All posts in “wearable devices”

Apple and Android are destroying the Swiss Watch industry


In Q4 2017 – essentially during the last holiday season – market research firm Canalys found that more people bought Apple watches than Swiss watches. Two million more, to be exact. Brian Heater has more data but this news is quite problematic for the folks eating Coquilles St-Jacques on the slopes of the Jura mountains.

The numbers are estimates based on market data but they still point to a trend. In Q1 2016 Apple shipped 1.5 million watches to Switzerland’s 5.9 million. The intervening quarters were about the same until the launch of the Apple Watch 3 in September 2017, just in time for holiday shopping. The boost of a new phone and a new watch at the same time meant a perfect storm for upgraders, driving the total number of Apple Watches sold past the Swiss watch sales numbers.


This switch does not mean Apple will maintain that lead – they have one product while Switzerland has thousands – but comparing a single company’s output to an entire industry’s in this case is telling.

Wearing watches is, as we all remind each other, is passé.

“I check the time on my phone,” we said for almost a decade as phones became more ubiquitous. Meanwhile watch manufacturers abandoned the low end and began selling to the high end consumer, the connoisseur.

Take a look at this chart:

Sales of low- to mid-tier watches – and a mid-tier watch can range in price between $500 and $3,000 (and I would even lump many $10,000 watches in the mid-tier category) – were stagnant while the true cash cows, the expensive watches for the ultra-rich, fell slowly from a high in 2014. This coincides with falling purchases in China as what amounted to sumptuary laws reduced the number of expensive gifts given to corrupt officials. Sales are up as December 2017 but don’t expect much of a bump past the current slide.

As a lover of all things mechanical – I did ruin a few years of my life writing a book about a watch – I look at these trends with dismay and a bit of Schadenfreude. As I’ve said again and again the Swiss Watch industry brought this on itself. While they claim great numbers and great success year after year the small manufacturers are eating each other up while nearly every major watch brand is snooping around for outside buyers. There is no money in churning out mechanical timepieces to an increasingly disinterested public.

As time ticks ever forward things will change. The once mighty Swiss houses will sink under the weight of their accreted laurel-resting and Apple will move on to embedded brain implants and leave watches behind. The result, after a battle that raged for more than four decades, will be a dead Swiss industry catering to a world that has moved on.

The LifeClock One will help you escape from mundanity

Whether you’re trapped on a futuristic island prison full of blood-thirsty gang members or simply stuck in a two-hour meeting, the LifeClock One might be the watch for you. Inspired by the movie Escape From New York starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, the watch is an homage to Plissken’s wrist-worn LifeClock, a device that would trigger the an injection of micro-explosives in his arteries if he failed his mission. And you thought you had deadlines.

Escape From New York is a pretty wild movie and this is a pretty wild watch.

Jonathan Zufi created the $399 timepiece when he watched the John Carpenter classic and mused on the idea of creating his own LifeClock. Before running a successful Kickstarter he received permission to create the product and add Plissken’s likeness and many prop-quality details to the smartwatch. Now you can buy either a model based directly on the original movie prop or even have Snake himself engraved on the back of your watch, thereby immortalizing Kurt Russell in his most important role after Big Trouble In Little China.

The watch itself is surprisingly cool. It has a 79mm case made of milled brass and contains six custom 11-segment LEDs that displays the current time, world time, and it can even count your steps and receive push notifications from your phone. The watch is rechargeable via an included USB cable and lasts three days on one charge. It comes on a leather band with a buckle or velcro closure system.

The watch is also huge. It’s big even for me, and to read it you have to press one of the buttons on the side, lighting up the LEDs for a moment as you either scroll through features or assess how much time you have to save the president before you explode. It’s definitely an acquired taste and it’s a funny commentary on smart watches in general. After all, getting rolling phone notifications on a massive LED screen is hilarious.

Germany bans kids’ smartwatches that can be used for eavesdropping


A German regulator has banned domestic sales of children’s smartwatches that have a listening function — warning that parents have been using the devices to secretly eavesdrop on teachers at their kids’ school.

In an announcement on Friday, the Federal Network Agency telecoms watchdog said it had already taken action against some online sellers. The target group for the smartwatches are children between the ages of 5 and 12 years.

“Via an app, parents can use such children’s watches to listen unnoticed to the child’s environment and they are to be regarded as an unauthorized transmitting system,” said Jochen Homann, president of the Federal Network Agency in a statement. “According to our research, parents’ watches are also used to listen to teachers in the classroom.”

Back in February, the same federal agency banned sales of an Internet connected doll — called My Friend Cayla — in the country where it’s illegal to manufacture, sell or possess surveillance devices disguised as another object.

On Friday the agency warned there are a large number of providers in the German market that are offering smartwatches for children which contain a listening function, often referred to as a “baby monitor” or “monitor function” in the companion app.

The app owner is able to silently call the device via such functions and listen unnoticed to the conversations of the watch wearer and others in their vicinity — an act of covert surveillance that is illegal in Germany.

The agency has instructed parents to destroy any devices they have bought, and asked schools to be on the look out for smartwatches being used by children — and to request destruction of listening devices they identify.

The Federal Network Agency is not the only European body concerned about risks posed by children’s connected toys, nor specifically by kids smartwatches. Last month the Norwegian Consumer Council put out a report about children’s smartwatches, raising concerns about security flaws, privacy concerns, and risks posed by what they described as unreliable features.

While this month a UK consumer rights group also raised concerns about poorly secured IoT toys which it said could enable strangers to talk to children. The group also called for devices with known security flaws to be banned from sale.

The latest ban may increase pressure for the European Commission to consider whether European Union-wide regulation is needed for Internet connected toys. Back in February, the commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, expressed concern, telling the BBC: “I’m worried about the impact of connected dolls on children’s privacy and safety.”

The Apple Watch can accurately detect hypertension and sleep apnea, a new study suggests


A new study out from health startup Cardiogram and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) suggests wearables like the Apple Watch, Fitbit and others are able to accurately detect common but serious conditions like hypertension and sleep apnea.

Cardiogram and UCSF previously demonstrated the ability for the Apple Watch to detect abnormal heart rhythm with a 97 percent accuracy. This new study shows the Watch can detect sleep apnea with a 90 percent accuracy and hypertension with an 82 percent accuracy.

Sleep apnea affects an estimated 22 million adults in the U.S., with another 80 percent of cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea undiagnosed, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. This is a serious condition where the person affected stops breathing in their sleep, and can lead to death.

Another 75 million American adults have high blood pressure (hypertension), according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), putting them at risk for heart disease and stroke, the top causes of death in the United States.

Being able to detect sleep apnea and hypertension in the comfort of our homes with just a simple device could be a game-changer in medicine. Right now most patients must go to the doctor and wait to be tested at sporadic intervals, making it hard to detect if there’s a spike in blood pressure in the moment when it becomes critical, and even harder to tell if someone is suffering from sleep apnea, as that is something that happens while the person is asleep.

The new N=6,158 study recruited 6,115 participants through the Cardiogram app to test using their Apple Watch over a period of time. Study leads were then able to detect sleep apnea in 1,016 of the participants and hypertension in 2,230 of the subjects using a trained deep learning algorithm called DeepHeart.

DeepHeart was trained on data from 70 percent of participants, and then tested on the remaining 30 percent who were not used in training, according to Cardiogram co-founder Brandon Ballinger.

Though the study was conducted through the Apple Watch, Cardiogram co-founder and study lead Johnson Hsieh believes it shows promise for most wearables that incorporate  a heart-rate sensor as “they basically all have the same technology built inside,” he told TechCrunch.

“The idea here is that by screening continuously you would identify people with hypertension who might not know they have it,” said Hsieh. “And then you’d guide them through the appropriate final diagnosis, which would be through a blood pressure cuff and then treatment.”

Cardiogram and UCSF’s study on heart health is the third major study of deep learning in medicine, following Google Brain’s results on diabetic eye disease in December of 2016 and a Stanford study on skin cancer this January.

Garmin’s new Vivosport is an ideal lightweight smart activity tracker


If you’re looking to get pretty much all the benefits of a smartwatch without a watch, and to track your activity and sport performance with tools that are more than up to the task, Garmin’s Vivosport is a strong option, with a price tag that comes in well under that of most dedicated smartwatches. It works well with both Android and iOS devices, has a built-in heart rate tracker and GPS, and provides access to all kinds of preset activity types for a range of workout options.

The Vivosport is the first Garmin wearable I’ve used for any significant length of time, and it proved a capable companion both in a smartwatch capacity, and as an activity tracker. The lightweight band is mostly polymer and silicone, with a specially strengthened glass protecting the transflective touchscreen display. It’s waterproof for wear while swimming, too, and it can last up to a week while operating in smartwatch mode, or eight hours of dedicated GPUS use – figures which were backed up by my tests, and generally resulted in around four or five days of use between charges along with daily run tracking.

Vivosport’s small screen is only 72 x 144 pixels in terms of resolution, but it’s perfectly readable in both bright sunlight and in the dark thanks to backlighting. It’s also touch sensitive, and the UI is designed with maximizing information and readability while minimizing input required in mind. I found it occasionally frustrating to get it to move forward or back, with the input resulting in the wrong action, but mostly interacting with the device on my wrist was easy enough overall.

What I really enjoyed about the Vivosport was that it offered just the right amount of smart features, with a low-profile and comfortable design ideal for all-day use. The Vivosport is the perfect wearable companion for some who isn’t a watch wearer generally, in fact, or for anyone who wants to wear one while also still wearing a traditional wristwatch on their other arm (I fall into this latter category).

The flexible silicone used in the integrated band is also a strength of this device vs. other similar products. It’s stretchy enough that you can get a good, secure fit using the smartly designed clasp (which also has a great catcher for keeping the excess band in control). You can easily find a fit that seems tight enough that you’ll get good readings from the optical heart rate monitor on the Vivosport’s underside, while also not being so tight or inflexible that it feels uncomfortable to wear.

Vivosport also doesn’t really need you to be near your phone to work – it won’t get smart notifications if you aren’t around your device, but it can track runs and other activities independently, and store up to 7 total timed activities or 14 days worth of activity tracking data between syncing. It connects to your device using Bluetooth Smart, and it’s dead simple to set up and activate, too.

Additional features include the ability to provide basic weather info, as well as find my phone features and remote controls for Garmin VIRB action cams just add to the overall value, but you don’t need to really use any of those things to make the most of the Vivosport, which at heart is a great, learning activity monitor that can track sleep, automatically increment your step goal based on your fitness level, and even automatically pause workouts while in progress. I especially enjoyed the Move IQ feature that autodetects activity even if you forget to start one manually, which

In summary, Garmin’s Vivosport is something that offers all the smartwatch features most users need, along with key health and fitness elements that could inspire better habits and improve existing routines for those with active lifestyles. If I could change anything, I’d replace the proprietary charing cable (since it means you’ll have to buy a new one if you lose it), but the Vivosport’s $199.99 asking price is a good bargain for everything you get, from the color touchscreen display to the week-long battery life and connected smartphone features.