Wearables, iWatch, and Biometric Data

Wearables, iWatch, and Biometric Data

(Featured image courtesy of Gizmodo.com)

Tomorrow Apple is expected to announce after months (or years) of speculation some type of watch device or wearable at a press event.  Wearables are front page news today; device makers are tripping and falling all over themselves to release and announce their product before Apple gets their big reveal tomorrow morning.  Moto 360, Motorola’s (can’t tell if its an initiative or a brand yet) thing around their wearable device concepts is in full “blast you with marketing mode”.  Mashable has a review of LG’s latest watch entry up here.  I own two watches that I wear very rarely, and even then only as an accessory to a more business-oriented look– Typically a suit.  However, my money (and excitement) is on Apple’s iWatch for some key reasons.

Wearables are very popular

I know a couple who got each other FitBit’s for the Christmas holiday and both wear them every single day.  The idea of a device that provides a “game-ification” or some sort of challenge for the user to do something is probably more successful than the device that doesn’t.  I liberally use the MyFitnessPal and Nike+ Running apps to provide an incentive and feedback on my runs, activity and diet.  My sister wears a wristband made by Jawbone called the UP.  Aside from it being a little loose, she says it’a great thing.  It provides heart rate and acts as a pedometer throughout her day.

For me, the most basic actions are already taken care of by my iPhone 5S– the M7 motion co-processor in my phone uses crazy low power, and I almost always have my phone in my pocket.  When I run, I wear an armband so I can listen to music and a combination of GPS and pedometer data ensures a high level of accuracy with my runs.  There is no doubt in my mind that among the active or fitness conscious, getting reliable feedback is a wonderful thing.

…But it needs to be multi-purpose

One of the few attributes I’d like while I run would be some heart rate and pulse data.  A few years ago while training for the Seattle Marathon some folks were using blocky pucks they strapped to their chests which communicated via Bluetooth back to dedicated running watches or a smartphone app.  There’s no question this stuff is big business, but I always felt better off because again: The thing tracking my data was already in my pocket, and that made it brain dead simple to manage, to not forget, and to adjust my “bad” behaviors.  An iWatch might purport to do all of those things.  Communicating over Bluetooth 4.0+ LE spec back to your phone, it may be packed with more sensors than display and power guts.  And because it may offer additional features we haven’t thought of yet, I think it could be rather ubiquitous.

It needs insane battery life

In my mind, Apple devices are some of the more battery-conscious items out there.  Anyone familiar with the latest versions of Mac OS X have seen the “Energy Use” tabs in Activity Monitor, and similar datapoints in iOS7.  This is a complete cultural shift away from apps running as quick as possible to apps that also run as efficiently as possible.  I love when I can get my MBP to last all day long, but that won’t happen if I’m running some stupid intensive process (or working in an IDE for that matter).  We’re all trained to charge our phones at night, but it would definitely suck if we needed to charge an iWatch each and every night.  I’m hoping this device gets very efficient storage and use technologies–I’d hate to see it die on the vine.

Rich Datapoints are King.

The things under the hood with regards to HealthKit in iOS8 are really nifty.  I don’t want to violate the terms of my NDA, but there are huge, diverse datapoints available to be used with any number of devices and apps.  It’s a strong foundation with the idea that your data is yours and you can take it and extrapolate whatever you’d need to.  I think that’s very empowering from a fitness standpoint and could help turn some of the issues plaguing Americans into things of the past eventually.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s announcement.  I’ve got no disposable income currently, but perhaps an iWatch is in my future.

Sony quits the PC business to focus on mobile

Sony quits the PC business to focus on mobile [Source: The Verge]

I know we keep talking about the demise of the traditional PC, that things are trending towards a powerful mobile device that will be cheap and easy to use.  I don’t think we’re there yet, and while I love my Apple products, I still end up juggling a lot of them.

Sony’s devices had a similar design aesthetic to Apple.  They were truly beautiful machines, designed with intent and purpose.  But while running WinTel it was hard to justify the rather insane price premium vs a completely different OS and environment like the Mac offered at the time.  Throw in that that ridiculous support of the MemoryStick format, and any other proprietary Sony technology and its easy to see why the ship began to sink.

Still sad to see fewer manufacturers out there making the devices we use every day.  I want to see an underdog arise that makes some truly mind-blowing tech.

My first Mac (Mac 512k)

My first Mac (Mac 512k)

Apple is running a little retrospective on their site today as it is the 30-year anniversary of the release of the first Macintosh.  That so much of my life has been driven and changed by computers and technology–it’s kind of scary to think about it now.  I think of (honestly) all the things I’ve been able to create on a Mac that may not have been generated in the first place.

My first Mac was a Macintosh 512k.  It was released in 1984 and shipped with System Software 4, though this could be improved with the 20 Mb hard drive that was an optional “accessory”.  My parents purchased one used as a deal when I was 5, so that must’ve been 1988-89.  After coming from a TRS-80 with a yellow-tint monochrome display, the Mac was a treat.  It had a one-button mouse with a satisfying click.  It allowed us to plug in an external Hayes 1200 bps modem and connect to the rest of the world.  The 20 Mb HDD was a large as the base of the Mac and fit underneath it as a pedestal. (more…)

Apple WWDC 2011

The last couple of weeks have been kind of an onslaught for nerds and geeks out there. E3, the annual gaming expo in Los Angeles happened, as well as Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conf.) in San Francisco. Both events were multi-day affairs, and I’ll get to E3 in a later post.

At WWDC Apple unveiled iOS5 as well as some additional peeks at OSX Lion. I’m gagged by an NDA, at least until July when Lion comes out, and September when iOS5 finally launches. However, that doesn’t preclude me from speaking about the features that have already been outed by others and Apple. Up first:

iCloud is a service that has been talked about for almost year now ever since Apple finished building a massive data center in North Carolina. Prior to the announcement I thought that the service would behave much like other cloud services out there: storing remote copies of my data to allow them to be pulled down later. iCloud Logo Backup, simple file storage/versioning, and web services provisioning (considering MobileMe is being killed off).

The reality is much, much different. What I’ve seen thus far is a backup service for all of my apps, and a remote pull for new device restores. As a developer I can store key/value pairs for things into the user’s space on the cloud, and poll to get those items back. This is the credible answer to lack of a “file system” on the iOS. The service also seems to be built around “cutting the cord” when it comes to syncing all of the devices. Snapping photos and storing them in the Pictures app sends them to the cloud to be asynchronously pulled back down to other devices that you’ve pre-selected. It apparently only does this for the last 1000 photos which again suggests that this service is really structured around backing temporary data up as a user background feature rather than an active process.

Music syncing is kinda crazy though: Apple will sync your entire library to the cloud and allow you store 25,000 songs up there. It’ll automatically pull down the iTunes purchased data and those assets will not count toward your file size or count limits. In a twist, the service will also scan your existing library of files (that you may or may not have legitimately acquired) and if it finds a suitable iTunes song match, it’ll let you “store” or at least pull down a 256-kbit AAC version of that same file! Apple only needs to store one version of the file out on the cloud, and we all just have a handle to it. This feature is slated to cost $24.99/year, but I’m wondering if I get to keep those high-encode files once I stop paying.

I’m not sure whether or not this is an “outed” feature yet, but I’ll give my big thumbs up to being able to download or update apps asynchronously. Finally, no in-order waiting for 30 updates to download to my phone.

Notifications: Prior to loading the new OS, I actually had turned off notifications for just about every app except for Boxcar which became badge only. Turns out Apple felt my pain a bit and launched an all new interface for them. You can now swipe them from the lock screen to be taken directly to the app generating the notification, as wel as access them from a “roll-down” interface by pulling down from the clock. They seem like lightweight widgets when accessed from the roll-down, and my understanding from other’s screenshots is that the weather and stocks apps will be updated to store some data in this tray. Nifty!

Location-based alerts sound awesome. Being able to pinpoint a 4D point in space/time and have your device remind you to “Pick up a book of a stamps” or whatever you need is perfect. Again, building these things in at the OS level is incredibly smart because developers will be able to bring the best representations of these services to the surface.

There are a gazillion more features in the pack including AirPlay mirroring (which I’ll talk about in a later post) but these are the few most important to me. Moving onto Lion for a second, I’ve noticed that OpenGL 3 is not one of the big features mentioned in their list. Snow Leopard’s feature doc listed OpenGL (as well as OpenAL) prominently. Why does this matter? Sadly, the current version of Mac OS only supports Open GL 2.X extensions, and none of the newer shader programming that accompanies today’s rich media applications. Literally, they are two versions behind which is odd for an OS that could easily integrate these libraries into the OS considering they have a specific hardware target. Hopefully we’ll find that all out in a few weeks here when Lion drops on the App Store as a digital download.

Digital Wallet: NFC’s, Google, and Square

I’ve written about the coming of Near-Field Communication (NFC) devices a few times here. You can refer back to these posts for a bit of a primer. In the past few weeks though everything has really started to take off, and in an area that I really don’t plan to use that much.

 

First, meet Google Wallet.Google Wallet Logo Google’s new service allows you to essentially embed the same data that would be transmitted using prior NFC technology, notably MasterCard’s PayPass system except this time the data is phone accessible and put out by the phone’s internal NFC chip. Cool, eh? Instead of wiping my debit card over a PoS terminal, I could wave my Android-based phone. Aside from the geek factor, or perhaps more aptly put: the novelty factor I find myself wondering how this could be extremely useful. I’ve done the PayPass thing once at a 7-Eleven to pay for my slurpee– it was odd, the checker had no idea what I was doing, and still I had to do it twice for the thing to go through– he had to manipulate something on the terminal first. Couple things I learned that day– It was only useful for purchases under $10, and aside from using it someplace small (like 7-Eleven) where the hell are you only spending $10?

Of course, this is good for MasterCard and other CC companies– they charge upwards of 5-10% of each transaction that runs through that terminal. By making it easier I’m sure they’re gaining an impressive revenue streamer. If you’ve got a friend who owns a small business (like me) ask em what they lose on CC transaction fees. It’s quite ridiculous.

So your credit card company gets some good stuff out of it, but what about you? Google Wallet aims to make it easier to track fraudulent purchases or inspect some of the data about your purchase. Of course, Google has to get their’s too so somewhere that data can be anonymized to help make the Google system better. Do you want that? It’s up to you– I use Google Checkout and a host of other services provided by the big G, and while I am cavalier about it…somewhere you’ve gotta draw a line.

On the other end you have a (relatively) new kid on the block, Square. Square provides a cool headphone-based dongle that allows anyone, anywhere to record a transaction with a credit card and get money.Square in Action For the small biz owner, or the need to grab funds from an acquaintance or friend is quite useful. Square charges 2.75% of the total transaction, much less than owning a CC terminal with any of the “Big Three”. I myself own a dongle (partially because it was free to get), but have yet to use it in a biz transaction. It seems much easier to send off invoices and wait for folks to pay you.

A couple of weeks ago the Apple rumor mill went active with mutterings that Apple would start using the Square devices in-store to replace their handheld POS-CC readers that are packaged as “gloves” around the iPhones in store. Square did indeed launch something, but nowhere near as large as “teh interwebs” were making it out to be. A digital wallet sure, but in essence many virtual cards that were to be used at specific retailers. Personally I think that’s the wrong way to head, but I’m not an investor in Square. Anyway, I thought this would be a huge mistake because I feel that Apple will have to include NFC capability in the next iDevice they release. Google’s Nexus S already has the tech built in, and I think they’d be stupid not to include it in the next iteration.

Can I let slip what I really want this tech for? Identification. Screw payment stuff, it’s got higher-than-normal security issues, and someone else is making the cash. I looking to abolish things like Tradeshow badges, stickers that say “Hi, My Name Is”, and create some really cool uses for this extra bit of data. Think about it: It’s Bump without Bumping, it’s Bluetooth transfers finally, the way they were meant to be designed. It’s the old several connected devices. It’s your personal cloud, all the time. Sure it has some risks, but the first uses of this technology are going to be nifty.

Disclaimer: I own Apple and Google stock.

Apple Thunderbolt

Seems like almost one year ago I was writing about the merits of Intel’s Light Peak technology, a promised fiber-optic based interconnect that enable fast connectivity to a variety of bus interconnects.
Thunderbolt Logo
Finally, Light Peak is here, however it has been rebranded as Apple’s Thunderbolt technology and the current infrastructure in the launch is still…copper. :(, yeah big frownie face. Essentially what they’ve done is rebrand their Mini-Displayport interface port as a an all-in-one Thunderbolt interface. Good news is this means that existing cables and accessories that use this port can continue to be used, and in theory more bits can be pushed down that port. The bad news is…well…there aren’t any devices yet to take advantage of this port and its boost in speeds.

I’m also thinking that this could be a big boon to new, incredibly fast serialized devices that push standards forward. Apple helped pioneer the FireWire port back in the late 90’s– I’m hoping they can do something about how long it takes me to dump 250 gigs of data to my external hard drive.

And yes…I’m a wee bit jealous about those new fast 17″ MacBook Pro’s.

One area that I didn’t touch on in my last post was the increased bandwidth available for audio applications such as Pro Tools or Logic. Most of this stuff comes in FireWire now, and while I haven’t really seen anyone complain about a bandwidth crunch on the bus while doing recording, I’m sure having more lanes to cram more bits down can’t really hurt.

main_image_1993Finally, Intel also reports that Apple has a one-year head start on using the technology. I’m assuming that means that Apple will have one year of exclusivity before the technology starts being available for use in other competing devices. I’m not sure what that gets Apple considering there aren’t any peripherals currently that can really take advantage of this. If I were to hazard a guess, you’ll start seeing manufacturers support the port during CES 2012.

NFC’s becoming Mainstream!

NFC’s or Near Field Communication devices are apparently becoming more and more mainstream.  In short, they combine both an RFID antenna and a tag in one unified device.  When interrogating another device, it can quickly swap information: URL’s, image data, text, etc.  Perhaps another way to describe it is to say that its like extreme short-wave Bluetooth, without the authentication.  If I wanted to go someplace and hand a piece of digital content to someone today, I’d typically use Bluetooth (yuck: pairing, passwords, acceptance screens) or an app like Bump (fun: but needs specific devices).  Hopefully in the near future you’ll be able to swap data with other NFC devices with no authentication.

Nokia NFC Trial

Imagine being able to hand out a PDF automatically on the show floor.  You could set your device to automatically receive these items and put them in stasis somewhere until you were sure you wanted them.  Or maybe a clothing item has some detail in the tag that allow you to store it online in the digital storefront for later retrieval?

Google’s Nexus S is the only smartphone I know of to currently have an NFC system built-in, or at least expected to in 2011.  Rumors here, apparently point to Apple potentially hiring some folks to participate in this development.  (Disclaimer: I own some Apple shares.)  I think this is great…the more widespread this technology gets, the better.

In fact, I used NFC’s as the core of a recent RFP I did.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find NFC-equipped devices that would work so I had to make my own: I coupled RFID cards together with an intelligent media player.  Assuming it lands, I’ll get  a chance to show you exactly what it is.

iOS 4 – Some Glitches…

iOS4 is out today and I gotta say I’m having a bit of a love/hate relationship here. First off, I lost my damn contacts. I didn’t actually lose them but when I went to use my smartphone in a smart manner it didn’t really work. I ended up having to do a hard-sync to a more out of date version of my cloud version of Google Contacts. Talk about frustrating…and to my knowledge this issue still isn’t solved. I also had some wonkiness in the Clock app of all things– titlebar flashed green as if I was in a call and it kinda got the timer numbers all screwy there. I did a hard reboot and all is good now…I think.

But on to the OS pack– it’s very fast on my 3GS. I like the new draw animations, and the addition of Folders for droppings Apps is great. Even the spellcheck is a nice addition because I’m tired of typing the word “ducking” all the time. Use your imagination.

Here’s my last gripe: Freaking multi-tasking. Apple, why would I want to leave the Settings app up, or Messaging? How about the damn Clock app? Why don’t you have a whitelist or at least a preference setting that would allow me to specify a “Never multitask” or “Always quit (for real)”?? I can only assume there’s an iOS4.1 update around the corner.

I noticed this release contains the same serial as the 4.0 GM Seed that we developers had access to. I had it loaded, but maybe I’ve got some glitches because of that…oh well.

More as it develops…

MacBook Pro: One Week Later

I’ve now had my MBP for one week of semi-active use. My primary machine at work has been a 4-year old Dell 17″ Insipron loaded with Windows7 x 64. Over the past week I’ve found a lot to love about my new Mac, notwithstanding the abiliity to actually run the iPhone Simulator in a resolution that actually fits it on the screen. I’ve loaded Parallels 5 and it’s really taken care of the necessary evil of running PC apps on my Mac. It’s seamless, reasonably fast (once the VM is running in my session) and it totally took the Win7 install perfectly.

I’ve also loaded some of the Pro Apps, lamely Logic. I’d like to spend a bit more time with it but I just haven’t had the time. I’ve cheked out some of the tutorials over at macprovideo.com, but I haven’t purchased anything yet. Some big changes are coming in my career that should allow me the time to do some of those things. For now I’m settling for ramping back up in the iPhone SDK (OS4 baby!) and following along with the StanfordU classes. Now that I’ve got a legit machine hopefully I’ll be submitting something to the App Store soon.

Intel Light Peak Technology

I do occasionally scout the forums on MacRumors but like any good forum out there it is really hit or miss. Aside from the grandstanding of folks who’ve apparently tirelessly been waiting for an Apple MBP update who now believe they were “screwed” and will be waiting for the next revision, it tends to be ground zero for some of the new Apple technologies coming soon.

One of those technologies is Intel’s Light Peak tech. In short it replaces a copper wire based bus system internally with one made of fiber-optic conduit. I’ve read some reports that suggest Apple originally came to Intel with the need/want to reduce the physical size of the cable bundles inside its machines.

Closeup of fiber-optic connector

Light Peak Connector

In a machine with some breathing room the 4-wire USB bundle doesn’t seem large, but given how many ports are used in portable machines today and that space is a premium in those enclosures I can see the problem.

Unfortunately the tech isn’t ready for primetime, yet. Engadget ran a story yesterday that reported that Intel is claiming it’ll probably be ready for primetime late this year or early next year. One of the things they’re still working on is providing power to these ports in addition to data. That means augmenting those fiber bundles with some copper to carry electrons back and forth (bummer) with those photons.

LightPeak coexisting with USB3

Light Peak coexisting with USB3

Back to MacRumors for a second: There’s a little kerfluffle there about waiting for this technology to supplant USB3.0. I don’t think that’s going to happen: From what I understand the end-use ports can still be ferried information via LightPeak’s project 10 GB/s throughput. The end user will still be able to use whatever ports they’d like but internally manufacturers could use cables with a lot less bulk and connect them to an insanely speedy bus.

Personally I’m excited to see this tech out in the mainstream. Let’s hope Intel continues getting their act together.