Clark Kokich has built a career helping brands master digital technology. So it’s only fitting that Kokich, the chief strategy officer at Marchex, former Razorfish CEO, and author of Do or Die, has created 20/20, the world’s first narrative live-action short film shot with Google Glass. The five-minute movie, which follows a day in the life of a young man through his Google Glass, makes a powerful statement about personal privacy and the power that technology assumes in our everyday lives. For as long as I’ve known him, Clark Kokich has always been fascinated with the way that digital technology can both disrupt and shape the way we live and do business.
20/20: romance competes with technology. Which will win?
In the following interview, he discusses the themes of 20/20 (a product of his film company, Perché No?) what it was like to make a movie with Google Glass, and his views on technology and privacy (including his opinion of Edward Snowden). Check out what’s on his mind — but more importantly, take five minutes to watch the provocative 20/20. This movie will make you think.
What inspired you to make this movie?
Last spring I was having coffee with Margaret Czeisler, global vice president of the Razorfish xLab. She pulled out a Google Glass for me to try. It was the first time I fully understood the power of the technology. Then, as I was driving home, the idea for the film just popped into my head. I more or less wrote it in my mind in the car and typed it up when I got home.
In the movie, Google Glass is omnipresent, and not always for the best. Where do you think Google Glass is headed in the next few years?
It’s hard to say. I used to work at Code-A-Phone, a company that made telephone answering machines. Remember those? Our biggest issue was confronting the backlash from people who became pissed off when they had to leave a recorded message.
In the 1990s, I worked for Cellular One. At that time, cell phones were regarded as a smug status symbol. “What kind of an asshole takes a call in their car?” We’re seeing that kind of backlash right now with Google Glass. And I suppose this film doesn’t help, does it? But who knows what will happen.
In the end, if the technology solves a real problem, people will get over it. Right now, I don’t think Google Glass solves an obvious problem in the same way answering machines and cell phones did.
The movie’s subtext about spying is obviously quite timely, with Edward Snowden recently speaking at the 2014 SXSW Interactive festival. What’s your view of Snowden? Hero or a traitor?
I do think he broke the law, and there should be consequences for that. But I don’t consider him a traitor. If I had to guess, 50 years from now he’ll be regarded as an important historical figure; someone who took a huge risk – and sacrificed everything – so that the rest of us could know what the hell is really going on.
I could relate to the scene where the protagonist is multi-tasking too much with technology at the expense of the people in the room with them. How do you avoid that happening in your own life?
I’m actually pretty good about that. I’ve never used technology just because it’s new and cool. I can admire it, and want to learn more, but I’m not an automatic adopter. I also think it’s important to be doing the things that are important to you, not that are important to others. For instance, if I’m on the road, I don’t answer emails on my phone just because they came in. My fingers are too big for that kind of nonsense. If something’s critically important, maybe. But for the most part, I decide what’s important to get done right now, and I only concentrate on that. Just ignore everything else.
What was it like shooting a movie in Google Glass? What did the experience teach you?
It was a pain in the ass. We tried to monitor the shooting in real time through an iPhone, but doing so was too clumsy. So we ended up shooting a scene with no idea what we were really getting. Then we had to wait to download the file and check it on the computer. If there was a problem, you had to start over. It took forever.
What’s next for your filmmaking?
We’re going to shoot another short this summer. This one is more serious. No more Google Glass fun and games.
“It’s not about fitting in, it’s about standing out.”
So goes Ben Horowitz’s theory of music and, judging by the tone of his (very) recent book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” his theory on much more than just music. The co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, which has become one of the most successful venture capital firms in Silicon Valley since its founding in 2009 managing $2.5 billion in investments from Rap Genius to Twitter, Horowitz has been on a whirlwind promotional tour, from New York to Arizona to Austin, Texas in the span of a week.
Fresh off a chat with Nas (yes, Nas) given to the Austin Convention Center’s largest room, we caught up with the fascinating, frank mogul while en route to one of many industry events he had planned for his time in Austin.
Billboard: The biggest question I have, is the problems in the music tech space, in terms of drawing investors or innovations.
Ben Horowitz: Oh yeah, very problematic. There’s a couple problems. One is the history — you know, venture capitalists put in a lot of money, the labels sue the company and the company goes away. That’s pretty rough. And then the very tight, central control of the content makes it so the leverage is with the content owners, which makes it scary. Now, there are guys who have seemingly started to break through, and we have an investment in a company called Rap Genius that kind of starts with music and then expands beyond it, and by doing that it makes it much more investable.
You mean with their annotation technology?
Annotating everything. Because other areas are just easier to license, and music is notoriously difficult.
It’s pretty hermetically sealed on a vast scale.
A vast scale, and in a way that’s weirdly disconnected from the artists. If you talk to the Spotify guys, they’re like, ‘We’re delivering a lot of money.’ If you talk to the artists they’re like ‘We never get any money.’ So either somebody’s lying or somebody’s getting all the money in between the artist and the company.
Is this why you or Andreessen Horowitz haven’t invested in more music tech companies?
That’s basically what keeps us away. Just uncertainty with the music labels, for sure.
Do you think Bitcoin could play a part in reinvigorating that space?
There’s a real interesting technical possibility — well there’s a few: One is just more ability for an artist to go direct. A very difficult problem for an artist selling directly is taking credit cards. The biggest kind of fee is going to end up being the credit card and the largest number of people being turned away is going to be due to fraud risk. Bitcoin gets around those. And particularly internationally it has some interesting properties there. But more interestingly, Bitcoin is a way to transfer, not copy, but transfer, a piece of digital property from one owner to another. And that’s never been possible. So all the [past] DRM solutions, the issue was you could copy them but nobody ever knew where the copy came from . But at least it’s theoretically possible now to basically have serial numbers by track, and you would know who the owner of the track was. And if somebody who had it wasn’t the owner, they clearly would have stolen it. And that’s never been possible to detect in any meaningful way.
How do you think traditional music executive have handled the ‘hard things’ in the last 15 years?
I wrote a post called ‘Why We Prefer Founding CEOs‘ and that’s, I think, a huge problem with the music industry, is that the guys who started the businesses either sold out or died. And the new guys left. So when technology changed the new guys were like way, way, way reluctant to innovate against it. It’s really ironic in music because the whole industry was started with the invention of the vinyl record, and the length of songs changed when they improved the vinyl record technology and the whole business was re-birthed on the CD. So for them to get caught with their pants completely down around their ankles on the next technological shift — it’s kind of ironically tragic. And there were obviously many opportunities to handle it better than they did.
There was a moment, right before the labels decided they wanted to shut Napster down, where they were negotiating with Napster. And if you could rewind history and say ‘Ok, what if they had done that deal?’ It would have been very, very interesting in that everybody was on Napster. So it was the most convenient thing. The big thing that the labels did is that they tried to make all the convenient ways of getting music illegal, and the most inconvenient ways — like crack a CD open and pull it out and all that — legal. So it was more than just free or not-free, it was a product problem. And I think the product problem was way underestimated, bigger than the free or not-free thing. So if they had just made Napster for money, it probably would have been a 90-10 to the labels and not a 70-30 [Apple's iTunes store takes 30% off the top of most sales]. It would have just been a better outcome for sure than what they ended up doing. And in talking to the Napster people, it sure sounded like it broke down at least partially over Napster wanting to track what every artist had sold and report it, and the labels did not want them to do that.
It shocked the shit out of me when I heard it.
That’s a large part of what we do at Billboard.
So the question is, right — and you guys have to do it the hard way — but there it was, perfect record of every sale.
And you would think the companies would want that anyways.
Unless they’re stealing the money…
You think that’s true?
The more I talk to people in the music industry, the more that seems like it’s potentially, viably true. But I don’t know if that’s true.
What’s an upcoming, music-focused tech company or innovation you’re interested in?
This isn’t necessarily one that would be a venture-backed thing, but Ryan Lesliehas a kind of new theory on how to do music distribution. I was very impressed with his thinking. He’s an artist, a very well-respected musician and rapper, but hasn’t necessarily had a giant mega-platinum career, but he has a very good idea for a company.
Which is… like Soundcloud?
Not like Soundcloud, it’s much more like, ‘How does an individual artist make money in today’s world?’ So it’s kind of rethinking what a label would be if you invented it tomorrow.
And that’s on the immediate horizon?
Yes he’s working on it now.
Now an easy question: What’s been your favorite rap record over the last couple years? It’s been an interesting time in rap.
The last couple of years? I’d have to say “Yeezus,” if I”m being honest. I could make something up, but that was my actual favorite.
Beats Music’s Chief Executive Ian Rogers on Tuesday announced his company is acquiring Topspin Media, a platform that lets artists sell merchandise and albums directly to fans.
Rogers, who had left his position as CEO of Topspin a year ago to join Beats, announced the deal in ablog post, saying, “The acquisition brings a team of talented people who have spent years working on building and fine-tuning the artist-to-fan connection into the Beats Music experience. Topspin + Beats Music combines music discovery and direct relationships between artists and fans in a revolutionary way.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Beats Music declined to comment further beyond Rogers’ post.
After a year of watching artists bash streaming music for not paying enough to musicians, Beats Music launched its service in January with an eye toward positioning itself as a service that is friendly to artists, a message that Rogers re-iterated in his blog.
“We’re committed to establishing Beats Music as a conduit for the artist-fan relationship, a platform where artists have a voice, and a provider of useful data and analytics on how fans interact with artists and their music,” Rogers wrote. “This acquisition puts our money where our mouth is.”
Over the last three years I’ve been on both ends of job offers at startups. One thing that’s struck me is how little most applicants know about what to expect in a job offer, and in many cases, what the written offer they’ve received actually means. I was extremely fortunate that the first startup job offer I received was written by a pair of founders who had the utmost integrity and explained things very clearly. Since then I’ve learned that not every employee is so lucky.
This post doesn’t aim to teach you negotiation itself, but rather to acclimate you to the standards and vernacular of startup negotiations. It assumes you’re a startup newcomer.
One of the biggest myths that I’d heard while tucked away in my big company cubicle was that in order to get into the startup game, you had to take a substantial paycut. This is false, especially if you’re a developer in today’s funding climate. VC funded startups pay very close to market rate salaries. Your ask should be the same number it would be at a more established company with hundreds or thousands of people.
An exception to the above statement exists for companies who have raised very little capital and are not generating revenue. These companies do not usually have full salaries budgeted into them. If you join such a seed stage company, you should expect to work for less than a market rate salary until a larger round is raised. However, you should be compensated for this with increased equity.
It’s also a good idea to have a discussion about what your market rate salary will be after raising a Series A. This avoids surprises later. Because you haven’t yet demonstrated your skills inside the company and because the funding timeline is indefinite, it’s difficult for either party to make specific promises. My recommendation is to have something written that states what market rate would be for you right now. This way, if it takes two years to raise a Series A and you’ve grown into a bigger role during that time, you aren’t boxed into a number that you arrived at two years earlier and whose value you’ve surpassed, but you do have a quantitative starting point for determining what your salary will be.
Other methods of compensation and risk adjustment may also arise. For example, when I joined oneforty in 2009, I took a 30% pay cut. We expected to raise money in 6-12 months, and structured my employment offer such that I would receive a 30% bonus upon the raising of a Series A (subject to “outstanding performance” per my manager’s discretion). The offer also stated that at that time, my salary would be raised to a market rate. It did not specify what that market rate would be. Before joining, I informed the founders via email of the other offers I was prepared to pass on, and they told me that what I cited was “in a reasonable range.” The entire process from initial offer to post-Series A adjustment went very smoothly and without any surprises for anyone.
Whatever agreement you come to, make sure you get it in writing. This protects both parties and ensures that everybody leaves the conversation with the same impression. Every lawyer I know attests that there are more fights over what was said than what was written.
Startups do not typically offer cash bonuses unless they are generating substantial revenues.1 For nonprofitable entities with limited runway, it is much better for everybody that the company provides monthly compensation without accruing variable costs of ~10% of annual payroll every year. It’s easier on the books and it prevents the company from setting expectations that it may be unable to meet. Though your cash compensation will likely be comprised only of salary; you can certainly use a bonus you’d earn elsewhere as leverage during negotiations.
Equity procedures and vernacular are by far the least understood component of startup job offers. Especially for employees with no background in business law or finance, the specifics pertaining to equity grants are often wildly misunderstood.
Four years ago, a company granted you 0.5% of it to join as a seed stage engineer. The company has now raised a Series B, and you’re ready to take your shares and move on.
Not so fast.
First, the company didn’t really grant you 0.5% of it. It granted you the option to buy 0.5% of it at some discount from its seed stage valuation (when you joined). Let’s say that discount was 70% and that valuation was $5M, so you have the option to buy 0.5% ($25k) of it at a 70% discount of $7,500. You decide you’ll just wait until it sells or goes public, then buy your shares for $7,500 and then sell them at market price.
That won’t work either.
Leaving the company invokes your exit clause, which stipulates that you have 90 days to purchase your options, or else you completely forfeit them. The company is not obligated to remind you of this. If you forget to exercise your options during this period, they’re gone. If you don’t have $7,500 to spare during this period, they’re gone. Your only option is to cough up $7,500 or relinquish all of the equity you were told you’d been “given.”
If you’re leaving Facebook, this is a no brainer. But you’re probably not leaving Facebook. You’re probably leaving a B stage company that is growing fast but still has problems with churn or customer acquisition or scalability or some other solvable but imminent problem, and while promising, its success is far from certain. You have to decide whether you want to place a $7,500 wager on this company.
You place the wager, and two years later, the company sells for $20M after a year of mediocre numbers and failing to raise a Series C in a downward-sloping economy. It’s not the beachhouse you were hoping for, but your $7,500 investment looks to be worth $100k based on a 4x multiple of the original $25,000 value, right?
Your stock was common, not preferred. Investors have “preference,” which means they get reimbursed for what they put in before anybody else sees a dime. The company raised $18M in combined seed, Series A and Series B investments. First, those investors get their $18M back. Then, there’s $2M to be distributed proportionally among stakeholders. You’ve come out a narrow 25% ahead because of your discount price ($5M * 0.3 vs 2M). You leave with a $2,500 pre-tax profit on your $7,500 investment.
When the company issued new shares to Series A and Series B investors, you got diluted. Your 0.5% of the company now constitutes only 0.35% of it. 0.35% of 2M leaves you with… $7,000.
That’s right. After four years of work and digging into your savings to preserve your stake in the company, you’ve lost $500. You let out a long sigh, lamenting that this “granted” equity became a $500 loss.
This story is contrived, but it is not absurd or unrealistic. I recount it like this to emphasize how important it is for you to understand how equity distribution actually works when you’re negotiating it.
Equity is given in the form of stock options. Stock options are not gifts; rather they are “options” to buy some amount of stock at a fixed, usually discounted price. The nice thing about this system is that, at least in the ideal case, you don’t need to buy the options until you are ready to sell them.
For example, you have options on 1% of a company valued at $1.6M. There are 100k shares outstanding, each worth $16. Your strike price is $0.80, so you make $15,200 before taxes upon selling them:
There are too many variables (company stage, company valuation, employee experience, employee domain knowledge, employee salary requirements), let alone disagreement among industry veterans2, to generalize how much equity you should get and when, but Babak Nivi put together a table of option grants that rings true based on my experiences:
Title Range (%)
CEO 5 – 10
COO 2 – 5
VP 1 – 2
Independent Board Member 1
Director 0.4 – 1.25
Lead Engineer 0.5 – 1
5+ years experience Engineer 0.33 – 0.66
Manager or Junior Engineer 0.2 – 0.33
You’ll notice that Nivi talks about equity in terms of percentages. As Chris Dixon explains, this is the only number you care about in your equity offer:
The only thing that matters in terms of your equity when you join a startup is what percent of the company they are giving you. If management tells you the number of shares and not the total shares outstanding so you can’t compute the percent you own – don’t join the company! They are dishonest and are tricking you and will trick you again many times.
It’s a dangerous game to try to anticipate what your shares will be worth, but if you want to indulge, take your percentage, divide it by two to account for dilution and a low strike price, and multiply it by whatever you think the company might sell for. That’s the ballpark of what a home run hit gets you. Let’s look at a few examples:
You get 0.5% of a company that sells for $25M: 0.005∗250000002=$62500
You get 1% of a company that sells for $15M: 0.01∗150000002=$75000
You get 0.25% of a company that sells for $150M: 0.0025∗1500000002=$375000
Though it’s tempting, if you’re a startup employee, I caution you not to think about equity in such absolute terms, as they are difficult to predict. Look at your equity as a great bonus if things go well. The sad truth is that an overwhelming majority of startups fail, so for the sake of personal financial planning, assume it will amount to nothing. In the best case scenario it will buy you a nice car or provide a down payment on a home. It’s not a ticket to establishing independent wealth or never to work again.
There are a few situations after joining when you may be granted additional equity: first, as new shares are issued, you may be allotted some of them to avoid dilution; second, equity is sometimes used as a performance bonus, especially when companies don’t have enough revenue to provide extra cash; third, equity is often granted as compensation for a promotion.
Your equity should begin accruing as of the start of your employment. Do not listen to any hiring manager who tells you that in order to protect the company, you need to work for a while before you’ll receive any equity.3 There is a process called “vesting” that takes care of this and any founder who is both honest and knowledgable uses it.
Vesting lets the company give you some fixed number of stock options, subject to your working at the company for some period of time. Brad Feld explains the standard 4/1 vesting schedule:
Industry standard vesting for early stage companies is a one year cliff and monthly thereafter for a total of 4 years. This means that if you leave before the first year is up, you don’t vest any of your stock. After a year, you have vested 25% (that’s the “cliff”). Then – you begin vesting monthly (or quarterly, or annually) over the remaining period. So – if you have a monthly vest with a one year cliff and you leave the company after 18 months, you’ll have vested 37.25% of your stock.
Vesting is great because it protects everybody. Employees know exactly what they will get if they put in their time, and companies avoid the risk of an employee who takes equity and runs away with it.
Some employers talk about equity and salary as dials that you can adjust, increasing one while decreasing the other. Since startups are strapped for cash, this is always presented as the employee giving up some salary in exchange for more equity.
Sometimes these deals are fair, and sometimes they’re not. What makes them difficult and often unfair for the employee is that there are a handful of existential disadvantages that come along with taking equity as a substitute for salary. It’s important that they be understood so that they can be overcome:
Now that you understand the inherent disadvantages of this trade, you want to know if the specific deal on the table (to exchange some $x in equity for some $y in salary) is a good one. The best way to determine this is to look at the deal that the investors get, and compare it to the deal that you’re getting. You want a risk/reward ratio that is better than theirs.
Let’s say we have an engineer who is getting .5% of the company vested over 4 years. He’s making $80k, but probably could make $90k at a company with limited equity opportunity. Let’s assume a target exit price of $50,000,000 (oh, happy day!).
Our engineer is spending $10k per year to have a shot at a $62,500 per year. If he spends the full four years there, he’s “invested” $40k for a shot at $250k (a 6x+ return– not bad). When you run the same scenario with a billion dollar exit, it’s starting to look a lot prettier. When you run it at a Flickr-sized exit ($20m), it’s not looking like that great of a bet.
A 6x-exit does sound rosy, but when you’re shooting for a big reward, you must also consider the big risk. If you were this employee and you dug into the details here, you’d see that:
Let’s say you got into the company when it had a $4M valuation (A $90k engineer receiving a 0.5% equity grant implies (s)he is early). Your 0.5% entitles you to buy $20k worth of its shares at that valuation. That means that after four years, you’ve given up $40k in cash for $20k worth of illiquid stock. If you were an investor in the company, your money would have bought you $40k worth of the stock, it would be preferred stock rather than common stock, and it would not be subject to any vesting period. Dollar for dollar, investors got twice as much stock as you did, and they got it on much better terms.
Now let’s change the hypothetical to show when taking equity might make sense. A Director of Engineering comes on for $110k and 1.25% (he would normally make $140k) after the company raises a Series A and is valued at $14M. He is giving up $120k over four years to pick up $175k worth of options, earning 46% more stock per dollar invested than the investors who put in money at a $14M valuation. This increased reward helps to compensate for the increased risk stemming from the aforementioned disadvantages of taking equity over stock.
If you can afford to play the risk/reward game and want to turn up your equity in exchange for some salary, by all means see if you can find a deal that makes sense. There are founders who offer very meaningful equity grants to employees who are willing to sacrifice a portion of their paycheck. But in my experience, this latter example is the exception and Tony’s example is the rule. Whatever’s on the table, do the math and be cognizant of the tradeoff you’re making.
Your equity will be worth something or it won’t. Which side of that coin you land on matters more than anything – more than how quickly you vest or how much equity you get or what kind of discount you get or what stage you join at. A bad negotiator at a successful company will wind up with more equity value than a shrewd negotiator at an unsuccessful company.
Betting on equity should imply that you believe in the vision of the company and that you have immense faith in the people you’re working with. At the end of the day, those things will impact how much your equity is worth more than any of the aforementioned advice.
With the exception of health insurance, benefits are less numerous and less generous at startups than they are at established companies. Very few startups offer 401k plans; even fewer provide employer matching. The startups I’ve seen or been at that offered 401k plans instituted them because there was some bloc of employees who wanted to put away more than $5k per year ($5k is the maximum you can do on your own via an IRA).
Startups that have raised funding of any sort should provide your health insurance and they should pick up most if not all of the bill. If the startup doesn’t offer a healthcare plan, it should reimburse you for an individual health care plan. The more generous of startups will provide you with dental coverage.
The difficult part of negotiating a startup job offer is learning the inside baseball. If you can get past the jargon that you never saw until today, you’ll find that, like most negotiations, it boils down to math and common sense.
There are plenty of things to adapt to when you switch to startup life – culture, work hours, individual autonomy – but unless you’re committed to joining at the seed stage or earlier, a jarring compensation reduction isn’t one of them.
If you still have questions about your offer letter, or if something seems a little fishy, you can ask questions in the comments and I will answer them, or if it’s confidential, you can email me at [email protected] and I’ll respond privately. If you email me, please ask specific questions that I can answer so that I am not left guessing what you are wondering.
Exceptions exist for roles whose market compensation is typically paid in the form of bonuses, e.g. sales executives who are paid according to how much revenue they bring in.↩
Some companies require a board meeting to issue your equity paperwork. This is fine, but the agreement should be retroactive back to your starting date when you receive it.↩
Tony describes only the situation; it is my claim, not his, that the equity tradeoff is a bad one.↩
“iOS in the Car” becomes a little more official,with the announcement of Carplay. This year Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Volvo will be the initial launch partners which will allow their infotainment systems to seamlessly integrate your iPhone and give you handsfree access to your maps, music, messages, phone calls, and more using Siri and your car’s controls.
At Samsung's satellite Galaxy S5 launch event, the company also unveiled its Gear Fit smartwatch/smart band hybrid.
SEE ALSO: Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo: Hands On
Of the three products, the Gear Fit is the most interesting — not just in terms of its design — but in terms of its positioning and functionality. With the right marketing and the right set of features, the Gear Fit could be the type of of mass-market wearable Samsung needs to wash away the taste of the Galaxy Gear.
Samsung dropped the "Galaxy" moniker from its wearable line — ostensibly because it wants to keep "Galaxy" focused on tablets and smartphones. The name change isn't the only strategic shift.
Even though the Galaxy Gear was unveiled only about six months ago, it has already been replaced with a better-designed Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. Mashable Editor-at-Large Lance Ulanoff argued Gear 2 is everything the original Gear should have been, and I totally agree with his assessment. Genuinely, its hard to look at the original Galaxy Gear and see it as anything other than a stopgap that was released with the hopes of capturing some holiday wearable dollars.
The difference with the Gear family in 2014 — aside from a better design and more refined components — is that there are now multiple products available.
The Gear 2 is being positioned as the high-end smartwatch. It's the flagship. The Gear 2 Neo is a cheaper smartwatch for the everyman. The Gear Fit has a lot of smartwatch-like functionality built-in, but it's clear Samsung is using it to target the burgeoning fitness band market.
Interestingly, it's the fitness market — a place Samsung hasn't been actively focused in the past — that may provide the best path to mainstream success.
The market for fitness trackers and health bands — let's just call them smart bands — is growing. Fast. Canalys reportes that 1.6 million smart bands shipped in the second half of 2013, up 700% from the first half of the year.
Canalys predicts 8 million smart bands might ship in 2014 and that by 2017, the shipments might be as high as 45 million units. Right now, the dominant players in the field includeFitbit, Jawbone and Nike — but there's plenty of room for newcomers, especially with a recognizable name like Samsung.
Smartwatches might be mainstream in the future, but smart bands are encroaching on mainstream now.
Smartwatches might be mainstream in the future, but smart bands are encroaching on mainstream now. Most of my friends don't have a smartwatch, but I'd say nearly 75% have a Fitbit or a Nike Fuelband.
The Gear Fit isn't Samsung's first crack at this space. During the Galaxy S4 launch last year, Samsung showed off an S Band) fitness tracker. I don't think the S Band was ever actually released (and if it was, it was in very limited quantities), but the press images and samples we saw looked a lot like the original Fitbit.
And while the S Band was basically a pure fitness tracker, the Gear Fit is much more of a smartwatch/smart band hybrid.
The Gear Fit has all the typical fitness-tracker accoutrements: It can monitor exercise and sleep, it has a built-in pedometer and heart-rate monitor, and it has a stopwatch and a timer.
The real plus, however, is that it can also talk to your phone.The Gear Fit can display calls, e-mails, app alerts and get push notifications. It can also act as a media controller.
With notifications and alerts, the Gear Fit is edging into smartwatch territory.
Right now it's not clear how Samsung will open up the Gear Fit to outside developers. Unlike the Gear 2 and Gear Neo — which use the Samsung-backed Tizen mobile platform — the Gear Fit runs a proprietary Samsung embedded OS. That said, even without broad third-party support, support for app notifications might be enough for some users.
I have long expected the smart band and smartwatch markets to converge. We treat the two as separate categories, but there is no reason that your smartwatch shouldn't be able to track your steps or that your smart band shouldn't be able to let you change the station on Pandora.
We'll have to use the actual product to be sure, the Gear Fit looks like the first real hybrid device — and that's a good thing.
Much of the hesitancy with smartwatches, at least with individuals I talk to, revolves around two issues: use case and looks.
Having the fitness-tracking abilities gives a solid use case to wary users. This is one of the reasons the Pebble/Runkeeper partnership made so much sense, and why Pebble remains focused on working with fitness app developers.
After starting with tracking a run or a step count, a user might just find that she enjoys getting app notifications, seeing call alerts and having the ability to control her headphones.
Don't let the "Fit" moniker fool you, the Gear Fit can also act as a watch.
The second issue, the one of design, is an area where smart bands are far more advanced than the smartwatch. The smartwatch is still trying to decide how it looks and what it does. Trying to compensate for the size of the screen, the shape of the face, the design of the band, all comes with compromises.
I really like the smartwatch space, but if I'm being honest, none of the major players are particularly beautiful. I really like the design of the Pebble Steel, but it's still much more suited for a man.
The Gear Fit isn't perfect, but it's a very good first attempt at this space.
The Gear Fit has a curved Super AMOLED display, which Samsung says is the first for a device like this. The immediate benefits are that it is both bright and vivid — and the touch sensitivity in my tests was spot-on.
Having touch support helps the Gear Fit stand apart from some other fitness trackers that rely on buttons.
Having touch support helps the Gear Fit stand apart from some other fitness trackers that rely on buttons.
The band itself was comfortable — and available in a variety of colors. I might quibble with the radius of the screen's curve — it's still a bit big for my wrist — but for someone who isn't built like a tiny child, it will look great.
Even better, I found the way the interface was designed to make tons of sense. Tech Editor Pete Pachal and I discussed the orientation of the icons on the device. Pete thinks it might serve better to be vertically stacked, rather than horizontal.
I disagree. Orientation is a difficult thing to manage on these types of devices, because you will literally read the text and information from the side, regardless of what wrist you use — but I think the left-to-right motif that matches what Nike does with the Fuelband works quiet well.
I also think that this orientation works well for activities such as controlling media.
The curved Super AMOLED screen really does make a ton of sense. I'll also pass on another suggestion from Pete Pachal — one I agree with this time — Samsung should look at using flexible displays in the band. that way, the curve could be more contoured to a bigger or smaller wrist.
I don't really get the point of a flexible phone. A flexible screen on a smart band or smartwatch, however, is a great idea.
One of the things I admire most about Samsung as a company is that it isn't afraid to try, fail, and try again. In fact, that is pretty much the company's MO in mobile. The company's first Android phones were not good — but then the Galaxy S series came along, and it was a revelation.
The same is true for the company's attempts at tablets. The first Galaxy Tab was not a good device. Fast-forward a few years, and Samsung is making the Nexus 10.
It's too soon to say if Samsung will find success with smartwatches or hybrid wearables like he Gear Fit. The Galaxy Gear was not a good start, but the Gear Fit actually has signs of promise.
The Galaxy S5 might have been the focal point of Samsung's MWC presentation, but for my interest, the product I really can't wait to see evolve is the Gear Fit.
The Galaxy S5 features a 16 megapixel camera and offers the world’s fastest autofocus speed up to 0.3 seconds. Also, the new Selective Focus feature allows users to focus on a specific area of an object while simultaneously blurring out the background. With this capability, consumers no longer need a special lens kit to create a shallow depth of field. For consumers seeking a faster connection, the GALAXY S5 now features Download Booster, an innovative Wi-Fi technology for boosting data speed by bonding Wi-Fi and LTE simultaneously. With the enhanced S Health 3.0, the Galaxy S5 offers a pedometer, diet and exercise records, and built-in heart rate monitor.
By Jo Best | February 24, 2014 -- 08:26 GMT (00:26
Three years after ditching Symbian for Windows Phone, and mere months before being absorbed into the Microsoft empire, Nokia has released its first Android mobile phones.
The devices, called the Nokia X, X+ and XL, were unveiled at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona on Monday.
The widely-leaked Nokia X is a low-end device and appears to be aimed at emerging markets. It comes with a four-inch screen with an IPS display, a three-megapixel rear camera, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage.
The X+ has the same four-inch screen, but adds an SD card slot, with a 4GB microSD card included. There's 768MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a three-megapixel rear camera.
The XL has a five-inch screen, 768MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, and two cameras: a two-megapixel front-facing camera and five-megapixel rear equivalent.
All three run dual-core 1Ghz Snapdragon processors from Qualcomm.
The devices are available in green, red, yellow, red and bright blue. The X, available now, will go for €89, the X+ is priced at €99 and slated for an early Q2 release, while the XL, also planned for early Q2, will cost €109. "The devices will be available broadly, starting in growth markets," Microsoft devices head Stephen Elop said, across Asia-Pacific, Europe, India, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
What makes the devices remarkable is that they won't be powered by Nokia's traditional choice for its lower-end handsets, the Series 40-based Asha OS, or its preferred smartphone operating system, Windows Phone. Instead, the X family will be running Android.
Handset makers can use Android in two ways: by using the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) or by also using Google Mobile Services (GMS) which gives makers access to a raft of additional functionality, including likes of the Play app store and Google Maps. The former is a free-for-all, the latter requires handset makers to pass a certification process, and it isn't open source.
Nokia has gone for AOSP for the X family, which means anyone buying the X, XL and X+ won't get access to the million or so apps available on Google Play. However, Android devs can port their Play apps to the handset in what Elop said would be "a matter of hours if even that", and the company will be offering a curated selection of apps through the Nokia store on the devices. X and X+ users can get apps from other Android app stores like Yandex, or in the case of the X+, sideload via the micro SD card.
"We will be taking advantage of the Android app and hardware ecosystems, but we have differentiatied by adding our own services and user experience," Elop said.
Despite being a slap in the face to Windows Phone, the Android-powered X and X+ do have a whiff of Redmond about it: Nokia's custom UI is tile-based, a nod to Windows Phone's own live tiles, including the ability to resize tiles. It will also feature Fastlane
The phone will come with a range of Microsoft services already onboard: Skype, Nokia MixRadio andOneDrive. "Nokia X takes people to Microsoft's cloud not to Google's. This was very deliberate... with this Microsoft will be able to reach people it has never before," Elop said.
The release of the X family is a notable break with Nokia's past mobile strategy: although the company had used Symbian and experimented with MeeGo — both open source OSes — in the past, Nokia subsequently abandoned both to throw in its lot with Microsoft.
According to Elop, while it may not involve a Microsoft OS, the Android-based X family will serve to bring more users to the company in emerging markets. The X family will be "a feeder system for Lumia", he said, and "gives people a gateway" to Microsoft's Windows Phone products.
It looks like Microsoft is getting serious about emerging markets, with the devices chief announcing that both the Lumia and X ranges will get price drops in an effort to grow market share: the Lumia range will go to "lower and lower price points" in the not so distant future, he said, with the X family then "trending below that".
Despite its newfound interest in Android, the Lumia will remain Microsoft's true focus on mobile. "Lumia continues to be our primary smartphone strategy," Elop said, adding all the company "innovation" will come to Lumia first.
The rumours of Nokia considering making an Android handset first surfaced last year, when the New York Times reported that the company had a working Lumia Android prototype when it began negotiations with Microsoft in February over a possible sale of its handset business.
When the acquisition was confirmed in September — a €5.4bn deal that would see Microsoft take over its devices and services unit and license Nokia patents for 10 years - it was assumed that the Android plan had been shelved.
The X family looks to be the last gasp of Nokia as an independent smartphone maker — the Microsoft deal is expected to close later this quarter.
There were also a handful of other product announcements for Nokia's other product ranges. BBM will be coming to Lumia phones, Nokia said. "Particularly in emerging markets, we're going to see a lot of interest in BBM," Elop said.
The former Nokia CEO also today announced the Nokia 220, a 2G low-end device running Series 40. Priced at €29 for a single-SIM variant, the phone has a 2.4-inch display, and has Bing, Facebook and Twitter already loaded on the phone.
Nokia's smartphone-esque Asha line also got a new addition: the 230, the company's cheapest touch Asha so far at €45. An OS update is also on the way for the Asha OS, bringing access to OneDrive, and MixRadio for wi-fi handsets.