Microsoft gives up on Band?

Various sources — including Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet — report that Microsoft has pulled all references to the Band fitness devices from the Microsoft Store online. She reports that the company responded to questions about the product with this:

We have sold through our existing Band 2 inventory and have no plans to release another Band device this year. We remain committed to supporting our Microsoft Band 2 customers through Microsoft Stores and our customer support channels and will continue to invest in the Microsoft Health platform, which is open to all hardware and apps partners across Windows, iOS, and Android devices.

I spoke with Christina Chen, then Microsoft’s General Manager, Emerging Devices Experiences, back in February. Reviewing my notes, we spoke almost exclusively about watches, and the Band never came up. She left Microsoft in April, and is now product director at YouTube gaming. Hmmm.

At any rate, it looks like Microsoft is regrouping on wearables, although maybe it’s just doubling down on sectors where it has a real play, like Hololens.

Apple Watch will take 150 minutes to charge fully

We won’t get to test battery life for the Apple Watch until it lands on wrists starting on April 24. CEO Tim Cook didn’t go into much battery detail at the Apple Watch keynote, merely promising “all-day battery life,” which apparently means 18 hours, according to Cook.

But Apple posted a helpful page on its site shortly after the event, detailing what you can expect from Apple Watch’s little battery. Surprise: Its battery life varies widely based on what you’re asking it to do.

The “all-day” claim was tested on a prototype device using 90 time checks and 90 notifications over 18 hours, or about every six minutes. It also took into account 45 minutes on an app, and a 30-minute workout. This is also the first time that Apple has publicly estimated how many times you’ll look at an Apple Watch per day — about every five minutes.

When you reach for Apple’s magnetic inductive charger, it should be able to top off your watch’s battery up to 80 percent in 90 minutes, and fully charge it in two-and-a-half hours. Apple also noted that the 42mm Apple Watches generally experiences longer battery life than the 38mm models.

Apple-Watch-MagSafe-Inductive-Charger-250x280

If you’re using the device intensely, you can expect battery life to decrease. For instance, you’ll only be able to squeeze three hours of talking out of an Apple Watch, and 6.5 hours of using it as an iPod while listening to music through Bluetooth headphones. You’ll also need to wrap up your run in under seven hours before the battery gives out.

Tests on competing Android Wear smartwatches, which also need daily charging, have generally been close to Apple’s estimates. Ars Technica tested the LG G Watch’s battery and found it lasted just under 24 hours with normal usage — which might not be the same amount of usage as Apple’s tests.

But if you’re just using Apple Watch as a, well, watch, you can expect to eke out more time without a trip back to the charger. If you check your watch every 12 minutes, you can expect two days of battery life. If you turn on Power Reserve mode, you can eke out 72 hours.

Apple’s battery predictions tend to be on the mark; it doesn’t usually exaggerate how long you can work on one of its products. So — expect to get a full day of moderate usage out of your Apple smartwatch, as long as your day only has 18 hours.

Leaked specs say HTC’s smart band works with Android and iPhone

HTC’s first wearable device is expected to debut soon and it might surprise with support for both Google Android handset and Apple iPhones. That’s based on details posted by Upleaks, which generally has a good track record at getting information in advance of product launches.

A look at the Uplinks specifications list for the HTC Petra, the reported code name for the device, reminds me much of the Microsoft Band both in functionality and potential design. For example, this won’t be a round or square watch, which is typical of similar products, due to the alleged 1.8-inch curved OLED display and its 160 x 32 resolution screen. Although that resolution sounds low to me, it would be rectangular like the Band, which uses a 320 x 106 resolution display.

Microsoft Band sensor and buttons

Upleaks says the software inside Petra is HTC’s own, not [company]Google[/company] Android Wear, which currently doesn’t support any other software platforms such as iOS or Windows Phone. The device is expected to have both Bluetooth and GPS, allowing for phone connectivity when required, but possibly used as a standalone exercise tracker on its own. Likely features include an alarm, timer, stopwatch, remote music and camera shutter control, sleep tracking, weather information and phone notifications. Battery life is expected to be three days.

If Upleaks is correct, this would be a smart approach for HTC because it gives the company a chance to branch out. Most of HTC’s current focus is on Android phones as the company has little to offer [company]Apple[/company] iPhone owners. Indeed, HTC said last month that it plans to bring “a line of connected health and fitness-related devices” in part to broaden its reach.

I’m not sure many iPhone users will bite on an HTC health-tracker with the Apple Watch shipping in two months, but it’s worth a try, particularly because a device like this shouldn’t cost nearly as much. Besides, the Android Wear market is fairly crowded already so it would be fairly difficult for HTC to differentiate itself from Samsung, Sony, Asus, LG and Motorola at this point.

Trellie launches a Swatch concept for smart rings and bracelets

Components are finally getting small and cheap enough that ladies (and gentlemen) can expect fashionable connected jewelry that won’t break the bank or their fingers, which is why the wearables market is finally seeing an explosion of devices such as Ringly, the Mota Smart Ring and the latest, Trellie. Trellie, a Kansas City, Missouri–based startup, is a bit different from its competitors because it is offering a mix-and-match product where the electronics are contained in a removable nugget.

The Trellie, like most connected jewelry, is designed to keep the wearer linked to her smartphone via a Bluetooth connection. In the case of the Trellie, it’s a notification device, giving the user LED feedback when people call or text.

The Trellie rings and nugget.

The Trellie rings and nugget.

At launch the nugget will slip inside a large cocktail ring, but the plan is for it to slip inside bracelets and other jewelry as well. The company on Monday is announcing a partnership with Glitterrings, a company that manufactures jewelry for a variety of designers including Kate Spade, Marc Jacobs and Vince Camuto. Trellie CEO Claude Aldridge says he hopes soon to launch retail partnerships with stores such as Macy’s, Nordstrom and others that will get Trellie’s products in front of customers in brick-and-mortar stores as well as on the Trellie web site.

The Trellie will be sold as a package containing a ring, a nugget and a charger for between $99 and $129, depending on the ring included. Customers can buy additional rings between $35 and $50 and just slip their nugget behind the stone. Because of the need to swap out the nugget, the rings are larger than the Ringly, which can make a slightly smaller ring because everything is integrated into one container. But there is certainly a market for a less expensive, more flexible option.

Trellie goes on sale during a pre-order campaign on the company’s web site in April 2015, and will go on sale in stores in May 2015. Maybe it would make a good Mother’s Day present?

Wirecard targets summer launch for its wrist-worn digital wallet

Last month, Wirecard unveiled a wristband device that functioned like a digital wallet, storing credit cards, ID cards and even tickets on the end of your arm. The Smart Band was only a prototype, but if all goes as planned, the German payments company will start selling a commercial version of the device this summer in Europe, Wirecard told me in a recent interview.

Given that the Apple Watch will go on sale in April, Wirecard shortly afterwards could have an alternate wearable on the market that works with a digital wallet technology other than [company]Apple[/company] Pay. And given Apple Pay won’t be available in Europe until sometime later year, a wrist-worn contactless payments technology might actually be available to Android devices before they’re available to iOS users.

Wirecard Smart Band

Wirecard’s Smart Band uses a Google-backed technology called Host Card Emulation (HCE) to securely store and transfer credit card credentials to and from a smartphone. A near field communications chip in the band then communicates with a point-of-sale terminal, working at the same places that accept Apple Pay and [company]Google[/company] Wallet.

While Smart Band technically could be a way of putting Google Wallet in a wristband, Wirecard EVP of Mobile Services Joern Leogrand said that the company isn’t in any talks with Google and doesn’t have plans to do so. Rather it wants to use Smart Band to fuel transactions on its own digital billfold, he said, as well as the mobile wallets of its partners.

Wirecard dons many hats when it comes it finance. It builds white-label technology for other companies — for instance, it’s the brains behind the mobile payments services for [company]Telefónica[/company], [company]Vodafone[/company] and [company]Deutsche Telekom[/company] — while it also runs a consumer-facing bank that issues its own prepaid cards and a peer-to-peer payments network similar to PayPal’s.

Wirecard plans to make the make Smart Band available to its own customers and partners first. The first commercial Smart Band is under development and could be available to its own cardholders in Europe by this summer, Leogrand said. Wirecard will next offering it to its white label partners, Leogrand said. Carriers like Telefónica could use the wearable breathe life into their suffering mobile payment services.

But because of HCE, which virtualizes the secure smart card used in any mobile payments service, the gadget wouldn’t necessarily be tied to a specific carrier or device. Anyone who works with Wirecard for payment processing could use the band as an extension of their mobile apps.

“It’s not set in stone how we launch the Smart Band,” Leogrand said. “We’re in the very early stages of this, and we’re open to ideas.”

The end goal is to license its technology and sell its payments processing services to other hardware makers, Leogrand said. While the Smart Band prototype included some basic fitness tracking features, that kind of technology is well outside of Wirecard’s core area of expertise. Smart Band’s payments tech would be most useful if it were integrated into other multi-purpose wearables. That could mean high-end smart watches, but also cheaper sub-$100 fitness bands, Leogrand said.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EydIoYdbS4A]

If you were hoping to test out the Smart Band in the U.S., then you’ll likely be disappointed. Until Wirecard signs some big hardware deal, the device will only be available in Europe (though European cardholders should be able to make payments on U.S. NFC terminals). Wirecard doesn’t have a banking license in the U.S.

Ringly scores $5.1M for future wearables and collaborations

Ringly, which makes a line of connected rings, has raised $5.1M in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from High Line Ventures and Silas Capital. The funds will help the New York City-based startup expand beyond offering connected rings and enable collaborations to bring its technology to other brands. It will also expand its research and development efforts to pack more sensors and sense into the tiny form factors that wearables demand.

This round brings the company’s total investment to $6.1 million and includes previous investors such as First Round Capital, Social+Capital, Mesa+, BBV and PCH. The company was created in 2013 to build a connected ring that would let women know when their phones were ringing or they had text messages while keeping their phones in their bags. It’s a common problem, but most of the solutions were bulky or ugly.

For example, I wear a Pebble watch, but it’s not something that goes well with a little black dress or even a cute tank and pair of strappy heels for a night on the town. Ringly is one of the first devices I’ve seen that gets the fashion and the tech right, by cramming in a tiny Bluetooth radio, a microcontroller, and LED and motor to offer some haptic feedback into a tiny package that fits behind a large stone in a cocktail ring. It wasn’t easy.

It’s that same package of tiny tech that Ringly CEO Christina Mercando says the company will be looking at bringing to other designs and perhaps other companies in the coming year. “We are looking at new styles and form factors using the existing technology,” she said. “The tech is so interesting and we’ll be adding new features from the software side to help you stay more connected.”

She said that Ringly will “definitely” be collaborating with other designers and brands over the coming year, but it won’t be as a white label technology package, rather as a more formal collaboration that will include the Ringly brand. So maybe we’ll see a Tory Burch for Ringly design or something a bit more fun. David Yurman appreciates a chunky hunk of jewelry.

Finally, the money will also go toward R&D for new products that will require new sensors and hardware that will open up new product possibilities for 2016. Given the plethora of new sensors and what people are trying to do with them, this could be amazing or a huge letdown. I’m going to hope for amazing since Mercando spent her time designing a ring while it seems most other companies were out there designing a smart watch.

It’s not that the market doesn’t need a smart watch, but it’s so clear that when it comes to wearables that the market will need infinite variety, and Mercando seems ready to think about form factors that others are ignoring. With plans to integrate her tech into more places and different devices, Mercando’s view of wearables is one where the technology slips seamlessly into fashion as opposed to trying to make technology the fashion. For the mainstream audience, that’s the approach I’d bet on for the long term.

For more on Ringly, check out Mercando discussing how she built the device at our Structure Connect event from October in the video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5fDy4tzgHY

Ambiq Micro has made a chip that consumes 10 times less energy

Ambiq Micro, a semiconductor company in Austin, Texas, has been working for the last five years to build a lower-power chip by applying to silicon a technology that has been used in quartz wristwatches. It has finally managed to do so in high-enough densities and manufacturing volume to make it worth the consumer electronic industry’s time.

On Monday, it launched its Apollo microcontroller, which can lower the power consumption of the tiny chips used inside wearable devices by as much as 10 times in wake mode and 38 times in sleep mode depending on the type of ARM core used inside the chip. For the consumer, this means a battery life for a smart watch or activity tracker that could last for weeks or months longer than the current standard.

Ambiq manages these lower wattages by never going above a certain voltages when sending power through the chip. Most chips send their signaling information, which determines if it is sending zeros or ones, at between 1 and 1.8 volts, but the Ambiq chip sends its information .5 volts. That means it uses much less energy overall. Ambiq has built out this technology on about $30 million in funding.

It does this without requiring fancy changes in manufacturing or a new way of writing software, which means it can be designed into existing products easily. Ambiq VP of Marketing Mike Salas says he expects to see Ambiq microcontrollers in shipping products by the middle of the year. Its microcontrollers will compete with those already on the market from Atmel, ST Microelectronics and other large chipmakers.

Salas also says that for customers of Ambiq the change in power consumption mean manufacturers can advertise longer battery life, or they could use smaller batteries and then design smaller enclosures for their electronics. As a woman who finds almost all of the smart watches on the market today to be too large, I’d love to see a slightly more delicate form factor using a smaller battery and more power-efficient chip.

Update: This story was corrected on 1/21/2015 to change Mike Salas’ title. He is VP of Marketing, not the CEO.

Wirecard’s Smart Band: A mobile wallet you wear around your wrist

When the Apple Watch comes out this year, it will have a pretty unique feature among wearables in the market: you’ll be able to buy stuff by waving the wearable at the register thanks to near field communications (NFC) chip and support for Apple Pay. But what if you don’t want to buy an Apple Watch and the necessary iPhone to connect it or you just don’t want to mess with Apple Pay? Well, a German payments company named Wirecard may just have an alternative.

Wirecard has created a wristband with an embedded NFC chip and a Bluetooth radio that connects to your smartphone. As with other the universal credit card concepts like LoopPay, Coin and Plastc; Wirecard lets you load a credit or debit card’s credentials into its device and use it to pay for goods in place of a plastic card. But instead of just emulating the digits on your card for a magnetic stripe reader, the Smart Band uses a new secure payments technology backed by Google, MasterCard and Visa called Host Card Emulation (HCE).

HCE basically creates a smart card in software, allowing it take advantage of new secure transaction technologies like tokenization. Instead of a static credit card number that any old magnetic stripe terminal can read, your credit card generates a unique number, called a token, for every transaction so merchants never see your actual card credentials. It’s the same security technology used in Apple Pay, the mobile carriers’ Softcard smartphone payments system and even some versions of the EMV chipped credit cards that are making their way into the U.S. market this year.

Wirecard Smart Band detailIn its announcement, Wirecard didn’t go into details about the bands other features, but the photo it released seems to indicate it has message notification and a weather widget (hopefully it will tell time as well). Wirecard plans to show off its financial wearable at the Digital-Life-Design conference in Munich next week, but there’s still no word yet on when the band will be available commercially or even if it would be sold outside of Europe, so I wouldn’t count on wearing your credit card on your wrist anytime soon (unless, of course, you buy an Apple Watch, expected to launch early this year).

As for the types of payment services [company]Wirecard[/company] will support, I suspect it will start with its own. The company wears many finance hats, but primarily it’s a competitor of PayPal in many overseas markets. It also issues its own [company]Visa[/company] and [company]MasterCard[/company] prepaid cards, which I imagine would be the first cards that would get digitized into Wirecard’s Smart Band.

But since the Smart Band used HCE it could feasibly work with other payment services, for instance Google Wallet. As you switched between mobile wallets, the device could reprogram itself as the smart card for each service. The NFC chip could also be used apps beyond payments. Wirecard said you could load loyalty card credentials into the band, and it could be used as a form of wireless ID. It could serve as your badge at conference, as guest pass at a resort, your ticket on a subway or key to your hotel room door.

Of course this all assumes that multiple industries adopt NFC as a contactless transaction technology – something NFC boosters have long predicted but has yet to happen. The retail industry now seems to be on board with NFC thanks to Apple Pay. But maybe putting NFC in more wearable devices could be the key to making its other applications more mainstream.

SmartWatch3_Stainless_Steel_Side_hi res

Sony SmartWatch 3

 

The [company]Apple[/company] Watch is good start, but so far NFC hasn’t made it into any Android Wear devices except Sony’s Smart Watch 3, and even that doesn’t appear to have any contactless applications just yet. Another device to look out for is Plastc’s digital card due out this summer. Though it has the standard credit card form factor, it also sports an NFC radio, meaning it could be used much the same way as Wirecard’s Smart Band for both contactless payments and as a digital ID.

CES is finally over. Here’s everything you missed

We expected CES this year to be about connecting everything from watches to toothbrushes to virtual worlds. We did see a lot of connected, crazy gadgetry and more: the FCC’s Tom Wheeler hinted at his net neutrality decision and even Twitter won an Emmy to wrap up a long, weird week in Sin City.

Here’s a complete list of our coverage, broken down by topic, so you can get caught up on all the new tech to start the year:
TV and cord cutters
Wearables
Internet of Things
Phones and tablets
Computers
Connected Cars
3D printers, VR and a dose of science

TV and cord cutters

DISH President and CEO Joe Clayton makes his entrance playing a drum with kangaroo characters at a press event for DISH at the 2015 International CES on January 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

DISH President and CEO Joe Clayton makes his entrance playing a drum with kangaroo characters at a press event for DISH at the 2015 International CES on January 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Wearables

Smartwatches the Burg 12, left, the LG G Watch R, center, and the Moto 360 are arranged for a photograph during CES in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2015.

Smartwatches the Burg 12, left, the LG G Watch R, center, and the Moto 360 are arranged for a photograph during CES in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2015.

Internet of Things

Mother smart home solution glows on a shelf during CES on Jan. 6, 2015.

Mother smart home solution glows on a shelf during CES on Jan. 6, 2015.

Phones and tablets

A LG G Flex curved smartphone is displayed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada on  Jan. 8, 2015.

A LG G Flex curved smartphone is displayed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 8, 2015.

Computers

The Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) Pavillion Mini Desktop computer is displayed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Jan. 8, 2015.

The Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) Pavillion Mini Desktop computer is displayed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Jan. 8, 2015.

Connected cars

Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive officer of Nvidia Corp., introduces the Drive CX Digital Cockpit Computer during a news conference ahead of CES on Jan. 4, 2015.

Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive officer of Nvidia Corp., introduces the Drive CX Digital Cockpit Computer during a news conference ahead of CES on Jan. 4, 2015.

3D printers, VR and a dose of science

An attendee tries out a Samsung Gear VR headset during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Jan. 6, 2015.

An attendee tries out a Samsung Gear VR headset during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Jan. 6, 2015.