Wearables

The new Wear OS starts hitting smartwatches

Posted by | Android, Google, smartwatches, wear os, Wearables | No Comments

Google’s in a tough spot with Wear OS. It’s been four and half years since the operating system arrived as Android Wear, and while plenty of manufacturers have tried their hand at devices, the operating system has failed to make a large dent on the smartwatch category. Apple continues to dominate the space, while top competitors Samsung and Fitbit have opted to go in-house with their operating systems.

In February, Android Wear got a modest 2.0 update, and the following month, the operating system got a full-on rebrand. “We’re now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone,” the company said at the time. Even with all of that movement over the past year, Wear OS is still in need of an upgrade. By a number of early accounts, the 2.1 update, which is starting to roll out to users, is a strong step in that direction.

This latest version brings new swipe gestures, prioritizing notifications, settings, Google Fit and Assistant. Those last two are also getting some key upgrades, helping bring the company’s health and AI offerings up to speed with the competition.

While the smartwatch play has appeared fairly stagnant at times, it’s important to remember as Android celebrates its 10th anniversary that the smartphone OS wasn’t exactly a rousing success out of the gate. In the meantime, Apple, Fitbit and the like have proven that smartwatches do have some staying power, and once again analysts are bullish on the category.

Earlier this month, meanwhile, Qualcomm reaffirmed its commitment to Wear OS by showcasing its chip architecture promising extended battery life. It seems as if enough players are involved and hopeful in Wear OS to keep it going, but there’s still a lot of work to be done if it’s going to break out of the looming shadow of the Apple Watch.

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Not to be overshadowed by the Apple Watch, AliveCor announces a new 6-lead ECG reader

Posted by | AliveCor, Apple, Apple Watch, Atrial fibrillation, ceo, fda, Gadgets, Health, heart attack, medicine, TC, Vic Gundotra, Wearables | No Comments

Apple’s announcement last week of a Watch with an FDA-approved ECG reader to track heart health looked to be the undoing of original ECG reader company AliveCor. But, to prove it still has a hearty pulse, AliveCor tells TechCrunch it is coming out with a “never-before-seen” 6-lead electrocardiogram (ECG), pending FDA approval.

In a care clinic, a patient typically has 12 leads, or stickers placed across their chest to pick up data from their heart. However, other ECG readers typically have one or two leads. The Apple Watch places a single lead system on the wrist. The 6-lead ECG reader is, in theory, more accurate because there are more sensors picking up more information, which could be critical in saving lives.

AliveCor’s and the Apple Watch’s current function is to pick up AFib — or the detection of an irregular heart beat. AliveCor announced earlier this month it had received FDA-approval to use its ECG readers to detect a rare but dangerous blood condition called hyperkalemia.

With 6-lead ECG readers, the AliveCor device could also pick up about 100 different diseases, according to CEO Vic Gundotra, who rattled off a bunch of long-worded maladies I can’t even begin to pronounce but he’s hoping his reader will soon be able to detect.

However, one important detection would be ST elevation — one of the key factors associated with the onset of a heart attack and which could get a person on their way to the hospital before they start displaying other physical symptoms.

Of course, Apple — which already holds 17 percent of the wearables market — could easily decide it, too, needs to add a 6-lead ECG reader to the Watch and beat AliveCor’s market yet again. But Gundotra shrugs at that suggestion.

“They could but we have some pretty good patents in the space,” he told TechCrunch, adding “Apple has done me a great service, actually. We’re a small company but you are talking to me, calling about this [because of their announcement].”

No formal name has been announced yet for the 6-lead product, but AliveCor will be working with the FDA on the regulatory pathway for it and hopes to bring it to over-the-counter consumers by 2019.

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Snapchat adds new styles as Spectacles V2s get used 40% more than V1

Posted by | Apps, eCommerce, Evan Spiegel, Gadgets, hardware, Mobile, Opinion, Snap, snap inc, Snapchat, snapchat spectacles, Social, TC, Wearables | No Comments

Snapchat isn’t revealing sales numbers of version 2 of its Spectacles camera sunglasses, but at least they’re not getting left in a drawer as much as the V1s. The company tells me V2 owners are capturing 40 percent more Snaps than people with V1s.

And today, Snapchat is launching two new black-rimmed hipster styles of Spectacles V2 — a Wayfarer-esque Nico model and a glamorous big-lensed Veronica model. Both come with a slimmer semi-soft black carrying case instead of the chunky old triangular yellow one, and are polarized for the first time. They look a lot more like normal sunglasses, compared to the jokey, bubbly V1s, so they could appeal to a more mature and fashionable audience. They go on sale today for $199 in the US and Europe and will be sold in Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom later this year, while the old styles remain $149.

 

The new Spectacles styles (from left): Veronica and Nico

Spectacles V2 original style (left) and V1 (right)

Snap is also trying to get users to actually post what they capture, so it’s planning an automatically curated Highlight Story feature that will help you turn your best Specs content into great things to share. That could address the problem common amongst GoPro users of shooting a ton of cool footage but never editing it for display.

The problem is that V1 were pretty exceedingly unpopular, and those that did buy them. Snap only shipped 220,000 pairs and reportedly had hundreds of thousands more gathering dust in a warehouse. It took a $40 million write-off and its hardware “camera company” strategy was called into question. Business Insider reported that less than 50 percent of buyers kept using them after a month and a “sizeable” percentage stopped after just a week.

The new styles come with a slimmer semi-soft carry case

That means the bar was pretty low from which to score a 40 percent increase in usage, especially given the V2s take photos, work underwater, come in a slimmer charging case, and lack the V1s’ bright yellow ring around the camera lens that announces you’re wearing a mini computer on your face. Snap was smart to finally let you export in non-circular formats which are useful for sharing beyond Snapchat, and let you automatically save Snaps to your camera roll and not just its app’s Memories feature.

I’ve certainly been using my V2s much more than the V1s since they’re more discrete and versatile. And I haven’t encountered as much fear or anxiety from people worried about being filmed as privacy norms around technology continue to relax.

But even with the improved hardware, new styles, and upcoming features, Spectacles V2 don’t look like they’re moving the needle for Snapchat. After shrinking in user count last quarter, Snap’s share price has fallen to just a few cents above its all-time low. Given most of its users are cash-strapped teens who aren’t going to buy Spectacles even if they’re cool, the company needs to focus on how to make its app for everyone more useful and differentiated after the invasion of Instagram’s copy-cats of its Stories and ephemeral messaging.

Whether that means securing tentpole premium video content for Discover, redesigning Stories to ditch the interstitials for better lean-back viewing, or developing augmented reality games, Snap can’t stay the course. Despite its hardware ambitions, it’s fundamentally a software company. It has to figure out what makes that software special.

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Teardown of Magic Leap One reveals highly advanced placeholder tech

Posted by | augmented reality, Gadgets, hardware, ifixit, Magic Leap, Magic Leap One, TC, teardown, Wearables | No Comments

The screwdriver-happy dismantlers at iFixit have torn the Magic Leap One augmented reality headset all to pieces, and the takeaway seems to be that the device is very much a work in progress — but a highly advanced one. Its interesting optical assembly, described as “surprisingly ugly,” is laid bare for all to see.

The head-mounted display and accompanying computing unit are definitely meant for developers, as we know, but the basic methods and construction Magic Leap is pursuing are clear from this initial hardware. It’s unlikely that there will be major changes to how the gadget works except to make it cheaper, lighter and more reliable.

At the heart of Magic Leap’s tech is its AR display, which overlays 3D images over and around the real world. This is accomplished through a stack of waveguides that allow light to pass along them invisibly, then bounce it out toward your eye from the proper angle to form the image you see.

The “ugly” assembly in question; pic courtesy of iFixit

The waveguide assembly has six layers: one for each color channel (red, blue and green) twice over, arranged so that by adjusting the image you can change the perceived distance and size of the object being displayed.

There isn’t a lot out there like this, and certainly nothing intended for consumer use, so we can forgive Magic Leap for shipping something a little bit inelegant by iFixit’s standards: “The insides of the lenses are surprisingly ugly, with prominent IR LEDs, a visibly striated waveguide “display” area, and some odd glue application.”

After all, the insides of devices like the iPhone X or Galaxy Note 9 should and do reflect a more mature hardware ecosystem and many iterations of design along the same lines. This is a unique, first-of-its-kind device and as a devkit the focus is squarely on getting the functionality out there. It will almost certainly be refined in numerous ways to avoid future chiding by hardware snobs.

That’s also evident from the eye-tracking setup, which from its position at the bottom of the eye will likely perform better when you’re looking down and straight ahead rather than upwards. Future versions may include more robust tracking systems.

Another interesting piece is the motion-tracking setup. A little box hanging off the edge of the headset is speculated to be the receiver for the magnetic field-based motion controller. I remember using magnetic interference motion controllers back in 2010 — no doubt there have been improvements, but this doesn’t seem to be particularly cutting-edge tech. An improved control scheme can probably be expected in future iterations, as this little setup is pretty much independent of the rest of the device’s operation.

Let’s not judge Magic Leap on this interesting public prototype — let us instead judge them on the farcically ostentatious promises and eye-popping funding of the last few years. If they haven’t burned through all that cash, there are years of development left in the creation of a practical and affordable consumer device using these principles and equipment. Many more teardowns to come!

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Movado Group acquires watch startup MVMT

Posted by | Clothing, Facebook, Fashion, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, lacoste, movado, MVMT, social media, Startups, TC, Tommy Hilfiger, Wearables | No Comments

The Movado Group, which sells multiple brands, including Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss, has purchased MVMT, a small watch company founded by Jacob Kassan and Kramer LaPlante in 2013. The company, which advertised heavily on Facebook, logged $71 million in revenue in 2017. Movado purchased the company for $100 million.

“The acquisition of MVMT will provide us greater access to millennials and advances our Digital Center of Excellence initiative with the addition of a powerful brand managed by a successful team of highly creative, passionate and talented individuals,” Movado Chief Executive Efraim Grinberg said.

MVMT makes simple watches for the millennial market in the vein of Fossil or Daniel Wellington. However, the company carved out a niche by advertising heavily on social media and being one of the first microbrands with a solid online presence.

“It provides an opportunity to Movado Group’s portfolio as MVMT continues to cross-sell products within its existing portfolio, expand product offerings within its core categories of watches, sunglasses and accessories, and grow its presence in new markets through its direct-to-consumer and wholesale business,” said Grinberg.

MVMT is well-known as a “fashion brand,” namely a brand that sells cheaper quartz watches that are sold on style versus complexity or cost. Their pieces include standard three-handed models and newer quartz chronographs.

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VR optics could help old folks keep the world in focus

Posted by | accessibility, disability, Gadgets, hardware, Health, science, siggraph, stanford, Stanford University, TC, Wearables | No Comments

The complex optics involved with putting a screen an inch away from the eye in VR headsets could make for smartglasses that correct for vision problems. These prototype “autofocals” from Stanford researchers use depth sensing and gaze tracking to bring the world into focus when someone lacks the ability to do it on their own.

I talked with lead researcher Nitish Padmanaban at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver, where he and the others on his team were showing off the latest version of the system. It’s meant, he explained, to be a better solution to the problem of presbyopia, which is basically when your eyes refuse to focus on close-up objects. It happens to millions of people as they age, even people with otherwise excellent vision.

There are, of course, bifocals and progressive lenses that bend light in such a way as to bring such objects into focus — purely optical solutions, and cheap as well, but inflexible, and they only provide a small “viewport” through which to view the world. And there are adjustable-lens glasses as well, but must be adjusted slowly and manually with a dial on the side. What if you could make the whole lens change shape automatically, depending on the user’s need, in real time?

That’s what Padmanaban and colleagues Robert Konrad and Gordon Wetzstein are working on, and although the current prototype is obviously far too bulky and limited for actual deployment, the concept seems totally sound.

Padmanaban previously worked in VR, and mentioned what’s called the convergence-accommodation problem. Basically, the way that we see changes in real life when we move and refocus our eyes from far to near doesn’t happen properly (if at all) in VR, and that can produce pain and nausea. Having lenses that automatically adjust based on where you’re looking would be useful there — and indeed some VR developers were showing off just that only 10 feet away. But it could also apply to people who are unable to focus on nearby objects in the real world, Padmanaban thought.

This is an old prototype, but you get the idea.

It works like this. A depth sensor on the glasses collects a basic view of the scene in front of the person: a newspaper is 14 inches away, a table three feet away, the rest of the room considerably more. Then an eye-tracking system checks where the user is currently looking and cross-references that with the depth map.

Having been equipped with the specifics of the user’s vision problem, for instance that they have trouble focusing on objects closer than 20 inches away, the apparatus can then make an intelligent decision as to whether and how to adjust the lenses of the glasses.

In the case above, if the user was looking at the table or the rest of the room, the glasses will assume whatever normal correction the person requires to see — perhaps none. But if they change their gaze to focus on the paper, the glasses immediately adjust the lenses (perhaps independently per eye) to bring that object into focus in a way that doesn’t strain the person’s eyes.

The whole process of checking the gaze, depth of the selected object and adjustment of the lenses takes a total of about 150 milliseconds. That’s long enough that the user might notice it happens, but the whole process of redirecting and refocusing one’s gaze takes perhaps three or four times that long — so the changes in the device will be complete by the time the user’s eyes would normally be at rest again.

“Even with an early prototype, the Autofocals are comparable to and sometimes better than traditional correction,” reads a short summary of the research published for SIGGRAPH. “Furthermore, the ‘natural’ operation of the Autofocals makes them usable on first wear.”

The team is currently conducting tests to measure more quantitatively the improvements derived from this system, and test for any possible ill effects, glitches or other complaints. They’re a long way from commercialization, but Padmanaban suggested that some manufacturers are already looking into this type of method and despite its early stage, it’s highly promising. We can expect to hear more from them when the full paper is published.

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Femtech hardware startup Elvie inks strategic partnership with UK’s NHS

Posted by | Apps, biofeedback, Elvie, Europe, Gadgets, hardware, Health, healthcare, National Health Service, pelvic floor, sexual health, smart technology, Tania Boler, United Kingdom, Wearables | No Comments

Elvie, a femtech hardware startup whose first product is a sleek smart pelvic floor exerciser, has inked a strategic partnership with the UK’s National Health Service that will make the device available nationwide through the country’s free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare service so at no direct cost to the patient.

It’s a major win for the startup that was co-founded in 2013 by CEO Tania Boler and Jawbone founder, Alexander Asseily, with the aim of building smart technology that focuses on women’s issues — an overlooked and underserved category in the gadget space.

Boler’s background before starting Elvie (née Chiaro) including working for the U.N. on global sex education curriculums. But her interest in pelvic floor health, and the inspiration for starting Elvie, began after she had a baby herself and found there was more support for women in France than the U.K. when it came to taking care of their bodies after giving birth.

With the NHS partnership, which is the startup’s first national reimbursement partnership (and therefore, as a spokeswoman puts it, has “the potential to be transformative” for the still young company), Elvie is emphasizing the opportunity for its connected tech to help reduce symptoms of urinary incontinence, including those suffered by new mums or in cases of stress-related urinary incontinence.

The Elvie kegel trainer is designed to make pelvic floor exercising fun and easy for women, with real-time feedback delivered via an app that also gamifies the activity, guiding users through exercises intended to strengthen their pelvic floor and thus help reduce urinary incontinence symptoms. The device can also alert users when they are contracting incorrectly.

Elvie cites research suggesting the NHS spends £233M annually on incontinence, claiming also that around a third of women and up to 70% of expectant and new mums currently suffer from urinary incontinence. In 70 per cent of stress urinary incontinence cases it suggests symptoms can be reduced or eliminated via pelvic floor muscle training.

And while there’s no absolute need for any device to perform the necessary muscle contractions to strengthen the pelvic floor, the challenge the Elvie Trainer is intended to help with is it can be difficult for women to know they are performing the exercises correctly or effectively.

Elvie cites a 2004 study that suggests around a third of women can’t exercise their pelvic floor correctly with written or verbal instruction alone. Whereas it says that biofeedback devices (generally, rather than the Elvie Trainer specifically) have been proven to increase success rates of pelvic floor training programmes by 10% — which it says other studies have suggested can lower surgery rates by 50% and reduce treatment costs by £424 per patient head within the first year.

“Until now, biofeedback pelvic floor training devices have only been available through the NHS for at-home use on loan from the patient’s hospital, with patient allocation dependent upon demand. Elvie Trainer will be the first at-home biofeedback device available on the NHS for patients to keep, which will support long-term motivation,” it adds.

Commenting in a statement, Clare Pacey, a specialist women’s health physiotherapist at Kings College Hospital, said: “I am delighted that Elvie Trainer is now available via the NHS. Apart from the fact that it is a sleek, discreet and beautiful product, the app is simple to use and immediate visual feedback directly to your phone screen can be extremely rewarding and motivating. It helps to make pelvic floor rehabilitation fun, which is essential in order to be maintained.”

Elvie is not disclosing commercial details of the NHS partnership but a spokeswoman told us the main objective for this strategic partnership is to broaden access to Elvie Trainer, adding: “The wholesale pricing reflects that.”

Discussing the structure of the supply arrangement, she said Elvie is working with Eurosurgical as its delivery partner — a distributor she said has “decades of experience supplying products to the NHS”.

“The approach will vary by Trust, regarding whether a unit is ordered for a particular patient or whether a small stock will be held so a unit may be provided to a patient within the session in which the need is established. This process will be monitored and reviewed to determine the most efficient and economic distribution method for the NHS Supply Chain,” she added.

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Fossil announces new update to Android Wear watches with HR tracking, GPS

Posted by | Android, Apple Watch, computing, fossil, Gadgets, Google, gps, huawei watch, Qualcomm, smartwatches, TC, technology, ubiquitous computing, watches, wear os, wearable devices, Wearables | No Comments

Fossil’s Q watch line is an interesting foray by a traditional fashion watchmaker into the wearable world. Their latest additions to the line, the Fossil Q Venture HR and Fossil Q Explorist HR, add a great deal of Android Wear functionality to a watch that is reminiscent of Fossil’s earlier, simpler watches. In other words, these are some nice, low-cost smartwatches for the fitness fan.

The original Q watches included a clever hybrid model with analog face and step counter. As the company expanded into wearables, however, they went the Android Wear route and created a number of lower-powered touchscreen watches. Now, thanks to a new chipset, Fossil is able to add a great deal more functionality in a nice package. The Venture and the Explorist adds untethered GPS, NFC, heart rate and 24-hour battery life. It also includes an altimeter and gyroscope sensor.

The new watches start at $255 and run the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip, an optimized chipset for fitness watches.

The watch comes in multiple styles and with multiple bands and features 36 faces, including health and fitness-focused faces for the physically ambitious. The watch also allows you to pay with Google Pay — Apple Pay isn’t supported — and you can store content on the watch for runs or walks. It also tracks swims and is waterproof. The Venture and Explorist are 40mm and 45mm, respectively, and the straps are interchangeable. While they’re no $10,000 Swiss masterpiece, these things look — and work — pretty good.

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Magic Leap One AR headset for devs costs more than 2x the iPhone X

Posted by | alibaba group, Andreessen Horowitz, AR, augmented reality, Gadgets, Google, Magic Leap, Magic Leap One, mixed reality, United States, Virtual reality, wearable devices, Wearables | No Comments

It’s been a long and trip-filled wait but mixed reality headgear maker Magic Leap will finally, finally be shipping its first piece of hardware this summer.

We were still waiting on the price-tag — but it’s just been officially revealed: The developer-focused Magic Leap One ‘creator edition’ headset will set you back at least $2,295.

So a considerable chunk of change — albeit this bit of kit is not intended as a mass market consumer device (although Magic Leap’s founder frothed about it being “at the border of practical for everybody” in an interview with the Verge) but rather an AR headset for developers to create content that could excite future consumers.

Here we go. Magic Leap One Creator Edition is now available to purchase. So if you’re a #developer, creator or explorer, join us as we venture deeper into the world of #spatialcomputing. Take the leap at https://t.co/8HbsM1yNQo #FreeYourMind pic.twitter.com/mpEqNFltlo

— Magic Leap (@magicleap) August 8, 2018

A ‘Pro’ version of the kit — with an extra hub cable and some kind of rapid replacement service if the kit breaks — costs an additional $495, according to CNET. While certain (possibly necessary) extras such as prescription lenses also cost more. So it’s pushing towards 3x iPhone Xes at that point.

The augmented reality startup, which has raised at least $2.3 billion, according to Crunchbase, attracting a string of high profile investors including Google, Alibaba, Andreessen Horowitz and others, is only offering its first piece of reality bending eyewear to “creators in cities across the contiguous U.S.”.

Potential buyers are asked to input their zip code via its website to check if it will agree to take their money but it adds that “the list is growing daily”.

We tried the TC SF office zip and — unsurprisingly — got an affirmative of delivery there. But any folks in, for example, Hawaii wanting to spend big to space out are out of luck for now…

CNET reports that the headset is only available in six U.S. cities at this stage: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco (Bay Area), and Seattle — with Magic Leap saying that “many” more will be added in fall.

The company specifies it will “hand deliver” the package to buyers — and “personally get you set up”. So evidently it wants to try to make sure its first flush of expensive hardware doesn’t get sucked down the toilet of dashed developer expectations.

It describes the computing paradigm it’s seeking to shift, i.e. with the help of enthused developers and content creators, as “spatial computing” — but it really needs a whole crowd of technically and creatively minded people to step with it if it’s going to successfully deliver that.

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Fitbit stock jumps as smartwatches fuel growth

Posted by | fitbit, Gadgets, Wearables | No Comments

Fitbit’s stock price jumped in after-hours trading and is currently trading around $6.00 a share, off its 52-week intraday high of $7.79.

The company today announced its latest quarterly numbers, which saw the average selling price of its wearables increase 6 percent year-over-year to $106 a device. New devices introduced within the last year represented 59 percent of the company’s revenue.

Smartwatches were a high-point for Fitbit this quarter. The company stated that its higher-priced smartwatch wearables outsold Samsung, Garmin and Fossil smartwatches combined in North America. Smartwatch revenue grew to 55 percent of revenue, up from 30 percent on a sequential basis.

“Our performance in Q2 represents the sixth consecutive quarter that we have delivered on our financial commitments, made important progress in transforming our business, and continued to adapt to the changing wearables market. Demand for Versa, our first ‘mass-appeal’ smartwatch, is very strong. Within the second quarter, Versa outsold Samsung, Garmin and Fossil smartwatches combined in North America, improving our position with retailers, solidifying shelf space for the Fitbit brand and providing a halo effect to our other product offerings,” said James Park, co-founder and CEO.

Fitbit’s stock price rallied earlier this summer, hitting 7.79 — its highest selling price since early 2017. The stock has been slipping since, though this quarterly release could cause the price to jump again.

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