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From the Editor’s Desk: Smartwatches, the zombie product category


Taking a quick break from vacation to get back up to speed with the mobile world.

I’ve used my fair share of smartwatches over the past few years, starting with Pebbles, then picking up with Android Wear and watching Samsung figure out its wearable strategy with the each iteration of the Gear line. In that time I’ve also spent plenty of time with fitness bands on my wrist, which in the past year have turned into mini smartwatches in their own right. Smartwatches have evolved quite a bit, but one thing has remained the same: sales are low, and no company seems to be able to consistently ship them in considerable numbers.

Samsung finally stuck with an idea for two generations of Gear.

I just spent a week with the Gear S3, which marks the first time Samsung released consecutive Gears with a consistent vision and feature set. The Gear S2 was easily the best smartwatch the company had ever made, and the Gear S3 is basically a bigger, better, more feature-packed version of it. The problem is it’s huge — too big for most people’s wrists, and it’s big because it has so many features … a majority of which most people don’t care about and will never touch. Again this is Samsung’s best smartwatch yet, but with some critical (and seemingly basic) flaws like its massive size, I’m not sure how Samsung can sell enough to matter. Particularly on the scale that a company like Samsung expects to sell products.

In the world of Android Wear, things are amazingly stagnant. ASUS finally rolled out its ZenWatch 3 last month to what seemed like little excitment, of course partially due to its launch without the new Android Wear 2.0 update that itself was pushed back by Google. Other manufacturers seem to be in a holding pattern, delaying (or shelving) products for that release of the new software in the first few months of 2017. Google, for its part, keeps on selling a somewhat-diverse set of rather expensive smartwatches on the Google Store. Moto, which has arguably made the most interesting mass-market Android Wear watches, has effectively called it quits with smartwatches this week, saying there just isn’t enough demand for a brand new smartwatch year after year.

Smartwatches are the walking dead … but at least fitness wearables are showing some progress.

It was fitting, then, to see this week that Fitbit seems poised to buy Pebble for some $40 million, a sliver of the price tag it reportedly commanded just a year ago. Pebble is of course a company that has smartwatches as its sole product, not supported by other lines like the likes of Samsung and Moto, and is selling fewer than half a million watches a year. The Pebble story contains many ups and downs, but even those of us who jumped right on the bandwagon with the first Pebble had given up on the idea of a small, independent smartwatch maker keeping its head above water … to say nothing of actually being profitable in the long term.

So where the heck are smartwatches going? Right now it doesn’t seem like they’re going much of anywhere. The big companies like Samsung (hey, and Apple) can afford to keep making them purely from an ecosystem point of view, but we have enough data at this point to show that nobody can really make any money selling smartwatches right now. For me, the growth seems to be coming from the lower end of the “smart wearable” spectrum: think fitness bands and activity trackers. Devices like the Samsung Gear Fit 2 and Fitbit Blaze are great because they’re small, comfortable and inexpensive when compared to “full” smartwatches, yet they have lots of the same functionality. That makes sense for a lot of people who don’t want to commit to a full smartwatch.

A few more weekend thoughts to wrap things up:

  • I put together a list of my favorite tech of 2016, which kind of functions as a holiday gift guide of sorts. If I haven’t used it personally, it didn’t make it on the list — I think there are a ton of great picks in there, though.
  • I’m using Samsung’s Nougat beta on the Galaxy S7, and aside from a few performance bugs it seems like a nice update.
  • This is very much still Samsung’s software with Android 7.0 features underneath, though: don’t expect your Galaxy S7 to look like a Pixel when it gets the update.
  • Now the question is, how long do we all have to wait for various regions and carriers to get the update out? As the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge get on in age a bit, it’d be great to get this update out.
  • I’m spending a week in Costa Rica, and it’s my first time being any further south than northern Mexico. It’s a beautiful country, and I can already recommend that people consider visiting.
  • I left my OnePlus 3 at home this week while I travel, but I’m excited to get back home and see how the Nougat update looks. Alex seems to like it already.

That’s it for now; I’ll be back in the U.S. and back at things on AC late next week.


GoPro sells the Karma’s stabilizer grip by itself for $300

No, you still can’t buy GoPro’s Karma drone in the wake of the recall, but you can get a taste of the technology that came in the box. GoPro has started selling the Karma Grip, the stabilization wand that takes the jitters out of your Hero5 Black or (with a $30 harness) Hero4 Black/Silver camera footage. Spend $300 and you can capture a bike ride or snowboarding adventure without making your friends motion sick. There’s a mounting ring to attach it to wearable accessories, too, so you don’t have to give up one of your hands while you use it.

The accessory is available now, but be prepared to wait if you have a Hero5 Session. Its harness won’t arrive until sometime in spring 2017, so you’ll have to make do when documenting your winter expeditions. Just remember that you’re not locked into the GoPro ecosystem if you want handheld stabilization, especially if you’re willing to use someone else’s cameras.

Source: GoPro


After Math: Weird science

It’s been a strange week for the scientific arts. The speed of light might not be as stable as we thought, carbon nanotubes have been used to freeze boiling water, a bunch of schoolkids recreated a $750 compound for $25 and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has decided that it doesn’t believe in climate change. Numbers, because how else will we know how fast the Earth is warming?


Ben Heck visits the Portland Retro Gaming Expo

The Ben Heck Show - Episode 265 - Ben Heck's Nintendo PlayStation Update at Portland Retro Gaming Expo

Join Ben as he leaves the workshop behind and goes on a journey to Portland’s Retro Gaming Expo. There’s little Ben loves more, and this time he’s on the hunt for a copy of Road Rash for the Sega Genesis / Megadrive! With some happy distractions, Ben gets another chance at the Nintendo Playstation console and discusses the Commodore 64, Nintendo 64 disk drive and the collecting of retro hardware and games with fellow YouTubers. Will Ben manage to repair the Nintendo PlayStation and play Super Boss Gaiden? Does he manage to find a copy of Road Rash? You’ll have to watch and find out. What’s your favorite retro gaming console, or game? Let Ben and the team know over on the element14 Community.


Roost Smart Smoke Alarm RSA-400 review – CNET

The Good The Roost Smart Smoke Alarm includes the easy-to-use Roost Smart Battery, which allows it to reliably send you push notifications when your alarm sounds.

The Bad The alarm itself adds nothing to the experience. You’d get the exact same functions by installing a Roost Battery in your own alarm.

The Bottom Line Think of buying the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm like buying a dumb alarm packaged with a smart battery. If you need both, it’s worth a purchase, but if you only want smarts, get the battery on its own.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

The Roost Smart Smoke Alarm is a logical step forward for the company that made the Roost Smart Battery.

The battery is a useful, Wi-Fi-connected 9-volt that fits in your existing alarms and sends push notifications to your phone when the alarm sounds or the battery runs low. The problem with the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm is that it adds nothing to connected smoke detection that the included Roost Smart Battery can’t do on its own.

Roost just put its name on a Universal Security Instruments (USI) alarm and called it smart. It’s not.

If you do need a new alarm, Roost actually has two options. We tested the $80 RSA-400, which senses smoke, fire, carbon monoxide and natural gas. You can also get the $60 version of the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm — the RSA-200 — which just senses smoke and fire. The RSA-400 is reasonably priced. A similar USI smoke and CO detector costs $50, plus the $35 Roost. The RSA-200 is less so, as a USI detector that just smells smoke is only $12.

Either way, I don’t recommend replacing a working smoke alarm with a Roost Smart Smoke Alarm just to add remote notifications. You can get that with a $35 Roost Battery and your existing alarm. If you want wholesale smart replacements, I recommend spending a little more for the $100 Nest Protect.

The Roost Smart Smoke Alarm plays it safe
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High hopes

I really liked the Roost Smart Battery when I reviewed it last year. It looks just like an ordinary 9V, so if you can replace a battery, you can install a Roost. Hidden in that familiar form are a Wi-Fi antenna, a microphone and a replaceable power pack that snaps free from the bottom of the battery. Supposedly, a Roost lasts five years. When that time expires, you’ll get a notification and you can buy a new power pack for $15.

The Roost App is simple and intuitive. Alerts arrived promptly when we tested it. Now, the Roost works with online rule maker IFTTT so it can integrate with a larger smart-home setup. For example, you can create a recipe that tells your smart lights to flash when your alarm sounds.

screen-shot-2015-11-13-at-3-59-04-pm.pngView full gallery

The Roost springs into action when your alarm sounds.

Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Because of how much I liked the Roost battery, I had lofty expectations for the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm. One criticism I had of the battery is that the in-app silencing feature doesn’t work on hard-wired alarms. That’s understandable, as it’s just a battery and it silences the alarm by cutting the power. I thought the Roost Smoke Alarm would certainly address this problem, as well as close the gap between the Roost Battery and Nest in other ways by adding a light, a motion sensor or the ability to talk to other smoke detectors. Nope, nope and nope. The Roost Smoke Alarm adds nothing. In fact, Roost’s Smart Battery would be more useful in a different, battery-powered — app-silenceable — smoke detector.


All all-electric submarine, and more in the week that was

Are personal submarines the vehicles of the future? This week Ortega Submersible launched an all-electric sub that allows three divers to fly through the sea. In other transportation news, a Swiss pilot is testing the boundaries of solar flight by taking a sun-powered airplane to the edge of space. Public transportation is generally seen as safe and secure, but this week hackers broke into San Francisco’s Muni system and demanded a $70,000 ransom. A team of automakers is planning a fast-charging electric vehicle superhighway in Europe, and Copenhagen now officially has more bicycles than cars.

Nuclear waste is difficult to get rid of, but scientists just found a way to turn it into diamond batteries that last virtually forever. India just fired up the world’s largest solar plant, which produces enough electricity to power 150,000 homes. Energy-generating solar roadways are set to hit four continents next year. And Aarhaus, Denmark became the world’s first city to power its water treatment facility with sewage.

Human development is changing the face of the planet, and a new Google timelapse shows just how much havoc we’ve wrought in the last 32 years. Meanwhile, a team of scientists confirmed that a long-feared, catastrophic climate feedback loop is causing greenhouse gases to rise from the ground beneath our feet. In other science and technology news, scientists have found a way to make water freeze at boiling temperatures. Ukraine has built the world’s largest moveable metal structure, and this week they used it to seal Chernobyl’s critically damaged reactor number four. And a petal-shaped pod transportation station offers an elegant mobility solution for Dubai.


Pros and cons: Our quick verdict on the NES Classic Edition

The NES Classic is an easy sell: It’s a $60 device that looks and feels like the original Nintendo Entertainment System, with a library of 30 popular games pre-loaded. It’s also easy to set up — all you need is a spare USB port on your TV. The problem? The device is such a great proposition that it’s either sold out everywhere, or only available through resellers for five times the price. We’re not sure we recommend spending $300 on this, especially given a few flaws like the too-short controller cables and the fact that you can’t download any additional games. But if you do resort to desperate measures to get one this holiday season, we won’t judge.


NFL loosens its policies on teams posting GIFs and videos

The NFL’s current rules social media posts have been rather draconian, even after a recent rethink. Football teams couldn’t post any video during the game window until the NFL made a sanctioned clip available on its servers, and they couldn’t create any GIFs during game time. They couldn’t post more than 8 clips on game day, either. However, the league appears to be changing its mind. Yahoo Finance has obtained a memo revealing that the NFL has once again loosened its policies. Teams can now post non-highlight GIFs and videos (that is, no on-the-field action) on their own, right up to a newly expanded 16-video cap. If they want to celebrate fans or the halftime show, they don’t have to wait for the NFL to act first.

That’s just the start. Teams can post five clips to Snapchat during a game, and stream three non-game day press conferences on Facebook Live. The memo also reveals a “test agreement” that will have Giphy serve as a source of “ancillary game and historical/iconic” GIFs. You won’t visit Giphy to relive an epic touchdown from the weekend, but you won’t have to search the whole web just to find a classic moment. The dry run lasts until June 2017.

A spokesperson confirmed the move to Yahoo and noted that it was a response to “feedback” from teams.

As you’ve probably gathered, the NFL isn’t exactly flinging the doors wide open. It’s still barring anything that might give you a reason to skip those oh-so-lucrative TV broadcasts and official live streams. All the same, it’s clear that the league is acknowledging reality — it can’t pretend that it’s always as quick to react as the teams themselves, or that it can downplay services like Snapchat in the modern era. If it’s going to drive interest in football, it has to capture the moment-to-moment thrills wherever viewers happen to be.

Via: Mashable

Source: Yahoo Finance


Trump defense secretary pick serves on Theranos’ board

President-elect Trump’s rapidly growing circle of advisers and cabinet members continues to raise eyebrows among the tech-savvy. The incoming leader has picked retired General James Mattis as his Secretary of Defense, and the Marine has been a devoted champion of Theranos — you know, the blood testing firm facing both a criminal investigation and a slew of lawsuits over its technology claims. He’s on the company’s board of directors, but email obtained by the Washington Post shows that Mattis bent over backwards to support Theranos in the years when he was leading US Central Command.

Mattis was determined to give the rapid blood testing a field test in Afghanistan, and told Theranos chief Elizabeth Holmes that he was “kicking this [plan] into overdrive” back in 2012. He’s known to have personally called a Major General at the US Army’s medical research headquarters, as well. And when military regulations expert Lt. Col. David Shoemaker raised concerns that Theranos’ testing wasn’t FDA-compliant, Holmes appealed to Mattis to correct the “blatantly false information,” and he swung into action by telling Shoemaker and others that there needed to be a comparison study in Afghanistan “ASAP.”

There aren’t any indications that Mattis broke rules, but he came close. Near the end of 2012, Col. Kent Kester claimed there was an “intentional effort” to “short-cut” procedures and get Theranos on the battlefield. Shoemaker even got email from an unnamed military staffer who said the Navy Attorney General was annoyed by Theranos’ attempts to circumvent the rulebook.

This doesn’t mean that Mattis will start cheerleading for Theranos in his Defense Secretary role. An ethics official warned the General against representing the company in front of the military once he had retired, for one thing. Also, Theranos’ dream is rapidly falling apart between lab closures and intense legal scrutiny. However, Mattis may have to rethink his board role if he wants to avoid conflict-of-interest accusations, even if he has no intention of hawking Theranos as a defense chief.

Via: ProPublica (Twitter)

Source: Theranos, Washington Post (1), (2)


Microsoft hopes your Windows PC can replace an Amazon Echo

If rumors are true, Microsoft may be one of the few major consumer tech giants that doesn’t have a smart, voice-guided speaker in the works… but that doesn’t mean it’s sitting on its thumbs. In an expansion of recent code discoveries, Windows Central sources claim that Windows 10 is getting a Home Hub feature that will turn supporting PCs into rivals for the Amazon Echo and Google Home. You’d have a shared, login-free desktop that shares family resources like calendars and shopping lists, and a smart home app that would make it easy to control all your connected devices. And as you might surmise, the Cortana voice assistant would play a much, much more important role.

Under Home Hub, Cortana would have access to both shared content as well as that of individual users who are signed in. That would tackle one of the biggest issues with devices like Google Home — that they’re frequently limited to supporting a single user’s account. Supporting PCs would also be much more Cortana-friendly. You could use voice commands from a greater distance, and wake up the PC with voice alone. Home Hub-ready systems could even tout light and motion sensors to wake up whenever someone enters the room.

Provided the leak is accurate, it could be a while before you see every element of Home Hub. It’s reportedly scheduled to arrive through three significant Windows 10 updates (nicknamed Redstone 2, 3 and 4) that would start arriving in 2017. And if you want a PC designed for the feature from the ground up, you may have to wait until the very end of the year. Microsoft is said to be asking vendors (including HP and Lenovo) to step up with Home Hub-optimized all-in-one PCs in late 2017.

There’s no certainty that everything will pan out as planned. WC is quick to warn that delays and cancellations could change features and timelines, assuming Home Hub ships at all. However, it’s easy to see the incentive for Microsoft to make this a reality. In some ways, Echo-like speakers reduce the need for a family computer — you can’t do your homework through a speaker, but you can accomplish tasks that would normally require breaking out your phone or sitting at a desk. Home Hub would keep the PC relevant for homes where a shared machine makes sense, and might even provide an edge over smart speakers by offering the visual, multi-user info that you don’t get right now.

Source: Windows Central

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