Andy Rubin, who co-founded the Android project, is leaving Google. According to The Wall Street Journal, Rubin’s departing to create an incubator for hardware startups. His role heading up the company’s robotics will be taken up by James Kuffner, a research scientist at the company and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
In a statement, Google’s CEO Larry Page thanked Rubin for his work. “I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next,” Page said. “With Android he created something truly remarkable-with a billion plus happy users. Thank you.”
RUBIN’S BEEN AT GOOGLE FOR NEARLY A DECADE
Rubin originally joined Google as part of the company’s highly secretive acquisition of Android in 2005. In the years that followed, he helped turn it from a startup project into what’s now a cornerstone of Google’s business, and the most dominant mobile operating system in the world. Prior to Android, Rubin was working at Danger, the company that created the Sidekick mobile phone. He also had stints at Apple, General Magic, and working on the WebTV project (which sold to Microsoft).
The move is, perhaps, not a total surprise. Last March, Rubin left the Android group and was replaced by Sundar Pichai. His latest project, as detailed in a lengthy New York Times report in December, was creating robots for a project outside of the company’s Google X lab, something that dovetailed with Google’s shopping spree of robotics companies. In 2012, there were also rumors abound that Rubin planned to leave for a stealth-mode startup called CloudCar, though they were vehemently denied.
Wednesday night Microsoft confirmed what we all expected—that it too, has a smartwatch that it wants you to wear 24/7, for work and for play, called the Microsoft Band.
Looking as much like a hospital bracelet as anything else, the $200 Microsoft Band features a rectangular, 320 x106 TFT display that hovers over your wrist. Sensors—a continuous optical heart monitor, GPS, UV sensor, and more—track your activity while on the move and at rest, and send the data to what Microsoft calls the Intelligence Engine, aka Cortana’s little brother. The Band is then designed to work with third-party apps developers, including MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Starbucks—which has developed a “payment” app of sorts.
In all, Microsoft is calling the Band its flagship device of Microsoft Health, a reboot of sorts for a health initiative it tried to establish with products like HealthVault. If you choose, you can store the data the Band collects in HealthVault and share it with your medical provider. Otherwise, Microsoft sees the Band, and Health, as a new way to collect data about you that it can use to improve your day.
How? Initially, Microsoft sees the Intelligence Engine as supplying suggestions on how long to recover from a workout, for example. Over time, the Engine will apparently be able to comment on whether eating breakfast will make you run faster and more effectively. It’s unclear how the Engine will feed data into Cortana, but she’s there: you’ll be able to ask Microsoft’s digital assistant to add calendar entries, for example, or dictate a text. And, of course, the Band will notify you about upcoming appointments, as your Windows Phone already does.
“Imagine you’ve set the goal that you want to get fit and lose weight as part of your exercise routine,” Zulfi Alam, general manager of Personal Devices at Microsoft, said in a statement. “Based on your burn rate and exercise over one week, we will soon be able to auto-suggest a customized workout plan for you. As you follow that plan – or if you don’t follow the plan – our technology will continue to adjust to give you the best outward-looking plan, like a real coach would do.”
Why this matters: A number of fitness bands already track your activity, even sleep. Fewer still, though, deliver messages calendar invites. And, barely any smartwatches beyond the Big Three—Apple, Google, and now Microsoft—provide any intelligence that helps you anticipate and plan your day. Microsoft’s Intelligence Engine and Cortana appear to be the pair of intelligent technologies that Microsoft hopes will inspire you to plunk down $200, rather than opt for the aesthetics of the Apple Watch or Google’s ecosystem.
Open to all
But Band isn’t Microsoft exclusive: apps will allow it to work with Apple iPhones (the iPhone 4S, 5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus running iOS 7.1 or later), Android (4.3 or 4.4) and Windows Phones (with the Windows Phone 8.1 Update). Those apps leaked out earlier on Wednesday.
Microsoft promises that the Band will last about 48 hours on a single charge, with functions like GPS lowering that somewhat. It will charge in about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, it’s not waterproof, so swimmers will have to look elsewhere. But it will repel “splashes” and will work from 14 degrees up through 104 degrees.
Specifically, the Band will include an optical heart rate sensor, a 3-axis gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, an ultraviolet light sensor, a galvanic skin sensor, and a capacitive sensor. The watch will monitor your heart rate 24/7, and assess whether you’ve been sleeping well.
The band will record data without a data connection, then beam it your phone via Bluetooth. It won’t make calls, but it will flash messages, emails, and even Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. And, of course, there’s a microphone, to trigger Cortana. There’s no speaker, however, so Cortana’s information will be passed along via the screen.
For that matter, Microsoft seems to want you to wear the Band with the screen hovering over the inside of your wrist. Whether that’s a limitation of the sensors or a design aesthetic remains to be seen.
Naturally, Microsoft hopes that the Band itself will become a platform, with third-party app developers coming together to add to its own capabilities. In addition to the Starbucks app—you can tell the Band to display your Starbucks card info, which can be scanned—Microsoft has struck partnerships with MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, RunKeeper, and Gold’s Gym. Gold’s even will construct custom workouts, which Microsoft hopes the Band will be able to adapt as it learns more about you.
All in all, you’ll find a lot of crossover between the features the Band offers and what other fitness bands and smartwatches offer. But the $200 Band is also available now, in three different sizes to fit different wrists. Microsoft also seems to be taking a page from Google in that it’s promising that the Band will improve over time, specifically as it learns more about you.
With the Microsoft Band, Microsoft appears to want to play seriously in the health market, while also providing a tool for your workday. It remains to be seen, however, whether Microsoft will leverage its other technologies—its Xbox game console comes to mind—to enhance its capabilities further. On paper, however, the Band certainly appears to be in the lead pack of smartwatches.
Samsung took the wraps off the Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A3 duo of smartphones. The Android duet is targeting young buyers with entry-level and mid-range specs, variety of colors, and decidedly premium all-metal unibody.
Samsung Galaxy A5 packs 1.2GHz quad-core CPU and 2GB of RAM.There’s 16GB of built-in memory, which can be further expanded via microSD card slot.
The device’s display is a 5″ HD Super AMOLED unit (likely with 720p resolution). A 13MP main camera, 5MP front-facing unit, and full connectivity suite that includes LTE round up the highlights in its spec sheet. Samsung Galaxy A5 boots TouchWiz-ed Android 4.4 KitKat.
Physical measures of the Samsung Galaxy A5 are 139.3 x 69.7 x 6.7mm, while its weight tips the scale at 123 grams. The handset is powered by a 2,300mAh battery.
Samsung Galaxy A3 on the other hand packs 1.2GHz quad-core CPU and a gig of RAM. Onboard memory is 8GB, which can be further expanded via microSD card slot.
The display of the Galaxy A3 is a 4.5” qHD Super AMOLED unit. The device’s main camera is an 8MP unit, coupled with 5MP front-facing snapper. Full connectivity suite is also on board, headed by Cat4 LTE. Like its bigger brother, the A3 boots Android 4.4 KitKat with TouchWiz UI.
The measures of Samsung Galaxy A3 are 130.1 x 65.5 x 6.9mm, while its weight comes in at only 110.3 grams. A 1,900mAh battery powers the smartphone.
You can check out Samsung’s official promo video for the Galaxy A family below.
Samsung Galaxy A3 and Galaxy A5 will be available in select markets including China in November. Pricing is yet to be announced.