A Week With The Shine, A Beautifully-Designed Smart Activity Tracker Made From Japanese Metal

shine3

Fitbits. Fuelbands. Ups. The market for smart, connected activity trackers continues to get ever-more crowded. And yet, there’s not an obvious winner yet.

Misfit Wearables’ Shine is a new entrant in the space and they may have the most beautifully-designed piece of hardware yet. The company behind the Shine is itself a homage to Apple founder Steve Jobs’ famous “Think Different” campaign and the famous 1997 commercial that began with the line, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits.

Backed by Founders Fund and Khosla Ventures, the company was co-founded by Sonny Vu, who built up a glucose monitoring business called Agamatrix that had the first official medical device add-on to the iPhone, and former Apple CEO John Sculley. For a small startup, they have an impressively multi-national team with industrial designers in San Francisco, data scientists in Vietnam and manufacturing in South Korea and Japan.

The Shine is a tiny circle not much larger than a quarter that’s made from Japanese metal or aircraft-grade aluminum. It has LED lights beneath the surface that glow through minuscule holes on the metal itself. Those lights form a ring, indicating how far a person is toward completing their activity goals for the day. You tap the Shine twice to see how much progress you’ve made. If half the lights shine, you’re halfway done. If they complete a circle, then you’ve hit your goal.

I had a chance to test it out for a week or so, tracking everything from regular walks to dancing and downhill mountain biking. 

Overall, I love the product. It looks like a piece of jewelry in many ways, and while I’m not an industrial designer myself, several other friends who work in hardware were impressed by the make and form of the Shine.

It is not plastic like a Fitbit. Then because it doesn’t have to be worn as a bracelet like the Fuelband or Jawbone Up, it looks a lot more elegant, especially if you’re a woman and want something more discreet. The Shine costs about the same as its competitors with a $ 99.95 price tag. The Fitbit is about $ 99.95, the Jawbone Up is $ 129.99 and the Nike Fuelband is about $ 150.

The Shine has four different accessories: a wristband, a necklace, a watch and a magnetic clip that makes it easy to attach anywhere, from your shoe to your sleeve to your shirt. My preferred accessory was the magnetic clip, but I didn’t have a chance to try out the necklace or watch.

Throughout the day, The Shine tracks how much you walk or run. It also handles sleep, swimming and cycling, but you have to program it. To do that, you tap the Shine three times, and it will recognize whichever activity you set up in the paired app. Unfortunately, like the other activity trackers, it doesn’t handle yoga (and as someone who practices pretty much every day, the Shine and other competing products are missing out on an hour of physical activity).

The tapping is a bit hard to learn. Sometimes I would tap with two fingers and sometimes with three. Sometimes the Shine would misinterpret a few taps as a signal to record a different type of activity instead of showing me my results so far. You can also use it to tell time with different lights glowing to represent the hour and minute hands of a watch.

“The data science to get the double tap is hard,” Vu told me. “There is no on and off button for the Shine and everything is powered by sensors.”

Indeed, the only way to turn the Shine off is for the battery to run out or for you to remove it.

That underscores the huge benefit of the Shine, which is that it doesn’t need to be charged every few days or few weeks. It has a simple coin cell battery that needs to be replaced once every four to six months. It’s also waterproof to a depth of 50 meters. I dunked it in a river in the Sierra Nevadas this weekend and it came out fine, but you could theoretically scuba drive with it too.

The data transfer to the iPhone is also beautiful. You can see how it works below. The Shine uses a simple Bluetooth connection and the app directs you to place the Shine on a circle on the iPhone app’s screen. Circles radiate outward before the iPhone picks up the activity data in the Shine.

The paired app tells you how many points you’ve achieved in a day. The Shine doesn’t do “steps” because it would be hard to swim in steps. The middle range goal of 1,000 points per day requires walking for 1.5 hours, running for 35 minutes or swimming for 25. You can move points higher as you please.

Overall, I was really happy with the product. It is just that much more beautiful looking than the standard Fitbit or Fuelband. For women who are turned off by the look of the bracelet trackers, it’s probably the ideal choice.

The Misfit Shine is only compatible with the iPhone for now, which was surely disappointing for Android-using supporters of the Shine who backed it on Indiegogo.

The company had a successful campaign on the crowdfunding site late last fall where they racked up 8,000 supporters in 64 countries, hit their goal in nine hours and went on to raise $ 850,000. That was nearly nine times as much as they targeted. Like many other hardware startups, Misfit Wearables used crowdfunding more as a marketing strategy than as a capital source. Misfit had no problem raising from some of the Valley’s better-known VC firms, and this product shows why.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Nexus 7 Trade-Ins Suggest Lots Of Upgraders To New Model, Little To No Interest From The iPad Crowd

nexus7-refreshed

The new Google Nexus 7 is a big improvement over the original with a bunch of additions like LTE and a super high-resolution display – the best in tablets, in fact. And that’s driving a lot of first generation device owners to trade in their old Nexus 7, according to gadget buy-back site Gazelle. There was a 333 percent spike in the number of Nexus 7 tablets traded in compared to the same day last week, for example.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, that spike was even higher – a 442 percent jump in Nexus 7 tablets happened between the day before Google’s official unveiling of the new model, and the day of. The Nexus 7 trade-in activity spiked so high that it made up nearly a quarter of all trade-ins for non-iPad tablets since the site began accepting them earlier this year.

Wednesday, the day Google made its announcement, was also the biggest Nexus 7 trade-in day at Gazelle to date, beating the next biggest day by 380 percent. That previous record was set when the new Nexus 7 leaked on July 17, which clearly prompted early adopters to take advantage of a small head start ahead of the big reveal.

The news means that Google Nexus 7 owners are probably happy with their devices and eager to grab new ones, by trading in their last-gen devices to fund their purchases, but there’s another stat that tells another side of the story: Gazelle saw no appreciable increase in iPad trade-ins on the new Nexus 7 launch day. That means Google probably isn’t luring iPad owners away from the iOS fold.

It’s probably not surprising to longtime tablet space watchers that the new Nexus 7, with all its apparent merit, isn’t an iPad killer. The Apple camp seems happy where they are, but the tablet market has plenty of room to grow; we’ll see if Google can expand outward, or if it’s mostly eating its own Nexus tail with this new model.


TechCrunch » android

Nexus 7 Trade-Ins Suggest Lots Of Upgraders To New Model, Little To No Interest From The iPad Crowd

nexus7-refreshed

The new Google Nexus 7 is a big improvement over the original with a bunch of additions like LTE and a super high-resolution display – the best in tablets, in fact. And that’s driving a lot of first generation device owners to trade in their old Nexus 7, according to gadget buy-back site Gazelle. There was a 333 percent spike in the number of Nexus 7 tablets traded in compared to the same day last week, for example.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, that spike was even higher – a 442 percent jump in Nexus 7 tablets happened between the day before Google’s official unveiling of the new model, and the day of. The Nexus 7 trade-in activity spiked so high that it made up nearly a quarter of all trade-ins for non-iPad tablets since the site began accepting them earlier this year.

Wednesday, the day Google made its announcement, was also the biggest Nexus 7 trade-in day at Gazelle to date, beating the next biggest day by 380 percent. That previous record was set when the new Nexus 7 leaked on July 17, which clearly prompted early adopters to take advantage of a small head start ahead of the big reveal.

The news means that Google Nexus 7 owners are probably happy with their devices and eager to grab new ones, by trading in their last-gen devices to fund their purchases, but there’s another stat that tells another side of the story: Gazelle saw no appreciable increase in iPad trade-ins on the new Nexus 7 launch day. That means Google probably isn’t luring iPad owners away from the iOS fold.

It’s probably not surprising to longtime tablet space watchers that the new Nexus 7, with all its apparent merit, isn’t an iPad killer. The Apple camp seems happy where they are, but the tablet market has plenty of room to grow; we’ll see if Google can expand outward, or if it’s mostly eating its own Nexus tail with this new model.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

The Problem With Android’s New “Kid Mode”

nexus10kid

With the release of the newest version of Google’s Android operating system (version 4.3, still known as Jelly Bean), the company is making Android tablet computers, like its own Nexus 10 and newly announced Nexus 7, more appealing to parents. Android 4.3 includes a new feature called “Restricted Profiles,” which, more simply put, is the introduction of a “kid’s mode” for Android.

The move to implement parental controls comes at a time when Apple’s iPad has claimed the leading position in the tablet market it helped to forge, attracting the majority of developer interest and revenue when it comes to applications designed for children, and otherwise.

But as these computers find their way into the hands of ever-younger children, Apple’s lack of more intelligent, granular controls has become an increasingly common problem for parents who want to provide a safer experience for their children. This is the area Google is now trying to attack.

Android Takes On Apple’s “Restrictions,” Kindle FreeTime

Apple’s iOS operating system has long since included restrictions, but these have been largely limited to global on/off switches that let children either access core Apple features, like iTunes or Safari, or not. They can also prevent kids from deleting or installing apps, downloading apps and music of a certain rating, or accessing in-app purchases, among other things.

However, the issue with parental controls based on ratings alone is that they can end up hiding apps parents approve of, to a point. Netflix, for example, which already has its own “Just for Kids” section (though not yet user profiles of its own), makes it an app some parents may want to permit for younger children, but couldn’t if opting for parental controls, due to Netflix’s “12+” age rating.

Then there are other cases where the parent is fine with the app’s content itself, but needs to restrict the in-app purchase mechanism. This too, seems like a fine idea, until the kid returns to you time and again asking you to please, please, please let them buy virtual goods or power-ups, or whatever else the app developer is pushing in their desperate attempt to eke out some pocket change in an ecosystem that’s rapidly adopting the free-to-play business model.

The problem with Apple’s controls to date has led some users to implement some creative solutions. For example, when I previously called out Apple’s need for a “kid mode,” commenters railed that I hadn’t considered “Guided Access” as an option. For those unfamiliar, Guided Access is akin to a kiosk mode, which limits the device to running a single app and lets you disable select areas of the screen. While you can hack this into a one-off solution for an app, to pretend it’s a kid mode is quite a stretch. Children capable of using an iPad on their own — which is generally possible before they’re even out of diapers — want to move from app to app, and Guided Access requires a parent’s constant attention as kids’ short attention spans waver. After all, if you’re planning to sit with the child the entire time they’re using the tablet, you hardly need a parental control solution — because that’s you. Parental controls are meant to stand in for the parent when they’re not nearby.

Apple, relying on its position as the tablet market leader, has forced others like Amazon with its Kindle Fire to compete on feature set, including parental controls. With its “Kindle FreeTime” option, Amazon has been the one to beat in terms of smarter restrictions, with options for profiles, content whitelists, and even daily time limits. Now Google is upping the game yet again, with fine-grain controls in the core Android operating system.

How Android’s Restricted Profiles Work

The new addition of restricted profiles on Android 4.3 are interesting because of how granular the controls can become.

Google explains that parents will now be able to essentially whitelist the apps that will display under the child’s login (Android 4.3 had already introduced the concept of user profiles). But what’s more, parents will also now be able to drill down into various, customized settings within individual apps in order to be very specific about what sort of content their child can access. For example, the parent could restrict more general annoyances like the child’s ability to change the app’s language or attempt to enter the app’s own parental control panel.

You could also prevent the app from sending push messages about updates or new products, or prevent the app from accessing the child’s location. Most importantly, you can also control access to in-app purchases on a per-app level. And not only that, but Android 4.3 can allow whether or not the in-app purchases even display within the application.

This all sounds like a parent’s dream come true. Or, at least, a geek parent who has been longing for advanced, technical controls of this nature. But there’s a catch. Developers will have to take advantage of Android 4.3′s restricted profile API in order to implement these fine-grain controls for parents, and it’s unclear what their advantage is for doing so.

But Wait! Developers Have To Opt In

As noted above, the app ecosystem is already seeing the number of paid apps decline, as users overwhelmed by choice are opting for free apps and games that choose to monetize through ads or in-app purchases. And Android app developers are struggling to generate revenue in comparison to those on iPhone or iPad, with an average app price of just 6 cents to iPhone’s 19 cents and iPad’s 50 cents, for instance. Why would they rush to implement a control that would then directly cut into their ability to make a profit? It may not be right to pitch in-app content to susceptible children, but this is exactly what some of the top app makers are doing.

Plus, there’s the larger problem of children’s app makers building for iOS first, in search of revenue and user adoption. This is true whether smaller startups or big-name kid’s brands like Nick or Disney (and more). The kid’s content just isn’t there yet, and many of the apps that do exist aren’t up to the quality of the iOS selection.

For many reasons, those in the business of providing parental control and “kid mode” software of their own to Android owners don’t currently see the Android implementation a threat to their companies. “This might be a threat for simple parental controls apps, for KIDO’Z this is not,” says CEO of the kid mode app KIDO’Z, whose software is preloaded on over 20 low-end Android tablets aimed at kids.

Anooj Shah, co-founder of parental control software Kytephone, agrees. “The user profiles won’t affect parental control providers as they offer a larger feature set,” he says. “User profiles offered by Google are perfect for casual use when sharing tablets among a family, rather than ensuring the tablets are used responsibly by the kids.”

So for parents, the larger takeaway for now is that there are still many trade-offs when it comes to making the “family tablet” purchase. Ultimately, this addition is a boon to those who were considering (a non-Kindle) Android tablet anyway. But it won’t mean you no longer need additional parental control software, and based on its merits alone, it probably won’t drive parents to choose or switch from iPad.

Image credits: Shutterstock, Google, Cnet, Apple


TechCrunch » android

Home 3D Printers Emit Some Nasty Stuff, Researchers Find

Image (2) full-color-3d-printing.jpg for post 133037

Home 3D printers – particularly FDM, Makerbot-like devices – are still in their infancy and, as such, are untested when it comes to safety. That’s why some researchers at the Built Environment Research Group at the Illinois Institute of Technology decided to test a popular model for ultrafine particle emissions, a measure of how much junk these things emit while in use.

The result? PLA, a starch-based material, emitted 20 billion particles per minute while ABS, a plastic, emitted 200 billion. This is similar in scale to using a gas stove, lighting a cigarette, or burning a scented candle. In short, it’s a significant but of potential pollution in an unfiltered environment but it’s nothing we don’t do to ourselves on a daily basis already.

The study didn’t take into account what materials were being expelled, which makes it a bit more troubling. For example, according to PhysOrg, ABS is known to be toxic in lab rats but PLA, oddly enough, is used in nanotechnology for the delivery of medicines.

What’s the takeaway? Ventilate your 3D printer.

Because most of these devices are currently sold as standalone devices without any exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, results herein suggest caution should be used when operating in inadequately ventilated or unfiltered indoor environments. Additionally, these results suggest that more controlled experiments should be conducted to more fundamentally evaluate particle emissions from a wider arrange of desktop 3D printers.

Obviously these devices are designed for home and office use and probably will never end up under a lab-grade ventilation hood. However, given the various processes used to make 3D objects, it’s important that this research is done to reduce the effects of UFPs on children who may be using these in schools as well as the teachers, designers, and makers who use them on a daily basis.

You can read the entire paper here or just turn on a fan.
via Physorg

TechCrunch » Gadgets