Competitive Ruling Will Bring New Generation Of Swiss-Made Smartwatches

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The Swatch Group has long been the primary movement supplier to the majority of Swiss (and non-Swiss) watch manufacturers. These movements – essentially the guts of the watch – have powered 60 percent of the world’s watches in the past decade. That’s about to end.

WEKO, the Swiss competition commission, has required Swatch to supply these movements in order to ensure that watch prices wouldn’t rise stratospherically when manufacturers began making their own movements. Swatch, for example, owns the ETA movement brand, manufacturer of hundreds of thousands of movements per year. This new ruling will allow Swatch to reduce its manufacturing efforts and increase its R&D expenditure.

Why is this important? Well it means that Samsung, Sony, and the like are about to get a competitor. Because Swatch, one of the most popular watch brands, has an international foothold, it could, in theory, create smartwatches for the masses. While Swatch has traditionally had trouble making popular smartwatches and, in fact, has had trouble understanding consumer technology, Swatch could partner with technology providers to produce an interesting amalgam of old and new tech.

Obviously the Swiss watch industry is, shall we say, a bit old-fashioned and is facing quite a few tough competitors. However, given a bit of marketing savvy and some R&D investment the shackles holding the company to its many customers could soon be broken.

via Quartz

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Android 4.4 KitKat Targets Google’s Next Billion Users, Adds Pervasive Search & Improves Google Now

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Today Google announced details of its long-awaited Android 4.4 KitKat operating system for the first time, going beyond just the candy bar branding. KitKat is designed around three major tentpoles, Google told TechCrunch, including reaching the next billion (it previously announced 1 billion activations) Android users, putting so-called Google “smarts” across the entire mobile experience, and building for what comes next in mobile devices.

Google said that Android is growing at three times the speed of developed markets in developing countries; but the phones that are catching on in those markets are mostly running Gingerbread, a version of Android that’s now many versions out of date. These phones, however, have lower specs with only around 512MB of memory available, and Gingerbread is what’s required to fit within those tech requirements.

That presented a technical challenge Google was keen to tackle: How to build KitKat in such a way that it can bring even those older and lower-specced devices up-to-date, to help provide a consistent experience across the entire Android user base. That mean reducing OS resources, and then also modifying Google apps to stay within those boundaries, as well as rethinking how the OS manages available memory to make the most of what is present.

None of this was enough, however, so Google went further to help third-party developers also offer their content to everyone on Android, rather than just those with the top-tier devices. A new API in KitKat allows devs to determine what amount of memory a phone is working with, and serve a different version of the app to each, making it possible for the same application to run on even the earliest Android devices.

“People generally launch new versions of operating systems and they need more memory,” Android chief Sundar Pichai said at a Google event today. “Not with KitKat. We’ve taken it and made it run all the way back on entry level phones. We have one version of the OS that’ll run across all Android smartphones in 2014.”

That’s the single biggest feature being announced here: Google wants to get everyone on the same platform, and is doing more than it ever has to end the fragmentation problem. One version over the next year is a hugely ambitious goal, but if the company is serious about not only serving a growing developing market, but offering it something like software version parity, it seems like it’s finally figured out how to go about doing that. It’ll still be up to manufacturers to decide whether or not devices get the KitKat upgrade, Google notes, so we’ll probably still see a fair amount of older devices get left out via official update channels.

Here’s what’s coming with KitKat, which launched on the new Nexus 5 today.

Lock & Home Screen

Aside from making KitKat the One OS To Rule Them All, Google has also introduced a number of new features with this update. Album art is displayed full screen behind the lockscreen when music is playing, for instance, and you can scrub the track without unlocking. There’s a new launcher, with translucency effects on the navigation bar and on the top notification bar.

Long-pressing a blank space on any homescreen zooms out to allow you to re-arrange them all, and when you’re running an app that is written for full-screen, the navigation bar and the notification bar both now disappear entirely from view.

Launcher-specific stuff is Nexus-only initially, of course, and whether some of these elements make their way to manufacturer-specific home screens will depend on those OEMs.

Dialer

Android now offers up a new dialer, which incorporates search for easy reference. This means you can enter the name of a business even if you don’t know it’s number or have it stored in your address book, and then the dialer will retrieve it from the same database that powers Google Maps. It’s incorporating local data, as well as looking for the name used in your search. This also allows the phone to provide caller ID information for incoming calls, too, and there’s a new auto-populating favorites menu that builds a list of your most frequent dialled numbers.

Hangouts

Google has indeed consolidated the entire text/video/MMS experience with Hangouts, as predicted. It replaces the default messaging app, and allows you to send an SMS just as you would’ve before, to a number or to someone in your contact book. There’s also a new Places button for sharing map locations, and emoji support is finally built-in to your software keyboard.

This is the iMessage equivalent that Android has been lacking thus far. It’s going to be a tremendously useful feature, especially for those who are transitioning to Android from BlackBerry in that next 5 billion Google is adamantly pursuing.

You can now attach photos to communications not only from your local library, but also from Google Drive, and from Box, as well. Any third-party provider can provide a hook to be included, according to Google, which is impressive considering that Google isn’t limiting things to its own ecosystem.

Camera


New HDR+ software is built-in to Android KitKat, which has no apparent changes to the surface user experience – a device owner just snaps the shutter button. Behind the scenes, however, Google’s mobile OS is taking many photos at once, and fusing the best parts of each together seamlessly to come up with a better end product. Lights appear more natural, faces are visible even when backlighting threatens to overwhelm, and moving objects are more in focus.

HDR+ is Nexus 5-only to start, but Google says they’re looking to bring it to other devices later on, too.

Wireless Printing

Developers can now add printing to individual apps, and Google will work with building it out for additional manufacturers, too, something it says is “easy” to accomplish. Right now, any HP wireless printer works with the system, and any printer that already supports Google Cloud Print will also be able to take advantage of the new feature.

Google Search

Search is at the core of Google’s overall product experience, the company explained, so it’s doing more to make that accessible on mobile. Search is now on every homescreen by default in Android, and it supports hotwording, so that you can just say “Okay, Google” to get search up and running at any time, much like you would on Glass.

Speech is crucial to Google with this update, and it said it was proud of its improvements so far; the error rate of speech recognition dropped 20 percent last year, and there’s been a 25 percent increase in overall speech recognition accuracy over the past few years, according to Pichai. Using voice recognition also now allows you to tap a word and bring up a list of alternatives to select from. The system also now asks more clarifying questions, using natural language, to ensure better service overall.

Google Now

Google Now has been updated to be accessed via a swipe form the left side of the screen, which is a tweak from when it was accessed via swiping up in previous versions of Android. Google also focused on answering questions like “How can we help users in more ways, and bring up the most relevant content?” with this update, which means new types of cards.

Now can now figure out that The Walking Dead is a favorite show of the user, for instance, and offer up articles related to it and its progress. So not only is Google Now aware of your surroundings and schedule, but also what type of content you’re interested in. It can also note which blogs you check regularly, and provide you info about when new posts appear; in other words, Google is adding some of the features that were core parts of Google Reader to Now, and making them more contextually-aware.

It can also incorporate crowd-sourced data to make better recommendations. For instance, it could know that people often search for geyser times at Yellowstone National Park, and provide a card with those if it sees you’re in the area. If you’re near a cinema, it’ll present movie times and a link to the Fandango application for purchasing tickets.

Another example Google provided is that Stanford students, who often search for the academic calendar in fall, will now receive that data automatically when the correct season arrives, provided they’ve informed Google of their student status previously in some way. These types of Cards will roll out in mid-November, Google says.

Deep App Linking For Google Search

Now when you Google things, results can link into apps directly – and not just to the app generally, but to specific content within the app. Some results will have “Open in App X” next to them, and those will take you directly to a relevant section within, like a recipe for example. Partners at launch include Expedia, Moviefone, OpenTable and more. This is a Nexus-only feature at launch, but Google says it will be available for all KitKat devices in time.

Availability

Android 4.4 KitKat is available today via the Android Open Source Project, and it’s available on Nexus 5 hardware immediately, which also goes on sale today in 10 countries. It will also be available on Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, and the Google Play edition of both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One in the coming weeks.

It’s an OS update that Google says is focused on furthering their vision for software that will run across all levels of all kinds of devices, not just on phones, which has interesting connotations give everything we’ve been hearing lately about Google wearables.


TechCrunch » Android

A Love Story That Spawned A Hardware Revolution In The Kitchen

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Neither of them had any entrepreneurial history before they met. Abe Fetterman was a plasma physics Ph.D. at Princeton and Lisa Qiu had worked in hospitality at Jean-Georges and Mario Batali before entering the magazine world.

But while watching Top Chef episodes during their first week of dating, they clicked.

Lisa, who was working around some of the most elite chefs in the world, saw an immersion circulator on a Top Chef episode. These devices are used to cook with the “sous-vide” method, where food is vacuum sealed and slow-cooked in a water bath to a precise and even temperature. High-end chefs have raved that sous-vide helps them create perfectly cooked food, like steaks where the core is evenly rare without having burnt exteriors.

She confessed that she would have loved to have had one.

But at the time, sous-vide machines cost well over $ 1,000, which was far out of reach for an admittedly money-poor grad student and associate magazine editor in Manhattan.

So Abe gallantly offered to make one with off-the-shelf parts for about $ 50.

It was the beginning of a partnership that would spawn a company, a family and an adventure through the factories of Shenzhen, DIY workshops in the Lower East Side and then Silicon Valley. Ultimately, the now-married couple wants to start a home-cooking revolution where the once avant-garde technique of sous-vide becomes cheap and easy for everyone.

They just released the Nomiku, which is the product of well over a year’s work and has a pre-order price of $ 299.95. It’s a home sous-vide machine that you can plop into a bucket of water, and then turn a knob to an exact temperature. It then circulates water around whatever it is that you’re working on – be it eggs or salmon in a bag.

“Nomiku is all about modernizing your whole kitchen,” Lisa said. “We see the kitchen as a home manufacturing center. It should be both clean and beautiful.”

She went on, “When we started, the cheapest immersion circulator was $ 1,000. We completely disrupted the whole market and we’re making a whole, completely new one.”

Not long after Abe made a DIY sous-vide machine, they started running workshops in Lower Manhattan for other hobbyists and chefs who wanted to hack their kitchen appliances.

Eventually, they came up with an idea to create an affordable sous-vide machine – something that would be way easier for regular people than the kitchen appliance hacks they had been teaching. To put their project in motion, they joined a cross-border hardware accelerator that links San Francisco and Shenzhen called HAXLR8R.

While getting totally burned out designing the product and negotiating with suppliers, they took a vacation to Thailand where they reconnected with a former Momofuku line chef named Wipop Bam Suppipat, who had taken some of their Manhattan DIY workshops.

Luckily enough, he turned out to be an RISD grad with a degree in industrial design. They spent days together talking non-stop about the product until the point where it became a no-brainer for Suppipat to join as the third co-founder.

Last July, they ran a Kickstarter campaign that raised the most out of any other proposal in the food category.

With the $ 586,000 they raised came the tough part, which involved working through all of the design and logistical issues necessary to create a functioning prototype.

“We got really really burned out,” Lisa said. “It was 24/7 with barely any sleep, working on a prototype every day.”

Even so, the trio had complementary skills. Lisa had the Mandarin necessary to negotiate with manufacturers and navigate the often frustrating local business culture, while Abe and Suppipat had the technical and design chops to create a prototype that was easy to use and cheaper to make.

“Abe is a genius. He did a lot of the magic,” Lisa said. “I don’t think you could’ve gone to Shenzhen and done this. But we had a good melange of mentors from HAXLR8R, I speak Mandarin and we used a lot of new technologies like 3D printers.”

They were able to build the initial Nomiku with about $ 20,000. Still, there were setbacks. They found that steam was leaking into the Nomiku’s motor system, creating the risk that the device would rust. They also had to secure a UL certification from a third-party lab to make sure the Nomiku was safe to retail in the U.S.

After a few months of production setbacks (which are pretty common for Kickstarter projects), they launched the Nomiku last month. They also raised a small seed round from angels, including i/o Ventures’ partners Paul and Dan Bragiel, former Yelp and Airbnb community manager Ligaya Tichy and former EA Popcap executive producer and Tilting Point co-founder Giordano Contestabile.

I ran a test of it side-by-side along some other DIY immersion circulators and a competing Anova product. (This is because when you host a sous-vide dinner in San Francisco, everyone offers to bring their own machine, even ones they built themselves).

We made vegetables like eggplant with harissa, Romanesco cauliflower with lemon and anchovies and asparagus with the Nomiku, while doing meats and eggs in the other devices.

I’m new to sous-vide cooking, but it did definitely improve the taste of eggs, shrimp and thicker cuts of salmon.

Nomiku faces competition from much bigger, well-funded competitors like Anova, a lab equipment company that migrated into making water bath products for cooks, and PolyScience, another similar competitor.

A more experienced sous-vide cook and Anova-using friend had the following feedback: he felt that Nomiku’s user experience was more intuitive with a rotating dial instead of a touchscreen. But he said that it lacked features like a timer and was slightly slower in getting the water bath to the appropriate temperature than the Anova.

But the Fettermans and Suppipat don’t seem that fazed by their better-capitalized competitors.

“I don’t know what their strategy is and I’m not worried about them,” she said. “What we worry about is whether our customers are happy. Did they have a great experience? With every great idea you will have competitors. The only thing you can do is focus.”


TechCrunch » Gadgets

Google’s Search Results Can Deep-Link To Your Android Apps

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It should be clear by now that there’s much more at play in Android 4.4 KitKat than some early reports alluded to, and one of the more interesting (to me, anyway) tidbits managed to escape the early leak treatment.

Tucked away toward the tail-end of Google’s Nexus 5/KitKat presentation was a mention of a feature called App Indexing that should get companies (and the Android app developers that work for them) a little worked up. That’s because Google has developed a way to deep-link to the contents of an app from within a user’s Google search results with a feature it calls App Indexing.

Here’s how it works. Say you’re using the Google Search app to dig up some dirt on that Ender’s Game movie that doesn’t look very good. If you happen to have the IMDb app installed on your device while you search, you’ll be treated to an info card in that results stream that includes an “Open in app” button. Give it a quick tap and the IMDb app will spring to life and immediately direct you to its Ender’s Game listing.

Naturally, the feature isn’t just limited to showing off movie details – so far the full list of supporters includes Allthecooks, AllTrails, Beautylish, Etsy, Expedia, Flixster, Healthtap, IMDb, Moviefone, Newegg (yes!), OpenTable, and Trulia.

The way Google sees it, the move is all about providing these companies with a choice. If they think their mobile interfaces are enough to keep users engaged, they can simple go about their business. But if they already have an Android app (or are in the process of building one) that can do a better job of engaging with its users, a little extra work to implement those deep links may be well worth it.

It’s not hard to look at this as a move to bolster Android app development, either. There’s little doubting that Android is a global force – which may be only compounded by the fact that Android 4.4 KitKat may drive device sales in developing markets by bringing a more advanced feature set to cheap hardware – and in many cases the Google Search app is going along for the ride. That means that with any luck, huge swaths of the global Android community will be searching for stuff using the Google search app and seeing those deep-linked “Open in app” buttons when they’ve got the right apps installed. Tell me that’s not a compelling reason for a company to develop an Android app if they haven’t already.

Despite the buy-in from all those app partners, it’ll be some time before users like me will actually start getting those results in the wild. Google is testing the feature with those previously listed partners, but the updated cards that will display that information won’t actually roll out until some time in November.


TechCrunch » Android

Runtastic Releases Scary, Exciting “Story Running” To Encourage Your Ploddings

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Runtastic, an Austrian running start-up with an aim of hitting the Polars and Nikes of the world where it counts has released something its calling “Story Running,” essentially an app that tracks your run and replays an audio story that becomes more exciting as you approach the high points of an interval run.

There have been a few of these already, most notably Zombies Run! and, unless you’re ensconced in a long audiobook they do add a bit of aural pleasure to the long slog of keeping ourselves out of an early grave. There are a number of genres including “Fantasy,” “Adventure,” and “Travel.”

Runtastic also announced the Libra scale, a BMI, bone mass, muscle mass, and BMR/AMR calculating scale that connects to an iOS device to track your weight and important statistics. It costs 129 Euro and will be available in November.

TechCrunch » Gadgets