Android Wear 2.0 will launch on a pair of flagship smartwatches
The market for smartwatches is drying up, but Google seems intent on shaking it up. We already knew that Android Wear 2.0 would arrive in early 2017, but Android Wear product manager Jeff Chang recently confirmed to The Verge that the updated platform would launch on two new, flagship smartwatches. Make no mistake, though: these aren’t Google watches, strictly speaking. While the search giant will no doubt promote them like crazy, Chang noted in the interview that the watches will bear the brand of their manufacturer rather than Google.
In other words, Pixel watches these ain’t.
Chang apparently referred to the deal Google has with this mystery manufacturer as akin to the long-running Nexus program, in which Google provided the software for hardware makers who could build the kind of phone Google desired. Chang’s characterization is curious, though, because Google has more-or-less backed away from the Nexus program with the launch of its Pixel phones, devices that Google developed entirely on its own. To date, the company’s bet seems to have paid off: the Pixels have enjoyed strong critical acclaim, and not even Google could correctly gauge demand for the devices, leading to delayed delivery of pre-ordered phones. Hell, check out the Google Store right now: at time of writing, at least one version of the Pixel XL is still sold out.
It’s not hard to jump to the conclusion that a Google-branded smartwatch could have done well, if maybe not to the same extent. Rumors of in-house Google smartwatches have been swirling for months now, too, so what gives? While some (including your author) hoped Google would lead the Android Wear 2.0 charged with some watches of its own, it makes complete sense that Google decided not to.
For one, it minimizes the reputational risk that comes with a potential failure. Think about it: people don’t seem to want smartwatches as much as they used to, and a big whiff on Google’s part could shake perceptions that smartwatches are worth the hassle. That’s no bueno for a company with a vested interest in spreading Android Wear far and wide. With that said, it also makes sense that Google would on some level want to give the actual manufacturer of the smartwatch the attention. With any luck, that attention drives sales, which spurs competition, which ultimately makes Android Wear a more palatable platform for everyone involved. A pair of Pixel watches might still be in the offing, but the timing doesn’t seem right yet. Better the rising tide of Android Wear 2.0 lift the sales of all manufacturers, rather than just directly benefit Google.
Oh, by the way: Chang let slip other juicy details, like that these two watches would be the first of many in 2017, Android Pay would be enabled on all of them and that those mobile payments would work with iOS devices. That last bit could be big for Google as it continues trying to prove Android Wear’s value — smartwatches from Apple and Samsung already have elegant, built-in payment solutions. In other words, the two major companies still trying to make smartwatches a thing are enjoying a healthy lead, while Google works to enable support across the many watches to come.
Source: The Verge
Apple Watch refurbs lower the cost of outfitting your wrist
You no longer have to wait for a sale to snag an Apple Watch at a more reasonable price. Apple has quietly started selling refurbished Series 1 and Series 2 models through its American online store, lowering the barrier of entry if you don’t insist on untouched wristwear. They’re currently the most common models, to no one’s surprise (no ceramic Apple Watch Edition here), but you’re getting a sizable 15 percent discount over brand new: Series 1 begins at $229, while the GPS-equipped Series 2 variants start at $309. The Series 2 lineup also includes a few stainless steel versions starting at $469.
These aren’t the lowest prices we’ve seen. At the height of the holiday shopping frenzy, you could buy a Series 1 for under $200. With that said, these discounts are considerably more reliable… and importantly, they lower the official cost of entry for the Apple Watch world. While we wouldn’t exactly call $229 an impulse buy, it’s considerably more palatable if you’re not sure about this whole smartwatch thing and would rather not spend more than necessary.
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review: Lots of features, not enough apps
It seems like everyone is talking about how the smartwatch market is collapsing, but that hasn’t stopped Samsung from taking another stab at high-end wearables. Who could blame them, really? Last year’s Tizen-powered Gear S2 was full of good ideas, from that rotating bezel to its compatibility with non-Samsung Android phones. Not trying to build on that foundation would have been a shame.
Enter the Gear S3 Frontier. It’s a bigger, better, more refined take on Samsung’s smartwatch formula, and the company threw in every feature it could think of. That rationale is Samsung through and through, and it makes the Gear S3 worthy of your consideration, even if now might not be the best time to buy a smartwatch.
Last year’s Gear S2 had a sleek, pseudo-futuristic vibe — so much so that the white model I reviewed looked like a prop straight out of THX 1138. Samsung ditched that clean aesthetic this time around — the S3 Frontier rocks a rugged look, with a knurled, rotating bezel and a chunky stainless-steel body. More often than not, people who saw the S3 on my wrist thought it was just a well-built mechanical timepiece. If you’re like me and enjoy thoughtful mashups of old and new, the S3 certainly scratches that itch. That is, unless you like your watches nice and thin.
Indeed, the Gear S3 Frontier is a big watch, and it won’t work on every wrist. That’s not just because of the bright, 1.33-inch Super AMOLED display either. Between an integrated LTE radio and a relatively large 380mAh battery, the Gear S3 could not have been much smaller. Speaking of the screen, it’s a real standout — it can display up to 16 million colors (up from the Gear S2’s eight million) when the always-on display mode is enabled, so it almost looks like a real watch even when you’re not touching it. The Frontier tries to project an image of sturdiness, and that’s only helped by a new Gorilla Glass coating meant specifically for wearables. More important, the screen was crisp and readable in every situation I tested it in, even though its size and resolution (360 x 360) mean it’s less pixel-dense than the Gear S2. Whatever — when it comes to screens, bigger is almost always better.
So yeah, the Gear S3 Frontier won’t fit everyone. By now it’s probably clear that I don’t mind the size, though. There’s something undeniably cool about wearing a big timepiece, especially one as well constructed as this. It also helps that Samsung used a more traditional — and more flexible — design for its lugs. Last year’s Gear S2 required you to buy a watch strap specifically made for it, but with the S3 you can attach any standard 22mm band. That’s good news for people who don’t love the included textured silicon strap.
And the style options don’t end there either. If the Frontier’s masculine aesthetic doesn’t do it for you, there’s another version of the S3 called the Classic that’s a bit more elegant. To be clear, though, there are bigger differences here than just style: The Frontier has an additional LTE radio for messaging, voice calls and the occasional SOS from the wilderness, while the Classic is left with your standard Bluetooth/WiFi/NFC radios. Everything else is the same across both models, and that’s a long list of similarities. Both have heart rate sensors, a 1GHz dual-core Exynos processor, 768MB of RAM, IP68 waterproofing, 4GB of internal storage and MST (magnetic secure transmission) for Samsung Pay transactions.
Overall, the Frontier is impressive, but I’m still a little puzzled by Samsung’s decision to omit LTE on the Classic: The two devices cost the same! Spokespeople have said that it’s about offering consumers different options, but surely some who prefer the more elegant Classic would also want cellular data on their wrists. Samsung hasn’t officially ruled out a cellular version of the Gear S3 Classic, though, so it’s possible we’ll eventually see full feature parity between the two devices.
The Gear S3 runs Tizen (version 2.3.1, for those keeping track) and, as usual, it’s very smartly laid out to take advantage of that wonderful spinning bezel. Crank it clockwise and you’ll get all of your notifications in one place. Spin it the opposite direction to breeze through the widgets you’ve added (by default, the watch shows you the current weather, favorite contacts, calories burned and what’s in your calendar). If you can handle that, congrats: You’ve basically just mastered the Gear S3’s interface.
That said, people responded so well to the spinning bezel that Samsung decided to use it for a few more things on this year’s model. Instead of having to swipe on the screen to dismiss a call or disable an alarm, it now takes just a quick twist of the dial. It’s much more convenient this way, but one could argue it’s a little too easy; I’ve woken up late just about every day this week because I could just smack and twist my alarm to shut it up.
You can also theoretically use the bezel to play games on the S3, but I wouldn’t recommend it, for two reasons. First, you’ll notice a tactile clicking whenever you turn the bezel, and that could make precision control tricky for some games. Second, and more important, there’s a noticeable shortage of great games — or other apps, for that matter — available on Tizen.
According to Samsung, there’s something like 10,000 apps in the Tizen Store, but just a fraction of those are tuned for the Gear’s small display. Even smaller is the number of apps that actually seem worth using, a fact made all the more ironic by the Gear S3’s newfound ability to install apps straight from the store, no smartphone connection required.
That’s not to say the platform is completely bereft of good software; the preloaded Flipboard app is excellent for skimming headlines at a glance, and Uber does a fine job telling you when that dude in a Toyota Camry is going to show up. Trulia, meanwhile, is a capable tool for learning about the real estate for sale around you; in addition to showing you pictures, the app delivers a primer on local crime levels and school quality before offering you directions. If every major web service could be this conscientious about creating Tizen apps, we’d be golden. Too bad that’s definitely not the case.
At the very least, the rest of the features here work well. S Voice springs to life when you tap the bottom button, and you can use it to send messages, initiate calls and launch apps, among other things. I rarely had trouble with S Voice interpreting what I was saying, but the delay between issuing a command and seeing the watch respond usually took just a moment longer than I expected. Then again, this sort of delay seems typical of wearables; it’s slower than Siri on the Apple Watch Series 2, but only very slightly.
As far as new input methods go, you can also reply to messages by scrawling individual letters on the screen when a notification rolls in. I assumed this would be my least favorite way to respond to people, but I was wrong. Trying to peck out texts — even short ones — using a nine-key, phone-style keyboard on my wrist is still more cumbersome.
In general, the Gear S3 Frontier nails the basics, but there’s also a lot of stuff here that doesn’t come standard on other smartwatches. Take that cellular radio, for instance. As mentioned, it allows you talk into your wrist Dick Tracy style, which somehow feels a little silly even in 2016. Still, call quality is surprisingly good, though you’ll have to crank the volume on the speaker all the way up if you ever want to use it outside of quiet spaces. The experience works even better when you add AT&T’s NumberSync to the mix — it routes phone calls and messages from your main device (and phone number) to the S3, provided you’ve added it to a Mobile Share plan. The truth is, most people will never need to do any of this, but either way, it’s nice to know that the cellular experience works well.
This is also the first Gear smartwatch to come with MST for mobile payments. I’ll spare you the tale of Samsung’s LoopPay acquisition — all you need to know is that you can use the watch to pay for your stuff regardless of the registers your favorite stores use. In other words, you’re fine whether there’s an NFC/contactless terminal or a traditional card-swiping one. Just hold down the S3 Frontier’s top button for three seconds and tap away. You can do this up to 10 times before you have to re-authenticate the S3 from a smartphone, which was more than enough to get me through days at the office when I left my wallet at home. You’ll have to punch in a PIN every time you want to try this, though, which can be a pain on such a small keypad.
While Samsung makes fitness-focused wearables like the Gear Fit 2, it built a slew of health-tracking features into the Gear S3 as well. The GPS radio, for instance, tracked my trail runs as accurately as the Apple Watch Series 2 did. Neither will replace a full-blown running watch, though it’s not as if Samsung and Apple are even trying to put Garmin out of business.
At first, I had the Gear S3 connected to a Galaxy S7 Samsung provided. Is it any surprise, then, that everything worked well? But what happens when you try to use the S3 with a non-Samsung Android phone? Long story short, you’ll enjoy almost the same level of functionality, just with more setup involved. See, the beauty of keeping everything within Samsung’s walled garden is that most of the software components needed to make a Galaxy play nice with a Gear are already on the phone itself.
By contrast, when I reset the Gear S3 and connected it to the Google Pixel XL, I had to wait for three apps to download and install before I could start using the watch in earnest. And if you want to use features like Samsung Pay, that requires yet another app download; make sure your phone is set to install apps from outside the Play Store. All told, the process took only a few extra minutes, and the Gear S3 experience was mostly identical regardless of which phone it was connected to.
The smartwatch market might be shrinking, but the Gear S3 still has plenty of rivals. On the Android Wear side, two devices stand out. Fans of the Gear S3’s rugged style might dig Nixon’s the Mission, a similarly masculine wearable. Beyond the peculiar name, Nixon says the Mission is the world’s first “action sports smartwatch,” because it’s built to be water-resistant up to 100 meters and tailored for days at the beach or on the slopes. At $400, it’s $50 more expensive than the S3 Frontier, but you do get Android Wear’s broader app support, a customizable design and software specifically tuned for surfing and skiing.
For folks who take their exercise seriously, there’s also the Polar M600 ($330). It’s nowhere near as good-looking as the Gear S3, but you weren’t going to buy one of these for its fashion cred anyway. Indeed, the M600 is the most fitness-friendly Android Wear watch to date, pairing an accurate heart rate monitor with an interface tailored to tracking your vitals and workouts.
And of course, there’s still the Gear S2, now priced at $230. Rather than discontinue the year-old smartwatch, Samsung is keeping it around as a cost-conscious option and has updated it with some of the S3’s features to boot. If Android Wear feels stale to you — and it does to me — the Tizen-powered Gear S2 is a fine way to try something new without blowing through your budget.
With the Gear S3 Frontier, Samsung did a commendable job building a wearable with a little something for everyone. The device still falls short in a lot of ways, including its overzealous automatic fitness tracking and a limited app selection, even after a year. Still, with so few truly interesting smartwatch options out there, the Gear S3 can’t help but feel like a refreshing change of pace. If you’re in the market for a high-end wearable, the S3 is worth considering. Just remember: Android Wear 2.0 is coming early next year, so waiting for the next crop of watches is probably the smartest move.
Fitbit will keep Pebble’s services running through 2017
Fitbit might no longer sell Pebble’s devices, but it won’t brick the smartwatches the smaller company already sold. In a blog post today, Pebble developer Jon Barlow has assured fans that Fitbit will keep their e-paper smartwatches running through 2017. Pebble’s apps, app store, firmware and API, among other services, will remain accessible next year. While it sounds like Fitbit will no longer support those services after that, Barlow and his team are already taking steps to make sure they’ll still work in 2018.
Pebble’s developers are tweaking the system’s mobile apps so they can function even if their cloud services are discontinued. They’re planning to release updates in the coming months that’ll allow those apps to work on their own, just like Pebble Health, which isn’t dependent on the cloud. Unfortunately, Barlow can’t say how long the company can keep dictation, messaging, weather and other features dependent on third-party services active. But independent developers are already joining forces in an effort to keep Pebble devices working, so they might serve their owners beyond next year.
The Engadget Podcast Ep 17: Mansion on the Hill
Executive editor Christopher Trout and reviews editor Cherlynn Low join host Terrence O’Brien to talk about the week’s biggest news, including: Pandora Premium, Fitbit’s purchase of Pebble and the gaming industry’s nostalgia overload. Then Chris will tell the panel about his investigation into a failed gaming accessory that’s found a second life as a sex toy — clearly things get a little NSFW. Then all three will talk about what Amazon Go and other advancements in automation and mean for low-skill and low-wage jobs.
- Fitbit’s Pebble acquisition risks alienating loyal users
- Fitbit buys Pebble’s smarts, but not its products
- Bloomberg: Fitbit acquisition will kill Pebble Time 2 and Core
- The Novint Falcon: Haptic joystick turned futuristic sex toy
- Amazon Go is a grocery store with no checkout lines
- Technology is coming for your retail jobs
You can check out every episode on The Engadget Podcast page in audio, video and text form for the hearing impaired.
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Fitbit buys Pebble’s smarts, but not its products
The rumors were true: Fitbit is buying Pebble. Well, its talent and intellectual property, at least. The wearable maker confirmed today that it has acquired “specific assets” of Pebble, including key staff members and its software and firmware developments. Once a shining example of how crowdfunding can help smaller companies share their technology with the world, Pebble will cease the manufacturing, promotion and selling of all its devices and shut down.
Fitbit says the acquisition will enable it to bring new products to market quicker and improve those it already sells. With Pebble’s help, it also intends to develop customized products and third-party apps for corporate customers and researchers. Bloomberg reported yesterday that up to 40 percent of Pebble employees will be given the opportunity to work with Fitbit.
In a blog post, Pebble thanked its community for helping the company ship over two million Pebble wearables and detailed what customers can expect now that it is shutting down. As it stands, existing Pebble device owners will see no immediate changes, as Fitbit will “maintain services,” but the company says functionality could be impacted in the future.
The Pebble Time 2, Pebble Core, and Pebble Time Round Kickstarter Editions won’t go into final production and all backers who haven’t already received their device will be refunded. There could be a wait, though, as Pebble said it will remunerate pledges by March 2017.
It’s a sad end for Pebble, which had managed to carve out a small niche in the wearable market with its e-paper smartwatches but struggled to innovate as bigger players like Apple, Samsung and, of course, Fitbit launched similar products. The startup found it hard to find cash, cutting a quarter of its workforce in March, even though it had previously set records on Kickstarter.
“Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to each and every Pebbler for making awesome happen with us over the years,” says Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky. “Our community is vibrant. Our community is passionate. You are what made Pebble special and worth fighting for, every second of every day. We will always remember the love you showed Pebble, through thick and thin.”
Source: Pebble, Fitbit
Bloomberg: Fitbit acquisition will kill Pebble Time 2 and Core
According to Bloomberg, Fitbit is close to buying up Pebble for less than $40 million, which aligns with what we reported when info on the acquisition first came out. Since the fitness tracker maker is only interested in Pebble’s software assets and Pebble is neck-deep in debt, though, the Time 2 and Core watches will no longer be released. While Pebble 2 has already started shipping out to Kickstarter backers, the company will reportedly cancel all Time 2 and Core shipments and will issue refunds through the crowdfunding website. Pebble’s Time 2 is made of marine-grade stainless steel and has a much bigger screen than the original Time smartwatch, while Core is an Android-powered, non-watch GPS wearable for runners.
The publication has also revealed that Fitbit has begun sending out job offers to 40 percent of the smartwatch company’s software engineers. Employees who don’t get an offer will get severance packages, while those who do and who choose to work for Fitbit will move to its HQ in San Francisco. In addition, the stocks the employees own will now go towards paying debts and issuing refunds to campaign backers. Bloomberg’s sources said it’s now up to Fitbit whether to use the Pebble brand. The indie smartwatch company’s devices might really be gone for good, though. When The Information first reported on the deal, it said Pebble’s devices will be phased out after the acquisition.
Use Alexa to ask Martian’s watches all your burning questions
Have one of Martian’s voice-powered smartwatches? Cool, because now mVoice models and certain Guess timepieces will work with Amazon’s Alexa technology. “We’re excited to work with Martian Watches to bring Alexa to mVoice timepieces so customers can easily perform everyday tasks — like controlling their smart home with ecobee, requesting a ride with Lyft or checking the daily news — using just their voice,” Amazon’s director of voice services Aaron Brown said in a statement. Just think, now you can use Alexa on your watch (or via the mVoice app), to order another voice-controlled watch, just by asking. The future is a wild place, y’all.
Demand for wearable tech is growing (but not for smartwatches)
If you were hoping the smartwatch market would bounce back from its recent slump when a slew of new models hit the market, you’re about to be disappointed. IDC estimates that wearable device shipments grew ever so slightly (3.1 percent) in the third quarter of 2016, but that fitness trackers were almost exclusively responsible for the increase. Fitbit, Garmin and other activity band makers improved their shipments by the double digits, while the smartwatch world actually shrank.
Apple still leads the smartwatch sphere in these estimates, with 1.1 million Apple Watches shipped over the summer. However, that’s a steep drop of roughly 70 percent year-over-year — Apple was moving 3.9 million in the third quarter of 2015. Samsung was a rare star in this field with shipments doubling, although IDC cautions that the numbers are artificially inflated thanks to Galaxy Note 7 buyers who got to keep their free Gear Fit 2 and Gear IconX extras despite having to return the phone. A significant chunk of its shipments came from cellular-equipped Gear S2 watches sold through carriers.
It’s hard to say how much of a decline the smartwatch market is facing, assuming it faces one at all. Apple Watch Series 2 only started shipping two weeks before the quarter ended, and Samsung’s Gear S3 didn’t arrive until mid-November. A recovery was unlikely during the summer — if it happens, it’ll be thanks to holiday shoppers picking up new models. No matter what, it’s clear that smartwatches aren’t as red-hot as companies initially thought they would be.
Motorola isn’t making a new smartwatch anytime soon
We might not see a successor to the 2015 Moto 360 in the near future, or even at all. Motorola and its parent company Lenovo have confirmed to The Verge that they’re not working on a new smartwatch to be released in time for Android Wear 2’s launch next year. Moto’s head of global product development Shakil Barkat told the publication that the company doesn’t “see enough pull in the market” to justify developing a new smartwatch at this point in time. He even went on to say that “wearables do not have broad enough appeal for [Moto] to continue to build on it year after year.”
Based on Barkat’s statements, smartwatches and other wearable devices aren’t doing too well and haven’t been able to attract enough audience to make a regular refresh viable. It’s unclear if we’ll ever see another Moto 360, since it sounds like it’s not doing anything for the company. According to Barkat, though, Moto believes that the “wrist still has value,” hinting that the company hasn’t closed its doors on the possibility of releasing another wearable device.
Source: The Verge