Tag Archives: gadgets

Ford launches smartwatch apps for its electric and plug-in hybrid cars

A number of automakers have shown smartwatch apps in the past year — some have even launched them — and now Ford is joining the party with Apple Watch and Android Wear apps of its own. The update for MyFord Mobile on Android and iOS adds the watch extensions, which feature remote climate control, lock and unlock, mileage, and walking directions for finding your car, among other things.

ford smartwatch app

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of smartwatch apps from Ford: the company teased its Apple Watch project during an April media event at its Silicon Valley research facility. It’s not surprising to see something like this make the leap from R&D to production so quickly — car companies are keen to look tech-forward lately after missing the smartphone revolution’s formative years. (And by all appearances, the next couple decades of the industry are going to be defined by technology, between autonomous driving, electric drivetrains, and connected car platforms.)

But there’s a catch: the apps are only for Ford’s electric and plug-in hybrid models, meaning the C-MAX Energi, the Focus Electric, and the Fusion Energi. (The watch apps can read out battery range and charging status, conveniently.) There’s no word on whether they’ll eventually roll out to Ford’s full line-up, but there’s at least one really good reason that it’s restricted to the electrified models — they’re equipped with cellular modems, whereas Ford’s broader range generally isn’t. For the watch’s remote functionality to work, you need connectivity. If you’ve got one of those models, though, the updates should be available now.

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Gadget Ogling: All About Apple

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that thinks any tech company not named “Apple” announcing a product this week should readjust its marketing strategy immediately.

In our app store this week are the new iPhone, Apple TV and iPad — and just for kicks, a portable arcade console.

As always, these are not reviews, because I have yet to sully Apple’s new screens with my grubby fingers. The ratings reflect only how much I am interested in trying out each, and are in no way a reflection of how likely I am to wait in line overnight at an Apple Store, for there is zero chance of that ever happening.

Speed Injection

The latest additions to Apple’s iPhone line — the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus (pictured above) — are faster, stronger and smarter than the previous models. A zippier processor and faster Touch ID, LTE, and WiFi feature among the incremental upgrades.

There are a couple of interesting new features with this generation, primarily 3D Touch. This makes the screen receptive to pressure beyond lightly tapping or holding one’s finger on an icon. It adds deeper capabilities throughout, akin to a right-click offering secondary interactions.

3D Touch opens up Peek and Pop. Pressing lightly offers a peek at a Web page, photo or other content, and pressing a little more firmly pops you into that content, allowing greater interaction.

I’m concerned that this deeper integration will lock me into Apple’s native apps, few of which I use regularly. My hope is that pressing on the name of a location in Gmail will open up directions to it in Google Maps — but that hinges on how eager Apple is to open 3D Touch to developers.

Also new is a 12-megapixel rear camera, capable of shooting video in ultra-high definition 4K resolution — which you can’t actually watch on the iPhone’s screen. I’m eager to test this out in the hope of making Vines — or perhaps something more substantial — with more clarity.

The front-facing camera also gets an upgrade, and 3D Touch adds a “Take Selfie” prompt to the home screen Camera icon, which brings all my technology nightmares alive.

My phone contract is up, and I’m wavering between the iPhone 6 and 6s. 3D Touch is a compelling idea, and one I might use a lot. But saving US$100 by opting for the previous generation is somewhat tempting as well. Decisions, decisions.

Biggest Screen

The most compelling reason to take out an Apple TV, for me, is universal search. Ask Siri through the remote to look for a movie or TV show, and it will hunt for the title — not only in iTunes, but also in Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Showtime apps as well.


This is a dream for someone who spends a lot of time watching film and TV. I often refer to a third-party search engine to find out where I can stream something in particular, so removing that barrier between me and watching what I want is just delightful.

So too is the option to search the various libraries using natural requests like “Show me Bill Murray movies” or “Show me TV shows from the ’90s.”

That games are a focus is a positive as well. I tend not to play games of any complexity on my iPhone, as inputs requiring more than a quick touch or swipe are cumbersome when the input is also the display. I hope Apple TV means Apple is getting smarter about gaming.

I rarely watch broadcast TV anymore, and if Apple TV can help me get to what I want faster, I’d like one tomorrow.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Show Me New TV Experiences

Growing Up

The major iPad reveal at Apple’s keynote this week was the iPad Pro, a model with a 12.9-inch screen. That’s enormous. If I’m going to cart that around, I might as well carry a laptop.

Apple is introducing a powered stylus called “Pencil” to go with the iPad Pro, but I don’t see a strong use for that outside of notations, drawing, and possibly graphic design. It seems like a business-focused pairing to me, rather than a consumer-minded one.

I’m much more interested in the iPad Mini, a screen size far more suited to my tastes, getting an upgrade to the same internal specifications as the iPad Air 2.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Far Too Bigs

Portable Mayhem

I’ve played games my entire life and Battlecade seems like the one thing I’ve been waiting for all this time.

It’s a portable arcade machine in the form of a traditional Battleship format. Players face each other, with the machine in the middle. Each has a control system and a screen.

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Gadget Ogling: Smart Bikes, Contactless Cards, and Roll-Up Keyboards

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that sifts through the latest gadget announcement for nuggets of gold.

In our precious metal collection this week are an adapter that converts a run-of-the-mill bicycle into a smart bike, a new spin on the singular credit card, a TV remote-speaker combo, and a roll-up keyboard.

As always, these are not reviews, as I haven’t even seen any of these items in the real world. The rating for each product denotes only my interest in trying it out with my cynical writer’s hands.

Bright Bike

Regular readers may recall previous acknowledgments of my inability to ride a bicycle. I never had much interest as a child, and although I now live in a tremendously bike-friendly city, I haven’t found a way to learn without feeling like a total chump in public.

Yet I am more interested than ever in leading a life on two wheels after discovering SmartHalo. This is a tool that attaches permanently to one’s ride and turns it into a smart vehicle.

The “halo” part of that name refers to the circular display, which uses color and segmented lights to indicate turn-by-turn directions. (SmartHalo learns your destination through a paired smartphone app.)

The system includes a night light that switches on and off automatically, as well as a notification system for incoming calls and messages and inclement weather alerts. As is seemingly required of every gadget, it has a fitness tracker too.

Since this is supposed to live permanently on one’s bike — save for removing it to recharge on occasion — security is a key factor. SmartHalo appears to be tamper-proof, and it has an alarm system to ward off would-be thieves. Cherry on the cake? The app can lead you to your bike if you’ve misplaced it.

There’s an impressive array of functions crammed into SmartHalo, and for both complete novices and experienced riders, it could prove a boon. The estimated retail price of US$149 seems fair for what SmartHalo can do. And now if you’ll forgive me, I’m about to look up local adult bike classes.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Get Me on a Fixies

Tapped Out

Coin, a product designed to combine all of your payment cards into one, is back with a new version. The latest card includes NFC (near-field communication), the technology that often powers contactless payments.

Users may opt to assign a nickname to each card, which is displayed on the device when in use, along with information on whether the card is NFC-enabled.

NFC is a welcome addition, since I use it whenever possible with my credit card. I’m still concerned with Coin holding my credit card details, but perhaps I shouldn’t be, given the litany of online stores that have processed the 16 digits holding the key to my finances.

Then again, possessing a single credit card rules out Coin as a valid option for my day-to-day life.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Death to PINs

Remote Sound

If there’s anything I’ve seen this week that I don’t see adding much tangible benefit to my life and yet must have immediately, it’s Sony’s odd new TV remote/speaker combination device.


It’s a wireless system, though completely impractical for couch use. It looks ridiculous, frankly, but I can see a time when I’m in the kitchen making dinner, but want to hear the local news (OK, fine, Coronation Street) from the living room TV.

Changing the channel and raising the volume would be so much simpler to do while standing at my counter, rather than having to traipse 10 feet to the other room.

It looks extremely silly, and it’s not something I’d likely leave on the counter when hosting friends. It’s probably a good thing this is for sale only in Japan. That rules out a host of awkward conversations.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Channel Hoppers

Rolling Up

I am not the best smartphone typer. Occasionally, I might be away from home when inspiration strikes, and I want to craft a draft of an essay or a flowery email before I lose those precious thoughts. That’s why I’m looking forward to LG’s Rolly hitting the market.

It’s a portable Bluetooth keyboard that rolls up into a stick that seems only slightly too long to fits in one’s pocket. It’s made from plastic, so it should have some tactile sturdiness to it.

If there’s a way for me to have a solid keyboard on the go without having to bring my bulky laptop or buy a new one, I’m on board. The promise of a three-hour battery life from a single AAA battery and auto-pairing with devices as soon as one rolls out the keyboard are also strong positives.

And if ever someone takes offense at my Rolly, I suppose I’ll have a handy blunt object with which to quell such dissent.

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Gadget ‘allergy’: French woman wins disability grant

A French woman has won a disability grant after telling a court she suffers from an allergy to electromagnetic radiation from gadgets.

Marine Richard, 39, was told she may claim €800 (£580) per month for three years as a result.

She said it was a “breakthrough” for people affected by electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).

The condition is recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), though it says the causes are unclear.

Ms Richard had resorted to living in a remote area in the mountains of south-west France – in a barn that has no electricity.

She said she had been affected by everyday gadgets such as phones.

Typical symptoms reported by those who say they suffer from EHS include headaches, fatigue, nausea and palpitations.

The disability allowance was granted by a court in Toulouse, though the ruling did not formally recognise EHS as an illness.

School sued

In a case in the US, the parents of a 12-year-old boy who they say is hypersensitive to his boarding school’s WiFi have decided to file a lawsuit against the establishment.

The parents say their son, a day pupil, has been diagnosed with EHS.

They say he began suffering from headaches, nosebleeds and nausea after the Fay School installed new WiFi in 2013.

The school asked the communications technology firm Isotrope to assess the electromagnetic emissions on campus.

“Isotrope found that the combined levels of access point emissions, broadcast radio and television signals, and other RFE emissions on campus comply with federal and state safety limits by a wide margin,” the school said in a statement.

The statement also quoted from the Isotrope report, which said that levels of emissions both in the school and on the grounds “were substantially less than one ten-thousandth (1/10,000th) of the applicable safety limits (federal and state)”.

Understanding electromagnetic fields

By Philippa Roxby, BBC News Health Reporter

Electromagnetic fields are all around us but cannot be seen.

In recent years a lot of research has been carried out into man-made sources of these fields, such as electrical power supplies and appliances in the home.

X-ray machines, TV and radio transmitters, mobile phones, WiFi and microwave ovens are all everyday sources of electromagnetic waves.

Those who are sensitive to them talk of experiencing headaches, sleeplessness, ear pain when using a mobile phone, skin tingling and problems with concentration and memory.

For them, the only solution at present is to avoid objects that emit radiation in the home – not easy in the modern world.

In the UK, electromagnetic hypersensitivity is not a recognised condition.

That’s because Public Health England says there is no scientific evidence that electromagnetic fields damage people’s health.

The WHO agrees and believes more research on long-term health effects needs to be done.

Difficult case

Although some countries, notably Sweden and the US, have officially recognised EHS as a condition, there is still much debate over whether a legal case on the condition would be worthwhile in certain other states.

In the UK, for example, members of the public who are worried about exposure to mobile phone masts tend to challenge their construction on a planning basis, according to research group Powerwatch.

“The health issue is close to a no-win in this country at the moment,” Graham Lamburn, its technical manager, told the BBC.

“You really need to win on things like ‘it’s devalued my property because it’s outside my window’ or ‘there’s an irregularity in the way it’s been put through with planning’.”

Electrosensitivty UK (ES-UK), a charity that campaigns for wider recognition of EHS, said it welcomed the French court’s decision.

“Several people in the UK have been diagnosed with electrosensitivity and received help for the disability but any financial allowance usually refers to a different name for the condition or a related condition,” it said in a statement.

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Apple’s Cook: Don’t fret — China growth remains strong

In a rare move, Apple’s CEO emails Jim Cramer, a host on the CBNC business network, to reassure investors about sales in a very important region.

Apple CEO Tim Cook wants investors to stop worrying about China.

The head of the world’s biggest public technology company on Monday emailed CNBC host Jim Cramer to say that despite concerns in the stock market, Apple has “continued to experience strong growth for our business in China through July and August.” He added that growth in iPhone activations has “actually accelerated over the past few weeks” and that Apple’s App Store posted its best performance of the year in China during the past two weeks.

“Obviously I can’t predict the future, but our performance so far this quarter is reassuring,” Cook wrote, according to a tweet by Carl Quintanilla, another host at CNBC, the business-focused television network. “Additionally, I continue to believe that China represents an unprecedented opportunity over the long term as LTE penetration is very low and most importantly the growth of the middle class over the next several years will be huge.” (LTE is a wireless communications technology that will bring higher-speed, higher-quality service to China.)

An Apple spokeswoman confirmed Cook sent the email but declined to comment further. The company hasn’t yet set the date it will report its next quarterly earnings.

The comments by Cook were an unusual move for the executive. Apple typically stays mum about its financial performance until its quarterly earnings reports. But the company’s stock has dropped in recent weeks on worries about volatility in China. On Monday, the Chinese stock market recorded its biggest drop in eight years in what the Chinese media has dubbed “Black Monday.” Concerns about an economic slowdown have hurt the country, as well as any companies or countries connected to China.

Apple’s stock slid 4.1 percent to $101.40 on Monday. Shares closed at $130.75 the day Apple reported its fiscal third-quarter earnings but have steadily dropped since then.

Apple in July reported third-quarter earnings that were better than analysts estimated, and its revenue was largely in line with expectations — but it wasn’t the blowout Wall Street has gotten used to. The company also projected weaker fourth-quarter sales than anticipated and said it sold fewer iPhones in the third quarter than analysts expected, 47.5 million versus the 49.4 million anticipated by Wall Street.

The results showed that not even Apple may be able to avoid the recent slowdown in the mobile market and in China. The company’s iPhone sales jumped, but they weren’t as strong as analysts had expected. And Apple’s weaker outlook for the September quarter raised worries that things could get tougher as the year goes on. The iPhone 6S, expected in September, likely won’t have as many drastic changes as last year’s iPhone 6 — and that means consumers may not be rushing to buy the new device.

China remained one of the strongest regions for Apple during the June period, with sales more than doubling to $13.2 billion. Cook during a call with analysts in July called the results in the region “outstanding.” He noted that while the recent problems in the stock market could cause some “speed bumps” for Apple, he still expected China to become Apple’s biggest market.

The country surpassed the US to become Apple’s biggest iPhone market in the March quarter, and it has topped Europe as the second-biggest revenue generator overall after the Americas. But China could become less of a sure bet for Apple if the region’s economy slows and demand starts to dry up. In July, Gartner revised its annual growth forecast for smartphones downward, in large part because of the cool-down in the region.

It’s been a strong run for China — and companies selling products in that country. China became theworld’s largest smartphone market in 2011 and now is home to more than half a billion smartphone users. The introduction of larger-screen phones with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus (versus the 4-inch iPhone 5S) helped Apple gain a bigger presence in the country, as did a January 2014 agreement with China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless carrier, with more than 800 million subscribers.

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Gadget Ogling: Swimming Aids, Drinks Fixers, and Sleep Rings

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that searches for the gadget announcements that’ll put a spring in our step while attempting to steer clear of those that’ll make us drag our heels.

On the trail this week are a fitness tracker for swimmers, clever goggles to keep you on track, a Bluetooth stick for cocktails, and a ring that tracks sleep.

Note — these are not reviews, and the ratings relate only to how much I’d ever wish to try out any of these items.

Butterfly Boost

As an occasional swimmer, I’d like a better way of monitoring how well I’m doing in the pool. It’s not so easy to use a stopwatch on my phone as it is while out for a jog. So, Misfit is looking to bring wearables to the water with a new version of its Shine activity tracker, developed in collaboration with Speedo.

The Speedo Shine (pictured above) apparently can monitor your progress on laps across all types of strokes. It transmits its lap and distance data to your iOS or Android device. It also can track your other physical activity and sleep patterns. You won’t have to worry too much about recharging, as the battery lasts for up to six months.

While I’m largely unconvinced about wearables for personal use, I like the Shine’s ability to track activity both in and out of the pool. The alleged six-month battery life is attractive as well — the lack of a screen helps conserve power — so this is one fitness tracker I’m actually interested in trying. Just make sure I get out of the pool at some point before dark, please.

Direct Route

Staying the course on aquatic wearables, OnCourse is a pair of goggles designed to help swimmers stay on track in open water.

When wearers view their destination and click the middle of the goggles, the system apparently keeps them on a straight line as they head toward their target. An LED on each lens informs a wearer who is going the wrong way.

Judging by the Kickstarter campaign, these are aimed at triathletes — but I have difficulty staying in a straight line in the pool sometimes, so they might prove a boon to both me and those with whom I share the gym’s swim facilities.

Honestly, I think there could be something in pairing this with the Speedo Shine to help keep swimmers on track and help them reach that personal best they’re looking for. A smart idea, here.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Murky Depths

Quick Mix

Of course, once you’re done with a long day at the pool or the lake, chances are you’ll want to relax with a tasty beverage. If, like me, your cocktail-mixing skills leave something to be desired, however, or you’re too beat from all that working out to focus properly, then you might need a little help in concocting the perfect blend of booze.

So, here’s the MixStik to help out. Right off the bat, I like the name — it’s to the point, not too clever, and it gets at what this item is all about. It’s a Bluetooth stick that you connect to your smartphone, and once you’ve decided which drink you’d like to make, it seemingly will help you get the right proportions of each ingredient.

The LEDs on the stick show how much of each component you should add. Just in case you’re using an odd-shaped glass, there’s a ruler function to show MixStik what you’re working with. There’s also an option to tell the app what you have in stock at home, and it will suggest cocktails for you to try.

I think many of us would enjoy cocktails more if they had the proper proportions. I’m not overly enthusiastic about using measuring spoons and cups to get the right quantities of ingredients, because I guess I’m a lazy millennial (give me a break, I’ve been swimming all day). Give me a thing I can throw in a glass that tells me what to do.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Bottoms Ups

Sleep Tight

When you’re ready to nap from all that working out and relaxing, you might want to learn how effective your sleep is. Sleep trackers are everywhere — though here’s one that stays on your finger rather than on your wrist.

Smart ring Oura apparently detects when you fall asleep and tracks your heartbeat, motion and temperature while you’re in the land of nod. It sends that data to a smartphone app to monitor sleep patterns.

I feel like I should hate it, given how much I despised the loved-one-only-notification smart ring I discussed last week, but somehow Oura seems useful and unobtrusive enough to take for a spin.

It looks like a passable piece of jewelry that you wouldn’t quite pick up on as a connected device at first glance.

It’s a shame that at US$229 on the lowest Kickstarter reward tier, it seems too expensive. I’d need to forego sleep to work more to justify the cost, which would defeat the purpose.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Sandmen

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Gadget Ogling: Smart Rings, Breathalyzing Bike Locks, and Laptop-Sized Transports

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that relaxes in a cabin in the woods of the latest gadget announcements, with a roaring fire to keep the terrible ones at bay and a s’more ready for the finest new gizmos.

In our bug trap this week are a smart ring for notifications from your loved one, a breathalyzing bike lock, a payment device that authenticates itself against your heartbeat, and a laptop-sized personal transport system.

As always, these are not reviews, because I surely would have fallen off the transporter several times and injured myself to the point where I could not write this week’s column — that’s more of a slant on my balance than the actual product, I should note. The ratings reflect only how interested I am in using each item, no matter how much I may hurt myself doing so.

The Ping Ring

Please, whatever you do, don’t decide with your loved one it would be a good idea to get rings that vibrate only when you’re trying to get in touch with one another.

Omate and Emanuel Ungaro are offering schmucks the Ungaro ring (pictured above), which does just that. It buzzes when one designated person, whoever that may be, sends a text message or calls you.

I can appreciate the concept to an extent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s completely silly and useless. With a retail price of up to US$2,000, depending on which type of precious metal and which gemstone you choose to adorn it, it’s almost ridiculous enough to make me want to try it. Almost.

Rating: 0 out of 5 Tying the Nots

Too Blitzed to Bike

While cycling home after a night on the town is probably preferable to getting behind the wheel of a car, it’s still a dangerous endeavor. To prevent sozzled cyclists from pedaling home and presenting a danger to themselves and others, KooWho has dreamed up a bike lock with a difference.

Rather than asking for a code or key to unlock your ride home, Alcoho-Lock requires a breathalyzer test. Blow into a mouthpiece on the lock, and if you’re below the legal limit, it will open and you’re free to ride home. If you’re too merry, the lock will use your smartphone to text a trusted friend or family member. It’s up to them whether to unlock the bike for you or not.

It’s a fine idea, but there are problems. It’s not clear what happens when the battery runs out, and since it’s only good for around 40 tests on a single charge, you won’t want to get caught out with an Alcoho-Lock without any power to activate the unlocking mechanism. I hope there’s some sort of failsafe so your bike doesn’t stay clamped forever.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Crooked Cycles

Blood-Pumping Payments

The Nymi Band is a wristband that affords the wearer the option of paying for goods using near-field communications — the same technology that drives contactless credit cards and Apple Pay — from one’s wrist. Just like you can with Apple Watch.

The difference here is Nymi authenticates itself so it can be used only by one person — and it does so by reading the unique electrical activity of your heart.

It’s a product that almost defies belief. I can scarcely fathom anything creepier than a machine scanning and recording my heartbeat signature.

It’s one of the reasons I’m so reluctant to try Apple Watch. I get that it’d be somewhat secure if it works as promised, and I appreciate that — but I find the central idea so unnerving that I can’t see this ever taking off.

And yet, as much as I hate the idea of it, Nymi seems like something that I have to test. There’s a peculiar compulsion driving me to get my hands on one of these. Whether it’s the notion of facing one’s fears, I cannot be sure. I have a gut feeling it’s our terrifying future, though, and as masochistic as it seems, I don’t want to be left behind.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Elevated Heartrates

Car in a Messenger Bag

Cocoa Motors’ WalkCar seems like a dream for lazy devils with some semblance of balance. It’s a laptop-sized portable transporter that promises to traverse you up to 7.4 miles at speeds of up to 6.2 miles an hour on a three-hour charge.

It’s about the same weight as my laptop as well, at between 4.4 and 6.6 pounds — the difference lies in whether you have an indoor or outdoor version.

WalkCar is definitely something I’d like to have in my life, at least for a day. I was never much good on a skateboard, though, and I sense the RoboCop-esque armor I’d need to assuage my personal safety fears would negate the positives of WalkCar.

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Time for Apple Watch to show us what it can do

Apple on Monday will talk up more features of its smartwatch — and it needs to give consumers a reason to buy one.

It won’t paint your house, butter your toast or fold your laundry. But besides telling time, the Apple Watch may do enough other interesting things to convince iPhone owners to buy it. At least, that’s what Apple’s hoping.

The Cupertino, Calif., electronics giant will reveal more details about its first smartwatch — including when you can buy one and how much they’ll cost — on Monday in San Francisco. What we know, after Apple CEO Tim Cook debuted the device during a star-studded event in September, is that the Apple Watch will be priced starting at $349, come in two sizes and that there will be three models available with a variety of band options.

Also, we know it only works with iPhone 5, 5S, 5C, 6 and 6 Plus smartphones running the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system software, iOS 8.

What we don’t know is if the device will be fashionable enough to compete with the luxury watches it’s being compared to and if Apple has cracked the code on turning a wearable computer into a must-have device. Time has shown that simply having a smart device strapped to the wrist isn’t something consumers want, with makers from Pebble to Samsung struggling to find mass market acceptance for their early efforts.

“The watch itself is exciting and interesting, but what they fundamentally showed us was glass on the wrist, a computer,” said Tim Bajarin, a longtime Apple analyst at Creative Strategies. “Now they need to give us a reason to buy it.”

To address that issue, Apple has worked on creating unique experiences for the smartwatch, including a mobile payments service called Apple Pay that lets you tap the watch at checkout stands to pay for everything from a Big Mac at McDonald’s to shampoo at Walgreens.

But the real trick is convincing app developers to invest in creating programs for the Apple Watch that will show off what you can actually do with it. Apple’s iPad tablet and iPhone became popular with the help of third-party software developers, who collectively have created more than a million apps for those mobile devices. And though app developers have already announced they’re working onhundreds of Apple Watch apps, the “killer app” has yet to emerge.

Apple declined to comment for this article.

Ticking past the competition

When Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, nobody realized the media player would revolutionize the music industry. The iPhone in 2007 wasn’t expected to be the world changer it’s become. And the “magical” iPad in 2010 was also met with skepticism and concerns over who would buy it. But all three did something unique that made them attractive to buyers. The iPod put thousands of songs in the palm of your hand, and let people buy songs for less than a dollar through online music stores. The iPhone gave people true Internet access from a mobile device for the first time. And the iPad created a sort of second-screen consumption device, allowing you to surf the Web while watching TV.

As for the Apple Watch, perhaps it will help make us healthier by tracking our fitness. Or maybe it will teach us new ways to communicate through a simple user interface on the small screen. The most likely scenario is everyone will see a different reason to own a smartwatch. Even so, Cook needs to give us more of those reasons, beyond the device simply being an excellent timekeeper and a good way to count our steps.

Companies have tried selling smartwatches for decades, but none of the gadgets has really taken off. In the late 1990s, companies such as Samsung designed “watch phones” that let users make calls from their wrists. The devices flopped.

The modern smartwatch craze largely started with Pebble Technology, analysts say. The company’s $150 Pebble watch, which debuted on Kickstarter in April 2012, caused giants such as Samsung and startups such as Withings to try out their own designs. Samsung introduced its Galaxy Gear smartwatch in September 2013 and followed up with a handful of other wearables within the next year. Google gave the market a boost when it announced its Android Wear software in early 2014, and LG, Sony, Motorola and others have released new devices.

Despite Samsung and Pebble Technology’s efforts, smartwatch sales were weak in 2014. Last year, smartwatch vendors shipped just 4.6 million units, according to Strategy Analytics. That’s compared with 242 million tablets and 1.3 billion smartphones in 2014.

The companies struggled largely because their large, clunky-looking watches were considered too “techie,” typically appealing primarily to “early adopters,” people who will try any new gadget. But most smartwatches didn’t have enough consumer-friendly features to make them attractive.

Strategy Analytics says Apple will ship 15.4 million Apple Watch units in 2015, giving the company 54.8 percent of the global smartwatch market and bumping Samsung to No. 2. The Apple Watch should help raise awareness for other watches, bringing total smartwatch shipments in 2015 to 28.1 million.

The Apple Watch could help smartwatches become mainstream in developed regions like the US by the end of 2015 and into 2016, said Neil Mawston, an analyst with Strategy Analytics. Apple’s brand is strong enough to attract many (read that as millions of) customers who will buy anything the company makes. Apple also has broad distribution for its products, a big marketing budget and a large ecosystem.

“A lot does hang on this first generation Apple Watch,” Mawston said. “If it proves popular, that will snowball, and other models will quickly pick up volumes.”

But if Apple’s smartwatch doesn’t take off, it could be tougher for the market to expand.

What Apple Watch does

At the Apple Watch unveiling, Cook touted Apple Watch as the ideal health and fitness device, timekeeper and notification system, as well as a way to stay closely connected to friends and family. You’ll also be able to use your watch to purchase items through Apple Pay, and you’ll be able to talk to the Siri digital voice assistant to send messages.

Along with the Apple-developed apps, there will be third-party software that does everything from letting you unlock your hotel room door with your watch to receiving coupons when you’re walking past your favorite store in the mall.

Making things easy to deal with at a glance is a key goal for Apple Watch apps. You’ll spend only seconds at a time looking at the device, and you won’t be able to quickly navigate through long menus to find the task you want.

“Because it’s a small screen, you have to be so much more efficient,” said Mikael Berner, the CEO of notification app EasilyDo. His company has made an app for Apple Watch that send quick alerts.

Still, not everyone will be making an Apple Watch app. IBM, which formed a partnership with Apple last year to create business-oriented mobile apps for the iPhone and iPad, is holding off on creating Apple Watch versions.

“I could imagine it [someday], but not yet,” said Katharyn White, IBM’s global lead for the IBM-Apple partnership.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Apple will be getting us to put down our phones. It was Apple’s iPhone that convinced many people to stop using a watch in the first place. Now it’s time for Apple to show us why we really do need a watch.

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Forget the Apple Watch — Dole makes a wearable banana

To celebrate eight years as a Tokyo Marathon sponsor, Dole’s Japan division has outfitted a banana with sensors and LEDs to create the world’s first edible wearable.

Before the Apple Watch, there was the Dole banana.

The world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables, Dole has sponsored the Tokyo Marathon since 2008 and supplied bananas to potassium-deficient runners throughout the race. The company’s Japanese division has even printed runners’ stats on the banana peel in previous races.

So it’s only natural that Dole’s ambitions have moved onto wearable tech, an industry flush with fitness bands, watches, smart shirts and eyewear, but terribly lacking in vitamin B6. Enter the Dole wearable banana wrist … thing.

The “gadget” is essentially wired parts stuck to the inside of an opened banana peel, which is then stitched back together. Once strapped to runners’ wrists, the bananas will show racers’ times, tweets, heart rate — and when to eat the next banana.

“The power source is a small battery connected to the wearable banana. Inside the battery there are ultracompact LEDs and other electronic components,” said Dole Japan spokesperson Itaru Kunieda. Adding a hint of intrigue, Kunieda added, “These are the only details about the specs that we can tell you at the moment.”

Wearable technology is shaping up to be the next big frontier in consumer electronics marketing. The worldwide market for wearable devices, including fitness bands and smartwatches, is expected to surge to $52.3 billion by 2019, up from about $4.5 billion last year, according to market tracker Juniper Research. The highly anticipated Apple Watch, due to ship in April, along with products from luxury watchmakers, fashion designers and tech companies could fuel that demand.

Of course, no company will be able to replicate the magic of a wearable banana. Two runners out of the 30,000 marathon participants on Sunday will be handed Dole’s device in the morning. They will then be asked to run 26.2 miles with a banana on their wrist, presumably without eating it.

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Apple Watch to be ‘most successful smartwatch ever’ — research firm

Apple could sell 20M smartwatches this year, nabbing a quarter of the wearables market, market researcher says. But a flop would hurt everyone.

The Apple Watch will play a major role in the wearables market this year and beyond, according to research firm CCS Insight.

Worldwide wearable sales will spike in 2015, jumping 158 percent year over year to 75 million units, CCS Insight predicted Tuesday. The research firm says that the Apple Watch, set for release in April, will become the “most successful smartwatch ever” and sell up to 20 million units this year.

“The Apple Watch will be instrumental in taking the wearables market to the next level of growth,” CCS chief of research Ben Wood said in a statement Tuesday. “If successful, it’ll create a rising tide that will lift the whole market.”

The highly anticipated smartwatch, unveiled in September alongside Apple’s new smartphones, will start at $349 and come in three versions: standard, luxury and sport.

CCS Insight’s prediction for the Apple Watch is certainly on the high end. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster in December predicted sales of 8 million for 2015. Wall Street has forecast sales of 12 million to 15 million. Apple has reportedly asked its suppliers to manufacture 5 million to 6 million watches for its first quarter of release.

All eyes will certainly be on the Apple Watch when it finally launches. Smartwatches have been available for the last couple of years from companies like Pebble, Motorola, and LG, but none have been able to attract widespread consumer interest. Indeed, smartwatches are still a niche market that may or may not succeed, depending in part on the impact that the Apple Watch has on the industry, according to CCS Insight.

“The current love affair affluent US consumers have with the iPhone guarantees a strong start for the Apple Watch in its home market,” the CCS Insight noted. “However, if sales of the Apple Watch fail to meet expectations it could hurt the whole smartwatch market.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While it’s impossible to absolutely predict what kind of response to expect, some folks are trying. Over the last several months, Piper Jaffray’s Munster has been surveying nearly 1,000 US-based iPhone owners to gauge their likelihood of buying an Apple Watch. He found that the figure was at an all-time high of 10 percent in September 2013 (a year before it was announced) but has since fallen to 7 percent of current iPhone owners.

Looking beyond Apple Watch, CCS said it sees the wearables market in general growing over the next few years. The company says that by 2018, 172 million wearables will be sold worldwide, up from the 29 million that were sold in 2014. The company says that smartwatches and fitness trackers will be the most popular wearable devices by 2018, with others like wearable cameras and eyewear grabbing just a small sliver of the market.

Despite claims that Apple Watch will be a make-or-break for smartwatches, CCS seems bullish on the technology. By 2018, the company says that 44 percent of all wearable sales will be in the smartwatch category.

Eyewear, like the discontinued-for-now Google Glass and Sony’s just-announced Smart EyeGlass, will post 3 million unit sales in 2018, according to CCS. But unlike other wearables that will cater mainly to consumers, CCS argues that eyewear will be mainly sold to businesses that have real-life applications for the technology.

By 2018, over 340 million wearable devices will be in use worldwide — a figure eight times greater than now — according to CCS Insight’s predictions.

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