TechSummit Rewind 156

LTE-U wireless rolls out on T-Mobile, Windows 10’s Mail app gets improvements, & Apple’s spaceship campus opens in April

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Recently FCC-approved LTE-U wireless rolls out on T-Mobile

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The FCC has allowed several companies to activate the LTE-U wireless technology in their base stations. If all goes as planned, devices will be able to communicate cellular data over unlicensed frequencies that technically overlap with WiFi’s.

The basic idea behind LTE-U (and the related License Assisted Access and MuLTEfire techniques) is that some 5 GHz band frequencies used by WiFi routers were going unused. Carriers and device makers proposed allowing this spectrum to augment existing base stations’ signals and potentially improve short-range connection speeds.

The devices approved today are base stations from Ericsson and Nokia already in service and compatible with both LTE-U and LAA.

“These transmitters were already approved as LTE base stations previously. The grants issued today are for the ability for the devices to operate under Part 15 rules in the 5 GHz band.”

-An FCC representative

T-Mobile appears to be the first to take advantage of this, and compatible base stations should get the LTE-U boost in the spring.

Windows 10’s mail app gets Focused Inbox, calendar improvements

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Windows 10 mail app splash screen (Image: Andrew Okwuosah)

Microsoft is updating the Mail and Calendar apps for Windows 10 with new features ported over from its mobile apps. The biggest addition is Focused Inbox, which comes over from the Outlook apps for iOS and Android.

Focused Inbox lets you separate out an inbox into two sections that filter important emails into the Focused section, and less important emails (newsletters) into the Other section. In Windows 10, it’s available only on Outlook.com and Office 365 accounts, despite being available for Gmail and Google Apps accounts on mobile.

Mentions are also coming to the Mail app. You can simply @ and tag a name into an email message, and it’ll add a person to an email thread automatically if they weren’t already added.

On the calendar side, Microsoft is adding colored categories, interesting calendars, and travel reservation and package delivery support. Colored categories let you customize calendar events with colors to make things more readable at a glance. The interesting calendars showcase calendars for sports teams, TV shows, and more, and let you add them to your calendar.

However, the most useful feature here is the ability to display travel reservations and package delivery details. If an event is on your calendar, Mail will surface a useful summary card with all the details of your package or your flight. Improvements also include tweaking of the locations feature for calendar entries and an option to add Skype for online meetings. All of these changes are available now through an update in the Windows Store.

Apple Park ‘spaceship’ campus to open in April

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Apple Park in Cupertino, Calif. (Image: Apple)

Apple’s new spaceship headquarters will open in April and will feature some public areas.

The first employees will move into the 175-acre Cupertino, Calif.-campus at this point, according to the company, while building construction and landscaping continues around the site. It’ll take six months for 12,000 employees to move from the company’s current Infinite Loop headquarters and other offices scattered throughout Cupertino into the new Apple Park campus.

The campus is the last product from co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011 after battling pancreatic cancer. He envisioned the space as a beacon of innovation and a place for the company’s employees to continue their efforts to release groundbreaking headquarters.

The site is centered with a ring-shaped, 2.8 million square foot glass-clad building that Jobs dubbed a “spaceship” when he proposed the development to the Cupertino City Council in 2011.

In honor of the late co-founder, the new campus will include the 1,000-seat Steve Jobs Theater. The entrance to the building will be a 20-foot-tall, 165-foot diameter glass cylinder with a “metallic carbon fiber” roof sitting atop a hill at one of the highest points on campus.

“Steve’s vision for Apple stretched far beyond his time with us. He intended Apple Park to be the home of innovation for generations to come. The workspaces and parklands are designed to inspire our team as well as benefit the environment. We’ve achieved one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, and the campus will run entirely on renewable energy.”

-Tim Cook, Apple CEO

A 17-megawatt rooftop solar installation on site will be “one of the largest” on the planet, according to Apple. The main building will also be the “world’s largest naturally ventilated building, projected to require no heating or air conditioning nine months of the year.”

The landscaping will include 9,000 trees and two miles of paths for workers, along with an orchard, meadow, and pond. Employees can also take advantage of a 100,000 square foot gym.

“Steve invested so much of his energy creating and supporting vital, creative environments. We have approached the design, engineering, and making of this new campus with the same enthusiasm and design principles that characterize our products.”

-Jony Ive, Apple chief design officer

The public will be able to enter a café and a visitor center featuring an Apple Store on campus.

Fitbit paid $23M for Pebble

Fitbit disclosed that it paid $23 million to acquire smartwatch maker Pebble in the fourth quarter of 2016.

This accounts for both talent and intellectual property, according to Fitbit’s earnings statement.

HP earnings: 3.6 percent rise in quarterly revenue

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HP Inc., which houses the hardware business of HP, reported a 3.6 percent rise in quarterly revenue in the first quarter that ended Jan. 31. That’s helped largely by a stabilizing PC market.

However, the company’s net earnings from continuing operations fell to $611 million from $650 million a year ago. Earnings per share remained flat at $0.36.

Revenue rose to $12.68 billion from $12.25 billion.

Twitter tweaks brand direct messages to make them more human

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Twitter’s custom profiles feature in use by T-Mobile (Image: Twitter)

Twitter is tinkering with direct messages to let brands show customers that they’re communicating with a human, not an automated bot. With custom profiles, businesses can respond with a customer service agent’s name and photo rather than their company name to make users feel more at ease.

The first partner to use the feature is T-Mobile, which as long used the service to address customer feedback. Now when you interact with @TMobileHelp, you’ll see the real face, name, and title of the customer service agent that’s helping you.

These features aren’t being made available through the service. Instead, developers have the ability to incorporate the capabilities into their own offerings and market it to customers.

Custom profiles are available through Twitter’s Direct Message API, which remains in private beta. However, verified brands can get whitelisted by filling out this form.

 

TechSummit Rewind 148

The tech industry reacts to Trump’s travel ban, Lyft surges in App Store, and Fitbit lays off six percent of its staff

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Tech industry reacts to Trump’s travel ban

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The tech industry has responded to President Trump’s executive order banning entry to the United States from seven countries.

Several big names, including early Twitter investor Chris Sacca, started a trend offering to match donations to those that donated to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Other executives followed, including:

  • Stripe CEO Patrick Collison
  • Nest founder Tony Fadell
  • Union Square Ventures partners Fred Wilson, Joanne Wilson, Amy Batchelor, & Brad Field
  • USV partner Albert Wenger
  • Ziggeo CEO Susan Danziger
  • Homeberw Venture partners Hunter Walk and Satya Patel
  • Intercom CEO Eoghan McCabe
  • Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield
  • Xamarin co-founder Nat Friedman
  • Sequoia Capital’s Mike Vernal
  • Charles River Ventures partner Izhar Armony
  • Facebook advertising head Andrew Bosworth

Google has also created a $2 million crisis fund that can be matched by donations from employees benefitting the ACLU, Immigrant Resource Center, International Rescue Committee, and Mercy Corps.

Uber will create a $3 million defense legal fund to cover legal, immigration, and translation costs for drivers affected by the ban.

Lyft CEO Logan Green pledged that his company will donate $1 million to the ACLU over four years.

For more coverage of the ban, check out Grasswire’s coverage.

Lyft surges to top 10 on Apple’s App Store following #DeleteUber campaign

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Lyft’s app has surged in the App Store thanks to the “Delete Uber” campaign that took place on social media over the weekend. People were angry that Uber appeared to be taking advantage of a taxi strike at New York’s JFK Airport to promote its car-hailing service. The company tweeted that surge pricing at JFK was switched off, shortly after the NY Taxi Workers Alliance called for a shop on pickups at the airport in response to what they said was the “inhumane, unconstitutional ban of Muslim refugees and travelers.”

The Alliance asked all drivers, Uber included, to not pick up at JFK on Saturday, Jan. 28 from 6pm to 7pm to protest Trump’s immigration and refugee ban.

Angry feedback from that Uber tweet launched the #DeleteUber campaign on Twitter, where users called out the company for their actions and CEO Travis Kalanick for serving as an economic advisor to President Trump.

Lyft started Saturday with a ranking of #39 in the Free Apps chart for iPhone. By the end of the weekend, it shot up to #7.

Fitbit laying off six percent of its staff

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Fitbit will be reducing its global workforce by six percent after a disappointing fourth quarter.

We’re expected to learn more during their earnings call later today, but a preliminary statement details the loss of 110 jobs in a “reorganization of its business” designed to “create a more focused and efficient operating model.”

Starbucks unveils virtual assistant that takes your order via messaging/voice

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Starbucks is embracing the trend towards voice-based computing with My Starbucks barista, a new feature in the coffee shop’s mobile app that allows customers to order and pay for their food and drinks by speaking. This includes being able to modify their drink order, as if they were speaking to an actual barista. Additionally, the company is launching an Amazon Alexa platform, which lets customers re-order their favorite items by speaking to an Alexa-powered device.

“The Starbucks experience is built on the personal connection between our barista and customer, so everything we do in our digital ecosystem must reflect that sensibility. Our team is focused on making sure that Starbucks voice ordering within our app is truly personal and equally important was finding the right partner in Amazon to test and learn from this new capability.”

-Gerri Martin-Flickinger, Starbucks chief technology officer

The feature uses artificial intelligence to process incoming orders through a new messaging interface in the Starbucks app. Here, customers can also interact with the virtual assistant by messaging their order chatbot style. The assistant can also confirm which location you want to order from, and help process the payment.

According to Starbucks, the new assistant will initially only be available to a thousand iOS customers nationwide during a limited beta test, with a phased rollout planned through this summer. The Android version will then follow later in the year.

The “Starbucks Reorder Skill” for Amazon Alexa lets customers re-order their usual items by saying “Alexa, order my Starbucks.” This will require customers to have the Starbucks mobile app installed on their device, and an account set up where they’ve designated their favorite order.

Dropbox brings its Google Docs competitor out of beta

Dropbox Paper

Dropbox’s Paper collaborative editing software is launching globally today. The minimal document editor and writing toll is the focal point, while Dropbox’s other services and features now plug into and augment the expect Paper experience.

“We fully expect Paper to be used in environments where people are using Microsoft and Google products. That’s the rule, not the exception.”

-Rob Baesman, Dropbox head of product

According to Baesman, Paper is “one part online document, one part collaboration, one part task management tool, one part content hub.”

“At Paper, teams can create, review, organize content in a flexible work space.”

-Rob Baesman

Dropbox is also throwing in some new features to Paper that signal the software’s direction. One of these features, still in beta, is the ability to collect work into separate “projects.” These projects now have special viewing and filtering options that help them be categorized easier and tracked over time. You can also assign employees to projects and set due dates, like task-management software products Asana and Trello.

Another aspect is Dropbox’s Smart Sync, which turns a company’s entire Dropbox account into accessible folders on the desktop file system on Windows or Mac. This allows employees to perform work without having to jump back and forth to a browser window.

Paper is available for everyone in the 21 language markets supported at launch today, but administrative features will require a Dropbox Business or Enterprise plan. Smart Sync is free for business customers through its early-access program.

DraftKings receives Malta gaming license

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DraftKings has gotten a Controlled Skill Games License from the Malta Gaming Authority, which runs gaming in the small island nation.

Since Malta is a part of the European Union, DraftKings can now use this license to expand into some other EU countries without any further licenses or permits.

DraftKings hopes to start offering contests in Germany and Malta sometime this quarter.

Hinge testing Audrey personal assistant service to help you get more dates

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Dating app Hinge has been testing Audrey, a personal assistant that will message your matches for you and schedule your dates.

“We know the back-and-forth of getting to the first date can be frustrating, if not futile. That’s why we’re introducing Audrey.”

-Hinge, in an internal site

According to the site, you need to select the people you’re interested in. Then, Audrey will reach out and introduce you to those people. If the feeling is mutual, she will schedule a date on your behalf. Audrey will also provide “data and feedback” along the way to help you find your perfect match.

The service is currently in beta testing in New York.

 

TechSummit Rewind 132

Cyanogen’s shuttering its signature services, Apple pulls Withings products from its stores, a new Pew study confirms that 79 percent of Americans shop online, and more

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Cyanogen shuttering services, OS in pivot

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Cyanogen is shutting down its services and nightly software builds on Dec. 31 as part of the company’s “ongoing consolidation.”

“The open source project and source code will remain available for anyone who wants to build CyanogenMod personally.”

-Cyanogen, in a blog post

Owners of Cyanogen OS devices (like the OnePlus One) must now transition to the CyanogenMod ROM for continued updates, which is led by a community of developers headed by former Cyanogen co-founder Steve Klondik.

Apple pulls all of Nokia’s Withings products from online store

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Less than a week after Nokia sued Apple for patent infringement in courts around the world for claims that Apple has refused to license its patents, Apple has pulled all products of Nokia-owned company Withings from its stores.

Links to the company’s bathroom scale and smart thermometer to Apple’s site give you the following error message:

“Looking for something? We thought so. However, the product you’re looking for is no longer available on apple.com. But we do have similar products to show you.”

-Apple, in an error message

Pew: 79 percent of Americans now shop online, fueled by cost more than convenience

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Eight in 10 Americans are now shopping online, according to a new Pew Research study. That’s 79 percent of U.S. consumers who shop on desktop or mobile, up from 22 percent in 2000. Over half (51 percent) have also bought something on mobile, according to the study, and 15 percent purchased after clicking through on a link shared on social media.

This is fueled mainly by cost, and the ability to research those costs and other matters, more efficiently across the web ahead of their purchase.

65 percent of online shoppers said if they needed to make a purchase, they’d compare real-world prices with those online and then buy where they would get the best deal. Only 21 percent said they’d buy without checking online prices for comparison, and 14 percent said they’d buy online without checking retail prices.

Compared with numerous other factors, the convenience of being able to make a purchase without going to the store is at the bottom of the list of what people considered important. Only 42 percent said this was either “somewhat” or “extremely” important.

Meanwhile, comparing prices (86 percent said somewhat or extremely important), asking questions (82 percent), buying from sellers they’re familiar with (84 percent), looking at the product in person (78 percent), and getting advice from people they know (77 percent), and reading online reviews (74 percent) were considered more important.

Pew also found that online reviews have become important to purchasing decisions, with 82 percent consulting online ratings when buying for the first time, and 46 percent said that reviews can help them feel more confident about their purchases.

However, 48 percent of shoppers said it’s often hard to tell if those reviews are truthful and unbiased.

The full report is available here.

Dutch market regulator bans T-Mobile’s ‘free’ streaming music service

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The Dutch Consumer and Markets regulator (AFM) ordered T-Mobile to stop offering a streaming music product that didn’t count towards consumers’ data usage.

The AFM called “zero rating” a violation of Dutch net neutrality rules, because it puts rival services at a competitive disadvantage.

According to AFM, T-Mobile Netherlands must stop offering it or face a $52,000 penalty per day.

Jawbone: Fitbit no longer seeking to block product sales

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Jawbone has resolved its legal battle with Fitbit.

The company confirmed to Recode that Fitbit is no longer seeking to block the import of its product.

“By dismissing this action, Fitbit is no longer seeking to block importation of Jawbone devices, including Jawbone products in development.”

-Jawbone, in a statement

In terminating the International Trade Commission case, Fitbit said that Jawbone was in dubious financial shape and was no longer selling the products in question.

“Press reports and other public documents indicate that the demise of Jawbone’s products has created substantial questions regarding Jawbone’s ability to continue to operate.”

-Fitbit, in a filing

Jawbone will continue with its own, separate case against Fitbit, which alleges that former workers took trade secrets to Fitbit.

Thundersoft buys Rightware for $68M to expand in automotive

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Thundersoft, a Chinese company that designs operating systems for drones and other connected devices, has acquired Helsinki-based company Rightware for $68M. The company develops graphical user interfaces for connected devices, with a special focus on automotive.

The deal should close in early 2017.

“The automotive market is one of the fastest growing segments for Thundersoft, and we are providing in-vehicle infotainment and cluster OS solutions to our customers worldwide. … In combination with Rightware’s unique technology, design knowhow and world-class talent, we can bring more value to our customers and transform the automotive industry with our innovations.”

-Larry Geng, Thundersoft CEO

“Kanzi is expected to power over 25 million cars by 2022. With Thundersoft, we can expand this footprint further and support our customers even better. We see that the specialization within the global automotive industry software will continue. This creates a huge possibility for us to position Kanzi as the industry standard software solution. The arrangement further strengthens our presence in the growing Asian automotive market and complements our strong footprint in the European and American automotive markets.”

-Jonas Geust, Rightware CEO

According to Rightware, current management will remain in place and will “re-invest in the company” as part of the deal.

Gear VR gets new VR browser

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Samsung’s Gear VR headset now offers an improved virtual reality web browsing experience.

Version 4.2 of Samsung Internet for Gear VR brings support for WebVR v.1.0, which mean let users stumble across images on some websites that let them view 3D versions of those images that can be viewed from multiple angles. However, Samsung did warn that the feature is experimental and can be on the buggy side.

Users can also change the background the sits behind the browser. Samsung tapped OTOY to provide the photos and claimed that each will “add depth to the user’s browsing, transporting them to a vibrant and realistic world that’s ripe for exploration.” There’s also a file browser for viewing content on the phone or through USB on supported devices.

The update is available now in the Gear VR store.

TechSummit Rewind 120

On the TechSummit Rewind, Microsoft Teams launches to bring Slack some heat, Facebook’s profits nearly triple, and Apple defends the SD card-less MacBook Pro

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Microsoft Teams launches to bring Slack the heat

At an event in New York today, Microsoft launched Teams, its long-rumored Slack competitor. Teams ties into Redmond’s existing Office 365 subscription, and is described by Microsoft as a chat-based workspace that’s focused on real-time collaboration.

“Microsoft Teams will bring together chat, meeting, notes, Office, Planner, PowerBI, and a host of extensions and applications to help teams get work done.”

-Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

Certainly, there’s a lot of cues taken from Slack, like threaded persistent chats that can be open or private 1:1 sessions, and a sidebar with meetings, files, chats, and activity notifications. It also includes a conversation view with the ability to drop meetings straight into chat, alongside files, notes, and project boards.

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote are all built into Teams, alongside meetings with Skype for Business and integrations with SharePoint, Power BI, and Planner. Notifications are being provided by Exchange.

During the event, Redmond showed off Twitter integrations, where you can push Tweets into chat rooms, create quick pools, or share custom memes. However, Skype’s integration is particularly unique with the ability for chatters to drop in and out of persistent video calls to gather for projects or a quick chat.

Office 365 customers can preview Teams today in 181 countries and 18 languages. Microsoft plans to include the service in all Office 365 Business and Enterprise suites, with general availability slated for early 2017. The company’s also opening its developer preview program today, with 150 integrations expected at launch early next year, alongside 70 connectors and 85 bots.

Facebook continues growth with profits nearly tripling

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Facebook has recorded yet another blockbuster quarter. Over the last three months, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company had $7.01 billion in revenue and $2.38 billion in profits, which is up 106 percent from last year.

A big part of that is thanks to mobile advertising. 84 percent of its ad revenue comes from mobile, with the number of mobile monthly active users rising to 1.66 billion (a 20 percent increase year-over-year). In fact, 1.055 billion users are mobile-only. Overall, its monthly active users have blossomed to 1.79 billion, up 16 percent from last year.

“We’re prioritizing to put video first in our family of apps. We think the camera will be the main way people share.”

-Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook CEO

Zuckerburg called to the rise of Facebook Live, which has quadrupled since May. Instagram Stories now has over 100 million daily active users, along with the photo social network’s Explore feature.

He also mentioned a three-phase approach that the company hopes will grow its’ apps over the next few years. The first phase is to deliver a great consumer experience, the second is to allow users to organically interact with businesses, and the third is to give businesses more ways to reach people. According to Zuckerburg, Instagram’s in the third phase, with over 500 million monthly active users and 300 million daily active users. Messenger’s in the second phase, with over 33,000 bots on the platform. WhatsApp will be next to enter the second phase.

Internet.org is also paying massive dividends to Facebook’s growth. According to Zuckerburg, the initiative has already connected over 40 million people worldwide.

Next, he talked about how the company’s investing in tech like Artificial Intelligence. According to Zuckerburg, Facebook is already seeing impact from AI in enhancing users’ experience on Facebook, from filtering out clickbait stories and finding terrorist propaganda. He hopes that AI can be used to improve the quality of News Feed in general.

As for VR, he reiterated the news from Oculus Connect. The aforementioned subsidiary’s Touch controllers are arriving in early December and the next phase is to focus mostly on great software experiences. Facebook’s going to be investing over $250 million on developing more VR concepts.

Apple explains why new MacBook Pro ditches SD card slot

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Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller defended the company’s decision to ditch the SD card slot in an interview with The Independent. He called it a “bit of a cumbersome slot” since the card juts outward, and argued that the slot was a compromise since it forced high-end camera owners (who often use CompactFlash or XQD cards) to get an external reader. According to Schiller, any slot is less necessary these days. For instance, most modern cameras have built-in wireless transfers to get footage off the camera.

Schiller also explained why Macs don’t have “hey, Siri” voice activation, calling it a combination of “system electronics” with expectations.

Uber streamlines app in attempt to eliminate confusion

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Uber is rolling out a major redesign of its app that’s meant to offer a cleaner interface, less confusion around which service to request, and shortcut options to frequent destinations.

The new app minimizes the previous menu of ill-defined tiers that changed based on the city to three clearer-cut categories: Economy (UberPool and UberX), Premium (Uber Select and town cars), Extra Seats (extra-large cars and SUVs), and More (for those that need a child’s car seat or a wheelchair-accessible vehicle).

Uber is also adding arrival times to all its options that predict when you’re likely to get to your destination – a range for Pool rides, and more specific times for solo trips. After inputting your destination, the app tells you how much your trip will cost before you confirm the request. Surge pricing is still all but invisible, noted in the fine print about “fares being higher than normal” under your quote.

Perhaps more notable is the change to the “Pickup Location” and “Destination” fields in the current app. Now, you’re greeted by a single field that says “Where to?” According to app redesign product manager Yuhki Yamashita, his team “shaved off every millisecond possible to make it a faster experience.”

Uber is now also using its troves of rider data to show shortcuts to favorite destinations like most map apps. To start, you can add shortcuts for Home and Work, but company CEO Travis Kalanick called an expansion of the shortcut offerings a “natural next step.” In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to connect Uber with your mobile device’s native calendar, which will show up as destination shortcuts as it corresponds with your schedule.

The company’s using machine learning to best predict where you’re going before you open the app.

There’s also a new feed feature where you can see things like Yelp reviews, UberEats, Pandora radio stations, an Uber Snapchat filter (seriously) that shows your ETA, or a train station timetable if you’re using Uber to connect to public transit via the Transit app. Many of these features won’t come until later this year.

Finally, Uber is launching a location-sharing feature that lets contacts within Uber share their locations with each other and effectively turn your friend into a location. This means that your Uber could take you exactly to where your contact happens to be.

New Fitbits aren’t helping slowing sales

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Fitbit announced revenue that was about $3 million short of its third quarter revenue goals. The company’s net income was around $26 million, compared to $46 million for the same period last year.

Despite launching two new devices and partnerships with Kohl’s and Vera Wang, Fitbit saw only 11 percent growth in unit sales with the refresh not moving as many units as the company hoped it would.

“We continue to grow and are profitable, however not at the pace previously expected.”

-James Park, Fitbit CEO

According to Park, the company will re-focus on “improving the utility of our products and integrating more deeply into the healthcare ecosystem” while leveraging the brand for new growth areas.

Amazon’s physical bookstores charge more if you’re not on Prime

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In case you’ve been leaving under a rock, Amazon really wants you to join Prime. According to GeekWire, the company has adopted a unique pricing model at its physical bookstores: a sticker price for Prime members and another for regular customers. Subscribers get the same price as on Amazon’s website, while everyone else has to pay the normal (usually higher) list price.

 

TechSummit Rewind #062

Editor’s Note: This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Intel cuts Atom chips

An employee walks past an Intel logo during the 2014 Computex exhibition at the TWTC Nangang exhibition hall in Taipei

According to a company spokesperson, Intel is immediately canceling Atom chips, codenamed Sofia and Broxton for mobile devices.

Resources originally dedicated to the chips will be moved to “products that deliver higher returns and advance our strategy,” according to an Intel spokesperson.

This gives the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company a mobile chip hole, with the company’s mobile chips aging and having no replacements in sight.

Intel is also phasing out its Atom X5 line of Cherry Trail tablet chips, which is being replaced by hybrid-centric Pentium and Celeron chips codenamed Apollo Lake chips.

“We no longer look at tablets as a standalone segment. Our product roadmap reflects that. We will continue to support our tablet customers with Sofia 3G/3GR, Bay Trail, and Cherry Trail now, and later with Apollo Lake and some SKUs from our Core processor family.”

-An Intel spokesperson, in an email

Samsung working on standalone VR headset

Samsung Gear 360

Samsung is working on a standalone virtual reality headset that incorporates positional tracking similar to the technologies found on higher end headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

“We are working on wireless and dedicated VR devices, not necessarily working with our mobile phone. VR is amazing, but the industry is still at its infancy.”

-Injong Rhee, Samsung head of R&D for software and services

This could pit the company against Facebook-owned partner Oculus, which developed the software platform that powers the Gear VR, or as a broader pivot for Oculus as a platform operator.

Apple dominating smartwatch sales

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According to new data from research firm Strategy Analytics, 4.2 million smartwatches were shipped globally in Q1 2016 – up from 1.3 million in Q1 2015. The Apple Watch might owe a lot to the market’s adoption.

The watch’s sales dipped slightly in Q1 2016, compared to the last quarter of 2015, snagging 52 percent of smartwatch sales. However, this is expected with the product’s age and a new Apple Watch launch expected in the coming months.

For perspective, Apple is outselling Samsung three times over, selling 0.6 million units in the quarter.

Cypress acquiring Broadcom’s IoT business for $550 million

Cypress

Cypress has announced a $550 million acquisition of Broadcom’s Internet of Things division.

This includes Broadcom’s WiFi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee IoT products and property, along with its WICED brand and developer system.

“Cypress is a significant player in the IoT today because of our ultra-low-power programmable system-on-chip technology, but we’ve only been able to pair it with generic radios so far. Now we have the Broadcom IoT business – that will transform us into a force in IoT and provide us with new market opportunities as well.”

-T.J. Rodgers, Cypress CEO

Twitter retires Magic Recs

Magic Recs

Twitter has retired Magic Recs, a bot account that sent DMs recommending viral accounts or tweets to follow based on an algorithm measuring how many others you knew were following an account or tweet in quick succession.

Instead, notifications are being delivered via mobile push notifications.

This makes sense considering that you had to follow @MagicRecs to get its recommendations, and the roughly 112,000 followers of the bot adds up to a small fraction of the overall Twitter user base. Meanwhile, push notifications are open to the company’s roughly 257.3 million mobile users (83% of Twitter’s overall user base).

Judge rules for Fitbit in Jawbone patent dispute

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Fitbit has won a legal ruling invalidating patents Jawbone was using to block it from importing its foreign-made fitness bands to the U.S. This reduces the chance of Fitbit to face an import ban from the U.S.’ International Trade Commission, but the judge is letting Jawbone sue Fitbit for stealing trade secrets.

In a statement on the court decision, Jawbone said that the patents ruled on represent just a portion of the company’s case and the ruling will be appealed.

The corporate espionage case is scheduled for trial on May 9 in Washington, D.C.

Google testing Trips app for better vacations

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Google is testing its new Trips app for aggregating travel info like plane tickets and hotel rooms from your Gmail account and/or other apps.

The app also provides a list of recommended activities, and info for getting around (public transportation, traffic updates, walking/biking directions, etc.)

Google Trips is currently in testing by select local guides that provide info for Google Maps.

FTC investigating Venmo over ‘deceptive/unfair practices’

Venmo

According to a PayPal SEC filing, Venmo, the PayPal-owned peer-to-peer payment service, is currently being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission.

“The [Civil Investigative Demand] requests the production of documents and answers to written questions related to our Venmo service. We are cooperating with the FTC in connection with the CID.”

-PayPal, in a SEC filing

According to PayPal, depending on where FTC goes with the investigation, legal fees to potential changes in the way Venmo works could be in store.

IDC: Fitbit, Apple, Xiaomi world’s top wearables vendors

According to a new IDC report looking at shipment volume in the third quarter of 2015, Xiaomi is the world’s number three wearables vendor, behind Fitbit and Apple.

This may be a surprise unless you live in China, where 97 percent of Xiaomi’s wearables are shipped, but the company has actually been in the top three since the beginning of the year. In fact, an IDC report released in June before the Apple Watch had Xiaomi in second.

According to IDC, market leader Fitbit shipped 4.7 million wearables in the third quarter, taking a 22.2 percent market share. Apple shipped 3.9 million units, for an 18.6 percent market share, while Xiaomi shipped 3.7 million units, or 17.4 percent of the market.

Fitbit’s shipment volume increased 101.7 percent year-over-year, while Xiaomi jumped 815.4 percent thanks to China’s position as one of the world’s largest wearables markets. Fitbit benefited from growth in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as a 335,000-unit order from Target, which gave the devices to its employees for a company-wide fitness program.

Source: TechCrunch

LG Lifeband Touch fitness tracker leaks a little early

A new wearable device from LG has seemingly been exposed by prolific leaker @evleaks on Twitter. Allegedly called LG Lifeband Touch, it appears to be a device in the same vein as LG’s announced-but-never-released Smart Activity Tracker. That device, which debuted at CES in January 2013, was able to display notifications from your phone, such as text messages and calls, and also had built in GPS tracking and a heart rate monitor.

Last week, rumors circulated that LG was planning on releasing a pair of wearable devices, called the G-Arch and G-Health. The company told us it has “no products called G-Arch and G-Health in development,” but it appears it is planning to announce a health-focused device soon. Little is known about the Lifeband Touch, beyond its supposed name and the above render, but with the CES 2014 trade show just a week away, it seems likely we’ll hear more about the device sooner rather than later.

Source: The Verge

Fitbit Flex review: Whipping you into shape one step at a time

For a little over a month, I’ve been getting off my bus one stop early and walking the rest of the way home.

I’ve been playing soccer twice a week, and trying to drink eight glasses of water every day. I’ve been running more, eating better, but still not sleeping nearly enough. I’ve been testing the Fitbit Flex, the first fitness wristband from the company that deserves a lot of credit for popularizing wearable fitness devices in the first place. From its namesake Fitbit Tracker to the newer One and Ultra, the California-based company has typically been known for devices that clip to your shirt or your pants and track your every movement. But every user seems to have a tale of a lost or accidentally machine-washed tracker, so the company came out with the Flex. It’s a $99 bracelet that purports to help you be more active, eat better, sleep better, and become far more attractive to the opposite sex. (One of those isn’t strictly true, but it kind of is.)

But you could fill both your arms with all the available gadgets that claim to do those things. From Jawbone to Nike to Samsung to even a slew of apps for your phone, there are a million and counting ways to track your activity. So what does Fitbit offer that makes its special? Why should you spend $99 on the Flex over an Up or a FuelBand, or a free iPhone app? After lots of exertion in the name of journalism, I think I have an answer.

Brains versus beauty

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Just as Google Glass will only be ubiquitous when it’s built into the glasses so many of us already wear, fitness bands need to be totally unobtrusive before they’ll catch on with everyday people. In the interim, there are two plausible approaches: make your device beautiful like the Up, which people would wear even if it didn’t do anything; or make it as thin, light, and inconspicuous as possible. Fitbit took the latter route, and the Flex is the best effort I’ve seen yet. Three quarters of the band is just a thin, flexible rubber bracelet that feels like a wristband you’d get at a bar or a nightclub. The teeth on one end go into two of a series of slots on the other, and it holds tight, though you’ll leave a mark on your wrist shoving the two mismatched pieces together. The solid matte-colored rubber is cheap and sort of boring, without any of the Up’s stylishness, but I went whole days without noticing the Flex was there. That’s exactly what I want from this type of device.

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The bracelet itself is actually just a holder — all of the Flex’s technology is stored inside a black rectangular box about the size of my pinky toe, which slides into a pocket in the wristband. That makes the bracelets cheap and interchangeable, so you can mix and match among the available Slate, Black, Teal, and Tangerine models as you see fit. It also means Fitbit could make lots of other accessories for the tracker, and I’m betting we’ll soon see Flex-compatible shoes, belt clips, necklaces, and much more.

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The modular design makes charging a pain since you have to take the tracker out, insert it into Fitbit’s odd and proprietary USB cradle, and then put it back in when it’s charged — a few times I put the bracelet on without the tracker in it, which left me basically just wearing a rubber band on my wrist. Luckily, Fitbit’s estimation of five to seven days of battery life is pretty accurate, so worrying about finding the weird dongle and keeping the Flex charged isn’t too much of a concern.

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When you’re wearing the Flex, there’s very little data readily available on the band itself. Double-tapping the translucent plastic strip on the bracelet gives you a rough estimate of how you’re doing, with a series of LEDs lighting up your progress in 20 percent increments. (Those dots became deeply disappointing on days when I got to 6PM and saw but one flashing LED.) You’ll need your computer or cellphone to really dig into your Fitbit data, and if you’re attentive to your Flex there’s a lot to see.

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Staying in sync

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The Flex collects a lot more than five dots-worth of data, and makes nearly all of it available in web apps or on your Android or iOS device. You can sync your tracker via the USB cable (there’s a helper app for Windows and OS X that collects and uploads your data), or directly to your phone via Bluetooth 4.0. It’s the latter feature I really loved about the Flex: keeping your data current is so much easier than with the Up, and it hardly ever requires you to take off and put on the device. Plus I could actually open the app, sync the tracker, and walk while seeing the app update my steps in real time, which is utterly pointless but also kind of fun.

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In fact, you really never need to take the Flex off except to charge it for a couple of hours every week. It’s waterproof enough to take in the shower, and unnoticeable enough to wear while you type (the tracker sits on top of your wrist, so all that’s underneath your arm is a thin strip of rubber). It’s even comfortable enough to sleep with, and Fitbit has plenty of features for those moments when you’re not so active.

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The Flex tracks your sleep much like the Up, though with far less power. You have to manually tell the device when you’re going to sleep by tapping incessantly on the Flex until it vibrates (those are actually the instructions), and then remember to disable Sleep Mode when you wake up; it won’t shut off when it notices you walking around or even when you turn off your alarm, which is an annoying oversight. It’s not nearly as smart as the Up, and Fitbit seems to know that: the Flex’s vibrate-your-wrist-to-wake-you alarm clock feature doesn’t try to guess when you’re sleeping lightly and would wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, like the Up does. It just goes berserk on your arm at the time you set — and for me, especially on lazier mornings when eight more minutes of sleep sounds like a gift from Heaven, that works just fine.

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Steps are the core competency of the Flex, as with most other fitness bands — you’re given an initial daily goal of 10,000, which you can fine-tune as you gather data and see your own performance. The Flex measures steps about as accurately and consistency as any other device, nearly always within a few steps of what the Up recorded at the same time — and since you can actually open the app and watch it count while you walk, it’s not hard to trick the device. I could put on the Flex and just sort of shake my wrist around for a minute, and poof: 200 steps. If you’re looking to cheat your way through a “who can be most active” contest with your friends, the Flex is your best weapon, but unless you’re really trying to game the system, the system works fine.

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Flex only counts your steps for you, but it can store a tremendous amount of other data if your supply it. It can collect your weight automatically if you have an Aria scale, or you can input it manually. Sleep data exists in that half-automatic, half-manual space, but food and activity are completely dependent on your input. It’s relatively easy to keep track of either: there’s a handy slider for inputting the water you drink and there’s a robust database of foods and activities, and all you have to do is pick one and then go about your day. But whether you’re biking or running stairs or lifting weights or drinking one brand of coffee or another, there’s a surprising amount to keep track of — and if you’re not walking or sleeping the Flex doesn’t know what you’re doing.

If you’re the dairy-keeping type, it’s a cinch, but I found myself frequently forgetting to input a meal or note the time I ran 12 blocks because I was late for a meeting. At that point, it started to feel like all my data was bunk and incomplete, and why not just ditch it all and go back to steps?

I still don’t have a good answer to that question, because the Flex (and sadly most of its competitors) doesn’t give me one. Steps are obvious: it’s good when I take more than I did yesterday, and fewer is bad. There’s definitely something to the idea that collecting more data is useful in itself, and I did notice that when I drink more coffee I tend to go to sleep later and not sleep very well (because, well, of course). Fitbit didn’t tell me any of that, though — it’s just a locker for all my habits and activities, waiting for me to sift through for trends and useful details.

The next step for Fitbit and others is to answer that “so what?” question, and tell me things like, “Hey dude, drink less coffee at night and you’ll sleep better,” or “You never walk around 10 and four, maybe you should take a break.” That’s what Jawbone hopes to solve with the Up Platform, which lets you plug your data into third-party apps that offer some recommendations; Fitbit has something similar, with a few handy apps like Tictrac that take its data, but it’s not as robust as what Jawbone offers. Fitbit does offer a few helpful tips, but you’ll need a $49.99 / year Premium account before it’ll start telling you if your diet a little out of whack or if you’re less active than most people your age. And I want more than just historical trends and basic diet advice. Mint tells me when a new credit card will save me money or when I should stop spending so much money on a certain thing, and I likewise need Fitbit to tell me how to sleep better and be more active.

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Nike’s FuelBand cleverly avoids these diminishing returns of data input, which is part of what makes it compelling. Nike doesn’t care what you eat, or how well you slept. It doesn’t even provide data you understand, like calories or steps — it just has Fuel, the mysterious term for how active your FuelBand determines you are. If you get more of it today than you did yesterday, great; if you don’t, you should probably try harder tomorrow. There’s a lot more data and a lot more information in what Fitbit collects and provides, but it’s ultimately a lot of work to draw more detailed conclusions.

At the very least, I wish my Flex would remind me to input all the data it requires. The Moves app for iOS has a clever integration with Foursquare, and will bug you later with a “Hey, you checked it at TGI Friday’s, what’d you eat?” message. The Flex would really benefit from something similar, or a daily push notification gently reminding me to log my food or activity for the day. If I’ve gone a whole day without adding anything to Fitbit’s database, it’s probably not because I didn’t eat. Or sleep. Or move around.

For its part, the Fitbit app is both simple to use and nice to look at. It’s divided into sections — Activity, Weight, Alarm, and so on — and makes it really easy to log or see activity, and track your progress over time. TO see your trend lines and pie charts, you’ll need to be on fitbit.com, where you get a bigger and better dashboard for all your information. The whole Fitbit ecosystem works far better cross-platform than any of its competitors: you can use iOS or Android (though your phone has to have Bluetooth 4.0, which is far from certain), or just sync through your computer without ever needing your phone at all. Fitbit offers some nifty social features as well, letting you either encourage or compete with your friends in your quests to be more active and healthier.

Wrap-up

The $99.99 Fitbit Flex is on one hand the exact opposite of the $129.99 Jawbone Up. The Up is intentionally  obvious, a piece of jewelry that also happens to be functional; the Flex just tries to get out of your way as much as possible. There’s a case to be made for either, but for me, the Flex works better as a device I don’t have to take off when I type, or plug in constantly to charge and sync. It’s much more see-it-and-forget-it, and that works better for me. It unquestionable made me more active just by wearing it — I became hyper-aware of my step count, found myself jogging in the evenings when I hadn’t walked around much during the day, and even walked to the second-closest bodega to buy groceries. There’s something inherently placebic about that, but it sure works.

Where the two devices are similar is in their shortcomings. Jawbone and Fitbit both collect plenty of data… and just don’t do much with it. The Up could be more useful now thanks to Jawbone’s new API and its integration with IFTTT, RunKeeper, and others, but it requires quite a bit of work and app-jumping to do all that properly. By avoiding this entirely, and intentionally collecting no data other than whether or not you do better than yesterday, Nike’s FuelBand is perhaps an easier sell — it’s less work for ultimately the same reward. But there’s a lot more to see with the Flex, and I can wear the band while I work.

Fitbit has nearly figured out how to make a fitness device you both won’t notice — that’s not an easy feat. The next thing it needs to do is convince me, and everyone else, why it’s worth spending $99 to track how much you eat and how many steps you take. Whatever company can help me turn all that information into better sleep wins my wrist — at least until someone builds it all into the watch I already wear.

[Score: 8/10]