HTC Hopes Its Long-Awaited 5K Vive Pro 2 Headset Won’t Make You Sick

Illustration for article titled HTC Hopes Its Long-Awaited 5K Vive Pro 2 Headset Won't Make You Sick

Image: HTC Vive

We haven’t seen a new HTC Vive virtual reality headset in a minute, but today, the company announced two new devices, including the Vive Pro 2.

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The second-gen Vive Pro looks a lot like its predecessor, but nearly every core spec has been upgraded in some way. HTC’s latest high-end consumer VR headset sports a 5K resolution (2.5K to each eye), a wider 120-degree field of view, and a faster 120Hz refresh rate, all of which combines to prevent the motion sickness that people sometimes encounter on less sophisticated head-mounted displays, HTC said. The company also said it moved over to a new display with fast-switching RGB sub-pixels, so in addition to more resolution, graphics on the Vive Pro 2 should look extra sharp and colorful.

In a first for a VR headset, HTC said it worked with both Nvidia and AMD to add support for Display Stream Compression via DisplayPort 1.2, which is a visual compression technique used to reduce the amount of bandwidth needed to output video with practically no loss in image quality. And in a somewhat pleasant surprise, HTC said the Vive Pro 2’s minimum hardware requirements only include an Nvidia RTX 2080 GPU or a Radeon 5000-series card, which is good news for anyone who has had trouble getting their hands on a current-gen graphics card (which is pretty much everyone).

Illustration for article titled HTC Hopes Its Long-Awaited 5K Vive Pro 2 Headset Won't Make You Sick

Image: HTC Vive

The Vive Pro 2 features a handy knob for adjusting IPD (interpupillary distance) and built-in speakers that support 3D spatial audio, along with a revamped headband that delivers a more comfortable fit and a 50-50 weight balance.

One thing I was hoping to see that didn’t make the cut on the Vive Pro 2 is native wireless tethering for receiving video from a nearby PC. This means you still need a physical video cable unless you opt for Vive’s Wireless Adapter, which is compatible with both the original Vive Pro and the new Vive Pro 2.

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The other small bummer is that with a starting price of $800 for just the headset, the Vive Pro 2 is still rather expensive compared to something like the Oculus Quest 2. That said, the Quest 2 does have a lower resolution display and a narrower FOV, so the old adage that you get for what you pay for still applies. Also, for people who might not already have base stations or controllers to pair with the Vive Pro 2, the headset will also be available as a kit with two Base Station 2.0 and two Vive controllers for $1,400.

The other new HTC Vive headset, the Vive Focus 3, is intended primarily for enterprise and large corporations, and in some respects, it’s actually the more interesting gadget of the two.

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Powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 chip, the Vive Focus 3 is many ways like the Quest 2 but with even better optics. Not only does it have a 5K display similar to what you get in the Vive Pro 2 (but with a 90Hz refresh rate instead of 120Hz), it supports both standalone operation (no need for a nearby PC) and a wired mode, so you can get that full wireless experience or higher fidelity graphics from a tethered PC depending on your needs.

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The Focus 3 also features new controllers and a chassis featuring a magnesium alloy frame that HTC said is 20% lighter and 500% stronger than typical plastic. You also get inside-out tracking thanks to the four cameras on the outside of the headset, front and rear gaskets that can be changed out for easy cleaning, built-in speakers, and even a special audio privacy mode to prevent people from eavesdropping on you while you’re in a meeting. In a nod toward enterprise use, the Focus 3 comes with a swappable battery system that lets you slap on a fresh power pack in just a few seconds.

The Vive Focus 3 will cost $1,300 and includes a two-year enterprise warranty, in addition to a whole suite of new business-focused software support and apps to help companies more easily transition from traditional office collaboration to working in VR.

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Now technically, anyone can pay $1,300 for a Focus 3 if what they want is essentially a Quest 2 with better specs, but unfortunately, the Focus doesn’t come with the same kind of software and support the average consumer wants, so unless you’re planning on tinkering around on your own, the Vive Pro 2 is likely the better option.

The Vive Focus 2 is available for pre-order today and officially starts shipping on June 4. The Vive Focus 3 arrives June 27.

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Google, You Should Already Know How People Feel About Wear OS

Illustration for article titled Google, You Should Already Know How People Feel About Wear OS

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Google I/O is a little more than a week away and it appears the company is sending out surveys to Wear OS users. Why? To ask them how satisfied they are with their smartwatches. If you hear a strange sound in the distance, it’s not the sound of cicadas rising from their 17-year slumber. It’s the disbelieving, slightly hysterical laughter of anyone who’s had to actually use Wear OS in the past two years.

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The survey, which was spotted by Redditors and Android Central, prompts users by asking “Help us improve Wear OS by Google?” It then takes them to a survey that asks them, “Overall, how satisfied are you with your smartwatch?” Other sections of the survey focus on what users like and dislike about Wear OS and other smartwatches, and what features they most want from a smartwatch. It also asks about what fitness activities they engage in, and the sort of smart home devices they use. And, for some reason, it also asks “What is the last day of December?” There’s also a Google Form version of the survey, in case you’re too impatient for the thing to pop up on your phone.

On the one hand, this is another in a series of small signs that Google is at least semi-serious about breathing new life into one of its most neglected platforms. On the other, it also wouldn’t be a Wear OS initiative if the survey also didn’t appear for some users at all. That, and when it comes to Wear OS we’ve all been burned by hope before.

Still, Google has got to be aware on some level of how frustrated users have been and the general perception of its platform. Case in point, smartwatches were a hot item during the pandemic as more people flocked to wearables to help keep them fit and healthy in lockdowns. Wear OS was the only platform that didn’t get a boost in terms of market share. I mean, Google, you even put Apple first when developing the YouTube Music app for smartwatches. That was in October. There still isn’t an official Google music app for Wear OS, an egregious oversight given that Google also shut down Google Play Music months ago.

The problems facing Wear OS are systemic. Even though Qualcomm introduced a new SoC for the platform a whole year ago, exactly one smartwatch—Mobvoi’s TicWatch Pro 3—uses it so far. Wear OS smartwatches that debuted this year, including an LTE flagship from Fossil and whatever it is Montblanc is shilling, all feature the last-gen Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. No Wear OS watch, even with rapid charging, is going to last you more than a day and a half—and that’s without advanced features like ECG, SpO2, in some cases NFC payments, and LTE. The one Wear OS watch with cellular in the U.S. is limited to a single carrier. Google Assistant, one of the main draws for a Wear OS smartwatch, was borked for months. It’s a platform that technically functions on a basic level, but there are serious cracks in the foundation that have yet to be addressed.

It’s not as if everyone’s kept quiet all these years, either. These are all issues that reviewers and users alike have written about extensively in articles and forums that Google could, ironically, google. So while it’s encouraging that Google is issuing a survey, it feels a lot like “too little, too late.” Even so, there’s reason to believe that perhaps this year’s Google I/O holds something in store for the world’s most neglected smartwatch platform.

For starters, there’s at least one session about adding third-party Tiles to Wear OS on the schedule. Last week, Google also launched its first new app for Wear OS in years. Sure it was the incredibly underwhelming Gboard, but hey, maybe they’re saving the big guns for I/O. Last month, we also saw alleged renders of a possible Pixel Watch. Was it super impressive? Nah, but it’s something and potentially a sign that we might soon see the fruits of Google’s acquisition of Fitbit. Plus, people can’t seem to shut up about the fact that the next-gen Samsung smartwatches are likely to return to Wear OS. And now, we have a user feedback survey. None of these things mean much on their own. But together, in such rapid succession, it could signal that a major change could be announced soon. And good lord, no other wearable platform needs good news like Wear OS.

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Montblanc’s Summit Lite Finally Comes to the U.S.

Illustration for article titled Montblanc's Summit Lite Finally Comes to the U.S.

Photo: Montblanc

Montblanc’s Summit Lite has, since January, been the high-end smartwatch for the Euro set. Encased in steel, the $860 piece is a less expensive version of the luxury company’s Summit 2+, a $1,170 splurge that is one of the last luxury smartwatches on the market.

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Now, to much rejoicing, the Summit Lite has come to the U.S.

The Summit Lite runs Google’s Wear OS on a Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor and sports a 1.19-inch AMOLED screen. It has GPS built-in but no cellular connectivity and can survive in up to 50 meters of water. The case size is a huge 43mm, which makes it a bit problematic for those with smaller wrists.

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Photo: Montblanc

The piece is definitely aimed at the health-conscious and includes sleep and fitness tracking and coaching apps built by Montblanc to augment Wear OS’s complement of services.

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Photo: Montblanc

The watch also comes in an ATW 80 edition inspired by Around the World in 80 Days. The edition includes a custom band, unique watch faces, and a clever little face animation that shows a steamship taking to the briny sea.

The case comes in black or matte silver and includes a fabric or rubber strap. The ATW 80 Edition has a patterned leather strap, and it doesn’t come on a bracelet.

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Photo: Montblanc

Montblanc and Tag Heuer are the only two real competitors in the acceptably priced luxury smartwatch market. (Hublot offers the comically named and priced BIG BANG e for $8,000.) And even though the Summit Lite is running an older chipset, we have to assume the case quality and a modicum of upgradability will encourage the Montblanc lover to pony up nearly $900 for a fitness tracker.

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A Health Tech Company Says the Apple Watch Is Infringing on Its ECG Patents

Illustration for article titled A Health Tech Company Says the Apple Watch Is Infringing on Its ECG Patents

Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

When Apple unveiled FDA-cleared ECG capabilities with the Apple Watch Series 4, it spurred a slew of other wearables companies to do the same. Now, health tech company AliveCor has filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission claiming the Cupertino-based tech giant allegedly infringed on three of its ECG patents. And it wants the ITC to block imports of the Apple Watch into the U.S.—a move that, if granted, would also block sales of the watch once inventory runs out.

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You may remember AliveCor as the creator of the KardiaBand, an ECG watch strap that was the first FDA-cleared Apple Watch accessory. When Apple launched the Series 4 in 2018, many pondered what that meant for the KardiaBand. At the time, AliveCor’s then-CEO Vic Gundotra shrugged off concerns in an interview with CNBC, and even seemingly “thanked” Apple for shining a light on the concept of mobile ECG devices. AliveCor reiterated those sentiments a few months later, telling MobiHealthNews that “We’re not convinced that Apple’s excellent, engaging product is a competitor yet … So their technology is excellent, but we think the platform is both complicated and expensive and certainly not, from a marketing perspective, targeting the patient populations we target.”

Even so, by August 2019 the company had pulled KardiaBand from the market and pivoted to its other products, like the KardiaMobile 6L, a six-lead personal ECG device.

“AliveCor contends that Apple Inc. is infringing AliveCor’s asserted patents through the sale of Apple watches that employ infringing functionality,” AliveCor said in a press release about its ITC complaint. “Filing in the ITC is one step, among others, AliveCor is taking to obtain relief for Apple’s intentional copying of AliveCor’s patented technology—including the ability to take an ECG reading on the Apple Watch, and to perform heart rate analysis—as well as Apple’s efforts to eliminate AliveCor as competition in the heart rate analysis market for the Apple Watch.”

Back in December, AliveCor also filed a lawsuit against Apple, alleging that the Apple Watch Series 4, 5, and 6 infringed on the same three patents, which all deal with the ability to monitor and track arrhythmia, including tachycardia (faster than normal heart rate), bradycardia (slower than normal heart rate) and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rate). In the suit, AliveCor said its patents are “novel, unconventional and focus on specific means and methods of using specialized sensors in a wearable device to improve upon existing cardiac monitoring technology.” It also contends that Apple was well aware of these patents when it created the Series 4, 5, and 6.

While it’s very possible that AliveCor has a leg to stand on here, there are some questions that need answering. For starters, why now? It’s been nearly three years since the Series 4 launched, and two since AliveCor pulled the KardiaBand. It’s probably true that the Series 4 made something like the KardiaBand seem unnecessary for Apple users, but another big issue was that the Series 4 didn’t require users to visit a doctor who would review the readings before being able to access their results. The KardiaBand did. That said, the company itself pivoted a long time ago to the KardiaMobile and KardiaMobile 6L. Both are portable devices that deliver spot check ECG readings, with the latter featuring six leads compared to the single lead in the Apple Watch (and other ECG-capable smartwatches). At $150, the 6L is significantly cheaper than ECG-capable Apple Watches and not confined to iOS users. In general, these devices, their use cases, and price points are fairly different. Even if you had an ECG-capable Apple Watch for continuous monitoring, you might still want the KardiaMobile 6L for more in-depth readings.

The underlying technology in these devices might be similar, but then again, the concept of a closed circuit to take an ECG is also not a secret. That’s just how ECGs work. Algorithmically speaking, there’s no way to know how Apple’s algorithm differed from AliveCor’s in detecting abnormalities based on publicly available information. That said, Apple launched its own Apple Heart Study in 2017 with Stanford to see how the watch might be useful for monitoring irregular heart rhythms using the PPG sensor. Other third-party studies were also conducted around that time indicating that Apple Watches, Fitbits, and other off-the-shelf trackers could identify arrhythmia and other heart conditions.

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Another question is whether AliveCor intends to sue Samsung, Fitbit, and Withings for patent infringement as well, given that they have all since released ECG-capable smartwatches that function similarly to the Apple Watch. Gizmodo reached out to both AliveCor and Apple for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply.

In any case, if AliveCor is successful in its lawsuit and ITC complaint, that would have huge implications for wearables as a whole. Right now, the Apple Watch is the top-selling smartwatch, and blocking imports into the U.S. would be kneecapping Apple in its biggest market, all while it’s in the midst of rolling out ECG functionality to other countries.

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For Those Who Hate Smartwatches, Fitbit Has a Fancy New Fitness Tracker

Illustration for article titled For Those Who Hate Smartwatches, Fitbit Has a Fancy New Fitness Tracker

Image: Fitbit

The Fitbit Luxe, the company’s newest and most expensive band, can best be described as: fitness tracker, but make it fashion.

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The $150 Luxe, which Fitbit announced today, is the first of Fitbit’s fitness bands to sport a color touchscreen. It offers 24/7 heart rate-monitoring, as you might expect, and comes with a six-month free trial of Fitbit Premium, meaning you’ll get access to the Health Metrics dashboard for more advanced heart rate stats, sleep tracking, stress management scores, and the Deepak Chopra mindfulness sessions. It will track SpO2 and skin temperature variation via the Health Metrics dashboard, but surprisingly these features are “coming soon” and may not be available at launch.

But the Luxe is the first new Fitbit to launch with blood glucose logging, which the company rolled out a few months ago via a software update. As far as notifications go, the Luxe will have customizable call, text, and app notifications. It’ll also have some features that you more typically see on smartwatches, like clock faces, bedtime reminders, and do not disturb modes. Android users also get to benefit from Google Fast Pair for speedier setup.

The Luxe relies solely on swipes and taps—no buttons to see here. Unfortunately, its GPS is tethered to your phone and not built in, which is a little disappointing but makes sense considering the fashion focus. Fitbit said the Luxe will last up to five days on a charge, which is fairly standard for a Fitbit, but much less than the 10 days Fitbit’s other main fitness tracker, the Inspire 2, delivers. To be fair, the Luxe is adding a color touchscreen, which is more energy-hungry than the Inspire 2’s monochrome LED screen.

Fitness trackers tend to be affordable and utilitarian wristbands with the same tired design. So even though a fancy fitness tracker is a paradox, it’s neat Fitbit that is trying to do something different in this space. The Luxe isn’t too different—after all, it still looks like a fitness tracker—but its subtle rounded shape, metal finishes, and color screen go a long way. Fitbit said its inspiration is handcrafted jewelry, and it used metal injection molding to mimic that feel. The band definitely looks chic compared to your average fitness tracker, but that bar is lower than my hope for universal healthcare in the U.S. this century. The last “pretty” Fitbit tracker was the Alta HR. Its latest, the Inspire 2, was so bland I almost forgot it existed.

The Gorjana bracelet for the Fitbit Luxe Special Edition is distinctly jewelry-like.

The Gorjana bracelet for the Fitbit Luxe Special Edition is distinctly jewelry-like.
Image: Fitbit

You feel the fashion element a bit more in the accessories. For $30-$100 extra, you can cop leather double-wrap straps, woven straps, stainless steel mesh bands, and platinum or gold link bracelets. A pricier $200 Luxe Special Edition, comes with a gold stainless steel Parker link bracelet designed by Gorjana, a Laguna Beach-based jewelry brand, and a peony-colored silicone band.

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Fitbit is already pushing it with the regular Luxe at $150, so barreling ahead with a $200 Special Edition is certainly A Choice. Fitbit’s $230 Versa 3 is a full-fledged smartwatch, and its $150 Charge 4 has better battery life and built-in GPS. By comparison, the Luxe’s price tag is borderline madness. Though, to be fair, Fitbit did warn us by calling this thing Luxe.

You can preorder the Fitbit Luxe and the Luxe Special Edition starting today at Fitbit’s website or at major retailers. Accessories are sold separately and range from $30 to $100. The regular Luxe is expected to ship sometime this spring, and the Special Edition will ship in June.

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Facebook VP Says There Aren’t Any Plans to Release a Quest Pro or Quest 3 in 2021

Illustration for article titled Facebook VP Says There Aren't Any Plans to Release a Quest Pro or Quest 3 in 2021

Photo: Sam Rutherford

Despite dropping hints that Facebook could be working on a new more powerful VR headset, Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth made it clear recently that the company doesn’t have any plans to release a Quest Pro or Quest 3 headset anytime this year.

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The subject of a new headset from Facebook came up recently during a podcast (recorded by UploadVR here) hosted by Facebook Reality Labs vice president Andrew Bosworth and Oculus CTO John Carmack where Bosworth admitted that even though he had previously mentioned the possibility of a more sophisticated Quest Pro headset, he wanted to make it clear that no such device is coming anytime soon.

When asked about future headsets from Facebook, Bosworth said “People are also asking about the Quest 3, which doesn’t exist yet, and everyone who is listening to us who is a reporter there isn’t a Quest 3, there’s only a Quest 2, but I did hint at an AMA earlier this year about Quest Pro because we do have a lot of things in development where we want to introduce new functionality to the headset along the kinds that people theorize that we would want to introduce, and that’s a little ways off still. It’s still not gonna happen this year.”

Bosworth then capped off the podcast by saying “For those who are curious, Quest 2 is going to be in the market for a while – for a long while, and it’s gonna be, you know, I think the best bet for the most accessible way to get into VR and have a great experience.”

Renewed speculation about Facebook’s plans for future VR hardware has recently been spurred on by the release of the Resident Evil 4 VR remake, which doesn’t run on the original Quest and is the first new title made exclusively for the Oculus Quest 2. This caused a small panic among Quest 2 owners regarding Facebook’s long-term support of its current flagship VR headset, which originally came out back in the fall of 2020.

So far, both Facebook and Oculus developers have been rather slow to begin pulling support for the original Quest, with Bosworth claiming that there are over a million people still using Facebook’s last-gen headset. However, with Facebook having designated both the original Quest and the Rift S as products that have reached end-of-life, it’s pretty clear that the Quest 2 is Facebook’s flagship headset for both mobile and desktop VR experiences for the foreseeable future.

Thankfully—with Oculus having recently announced new features for the Quest 2 including support for native wireless VR streaming (called Oculus Air Link), improved productivity features, and faster 120Hz refresh rates—it seems there’s plenty of room to continue improving Facebook’s current VR goggles without the need for all-new hardware.

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And when it comes to what is still a relatively new branch of tech, updated components and more powerful hardware are always nice, but there’s something to be said about focusing on the stability of your platform too, which is what Facebook seems to be doing with the Quest 2.

11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Photo: Caitlin McGarry

If you’ve finally splurged on a brand new Apple Watch (or been the lucky recipient of a very nice gift), you’re probably wondering: Now what? The Apple Watch comes with plenty of great built-in features, but you should hit the watch’s App Store to find third-party options that can make the device even more useful.

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We’ve picked out some of the very best apps for getting the most from your watch—whether that’s getting weather forecasts with attitude or creating audio notes right from your wrist.


1. Spark

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: Spark

One of the most important reasons for any Apple Watch app to exist is enabling you to accomplish tasks without needing to pull your phone out every five minutes, and Spark does this perfectly for email. Obviously you don’t want to compose entire emails on your wrist, but for briefly checking your inbox and quickly dealing with incoming messages, it’s ideal. Between this and your iPhone app, you might actually get to inbox zero.


2. Watchsmith

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: Watchsmith

The Apple Watch’s watch face is customizable to a point, and then Watchsmith takes over from there. You can use the app to create a more personal watch face with complications that show the date, the weather, astronomical information, and more, and the app even has the ability to modify what it shows depending on the time (so your watch face can keep changing throughout the day).


3. Cheatsheet Notes

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: Cheatsheet Notes

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Smartwatches work best for accessing bite-sized, at-a-glance information on your wrist, such as the time or anything you’ve entered in Cheatsheet Notes. The app is simple and plain, but that’s the whole point: You can input addresses, phone numbers, cheat codes, dates, ID numbers, or anything else you need quick access to, and call them up on the Apple Watch display in seconds. The app supports watch face complications, too.


4. MultiTimer

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: MultiTimer

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Get around the restrictions of the built-in Apple Watch stopwatch and just download MultiTimer. The app lets you set multiple timers for multiple events and have them run simultaneously, all from the screen of your Apple Watch. The accompanying iPhone app is useful, too, because the native iOS Clock app doesn’t let you set multiple timers. Timers can be displayed in a variety of ways, and even embedded as watch face complications, so you can always see them.


5. Just Press Record

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: Just Press Record

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Being able to start and stop audio recordings from your wrist is both very cool and very useful, and Just Press Record lets you do just that. It’s also a capable recording app for your phone. Recordings are neatly organized and easily accessible, and speech can be turned into searchable text with the built-in transcription feature. It works with or without your phone connected, so you can easily record on the go.


6. Elk

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: Elk

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One of the main reasons to get a smartwatch is because it helps you get stuff done that would otherwise require you to pull your phone out of your pocket or your bag. Elk definitely helps here, allowing you to convert currencies right on the screen of the Apple Watch. Because Elk knows where you are, thanks to the watch’s built-in GPS, it can automatically find the right currency for you.


7. ETA

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: ETA

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ETA is one of those Apple Watch apps you don’t actually realize is useful until you see it in action. As you might guess, the app tells you how long it’s going to take you to get somewhere. That means you can make sure you’re never late again, and alerts friends and family as to how long you’re going to be. ETA is also very polished on the iPhone, where it can be accessed as a widget or app.


8. Carrot Weather

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: Carrot Weather

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There are plenty of iPhone weather apps with very decent extensions for the Apple Watch to pick from, but Carrot Weather makes our list because it manages to pack in so much information on the small screen on your wrist—and also because of the rather sardonic tone it takes about everything. Not only do you get a complete weather forecast for the upcoming hours and days, but you get an extra helping of attitude too.


9. Overcast

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: Overcast

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Overcast stands out as a podcast player for all kinds of reasons, including the effort and care that the developer put into building an Apple Watch app. Podcasts can be saved to the watch itself as well as your phone, enabling listening on the go when you don’t want to take your phone out. Everything is clearly laid out on the app’s interface, and it’s easy to operate even on a small screen. Time skipping and volume controls can be accessed right from your wrist, too.


10. iTranslate Converse

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: iTranslate Converse

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iTranslate Converse does a remarkable job of translating spoken audio back at you, which means this is going to be an invaluable Apple Watch app if you’re ever trying to converse with someone in another language. A total of 38 different languages are supported by the app, and you can select these manually (or have iTranslate Converse detect them automatically). You even get written transcripts of your voice conversations.


11. Citymapper

Illustration for article titled 11 Apple Watch Apps You Need to Install ASAP

Screenshot: Citymapper

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If you already use Citymapper on your phone, then you know how useful it can be in getting from point A to point B. The Apple Watch app makes the tool an even more important part of your journey. If you’re riding the bus or subway, and it’s tricky to take your phone out, Citymapper’s watch app lets you know when you need to get off (and back on), gives you estimates of how long your journey is going to take, and more.

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It’s Looking Like Samsung’s Return to Wear OS Is Inevitable

Illustration for article titled It's Looking Like Samsung's Return to Wear OS Is Inevitable

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Rumors that Samsung might be ditching its proprietary smartwatch operating system for Google’s neglected Wear OS platform aren’t new. However, it’s looking increasingly likely that Tizen OS is not long for this world.

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Earlier this week, Android Police found hidden code in the Galaxy Wearable app that referenced a new pair of Samsung earbuds dubbed the Galaxy Buds 2. Tech writer Max Weinbach, who spotted the reference, then tweeted that the code also revealed some interesting tidbits about the forthcoming Galaxy watches.

Specifically, the code references a new plugin dubbed “water,” which Weinbach posits is a “Samsung wearable/Wear OS compatibility layer.” It also seems to reference a new chipset called “merlot” for two watches codenamed “wise” and “fresh.” But the real kicker is that Weinbach found a reference that explicitly says “newos.”

It’s likely that the two watches refer to the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and the Samsung Galaxy Active 4. (No, you didn’t miss the Galaxy Watch Active 3, Samsung just sometimes decides to skip numbers. There was no Galaxy Watch 2, for example.) However, the “merlot” chipset is notable. The past two iterations of Samsung Galaxy watches have relied on the same Exynos chip. That’s not a bad thing! The watches are quite snappy compared to Wear OS watches powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 and 3100 platforms. However, a new SoC might signal that we could be seeing some advanced features.

If “water” is truly a compatibility layer, it’s also possible that Samsung is taking a similar approach to Wear OS as the Oppo Watch did. While the Oppo Watch is technically a Wear OS watch, it runs a fork of the operating system that takes the best of Oppo’s ColorOS and mashes it with the parts of Wear OS that people actually like. Also unlike most Wear OS watches, the Oppo Watch uses a non-Qualcomm co-processor paired with the Snapdragon Wear 3100. The result is frankly one of the best Wear OS watches out there.

This could mean that Samsung’s figured out a way to “customize” Wear OS in a way that’s beneficial for it and Google. As in, Samsung could opt for its own more powerful processor that enables all the strides it made in the past few years with regard to advanced health features—like FDA-cleared ECG, SpO2 sensors, etc.—that are noticeably absent from Wear OS watches. It could also completely dominate the Android smartwatch market by giving people the choice between Bixby/Google Assistant and Samsung Pay/Google Pay—not to mention offer a more robust third-party app store.

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When this rumor was first making the rounds, it seemed like a Very Bad Idea for Samsung. This latest round of leaks makes a potential switch to Wear OS seem less painful, but the main reason why this might not work still isn’t resolved. Put simply, Google has yet to show any sign that Wear OS is a priority. In the past year, Google has prioritized creating smartwatch apps for Apple first, rolled out underwhelming updates, and that’s about it. Most embarrassingly, the “hey Google” command on Wear OS has been broken for months. In some cases, Tizen-based apps are also better than their Wear OS counterparts. Spotify is the best example of this. On Tizen, Spotify allows offline playlists. On Wear OS, it’s a glorified remote.

It could be a classic chicken-and-egg scenario. Perhaps Google doesn’t see the point in investing in Wear OS until it has a “flagship” worthy of it. But of course, there can’t be a great flagship Wear OS watch until Google invests in the platform. Unless, you know, Samsung were to throw Google a bone—and that’s what these rumors seem to be hinting at.

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We’ll have to wait and see. Samsung tends to launch its new wearables in August, but some leakers have suggested we could see it much earlier this year. In any case, Samsung’s probably already made its choice. At this point, all we can hope for is that Android users not get screwed over and for Samsung to please, please, please keep the rotating bezel.

Peloton’s Latest Moves Hint at a Possible Smartwatch

Illustration for article titled Peloton's Latest Moves Hint at a Possible Smartwatch

Photo: Scott Heins/Stringer (Getty Images)

Peloton’s had a lot of ups and downs over the past year, but it recently snapped up an interesting mix of smaller tech companies. This latest round of acquisitions seems to hint that the company could be mulling its own wearable device—or at the very least, adding some interesting AI-powered features to its existing products.

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Recent reports from Bloomberg and Wareable say that Peloton bought Aiqudo, Atlas Wearables, and Otari late in 2020. Aiqudo is an AI startup that specializes in helping developers add digital assistants to apps and devices. Otari has made an interactive workout mat complete with its own screen. Otari’s mat also includes a form of AI coaching to help correct form and count reps. Lastly, Atlas Wearables makes wearable sensors that focus on accurately recording workouts involving weights and bodyweight moves—something that no smartwatch has really figured out how to do well.

The Atlas Wearables acquisition is especially noteworthy. The company has built up a huge database of exercises, based on the actual movements of personal trainers from a wide variety of activity types like HIIT, Crossfit, Bootcamp, strength training, etc. Right now, while many trackers and smartwatches do offer strength training or weight recording, they’re terrible at recording how many reps of which exercise you’ve done. For some, like the Apple Watch, these activities just record your heart rate and duration, with calorie burn calculated based on a combination of other metrics. This is one of the biggest gaps in fitness tracking right now, as most available wearables are more suited to tracking cardio or recovery-based activities and metrics.

If you put it all together, it looks very much like Peloton could be laying the groundwork to expand its hardware to include better automatic workout detection, digital assistants, and, possibly, AI form coaching. It’s a compelling thought when you consider Peloton’s current ecosystem. Its bikes and treadmills all include big screens—and its newer bike and treadmill both have screens that rotate so you can switch from cycling/running to other exercise types more easily. Plus, Peloton also sells its own heartrate monitors and offers integration with the Apple Watch. Lastly, the company recently rolled out a feature called Stacked Classes, which allows you to more easily create a “workout playlist.” As in, you can schedule a 30-minute bike ride, followed by a 20-minute strength session, and a 10-minute cooldown. Adding a smartwatch-like gadget (or AI detection to its screens) that can auto-record you switching from one activity to the next or provide live feedback about form would be a massive achievement.

More food for thought: Peloton also dropped $420 million to buy Precor, one of the world’s largest commercial fitness equipment makers, in December. At the time, it looked like the move was more to shore up Peloton’s supply chain and address those pesky, months-long delays that have frustrated many new buyers. In addition to gaining all of Precor’s U.S. production facilities, the deal also included the company’s 100-member research and development team. This would, theoretically, give Peloton the ability to produce any new hardware on its own.

We won’t know what comes out of all these acquisitions for a while. And while Peloton itself is rather bullish about its growth post-pandemic, there is the looming possibility that its notorious delays and cabin fever result in people flocking back to gyms once lockdowns end. Still, all these acquisitions seem to point to a future where Peloton only becomes more powerful and influential in the connected fitness world—not less.

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A Rugged Apple Watch Might Be in the Cards

The Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE

The Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Last year, Apple broke with tradition and offered not one, but two Apple Watches—the Series 6 and the cheaper SE. Now, a Bloomberg report is suggesting Apple is mulling adding another rugged variant to appeal to outdoor athletes and hikers.

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The news comes from Mark Gurman, a noted Apple prognosticator with a good track record. Citing unnamed Apple sources, Gurman contends a rugged Apple Watch wouldn’t supplant existing Apple Watch models. Rather, it’d be its own model, in the vein of other special edition Apple Watches, like the one it has with Nike. Functionally, the rugged watch wouldn’t be that different from the regular Apple Watch. The main difference is that it’d have “extra impact-resistance and protection.”

Aesthetically, Bloomberg contends the rugged watch might look something like a Casio G-Shock. That makes sense given its rubber exterior, a look that you can find on many a Garmin or Suunto. Right now, you can get the Apple Watch in either aluminum, titanium, or stainless steel. While the titanium and stainless steel versions are hardier than the cheaper aluminum model, they’re still not immune to dings and scratches—especially if you’re someone who likes more extreme sports like downhill mountain biking or rock climbing. The same goes for the more expensive sapphire crystal screens. (They’re mostly fine if you’re sticking to the gym or gentler exercises like yoga.)

Aside from a beefier encasing, sturdier materials, and watch strap accessories, it’s not clear what else Apple would do to set a potential rugged watch apart. The current Apple Watches are already water-resistant to 5 ATM or 50 meters, which is the minimum level required for swimming. Apple’s native workout app also includes a wide variety of outdoor activities, including climbing, open water and indoor swimming, water sports and water polo, surfing, snowboarding, downhill and cross country skiing, and even hunting. Bloomberg says the company is working on new swim-tracking features, but unless they’re upping the ante to 10 ATM, better swimming metrics wouldn’t necessarily be limited to the rugged version. The same holds true if Apple decides to offer the same in-depth running metrics offered by more fitness-focused wearables like Garmin and Polar.

In any case, Bloomberg’s report says the earliest we could see a rugged Apple Watch is later this year or 2022 at the earliest. If it’s this year, we’ll likely find out sometime this fall, which is when Apple usually launches its new generation of Apple Watches. (This is provided that the global chip shortage and existing supply chain issues don’t continue to muck up the usual product launch cadence for 2021.) Then again, this isn’t the first time Apple has purportedly considered a rugged version. Back in 2015, after launching its first Apple Watch, the company reportedly mulled releasing a model to appeal to extreme sports athletes but eventually decided against it. The same thing could happen here too.

One thing in favor of a rugged watch, however, is the fact that the Apple Watch is a much more important product for Apple these days. It’s hard to say exactly how much the Apple Watch generated in revenue for the company, as it’s lumped in with AirPods, the HomePod, and accessories in Apple’s reporting. However, that segment saw a record 30% growth in Q1 this year for an impressive $13 billion in revenue. Plus, Apple has noted that in terms of the watch, 75% of customers are first-time buyers, rather than upgrades. Given that, adding another SKU makes more sense now than it did when the Apple Watch was widely considered an unnecessary luxury.

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But while the move makes sense, it’s unclear whether it’s a gamble that will pay off. By offering a rugged watch, Apple’s taking clear aim at competitors like Garmin, Suunto, and Polar. Good luck there, as Garmin users are among the most brand-loyal in the smartwatch category, and there’s a reason it’s one of the most preferred endurance sports brands. Apple doesn’t natively offer as much in the way of the recovery metrics—which can be a serious dealbreaker for dedicated athletes. Not to mention, the Apple Watch is still touting an 18-hour “all-day” battery life—which in the world of rugged smartwatches, is pitifully short. Lastly, while Apple’s recently made a bigger push into fitness (See: Fitness+), its biggest strength is still in its advanced health features and multi-purpose usage.

Right now, the biggest rumor swirling around the Series 7 is the possibility of blood sugar monitoring. (A feat, that if Apple could pull off, would render a rugged variant small potatoes.) Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has also said the Series 7 will likely focus on “innovative health management functions” and “improved form factor design.” It’s possible the latter is referring to a rugged watch, though it could also mean a more aesthetic redesign. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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