Sixteen percent of US adults own a smartwatch

The latest figures out of NPD show a continued uptick in smartwatch sales here in the States. The category has been a rare bright spot in an overall flagging wearable space, and the new numbers show gains pretty much across the board. In fact, the study puts smartwatch ownership at 16 percent among U.S. adults as of December — that figure is up from 12 percent a year prior.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a younger demo driving that growth — specifically 18-34-year-olds, where smartwatch ownership is around 23 percent. Of course, Apple and the like have been looking to increase purchases with the older crowd, courtesy of more serious health features like last year’s addition of an ECG meter.

Apple, Samsung and Fitbit continue to dominate the market, making up 88 percent of the nearly $5 billion in sales tallied for the year ending in November. But companies like Fossil and Garmin made some market-share gains. Google, naturally, will be looking to make a larger dent in the market, with its recent purchase of Fossil IP. Wear OS’s growth has been pretty flat, but that could change in 2019 with the rumored arrival of the Pixel Watch.

Lenovo Watch X was riddled with security bugs, researcher says

Lenovo’s Watch X was widely panned as “absolutely terrible.” As it turns out, so was its security.

The low-end $50 smartwatch was one of Lenovo’s cheapest smartwatches. Available only for the China market, anyone who wants one has to buy one directly from the mainland. Lucky for Erez Yalon, head of security research at Checkmarx, an application security testing company, he was given one from a friend. But it didn’t take him long to find several vulnerabilities that allowed him to change user’s passwords, hijack accounts and spoof phone calls.

Because the smartwatch wasn’t using any encryption to send data from the app to the server, Yalon said he was able to see his registered email address and password sent in plain text, as well as data about how he was using the watch, like how many steps he was taking.

“The entire API was unencrypted,” said Yalon in an email to TechCrunch. “All data was transferred in plain-text.”

The API that helps power the watch was easily abused, he found, allowing him to reset anyone’s password simply by knowing a person’s username. That could’ve given him access to anyone’s account, he said.

Not only that, he found that the watch was sharing his precise geolocation with a server in China. Given the watch’s exclusivity to China, it might not be a red flag to natives. But Yalon said the watch had “already pinpointed my location” before he had even registered his account.

Yalon’s research wasn’t just limited to the leaky API. He found that the Bluetooth-enabled smartwatch could also be manipulated from nearby, by sending crafted Bluetooth requests. Using a small script, he demonstrated how easy it was to spoof a phone call on the watch.

Using a similar malicious Bluetooth command, he could also set the alarm to go off — again and again. “The function allows adding multiple alarms, as often as every minute,” he said.

Lenovo didn’t have much to say about the vulnerabilities, besides confirming their existence.

“The Watch X was designed for the China market and is only available from Lenovo to limited sales channels in China,” said spokesperson Andrew Barron. “Our [security team] team has been working with the [original device manufacturer] that makes the watch to address the vulnerabilities identified by a researcher and all fixes are due to be completed this week.”

Yalon said that encrypting the traffic between the watch, the Android app and its web server would prevent snooping and help reduce manipulation.

“Fixing the API permissions eliminates the ability of malicious users to send commands to the watch, spoof calls, and set alarms,” he said.

China continues 5G push despite economic slowdown and Huawei setbacks

China will fast-track the issuance of commercial licenses for 5G as part of a national plan to boost consumer spending, said a notice published this week by the National Development and Reform Commission. The move appears to be multifaceted, for 5G plays a key role in China’s bid to lead the global technology race and one of its biggest 5G champions, Huawei, has been facing troubles on a global scale.

In its statement, the economic regulator calls on local governments to support the promotion and showcase of services utilizing the super-fast network technology. Ultra-high definition TVs, virtual/augmented reality handsets and other futuristic products will be eligible for government subsidies, though the regulator didn’t outline the detailed criteria.

The acceleration of 5G licenses comes as Beijing copes with a weakening national economy, a move that will “drum up demand with upgraded technology experiences across devices, automotive and manufacturing leveraging 5G technology,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, to TechCrunch. 5G is on course to generate 6.3 trillion yuan ($947 billion) worth of economic output and 8 million jobs for China by 2030, according to estimates from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

Beijing has been gearing up to be the world leader in the next-generation network tech, pouring resources into 5G research and infrastructure. But it has been hit with a speed bump overseas as western countries grow increasingly wary of spy threat posed by Chinese 5G equipments. A souped-up domestic drive, therefore, could help neutralize some of the global setbacks faced by its 5G crown jewels like Huawei.

The U.S. and Australia have banned local firms from procuring equipment from Huawei, and Canada and the U.K. are currently reviewing whether to continue using 5G parts made by the Chinese telecom equipment giant. Meanwhile, Huawei is facing a list of criminal charges from the U.S. for stealing state secrets and its financial chief Meng is accused of bank fraud.

“Aaccelerating 5G licenses should indirectly help Huawei gain competitive edge for 5G considering it will be supplying solutions to the world’s largest mobile cellular market, China,” observes Counterpoint’s Shah. “This also gives Huawei an early platform to showcase its technology to the world and attract more global business.”

Huawei has continued with its 5G push despite being dogged by a string of global woes. Last week, the Shenzhen-based conglomerate unviled a 5G chipset for multiple commercial uses across smartphones, home and work. The chip, dubbed the Balong 5000, will be launching in February at a Barcelona tech trade show.

Samsung is ditching plastic packaging

Samsung Electronics said Sunday it will replace plastic packaging used for its bevy of products from mobile phones and tablets to home appliances and wearables with paper and other environmentally sustainable materials like recycled/bio-based plastics.

Samsung will start making the switch in the first half of the year. The company aims to only use paper packaging materials certified by forestry initiatives by next year. By 2030, Samsung says it plans to use 500,000 tons of recycled plastics and collect 7.5 million tons of discarded products (both cumulative from 2009).

The company said it’s formed an internal task force to come up with innovative packaging ideas that avoid plastic.

For instance, the plastic trays used to hold mobile phones and tablets will be replaced with ones made from pulp. Samsung said it will also alter the phone charger design, swapping the glossy exterior with a matte finish and eliminating plastic protection films, reducing the use of plastics.

Plastic bags used to protect the surface of home appliances such as TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners and washing machines as well as other kitchen appliances will also be replaced with bags containing recycled materials and bioplastics. Bioplastics are made from plastic wastes and non-fossil fuel materials like starch or sugar cane.

The company also committed to only using fiber materials certified by global environmental organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Scheme and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative for packaging and manuals by 2020.

The company will adopt more environmentally sustainable materials even if it means an increase in cost,” Gyeong-bin Jeon, head of Samsung’s Global Customer Satisfaction Center, said in a statement.

Alphabet’s Verily scores FDA clearance for its ECG monitor

Big week for Google wearable news — which, honestly, I not a phrase I expected to write in 2019. But a day after the company announced an agreement to purchase Fossil’s wearable technology for $40 million, Alphabet-owned research group Verily just scored FDA clearance for its electrocardiogram (ECG) technology.

The clearance pertains specifically to the company’s Study Watch. The device, which was announced back in 2017, shouldn’t be confused with the company’s more consumer-facing Wear OS efforts. Instead, the product is designed expressly for the purpose of gathering vitals for serious medical studies of conditions like MS and Parkinson’s.

“The ability to take an on-demand, single-lead ECG, can support both population-based research and an individual’s clinical care,” Verily writes on its blog. “Receiving this clearance showcases our commitment to the high standards of the FDA for safety and effectiveness and will help us advance the application of Study Watch in various disease areas and future indications.”

The Study Watch is a prescription-only device, but the clearance leaves one wondering how this might open the door for an upcoming Pixel Watch. After all, Fossil’s most recent Wear OS devices had a decided health focus, in keeping with most recent smartwatches. After Apple’s recent addition of ECG on the Series 4 Watch, it tracks that Google would want to go to market with a similar health-focused feature set.

Meantime, this news should open the door for the E Ink device’s ability to help collect some meaningful information for medical researchers.

Google buys $40 million worth of smartwatch tech from Fossil Group

Google buys $40 million worth of smartwatch tech from Fossil Group

Wearables have brought Google and the fashion-focused Fossil Group closer together. Today, Fossil announced it will sell intellectual property related to smartwatch technology to Google in a deal worth $40 million. Upon news of the deal, Fossil Group shares jumped about 8 percent today.

Along with the IP, a section of Fossil’s research and development team focused on wearables will join Google. However, the announcement highlights Google and Fossil’s “shared investment in the wearable industry,” which likely means that this deal will not quell Fossil’s wearable efforts entirely. Fossil Group—which includes Diesel, Armani, Skagen, and Michael Kors—has launched smartwatches running Wear OS and hybrid smartwatches across 14 of its brands.

Greg McKelvey, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Digital Officer at Fossil Group, said the following in a statement:

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Neofect’s powered glove for people with paralysis is shipping this summer

Neofect’s come a ways since we first saw them at CES this time last year.  Late last month, the San Francisco-based team completed an Indiegogo round, picking up north of $28,000 — around 130 percent of its initial goal for the NeoMano.

The leather hand-worn device is designed to give users mobility in a paralyzed hand, due to conditions like stroke, MS and ALS. It wraps around the thumb, index and middle finger, letting users perform otherwise simple daily tasks like brushing teeth, opening doors and drinking from a cup.

The glove is attached to a pulley, which, in turn, is connected to a detachable motor powered by AAA batteries. A bluetooth controller is held in the other hand to control to open and close the device.

The device certainly looks far closer to production than the prototype we saw at last year’s show — in fact, the company says it’s currently on track to actually deliver the product to market this June. Of course, picking one up post-Indiegogo will likely cost you a pretty penny. The product is currently listed at $1,999.

Motiv is bringing NFC-based payments to its fitness ring

Announced way back at CES 2016, Motiv’s fitness ring was surprisingly capable and accurate for its tiny form factor. Earlier this year, the startup promised to bring even more functionality to the finger, starting with biometric authentication that uses a wearer’s gait to unlock devices.

This year at the show, the company’s got a handful of additional new features to showoff. Most interesting among them is upcoming addition of mobile payments, via NFC. How, precisely the platform works remains to be soon, though the company promises security through the biometrics.

Interesting, the company also claims to be adding ECG (electrocardiogram) readings. Again, details are pretty scant on the feature, which is due out next year. Of course, Apple recently brought the feature to its smartwatch,  and others are no doubt following suit soon.

It will be interesting to see how the company manages to fit that into the ring’s form factor —surely it must be running out of unused space by now. Ditto for how all of this ultimately impacts the life of the ring’s tiny built-in battery. No word on whether Motiv is actively pursuing FDA approval for the new medical feature.