Daily Report: Sales of Apple Watch Suggest a Familiar Path to Success

By The New York Times

Asking if the Apple Watch will become a hit or a flop is a bit like asking if my 2-year-old daughter is destined to go to Yale or to jail. Interested parties can speculate on the basis of thin evidence — she learned to walk pretty early, though on the other hand, she still thinks cats say “bow wow” — but youth is inherently unpredictable, and anyone venturing a long-term forecast based on short-term performance runs the risk of looking quite silly.

Technology pundits tend to be a rash bunch, though, so there has been no shortage of prognostication about the Apple Watch, a device that went on sale three months ago. Because reviews (including mine) were mixed and the device hasn’t proved to be culturally revolutionary, some are declaring the watch dead on arrival.

Apple has declined to provide sales figures for the watch, its newest product. In its earnings report for the fiscal third quarter, released on Tuesday — the first to include sales of the Apple Watch — the company was cagey about sales, with Timothy D. Cook, the chief executive, saying the device had “a great start.”

 Timothy D. Cook announced the Apple Watch in September at an event in California. Credit Stephen Lam/Reuters

Analysts’ estimates vary wildly, with many originally predicting that Apple sold three million to five million watches from April to the end of June. After studying Apple’s opaque earnings report, several analysts revised their estimates down to about 1.5 million to three million watches. Even at the lower end, that’s the opposite of instant death: Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, pointedly said the watch sold more in its first nine weeks on the market than either the iPhone or the iPad did in that same period.

Yet the future of the Apple Watch will not be determined by first-quarter sales. Apple’s product debuts tend to follow a well-worn script: A first-generation device is always criticized as overpriced and a bit lacking in utility and is often vulnerable to the charge that it is a solution in search of a problem. Then, over a few years, Apple and its customers figure out the best uses for the gadget, and the company methodically improves design and functionality to meet those needs. It also tends to lower its prices. Correspondingly, sales explode.

Given this history, the question to ask about the Apple Watch isn’t how well it has sold so far, but how well Apple is following that script. Is it moving quickly to address the early criticism of the watch and to expand access to and functionality of the device?

The answer here is far more definitive than the murky sales figures: So far, Apple is following exactly the same playbook for the watch that it did for the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. If it sticks to that pattern — trying to add new capabilities to the device while perhaps lowering prices and expanding distribution — the future of the Apple Watch could be bright. The only catch is that determining success will take months, if not years. Waiting may be too much to ask of itchy tech observers, especially because Mr. Cook’s legacy is riding on his ability to introduce a new product category to the world’s tech-obsessed masses. But waiting may be the only option.

Of the data we have on the watch so far, much of it leans positive. Owners of Apple Watches, for one, seem to like them. Creative Strategies and Wristly, two research firms, recently conducted a study of more than 800 Apple Watch owners. About 97 percent reported being either very or somewhat satisfied with the device. That level is better than corresponding levels of satisfaction for the original iPhone and iPad, both of which scored in the low 90s in early customer-sentiment studies.

Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies, said the study also revealed a point of perhaps deeper importance. There is a split, the research found, between people who describe themselves as tech-obsessed — people who work in the industry or build apps for a living — and those outside the tech world, also known as normal people. Early adopters were pickier about the watch’s shortcomings, the study found. Only 43 percent of app developers described themselves as “very satisfied” with the watch, compared with 73 percent of nontech users who were delighted by the device.

Fortunately for Apple, according to the study, a slim majority of Apple Watch owners did not describe themselves as techies — a finding that surprised Mr. Bajarin.

 Makoto Saito and Kazumi Oda in Tokyo on April 24, when the device went on sale. Some have called it a flop, but the watch sold more in its first nine weeks than the iPhone or iPad did in the same period. Credit Franck Robichon/European Pressphoto Agency

“My assumption was that a high proportion of people who bought the Apple Watch early were probably going to be people who are investors or they’re super into gadgets,” he said. “We certainly have those people in the survey, but we also have people from Milwaukee who are insurance agents and are not early adopters.”

He added that the appeal for those outside tech bodes well for the watch. “There are clearly way more mainstream users in Apple’s ecosystem than there are early adopters, so it’s good that the watch is already not confusing for people who aren’t your bleeding-edge techies,” he said.

The split between the tech elite and mainstream users echoes a story that has been repeated throughout Apple’s history. The iPod, the iPhone and the iPad all confounded tech insiders, who loudly criticized faults with the devices that they claimed would be fatal — and that, it turned out, didn’t much matter to ordinary people, or to Apple’s long-term success. The first iPod, which sold for $399, was called too expensive, and it worked only with Macs. The iPhone didn’t have a copy-and-paste function, it ran only the slow Edge network and it didn’t have a removable battery. Also, it couldn’t run third-party apps. The iPad didn’t load websites with Flash animation, and it didn’t have a camera.

A few of these were genuine shortcomings, and Apple eventually addressed them. The company created a Windows version of the iPod, added an app store to the iPhone and put a camera on the iPad. But in many instances it ignored the techies: Apple never added Flash to iOS, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in tech these days who thinks that was a bad idea.

The point here isn’t that the tech critics are always wrong. Instead, the pattern suggests the early criticism isn’t necessarily the best long-term guide. It takes time to figure out which shortcomings in a new product are significant and which are merely symptoms of an outmoded way of looking at technology.

With the Apple Watch, the company is clearly studying these patterns now, and it has already shown off some coming changes. There have been two main criticisms of the watch thus far: It’s too slow, and it’s not necessary — it doesn’t do all that much you can’t do on your phone. A more pernicious problem is that developers have not yet hit on killer ideas for the watch, and some of the world’s largest tech companies are moving cautiously to create apps for it.

Apple is fixing these problems faster than it addressed major shortcomings with other first-generation products. At its developer conference in June, the company unveiled an update to the watch’s operating system that Apple said would greatly improve its speed. The new operating system, appearing later this year, will also let developers use more of the sensors and other technologies on the watch, allowing for more powerful apps.

These advances might sound small, but in tech, incremental improvements can drive big changes. Jan Dawson, an independent tech analyst, told me the new operating system would “be a big part of generating more compelling-use cases for the watch for mainstream users, because that’s when we’ll really start to see a flood of third-party apps that make sense.”

What’s more, bit-by-bit improvements are part of Apple’s modus operandi. We saw it with the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. After creating something new, the company continually adds small new features over time. Over a few years, this turns an initial burst of interest about Apple’s newest thing into a long-term tech institution that just about everyone can use and enjoy. That’s happening with the watch, and the strategy just might work.

2015 Smartwatch Comparison Guide

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Before we jump in, these are the six watches we chose as the best available right now, which you’ll see lined up (in two rows) throughout this comparison:

  • Motorola Moto 360
  • Apple Watch
  • LG Watch Urbane
  • Samsung Gear S
  • Pebble Time
  • Asus ZenWatch

Note that there are two different sizes of the Apple Watch (42 mm and 38 mm), but you’ll only see both for the categories where there’s a difference. If you only see one Apple Watch, then that means both sizes are identical in that category.

Size

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The two Apple Watches and Pebble Time are the only watches in this bunch that you can describe as small. The others will leave a pretty sizable impression on your wrist, and work better for (average-sized or larger) men’s wrists than smaller women’s wrists.

The huge Samsung Gear S is the tallest, the Moto 360 and LG Watch Urbane are tied for widest and the Gear S is also the thickest.

Build

Stainless steel is a popular choice among smartwatch-makers, though you do have a few other options.

Apple’s cheapest Watch is made of aluminum. The minimum price you’ll need to cough up for a steel Apple Watch is US$550 – and that model has a band made of rubber.

Default band

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For many of these smartwatches, you can choose from different band materials. The Moto 360 looks especially sharp with its steel band (which only costs an extra $50 over the entry-level leather band version).

Pebble will eventually be selling a Steel version of its Time smartwatch, which will have a steel band (and all-metal body), but the one you can buy today doesn’t.

Swappable bands (22 mm)

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You can change bands on all six watches, but the Apple Watch and Gear S require bands designed specifically for them (well, unless you buy an adapter for the Apple Watch). With the rest, you can swap for any standard 22 mm strap.

Software

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We have three Android Wear watches (which all now run the big 5.1.1 update), along with watchOS on the Apple Watch, Samsung’s Tizen on the Gear S and Pebble OS on the Pebble Time.

The Apple Watch UI is surprisingly complicated, though after going through a learning period we did find it to be intuitive. Meanwhile Android Wear has a great combination of simplicity and capability, as it’s based on Google Now’s context-sensitive cards.

Display size

The Gear S has the largest display, with the Moto 360 trailing closely behind, and the percentages above show you how big each of the others is (measured by area) compared to the Gear S.

Pebble Time has the smallest screen, followed by the 38 mm Apple Watch.

The Moto 360 and LG Watch Urbane both have round screens, though you’ll notice there’s a little chunk cut out of the bottom of the Moto’s, making the Urbane the only fully round one in this bunch.

Display resolution

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The two Apple Watches have the sharpest displays, followed by the Gear S. All the rest are in pretty good shape here too, though Pebble’s pixel density is unusually low.

Display type

OLED screens make a lot of sense on wearables, due to their ability to display blacks without firing any pixels (which means less battery drain). Four of the six watches have OLED screens of some sort (that’s unconfirmed for the Apple Watch, but if you’re familiar with display tech, it clearly appears to be the case).

Pebble Time’s e-paper display has more rudimentary graphical capabilities, but it’s also the best in direct sunlight.

Always-on display

Here’s a big one that you might not think of: four of the watches give you the option of leaving their clock faces on at all times. The Apple Watch only turns on when you activate the watch (either by lifting your wrist, touching the screen or pressing a button).

The Moto 360 sits in a middle-ground here. It has an “ambient display” mode that leaves its screen on more often (apparently when it’s held within a certain range of view), but still isn’t on all the time.

Curved display

Only the Gear S has an obviously curved display, as its long screen wraps around the contours of your wrist. The Apple Watch and ZenWatch have very subtle curves, but are primarily flat.

UI navigation

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All but Pebble Time are primarily touchscreen smartwatches. For Pebble, you’ll need to use its four side buttons to get around.

The Apple Watch adds its Digital Crown (wind to scroll or zoom) and a second type of touchscreen input called Force Touch (press harder on the screen for extra menu options).

The Android Wear watches also give you the option of scrolling through your cards (alerts) hands-free, just by flicking your wrist. We find this to be very handy, when you want to check on some recent alerts while your hands are full.

Voice control

All six watches have voice control, though the quality greatly varies. The Android Wear watches and the Apple Watch have the best and most comprehensive, while Pebble only lets you quick-reply to messages and dictate notes.

The Wear watches also let you search Google (and much more) through Google Now and Apple has a similar assistant in Siri. The Gear S technically has a virtual assistant, Samsung’s S Voice, but it’s far inferior to the other two.

Reminders

The more we use smartwatches, the more we rely on them for creating and receiving reminders. Only the Android Wear watches and the Apple Watch have built-in support for reminders.

You may be able to find third-party solutions on the Gear S and Pebble Time, but that’s going to be a much clunkier solution – and one that probably won’t integrate with your phone’s native reminders system.

iPhone compatibility

Speaking of phones, only the Apple Watch and Pebble Time are options for iPhone owners.

Android compatibility

If you own an Android phone, then all of the Android Wear watches, along with Pebble Time, are options.

We put an asterisk next to the Gear S, because it only works with Samsung Galaxy phones running Android 4.3 or higher. If you own any other Android phone, then you can cross it off this list as well.

Phone calls

All of these watches will alert you to incoming calls, and most also let you place calls from the watch. But only the Apple Watch and Gear S let you have a phone conversation through the watch.

Speaker

That’s because they’re also the only two with built-in speakers. All the watches give you the option of vibrating your wrist when alerts come in, but only the Apple Watch and Gear S also give you the option of playing a sound.

Standalone cellular

The Gear S is the rare smartwatch that has its own SIM card, so you can use it when your phone isn’t around. Samsung stopped short of making it a truly standalone watch, though, as it will still need to pair (either remotely or locally) with a Samsung phone to work most of its magic.

The Gear S also isn’t LTE capable, maxing out on slower 3G and HSPA+ (sometimes called 4G) speeds.

Wi-Fi

Four of the watches also let you connect to Wi-Fi networks, in addition to pairing with your phone over Bluetooth.

Heart rate monitor

All but Pebble Time have heart rate monitors built-in, so you can easily check your pulse anytime.

Native step-counting

All but Pebble Time can track your steps from the moment you first put on the watch.

Pebble requires third-party apps to track your steps (and it can be confusing, because some of those apps need to remain in the foreground to track, but Pebble doesn’t make it clear which do and which don’t).

Water resistance

Pebble Time has the best water resistance, as the company says it can sit in 30 m (98 ft) of submersion.

The IP67 watches are rated to soak in 1 m (3.3 ft) of water for half an hour. The Asus ZenWatch and Apple Watch are lighter than that, only guaranteed to be okay for splashes or quick jets of water (like rain).

Battery life

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All of these watches will last at least a full day (just be sure to turn off ambient mode on the Moto 360 to be safe). Pebble Time has the most impressive battery life, lasting up to a week on a single charge.

Release

The Apple Watch, LG Urbane and Pebble Time are 2015 watches, while the rest may have sequels before long, as they arrived in late 2014. And, in fact, Asus already announced the ZenWatch’s follow-up.

Starting price

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If you own an Android phone, then the Moto 360 is easily the best value in this bunch. It’s arguably the best-looking smartwatch around, on the whole does as much as any watch here and currently only costs $150. And that’s with a nice leather band in the entry-level version, while some of the other watches give you cheaper plastic or rubber ones (and the steel-band Moto 360 only costs $200).

If you’re an iPhone owner, then you have to choose between the $350 and up (way up) Apple Watch and the $200 Pebble Time. Unless you’re on a strict budget, we think the $350-400 Apple Watch Sport with rubber band is a better value than Pebble. Apple’s wearable does much more, with a more impressive app selection and much more advanced tech.

Gizmag

Solar Paper turns the page on portable solar chargers

Solar

While there’s a healthy selection of compact solar panels to keep our mobile gadgets charged up – light permitting – the vast majority of these are either too small to be effective or too bulky for carting around. The creators of Solar Paper are looking to buck this trend with a portable solar charger that generates up to 10 W of power, yet is lighter than an iPhone 6 Plus and only slightly wider and longer.

So called because its panels are thing enough to slot between the pages of a notebook, and touted as the “world’s thinnest and lightest solar charger” by its creators, Yolk, Solar Paper measures 9 x 19 x 1.1 cm (3.5 x 7.5 x 0.4 in) and weighs 120 g (4.2 oz), while the actual solar panels are only 1.5 mm thick.

But Solar Paper has more going for it than just its form factor. Unlike most solar chargers on the market, it features modular panels that connect via embedded magnets. If you want more power, you can connect up to four panels together. Each individual panel generates a maximum of 2.5 W of power, so four will provide up to 10 W via USB. On a sunny day, that’s just as good as a 5V/2A wall charger.

Solar Paper also has some built-in smarts to help users get the most out of it. To avoid the hassle of manual restarting when the available light drops, as is the case with most competing solar chargers, Solar Paper has been programmed to automatically resume charging when it detects sufficient sunlight. So when that cloud passes overhead, you won’t have to intervene.

There’s also a built-in LCD screen that displays the current being delivered to a connected device. This is useful to understand how weather, angle of inclination, and orientation to the sun affect the charge rate, so you can easily set it up in the best position.

Add in water resistance and grommet holes for utility/attachment options, and it’s easy to understand why so many have pledged their support to the device’s Kickstarter campaign, with it shooting past its US$50,000 goal in just the first two days. If all goes as planned, the project creators anticipate the first batch will ship in September 2015, with the second batch following in either October or November. Pledges range from $69 for a 5 W Solar Paper, all the way to $450 for a set of four 10 W Solar Paper.

The team’s video pitch can be viewed below.

Source: Yolk

Addicted to Your Phone? There’s Help for That

LIKE pretty much everyone these days, Susan Butler stares at her smartphone too much. Unlike most everyone, she took action, buying a $195 ring from a company called Ringly, which promises to “let you put your phone away and your mind at ease.”

Ringly does this by connecting its rings to a smartphone filter so that users can silence Gmail or Facebook notifications while preserving crucial alerts, like text messages from a babysitter, which cause the ring to light up or vibrate.

“Hopefully it will keep some distance between my phone and my hand,” said Ms. Butler, 27, who lives in Austin, Tex., and is a technology consultant for small businesses.

Given how quickly cellphones have taken over our lives, it’s easy to forget that they are still a relatively new technology. The first iPhone came out eight years ago, and today a little more than half the American population has a smartphone, according to eMarketer.

Yet already people spend close to three hours a day looking at a mobile screen — and that excludes the time they spend actually talking on the phones.

In a recent survey of smartphone use by Bank of America, about a third of respondents said they were “constantly” checking their smartphones, and a little more than two-thirds said that they went to bed with a smartphone by their side. Those habits have prompted enough soul searching that a slew of new companies see a business opportunity in helping people cut back.

“Technology has evolved so quickly that we have spiraled out of control and nobody has stopped to think about how this is going to impact our lives,” said Kate Unsworth, the founder of a British company, Kovert, that also makes high-tech jewelry to filter out everything but the most urgent stuff.

Many of these distraction-reducing products fall into the growing “wearable technology” niche. Smartwatches like the Apple Watch are designed to encourage more glancing and less phone checking. Last month Google and Levi’s announced plans for a line of high-tech clothes that will allow people to do things like turn off a ringing phone by swiping their jacket cuff.

“If there is a chance to enable the clothes that we already love to help us facilitate access to the best and most necessary of this digital world while maintaining eye contact with the person we’re eating dinner with, this is a real value,” said Paul Dillinger, Levi’s head of global product innovation.

An application called Offtime limits customers’ access to apps they overuse and logs their activity to produce charts on how much time they spend on their phones. Another, called Moment, encourages people to share their phone use with friends to compete in a game of who can look at their phone the least. And a New York designer recently completed a crowdfunding campaign for the Light Phone, a credit-card-size phone that does nothing but make and receive phone calls and “is designed to be used as little as possible.”

Perhaps most radical is the NoPhone, a $12 piece of plastic that looks like a smartphone but actually does nothing. Van Gould, an art director at a New York advertising agency who moonlights as head of the nascent venture, said he and his partners had sold close to 3,200 NoPhones, which they market as a security blanket for people who want to curb their phone addiction but are afraid to leave home without something to hold on to.

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Even though many are doubtless bought as gags, “Most people don’t think about phone addiction as a real thing until you’re like, ‘O.K., they’re buying a piece of plastic because they are worried about their friend,’ ” Mr. Gould said.

Adam Gazzaley, a neurologist and neuroscience professor at the University of California, San Francisco, said, “You have a population that is starting to say, ‘Wait, we love all this technology but there seems to be a cost — whether it’s my relationship or my work or my safety because I’m driving and texting.’ ”

In the days before apps, you searched online when you wanted something, and that was that. But now that the Internet is increasingly mobile and companies are more sophisticated about tracking users’ history and preferences, technology is less about “pulling,” through Google searches, and more about “pushing,” through smartphone notifications that are impossible to ignore because they cause our phones to light up and go ding.

Some products are trying to find a balance, like Google Now, a kind of digital assistant that uses data like location, Gmails and browsing activity to predict what a user might want next. Part of the idea is to bother you only when you need it. “If I’m about to forget my kid’s birthday I want the phone to scream at me until I do something about it,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of products.

This also makes business sense. The more people trust Google to navigate their lives, the more they’ll use apps like Google Calendar and Gmail. And the more Google understands its users, the more it can fine-tune its advertising engine.

Mr. Pichai’s philosophy is to give people lots of choices and let them figure it out by themselves. “We need to design products which are genuinely centered around users,” Mr. Pichai said, “and then there is a line by which users choose to live their lives. It’s their choice, and I want to be careful not to be prescriptive.”

But smartphones are a potent delivery mechanism for two fundamental human impulses, according to Paul Atchley, a psychology professor at the University of Kansas: our quest to find new and interesting distractions, and our desire to feel that we have checked off a task.

“With these devices you can get that sense of accomplishment multiple times a minute,” he said. “The brain gets literally rewired to switch — to constantly seek out novelty, which makes putting the phone down difficult.”

Like many of us, when Ms. Butler comes out of a meeting or a doctor’s appointment, she finds herself craving social media updates. She also had a nagging habit of opening a website, closing it, then opening it right back up in the hope that something new would appear. Addiction or not, it was enough for her to seek help from Ringly.

Mr. Atchley, for one, is skeptical. Addiction is an intensely personal matter, he said, and successful treatment is about having the resolve to control our demons — not outsourcing them to message filters.

In technology, as in life, a little willpower goes a long way.

Source: New York Times

The 5 Best Productivity Apps for Entrepreneurs

Advanced technology has changed employees’ work habits, the management of their daily goals and the way they accomplish tasks. However, this progress has also brought increased workloads that require multitasking, which eventually may decrease effectiveness. So, how do entrepreneurs actually get any work done?

Fortunately, technology has made it easier for entrepreneurs to accomplish routine tasks, manage time more efficiently and keep track of responsibilities in a more orderly fashion.

Credit the gaggle of mobile productivity apps now available on the market. However, it’s important to know how to choose the right app for your work style. Below are some of the apps that do a good job helping you to avoid the distractions of everyday demands.

  1. Evernote

Through Evernote’s web and mobile app, you can create digital notebooks for everything from keeping track of your expenses and managing your calendar, to creating slideshow presentations and planning your next trip. Whether it’s personal or business expenses, keeping track of receipts is impossible for even the most organized of people. By creating one of Evernote’s digital notebooks, you’re able to screen-shot your receipt right after payment, making it easier to locate expenses in the future.

The best way to use Evernote, though, is to take advantage of everything else it has to offer. The more notebooks you add, the more valuable the app becomes. Try taking snapshots of everything in your office and on your shelves, then insert it all into a notebook and relieve the stress of sorting through papers. All you have to do is tag the notes you’re taking for easy search access at a later date. It’s a game changer when you’re scrambling for those notes you quickly jotted down during your weekly meetings.

  1.  Letterspace

It’s imperative for entrepreneurs to make important decisions on the company’s future without neglecting everyday responsibilities and tasks. For example, no one actually enjoys taking notes, but it’s essential. This is where Letterspace comes into play. It’s a great — and free — note-taking app that utilizes hashtags to organize your thoughts into a sophisticated and easy-to-use interface. One of Letterspace’s most beneficial features is the cursor that sits directly above the keyboard. This feature allows users to move paragraphs of notes around making it easier than ever for entrepreneurs to edit anything from a paragraph switch to a simple typo.

  1. Humin   

Ask any entrepreneur: He or she will tell you that the essence of business success lies in making the right connections — whether they be for potential new business, partnerships or that next round of funding. Entrepreneurs are constantly networking and conducting meetings, but it can be almost impossible to keep track of how and where you met someone. Humin handles all of that for you. When you insert information into the app, it remembers all of the tiny details of how and where you met someone, allowing you to actually be in the moment instead of trying to remember information later. Humin solves this problem by combining your contacts, dialing and voice mailbox to calculate who your most important contacts are.

  1. LISTEN

Another productivity app to consider is LISTEN, developed by RealNetworks, the company I work with. LISTEN’s innovative app utilizes ringback tone technology to respond to incoming calls when you’re too busy to answer the phone. Its newly released 2.0 features also include auto SMS reply capabilities which, when enabled, respond to both inbound calls and incoming text messages. You can also customize both your voice and SMS responses, giving contacts a specific heads-up (e.g., “About to close on a deal; let me call you back!”).  LISTEN further boasts such 2.0 personalization features as Calendar Integration (syncs your auto replies with your meetings) and Location Detection, which responds to calls and text messages based on your geographic location.  Also be sure to try LISTEN’s Drive mode, which will play a status message informing callers (and texters) when you’re behind the wheel.

  1.  Workflow

Time management is yet another key part to building and running a successful business. Managing workflow is the foundation of utilizing time effectively. With the Workflow app, you’re able to customize your phone so you can bypass tasks that are a waste of time. For example, you can call an Uber in advance of your next calendar event or create a button to give your mom a quick call. Workflow allows you to create any type of button for any type of activity that you may do on a regular basis and with the simple click of that button your task is being completed.

Entrepreneur

How To Turn Your Smartphone Into Your Personal Therapist

Could the technology that causes so much of our stress and anxiety also be the cure?

Last spring, Paul Ford was sick of the self-sabotaging, disparaging voice in his head, so he decided to do something about it. He’d been living with anxiety all his life, but it was getting in the way of his professional career. So Ford, a longtime tech tinkerer, decided to turn his anxiety into a bot that he named AnxietyBox.

Ten times a day, at random he’d receive an email from his Anxiety with subject lines like: “Ask yourself, do you always want to be exhausting to know and undesirable?” The messages were nasty and uncannily channeled that negative voice in his head. “Dear Paul,” one email read. “I heard you when you talked about how you wanted to exercise. Where would you put your chances for success? Zero percent? Greater?”

Psychologists call these negative voices “cognitive distortions”—moments when your thinking goes awry and your anxiety gets the best of you.

Ford was just trying out a silly experiment, yet with a little distance between that negative voice and himself (about as much space as you give yourself from your email inbox), he could see just how disparaging and mean so many of his anxious thoughts were. Suddenly they didn’t have as much power over him. “My thing sends you emails that tell you you’re garbage,” he says. “You start to laugh at how bad your anxiety is.”

When Ford talked about AnxietyBox on the podcast Reply All in January, and the story was rebroadcast on This American Life, he struck a cord with listeners. Clinical psychologists have reached out to him, and more than 7,000 people have signed up for AnxietyBox, a volume that’s currently too big for Ford and his bot to accommodate.

The Anxiety Epidemic

There’s a zeitgeist of self-betterment through technology that our culture is embracing these days. And for good cause. If we were anxious before smartphones, we might be even more anxious with them. Studies have looked at the link between tech use and elevated levels of stress and anxiety. A 2015 research study demonstrated a measurable connection between negative psychological and physiological outcomes and iPhone separation.

But there’s also a growing interest in how technology can actually treat our anxiety. The list of relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation apps is long and growing. With 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety, and the mental health care industry raking in $200 billion in the U.S. alone, it’s no wonder the tech world is scrambling to find a way to digitize the therapy process.

Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Online therapy programs have been around for years, and they’re becoming increasingly sophisticated and refined in order to work more effectively for users. There are many programs out there claiming to offer relief from anxiety, but their effectiveness isn’t entirely clear. Research out of Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands has shown that when used properly, online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps people detect negative thoughts or patterns and learn to redirect them, can be as effective as face-to-face treatment.

Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps people detect negative thoughts or patterns and learn to redirect them, can be as effective as face-to-face treatment.

A recent New York Times Opinionator piece outlined some of the effective CBT treatments being used, like MoodGYM out of Australia and Beating the Blues, which teach cognitive behavioral therapy skills to help people cope with and prevent anxiety and depression.

A Therapist In Your Pocket

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Pacifica App

More recently, developers have been trying to find ways to merge effective online treatment with user-friendly mobile interfaces. In January, for example, the app Pacifica launched, attempting to offer more than just relaxation tools, but actual ways to use CBT to help treat anxiety. “The mind has a tendency to play tricks on us,” says psychologist Ross Nelson, who serves as a health consultant and adviser to Pacifica. “When we are experiencing anxiety, it’s a series of mind tricks.” The features on Pacific are offered as tools to “untwist the tricks” of the mind, says Nelson.

The app, designed by 28-year-old Chris Goette, who says he’s “white-knuckled” his way through much of his life as an anxiety sufferer, includes a mood tracker, a feature that lets you record your voice and listen back for cognitive distortions, relaxation tools, and a community space where users can connect anonymously. Goette, who’s tried every form of treatment he could over the years, from dietary changes to therapy to meditation, says CBT worked best in treating his anxiety, which is why he wanted to create an app that mirrored its effects using your smartphone.

Pacifica offers a free version with rotating features and a $4 monthly subscription that gives users access to all the app features. Since its launch, the app has signed up 230,000 registered users.

Using Your Camera Phone to Measure Stress Levels

Other app developers are trying to take a less traditional approach, incorporating technology in more unusual ways. A new app called Mentally claims to transform your phone’s camera into a biomedical sensor that can look into your bloodstream when you cover the lens with your finger, offering a stress assessment and five-minute breathing regimen personalized to your own stress level. Whether this kind of thing has any science behind it isn’t entirely clear, but what’s certain is we’ll be seeing increasingly inventive and sophisticated ways in which tech entrepreneurs are attempting to break into the mental health industry.

With so many options available at the swipe of your phone screen, there’s ample room to experiment, see what works best for you, and at the very least, start to isolate that anxious voice. “A lot of people have great intentions in trying to improve upon their anxiety and aren’t really sure how to do it,” says Nelson. With a smartphone at your disposal, you’ve got more options than you imagined.

Fastcompany

Windows 10 on the Surface Pro 3: Now the 2-in-1 makes perfect sense

The Surface Pro 3 is already one of our favorite mobile PCs, but if there’s anything to criticize, it’s its dual-natured Windows 8.1 software. But what happens when you replace that with the upcoming Windows 10? Based on our time with the latest previews, we think it could transform the Surface into the futuristic mobile productivity device that Microsoft has been trying to build for years.

Windows

Windows 8 (and its incremental follow-up, Windows 8.1) had a black & white approach to tablet/PC hybrids like the Surface. Windows 7-like desktop OS on one side, Windows Phone-like tablet OS on the other. The two UIs felt like they were coming from opposite sides of the universe (not to mention different eras), with no continuity and too many confusing transitions.

Windows 8 did make more sense on 2-in-1s than it did on non-touch PCs. But even on the Surface it still felt like you were looking at a painting where Jackson Pollock created one side and Andy Warhol the other. Each can be brilliant within its own gallery, but try to put them both on the same canvas and you just get spilled soup.

Windows 10 fixes all of that. Skipping “Windows 9” and branding it as “10” may be a smart way to distance Microsoft from the Windows 8 fiasco, but it’s also an accurate reflection of just how big a step forward the update is.

In Windows 10 the desktop gets a modern makeover, borrowing the dark menu backgrounds and Segoe UI font from the tablet UI, while the tablet side steals a few UI elements from the desktop (like a touch-friendly taskbar and browser toolbars). When added up, these cosmetic details create the consistent interface we all missed in Windows 8.

And when you attach or detach the keyboard, Windows automatically switches between desktop and tablet mode, with individual apps following suit (they’ll automatically go into full-screen in the tablet UI and a more traditional windowed view in the desktop UI). Gone is the jarring transition between old Windows and future Windows.

You may have already known all of this, but until you’ve used Windows 10 on a Surface, it’s hard to grasp just how seamlessly it all flows together. These little details combine to create the experience that some would say the Surface should have provided all along.

Perhaps Microsoft did rush its Windows 8 strategy to try to compete with the iPad (which, at the time Windows 8 was in development, looked like the future of computing), but you could also argue that Windows 10 wouldn’t be possible without the 2-in-1 groundwork that the clunky Windows 8 laid. It’s nearly impossible to see Microsoft, several years ago, jumping from the desktop-only Windows 7 to the seamless, beautiful and 2-in-1-friendly Windows 10.

Either way, if you dismissed 2-in-1s up to this point, it may be time to question whether it was the idea you were rejecting, or simply Microsoft’s messy implementation of it in Windows 8. Because we think Windows 10’s smoother execution is going to convert some true 2-in-1 believers.

Windows 10’s handwriting recognition could be another underrated update for Surface owners. It makes it easier to enter text using only the tablet and Surface Pen, cutting down on the annoyance of repeatedly reattaching the keyboard when you’re trying to use the device as a pen-based tablet. And since you can leave the handwriting input box open at the bottom of the screen while you do other things (taking up relatively little space on the Surface Pro 3’s huge screen), it’s easy to quickly jump in and out of handwriting when you’re, say, working in a Photoshop file where you’re primarily writing with the pen but also need some occasional text entry.

This simple change gives the Surface Pen a place of prominence that it didn’t have up to this point. The pen-based productivity tablet is something Microsoft has been aiming for since long before the iPad came along – and though the Surface has done a better job than anything else so far, it never completely lived up to that promise.

Windows2

There are still many unknowns facing the consumer release of Windows 10. How will the Microsoft Edge browser (known in the previews as Project Spartan) shape up in its final iteration? Will desktop users be quick to forgive the touch UI nightmare they were forced to endure in Windows 8? Will the company get Windows 10 to a completely stable place by the time July 29 rolls around (the public preview builds are still fairly buggy, even at this late stage)? And will Microsoft have a Surface Pro 4 to sell alongside the big software launch?

No matter how those unknowns play out, from where we stand now it looks like Microsoft has steered its ship back on course with Windows 10, and could be on-track for an enormous brand-redeeming update. Windows 10 will be a sigh of relief for desktop users, but it also paves a road of prominence for the Surface that we hadn’t seen before.

With Windows 8, we could kinda see a future where 2-in-1s might have a prominent seat at the table. But with Windows 10, it’s hard to imagine 2-in-1s like the Surface not playing a central role in the future of computing.

Gizmag