Sunday, 26 January 2014

Are smartwatches the next big thing?

If you're like most Americans, you don't wear a wristwatch. But a growing number of electronics companies are betting you'll slap one on your wrist if it's more like a smartphone than a simple timepiece.
Over the past year, Sony and local startup Pebble have released devices called "smartwatches" because they take on some of the functions of a smartphone. In the near future, those devices will be joined by many others including, if the rumors are true, Apple's (AAPL) much buzzed about iWatch.
But just what is a smartwatch and why would anyone want one?

At least as they exist today, smartwatches are accessories to smartphones. Some have touch screens and run apps, but they're designed mainly to allow users to interact with or view information from their phones. Instead of having their own connection to the Internet, they connect to users' smartphones via Bluetooth.
Smartwatches deliver notifications, telling users when they've received text and email messages, showing the caller ID for incoming calls and alerting users to new Facebook or Twitter post.
They also allow users to control apps on their phones. Users can answer calls and start playing their music or fast forward to the next song by tapping buttons on their smartwatch. And working with apps and sensors on the phone, they can allow users to keep track of their workouts, showing the distance run or time elapsed.
Oh, and they also tell time.
But, you might note, you can already do all of these things with your smartphone. Why would you need another device?
The answer, advocates and analysts say, is that there are times when it's easier to simply glance at a watch than to interact with your phone.
Say you're listening to music on your phone while running and want to jump to the next song. Instead of pulling out your phone, waking it up and finding the music controls -- a difficult proposition while you're jogging along -- you could simply press a button or two on your wristwatch. Or say you are in a meeting, but want to know if your spouse calls or messages you. Glancing at a watch might be less obtrusive or rude than constantly staring at your smartphone.
"There are folks out there that are tied to their phone; their phone is their life," said Angela McIntyre, an analyst who covers the wearable technology market for technology research firm Gartner. "Being able to have a second screen for your phone on your wrist, so you don't have to take out your smartphone and do things with it when it's inconvenient, could be useful for them."

And soon, smartwatches may do a lot more. Both Sony and Pebble are encouraging software developers to make apps for their devices. Already, owners can play simple games on Sony's gadget or use it as a remote control for their smartphone's camera.
In the future, smartwatches may even replace smartphones by including cellular and Wi-Fi radios. Those would allow users to make and receive calls or send messages directly through their watches without having to carry around a phone. And they could allow users to unlock the doors of their car or set their home alarm with just their watch.
"What you do on a phone now or a tablet now, ultimately, you can do most or all of those on a watch," said Marshal Cohen, who covers the watch industry as the chief retail analyst at market research firm NPD Group.
Some early adopters find smartwatches useful. Cupertino voice actor Dana Marks said he ordered a Pebble because he thought it would be less distracting and annoying to receive notifications on it than the audible dings his smartphone made.
With the Pebble, "I don't have to keep pulling my phone out of my pocket and unlocking it to see what's going on," said Marks, 67.
San Francisco resident Julie Price, a distance running coach and health game developer, said she got interested in the Pebble because of its potential as a fitness watch. Price, 39, says she now wears her Pebble all the time, whether she's running or not. One of the things she loves about it is its caller ID feature.
"I first thought that was so silly -- you can't take your phone out of your pocket?" she said. "But it's really, really helpful."
Of course, not everyone is enthusiastic about smartwatches or the potential demand for them. Americans largely gave up wearing wristwatches when they started using cellphones, noted NPD's Cohen. Convincing them to wear a watch again -- or, for younger consumers, for the first time -- may take some effort.
Their appeal is also likely to be limited because they are smartphone accessories rather than independent devices. Not everyone with a smartphone will buy or even want an extra device to carry around, analysts note.
And for now, few consumers see a real need to have one. Technology research firm IDC recently surveyed consumers, assessing their interest in various smartwatch features. Not one of the features registered strong interest from more than 15 percent of consumers.
"In terms of level of interest, that's incredibly low," said Jonathan Gaw, a consumer technology analyst at IDC.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at
Not your grandfather's Timepiece
What is a smartwatch?
While its functions may change in the future, for now it's a wristwatch that allows users to interact with and control their smartphones.
What can you do with it?
Receive alerts for things like incoming text messages and emails; see the caller ID for incoming calls; control certain smartphone apps, including music players; and track workouts.
Who's offering them?
For now, there are only a handful, notably from Sony and local startup Pebble. But many more are expected to come on the market over the next year or so, including, potentially, models from Samsung, Google and Apple.
How much do they cost?
Sony's SmartWatch sells for around $90. The Pebble watch costs $150. Models of the MetaWatch start at $130.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Galaxy S5 release date: what Samsung learned from its S4 mistakes

What do you want from the Galaxy S5? You might find out what it offers sooner than expected. The Galaxy S4 is sinking so quickly in the sales department that Samsung may have no choice but to give the Galaxy S5 a release date this year, well ahead of its planned spring 2014 launch timeframe, in what will essentially be a do-over. At issue for Samsung is whether it can learn from the numerous mistakes it made with the S4, which despite a widely hyped launch saw its sales numbers quickly fall to the point that it’s harming the company’s bottom line. Here are the top S4 mistakes, and the ways Samsung can fix them as of the Galaxy S5 release date.

Styling: The Galaxy S4 is mostly S3 all over again, a barely noticeable smidge taller and thinner, with that same cheap feeling plastic body. No one ended up caring that its internal specs are night and day more powerful. With the Galaxy S5, Samsung will have to offer a radically redesigned look and feel so even the least technical and least attentive Android buyers will instantly grasp that it’s something new.
Software: What Samsung learned here is that if you’re going to pack a phone full of in-house apps, make sure they’re desirable and work right. The base S4 model is literally half-full with Samsung’s own apps, many of which are buggy and obtuse and ripe for deletion. Samsung isn’t a software company, so any apps bundled with the Galaxy S5 need to come from legitimate software vendors, making them actual selling points instead of leaving users griping about the lost storage space.
Forward compatibility: Samsung released the Galaxy S4 a couple months ahead of the release of the Android 4.3 system software, and there’s still no word as to whether it’ll be compatible, leaving some users afraid to buy one. With the Galaxy S5, Samsung must ensure it’s forward compatible with Android 5.0 and whatever comes afterward, so it can advertise that fact from its release date onward.

Dead Rising 3 to appeal to everyone

The Dead Rising series looked as though it had taken a more serious, sombre approach to the open world zombie survival genre. At least, this was the impression that we got when we first saw Dead Rising 3 gameplay at E3. The game seemed grittier, ominous and altogether more realistic than it’s predecessors (short of a ‘Sledge Saw’ splitting a zombie in two after being hurled 2 car lengths). Fear not though DR fans, as Capcom have endeavored to make the Xbox One exclusive appealing to all gamers, including fans of the somewhat crazy prequels Dead Rising 1 and 2.

Marty Sliva, associate Editor of IGN, was able to play a 30 minute demo of Dead Rising 3 at E3 last month. His article on the IGN website goes further into detail about the different ways of playing the Xbox One launch title. Gamers have the option to play seriously, to mess around, or to kick back and experience a no-hassle sandbox mode.
Various crazy shenanigans are still very much possible in the game, sticking true to Dead Rising form. Marty mentions a flaming sword, shark costumes and traffic cone antics, while another source has already mentioned mankinis and a drivable hearse. In an attempt to draw in not only a more casual crowd, but also the more hardcore gamer, Capcom have added autosaves and removed the timer. The devoted Dead Rising fanboy will not be alienated though, as they can revert to the Nightmare mode of earlier games in the series. In this nostalgic mode, autosaves are once again emitted and players will have a limited amount of time to reach objectives and start missions before they fail entirely.
More information can be found within the IGN article, including some new information on smartphone integration and a complete lack of loading screens. So there you have it; fanboys, hardcore gamers and casual gamers can all enjoy Dead Rising 3.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Strider HD Revival Announced by Capcom

Strider is coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in new title set to release early 2014, Capcom announced at San Diego Comic Con.
The game is being developed by Double Helix. The studio’s previous work includes the 2008 title Silent Hill Homecoming and 2012′s Battleship video game. Double Helix is also currently developing the Killer Instinct reboot, which is set to release exclusively for Xbox One.
Strider Hiyru will be returning as the main character in the new side-scrolling action title. The quick combat and free-flowing action that made the franchise famous is back for the new Strider game. However, players will have much more moves and weapons at their disposal this time around. Strider will have access to new plasma cypher variations and ranged weapons to defeat enemies. Players will even be able to call for support from allies to help defeat the most difficult opponents.

Unique, varied enemy types throughout the game will provide for challenging combat scenarios. Enemies include cybernetic soldiers, bio-mechanical creatures and everything in between.
The game is set in a dystopian future Earth in the year Meio: 048. An oppressive ruler named Grand Master Meio has gained control of the entire planet and is ruling with an iron fist. Strider is the only person capable of freeing the planet from his rule and destroying the evil emperor.
Strider will be exploring the metropolitan environment of Kazakh City, which features a mix of traditional Russian architecture and futuristic buildings. Players will be able to explore the city freely and see how the massive environment interconnects.
The Strider franchise began with the release of the original arcade game Strider in 1989. After experiencing success in arcades, Strider was later ported to consoles.
Capcom released a trailer alongside the announcement of the new Strider game. The trailer can be viewed below.

New Nexus 7 coming to retail outlets next week, according to documents (update: pricing and pics)

It appears that the rumored sequel to the Nexus 7 is close at hand, according to internal documents sent to us by an anonymous tipster. Apparently, the new device will be sold in stores alongside the current iteration (at first, at least, though we can't be certain if this will only be until existing stock runs out). The docs indicate that stores will receive the tablet as early as the 20th, though we wouldn't be surprised if we didn't see it until the 24th or later, given Google's product event on that date. This particular model being discussed is the 32GB version, but we're not certain if it will be available in 16GB as well or if it's just not going to be offered at this specific outlet. We'll update you as we learn more about it, but it's pretty clear that next week's announcement will be rather significant.
Update: According to a shot of an inventory screen sent in by our tipster, the retail price for the 32GB model is set at $269.99.
Update 2: A tipster sent in photos of the alleged device to Android Central. While we can't know for sure that this is the exact same tablet that we expect to see next week -- it could simply be a prototype, for instance -- it at least looks quite feasible. There's a pair of pictures after the break.
New Nexus 7 coming to retail outlets next week, according to documents
New Nexus 7 coming to retail outlets next week, according to documents
New Nexus 7 coming to retail outlets next week, according to documents update pricing and pics
New Nexus 7 coming to retail outlets next week, according to documents update pricing and pics

Google's Moto X phone coming Aug. 1?

Bet you thought the summer months were supposed to be quiet for product introductions? Not in the fast-moving mobile space where Google plays.

Motorola has sent out invitations to a New York City launch event scheduled on August 1 for the U.S.-made Moto X smartphone. That debut promises to be the first major new device since Google bought the Motorola Mobility business. Google CEO Larry Page on Thursday teased interest for the phone's imminent arrival during the company's earnings call.
Motorola is also expected to be at the forefront of a Verizon Wireless media gathering on Tuesday in Gotham, where the latest Motorola Droid handhelds are expected to be unveiled.
Meanwhile, Google executive Sundar Pinchai, who runs the Android and Chrome businesses, is holding a press breakfast in San Francisco the next morning, with signs pointing to the unveiling of Android version 4.3, the latest iteration of the company's operating system software for phones and tablets.
And on August 7, LG is staging its own Manhattan event and is likely to introduce the successor to its Optimus G flagship phone. LG can only hope that consumers won't be tuned out by then. After all, isn't this supposed to be vacation season?

Microsoft stock plummets 11%

SAN FRANCISCO — Shares of Microsoft fell sharply Friday, erasing billions of dollars in the software giant's market value, a day after the company announced earnings below Wall Street's expectations.
Microsoft shares fell $4.04, or 11.4%, to $31.40 in trading on Friday.
On Thursday, Microsoft missed financial targets on both top- and bottom-line results. The company reported net income of $4.97 billion compared with a loss of $492 million in the same period a year ago, when the company wrote down $6 billion for its purchase of digital advertising company aQuantive.
The software behemoth took a $900 million write-down for slashing the price of its Surface RT tablet amid lackluster demand. That came as a strong signal to investors that Microsoft's mobile plans were coming up short in the face of deteriorating PC sales.
"The PC may have reached its peak in 2011, and Microsoft is still struggling to get traction with tablets and smartphones. The write-down of the Surface RT inventory highlights this point," says BGC analyst Colin Gillis in a note to clients.
Excluding the Surface RT writedown, earnings per share came in at 66 cents, short of the 75 cents per share expected by analysts polled by FactSet. Revenue grew 10% to $19.9 billion, but that was also shy of the $20.7 million expected.