Gadgets – TechCrunch John Biggs

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

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

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

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

Gadgets – TechCrunch Natasha Lomas

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

We were still waiting on the price-tag — but it’s just been officially revealed: The developer-focused Magic Leap One ‘creator edition’ headset will set you back at least $2,295. So a considerable chunk of change — albeit this bit of kit is not intended as a mass market consumer device but is an AR headset for developers to create content that could excite future consumers.

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

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

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

Magic Leap specifies it will “hand deliver” the package to buyers — and “personally get you set up”.

So evidently it wants to try to make sure its first flush of expensive hardware doesn’t get sucked down the toilet of dashed developer expectations.

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

 

Gadgets – TechCrunch Sarah Buhr

Google hopes to add a few digital wellness features to its latest desserted update, Pie (out today) but Apple is already on this health track with its latest update for iOS 12.

Digital wellness allows users to keep track of time spent on and unplug from your digital device when needed. Google announced the new wellness features coming to Android at I/O in May, including a dashboard for digital wellness, or the ability to track just how much time you spend on your device, an app timer that lets you set time limits on apps, a new Do Not Disturb feature which silences pop-up notifications and Wind Down, a feature to help you switch on Night Light and Do Not Disturb when it’s time to hit the hay.

Apple is also making digital wellness a focus. New features in this space were announced during its WWDC conference earlier this summer and the company has included an updated ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature in the iOS 12 update, also out today.

Several studies have suggested the importance of unplugging and breaking our addictions to our smartphones for our sanity’s sake and it seems Google would like to help us do just that with these new features. However, the new digital wellness features aren’t quite available in the latest Pie update, out today. We’ve asked Google why not and will update you when and if we hear back on that.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to roll ahead, adding its own controls to help iPhone owners curb their app and screen time usage. Similar to Android’s future offerings, iOS 12 includes a dash with a weekly report on how you spend time on your device. A feature called Downtime helps you schedule time away from your screen (versus just leaving your phone somewhere, seeing a notification and being tempted to pick it up), a feature to set time limits on apps and a way to block inappropriate content from reaching your screen as well.

Apple beats Android in this department for now but those features will supposedly be made available to everyone with a Google phone eventually. For those wanting to check out the new digital wellness features for Android, you can still do that today but only if you happen to have a Google Pixel — and only if you’ve signed up for the beta version.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Natasha Lomas

A look back at the past decade of consumer technology use in the UK has shone a light on changing gadget habits, underlining how Brits have gone from being smartphone dabblers back in 2008 when a top-of-the-range smartphone cost ~£500 to true addicts in today’s £1k+ premium smartphone era.

The report also highlights what seems to be, at times, a conflicted relationship between Brits and the Internet.

While nine in ten people in the UK have home access to the Internet, here in 2018, some web users report feeling being online is a time-sink or a constraint on their freedom.

But even more said they feel lost or bored without it.

Over the past decade the Internet looks to have consolidated its grip on the spacetime that boredom occupied for the less connected generations that came before.

The overview comes via regulator Ofcom’s 2018 Communications Market report. The full report commenting on key market developments in the country’s communications sector is a meaty, stat and chart-filled read.

The regulator has also produced a 30-slide interactive version this year.

Commenting on the report findings in a statement, Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s director of market intelligence, said: “Over the last decade, people’s lives have been transformed by the rise of the smartphone, together with better access to the Internet and new services. Whether it’s working flexibly, keeping up with current affairs or shopping online, we can do more on the move than ever before.

“But while people appreciate their smartphone as their constant companion, some are finding themselves feeling overloaded when online, or frustrated when they’re not.”

We’ve pulled out some highlights from the report below…

  • Less than a fifth (17%) of UK citizens owned a smartphone a decade ago; the figure now stands at 78% — and a full 95% of 16-24 year-olds. So, yeah, kids don’t get called digital natives for nothin’
  • People in the UK check their smartphones, on average, every 12 minutes of the waking day. (‘Digital wellbeing’ tools clearly have their work cut out to kick against this grain… )
  • Ofcom found that two in five adults (40%) first look at their phone within five minutes of waking up (rising to 65% of the under 35s). While around a third (37%) of adults check their phones five minutes before lights out (again rising to 60% of under-35s). Shame it didn’t also ask how well people are sleeping
  • Contrary to a decade ago, most UK citizens say they need and expect a constant Internet connection wherever they go. Two thirds of adults (64%) say it’s an essential part of their life. One in five adults (19%) say they spend more than 40 hours a week online, up from 5% just over ten years ago
  • Three quarters (74%) of people say being online keeps them close to friends and family. Two fifths (41%) say it enables them to work more flexibly

Smartphone screen addicts, much?

  • Seventy-two per cent of adults say their smartphone is their most important device for accessing the Internet; 71% say they never turn off their phone; and 78% say they could not live without it
  • Ofcom found the amount of time Brits spend making phone calls from mobiles has fallen for the first time — using a mobile for phone calls is only considered important by 75% of smartphone users vs 92% who consider web browsing on a smartphone to be important (and indeed the proportion of people accessing the Internet on their mobile has increased from 20% almost a decade ago to 72% in 2018)
  • The average amount of time spent online on a smartphone is 2 hours 28 minutes per day. This rises to 3 hours 14 minutes among 18-24s

Social and emotional friction, plus the generation gap…

  • On the irritation front, three quarters of people (76%) find it annoying when someone is listening to music, watching videos or playing games loudly on public transport; while an impressive 81% object to people using their phone during meal times
  • TV is another matter though. The majority (53%) of adults say they are usually on their phone while watching TV with others. There’s a generation gap related to social acceptance of this though: With a majority (62%) of people over the age of 55 thinking it’s unacceptable — dropping to just two in ten (21%) among those aged 18-34
  • Ofcom also found that significant numbers of people saying the online experience has negative effects. Fifteen per cent agree it makes them feel they are always at work, and more than half (54%) admit that connected devices interrupt face-to-face conversations with friends and family — which does offer a useful counterpoint to social media giant’s shiny marketing claims that their platforms ‘connect people’ (the truth is more they both connect & disconnect). While more than two in five (43%) also admit to spending too much time online
  • Around a third of people say they feel either cut off (34%) or lost (29%) without the Internet, and if they can’t get online, 17% say they find it stressful. Half of all UK adults (50%) say their life would be boring if they could not access the Internet 
  • On the flip side, a smaller proportion of UK citizens view a lack of Internet access in a positive light. One in ten says they feel more productive offline (interestingly this rises to 15% for 18-34 year-olds); while 10% say they find it liberating; and 16% feel less distracted

The impact of (multifaceted and increasingly powerful and capable) smartphones can also be seen on some other types of gadgets. Though TV screens continue to compel Brits (possibly because they feel it’s okay to keep using their smartphones while sitting in front of a bigger screen… )

  • Ofcom says ownership of tablets (58% of UK households) and games consoles (44% of UK adults) has plateaued in the last three years
  • Desktop PC ownership has declined majorly over the past decade — from a large majority (69%) of households with access in 2008 to less than a third (28%) in 2018
  • As of 2017, smart TVs were in 42% of households — up from just 5% in 2012
  • Smart speakers weren’t around in 2008 but they’ve now carved out a space in 13% of UK households
  • One in five households (20%) report having some wearable tech (smart watches, fitness trackers). So smart speakers look to be fast catching up with fitness bands

BBC mightier than Amazon

  • BBC website visitor numbers overtook those of Amazon in the UK in 2018. Ofcom found the BBC had the third-highest number of users after Google and Facebook
  • Ofcom also found that six in ten people have used next-day delivery for online purchases, but only three in ten have used same-day delivery in 2018. So most Brits are, seemingly, content to wait until tomorrow for ecommerce purchases — rather than demanding their stuff right now

What else are UK citizens getting up to online? More of a spread of stuff than ever, it would appear…

  • Less general browsing/surfing than last year, though it’s still the most popular reported use for Internet activity (69% saying they’ve done this in the past week vs 80% who reported the same in 2017)
  • Sending and receiving email is also still a big deal — but also on the slide (66% reporting doing this in the past week vs 76% in 2017)
  • Social media use is another popular but slightly less so use-case than last year (50% in 2017 down to 45% in 2018). (Though Twitter bucks the trend with a percentage point usage bump (13% -> 14%) though it’s far less popular overall)
  • Instant messaging frequency also dropped a bit (46% -> 41%)
  • As did TV/video viewing online (40% -> 36%), including for watching short video clips (31% to 28%)
  • Online shopping has also dropped a bit in frequency (48% -> 44%)
  • But accessing news has remained constant (36%)
  • Finding health information has seen marginal slight growth (22% -> 23%); ditto has finding/downloading information for work/college (32% -> 33%); using local council/government services (21% -> 23%); and playing games online/interactively (17% -> 18%)
  • Streaming audio services have got a bit more popular (podcasts, we must presume), with 15% reporting using them in the past week in 2017 up to 19% in 2018. Listening to the radio online is also up (13% -> 15%)
  • However uploading/adding content to the Internet has got a bit less popular, though (17% to 15%)

One more thing: Women in the UK are bigger Internet fans than men.

Perhaps contrary to some people’s expectations, women in the UK spend more time online on average than men across almost all age groups, with the sole exception being the over 55s (where the time difference is pretty marginal)…

Gadgets – TechCrunch Frederic Lardinois

It’s been a week since Lenovo’s Google Assistant-powered smart display went on sale. Slowly but surely, its competitors are launching their versions, too. Today, JBL announced that its $249.95 JBL Link View is now available for pre-order, with an expected ship date of September 3, 2018.

JBL went for a slightly different design than Lenovo (and the upcoming LG WK9), but in terms of functionality, these devices are pretty much the same. The Link View features an 8-inch HD screen; unlike Lenovo’s Smart Display, JBL is not making a larger 10-inch version. It’s got two 10W speakers and the usual support for Bluetooth, as well as Google’s Chromecast protocol.

JBL says the unit is splash proof (IPX4), so you can safely use it to watch YouTube recipe videos in your kitchen. It also offers a 5MP front-facing camera for your video chats and a privacy switch that lets you shut off the camera and microphone.

JBL, Lenovo and LG all announced their Google Assistant smart displays at CES earlier this. Lenovo was the first to actually ship a product, and both the hardware as well as Google’s software received a positive reception. There’s no word on when LG’s WK9 will hit the market.

Gadgets – TechCrunch John Biggs

In a truly fascinating exploration into two smart speakers – the Sonos One and the Amazon Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices.

The post is well worth a a full read but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Sonos One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second.

“Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes.

The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make.

Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part.

Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for fifteen years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers.

Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference.

Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases smart technology while Amazon and Google (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre.

On the flip side Amazon, Apple, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose.

Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a hockey puck that probably costs less than the entire bill of materials for the Amazon Echo it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers.

Whether the coming Sonos IPO will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

Gather around, campers, and hear a tale as old as time.

Remember the HTC Dream? The Evo 4G? The Google Nexus One? What about the Touch Diamond? All amazing devices. The HTC of 2018 is not the HTC that made these industry-leading devices. That company is gone.

It seems HTC is getting ready to lay off nearly a quarter of its workforce by cutting 1,500 jobs in its manufacturing unit in Taiwan. After the cuts, HTC’s employee count will be less than 5,000 people worldwide. Five years ago, in 2013, HTC employed 19,000 people.

HTC started as a white label device maker giving carriers an option to sell devices branded with their name. The company also had a line of HTC-branded connected PDAs that competed in the nascent smartphone market. BlackBerry, or Research in Motion as it was called until 2013, ruled this phone segment, but starting around 2007 HTC began making inroads thanks to innovated touch devices that ran Windows Mobile 6.0.

In 2008 HTC introduced the Touch line with the Touch Diamond, Touch Pro, Touch 3G and Touch HD. These were stunning devices for the time. They were fast, loaded with big, user swappable batteries and microSD card slots. The Touch Pro even had a front-facing camera for video calls.

HTC overlayed a custom skin onto Windows Mobile making it a bit more palatable for the general user. At that time, Windows Mobile was competing with BlackBerry’s operating system and Nokia’s Symbian. None was fantastic, but Windows Mobile was by far the most daunting for new users. HTC did the best thing it could do and developed a smart skin that gave the phone a lot of features that would still be considered modern.

In 2008 HTC released the first Android device with Google. Called the HTC Dream or G1, the device was far from perfect. But the same could be said about the iPhone. This first Android phone set the stage for future wins from HTC, too. The company quickly followed up with the Hero, Droid Incredible, Evo 4G and, in 2010, the amazing Google Nexus One.

After the G1, HTC started skinning Android in the same fashion as it did Windows Mobile. It cannot be overstated how important this was for the adoption of Android. HTC’s user interface made Android usable and attractive. HTC helped make Android a serious competitor to Apple’s iOS.

In 2010 and 2011, Google turned to Samsung to make the second and third flagship Nexus phones. It was around this time Samsung started cranking out Android phones, and HTC couldn’t keep up. That’s not to say HTC didn’t make a go for it. The company kept releasing top-tier phones: the One X in 2012, the One Max in 2013 and the One (M8) in 2014. But it didn’t matter. Samsung had taken up the Android standard and was charging forward, leaving HTC, Sony and LG to pick from the scraps.

At the end of 2010, HTC was the leading smartphone vendor in the United States. In 2014 it trailed Apple, Samsung and LG with around a 6 percent market share in the U.S. In 2017 HTC captured 2.3 percent of smartphone subscribers and now in 2018, some reports peg HTC with less than a half percent of the smartphone market.

Google purchased a large chunk of HTC’s smartphone design talent in 2017 for $1.1 billion. The deal transferred more than 2,000 employees under Google’s tutelage. They will likely be charged with working on Google’s line of Pixel devices. It’s a smart move. This HTC team was responsible for releasing amazing devices that no one bought. But that’s not entirely their fault. Outside forces are to blame. HTC never stopped making top-tier devices.

The HTC of today is primarily focused on the Vive product line. And that’s a smart play. The HTC Vive is one of the best virtual reality platforms available. But HTC has been here before. Hopefully, it learned something from its mistakes in smartphones.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

Several years ago Google X engineer Max Braun published a medium post on a smart mirror he made and now he’s back with a new version that’s smaller and smarter. This is a smart mirror I can get behind though I still find smart mirrors completely frivolous.

He published his project on Medium where he explains the process and the parts a person would need to build their own. This isn’t a project for everyone, but Max gives enough instructions that most enterprising builders should be able to hack something similar together.

I recently reviewed a smart mirror and found it a bit silly but still useful. Ideally, like in Max’s smart mirrors, the software is passive and always available. Users shouldn’t have to think about interacting with the devices; the right information should be displayed automatically. It’s a balancing act.

At this point, smart mirrors are little more than Android tablets placed behind a two-way mirror. Retail models are expensive to be buy and hardly worth it since a person’s phone or voice assistant can probably provide the same information. After all, how many devices does a person really need to tell them the weather forecast?

Gadgets – TechCrunch Frederic Lardinois

Project Fi, Google’s wireless service, is getting support for a number of new phones today. Until now, if you wanted to switch to Fi, the only officially supported phones were Google’s own Pixel and Pixel 2 phones, the Nexus 5X and 6P, as well as the Moto X4 and its Android One variant. Today, Google is adding to this list the Moto G6, as well as LG’s G7 ThinQ and V35 ThinQ phones.

Since Google’s network is a bit different from its competitors, thanks to Fi’s ability to switch between the networks of T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular to provide users access to the strongest signal in a given area, the company has always taken a very strict approach as to which phones it officially supported.

If you want to make the switch to Fi, which also recently introduced its own take on its competitors’ flat-rate plans, then the 32GB version of the 5.7-inch Moto G6 is now available for $199 (discounted from $249). The two LG phones will be coming to Fi next month for their standard retail prices of $899 for the V35 and $749 for the G7. While Google isn’t offering any major outright discount for the LG phones, those who pre-order one will get a $50 Fi credit.

It’s worth noting that the V35, LG’s new six-inch flagship phone, only launched today and is essentially a G7 with more RAM, a different display and larger battery. The phone was originally rumored to be an AT&T exclusive, but I guess we can put that idea to rest now.

Both the G7 and Moto G6 have generally received favorable reviews. Google also currently offers the Moto X4 for a heavily discounted $249, but that still makes the G6 the most affordable option for Fi. This may create a bit of confusion for potential users, though, as those are quite similar and it’s hard to figure out which one to pick (just like choosing between the G7 and V35). At the same time, though, it’s nice to see Google add more options for its Project Fi customers.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

The Amazon Echo and Google Home are amazing devices and both have advantages over the other. In my home, we use the Amazon Echo and have them around the house and outside. I have the original in the living room, a Dot in bedrooms, my office and outside, a Tap in my woodworking workshop and Spots in the kids’ room (with tape over the camera). They’re great devices, but far from perfect. They’re missing several key features and the Google Home is missing the same things, too.

I polled the TechCrunch staff. The following are the features we would like to see in the next generation of these devices.

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