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December 15, 2018
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Wearables

The Apple Watch’s ECG feature goes live today

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ECG/EKG was easily the new Apple Watch’s most lauded feature. It’s also been the most delayed. Of course, this kind of serious health feature is the sort of thing you need to get exactly right, for reasons that ought to be pretty obvious on their face.

Electrocardiogram finally goes live today for Series 4 owners as part of the watchOS 5.1.2 update. It’s an important feature — and one that will go a ways toward helping establish the wearable as a more serious health monitor.

The new feature builds on a hardware upgrade built into the Series 4: a pair of electrodes built into the larger back crystal on the rear of the watch and the digital crown. Once enabled, the new feature is checking for a couple of key bits of heart health: irregular heart rhythms, which the watch will passively monitor in the background, and ECG, which requires the user to actively engage with by completing the circuit with a finger tip placed on the edge of the watch’s digital crown.

Of course, getting all of this isn’t as simple as just installing a software update. There is, understandably, a pretty long opt-in here. The on-boarding process is several pages long for both of the new features, as Apple collects some vital information and repeatedly reminds you of some important information — like the fact that the watch can’t detect a heart attack. If you feel like you might be having one, call the emergency services.

The Apple Watch isn’t meant to replace a doctor either, of course. Really, it’s just a way to monitor for complications. If the smartwatch can be regarded as a potential lifesaver or even peripheral medical device, it’s due to the fact that it features a kind of always-on monitoring. After all, outside of the proliferation of these sorts of wearables, most of us won’t experience something like constant ECG monitoring until under the care of a doctor. If this feature is capable of isolating that information ahead of time, it could go a ways toward addressing complications before they turn into major issues.

The sign-up process airs on the side of caution, while attempting to not overwhelm the end user with information. It’s a tricky balance, and if TOS have taught us anything, it’s that too much information upfront will ultimately result in the user’s eyes glazing over. In the case of this information, that could potentially lead to serious consequences if not properly adhered to.

Some of the key takeaways:

  • It cannot detect a heart attack (see a doctor)
  • It cannot detect blood clots or a stroke (see a doctor)
  • It cannot detect other heart-related conditions (see a doctor)
  • [It] is not constantly looking for AFib

That last one is particularly important when distinguishing between the new features. While heart rhythm detection is a feature, the Watch isn’t regularly looking for atrial fibrillation. That’s where the ECG app and the finger detection come in. The feature is intended to be used when the heart rhythm monitor detects that something is off — like a skipped or rapid heartbeat. In which case, it will send a notification right to your wrist.

If that happens, fire up the ECG app, rest your arm on your lap or a table and hold your finger to the crown for 30 seconds. Apple will display a real-time graph of your heart rhythm while you wait. It’s strangely soothing, honestly, though Apple doesn’t recommend using the feature with much regularity, unless you have cause to.

Using it just now, I got a “This ECG does not show signs of atrial fibrillation” note, meaning the reading falls within the parameters of a sinus rhythm.

Here’s your old friends at WebMD:

Your heart’s job is to pump blood to your body. When it’s working the way it should, it pumps to a regular, steady beat. This is called a normal sinus rhythm. When it’s not, you could have an irregular heartbeat called AFib.

So, good. No need to call the doctor. If you’re still feeling unwell, however, there’s a quick link to dial emergency services on the screen. There’s also a spot for adding any symptoms you might be having if you’re feeling less than 100 percent. And while Apple promises not to share any of the info collected on-device, you can always export your findings to a PDF for your doctor to take a gander at.

Along with the new feature comes a new White Paper, detailing the technology. It’s an usual bit of transparency from Apple, but the company understandably wants to be as upfront about the technology as possible. The paper details a lot of what went into bringing the feature up to speed for general availability.

Apple started with a pre-clinical study of 2,000 subjects, including ~15 percent who have been diagnosed with heart arrhythmia. Six-hundred subjects were then involved with the clinical trial to validate the AFib.

Per Apple, “Rhythm classification of a 12-lead ECG by a cardiologist was compared to the rhythm classification of a simultaneously collected ECG from the ECG app. The ECG app demonstrated 98.3% sensitivity in classifying AFib and 99.6% specificity in classifying sinus rhythm in classifiable recordings.”

The company employed similar methods to validate the Irregular Rhythm notifications. “Of the participants that wore an Apple Watch and ECG patch at the same time,” the company writes, “almost 80 percent received the notification and showed AFib on the ECG patch, and 98 percent received the notification and showed other clinically relevant arrhythmias on the ECG patch.”

In addition to that testing, the company has also employed a number of medical doctors to help ensure the product meets the sort of exacting standards one would hope from a product like this.

More information on the research can be found in this Stanford partnered paper published earlier this month.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Bose is dabbling in ‘audio AR’ with a pair of sunglasses

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Back in March we first caught wind that Bose is dabbling in augmented reality, with the launch of a new wearable SDK. Seems the headphone maker is ready to bring that technology to market, launching its first headset next month.

Don’t let the AR name fool you. Frames are actually “audio augmented reality,” as one would expect from Bose. That means, in spite of offering the sunglasses form factor, there’s no head’s up display on board here. The aim instead is to offer a more immersive audio experience.

The hardware detects where you are and which direction you’re facing via a nine-axis head motion sensor and the GPS on a tethered Android or iOS devices. The audio pumped through the on-board headphones changes accordingly.

The glasses feature small speaker grilles, rather than earbuds or bone conduction, meaning you’ll still pick up ambient sound. That’s both a positive and a negative. You won’t be getting the same full audio you’d get on a pair of devoted headphones, but you’re also likely to be more aware of your surroundings.

No actual content has been announced here — that’s going to start arriving at some point next year — though the company mentions applications like gaming, learning and travel (think audio-based tour guides for starters) as possibilities. Assuming, of course, you’re in a spot where wearing a pair of sunglasses makes sense.

The headset will run $199. Not cheap for an unproven technology, but giving the price of many Bose products, you’re actually getting off pretty easy here. The on-board battery should last around 3.5 hours on a charge, with 12 hours of standby time.

The Frames will be available in two styles when they hit U.S. stores in January. They’ll arrive in other markets in the spring.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Analysts are still bullish on wearables

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New numbers from Gartner this morning show solid projections for the wearable market, in spite of a few relatively lackluster years following the category’s initial explosion. The drivers for the projected growth should be no surprise to anyone who has been following it of late — namely smartwatches and ear-worn devices (the unfortunately named hearables).

Overall, Gartner his predicting a jump in shipments in excess of 25 percent in 2019, up to 225 million, from 179 million. That number is expected to continue to increase all the way up to 453 million by 2022.

Smartwatches — led by Apple, Samsung and relatively recent entrant Fitbit — are a key factor, growing from 53 million units shipped to 74 million, and then up to 115 million by 2022. Impressive, if it plays out accordingly, though interestingly, average selling price is expected to drop over that time frame by ~$11 per device.

That’s a product of lower-priced competition for the industry-leading Apple Watch. We’ve already seen Fitbit undercut the competition pretty dramatically with the $150 Versa. How that will square with costlier health components like Apple’s ECG, however, remains to be seen.

Ear-worn devices — namely Bluetooth earbuds like Apple’s AirPods and Samsung’s IconX — are the other big driver. Gartner suggests they’ll account for nearly one-third of the wearables market by 2022.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Silentmode’s PowerMask is a $200 connected relaxation mask

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I barely slept, the second night in Chunking Mansions. The loud neighbors, the hot Hong Kong air, the landlord banging on the door after midnight. None of these things are particularly conducive to a peaceful rest, and for once in my life I actually looked forward to attempts at shut eye on the 15+ hour flight home in the morning.

For all the dread of returning to the notorious Hong Kong hostiles that evening, after a day of exploring the area, I was actually looking forward to the strapping this weird thing to my head — closing my eyes and embracing the luxury of forgetting where I was for a few precious minutes.

I’d tried Silentmode’s PowerMask earlier in the day, in the middle of the Brinc accelerator’s well-lit meeting room. The whole thing was oddly soothing, if fairly awkward — a big, foam black out mask with headphones embedded on either side. Probably not the sort of thing you want to wear out in the open, though Lucas happily modeled it above — because we clearly don’t have enough pictures of our in-house VR guy wearing weird crap on his head over at TechCrunch.com.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the minute or two I spent with the mask on, wondering if this is how pet parrots feel when you cover their cages with a blanket for the night. Maybe that’s just the jetlag talking.

It’s a momentary respite from the cloying terrors of the world, a way to briefly trick our overactive brains into thinking, yeah, sure, everything is just fine with some new agey music, breathing exercises and, most importantly, just complete, utter darkness.

I’m a sucker for this stuff. If have the Calm app on my phone and started getting pretty into the Muse headset before leaving for my two-week trip. I’ve shared the fact that I’m a bad and anxious meditator plenty of times before on these pages, but find even my failed attempts to be useful.

Someone described the PowerMask as a kind of small scale take on a sensory deprivation tank, and sure, why not? I’ve had worse nights.

A bit of a wrinkle in all of this: it isn’t a sleep device, exactly. Or at least the company isn’t branding it as such, Initially pitched as a “Power Nap” product, there does appear to be some in-house confusion with regard to how exactly to position the product. Certainly the startup wants to distinguish itself from the eight million connected sleep masks I see at tech events, particularly when traveling in Asia.

The company surprisingly doesn’t discuss current zeitgeisty startup phrases like meditation or mindfulness, either.

“We are on a much bigger mission to train the world in the art of relaxation,” cofounder Bradley Young writes in a followup email. The company’s site is far less subtle, with language rarely heard outside of supplement ads. “Reach peak state,” it writes in bold all caps font, “become a peak human.” I mean, sure, why not?

That last bit of hyperbole is courtesy of the company’s focus on something called CVT (Cardiac Vagal Tone). Silentmode claims the device can be used to help us normal folk achieve the resting heart rate of an athlete. Look, here’s a graph:

I won’t go too deep into that stuff here, because frankly, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Though I can see how buying some blackout curtains for your head b/w “psychoacoustic and therapeutic sonic experiences” could go a ways toward helping one chill the eff out. It did bring a momentary and much needed respite from my vaguely horrific lodging experiences.

Despite the company’s move away from sleep talk, it also went a ways toward helping me crash on this flight. The music is soothing, and while the padded headset isn’t a pillow exactly, it’s a lot more comfortable than just leaning your head on the seat in front of you. Assuming you can get over the awkwardness of wearing a giant thing on your head. Of course, no one looks good sleeping on a plane, weird head accessory or no.

At $199, it’s not cheap. And the company plans to offer up premium audio through an additional app subscription.  Silentmode is also working with some large companies to pilot these products in office spaces, where relaxation is a rare commodity indeed.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Soundbrenner’s wearable metronome gets a modular upgrade

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It took all of 14 minutes for the Soundbrenner Core to hit full funding. Not too shabby. Last week, the wearable maker closed out its campaign with more than 10x its $50,000 goal. A few days later, we sat down with the startup at the headquarters of Hong Kong-based accelerator, Brinc.

Soundbrenner has already made a bit of a name for itself with Pulse. The connected, wrist-worn device brought some clever innovation to the metronome, that old familiar piano-mounted accessory long banished to the dustiest corners of the music shop. The wearable offers haptic feedback that can be synced across an entire band to keep everyone on the beat. The company sold 60,000 of the things.

Admittedly, simplicity is one of the best things the product has going for it, but Soundbrenner figured it could take things a bit further — and apparently 2,477 Kickstarter backers agreed. The Core (which can be pre-ordered through the a separate Indiegogo page), is being positioned as a “4-in-1 tool.”

First is the vibrating metronome, which allows up to five musicians to sync to a beat, via feedback that’s around 7x that of a standard smartwatch. Wearers can also tap the screen to create a manual beat.

The most introducing bit here is probably the modularity (which arrives, fittingly, around the time the company started receiving mentorship from Mistfit co-founder Sonny Vu). The magnetic display snaps off and attaches to a guitar tuning pegs, where it can test tuning via vibration. There’s also a built-in decibel meter and some standard push notifications — though it’s far from full smartwatch functionality, which is probably for the best.

The Core is smaller than its predecessor, but it’s not small, exactly. The company says this was intentional, at least in part, as these devices have become a kind of calling card among musicians. Beats a secret handshake, I guess.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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