It may not give its users sweet dreams but, in retrospect, the new Sleep Clock can tell whether they had some.
Yet another new entrant to the growing body- and activity-monitoring space, the $199 Sleep Clock by Gear4 is unique in that it tracks sleep patterns without requiring the user to head to bed garbed in a sensor-equipped wristband, headband or other gear with wires attached. Instead, says a spokesman, the clock’s sensors quietly monitor the micro movements of the person nearest it — breathing as well as any untoward twitches, tossing or turning. (Sleepyheads will need an iPhone docked into the clock to record the data.) Users can set a wake-up window instead of a specific time, and the alarm will ring when the sensors determine he or she is in a light sleep stage and can be easily woken.
By the National Retail Federation’s estimates, consumers left a whopping $20 billion on the table last year in missed price adjustments.
A new web site and app called Savvy tracks store prices and price adjustment policies — letting consumers know if that pair of sneakers has suddenly gone on sale shortly after they’ve just bought them. Upload a picture of a recent receipt to the site, or to the free app via an Apple or Android smartphone, and Savvy will send an alert if the price drops within the retailer’s window for adjustments. Users can also track prices of items they want, and get alerts when the price has dropped below a pre-designated level.
By Department of Energy estimates, just setting a programmable thermostat to automatically lower the temperature during the hours you’re usually asleep or at work can net savings of roughly $180 a year. But what if the thermostat was smart enough to know when you’re nipping out to the store for a carton of milk?
The $349 EverSense unit from Allure Energy uses GPS to note the proximity of family members’ Apple and Android devices, automatically adjusting the temperature up or down to preferred settings as people leave home or return. Connected apps let family members make adjustments remotely. A spokesman says estimated savings could vary widely depending on the family’s schedule, and that there’s a setting to notify the unit if say, errands will keep someone near home. That way, it doesn’t keep adjusting the temp as Mom passes home on her way to the dry-cleaners, and again on her way over to the supermarket.
Accidental water exposure has long been the bane of gadget owners: it ruins devices and often isn’t covered by warranties or extended service plans. So few things are as attention-getting as watching someone toss an iPhone into a tub of water and pull out the somehow still fully functional device a good five minutes later.
Yet that feat may soon be less noteworthy. For $60, Liquipel promises to waterproof a variety of gadgets. To hear president Kevin Bacon (not that Kevin Bacon) describe it, the company’s machine sucks a special blend of vaporized chemicals through the device, coating every component with a layer “a thousand times thinner than a human hair.” The coating isn’t apparent to the naked eye, he says, but the result is that it’s now waterproof.
“Words With Friends” addicts like Alec Baldwin and other flyers in need of an in-air Internet fix may soon be able to get faster, uninterrupted service no matter where they fly.
GoGo, an in-flight Internet provider, plans to launch new technology during the first quarter that’s four times as fast as current connections. To put this in context: the current in-flight Wi-Fi connection is similar to a speed on a 3G cellphone. Virgin America’s fleet will get the upgrade to the new technology – called ATG4 – first, followed later by other partner airlines including Delta, United and American Airlines. Prices will remain unchanged: Depending on the length of the flight, offerings range from $1.95 for a “quick fix” 15 minutes, up to $14.95 for a cross-country flight.
In the coming few days, more than 150,000 people are expected to descend on Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show with the same mission they have every year: find the coolest new gadgets and gizmos.
This year, there’s already a buzz on the floor that several cellphone makers will introduce phones that are embedded with credit-card chips, according to analysts at CES. This means that more tech-savvy consumers could pay for goods with their phone a la Google Wallet. “There’s been a lot of talk about mobile payments,” says Todd Day, an analyst covering mobile for Frost & Sullivan, “and this may be the year that NFC [near field communication] and mobile payments really take off.” Other analysts expect to see more devices syncing with thecloud and offering voice-activated commands similar to Apple’s Siri. There’s also a slew of new so-called ultrabooks — thin and light laptops promising faster processing and longer battery life.
Despite weak December sales in electronics, analysts say retailers should be careful about rolling out new gadgets too fast or too soon — especially if the upgrades aren’t up to scratch.
As SmartMoney.com reported, analysts say consumers are bored with the current crop of gadgets on store shelves. But many pros, including Seth Rabinowitz, a partner at management consulting firm Silicon Associates, say people won’t part with their cash in 2012 unless they’re wowed by cool new features. “There is upgrade fatigue,” he says. Scott Sutherland, a senior analyst with Wedbush Securities, agrees, pointing out how poor sales were last year for 3D TVs, despite all the marketing.
Electronics are usually a sure-fire hit over the busy holiday season, but despite offering steep discounts in many categories, many big box retailers have been left polishing unsold gadgets this January. At Best Buy, televisions posted a mid single-digit decline. At Costco Wholesale, TV sales fell by double digits on the year in December, while Target also reported lower demand for electronics.
It’s difficult to choose the top/worst scandals of 2011 for consumers. There were corporate data breaches, wireless customers left incommunicado, and ill-fated new fees such as Bank of America’s $5 debit card charge.
SmartMoney.com asked a range of experts for the five biggest/worst snafus of 2011, the affects of which will still be felt by consumers in 2012. In no particular order, here they are:
Bank of America’s $5 Debit Card Fee
Bank of America announced in September that it would plan to charge a $5 monthly fee for use of its debit cards. Customers revolted. Over 40,000 people joined credit unions as part of a protest that began on Facebook, according to the Credit Union National Association, bringing around $80 million with them. BofA killed the $5 fee in November, saying it had listened to its customers. “The bank was betting that the other mega-banks would follow, making debit cards a thing of the past,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO and co-founder of CardHub.com. “That did not happen.” However, it’s not over yet. Experts warn the banks will search for other ways to make up the 50% reduction in interchange fees merchants pay when purchases are made with debit cards.
Mourning the loss of Steve Jobs made consumers even bigger fans of the company he founded, new data shows. Popular sentiment for Apple shot up 10% since Jobs died on Oct. 5, according to a survey by market research firm YouGov BrandIndex. The company’s “impression score” increased from 42.6 to 47 during that period.
In brand popularity terms, that’s quite a jump, the firm says. To put the numbers in context: The technology product sector’s average score is 27.2, and ranges from -100 to +100, according to YouGov BrandIndex. However, Apple’s most recent climb began from 35.4 on June 1 – just before the release of iCloud – eventually hitting 43.6 on Aug. 16 – 10 days before Jobs’s resignation as CEO.
These warmer, fuzzier feelings for Apple among consumers – many of whom honored Jobs’s passing by purchasing new Apple products – is part of a sentimental journey for customers, Drew Kerr, a spokesman for YouGov BrandIndex, says. “It’s that old feeling: You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” he says. Chung Ng, partner with digital ad agency Rokkan, says, “I’d have thought the score would be even higher as during that period Apple received so much coverage.”
The new iPhone appears to have a shorter lifespan than its predecessors, at least where its battery is concerned.
Frustrated customers have taken to message boards to vent about the apparently faster-draining battery, and though Apple has so far been mum, some speculate that a bug in the new operating system may be partly to blame. The Guardian reports that Apple engineers are quietly contacting some iPhone 4S owners to try to solve the problem after some customers saw “dramatic drops” in battery life; Apple asked one customer to install a “monitoring program” to help diagnose the problem.
One possible cause may be that power-hungry location services run in the background even when they shouldn’t, leading some to suggest shutting off the feature for “setting time zone.”
Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @SMPayDirt.