If you see a tech journalist when out and about, give them a hug. Right now we’re deep into the Busy Season, and this week alone we’ve seen big launches from GoPro, Amazon and Suunto, given our verdict on the Apple Watch Series 3, and begun mentally preparing ourselves for what’s to come from Google and Oculus in the coming days.
Oh, and a little company called Fitbit is launching its first smartwatch, the Ionic, this very Sunday.
So what’s the latest?
Amazon’s smart home seige
Not that we doubted for a minute Amazon’s dedication to the smart home, but this week it doubled – nay, tripled – down on its efforts, spewing a huge number of new devices that all do one thing in common: bring Alexa into your home. There’s the new Echo, the Echo Plus, and the Echo Spot alarm clock.
The second-generation Echo is smaller, cheaper and packs better sound; that third factor that’s the big one, because Apple’s HomePod, just around the corner, is emphasizing sound quality to stand out from the crowd of other smart speakers. We’re yet to see how the two will compare, but Amazon’s offering is cheaper, making it much more tempting as an impulse-buy.
As my colleague Husain wrote this week, it’s all part of Amazon’s clever plan to pull us into Alexa – and the wider Amazon ecosystem by extension. It’s the Kindle business model: small profit margins, with the money made back in sales by the customer.
With Echo, that’s going to be in pushing people to the Amazon store and to Prime subscriptions. What’s more, the cheaper point of entry to get Alexa into your home might help Amazon ward off Google and Apple.
An LTE smartwatch is born, another dies
This week we published our full Apple Watch Series 3 review, and it’s a bit of a beast. Myself and editor Mike have been testing out the new LTE capabilities to see just how much . As I noted in our review, Apple is far from the first company to add cellular to a smartwatch; we’ve seen Samsung do the same with the Gear S3, with a handful of Android Wear watches too.
The problem is, most of these have failed to prove that cellular is a must-have feature, and this week we saw one of them, the Verizon Wear24, laid to rest. A Verizon rep told us that it just wasn’t selling well, despite the inclusion of LTE. In his review, Husain called the Wear24 “anything but extraordinary”, and having played with one myself, I completely agree. This was about a carrier taking advantage of Android Wear’s ease of entry to try and push an overly expensive smartwatch with nothing to sing about apart from the LTE.
Can Apple turn things around? The proof will be in the sales (numbers of which Apple still won’t spill), but it needs to prove that LTE isn’t just an indulgent luxury. We don’t think it is, and in our review we noted that there were times where the new feature made untethering the iPhone a joy. This isn’t going to replace your smartphone, but Apple is only going to keep strengthening the Watch as a standalone device from here on out. Mark these words.
Lastly, there was an interesting development this week which may have a big bearing on future health tech. The FDA, the body which regulates and approves the development of medical technology, is putting Samsung, Apple, Fitbit and a handful of others on a pilot scheme that will, if successful, fast-track these company through the process.
It’s just a test for now, but if successful, it could encourage more companies to develop more in-depth health technologies. The FDA’s approval process is lengthy, which can deter companies from innovating. Rather than submit the individual projects, the new program is about approving the companies themselves, which could then get medical software and hardware to market more quickly.
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