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Apple, Amazon and Google's smart home alliance has one fatal flaw – Wired.co.uk

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The smart home is a mess, and now the biggest names in the business are joining forces to tidy it up. Apple, Amazon, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance have announced they’re forming what can best be described as The Smart Home Avengers, with an endgame of having all your smart home gadgets play together. After years of the three big tech companies laying out competing visions for their smart home ecosystems, though, this new team-up is an admission; Amazon, Google and Apple have each failed to make this work on their own terms.

The coalition says it will build a new connectivity standard based on Internet Protocol (IP) to ensure different devices from different manufacturers can talk to one another. As the group put it in its announcement: “smart home devices should be secure, reliable, and seamless to use.” Project Connected Home over IP (apparently the best name these titans of industry could come up with) at least sets out its goals plainly: you should be able to buy any smart home gadget safe in the knowledge it will talk to every other device in your home, securely. The fact it’s based on IP means you should, in theory, be able to connect everything to the internet, rather than going through a hub.

This alliance may be critical to the future of the smart home, and proof that no single company has managed to dominate this space. We’ve seen these types of unions form and fall by the wayside, but the fact that Apple, Google and Amazon are all sat at the same table provides some hope – and an acknowledgement that everyone has failed to own this space.

Apple has generally kept its distance from the other two companies, choosing to walk a more privacy-conscious path with HomeKit. But this has been a double-edged sword, as stricter security demands on device partners have stymied the levels of growth enjoyed by Amazon and Google. For example, Apple demands that some processing takes place locally on an iPhone running its Home app or a smart speaker-hub like the HomePod, limiting how much gets shared to the cloud.

The announcement of the Working Group failed to address these questions. For example, will there still be different requirements for hardware partners when working with Apple HomeKit? There’s clearly a tension between the way Apple operates and the way Amazon and Google do, and it will be interesting to see if the Project Connected Home over IP group is able to reconcile these differences.

Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant use a cloud-to-cloud protocol, while Apple demands much of HomeKit’s communications to take place locally and this decision has already had major repercussions for both the competency (of, for instance, Siri) and the privacy complications that come from placing voice assistant-accessing microphones in people’s homes.

It’s likely that this new standard, however it shakes out, will need to satisfy some of Apple’s existing HomeKit requirements, which is good news for all smart home users in the long term. But it’s also worth noting that Apple could benefit the most from joining this alliance, as despite having huge reach with iOS, it currently trails the other two in the number of devices on offer. It’s also yet to launch its own budget smart speaker.

Apple has been reticent to open up its smart home in the same way as rivals. Amazon and Google have built businesses on collecting user data, and see the smart home as an extension of how they learn about our behaviour and spending habits. Apple is less interested in this and has instead prided itself on putting privacy first at the expense of aggressive growth.

Take HomeKit Secure Video, its new way to encrypt all videos on a HomeKit hub and secure them in the cloud – it’s one way for Apple to take steps forward while keeping its focus on privacy. How will Project Connected Home over IP affect initiatives like this? These are all questions yet to be answered and while current Apple HomeKit users won’t be affected, even the fact of Apple’s involvement signals that the Amazon-Google approach may already have won.

Zigbee Alliance also brings A-lister board members including Ikea, Samsung, and Signify, creator of Philips Hue. Seeing Zigbee’s name on the list is especially encouraging: not only does it have major names attached, it has a huge vested interest in the future of smart home interoperability – more so, in fact, than Apple, Amazon or Google.

But more names means more pieces to try and fit together. Apple has its HomeKit platform; Amazon has Alexa; and Google says it’s bringing Thread, Wave and the Google Assistant to the party. (No mention of Brillo – RIP). Meanwhile, the Zigbee protocol, which in the latest version creates an encrypted mesh network operating at 2.4GHz, is already used in devices from Philips Hue, and even some Amazon Echo speakers.

In a press release, Apple said the planned protocol will “complement existing technologies,” suggesting the plan isn’t to eliminate any of the above mentioned standards but find a new common ground between them.

The group will first focus on physical safety devices such as smart locks, connected smoke alarms, smart plugs, security systems and heating/air conditioning devices. Yes, it probably means you’ll need to buy new devices that take advantage of the protocol, but don’t expect those to start hitting the market until 2021 at the earliest. While it’s clear the next 18 months will involve considerable compromises, it’s clear that this will soon be close to mandatory for anyone looking to work in the smart home space.

“I say there is little risk for the three ecosystems because this interoperability will not necessarily impact which ecosystem consumers will pick,” says Carolina Milanesi, analyst at Creative Strategies. “The opportunity in the smart home is still huge and lowering the barrier of entry for mass market consumers starts with better interoperability, consistency of experience when it comes to set up, updates and so on and of course security. We now need to see if the promise of having something in place next year is fulfilled.”

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Google Maps will now show COVID-19 outbreaks for users – National Post

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Google Maps is set to launch a COVID-19 filter showcasing global coronavirus cases and regional trends, the company announced Wednesday.

Google will begin showing users weekly averages of cases per 100,000 using a colour-coded filter. Areas will be one of six colours to signify the severity of the outbreak — Green areas have less than one instance per 100,000 people whereas more than 40 cases per 100,000 people are indicated by dark red, Forbes reported.

This optional filter will show users if cases are trending upwards, remaining stable, or heading down. This is available for all 220 Google Maps supported countries at a national, state or local level depending on available data.

“(It’s) a tool that shows critical information about COVID-19 cases in an area so you can make more informed decisions about where to go and what to do,” wrote Google.

Google will aggregate data from multiple sources, including Johns Hopkins, the New York Times, and World Health Organization. They are also relying on data from varying levels of government.

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Apple Watch Series 3 vs Apple Watch SE: Which should you buy? – 9to5Mac

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For the first time ever, Apple has a new mid-range Apple Watch consideration for potential buyers. The Apple Watch SE sits between the Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 6 in Apple’s lineup, and it provides an interesting hybrid of features. Here’s how the differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 vs. Apple Watch SE stack up.

Design and Display

One of the most striking differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE is the design. The Apple Watch Series 3 features a boxier design with a smaller display and larger bezels. It’s the same design that the very first Apple Watch model used and it’s available in 38mm and 42mm sizing.

On the flip side, the Apple Watch SE features the same physical design as the Series 4, Series 5, and Series 6. This means you get slimmer bezels with rounded display corners. In practice, this difference makes for a notable increase in display area with the Apple Watch SE compared to the last-generation design of the Apple Watch Series 3:

  • 38mm Apple Watch Series 3 display area: 563 sq mm
  • 40mm Apple Watch SE display area: 759 sq mm
  • 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 display area: 740 sq mm
  • 44mm Apple Watch SE display area: 977 sq mm

If you’re looking for the always-on display, you’re out of luck with both the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE; instead, this feature is only available on the Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch Series 6.

The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE both feature Retina OLED displays with 1000 nits max brightness, though the Apple Watch SE also includes the power-preserving LTPO display technology that could help battery life.

Performance and battery life

Another major difference between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE is performance. The Apple Watch Series 3 is powered by Apple’s dual-core S3 processor, while the Apple Watch SE features Apple’s S5 processor. In terms of real-world performance, Apple says the Apple Watch SE is up to two times faster than the Series 3.

This means you can expect performance of apps, Siri, Maps, and other features to run notably faster with the Apple Watch SE than with the Apple Watch Series 3. The Apple Watch SE is also more likely to receive additional software features in the future, while the Series 3 could be excluded because of performance concerns.

As for battery life, Apple says that the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE can both run for up to 18 hours on a single charge. Actual battery life will always vary, but this 18-hour benchmark is a good way to shape your expectations.

Best Apple Watch charging docks:

Health features

apple watch fall detection

Both the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE miss out on Apple’s newest health features, including electrocardiogram support and blood oxygen level detection. If you’re looking for the best Apple Watch in terms of overall health features, the Apple Watch Series 6 is your best choice.

But with that having been said, the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE both support high and low heart rate notifications as well as irregular heart rhythm notifications. Both models also feature Apple’s Emergency SOS feature, but only Apple Watch SE features international emergency calling support, noise monitoring, and fall detection.

The Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 3 both feature support for Apple’s Fitness app and looming Fitness+ service, ensuring you’ll be able to close your rings, track fitness progress, compete with friends, and more.

Cellular vs GPS

One of the key differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE is the available connectivity options. The Apple Watch SE is available in two configurations: GPS and GPS + Cellular. The latter configuration allows your Apple Watch to connect to cellular networks and work independently of your iPhone.

This also has implications for the new Family Setup feature in watchOS 7, which allows you to set up an Apple Watch for a family member without an iPhone, such as a kid or elderly relative. Because the Apple Watch operates completely on its own in this arrangement, however, a cellular connection is required. The Apple Watch Series 3 is not available with cellular connectivity and therefore is not supported by Family Setup.

Note: Even if you have a cellular Apple Watch Series 3, which Apple used to sell, it does not work with the Family Setup feature.

Apple Watch Series 3 vs Apple Watch SE: Pricing

The Apple Watch Series 3 is available in Apple’s lineup in 38mm and 42mm sizes. The former will cost you $199, while the latter will cost you $229. These are the only two configuration options available, aside from your choice of silver or space gray casing.

The Apple Watch SE is available in 40mm and 44mm configurations, with the former going for $279 and the latter going for $309. If you opt for cellular, you’re looking at $329 for the 40mm size and $359 for the 44mm size.

Something to consider here is that if you plan on choosing the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 for $229, you could consider the 40mm Apple Watch SE. There’s a $50 price difference, but the 40mm Apple Watch SE actually gives you more display area (759 sq mm) than the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 (740 sq mm).

Comparison chart

Apple Watch Series 3 vs. Apple Watch SE: The verdict

apple watch SE

For someone looking to enter the Apple Watch ecosystem at the most affordable price point possible, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a great option. Even though it’s several years old, it’s one of the best smartwatches on the market and one of the best fitness trackers on the market.

If you can justify the additional price jump to the Apple Watch SE, however, that is the best choice for most people. You’ll get significantly better performance, a more modern design, quadruple the internal storage, Family Setup integration, and much more.

What do you think of the differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 vs. the Apple Watch SE? Which are you planning to buy? Let us know down in the comments!

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Apple Watch Series 6 review – TechCrunch

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When it comes to smartwatches, it’s Apple against the world. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of other products to choose from — it’s more that the company has just utterly dominated the space to such a point that any other device is relegated to the realm of “Apple Watch alternatives.”

The company has been successful in the space for the usual Apple reasons: premium hardware with deeply integrated software, third-party support, a large cross-device ecosystem play and, of, course, simplicity. Taken as a whole, the Watch just works, right out of the box.

Five years after launch, the line is fairly mature. As such, it’s no surprise, really, that recent updates have largely amounted to refinements. As with most updates, the watch has gotten a processor boost up to the A14 processor, which the company claims is 20% faster than the last version. Perhaps the biggest hardware upgrade, however, is the addition of a blood oxygen sensor, an important piece in the company’s quest to offer as complete an image of wearer health as is possible from the wrist.

I wrote a pretty lengthy piece about the watch last week after wearing it for a few days. As I mentioned at the time, it was an odd kind of writeup, somewhere between hands-on and review. A week or so later, however, I’m more comfortable calling this a review — even if not too many of my initial impressions have changed much in the past several days. After all, a mature product largely means most of the foundations remain unchanged.

The Series 6 certainly looks the part. The Watch is tough to distinguish from other recent models — and for that matter, the new and significantly cheaper SE. The biggest visual change is the addition of new colors. In addition to the standard Gray and Gold, Apple’s added new Blue and (Product)Red cases. The latter seems to be the more ostentatious of the pair. The company sent me a blue model, and honestly, it’s a lot more subtle than I expected. It’s more of a deep blue hue, really, that reads more as black a lot of the time.

It’s tough to imagine the product undergoing any sort of radical rethink of the device’s design language at this point. We may see slight tweaks, including larger screen area going forward, but on the whole, Apple is very much committed to a form factor that has worked very well for it. I will probably always prefer Samsung’s spinning bezel as a quick way to interface with the operating system, but the crown does the job well and scrolling through menus even feels a bit zippier this time, perhaps owing to that faster silicon.

The new Solo Loop bands hit a bit of a hiccup out of the gate. I’ve detailed that a bit more here, but I suspect that much of the problem came down to the difficulty of selling a specifically sized product during a strange period in history where in-person try-ons aren’t really an option. In other words, just really bad timing on that front.

Personally, I quite like the braided model. I’ve been using it as my day to day band. It’s nice and blends in a lot better than the silicone model (I’ve frankly never been much of a fan of Apple’s silicone bands). But I do need to mention that Apple sent me a couple different sizes, which made it much easier to find the right fit. I recognize that. Especially when the braided Solo Loop costs a fairly exorbitant $99. The silicone version is significantly cheaper at $49, but either way, you’re not getting off cheap there. So you definitely want to make sure you get the right fit.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

This is doubly important given the fact that the Series 6’s biggest new feature — blood oxygen monitoring — is highly dependent on you getting a good fit. The sensor utilizes a series of LEDs on the bottom of the watch to shine infrared and red light through the wearer’s skin and into their blood vessels. The color of light that reflects back gives the watch a picture of the oxygen levels in the blood. The whole thing takes about 15 seconds, but only works if your fit is right. Even with the right Solo Loop on, I found myself having to retake it a few times when I first started wearing the watch.

Beyond the on-demand measurements, the watch will also take readings throughout the day and night, mapping these trends over time and incorporating them into sleep readings. The overall readings will give you a good picture of your numbers over time. Honestly though, I get the sense that this is really just the tip of the iceberg of future functionality.

For now, there’s really no specific guidance — or context — given as far as what the numbers mean. Mine are generally between 90-100%. The Mayo Clinic tells me that’s good, but obviously there are a lot of different factors and variations that can’t properly be contextualized in a single paragraph — or on a watch. And Apple certainly doesn’t want to be accused of attempting to diagnose a condition or offer specific medical guidance. That’s going to be an increasingly difficult line for the company to walk as it gets more serious about these sorts of health tools.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say that the combination of sleep tracking in watchOS 7 and the on-board oximeter opens the door pretty nicely for something like sleep apnea tracking (again, more focused on alerts of irregularity versus diagnosis). We’ve seen a small handful of companies like Withings tackle this, so it seems like a no-brainer for Apple, pending all of the regulatory requirements, et al. There are all sorts of other conditions that blood oxygen levels could potentially alert the wearer to, if not actually diagnose.

Sleep was probably the biggest addition with the latest version of watchOS. This was probably the biggest blind spot for the line, compared to the competition. At the moment, the sleep tracking is, admittedly, still pretty basic. Like much of the rest of the on-board tracking, it’s mostly compared with changes over time. The metrics include time in bed versus time asleep, as well as incorporating heart rate figures from the sensor’s regular check-ins. More specific breakdowns, including deep versus light versus REM sleep haven’t arrived yet, but will no doubt be coming sooner than later.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The door is also wide open for Apple to really get mindfulness right. The company has incorporated a mindfulness reminder for a while now, but it’s easy to imagine how the addition of various sensors like heart rate could really improve the picture and find the company going all-in on meditation, et al. The company could partner with a big meditation name — or, more likely, disrupt things with its own offering. The forthcoming Fitness+ offering could play an important role in the growth of that category, as well.

The other issue that sleep brings to the front is battery life. I was banking on the company making big strides in the battery department — after all, a big part of sleep tracking is ensuring that you’ve got enough charge to get through the night. Apple really only briefly touched on battery — though a recent teardown has revealed some smallish improvements on battery capacity (perhaps owing, in part, to space freed up by the dropping of Force Touch).

The company has also made some improvements to energy efficiency, courtesy of the new silicon. Official literature puts it at a “full-day” of  battery life, up to 18 hours. I found I was able to get through a full day with juice to spare. That’s good, but the company’s still got some ground to make up on that front, compared to, say, the Fitbit Sense, which is capable of getting nearly a week on a charge. I think at this point, it’s fair to hold wearables to higher standards of battery life than, say, handsets. More than once, I’ve found myself intermittently charging the device — 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there — in order to have enough juice left by bedtime.

If you can spare more time than that, you should be able to get up to 80% in an hour or 100% in an hour and a half, courtesy of faster wireless charging. All told, the company has been able to shave significant time off of charging — a definite plus now that you’re not just leaving it overnight to charge. The latest version of watchOS will also handily let you know before if you don’t have enough charge to make it through a full night.

Other updates include the addition of the always-on Altimeter, which, along with the brighter screen doesn’t appear to have had a major impact on the battery. I’ll be honest, being stuck in the city for these last several months hasn’t given me much reason to need real-time elevation stats. Though the feature is a nice step toward taking the Watch a bit more seriously as an outdoor accessory in a realm that has largely been dominated by the likes of Garmin.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Of course, the company now has three watches on the market — including the Series 3, which just keeps on ticking, and the lower-cost SE. The latter retains the design of the Series 6, but drops a number of the key sensors, which honestly should be perfectly sufficient for many users — and $170 cheaper than the 6’s $399 starting price ($499 with cellular).

Taken as a whole, the Series 6 isn’t a huge leap forward over the Series 5 — and not really worth the upgrade for those who already own that recent vintage. But there are nice improvements throughout, augmented by good upgrades to watchOS that make the best-selling smartwatch that much better, while clearly laying the groundwork for Apple Watches of the future.

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