, it seems that slightly wider app compatibility is the main feature on the software front. Hardware may be the biggest advantage, though, as Samsung’s chips, like the new Exynos W920 in the Galaxy Watch 4, will be available to all future Google wearables, which desperately need hardware upgrades.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#galaxy-watch, #galaxy-watch-4, #samsung, #tech, #unpacked-2021, #wearables

Samsung brings active noise cancellation to its entry-level Galaxy Buds

In what has quickly become the busiest Unpacked of the virtual era, Samsung just dropped a new version of its wireless earbuds. The Galaxy Buds 2 add active noise canceling to the entry-level model, while retaining the $149 price point.

For those keeping track, the current Galaxy Buds offerings are Buds 2 ($149), Buds Live ($170) and Buds Pro ($200). The addition pretty clearly blurs the line between the first two. Asked for clarification on how the offerings now shake out, Samsung tells TechCrunch:

As our premium offering, the Galaxy Buds Pro leverage cutting-edge technology to deliver immersive audio, intelligent Active noise cancelling, and effortless connectivity. For those looking to show off their unique style, the Galaxy Buds Live combine high quality sound with an eye-catching design.

So, design and sound are the differentiators. The Buds Live were, of course, introduced during a time when ANC was more of an exception than a rule for nonpremium-priced earbuds, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see them start to be phased out.

As I’ve said in the past, Samsung’s earbuds have always been quietly solid. They don’t get the love of Apple or Sony in that department, but the company has consistently produced solid buds, and I don’t see any reason to expect these will be any different. Of course, the Pros still sit at the high end, in terms of sound quality, 360 audio, etc.

Samsung says the new Buds are their smallest and lightest to date. Indeed, the Buds, the case and everything are quite compact (and surprisingly glossy!). They retain the familiar ovular shape that sits up against the wearer’s ear. They’re built specifically to pair with the company’s mobile devices, but you should be able to connect them to any Bluetooth device.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Like the rest of today’s devices, the Buds 2 are now up for preorder and start shipping on August 26. Look for a review in the not too distant future.

#galaxy-buds, #hardware, #samsung, #samsung-galaxy-buds, #samsung-unpacked, #samsung-unpacked-2021, #wearables, #wireless-earbuds

Samsung returns to Wear OS with the Galaxy Watch 4

Samsung’s watches have long been something of an anomaly. While the company embraced Wear OS (then Android Wear) in its earliest days with the massive Gear Live, the company quickly shifted to Tizen, an open-source operating system largely used by Samsung for wearables and smart TVs.

That’s no doubt been a kind of bugbear for Google, which has long struggled to crack a significant portion of the smartwatch market. Samsung, meanwhile, has had its share of success with its products while doing its own thing. But there’s always more market share to be grabbed.

Third-party apps have long been an issue for basically every smartwatch maker but Apple (it’s the main reason Fitbit bought Pebble, if you’ll recall), and clearly Samsung saw the opportunity in reigniting its partnership with Google. The deal — first mentioned at I/O and discussed more recently at MWC — is now seeing the light of day on the brand new Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The companies refer to it as “the new Wear OS Powered by Samsung.” What that means, practically, is that Wear OS serves as the code base. Design and other elements of Tizen exist in here, but for all practical intents and purposes, it’s a custom built version of Google’s wearable operating system, which Samsung helped build out.

The company will stress that latter bit as an important bit of clarification — that it didn’t just slap a new coat of paint on the OS here. The company’s One UI Watch sits atop all of that, in a bid to create a unified user experience across Samsung’s mobile devices and wearable line.

Per a release:

Galaxy Watch 4 Series is also the first generation of smartwatches to feature Wear OS Powered by Samsung — a new platform that elevates every aspect of the smartwatch experience. Built by Samsung and Google, this cutting-edge platform lets you tap into an expansive ecosystem right from your wrist — with popular Google apps like Google Maps, and beloved Galaxy services, like Samsung Pay, SmartThings and Bixby. The new platform also includes support for leading third-party apps, like Adidas Running, Calm, Strava and Spotify.

In a blog post this morning, Google breaks down its end of the partnership thusly,

We’re taking what we’ve learned from Wear OS and Tizen to jointly build what smartwatch users need. Compared to previous Wear OS smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch4 features a 2.5x shorter set up experience, up to 40 hours of battery life, optimized performance with app launch times 30 percent faster than before and access to a huge ecosystem of apps and services.

And there are more ways to get more done from your wrist with Wear OS. We’re introducing more capabilities and a fresh new look based on Material You design language for Google Maps, Messages by Google and Google Pay apps as well as launching a YouTube Music app. There are also new apps and Tiles coming to Wear OS for quicker access to your favorites.

The software giant singles out turn-by-turn directions on Google Maps, the ability to download and listen to songs on YouTube Music and improved app discovery via Google Play. The news also finds Google Pay on Wear OS coming to 16 additional countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, Taiwan, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates.

The other key focus on the line continues to be health — it’s the field on which all smartwatches are currently competing. The monitoring is built around a smaller version of the company’s BioActive Sensor, which measures optical heart rate, electrical heart (ECG) and Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis. The trio of sensors measure a bunch of different metrics, including blood pressure, AFib monitoring, blood oxygen and now body composition/BMI. So now, for better or worse, your watch will tell you your body fat percentage [post-pandemic grimace face emoji]. Says Samsung, “In about 15 seconds, your watch’s sensor will capture 2,400 data points.”

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Design is the primary distinction between the two models. The Galaxy Watch 4 is the thinner and lighter of the two — more in line with the Galaxy Watch Active. It sports a touch bezel, versus the Classic’s physical spinning bezel — arguably Samsung’s best innovation in the category.

Also, of note: Both models come in two sizes. That’s always been a bit of a sticking point for me on Samsung Watches. If your devices are large and only come in the one size, you’re essentially knocking out a sizable portion of your customer base right off the bat. The Watch 4 comes in 40mm and 44mm and the Classic is available in 42mm and 46mm. The models start at $250 and $350, respectively. Another $50 will get you LTE connectivity.

The watches go up for preorder today and start shipping on August 26. Preordering will get you a $50 Samsung Credit. The company is also launching a limited-edition Thom Browne version of the Classic in September, which will almost certainly cost an arm and/or leg.

#galaxy-watch, #hardware, #health, #samsung-galaxy-watch, #samsung-unpacked-2021, #tc, #tizen, #wear-os, #wearables

Watch Samsung introduce its latest foldables live

Samsung is set to introduce a whole bunch of new products, starting today at 7 AM PT/10 AM ET. I wrote a whole bunch of words about what to expect from the company’s latest Unpacked event. It’s a long list and a kind of return to the pre-pandemic days, back before companies started taking liberties by holding separate events for all their new products.

You can stream the proceedings here:

Here’s the short bulleted version, based on a deluge of leaks over the past several weeks and months:

  • Galaxy Z Fold 3
  • Galaxy Z Flip 3
  • Galaxy Watch 4
  • Galaxy Buds 2

Samsung has more or less confirmed the first three already. The company gave some substantial details on its forthcoming foldables. We’ve also heard a good deal about the new smartwatch — from a software standpoint, at least. Both Samsung and Google have been discussing their upcoming joint software platform.

More info on all of the above, soon. And perhaps even a surprise or two? Perhaps. We’ll be following along with the latest.

#foldables, #galaxy-buds, #hardware, #samsung, #samsung-galaxy-fold, #samsung-unpacked, #samsung-unpacked-2021, #unpacked, #wearables

What to expect from Samsung’s next Unpacked

Foldables! Two, probably! Those are your headliners. Samsung tipped its hand with the event invite, which features a pair of geometrical objects that pretty clearly represent the new Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip.

The other headliner is what we won’t be seeing at the event (Deadliner? Endliner?). The company already confirmed via corporate blog that we won’t be seeing the next version of the Galaxy Note next week. That’s a big break from the device’s long-standing annual refresh cycle.

We still don’t know if this is the end-end of the line for the phablet. Samsung told TechCrunch, “We will not be launching new Galaxy Note devices in 2021. Instead, Samsung plans to continue to expand the Note experience and bring many of its popular productivity and creativity features, including the S Pen, across our Galaxy ecosystem. We will share more details on our future portfolio once we are ready to announce.”

Image Credits: Samsung

Rumors surfaced prior to this revelation that the company may have been forced to put the device on hold, as global supply chain issues continue to hamstring manufacturers. There’s also an argument to be made, however, that Samsung has gradually made the Note redundant over the past several Galaxy S updates.

It seems telling that the company referred to a forthcoming “flagship” in its official Unpacked copy. With the Note out of the picture and the Galaxy S about six months out from a refresh, this appears to refer to the Galaxy Fold gaining the (admittedly ceremonial) title. Whether that means two or three flagships in the company’s Armada remains to be seen.

What we do know, however, is that — like the Galaxy S before it — at least one of the forthcoming foldables will be blurring that Note line.

“I hope you’ll join us as we debut our next Galaxy Z family and share some foldable surprises — including the first-ever S Pen designed specifically for foldable phones,” the company’s president and head of Mobile Communications Business, TM Roh wrote. The executive also promised “even more refined style, armed with more durable, stronger material” on the new Galaxy Z Flip.

Previous — and subsequent — leaks have given us good looks at both the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3. Hell, it wouldn’t be a Samsung event if pretty much everything didn’t leak out prior to the event.

A series of tweets from EVLeaks has given us nearly every angle of the upcoming foldable smartphones, along with (European) prices that put the Fold and Flip starting at €1,899 and €1,099, respectively. Both mark a sizable decrease from the previous generation. That’s nice — if not entirely surprising. Samsung’s plan all along has clearly been a prolonged drop in pricing as foldable technology scaled. We’re still a long ways away from cheap here, but perhaps nudging our way toward the realm of possibility for more users.

Other leaked details for the Fold/Flip include a 7.6/6.7-inch internal display, a Snapdragon 888 processor (both) and 12MP triple/dual cameras, respectively. Interestingly, water resistance is also reportedly on board here.

With a year of virtual events under its belt, the company seems to have a better idea of pacing. Samsung — along with many other companies in the space — took liberties when events went more from in-person to online, meting out announcements event by event. Thankfully, next week’s Unpacked is a much bigger, self-contained event.

The other expected highlights are both wearables. First is the long-awaited fruits of the partnership between Samsung and Google that was announced at I/O. We didn’t get a lot of info at the time, beyond the fact that it will potentially be a boon for users and developers, with the ability to jointly create apps for both the beleaguered Wear OS and Samsung’s custom brand of Tizen.

Image Credits: Samsung

“Samsung and Google have a long history of collaboration, and whenever we’ve worked together, the experience for our consumers has been dramatically better for everyone,” Google SVP Sameer Samat said at a June follow-up to the I/O news. “That certainly holds true for this new, unified platform, which will be rolling out for the first time on Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch. In collaboration with Samsung, we’re thrilled to bring longer battery life, faster performance and a wide range of apps, including many from Google to a whole new wearable experience.”

The company held an (admittedly disappointing) event at MWC focused on the forthcoming watch. There was, however, one key thing missing: the watch. Based on pure speculation, I’d suggest that the wearable just didn’t come together on the timeline Samsung was expecting, but the company went ahead and did a virtual presser at the (mostly virtual) trade show.

The company did, however, announced One UI Watch — a wearable version of its streamlined OS interface. Samsung notes in a press release:

One UI Watch together with the new unified platform will create an entirely new Galaxy Watch experience. As part of the new experience, once you install watch-compatible apps on your smartphone, they will be swiftly downloaded onto your smartwatch. If you’ve customized your clock app on your phone to show the time in different cities around the globe, this will be automatically reflected on your watch as well. And if you block calls and messages from your watch, they will now be blocked on your smartphone, too.

Leaks have also revealed the Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic models along with (again) European pricing. They’re reportedly set to start at €279 and €379, respectively, with each featuring multiple sizing options. That last bit was always a sticking point for me with Samsung watches, which have traditionally been fairly massive, knocking out a good number of potential buyers in the process.

The last big piece of the puzzle are the Galaxy Buds 2. The latest upgrade to the company’s entry-level buds are said to be gaining active noise canceling.

Will there be surprises once things kick off at 7AM PT/10AM ET on August 11? Little, ones, probably. These leaks have a tendency to capture things in broad strokes but miss some of the key nuances in the process. And while the company is more than a little familiar with pre-show leaks, it’s still managed to surprise us in the past.

#events, #foldables, #gadgets, #galaxy-buds, #galaxy-flip, #galaxy-fold, #galaxy-watch, #hardware, #mobile, #samsung, #samsung-unpacked, #samsung-unpacked-2021, #wearables

Exo secures $200M toward commercializing ultrasound device

Exo, pronounced “echo,” raised a fresh cash infusion of $220 million in Series C financing aimed at commercializing its handheld ultrasound device and point-of-care workflow platform, Exo Works.

The round was led by RA Capital Management, while BlackRock, Sands Capital, Avidity Partners, Pura Vida Investments and prior investors joined in.

The new funding gives the Redwood City, California-based company over $320 million in total investments since the company was founded in 2015, Exo CEO Sandeep Akkaraju told TechCrunch. This includes a $40 million investment raised in 2020.

Ultrasound machines can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $250,000 for low-end technology and into the millions for high-end machines. Meanwhile, Exo’s device will be around the cost of a laptop.

“It is clear to us that ultrasound is the future — it is nonradiating and has no harmful side effects,” Akkaraju said. “We want to take the technology and put it in the palms of physicians. We also want to bring it down to the patient level. The beauty of having this window into the body is you can immediately see things.”

Using a combination of artificial intelligence, medical imaging and silicon technology, the device enables users to use it in a number of real-world medical environments like evaluating cardiology patients or scanning lungs of a COVID-19 patient. It can also be used by patients at home to provide real-time insight following a surgical procedure or to monitor a certain condition.

Exo then adds in its Exo Works, the workflow platform, that streamlines exam review, documentation and billing in under one minute.

Akkaraju said the immediate focus of the company is commercializing the device, which is where most of the new funding will go. He intends to also build out its informatics platform that is being piloted across the country and to ramp up both production and its sales force.

The global point-of-care ultrasound market is expected to reach $3.1 billion by 2025 and will grow 5% annually over that period. In addition to physicians, Akkaraju is hearing from other hospital workers that they, too, want to use the ultrasound device for some of their daily tasks like finding the right vein for an IV.

Once the company’s device is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Exo will move forward with its plan to bring the handheld ultrasound device to market.

Zach Scheiner, principal with RA Capital Management, said he met the Exo team in 2020 and RA made its first investment in the Series B extension later that year.

He was “immediately compelled” by the technology and the opportunity to scale. Scheiner also got to know Akkaraju over the months as well as saw how Exo’s technology was improving.

“We are seeing an expanding opportunity in healthcare technology as it improves and costs go down,” he added. “The vision Sandeep has of democratizing the ultrasound is not a vision that was possible 15 or 20 years ago. We are seeing the market in its early stage, but we also recognize the potential. Every doctor should want one to see what they were not able to see before. As technology and biology improves, we are going to see this sector grow.”

 

#artificial-intelligence, #blackrock, #cloud, #exo, #funding, #health, #healthcare-technology, #medical-equipment, #medical-imaging, #recent-funding, #sands-capital, #tc, #ultrasound, #wearables

This limited-edition Super Mario smartwatch will run you $2,150

Those who’ve followed Nintendo with any sort of frequency over the years know the gaming giant has a tendency to be extremely protective with its IP. Ultimately, it’s probably for the best that the market wasn’t flooded with cheap Mario knickknacks the way it easily could have been.

In recent years, however, the company has seemingly loosened its approach, more readily embracing brand partnerships in ways it has shunned in the past. Heck, we’ve even gotten a bunch of mobile games and a theme park out of the deal.

Today, it takes the wraps off of one of the more surprising brand partnerships in recent memory, in a deal with Swiss watch company TAG Heuer, which makes very nice — and extremely expensive — timepieces. The “long-term collaboration” is kicking off with a limited-edition (2,000 units) Mario smartwatch that will set you back $2,150.

Image Credits: TAG Heuer/Nintendo

Clearly there’s a bit of a disconnect between the pricing on the TAG Heuer Connected and the sort of accessibility the company offers with hardware like the Switch. In fact, you can buy six of the high-end new OLED Switches for the price of a single Mario-branded smartwatch — or, for that matter, five Apple Watch Series 6s.

I will give it this — it’s a pretty sweet-looking watch. And, given the barrier of entry, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be the only person you know who owns one (forget for a moment that, unlike expensive analog watches, smartwatches aren’t designed to last forever). The hook here are little Mario animations that pop up throughout the day as you hit your step count and meet other goals. It’s fun and something that would play really well on a fitness watch for kids (for, one imagines, a fraction of the price).

Image Credits: TAG Heuer/Nintendo

The watch is, effectively, a redesigned version of the TAG Heuer Connected, a $2,000 Wear OS device that launched last April. The timepiece got high marks for design quality — as one would expect from the company. This version adds touches like a Mario “M” on the dial, red accents throughout and a matching red rubber strap (along with a black leather version).

Image Credits: TAG Heuer/Nintendo

The case measures 45mm in diameter and the watch sports a 430 mAh battery the company says should get you between six and 20 hours of life, depending on usage. That’s due in part to the inclusion of GPS and a heart rate monitor.

It’s available starting July 15.

#gaming, #google, #mario, #nintendo, #smartwatch, #tag-heuer, #wearables, #wearos

Nothing founder Carl Pei on Ear 1 and building a hardware startup from scratch

On July 27, hardware maker Nothing will debut its first product, wireless earbuds dubbed Ear 1. Despite releasing almost no tangible information about the product, the company has managed to generate substantial buzz around the launch — especially for an entry into the already-crowded wireless earbud market.

The hype, however, is real — and somewhat understandable. Nothing founder Carl Pei has a good track record in the industry — he was just 24 when he co-founded OnePlus in 2013. The company has done a canny job capitalizing on heightened expectations, meting out information about the product like pieces in a puzzle.

We spoke to Pei ahead of the upcoming launch to get some insight into Ear 1 and the story behind Nothing.

TC: I know there was a timing delay with the launch. Was that related to COVID-19 and supply chain issues?

CP: Actually, it was due to our design. Maybe you’ve seen the concept image of this transparent design. It turns out there’s a reason why there aren’t many transparent consumer tech products out there. It’s really, really hard to make it high quality. You need to ensure that everything inside looks just as good as the outside. So that’s where the team has been iterating, [but] you probably wouldn’t notice the differences between each iteration.

It could be getting the right magnets — as magnets are usually designed to go inside of a product and not be seen by the consumer — to figuring out the best type of gluing. You never have to solve that problem if you have a non-transparent product, but what kind of glue will keep the industrial design intact? I think the main issue has been getting the design ready. And we’re super, super close. Hopefully, it will be a product that people are really excited about when we launch.

So, there were no major supply chain issues?

Not for this product category. With true wireless earbuds, I think we’re pretty fine. No major issues. I mean, we had the issue that we started from zero — so no team and no partners. But step by step, we finally got here.

That seems to imply that you’re at least thinking ahead towards the other products. Have you already started developing them?

We have a lot of products in the pipeline. Earlier this year, we did a community crowdfunding round where we allocated $1.5 million to our community. That got bought up really quickly. But as part of that funding round, we had a deck with some of the products in development. Our products are code-named as Pokemon, so there are a lot of Pokemon on that slide [Editor’s note: The Ear 1 was “Aipom.”]. We have multiple categories that we’re looking at, but we haven’t really announced what those are.

Why were earbuds the right first step?

I think this market is really screaming for differentiation. If you look at true wireless today, I think after Apple came out with the AirPods, the entire market kind of followed. Everybody wears different clothes. This is something we wear for a large part of the day. Why wouldn’t people want different designs?

We’re working with Teenage Engineering — they’re super, super strong designers. I think true wireless is a place where we can really leverage that strength. Also, from a more rational business perspective, wireless earbuds is a super-fast growing product category. I think we’re going to reach 300 million units shipped worldwide this year for this category. And your first product category should be one with good business potential.

“Screaming for differentiation” is an interesting way to put it. When you look at AirPods and the rest of the industry, are aesthetics what the market primarily lacks? Is it features or is it purely stylistic?

If we take a take a step back and think about it from a consumer perspective, we feel like, as a whole, consumer tech is quite, quite boring. Kids used to want to become engineers and astronauts and all that. But if you look at what kids want to become today, they want to be TikTokers or YouTubers. Maybe it’s because technology isn’t as inspiring as before. We talked to consumers, and they don’t care as much as a couple of years ago either. If you look at what what brands are doing in their communication, it’s all about features and specs.

#airpods, #apple, #carl-pei, #casey-neistat, #consumer-hardware, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-hardware, #gadgets, #google, #hardware, #huawei, #nothing, #oneplus, #wearables, #wireless-earbuds, #wireless-headphones

The Apple Watch Series 7 will have a new design, report says

Extreme close-up photograph of a wristwatch on a hand in a pants pocket.

Enlarge / The Apple Watch Series 6, which the new model discussed here would probably replace. (credit: Corey Gaskin)

Like clockwork, Apple has released a new Apple Watch around the same time every year since the device was first introduced in 2015. So no one should be surprised that a new Apple Watch is due later this year. But a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Debby Wu goes into much more detail than just “the Watch is coming soon.”

Citing “people with knowledge of the plans,” Gurman and Wu say the new smartwatch will “likely” be called the Apple Watch Series 7. No surprise there, either.

More surprising: Their sources say the new Apple Watch is likely to be just a bit thicker than the current model. Additionally, Apple is exploring reducing the screen bezels and introducing “a new lamination technique that brings the display closer to the front cover.” The Watch is also said to have the same ultra-wideband technology found in AirTags and recent iPhones, which will be used for things like unlocking doors.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #apple-watch, #apple-watch-series-7, #bloomberg, #tech, #watchos, #wearables

Apple’s latest accessibility features are for those with limb and vocal differences

Apple announced a batch of accessibility features at WWDC 2021 that cover a wide variety of needs, among them a few for people who can’t touch or speak to their devices in the ordinary way. With Assistive Touch, Sound Control, and other improvements, these folks have new options for interacting with an iPhone or Apple Watch.

We covered Assistive Touch when it was first announced, but recently got a few more details. This feature lets anyone with an Apple Watch operate it with one hand by means of a variety of gestures. It came about when Apple heard from the community of people with limb differences — whether they’re missing an arm, or unable to use it reliably, or anything else — that as much as they liked the Apple Watch, they were tired of answering calls with their noses.

The research team cooked up a way to reliably detect the gestures of pinching one finger to the thumb, or clenching the hand into a fist, based on how doing them causes the watch to move — it’s not detecting nervous system signals or anything. These gestures, as well as double versions of them, can be set to a variety of quick actions. Among them is opening the “motion cursor,” a little dot that mimics the movements of the user’s wrist.

Considering how many people don’t have the use of a hand, this could be a really helpful way to get basic messaging, calling, and health-tracking tasks done without needing to resort to voice control.

Speaking of voice, that’s also something not everyone has at their disposal. Many of those who can’t speak fluently, however, can make a bunch of basic sounds, which can carry meaning for those who have learned — not so much Siri. But a new accessibility option called “Sound Control” lets these sounds be used as voice commands. You access it through Switch Control, not audio or voice, and add an audio switch.

Images of the process of adding an audio switch to the iPhone.

Image Credits: Apple

The setup menu lets the user choose from a variety of possible sounds: click, cluck, e, eh, k, la, muh, oo, pop, sh, and more. Picking one brings up a quick training process to let the user make sure the system understands the sound correctly, and then it can be set to any of a wide selection of actions, from launching apps to asking commonly spoken questions or invoking other tools.

For those who prefer to interact with their Apple devices through a switch system, the company has a big surprise: Game controllers, once only able to be used for gaming, now work for general purposes as well. Specifically noted is the amazing Xbox Adaptive Controller, a hub and group of buttons, switches, and other accessories that improves the accessibility of console games. This powerful tool is used by many, and no doubt they will appreciate not having to switch control methods entirely when they’re done with Fortnite and want to listen to a podcast.

Image Credits: Apple

One more interesting capability in iOS that sits at the edge of accessibility is Walking Steadiness. This feature, available to anyone with an iPhone, tracks (as you might guess) the steadiness of the user’s walk. This metric, tracked throughout a day or week, can potentially give real insight into how and when a person’s locomotion is better and worse. It’s based on a bunch of data collected in the Apple Heart and Movement study, including actual falls and the unsteady movement that led to them.

If the user is someone who recently was fitted for a prosthesis, or had foot surgery, or suffers from vertigo, knowing when and why they are at risk of falling can be very important. They may not realize it, but perhaps their movements are less steady towards the end of the day, or after climbing a flight of steps, or after waiting in line for a long time. It could also show steady improvements as they get used to an artificial limb or chronic pain declines.

Exactly how this data may be used by an actual physical therapist or doctor is an open question, but importantly it’s something that can easily be tracked and understood by the users themselves.

Images of Apple Memoji with a cochlear implant, an oxygen tube, and a soft helmet.

Image Credits: Apple

Among Apple’s other assistive features are new languages for voice control, improved headphone acoustic accommodation, support for bidirectional hearing aids, and of course the addition of cochlear implants and oxygen tubes for memoji. As an Apple representative put it, they don’t want to embrace differences just in features, but on the personalization and fun side as well.

#accessibility, #apple, #apps, #gadgets, #mobile, #tc, #wearables, #wwdc-2021

watchOS 8 brings new mindfulness features and respiratory tracking

You weren’t expecting to make it through this year’s WWDC without some big watchOS news, were you? Apple’s wearable isn’t quite doing iPhone numbers, but Watch has been massively successful for the company, utterly dominating the smartwatch market.

Surprising absolutely no one, the company is taking a more focused approach to mindfulness. Apple’s not ready to kill Calm or Headspace just yet, but the popular breathe feature is getting a much needed upgrade with new animations reminding users to reflect and be more mindful.

Also new is respiratory tracking, which thus far had been more of a background feature. It’s being surfaced in the watchOS experience, for tracking over time and more notifications.

It wouldn’t be a watchOS update without some new faces, of course. Here the company is adding a portrait mode to faces to offer more depth for shots as the lock screen. The Watch Photos app is getting a new layout, as well, along with the share images from the watch to first-party apps like Mail and Messages.

Fitness+ is getting a bunch of new content, as well, including artist musical spotlights for workouts including Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga and Keith Urban. Tai chi and pilates are also being added to the list of workouts tracked by the wearable.

And last, but certainly not least for many, watchOS is also getting GIF support.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#apps, #wearables

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

The Apple Watch Series 6.

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

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

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

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

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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

Spotify brings offline listening to the Apple Watch, at last

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Google announced at I/O today

This year’s I/O event from Google was heavy on the “we’re building something cool” and light on the “here’s something you can use or buy tomorrow.” But there were also some interesting surprises from the semi-live event held in and around the company’s Mountain View campus. Read on for all the interesting bits.

Android 12 gets a fresh new look and some quality of life features

We’ve known Android 12 was on its way for months, but today was our first real look at the next big change for the world’s most popular operating system. A new look, called Material You (yes), focuses on users, apps, and things like time of day or weather to change the UI’s colors and other aspects dynamically. Some security features like new camera and microphone use indicators are coming, as well as some “private compute core” features that use AI processes on your phone to customize replies and notifications. There’s a beta out today for the adventurous!

Wow, Android powers 3 billion devices now

Subhed says it all (but read more here). Up from 2 billion in 2017.

Smart Canvas smushes Docs, productivity, and video calls together

Millions of people and businesses use Google’s suite of productivity and collaboration tools, but the company felt it would be better if they weren’t so isolated. Now with Smart Canvas you can have a video call as you work on a shared doc together and bring in information and content from your Drive and elsewhere. Looks complicated, but potentially convenient.

AI conversations get more conversational with LaMDA

It’s a little too easy to stump AIs if you go off script, asking something in a way that to you seems normal but to the language model is totally incomprehensible. Google’s LaMDA is a new natural language processing technique that makes conversations with AI models more resilient to unusual or unexpected queries, making it more like a real person and less like a voice interface for a search function. They demonstrated it by showing conversations with anthropomorphized versions of Pluto and a paper airplane. And yes, it was exactly as weird as it sounds.

Google built a futuristic 3D video calling booth

One of the most surprising things at the keynote had to be Project Starline, a high-tech 3D video call setup that uses Google’s previous research and Lytro DNA to show realistic 3D avatars of people on both sides of the system. It’s still experimental but looks very promising.

Wear OS gets a revamp and lots of health-focused apps

Image Credits: Google

Few people want to watch a movie on their smartwatch, but lots of people like to use it to track their steps, meditation, and other health-related practices. Wear OS is getting a bunch of Fitbit DNA infused, with integrated health tracking stuff and a lot of third party apps like Calm and Flo.

Samsung and Google announce a unified smartwatch platform

These two mobile giants have been fast friends in the phone world for years, but when it comes to wearables, they’ve remained rivals. In the face of Apple’s utter dominance in the smartwatch space, however, the two have put aside their differences and announced they’ll work on a “unified platform” so developers can make apps that work on both Tizen and Wear OS.

And they’re working together on foldables too

Apparently Google and Samsung realized that no one is going to buy foldable devices unless they do some really cool things, and that collaboration is the best way forward there. So the two companies will also be working together to improve how folding screens interact with Android.

Android TV hits 80 million devices and adds phone remote

Image Credits: Google

The smart TV space is a competitive one, and after a few starts Google has really made it happen with Android TV, which the company announced had reached 80 million monthly active devices — putting it, Roku, and Amazon (the latter two with around 50 million monthly active accounts) all in the same league. The company also showed off a powerful new phone-based remote app that will (among other things) make putting in passwords way better than using the d-pad on the clicker. Developers will be glad to hear there’s a new Google TV emulator and Firebase Test Lab will have Android TV support.

Your Android phone is now (also) your car key

Well, assuming you have a really new Android device with a UWB chip in it. Google is working with BMW first, and other automakers soon most likely, to make a new method for unlocking the car when you get near it, or exchanging basic commands without the use of a fob or Bluetooth. Why not Bluetooth you ask? Well, Bluetooth is old. UWB is new.

Vertex collects machine learning development tools in one place

Google and its sibling companies are both leaders in AI research and popular platforms for others to do their own AI work. But its machine learning development tools have been a bit scattershot — useful but disconnected. Vertex is a new development platform for enterprise AI that puts many of these tools in one place and integrates closely with optional services and standards.

There’s a new generation of Google’s custom AI chips

Google does a lot of machine learning stuff. Like, a LOT a lot. So they are constantly working to make better, more efficient computing hardware to handle the massive processing load these AI systems create. TPUv4 is the latest, twice as fast as the old ones, and will soon be packaged into 4,096-strong pods. Why 4,096 and not an even 4,000? The same reason any other number exists in computing: powers of 2.

And they’re powering some new Photos features including one that’s horrifying

cinematic google photo

NO THANK YOU

Google Photos is a great service, and the company is trying to leverage the huge library of shots most users have to find patterns like “selfies with the family on the couch” and “traveling with my lucky hat” as fun ways to dive back into the archives. Great! But they’re also taking two photos taken a second apart and having an AI hallucinate what comes between them, leading to a truly weird looking form of motion that shoots deep, deep into the uncanny valley, from which hopefully it shall never emerge.

Forget your password? Googlebot to the rescue

Google’s “AI makes a hair appointment for you” service Duplex didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but the company has found a new way to apply it. If you forget your password, Duplex will automatically fill in your old password, pick a new one and let you copy it before submitting it to the site, all by interacting with the website’s normal reset interface. It’s only going to work on Twitter and a handful of other sites via Chrome for now, but hey, if it happens to you a lot, maybe it’ll save you some trouble.

Enter the Shopping Graph

Image Credits: Google I/O 2021

The aged among our readers may remember Froogle, Google’s ill-fated shopping interface. Well, it’s back… kind of. The plan is to include lots of product information, from price to star rating, availability and other info, right in the Google interface when you search for something. It sucks up this information from retail sites, including whether you have something in your cart there. How all this benefits anyone more than Google is hard to imagine, but naturally they’re positioning it as wins all around. Especially for new partner Shopify. (Me, I use DuckDuckGo.)

Flutter cross-platform devkit gets an update

A lot of developers have embraced Google’s Flutter cross-platform UI toolkit. The latest version, announced today, adds some safety settings, performance improvements, and workflow updates. There’s lots more coming, too.

Firebase gets an update too

Popular developer platform Firebase got a bunch of new and updated features as well. Remote Config gets a nice update allowing developers to customize the app experience to individual user types, and App Check provides a basic level of security against external threats. There’s plenty here for devs to chew on.

The next version of Android Studio is Arctic Fox

Image Credits: Google

The beta for the next version of Google’s Android Studio environment is coming soon, and it’s called Arctic Fox. It’s got a brand new UI building toolkit called Jetpack Compose, and a bunch of accessibility testing built in to help developers make their apps more accessible to people with disabilities. Connecting to devices to test on them should be way easier now too. Oh, and there’s going to be a version of Android Studio for Apple Silicon.

#artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #automotive, #finance, #gadgets, #google, #google-i-o, #google-i-o-2021, #google-io-2021, #hardware, #media, #mobile, #privacy, #tc, #transportation, #wearables