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Tech devices that make for great last-minute gifts for anyone

Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work.

It should be easy to give a gift. But it can be hard trying to choose what gift to give. That’s especially true with technology, where products tend to be more functional than emotional. Here’s what matters most: finding a present that connects to the recipient, creates a sense of enjoyment, and that they’re actually going to use. Here are five tech gifts that will appeal to almost anyone.

Jaybird X3 Wireless Sport Earbuds

The Jaybird X3 earbuds are designed for working out, but their design and great audio makes them perfect for anyone on the go. The X3’s interchangeable tips and fins offer a highly customizable, comfortable fit. Overall sound is high quality out of the box, but we like that the companion Jaybird app allows a tailored listening experience. Eight hours of playback time means you’ll be set throughout multiple workouts or a full work day.

Amazon Echo (2nd generation) Voice-Controlled Speaker

While there’s more than enough buzz surrounding voice-controlled speakers, they’re not yet considered a standard home item. But we think they’re helpful, and we know that a lot of folks find them incredibly useful for ordering food, listening to audiobooks, streaming music, or controlling their appliances and lighting. Our favorite is the Amazon Echo (2nd generation), which does more (and does it better) than any other current model. It supports a huge list of smart-home devices—including thermostats, light bulbs, and vacuums, and it has a set of skills, including offering custom weather, news and calendar alerts. (Note: If you’re giving one of these devices as a gift, make sure the recipient’s preferred music service is supported; Amazon’s devices, for example, work with its own Prime Music service, as well as Spotify, but not with Apple Music.)

Jackery Bolt USB Battery

A convenient device (which at times doubles as a lifesaver) is a gift that anyone would consider a necessity. We researched more than 300 USB power banks and battery packs and tested 40, naming the Jackery Bolt as our top pick. The Jackery Bolt is made out of aluminum and is the perfect size for carrying around in your bag or pocket every day. It has two connector cables (one Lightning and one MicroUSB), and its 6000 mAh battery has enough power to charge a medium-sized smartphone twice.

Nixplay Seed Digital Photo Frame

The Nixplay Seed digital photo frame is perfect way to keep faraway friends and family members in sight. Since it’s Wi-Fi-enabled, you can be anywhere and use social media platforms, cloud storage, or your smartphone to upload pictures. It’s a great gift because new and old moments can be shared anytime, giving viewers more reasons to touch base with you. It has a high-resolution IPS display that can show images in landscape or portrait orientation. The photo frame’s remote and sensor—which turns the device off when no one’s in the room — lets you choose what you want to see at your convenience. Multiple people can create photo playlists through the Nixplay website, or add pictures to be shown by sending them through email. With 8GB of storage it has the capacity to hold roughly 25,000 smartphone photos.

GoPro Hero5 Black Action Camera

The GoPro Hero5 Black is our top pick for action cameras because it can be used for everyday filming, capturing memories during travel adventures, and is great in environments that aren’t suitable for larger, pricier camera equipment. It doesn’t have a clunky case, but it’s still waterproof. For those who usually place tech integration at the top of their gear list, the GoPro Hero5 Black also has a touchscreen interface and voice-control capabilities. During testing we found its footage to be crisp and clear with accurate color in addition to sound quality that’s worth keeping in professional edits.

Garmin Vivosport Fitness Tracker

If you’re looking for a way to jumpstart your exercise routine and you haven’t picked up a fitness tracker, now’s the time.  We’ve tested 23 fitness trackers over the past three years and think the Garmin Vivosport is the best option. Its built-in GPS, long-lasting battery life and color display set it apart from others. In addition to monitoring your workouts (including strength-training reps), it helps keep tabs on your sleep and stress levels, and is Bluetooth-enabled for IOS and Android integration with streaming music and notifications.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

Xiaomi promises to give money back to customers if its profits get too high

Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker tipped for a public listing this year, has made a unique pledge: if it makes too much money, it’ll give a chunk of its profits back to its customers.

Yes, that’s right.

The company said today it will forever limit the net profit margins after tax for smartphones, smart home devices and other hardware to just five percent. If it makes more money than planned over a calendar year, it plans to “distribute the excess amount by reasonable means to its users.”

It’s hard to know exactly what reasonable means Xiaomi is referring to, but here are some though.

Spoiler number one alert !! — most companies in mobile make a scant profit, if any at all, on hardware.

Firms like LG and Samsung rely on component divisions and other consumer brands to record the bulk of the revenue which makes them profitable. More broadly, the competitive market means there’s not much money to claim in selling phones. Apple is estimated to account for a whopping 87 percent of all smartphone profits despite just 18 percent market share.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 was widely-lauded when it launched last year

Spoiler number two alert !! — selling hardware with a low net profit has always been a component of Xiaomi’s strategy.

Indeed, former head of international Hugo Barra previously said it didn’t make money on hardware sales. That approach may have changed, but Xiaomi had never put a figure on its take-home margin before.

This pledge aligns itself neatly with the company’s core focus on providing cutting-edge tech, or as close to, at affordable prices. Much has been said over the years of the bang-for-buck of its $150 Redmi range, while countless comparisons of its higher-end Mi phones — which typically sell for $150-$300 — and flagship products from Apple and Samsung have graced the internet.

Xiaomi has said from the get-go that smartphones are just one part of its wider ecosystem — which includes Xiaomi-branded smart home and “lifestyle” devices from third-parties, and, crucially, services that link all the hardware together. Those include services such as online video, e-commerce, financial products and other digital services.

“From the beginning, we embarked on a relentless pursuit of innovation, quality, design, user experience and efficiency advances, to provide the best technology products and services at accessible prices. We hope that our products and services will help our users to achieve a better life,” CEO and co-founder Lei Jun said in the money statement that accompanies today’s announcement.

Xiaomi is widely tipped to go public this year in an IPO that could value its business as high as $100 billion, according to Bloomberg. Chinese media recently claimed that the company is planning a dual-IPO that would see it list both in Hong Kong and on Mainland China, as our sister site Technode explained.

Such a double-headed IPO would be unique but, as Xiaomi showed today, it has no intention of sticking to so-called convention.

GoPro launches Trade-Up program to swap old cameras for discounts

GoPro is willing to take that old digital camera stuffed in your junk drawer even if it’s not a GoPro. Through a program called Trade-Up, the camera company will discount the GoPro H6 Black $50 and Fusion $100 when buyers trade in any digital camera. The company tried this last year for 60 days, but as of right now, GoPro is saying this offer does not expire.

This offer works with any digital camera including old GoPros. It clearly addresses something we noticed years ago — there’s often little reason to buy a new GoPro because their past products were so good.

GoPro tried this in 2017 for 60 days and says 12,000 customers took advantage of the program.

The service is reminiscent of what wireless carries do to encourage smartphone owners to buy new phones. It’s a clever solution though other options could net more money. Users could sell their camera on ebay or use other trade-in programs. Best Buy lets buyers trade in old cameras, too, and currently gives $60 for a GoPro Hero3+ Black and $55 for a HD Hero 960.

GoPro is in a tough position and this is clearly a plan to spur sales. The company’s stock is trading around an all-time low after a brief upswing following a report that Chinese electronic maker Xiaomi was considering buying the company. The company also recently started licensing its camera technology and trimmed its product line while introducing a new, $200 camera.

LG promises to speed up bringing Android updates to its smartphones

LG is making efforts to improve the user experience on its devices after it opened a “Software Upgrade Center” in its native Korea.

The new lab will be focused on “providing customers worldwide with faster, timelier, smartphone operating system and software updates,” the company explained in a brief statement.

The idea is to help get the latest versions of Android out to more users at a faster pace than it does right now.

That’s a genuine problem for Android OEM who are tasked with bringing the latest flavor of Android to devices that already in the market. Issues they have to deal with include different chipsets, Android customization and carriers.

The issue has been pretty problematic for LG. Android Oreo, for example, announced by Google last September only began rolling out to the first handful of LG devices last month.

The Korean firm said that one of the first priorities for this new center is to get Oreo out to Korea-based owners of the LG G6 — last year’s flagship phone — before the end of this month. After that, it will look to expand the rollout to G6 owners in other parts of the world.

Beyond Android updates, the center will also focus on stability update to make sure that the newest features work on devices without compromising performance.

This move is one of the first major strategies from new LG Mobile CEO Hwang Jeong-hwan, who took the top job last year. He came directly from the company’s R&D division, which suggests that he identified the update issue as a fairly urgent one to address.

His bigger challenge is to stop LG’s mobile division bleeding capital. LG Electronics itself is forecasting record Q1 financial results later this month, but its smartphone unit is likely to post yet another loss that drags the parent down.

We’ll find out more when LG’s next flagship is unveiled next month.

Our digital future will be shaped by increasingly mobile technologies coming from China

Since the dawn of the internet, the titans of this industry have fought to win the “starting point” — the place that users start their online experiences. In other words, the place where they begin “browsing.” The advent of the dial-up era had America Online mailing a CD to every home in America, which passed the baton to Yahoo’s categorical listings, which was swallowed by Google’s indexing of the world’s information — winning the “starting point” was everything.

As the mobile revolution continues to explode across the world, the battle for the starting point has intensified. For a period of time, people believed it would be the hardware, then it became clear that the software mattered most. Then conversation shifted to a debate between operating systems (Android or iOS) and moved on to social properties and messaging apps, where people were spending most of their time. Today, my belief is we’re hovering somewhere between apps and operating systems. That being said, the interface layer will always be evolving.

The starting point, just like a rocket’s launchpad, is only important because of what comes after. The battle to win that coveted position, although often disguised as many other things, is really a battle to become the starting point of commerce.  

Google’s philosophy includes a commitment to get users “off their page” as quickly as possible…to get that user to form a habit and come back to their starting point. The real (yet somewhat veiled) goal, in my opinion, is to get users to search and find the things they want to buy.

Of course, Google “does no evil” while aggregating the world’s information, but they pay their bills by sending purchases to Priceline, Expedia, Amazon and the rest of the digital economy.  

Facebook, on the other hand, has become a starting point through its monopolization of users’ time, attention and data. Through this effort, it’s developed an advertising business that shatters records quarter after quarter.

Google and Facebook, this famed duopoly, represent 89 percent of new advertising spending in 2017. Their dominance is unrivaled… for now.

Change is urgently being demanded by market forces — shifts in consumer habits, intolerable rising costs to advertisers and through a nearly universal dissatisfaction with the advertising models that have dominated (plagued) the U.S. digital economy.  All of which is being accelerated by mobile. Terrible experiences for users still persist in our online experiences, deliver low efficacy for advertisers and fraud is rampant. The march away from the glut of advertising excess may be most symbolically seen in the explosion of ad blockers. Further evidence of the “need for a correction of this broken industry” is Oracle’s willingness to pay $850 million for a company that polices ads (probably the best entrepreneurs I know ran this company, so no surprise).

As an entrepreneur, my job is to predict the future. When reflecting on what I’ve learned thus far in my journey, it’s become clear that two truths can guide us in making smarter decisions about our digital future:

Every day, retailers, advertisers, brands and marketers get smarter. This means that every day, they will push the platforms, their partners and the places they rely on for users to be more “performance driven.” More transactional.

Paying for views, bots (Russian or otherwise) or anything other than “dollars” will become less and less popular over time. It’s no secret that Amazon, the world’s most powerful company (imho), relies so heavily on its Associates Program (its home-built partnership and affiliate platform). This channel is the highest performing form of paid acquisition that retailers have, and in fact, it’s rumored that the success of Amazon’s affiliate program led to the development of AWS due to large spikes in partner traffic.

Chinese flag overlooking The Bund, Shanghai, China (Photo: Rolf Bruderer/Getty Images)

When thinking about our digital future, look down and look east. Look down and admire your phone — this will serve as your portal to the digital world for the next decade, and our dependence will only continue to grow. The explosive adoption of this form factor is continuing to outpace any technological trend in history.

Now, look east and recognize that what happens in China will happen here, in the West, eventually. The Chinese market skipped the PC-driven digital revolution — and adopted the digital era via the smartphone. Some really smart investors have built strategies around this thesis and have quietly been reaping rewards due to their clairvoyance.  

China has historically been categorized as a market full of knock-offs and copycats — but times have changed. Some of the world’s largest and most innovative companies have come out of China over the past decade. The entrepreneurial work ethic in China (as praised recently by arguably the world’s greatest investor, Michael Moritz), the speed of innovation and the ability to quickly scale and reach meaningful populations have caused Chinese companies to leapfrog the market cap of many of their U.S. counterparts.  

The most interesting component of the Chinese digital economy’s growth is that it is fundamentally more “pure” than the U.S. market’s. I say this because the Chinese market is inherently “transactional.” As Andreessen Horowitz writes, WeChat, China’s  most valuable company, has become the “starting point” and hub for all user actions. Their revenue diversity is much more “Amazon” than “Google” or “Facebook” — it’s much more pure. They make money off the transactions driven from their platform, and advertising is far less important in their strategy.

The obsession with replicating WeChat took the tech industry by storm two years ago — and for some misplaced reason, everyone thought we needed to build messaging bots to compete.  

What shouldn’t be lost is our obsession with the purity and power of the business models being created in China. The fabric that binds the Chinese digital economy and has fostered its seemingly boundless growth is the magic combination of commerce and mobile. Singles Day, the Chinese version of Black Friday, drove $25 billion in sales on Alibaba — 90 percent of which were on mobile.

The lesson we’ve learned thus far in both the U.S. and in China is that “consumers spending money” creates the most durable consumer businesses. Google, putting aside all its moonshots and heroic mission statements, is a “starting point” powered by a shopping engine. If you disagree, look at where their revenue comes from…

Google’s recent announcement of Shopping Actions and their movement to a “pay per transaction model” signals a turning point that could forever change the landscape of the digital economy.  

Google’s multi-front battle against Apple, Facebook and Amazon is weighted. Amazon is the most threatening. It’s the most durable business of the four — and its model is unbounded on two fronts that almost everyone I know would bet their future on, 1) people buying more online, where Amazon makes a disproportionate amount of every dollar spent, and 2) companies needing more cloud computing power (more servers), where Amazon makes a disproportionate amount of every dollar spent.  

To add insult to injury, Amazon is threatening Google by becoming a starting point itself — 55 percent of product searches now originate at Amazon, up from 30 percent just a year ago.

Google, recognizing consumer behavior was changing in mobile (less searching) and the inferiority of their model when compared to the durability and growth prospects of Amazon, needed to respond. Google needed a model that supported boundless growth and one that created a “win-win” for its advertising partners — one that resembled Amazon’s relationship with its merchants — not one that continued to increase costs to retailers while capitalizing on their monopolization of search traffic.

Google knows that with its position as the starting point — with Google.com, Google Apps and Android — it has to become a part of the transaction to prevail in the long term. With users in mobile demanding fewer ads and more utility (demanding experiences that look and feel a lot more like what has prevailed in China), Google has every reason in the world to look down and to look east — to become a part of the transaction — to take its piece.  

A collision course for Google and the retailers it relies upon for revenue was on the horizon. Search activity per user was declining in mobile and user acquisition costs were growing quarter over quarter. Businesses are repeatedly failing to compete with Amazon, and unless Google could create an economically viable growth model for retailers, no one would stand a chance against the commerce juggernaut — not the retailers nor Google itself. 

As I’ve believed for a long time, becoming a part of the transaction is the most favorable business model for all parties; sources of traffic make money when retailers sell things, and, most importantly, this only happens when users find the things they want.  

Shopping Actions is Google’s first ambitious step to satisfy all three parties — businesses and business models all over the world will feel this impact.  

Good work, Sundar.