smartwatch

Apple shared a few more details about how the Apple Watch will work — see this excellent Verge article for a good summary. The most interesting part is Apple’s intention next year to enable fully native apps on the watch. This does not necessarily mean the Apple Watch will work without an iPhone, but it certainly makes that a possibility. The question though is…why?

The way Android Wear and Apple Watch (in year 1 at least) generally works is that the phone does most of the heavy lifting while the watch is merely a display that also receives inputs. It’s not unlike thin client computing, where the cloud does the work and the thin client handles output and input. This arrangement makes sense, because then the watch doesn’t need powerful chips or enormous batteries to get a good experience. This controls costs too.

The weakness in cloud computing is that a fast, consistent connection is required. Fortunately, because the phone is usually always with you alongside the watch, and because connectivity is via Bluetooth, smartwatches don’t have that issue.

So why would Apple move to a future where watch apps are standalone? Is technology progressing so rapidly that streamed computing is unnecessary? That can’t be right. Smartphones haven’t yet crossed a threshold where performance gains are unnecessary, and smartwatches are way behind smartphones.

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Arguably, the main purpose of a smartwatch is to tell the time. While the watch faces the Moto 360 originally came with are all attractive, it was disappointing to see only seven. There are third party options but none — including the premium versions of Watchmaker and Facer — are great.

Motorola recently released an update that added another five that brings the total to 12, and all five new ones are fantastic. They are all customizable to a degree and best of all, seem designed specifically with ambient mode in mind. I.e., they look great on, and they still look great even when dimmed. Good job Motorola!

Companies often don’t get much coverage on product updates, so perversely don’t have much incentive to update. Let’s buck the trend: here are the five new watch faces for the Moto 360.

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Amazon surprised people with the Echo, a speaker you can talk to Siri-like and get information from.

It’s a cool, futuristic sounding idea, but I’m not sure it’ll work in the short-term. Siri and Cortana haven’t taken the public by storm yet and that doesn’t bode well for Echo. One key difference is that the Echo will always be present (in a given room), so you don’t have to pull out your phone and tap a button; you can just speak to it. Amazon hopes this lack of friction will be a game changer.

I’ll tell you why it’s not though, and that’s because I can do that already…with my Moto 360, which is always on me and has voice control, yet doesn’t work all that great.

Amazon might out-execute Google, but I have doubts. The $199 doesn’t help either. Still, I love fiddling with these kinds of gadgets, and will post a review if I ever get my hands on one. Video after the break.

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The Withings Activite is an analog styled watch with fitness tracking capabilities. As GigaOm describes it:

The Activite can track calories, steps, running workouts, and sleep. It’s even waterproof, and Withings hopes to add a swimming workout mode soon.

The watch looks great. Gorgeous even. I like how there’s a secondary dial that shows you how close you are to your steps goal.

However, this would make a poor fitness tracker. Here’s why: first, a watch is fundamentally different from a fitness band; and second, data from the Activite will live in isolation from all your other health data.

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Looks like this is a Microsoft week. The Redmond company just revealed the Microsoft Band and Microsoft Health. I must confess the strategy makes more sense than I expected it to.

Microsoft isn’t competing with Android Wear or Apple Watch as much as it is with Google Fit and Apple Health Kit. The latter along with Microsoft Health are cloud platforms to make life easier for developers of health products and services. An operating system for health if you will. This benefits the consumer too as data is able to follow her no matter what device or operating system she uses.

For example, I might have regular walking data on my iPhone or Moto X; data from the day I played tennis with my Fitbit, without my phone; data from when I played golf with my LG G Watch. Right now, all that data is siloed — there is no one central place to collect and analyze everything. Obviously, that sucks. Google Fit and Apple Health Kit are meant to be a solution but only works for Android devices and Apple devices respectively.

Microsoft’s pitch is that it will be multi-platform so customers and developers don’t have to worry about whether it’s Apple, Android or Windows — their data will continue to be gathered in one place.

It could work.

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According to Forbes, Microsoft will launch its wearable device in the coming weeks in time for the holiday season. It’s a health focused device and will work with Android, iPhone and of course Windows Phone.

I had written my concerns about the viability of a Microsoft wearable device before, and now that I’ve used the Moto 360 daily the last few weeks and the Pebble before that for over a year, my skepticism has only increased.

Let’s first examine the upside. Assuming Microsoft can pull off a great product and generate lots of interest and sales, it could undercut Android Wear and Apple Watch. Why develop (hardware and/or software) for a restricted platform, when there’s a successful multiplatform-platform available?

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I got a Moto 360 a few weeks ago and have been using it daily since. See the watch review here, the Android Wear review here and a comparison between Google’s and Apple’s implementations here. And now, the final look of this mini-series: third party apps.

Here’s the bottom line — they’re not very good.

I downloaded a bunch but will only talk about three that I ended up keeping, sorta: OneNote, RunKeeper and Wear Mini Launcher.

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