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11 Things About The Apple Watch That May Surprise You

2 hours 35 min ago



Apple’s much anticipated new smartwatch has finally landed at its ultimate destination: on the arms of consumers. 

See also: There's Gold On Them Thar Wrists

As the earliest adopters get busy binding their wrists, practicing their “force touches” and updating their iPhone apps to work with the wearable, we took stock of a few interesting details that have clocked in with the Apple Watch’s arrival.

Your MagSafe charger can rat out your cheapskate purchase

Not that there’s anything wrong with picking up the Sport, the least expensive version of the Apple Watch. But if you’re touchy about it—maybe if you've even swapped out watchbands to hide that fact—then don’t plan on powering up on the go. Whipping out the plastic magnetic charger will be a dead giveaway. 

By contrast, the mid-range and super-special (read: pricey) versions of the Apple Watch—branded, confusingly, as the Apple Watch and the Apple Watch Edition—both come with metallic chargers. Fortunately, all of them work pretty fast, so the difference is really just skin deep.

Your MagSafe charger may power other devices ...

According to an Apple Insider reader named Albert Lee, an Apple Watch charger worked on his Moto 360 smartwatch, since both use the Qi wireless charging standard. Mashable confirmed this with its own tests

That’s actually a much bigger deal than it seems. Qi, the most popular among mobile makers, is just one of three wireless charging standards that’s trying to dominate the gadget world. Over the past year, the other two—the newer PowerMat and latest Rezence standards—have joined forces, making it easier for manufacturers to support both in one product.

See also: How Starbucks Could Take Wireless Charging Mainstream

At some point, the industry has to decide on one path to move forward, if it hopes to see wireless charging become as common as micro USB cables. If Apple has thrown its weight behind Qi, that could tip the scales back in its favor.

Or at least it would, if not for the following.

... but the Apple Watch can’t use other random Qi chargers (at least, so far)The Apple Watch can't receive power from other Qi chargers that aren't designed explicitly for the watch—at least not yet.

According to Mashable’s tests, the reverse scenario—with other Qi chargers sending power to the Apple Watch—doesn’t work. Now, the site only tried two charging products, and it's not clear whether the problem comes from a technical issue or if incompatible physical designs got in the way.

We don’t know which version of Qi the test chargers use, and that matters. Older versions can be notoriously fussy, forcing users to place devices on just the right spot on mats. But last year, an update brought support for a different, and much more flexible type of charging called resonance charging, which can send power from a farther distance. It’s possible the Apple Watch may eventually work with newer Qi products. If so, then these chargers could succeed in zinging the juice where others failed. 

We've already spotted third-party charging products designed for the watch—like docks and batteries (see below)—so charging doesn't look like an Apple-only scenario. 

The watch could be the beginning of Apple’s wireless charging assault

It has been a good year for Qi, which also saw IKEA pack the standard into its furniture. For Apple, stepping into wireless charging could have major implications across the company's entire portfolio of products. Take that new MacBook with just one port, for instance. If its watch experiment proves successful, an upcoming model of the laptop could boast wireless charging too, making that single port more reasonable and less aggravating. Along the way, the iPhones and iPads could get some Qi support too.

See also: How The New Apple MacBook Retired Steve Jobs’s Vision Of Computing

Apple’s tack may be "far from innovative compared with other wireless charging technologies currently in production or development,” as IHT analyst Ryan Sanderson put it in a press statement he sent me, back when Apple first announced the watch. But it doesn’t need to be innovative. Apple products tend to boost companies, tech standards and even whole industries, when they adopt them. And wireless charging, which has been on the brink of mainstream adoption for ages, could use a nudge in the right direction.

Finally, a justification for that confusing Digital Crown: underwater use!

The Apple Watch’s water-resistance comes as no surprise; it’s listed as a feature. But when FoneFox put it through a water torture test—showering and swimming with it, dunking it in a bucket—it discovered that the touchscreen couldn’t handle the waterboarding.

Fortunately, the "digital crown"—the little click wheel on the side—does, which may justify the addition of this feature. But don’t take that as a cue to try dunking the watch yourself. 

The watch could measure your blood oxygen levels (but it won’t)

When iFixit autopsied the 38mm Apple Watch, it found that the heart-rate monitor could measure more than beats per minute—it could measure blood oxygen. The approach, known to doctors as pulse oximetry, helps them ensure patients have adequate oxygen levels during surgery (or any other time they're under sedation), as well as while they’re taking lung medications or physically exerting themselves.

Naturally, that conjures certain activities—like rock climbing or, given its water tolerance, some light scuba diving. But stop right there. iFixit speculates that Apple stayed mum about this sensor due to federal regulations. Measuring oxygen levels in the blood skirts the line between quantified fitness and health, and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration can be rather particular when it comes to approving health equipment.

At this point, we don’t know whether the sensor will wind up as ResearchKit fodder for Apple's medical research initiative, or a tool to please extreme athletes. All we know for now is that it’s there, lying dormant until Apple’s ready and able to flip the switch.

Some parts are easy to replace ...

Batteries have a shelf life, often measured in the number charges they'll take throughout their life before they act up or even go completely dead. The Apple Watch’s lifespan too will eventually run out, which may spur some users to try swapping the battery on their own.

There’s good news and bad news there. The battery is relatively easy to replace, in and of itself; it's only attached with a bit of adhesive, making it easy to pop out. But you have to get to it first. The screen stands in the way. Apply heat to loosen the glue holding it down, and then unhook the display cable. The latter may be a bit tricky, judging by iFixit’s teardown.

When the site tore into the 38mm watch, it found a 205 mAh battery. The larger watch probably boasts a bigger battery, which may or may not affect how easy it is to dig the power cell out. Other parts, like the cables, speaker, buttons and the "Taptic Engine” (which deals vibration alerts) can challenge the far-sighted, with their small size and itty bitty screws, but don’t seem impossible to pluck out. The watch’s processor, however, looks like it’s practically a permanent fixture. (See below.)

Note that messing with the watch’s guts will void the warranty. This stuff is not for the faint of heart—or the poorly sighted. (There’s a reason watchmakers use a loupe.)

... but others, not so much

The Apple Watch runs off a fancy hardware nugget called the S1, which packs a processor, wireless radios, memory and sensors into one “system on a chip.” Though teensy, the technology is powerful. Apparently, so is the glue holding it together.

Few Apple Watch owners will ever stare into that wee abyss, and that’s a good thing, judging by iFixit’s experience trying to pull it apart: 

Despite rumors (and hopes) of an upgradable product, the difficulty of removing the S1 alone casts serious doubt on the idea of simply swapping out the internals.

Unfortunately, our first look is obstructed—that S1-emblazoned silver cap isn't a cap at all. It's a solid block of plasticky resin, hiding treasures deep within.

The fully encased S1 system makes board-level repairs impossible.

Just like regular watches, the straps will get nastyApple Watch straps may not ever get this nasty (unless you throw one into a campfire), but they won't look pretty forever

Even the majestic halo of Apple gadgetry can’t ward off the realities of simple chemistry. Users wear these gadgets next to their skin, which means grossness will force touch them over time—especially the straps. You can clean off metal, but you can’t bring back leather and fluoroelastomer watch bands back from discoloration and warping. 

There are already thousands of apps for the watch

Watch users can do a tremendous number of things from their wrists already. They can unlock Starwood hotel doors, read New York Times news headlines, shop, navigate the outdoors, check into Foursquare locations, stay on top of Expedia reservation updates, track packages, and many, many other things.

If that’s not enough, the IFTTT service (short for “If This Then That”) just integrated the Do Button and Do Note apps for the Apple Watch, giving users access to as many as 170 more apps. According to an IFTTT rep, "people can easily run their favorite recipes with just one tap, right from their wrist.”

It’s not clear yet how many of these features qualify as genuinely useful, or whether people really want to do that much from their wrists, but kudos to app developers for busting out their creativity caps. 

There are already a lot of accessories, and tons more are on the wayApple Watch Spigen armor case

Accessories makers have been licking their chops, waiting for the Apple Watch to hit the market. Now that it has, you should brace yourself for the new and incoming spate of fashion bands, battery bands, strap adapters, stands, power stations, portable batteries, bumper cases, and even a chunky suit of armor that also happens to hide the fact that you got the cheapest Apple Watch available. That’s just for starters.

I haven’t yet seen a skin that can disguise lower-priced Apple Watch models as one of its higher priced siblings, but as with all things watch-related, it’s just a matter of time. 

Lead photo by Shinya Suzuki; Apple Watch products and MacBook images courtesy of Apple; teardown photos screen captured from YouTube video by iFixit; photo of plastic MagSafe charger captured from YouTube video by TheMacintosh1; photo of MagSafe charging Moto 360 captured from YouTube video by Albert Lee; broken watch strap photo by theilr; Spigen armor case photo courtesy of Spigen

There's Gold On Them Thar Wrists

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 18:21



It's been a long wait since September, but Apple Watch launch day is finally upon us—and Apple has brought some 3,000 apps to the party, according to the best estimates. At the time of writing, WatchAware is showing 2,436.

Too bad most of them are doomed to obscurity.

The Gold Rush Is On

Developers are falling over themselves to announce Apple Watch support, and who can blame them? This is the biggest gadget launch of the year, and there's no shortage of apps hoping to ride along on the hype.

Apple has singled out apps by Instagram, Yelp, The New York Times and Twitter as particularly worthy of attention. Others so anointed include Citymapper, weather forecasting app Dark Sky and Mint, the personal finance tracker.

Then there are the apps shown off by Apple on stage in September and March: The American Airlines app for getting through the airport terminal more efficiently, and the Starwood Hotels app for unlocking your hotel room door with a swipe of your wrist.

Media outlets have been equally keen to push their lists of must-have Apple Watch apps that should be installed as soon as the wearable is unwrapped. It's quite a contrast to the launch of the iPhone, which of course had no third-party app support to begin with.

Fool's Gold2,000+ apps and growing.

Irrespective of how many units it actually sells, the Apple Watch is generating a huge amount of interest—and it makes sense for developers to try and tap into that. It's a ticket into the biggest tech party of the year.

But at the same time it's important to temper expectations about just how many of these apps are going to gain traction on the wrist, where screen size and attention span is more limited than ever before.

Smartphone app development can rake in millions with the right formula, but life on the long tail of that success is less appealing. If anything, there are going to be fewer winners on wearables, not more.

While developers rush to get their apps updated to take advantage of the new smartwatch, not every app suits a 1.5-inch display. Get the mix wrong, and users might actually end up spending less time with an app because of its Apple Watch extension.

Once the initial rush for Watch compatibility dies down, and Apple opens up the field to standalone apps that can run independently on the wearable, we'll get a much better idea of who has found the right balance and who hasn't. The winners in the wearable app rush will be the ones that offer the most usefulness, not those that got there first.

Lead photo manipulated by Brian Rubin for ReadWrite; other images courtesy of Apple and WatchAware

Apple May Be Lowering The Boom On Pebble Apps

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 17:40



Apple doesn’t cotton well to competitors setting up shop in its App Store, and now Pebble might be starting to feel the heat. An app developer said that Apple rejected an update to his Pebble-compatible app on Thursday because he dared mention "Pebble" in the app's metadata.

It's possibly a dire harbinger for Pebble, which to date has managed to co-exist peacefully with Apple in its App Store. Now that the Apple Watch is making its way into the hands of consumers, though, that détente may be over.

No Pebbles Allowed

The developer, who goes by the name Steve, posted his frustrations to the Pebble developer forums. He said the App Store rejected his latest update for SeaNav US—a Pebble and Apple Watch compatible app for plotting boat routes—for mentioning Pebble in the update’s metadata.

(I've reached out to Steve for comment, and will update if he gets back to me.)

The rejection notice cited a four-year-old rule from Apple's developer guidelines that states: “Apps or metadata that mentions the name of any other mobile platform will be rejected.” SeaNav US’s rejection specifically reads, in part:

We noticed that your app or its metadata contains irrelevant platform information in the app. Providing future platform compatibility plans, or other platform references, is not appropriate for the App Store.

Specifically, your app and app description declare support for the Pebble Smartwatch.

SeaNav US, however, has offered Pebble support on the App Store for the last two years. It’s telling, and not a little ominous, that Apple decided to reject an app that mentions Pebble support on the eve of the Apple Watch’s launch. As it turns out, Steve said he'd uploaded the update to the App Store explicitly to add support for the Apple Watch.

How long until Apple rejects other apps that support the Pebble?

Additionally, as other forum users point out, Pebble isn’t a mobile platform at all. It's more of an accessory, like any number of fitness trackers. (Not that Apple views all fitness trackers with equanimity, as Fitbit learned last year when Apple tossed the device out of its retail stores.) The Apple Watch launch—or, perhaps, just the in-app mention of it in close proximity to its rival Pebble—might have focused Apple's attention on Pebble-related apps it had previously allowed through benign neglect.

Apple support responded to Steve’s appeal by suggesting he remove mention of Pebble from the app’s metadata. That, of course, would prevent App Store users from knowing that SeaNav US supports Pebble—which is presumably the point.

Skipping The Pebble

It can be dangerous to extrapolate from a single incident, especially since individual App Store reviewers aren't always reliable indicators of Apple corporate policy. If this rejection stands, though, you have to wonder just how long Apple is going to tolerate other Pebble-compatible apps—much less the main Pebble app itself—in the App Store.

Such a development would also seem to put the kibosh on any potential Apple-Google cooperation in smartwatches, however far-fetched it might have seemed. There have been several indications over the past few months that Google is developing an iOS version of its Android Wear app

But if Pebble can't maintain its beachhead in the App Store, you probably shouldn't count on pairing an Android smartwatch with your iPhone any time soon.

Lead photo by hurk; Pebble image courtesy of Pebble

Speaker Profile: Cuff's Deepa Sood, On Fusing Fashion and Function

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 13:00



Wearable World Congress, ReadWrite's signature annual conference in San Francisco on May 19-20, will feature the key players who are shaping wearable technology and the Internet of Things. This series profiles some of the experts who will be speaking at the conference. 

Before becoming CEO of Cuff, Deepa Sood was a lawyer, a journalist and an executive at Restoration Hardware. On the side, she played with jewelry design, with the simple notion of making the items that she wears. 

That experience comes in handy at Cuff. The company aims to make smart jewelry that's also easy on the eyes, so it designed its namesake flagship device with both fashion and function in mind. 

The small unit—which fits inside various bracelet styles, as well as a pendant casing—offers three primary features: phone notifications (via vibration), activity-tracking and safety features. The latter is a critical issue for women, in particular. Cuff can alert designated contacts when you need help, send them a live audio recording and transmit location details with a single button press. Plus, since there's no touchscreen, the device's battery can keep on ticking for a week between charges. 

Buy tickets now: Wearable World Congress, May 19-20

Cuff hasn't shipped yet, but it has already attracted plenty of attention. In January, the company announced a partnership with Richline, one of the country's largest jewelry manufacturers. Sood also told me that pre-orders, which began in February and will start shipping this summer, already number in the "hundreds of thousands." 

I'm one of them. I submitted my pre-order back in February, so I was particularly interested in chatting with Sood. She'll soon join ReadWrite on stage at Wearable World Congress next month, but I had the opportunity to get acquainted with her in advance. I wanted to learn a bit more about how Cuff got off the ground, and get her take on the state of fashion and wearable technology. Here's an excerpt from our conversation. 

How did your previous experience help lead you to launching Cuff?

It helped build it, but the idea was actually one of those things born out of necessity. Like all good ideas, it was born out of a dinner party where people got drunk at the house. My husband is a Web software guy, and he and his friends were geeking out about the newest fitness tracker. My friends thought the functionality was so cool, but instinctively tried to disguise it within their other jewelry. I thought, why does it have to look one way? That very simple idea became a platform.

Do you think other wearable tech companies are trying do too much with their devices?

I think there's a huge market for people who don't want everything and the kitchen sink duct-taped to their wrist. Some people do want that, but many people that we talk to, and who gravitate toward our product, want less. They want more of a curated experience around their tech—in the same way that fitness-tracking companies are learning that nobody really wants a huge data dump. They want more of a guided experience. People who gravitate to our product are not Luddites; they enjoy technology and want it streamline or simplify their life, versus buying a wearable to have another gadget.

How many people have preordered the product?

I can't remember the exact number, but it's hundreds of thousands of pieces. The Cuff, the electronic, is modular, so it goes in and out of every piece of jewelry we sell. My hypothesis was that some people don't want to wear the same thing every day. I think it is true, because the average purchase on our site when we were selling individual pieces, rather than bundles, was 3.2 pieces. I think we proved the point that you can make the technology more versatile, and it'll go with you. 

To hear more from Deepa Sood and other innovators and experts, register for Wearable World Congress 2015, May 19-20 in San Francisco. 

Photos courtesy of Deepa Sood and Cuff

The Internet Dodges A Bullet: The Comcast-Time Warner Merger Is Reportedly Dead

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 21:42



Ding-dong, the merger's dead.

After the FCC reportedly told Comcast it would oppose its $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, Comcast is apparently ready to walk away from the deal, Bloomberg reports. The result: Two mostly terrible cable companies won't turn into one entirely terrible cable company—one that would have controlled between a third and half of the U.S. broadband market.

FCC staff reportedly said the merger would threaten competition and innovation, and thus would likely harm consumers. When reached for comment, the Internet had one response: "Well, duh."

So you can also breathe a sigh of relief now. Though to be safe, you might want to wait until tomorrow, when Comcast is likely to announce it's officially abandoning the deal.

Do Not Pass GoNobody likes you, Anthropomorphic Comcast Remote.

The merger's death is a big win for consumers and the open Internet. Neither Time Warner and Comcast face much competition in their respective territories. Linking the two companies into one mega-ISP would only serve to consolidate their power over other media and Internet companies and give them an even stronger grip on the pipes that connect us to the Internet.

See also: With Time Warner, Comcast Wants Total Control Of The Internet Pipes

This is the latest unexpetedly Internet-friendly action by the FCC. Back in February, the FCC’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, offered his plan to reclassify the Internet as a utility in order to preserve net neutrality.

Lead image courtesy of ShutterstockComcast remote photo by Steven Depolo

Amazon's Cloud Juggernaut Still Has "World Domination" In Its Sights

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 19:55


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Amazon Web Services is on a mission, and as its name might suggest, it's not a particularly small one. Indeed, as Gartner analyst Lydia Leong declares, "They are essentially pursuing world domination."

And at its current course and speed, who would bet against Amazon?

On the eve of Amazon breaking out the financials for its cloud business for the first time, one thing is not in doubt: All cloud roads lead to Amazon, and its competitors can only have themselves to blame.

Giving AWS A Seven-Year Head Start

After all, when Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched, no one within the business unit expected "a seven-year head start," as AWS chief Andy Jassy told Businessweek. But this cloud thing was new, hardly profitable, and sort of crazy. After all, what company in its right mind would put its data in the cloud?

Lots of them, it turns out. And some day, all of them.

Ultimately, it all comes down to convenience. As such, in some ways, the rise of AWS was inevitable. Box CEO Aaron Levie hinted at this in a recent tweet:

The user experience includes the look and feel (i.e., user interface) of an application, but it's much deeper than this. Today's consumer demands immediate gratification of an ever-widening array of wants. This, in turn, forces enterprises and the developers they employ to iterate quickly to appease those desires.

In this rush to get things done NOW, the data center is generally too slow. In order to evade cumbersome IT and procurement policies, developers have gone straight to the cloud and, generally, to Amazon's cloud.

And today, for the first time, Amazon will tell us exactly how much it's making from the stampede.

Dominating The Future

IDC expects the overall cloud infrastructure market to top $32 billion in 2015, with public cloud claiming $21 billion of the market, roughly double its private cloud peer. 

Until today, it has been guesswork to determine how much of that public cloud market is owned by Amazon. Andreessen Horowitz's Benedict Evans, for example, put AWS revenue at roughly $5 billion in mid-2014, smartly assuming Amazon's "Other" category mostly equates to Amazon Web Services:

That jibes with analyst Karl Keirstead at Deutsche Bank, who estimates current AWS annual revenue of about $6 billion. 

But that's small change compared with where the market is headed.

After all, as Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman points out, "New stuff [workloads] tends to go to the public cloud ... and new stuff is simply growing faster" than more traditional data center workloads. 

This trend is on display in Bittman's analysis of the growth in VMs across different environments over the past few years:

Source: Gartner

So if the public cloud is growing roughly three times as fast as private cloud, and both are growing much faster than traditional data centers, and AWS can claim at least a third of that public cloud largesse....

Well, we live in Amazon's world now.

Getting Fat On Skinny

Amazon, for its part, can't get enough of AWS. As much as the overall company tends to lose money, AWS is very profitable. 

In fact, as Gartner analyst David Smith notes, "I've seen some estimates that AWS is a double digit profitability contribution to the company." 

Importantly for Amazon, AWS doesn't have to rack up gargantuan profits to make a huge impact at a company that thrives on razor-thin margins. Its competitors, however, can't subsist on the same thin profitability gruel. IBM, for example, just announced its twelfth consecutive sales slide, even as its cloud business inches upward (by how much is subject to debate).  

In short, Amazon has every incentive to feed AWS, because AWS plumps its profits. Meanwhile, its competitors will be forced into a painful transition to lower-margin cloud services, often hobbling their success by trying to charge for "premium" services to make up the gap. It won't, and they won't.

Only Microsoft seems to have a credible answer to AWS today. There's plenty of room in the public cloud's billions for two.

Lead photo by Steve Jurvetson

How Google’s Project Fi Could Upend Wireless Service With A Simple Math Trick

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 19:39



This post first appeared on the Ferenstein Wire, a syndicated news service; it has been edited. For inquires, please email author and publisher Gregory Ferenstein.

Google unveiled an ambitious new plan to take on wireless carriers Wednesday with the launch of its own wireless telecom service, Project Fi. Google CEO Larry Page is reportedly frustrated that AT&T and Verizon just haven’t been interested in building better infrastructure. So, he launched his own wireless service — with a twist.

See also: Project Fi Is Google's Blueprint For The Future Of The Network

Google’s pricing plan seems like a clever math trick to align profits with the incentive to build out more data infrastructure, so that carriers face the right incentives to keep up with demand. Under Google’s pricing, wireless carriers only make money when consumers use data, because consumers are charged exactly for what they use. If a consumer has a $60 6GB data plan and only uses 5.5GB, they only pay $55 for the data.

The math trick is to increase price linearly with data use.

Aligning Profits With Demand 

Unlike most wireless carriers, Google makes most of its money when consumers actually browse the Web. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint profit when users pay for data they never use or accidentally go over their rate allowance.

The upshot is that most wireless carriers have these tricky pricing plans of hidden fees, overage charges, complicated contracts and odd incremental upgrades. (AT&T, for instance, has a 6GB and a 15GB plan—but  nothing in between).

In some instances, these companies benefit from users who consume less data, since they charge more per gigabyte for low rate plans (illustrated in the bottom left side of the graph above).

In other words, these companies have no particular reason to build out their wireless infrastructure in order to keep up with increasing demand. Instead, they'd rather call you a data hog and throttle your connection if you to use more than they think you ought to be using.

See also: How All The Major U.S. Carriers Throttle Your Wireless Data

This odd business strategy reportedly irks Google. The Information’s Amir Efrati reported:

For Google, a mobile offering would fit neatly into CEO Larry Page’s playbook. He hasn’t been shy about discussing with subordinates his disdain for existing wireless carriers and telecom companies who he believes have been much too slow to upgrade their networks and heavy-handed in trying to control the services that subscribers use on their devices.

So, Google is offering monthly data plans: $20 unlimited text/talk and $1 per 100MB of data (i.e., a 2GB data plan will set you back a total of $40, plus taxes). It partnered with both Sprint and T-Mobile, so phones should effortlessly switch to whatever network is best in a given area. Under this grand scheme, there’s no incentive to lock users to a single wireless network or come up with tricky plans aimed at tripping up consumers.

If a consumers uses more data, the carrier has simple incentive to build out faster and more reliable capacity. It’s ambitious in its simplicity. And, if it works, America might actually catch up to the rest of the world with faster, cheaper, mobile broadband.

Lead photo by Ervins Stauhmanis

Welcome Back To ReadWrite, Jolie O'Dell

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 16:54



I'm very pleased to announce that ReadWrite has brought back Jolie O'Dell, one of our most distinctive voices, in a new role of special projects editor.

We don't often gaze at our navel here at ReadWrite, but when we do, all the lint comes out.

As you know, I've been thinking a lot about ReadWrite's future. We just turned 12, which is a long time for a digital publisher. Our industry always faces forward, yet those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. I've always believed that we need to draw on the heritage of deep thinking and analysis we owe to our founder, Richard MacManus. At the same time, we must keep embracing the very technologies we write about to transform ourselves.

I've relied on ReadWrite's alumni network for advice and counsel as I've led this site for the past two years. Now Jolie is going to help us plan our next steps. Enough from me—here's Jolie herself:

TL;DR: The bitch is back.

When I left ReadWrite in 2010, it felt more like a traumatic breakup than a giving of notice. 

ReadWrite had become my spiritual home. I came of age here, got my first gray hairs here, built a family here, both within the readership community and with my fellow writers and editors. I'm not ashamed to say that in my final conversation with ReadWrite founder Richard MacManus, I cried like a baby.

Today, we're announcing that I'm coming back home to my beloved ReadWrite family, and I want to explain why.

I won't immediately be contributing to ReadWrite's daily editorial—at least not in a way that will be evident to those outside the newsroom. What I will be doing is bringing back a little of the old ReadWrite magic, that blend of thoughtful analysis, careful reporting, and a deep love of technology and its creators.

Editor-in-Chief Owen Thomas is a wonderful friend, and his vision for what ReadWrite will become is beautifully aligned with Richard's original mission, and with mine. Ultimately, we all want to make the Internet in all its forms accessible—readable and writable—for our community. 

Back in the day, we were obsessed with teaching our readers how to code, how to manage newly social communities, and how to best participate in a Web that was transforming from static to real-time.

Today, we're forging a future where you all can be participants, not just consumers, in the new Internet of Things and wearable (or even implantable!) technologies and devices.

Want to build a robot? You can learn how on ReadWrite! Want to program a drone? ReadWrite. Want to master responsive design for the mobile Web? Want to figure out how to maintain your humanity in a machine-dominated world? We're here for you.

Want to know why you should care, why any of this matters? We will work through these issues alongside you.

As at the old ReadWriteWeb, we understand deeply that we're all in this together, as users and as creators. We all have a responsibility to understand and help build the Internet we want to exist.

My job is managing special projects for Owen and for Wearable World CEO Redg Snodgrass, also a good friend of mine. The first of these special projects is already underway, and it's a hot-damn doozy. 

I can't wait to tell you more very soon, and I hope to talk more with each of you as we work together to make today's ReadWrite the best blog and the best community it can be.

I'm also curious: What special projects do you think I should be tackling next? I'd love to hear your thoughts. After all, you're the “write” half of this whole endeavor. It doesn't work without you.

With much love and deepest gratitude, I remain your humble correspondent and faithful servant, Jolie O'Dell.

How Twitter's New Abuse Filter Could Backfire

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 16:51



Twitter's ongoing efforts to counter online harassment are commendable. And its latest policy changes, which expand Twitter's prohibition on violent threats to cover a much broader range of threatening behavior, are long overdue. 

But one possible change the company announced Monday—an abuse filter that users can't opt out of—could have unintended consequences. Taking away the option for intended recipients of harassment or threats to see what's coming their way also eliminates their ability to respond in a way they deem appropriate.

See also: Twitter CEO Admits Company Sucks At Dealing With Harassment

Twitter described this abuse filter as a "test" product feature intended to automatically flag tweets as potentially abusive and to limit their "reach." It examines what Twitter calls a "wide range of signals and context" including the age of the tweeting account and similarities between a given tweet and others that its safety team has deemed abusive.

Those abusive tweets, however, won't disappear entirely. They'll still exist on Twitter, even though the intended recipients—and, perhaps, other users—will presumably be unable to see them unless they already follow the senders or search out their tweets. And unlike a "quality filter" that Twitter recently introduced for verified users, the abuse filter cannot be turned off.

Shielded From Harassment—Like It Or Not

Twitter's goal here—to limit the spread of sociopathic threats and to tamp down harassment campaigns—is certainly a good one. To its credit, Twitter also notes that the test feature "does not take into account whether the content posted or followed by a user is controversial or unpopular."

But there's still a big problem with an abuse filter you can't turn off or control: It can limit your ability to respond to legitimate threats. 

See also: Twitter's Latest Anti-Harassment Measures Still Don't Do The Trick

Just consider how Twitter's other policy change, the long-overdue expansion of its violent threats policy, could be blunted by the abuse filter. The policy change expands the definition of violent threats from "direct, specific threats of violence against others" to “threats of violence against others or promot[ing] violence against others.” 

It's a big step forward, given how often those harassed on Twitter have been told that the abusive tweets they flagged don't violate Twitter rules. The new policy has some teeth, too, since Twitter has given its support team the power to temporarily lock abusive accounts. (Support personnel could already ask such users to delete specific tweets or to verify their phone numbers.)

Can't Fight What You Can't See

All that's great, but it overlooks one important thing: It's impossible to report threatening posts you never see. An abuse filter, for example, could allow a user to post violent threats which will be read by a horde of like-minded followers posts but not the recipient.

This does nothing to limit the post's reach to the people most likely to act on it. Meanwhile, it decreases the likelihood that someone will report the tweet or the account that posted it.

Some users may prefer to be blissfully unaware of harassing tweets they can't see. But others may want to see the content of abusive tweets to determine whether they need to take additional measures to protect themselves.  

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde wrote that the company's goal is to "welcoming diverse perspectives while protecting our users." Unfortunately, shielding users from threatening speech while rendering them incapable of dealing with the consequences does little to protect them. 

It's unclear whether Twitter has taken these considerations into account or will address them in some fashion. Here's hoping it does.

Lead image by Celtikipooh

We're All At The Mercy Of The Facebook Newsfeed

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 15:41



Another Facebook newsfeed tweak has been attracting attention this week, not for the first (or last) time. In addition to three significant changes, it brings yet another reminder that we're all at the mercy of its algorithms. Whether you're a million-dollar publishing empire or a mother with some baby pictures, it's largely up to Facebook just how many other people are going to get to see your post.

The New New Newsfeed

About those newsfeed changes. First, if yours happens to be a little on the sparse side (did all your friends leave for Snapchat?), Facebook will now show you more posts from the contacts you do have rather than let you reach the "end" of your feed.

Second, Facebook will now favor updates "posted directly by the friends you care about" in your newsfeed. If there are certain people you interact with more often, you'll see more posts by them. If you spend a lot of time clicking and commenting on links from the New York Times, you'll see more material from that page, too.

Third and last, you won't see as many posts and comments from your friends on pages you're not connected with. Uncle Ed might love Coca-Cola's Facebook presence, but unless you've also liked the Coca-Cola page, you won't see Uncle Ed's love-in with the sugary soda drink quite as much as you did before.

With online publishers relying so heavily on Facebook for traffic, tweaks like this merit close study, since they can send referral traffic soaring or plummeting. The third part of this latest reconfiguration has been widely seen as a blow for sites and brands looking for as many eyeballs as possible, though it's going to be a while before we know the full effects of the changes.

Whose Feed Is It Anyway?Social is diversifying, and so is Facebook.

No sooner has the virtual ink dried on an analysis of one newsfeed update than the next one comes along to replace it. Last August, Facebook went to war against spammy, clickbait-style articles, a move that would have pleased pretty much everyone except those who make their living from such pieces.

Facebook's also exploring the possibility of hosting content from key publishers itself rather than linking out to it. When you attract the attention of more than 1.4 billion users, then you get to call the shots on what gets priority and what doesn't.

With each of us having so many connections on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and his band of engineers have to take some editorial control over what pops up in the newsfeed—a flat stream of everything that was happening in sequential order wouldn't be much fun at all.

But it's interesting to weigh the question of exactly what users want to see. Why do we log into Facebook in 2015? Is it more for updates from friends or links of interest? Facebook is always keen to emphasize that its tweaks are based on user feedback, and our tastes are always changing—hence the re-emergence of instant messenger-style apps.

Newsfeed algorithm updates will always generate plenty of comment and discussion from publishers, but they say as much about social networking and our virtual relationships with our friends as they do about the future of news.

Lead image courtesy of Facebook; photo of Mark Zuckerberg by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite

Speaker Profile: Take It From Bia Sport And Contour's CEOs—Great Products Don't Guarantee Success

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 13:00



Wearable World Congress, ReadWrite's signature annual conference in San Francisco on May 19-20, will feature the key players who are shaping wearable technology and the Internet of Things. This series profiles some of the experts who will be speaking at the conference.  

Business leaders may like to spin yarns about how their hot startups rocketed directly to the top, but in most cases, that couldn't be further from the truth. Just ask Bia Sport's Cheryl Kellond and James Harrison of Contour. 

Kellond, Bia Sport's CEO, learned the hard way that having a great product doesn't guarantee success. The sports watch maker, known for devices that catered to female athletes, went under just last month. Contour, an action camera company based in Utah, learned that lesson as well. The company close its doors two years ago. But since then, Clarke Capital bought the assets out of receivership, resurrected the brand, reformed the product team, built a new team of executives (helmed by CEO Harrison), and put out a new product, the ROAM3, introduced last year. In light of that, and by its latest legal tussle against rival GoPro, Contour looks ready to do battle. 

Buy tickets now: Wearable World Congress, May 19-20

Both Kellond and Harrison will appear at Wearable World Congress to share their insights and experiences in a panel called "The Life, Death, and Rebirth Of Your Wearable Startup." I spoke to them, to find out more about the trials and tribulations they faced at Bia Sport and Contour. 

Cheryl Kellond of Bia Sport and Contour's James Harrison

What sticks out as a lesson learned from the hardships your company has faced?

Kellond: There’s no big "Aha!" like, "Wow, I wish we’d done this differently" or "Wow, we were really naive and stupid." The wearable space is super competitive, and became so really quickly. We had trouble raising money early, which put our product behind. That meant, by the time we went to market, our coffers were depleted. It was an impossible combination. I should have quit much earlier but we had commitments to deliver the best device we could. So we went to Herculean lengths to do so. 

Harrison: Contour was not initially keen to go into big box retail, which it was invited to go into by Walmart and others. The delay ... really cost the company. Then it was time to catch up, which was very hard to do. There was inexperience within the company about how you go about scaling a company. 

How important is managing initial expectations or launches?

Kellond: Don’t pre-sell. Do not pre-sell. Do not do it to fund it; just don't do it. There’s no value from it. It only creates difficulties later on. It’ll put you in a hole. It’s never enough to convince a venture investor, because they view pre-sales as different from other sales. Don't worry about being late to market. Every company is late. If you don't pre-sell, then you have nothing to manage. I talked to two of my cohorts. Both raised very large seed rounds [for their companies]. They said the same thing. One of them pre-sold and her thought was, "That’s the dumbest thing I've ever done."

Harrison: You need to hit your forecasts every single time. Cashflow always going to be tight. You need to make investors confident. If you miss being able to deliver to a retailer the stock that you promised, they just won't come back. They’ll go to someone else. If you’re able to get it right, they come back and say, "We’d like to do a new product." That’s when you get a virtual loop. The first few forecasts you do have got to be absolutely rock solid and sell through. 


Is there anything you'd change about the product itself if you were doing things over again?

Kellond: No. We were really disciplined about hitting those needs. Nothing that happened along the way disproved that logic. What we set out to do, and the logic behind it, was the right thing to have done and the right fit with the market. We had that product/market fit.

Harrison: No. We, in a sense, were very lucky because we’re blessed with a great company. It's a great brand. The way we looked at it… it's almost like Apple in the late 90s, where someone who buys a Contour camera feels better because they think their camera is superior to all other cameras. 

To hear more from Kellond, Harrison and other innovators and experts, register for Wearable World Congress 2015, May 19-20 in San Francisco. Early bird prices end soon!

Photos of courtesy of Cheryl Kellond, James Harrison and Contour 

Up Close With PopSlate, The “Second Screen” For Your iPhone 6

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 21:14



The wide open space on the back of a smartphone may be the most overlooked area in mobile technology today. But that’s starting to change, as accessory makers catch on to the primo real estate back there.

Now, PopSlate has joined the fray. Tuesday, the startup gave iPhone 6 users a way to make their pricey Apple handset resemble a YotaPhone, a curious Android device from Russia with a built-in rear display. PopSlate offers the same proposition, except as a Bluetooth-enabled case with a secondary e-ink screen.

"They’re helping to validate the second-screen space,” PopSlate founder and CEO Yashar Behzadi said of YotaPhone. Behzadi doesn’t see the companies in competition; in fact, he said they’re friends. “We have a different take on it that's a little more ubiquitous,” he said. “Every single aspect of their phone has to be better than an iPhone. [But] we want to extend that, not replace it.”

PopSlate sells for $129. That would be a ridiculous price if it were just a case, but it's more than that. Think of it like a wearable gadget, but for your phone—one with its own Bluetooth wireless radio, display, battery and approval from Apple's Made For iPhone certification program.

See also: Mastering Apple's Gigantic iPhone 6 Plus With Puny Hands

Sounds great, at least on e-paper. I checked out the device, to find out if it's worth the cost and how well it earns the increasingly valuable space on our phones’ backsides.

Pop And Lock

The back of my own iPhone 6 Plus is already a busy place. It bears a removable iRing attachment and an iQi wireless charging receiver. The latter slips between my clear case and the device, letting me charge the phone on Qi wireless charging pads. I’m running out of room to put new things.

As it turns out, the PopSlate review unit won’t fit my device anyway. For now, it’s strictly an iPhone 6 affair.

I’ve been using a PopSlate (on a loaner phone) for a little more than a week now, and its charms are growing on me. That says something, considering the plastic casing—available in white or black—looks pretty mediocre. It’s also chunky, at a little more than half an inch in total thickness. Of course, the slide-in case does pack a 240 mAh battery and a secondary screen. Users of Otterbox cases are most likely to feel at home here.

PopSlate gets its name from its primary feature: Using its mobile app, users can “pop”—read, send—black and white photos and illustrations from the phone to the back panel via Bluetooth. The unit remembers a small collection of recent pops, so users can just hit the hardware button on the side to rotate between images. The PopSlate display isn't a touchscreen, so you don't have to handle it gingerly, either.

From the app, you can take a photo, do some limited basic photo editing, pull pics in from your Instagram account or camera roll, or follow other PopSlate users. 

I particularly like the social features, since other testers and company insiders had some really stunning two-tone “art” and other graphics. Overall, it’s easy to see how the product may appeal to art and design fanatics. They can shoot, share or download pics, making for an easy way to adorn their devices with a changing parade of “pops.” Others can simply show off images of their loved ones or pets.

Don’t expect high resolution, though. The black and white, 4-inch screen can only display 16 shades of gray at 240-by-400 resolution. While that made for a more “artistic” aesthetic in some cases, other times, the images looked noticeably degraded.

That matters less when using the rear slate as a holding tank for things like mobile boarding passes, digital movie tickets, street maps, daily agendas, grocery items, to-do lists or other critical information. Users can transmit anything from the front screen to the back, whether through pics or screenshots, and the screen stays on even when the battery on the phone or PopSlate dies. Speaking of power, the e-ink display stretched out the small battery capacity, giving me about a week of use, as promised. 

In general, I like the basic concept more than I imagined. But I’m not sure it trumps the pedestrian looks of the physical case itself or its limited integrations. At this point, to take on yet another gadget that requires charging (even weekly), I have to love it or find it absolutely essential. 

Neither is true with PopSlate. If it gets a little thinner, amps up its looks and brings down the price, I might find it easier to make that argument.

Software development might help. At the moment, PopSlate only works with a limited number of services. But, according to the CEO, the company has big plans to broaden the popping action.

Screens Ahoy

Although not perfect, PopSlate does look like a clever way to solve problems, from photo app and info overload to limited battery life, using the iPhone’s oft-overlooked backyard. But it’s not the only company playing with the idea of adjunct displays.

YotaPhone, whose second-generation device sells abroad for $530 to more than $800, will bring its YotaPhone 2 to North America this summer. Samsung also followed up its Galaxy Note Edge, which features a secondary side-oriented display, with the S6 Edge, a beautiful smartphone that boasts two ticker displays on the left and right side of the main screen.

But PopSlate is not a phone maker. It's an accessory maker that got its start on crowdfunding site Indiegogo two years ago based on the idea of breaking the screen out into a separate device—which, it turns out, also lays down the groundwork for its own budding platform. 

Behzadi says the company aims for three major uses. The first, which targets fashion- and social-minded users, aims to let people show off gray-scale artwork. The second focuses on productivity, which is where popping agendas and to-do lists to the e-ink screen comes into play. The last has to do with "contextual information,” said Behzadi, so PopSlate can display the data you need, when you need it.

The company can’t manage the third on its own. It needs developers and partners. In the near term, Behzadi told me that his software will integrate with IFTTT, so users can tie other apps and services to their PopSlates. (Apparently, the IFTTT integration hasn’t been switched on yet, as I didn’t find the channel active when I checked.) The company also has a software development kit in the works that will someday offer developers back-end tools they can use to make their apps work directly with PopSlate.

Eventually, the company will need to create different versions of its products for other devices—an iPhone 6 Plus model, for instance. It will also have to refine its hardware and physical design to earn its spot on the back of our phones. That’s no easy task.

PopSlate essentially has to teach people a new behavior, while proving that its product is worth more than other accessories vying for that space. That’s the same conundrum wearable devices face as they fight to rule our wrists. 

In more ways than one, PopSlate could become the Pebble smartwatch of phone backsides: an upstart that helps define a category. That’s precisely what it needs to become, if it wants to convince consumers and partners that popping is the way of the future. 

Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

Project Fi Is Google's Blueprint For The Future Of The Network

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 20:01



We knew it was coming, and now it's here: Google Fi is the tech giant's disruptive move into the wireless telecom market. Like many other Google projects before it, from Glass to Loon, it's both experimental and innovative at the same time.

See also: Google's Latest (Potential) Disruption: Pay-Per-Gigabyte Wireless Data

The idea is simple: Sign up for Project Fi, and wherever you wander with your phone, it will automatically connect you to the fastest possible network. That could be a Google-approved public Wi-Fi spot; or it could be a 4G LTE link from one of its partners (Sprint and T-Mobile are on board to begin with).

It's a more advanced, more ambitious version of the cellular/Wi-Fi switching we've already seen from Sprint and T-Mobile, functionality that lets you seamlessly swap from one to the other. Google's new service, promises to be more expansive than ever before.

Project Fi goes beyond switching from Wi-Fi to cellular connections and back again, though. It also incorporates a truly cross-platform experience, where you can (for example) forget your phone at home and still make calls and texts from your work computer.

Project Fi illustration (Source: Google)

Google users can already get to their email, documents, photos and much more by logging into a Web browser, and Fi adds calls and texts to that mix, essentially putting the SIM card in the cloud. It's a more modern version of Google Voice and from Google's explainer site it looks like Hangouts is going to act as the backbone to it.

From a company invested in ultra-high-speed broadband and connecting developing parts of the world, Project Fi makes a lot of sense: It's about making sure smartphone users are on the fastest possible speeds, wherever they are, on whatever device.

Pay-As-You-Go DataOne number lets you make and receive calls from multiple devices.

That "wherever" part of the equation extends across the world as well. Fi users pay $20 a month for talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering and international coverage in 120+ countries, then it's $10 per gigabyte of data.

An extra $10 a month gets you 1GB of data, $20 gets you 2GB and so on. Any data you don't use, you get a refund for—so if you pay for 2GB but only use 1GB, then Google will send you back $10 at the end of the month.

Interested? Google is letting users request an invite from the Project Fi site, but at this stage you're going to need a Nexus 6 to get involved. That's partly because some advanced circuitry is required for switching between so many types of network across the world. At the same time, Google won't want to spook the existing networks too much, and limiting the roll-out achieves that.

Like the Nexus program and Google Fiber, Project Fi aims to set an example for others to follow. It's one of those Google initiatives that makes a lot of sense for users in terms of convenience and ease-of-use, and now the onus is on the rest of the market to respond.

It's also concerned with breaking down the distinction between Wi-Fi and cellular data, a distinction we may not even recognize in five or ten years. The SIM card had a good run, but its time is coming to an end.

Lead photo courtesy of Shutterstock; other images courtesy of Google

Developers Can Now Have Their Own Box, Says Box

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 19:57



The big news coming out of Box Dev 2015 was Box Developer Edition, a new offering that lets app developers build on top of Box's storage and other services without making it obvious they're using Box.

The new product allows developers to use the parts of Box they want—file storage, content previews, and so on—under the hood of their own applications. Users can just use the developer’s app without having to log into Box separately.

In a demonstration of the product in San Francisco at Box Dev 2015, Box’s annual conference for developers, a sample user logged into a dummy healthcare app and gained access to different folders which had content in them. The experience appeared seamless—and Box's role wasn't obvious. 

Later, Box engineering executives showed off an administrative dashboard. Developers using the product will have full access to information like all the users of the app, their folders, usage data, and more analytics.

“It doesn’t just integrate with our APIs,” said Box CEO Aaron Levie in a press Q&A following the keynote presentation. “You can actually build on all the technology we have. That’s what the Dev edition is all about. It’s a developer-owned instance of Box. They can store and manage all the content on their platform.”

Currently in a limited beta, Box Developer Edition will have a cost based on the number of users, according to Levie. Data storage will come free since that isn’t the focus, he said. 

Most other cloud providers, like Amazon and Google, charge developers based on storage or bandwidth used. This could make Box Developer Edition appealing to certain kinds of developers, but without details on the pricing, it's hard to know how competitive the offering will be and for which apps Box will end up being cheaper or have more of the right features.

“[The value of Box Developer Edition] has far less to do with storage and way more to do with workflow in your app that Box is enabling,” said Levie. 

Formal pricing for the product will come this summer.

Photo by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite

Don’t Root That Galaxy S6 Unless You Want To Lose Samsung Pay

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 19:36



Samsung Pay is one of the Galaxy S6’s most compelling features, but it will apparently disappear if owners decide to root their devices.

That could pose a tough choice for Android users who love the new Galaxy’s design—but hate Samsung’s proprietary interface, TouchWiz.

Why Rooting Kills Samsung Pay

Rooting an Android phone essentially requires breaking through its factory-set security in order to access all of its features, many of which its manufacturer may have locked down. Rooting lets you use apps that reach deep into the operating system—for instance, ones that allow you to backup all your apps and their data, or that unlock the Wi-Fi hotspot feature in Android. 

It also lets you replace the factory-installed version of Android for one with new features and fewer restrictions. Eliminating Samsung’s custom launcher, TouchWiz, has typically been a big motivation for people who root their handsets.

See Also: Everything You Wanted To Know About Android "Launchers" But Were Afraid To Ask 

But because rooting breaches the device’s built-in security, it seems that doing so may kill the ability to use Samsung Pay. Slashgear's JC Torres explains it this way:

Samsung Pay most likely relies on Knox, Samsung's security framework, and Knox is notorious for not playing well with rooted devices. Technically, rooting on Android is indeed a form of security exploit, so naturally Samsung Knox would see this as a violation of trust. And considering a mobile payment system is dependent on that trust, it's only reasonable to expect it not to work when a phone's security has been seemingly compromised.

The upside here is that Samsung Pay should stop working if your phone’s security is compromised. The downside, of course, is that users hoping to go hog wild with the Galaxy S6’s hardware might have to think a little longer before they decide to root.

Why Samsung Pay Could Be Too Good To Lose

Unveiled in early March, Samsung Pay is the smartphone maker's attempt to catch up in the world of mobile payments (in this case, by acquiring mobile payments startup LoopPay). The premise of Samsung Pay is nearly identical to that of Apple Pay and Google Wallet before it: Link some credit or debit cards to the app and you can wave your smartphone at a compatible terminal and pay for stuff in an instant.

See also: Take That, Apple! Samsung Unveils Its Own Pay-With-Your-Phone System

But unlike its rivals, Samsung Pay is different because it’s compatible with both Near Field Communication terminals as well as Magnetic Secure Transmission terminals. While NFC terminals haven’t yet seen widespread deployment, MST terminals are already just about everywhere that accepts credit card payments—they’re the little card swipe machines you’ve been using for years.

While smartphone-aided payments haven’t been around long enough to feel necessary, Samsung Pay may be too convenient to pass up. Moreover, if you’ve shelled out the major cash necessary to buy a Galaxy S6 or Galaxy S6 Edge, you’ll probably want to enjoy all of its many built-in features. Losing out on Samsung Pay probably isn’t the end of the world, but it could be a big sacrifice just to get away from TouchWiz.

Screenshots courtesy of Samsung

Speaker Profile: How Fullpower's Philippe Kahn Navigates The Watch's Past And Present

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 13:00



Wearable World Congress, ReadWrite's signature annual conference in San Francisco on May 19-20, will feature the key players who are shaping wearable technology and the Internet of Things. This series profiles some of the experts who will be speaking at the conference.  

Swiss watchmakers, legendary for creating precise, stylish timepieces, have faced their fair share of challenges. Their analog timepieces have withstood the advent of quartz watches and novelty devices foisting calculators, garish video games and more. Now smartwatches join the ranks as the latest rivals. 

Re-enter Philippe Kahn, CEO of Fullpower, the company behind the MotionX software that powered many of the original activity- and sleep-tracking bands. Recently he's been working with well-known Swiss watchmakers to create a new line of horological smartwatches. 

Buy tickets now: Wearable World Congress, May 19-20

Fullpower's technology now aims to blend the digital and analog worlds by combining activity tracking, sleep monitoring and cloud services, with always-on time and date, as well as battery life that's measured in years, not hours or days. 

I caught up with Kahn, who will be speaking at Wearable World Congress next month, to talk with him about innovation and what got him interested in wearables in the first place.

As a consumer, what excites you about wearables? What irritates you?

I hate charging devices. I already have my laptop and my smartphone. I don’t want to worry about a third device. That’s the biggest irritation. I do love beautiful objects and iconic design, even though I am a geek. I just love beautiful objects, and I like wearing beautiful objects. I love them when they are like an Alpina watch.

As the great Miles Davis used to say: "If you want to play good, you have to look good!"

There's a perceived mad rush to improve user experience. How do you see this future playing out? What are the key developments that need to happen for us to get there?

Because wearables need to be worn, the charging and invasiveness factors are key to the user experience. For example, we built the Alpina horological smartwatch. It is a beautiful Swiss watch, [but] we had to solve an impossible technology problem and deliver two-plus years of battery life. And we did. That was the number one experience request from users. A watch should be able to tell the time, all the time, every time.

Tell me about the moment when you decided that you needed to solve the power issue.

When we started our company in 2003, nobody was thinking about wearables. We realized that if we wanted people to use them 24/7, we needed to solve the power issue and make the technology invisible. So we decided to build a strong technology foundation focused on breakthrough power management technology and miniaturization. 

Of course this was a roadmap, but we called our company Fullpower and the technology platform MotionX. We thought that this would keep our focus on what really matters.

What are the top five things companies should consider in seeking to follow in the footsteps of horological designs?

Fullpower built the MotionX platform so that iconic brands such as Mondaine, Alpina, Frederique Constant and others have the flexibility to build beautiful objects. That’s the challenge: To make the technology invisible, and yet deliver breakthrough battery life and miniature form factor without ever compromising on quality and accuracy. It’s a beautiful thing. 

To hear more from Philippe Kahn and other innovators and experts, register for Wearable World Congress 2015, May 19-20 in San Francisco. Early bird prices end soon!

Photo courtesy of Philippe Kahn/Fullpower

Amazon Rolls Out Destinations To Help You Plan Weekend Trips

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 20:57



Amazon knows what you buy, what you watch and even which of your home appliances need repair. Now it wants to know how you spend your weekends away. The company just added Amazon Destinations, a new service designed to help Amazon customers find nearby places for quick jaunts close to home. 

Though wrapped up as part of Amazon Local, the company's Groupon and Living Social rival service, Destinations won’t serve up deep discounts from local businesses. Rather, the travel service will focus on corralling hotel options (at their regular prices), along with links to restaurants and other attractions.

The approach, first spotted by Skift, guarantees Amazon has plenty of hotel inventory, since it won’t have to strong arm businesses into slashing prices. Hotels also incorporate Amazon’s user review model, letting customers review their experiences or vote on the helpfulness of other people’s reviews.

Of course, Yelp does something similar—though it frequently finds itself in hot water over its user-reviews and rather opaque ratings system. Amazon, on the other hand, has largely managed to avoid similar controversies, at least when it comes to user product reviews. Now we’ll see if it holds up for travel reviews.

For the time being, Destinations covers the regions around the Pacific Northwest, Southern California and the Northeast. But if Amazon expands the service, it would push into territory carved out by Expedia, Travelocity, TripAdvisor and a growing array of local travel-oriented sites and apps. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Amazon's hardware initiatives have been uneven at best—with a category-defining Kindle e-reader, mildly interesting Fire tablet, a blockbuster Amazon Fire TV stick and last year’s unmitigated flop, the Fire smartphone. Meanwhile, its digital offerings have been firmly mediocre; Amazon Instant Video has become a staple offering on smart TVs and set-top boxes, but suffers from an inferiority complex when it comes to Netflix and Hulu.

That inconsistency could have led Amazon to double down on what it knows best: merging its digital and physical world. That power play has fueled its e-commerce empire since 1995, and likely inspired services from Amazon Local to the new Amazon Home Services, Amazon Dash Button for instant product ordering, and its new Dash Replenishment Service. Destinations looks like just another building block toward Amazon’s long-game, whatever that may be. (We have some ideas, though.) 

For now, Amazon’s strategy comes off a bit like a twisted Santa jingle, blurring the line between helpful services and creepy undertakings: Amazon can see you when you’re shopping, it knows when you hire folks. It knows when you stream Orphan Black, and it knows when you leave home. 

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Photos and screenshots courtesy of Amazon

Sony Says Pop-Up Notifications Will Come to Android Wear

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 18:35


Sony's SmartWatch 3

Hot on the heels of Google’s Monday announcement of new Android Wear features, Sony has made an announcement of its own—revealing a couple more interesting new features coming to the wearable operating system.

According to Sony, Google gave its watch platform more than just flick-based controls, always-on apps, and a new built-in app launcher. Android Wear devices like the SmartWatch 3 will also get pop-up notifications and adjustable font sizes. Considering there are no actual software differences between Android smartwatches, all of them should get the changes. I contacted Google, which confirmed the new additions. 

See also: Google Unlocks Wi-Fi, Wrist-Flicking And More For Android Smartwatches

Adjustable font size on Android Wear seems pretty self-explanatory in terms of what it will mean for the platform. Essentially, users will have more control over the size of the text on their watches. The helpfulness or convenience of pop-up notifications, however, seems less certain. In fact, they have just as much chance of being really great as they do of being really annoying. 

Pros And Cons Of Pop-Ups

Smartwatches aren’t much more than notification machines already. Currently, one of their main reasons to exist is to siphon notifications from your phone to your wrist, so you can keep your smartphone in your pocket and go about your day. But pop-up notifications could make for information overload, especially on a screen so small. 

On the other hand, the new updates to Android Wear make apps more usable and accessible in general. Wearers may soon find themselves treating their smartwatches a lot more like their smartphones—which could mean they might appreciate (or hate) pop-up notifications in the same way. 

Right now, Android watch alerts live mostly on your home screen in the form of Google Now cards. You configure the notifications on your phone to determine how notifications show up on your wrist. For instance, I turned off sound notifications for emails, but left them on for texts. So when my ZenWatch is connected to my phone, I get a buzz with every new text, but emails appear silently. Both notifications generate new cards, and neither interrupt my app usage on my watch. 

In other words, I don't see new card alerts when I'm actively in another watch app. But a new pop-up notification system may change all that. 

Android Wear's new "always-on" apps mean that pop-up notifications could be pretty useful.

Currently, you can't see new card alerts unless you go back to the homescreen. That could be an issue if you take advantage of Android Wear's new “always-on” feature for watch apps. But with new notifications showing up immediately (which is what "pop-up" suggests), then you might see every new alert blaze across the display as it comes in, even if you're in another app. 

The company didn't offer specifics on how they will work, and those details matter. It would be great if you can navigate your city's streets with your Moto 360, without worrying that you're missing texts or emails. But not if they're intrusive or blaring at you all the time. Hopefully, Google will also include new settings that let you control which apps or, better, contacts can interrupt you. 

We'll know more over the next few weeks, as the Android Wear update rolls out to everyone. So keep your eyes glued to your wrist for that system update notification. 

SmartWatch 3 image courtesy of Sony, Android Wear apps image courtesy of Google

Let's Talk: Quip, Zendesk, and Evernote All Want A Piece Of Your Work Chat

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 15:00



Quip, an online tool for workplace collaboration, is getting chatty, adding features that let coworkers chat in free-form chatrooms. 

Chattier, we should say, since Quip launched two years ago with the ability to chat one-on-one or in small groups. But those conversations were always sidebars to the comments and discussion attached to Quip's documents. Tuesday's updates to Quip's desktop and mobile apps allow for freewheeling discussion—with the ability to instantly start a new document when conversation turns serious.

The Medium Is The Message

"Our product has always had messaging as a central component," Quip CEO Bret Taylor told me in a recent chat. (On the phone. What can I say, I'm old-fashioned.) "When we launched, the main experience difference, besides being exceptional on mobile devices, was that we integrated messaging with document authoring. We’ve always had messaging as a core part of our product experience, and there’s a lot more messages sent per day than documents, though a lot of those messages are hanging off a document."

One notable thing about chat in Quip is that it's, well, fun. Taylor and his team noticed that while document-centric discussions were very focused, watercooler discussions were more social in nature. So Quip added some features that seem ripped from BuzzFeed and I Can Has Cheezburger. In Quip chats, you can not just to paste jokey visual memes you find on the Web, but generate new ones on the fly. (My favorite is The Most Interesting Man In The World.)

"At first we were a little hesitant and then we really embraced it," says Taylor of the quirky, GIF-laced nature of online chat. "It’s making the experience of communication more fun and interesting and improving the dynamics of the team that uses it." 

There's serious business at stake, though. Quip has a lot of rivals in harnessing the power of chat—and hoping to have conversations hang off of its core features. 

Evernote introduced Work Chat in October, to capture discussions around shared notes. Zendesk, which launched an experimental new email-handling offering called Inbox in September, added a feature called Team Talk in March. Zendesk Inbox already let colleagues add internal notes about email sent to group aliases; Team Talk lets them have discussions unattached to particular emails. 

And then there's Facebook, which has launched Facebook At Work, a version of its service which lets employees chat with each other using Facebook's social tools. With Facebook At Work, users set up work accounts which don't expose any of their personal profiles to coworkers and don't require adding each other as "friends" to communicate.

Talking About Billions

All of this product development takes place against the backdrop of the runaway growth of Slack, the maker of a team-collaboration tool now used by 750,000 people a day—200,000 of whom are paying something for the privilege. (Rather, typically, their employers are.) Investors recently valued Slack at $2.8 billion. 

Taylor says he admires Slack for making a "really high-quality product" and notes that many Quip customers use both Quip and Slack together. (Full disclosure: ReadWrite is one of those joint customers.) He believes that what's driving the addition of chat features into business tools is the deep penetration of mobile devices in the workplace.

Push notifications, in particular, have freed up business-software tools from having to rely on email as a channel of communication. And consumer messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have trained a generation of workers to look anywhere but their email inbox first.

This new generation of business tools are creating a new problem, though, as they all add chat, which is that they put a burden on their users to follow conversations from one place to another—or make the hard decision to centralize chatter in one place. 

That's difficult if—say, like a certain editor of a certain technology news site—you admire the elegant email handling of Zendesk Inbox, the collaborative document editing of Quip, and the real-time communication features of Slack.

"To be perfectly honest, I think we’re in a period of rapid experimentation and innovation in business productivity or business communication," says Taylor. "Over the next few years, it will be particularly acute."

In consumer social networks, there was a strong winner-take-all effect, as everyone moved to Facebook because that's what their friends were doing. That seems less likely to happen in social business tools, which tend to be contained within individual, idiosyncratic workplaces. We've seen consumer messaging exist in a fragmented state for a while now. Quip—and all of its new chatterbox competitors—may find that it's hard to talk people into using just one tool.

Photo by Drew Stephens; screenshot courtesy of Quip

Moore's Law Is Dead! (But Not In Mobile)

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 22:49



Moore's Law is dead at the age of 50. Everyone says so. 

And yet, if we look at improvements in mobile performance over the past few years, if anything, we see Moore's Law in overdrive. What gives?

Moore's Law Is Too Expensive

Moore's argument, which has stayed strong for 50 years, is essentially that by shrinking transistors on a chip every 18 months or so, engineers could roughly double performance in that time period. More recently, however, the economics of shrinking transistors has become cost-prohibitive. 

While Moore's Law probably has another decade to run, the cost of keeping up is already causing some to lose faith in it.

The Wall Street Journal's Don Clark declares Moore's Law is "hitting some painful limits," given the exploding costs of shrinking transistors. 

The Economist, for its part, highlights the shift away from raw processing power to cloud computing:

[T]ransistors can be shrunk further, but they are now getting more expensive. And with the rise of cloud computing, the emphasis on the speed of the processor in desktop and laptop computers is no longer so relevant. The main unit of analysis is no longer the processor, but the rack of servers or even the data centre. The question is not how many transistors can be squeezed onto a chip, but how many can be fitted economically into a warehouse. Moore's law will come to an end; but it may first make itself irrelevant.

But before we bury Moore's Law, it's worth exploring its current impact on mobile.

Mobile: Moore's Law In Overdrive

If we think of Moore's Law in terms of raw performance, and not necessarily a matter of shrinking transistors, then mobile computing clearly shows Moore's Law in overdrive.

For example, if we look at how MacBook Pro performance compares to what Moore's Law would anticipate (using Geekbench data), it's clear that Moore's Law isn't driving laptop performance:

Source: ReadWrite (Geekbench data)

Now compare this to the meteoric performance increases for Apple's mobile iOS devices:

Source: ReadWrite (Geekbench data)

In the PC market, market growth and investment has slowed considerably, with the cloud taking on more and more of the burden of delivering processing power. In mobile, by contrast, the market is booming and the need for more on-device processing power is sprinting to keep pace with software (and cloud) innovation. 

Again, I'm not really talking about the number of transistors scrunched onto a single chip, which is at the heart of Moore's Law, but rather an extrapolation thereof: mobile chip performance is off the charts, even as it stagnates in PCs.

Room To Roam

This isn't new, but it's being overlooked in the premature eulogies for Moore's Law. As Intel's Matt Ployhar wrote back in 2010, the mobile industry is moving at "Moore's Law pace or faster." 

And then there's Raj Sabhlok's contention that even if Moore's Law is petering out for hardware, something similar is happening in software: "The price of software applications has plummeted, while the functionality and quality has grown exponentially."

Either way, expect the pace of computing—and innovation—to accelerate for years within mobile. Call it the revenge of Moore's Law, or whatever you want. But it's fast, and getting faster.

Photo by Pawel Loj; charts by ReadWrite