#yourlifeintech Week 5 Microsoft Open Sources Cortana and The X-Files Return

Week 5 of 2106 (Jan24-Jan30) could have ended a little more upbeat for the tech world. It was full of earning results that didn’t meet expectations, most of Twitter’s executive leadership jumping ship like it was the Titanic, Mark Zuckerberg leap frogging the Koch brothers for 6th most riches man in the world, and financial analysts predictions that frankly don’t look very optimistic for the coming year in mobile tech.

Apple and Amazon both reported lower earnings than a year previous. Apple announced the slowest growth in the iPhone since its inception, despite having a strong quarter. Samsung for once agreed with Apple that sales in smartphones will see a decline as the demand for lower price phones increases and mobile providers change how contracts work, passing more of the phone cost onto the consumer through monthly leasing and/or payments.

Then there was a whole of buzz on Artificial Intelligence.

1 Apple’s leaked iPhone Mini
(Source: Forbes) Rumor has it Apple is creating a “budget iphone” by bringing back the 4 inch screen. It will look the iPhone 4 but with rounded corners. More info in this Forbes article.

2 Brave web browser banishing ads
(Source: Mashable) Elegantly removes ads and blocks third-party data tracking, but it’s still very early in development and is lacking many features. An app to keep your eye on though.

3 Twitter Senior Leadership Jumping Ship
(Source: Wired) With the return of Jack Dorsey, much of the executive leadership over at Twitter has jumped shipped and Dorsey wasted no time finding replacements, naming Leslie Berland as Chief Marketing Officer.

4 The Return of the X-Files
(Source: Wired) Mulder and Scully are back in a Fox 6-part miniseries of the cult-show that made us believers.

5 Microsoft Open Sources Cortana
(Source: Wired) Probably the most surprising news is Microsoft open sourced its digital assistant Cortana.

6 Apple and Samsung being Debbie Downers about tech in 2016
(Source: FastCompany) These two rivals who are usually punching each other in court have actually came to agreement that 2016 is going to bring slower smartphone sales.

7 First pieces of smart clothing tackle body temperature
(Source: Arstechnica) Your socks can now tell you if you’re sweating and help moderate body temperature?

8 Apple Ends free iTunes Radio service
(Source: Engadget)

9 Nasa Rover celebrates 12 years on Mars, despite it’s 90-day expected life-span
(Source: FastCompany)

10 “Internet of Things” security is hilariously broken and getting worse
(Source: Arstechnica)

Our Favorite Reviews for Week 5

1 Bellroy Wallet
http://the-gadgeteer.com/2016/01/24/bellboy-micro-sleeve-wallet-review/

2 Beginner’s guide to Pebble Health
http://www.wareable.com/Pebble/beginners-guide-pebble-health

Our Upcoming Reviews

1 Forest
Grow trees while you focus your time.

2 HomeBrite Smart LED bulbs
Control a few of your bedroom lights from your phone. No hub necessary.

3 Moov Now
More than a fitness tracking gadget, Moov Now also coaches you to reach your fitness goals.

First 48 Hours with Apple Watch

Crime investigators say that the first 48 hours are the most critical if you’re going to catch a killer. The Apple Watch is certainly no killer in the world of smart watches but the first 48 hours for most tech is where first impressions are formed and ultimately the do-or-die decision to return an item or not is made by consumers.

So for me, is the Apple Watch a do or a die gadget? Admittedly I am late to this party, but have chosen to make a late appearance for a reason. I didn’t like WatchOS1 that much. I felt it was extremely limiting, much like the first iPhone when it was released back in 2007, which I would have never bought on my own. Even still, WatchOS2 feels like a sheltered child with an over protective parent, Apple, whom needs to trust its developer community a little more and let the WatchOS grow wings and fly into the digital horizon of greatness.

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A good example of trusting developers more and letting the OS spread its wings a little wider is allowing them to release custom watch faces. Simple, right? But, yeah, Mickey Mouse is cool with the second-tapping foot and all, but I would love to have a face with my favorite baseball team, the Red Sox, with the second hand like a bat swinging around the watch face. Fun, right? Or, maybe allow developers to develop stand-alone “complications” (this is what Apple calls those little widgets like, Date, Activity, Timer, Weather that are on the watch faces) that aren’t required to be part of another iOS app, such as an alternate battery-levels icon. The current one looks too similar to the Activity “complication” but as a user, I’m stuck with what mom (Apple) gives me.

The app marketplace has grown quite a bit with existing app developers adding WatchOS support, but I feel the adoption has been slow and limited. Some of my favorite apps apps outside of the standard Apple apps (like the Activity and Music apps as shown below in last screen-shots), for WatchOS include: Yelp, Shazam, My Fitness Pal, Wunderlist, and, yeah, that’s about it.

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What I like

  1. Watch faces and the ability to customize with available “complications”.
  2. Music control of Apple Music and ability to sync playlists when not connected with iPhone.
  3. Activity and Workout app. The Activity app has a great user experience. The Outdoor app has lot of potential including more exercises as well as analysis of live data for real-time AI coaching. I know Apple typically leaves this type of development up to third-party developers, but right now they could really run away with the game against other teams like Fitbit and Moov.
  4. Maps navigation via watch face so you that you don’t always have to be glancing at your phone while driving. Turn-by-turn voice guidance is still provided with Siri through the iPhone.
  5. Apple Pay done right. They implemented it so you your phone is not required to use Apple Pay. This is great for those times you take a run, leaving your phone at home, and stop to buy a Gatorade at 7-11.
  6. Siri, at times, works with the right voice command, such as, “Set a reminder to take out trash when I get home” will set a reminder in the Reminders app and notify of you via your iPhone GPS when you arrive home. Other commands that are useful are: “How long until I get to home or to work”, “Add bread to shopping list”, or “what is the weather like in …”

What I don’t like

  1. The price. $349 for the 38mm Sport is a lot of money for the current tech it offers.
    2. No built-in Wi-Fi. This would help it situations where your iPhone and Watch are separated. It would allow you send texts via iMessage, as well as maybe even  place calls via Wi-Fi calling (AT&T). Update: Wi-Fi is available if your iPhone has previously connected to the network and the network is not public (e.g., Starbucks) or on a 5Ghz band. The phone icon on the “Connected” glance (swipe up and left from watch face) will become a cloud when connected to Wi-Fi.
  2. While separating out Apple Pay and Wallet, Passbook is also a separate app. This is most noticeable when you arrive at Starbucks. Double-pressing the side button only shows the current bank or credit cards in your “wallet” excluding other passport passes.
  3. No GPS. For me, this is a biggie. At the lowest price point of $349 I expected this. It would allow me to be completely iPhone free on a run or bike ride.

A few tips

  1. To return to the last app you used double-press the digital crown.
  2. To quickly access Apple Pay double-press the side-button.
  3. To take a screen-shot, press the side-button and then the digital crown. Your screen-shot will automatically be saved to your photo app on your iPhone.
  4. Press and hold the side-button to power-off the Watch, enable power-reserve or lock the device.
  5. Send your heartbeat to other Apple Watch users by clicking the side-button, select your friend, tap the Digital-Touch icon (center icon) and the lightly press two fingers on the display. Your heartbeat will show up on your friend’s watch until you lift your fingers.

Despite my quick-criticisms, my first 48 hours with the Apple Watch has been a fun, a new user experience that I don’t regret. However, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to trade-in my old iPhone 5 for a $200 Apple credit and that I only paid $228 out-of-pocket, which is still a lot of money for a device that honestly only mirrors my iPhone 6.

Product Source:
Purchased from Apple store, 42mm, Sport, $399.

Website:
http://www.apple.com

Order at Amazon and save!
$295 (38mm) – $354 (42mm) Sport Edition

Fitbit Blaze fashions to be a star

Last week at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, Fitbit, the world’s leader in personal activity tracking, announced their latest device, the Fitbit Blaze, a fashionable fitness watch that has been amusingly labeled as a smartwatch. According to New York Times, the announcement made Fitbits stock fall 18% on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 stating “investors [are] worried about its ability to compete with Apple and other makers of wearable technology”. This may be true if Fitbit was actually trying to compete with the Apple Watch functionally instead of fashionably.

Over the past year more fashionable fitness wearables by Withings with the Activiaté and recently announced e-ink based band, Go, as well a  Fossil’s Q Series have opened the eyes to consumers that fitness trackers don’t have to look like rubber bracelets anymore. A quick search on Etsy returns pages of handmade braclets for the fitbit flex. Even the 2012 kickstarter Pebble Watch is jumping into the fitness world too, recently introducing the “Pebble Health” platform for three of its watches.

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An assortment of FitbIt Blaze devices (source: Fitbit)

Yes, the Blaze also includes “smart” features like basic notifications and alerts but can you use it to respond to phone calls or texts? No. Can you ask it for directions to grandmas house? no. Can you call grandma? no. Can you check out at a store using a mobile payment system? no. Does it have custom apps? sort of. It provides on-screen workouts with FitStar. But, FitStar requires an additional $39.99 a month subscription.

What the Blaze does have in common with other wearable products like the Apple watch, Pebble, or Samsung Gear is being a “health and fitness companion”. According to Fortune (December 2015) Fitbit dominates the fitness segment of wearable technology, owning 22.2% marketshare, retaining its lead over Apple, as well as other companies like Garmin, Withings, Basis, Under Armour (now owner of the popular MyFitnessPal app), Nike and even Microsoft and Google Fit. So, if I could tell Fitbits investors one thing, it would be that Apple (as well as Samsung, Google band Pebble) are trying to compete more against the Fitbit Health Platform than Fitbit is trying to compete with the Apple Watch or Apple Health. Relax; the Blaze is no Apple Watch.

In an article by Paul Lamkin in Forbes Tech, Lamkin describes the Blaze as an “evolution of the popular Fitbit Charge HR“. I disagree, the Blaze looks like nothing more than a fashionably repackaged Surge at a better price. In a side by side comparison, the only differences between the Surge and Blaze are price, the Blaze is $50 less; intergrated GPS, the Surge includes this but the Blaze tethers your phone GPS; and design.

Being a Flex and Charge HR user myself, I was hoping to also see fashionable alternatives to those devices as well, or an altogether new device similar to the Blaze but with GPS as well as a built in audio player with Bluetooth and maybe even LTE data so you can finally leave your phone where it belongs: in the locker room.